Friday, January 29, 2010

Writing a Critique

I have covered how to accept a critique or criticism. Now, it is time to learn the art of writing a critique. This is a skill that many writers take for granted. There is a wealth of things that you can learn from taking the time to review other works that are not of your making.

Before we begin on the methods of how to write a critique, I am going to try to impress upon you the value of critiquing as I have experienced. This may not be truth for everyone. These are my experiences. At the end of this blog post, I will provide a wealth of information on what others think. For now, I will pursue my own thoughts and opinions.

1: The Value of the Skill

In order to critique, you must be a critic. You must look at writing with a new eye and judge every word. Every word must bear value and weight. The story must retain the simplified elegance that intrigues and captures.

If you can write a good critique for others, you are well on your way to being able to critique your own words. This is the true value of the skill.

When you see errors in other works, you will begin to identify those same errors in your own works. This is another added value of the skill.

When you correct grammar in someones work, you will begin to see how your own grammar is flawed. If you find a sentence that does not flow well, you may even search google to find out why it does not flow well, in efforts to teach the person you are critiquing. In turn, you learn a great deal more of the craft that you would if you had not taken the time to help someone else out.

As if these things were not benefit enough, there is a sheer, simple joy in sitting down and reading. You can see the starts of a story blooming before your eyes. If you are so fortunate, you can follow the story's progress towards a publisher. Should that great day come where that story is then published, you can bask in the glow of knowing you had helped that author along the way in some form or another.

To me, there is great value to the skill, and great value to the act of doing a critique or edit. There are days I sometimes wish to quit writing and become an editor just so that I can enjoy these benefits day to day. It would not be a bad life. However, I love telling stories even more than I love editing.

2: The lasting effect on others

When people set out to write a critique, it is often forgotten the lasting consequences of their critique on writers. Writers are often flighty folk who wear their heart on their sleeves. Even the most thick skinned of us fail at keeping some particularly stinging critiques from temporally crushing hopes.

In the worst of cases, these temporary emotions turn into permanent scars.

It saddens me to even acknowledge that I know a few former writers who have quit because of a critique written in such a way where it was meant to bring harm to the writer.

When you write a critique, you are supposed to be helping the person, not beating them down and crushing their hopes. Their words are not personal to you. Do not personally attack someone because of what they have written.

On the flip side of the coin, a writer *does* need to make efforts to believe that the critique is not a personal attack.

Karma comes and it goes. I hope for your sake you're on the right side of karma. A person who purposefully writes a hateful critique tends to get a slap to the face later down the road.

3: How best to benefit from writing a critique -- both as a receiver and a giver of critiques.

Like I mentioned in point #1, you benefit from writing a critique almost as much as the person who is receiving said critique. However, I find that I have to write a critique in a certain method in order to make the most of having written the critique.

I would like to call this the top ten list on things you should remember when critiquing.

While I often use 'you' in these points, please note that this is how *I* handle critiques when I write them.

First, I must find both the good with the bad. Finding the good may be harder in some pieces for others, but it forces me to focus and dig deeper into the point of the story. The same may be true for finding the bad in particularly good stories. It is sometimes actually harder to find 'bad' things about a good story than it is to find good things about what you view as a 'bad' one.

Second, you must learn diplomacy. You are allowed to be opinionated. You are allowed to be honest. However, learn to watch your mouth. I am opinionated, honest and stubborn all in one nice little package. That does not give me the right to Lord over someone as if their work is inferior to mine. There will always be someone more talented than you at writing in some form or another. You are critiquing to help someone else -- as well as yourself -- improve at writing. You are not critiquing to get a happy-good feeling. It will not kill you to be kind. It just means it may take a little longer to write that critique.

Third, you must take care with your words. This is not the same as diplomacy. If you are writing a critique on someone's writing, are they really going to take you seriously if you write: "Nice werk u did great job. U haz mad skillzors! Ur grammar here doesnt seem rite. Plz fix!"

Oh dear heavens, it hurt me just writing that. Unfortunately, I've seen it. And it made bits of my soul cry in agony. If I am critiquing someone, I should be writing at the best of my ability. The author I am writing the critique for deserves that much.

Fourth, do not waste their time. The time of an editor, agent and publisher is precious. When you submit to them, we do not wish to waste their time. The same applies in reverse. When you are critiquing, don't waste your time and do not waste theirs. This time is better spent correcting errors, critiquing new works, and improving yourself as an author.

Fifth, it takes one million bad words to write a good one. Writing a critique is writing. Ever word, every effort that you put in, goes towards improving your art at the craft. When you find a section of a story that seems 'off' or 'wrong' to you, try your hand at rewriting a suggestion for them. This allows you to practice your craft. At the same time, you may be able to help them overcome their issues with that section.

Sixth, confirm the use of your grammar before you lecture. If you spot a grammar error, hit google or another reference site and confirm that what you *think* is correct actually *is* correct. This will go a long way towards reinforcing your skills at the written craft without guiding anyone astray by accident.

Seventh, accept that they may not take your advice. A writer will often reply to a critique and thank you for the work you have done for them. Sometimes they will be rude and will not. However, accept the bitter fact that your advice is just that: it is advice that they can choose whether to accept or not.

Eighth, unless you are a paid editor, do not expect any favors (or cash) in return. Writers can be temper mental creatures. When you write a critique, do not expect anything in return except for what you learned as you tried to write the critique. If you get a critique in return of your own writing, be happy. Do not expect the same amount of work you put into your critique from them, however. This sets you up for being bitter in the end.

Ninth, do not hold a manuscript or story hostage. It concerns me that I feel the need to mention this. However, when you are writing a critique for someone, they are putting their trust in you not to expose their manuscript to harm. Treat it as you would their own. Do not steal from them, do not post your comments on public forums unless that is what they desire. The benefit to this is knowing not to make the mistake before you make it.

Finally, approach every story with an open mind. Critique genres that you are not used to critiquing. Explore new worlds. If you are a fantasy author, reading and critiquing a romance can be extremely valuable to you. After all, romance and love are emotions that people feel and experience. Why should your characters be any different? Exposing yourself to new things is never a bad thing. Your critiques of these genres may not be as useful at first, but they can make a significant difference to your own writing. Even if your critique lacks the sparkle of experts of those genres, the person receiving the critique will most likely respect the effort that you put into critiquing their manuscript.

4: How to Write a Critique

Onto the meat of this post. How exactly should one write a critique?

There are so many different ways to write a critique that I do not dare even try to go into them all. That is what the handy dandy list of critiquing methods and commentary from others at the bottom of this post is for.

What I will do is explain how I write a critique. In order to do this, I will expose you to a rough draft sampling of my epic fantasy piece. It is a small sampling which has not seen much sunlight or edits.

I hope you enjoy watching me tear new holes into myself critiquing my own writing. I didn't think to ask for a volunteer for a small passage of their work. The passage I have selected is one of my favorites. It was an experiment with writing about someones reaction to sudden deaths of those he knew. It was meant to set the tone for future parts of the novel as well. I apologize for the font differences.. Blogger is making fun of me as I try to do this. :(

All the background that you need is that a blizzard swept through a village with an environment rather similar to the tropics. I will put my self critiques in bold italics for easy spotting.

