Notes, the writing before you write

People often ask me how I write so quickly. My typing speed is pretty high, but that’s not usually what they mean. They want to know how I move through projects so quickly and finish first drafts within a month or two, so I thought I’d share some tips. First off, Notes.

Notes!!!!

I can’t stress them enough. I’ve heard of both pantsers and plotters. The first doesn’t use an outline and writes “by the seat of their pants.” The second has a detailed outline and sticks to it. I’m somewhere in between. I think most people are, but I can’t move without my notes, and if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t write anything down before you start writing and then stalls out quickly, I believe this is because you didn’t make any notes.

I like to make my notes with pen and paper. My notebooks are color coded and I use different pen colors for different characters or timelines. I like to have them open beside me while I’m working on my laptop, and the color coding of the notebooks helps me keep track of them. But you use whatever notes you like. Some weirdos hate paper, or so I’ve heard.

Spitball the ending!!!!

(The exclamation points make orders come alive!!!!!)

You don’t have to do an outline, but I think it is helpful to have a general idea of where the story is going, even if it’s something like, “A guard captain starts off believing her queen is awesome and ends up realizing she’s evil.” That’s enough to set a bulls-eye to aim for. You’re going to need a whole lot more plot to wrap around that, but you know in the beginning you want someone to think one way and end up thinking another. This could change. You could decide you want this realization to be in chapter three. Then your main character needs a new goal. Even if you don’t have one right away, jotting down potential ideas can help you think of something. Even if your idea is as vague as, “I want everyone to die like in Hamlet,” that will get you thinking of ways to make that happen. Writing them down solidifies them and helps them stick in your brain.

React to all the things!!!!

How characters react to various situations is the best way to show how their minds work, imo. I won’t believe a narrative that simply tells me a person is jovial or angry or homicidal. I want to see them being all those things. So I jot down character sketches before writing the story. My guard captain is jovial when she’s off duty, angry when she’s on, and homicidal when someone attacks her. I think of how she might react to a potential lover, too, or something less threatening than an attack. That way, if it happens in the story, I can look to my notes and my character can react quickly, so to speak, and I can keep writing without slowing down to worry about who this person is and why they do what they do. I can get the heart of them down right away and add some fine-tuning later. A first draft is not the time to polish. It needs a framework of a plot and a framework of the characters, too.

Notes do more stuff, too!!!!

(Or, I suck at headings!!!!)

Notes are useful for  more than what I’ve listed here. As I’m writing, I keep a loose timeline of what’s happening when. Sometimes I don’t do this until after I’ve got my first draft done, that way I can tidy up the timeline as I polish.

Also, when I finish writing, I sometimes jot down bullet points about what I’ve just written, especially if there’s going to be a gap of a few days before I can write again. This saves me from having to read what I’ve written before, which saves me from the temptation to edit as I go and get bogged down in details when I should be writing new stuff.

It’s also very handy to write down chapter breaks in your notes, so you can see how long each chapter is as you write. If you’re trying to be consistent with the lengths of your chapters, you’ll see what you’ve done so far and have an idea of how long you want a scene to be by looking at how much room it’s already taken up within a chapter.

You may have noticed that I treat first drafts sort of like notes themselves. This is very true, but I will save how I get through first drafts for another post. Hint: never stop writing a first draft in order to edit it.

Do you use notes when you write? Do you find they make your life easier? If you didn’t before, are you going to try them now?

Random nano tips

It’s still Nano time, my writerly kinfolk, so here come some more word count tips!

Sex scenes and fight scenes take up a lot of room. I say, never gloss over them when doing Nano. If you don’t want such long scenes later, you can always trim them. I’ve got plenty of scenes tucked in random folders that I’m too embarrassed to show anyone.

