Isn’t this awesome?? Turns out, there is a hoard of metal dragons very close to me, all from Aethelynd’s Attic. Check out her website or her Facebook page for more dragons and dragon eggs. I think I might need one… can you imagine anything more inspiring than a dragon gazing at you as you write?
Welcome to Wednesday Writers’ Cafe! And today’s topic, though a little on the lighthearted side, is befitting of our ‘cafe’ setting. Food & drink may seem trivial in light of the blood, sweat & tears you’ve been pouring into your Story. But hey, you have to fill up your engines before you can pour it all out, right?!
In a recent magazine interview, British kids’ lit sensation Jacqueline Wilson was asked what her preferred writing snacks were. She answered, “Coffee is always a requirement when I’m writing, and I go through different phases of biscuits, I went through a long period of party rings, then shortbread. I’m currently into fig rolls.”
Obviously, here at Brewhaha Book Cafe, we are enormously dependent on hot tea of all brews, and consider it the ultimate creativity elixir. One of us (Mez) enjoys a good cup o’ Joe as well, while the other (Bri) would probably rather drink pig mucous… appetizing!
But what about you? What’s your favourite brain food/ beveridge to keep you going while you write?
Or perhaps you epitomize that classic archetype, the agonized writer who shuns all vittles until his masterpiece is complete. We hope you’re not wasting away under such strains, but if you do have a peculiar writing-eating relationship, tell us about it!
Happy writing, and bon appetit!
Last week, we asked whether or not any of your were planners or ‘pansters’…in other words, whether you plan out the story you are writing, or just open a blank document and start writing. Some of you may already have your technique down, while others, like me, are still learning what works best.
If you are a planner, I don’t understand you.
Just kidding! Sort of…
The last story I wrote, I literally started with a first sentence and ran with it; I had no end in mind, and certainly no middle or any ideas of the characters I’d meet along the way. And it worked…in a way. By the end, I’d found a home for three characters I imagined years ago, which was awesome, and ended up with a trilogy!
However, I had to rewrite the entire beginning to match where I ended up. Not really fun, having to scrap half of your novel. Plus, I had to reimagine my villain, because she started out one way and ended up another…setting a whole different chain of events in motion. And it was too short. And the timing was off.
So now, I try to plan at least a little, especially when it comes to characters. I’m a character first, plot second writer (more on that some other time), so I like to know my characters very well. I also tried out doing a summary of my entire story on notecards, a short scene summary per card. It’s working out so far, but I’ve found if I plan too much, I get a bit bored and feel constricted.
Course, that’s just me. I met a young writer in England who planned and planned and planned…down to what her characters would wear. I have a novel writing book filled with chart after chart to help plan your novel.
If that’s your thing, go for it! Character development charts, story arcs, back stories, outlines, subplots…it’s mind boggling how much planning can go into a novel!
But here’s the thing. Unless you have nailed down what works for you, I encourage you to experiment a bit with your planning (or pantsing).
If you are a planner, don’t get bogged down with planning. If you’ve been ‘planning’ your novel for years, call it what it is: procrastinating! Eventually, it is time to stop planning and start writing. Also, don’t be afraid to chase a rabbit trail for a bit. Just because it isn’t in your outline doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be in your novel.
For those of us who get claustrophobic at the thought of diagrams and charts, start small. Maybe just a page summary of your story or a quick list of your main characters and their descriptions, both physical and emotional. If you find yourself constantly getting stuck halfway through the story with no clue what’s next, take a step back and do some charting or summarizing. I often ‘plan’ my stories after they are written just to help me get a clearer idea of there everything is.
Whichever method you choose, I recommend a couple tools:
- Blank calendars. I print out a blank calendar, usually of a month, and fill it out as I go with a quick summary of what happens each day in the story. It helps you see how long characters have been together, what day of the week it is, and how fast paced things are going. In my current novel, the phase of the moon is important, so the calendar is helping me keep track of that as well. Handy things!
- Notecards. I love them. They come in various colors and sizes and are oh so fun to have. Yes, I’m weird. But I often use them to outline scenes. I pick a color for each point of view and write a quick summary, plus any notes to remember (as in, ‘don’t forget she has a dog with her.’ It’s amazing how often I forget stuff like that…). These help me to stay focused on the scene I’m writing and not to follow those rabbit trails too terribly far.
