Writing Rewind #6: Chapter 4 Part 1

On our last trip down memory (and cringe-worthy) lane, Heiwa, with some persuasion from the folks in his life, decided to go on the life-changing mission aboard the UNMEI. It took 10,000+ words for him to come to that conclusion. We are literally 30,000+ words into this story and just hit the official start of the main plot. That is 1/3 the length of my first published novel, for reference…

Not much recap to do, so let’s get started!

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

CHAPTER 4 P 1

*pours fifth cup of coffee* Settle in, folks. It’s going to be a bumpy ride!

Per usual, this selection is bogged down by heaps of detail that are totally unnecessary and which add nothing to the story. So, it’s time to chop it up and glue it back together into something a bit more cohesive!

Here are the proposed changes…

CH 4 P 1 CHANGES

The start of a chapter should not be such a drag. It needs to accomplish the set up in a way that isn’t so slow and wordy. A lot of the detail in this isn’t needed at all; Heiwa’s week leading up to the mission isn’t important to the grand scheme, so that paragraph needs to go, and what is left needs to be reworked.

So, here are the results:

ch4 p 1 fixed

Much shorter, and yet, it conveys the same message. Heiwa is clearly excited about what is to come and we don’t have a useless recap of the non-important events leading up to the day of his departure. Who cares if he had to fix the roof before he leaves? IT DOESN’T F*CKING MATTER!!!!….Ahem. Sorry about that…

Next up, this lovely passage:

CH4 P 2

Ristsuko’s first dialogue segment features the word “good” three times. THREE TIMES. You know what that is? It’s NOT GOOD, that’s what it is!!!! I’m not against using “good” in terms of dialogue, but three times is excessive.

CH 4 P 2 CHANGES

THREE TIMES. THREE. TIMES. I’m sorry, I can’t get over it…

Other than that, it’s the standard fare; needs to be trimmed and rearranged; slimmed and reworked. The dialogue is clunky (THREE TIMES!!!!!) and needs a bit of clarity, so the words will flow better.

CH 4 P 2 FIXED

Ah… the use of “good” is down to an acceptable level, and the dialogue has been re-worked so it sounds more natural. Heiwa’s description is also fixed, so, although it relies on the “looking in the mirror” cliche, it sounds a bit better.

For a bit of a summary of the bits I’ve skipped to get to the next section, Heiwa shares a tearful goodbye with his mother, catches a ride with Kato to the airship base, and is now awaiting orders, though he has yet to see Daisuke…

CH 4 P 3

We get two new major/supporting faces in this chapter; Colonel Kaiser Berkmann and Sergeant Benedikt Kahler. Also, I apparently didn’t know that the “v” in “von Schneider” should not be capitalized. Hindsight is so fun, y’all; especially when a bit of googling could have saved me a lot of time, way back when.

My first scan results in this:

CH 4 P 3 CHANGES.PNG

I genuinely believe that if I eliminate all references to Matthias being “cold” or “frigid” or “austere,” the word count could be under 100,000. Well… that might be a stretch. Let’s say 150,000. That “austere” reference is getting the axe, and fast.

Lots of yellow, here… and it is definitely necessary. This whole portion is tough to slog through and has no sense of flow, plus the character descriptions need to be tweaked. Also, the way General von Schneider speaks must be addressed, because I know that I was aiming for “intimidating” (or “cold,” if you will) but the way he speaks rings hollow in that regard, and doesn’t seem genuine or particularly “official.”

CH 4 P 3 FIXED.PNG

Much better! (There should be an “a” before “chiseled,” though. Just pretend it’s there…I don’t have the document with me to fix it at the moment…)

Exposition is still there, but it’s smoother and less clogged with unnecessary words/sentences, and the character descriptions are trimmed to the basics. The dialogue for General von Schneider has also been fixed, and he sounds a bit more “General-esque.”

Lastly, we move on to one heckuva doozy…

ch 4 p 4

*bangs head on table*

How will we ever fix this…this… MONSTROSITY?!?

After a long perusal, this is what I’ve got:

CH 4 P 4 CHANGES

A few cuts here, and a few cuts there, and we might be able to save this bit! There’s a lot of description here, but sentences can be fused together to create better transitions, and some can be eliminated to make the whole thing move faster and smoother. Also, I believe Sergeant Kahler’s “nonchalance” can be summed up instead of described in multiple different ways.

ch 4 p 4 fixed

That selection is just about halved and nothing of importance was lost, and the awkward descriptions have been fixed. The conversation flows better and isn’t stilted with superfluous fluff. Honestly, it’s amazing how much I am able to cut from this piece with ten years of practice and some schooling under my belt.

