Saturday, April 30, 2011

A to Z Challenge: Zeroing In On the End

Firstly I want to send out a huge congratulation to those who did manage to finish the Challenge. You are awesome! Secondly, I just want to let you know that the blog will return to normal. I will start my follow backs again as well as checking out the blog posts of people who comment on my post.

I also want to shout out my many thanks to everyone who awarded me this month. I feel very honored and will pass the awards on soon.

And finally, I want to remind you that GPF returns as of next week. For those of you who are new to the blog, anyone who clicked follow to my blog can book a Friday to write a writing/literary world related post. No other rules really. Better hop fast though, those Fridays can disappear fast. E-mail me at mishagericke(AT)gmail(DOT)com if you want to book a Friday. Oh yeah, since this is a cause of misunderstanding, let me just say that promotional posts/interviews can take place on any available day. So if all the Fridays in your blog tour are booked, contact me and we can arrange something else.

All righty then, let's get to the real post.

Now, as you might have read/just noticed, I finished my rewrite on Monday. It was a feeling of accomplishment that I can't describe.  In fact, I don't think I can even compare it to anything.

But... I could have finished the book on Thursday already. So why didn't I? Why didn't I just push to the end and get it done in a really impressive time?

Two words:



Think I'm kidding? I've spent three years going towards four on this story - just to get it written. In that time, I met characters. I nurtured them. i made and broke them. Fact is (and this is going to sound weird) this story had as much influence on my life as I did on its character's lives.

Yes really. Even when I'm doing something else, part of my thoughts will always concern my story. The percentage that that part takes up of my entire thought process is what determines how much else I can do. Writing became the frame to my day. I made time to write. I read Bible before I start writing. After I wrote for 45 mins to 1 hr, I get dressed. After 1000 words, I write my blog.

That's just my mornings.

So I think you can understand that the thought of suddenly not having something prioritized like that can feel a little off.

Not to mention how much I miss following my characters around. They're still there, but now that the story is done, they're quiet. Another thing to get used to.

So how do I deal? Well, firstly, no amount of fear was going to keep me from getting my book done. 3.8 years is more than enough. Also, the fact that this was book one in a series of four, so my characters will get a chance to go on more adventures.

But now... yes, the rewrite is done. But I'm about to face a new challenge: Edits.

Have you finished a book? Did you suffer from separation anxiety? How did you deal with it?

Friday, April 29, 2011

A to Z Challenge: You CAN Do It.

This post isn't really for those already writing, but I'm hoping that you guys will also leave some encouragement and advice in the comments. Pretty please?

So... That leave the rest of you. It is so easy to classify man-kind into three kinds of people: Those who write, those who want to write and those who don't.

I want to have a quick chat with those of you who are in the second group.

Firstly, I want to ask: Why aren't you writing? You want to. If my own experience is any indication, you have a great big urge to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.

Are you worried that you won't be good enough?  Well... how do you know? Even if you have tried, things can be incredibly murky. Judging your own work is difficult. More so if you've never been called on to do it before. Also, there's another aspect to this situation. Yes your work might suck now (perhaps. I don't believe that first attempts have to suck.), but have you ever noticed the vast amount of advice and help available to you at your fingertips?

In fact: Here's an offer you can't refuse. My month of May is wide open until I have to start editing. If you want, you're more than welcome to send me some of your work to critique. It will be highly educational (it's still teaching me) and you don't have to worry that your work will find its way to my blog. The crits will be handled 100% confidentially. If you're interested, feel free to contact me at mishagericke(AT)gmail(DOT)com. You can also use that address to send me any writing-related question that you might have.

In the mean-time, here's some advice that I've learned over my multiple efforts:

1) You CAN do it. Don't listen to internal and external voices telling you that you can't.
2) Speaking of which. Unless you are sure that you can handle a lot of negativity, tell only people you trust that you are writing.
3) You have to tell someone though. Support is imperative. Even if you start blogging.
4) If you're blogging, make sure to connect with other writers.
5) The writing rules are in fact guidelines. Play with them. Stretch them.
6) But never convince yourself that you're writing Shakespeare. Those above experiments can go very wrong too. The trick is to learn the balance.
7) Read agents' blogs to see what they love and hate and why.
8) Read. Period. If you don't read, you can't write.
9) Find what works best for you. Do you plot? Do you fly by the seat of your pants? Or do you combine the two?
10) Writing is firstly for you. If you are happy when you write, you are a writer. No matter how many pages someone else writes per day. No matter how young that other blogger is when she got her book deal. Your journey as a writer will differ from everyone else's. And that means that there isn't room for comparison.

So... I've kitted you out with some of the most important lessons that I've learnt - the hard way. You're already ahead.

What's keeping you from writing?

For my writing buddies, do you have any more advice to add? For someone who wants to write, what would you like to know? If I get enough questions, I might address it in May's posts. Feel free to contact me. :-) Also, just want to let you know that I will be giving away a book on writing in May, so be sure to come back for a chance to win!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A to Z Challenge: X-rated

This is something I've been wondering about for a bit, but I thought I'd leave it to you to give your opinion.

Should sex be included in YA?

Why or why not?

I'm seriously interested on hearing your opinions, because I'm split down the middle.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A to Z Challenge: Where Did the Passion Go?

I've been working on Doorways for about three years, possibly three and a half. 

When Darrion walked into my head and demanded that I write the story, a love for the story sparked and it was almost all I could think about. Lucky for me I think of multiple things at once otherwise I would never have been able to cope with University.

I wrote with more than a few doldrums where I ended up not writing until they passed. But when I got back to writing, it was wonderful. An incredible rush that hummed in my blood every time I put down the pen. I'd write whenever I could. While the rest of the people were watching rugby between eating (think NFL), I was watching rugby between writing.

I never realized how much I'll miss drafting until the first draft was done. For me, the first draft (whether it sucks or not) is the phase where we get to experience creation. We still have to explore everything and everyone. Nothing is hard and fast. Everything is new. With the first draft, I got to experience the liberation of writing whatever I wanted. I loved getting to know the characters. 

