Writing Techniques: Music

When it comes to my own writing projects, I typically construct playlists to listen to while working. I LOVE when I read a great book and the author includes a list of songs they listened to while writing, either on their website or in the back pages. It helps readers get a glimpse into their process, in a way – to peek at their inspiration.

The full playlist I listened to while writing I’m With You can be found here. Now, the playlist is quite long, so for this post, I thought I’d take just a few selections from the list and explain the impact they had on the writing process. No major spoilers, though. If you’d like to read I’m With You and see the results of the playlist for yourself, here is the link to buy from Amazon! It’s available in print and e-book formats, and is also available in print on the Barnes and Noble website.

Dead Hearts by Stars
This song was pivotal in the creation and evolution of Remiel as a character. Not only for the lyrics, but also for the general sound, which I found incredibly unique from the first time I heard it. To me, this song evokes sadness, but it also seems cold and detached, even when exploring something very visceral – which was fitting for Rem’s personality.

If There Was No You by Brandi Carlile
Valkyrie and Ramus were created as characters long before the plot of I’m With You was finalized. Their original roles were quite different (one of them was originally a hit-man, one had two-toned hair, etc) and they have undergone many changes in personality and background as the narrative evolved into the final version, but their relationship (both the good aspects and the problematic) remained largely unchanged throughout development. This song was a partial inspiration in that regard, as without the other, their characters would not be complete.

Light by Sleeping at Last
A major idea I tried to explore in the novel was the idea of “family,” though not always in a typical sense. To me, this song emulates the influence/impact a person can have on another, whether it be via familial connection, friendship, or some other meaningful relationship. Since the main characters forge bonds with one another over the course of the story, weaving themselves together into a makeshift family, and they each come to be important to one another in some way, the content of this song seemed very appropriate. Also, I like how it sounds.

People Help the People by Cherry Ghost/Birdy
I think people are more familiar with Birdy’s cover of this song, which is amazing, but I will always prefer the original. I love all of Cherry Ghost’s work, which is criminally underrated. Overall, this song’s tone and sound is what I derived the most inspiration from, but one line in particular is what stands out to me the most, and that is: “And if you’re homesick, give me your hand and I’ll hold it,” which reminded me of the sibling relationship between Ciarán and Remiel, and how they support one another.

Dead Man’s Suit by Cherry Ghost
This song sort of served a dual purpose – I consider it thematic for the novel, mostly for the unique sound it has, and also because my play count for this song was extraordinarily high when all was said and done. It’s one of those songs that really hit me when I first heard it, and I never skip it when it comes on shuffle. It is also a partial influence for the character of Ernest Morrigan, Rem and Ciarán’s father, due to some particular lines of lyrics.

Six Weeks by Of Monsters and Men
Along with Your Bones, King and Lionheart, and Silhouettes, this song was pivotal during the writing of chapters 17-19, largely for their sound and lyrical content. Six Weeks, in particular, influenced the development of Cinderflynn as a character, and it, along with some of the other Of Monsters and Men songs on this list (from their first album – the second wasn’t out at the time of the first draft) were on repeat as I wrote those portions of the story, and were a definite factor in the development of the narrative and the overall tone. Of Monsters and Men have a very distinct “mountain sound” to their work that I sought to emulate while writing those chapters, and their songs provided a lot of inspiration.

The Story by Brandi Carlile
In addition to being one of my favorite songs of all time (OF ALL TIME, I TELL YOU), this song was also one I listened to for the general feel of the story/themes. If I hit a snag with writer’s block, this song helped drag me out of it. This song was my rock. I think if the main cast had a theme song to tie them together (you know… like the Power Rangers… or the Planeteers… or the Transformers, maybe) then this would be my choice, because the main characters are bound by their own stories, as well as “the story” that brings them together.

Coming Home (pt. 2) by Skylar Grey 
I listened to this song (the version sans the rap part) while I wrote the closing chapters of the novel, as it definitely struck me as an “ending theme.” It symbolizes the end of a journey; a determination to see something through to the end, until it is time to return “home.” The final stretch of a laborious journey. Etc, etc.

My Silver LiningFirst Aid Kit
This song wasn’t released until I’m With You was in the editing phase, but it still provided a boost of motivation as I worked through rewrites and tweaks to the manuscript. Because if there is anything the main (and supporting) characters needed during their ventures, it was a “silver lining” to their respective circumstances. Also, it’s a total jam, man.

