Thursday, March 28, 2013

Inadvertent week off

I haven't posted. I apologize.

I've been critting action sequences over at Unicorn Bell, publishing Disciple, Part II (official announcement coming Saturday), prepping for the blog tour, and I've started the long search for book reviewers/bloggers who:

  • accept self-published fantasy novels
  • are currently accepting submissions, and
  • have posted in the last year or so.
  • Feel free to shout out to your favorite book bloggers in the comments!

And I've been trying to maintain my focus. Clicking "publish" causes all kinds of muddly anxieties.

I'll try to be back on track next week. Or at least pointing you toward the world-building-related blog tour posts.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Spring Fantasy Book Sale

Spectacular Spring Fantasy Sale - March 20-22, 2013 - all books under $5

Disciple, Part I (ebook)
is only 99 cents

Disciple, Part I and Part II

Check out the Spring Fantasy Sale at the Magic Appreciation Tour site for more fantasy ebooks 
and a huge raffle of give-aways!

Disciple, Part I will be 
99 cents through 
J.R.R. Tolkien 
Reading Day,
March 25th

Website • Goodreads • Facebook

Update: Part II is just about ready to go. I've been working on posts for the blog tour. Those are my excuses for not having a blog post today. Those, and the general emotional flailing that goes along with imminent self-publishing... or seems to, since I felt like this before hitting "publish" on Part I also. Maybe I can squeeze a blog post out of that sometime.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Characters outside your box

I'm going to try to write this post without referring to MBTI -- I should write about MBTI and character development, and I will, but I don't want to get into an infodump right now.

But I do want to get some thoughts out about creating characters. Particularly characters who are different from yourself. Not just in their favorite foods or their personal histories -- different in what's important to them, or how they make decisions. Deeply different.

During one of my blog tours, an interviewer asked what I admired in Disciple's main character, Kate. She's much braver about relationships than I am. Much more willing to hope and look for a way to make relationships work. But while Kate's different from me in some ways, we also have things in common: we both think in terms of logic and function, rather than emotions and harmony. We both tend to find the "right answer" within ourselves, rather than looking for consensus with other people.

That's a rather large division, between the logicals and the harmonizers. Both are valid ways to make decisions, but it can be hard to understand someone who does it the other way. I've been trying to work my way out of my logical box and try developing a character who's a harmonizer. A Feeler, in MBTI terms.

Which means that things which are instantly obvious to this character would not normally cross my mind... and I need to know far more about what's going on in his head than usual. I need to think about his emotional relationships with all the minor characters around him, because those are important to him.

Not that emotional relationships weren't important to Kate -- or aren't to me -- they just weren't the first priority in her mind all the time. For some people, they are.

I may need to write a lot more notes than usual, for this story.

What sorts of characters are challenging for you to write?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Three ways to name characters

This is one question that comes up all the time in writing forums... how do you name characters, where do you find names, help me I can't get a name to stick...

Everybody does it differently, so you have to try a bunch of different ways and find what works for you. I do it differently for different characters, even, so I have a few different methods to lay out.

Deliberate choices
When my friend Marcy Hatch interviewed me, she asked about naming and I described how I picked the name "Kate" for the main character of Disciple. It was a very deliberate choice on my part, not because of affection or inspiration.

Deliberation also applies to custom-built names. If you want to convey a certain image or a certain attitude, you might build a specific name from scratch. You want your alien monster to have an unpronounceable name full of harsh noises? A long, flowery name for a girl so that everyone will be surprised when she turns out to be tough as nails?

"Kiefan" was a custom-built name, of sorts. It isn't a "real" name, but it's close to one: Kiefer. It's also close to another name that I like, but wasn't the right ethnicity for this story: Kieran. So, a little cross-pollination and I had something a little different, but easily pronounced and sounding like the right ethnicity.

Know it when I see it
This is a method I use frequently. I know it's not very helpful, but here's how I narrow it down.

I'm a world-builder, as you know. When I'm developing a story, the characters and the world are tightly linked to each other. I have baby name books, online indexes, and random name generators on hand for when I'm brainstorming about these things, and I just peruse them. I usually have a vague feel for what general pattern I want to use -- something Latin/Romantic, or Germanic, what-have-you -- so I search for relevant ethnicities. Or I use a formula-based name generator that will use a specific pattern of syllables.