- Personality tests. This is new for me, but I love it. I find the personality that best fits each of my main characters and read up on it, often finding quirks about them I didn’t know. On Jeff Gerke’s recommendation, I use Please Understand Me II, or just an online test. It’s interesting getting inside your character’s head and seeing what makes them tick…or giving them something to make them tick (insert evil laugh here)!
So whether you like to plan or write freestyle, the main point is to write. Don’t get caught up in planning, or lost in unchartered territory. Find what works for you, and get your story down on paper so the rest of us can read it. We are looking forward to it!
Written by Shannon and Dean Hale, Illustrated by Nathan Hale
Rapunzel lives with her mother, a witch with growth magic, in a grand villa surrounded by a tall wall. Lonely and curious, on her twelfth birthday she finally climbs the wall. What she finds shocks and infuriates her…and lands her in a tree tower for the next four years. Deep in a forest steeped in growth magic, her hair grows and grows until it is long enough for her to free herself. On her own for the first time in her life, Rapunzel has one thing on her mind: revenge and justice. Unfortunately, it isn’t easy. Within a day of her escape, she teams up with Jack (as in Jack and the beanstalk) who turns out to be a thief, accidently steals a horse, and becomes wanted dead or alive. Can a sixteen-year-old prisoner turned outlaw and a boy with a goose save the land from a powerful witch?
This graphic novel is beautifully illustrated and a lot of fun to read. Rapunzel and Jack race around an Old West setting as she uses her long red braids to take down outlaws and ferocious beasts. This princess doesn’t need a prince or fairy godmother to save her!
If you like this book, check out its sequel, Calamity Jack. In it, Jack and Rapunzel go back to Jack’s hometown to clean up the mess he made and rescue his mother, taking on giants and the terrifying ant people!
Genre: middle grade, fantasy, graphic novel
Tea: American Breakfast
Here’s a question I know we would all like to ask our favourite and fellow writers. How much do you plan out the details of what you’re going to write before you start writing it?
This is always one of the first questions asked of authors at panels… probably by amateurs like me who are hoping beyond hope that books really can just happen without the drudgery of hours…days…. YEARS planning and plotting!
In fact, I once had the chance to ask Cressida Cowell that very question: “How much did you plan out your series before getting started with writing?” The answer made my heart hurt just a little: “Oh I planned everything. I knew exactly what was going to happen in all 12 books.” Basically what she was telling me was that the magic of How to Train Your Dragon & it’s 11 follow-ups was fueled by a LOT of time & mental effort… Aw man!
But then there are those successful authors out there who swear they never have a clue what’s coming next when they sit down to write. The story just tells itself!
But let’s face it, whether you plan or pants your way through your stories, it’s always going to take work… everybody needs a method to their madness when it come to writing. So we are truly, eagerly curious to know…
Are you a planner or a pantster (one who writes by the seat of his/her pants) when it comes to writing fiction?
And while we’re on the subject, here’s an article that explores 7 ways to plot, with options for those planners AND pantsters among us. If you’re still searching for that perfect method, have a look! Maybe you’ll find one that fits you like Cinderella’s slipper.
Don’t forget to comment below! Happy plotting, pantsing & everything in between!
I confess. I am a sucker for Fantasy Worlds – for the soaring landscapes of Middle Earth, the heart-wrenching beauty of Narnia, the delicately spun fabric of Faerie. When I read descriptions of such supremely beautiful realms, destined for epic adventure, I get lost like the Pevensie children and never want to return to the ordinary world I live in.
Of course I want to create worlds as wonderful for my characters! Worlds my readers will happily get lost in. But when it comes time to build them, I always feel that I’m falling deplorably short. I almost believe that other writers whose worlds have transported me have actually been transported themselves. That’s how they do it! They have a window into Fairyland that I’ve yet to find. If only I could get a glimpse. If only…
Do you ever pine for that glimpse into Faerie as well, sure that you’ll never spin a satisfactory world of your own until you find that magical window?
So I might be pining away forever… but then I venture to the forest on a fine summer’s morning with my dog, and the trees whisper some sense into my wistful head: “Here is your window, you silly thing! The very same that your fairy tale for-bearers looked into for inspiration. It’s called Nature, and it’s positively buzzing with magic!”
