Essays

Making Lemonade from Lemons with Manuscript Magic

So, the Manuscript Magic test has officially begun. And, I have to say that I am enjoying the program, learning a lot and, for the first time, really enjoying revision process.

Say what?!

Yes, that’s right.

I’m having fun.

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First off, the program is well set up. Writer and editor Bonne Johnston discusses various writing issues on video (for ex. how to solve a slow opening, how to fix boring characters, how to eliminate too much backstory or exposition) and each module includes a PDF version of the topic that includes questions and solutions to resolve those issues.

(As I listened to the videos, it helped to think about the story as a first draft and not a finished novel I wrote 8 years ago. It made the grievous mistakes I made easier to swallow!)

Anyway, the module videos are very helpful. The videos are short. I haven’t watched them all but they usually run about 8-20 minutes. The PDFs are printable, downloadable, and fillable.

Bonnie made a point in one of the videos that I appreciated. She said that it’s normal for writers to make certain mistakes in a draft, especially if the writer is in Exploratory Writing Mode.

I know this, but it was still good to hear it.

I’ll elaborate.

When I start a new project, I’m usually inspired by a feeling, a phrase, or a picture but have no idea where to take it so I write to see what develops. Writing like that is freeing, but I end up over-explaining developing ideas, which causes info dumps, stagnant patches, over-description, or the character being overly introspective. As freeing as being a ‘pantser’ can be, I think it can contribute to frustration and dread of pending revisions, especially for perfectionists (me!). Yes, it’s satisfying to write passionately about a subject, but deep down I know a lot of what I’ve written just isn’t good. So, for me, Bonnie’s point normalized this writing pattern and presented it in a way that actually served a purpose (getting ideas on the page and actually finishing the MS) while offering hope that with the program’s help, I’ll have the tools needed to make lemonade from lemons.

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Last night, I started the analysis of the manuscript for The Eagle’s Gift (TEG). I went through it scene by scene and wrote down some basic info about each, while noting what I didn’t like as well as my own solutions. Luckily, the MS is short (12 chapters) so this didn’t take too long. In just over an hour, I had produced a working outline and had identified the preliminary problems.

This morning, I went on to step 2: completing the MM checklist. This was quick, and I completed it during my daughter’s karate course and still had time to spare.  In the checklist, I responded to specific questions about each scene, which ultimately identified specific structural problems in need of fixing before moving forward with the fine tuning and polish (style and flow, line editing, etc.).

I appreciated this because as a pantser, I often write from a place of inspiration and no fixed outline or story structure. So, when I’m trying to edit, I get lost in how to solve the problems I sense but can’t see. For the first time, I felt I was actually working in a productive, targeted manner.

After the checklist, I used the diagnostic tool, where the Fixes for the story’s problems are presented. Bonnie’s videos and the PDFs I mentioned previously facilitate the process without telling you what to do. In the MM process, the suggestions help the writer come up with solutions that he or she deems appropriate to the story being written.

Ok, so that’s about the program description and process. What about the results?

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I had mentioned that TEG was a failed manuscript. Reading over the various versions 8 years later, it was clear why the story failed. But, I also realized that, at this point in my life, I didn’t want to write that story anymore. The problem I had examined in that story was answered in the Rise of the Papilion Trilogy, which is self-published.

Another thing Bonnie mentioned (and we’ve all heard this before) is that when you cut something from a story, you can either put it aside or find a way to reuse it. With that in mind, I decided to put the original story aside. There are some beautifully written parts amidst some bad parts, and I am attached to it all. But I had to remind myself that even if I cut sections, they still exist on file and I can reread them anytime I like.

Then I had another flash. I didn’t like the MC. As she was, Charlotte didn’t fit the new story I want to tell.

What to do, what to do?

Scratch-head

I have another WIP called The Dragon’s Egg (TDE). I love the main characters. They are fully realized with backstories, have relatable motivations, etc. but I’ve never been able to come up with a satisfying story for them.

So, the stroke of genius:  Why not harvest Slevyn, Shasta, and Dorit from TDE and transplant them into TEG, which is complete, and build a new story around them?

That got me excited. Up until I started this post, I was busily making character notes in preparation for the necessary adaptations—again, a huge deal for someone who hates to plan stories. But that’s another benefit of this process: I have accepted that I am in Editing/Revision Mode rather than Writing Mode, and so planning has finally become acceptable.  