I knew I would be using Saxon names for one of the two boys in the M/M romance I'm currently developing, so I tracked down some indexes of male Saxon names. Problem is, most of them are horrible. Barely pronounceable at a glance, stupid-looking... so I'm skimming through these lists with increasing dread, hoping to find anything salvageable, maybe for bit-part characters, or something, and my eye lit on: Heathric.

Heathric. Holy crap, it's pronounceable. And he instantly acquired a mop of blond curls (probably because of Heath Ledger in A Knight's Tale) but I can deal with that.

I didn't choose it
Honest, I didn't. If you've never had a character name him/herself, maybe it sounds silly. It's not. It happened to me. Here's the story -- and I bet those who know the character won't be surprised at all:

When I first started playing around with the Saints of War world and characters, this scene I was writing needed a second-string knight to be Kiefan's aide. Given the German basis I was using for names, I found the name "Andreas" and plugged it in. If you read that first scene (you won't, it's long gone) you see the name "Andreas" a few times and then it spontaneously turns into "Anders" -- and that's exactly when he began to make his move into the spotlight. He's been a handful ever since. It's not a name that fits the story well, to be honest -- it's Scandinavian, not German, and it's a Biblical name (a variant of Andrew) which was a problem when I was later deliberately removing all Bible-based names -- but he didn't give me much choice in the matter. Anders he was and Anders he shall ever be.

Sometimes characters arrive fully fledged, even if you usually build them from job descriptions and story functions, spackled together with reasonable assumptions and things that just sound cool. Sometimes you just have to trust your creative gut and run with what it gives you.

Every character's name has a story. What's your most interesting one?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Sighting trouble early: tonal anomalies

I mentioned one scene that came to me when my current M/M romance story idea hit. There was a second scene that came along with that. I won't post my sketch of it because this blog is marked as non-explicit and I don't need to get in trouble with Blogger/Google.

Suffice it to say that this second scene raised big questions about the tone of the story.

Now, I don't have a problem writing explicit stuff. I've made no secret of that. (Both here and way back here.) But the events in the scene made me think about both how explicit the sex and violence would be, and how deeply entwined with each other they were. On one hand, I am very much against the "rape becomes romance" and I'm leery of the "you'll like this, even if you don't think you will" tropes... but I know that walking the line between consent and non-consent can be very... energizing.

I also had to think about those hazy borders between romance and erotica. There were several scenes in Disciple where I had to decide when, exactly, to close the bedroom door -- and a few where the door never did close. Hawks and Rams (working title) is a shorter, more compact story than Disciple and, now that I have an outline blocked out, there may not be so much sex in terms of total number of scenes... it just has the potential to be much more... hm, well, I guess the term I want is "memorable." Rather than "scarring." Erm.

Also, to some degree I should just write the darn thing and see what the characters are up for. They might solve the problem for me, if I let them.

Getting back to tone. So if I'm going to have this one explicit, borderline-violent, very sexual scene, the rest of the story needs to match the tone. Or at least not clash with it horribly. In no way should I pad the story with gratuitous violence or sex merely to keep this one scene from looking like it dropped in from some other book somewhere -- but. That one scene does look anomalous given the current outline.

Does the scene need to be that nasty? Will it be a turning point in the tone of the story? Can the rest maintain that level of violence? Maybe a certain unpleasant scene earlier should get nastier?

Have you ever had to deal with a scene that felt like an anomaly in a given story?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Plotting, scheming and pondering

So I'm a plotter far more than a pantser, I'm sure that's obvious, and I've got something in development. I posted about the moment the idea hit me, and now that things have fleshed out a bit more I thought I'd post some more.

Plotters and pantsers work in very different ways: pantsers dive in and start writing, then figure out the structure of the story later, whereas plotters work out the structure first and then dive in. Either way is perfectly valid. Most people do some combination of both, and a lot of people start out pantsers and work their way toward being plotters. I did. And even though I'm very much a plotter, I still "leave room for pants" as I said in a chat once.