DemonsImagine Dragons
I liked this song for the overall tone and theme, but also as a partial influence for Kaz’s personality and his mentality. Several characters grapple with their own demons over the course of the narrative, so the song is fitting for the plot, but I listened to this particular tune during chapters 23-24, as I tried to convey that, though someone may be plagued by demons, it is not impossible to overcome them.

Believe by Mumford and Sons
This song didn’t come out until after I found out my manuscript was going to be published, but I added it to my playlist during the editing process. To me, the song explores what happens when belief falters and doubt sets in – but also about overcoming those difficulties, or striving to restore dedication in a cause. And that is the main plight that Ciarán faces in the story; his world gets flipped upside down, and he no longer knows what to believe. Through the course of the novel, he must learn to cope with new circumstances; to find belief again, after his perspective gets utterly rearranged.

Worth 1000 Words #8: Coffee

A cup of coffee can either save or ruin an entire day. I guess that also applies to tea or other similar beverages, but I dislike most tea that is not of the iced variety, so this post will strictly deal with coffee.

IMG_20170515_145133_308For several folks all over the world, coffee is what sets the morning in motion. Or it provides a much-needed stimulant in the afternoon. Or it can be the fuel to a productive evening if you don’t have to wake up early the following day. Basically, coffee is a versatile tool that can be utilized whenever someone needs a caffeine-based boost. On many dreary days, it is only the tantalizing scent of coffee that is capable of dragging me out of bed in the morning, and during certain evenings, I look forward to indulging in a cup of “night coffee” as I settle in for an editing session or to read a few chapters of a book.

My personal relationship with coffee has not always been a healthy one; back in my late high-school / early college years, I was averaging about five to seven cups a day. Not good, and quite detrimental to my general state of being. My sleep schedule was terrible, my diet was awful, the caffeine headaches were brutal, I developed the appearance of a zombie raccoon, and I was basically using coffee as a crutch to hobble through each day and night. After receiving doctor’s orders to decrease my caffeine intake, I have managed to scale it back to two or three cups, depending on my work load or the kind of day I’m having, and on (very) rare occasions I even settle for one. I still resemble a zombie raccoon on most days, but I’m starting to think that’s just my natural appearance.

But I am also one of those folks who is not satisfied with just any kind of coffee. No, no… I am a snob. I’m definitely not as bad as some, so I guess you could say I’m a low-tier snob, but over the years, my tastes have evolved so that I can only tolerate certain strains of coffee, with dark roast being the most prominent. I am partial to French roast (the Starbucks kind is probably the best I’ve had, but Victor Allen’s is decent, and so is the Newman’s Own) but I will accept Sumatra, Italian, or any other kind of dark roast. I used to be able to drink any kind of coffee, but now, all variants of light roast taste like a single coffee bean floating in water to me – I call it devil’s swill. I honestly can’t fathom how people even drink light roast; I can tolerate medium roast if there are no other options, but really, the bolder the better.

However, despite my love of all things dark roast, I do have a fondness for sugary, frilly coffee drinks; frapuccinos, machiattos, lattes, blended drinks, etc. Sure, they’re often overpriced and provide about three days’ worth of sugar in a single sip, but they taste delicious! And sometimes, a frou-frou basic-white-girl whipped-cream-topped sweet treat is just what is required to propel someone through a rough patch. I’m off chocolate for the year (which has been a struggle, let me tell you), but if I weren’t, I’d be indulging in a S’mores Frappuccino right about now. Not that it will redeem me any, but I am STRONGLY anti-Pumpkin spiced anything and cannot stand the taste of gingerbread, so in the fall/winter, I am somewhat less of a basic bitch. I also haven’t tried the new Unicorn thing, but I suspect there isn’t any actual coffee in it, so I think I’ll avoid that sugar rush.

I prefer not to take coffee black; I’m not even sure how people do it. If I’m fixing myself a cup at home, I use a splash of creamer – basic vanilla or something simple. Right now, I’m using one called “sweet cream,” but it’s not overly-sweet. Y’all can get out of here with your hazelnut, though, or any of those fancy-pants flavors. If I’m out at a restaurant or something, I go for standard cream and sugar. Not too much; just enough to stave off bitterness.

I also have a mug preference, if I’m at home and am free to select whichever vessel I desire for my caffeinated beverages. My cupboard includes two Star Wars mugs (one is BB8, the other is Rogue One based) an Avengers mug, two Batman mugs, a mug with the logo of my alma mater on it, a Game of Thrones stein (House Baratheon… purchased before season 5 episode 9), and a bunch of plain white mugs for plain days. Sometimes, all it takes is a cup of java in a BB8 mug to lift my mood. Why would I use a plain old mug when I can drink out of a mug with superheroes on it?