Alright, next time we have the second half of chapter 4! Who will Heiwa’s roommate be onboard the UNMEI? What will their training entail? What is the exact mission that Heiwa is now involved in? What are Majors Tango and Leiter like? Only one of those questions will be answered next time, but the rest will follow eventually! After all, what is a scifi/manga epic without excessive exposition and at least 7 chapters to establish the plot and main cast?

Stay tuned for the next installment!

Writing Rewind #5: Wings of Fate Chapter 3

When we last left off on Writing Rewind, Heiwa met a new friend named Daisuke and attended a “mysterious meeting,” which announced a year-long mission on an airship under the command of the cold, icy, frigid, glacial General Matthias von Schneider. However, Heiwa doesn’t believe he can go because of his obligations to his mother and grandmother, even though he technically shouldn’t have the ability to refuse because it should have been an order, not an optional offer. Will Daisuke be able to convince Heiwa that going on this mission is his destiny?

To set the scene for chapter 3, Daisuke and Heiwa have arrived at a fast-food establishment called Burger Village (my creativity at its peak) where Daisuke and Kato (their cab driver, who comes along for some reason) are going to attempt to convince Heiwa that he must not pass up this chance of a lifetime…

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

ch3first

I’m all for similies and metaphors, but sometimes they should just… not. They can be a bane instead of a boon, if you know what I mean. And in my early years as a writer, I over-relied on them to the extreme. You should see my old fanfiction, it’s even worse than this!

My first scan yields this:

ch3firstchanges

Oh, look – familiar issues are cropping up again! Superfluous dialogue, awkward phrasing, needless detail… which means it’s time to fetch the trimmer! And there’s some tweaking to do, as well, to help eradicate the choppiness.

ch3firstfixed

The end result is a bit clearer, not so clunky, and doesn’t feature quite as many similies.

Next up…

ch3second

Good LORD, Heiwa could have probably said all of his opening dialogue bit in like… two sentences. That is over-explaining to the maximum, and it must be destroyed!!!!

My first round produces…

ch3secondchanges

It’s rare, but there are a couple of additions to be made (gasp!), along with the usual rephrasing and cutting. Also, I wish I could eliminate every single time Daisuke says “Dude,” because that was a definite mistake. I still might – it’s up in the air, at this point.

ch3second fixed

And there we have it; Heiwa’s blathering is sliced down to a far more manageable 3 sentences, and the awkward sentences have been reworked to improve clarity. A couple of sentences/snippets have also been swapped around, which I think flows better.

Next up, we have…

ch3third

For the life of me, I cannot fathom why everyone in this story is astonished that Heiwa would get to go on an actual airship during this (absurdly implausible) mission. He’s a member of the military branch that deals DIRECTLY WITH AIRSHIPS. It shouldn’t be such an uncommon thing, but apparently, this made sense to 15 year old me. So that needs to be phased out, obviously…

Other than that, it’s the same old, same old…

ch3thirdchanges.PNG

That first sentence is complete cringe. There are many ways to convey surprise, and in this sentence, Ritsuko is displaying two, and “stunned disbelief” is somewhat oxymoronic. And I’m just plain moronic.

Other than that, this selection is a bit tame, actually! A few redundant thoughts to hack off, and a bit of tweaking, then we have…

ch3thirdfixed.PNG

Ritsuko is showing her surprise in only one way, as opposed to two. Some dialogue was rearranged, and other sentences were removed, and we still have a functional passage that isn’t completely awful!

For the penultimate selection, we’ve got…

ch3fourth.PNG

Whoooooo boy. This passage can only be described as DRAMATIC AND OVERLY-DRAMATIC. I mean, Heiwa is obviously conflicted about the decision he has to make, but damn… it should not take this many conversations and repetition and blabbing on, and on, AND ON, to come to a conclusion.

So the proposed changes include…

ch3fourthchanges.PNG

That red-highlighted sentence is flat-out ridiculous. I am now a firm believer that “orbs” should never be used to describe eyes, EVER. Or certain parts of female anatomy, but that’s just my opinion. Also, I thought garnet was green when I wrote this. It is not green. So… yeah. That’s gonna pop up a lot in the future, too.

Also, WAY, WAY TOO MUCH dialogue for Izumi. The heartfelt words kind of lose their impact when it’s stated repeatedly in various ways and in a massive chunk of as opposed to compacted into a concise version. THAT MUST CHANGE, STAT!

