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Gearing Up One Last Time

This is it. You have less than 24 hours in which to finish planning your novel.

There are a few things left to do if you haven’t already done them. First: make sure you are signed up for NaNoWriMo. It’s really simple to do. Just go to nanowrimo.com and click sign up. Then fill out your author profile and you’ll be on your way!

Two: set up your region on NaNo as well. It’ll make is possible to go to writing events that people will be having around your area. Writing with people is always more fun than writing alone.

Finally, don’t be afraid to change everything you have planned so far, or throw it out the window. Sometimes characters have their own ideas on what they want to happen, or you come up with a brilliant idea that just HAS TO BE TOLD NOW. November is your chance to do that. Leap on that chance and make it yours.

And remember: if you need to up your word count, always always ALWAYS remember that the Traveling Shovel of Death is ready and waiting to help you kill off everyone.

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Gearing Up: Week Three

You have characters.

You have setting.

….do you have a plot?

In creating your setting, I’m near positive all sorts of ideas occurred to you on what you could do with your characters in this world. Now is the time to gather up those thoughts and put them all on paper.

Perhaps you have a simple plot in which girl meets boy, they go out, they get married, the end. Or maybe there’s complexities involved, such as girl meets boy, girl kills boy, boy is now a zombie…and, well, you get the picture.

Here is where you can have fun and really begin to figure out what your story is.

There are four simple steps to creating a plot that you can follow during your NaNo month (or really, at any time).

One: Figure out your starting point. With a start point, you know how the characters meet, what is going to happen to get them together and what them getting together might entail. It’s an introduction of everyone involved and might take anywhere from a few paragraphs to a few chapters, depending on what you all have planned.

Two: What is your climax of the novel? This is your Point B if we look at step one as Point A. The characters must get here eventually. Will the climax be a nail biting magical duel or a fight between two lovers. Maybe it’s a gun fight and one of your main characters is currently in a hospital bed fighting for their life. (Aside: never be afraid to kill off your main characters if that is what the story calls for. Be a literary murderer!) This is what every one of your readers has been waiting for, so whatever it is, make sure it has been worth the build up to this moment.

Three: The Ending. I don’t mean writing the words “the end” when you have finally finished it all, but that is a fun thing to do, I’ll admit. Here is where you tie up loose ends and slowly wind your reader down from the high that they hopefully experienced during the climax. A great video explaining why this is so important in anything can be found at Penny Arcade and I highly suggest checking it out: http://penny-arcade.com/patv/episode/episode-07-pacing

Four: Fill in the spaces.  You have three points now: A, B and C. This is now when the fun part of plotting can happen. Sub-plots, interactions, laying of clues, everything indirectly related to the climax is now put into place along your chart of points. Give a word or two of detail at each new point. Examples can be “meets Samantha” or “learns about dragons”. This will make sure your story is paced well and that you won’t forget anything that you had planned.

Of course, like all good plans, this will likely fall apart at the first sign on battle (in this case, the second day of NaNo), so don’t be worried! You can either us this roadmap you have created here to get you back on track or just go off and let the story take you where it will!


Gearing Up: Week Two

By this point, you should have your characters, or at least have thought about them enough that you think you know what kind of people they are going to be.  Chances are, this has also led you into thoughts on how they are going to fit into your story, and what type of world they are going to be living in.

Is there magic?

Are there dragons?

Does anyone ever leave the coffee shop that the two characters have met in?

These are just a few of the questions you’ll find yourself asking as you being to create your setting. I have gone over a bit about setting before during Dexter Week (Read it here), but this will be focused more on how you create one than how to decide where it’s going to be.

The first step is to decide if this is going to take place in a fantastical world of make-believe or in our real world, or some combination of the two. Each  of them has their own pros and cons.  A fantastical world frees you of limitations that our world has, such as gravity, or gaining faster-than-light space travel to go to other planets.  The problem comes when it starts getting too out there, and your reader will have a hard time getting into the book because they will constantly be reminded of just how far away they are from home they are unless you give them concrete things to hold onto.

A great example of these fantastical worlds are found in Lord of the Rings and Chasm CityIn these worlds, humans are the standards, an object of familiarity that we can hold onto. In Lord of the Rings, we are also slowly introduced to the more fantastical aspects, which makes them easier to swallow and gain understanding of before moving to the next.

