Monday, September 20, 2010

I Am Finished!

I Am Finished!

large_mccainthumbs080129 I am finished with Revision Three of Steam Palace! And no, I don’t know what John McCain is so happy about it, especially since I didn’t vote for him and he lost, but there he is, giving me the big thumbs-up. I guess he’s finished too. :)

Lots of interesting things happened along the way. After Revision Two, my manuscript was at 117K words. I made some brutal cuts, shaving it down to ~97K, really close to my target of 95K. Guess what? After 2+ months of revision, it’s right back to117K. WTF? Well, many of those cut scenes contained critical information, so that information returned into other scenes. I’ve done some calculations, and to get back to 95K, I’d have to cut 140 words  from every scene (1/2 page). That doesn’t sound like much, but there are 98 scenes. Or by chapter, it’s 1,400 words per chapter (5.5 pages). I don’t think I can cut 20% of the book at this point without spending many more months at it.

So what’s my plan from here? Work on a marketing plan, figure out my target agents/houses, and Sell, Sell, Sell!

My query letter will go up on query critique sites, here too if you want to take a look.  At the same time, I am plotting out Steam Palace II. I have tons of ideas rattling around my head.

On Nov. 1, I put all this aside and write Steam Palace II for NaNoWriMo. Will having two of a series help me sell? Who knows? Time is running short.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Novel Design: Characters

For those looking at NaNoWriMo or considering starting a novel, I’m working on a series called Novel Design.


character_jack Last week, we talked about the eight fundamental Character Archetypes in Mythic Storytelling. To be clear, “Mythic Storytelling” is an account of a Hero-type character facing challenges in order to solve some problem…which encompasses most fiction of all genres.

So here you have a concept for a character. There are tons of character worksheets online, simply Google “character worksheet” or “character profile” if you want examples. Some are in the form of long questionnaires or interviews, others are forms. I’m not going to attempt to recreate those things here. What I want to do is talk about the “process.”

Get to Know Your Character

The ultimate goal of Character Design is to know your character so well that you know how they would react to any situation. But how do you achieve that?

First, start off with some of the basic online character sheets. Name, gender, age, occupation, skills (think résumé or C.V.), family members, home, lifestyle, social status, hobbies, physical attributes. Do not carve these in stone. With the exception of gender, I have almost never kept all my original design of a character.

Next, develop a small backstory. Only include the most important events. Births, deaths, marriages, divorces. The Big Stuff. Moves, hiring and firing, greatest achievements, greatest disappointments. Remember to not go overboard. Like everything else, the backstory is subject to massive revision. You will eventually up with ten times the backstory you actually need, so it’s a balance. If the backstory really needs to be that big, maybe you’re writing the wrong story. Usually the novel itself describes the most important event of a character’s life. Note that this also varies by genre. Mysteries are all about discovering the backstory, the “crime.” Fantasies have whole extensive histories. (I’ll talk about World Building another time). For this discussion, just focus on the individual character’s history, not all of civilization’s.

The final thing you want to think about is personality and motivation. How are they with friends? Enemies? Lovers? Family? Co-workers? What are they greatest fears? Deepest desires? What do they want out of life? What will they do anything to avoid? You need to know this character better than they know themselves. Characters usually do not act in their own best interests, so define what trade-offs they make on a daily basis between what they want and what they don’t.

Use Your Character

Armed with this basic knowledge, it is helpful to put your character in motion. If you can’t wait for NaNoWriMo, then simply write a few scenes with your character and some others, maybe characters from a whole different book. Give your character a small problem to solve and see how they go about it. Work on their speech patterns, words and phrases they like, gestures they make. What sets them off? What do they fall for?

Here’s the thing. You could spend months and months working on character worksheets, detailing mannerisms and backstory and listing every article of clothing. It can be a lot of fun researching and developing these things. But worksheets are static. For me, I learn most about my characters when they act and interact with others on the page. So what I suggest is get to a level where you’re comfortable but not entirely sure. Go ahead and write your first draft. Then go through the whole process again, eliminating everything that doesn’t fit your new concept of your character, and adding things to strength them. Research where it’s weak, revise and develop where you can.