I'm a plotter because what I see first, when that idea first hits, are certain emotionally charged scenes. They're often climaxes, or at least points where conflicts turn razor-edged. This happened with Disciple, too -- there were certain scenes haunting me for months before I got to write them. Where my creative gut gets these, I don't know... well, maybe that's not entirely true, but it's too personal to go into. At any given moment, there are scraps of ideas floating around, and sometimes they blossom into scenes.

The challenge is: how do I get the characters to these situations? Why did it have to happen? What will the consequences be?

For example, here's something from the very first notes I wrote for this story:
The shepherd overheard something, out in the woods — bandits? enemy hill tribe? — and they chased him, but he got away. He’s been living in fear ever since. But he has to tend his flocks, they’re his and his parents’ income. He ought to tell the Rangers, but that would out him as the snoop. It’s someone he knows. Blood relation?
I'd had a vague sense of setting: the hill country on the border between two kingdoms. Someplace where there's little border regulation aside from suspicion of outsiders. The moment I saw, specifically, was a young man breathing hard from running, leaning against a tree or maybe a barn doorsill, raking one hand into his hair as he agonized over what the hell am I going to do now?

Conflict. Nice, clear conflict. Why? How? What's the price of him going to the Rangers? Or not? What's the breaking point going to be?

I've got a fairly solid outline, now, but there are still places where I'll have to work things out "in the field" with the characters. Especially around the climax -- I've found it's a good idea to let the details of that figure themselves out along the way. I have an idea what will happen, but if the characters want to surprise me, I'll roll with it.

What sorts of things do you leave room for in your outlines, if you're a plotter?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Seeking niches: M/M fantasy romance

Genres can be hazy things, as we all know. Niches can get very specific, and finding books in them can be tricky. So since I have been out there looking for M/M fantasy romance -- fully secondary-world fantasy (not urban fantasy, not portal fantasy), romance as a major plot element -- I thought I would assemble some of my findings for future reference. I've been tracking M/M fantasy down because of the ideas my creative gut foisted on me a while back.

I was specifically looking for books available electronically or through my library because my book budget is extremely limited. Some of these come from the Goodreads Best Gay Fantasy Romance list, some are recommendations from elsewhere.

#1 on the Goodreads list is Luck in the Shadows, by Lynn Flewelling, which is as it should be. I love it, I love the whole Nightrunner series, the books are on my shelf. Anxiously awaiting the last installment.

Mélusine was recommended to me while I was out searching. While there are homosexual men in the story, romance is not a major part of the plot. I was able to get it through inter-library loan and I enjoyed the book, but it doesn't really fit the genre.

Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner. Downloaded the sample, liked it, and I might buy the ebook. Or track it down in a library.

Prisoner by Megan Derr. The sample's all right, but the story seems to be a long string of dialogue with very little background, action, or anything else. Pass.

Counterpoint by Rachel Haimowitz. I downloaded the sample for it and was annoyed by the narrative inconsistencies. Not pursuing that one.

The Pedlar and the Bandit King by Kirby Crow. Another sample that didn't grab me.

Bloodraven by P.L. Nunn... was published on Lulu, doesn't have an ISBN (makes it hard to search for), doesn't seem to be available electronically. Out of the running on that basis.

Point of Dreams by Melissa Scott and Lisa A Barnett. The sample starts out with a detailed astrological reading, which was such an indigestible chunk of info-dump (astrology makes my eyes roll under the best of circumstances) that I almost deleted this one. But then the authors made a good recovery, so I'm willing to give it a chance.

Wicked Gentlemen by Ginn Hale. I liked the sample. And then I found out she has a series that starts with...

Lords of the White Hell by Ginn Hale. I got my hopes up... but no, it's not available electronically.

...BUT those last three books will be coming to me through out-of-state inter-library loan because PUBLIC LIBRARIES ARE AWESOME.

Then there's Truth in the Dark by Amy Lane. It was the last sample I read, and I thought I'd just glance at the first page before bed so I'd have something to say in this post. Well, I bet you know what happened. Got to bed a little late -- now that was a good sample. Straight to the top of the list.

Can you add to my list? Please do!
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