They continued their search. The brothers investigated each home with a detachment that Bion could not share. Every home told a different tale of death. Some were like Petrin’s, a calm release into a sleep that they would never awaken from. The first five homes they searched told that same tale.

I need to show Bion's lack of detachment, as well as the brothers' detachment rather than telling you about it. Things like, "No emotion showed on the brothers' faces as they peered into the ruins of the homes." should be added. A less 'fact by fact' tone needs to be taken with this paragraph to give it a deeper sense of being there.

It was the sixth that revealed the true horror of the killing cold.

Bion had gathered the courage to be the first to enter the home. In part, it was due to the fact that he was not intimately familiar with the couple who lived there. Riran and Marrany had been reclusive, quiet people. They had shown kindness to their neighbours, but respected distance and privacy. While older than Bion’s twenty four spans, they had not yet had children.

Show vs Tell, shame on me! (Egads, I did a lot of telling... I want to go pick a different section now. Mommy!)

Direct thought would be a good addition. For example,

I can do this, Bion straightened as he tentatively strode towards the door of Riran and Marrany's home. They do not have children. I do not know them well. This cannot hurt me.

Or so he hoped. Guilt at invading the privacy they had so carefully maintained warred with concern. Could they, unlike the others before them, still be alive?

Riran’s body lay close to the door. His limbs were sprawled, as though he had thrashed on the floor as he died. Unlike the others, his eyes were wide open in horror, ice crusting over most of his face. The roof had all but collapsed. Snow had fallen into the home, dusting Riran’s body.

I should probably describe wind sweeping in from the open roof above, blown snow drifting over the corpse rather than "the roof had all but collapsed..."

Bion stepped over the body, eyes searching the room.

Eyes searching the room is so cliche. Be gone, cliche! Be gone!

If Riran’s body had been disturbing, Marrany’s was grosteque. She had died naked, her hands clawing at the window as though she sought escape. Blood had frozen on her nails from where she had tried to claw through the wood and had only succeeded in tearing her fingers. Her body was pressed tight to the wall, one hand still clutching at the window sill above her head.

I like this paragraph. I will need to think on whether or not I wish to change it. At this moment in time, I do not.

Bile rose in Bion’s throat. He had enough dignity to make it outside before vomiting beside the house. His body shook from shock and cold. His vision blurred as he knelt in the snow. His hands clenched into fists, his breath coming in short, ragged gasps.

“We can stop,” Halens’ voice lacked all smugness, the short man opting for sympathy.

Change it to, "Halens' voice lacked his typical, high handed smugness. Scratch opting for... it is revealed in the following dialogue.

“I don’t want your sympathy,” Bion violently shook his head and forced himself back to his feet. Wiping his mouth on the back of his glove, he turned back towards the home in steely determination. “I’m not the one who is dead.”

I like Bion's reply here. It really shows a change of personality. He comes across very meek until this point. This is when the character starts standing up for himself.

It is harder to critique yourself than it is to critique someone else. I suggest you try to practice on yourself, as I have done here. You will learn a lot. If you can roleplay it better than I, talking to the author as if they were not you, you may be able to go far with it!

I will add the good with the bad as I go through the story. I add line edits, just as I did here. However, I make a point to mention brad points and *good* things at the *end* of the critique, and a disclaimer that I mean to make no offense.

That is my critiquing style in a nutshell.

Onto the resources! More resources are welcomed. If you know of any, please add a comment and I will edit them into this post.

On Writing Critiques:
Writing World - Links
Creativity Portal
Suite 101 Article
Help with Writing Critiques
Experience Festival - Writing Critiques

Critique Groups:
Critique Circle
Critters Writing Workshop
Internet Writing Workshop

Help, I've fallen and I can't get up! (Or how to resume writing if you have stopped)

Before I begin with this entry, I wanted to extend a kind thank you to those who have started to follow this blog and for those who have linked to specific entries, or even the blog itself! Your support is greatly appreciated.

I write this blog with no intent to profit or benefit from it beyond having taken the journey doing it. As you've probably noticed, I have not added ads to the blog, nor will I ever. I do not even have a donation button. So, that anyone has taken the time to respond to this blog at all is extremely valuable to me. I hope that you continue to enjoy and make use of the things I have learned.

In addition to this, I would like to point out -- once again -- that these are my opinions. I try to support my opinion with the opinions of other writers. Sometimes, I even find some facts out there on the internet! Please do not swallow every word I say with blind trust. I want every person who reads this blog to reach out and come to their own conclusions. If it happens to be inline with mine, that is wonderful.

Now, onto the real subject.

Something I hear about frequently is that a writer friend of mine has abandoned writing or has not picked up their pen in months. Some made the long haul for Nanowrimo and have since jumped off of the bandwagon. In some cases, they face-planted directly into a mud puddle. This often just adds insult to injury.

It causes a bit of pain to realize that I too have suffered from this syndrome. I think all writers do from time to time.

I have some insights that I have developed, oddly enough, without much influence from others. Writing is a very personal journey. For me, even more so. I'm fairly willing to hand out copies of my work to people who want to read if I have any trust in them whatsoever. However, until the moment I dedicated myself to posting to this blog as I became inspired to, I had not shared many of the details of the actual journey itself.

This post, I warn you now, is extremely personal for me. Because of this, I will be opinionated, stubborn and sometimes surly. I may even sound grumpy. (That may be due to the fact that it is 5:19 AM and I am looking at a draft with 61,661 words and I don't want to type a word because I really enjoy the look of that word count.)

Yes, I am procrastinating.

In order for this post to make sense, I will have to tell you a bit about two projects I am working on. This is relevant, because this is what I had to do to dig myself out of the latest hole I have buried myself in.

I will also warn you that this post meanders in all sorts of directions. If you're looking for the nice, neat and tidy posts you are used to. . . look away. Quickly. This is the union of a pig sty with chaos. This may sound angsty as well. In a way, it is. Emotions tend to be angsty things, and these are some of the darker emotions of writing.

The Projects!

Project One: My epic fantasy series. (As of yet, Untitled)

This is the novel series that I started with NaNoWriMo '09. I have 61,661 words to it at the moment. I have done some drafting, I have done some minor edits, and I have done a lot of world building for this story. I am writing slowly. After November, I admit to having done the inelegant face-plant directly into a pile of ....

... I'll let you imagine just what I fell into.

This story is my love child. It has been hard for me to write, however. I have strayed outside of my normal comfort zone and have not only pursued an epic, but I have pursued a story where people die. I have pursued a story that delves into grief, joy and difficulties. I have pursued a tale where a man must give up the things that he loves in the hopes of protecting them and giving them a future, only to find out that those hopes and those sacrifices meant nothing in the end.

I pursue a tale where men and women struggle for things that they believe in for the sake of people other than themselves. I pursue a tale where these same people then sacrifice those things they have fought so hard and long for in hopes of doing something purely for themselves.

This is a tale about building a future through a shroud of tragedy. It is a dark epic that finds glimmers of light in the oddest of places.

It is action and adventure paired with a little romance. And lust. (What is a good story without at least a little bit of lust, after all?)