In December last year, the end of the story crept up on me. Really. Anyway. I rested the story until January and set the goal finishing date as 30 April. Almost immediately, I sensed a problem. 

See, after my frenzied first draft, I had to bring in a sense of the technical. I had to start thinking of things like pacing and voice. Of right and wrong. Of story elements. Themes. Subplots. Of fixing plot holes. 

Seems natural, right? Well, it is. But when it comes to my beast of an epic, things like that become daunting. There's just so much! Fear crept in, choking out my spark of passion. Hopelessness followed soon after. I started to think that I'd been a little too ambitious in my choice of story to write. 

And with that, I started to wonder if I should even be writing at all. 

I tried to keep writing, but although I managed to keep going, my love for the story kept fizzling. In February I   stopped writing altogether. 

I kept it quiet, not wanting to admit that my beast beat me. So I gave myself pep talks. Lots of them. I even posted some on my blog. 

It got me writing with renewed determination, but not love. My story became the enemy. I was writing to show the Beast who's boss. 

But one day, I was skyping a friend and something she said got me thinking. That thought turned into another thought and another and another until I had the main plot line that will run through the entire series. 

Just like that, I remembered why I love the story. Not a moment too soon, either. 

Because by that point, I'd been considering shelving Doorways indefinitely. 

But in that moment, when I saw where the series would go, I realized that instead of all those things scaring me, they're helping me. Those considerations were what made my story as good as it could become. And it had better be good. There are three sequels in the pipeline. 

I wrote with new passion, sometimes I wrote six times my daily target until I finished it. 

Of all the things that I am most grateful for, I am so glad that I didn't give up on Doorways as soon as I could have. 

So... Have you ever lost the passion for what you were working on? How did you get it back? 

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A to Z Challenge: Voice

Once again, I've picked a tricky subject for today.

Most agents' blogs that I've visited mention the importance of voice at least once. Each voice must be unique. Only the character's.

But what is voice?

Take a look at yourself. Your thoughts. Do you have favorite sayings or phrases that come out when you think and speak? Do you have a way of wording your thoughts? Is that way at least a little different from others? Do you have a world view that's a little different from everyone else?

Check your pulse. If it's beating, I'm sure that the answers to all of the above will be Yes.

The way that you think, what you think about, the words you use. That's your voice (in the literary sense). How you speak to people in social interactions. How you express your opinion and how you react when people agree or (tellingly, in my opinion) disagree. That's your voice.

That makes the importance of voice in books make more sense, doesn't it? We want our characters to be as authentic as possible. But no matter how much time you spend studying their personality traits and motivations. No matter how accurately they react to the situations in the plot.

If the story is not told in the Main Character's own voice, nothing will ring true. Because the person doing the talking isn't the person going through the main story.

So how can we get an authentic voice?

I use two ways.

One is through interviewing the characters who might be called to give me their point of view. The way they react to my questions can give me a clear idea about how they should sound.

The other thing I do is to act on the page. I try to become that character and write down what he/she thinks. My issue with this method is that my voice gets mixed in, because the line of separation between me and the character is blurred.

Because of that, I prefer to interview and listen to the character telling me things. It just works better for me.

How do you get your voice authentic?

Monday, April 25, 2011

I now interrupt regular posting...

Hi all!

Take a look at the about me section at the top.

Yep. I've finished the rewrite. Doorways is now officially clocking in at 87 k words.

I DID IT!!! ^_^I'm thrilled by the fact that I've come so far, but just thought to share this moment with my blog-friends.

So... To those of you who gave advice when I needed it. Those of you who bolstered my flagging morale with your constant support. To my crit partners.

I would mention names, but I'm afraid that I'd miss some of you, so I'll do a shout out when I'm a little less keyed up.

In the mean time. To those of you that know who you are.


Love you all lots! X

A to Z Challenge: Ulterior Motives

Hi all! Welcome to the final week of the A to Z challenge! Just a quick shout to all my new bloggy friends. In particular, hi and thanks to Catherine Denton, the 500th person to click follow. ^_^

So today, I want to do a quick post about motives, ulterior and otherwise. Yes, technically this is cheating, but I had to do the map on M-day.

Motives can actually be a tricky thing to deal with, even if we're not dealing with mysteries. After all, I've met/read about very few people who do things for absolutely no reason. There is ALWAYS a reason for doing something. Even when it comes to serial killers. Someone might decide to kill women wearing polka dots because he hates women wearing polka dots.

Because his polka-dot-adoring mother abused him as a child.

Or... because his pet tapeworm told him to do it. (True story, incidentally. HF Verwoerd's assassin said that his tapeworm told him to kill the politician. He proceeded to follow the worm's edict with some ingenious planning...)

The motive might not make much sense to us, because the character is so foreign to us and our way of thinking. But it's there must be a reason.

That reason must make sense to the character, were he to consider why he does things.

Now, ulterior motives add another dimension to the mix. Now we have to deal with at least two motives: The real motive (known mainly by the character taking the action) and the motive(s) everyone else attributes to the character. Sometimes, the reader knows the real motive because it comes through in the characters thoughts. Other times (and I like this one) it sort of phases into the reader's mind as the story progresses that the motive everyone assumed to be valid is, in fact (and often-times catastrophically), not.

Do you have a character who harbors ulterior motives? How do you deal with the motives? Do the other characters accept him/her on good faith, or does someone not trust him/her?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A to Z Challenge: Time

Time has a significant effect on the running of my story. There are two story lines running through almost to the end - and they run more or less parallel. 

But, I've never needed to write: "Meanwhile, back at the castle...."

In fact, I can't. I don't have a narrator. Perhaps I was stupid to decide against one, but as it happens, I like walking around almost in the characters shoes without some omniscient voice spoiling my tension for me. So... how do I manage it?

Easy. I don't focus on the time aspect. Things are happening here. Other things are happening somewhere else. Even though the timing is important to the story making sense, it's not as important as the fact that things are happening. So I focus on the what more than on the when. 

In my mind, I also jump between story lines on a roughly day by day basis. So if nothing's happening to Callan on day ten, I'll hop over to James. Odds are that he has something going on.Whether the reader will read this, though, I have no idea. 