So basically, we need to chop, chop, chop, and polish, polish, polish!

ch3fourthfixed

Ahhh, look how slim and trim the fixed version is compared to the original! It’s so svelte.

So, their interaction is cut dramatically, but doesn’t really lose any meaning. Heiwa and his mom can profess their thoughts to one another and enforce their bond without PRATTLING ON FOREVER.

And last, but certainly not least, there’s this gem…

ch3fifth.PNG

Ohhhhhh my. This is just… no. No, no, no. I wish I could deny that I ever wrote this, but alas, it has my old trademarks all over it!

ch3fifthchanges.PNG

The axe is going to have a lot to do in this one, because the sappy, melodramatic blabbering has GOT to go. It doesn’t need to be reworked, or preserved. It needs to be terminated.

So, with that as the strategy, our final version is…

ch3fifthfixed.PNG

The same ideas have been expressed in two sentences instead of 10+. It’s so simple. Even though there are a lot of words that CAN be said, and a lot of emotional gravitas to be conveyed, they don’t always need to BE said or included. Simple is good.

And there we have it! Chapter 3 is also completed in one fell swoop! If it isn’t obvious, Heiwa has decided to go on the mission after being persuaded by his mother, grandmother, new friend, and a random cab driver. Next time, the mission is underway and we might meet a couple of new characters! That might be chapter 5, though. I can’t remember; I’ve blocked it out of my memory…

Next time, Chapter 4: The Point of no Return … a chapter likely named after the Phantom of the Opera song of the same name. I went through a musical phase in high school, so… yeah…

 

Writing Techniques: Place Names

My strategy for place names is similar to my strategy for character names, which I previously discussed in a blog post here.

By similar, I mean it is almost exactly the same, but there are some nuances worth discussing.

I know a lot of folks trend more toward the “don’t sweat it” when it comes to names for characters or places, but I fall more into the opinion that names are important for characters and for places. I think a good name is indicative of the place/character it is bestowed upon, and thus should be selected with care. But if you’re poring over name websites or google translate for 100000 hours trying to whittle a list down to the “perfect” name, it might be time to relax a bit.

For places, my strategy is a bit simpler than it is for names, but the technique is generally the same. There are 2 websites I rely on to help me concoct place names, and they are:

Google Translate (lots of options and more in-depth)
Indifferentlanguages.com (Presents choices in list-form, which is a bit easier to read/use)

Essentially, I analyze the place I am trying to name and pick out certain characteristics – like, is it rural/urban, are there mountains, is it defined by a certain landmark, what sort of people live there, etc. – and then look up related words in Google Translate or on the other site. Sometimes I have to go to other sites to translate character-based languages, but these two are the sites I utilize most frequently. For example, if the place is a snowy, northern city with a small population, I’ll see what “cold,” or “ice” or “desolate” mean in various languages, and try to align my choices so that the name sounds indicative of the place, if that makes sense. Often, I’ll combine two or more words – like, “ice town” could be Ledoras, a combination of related Serbian and Romanian words. Sounds like a plausible name for a city or a town; or a Middle-Earth elf.

Lastly,  I google the end result just to make sure I’m not accidentally swearing or using a questionable term. And wherever possible, I like to throw in an umlaut or an accent mark. I love a good umlaut.

I also think it’s a better idea to select/create names that are going to be at least somewhat easy to pronounce. But that’s a personal preference.

For I’m With You, the names of the Empiryan cities were mostly rooted in Latin with a couple of exceptions, like Kelvar, which I made up so long ago I genuinely couldn’t tell you where it came from (though, in retrospect, it is very similar to “kevlar” but I stand by it) and Terra Speranza, which is a combination of Latin and Italian, loosely meaning “Land of Hope.” For example, Fortisan is derived from the Latin term for “strong.” Postremo means “lastly,” or “and finally,” since it’s their first stop after a long train journey. Mount Gelu means “ice,” Silex means “flint,” Econtra is derived from “conversely” or “opposite” Fomeus means “smoke-filled,” and Organum has a dual-meaning, as in “organ” (instrument) and “organ” (part of the body) because the town itself is vital to certain characters. That’s the gist of it, anyway.

For the nation of Selva (which means “wood”), I mainly used Italian, even though Selva is an amalgamation of various places/cultures and not profoundly influenced solely by Italy. I also used a certain theme when it comes to the city/town names… Pero means “pear.” Fragola means “strawberry.” Mela means “apple.” That should make the theme clear. I couldn’t tell you why I named the cities and towns of Selva after the contents of a fruit bowl, but I’m fond of it.

