Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Blog Hiatus

Well, since I was late for my Wednesday post, I decided it was a sign.  I'm going to take a holiday from the blog until Jan 1.  And hopefully, when I came back, I'll bring in some changes as well.  For one of my new year's resolution's is to get my blog (and web page) into shape.

Till then have a merry Christmas, everyone, and a happy new year!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Link-a-Day: World Generator

Last week, I posted about time wasters.  Well, how about something that can both fun and helpful.  If you write in a speculative genre that isn't set on our world, you have to create your own world.  There are tools out there to do just that.  The one I like in particular is Fractal World Generator.  Not only can you pick the type of map, but chose criteria that affects the world you get--like percentage of ice and water.  Then you can save the map it generates.  Neat-o.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Test Drive: 10 Steps: Step 1 and 2

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These are listed in as the first two steps in the book, but often times you see them combined in a basic character building checklist. Since they fit well together, I'm combining them here into one lesson.

So, let's get started with . . . .

The Question.

You've seen these before, the checklist of character attributes. I've filled out these charts before, but I rarely remember the details come writing time and to tell the truth they bore the heck out of me. But the book adds a twist by asking one essential question. One I never thought of asking.

Why. Why is this important.

The answer to this question directly pertains to your story. It makes you think what effect this attribute has not only how your character acts and reacts to life, but how it affects the story. So for every bit of physical description, ask yourself that question: Why is this important. I think you'll be surprised by what changes and depth develops in your character and your story early on.

In fact, for all steps, that is going to be a question you need to ask and you'll be surprised by how much you get out of it.

Anyway, on to . . .

#1. Physical Description.

The book covers a few primary areas of physical description, which are age, physique (including height, weight, etc), face, and distinguishing characteristics. Instead of just following those listed, I suggest finding a character chart online or making your own. Charts aside, though, there are a couple attributes I want to touch on from the book, ones that shouldn't be missed.

First Impression. What is the first impression your character makes as he walks into room? What attribute is the first noticed? How does it make others feel about him or her.

Distinguishing Characteristics. This is the unique aspects to your character's appearance. Does he have scars? Does she have a tattoo? How about injuries? Where do these characteristics come from, are they genetic based, as a result of an injury or illness, or something your character has deliberately done to themselves?

No matter how entertaining or boring you find the character description charts, the point is clear. Start thinking about the story these attributes tell about your character. For example, age affects how your character reacts, what positions he might hold, or possible sources of conflict--think about a Doogie Howser type character or the reverse, a late comer dealing with a much younger generation of peers. On physique, calloused hands can show your character is used to hard labor or her weight might be a point of contention in your character's life. And so on.

However, don't go overboard on filling out these character charts. If your story shifts as you write, you may wish to change things about your character. Do yourself a favor. If you don't feel strongly about an attribute after you've done this work, don't lock yourself in.

Now that we covered what your character looks like, what about . . .

#2. Profession or Occupation

Just like real life, your character has some occupation or profession to define him. Whether it is stay-at-home parent, being independently wealthy, or a 40-hour a week job, something occupies most of his or her time. This section of the book will focus on that. Again, this is something you can probably find on a character checklist. But remember to keep in mind other aspects about the job--what does the job involve? What does it say about his personality? Are the other characters that are important in the story at his work place? How important is her occupation to the story? To your character?

Some checklists cover the next topic. The book doesn't. So, I'm going to include it here. I'm talking about the . . .

Hobby or Volunteering or Pastime. I'm not a full time writer. I also have a 40-hour week job. Perhaps your character does too--is there something he sees as his vocation? Or maybe she just has a hobby? Maybe she volunteers. Work is work, whether not you get paid for it. What your character does when not working for money can be revealing. What does your character's hobby say about her?

Beyond that, the book covered something interesting that I think is left out of most checklists. That is . . .

Work Ethic. How does he feel about his work? Does he give 100% to it? Or is it to just get by, while he focuses on something else that is true passion? Is this going to change throughout the story?

Personally, I never thought to ask about my character's work ethic. But it is different and possibly revealing, so it doesn't hurt to give a try, right?



