Monthly Archives: August 2011

Picking a Character, Format and Word Count for your Dear Diary Project

There are some important decisions that you have to make before starting your Dear Diary Project. The first, and the most important, is to pick the character that you’re going to use for your Dear Diary Project. After that you have to decide what format you’re going to use for your Dear Diary Project, and what your word count goal for each entry will be. Usually I spend a whole week on the preparation process and write a separate post for each, but this time around I’m in a bit of a hurry so we’ll cover all three today

Picking a Character

This is the most important decision for you to make about your Dear Diary Project because all the other decisions will be based on the character you choose. It’s important to pick a character that you’ll be able to live with for thirty days–kudos to you if you can do this exercise for your villain–and a character who you feel the need to develop more. Remember that you’re going to be working on this for thirty days, and that the odds are you’re not going to ever see this published except maybe on your blog. You want to get the most out of it, so make sure that you choose a major character.

When you’re picking your character, remember that you’re not just picking a person, you’re picking a time period. You can write about them as a kid or even just the thirty days before your story begins. You can write the first time they fall in love, or the first time they thought they fell in love. (Because everybody believes they’re in love at least once before they really are.) Just pick a time that will be interesting to write and that will show a lot about their character and how they became who they are during your story. I don’t recommend writing a Dear Diary after your story, because it won’t really help show who they are when it begins. I also don’t recommend doing it during the story, because then you might get sick of your story. Besides, you already know what happens during the story.

For my Dear Diary Project I’ve usually chosen major characters in whatever novel I happened to be working on most actively at the time. This time around is no different: I’m choosing the main character of my novel, Riana. I’m going to make it during a difficult, but typical time in her life. I’m going to use this as an opportunity to develop Riana and to develop the customs of the place she came from. You should seriously consider what part of your character’s life would be most useful to you to explore. This is a fun exercise, but at its core we’re trying to learn something useful about character, and that’s what you have to remember.

Picking a Format

Because this is a diary, it can come in all different shapes and sizes. It can be made up entirely of poetry. It can include quotes that are important to your character, life philosophies. It can be written as a letter. Or it can be written as a log, with just the date before every entry. Really, it’s whatever your character’s journal would be like. Make sure that the format really speaks to who your character is.

I named this project the Dear Diary Project because the first one I wrote had ‘Dear Diary’ at the beginning of every entry. If that doesn’t fit with you or your character, there’s no reason to stick with it. You could even have a modern-day character experimenting with journalling for therapy for the first time. This project is whatever you–and your character–want it to be.

Picking a Word Count Goal

This should also be based largely upon who your character is. Some characters like to ramble, and they like to think through all of their problems on the page. Some characters will keep a distance even on the printed page. Some are concise and some like purple prose and run on sentences. This isn’t for publication, so the most important thing is to be true to the character.

A really poetic character who journals entirely in poems might have a one page goal instead of a word count goal. A character who’s really busy might have a 250 or 300 word count goal. A character with lots of time who likes to think about philosophy and write down their thoughts might have a 600 or 700 word goal. Don’t make it too long though, as most people wouldn’t seriously write a 1,000 word diary entry every day, and you might find the word count really hard to meet.

What to Remember

To make the most out of this exercise, you need to pick a character who you’re going to spend some time with, and who you need to get to know better. You also need to pick a time (and possibly place) in their life that you know something about, but not too much. Then you need to ask your character what kind of diary they would write–long, short, prose or poetry? Figure it out with your character, and make sure to always let their voice come through above your own.

On Wednesday I’ll talk about starting your Dear Diary Project, and I hope you’ll start writing your character diaries with me on September first.

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What is the Dear Diary Project?

The Dear Diary project originated as a very basic idea I found on the Wriye forums. The idea was to write a character’s journal for thirty days. The idea was originally dubbed ’30 Days in the Life of’ but I liked the sound of the Dear Diary Project. I thought it was a great idea, so I did two by myself and then began turning it into a workshop on my old blog to help other writers. It helped me develop my characters on a deeper level and get used to writing in their PoVs. To top it all off, I had lots of fun.