G.K. Chesterton wrote, true to his style, a supremely sensible essay called “The Ethics of Elfland” which recaptures the lost wonder of this fairyland we live in. My morning, woodland walk brought home something he’d said, and I had to agree:
The only words that ever satisfied me as describing Nature are the terms used in the fairy books, ‘charm,’ ‘spell,’ ‘enchantment.’ They express the arbitrariness of the fact and its mystery… this fairy-tale language about things is simply rational and agnostic.
His point? Nature is as surprising and mysterious as any fairy realm ever could be. We have simply got used to her habits and labelled them as ‘laws’… rather unromantically. But what if you went outside for the first time and saw the world with fresh eyes? Chesterton reckons the fairy tale’s purpose is to teach us to do just that.
These tales say that apples were golden only to refresh the forgotten moment when we found that they were green. They make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water.
So here is my challenge to you (as well as to myself in the midst of a world-building project!). Start an observation journal. Just try it. Make it a habit to observe one detail – however grand or minuscule – in Nature each day, with fresh eyes of wonder that it is as it is. After all, it might have been some other way. Or as Chesterton puts it, apple trees might have produced candlesticks instead of apple blossoms!
When it comes to creating fantasy worlds, there is nothing new under the sun. As world builders, the only colours we have to paint with are the ones Nature offers us. But Nature is hardly a miser – what a wealth of resources she has to offer! So go outside, marvel at the Elfland that is our home. Then take all those colours and all that marvel and paint a world in words. Enjoy!
In honor of this theme, I’ve dug out a very, VERY old poem I wrote as a kid. Rarely do I post poetry for the world to see, but as this one comes from a far distant life, I shall make an exception!
“Daily Doses of Magic”
Falls with silent grace
A glistening shower of soft white lace.
The earth with pride is sure to glow,
When dressed in a shimmering gown of snow.
Magic’s yours for the taking,
If only you dare.
If you’ve not yet claimed it,
You must not care.
When nature’s left bare by the cold,
Is a grand time to go out hunting Leprechauns’ gold.
Take a peak in mum’s garden, or on window sills
For the shining golden heads of spring’s first daffodils.
Magic’s a treasure most precious,
Though not terribly rare.
So don’t waste one more moment
Before claiming your fair share.
In gently March,
When earth’s long sleep is shook,
The sprite’s and pixies sneak out for a look.
But should spring showers threaten their fun with gloom,
They’ll pop up, spit spot, and umbrella mushroom.
Magic’s no fib,
No story, or fable.
Don’t suppose you can’t find it.
You are perfectly able.
Sky’s majestic concerts play
While silver streamers the night array.
Tucked snug in bed, safe, dry, and warm,
You can listen to the music of a spring thunderstorm.
Magic’s no secret,
It’s as plain as blue sky.
If you’d like me to prove it,
Why just open your eyes.
When day gives way to night,
I watch the flickering fairy lights.
They disappear in the blink of an eye.
What a curious creature, the firefly!
Magic isn’t just in books.
If you haven’t found it,
You haven’t looked.
You’ll find a magical gem
To put in your pocket should you have the whim.
Watch violet turn green before your eyes
When june bug opens his wings and flies.
Magic comes in packages
Of every size.
Should you come across it,
Don’t be surprised.
In hot July,
While seaside dreaming,
I can hear the mermaids singing.
There sweet and mystic voices swell
Deep down inside an old conch shell.
Magic’s in every cranny and nook.
If you’ve not yet found it,
You’ve not yet looked.
Silvery silken nets are cast
To catch moon droplets of liquid glass.
Morn’s sunbeams turn these to dew drops instead,
That dangle from each dainty spiderweb thread.
No need for a wand, spellbook,
Or white rabbit.
If it’s magic you seek
Just reach out and grab it.
When nights are cool, crisp, and quite clear,
The sky’s faithful watchman is sure to appear.
A sign that fall’s magic will be upon the world soon,
Is the sleepy-eyed man on the pale harvest moon.
Magic’s oh so much more
Than a make-believe game.
Why, to miss out on magic
Would be a most dreadful shame.
You may encounter upon neighbors’ porches
A mischievous nimph with eyes shining like torches.
But don’t be alarmed by his snaggle-toothed grin,
For jack-o-laterns, quite often, make jolly good friends.
So if life’s too ordinary,
Then do precisely as I say:
Take a daily dose of magic,
And add dazzle to each day.
Fair rubies drip from trees;
But shaken by an autumn breeze,
They dance down gracefully as you please,
To make fall’s rainbow rug of leaves.