So far, I am happy with the MM process. Learning to think analytically about my writing and having tools to identify and fix issues on a story level is a relief. I actually feel empowered. After so many years, I finally feel hopeful about being able to bring closure to two failed manuscripts. Further, I am now faced with the possibility of producing an even better product by combining elements from each into something new rather than continuing to force two unsuccessful projects to completion.

I’ll probably be stuck at the rewriting phase for a bit, so I am not sure when I’ll be posting another update. But I can say that I’ve already gained a lot in the short time I’ve used the program, and I’m eager to see how it can help as I move forward with this new project.  

Until the next update!

Essays, writing tips

Finally. Revision Help for the Hopeless Writer

Revising is one of the most difficult aspects of writing for many writers. The reasons vary from not having a good beta-reader or critique network, to lack of editing skills or lack of confidence in our own editing skills, lack of money to pay someone to do the job for us, etc. Like many of you, I’ve experienced those issues at various stages of my writing career. Not only do those problems cause stress, but they can delay the completion of a manuscript or result in the production of an inferior one.

Head in Hands

My published books in the Rise of the Papilion Trilogy took many years to complete, largely for the reasons mentioned above. At the completion of each book, the sense of accomplishment and joy I felt were immediately followed by terror:  What the heck do I do now, and how in the world can I afford it???

Recently, I’ve been attending various free webinars on subjects like book marketing and tools to facilitate the book writing process. Last night, I attended one on the basics of good revision called, The 3 Levels of Fiction Revision & Why You Must Know Them, hosted by Laura Backes and Jon Bard.

The content was great. Simple, concise, informative and also a good refresher. I learned to write not by attending creative writing courses or workshops by doing the work and learning from my mistakes. The lack of formal training has always been a source of anxiety for me, as it leads to constant second-guessing and a disorganized method of writing and revision. The webinar was helpful in putting a framework on what revision actually is and the essentials for doing it right.

But, then there was the introduction of a new revision tool they created called, Manuscript Magic. It’s only been out a few months, and it’s the first time I’ve heard of it. But it is an online program that takes revision to a new level for someone like me who learned on the go and is still learning on the go.

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The program breaks the revision process down from revising a chapter at a time to revising a scene at a time, which is more manageable and less daunting. There are teaching videos which elaborate on writing concepts, as well as checklists that point out specific aspects of your story to consider while offering change options. Ultimately, it seems to be a practical writer’s guide to editing and revision, or maybe better, a tool that teaches how to shift from Writer Mode to Editor Mode, and to do it with confidence.

So, I bought the membership. It wasn’t cheap but I’ve paid more than that for simple proofreads, forget about a full manuscript edit. And, that’s saying a lot because I NEVER buy the programs or tools or packages offered at the end of webinars. But this program interested me because it’s a once-time purchase not a monthly subscription and, if it works 1) it would drastically improve my manuscripts in less time that it normally takes and with less frustration, 2) could reduce the amounts I would normally spend on editing by presenting the editor/proof-reader with a cleaner manuscript 3) I can learn to become a better writer and reviser 4) it could help me improve and complete the other WIPs wallowing on the backburner these last few years. In other word, I might be able to write better, complete projects faster, and ultimately publish better books.

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I plan to start with the first book I wrote, The Eagle’s Gift. It was a passion project that got ruined after too many crits from the review site I joined resulted in a jumbled mess. At the time, I was too inexperienced and in love with the book to handle all the feedback. The story never recovered, but I am hopeful this program can help me identify the problems and fix them.

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So, is my gamble worth it? Can the program deliver? I joined up last night and all the promised bonuses (dedicated Facebook support, free advice and counsel from well-known editing professionals active in the business) for signing up right away were available. The Facebook group is small but active and people are posting about their positive experiences. So, good start. I’ll keep you all posted and let you know how it all works out.

Book Launch/Giveaway, Essays

Recap Series #3: The Long Road to Complete Berserker

Finally, our journey down memory lane ends at Berserker. (click for Recaps 1 and 2) After years of blood, sweat, and buckets of crystalline tears, the last book of the Rise of the Papilion trilogy is here.