During the month of September, I will be running the Dear Diary challenge once again. The goal is to write one diary entry–it can be any format or length you choose–each day for a month. It helps you develop your character and get into the habit of writing often. Here on the blog I’ll be posting weekly exercises to help you get even further into the mind of your character, and discussing different ways to create a journal. At the end of the month I’ll start talking about starting your own journal and making the most use out of what you’ve created.

I’ll be writing one short–250 words–entry each day, from the point of view of Riana in Home. Riana is the main character in the novel I’m currently revising. She’s a demon, and Home is where demons live. It’s not a pleasant place, but she’s had some adventures there and I’d like to think about them more. It’s going to be a big learning experience for me because I don’t really know too much about Home–I have a basic image, but that’s about it. It should also help me dig deeper into her character and flesh her out.

Over the weekend, think about your characters. Which ones do you feel the most need to get to know better? Which ones have the most interesting stories? Whose background do you want to explore for a month? On Monday, I’ll give you the run down on picking your character, word goal, and format for the Dear Diary Project. In the meantime, go out and have a great weekend.

What are your favourite characterization exercises?

The Pros and Cons of Word Count Goals

Those of you who have been with me for a while already know that I’m an active Nanowrimo participant and advocate. I’ve participated in Nanowrimo six times, and the event has really changed my life. I wrote my first first first draft of a novel during Nanowrimo when I was eleven. It gave me confidence that yes, I could write a novel, and yes, I could finish a novel. I went out to events with my mother, who’s also participated a few times, and I made lots of friends. I’ve written up to 300, 000 words in the month of November. And I’ve always had fun.

I’ve also attempted Nanowriye three or four times, and this summer I signed up for CampNanowrimo. But I’ve discovered that word count goals, as much as I love them, are not always the best goals to have when you’re writing. So I’ve made a list of the pros and cons of word count goals. I’m not talking about daily word count goals here, I’m talking about goals like writing 50, 000 words in one month.

Pros

-A word count goal, particularly one that you’ve told everyone about or that is part of an online challenge like Nanowrimo, forces you to write.
-It’s a definitive goal with a set time period, which helps you accomplish something.
-It’s easily divided into smaller chunks with a calculator. (Or if you’re really smart, without one.)
-It helps you focus on writing the story itself and not on the individual words.
-It helps you force aside your inner editor when you’re writing a first draft.

Cons

-It’s hard to sustain throughout the year.
-It doesn’t incorporate editing as part of the goal, and sometimes you really do need to just sit down and edit something, pushing other projects aside.
-It usually makes for more editing when you look at it later due to more typos and bad word choices. And more run on sentences.
-It makes you focus simply on output, not on the quality of output, and is dangerous to do all of the time.

Conclusions

Despite my background in Nanowrimo, I’ve learned that I shouldn’t set a high word goal every month. Somebody who’s in it just for fun, maybe. But somebody who’s serious about publication sometimes needs to focus on editing or preparing for–or participating in–writing workshops and conventions. Sometimes you really only should be writing a little bit every day to keep in practice. Every once in a while, you need to take a day off. When you set yourself high word goals all the time, you often set yourself up for disappointment. We can’t push our lives completely aside all year to write incredible amounts. Sometimes, we just have to take it slow.

Do you like to set yourself high word count goals? What other kinds of writing goals do you set for yourself?

A Prompt with a Story

Sometimes, life throws a curve ball at you. Sometimes it hurts the head, sometimes it hurts the brain, and sometimes it hurts the soul. On occasion, it hurts all three. When life is feeling particularly nasty, two or three of these curve balls are lobbed at you, and you’re expected somehow to figure everything out.

I’ve had a couple of those curve balls to deal with this week. Some strange confessions from some very old friends have rocked my world, and I’m still recovering. My mind doesn’t slow down at times like these and sleeping becomes difficult. I’m putting pieces of a new world together in my mind because the old one is apparently broken. And it’s uncomfortable. It’s a painful sensation.

In a way it’s a mixed blessing. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Change is usually both for bad and good: it hurts, but it leads to a better place. Focus on the future that you want. Be willing to revise the details, but know the things your soul wants most.