Magic’s there, it doesn’t hide.
If you haven’t seen it,
You haven’t tried.
When magic falls in drifts like the snow,
A billion flick’ring candles set all earth aglow.
On still, frosty nights, these bring joy near and far,
To hearts warmed and eyes twinkling under heaven’s kind stars.
So whatever the season, day, or the hour,
Enjoying some magic requires no special powers.
Just open those eyes up,
Dust off your nose and ears.
With practice, you’ll find magic every day of the year!
See the chicks? Aren’t they cute??? My dad pointed them out to us and I took a quick picture. I have lots more living in nests over the lights in my barn. And every day, spring through summer, when I go to the barn, the moms dive bomb me.
I WAS THERE FIRST!!
I’ve explained this to them, but still, they screech at me and dive so close I’ve felt feathers against my head. They dive straight at me, turn at the last moment, then zoom past and circle back around. And go again. And again. Until I’m in the barn and sheltered from further attacks.
Attack birds. Who’d have thought?
I find it fascinating that these tiny birds have the courage to attack me. They are tiny, small enough for me to close my hand around (I occasionally have to fish fledglings out of water buckets. They just float there until I rescue them, then flap off). These tiny little creatures are willing to attack, what is to them, a giant in order to protect their chicks.
It got me to thinking. Those birds risk their lives for their chicks. What would my characters risk their lives for? What do they want more than anything? And where would they draw the line to get their dreams?
What would make her stand in front of a giant and say “I won’t let you take another step forward!” even if she can’t do a thing?
I’m going with a new classic on this one. Frozen. Let it go, let it gooooo!
And now that the most epic song ever is now playing in your head, let’s dive in. Spoiler alert!
Princess Anna loves her sister. They have some issues and secrets, but when it comes down to it, Anna truly loves Elsa. So much so, she’s willing to ride off into a snowstorm (in a sleeveless ball gown, I might add) after her. Partner with a rough ice man. Take on wolves, a snow monster, and crazy trolls. In the end, she even gives up her own life for her sister. The entire movie is driven by Anna’s love for Elsa. She wants them to be true sisters again, and in the end, because she never gave up on her dream, she was able to live it.
And then there are times when a character’s dreams come at a price, one too high to pay. They find out in the course of their stories, there actually is something more important to them than their dreams.
Let’s talk Wicked. The play, not the book. Highly recommend it if you’ve never seen it. Turns out, The Wizard of Oz is the government cover-up of what really happened.
Elphaba (aka the Wicked Witch of the West) was born with green skin and it teased and ostracized because of it. She wants more than anything to meet the wizard of Oz so she can be accepted by her family and by the Ozians. She gets her chance: he invites her to meet him and asks her to join his team. If she does, all her dreams will come true. But it comes at a price and she has to make the choice to live by her principles or achieve her dreams and lose part of herself. Catch the show to see how it turns out!
Jane Eyre is also a great example of this. The poor, lonely governess falls in love with a wealthy man and he falls head over heels for her. Right when she is about to live happily ever after, she learns a horrible secret, one that changes everything. Her dreams are still within her grasp, if only she would compromise the principles which define her. The fact that she holds to her principles makes her an extremely strong and admirable protagonist.
So what is it that drives your character? What would he risk his life for? His kids, spouse, job? A son who would do anything for his mother, a daughter who would do anything to be accepted with the popular kids. Maybe your character would walk through fire to preserve her good name, or maybe to get back a family heirloom.
And just to what point would your character go? Let’s be really mean. If a mother would die for her son, would she kill for him? If a woman is willing to work sixteen hours a day to get a promotion, will she cheat for it? Betray a friend? Break a law or go against a fundamental principle? And think about the consequences of each choice your character can make. If Jane in Jane Eyre compromised her principles, she would live as a rich woman with the man she loved…but would be unable to respect herself, which would eventually destroy her. If she held fast, she couldn’t be with the one she loved and would end up homeless. Major consequences.
In a side note, I think this is one way you can separate good guys from bad ones. Bad guys are willing to go to any length to get what they want; good guys have a point they won’t go past. Whether it’s murder, betraying the government, stealing, adultery, or just a basic belief in right and wrong, good guys say no when a bad guy would say yes. Simplistic, but often true.
So think about what drives your character. It doesn’t even have to be a main focus of your book, but it’s good to keep in mind while writing. Luck to you!