Sample Chapter: Seasong

Boy, I haven’t done a sample chapter in ages! Probably because I produce horrible horrible first drafts that aren’t fit for human eyes until they’ve gone through at least two major revisions. BUT WHO CARES ABOUT THAT. I shall now assault your eyes nonetheless!

Enjoy!

Seasong

Chapter One

He was one of the older ones, old enough that he should have known better.

Meisa watched Urae carefully pull herself up out of the water, slowly, slowly, so as not to startle him. He bumbled forward, curious, blinking at her with spell-clouded eyes. The water washed around his ankles and he didn’t even notice. Urae held the spell tight around her, golden curls spilling over her pale shoulders, her round breasts. She sat on the rocks, keeping her true half hidden down in the water still. She flashed Meisa a quick glance, flicking her chin away to the far side of the bay.

Meisa slipped down into the water and darted through swirling seaweed and surging tide. The sea distorted her sister’s song, twisting the notes into tuneless keening, a nightmare of what could only be the sweetest dream to the unwitting landmeat above. Meisa breached on the far side of the bay, tucked back against the black rocks, and watched.

Urae sang without words, the seasong pouring from her elongated throat. She spread her arms toward the landmeat sloshing toward her in the tide, tripping and stumbling against the sharp rocks below him, scattered with mussels and weeds.

He had no idea. No idea.

Meisa felt a twinge of uncertainty.

Her sister sprang forward like a striking eel, grabbing the human around the waist. He fell backward into the water with a cry and a splash, and then all was stillness.

Meisa waited a moment, squeamish about what came next, and then sank without a ripple, swimming to her sister.

The landmeat was dead before they passed the tideline.

Want to read the rest? Follow this finely crafted link to the full chapter!

How I Blog, Pt. 2: Drafting, Brainstorming

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D’awwww. Mommy’s sleepy li’l man-eater…

Look at all the pretties!  As you can see, I’ve made a few changes to the site: mostly superficial, but hopefully nice to look at.  If you have any other ideas for improvements, please, please, please let me know!

In the meantime, on with part two of my blogging system.  (If you missed last week, you can find part one here!)  Last week, I talked about how I do my scheduling.  But what is a schedule without the drafts and the ideas to back it up?

The Drafts

Directly following the schedule, I have the drafts, each separated by double-spacing and an all-caps title.  The drafts come in all degrees of doneness, from a rough outline, to just an introductory paragraph, to a final draft ready to be posted.  I have them written out chronologically, with the top of the queue at the top of the page.  It makes it easier for me to tell at a glance how much more work I need to do before posting, and how soon that work needs to be done.

When it’s not a NaNo month (because NaNo months are lazy months), I try to have first drafts done a week before posting, and final drafts done the day before posting.  That way, I have a bit of a buffer if something happens and I can’t write, or if the schedule needs to change with little notice.  It doesn’t always happen that way, but it’s way less hectic for me when it does.

There are usually two to four active drafts in this section.  Some sit there for weeks or even months before I’m satisfied with them.  After a draft is finally posted, I delete it from the document to clear room for a new draft.

The Notes

Ideas

Down at the bottom of the document, I have the notes.  These are the ideas that are too ugly and vague and newborn to even have a scheduled slot yet.  This is the area I come to when I am scheduling a new quarter.

Filling It-

But how do you generate a robust notes section?

Any way you can.  Whatever gets your brain ticking, do those things.  I try to do my brainstorming- both for fiction and for blogging, depending on the mood- when I’m doing otherwise brainless tasks.  Washing dishes, chopping veggies, folding laundry, exercising, showering, etc…  We all have chores we have to do that don’t take too much thought; use that time to think about other things.  Keep track of interesting dreams, weird happenings at the supermarket, funny scenarios in the police blotter, whatever.  And whenever possible, have the means to write those ideas down immediately.

Another tactic to keep in mind: other writers probably have a lot of the same questions you do.  Quite a few of my blog posts have come about because I had questions- about craft, about querying, about social media- and spent a lot of time finding answers.  Why not write a blog post about those answers?

Whenever you attend writing events- critique groups, conferences, writing guild meetings, book signings, etc- take a some paper with you.  Jot down notes throughout the event, and then take the time to talk to the presenter(s) afterward.  Get permission to write up a blog post, and then ask other questions that may have been left unanswered.  You suddenly have not only a write up of the event, but also an exclusive scoop.  Similarly, think of field experts you can interview.  Other writers you know?  Book shop owners?  Reviewers?  Acquisitions librarians? Writing teachers at your local schools or universities?  Come up with as many as you can before you even start to think about feasibility.