Today’s prompt is based off of the week I’ve had:

Write a scene in which a very dear friend makes a surprising confession–of love, of mental illness, of a crime they’ve committed–and show your character’s reaction to it, both on the inside and the outside. Then write another scene of them processing it by themselves. Focus on how they process it: how quickly they process it, if they get angry at the person for keeping the secret for so long, if it haunts them for days or months.

Please post the first sentence of your response.

Never Give Up

As writers, we are all equals.

Now, I’m not saying that one writer cannot be better than another. What I’m saying is that we all have equal opportunity to become writers. It doesn’t matter if you’ve always wanted to be a writer or if you had a lightbulb moment in your thirties. It doesn’t matter if you’re a boy or a girl. It doesn’t matter if you’re black, white, or blue. Your height, weight, eye colour, hair colour–none of these things make you more or less likely to reach success.

What does make you more likely to reach success as a writer? Hard work, determination, an ability to give and receive feedback, and more hard work. Talent’s nice to have, but passion is the most important thing. You have to be passionate, you have to be willing to reach for it at any cost. If you aren’t focused, if you’re not dedicated, you won’t make it. You might fluke out and get a poem, short story or even a book published. But in the long run? You won’t make it, because you’ll eventually give up.

Even for the most talented writer, who’s been spitting out beautiful poems since the age of ten or who wrote and published their first short story at eleven, a writing career is about determination. All of us will face one, ten, a hundred rejections before we get our first story published. For those of you lucky people who have already been published, it doesn’t change a whole lot. You can still get rejected for your next project. In fact, if you published a book already and it didn’t sell well, it’s even worse than never having published–it makes most editors less likely to take a chance on you. Even so, if you’re determined enough and you work hard enough, you can still get published again.

There’s never been a better time to be a writer. With the advent of the internet, we’ve suddenly become able to access all kinds of new people and new information. There are hundreds of new writing communities accessible to anyone and everyone with an internet connection. For those of us who live in places with inactive or nonexistent writing groups, this is great news. We now have access to proper critique groups, writing chats and communities where we’re really understood. We can even attend an online writing conference–the Muse Online Writing Conference or Write On Con.

And then there are ebooks. The wave of the future causing tremors throughout the publishing industry. With the advent of ebooks, it’s suddenly easier for people to make professional-quality books. It’s cheaper, too. Hundreds of authors are now epublishing themselves, jumping right in with both feet. For the first time in many, many years, authors are self publishing and earning the money and respect they deserve. If you’re confident your book is good enough and you can find people with the technical know-how to make it really look professional, self publishing might just be the way to go. It’s going to be a lot of work with no marketing team at all to back you up, but then again, ordinary writers are doing more and more of their own marketing now anyway.

Every single one of us has a chance to become a professional author. Whether or not we do depends on how hard we’re willing to work with it. One way isn’t easier than another. Just because you self published and didn’t have to go through all the trauma of rejections, doesn’t mean it’s less work. You still have to edit your book to the best it can be, format it or get someone to format it for you, create cover art or get someone to do it for you, and of course there’s marketing. If you really want to make a living off of your writing, you’re going to have to work at it, no matter what your chosen path to publication is. But as long as you’re willing to do the work, there’s a place for you in the world of books.

So never, ever give up.

Trying to be Healthier

My boyfriend, apart from being a wonderful guy, happens to be a mover. Sometimes his clients are also trying to get rid of things, because they won’t fit or for whatever other reasons. One day somebody wanted to get rid of a huge box of books. My boyfriend wanted a couple of them, but he was told if he was going to take any of them, he had to take all of them. Imagine my excitement-like a kid in a candy store–when he came home with this big box of books. There were only a couple of titles that grabbed me on my first look through, but now that I’ve finished those, I’ve realized that quite a lot of them interest me.

What does this have to do with getting healthier? Well, one of these books happened to be a book called New Choices in Natural Healing. It says edited by Bill Gottlieb. That’s the only name on the front. The book is several hundred pages long, including an introductory section which briefly discusses each method of natural healing, and remedies for dozens of common health conditions. Most of these remedies are ancient, and they can be good research for us as writers and as people. What we learn in books like these can be applied both to our every day lives and to our writing–that’s part of what makes it so exciting.