So how do you manage time and timing in your WiP?

Friday, April 22, 2011

A to Z Challenge: Stuck

Hi all! Just want to wish you all a blessed Easter! X

Also, Brooke did this sweet little interview with me for the Second Crusade.

When I was pondering possible topics for S-day, one of the first things that popped into my head was the word Stuck.

The Heavens know that getting stuck is one of the afflictions I suffer from most while writing. In fact, I'm pretty sure that Stuck is a bane endured by pantsers everywhere. I mean, we don't plan (much?) and as such, we don't have contingencies for every turn the story takes.

And some turns will lead to dead-ends. Of course, I know from my plotting days that planning ahead doesn't save one from getting stuck either. I mean... I can't plan for everything, can I? The only thing is, when there is a plan, I can go back to it and continue from there.

Not so when pantsing. There, going back (in my opinion) doesn't feel like an option. Besides, what am I supposed to go back to? The previous scene that leads to dead-end? Or the previous chapter that leads to the chapter that contains the dead-end scene? Yeah... While pantsing is great for spontaneous creation, it's also a bit murky on the fixing problems end.

So... what do I do when I get stuck?

Step one: Stare at the blinking cursor.
Step two: Stare some more.
Step three: Make coffee.
Step four: Sip coffee while staring at the cursor.
Step five: beat head against table to beat of cursor blinking.
Step six: delete delete delete.

Of course, one deleting session can (and did) wipe out about a quarter of what I'd written. At that rate, I'd never finish, so I bought a pen I liked and a notebook that I enjoyed touching. I wrote the entire first draft of Doorways by hand. With no cross outs when I didn't like what I wrote. I just had to live with what was down on the page. So when I got stuck, I got really stuck, because there were no shortcuts. I had wade my way through.

I stopped writing for almost four months. After all, I had university and other responsibilities. I didn't have time to stare at the empty page.

Well... that was the best thing I could do. While I was in a conversation with a friend, a 1000 megawatt light bulb went on in my head. I rushed to a quiet(ish) place and started writing. I wrote pages and pages worth of story.

When I was done, I came to the realization that my brain just needed some pressure-free time to get all its ducks in a row.

So... the next time, I... went into frustration mode yet again (and again... and again. It's a weakness. I get annoyed with things that prevent me from doing something I want to do.), but once I settled I asked for some advice on the blog. Got a lot of advice, but I find that nothing works quite as well as just letting it be.

What works for you when you get stuck?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A to Z Challenge: Rules and Realism

To me, rules and realism are some of the most important things that I focus on. Particularly the rules, because the realism aspect usually grows organically from the obedience to the rules.

Without the rules, my fantasy world doesn't make sense. I have to work out why things are possible, make sure that the reader understands and make sure that the rule is carried to its full extent. I.E. Say I had fairies who were vegetarian. The rule is then obviously NO MEAT. Good. One thing done. We also now have a glimpse into the culture.

But now, this begs the question... Do they hunt? Instinctively, my answer will be no... After all, if they're big on vegetarianism, I don't think they'll want to wear fur. Nor do I think they will want to use the fats or bones for anything either. In fact... I think they'd see any part of a dead animal as an abomination. (Maybe vegetarians don't. Have no idea. I'm just rolling with the fairy culture thing.) That already opens up a myriad of other questions.

Does their taboo about killing things extend to warfare? Will that make them pacifists? If they are, do they have defenses? Can they in fact be pushed to fight back? How far must they be pushed?

All those considerations just from one rule. And if I get those right, I've taken another step towards realism. Easy, right?

Not always. Sometimes, there are more subtle cultural norms that are in fact norms, but that might not be hard and fast. Say... equality. Women might be considered equal... to men in their castes. So yes, a culture could consider itself to be egalitarian while they are still just as obsessed with ranks. But what would that mean? Oh... perhaps richer/more powerful girls get to have an education. Perhaps they get to fight in the army. Perhaps there isn't such a culture of chivalry. On the other hand, the ladies might get a larger measure of respect, because they're not just seen as baby breeders.

It all depends on other things. History, for one thing. Other rules, for another. Some rules overlap to cause a different outcome to the more obvious one.

That's why carrying through the rules are so very important. Because if the rules aren't carried far enough, you might miss a point where they overlap.

The reader might not.

And that will severely limit the realism in the story.

So... how do you approach rules in your writing? Want to write down some interesting examples in your writing and the effect they have? Or point out some things I missed in my examples? I would love to get a glimpse into the way you think about things. Not to mention that it's fun. ^_^

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A to Z Challenge: Quiet Characters

Wow! Two thirds of the way through the Challenge! How many of you managed to stick to it so far? Congrats to you who did! ^_^

Have you ever written a quiet character into your story?

Doorways has one. And... well... it's a challenge. It's just that his best friend is a very angry and loud person. So he sometimes just fades into the scenery. It used to bother me, but now it doesn't because that's the way he is. He likes taking a step back so that his best friend in the world can get the shine he so desperately needs. When he does speak, he tends to hint at some profound depths in his soul (to me, in any case).

He used to be more talkative in the rough draft, but somewhere in the start of the rewrite, he became quiet. Almost a shadow behind his friend. It concerned me, because I was starting to worry that he was becoming redundant. But, I was surprised when one of my CPs pointed out that she liked him more than his talkative friend.

I realized then that he needed to be quiet. It's what his friendship depends on. But from the writer's perspective, he's necessary because he's the one that subtly tones down James's reactions. He's also the channel through which James reveals a lot about himself.

So he stays. And you know, I love him.

Even if I wish he would just stand up for himself sometimes.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A to Z Challenge: Phrase Abuse

I think more than one of my crit partners are going to be laughing at the fact that I chose this as my P-day topic. You see, I have certain words and phrases that I enjoy using.

A lot.

I'm thinking about the the she steppeds, he looked then she looked and he looked backs, oh and my personal favorite: the saids. 

Yep. I abuse my phrases with wild abandon. In fact I wouldn't be surprised if my crit partners' eyes bled at least once in the reading of my story.