If a particular scene isn’t lighting your fire, don’t skip it. For me, skipping around in a book makes it ten times harder to edit later. I also lose a sense of continuity. Instead of jumping over a scene that just won’t come to you, try writing it briefly, more as narrative notes than just [EXPOSITION GOES HERE]. Though I will admit, I have done that. We all have. I keep scenes that I’m not feeling simple, just including a summary of the information I want to convey plus a bit of dialogue and description so I can remember the tone I want later. And if you reach the end of your novel and haven’t gotten the words you wanted, you can always come back and flesh these out, an easier task if there’s something there.

Random characters need lines, too. Got a palace guard stuck in a corner in the middle of a scene? Got a rookie cop waiting two desks over? Give these people a few lines, even if you have to cut them later. Random people can quickly turn into interesting minor characters. And reading about Cristine, the sarcastic serving girl who’s saving up to go to military school is much more interesting than Bar Wench 3.

Just remember, everything that doesn’t work can be cut. Later. And it might not work where you originally put it, but it can always work somewhere else!

Anymore random tips anyone wants to share? How’s it going for you?

Nano time! And a handy editing tool.

It’s almost NaNoWriMo, my dear little ice cream sundaes! And you know what that means. November is going to get crazy. And I’ll need some ice cream sundaes by the time it’s done.

For those of you just joining the party, Nano is when people all around the world endeavor to write 50,000 words during the month of November. This year, I’ll be participating in the madness as a final push in order to finish my current work in progress. I like to get in on all the writing energy, especially from the face-to-face write ins. Nothing increases my productivity like being surrounded by people who are doing the same thing I am. It also keeps me from surfing the internet. Mostly.

If you sign up, make sure you pick a home region. That way, you can find out what’s going on around you. If you’re an introvert, don’t worry. You don’t have to interact much at a write in. You just have to write. I like to talk a little during breaks, but if you’d rather be in your own world, that’s perfectly acceptable. Anyway, if you’d like to be my Nano buddy, my Nano handle is zendra. I’m kind of a racer, tho, so be warned. 😉

And after you finish and edit your Nano (December is edit your Nano month), I have the perfect polishing tool. I don’t know how many times I’ve read my manuscript and just glided over typos, like my brain fixes them so my eye can’t see them. I had a sentence that had “she was she” in the middle, and my brain just deleted that second she even though it was still in the manuscript. Reading aloud didn’t help because I just deleted it again. So, I needed someone to read to me, someone who wouldn’t automatically correct while they did so.

And I discovered Windows Narrator. It’s one of the accessibility tools, but anyone can use it. It’s a robotic monotone that reads exactly what you have. You can change the voice and the speed, and it helped me find so many errors. Here’s a link on how to find it from the Start menu, and here’s a link to find it with Windows 8. I found it the first time by searching for accessibility and then finding it through the accessibility menu.

A bit of a warning, the voice makes me sleepy because it has no inflection. I also wouldn’t use it except as a polishing tool (unless you need it for other reasons!), or you’ll be stopping and restarting it all the time. Also, since it’s for those with impaired vision, it will read everything to you, not only highlighted text in a Word document. So you can’t let it read and then do other things on your desktop, or it will start reading whatever you’re doing. It’s good for focusing in that way.

Who’s doing Nano? Who already uses the narrator? Talk to me, ice cream sundaes.

Yet another quick update

We’re here, we’re swamped! Only sort of, I guess. I finished the page proofs for A Kingdom Lost, which is the last step for me before printing. So, all is on track for April. Hooray! Now I have to finish the manuscript for The Fiend Queen and then I’ll hop on that promotion train.

First stop, ConDFW. I’m listed under Panelists, and you’ll know my schedule as soon as I do, so come see me if you’re in the area.

Until then, here’s one of my shots taken at Disney World in the Be Our Guest restaurant:
IMG-20131101-00114

If you ever get a chance to go, I highly recommend it. They folded the napkin like a rose for fuck’s sake. You can’t get much cooler than that.

And where can I see you in the upcoming months?