I fell off the bandwagon on this story for a few reasons. As I mentioned before, it is difficult to write. I do not like writing of the deaths of people, even fictional. I have always been a fan of those stories where many people somehow manage to survive against all odds.

This time, I sacrificed those people. I let people die as is their fate. If someone is struck through the heart with an arrow, I allow them to bleed and become a statistic.

I have let main characters survive and die as necessary. After all, these people are but human, and humans are fragile.

So, I admit, I did get a keen sense of pleasure from killing off the random villages and describing their fates. There was something thrilling about the process. Also, there was something gleeful about making some of my friends squirm as I discomforted them.

I love a good, dark epic fantasy. So, this is my journey to write one. But I fell off! Woe is me.

Project Two: Ten Years Later (Tentatively titled: Darkest before the Dawn)

Yep. I revisited the world of the epic fantasy ten years later, on a different side of the continent that the main story takes place. Characters from the epic reappear. Ones who have not yet been introduced earn their keep. Ground work on "What Happened After?" is set into place. A few major players from the epic have minor roles, but are not the stars.

The star of this book is someone who does play a major role in the epic. However, she is not a major character, nor does she have a long term role. Her story did not begin until after she died and became a witch.

Er.. what?

In my world, in order to become a witch, you must first suffer fatal injuries. In a sense, it is a divine intervention of sorts. The powers of a witch are powers of nature, and a tie with nature that can only be completed once she (or he) has experienced all aspects of life. Including death.

If the person who dies is to be a witch, then he or she survives the injuries after walking through the shadows of death, of a sort. It is those "I have seen the light in the tunnel and somehow survived" type of people, who by all rights should have died. More people with the power to become a witch die than actually become a witch. It takes someone - or something - with a lot of dedication to keep one of these people from dying completely.

In this character's case, it was a bit of both.

This story is also a dark tale, at least at first. However, the main point of this story is a story of hope. It is the story of someone who has lost it all and has somehow survived despite that fact and has a glorious chance to take it all back. With an indominable spirit and a desire for vengeance, this witch goes on to not only serve justice, but to reclaim everything that she has lost.

It also touches into grief and healing, but is mostly a feel-good story about someone who does overcome those odds.

This novel was how I picked myself up off of the ground.

How I stood back up

After NaNoWriMo '09 ended, I think I wrote maybe 1,000 words a week total. Of which I deleted more words than I added. Very counterproductive, that. In furstration, I put it aside completely at the end of December, flailing in general. Who doesn't, sometimes?

I knew where I wanted to go with this story. I worked hard poking at it, but the inspiration that is still with me was having trouble coming to the surface. It is a form of writer's block, but somewhat different. I had the entire story, I knew what I needed to write, I knew what was happening in the scene. I just could not get myself to type the words onto the computer.

When coupled with a general sense of failure, this can result in tragedy for a writer. And the inability to put words to the page.

So, I asked my husband one day to buy me some writing journal or another. I wanted to jot down some story idea or another that was rattling in my brain.

He came out of the store with a pack of four 16 sheet journals.

Truly, these were the bestestestest things I have ever laid my eyes on. I squealed. There is a yellow, a blue, a green and a pink journal in each pack.

My creative juices had a collective freak fit and went into a state of catatonic shock. Who ever would have thought something so simple as a 16 sheet writing journal could make such a difference?

Armed with these journals, I began to write random stories. I had two false starts before I found project #2 kicking around in my skull.

The first 24 hours resulted in 6,400 handwritten words.

By the weekend, I had 12,800 and had the starts to a story I was really satisfied with.

After the shine wore off a bit, I found myself right back to where I had left off: saddened, discouraged and thinking I would never get a project properly finished, edited and out the door.

I took a step back, blogged a bit to motivate myself, and glared at my computer.

Then, I fell onto the solution of my problem.


For one critical moment, I believed I could do this. I just had to figure out how. So, I made this expression at my computer and my writing paper: >:|

Project One is my dream novel(s). It is the story I wish to publish and share with the world. I had reached that precipice and stared into the abyss. The abyss stared back and mocked me.

No one is going to help pick you up when you fall. You must do it on your own. I realized this and started trying to find out just how to do it. I sat on my rump and reflected and found that I still had that critical belief in myself. It had just gone into hiding into some dark, dusty corner. It was a skeleton in my closet.

Just to repeat this: No one is going to help pick you up when you fall.

People will say kind things and try to help, but only you can help you get back up at the end of the day.

This is kind of painful to write about. And embarrassing. But, I am human, so there we have it.

Again, just in case the first two times weren't opinionated and stubborn enough:

If you want to be a writer, stop relying on other people to pick you up and start relying on you. People, like me, will tell you kind words or mean ones trying to motivate you. But at the end of the day, when you fall in the mud, you need to believe that you can stand back up. An agent may love your story, an editor may shower you with praise. A publication house may pick up your story. However, none of this will ever happen if you do not believe that you can make it happen.

Now, onto the next stage of recovery:

Remembering to Write

Life gets in the way. Some of the time, I just forgot to fit writing into my day. I got distracted by shiny objects or by how warm and comfortable my bed really was and how much I enjoyed sleeping.

I cannot tell you how to remember to write each day! I fail at it miserably enough. (I am one week in of non interrupted writing. I feel like I'm succeeding at rehab.)

One tip I can suggest: Never ever take a day off completely. Write one sentence at a minimum. Once I fail to do that, it is sometimes a month before I pick up my pen again, which is totally unacceptable if I wish to become a professional author, as I do wish to do.

Finally, making progress!

Once you have gotten back up, it is easier to stay on the horse than to get back on after you have fallen. Train yourself not to give up. Once you do, you have to go back and find those shreds of belief and motivate yourself. This is hard. Oh, is it ever hard. But if you sit there and tell yourself that you can do it AND you actually do it, good things will happen.

Oh, yes. Good things will happen.

Believe. Remember to Write. Make it Happen.

Three very simple things that are extremely difficult to do. But, I stand by it. Hindsight is rather good for me, and each time I have fallen off, this is exactly how I ended up getting back up on the saddle and riding off towards that gorgeous sunset.

Now, as soon as I submit this and drink some tea to soothe my frayed nerves, I will exceed that shiny 61,661 word count. I want 75,000 by Monday, and they will not write themselves down.

By Friday, I want 85,000.

Two weeks from now, I want 100,000.

Can I do it?

I don't know. But I'm back up on the saddle, and I refuse to fall just yet. If I do, I will get back up.

But, I can thank four little 16 sheet writing journals and Project Two for helping me get the courage to resume on Project One. I will continue to write Project Two as a reward, but I have rededicated my focus back onto Project One where it properly belongs.

I would like to note that I had five spelling mistakes in this entire entry. For writing at 5-6 AM, not bad!

Also, a piece of advice before I find some fancy schmancy quotes to share: Do not forget to take your tea bag out of your water. It leaves unpleasant surprises an hour later.