Well, that's it for the first two steps. Easy enough, so far. We are starting with basic but useful building blocks, choosing what your character looks like and what he does. More importantly, though, we learned to ask: Why--why is this important. Keeping the lesson in mind, why don't we take a look at some exercises and tricks that will keep things interesting.


The following is a list exercises, tips, and tricks (from the book, other resources, and myself) to get you thinking about the physical description and occupation of your character and to help you define him or her in interesting ways. You don't have to do them all, but I do suggest at minimum doing the exercises listed in the section below.

Main Exercises.

The Checklist. Your first exercise is to find or make a checklist you want to work with and fill it out. Make sure it includes at first impression and occupation. Try to keep it brief and don't be afraid to revise as you learn more about your character. And most importantly, don't forget to ask yourself "Why is this important?".

The write up. Once you got your checklist filled out, write a brief paragraph summarizing the most important bits. Include your "whys". Keep this handy, either in its own file or on a note card for easy reference.

Bonus Exercises.

These are more creative exercises to explore physical character aspects. They get you in story-mode thinking, making you see how your character's physical aspects and occupation affects his life and his choices in the story. You don't have to do all these or any of these, but they can be fun to try. Some of these come from the actual book, some from other resources, and some I just made up. Enjoy!

  • What's your sign? The book posed an interesting exercise related to age. What is your character's horoscope? You can add attributes to your characters personality and relationship compatibility. But what if your novel is not set in the real world--that is, it is of the speculative fiction genre? Well, it can work reverse too. Look up the descriptions of the signs, and you have the idea for personality and relationship conflicts.
  • Future self. Your character meets himself from the future (or the past if he is currently older in story-time). Future Time Character and Present Time Character have had different experiences. Age has had an effect. What effect? How are the two characters different from each other, physically, emotionally, mentally, etc.
  • Beyond the visual. Use your other senses. What is the scent associated with your character--or what is her favorite smell? Does she favor certain textures, or is his skin smooth or rough? And so on.
  • Love poetry. You've all read or read about poetry that glorifies aspects of a lover's body like eyes or hair. Well, here's your chance. Your character is going to write a poem or love letter, no matter how awful, about the beauty of another character.
  • The secret. Let's say your character has been trying to hide a scar or injury. How has he been hiding it? Now, go further on this exercise. Your character's secret characteristic has just been revealed to person he least wanted to know about it. How do both react?
  • Corporate headhunter. Your character has to recruit someone for a job and orientate them.
  • The first job. Your character never worked before, either this is their first job or they lived life in the lap of luxury. What job does he pick? Why? What is his first day like?
  • So what do you do for fun? Your character is bored. Give your character your hobby. Does he like it? Does he hate it? What does he do with it?




Character Charts.

Test Drive: 10 Steps: Introduction Implementation


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I mentioned in the article that you can use this on a first draft or a brand new story.  Well, to make this a true test drive, I'm going to be insane and try it on both simultaneously.  Here is the information on them.

WIP:  Walker#1
  • Genre:  Fantasy
  • Protagonist:  Walker or Pheteh. 
    • First thing to know about Walker is that he amnesiac.  So, the following names are not really his, in the real sense.  He named himself Walker.  Someone else named him Pheteh.
      • Walker - The meaning behind Walker is "fuller".  It was an occupation.  According to Behind the Name, "Walkers would tread on wet, unprocessed wool in order to clean and thicken it."  That's not the reason I picked it, though.  You see, I had an idea that Walker got that name off a flyer or poster of some sort.  Also, it reminds me of his occupation--he is courier.  A very special kind (see the concept below).
      • Pheteh - This was me playing with Egyptian names/people and sounds.  Pheteh came from a mangling of the god Ptah.  Wikipedia shows that it can be spelled Peteh, hence my mangling.  One allusion I wanted to make between Pheteh and Ptah concerned the "opening of the mouth ceremony" Ptah was said to have created.  Since souls can be transferred into a courier through the mouth in my world, it fit.  
  • POV:  1st person, single point of view.
  • Plot Concept:  Amnesiac Walker was a courier--he used to carry memories, souls, and even objects magically miniaturized inside his body. But few people know it; and he doesn't even remember ever doing it. Now he's a mehnset, someone who makes sure what the couriers carry won't mess up the worlds any more than they already are. But as they say, once a courier, always a courier. Well, Walker's sometimes-wife says that. She is counting on him to transport an item across the schisms (loco world borders) that mehnsets would kill to destroy; as a mehnset, he is the only one who could do it. He is prepared to tell her to go drop off a schism when she reveals what it is. A key ingredient for a cure for an adaptive plague that in his world raises the dead and turns them into parasitic succubi. She carries the thaumaturge soul who brewed it up. Walker has his own personal reasons for seeing the cure come to fruitation, but few people are willing to try. After all, the last attempt at a cure pissed off the plague and turned that world a great big mausoleum. That being the world from whence the plague originated. The world he called home.