Having a setting take place in our world means that you don’t need to worry about the audience connecting with it. They know our world, the rules therein, and how they would expect people to react within certain situations. The cons are appearing for that same reason: the world is known and you can not stray from it lest people stop to believe, or get angry about details that you forgot or are untrue.  It’s reasons like this that people who write historical fiction with years of research behind it are truly some of the best authors in my mind. They can keep track of so many different aspects at once.

The final choice, having a fantastical normal world, is one that more and more authors are going down.  Just look at the amount of books that are appearing in the “urban fiction” settings at the local bookstore.  The pros and cons here are mixed.  Yes, you can have a pre-made setting that you find out of the books on a city, but you also make it yours by twisting a few things around in it.  Care still needs to be cautioned though so that you don’t make it too fantastical and risk alienating your audience by taking it too far away from reality.

So, make your choice. What is your setting?

Once this has been decided, you can start to create your world: make cities, villages.  In gaming terms, create some NPCs to populate your world that your characters can interact with on their quest for something.  Maybe there’s some strange quirk about this world (man eating Fog is one quirk I’ve been kicking around for a while) that is a fact of life for everyone.  Perhaps the people of one city live their lives backwards, or can only speak in rhyme.

Whatever your setting is, flesh it out!  Build a world as if you were the god of it, create, create, create!  You can always edit things out later, but why limit yourself at the beginning!?  You never know what you might come up with that will fuel another story.

 

ETA: Featured on Writers Weekly on October 13th, 2011.  http://paper.li/paultlowe/1307471907


Gearing Up: Week One

It’s October, and now the planning for NaNo can being!

The best way to start gearing up for a large writing project is to tell other people that you are planning on partaking in a huge project.  You’ll get a lot of support then when you start writing, but also people asking you how it is going.  It forces you to write just a bit each day so that you can always report some progress and not feel bad about not making any.

Another great place to start is by beginning to create your characters, which is what I’ll be going over today.

One of the best ways I have found to create a character is to fill out a simple template with information about the character.

Name:
Age:
Appearance:
Personality:
Occupation (if any):
Strengths:
Weaknesses:

These seven questions will give you a baseline for your character and how they will react in certain situations.  These sheet can constantly be evolving as well, as certain events might make their attitude towards others change, such as a murder of a loved one, or the birth of a child.

There are other questions that can be asked as well to give even more insight into a character, such as a basic history, a listing of their relationships, or what skill sets they have that make them particularly interesting.  A great example of these skills: flying a plane, hacking computers, even an ability as a writer.

A great question to ask yourself before you create a new character though is why you need to create them.  Is there a certain role they need to perform before they disappear forever, or will they be a re-occurring one that will challenge the main character for screen-time?  A fanfic writer I know creates hundreds on original characters for her fics, and has a bio on every one of them. Before creating another, she consults this list to find out if she can use one she has already created or if she needs to make a new one completely.

While this is harder for original fiction, the basic premise is still solid.  With a collection of bios, it’s easier to pick one for the position you need the character to play in the writing.

Here’s a great collection of links for help creating your characters:

Fake Name Generator: http://www.fakenamegenerator.com/gen-female-it-us.php  It also provides and entire backstory for them as if they actually existed.

Character Generator: http://www.seventhsanctum.com/index-char.php  There are a lot of generators here, including ones for plot and setting.  The character ones have a lot of variety though.

Character Names: behindthename.com  It tells the meaning behind the names, which is great if you want your names to have a certain meaning for the character.

http://www.lowchensaustralia.com/names/fantasylinks.htm has names that are more fantastical

 

Hope this all helps, and I hope to see what character creation ideas you have!


Gearing Up

In about a month, the insanity that is known as National Writing Month will being.  As such, most of us who are planning to participate in it this year have already begun planning our stories.

While it is against the rules to write one word of the novel before November 1st, there are no rules about planning for it, and it is, in fact, something that is held in high regard and pushed for.

In this vein, I hope to bring you a new series every Monday for the next month regarding different aspects about how to plan writing a novel.  I’ll use real life experiences from my own time noveling, as well as put feelers out to other authors and NaNoers on how they prepare for the task at hand: writing something you want to write.