Now, coffee is a simple thing, I know; probably not something I should spend 1000 words droning on about. But simple pleasures have power. Besides, you can tell a lot about someone from the way they take their coffee. I like to think I’m as bold as French roast (I’m not) with just a splash of sweetness (I’m not that, either), but a coffee preference can be an integral part of a person’s psyche; something that someone else can identify with. I even try really hard not to judge people who drink light roast, though it’s a daily struggle. Seriously, how does anyone consume that… that… devil’s swill?!?

My coffee order has evolved over the years, and I have changed with it – maybe someday, I’ll be taking my coffee black to match my bright sunshine-y disposition! For now, however, I’ll happily stick to my French roast… I actually just ordered a pack of 200 Victor Allen’s K-cups and I’m curious to see how long it will take me to plow through it.

So, the question is… how do you take your coffee?

Writing Rewind #2: Wings of Fate – Chapter 1 Part 1

Because the chapters of this monstrosity are so long (the first was 10,000+ words and it’s one of the “shorter” ones if you can believe it) I’m splitting them each into at least 2 parts. Some may even be 3, depending on the content. Since I’m only including snippets instead of the full draft, which means large cuts in plot and context, I will attempt to assemble some semblance of a story from the passages I select. Don’t want y’all to miss out on the extremely well thought out and plausible plot I devised ten years ago!

Last time we dissected the problematic prologue, which introduced a mysterious “mission.” This time, we meet our hero, and my very first original protagonist (of some kind of substance) – Heiwa! So let’s get started with Wings of Fate, Chapter 1: The Letter.

KEY/GUIDE:
Strikethrough = cut out
Highlight = rephrase/reword/awk
Blue highlight = minor additions
DANGER RED HIGHLIGHT= massive cringe

ch1p1

*sigh* Here we go again… bogged down with excess description and detail.

If it wasn’t cringe-worthy enough in itself, I envisioned this piece as an “anime/manga,” hence the random Japanese phrases strewn about. But that’s the least of the issues, here, so I’m not going to bother pointing them all out. Rest assured, I am mortified by them.

Every sentence just keeps going, and going, and going, when it has already conveyed the message and does not need any further explanation.

Also, way, way too many adverbs. I’m actually not as anti-adverb as some folks tend to be (within reason), but I do think they should be used sparingly. A decade ago, I was a huge advocate of adverbs; but I didn’t really know better. Still… I look forward to hacking through them. Might get my word count under 200,000 with that alone!

So, an initial scan yields this:

ch1p1marks

Time to get rid of that awkward phrasing and those pesky adverbs! Not to mention the overly-descriptive passage about Grandma. Her character becomes clear later through dialogue and her interactions with others, and doesn’t need to be so overt from the get-go. We don’t need a full description in her first appearance. Or ever, really.

ch1p1fixed

Despite losing some description, Ritsuko’s character and personality still seems to come through, as does her relationship with Heiwa. And it could be done in far less words! Imagine that!

*cracks knuckles* The next bit is going to be… well… a challenge. But it does show just how bloated this entire story is, as there are passages like this throughout the piece.

ch1p2

SWEET JESUS. Where to START? I almost wish I could highlight all of it in red.

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While some degree of description is necessary for setting and for characterization, as blindly leading a reader into a story probably isn’t wise, I think I laid it on a little too thick. And by “a little,” I mean way too thick. There does need to be set-up of some kind, especially since the story is futuristic, but an exposition dump is almost always a bad way to approach it.

These revelations should be more gradual, especially when it comes to the protag; we’re going to be spending 22 chapters with this guy, so not everything needs to be spelled out right at the beginning. Especially not in such a callous way, either – the listing of his flaws comes off as trying too hard to show what a “screw up” Heiwa is, or to downplay him on purpose; like making a girl protagonist “clumsy” just to give her a flaw. In retrospect, the message doesn’t need to be quite so heavy-handed, as his personality unfolds throughout the introductory chapters and doesn’t need to be foisted upon the reader right at the start.

ch1p2fixed

The word count for the selection was more or less halved, and nothing was really lost. Everything that needed to be said is still there in a more concise manner. Heck, it could probably be trimmed even more! HECK, I PROBABLY COULD HAVE LEFT IT ALL OUT. But, I digress… onto the next snippet!

ch1p3

I thought the last section was bad, but now, I… am beginning to regret doing this. I’m not sure I can take it. I might just shrivel up and die of embarrassment.

ch1p3marked

FIRST OF ALL, THAT CRINGE-TASTIC RED HIGHLIGHTED SENTENCE HAS GOT TO GO. That is so, so, so bad. “Green orbs.” I am horrified. LAY OFF THE EYE DESCRIPTIONS, ALLIE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD. Sadly, as I have seen the rest of this work (being the one who wrote it, and all) I know it will only get worse from here on out. Much worse.