New Novel:  Hunger
  • Genre:  Kafka-esque fantasy.
  • Character Names:   
    • Sorenn - Mangled.  Comes from a Romanian Sorin, which means "sun".  Thought it was ironic, given that he's a vampire.  
    • Anca - Is a Romanian name (female) meaning "grace, favor".  It's for a male character, though.  Quite frankly, I just like the sound and look of it.  He is a "food" product for Sorenn.
    • Mareis - Mangled.  Comes from Romanian Marius, either derived from the Roman god of war, Mars, or from a Roman word mean "man".  Figured, since she is the competitor of Anca, and Anca is originally a female name, it is fitting. 
  • POV:  Either first person (single pov) or close third person (multiple povs).   I'll know more once I start working with the story and character voices.
  • Plot Idea:  Influenced strongly by The Hunger Artist by Kafka, and maybe by Jackson's The Lottery.  It is the vampiric act put on display for public entertainment.  Sorenn is like those big cats you see in the movie Gladiator.  Except, he is kept starved and is mistreated, and then he is released to hunt down and kill prey.  The lucky food product survivor not only gets to live but gets a magically prolonged life.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Search for Re: Cartazonon.

The Cartazonon.

This Indian and north African equine calls deserts and wastes of mountains home.  It possesses a reddish-yellow coat, long mane and tail, and a lengthy horn that is black and shiny.  Although it sounds beautiful, the Cartazonon is not your typical Disneyfied unicorn:  au contrare, it is very aggressive.  It will attack anyone who tries to capture it--no one has managed that feat yet, so the legends go.  Sometimes its agression is unprovoked, attacking people for no reason.  It seems to dislike animals as much as humans, especially lions.  The African native will kill whole prides of them. 

What do I like about them?  Come on.  Killer unicorns?  What is not to like? 

How do they relate to my writing?  Well, I did have a story idea once with evil unicorns, but besides that, folkloric horses gives me ideas on building a better mount for Walker.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Link-a-Day: Time Wasters

Last week, I posted about an online Victorian ettiquette game.  That reminded me of other games I used to play online.  Some have since disappeared, but there are others out their to tickle the fancy, eat up time, or provide a some fun research.  I haven't tried all of them out myself, but here a few that caught my eye:

  • Zynga - My favorite is the Fishville, although the FarmVille is fun too (reminds me of SimFarm).  The vampire game is fun too.
  • Neopets - Used to play this one.  Addicting but very time consuming.
  • Arcadia Sim - Never played it, but it reminds me of a horse game I used to play.
  • Girls Go Games - Simulations - Played one.  Neat concept.

PS--Sorry this late.  For some reason it went from scheduled post to draft and never posted.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Test Drive: 10 Steps: Introduction

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Start-up Questions

Alright, if we are going to build memorable characters, where do we start?  First with the answers to some questions you might have.  Such as, to use 10 Steps, do you have to start with a character and build the plot from there?  Or can you start with plot and plug in character?  Can you use this one novel you already started, or does it have to be a brand new idea?  I believe you can adapt this any of the above, although if you are going to use this on a novel already started, I suggest using it on one whose first draft hasn't been completed.  You will benefit more that way.

Start-up Elements

The book gives us the following basics as a guideline to start developing our story and characters: 
  • Genre
  • Character Name
  • POV Technique
  • Plot concept
I am assuming you are not new to writing, so you already have strong preferences on genre, pov, and plot concept generation (for those creating a new story).  So, let's focus on character name instead.