You can also look into what other bloggers are writing about.  If someone you follow had an article about diversity that got you thinking, why not write a blog post about your thoughts?  If you read another blog that got tons of great comments and you know people are interested, why not write your own take on the same topic?

Whenever I get a new idea, no matter how stupid, I write it down.  Truly stupid ideas can always be erased later (Alas, Brandon Sanderson probably won’t grant me an interview just because we both write and are Mormon); but I cannot tell you how many times I have gone to delete an idea only to stop, and tweak it, and suddenly have something I can work with.  Never decide an idea is too bad to work the moment you have it.  Sometimes those ideas just have to stew a while until you can find a better angle.  Write everything down, and keep it all in one spot.

Using It-

When it’s time to schedule another quarter, I first skim through the archived schedule to get a good idea for what I’ve already written recently, and to maybe get a sense of any gaps in the topics I’ve covered.  Then I come to the notes section and start stewing.  I cut/paste the workable ideas from the notes section into the new schedule, again with more refined ideas toward the top and less refined toward the bottom.

After I pull out all the good stuff, I am left with a stinking heap of terrible ideas in the notes section.  I do not delete any of them.  A bad idea will sit in my notes section for nine to twelve months before I let it go, sometimes longer.  But I never delete them in batches, and never after a scheduling session.

The notes section is only useful if it is full and active.  Constantly add fresh ideas, constantly tweak old ideas.  Nearly everything I write about on this blog spends some amount of time in the notes section.  It’s like the slush pile for my blog, but I work really hard to make sure it’s all useable eventually.

 

And that’s about it!  The ideas support the schedule supports the drafts, and it all comes together once a week on the blog.  I think blogging makes me a better writer for two reasons: it forces me to constantly come up with new ideas; and it forces me to constantly write new material.  I don’t usually have a schedule for my fiction and it’s easy to let that fall to the wayside.  Blogging ensures that I don’t ever step completely away from writing.

So for those of you who blog, what do you do to keep yourself on track?  What’s your blogging system?

DIY Writing Prompt Generator

DiceYou’ve probably all known me long enough by now to know that I’m pretty much a dork on a multitude of levels. (For those of you who hadn’t picked up on that yet, check out any of these posts.) And so it was that, in the name of good dorky fun, I set out to create my own writing prompt generator! Whee!

So after kicking around the idea for a couple weeks, I had a list of a few features that I knew I wanted. I wanted it to have an element of randomness. I wanted it to deal with various parts of a story instead of just one. (So, it might prompt me on either setting or inciting action or characters, rather than just one of those things.) I also wanted it to be practically infinite- it wouldn’t be just cycling through the same handful of prompts every time. And despite all these things, I wanted it to be about as basic as I could make it. Because, as has been manifested many times in many ways, complicated things- mostly in the form of technology- frighten me. (For those of you who hadn’t picked up on that yet, check out any of these posts.)

And what could use randomness and be less complicated than a die? I considered using a d20, but didn’t want to do that much work (see point on basicness), so I stuck with the classic six-sided die. Everybody has a d6 laying around!

If you too would like to make your own random prompt generator, all you need is a die (or dice! You can do as many prompts as you want!), a writing utensil, a piece of paper, and your fantastic brain. And fantastic hands for writing with. And maybe a hard surface to write on as well. Anyway, you get the point. Dice, paper, pen.

Number one through six (or however many faces your die has). Then decide what elements you want your rolls to prompt you on. If you want this to be even simpler, you can do them all about characters, or settings, etc. I wanted to incorporate more than one element, so my list looked something like this:

  1. Object
  2. Inciting Action
  3. Setting
  4. Character
  5. Opening Line
  6. Inciting Action

(This really doesn’t have to be complicated. Skip this step entirely if you’d rather, and just write a bunch of random stuff. Because random!) After you know what topic you want each face of your die to represent, flesh it out a little further.

Think of a prompt regarding each element that is simple enough to make sense in just about every context with which you use it; is broad enough to be open to a variety of interpretations; and has the potential to be different each time it is applied. For example, here’s the generator I came up with:

  1. Walk into the adjoining room. What is the first physical thing you notice? Put this item in a story being used in a nonconventional way.
  2. Look at the newspaper/go to an online news outlet. What is the main headline? Without reading any more of the story, write a story based on this premise.
  3. Text the person you last texted and ask what their favorite show/book was as a kid. Write a story based in that world.
  4. Look out the closest window. What is the first moving thing you notice? Write a story from his/her/its point of view.
  5. Turn on the radio and listen for one complete sentence. Use that line as the first line of a story.
  6. Go into a nearby bathroom or closet. If you knew you would be attacked in one minute, what would you use to defend yourself? Write a story that starts with that preparation.