Quotes on Motivation, Inspiration and anything else I feel interesting at this hour:

  • Dreams are extremely important. You can’t do it unless you imagine it. – George Lucas
  • A man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams. - John Barrymore
  • The man who goes farthest is generally the one who is willing to do and dare. The sure-thing boat never gets far from shore. - Dale Carnegie
  • Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will. - Mahatma Gandhi
  • The world is full of willing people, some willing to work, the rest willing to let them. - Robert Frost
  • The difference between the impossible and the possible lies in a person's determination. - Tommy Lasorda
  • The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand. - Vince Lombardi
  • One’s best success comes after his greatest disappointments. - Henry Ward Beecher
  • Don’t be afraid to take a big step if one is indicated. You can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps. - David Lloyd George
  • A man's doubts and fears are his worst enemies. – William Wrigley Jr.
  • Failures are divided into two classes - those who thought and never did, and those who did and never thought. - John Charles Salak

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Accepting Criticism and Critiques

Every novelist, every short story writer, every student and every person who has picked up a pen or pencil has encountered criticism in their life. Whether it is for work, school or play, the beautiful or ugly head of the critique will rear up and take nibbles from your written words. This can be a painful or a liberating process, depending on just how harsh the critique is and how thin (or thick) your skin is.

This blog post is intended for anyone who enjoys to write. It does not have to be for the science fiction or fantasy author. This blog post is intended for anyone who wishes to pick up a pen and express themselves on paper.

In fact, this is intended for anyone who has ever had the urge to get up and create something unique to themselves.

Having the courage to accept a critique and criticism is difficult for many people. Writers, painters and artists of all types tend to be emotional about their work. It is through dedication, passion and love of the craft that many pick up the pen, the brush or their instruments and struggle to make their art something that can be shared with others.

Some people never get the courage to share their works with others at all, which is the greatest tragedy of all.

Now that I have the little intro out of the way, let us dive down into the meat of this subject!

1: Asking for Critiques and Criticism

The first step to successfully surviving a critique is knowing how to ask for a critique. Every editor, reader or author critiques writing differently. If you just tell a person to "read my work and give me feedback", you may be setting yourself up for a lot of trouble. A *lot* of trouble.

Allow me to explain.

Feedback covers a lot of ground. Another writer who is reading your piece may work very hard to provide a meaningful critique that covers aspects of your story that need correction. They may, in the course of writing the critique, comment on your characters, your writing style, your dialog, your scene set-up and much, much more. They may find those little plot bunnies that have nested in important places. They might even locate discrepancies on the appearance of your characters.

For someone who is new to accepting critiques, this can be devastating. Thick skin is not something most people have in large amounts just as they begin. Because of this, you may wish to ask for certain things when you seek a critique.

Ask questions. This will help those who are critiquing know what you are looking for. If you need help with grammar, ask for advice on how to improve your grammar. Directed criticism is easier to swallow and can be extremely useful. In addition to this, if the critiquer knows that you need help with your grammar, they may explain the *why* to the rules, and not just point out that you have broken them.

In addition to this, you will want to ask your readers to avoid certain subjects if you are not comfortable with them, or you are already *so* well aware you have problems with them. This can let the reader know you're aware of the problem. That saves them time and allows them to focus their attention elsewhere. If you have thin skin syndrome, you can limit the amount of critiquing you have to swallow at any one given time.

2: Who to ask for Critiques and Criticism

If the first half of the battle is knowing what to get critiqued on, the second half is knowing who to ask for the critiques. There are many characteristics to good and bad critiquing partners. I can not sit here, hold your hand, and tell you exactly what makes a good partner for you. This is a personal process.

However, I can tell you what I look for in a partner.

First, I look for three or four basic types of people:

1: The Reader
2: The Writer
3: The Editor / Grammar Nazi
4: None of the Above

1: The Reader

This person loves books. They love reading the genre I am writing. They will dive into a story of any length and plow through it to the bitter end. They love to read.

This is the type of person I want *buying* my book. If I can't hold this person's attention, all of my work and effort has been done for nothing.

Unfortunately, it often defeats the purpose to ask 'The Reader' for specific critiques. Their feedback is so vital I tell these people to "Write whatever they feel at the time they read. It is important."

This type of critique tends to hurt the most. Why? I can't really tell them not to hit on any subject, and they are not writers. Their honesty is most valuable, but is also the most painful for me to cope with.

2: The Writer

This is your direct peer. The writer is that person who is taking the same exact journey that you are. They are trying to write a book they can share with others!

Writers tend to get together in packs. In a way, critiques from writers is similar to herding cats. There are know-it-all writers, writers with no confidence, and writers with too much confidence. There are those who are afraid to critique you honestly in fear that you will be harsh on their writing. Getting a critique from a writer is very much like reaching blindly into a bag of candies and hoping for that one type of chocolate bar that you really like.

Usually, you will get the tootsie roll. That is great, if you like tootsie rolls.

That said, I have gotten some very useful critiques from writers, but you need to be aware that getting critiques from your peer group can have its risks.

Sugar coating may be found in thick, sticky, gooey supply from this category of individuals.

3: The Editor

If you have an editor in your pocket, treat him or her like they are crafted of fine crystal and pay them in gold. They are worth their weight in it. An editor is often a reader and a writer, and blend the best of both worlds. They know the craft. They know their business.

You can trust an editor to be honest with you. It does not profit them in any way not to be honest. However, there are a few things you do need to keep in mind.

Not all editors are created equal, and not all editors are out to get you published. If you have an editor in your pocket, ask yourself if this person is actually an editor, or if they are a talented writer with editing tendencies. When I say editor, I mean a true editor: that poor person who spends their day leashed to a desk reading our manuscripts on a day to day basis.

Writer beware: an Editor is often constrained on time. As such, they will not sugar coat their commentary. Thick skin is definitely a requirement.

4: None of the Above

What? This doesn't make sense?

Sure, it does. If you have a friend who is neither a reader, editor *or* a writer, but is willing to read your book anyway, you may have something truly special.

Most people are aware of the phenomena of Twilight and Harry Potter. These books, somehow, not only snapped up the attention of those who like to read, but they grabbed those who typically did not as well.

Knowing how your book ranks among those who don't usually like to read can give you some surprising insight. You may even target those who *do* read, but don't read your genre. Either way, thick skin is required, but there is a lot to learn from those poor victims you manage to subject to your work who wouldn't typically pick your book up while in a bookstore. In fact, getting these people into a bookstore in the first place might have taken a miracle if they weren't your friends already.

3: Developing Thick Skin

So, you have identified the types of people you want to get critiques from and you have put some thought into what questions you wish to ask. Now, you need to know what to do with the critiques you do get.

First thing should come first: develop some thick skin.

The first critiques you receive may put you on edge. They may make you want to quit writing because you have been told just how terrible your writing is by someone.

First, it is okay to get upset. However, get upset in private. Never let your critiquer know you have gotten upset. Deep breaths.

This is the first stage of developing thick skin. Repeat the process until you can sit at your computer and feel like your chest is tight, but you can accept the words written on your screen. It hurts, but it helps.

Not all writers will have problems developing thick skin. However, you will only get thick skin if you subject yourself to enough critiques. It truly is a chicken and egg situation.

4: Making use of the Critique

Now it is time for you to make sense of the critique.

Read every bit of the critique before you put any serious thought into anything written in the critique. Everyone writes a critique differently. They may be disjointed, with some thoughts tying into commentary found at the end of the critique. Plow through the critique and make certain you have read all of the commentary first.