But then, I've always known it was a weakness. In fact, it's one of the reasons why I got crit partners. I got so used to seeing my oft repeated favorite words (I mean, I've been known to repeat the same word three times in two sentences.) that I don't really notice them any more.

Oh yeah. There's another list of phrases. The reallys and verys. I really really like my reallys.

Fortunately, my CPs are merciless when the highlight my sins, because I'd be completely lost without them. (Hah! I bet you thought I'd say very.)

But, to me, this is one of those things that I store in the back of my mind for my edits.


Well (another one), can you imagine how long my rewrite would be if I had to go back to every sentence to get rid of those phrases? Especially given that I have phrase-abuse-blindness?

I'd never get the rewrite done.

So... give me until June. Then I'm going to delete those suckers into oblivion...

What are your favorite words to abuse? Do you edit them out immediately? Or do you follow my approach and dedicate time in edits to them?

Monday, April 18, 2011

A to Z Challenge: Obvious or Obscure?

When you write, do you write for clarity? Or do you like to keep the mystery going for as long as you can?

I'm definitely in the latter category. My series is all about secrets and betrayals. So for that to work, I need to keep things on the obscure side. I think a lot of writers prefer to keep things veiled for the simple reason that we can add more twists and turns and keep readers guessing. I mean, we can't keep people guessing if they already know...

Of course, that brings me to the first point I want to make. If you want to go for obscure, make sure that it is in fact obscure. There are few things as annoying as having to scream at a character because he/she can't see something that is happening right before their eyes.

Making the reader scream because they can see something that the character has NO WAY of seeing, is sheer brilliance. It's something I strive for.

Back to obscurity. It is also important that the writing isn't too obscure. If the reader is saying "huh?!" too many times, it pulls the right out of the story. At best.

If the writer throws in a twist with zero setting up beforehand, it will probably result in the book being flung against the wall.

That's too obscure.

So what would be the ideal reaction from the reader in this case? Something like the following:
"HUH?! Wait... *wince* oooooohhhh... that."

Yep. I'm a firm believer in Chekhov's Gun. Obscure the reason for the clue's existence, but not the clue itself. It must be VERY clearly visible. Because the idea is to slap the reader behind the head with it later. Not because they missed it, but because they missed its significance. 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A to Z Challenge: Not What I had in Mind...

Hi all, I'm quite bushed today, so I'm going to post this and take a break. On the positive note, the choir I'm in got standing ovations after both services. So it went quite well. ^_^ I will reply to comments tomorrow.

Anyway... It happens to me quite often that my story takes a completely different turn from anything that I might have had in mind. In fact, I usually surprised that it could even have come from my mind at all.

To me, those turns are treasures. Pure creation. And as long as they do not make it impossible for me to get to the end I want, I keep every single one of those ideas. Yes, I run the risk of letting them complicate my story, but I have found more than once that those ideas solve problems that I didn't even realize I had.

I know this, because it happened more than once that I got stuck later on in the story (back on the old track) only to find that those random and new ideas are exactly what I needed to solve the problem.

So I keep everything.

Even if it wasn't what I had in mind.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A to Z Challenge: Maps

So... it seems no one wanted to let me draw their maps for them, which means that I will have to rely on my own world.

Just so you know, this map (as with everything written on this blog unless otherwise stated) is my property and as such, it may not be used without my permission.

Right... let's get down to business.

Rather than to redraw my entire map again, I decided that I will rather focus on an obscure bit of land on it. So on my already drawn map, there are three islands. I will be drawing one of them.

But before I can actually draw the map, I like to make sure about what I want and where.

So Step 1 is to make a list of things and places that you want on the map. Step two is to do a rough sketch of where you want those things. (I warn in advance that my handwriting sucks.)

Now with that done, I can start with Step 3: The outline. Use a pencil for this and please, for the love of my aunt Macy. PLEASE DO NOT MAKE YOUR MAP SQUARE!!! 
Note the squiggly lines, bays and capes. Looks a lot more natural than a lot of fantasy maps I've seen, if I say so myself. 

Step 4 are what I call the immovables on my map. The stuff around which I draw everything else. For me that will be things like mountains, rivers  and deserts. But no deserts today only mountains and rivers. Now. I know that this island is very mountainous, so I'm putting a lot of peaks on my map/ Also, I'm having my mountains start in hills so that I can have an indication of the shape of the topography... I decided not to draw features to scale for the simple reason that it's unnecessarily finicky for my purposes. I want to know where I can find stuff and why. I'm leaving size up to my imagination. Anyway. Here are my mountains....

Now for the rivers. Always note that rivers start in high places and flow away to the coasts. Also, rivers tend to branch off - especially as the ground flattens. River branches also flow into each other sometimes. Remember to keep them squiggly but flowing...

Also note, there are two major rivers at the lower half of the island. When they run into the sea, the border is erased between their banks. And yes. I know I have a lot of rivers. But that has to do the the geography of the area. It gets lots of rain and even more snow. 

Moving on... Step 5 will be putting in features. So cove, forests, waterfalls, monastery and towns are put in now. Generally, I keep it down on the details, using dots and names, but it can be rather boring, so I'll be doing some drawing... I moved the monastery a bit, because a monastery in the mountains seems a bit more... suited. So I'm putting it in the valley. 

Almost done, then. Next step is the Compass Rose. But I decided to cheat a little, so I'm going to skip this step to later. So if you're completely hand-drawing, you must draw the compass rose first. But today I felt like  experimenting, so I'm going to use the paint application on my computer. 

So... Step 6 is going to be coloring. If you're using pencils, I dipped the points into water, colored a small area and spread it with cotton before it dried. The effect was a lovely wash effect that I love. There are two things about this though: 
1) It's killer to pencils as the water softens the wood. 
2) It takes FOREVER. 

OK... so one thing I learned about this experiment: Filling colors on computer takes even longer. I don't really like the effect it gave, either. So... I am not going to feel guilty about copping out and stopping now. It should give you an idea anyway. The top right hand corner is complete and now feels like a child's drawing. On the other hand, I like the way most of the mountains turned out. So I will probably go playing with my pencils to replicate the effect. But that is for another day. Also: I copy pasted an easy compass rose so that those of you who (wisely in my opinion) want to keep things hand drawn can copy it easily. 