It’s easy to get stuck on the details of writing, like names – or get so preoccupied with character names and personalities that the development of the setting/place names get tossed onto the back burner. It doesn’t have to be a hassle or an inconvenience to choose names for particular sites or settings in a story; it can even be a lot of fun, paring down options and trying out different word combinations, figuring out what to call the places that have already taken shape in your mind. Naming, though it’s not as major as actual plot development, helps to give the place/setting life – and outside resources certainly help to make the process easier.

Writing Rewind #3: Wings of Fate Chapter 1 Part 2

I can feel a headache brewing already… which means it’s time for part 3!

Last time, we met our beloved hero, Heiwa, who lives in the countryside with his grouchy grandmother and his terminally-ill mother. Now, we get the first taste of the plot, as Heiwa receives a mysterious (and likely poorly written) letter…

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

HERE WE GO! To set the scene, Heiwa just got some mail…

ch1p2first

I mean… I invented a new branch of the military for this story, and that probably was… erroneous. Definitely would have applied a different tactic if I were writing this for the first time today, but I’m not going to delve too deeply into it, because it would require a massive overhaul. Regardless, on a superficial level, I could definitely improve the way my fictional military branch presents itself. That letter is just a big ol’ ball of NOPE.

Here are the changes I pinpointed…

ch1p2firstchanges

Ahhhhhh, so much to cut out, so little time! Well, actually, I do have time; that’s why I’m doing this. Anyway… like so many parts before this, it suffers from “Too Much Detail” syndrome, and the only cure is extensive slashing. The letter is way too verbose, and there’s also some phrasing to rework, but nothing that major (for once).

Here’s the fixed version:

ch1p2firstfixed

Short, sweet (I guess), and to the point. Well… the point was for the letter to be vague, but intriguing. And the shorter it is, the better, so not to over-emphasize.

Later, Heiwa is watching television with his mother… in WAY TOO MUCH DETAIL. But we do learn a bit about Heiwa’s deceased cliche – I mean, father.

ch1p2second

In ninth grade, I obviously did not know the difference between “interlude” and “prelude.” So, that’s great. Also, I think Izumi has “smiled weakly” three times in this chapter alone, and TWICE in this segment. Good grief.

My initial scan yields this:

ch1p2secondchanges

Again with the emerald orbs!!!!! GAHHHHHHHHHH!!!!

Anyway, per usual, there’s a lot to rework to fix some awkward phrasing and general issues, and a couple of cringe-worthy and superfluous sentences to axe.

Here is the fixed version:ch1p2secondfixed

Much more concise, and nothing was lost. It’s easy to get caught up in the mentality of trying to ensure the reader knows EXACTLY what you are trying to day, but really, I think it’s more about providing the framework, and allowing them to build their own mental picture around it. You don’t need to provide them with a fully-furnished house and try to convey each little feature in painstaking detail. There’s a balance to be had; a balance that eluded me way back when…

Lastly, to bring chapter one to a close, we have our hero reflecting on his day…

ch1p2third

WHAT THE ACTUAL F*CK, PAST ALLIE?!?!! I reread this and whispered “oh my god” under my breath about sixteen times. I cringed myself into the next plane of existence. This is utterly AGONIZING, from “jade colored eyes” to “please, star” and everything else. I mean, the concept itself is totally cringe-inducing, but I definitely can make it less so without cutting the whole thing out… though I really, really want to. Sadly, (SPOILER ALERT) the “wishing star” theme returns later… much later, though. So I have time to recover from this.

So, obviously, I was able to concoct some changes…

ch1p2thirdchanges

There’s some of the typical wording fixes to make, but it’s going to be quite a hefty order to make this less cringe-y. Time to grab my trusty scissors (also known as ctrl + x) and get to work!

ch1p2thirdfixed.PNG

Ahhhhhh. So much shorter. So much less… painful to read.

I was a real sentimental fiend back in the day, so there will be more instances of this type of (cliche-riddled, hopelessly optimistic, saccharine) writing as we proceed… I can hardly wait to share it with you. The good thing is, it’s definitely making for a cautionary tale, and even though I can’t actually steer my past self away from this writing, it’s already been a helpful experience to be able to recognize my errors and fix them now, so many years after the fact.

Next time, we learn about the “mission”… sort of. Secrets will remain, but we also get to meet some other members of our main cast! And a certain icy general might make another appearance, so stay tuned for Chapter 2: The Mission. Until next time!