Your initial character design is what you want your character to be.
Your revised character design after the first draft is what your character needs to be.

What I’m trying to say is that Character Design is not a one-time process done over the course of a week or a month. It’s an iterative process that spans the lifetime of your drafts. Certain things don’t work. You might have made your character too passive, so when they suddenly defeat the Bad Guy it’s out of the blue. So your character needs to show some assertiveness at times. Or your character is too strong, so when they defeat the Bad Guy on page 15 you’re like, “Oops…now what?”

One last thought. I’ve planned and planned and planned, but my characters never fail to surprise me by doing something I didn’t expect or intend, but it makes so much sense or helps the story so much I can’t unwrite it. They change, they grow, they learn over the course of the novel. So when two characters kiss that you had absolutely no intention of creating a relationship between, I say go for it. Because your characters are telling you something important about themselves, something you need to pay attention to. Once they’ve kissed, once you wrote that line, you can delete the line, but the two characters will still know. And they will never be the same.

Have fun with it! And like the example above, it’s perfectly acceptable to doodle.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Novel Design: Character Types

In preparation for NaNoWriMo, I am (probably) beginning a series on “How to design a novel.” In this episode, I discuss Characters.

Novel Design: Character Types

Character_lineup Every novel needs characters. Most novels focus on the story of a single character, known as the Main Character. The Main Character is the Hero of the story (although not necessarily the only Hero).

But how does one figure out what other characters should exist in a novel? Here is a list of a few to consider, based on mythical archetypes.

  • Heroes – Self-sacrificing do-gooders. Care little for themselves, but want to fix the world. They have some driving issue that propels the book forward.
  • Villains – The Bad Guys. Always looking out for #1. Villains can be layered, one controlling another. They should reflect the specific weaknesses of the Main Character.
  • Allies – Sidekicks, lovers, friends, stalwarts, informants, mothers. These are the people the Hero can count on when the going gets rough. They watch the Hero’s back.
  • Mentors – Father/Mother figures, religious leaders, authority figures, angels, teachers. Anyone the Hero can learn from. Use the Force!
  • Heralds – The news. Directly or indirectly calls the Hero to action.
  • Tricksters – Comic relief. Can put the death of thousands into perspective.
  • Shape Shifters – Liars, thieves, assassins, prostitutes, basically anyone who cannot be trusted. They have two (or more) faces. Unpredictable and inscrutable.
  • Threshold Guardians – Thou shall not pass! Except for the $1.50 fare.

Your genre may include other archetypes. For instance, Romance requires a Romantic Interest, Mystery requires a Detective, etc.

So what does this mean for creating a novel? Start looking at the different types to see who would fill these roles.

  • Heroes – What qualities of Heroism does your Main Character illustrate? Why are they qualified to be Heroes? What must they learn during the course of the story to achieve true Heroism?
  • Villains – Who is the main opposition to your character? What do they want? Why are their interests diametrically opposed? Who are their henchmen? Which ones might be turned to the Hero’s side?
  • Allies – Who are your Main Character’s most reliable, most trusted friends? Why are they friends? What to they themselves want? Can they really be trusted? Are they who the Hero wants to be Allies or are they throw together by circumstances? Which ones bolt when things get rough?
  • Mentors – Your Hero is about to tread on dangerous ground. Who can help him through the perils ahead? Who has been-there-done-that? Does the Mentor have his own agenda? Does the Mentor steer your Hero wrong?
  • Heralds – Sometimes the Universe calls to your character. A mysterious note. A friend of a friend. An anonymous text. A call from the Chief. The buxom blond in the PI’s office. If you build it, he will come.
  • Tricksters – Do you have a character who just doesn’t care about all the grief your Main Character goes through? The Trickster is all about grounding your characters in reality, showing that things are never as serious as they seem. The Trickster is also thought of as a Child, innocent and uncorrupted, but sometimes it’s a jaded oldster giving your Hero a hard time.
  • Shape Shifters – By far my favorite archetype, and probably the hardest to define. Who wears a mask? Who is a double-agent? Who is having an affair? Think skeletons in closets, secret agendas, etc. The basic question is: Who is going to screw over your Main Character when they least expect it and are most vulnerable? Alternately, who is going to come to Hero’s aide when the Hero least expects it, especially from this person?
  • Threshold Guardians – Your characters must pass tests to advance in their quest. Who do you suppose administers these tests? Everything your Hero achieves comes at a price. Some Guardians are easy to pass, others nearly impossible.