This book contains pretty much everything. They discuss acupressure, aromatherapy, massage, yoga, food therapy, herbal therapy, and I’m sure there’s something I’ve missed. So far I’ve only read a couple of the introductory chapters–acupressure, aromatherapy, massage and yoga–but I’m already fascinated. I’ve got some other books on the go, and they’re library books, so this book will be more of a side project than anything else for the time being. But I’ve already started to make it useful in more ways than one.

Somewhere in the five hundreds, they have a series of illustrations for acupressure, relaxation and meditation, yoga, and reflexology. The yoga exercises which have been illustrated are an excellent basic routine for day to day use. I’ve started to do these yoga exercises in the morning when I wake up, although I haven’t been doing them for long enough to notice much of a difference. During the school year, this might become something I do after school (I doubt that I’ll be up for the task of waking up a half hour early to do yoga), but I do hope to continue. Having the book with the illustrations makes me a lot more likely to do it than if I were to look up yoga online-by the time I’m on the computer, I’m very hard to distract from whatever I’m doing.

I already eat fairly well–mostly veggies and whole grains, since I don’t eat meat–but I don’t spend a lot of time exercising or meditating. Yoga for me is a good combination of both, and it’s something I’ve enjoyed in occasional one hour classes. My brain is such that I could never really remember more than a couple of the exercises though, so having this book to guide me will hopefully help me get into a proper yoga routine.

For those of you who, like me, don’t get a lot of exercise and tend to stress about things, yoga’s a great solution. Part of yoga is focusing on your breathing, and this will help calm you during the exercises and throughout the day. It strengthens your mind and your muscles, and helps you learn to live in the moment. Focusing on breathing and keeping your mind clear from worries will help you focus on your writing, too. Let the focus on your breath that started during your yoga follow you throughout the day, and you’ll probably enjoy your day a lot more–and even get more done.

If you can get your hands on a book or a DVD that will guide you through the first poses of yoga, do so. Start doing them every day and learn them well. Yoga is a mix between stretching, relaxation and exercise; it really is something you can do every day if you put your mind to it. If you can afford a class, that’s even better. Someday I hope to take yoga classes, but for now, with no budget to speak of, I’ll stick with this book I happened into.

How do you try to stay healthy? Have you ever tried yoga?

It’s a Writing Exercise

In order to more fully develop the characters in Moonshadow’s Guardian, I’ve written up a list of writing exercises and I’m going to work my way through them. Some of them are meant to be scenes, and some of them are meant to be internal monologues. All of them are meant to help me develop my characters and the relationships between them. I want to spend some more time writing out Riana’s childhood. I also want to develop some of the smaller characters-the king and a couple of the soldiers travelling with Riana-further. My first few exercises are going to hop from character to character, focusing on developing each individual. Then I’m going to start working on developing the relationships between the characters, writing off-stage dialogue scenes.

Each week I’ll be posting one of these exercises. I hope you’ll come with me on my journey to discover my characters. By writing a few carefully chosen moments in our characters’ lives, we can learn a lot more about them. Our voices will grow with each new exercise, and hopefully we’ll have some fun too. These exercises aren’t supposed to be a big deal though, so don’t let them get longer than a couple of pages.

This week, I’d like you to write an internal monologue for one of your characters. They should be talking about their first love.

And here’s part of my exercise:

I leaned forward. “Did you mean to kiss me last night?”
“I did.” His expression remained unchanged; a true king rarely showed his emotions.
“Do you mean…” Here I took a deep breath to calm my nerves. “Do you mean to kiss me again?”
Now he smiled. “I do.”
“Does that mean you love me?” I asked. I covered my mouth as soon as I’d spoken; I didn’t mean to be so up front about it.
“It does.” He stood up and began to pace. “I shouldn’t, though. It’s bad for my reputation, you know. I’m a king and all that. I can’t just love whoever I want. She has to be noble, the marriage has to be politically advantageous, and she has to be human. And I have to marry her.”
“You should be able to love whoever you want,” I said.
“I should be, but I’m not.” He stopped and leaned close to me, lifting my chin until I was looking into his eyes. “Only the poor get to choose their brides.”
“All kings are corrupt in one manner or another,” I said, “loving somebody inappropriate is one of the lesser crimes.”
He sighed. “I suppose.”
“And if we’re careful, nobody will find out until long after you’re dead.”
“I doubt we’ll be that lucky,” he said, “but maybe, for once in my life, I shouldn’t let that stop me. Maybe I should just love, the way I want to love.”