Character Name

If you are starting a new story, you need to name your character.  There are a lot of baby name resources out there (check out the resources listed below).  They can show culture or origin behind the name, meaning, popularity, nicknames, etc.  It is also worthwhile to pick up a baby name book.  If you are a yardsaler, you can find these cheap.  That is how I got mine, and I never had to pay more than a dollar for one.

Once you have a baby name reference, pick a name.  10 Steps points out the importance of sound in the name choice.  Their example is, if the character is arrogant, use a hard sound like D or hard G, like Gaston from Disney's Beauty and the Beast.  Other useful tips 10 Steps gives that you may already know, but are worth mentioning, are to vary the characters' names.  Don't start them with the same letter and try to vary them in other ways, like length or sound.  Also, minor characters don't really need names and may serve the story best by being described by their occupation.  The reason?  Because names add importance to characters and readers try to memorize names of characters.  Don't add more work onto your readers. 

Baby Name Online Resources:

Tips, Tricks, and Exercises:

10 Steps
has a neat idea on names.  Take a deeper look into the meaning of the baby names you are looking at and use the meaning of the name to spark an idea for a plot, especially if you are creating your plot from your character.  For example, take the name Emily.  It means rival or emulating.  Emily could be the antagonist.  Or perhaps she is the contender for a job. 

Another trick, not found in the book, involves the question:  What if you are writing something not set in our world or any of our time periods?  If you are like me and don't have time to develop an entire language for your culture, tweaking "real world" names may serve you best.  Decide on the real world culture type that is basis or influence behind the culture your character is from.  Find a baby name to fit it and your character.  Now, find other baby names from the same culture and start analyzing the endings and other patterns within the names. 

For example, I am chosing Italian-based culture.  There are several Italian names with the "-ia" or "-io" ending, such as Marzia or Eugenio.  Maybe make this "-a" or "-iso" instead. 

Once you have a list, take those patterns and change them to something you like the sound of.  You'll want to do the same for place names and the like. And that's it--a simple method developing cultural names that have a cohesive, consistent sound and feel.

Test Drive: The Choice: 10 Steps

Last week, I talked about test driving a writing reference.  Well, I chose the reference.  It is 10 Steps to Creating Memorable Characters by Sue Viders, Lucynda Storey, Cher Gorman, and Becky Martinez.

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I picked this book for several reasons, the first of which was to start out with something simple.  Not that building well-rounded, interesting characters is a simple project.  But the book is full of exercise and steps--a simple layout for this blog series.  Not to mention, there are articles and references available online to supplement the techniques covered in the book.  Finally, ten steps (well, twelve with intro and conclusion) means this particular Test Drive will be relatively short in comparison to some of my other choices.  Great for a maiden run.

There is another reason, a personal reason, I picked this book.  I'm not big on detailed character analysis in the prewriting stage.  Usually I sketch brief character history and relationships, physical traits, and goals, and then let the rest develop as I write.  It is worth a shot to see if I can improve my characters before the actual writing begins.  It is worth a shot, if it means one less thing to cause writer's block or necessitate extra revision at the end. 

However that brings me to an important point.  This is prewriting; you won't get an instant product out of this Test Drive.  Even so, I will continue to update you on the progress of the story line that comes from this technique.  I hope for those joining in, you'll do the same and let me know on the blog how it works out for you.

Test Drive: News

I am a little behind this week, so the Test Drive post will be posted much later in the day.  If you are new to the blog, what do I mean by Test Drive?  See this post for details.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Search for Re: Boobrie

What is the monster this week?  A neat Scottish creature called a boobrie.

It is enormous and birdlike, with black wings and claws like human hands.  The most interesting features about this creature are the eyes and the bill.  The black eyes have a stare that can drive a man insane.  Its bill is a long as a sword and just as deadly, capable of skewering large animals and flying off with them.  It is also capable of emitting a terrifying roar.