One last thing about the compass rose. Use a ruler to create a (imaginary if you want a circle in the center) cross with legs that are equally long. Mark out where that cross ends as those are the widest points of the N-S E-W diamonds. Then extend the legs by an equal amount. The ends of those lines are the points. That is the foundation for any compass rose I've ever found. 

Because I'm awesome, I copied a small bit of my main map so that you can see my hand-drawn compass rose as well as how the water-pencil method looks...

I hope you found this post helpful. One last tip. If you are going to use my wet pencil method and have never done it before, practice before you use it on your map as too much water can soak through the paper and ruin it. The edges of the map WILL curl. Wait for the colors to dry, straighten the paper and put weight on it overnight.

There are certain geographical considerations these are the ones I tend to focus on:

  • Latitude: No rain forests unless your country is at the equator of your world. No snowy tundras at the equator. 
  • Deserts don't just appear out of nowhere. They fade in from miles away. So no forests or moors next to the desert. Those take lots of water. 
  • Mountains tend to lie in ranges based on where the tectonic plates meet. If there are no plates, there are no mountains - unless your story has a god that likes sculpting, but mention that in your book.
  • Towns will be most likely to be where the resources are. Think WATER, FOOD, FUEL. 
  • Remember to think of watersheds when drawing rivers. Watersheds are the places (tend to be mountain ranges) where to one side, water flows to one direction and to the other side, another direction. All rivers won't flow to one side of the country. If you have a river flowing cross country, you better have a good reason for this. 
  • If mountains run with coasts, the coasts tend to be smoother. If they run perpendicular to the coasts, there will be more capes and bays or fjords. (See topographical map of Norway).
  • Keep scale in mind when  putting down towns according to the story. Stories and maps must correspond.

What other considerations can you think of?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A to Z Challenge: Lessons

First of all, I just want to say hi, thanks and welcome to all the new bloggy friends. I hope that you all find some value in what I have to say. :-)

Then... just a warning, this post might be a tad controversial.

So... lessons.

I find them a lot when I watch animated movies or YA books.

They irritate the shit out of me.

I am not kidding. Lessons really bring out my dark side when I read, because I see it in more than one light. And none of them make it better. I'll highlight my main arguments.

I don't read to be preached at. I read to be entertained. I'm not ready or willing to have an opinion/lesson bashed into my head when I cannot reason with the person doing it. So... if it feels like a book is telling me: "This is the moral of the story, kids!" I will still finish it, but I will never touch a book by that author again. And I have a very. long. memory.

I believe that writers in serve an important function in society. We are the ones who take a step back, inspect everything we can about the humanity as it is in our time and comment on it. Yes, we can show what the world might become because of what we're doing to it now. We can show what it can be if we change. If we dig deep and follow our ideals. All of life lies within the writer's scope.

But do we stand as judges?


We stand as oracles. The people who can tell others what we see. The ones that suggest answers.

What the recipient does with those answers is his business. We have no right to bash him over the head with what we think is right or wrong. It is not our place.

Parents, teachers, preachers and are in the position required to teach.

We writers are in a position to make our readers think.

Force a lesson in and the entire function of the writer is undermined. Because a) the reader isn't left with a choice in his/her thoughts b) the readers who think beyond the story will ask why the other options can't work and will balk at being force fed the lesson.

In short, when I am getting a lesson bash while I read, I get irritated both as a reader and a writer.

So... that is how I feel about this. How do you feel?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A to Z Challenge: Knowing

I think most of you have at least once read some sort of hint in what I post or comment that will make you realize that I am the consummate pantser.

In fact, the thought of spending more than fifteen minutes on something resembling plot development fills this little heart with dread.

And yet, my first draft wasn't all that chaotic. If anything, it felt a tad too linear to me, because I focused too much on one part of the story.

How, you may ask, did I do it?

Simple. I knew.

Before I started the first line of my first draft, I knew how the book would end.

Every single thing I wrote either went towards character revelation or to progressing the story line. Of course, I decided to end the story earlier than that, but when I started rewriting, the new end was fully formed in my mind.

To me, the end is my Polaris. Without it, I meander aimlessly, looking for a point for my story to go. With it, I still get to meander all I want (straight from point A to B is soooo boring), my wanderings now always have some underlying reason to them.

That makes a vast difference.

When my first draft was done, I knew that I would have to tighten the story up considerably. So I used the important plot points to make a rough structure for my rewrite. So yes, I do plot, but after I write. So now whenever I open my rewrite, I know what needs to happen in the near future. But those plot points shift (I think I've been through three significant changes to the outline) as I find ways to make later points possible earlier to pick up the pacing. The fact that those plot points are so flexible means that I get to still play while I write.

But none of the changes to the structure would have been possible if I didn't know how the story had to end.

So.... About you: Plotter or Pantser? How do you approach your story? What keeps your story in line?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A to Z Challenge: Judging Your Own Writing

Just like the action implied, this topic feels like quicksand beneath my feet.

See, I know I'm good at what I do. I feel it in my bones. Writing is familiar to me. It's my comfort zone. So it follows that my story must be brilliant, right? 

I hope so. 
Even though I think I've got a wonderful story going that will appeal to a wide range of readers and (I hope) agents. But the rub lies in two words. I think. 

Because in those words a fact is implied that can both help and harm us. We are biased when it comes to our own stories. 

As such, can we truly be reliable in judging the quality of what we wrote? 

No and yes. 

No, because we love our story. Our characters become our friends. We spend an incredible amount of time on both. So asking one of us if our story is bad is like asking a mother if her child is ugly. There's just not a chance of getting an objective answer. 

Does that mean we are left blind? Not really. We can find ways around it. 

I also look at aspects in isolation. If I look at the plot, I can realize that there are some problems. Or one of the characters might not be quite up to scratch. Or the voice gets wonky in some places. Those things I can catch. Just don't ask me to give a definitive answer on the overall picture. 