Also, lots of awkward wording and phrasing that needs to be refined.

ch1p3fixed

Whew, the cringe is gone! Well… most of it, anyway.

The last portion for the first part of the chapter (because I don’t think I have the energy to any more of it today… I need a break to ponder my life choices) features another character; Heiwa’s mother, Izumi.

ch1p4

*gets out the scissors* TIME TO START CUTTING!!!!!!

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Izumi doesn’t need to spell out her entire life story and the progression of her illness all in one chunk of dialogue. Especially since it has already been discussed previously, and it is partially explored in the paragraph that follows it. It’s just too much, and can be narrowed into something that is more efficient.

ch1p4fixed.PNG

AH, much better! So much is gone, but not much is lost. Izumi’s personality and her situation peek through without bombarding the reader with info. Subtlety is a virtue… one I did not understand a decade ago.

That’s it for today – I’ve done enough damage! Next time, we’ll tackle the second half of Chapter 1… which is, unfortunately, similar to the first. We’ll discover what “the letter” means and how it will affect our hero, Heiwa. Hopefully, I can whip the latter half of the chapter into shape without splintering my sanity.

Writing Rewind #1: Wings of Fate – Prologue

I’ve mentioned my history with fanfiction in a previous blog post, and I’ve probably touched on some other early writing ventures, but perhaps the most significant of those endeavors is the 539 page, 285,000+ word anime-inspired sci-fi epic, Wings of Fate, which I wrote when I was a 14-15 year old “weeaboo” with lofty dreams of drafting a masterpiece. Sadly, the end result was a nightmare.

I look back on it sometimes when I need a chuckle at my own expense, because it’s bad. Unfortunately, these strolls down memory lane typically result in more cringing than anything else, but for the last decade or so, the file has been sitting mostly untouched on a flash-drive.

Therefore, I thought I could use it for an experiment, of sorts – I’ll cut out snippets, chapter by chapter, post them here, then examine mistakes I made and how I could have improved it. I’m not a “pro”  but I don’t intend to do anything with this work (no serious editing and I do not want/intend to attempt to have it published in the future) so I might as well use it as an exercise. Sure, digging up past examples of my terrible writing might not be the best idea for my ego and could even induce some level of trauma, but who knows? It might be therapeutic!

I won’t be posting all of it, so some context will be missing, but I’ll do my best to bridge the gaps. I mean, the whole thing was over 500 pages on WordPerfect, single-spaced except for paragraph breaks. I typed it on my now-ancient Dell PC, and it’s a tedious read that can probably be classified as torture. The end result of this little exercise won’t be perfection, but it will certainly be an adventure!

KEY/GUIDE:
Strikethrough = cut out
Highlight = rephrase/reword/awk
Blue highlight = minor additions
DANGER RED HIGHLIGHT= massive cringe

So here we go… with Prologue: The Mission! (DUN DUN DUN!!!)

 

P1

I have mentioned my previous tendency to over-explain and add superfluous detail; an issue that still creeps up on me to this day. I was tempted to strikethrough the entire thing…and it’s only the first paragraphs. This is going to be a bumpy ride.

So, after a scan, this is what I came up with:

P1FIX

First of all, I described the general’s eyes as “icy azure,” and then “frigid.” I guess I REALLY wanted to make sure everyone knew how cold he’s meant to be. Forewarning, this will be a recurring theme with the personality/physical traits of various characters. This whole section is bogged down with needless detail and a lot of “tell” instead of “show.” It’s just TOO MUCH.

And so, after a quick edit, this is the fixed version:

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Streamlined and much shorter – it attempts to set the scene without delving into too much unnecessary detail and description.

Let’s move on to…

p2

Again… this is just… no. Just no. My initial reactions resulted in this:

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I mean… clearly, I didn’t do much research prior to writing this, but for a story that features a confidential, military-related mission, the way I framed it is RIDICULOUS. Plus, it would never happen. Not that I was aiming for “believable,” but even the parts that could have been at least a tiny bit plausible were just… a mess.