The boobrie is similar to the Great Northern Diver, but it has white markings and huge webbed feet.  But do not mistake it for a mere fishing or wading bird.  It prefers land animals, consuming anything that goes near its loch or even shipbound lifestock.  It will tear through wooden rails and nets to reach its prey aboard such vessels; sometimes it even tears through the sailor or fisherman who tries to stop its predation.

What do I find so intriguing about this creature?  The stare and the bill.  Walker sojourns in a world with a predatory bird.  I pictured it about the size of a crow, but I never thought of making it bigger or increasing its bill length or strength.  Nor did I consider making it have a hypnotic gaze.  All very cool things.  Though, I'm considering making it either silent or a mimic, whichever ends up scarier.


Monday, December 7, 2009

Link-a-Day: History Games

Last week, I posted about some science sites, good for inspiration or research.  One of those links was a top 100 site, and gave more options, like museum sites.  That reminded me of an old game I played online at a museum that dealt with Victorian manners.

Well, I found it again.

It's a little Monty Pythonish history lesson, where you are in the role of either a man or woman from the Victorian era.  It's just as much fun to guess wrong as it is to guess right.  While there, check out the other games available, such as the photography one.  It's a little tougher, but still neat, especially in the role of the photographer's assistant.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Article Channel: Outlines

Hiya, I'm trying something new out on my Fridays, and so, my articles posts gained a new name to keep them separate from other materials you'll find posted on these days.  So, the first program on the The Article Channel is . . .  


In particular, two ways to create a novel summary.

I have written many novels throughout the years, and in nearly every case, I started with an outline or synopsis.  Usually when I talk about outlines and synopses, I allow the terms to be synonymous.  In this case of this article, "outline" is a summary broken down into chapters and maybe scenes.  A synopsis is a summary narrative form; the only breaks you'll see here are of the paragraph kind.  But once you write one type of summary, it can transform into another with a little more work.  Here are a couple of techniques that worked well for me.

Method #1: The One-Liner.

This is the technique I have been using lately.  I start with my own version of the Snowflake Method.  That is, I start with one line that summarizes what my novel is about.  This is not easy, but it helps focus my novel and it can be a useful marketing tool in a query packet. 

Once I come up with my one-liner, my next step is the query letter blurb.  Not only will this come in handy as I write, but it will be the first draft of my actual query letter.  I revise it as I work on the actual drafts of my novel, and by the time I am done with my novel, that part of my submission packet is ready to go as well. 

From the blurb, I expand the summary into something with a little more substance over all parts of the novel, beginning, middle, and end.  I keep fleshing this out, making sure that my plot events flow until each other and that character motivations, goals, and thoughts are present wherever necessary to understand my character's actions and reactions.  

Turning the synopsis into an outline:   I go through my synopsis, either on a new file on the computer or on a printout, and I put little marks (like [1]) indicating where a new chapter's material begins.  Once I have gone through the entire novel this way, I separate my synopsis material by chapter tick marks and adjust wording as necessary to fit the level of detail I need for a chapter and scene summary. 

Method #2.  The High Points.

This idea is inspired by the whole Act I, II, III type plotting, but again with my own twist.  I use my story concept or premise, either written down or just inside my head, and start by deciding what are the high points or major events in my novel.  I start with three:  the one that kicks off the story after all the set up is done, the one that is in the middle, and the climax.  

Once I have these three events, I go back and fill in more events between each of the major ones until I have enough to fill a novel.  With some tweaking and organizing, these become chapter or scene summaries and are grouped accordingly. 

These are usually only a few sentences, more focused on plot than character motivation, unlike the synopsis.  However, I find it useful to post the summary of an individual chapter in the file I write the novel in before I write the actual chapter.  That way I have it handy for easy reference and focus.

Turning the outline into a synopsis:   I start my synopsis by copy-and-pasting my finished outline into another document file.  Then, I take these brief sentences and I flesh them out, turning them into a narrative full of character motivation and goals as well as plot events.  Then once I have those, I delete the chapter headings and make sure it flows like a story, like a synopsis should.

In the end, no matter which method I pick, I have a multi-functional tool.  First of all, it will help me start writing.  Second, it keeps my writing on track.  And third, it provides the ground work for my novel submission packet.