They call me Chainsaw, for short

I recently got an interesting question about the writing process. What’s, this? A real writing post?!!? Nothing about dolls?!?! I know. Bear with me.

When I posted an update to Facebook that I was still cutting my manuscript, someone asked, why so much cutting? She wondered if maybe I didn’t like what I’d written.

Oh, I love what I’ve written. It’s all precious little snowflakes made of gold to me. And I will keep on cutting. I’ve compared writing to lots of things: puzzles, fruit, rivers, doll adventures. I think this time I’ll go with clay…or meat. You picture whichever you like.

The first draft is like acquiring my meat clay. It’s brand new, just unwrapped and it has lots and lots of problems. It doesn’t look like anything, and it’s raw. It’s just the materials I have to work with. My second draft is about creating a basic shape and making sure character arcs and plot points are flowing smoothly. I guess this is molding the clay into a rough shape of what you want it to be, or alternatively, doing something to meat that conveys the same image. (Can you tell that I don’t sculpt or grill?)

My third round of edits, ah, that’s where the detail work begins. One of my writing group partners called me the Chainsaw of Loving Kindness, and that still makes me laugh. Though I don’t recommend using a chainsaw on clay or your dinner. I think the nickname is apt because if anything is unnecessary to the plot or to character development, it’s cut. Doesn’t matter if I think it’s the cutest scene on creation, it’s cut. Repetitious words are cut. A hefty amount of dialogue tags are cut. Lengthy conversations are cut down, and similar conversations are cut altogether. Adverbs are cut down as are many participles and their phrases.

Now my clay really likes look a horsey, and my meat has no more fat, and is probably cooking at this point. Part of the art of cutting is trying to hit your word count. More often, it’s about trimming and tightening, making every word work, or trying to. I’m looking to shave 6K or so off my current manuscript, and so far, it’s going well. On my first two drafts, I leave a lot of extras to remind myself what’s going on as I’m writing, where a reader wouldn’t have any trouble keeping track. Where I am right now, many “wounded hands” are getting cut. Yeah, that sounds like the image to end on.

If you write, do you often have to cut like the wind or add words to make your manuscript better? And if you read, do you often find yourself thinking that whole scenes could be cut? Do you use clay or meat in your work?

Meanwhile, in Spain…

I went to Spain. But you probably guessed that from the title. I plan to tell you all about it and share pics, but first, let’s go to Fencon.

Yeah, got off a plane yesterday, driving to Dallas tomorrow. Bad. Ass. And probably tired. And more than a little punch-drunk. So come see me possibly start talking randomly about cupcakes! Here’s my schedule so far:

Friday 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM
Modern Good vs Ancient Evil

Description: Ancient Evil has always been a convenient means of explaining the unknown. Yet, even in modern times we still love to read tales of contemporary people fighting ancient, unspeakable evils. Does this say something about our basic fears, or do we just love to read cracking good tales?

Friday 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM
Beastly Fans

Description: The Internet may be made of cats, but is fantasy made of dragons? Why do some animals endure as symbols in literature and art, and why do they resonate with fans?

Friday 5:00 PM – 6:00 PM
When Action Gets in the Way of Story

Description: How often have you wondered if a particular movie scene was only included to plant seeds for the video game that comes after? How many fight or chase scenes in books went on so long that you got bored and started skipping ahead? Our panelists talk about how to make every scene worthy of the the space it takes up.

Saturday 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM
FenCon Squares

Description: It’s the classic game show “Hollywood Squares” with a FenCon twist! Join us for an hour of fun and games as our panel of guests try to help (or bluff) our contestants. We even have a “Secret Square” in each game! Come check it out. You might win a prize!

Saturday 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM
No, I’m Hero Support

Description: Good sidekicks aren’t just ciphers. They have back-stories that may be as rich as the main character’s. A good sidekick does more than point, ask questions, and scream. Our panelists discuss what goes into creating a good companion.