Next, go over the critique again and see what immediate points make sense. Take notes on the obvious corrections. Don't implement them now, but make certain you are aware of the changes you want to make.

The rest of the critique you will need to evaluate carefully. Does the critiquer bring up a good point, but you do not know how to deal with it? Does the critiquer mention something that makes absolutely no sense to you?

Does the critiquer comment on something that gets explained later? Sometimes pacing your novel to reveal important details can be difficult. Could this be an indicator you have failed at it?

Every critique is the *opinion* of the writer of the critique. You do not have to make use of the suggestions made in that critique. However, if you asked for a critique, it is your responsibility to at least take the time to properly read through the critique.

Yes, even if the person writing the critique seems to be a hater who wants to bring you down. Amidst their hate, they may have painful little truths that can do your book a world of good. Don't rashly discard a critique because you do not like what is written within it. This may be one of the biggest mistakes that you can make as a writer.

5: Give yourself some time

There are some errors, such as a grammar error, or a misspelling, that could use immediate repair. However, I would always put a week's worth of time between a critique and making changes if possible. This will give you adequate cool-down time and also permit you to clearly think of the best way to improve your story.

Granted, some people do not have the luxury of this time. Especially with looming deadlines.

What others have to say on Critiquing and Criticism

This would not be a very good resource blog if I did not include resources on critiquing and criticism.

Information on how to critique a novel: (I am not responsible for some of the horrendous colours found on these pages. My apologies, but the information was quite useful, even if I could live without the neon pink.)

Writing a Critique
How to Critique Fiction - Victoria Crayne
Vancouver Public Library - Novel Critique Section
Fiction Factor

And as a treat, a few quotes for your reading pleasure!

  • A successful person is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks that others throw at him or her. - David Brinkley
  • Criticism is prejudice made plausible. - H. L. Mencken
  • It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause, who at best knows achievement and who at the worst if he fails at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat. - Theodore Roosevelt
  • Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things. - Winston Churchill
  • Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain but it takes character and self control to be understanding and forgiving. - Dale Carnegie

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Statistics and Writing

Twitter is quite an amazing website, especially if you are interested in learning about the in depth details of certain industries. I peek at twitter a few times during the course of the day, which spawned an interesting conversation. Thanks go to Jane Smith and Carole Blake for bringing this subject up to my attention. If you have a Twitter account, I suggest that you follow both of these ladies. Carole is a writing agent, and Jane is a writer and editor who has a little blog that you can find here.

The article in question can be found here. I suggest you read it so that you are aware of what I am speaking of.

There are many, many opinions on the writing world, which in turn includes the discussion of publishing through a publishing house (see Tor, Penguin, DAW, Random House) or through a self-publishing agency (see Lulu). Both have their advantages, both have their disadvantages, and both have those supporters who believe one or the other will be the death of the publishing industry.

For the sake of argument, publishing houses are oranges and self-publishing agencies are apples. We all know that comparing apples and oranges can cause problems. Mixed together, they can make a delicious drink. In this case, they only cause problems. Perhaps the self-publishing agencies should be milk in this example. Then you could see how milk curdles when you add orange juice to it.

I have a few issues that i have with the article that I linked above for your reading pleasures. Above all, he compares apples to oranges and expects grape juice as a result.

What do I mean by this? Let me show you.

As Jane Smith mentioned on her twitter:

Para numbered 5: "The average book in America sells about 500 copies"
Paragraph numbered 8: "And the average new book generates only $100,000 to $200,000 in sales"
From that we can assume that the average book price in America is $200-$400. See the problem?

Apples and Oranges, ladies and gentleman. I preserved her tweets as they were in their form, only switched around so that they are easily read. (Twitter organizes by time published.. so it reads backwards according to regular logic.) This is directly from our discussion.

In the self-publishing world, it is true that the average book will sell somewhere between one hundred to five hundred copies.

In the publishing house world, a book is not viable for publication unless it can pay for the advertising and the editors that work on each book. As such, they need books to sell significantly higher in order to be viable. Because of this, the quality of writers for these publishing houses is also higher. After all, most self-publishing agencies do not require quality checks in order for a book to be printed with them. This is the beauty of print on demand. However, this lack of quality control is exactly why many of these books never make it onto a book shelf.

If you are a writer and wish to become published, just as I wish to become published, open your eyes, take that pinch of salt, and swallow it. While I try to expose the in depth world of writing to you even as I take that journey myself, you need to make certain that your sources are reliable.

Every advice, every grain of knowledge, you should approach as if it were a spider. Sure, some spiders are harmless, but others are quite poisonous. Some spiders even enjoy being pet! Others will put hairs in your eyeballs if you even think of trying it.

Even publishers have opinions. Just because an agent or a publisher states something is so, it is your responsibility to check your sources. If a publisher states something? Find out just what type of publisher that they are. Every genre is different. Harlequin, for example, functions far differently compared to Tor.

I might suggest you buy salt in bulk. It will save you a little money down the road.

Now, I will approach the meat of this, and go into what I feel are some of the misleading aspects that you should in turn research for yourself and make your own conclusions on.

Point 1: On Book Growth.

Truth: Self-Publishing has picked up phenomenally.
Misleading: Self-Publishing number focus does not indicate the health of the standard publishing industry. It just shows that people are willing to dip into their own pockets to see their book in print in any form.

Point 2: On Book Sales

This is misleading. First, he doesn't account for aspects like the recession. Inflation aside, that there was any increase at all % wise is phenomenal. That means people are still spending money despite that fact that many people have lost their jobs and have less money to spend in the first place. Second, he does not mention if the sales are by book or by retail value of the book. These numbers are rather meaningless in the long run. Nor does he account for whether or not these are publishing house or self-publishing sales. These are two totally different industries.

Point 3: Book Sales, by the book

Read this carefully. Then, I refer you to Jane's commentary above. She says it best.

Point 4: On Stocking.

Once again, I return to the differences between self-publishing and a publishing house. Of course many books will never make it on the shelf. Most people who purchase a self-publishing option acquire an ISBN. This allows them to be put on the shelves. This does not mean that the bookstore will be willing to carry a book from an unknown author without the backing of a legitimate publishing company. That would be like putting a blindfold on and driving 95 miles per hour down a busy highway. Someone is going to crash. The bookstore would be making a rather stupid error if they took every single self-published novel and stuffed them on the shelf. They want novels from the major publishers that have a good chance of being sold.

Point 5: How hard it is to sell books...

Of course it is hard to sell books. It is much harder to sell a book unless you have a name for yourself or you have a reliable company vouching for you. I don't know about you, but I choose TOR and DAW books over other publishing houses because that is the type of writing I enjoy reading. I am certain many other people have similar preferences.

... to be blunt, I have made it to the half way point and I am spluttering. There are many misleading details. Each one of these points could have their own blog post of notable length to the entire blog post in question just clarifying where these numbers come from.

Statistics, ladies and gentleman, are often assumptions that support your opinion. When someone mentions a statistic, I get nervous.

When someone mentions a statistic without specifying which of two very different industries it comes from... then I get disgusted.

Please be careful about what you believe. A nice presentation does not necessarily mean that something is true or completely accurate.

Personally, I will judge the publishing industry by one simple fact: There are books on the shelves that I have not read and wish to buy. So I continue to buy books.