If you’d told me a year ago that this would be the case, I would have laughed in your face.

Seriously.

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After Wolf’s Bane was completed, I was totally burned out. Besides my faithful beta-readers and some friends, I hadn’t had much help with the book and I was terrified it would fail. As mentioned in part 2, the book was a challenge. It was a nightmare to edit, and a beast to format. I was still blogging and marketing my books, and the whole thing was getting to me. Right after the book was released, I called it quits.

I didn’t write for a long time, but periodically I did go back to Berserker. I wanted to finish it. But, like any project worth doing, there were issues. At the end of Bane, I had written myself into a corner. Now, don’t panic! The story had to go the way it did, there was no other option; I just hadn’t figured out how to get out of that spot. But, I was confident it would work out and it did. I just let the story evolve and in its own time the solution came to me. Voilà!

So, while I worked out that dilemma, I wrote when I could, biding my time by writing new characters, developing cultures we hadn’t seen much of until then, and before I knew it, I’d written about 70K words without even including Jeru or Kelen. At that point, I reigned myself in, cut a bunch of stuff, and refocused.

So, I was writing, but it wasn’t consistent. A lot was going on in my life over the 3-4 years it took to complete this book, which caused me to stop writing for very long periods of time. Finally, at my sister’s graduation from her animation program, my cousin asked me, “So, what’s happening with Berserker?” I kinda mumbled something about the book being on standby, but as we talked I felt a little spark. I decided then that I would fix the manuscript.

It was hard! So much time had passed that I had disconnected from the characters and the story, and the sequences were all out of whack. I could tell where I had written out of obligation to get something on the page versus the sections where I had been driven by inspiration. I remember pouring over the printed manuscript, reading, editing, moving things around. At one point, I printed cue cards and had everything spread out on the floor. At another point, I’d put the story into Scrivener. I never figured out how to use the darned thing, but at least it helped organize the scenes.

Probably about a year later after another long break, things picked up again. One night at the dinner table, my son said, “Mom, I think it’s time for you to start writing again.” I was shocked! But I took that as a sign that my kids would be alright with me focusing on writing again. So, on days off, vacations, quiet evenings and whatnot, I worked on the manuscript until it was ready for the last round of beta readers and the proofread. Then there was the final read. Which resulted in more edits, and then the final, final read.

Writing is not for the faint of heart, and in most cases, not for people who like to see quick results. It’s a laborious art-form that can result is gorgeous, inspiring work, but is fraught with challenges, discouragements, loneliness, and disappointment. But if you tough it out, are patient and stick to your goals, you will come out on the other side with a beautiful book to share with the world.   

Interesting Points:

  • My sister, Amy Hands, animator/illustrator and designer, did the cover art for both Wolf’s Bane and Berserker. After she sent me the finished image for Berserker, the doors opened for the project’s completion. Within weeks, the manuscript was formatted and uploaded to Kindle and CreateSpace, ready for release.
  • I watched A LOT of anime during this time. I find the cinematic nature of their visual storytelling resembles how I picture scenes in my mind. Also, I love that they take time to develop their characters, even the antagonists, so that you connect with and understand them even if you don’t always agree with them. One thing that really stuck with me was that animes don’t always resolve with the good guy blasting the bad guy to smithereens. Often, the endings are complex, unexpected, thoughtful, and therefore more satisfying. I used these elements to inspire how Berserker was crafted.

I’ll finish with an excerpt from Chapter 39. In the backdrop, Jeru and Kelen are engaged in their final battle, while everyone else stands in awe of the result. This short scene revolves around Nyssa and Jurgan, the Storyteller we met in Wolf’s Bane

“Jurgan?”

Nyssa was in the middle of changing Dilla when the Storyteller suddenly got up and went to the mouth of the cave. He stumbled, though there was nothing in the way to hinder him. Samson raised his head, quietly observing. 

“Jurgan? What is it?”

At the entrance, he pulled aside the flaps to look outside. He gasped and put his hands to his mouth. “In all my years, after all the effort it took to paint, I never thought I would actually see it.”

Nyssa hurried to tie the diaper before handing the baby to Trelina, then joined the Teller. She noticed that Samson had moved from his spot, but the clouds over the mountain and thunder rumbling overhead distracted her from inquiring into where he’d gone. Bursts of lightning illuminated the sky.