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.

Writing Techniques: Setting

I bet y’all looked at the title of this post and thought that this would be about creating settings for a story, right? GUESS AGAIN! I actually want to talk about “setting” in the context of the writing process. Like, the setting where the actual writing takes place… the “work space,” if you will. Where the so-called “magic” happens.

I’ll admit, I’ve not always been the best at selecting a place to write. Sometimes I’ll get set up on the couch and, within twenty minutes, I’ll end up resting on my elbows with my knees/feet tucked under my body (in a “snail” position, sort of), typing with the screen about five inches from my face, which is probably not the most effective sitting position for both productivity and posture, and it might also be a contributing factor to my declining eyesight. I became somewhat notorious for my unusual “study poses” while in college, as I used to splay out on couches or chairs to do my work, but I can’t say that it helped the study/work process much. I also don’t work very well in public places… I’ve gone to Panera Bread and Starbucks a handful of times with the intention of writing or getting work done, but I usually wind up puttering around on the internet and don’t accomplish anything of note. From this, I’ve drawn the conclusion that I can write anywhere, but I’m only at my best under specific conditions.

When I was writing I’m With You, I lived in a different house. I did some writing in my “office” area (also known as the spare bedroom with a desk in it), some in my bedroom, but most of the time, I wrote in a little kitchen “nook,” where my ancient PC was located. The nook was basically a table in the corner of my kitchen, right next to a window (so I could also make sure the neighbor kids weren’t terrorizing my yard.) That work station was about ten or so feet away from the fridge, so I could spend entire afternoons in there and only had to get up to use the restroom. I also lived alone for a significant portion of my time in that house, so I didn’t have to worry about bugging anyone else with my choice of work space or bizarre sitting positions. It was the ideal setting for writing productivity, and about 90% of I’m With You‘s first draft was completed there.

However, it is all thanks to my kitchen nook that I realized the importance of a proper work setting and atmosphere, because ever since I left that house I haven’t quite been able to recapture that level of efficiency. Sometimes, at night (or in the morning) I’ll write while I’m in bed, but it’s definitely not good for my posture, and I cannot even begin to count how many times I’ve fallen asleep mid-edit without meaning to. Unintentional naps are the true nemesis of my writing output and my spine.

desk.PNGNowadays, I’ve got a desk in the corner of my bedroom and a yoga ball chair. The enclosed picture is old (if the “Star Trek premiere” note on the calendar is any indication – although it’s referring to Star Trek Beyond, not the 2009 film), but my current setup is basically the same, with a bit more clutter on the desk. I’ve since gotten a rad BB8 light-up statue, for one. Also, that little fan is a great asset for summer days, because my room is like Antarctica in the winter and the tropics in the summer, with no in between.

Overall, it’s not a bad set up – but it does make me miss my kitchen nook. I have whittled away at various writing projects sitting at that desk, including the latter drafts of I’m With You. Some days I set up in the kitchen or the living room instead, for a change of scenery. If the weather is nice, I’ll even go on the enclosed patio and actually endure sunlight, but my desk is my primary work station. I genuinely wish that I could be one of those writers who can stroll into a Starbucks and pump out two chapters in the time it takes to finish a latte, or plop down in any sort of chair or table/desk and create quality content no matter the location. Maybe I’m just picky, or there are other factors at work here, but I have definitely noticed a correlation between setting and productivity when it comes to my writing. I can write anywhere, but if I want to work to the best of my ability, I need a solid “space” to get work done, and designating a specific area, like a nook or a desk, works best for me, because it makes it seem more “official.”

I’m also very curious to know what sort of “setting” works for other writers, as I’m sure different folks require a different set of circumstances to be at their best and most efficient. What kind of desk works for you? Is there a certain chair you have to use? Can you work in only one room, or can you spread out all over your house and work from any space? Is absolute silence necessary, or do you need some type of music or background noise? Do you have to preemptively make sure your obnoxious cat has been adequately fed so she doesn’t whine and beg for food while you’re in the middle of an inspiration burst? Lots of sunlight or little? Total isolation or a few folks around to bounce ideas off?

For some, “setting” in terms of a story is as important as “setting” in a literal sense… therefore, the “setting” in which you write the “setting” can be a vital decision. Perhaps it’s trivial in a way, and it might not even matter to some, but if it improves productivity (and posture, in some cases) then selecting the right place to work can have some worthwhile benefits.