Please post your favourite paragraph from your writing exercise.

I Believe in Stories

I believe in the value of all stories. As writers, I think we should study all kinds of stories, and all forms of expression. We should study all genres, but beyond that, we should study plays, movies, and musicals. Even some well thought-out video games can be well worth studying.

I don’t think a well-written story can ever be a waste of time. A writer should always be open to new ideas and knowledge from the world around them, and almost anything can be studying for a writer. We can watch a movie and pay attention to how they develop characters, study the dialogue. We can go see a musical to see how they tell a story with music. We can play a video game and revel in the beautiful–or ugly–worlds set out before us. All of these mediums have something to teach us as a writer, and if one truly catches our fancy, all of these can lead you down a new writing path.

There is also value in going out into the world around you. That is how you experience stories-you do new things, take on new adventures. Often, these new adventures are where the best stories come from. New people always have at least one interesting story to tell you, too, if you just listen. Not all of these stories will be the inspiration for one of yours, but they will add to your knowledge base. Make an effort to remember the people you meet, and remember in particular the things that make them unique. Those are the things from which you can build your own characters, and many times, story comes from character.

Experience everything, but don’t neglect your own stories. When you’re deep in research for your next book, or you’ve been spending a lot of time immersed in other people’s stories, do small writing exercises with your characters to keep yourself sharp. I picked up a book from the library, and I’ve read a chapter every day this week. I’ve also hung out with friends and played a game called Dragon Age–which has a fascinating world–for many hours. I’ve read pages and pages of history online to research my next few short stories. And I’ve edited two short stories to keep myself sharp.

When I finish this post, I’m going to play a bit more of my game. It’s a long game, so I usually dedicate an hour or two to it. And when I’m done there, I’m going to come back to my computer and start doing some writing exercises, working on building characters. I’ve been working with most of the characters from Moonshadow’s Guardian for years now, but there’s always more to learn about them.

There are lots of interesting stories in the world around us. I’d like to share with you a couple of my favourites:

~What’s Eating Gilbert Grape This is a movie starring Johnny Depp and Leonardo Decaprio. Leonardo Decaprio plays Johnny Depp’s little brother. He has the mentality of a five or six year old. Johnny’s usually the one that has to take care of him, and the movie is about his struggle. It’s a great movie that really touched my heart.

~The Sound of Music I’m sure you’re all aware of this musical, about the Von Trapp family. It’s a really well written story with great music. I’ve seen the movie hundreds of times, but it was still magical when my grandmother and I went to see the real musical. I’ll never forget it.

~Dragon Age The game that I’m playing right now, Dragon Age is a something-something–something RPG with a really well built world. Your goal is to end the Blight and save the kingdom, but you also have to take a traitor off the throne and help choose a king in the Dwarven city. You can make a lot of choices in this game, starting with what race and class you are–which leads to one of six different beginnings-and continuing with whether you help people or not. You can even be rude to people throughout the game. It’s a game with a lot of replay value–I’m currently on my third replay.

~Princess Bride I sincerely hope you’ve already seen this movie, but if you haven’t, it’s the funniest tale of a princess and a pirate I’ve ever seen. There’s a book, too, which is a much longer and more detailed version of the movie. Much of the dialogue in the movie is taken directly from the book, and the spirit of the book is excellently followed. Somebody told me that the author was the dude who made the movie, but I’m not sure about that.

~Weaveworld Just because I had to include a book. This one is by a guy named Clive Barker, who I’m told usually writes really gruesome horror. This is pretty gruesome fantasy about a world that’s been woven into a carpet, which must be kept out of the wrong hands. An idea of the wrong hands is Immacolata, a woman who’s walking around with the ghosts of her dead sisters at the beginning of the book. She strangled them herself in the womb. She also hates the people in the carpet, and therefore must be kept away from them.

All of these stories should entertain you–Weaveworld, I must warn you, is a long book–for at least the weekend. And I’ve been working on some writing exercises for Monday.