“What a storm!” She drew back, stifling a shudder. Nyssa had heard of windstorms and even tornadoes occurring in the plains, not to mention the destruction they could wreak. Ab-clanners sometimes lost homes, lands, and livestock to them. Homeless, they were known to tramp from village to village, refugees depending on the kindness of strangers.

Jeru is out there.

“That is not a natural storm.” Jurgan’s gaze remained fixed, giving Nyssa the impression he was privy to a sight that she was not. 

“Teller, what do you see?”

Jurgan’s voice dropped to a whisper, as though seeking the softest way to deliver difficult news. “I see the Wolf and the Butterfly at war.” He turned to her with tears running down his face. “Just as I had painted it.”

Thanks for sticking with me over the years and especially for your support. Anyone who writes knows that it’s one of the toughest things to do, let alone be good at. I hope you’ll check out the books, and if you do, write me to let me know what you think…a review is also welcome ;P

Take care, and have a great Thursday. And, oh yeah. Berserker is out TODAY!

Book Launch/Giveaway, Essays, Misc

Recap Series #2: The Challenges of Writing Wolf’s Bane, Sequel to The Purple Morrow

Berserker is coming out in 2 days, so I figured I’d better get back to writing these book summaries. Click here to read Part 1 of the recap series.

The Struggle was Real

So. Wolf’s Bane…more like Dyane’s Bane. Because that’s exactly what it felt like to write this beast.

 

When I had finished The Purple Morrow, I was on a bit (a lot!) of a high. It was the second book I had written, but it was the only one of the two that was publish-worthy. And, after doing the run-around, research, trying and erring, I finally published the book. Yes!

So, now I was on to book 2, Wolf’s Bane. But this time around, I struggled with something I hadn’t before: fear of disappointing. The first book had been well-received, something that, especially for a first-timer, felt like a miracle. And after slaving away at Morrow for 2-3 years, I had come to love the characters. I wanted to write them a great story while not disappointing readers.

I’ll tell you one thing. If you’re writing a book, don’t worry about disappointing your readers. It’s impossible to focus on telling a great story when you’re filled with anxiety. Write the book that’s in your heart, trust your characters, and trust yourself. If you do those things, the book should take shape. Okay, that was more than one thing. But, in writing Bane, I found these points to be true. Once I stopped stressing and just wrote what I was feeling and what felt right for the characters, the book came together. I’m pleased and proud of the result. And, in the end, the book ended up being well-received to boot. 

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Another struggled I faced was figuring out how to write a ‘bridge’ book, meaning a book that bridges the events in book 1 and the trilogy’s conclusion. How do you keep the story interesting while not giving too much away? And how do you end the book so that it’s satisfying to the current story while not actually ending the overarching story prematurely?

That was tough, and I struggled with that for a while. In the end, I introduced new elements and characters, deepened the world-building and developed the magic/spiritual foundations of the story, while working hard on character development. I enjoyed bringing that wretch, Oren, to life so much, and the antagonistic yet nurturing relationship between Seylem and Kelen was a blast to write. Working on Jeru’s development was harder, as he’s my Every Man who needed a believable hero arc, something I’d never done before. So, yes, there were many, many challenges to overcome.

 

Interesting points:

Wolf’s Bane is the first time I had to develop a magic system in a story. I’d never done that before, and I was lucky to have a friend at the time who guided me through the process and let me bounce ideas off him.

I experimented with tone, lyrical style, and integrated elements of poetry. It probably sounds weird, but I allowed myself the freedom to tell the story using elements that I felt were needed to do it right. Of course, that made editing and rewrites a challenge, especially the poetry-inspired sections but thankfully, I had a poet-friend to edit that.

 

So, as I did for Morrow, I’ll include an excerpt. This is from Usurper, Chapter 2:

Oren hurried to the Naagra-Oni’s chambers. The hallway stretched straight as an arrow in front of him, and a lush runner spanned its length. The carpet was the Ministry’s gift to them, a measure to counter the perpetual cold clinging to the stone floors. Arched, stone doors, unadorned except for the iron rings bolted into their surfaces, lined the corridor on both sides. Other Naagra of more lowly stature slept behind them. Slept, or read. Or plotted. Naagra were always plotting. Oren would know, since he had been at it the longest. And, if he were so bold, which he was, he would even go so far as to claim to be the best at it.