To get a better view on the general impression, I have crit partners. They catch the errors I miss (and I have a few big ones) and give me an idea what impressions the reader gets. I find that those opinions are golden, because 1) when something's wrong, I'll be told and 2) when something's right, I get the validation of knowing that I got the right thoughts onto the page. 

Still, when I get my critted work back, I go over the crit with a fine toothed comb as much as I do the writing.  Because at the base of it, I have to get my story written, and crit partners are only sharing their opinions. I have to decide if those opinions are right or not. 

I find that bit easier, though, because crits are like cold water thrown onto my face. Not always fun, but it does clear the mind. And in that clarity, I can look at my story and trust my instincts. 

How do you find objectivity when it comes to your work? 

Monday, April 11, 2011

A to Z Challenge: Inspired

It can happen anywhere. At any time.

I could be reading and here the whisper of other voices in our head.

I could be sitting in the atrium of a cinema multiplex and reading upcoming movie titles. One word will stick in my mind, making me wonder what that word means to me.

I could be driving and almost be blinded by the flash of sheer brilliance.

I could even be writing and be shocked to have my words trigger a completely different idea.

It happens. In fact, all of the above have happened to me before.

Inspiration does not work according to my schedule. It just comes and goes as it pleases. That's why I tend to refer to my creativity as a muse, because in my life, it seems to be an entity of its own. Close to me, but never quite under my control.

Sort of like a pet tiger, really.

I love that feeling of inspiration. That sudden rush of pure creation can't be rivaled by any feeling in the world. It's addictive. I write to bring more inspiration. The more I write, the more inspiration comes.

But sometimes, the muse just ups and goes on holiday. My inspiration dries up and with it, my words.

I used to worry about it considerably (ask any of my older bloggy friends). After all. What writer in the middle of a writer's block does not do anything in their power to get out of it?

A lot of people have told me to just keep writing. That whatever I do, I must not stop writing. I gave that I try, but found that it just mires me deeper in the despair of staying stuck in the block. The added panic and pressure really do not help me to get my inspiration back.

So I thought for a long time about my dilemma. Eventually I came to a realization. Not once did inspiration hit me because I told it to. It came when I least expected it. Reading, watching a movie, talking with friends.

Not sitting in front of a blank page and pulling clumps of hair out of my head.

I realize that my mind needs to sort my thoughts into some semblance of order before it can give me some well structured ideas. And to do that, it doesn't let me write anything for that time. When I write, I just add more chaos to my thoughts. So, my muse just doesn't let that happen.

So what do I do now?

I wait. I do other things. Get out there. Find things that might be the final thought that straightens my spaghetti thoughts into something approaching a train of thought. It might take long, yes. But I have found that the more I leave my muse alone, the more she can think up some brilliant flashes of inspiration.

What do you do to get/stay inspired?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

A to Z Challenge: Heroes and Villains

The hero... Our eyes and ears in the book. The heart of the story. The reason why we root for the light side to win. Our reminder that good can triumph over evil - no matter how great the adversity. Also, potentially the most irritating character in the cast. 

The villain... We hate him, but need him, because without him, there would be no story. The hero would be nothing without this guy, because he would never have lifted his butt out of the office chair (or whatever his sedate lifestyle might be) if the villain hadn't done something to spur him into action. The villain can also be the most compelling character in the book. A good villain will always get some sort of rise out of hero and reader alike. In fact, the villain is probably going to be a big reason as to why we even bond with the hero. And damned if I don't sometimes support him instead. 

Why? Well... 

Sort version is: I have a thing for badasses. Of any persuasion. 

Why would that be a problem? 

Ever noticed how the hero can be such a girl
"I never asked for this." "Why must I be the one that must deal with this?" "Oh sigh but the life of the chosen gifted one with wings and a halo is sooooo difficult." Any one of this is not necessarily a problem. But for some reason, the line isn't drawn until faaaaar past my woobie tolerance level. 

As supposed to the villain...
"Hmm... and suddenly I can summon all the bats out of hell... interesting." "I have no fear or concern for collateral damage. I think I can do something with this..." "Damn... being the evil overlord sucks sometimes. But man does it get me pumped!" 

I'm thinking a lot of you are seeing what I mean. 

It's not necessarily that I have massive sympathies with evil. But the fact is that I have a respect for people who see their strengths and owns them. 

Yes, the life of the pure and the good is a lot more difficult, but it must have its perks. If I can't get to experience some of them through the hero's eyes, isn't it natural that I will then rather move over to the villain's end, where it's usually obvious exactly how much the villain enjoys his job? 

So come on... let the hero enjoy the perks of his situation at least a little. It doesn't make him less heroic. It just makes him less of an unnecessary martyr. And then you can squash him like a bug under the burden of his hero status.

All you like. 

Just don't make the torture the only thing the hero experiences. 

Do you also start rooting for the wrong side if the hero doesn't measure up? 

Friday, April 8, 2011

A to Z Challenge: Genre by David Baboulene

Hello all! Welcome to a special edition of GPF. Now for the many new visitors: Every Friday, I let followers of this blog post on anything related to writing and/or the literary world. I stopped it for most of April, but I've been asked very nicely, and the day coincided with G and I thought: why not?

Today, David is here as part of his blog tour to market his new book: The Story Book. It's a guide to story development, problem solving, principles and marketing. So... pretty much exactly what we writers need. Click here to head over to his blog. It's full of wonderful advice for those of us who like transforming ideas into stories.

OK then... let's get to the really interesting part.


Why is Genre Important?

When a writer tells me his story is so different it doesn’t fit a genre, he generally looks pretty pleased with himself. Rather than make myself unpopular, I refer him to my conversation with Stewart Ferris - the ex-MD of Summersdale Publishing - who told me the top three reasons why he will reject a book on the basis of its content:

  • Is the material appropriate for our brand and list?
  • Does it have a strong title?
  • Does it have a clear genre?

If the answer is ‘no’ to any of these, instant rejection is almost inevitable. So why is genre in this list?

Everyone in publishing builds a reputation on the decisions they make. Every publisher will go out of business if they don’t publish books that people want to buy. Every editor is only as good as the books she has her name against. Every buyer in the shops will be sacked if they fill precious shelf-space with books that doesn’t budge. And the key to selling a book (not writing - selling) is genre.