ALSO WHY WOULD I EVER DESCRIBE SOMETHING AS “GOOD-SIZED?”” I mean really. USE YOUR WORDS, ALLIE!!!!

Here’s how I fixed it:

p2fixed

I can feel the 533 pages being pared down already – like a sheep being shorn from the shackles of its oppressive fleece. How I wish I could travel back in time and give Past-Allie a thesaurus and a good smack in the face!

p3

Again… way too much all around. And, just in case it wasn’t clear, “The General” is a cold man. Frigid, even. I don’t think I used nearly enough adjectives to describe him.

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These were my initial edits, but I did rework some sentences a bit more as I slogged through through the changes. (I know “General” is meant to be under-cased, but since no names were used in the prologue, I capitalized it to make it more clear.)

p3fixes

Seeing a theme? Edits are much shorter, because, back when I was 14/15, I frequently fell into the all-too-common trap of incessant, grating detail. Gotta leave something for the reader to draw on their own instead of beating them over the head with it.

Lastly, to send off this disaster…

p4

*headdesk*

p4errors

Notice there is only ONE SENTENCE LEFT UNTOUCHED. ONE. OF SEVERAL. And really, the comma in that sentence is sketchy.

Also, the two red segments scream of using a thesaurus for certain words. Typically, there is nothing wrong with this as the thesaurus is a useful tool, but it sometimes makes a sentence or phrase sound unnatural. I mean, “Ebony tresses?” “Azure eyes met cerulean heavens?” Kill me. However, I can see where my tendency to refer too-often to a character’s eye color began.

Less is more. LESS IS MORE. I was quite obviously not aware of that back then…

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Sadly, this is only the prologue. The ensuing chapters (of which there are 22, I think – I will probably split each chapter into 2 posts) are all absurdly long (I had a notorious reputation for long chapters in my fanfiction days) and the story was crammed with so much detail and bloated dialogue and repetition that it might cause me to lose my sanity to revisit all of it. However, despite the pain, it does feel good to go back and trim down the superfluous bits, and be able to pinpoint and mend the errors I made in my writing a decade ago. This is equal parts soothing and enraging… though the scales may tip more in favor of “enraging” as this blog series continues.

Next time, I’ll venture onto Wings of Fate, Chapter 1: The Letter. We’ll meet our reluctant hero and get a taste of what his life is like… it’s probably going to contain frequent references to his eye/hair color, so brace yourselves now.

 

*Also, thanks to anyone who bought the Kindle version of my YA novel, I’m With You, during the Countdown Deal this weekend! If you missed out, it’s still just $4.99 to purchase at Amazon, but I’ll be running more deals in the future!

The Kindle edition of I’m With You is now $2.99!

The Countdown Deal continues for the kindle edition of I’m With You – price increases from $2.99 to $3.99 in a little over ten hours! Here is the link to purchase: LINK!

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Follow fifteen-year-old Ciarán Morrigan and his little sister Remiel, who, with enlisted help from a band of misfits, strive to escape their unstable father and the ghosts of their past.

 

 

Countdown Deal still LIVE!

Just a little over five hours left for the first increment of the Countdown Deal for the kindle version of my indie YA novel, I’m With You! Currently $1.99!

Here is the link to Amazon: LINK!

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Follow fifteen-year-old Ciarán Morrigan and his little sister Remiel, who, with enlisted help from a band of misfits, strive to escape their unstable father and the ghosts of their past.

I’m With You – Countdown Deal is LIVE!

Over the course of the weekend, I’m running a special on the kindle version of my debut YA indie novel, I’m With You.
countdown.pngCurrently, the price is discounted to $1.99, down from $4.99! After today, the price goes to $2.99, etc, until it’s back to the original price. So right now, it’s quite a deal – get it while you can!

Here is the link to purchase: AMAZON LINK!

I’m With You is the story of fifteen-year-old Ciarán Morrigan and his little sister Remiel, who must flee their home in Kelvar City to escape their unstable father. Along the way, they meet a band of misfits, including a fire juggler and the disowned heir to a car-manufacturing empire, who help Ciarán and Remiel evade the hired hands sent to track them down. But when Remiel’s darkest secret is revealed, will their new friends abandon them, or will the Morrigan siblings find the freedom and peace that they dream of?

Check it out!!!