Oren wrapped his cloak tighter around him against the cold, but the dampness permeated the four thick layers of linens and furs. It even crept through his tiger-seal boots, so that his toes began to tingle. Outside, the wind howled, battering the temple walls. Oren thought how ironic it was that the wind appeared to fight so hard to find a way in when all he wanted was to escape, even into the midst of a late-spring blizzard.

He hated Ambroze, the Naagra-Oni, hated his gloating smile and his silky voice that, at first, sounded pleasant, even friendly, until one discerned the venom lurking underneath. The Master Seer, though, never bothered to hide his disdain from Oren. It shone through his ice blue eyes and that cursed, mocking smile. Oren would much prefer to test himself against the tempest blowing outside than spend ten minutes with the man. Only curiosity, not to mention the command to present himself at Ambroze’s chambers exactly twenty minutes before, forced him to continue moving down the corridor, around the bend and up two flights of stairs into the north wing; the wing that had once been his.

“One day,” Oren swore as he swished down the darkened corridor, “I will take back my place, you cursed upstart! Then we’ll see who is left grinning with such disdain!” For now, Oren doubled his pace. He was still a subordinate–though the highest ranked subordinate–and it would not do to irritate the Master Seer.

He arrived at the massive double doors just as the gong struck the half hour mark. He would slow-boil Lapi in oil for making him late!

Oren shoved the great doors with all the strength contained in his wiry body. They groaned open. A blast of hot air met him, instantly turning to mist once it confronted the icy air from the hall. Oren waded through the cloud, emerging like some sort of wraith, and found himself standing in a great, round room. The back half was blocked off by a series of dark-coloured screens. The ceiling was hidden in gloom, but Oren knew it was adorned with the painted images of Anyul, the Snow god and his minions, Ice and Frost. They leered at him from above, shaming him into false humility as he stood before the Naagra-Oni. No windows pocked the walls of the room, and the torches were not lit. The only light came from dripping, black candles scattered throughout and the massive fires glowing in their hearths.

“You are late.” The words were clipped, and they cut like knives.

“My apologies, Naagra-Oni,” Oren answered, bristling. “I came as soon as I received your summons.”

 

If you enjoyed the summary and excerpt, leave me a message below. And don’t forget:  Berserker, the conclusion to the Rise of the Papilion trilogy, is out Thursday, March 8!

Essays, Misc

Recap Series: About ‘The Purple Morrow’

The Rise of the Papilion trilogy is completed, but it has taken years to complete each book. So long, in fact, that when I released Wolf’s Bane, followed by the soon to be released  Berserker, the pastor’s wife at my church suggested I write book summaries to help re-situate her.

So, this Recap series is inspired by that request. I also figure that it’s partly therapeutic for me. Writing, publishing, distributing, and marketing the 3 books over an 8-year period were some of the hardest things I’ve ever done. So much so that I had to take a long break after publishing Wolf’s Bane, to the point I wondered IF I’d even finish the series. Luckily, I did and Berserker will be released next week on March 8.

So, leading up to that event, I thought I’d write a post about each book, partly to catch everyone up about them, where they came from, what they’re about. And, yes, for (my own) closure.

Why did I write the series in the first place?

Every writer finds inspiration in their own way. Most times for me, a short story or novel starts as an emotion or thought (colour, action, sound) that evolves into a character first and then a story. Once the characters are nailed down, the story falls into place piece by piece. When I started The Purple Morrow, I wanted to chronicle the journey of a man (Jeru) who begins the story at his lowest point and who, through various situations, finds resolution and transformation at the other end of the proverbial tunnel. So, why not write about a young man whose wife dies on their wedding night and, guilt-ridden, decides he can’t face the future? That is until his homeland is threatened by the same Beast-Men who destroyed his village years before, he comes face to face with someone from his past who complicates his already complicated life, all while dealing with the most terrifying thing of all: the threat of falling in love again. Somewhere along the way, he discovers that he’s the key to saving everyone. All he has to do it pull his head out of his…butt…long enough to do it.  