Please let me know if there are any topics you would like covered in this series.  I’ll be happy to do research about and write about anything that is suggested.

 

 


DEXTER WEEK DAY FOUR: Anti-Heros

Today’s Dexter Week article is written by Miss Erika Eby, owner of HiJinks Studios and published author.  When I first met Erika, she was introduced to me as Bob, with Miss Bob being her unofficial title.  She was the president at the time of the renaissance re-enactment group at  our college.  Needless to say, it was a great start to a friendship.  Having tabletop gamed with her a few times, and seeing Rodrick in his first inception, I knew that she was the one to write this entry about the Anti-Hero.  I was very very happy when she agreed to write this article for me.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

Semi-Coherent Ramblings on the Psychology and Creation of Anti-Heroes

Written by Erika Eby

There’s something innocent about wanting to believe that there are good guys and bad guys, black and white, easy to spot,  and Superman will show up and know who is who and save the day.  Kids’ shows are easy. The bad guys do something bad and the good guys rise to the occasion and take the moral high ground. Maybe someone waivers for a moment, but the whole thing is wrapped up with a pretty bow in under half an hour.

As we grow older, we realize that the world just doesn’t work that way. There are shades of grey and there are always loose ends left to tie up. Things rarely get tied up neatly, and when they do, it’s rarely in a way that we’d like.

Sometimes that means we cling to those childhood ideals of heroism even tighter. Sometimes that means we are drawn to the dark imperfections in our world and ourselves. It’s Superman or Batman; Cyclops or Wolverine. Me? I’ve always liked Batman better…and between you and me? Scott Sommers is kind of a pretentious prick.

What exactly is an anti-hero? Well, it’s hard to sum up. Early definitions all pegged the anti-hero as a villain, a “hero” that does not display heroic qualities. The reality is much more complex than that. Anti-heroes are murderers, thieves, and bastards. They blur the line between good and evil, right and wrong, or show us that the line was blurred or absent entirely before they every got there. Often times they have good intentions, but their actions are opposite of what is expected of a hero. Other times they do good things, but we see they have selfish or less than wholesome intentions at heart. Anti-heroes constantly force us to examine the difference between what is right and what is necessary.

As individuals, usually we’re drawn to anti-heroes sometime in our early teen years. As a culture, you could almost say the same thing. America’s rebellious and hormonal teen years were quite probably Vietnam. The years during and after Vietnam brought a number of gritty heroes or gritty reboots of old heroes.

There’s an ebb and flow to this mentality. When times are rough, we look to the anti-hero to do what is necessary, even if it may not be “right” by traditional standards. When times are good, we want to believe that there are still heroes out there. Batman is a perfect example. He started out as a vigilante that carried a gun and didn’t mind roughing up or killing criminals. Then in the 50’s, times were good and psychologists worried about the impact of such things on the minds of children, so the Caped Crusader’s world became more colorful and his demeanor more paternal. In the 60’s the character became more campy and lighthearted.

Sales dropped off in the late 70’s and early 80’s, in the Cold War and Post-Vietnam era. Enter Frank Miller and suddenly Batman is the Dark Knight once again. Not the hero the people want, but the hero they need.

That’s the delicious thing about anti-heroes. They speak to some primal, carnal, need inside our souls. They are a catharsis for every moment of every day when we’ve fantasized about getting even, about saying what we’re really thinking. Regardless of what it is that makes them anti-heroes, they speak to that dark passenger inside of all of us that we don’t want to admit to having.

This is the wonderful thing about Dexter, who may well go on to become one of the most iconic anti-heroes of our generation. The frills and trappings of a twisted sense of Chivalry are gone entirely. He pushes the idea of an anti-hero farther than most authors would ever dare take it. Dexter is a sociopath. He feels no remorse. He murders people and he enjoys the hell out of it. But he murders people that none of us would really miss. Murderers, child molesters, rapists… Like with Boondock Saints, he is killing people that many people talk about taking a gun to, vigilante style, anyway.

The thing that really makes an anti-hero, though, is the fact that some part of us likes them. We are drawn to them like moths to flame. Dexter is captivating and charming, and not just in the manipulatively charismatic way that sociopaths tend to be. He is equal parts repulsive and endearing.