Until the day comes where I cannot find an interesting novel or four to buy in a bookstore at any one given time, I do think the publishing industry is safe enough. Especially if you go with a reliable publishing house.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

How to Procrastinate


The beloved art of finding anything to do other than what you need to do.

Procrastination, my friends, is the death of a writer. It is very easy to stop writing because there is something else more interesting to do. Time keeps marching on, and writers who procrastinate are left in the dust. Let us face the truth: a writer who does not manage their time well will have a very difficult time succeeding at being a professional.

That said, I'm a procrastinator. I love the thrill of approaching a deadline and needing to chop to make it. It is an adrenaline rush that I should live without but somehow manage to always bump heads with.

However, I've become a bit of a trained procrastinator. Over the years, I have learned ways to procrastinate while still doing things that are useful. Sometimes, procrastination is the mask for resolving an internal writing block. Doing something else helps me break a block, and fairly quickly. In that aspect, a bit of procrastination is a useful thing.

Unfortunately, I am quickly learning that time is something that you have a lot of when you are young and a lot less of as you age.

I'm in that little special place in between. Now, I wish to remove my urges to procrastinate. This is a lot harder than it sounds. The human species is a creature of habit. Once you are into the habit of procrastination, it is very difficult to remove the habit of procrastination. This sounds terrible. Oh, believe me, it is.

Building good habits is like quitting smoking. It is easy to say, "I wish to quit smoking". It is not so easy to stop lighting up and quit.

I'm just glad I don't smoke. I don't think I could handle trying to deal with that many habits at one time!

This will be a reoccurring subject. As I try to get into the habit of using my time better, I will add little blurbs to my posts on writing to tell you all just how I am doing at it. I expect there will be a lot of failures in the near future, as I balance contract working, my epic series, and the other novels that I wish to write. Then, I want to add in some more writing related research...

... I am sure that you can see where I am going with this. I'm already procrastinating on getting done any one of these things by making this post.

Today, I need to do a lot of things. I am going to try to hop to it. Let us see if I manage to manage my time better today.

With that said, here are some sites relating to procrastination, why people do it, and what you can do to stop doing it. If you procrastinate like I do, maybe you will want to try taking this little journey with me.

I will say this much: there are thousands of references on procrastination. Below, you will find a handful if you really don't have anything better to do with your time! I suggest you look at the causes and cures section. I am.

What is procrastination?
Wikipedia's Entry on Procrastination
Psychology Today - 10 things to know about Procrastination
Carleton University's Procrastination Research
Cal Poly's Reference

What are the causes of procrastination?'s reference
Reference Site, Causes of Procrastination
Suite 101's entry

What can be done to stop the habit of procrastination?
Mind Tool's Beating Procrastination
John Place Online
Canada One
Montgomery College

What other writers have to say about procrastination!
John Perry
Paul Graham

And as a final tidbit, famous quotes on procrastination!

"Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. " - William James

"Procrastination is the art of keeping up with yesterday. " - Don Marquis

"Anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn't the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment." - Robert Benchley

"The two rules of procrastination: 1) Do it today. 2) Tomorrow will be today tomorrow." - Unknown

"I do my work at the same time each day - the last minute. " - Unknown

"Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow. " - Mark Twain

I was also asked, randomly, to add a short entry on what my fish Cortez thought on Peanut Butter. Cortez reports that he would surely like to try Peanut Butter, but his mother is an evil tyrant and will not permit him to try it for fear of what peanut butter might actually do to a fish. He thinks this is entirely unfair, and that he is a noble Betta Splendens, who is afraid of no fish, no food and not even death itself!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Maintaining Motivation

Maintaining motivation is one of the most challenging aspects of being a writer. It is very easy to say, "I am a novelist!". Making the attempt or writing a novel, regardless of whether or not you make it to publication, is a very large and sometimes frightening task.

Straying back from posts that are based firmly on my experiences, I have dug out a few references that speak for themselves. However, I do have my own tips and strategies that I use to stay motivated, which I will share with you. If you're interested in my ramblings, go below the delicious links I have provided.

A few sites with references on how to stay motivated:
Wikipedia's Reference on Writing Motivation
Time to Write - Blog

... there are hundreds upon hundreds of motivational sites. There is no way I can list them all. This is a mere sampling of the motivational resources available to you. If you want more, I suggest you go to and start a search.

What I do for Motivation

  • I set goals and rewards for myself.
There are many different goals I will dig out of the closet and remove the dust from. These skeletons, for that is exactly what they are, tend to reside in that closet for along time. However, when I am down, these goals sneak their way out. The bones creak as they move, but they -do- move. There are some goals that stay with me for a very long time, but I will often set a tiny goal that will be immediately stuffed into that closet to decay. These goals are meant to motivate me right-here-right-now. They are not a long term solution to any given problem. They are a tool for me to get up off my lazy rump and get to work. Here are a few examples of some goals and prompts I use! Rewards are also a great way for me to get cracking. However, the rewards must be small. You'll see some examples below.
  1. Write 500 words
  2. Kill A Character Prompt
  3. Kill a Village Prompt
  4. Save a Village Prompt
  5. Torment a Character Prompt
  6. Write a short story in one hour or less and submit it somewhere
  7. Spend four hours writing today.
  8. Reach $x number of words by end of day today on $story.
  9. Get up an hour early to write.
  10. Go to bed an hour late to write.
  11. If I finish $x number of words, I get chocolate. (Mhmmm chocolate.)
  12. Convince significant other it is a good idea to go out for dinner if I finish $x hours of writing this week.
  13. Buy new candles if I write $x hours of writing this week.
Goals and rewards? They work, but only if you ensure that you do not reward yourself unless you succeed at your goal.
  • I write about what I enjoy.
This should be obvious, but if you are having a hard time writing, change what you are writing to something you truly enjoy. This will make the writing process less work and more play. You can't always do this, but it is a good way to up your motivation when you are blocked or having a bad day. Jump to a scene you have been looking forward to, if necessary, but continue to write. Sitting down and writing is the main priority here. You don't need to always keep every word written.
  • I write about what I know.
Having knowledge on a subject often makes writing about that subject easier. If I am struggling, I often do not have the knowledge I need to successfully write the section I am having trouble with. If this is the case, I move onto something I know now, and use research time to get the knowledge I need to continue with the section I am working on that is giving me trouble.
  • If I get blocked, I start a new temporary project.
Sometimes I just lose motivation for a story altogether. I've written myself into a major plot hole, or I dislike where the story is going. This is a common issue. I have an expedient fix for this: I start a new project and give myself a certain number of hours to work with it. This lets me clear my head of the frustrations of my main project. This is a common tactic among writers. However, make certain you only give yourself a certain amount of time to work on the new project. You are using this to clear your thoughts not to replace your project
  • I focus on my goal.
Focus, focus, focus. This is a mantra that should be repeated. Become a pitbull and refuse to let go of your goal. My goal is to publish. I have to remind myself never to lose sight of this goal for the chocolates or the dinners or the short term rewards of being a writer. Every word I write is a step closer towards the summit. Publishing a short story, or even a novel, is not enough. It is to write, and publish over and over again. This goal will never end, for it begins anew when a project is completed. It is sometimes easy to lose sight of a goal that is far in the distance.
  • I give myself a day off.
We all need mental health days. Just don't take them every day.
  • Identify my bad habits.
Knowing why I fail is almost as important as standing up from it when I do. Failure is a crucial tool. Identifying my bad habits is knowing why I fail and learning from it. Once I have identified it, it is up to me to fix the problem.