Memorable Moments

Writing New Things: The Purple Morrow was the first time I got to explore writing some things for the first time, like fight scenes. I’ve always loved them in movies, particularly kung fu, I like watching boxing (thanks Granddad), and I studied karate for a time. I remember standing in my living room working out movements and sequences, or holding a sword to test the weight and how it moves when I swung it, and then sitting down to figure out how to transpose that into words. Joy!

The Characters: Jeru and Nyssa kinda dropped in on me. I remember when I decided to write the story, I saw them clearly in my mind. I knew what their relationship was going to be, what the tension between them was about, as well as the fact that they needed each other in order to move on from their traumatic pasts. Kelen also surprised me. I was walking home from the bus when I suddenly pictured him kneeling by a lake and staring at his reflection. His personality, pain, and dilemma sprung out of that and I remember bursting with excitement to get home and write the scene. It’s one of my favorite moments in the book.

Painting of Jeru by Amy Hands

 

Unexpected Directions: Then there was the moment I was struggling to write the story because it had grown too big for one book. In comes my sister (who did the cover art for Wolf’s Bane and Berserker, and the above digital painting of Jeru) who chimed in: “Why don’t you write more than one book?” Thanks, sis, for setting me upon the most arduous, torturous experience of my life!

So, that’s a little about The Purple Morrow. The trilogy is a passion project. When I started this journey, I had hoped to ‘make it big’ and sell a ton of books. The book market is tough. The market is saturated with books and every author is clamoring for attention. It’s all quite exhausting, to be honest. Of course, I want people to buy the books. But what has become more important to me over time, is that I hope readers will also enjoy them. That they will be touched or moved in some way, and will remember the story and the characters long after they finish the books.    

In closing, here’s a little excerpt from another of my favorite scenes. It’s from chapter 14, and it’s the first time Kelen and Jeru meet.

Excerpt from The Purple Morrow, Chapter 14-Crossing Paths

In the few seconds it took for Kelen to take up his axe, he had already assessed his foe. The man was strongly built and was as lithe as a panther. He stood with his weight balanced between his feet, and from the stance alone, Kelen gleaned he was trained in some form of the fighting arts. The man’s breathing was steady, unhurried. He grasped his swords comfortably, ready to change grips at a moment’s notice. For a moment, Kelen concluded that the coming fight would not be fair. He knew he outweighed the other by at least fifty pounds and that a good, solid blow to the chest or head would quickly end the contest. But as he assessed the look in the other man’s eyes, Kelen checked himself. The clansman showed no fear. He is dangerous, either desperate and not caring about his life and is therefore ready to throw it away. Or he is a man with something to fight for and is willing to do whatever it takes to get it.

Kelen liked these new odds.

“Beast-man of the North,” the man said in an even tone. He raised his right hand, pointing a sword-tip at him. “I have come to reclaim what you have stolen from me.”

Kelen smiled to himself, satisfied that his hunch had proven correct. He had come for the woman. Was he her husband? Her lover?

Kelen took a moment and formed a response in his mind. He had always been amazed that he could understand the Southland’s languages and dialects with an ease that surpassed his brethren. To him, accessing the skills needed to understand and to speak them was like delving into a long-forgotten chest which had suddenly sprung open, revealing its secrets.

“What have I…stolen…from you?” he asked with only a little difficulty.

The man advanced a step. “A woman. She was taken from our woods. I want her back.”

Nonchalant, Kelen lifted and dropped his shoulders. Then he swept a hand in a semi-circle, indicating they were the only ones in the area. “There is no woman here.”

The black-haired man advanced a few steps more, his sword still pointed towards Kelen. “You are a liar. I know she was taken by your people. You will return her to me.”

“Ah, yes. I seem to remember the face of a pretty, new slave. I was thinking she might make a good wife.”

“Return her!”

The Rover laughed. “If you want her, you will have to go through me.”

A thin, mean smile carved itself across the clansman’s face, and his eyes glittered. Green eyes, Kelen realized with some surprise. He did not have long to consider this, as the man flicked his wrists, propelling the swords into a series of arcs. The blades split the air with sharp sighs as they spun.

Kelen felt the thrill of the impending clash pulsing through his veins. He lifted his axe into position.

Yes, he liked these new odds very, very much.

 

Hope you enjoyed the post and the read. Drop me a line. I’d love to hear from you.