This is what makes anti-heroes so challenging as a writer. There’s a fine line to walk between lovably wicked and just appalling. Creating an anti-hero is much harder than creating a hero, but also much more rewarding (at least in my humble opinion). Heroes are easy. They always take the high ground. You program in a set of morals and values, wind them up, and let them go. Heroes can get away with being flat and stale as cardboard. Not to say that all heroes are, plenty are not, but they at least have the choice.

A flat anti-hero is usually just a villain. In order to walk the fine grey line, anti-heroes need to be complex and well developed. They need to have justifiable reasons for their actions, well developed intentions, and something that makes them feel “real.” All important characters should be developed until they have that breath of life – you add details drop by drop until finally the cup overflows with a personality all its own—but anti-heroes need that quality in order to be likable.

Take my own pet anti-hero for example: Roderick, a vampire that was spawned from a role-playing game and is now the protagonist of one of my works in progress. To quote the owner of this blog “The man is a bastard, but we still love him.” He’s a womanizer and a drinker. He takes advantage of drunken college girls to get his hemoglobin fix. He has selfish interests and he is willing to lie, cheat, steal, and manipulate to accomplish his goals. He also has a soft spot for an abandoned fledgling he meets up with. He has a tumultuous love-hate relationship with his sire. He can be an aloof prick, but he’s also grappling with the loss of his humanity as he feels himself become more distant and cold as the years wear on. He’s been under development for years, growing and changing until he’s become more real than some of my friends.

That’s really why anti-heroes need that extra time, that last detail that makes them spring to life. We’d all like to be heroes sometimes, but the fact of the matter is: we’re not. We’re human. We’re all anti-heroes. Simple, complex, flawed, and beautiful.

About the Guest Blogger: Erika Eby is a professional freelance writer, editor, photographer, and photo editor. She has a strong writing background with over four years journalistic and academic experience. She graduated with honors from Carthage College and holds a BA in English with an Emphasis in Creative Writing.

An avid technology buff, Ms. Eby tries to stay on the cutting edge of technology. She works part time as a photo technician and electronics specialist. Her hobbies include writing, drawing, photography, fitness, new age, and a wide variety of board, table top, computer, and console games.  She has also recently started the company HiJinks, a freelance company for writing, editing, photography, and everything in between.

A jack-of-all-trades, her works can be found around the internet on Associate Content and Hubpages. She is also the author of an upcoming book titled “Writing Great College Research Papers: 101 Tips and Tricks to Make Your Work Stand Out” from Atlantic Publishing.  

 


DEXTER WEEK DAY THREE: Suspense and Tips For Writing It

Building suspense and tension in a novel, short story, or even a 100 character piece of fiction is difficult, aggravating, and also fulfilling if done correctly.  While not all types of books need this tension within them, I can assure you that tension will rear its head at some point in your character interactions.  While Agatha Christie remains Queen of Suspense and Tension–she did invent the “killer in the room” idea after all–there are authors out there today who have mastered it as well.

Here are some tips on creating and keeping suspense alive in your writings.

ONE: Draw out the scene.  I don’t mean get out your pen and paper here.  rather, lengthen the time spent on this one scene.  If you are telling the story from first person, have your main character begin to notice the other person doing little things.  “I saw him brush his hair out of his eyes with his hands before staring out the window.  His eyes were closed, but his breathing was harsh, rough.  it was clear that something was wrong, but for the life of me, I wasn’t sure what it was.”  Paint a picture of what is going on, exactly, and tension will build, especially if the Main Character has no idea what is going on either.

TWO: Direct from Dexter, have a character keep a secret about his life that no one can no.  And now, have an event happen that gives the chance for this secret to come out.  The character needs to deal with this while still acting normal and nothing is wrong.  For best results: think on how you would act in the situation and write that into your tale.

THREE: If you’re writing Fantasy or sci-fi (or any, I guess, but especially these two), throw in a fight that is breaking out right now.  Characters need to fight for their lives, and by using Tip One as well in this situation, any reader is going to be on the edge of their seat, trying to read faster to know who survives.

So, those are my three tips.  What ones do you have?