Quotes are something that motivates many people for some reason. I am no different. Here are a collection of quotes that motivate me when I am down, or keep me going when I am up on cloud 9 breathing the clean air of success.

  • "Do you know, I always thought Unicorns were fabulous monsters, too? I never saw one alive before!' 'Well, now that we have seen each other,' said the Unicorn, 'if you believe in me, I'll believe in you."- Lewis Carroll
  • “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -- I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” - Robert Frost
  • "Try not to become a man of success but a man of value." - Albert Einstein
  • "Every artist was first an amateur." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • "Men do less than they ought, unless they do all they can." - Thomas Carlyle
  • "Happy are those who dream dreams and are ready to pay the price to make them come true." - Leon J. Suenes
  • "He who has imagination without learning, has wings and no feet." - Joseph Joubert

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Plotting and Revision Process


This post will be
similar to my map post. This is from my personal experiences and will not link out to other people's works, as some of my other posts have done. However, as editing and revisions are an important part of the writing process, I thought I would lay out how I am editing my epic novel series, just in case it proves useful to you. Feel free to use my method if you desire -- that is why I am posting it after all.

An epic series, whether it is science fiction or fantasy, shares one thing in common with every other epic series: length and detail. While I have been drafting this series, I have noticed one thing: my brain simply needs assistance keeping all of the details in order. The first draft got the general idea of the story onto paper, developed my characters so I have an idea of their personalities, where they start and where they go, and ensure that I have a good idea of where I want the story to go.

The revision process is making all of these details coherent and stick together. This post will relate, in some ways, to the devious plot hole post.

However, instead of covering how the plot hole is found, this will cover how I fix them.

For this project, I am using word 2007. I have the full version of it, which is proving invaluable.

Coupled with word 2007, I am using One Note. One Note is a
journal program that is bundled with Office 2007. It is nearly as invaluable as word 2007 is. I'm quite fond of it. Thank you, Microsoft, for making a product that has behaved itself fantastically. However, that doesn't stop me from making backups out of sheer paranoia.

Now that I have listed my tools for this, I will make one commentary: my husband is cheap and didn't buy me
note cards, so I had to make due without. He told me I could waste all of the printer paper I wanted, though. I will probably print 'note cards' for some parts of this process. For now, I am just using One Note and seeing how it goes from there.

An epic fantasy novel has a few characteristics. It has many characters, many lands, many cultures and many events going on throughout the world. For the sake of demonstration, and because I recently read the books, I will use David
Edding's Belgariad and the Alera Codex as examples of *why* I'm doing this as I have.

If you have not read either of these series, I strongly recommend it. The
Alera Codex (Jim Butcher) is very, very entertaining. The Belgariad I consider a classic.

The first thing I will note about both of these series is the rich characters found in them. The
Belgariad typically follows two points of view: Belgarion and Ce'Nedra. Others are thrown in, but you mostly see the world from these two young folks.

Alera Codex is deeper. It follows many PoVs, ranging from Tavi , his mother, and a long range of supporting *and* main characters. My novel shares the Alera Codex's methodology and character range. I found that my epic just could not be done with only one or two points of view.

Either way is fine.

While the
Belgariad does not go into more than two direct PoVs (seriously at any rate), you get to see many other characters on the rate. Where Eddings' excels is through his ability to stay true to his characters. They grow and change, but you never go "What the heck, this character would not do this!". He builds up to the important roles as much as necessary. The Alera Codex uses characters that are deeply shadowed in shades of gray. They are mysteries and you never know exactly what will happen next.

I am attempting a blend of these two styles.

So, in order to accomplish this, I have to take all of the ground work that I have done in my first draft and put it to words. When I drafted, I went in with nothing but a keyboard, a copy of word 2007, and determination to get it done. Thus, I started to write. I did make the error of not pausing to write down character information as I went. I was too eager to get the story onto paper.

So now I have a lot of extra work on my hands. I suggest you write this stuff down as you go. It will save you time. However, it is very useful for rereading your story for plot holes if you do not choose to write it down as you go. I'm still torn a bit on which way I prefer, so I do jump back and forth between the methods.

My first step was to open One Note and start laying out my journals. Currently, I have the following journals made. Please note that this is a work in process and I am by no means done the general plotting footwork of this novel.

Characters, To Do, Kingdoms, Char 1 Plot, Char 2 Plot, Char 3 Plot, Char 4 Plot, Villain Plot

I have removed the names of my characters, but Chars 1-4 are the main
protags / antags. The villain plot is the general overview of the bad guys ploys -- this involves more than one or four individuals with different stories, but a more concise, cohesive force. This may be different for others, but my main protagonists are not very cohesive, at least from the start. Because of this, I have to weave their plots separately. If my good guys were more united (such as Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar Heralds) I may have just had an Antagonist Plot and a Protagonist plot. However, this is not the case with this specific series. I will be adding a general Protagonist Plot tab, but I will mostly be working with the specific char plot lines.

So, let us delve a little deeper into what I'm doing with these journals!

  • Characters

This is the major list of my characters. I have
cp'd a small snippet of the type of things I'm including in this listing. As I write sections that introduce or name these characters, I write down at least the very basics about them.














  1. Easy Going
  2. Loyal
  1. Horses
  2. Traveling
  3. Haggling
  1. Combat
  2. Arguments
  3. Cunning Women

This is a
bare bone model for a character. The more advanced the character, the more in depth I will go with this. However, this is the minimum I will tend to use if I name a character. I use this as a basic template, then build it as needed. Things I include for more common characters are the clothes that they wear, their professions, etc. This is a very good start for me when it is a minor character. (All major characters also start it this sort of information.)

Let us go a little into the specifics. I try to be as clear as possible when I write out this information. I want to remember what I meant later. For example, build is purely physical, just to help me remember what they look like a bit. Obviously, every character has different needs, so it is up to you to decide what is best for your book.

I have a section in this journal for every named character, regardless of whether it is a
protag or an antag.
  • To Do
Next we have the To Do list. These are things I need to do in the near or far future that I do not want to forget. In this journal, I have several sections.

  • General To Do List
  • Character Modifications
  • Plot Hole Fixes
This list will grow as I progress in the novel. The novel will not be complete until I have addressed all of the items in my to do list.

  • Kingdoms
This section ties in with that big maps file I have. For every kingdom listed, I am working on defining the political, economic and cultural aspects of the people of these kingdoms. In a way, these kingdom sections in the journal will become general templates for the people found in them. There will be a section dedicated to the stereotypical behavior pattern, classes and beliefs of the people of these kingdoms. This section is a massive amount of work. I am approaching this by listing all of the kingdoms and basic general points about them. When my characters are active in a kingdom, I flush it out to make certain it is consistent with what I have written. Some of these kingdoms may never actually find their way into the novel as a major role, but it is important to know regardless.