Saturday 7:00 PM – 8:00 PM
World Building

Description: Why work in invented settings? How do you keep settings internally consistent? Which invented worlds have inspired you and your creations? How do you stop yourself from building more than you need for the story you’re telling? Our panelists will answer these questions and more.

Find the full schedule on the Fencon site.

I will also be hauling around books to sell, so I hope you’ll stop by and say hello…and you know, buy a book.

Also, just before I left I received my cover art for book 3 in the Katya and Starbride series, A Kingdom Lost!

A Kingdom Lost 300 DPI

And here’s the blurb *SPOILER ALERT – IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE FIRST TWO BOOKS AND YOU WANT TO AVOID SPOILERS, SKIP THIS BLURB*

Princess Katya Nar Umbriel has little left to lose. Her uncle Roland took her home, scattered her family, and forced her to abandon Starbride, her dearest love. Slim hopes and righteous anger carry Katya into Starbride’s homeland to raise an army and take back all that was stolen from her.

Starbride never dreamed she’d lead a pack of foreign rebels against a Fiendish usurper. She holds the capital city out of love, denying any rumor of Katya’s death. As the two strive toward each other, Roland dogs their every step, loosing Fiend-filled corpses on Katya’s army and hypnotizing the capital’s citizens into hunting Starbride down. If they ever meet again, it’ll be over his dead body.

*END SPOILERS*

It’s all yours coming in April!

Next time, I’ll have some Spain and Fencon pics for you. That’ll be a long post.

Nap time? Anyone?

Two, count them, two release dates!

Some news for y’all!

Firstly as I mentioned last time, a new Katya and Starbride short story will be out this November! BSB is publishing an anthology called Amor and More: Love Everafter starring main characters from different BSB novels, and Katya and Star will be there. The story’s set between The Pyramid Waltz and For Want of a Fiend. I hope it tides you over until…

April 14 2014! Which is when the third Katya and Star novel will be released! It’s still tentatively titled A Kingdom Lost. I’ll let you know when the final title is decided. But there you have it. A date at last!

I’m still hard at work on Book 4, the last in this adventure. Now I’ve just got to think of something to write next…

For your viewing pleasure, here’s a pic of Polly watching me eat popcorn. Note the intensity. She didn’t blink.

I made this face while trying to learn algebra

I made this face while trying to learn algebra

If any of you are working on something right now (and it doesn’t have to be writing), what is it ? Do you plan what you’re going to do next years in advance or fly by the seat of your pants?

IWW: Characters of color

When I was writing The Pyramid Waltz, I didn’t want to fall into a trap where my characters of color are concerned. (Try saying that five times fast.)

We’re not here to empower you.

I didn’t want Starbride to be the wise brown person only there to enlighten her paler counterparts. I wanted her to be her own person, with her own quirks and faults and strengths. Many of my lovely beta readers have told me that she’s very human. I take that as high praise since I was hoping to stay far away from stereotypes.

I think some of blond Barbies might be darker than these two, tho. Seriously, Mattel, what’s up with that?

Anyway! I got lots of birthday Barbies, so guess what? Now Evil Barbie and Good Barbie can have allies! Can you say, epic fight scenes?

I think a black hole of awesome just opened up

Two kens, glamorous evil side, sensible shoes good side, and one panda. Who will win?!?!?

One thing never changes, though. This:

Welcome to the bondage club, half-naked Ken.

Still equals this:

Welcome to the bondage club, plastic swiss cheese.

Some things never change. The Barbies of color are just glad they’re not A) The ones in the ropes B) The mythical spiritual healers or C) The plucky/macho soldiers who never make it through the film.

We love you, Michelle Rodriguez.

p.s. Is anyone else doing extreme writing this summer? I’m in both Camp Nanowrimo and the Clarion West Write-a-thon. Who’s with me!?!?! C’mon. Being insane is fuuuun. ^_^

Happy Wednesday, everyone. Thank goodness it’s June.

*snort* I’m 35. Suuure.