What are some of your favourite stories?

Studying History For Inspiration

A few weeks ago, I wrote a short story entitled Birth of a Vampire. It takes place in Scotland, around 700 A.D., as the last of Paganism was fading from the country. It’s the first of several stories meant to travel with the vampire-Thomas-around the world and through the ages. This series of short stories is going to be my most research-heavy project yet. I’m not dreading all the legwork though-I’m excited, and I’m getting new inspiration every couple of pages.

I believe that everyone should study history, especially writers. History is a study of humanity, showing our patterns and our ways of thinking. More than the names and dates, the people and the places, it says a lot about humanity as a whole. And basic human nature hasn’t changed much-look at how today’s terrorists die readily for their religion, and then look at the Children’s Crusades, where thousands died on the road to ‘save the holy land’.

For fantasy writers, many of us base our worlds-however loosely-off of historical times and places. We should do the legwork to find out what those places were really like before we take them and change them. And history is one of the greatest places to find new story ideas. Human history is full of happy moments and sad moments; it is full of great, liberating revolutions and dirty, oppressive secrets. Reading the bloody histories of our own countries can help us build new ones with suitably bloody history.

If you’re not working on a world or a novel-length project right now, you should study history anyway. Knowing history can only help you in the long run. It’s helpful in a debate, a great conversation piece, and it generally makes you feel smarter. You can study your own country, and it might be fun to try to trace your ancestry. You’ll probably learn a surprising amount about history from the story of your own family. It’ll help you feel more grounded in who you are, give you something to be proud of. (Or not.)But the best part is that history can be pretty inspirational, and you might stumble into a literary gold mine, full of amazing story ideas.

During my research, I’ve already had to stop to write notes for one character and one story, which looks like it’ll want to be novel-length. If you’re not doing research for a specific project, just for your own enjoyment, then you can jump right into a new story. If it is research for a specific project, then you’ll have something new ready and waiting for you when you finish. Just be careful not to start an entirely new project and abandon the old one.

Where to start? In the country where your story takes place, or in your country of origin, or maybe just someplace that interests you. So far most of my research has been in Scotland-where clan Gunn hails from-and the Byzantine empire, the Eastern half of the Roman empire. I’ve got a book about historical England and tomorrow I’m going to start researching early Spain. I’m going to share a couple of my links with you, and if you have any good links about the history of Spain, please do share.

Linkage!

~Heart O Scotland This has been my primary internet resource for the history of Scotland. It’s almost shameful how little I knew about Scotland three days ago, but this site has a pretty good overview of Scottish history and is pretty reliable.

~National Library of Scotland This page has listings for all the old counties of Scotland, and if you click the links you’ll find literally hundreds of maps of Scotland throughout the ages.

~

Mission Successful

Last night-or maybe early this morning, who’s paying attention?-I finished the current draft of Moonshadow’s Guardian at about 48, 000 words. I’ve decided to celebrate with a day of watching some interesting anime-a Japanese style of animation, for anyone who doesn’t know-and some chocolate.

Hopefully you’re done editing your work by now, too. If not, get yourself a treat and get back to work. Editing is hard work; you deserve to reward yourself every now and then.

Besides, what comes after the celebration? Why, more work, of course. Next week I’m going to work on editing the first in a series of short stories focused on a couple vampires while I research locations for the next few. I’m going to write as many of these stories as I can this month to help me reach my Camp Nanowrimo goal. I’m sitting at approximately 29K and confident that I’ll be able to hit 80, 000 words by the end of the month.

I’ll also be doing some dialogue and character development exercises both in relation to Moonshadow’s Guardian and here on the blog. Sometime during the month I’ll be adding a few scenes designed to round out some characters-scenes I already have starting in my mind-and once those are added, I’ll be ready to print it up and go through it again. This time I’m confident that most of the changes will be minor, adding and removing words, sentences and occasionally scenes rather than rewriting the whole thing.

Finishing a draft of a novel is a good reason to celebrate. It’s also a good time to stop and re-assess your goals, and make plans for your future. It’s not a good time to take a month off of writing; you have to keep in practice all the time.

Have you finished anything recently? Do you have writing plans for the rest of this summer?