Since I started looking deeply into what makes stories grip and engage, I’ve found the roots of just about everything in psychology, and genre is no different. Our brains innately categorise and organise everything. Sales and marketing people know that products MUST match with a mental category to have any chance of making a sale. In Art, Genre is the label we use for this mental categorisation, and we are surprisingly rigid in how we want our lives, firstly, to be categorised, and secondly, for things to sit solidly within category boundaries.

Think about how you choose what to buy in a bookshop. Firstly, you generally know what type of book you want - let’s say you like ‘Travel’ books. You don’t know which specific book you want to buy, but you do know where to find the desired type of book, and you head for the Travel Section. There are, say, 100 books in that genre. Then what do you do? You narrow to a sub-genre. City guide? Map? Adventure? No - you want Humour. This will narrow it to say, 10 book, and you begin looking at them individually. You use the title and cover design to pick the ones that fit best (fit what? Your mental categorisation) and that will leave you with perhaps three that suit your personal idea of travel humour. You then read the back of each and if the publisher has their genre messages right, you probably buy all three of them on a ‘3 for the price of 2’ deal (Yes, that’s why they do that!). Note carefully that the content of the book - the words the author took years writing - are totally irrelevant. The top level genre messages that the publisher wrapped your words in are what sold it. Not the writing, but the wrapping. This is the job genre does for you - it helps the publisher to find appropriate writers and it helps readers to find material they are likely to appreciate.

A lot of writers get very frustrated by having their work and themselves forced into a pigeon hole. My advice is to embrace genre. Even the best writers only appeal to say 1% of the population, and you find your audience, and target them with appropriate marketing, because they are the ones who are attracted to the genre. So you need to be sure of one thing: Having a clear genre for your image, your writing, your books and publicity is absolutely key to commercial success.

If you would like to see the 106 page PDF of book categories published by the Book Industry Communications Trade Organisation which is used to categorise ALL published books, or if you would like a free chapter from The Story Book on any aspect of story theory or publishing, do please drop me a line via and I will send it to you.

Thanks to Misha for the opportunity to be part of this wonderful blog. I do hope to do it all again some time!

Thanks for this enlightening post, David. All the best with the rest of your blog tour! If you want to know where David is headed next, this is the link to his tour page.  

Now, if any of you are interested in posting as well, feel free to take a look at the dates available (in the scroll bar) and contact me

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A to Z Challenge: Fear

We all have it. That niggling feeling in the back of our minds. 

I can't do this. How will I ever be able to do the story justice? There's just too much... 

It usually starts as doubt, or we think it is doubt, that small question in our mind asking us how we think we'll get this done. Not particularly damaging in itself, but it grows into those thoughts above, spinning and whirling them in our heads until those fears are the only things that we can hear. 

It drowns out everything as we write. The voice, the story, the characters... Everything. And we are left panicking even more because now we are left without the thing that gives us our identity as writers. We can't create. 

And so the fear grows as we splash against a growing vortex that has us firmly in its grip. 

But there is a saving grace: We have a life line that prevents us from getting sucked in. We're tied to safety by our belief in ourselves.
Deep down we know that we are better than the things we fear. That we can overcome every one of those obstacles. Go look for it. Maybe it's far away, but it will be there. 

Don't you doubt that knowledge. Because that's what makes it possible for you to swim away from the vortex. 

But for it to work, you have to swim. If you stop swimming, you get sucked closer again. 

And that's where writing comes in. 

If you were waiting for me to tell you how to make the fear go away, sorry, I can't. Because you can't. 

You must write through it. The more you write, the fainter that fear becomes. But give that fear too much credence, and it will suck you back. 

So... to beat that fear. Sing with me: 

Just keep writing 
Just keep writing 
Just keep writing writing writing...


I want to know from you: What do you fear most when you write? (Have a sneaking suspicion I know what 90% of you are going to say... But still want to know out of interest.)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A to Z Challenge: Energy

So far, I've dealt with some very cut-and-dried if somewhat difficult-to-apply topics. I mean, everyone who has ever tried to write will have at least a passing recognition of what I was referring to. 

But today, I spontaneously (and perhaps unwisely) decided to write about something that I've never seen referred to directly. It's something that I've noticed, but that I'm not sure if I'm the only one that did. 

Have you ever noticed when you read how you're drawn into the story? 

What keeps you there? 

Yes, conflict draws me in because I want to know what will happen to the characters. Sympathy will draw me in for the same reason. 

But my mind isn't going to keep checking up on the character's well-being, is it? 

Yes, I'm dying to know what is going to happen, my heart is beating in my ears, but what is keeping me from simply skipping over to the end to find out? Because all the dialogues and info sort of pales in comparison to the importance of finding out what happened. 

I call that thing that keeps us turning the page and reading word for word two names. The one is flow, the other is energy. I'm not really going to go too deep into the distinction today, because they're so close together in my mind, but let's just say that energy is what keeps us locked into the story while flow is what sustains us (and the energy) to the end. 

People can also call it the mood, I suppose, but it doesn't feel like an accurate description. Mood is and aspect to it, yes, but not the whole. Mood affects the characters... '

Energy affects the reader too. It's about how it makes us feel when we read it. To an extent, it takes control of our thoughts so that we don't want to think about anything other than what is going on right now in the book. That's why it doesn't occur to the reader to skip ahead. 

That only happens if something messes with the flow and by extension the energy. In fact, I think people only skip ahead when the energy is completely severed. 

If the flow is affected in any other way, that's when the reader experiences that hey wait a minute! moment. 

So energy is also responsible for the prolonged suspension of disbelief. 

I've always wondered what made that possible, but now that I wrote it, it makes sense to me. Am I the only one?

Energy must always be there in the story. Well, not in the story. In the background. If the story was my thoughts, energy would be the white noise I need for my thoughts to run. It the story was music, energy would be the base. 

What do you think of my theory?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A to Z Challenge: Doing What You Must

Well... Today, to say the least, did not go to plan. If it had, a post about Dialogue and Voice would have been up for about seven hours.