Writing Techniques: Phases

I think every writer – whether professional or amateur – goes through phases. As a teenager, I wrote fanfiction. I don’t mean to admit this in a dramatic fashion, like admitting past alcoholism or addiction. I’m not ashamed of this tidbit of my writing history – but it is definitely a practice that I never intend to return to.

That said, I also prefer not to disclose the fandom I used to write for, but it isn’t any of the easily recognizable ones. I will admit, with some measure of pride, that I am the author of the longest (English language) story in that particular section, which clocks in at over 200,000 words – though without author’s notes, it’d be a bit shorter. For context, my debut novel was under 100,000 words. I even had a couple of people draw fanart for my original characters; I still have them saved on my computer.

It might sound impressive, but as I said, it wasn’t a hugely popular topic to write for, and the community was already waning by the time I started posting. I’d missed the peak of the fandom by a couple of years, but a handful of dedicated members still hung around while I was there, sharing their stories and posting reviews. I met some wonderful people, a handful of whom I still occasionally speak to. I consider it a vital phase in my development as a writer.

Eventually, I lost interest in the fandom and couldn’t scrounge up the inspiration to finish the last entry in what was meant to be a trilogy. I still regret that I was unable to complete what I started, but whenever I go back and take a look at those old pieces (and by old, I mean nearly a decade old) I cringe a little.

My writing during that phase was so… superfluous. Admittedly, this is the issue I’ve struggled with the most that isn’t grammar/syntax related. There’s a reason one of my fanfiction stories is over 200,000 words. It’s because, as a fifteen/sixteen/seventeen year old writer, I felt the need to cram as much detail as possible into my writing, which results in bloated, overly-descriptive, repetitive passages in desperate need of a solid trimming. I ascribed to the “more is more” mentality back then; if I went back and edited my longest story, I could get it under 100,000 words and not have to slice much, if any, of the actual plot. I am still somewhat proud of my characters and the overall plot structure, but I was incredibly long-winded, verbose, and by no means a fanfiction maestro.

Every now and then, I go to my old profile and glance at my work, and am pretty astonished by how much my writing style has changed since those days. In college – the start of which coincided with the demise of my fanfiction career – my writing style underwent some significant changes due to learning new techniques in my classes, developing a more stable voice as a writer, and receiving influential feedback from my peers and teachers. I see almost zero similarity between my 2008/09 writing and now, as far as fiction goes.

The same can be said for my high school writing assignments in comparison to college work, because in college, I worked on slimming down my writing – though I do still slip into old habits, which leads to numerous, extensive editing sessions. It wasn’t always an easy change to make, but getting the right kind of feedback at this time in my life was important; when multiple sources tell you that something in your writing needs improvement, it’s imperative to take that criticism into consideration. As a result of peer assessments and creative writing classes, and some introspection, I started trying to place less emphasis on florid detail and “pretty” words, and more emphasis on clarity, character development, and flow. More focus on story and plot, not description. During this shift in the tone of my writing, I wrote the first draft of I’m With You.

When I settled the details and finally started typing I’m With You out, my style had adapted to suit the tone I wanted for the story. And, because I was learning about writing and was reading various kinds of literature during this time, my style and process evolved as I was writing. The first draft of I’m With You featured much less detail than the one that was published- there was no insight into previous instances of Remiel’s “curse” in action, no description of the different regions of Empirya, no “flashbacks” to Ciarán and Remiel’s mother or their past/their family dynamic… all in all, a lot less background into the characters. Instead of my previous tendency toward an overabundance of detail, I adopted a more extreme stance of “less is more.” Luckily, my editor was able to point out the need for more detail when the time came to polish up my draft, and I was able to flesh my manuscript out prior to publication. Now, I strive to find a balance in my writing; not too much detail, but not too little.

Even now, the project I’m currently working on has a different tone than I’m With You, but the writing contains some similarities; I feel as though I’ve retained a certain voice, while changing/adapting the way it is delivered. My 2008/09 fanfiction is nothing like my 2016 novel, and that’s okay, because I consider it an improvement – and I hope to improve even more as my writing continues, and I attempt to launch a career. Certain traits might remain the same across stories and projects, but adapting is all a part of the process, and some phases may last longer than others. Writing is an ever-changing thing – and thus, I don’t consider it a bad thing that I no longer recognize my writing style from year to year or project to project, whether it’s a 200,000 word epic fanfiction or a vaguely steampunk low-fantasy YA novel. Phases come and go, but the point is to continue to grow, and learn, be willing to listen, and embrace change as it comes – even if others won’t.