Test Drive: The Start-Up

On Friday, Dec. 11, I will start a new series on my blog called the Test Drive.  This is where I find writing references, apply them to my works, and post about the results.  I will mostly pick books that:

  1. have built-in writing exercises or lend themselves well to the creation of exercises, and
  2. are similar to resources available online in order to expand on the topics under discussion.

Hence, the title of this series.  Off hand, I can't count how many writing books I have accumulated over the years, but I can count on one hand how many times I directly incorporated all I learned into a writing piece.  Hands-on experience not only makes sure I am applying the lessons, but I will also get a potential product to market out of it.  A win-win situation.  Same for you, I hope.  That is why, I'm trying the writing techniques out on my own fiction, and inviting you to do the same, either along with me or after you obtain the writing reference for yourself.  But if NaNoWriMo has taught me anything, it is this:  not only is it more fun to write as part of a community, but doing so makes you more productive.  If you can, join in and let me know how it works for you, that way we can motivate each other and I can improve the series.

So what can you expect to see?  Well, even though this is a test drive of my Test Drive series, the format is to consist of:

  • an article on a writing technique
  • writing exercises
  • progress reports and results posts
  • snippets
  • a final review of the reference at the end of the series
Oh, and if you join in and blog about it, let me know and I'll backlink to it in my posts.
    Anyway, when will the above be posted?  On Fridays, but beyond that, I'm afraid the timing of the posts is set by my writing pace.  The series will be archived on my blog, however, so that you can pick and chose which techniques and exercises you wish to try and in what order.  However, I intend to give the reference a thorough workout. 

    Now that you know the rundown of the Test Drive series, what's next?  Well, on Dec. 11th, I will post my writing reference choice, preliminary goals, and any other preparatory information needed to get us ready for the 18th, the day of the first real exercise.  Until then, I'll leave you with this article about outlines--articles, by the way, will continue to be posted on Fridays when there are no Test Drive posts.

    See you all on the 11th!

    Wednesday, December 2, 2009

    Search for Re: Alps

    In my quest for vampire folklore, to find something that fits the vampires that are part of the Walker universe, I ran across something called the alp.

    The alp is a night predator from Germanic folklore.  They are more like incubi than vampires according to Wikipedia.  Although from what I understand, according to the same resource, they rarely sexually attack the victim. 

    Perhaps the incubi connection has more to the with the Old Hag syndrome, which has to do with uncomfortable or suffocating pressure on the chest.  I say that because they sneak in at night, sit on their victim's chest, and increase their weight until the victim can no longer breathe. 

    They feed off their victim's vitality, breath, and their terror--that is, while atop their victim, an alp changes the victim's dreams to nightmares and feed off the discharge of terror.  Or according to Wikipedia, alps feed by entering through the victim's mouth or nose as a fine mist and once inside feed on dreams.  Or they may use their long tongue to do the same.  Gross.

    Well, the more I looked into the alps, the more I realized they were like my "keshets" in the Walker universe.  My keshets are like a mixture of vampires and succubi/incubi--you know all about the latter, of course.  It was the tongue thing though that made me think of them.  My keshets have a long tongue they stick down inside you, through any handy orifice.  Walker gets an earful, for example.  Anyway, this tongue has a dual purpose.  First, it discharges something like a spider's venom, turning your insides into a Slurpee.  Second, they use it lap or suck you dry.  Yum. 

    But I really like the idea of the dream-changing and I see a way to tie it in my creatures.  You see, the keshets are so physically enchanting, the victim is drawn helplessly to them while they work their stuff.  What if, part of that "enchantment" involves some very . . . captivating dreams, so that once they get you close, they keep you close.  You're insides are liquefying, but you don't feel it, because you are off somewhere in la la land doing something far more pleasant than being munched on. 

    Folklore is cool, huh?  Where did I find my information about Alps?  Well from Wikipedia and from a cool new book, They Bite by Maberry and Kramer.  You'll probably be seeing more from this book during this month.  After all, I still need some more vampire info.  And I need some cool critters for other worlds in the Walker universe.  Oh, and once my web page gets up and running, I'll see about posting more information creatures like alps, because they have some other quirks too worth noting.