But... five hours of being obligated by social standards to visit with my great aunt (and driving her home and back) and two and a half of singing shot that idea right out of the water.

Right after they torpedoed my hopes of writing my 600 words to get to my daily goal.

Fact is, I could write now, but my brain is feeling sort of empty. A little dizzy, even.

So... today's post has been moved courtesy of my extensive vocabulary and ruthless use of synonyms.

But that's not where I was going. Hopping right back on topic, today reminded me of something that might be of value to you.

I have had more than a few of my friend on the blogosphere ask how I wrote in between all my studies and social life and everything else that I must attend to.

I always answer in some variation of the following: I do what I must.

Classes were important to me, so I had those fixed in my schedule. Projects? Get them done. Friends? Coffee or a long visit? Either way, it was done. Same with fencing, same with meetings, same with studying for tests. Blogging got a slot in the evenings when I had nothing to do.

As for writing? I decided to write in the small hours in between classes when I couldn't get anything academic done.

There never was a thing for me about whether I had time or not.

I made it and did what I had to to get as much done as possible.

Was the system perfect? Pretty much... Yes, there was an issue with my *cough* economics *cough* but I know that I could have spent the semester only doing that cursed subject without passing the class. I mean, I had a distinction going into class...

Sorry. Back on track. So, I don't really see today as a lost day. I got out of the house. I got to do something else that I love passionately (talking and singing) and I did get 500 words done. I even got some reading done while waiting for my gran, my great aunt, my singing instructor and the choir.

As far as having a good life goes, today was pretty up there.

And that makes me happy.

Monday, April 4, 2011

A to Z Challenge: Conflict and Complications

Hi all! Just a reminder that I have a competition going to draw a map for the winner. So if you want a map but can't draw it yourself, e-mail me at mishagericke(AT)gmail(DOT)com.

There was once a girl who decided to write a book. She opened a word processor and started on her story. She wrote and wrote and before long, her story was finished. After a few adaptions, she believed her book to be ready and queried her favorite agents. The fifth one signed her and by the end of the year, she had a book deal. She published and the book became a best seller and she got an interview on Oprah. 

The End. 

Not very satisfying, is it?

Well, I'm happy for the girl. I mean I would love to go through the experience of finishing a book with no issues and getting an agent very quickly.

BUT. Do I feel happy and completed for the experience of reading the girl's story?

Uhm... no.

Why not? Because I write, and I know that just the process of writing is not simple. In fact, this whole idea of someone picking up a pen and quickly scribbling off a story with zero effort sort of grates my nerves.

I mean she didn't even fight for it! She made a decision and the fruits of her minimal effort fell into her lap.

That's where conflict and complications come in.

A common mistake among novices and non-writers is the belief that conflict involves at least two characters snarling each other and making each other hurt/sad/angry.

In reality, conflict in the literary sense refers to internal and external things and events that stands in the way of a character achieving his/her goal.

With internal conflict, the character has to face obstacles within him/herself in order to "win". To me, the lack of confidence, alcoholism, phobias and certain thinking patterns can serve as causes of internal conflict. For example, spiders standing in a character's way to the goal might not be that much of a problem unless the character wants to melt into a quivering heap because she/he's arachnaphobic.

If the spider is in fact Shelob, that would be an external conflict. Because now the character has to face a massive spider that is keeping him/her from the goal. Now, the factor serving as the obstacle is moved to outside the character.

So, the example of the characters above not getting along can become conflict if it is made bigger than petty squabbles. For example, one character can be the evil antagonist. Or the characters have to work together to get to the goal - and then the relationship must be on the verge of fracture.

The attainment of the goal(s) must be threatened.

There was once a girl who decided to write a book. She opened a word processor and started on her story. She wrote and wrote, but about half way through, a virus crashed her computer. For a long time, the girl wanted to give up, after all, she'd given everything she had to get to where she was. And now it was all gone. Still, she needed to write, so she started again. She edited her book to as good as she thought it could get, but then froze. What if she wasn't good enough? What if none of her wish list agents said yes? But she ended up doing it any way, because she knew she worked so hard. Then the rejection letters streamed in. One after the other. But she kept querying, knowing that one would say yes. The fifty-ninth agent on the list signed her in the end and by the end of the year, she had a book deal. She published and the book became a best seller and she got an interview on Oprah. 

The End. 

Better, right? I've already got a lot more sympathy going for the character. But is it as suspenseful as it can be? Not yet. 

I mean... everything is so cut and dried, isn't it? 

That's where complications come in. To me, complications make things difficult for the character. It won't necessarily stop him/her from reaching the goal, but it will certainly add extra stress that the character could deal without (but we readers couldn't). 

So that example of the characters bickering can be a good complication, because it makes thing harder on the character. 

I could list more examples, but the possibilities here are endless. Anything will work as long as it gets to the character. 

There was once a girl who decided to write a book. She opened a word processor and started on her story. But she soon found that the writer's life was far from easy. For the rest of her life had to carry on too. Her family did not always understand the depth of her passion for the story and seemed to interrupt her every time she touched the keyboard. Every now and then, she'd get work assignments that she couldn't postpone. But on she worked. Until disaster struck about half way through the story. A virus crashed her computer. For a long time, the girl wanted to give up, after all, she'd given everything she had to get to where she was. And it was all gone. Still, she needed to write, so she started again. It took months for her to get back to where she was, but eventually, the battled her way through. She edited her book, but struggled to get the story to shine. One crit partner would say they loved the story but hated the characters. The other said they loved the characters but thought the stories needed some more work. She took both into account, but still followed her gut and polished away to as good as she thought the story could get. When time came to query, she froze. What if she wasn't good enough? What if none of her wish list agents said yes? But she ended up doing it any way, because she knew she worked so hard. Then the rejection letters streamed in. One after the other. But she kept querying, knowing that one would say yes. The fifty-ninth agent on the list signed her in the end, but although the agent was great at getting interest in the story, the girl and the agent just didn't really like each other. Still, they stuck through it and gained each other's respect and by the end of the year, she had a book deal. She published and the book became a best seller and she got an interview on Oprah. 

The End.

So that's conflict and complications to me. How do you think about it?