I guess #2 is kind of Inciting Action/Character/SomethingElseEntirely, depending on what the headline is. But you get the point! Each prompt is designed to have the potential to be different each time, thereby making it (almost?) infinite. But they’re also each simple enough to be broadly applicable (can be used in nearly any situation you would typically find yourself in- might not work as well if you’re camping or in the middle of a global robotic takeover), and widely interpretive (can be understood in a variety of ways, thus adding to the number of possible stories being generated).

So after working all that out, the only thing left to do was to field test it.

I rolled a four! So I turned around in my seat and the first moving thing that I saw was a… raven! Darned things are everywhere! (At least this one wasn’t killing half my flock and then not even eating any of their remains besides just one of the heads. Seriously, raven, that’s creepy.) So I set about writing a short story from the POV of a raven. And here is the totally-unedited-don’t-judge-me-it’s-a-first-draft result! (Yes, I wrote this just before posting, haha. But I like it! Maybe worth cleaning up?)

All in all, this was fun. I don’t know how often I’ll use my little generator, but I felt more creative just after having made the thing. Got the writing juices flowing! Yummy! And most of the time, that’s all I really need. So, good job, writing prompt generator. I’ll keep you.

Let me know in the comments if you whipped up your own writing prompt generator! I’d love to hear about your prompts, or any stories that came of it. Happy writing!

The Virtues and Vices of First Drafts

See this child? This child will be starting kindergarten this fall.  I am terrified.

See this child? This child will be starting kindergarten this fall. I am terrified.

I hate to admit it, but when I met my firstborn child, he was no cherub. He was a chunky little alien child with acne, a neanderthal brow, and a mashed-up head. He was noisy, smelly, slimy, and he had pooped on me (in me?) while being born. (TMI yet?) But he was also gloriously, heart-stoppingly, incandescently beautiful and I knew that the rest of my life would be devoted to seeing him do well in the world.

First drafts are a lot like newborns. You work darned hard to push them out, only to find that, despite being completely lovable, they’re a little ugly and weird, and need a lot more work before they can face the world on their own. That’s the nature of first drafts. As we plow forward into Camp NaNoWriMo here in another couple days (cue panic), here are a few things to keep in mind while looking forward to the end of a month-long labor of love.

It will not be perfect. But it will have massive potential.

I am constantly guilty of the assumption that whatever first draft I schlepp out in a month will be query ready by the end of a week. And I am constantly disappointed. Go figure. First drafts are not final drafts. Heck, so-called final drafts aren’t even usually final drafts. If you do Camp NaNo and then have this lovely little lump of literature lying in your arms, take a deep breath and let it be imperfect for a moment before you pick up that red pen. Marvel at what you’ve created in so short a time, even if it’s hairy and its poop is yellow. You may some day look back and realize you were cooing down at your newborn masterpiece.

It will frustrate you endlessly. But it will also bring you more joy than you thought possible.

Nobody hates my books like I do. But nobody loves them like I do, either. They keep me awake at night, they take directions that veer wildly from The Plan, and I don’t know what to do with them half the time. But writing is like that sometimes. It’s not a clean shot from A to B with a guaranteed agent smiling to greet you at the end. You might feel down sometimes. You might feel like it’ll never get anywhere in life. But you’ll love it anyway. (And, stepping away from the offspring analogy for a moment, you can always scrap it and use it for parts. A good writer, like a good butcher, wastes nothing.)

It will need to change. But those changes can only be considered improvements.

Ah, editing. Writing is rewriting is rewriting is rewriting. But sometimes we don’t want our babybook to grow up. Sometimes we think it’s perfect just the way it is. But it’s not. (See above. It’s not.) Once you accept that, you will cut flowery scenes that you dearly loved. You will tear out the purple prose that sings pointless poetry between the things that actually matter. For every word that you cut out that feels like a piece of your heart is being removed, you will tighten your prose, you will enhance your dialog, you will streamline your story, and you will improve your book.

A first draft is an advent. A step in creation. Not the first step, but certainly not the last. Expect your first draft to be the utter poop that it is, and love it for its foibles. Soon enough, you’ll be ripping those foibles out like a stolen kidney. But you’ll think back with fondness to these early days and you’ll chuckle at how far you’ve both come.