I hope this gives you a good starting point when thinking about the various types of characters that populate novels. Note that one character can fulfill multiple roles, and that not all roles are well-represented. So you can have a Villain-Mentor, a Shape Shifting-Ally, or a Trickster-Herald. Every character can display different archetypes at different points of the story. Allies can be turned into Villains. A Threshold Guardian can become a Mentor once the test is passed.

Have fun with it. Will post soon with tips on developing individual characters.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Countdown To NaNoWriMo 2010!

Countdown To NaNoWriMo 2010!

nanowrimo_2_w Yes, today is the day I begin my countdown to 12:00 AM, November 1, 2010 PDT, the official start to this year’s NaNoWriMo. See the little countdown clock? The new tab at the top of the blog? 60 days remain until the greatest annual writing event in the history of mankind begins.

What is NaNoWriMo you ask? What’s wrong with you? Okay, for those who live in caves or need a quick refresher, let me explain. NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month. The challenge is to write a 50,000+ word novel during the month of November, starting from Midnight the morning of Nov. 1 to Midnight Nov. 30. Last year there were a staggering 167,150 participants and 32,178 winners. Don’t be left out!

Okay, before I go into my plans for this year’s NaNoWriMo, let me give some status updates. As you probably have noticed, I’ve been very inactive in blogging, blogfests, or even commenting on blogs. This is because I’ve been heads-down trying to finish the current revision of Steam Palace (which I wrote for NaNo 2009). I had targeted today to finish but it looks like I’m still 2-3 weeks out. I actually started this story last September, so I’ve now worked on it for a year. A whole year.

So here’s my plan for the rest of this year:

  1. “Finish” Steam Palace. At least get it into a state I can send to agents/editors.
  2. Send out queries for Steam Palace. Sell it. Become rich and famous.
  3. Plot out my NaNoWriMo novel.
  4. Write a new novel for NaNoWriMo.
  5. Use December to Plot out/finish The Immortals.

I do intend to start blogging/blogfesting/etc much more once Steam Palace is completed in a few weeks. I may even host a blogfest (but don’t hold me to it).

Now what is my plan for NaNoWriMo? What will I write? Well, I’m not 100% committed to what I’m about to tell you, but there are reasons I think I should write it. Here it is (draws breath): I am going to write a sequel to Steam Palace. I think this is my best plan. Having a completed first-draft on the shelf of a sequel may make Steam Palace I more sellable (notice that I’m going to refer to it as SP1 from now on). But the reason that I’m going to move on to a new project right after NaNo is that A) I will need a break after 15 months of almost nothing but Steam Palace, and B) The Immortals is a huge concept and needs attention badly.

This year’s NaNoWriMo is going to be challenging like no other. Here is the list of things that I also have scheduled during November:

  1. Nov. 6 – My wife’s 40th Birthday
  2. Nov. 19 – 21 – SteamCon!
  3. Nov. 25 – Thanksgiving. I always take the day off from NaNo.
  4. Nov. 28 – Seattle Marathon (as a course worker).

So basically throw away ~6 days of writing time leaving me with ~24 days to write this. (Note that last year I used 25 days). This is why I really need to plan this well. Also there are only 8 weekend days this year compared to 9 last year and 10 the year before.

So starting TODAY, I am beginning to gather notes and thoughts for Steam Palace II (SP2) while still working on SP1. Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting updates and blogging about the outlining process, story creation, NaNo tips, etc, and working on my exciting NaNoWriMo Page. Stay tuned!