  • Character Plot Points

Plot Point #

Main Plot Point

Second Point

Third point

Fourth point


This is the basic template that I am using for the plot points. This will help me get their overall plot written out. Each Plot Point # will become a section of its own. I may have several Plot Point #'s per a chapter, but each plot point # will only have one Main Plot Point. This is to help keep all of the threads of the plot organized. I may add another column to reference previous plot point numbers so I don't have to dig back as often. The second, third and fourth points are to make small notes of important things that occur based off of their importance. I may have three or four things listed under secondary points. The Importance is just how vital this point is for the success of the plot I want for the novel.

I will use variants of this for all of the character points *and* the villain points.

This is the basics of my structure. Once I have the plot points listed out, I may print out the One Notebook as my
note cards, cut them out per plot point and use that to determine where things should happen.

I am chewing on whether or not to have a "date of event" column in my plot. This may be very useful keeping things in chronological order, but I am still uncertain if I will do this.

Now that you know how I structure my notes for revisions, I can begin the rewrite. This is the second draft, and may or may not use sections from the original. I have some sections that will remain mostly intact. However, a lot of the sections can use improvement. While I will keep the general idea of the passages, I will not necessarily keep the exact wording. However, some gems will remain in the final novel! I know some of my more powerful sections will be remaining with some revisions for the sake of consistency.

The second draft is about letting that editor come out and play. While I will be doing a lot of writing and rewriting and working, I will be picking apart every section to make certain that I do this correctly. Writing in this stage is slow. When I work, I expect 500 to 1,000 words per hour. This is rather slow compared to many others I know. However, unlike some events during the year, Quality trumps Quantity. However, time is precious. If you are serious about novel writing, you will remember this. Time is precious. Do not waste it.

Good luck with your writing, and I hope this proves of some use to you!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Art of Mapping

If you are writing an epic length novel of any genre, mapping is important. I don't know about the rest of you, but I find myself deluged in plot holes, consistancy errors and many other problems if I do not have maps.

So, I am going to share with you the efforts of the past day or two.

In order to create these maps, I used gimp 2 and a wacom tablet. This can be done with a mouse or with tracing paper and pencil. Regular paper won't work as well due to the fact I try to make 'layered' maps -- if you're really willing to splurge, you can use see through drafting paper. These *can* be done on printer paper, but it is a lot more work.

Before I start showing you the maps, please note that these are a work in progress. I'm not finished with them by any means. However, I have enough of a base to use as a guide for how I make maps.

With my current novel series, I am using a single continent and a set of islands. As this is the scope of my novel, this is all I am mapping for now. Eventually, I will add a world map. If you have a lot of sea trade, you may need your world map immediately. However, most of my novels take place midland, so the sea trade aspects of my world aren't necessary for my novel.

The first step I use to generate a map is to draw the landmasses.

Thus, Map 1 is born. This will become the base for the rest of my maps.

Map 2 is the kingdoms. I will use this to colour in political regions, economic regions, religious regions, territories of influence, etc. This map is uncoloured.

Map 3
is the kingdoms map with colour fills.

Map 4 is the religious regions. This world has broad areas of influence of primary religions.

Map 5 is the general geographic lay of the land. This elevation map is used to help me determine what resources would be found where. This is a significant map, as it really helps determine my trades. I view the economy as a very important part of a world setting.

Map 6 is an elevation map with -major- rivers. This does not include every creek in existance. These are the major waterways in the land, as well as notable lakes.

Map 7 is the elevation and river map with the coloured kingdom maps + the outline overtop. This lets me get a general view of where the kingdoms are situated in accordance to the land and terrain types.

Map 8 is one of the hardest maps to generate. This is a village / town / city map of one of the kingdoms and surrounding regions. This map is no where near done. However, there are a few interesting things to note here. First, I have laid out the route that one set of characters takes. Squares that are a yellow orange are visited locations. These are locations I need to generate note sheets for. I have done roads for locations on the route. Blue Xs are major cities, red xs are larger towns, black small x's are villages. Green squares around Blue Xs designate largest city in the kingdom, and typically where the ruler resides. Some kingdoms have several ruling parties, so each city with these parties are labeled with the green square. As you can tell, this map hasn't been cleaned up yet -- but I can see where the rivers are at, as well as the country borders. This area doesn't have any elevated major locations, so you can't see the elevations. If it was in a region with elevations, you would see those markings as well.

For each kingdom, I need to make a repeat of Map 8. This is extremely time consuming. Other maps I am planning on adding are resource maps. These will go with elevation / river maps, and denote things like trade routes.

How every person maps is different -- this is just my method of doing it.

Now that you have seen the maps, I will go into a little detail of how they are made. You CAN do all of this by mouse if you are patient, and gimp 2 is free. (See for a copy of the program I use.)

Step one:

Draw your continent. The more rough around the edges, the better. Shorelines aren't neat and perfect, so there is no need for perfect circles. Because of this, mouse work is totally acceptable. I find a wacom or other pointer device useful when drawing the elevation and river maps.. but, once again, it can be done with a mouse.

When you draw your continent or world, you should do this on a transparent layer above your background. You want your background to be a plain white background with nothing on it. This will let you adjust your maps as needed. So, add a transparent layer and draw your lines on that.

Once you have your continent, lay out your kingdoms on a -duplicated- layer of your continent map. You want the edges of your continent as a part of your kingdoms. This will make future steps easier. Draw your kingdoms as necessary.

Next, make a duplicated copy of your kingdoms layer. You can do your colour fills on here. I set my transparency at 30% or so when I fill. This just tones the layer so it can be used beneath things like your elevation maps.

Now, go back and duplicate the NON coloured version of your kingdoms layer. Move this layer ABOVE your coloured layer. This will restore your nice dark lines for visibility. Duplicate it again.

On the second duplication, colour in sections as you desire for religious factions, political factions, or whatever factions you like. You can repeat this as many times as you like.. just duplicate your kingdoms layer as needed.

To do your elevation map, you will need to go back to your continent only layer. Duplicate this and move it to the top. Now is a good time to HIDE your previous layers. Hiding is done by clicking the eyeballs in your layers in gimp 2. Don't worry, just clicking that spot again will bring them back. You can adjust your maps accordingly.

When I did my elevation maps, I determined where I wanted mountains. I used series or 4-6 elevations to represent mountains. The first elevation ring is low hills.. then higher hills.. then we're into foot hills and mountains. The basic non ringed areas are flat lands, slightly rolling hills and plains. The more rings, the more detailed your elevations. I coloured light for low elevations to dark for high elevations. Make a duplicate of your elevations map before you colour it in.

Rivers are done in the same way as elevations, except in blue. You may want to adjust your elevations (like I did in the northern section) based off of location of some major rivers.

Making the kingdom map is the hardest.

First, you need to use a selector tool to select the kingdom and some areas around it. hit control-c to copy. Go to File -> Create -> from clipboard

This will create a small file the size of your copy pasted section. Now, go to Image -> Scale Image.

Blow it up. You will have larger lines.

I work in 1600x1400 resolution typically.

Then you can work on your detailed maps. I use the same theories with multiple layers for my blown up maps.

That is how I do my mapping. Enjoy! I hope this is useful