WIPpet Wednesday: Falling in love again with an old story

This is one of those stories that’s come a long way. “Made of Shadows” is the first paranormal romance I ever attempted, and it’s currently on its fourth draft. I will always have a special place in my heart for these characters and their story, which is why I’ve returned to it this year, determined to revise it and begin another round of submissions. I got amazing feedback from two editors a couple years ago, feedback that helped me to identify a few key issues with the story and to grow as a writer. I’ve learned a lot from the stories I’ve written since, and I’m ready to take another pass at this one.

For those who aren’t familiar, WIPpet Wednesday offers writers a chance to share excerpts from their works in progress. The only stipulation is that it must have something to do with the date. It’s also a blog hop, so click here to see other WIPpeteers’ work.

I’d love to get some feedback on the newly revised opening of this WIP. Today is the 28th, so here are ten paragraphs (2+8=10) from the first chapter of “Made of Shadows.” Thanks for reading!

Zoe Donovan cradled the golf-ball-sized crystal sphere in her hand. Either she’d gone mental from years of overwork, or her baby brother was playing the world’s cruelest practical joke.

Ever since she’d read his letter, the world around her seemed to stop, standing still as a photograph.

Hey sis, his letter began, handwritten on the ivory stationery she’d bought him last Christmas.

I wanted to write, to say I’m sorry for the things I said. I hadn’t meant to leave things between us that way. If I haven’t already called and made nice with you, then you should keep reading.

Zoe snorted, but it wasn’t out of amusement. Demetri’s apologies were usually less direct—a gift from this place or that, Lima or Athens or Glasgow. Her brother was the king of asking forgiveness later rather than permission first—like the time he’d decided to spend a summer in Italy and hadn’t bothered to tell her until the bank called her to confirm a string of overseas purchases on the credit card she’d co-signed—the one for groceries and books and normal college-student stuff.

Guilt momentarily flooded her as she thought of their last conversation. She wasn’t particularly good at giving permission, was she? Still, he was the one who’d ambushed her in her office in Boston. She’d given in to so many of his whims—and he’d thanked her by dropping out of Harvard with only the vaguest explanation. To finish mom and dad’s work, he’d said. But hadn’t the whole point of his time there been to follow in their parents’ footsteps and become a world-renowned archeologist?

The last sliver of daylight trailed over the hills stretching out beyond Donovan manor, shadow and sun spilling through the tall windows and French doors of the dining room. The table’s dark wood shown freshly polished, its surface now strewn with unopened mail and the contents of the package her brother had left her.

When he’d told her, Zoe had lost her temper. He was an adult, he’d reminded her, although she’d been quick to point out a host of immature acts and ill-planned schemes that often ended with a panicked phone call asking his big sister to send money, and fast.

If Demetri were a different person, Zoe would’ve thought his letter was a joke, meant to teach her a lesson or exact revenge. But however immature Demetri could be, revenge was never his style. He never meant to cause her pain; he always attempted, however clumsily, to make nice after he’d screwed up.

That was what she’d thought the package was—another gift meant to deflect his sister’s wrath. Instead, she’d opened the box to find a letter and the crystal sphere.

Lastly, a midweek ROW80 check-in…

Writing goals

1.) Make measurable progress on one of my WIPs. Wrote 2,295 words in “The Phoenix Feather.”

2.) Read two books on the craft/business of writing. 2/2. Finished reading “How to Market a Book” by Joanna Penn. Started reading “Beginnings, Middles, and Ends” by Nancy Kress. Planning to increase this goal to four books, since there’s still plenty of time left in this round.

Social media goals

1.) Check in on Twitter or Facebook daily. On track to meet this goal.

2.) Blog twice a week. On track to meet this goal.

3.) Comment on three-five blog posts daily, Monday-Thursday. On track to meet this goal.

Life goals

1.) Do yoga or tai chi or meditate three times per week. 1/3.

2.) Do morning pages in journal Monday-Friday. On track to meet this goal.

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A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. It’s also a blog hop! Click here to cheer on fellow participants.

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Listening to our stories, our worlds, ourselves

“We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be.” –Jane Austen, Mansfield Park

With every story we write, every drop of ink, every key pressed in a frenzy of typing, we are becoming better writers. Over the last year, I can feel how I’ve grown, how I’ve stretched and challenged myself, how discovering solutions to complex story issues has made me a better writer. Every story teaches us something.

For me, one of those recent lessons has been to listen to my writer’s intuition. I don’t mean our inner critic, although she has her time and her place. I mean that feeling in our gut that tells us when we’ve veered off course, when we’re taking the story in the wrong direction, when our characters aren’t behaving like we’d expect them to, etc.

photo by Catie Rhodes, WANA Commons

photo by Catie Rhodes, WANA Commons

In a recent draft, I became so focused on getting words on the page and finishing the story that I ignored that voice. The result? My revision of that story will almost be a full rewrite—because I didn’t listen to that voice and go back to where I started and start over. I don’t mean the critical voice that says, “This sucks.” I mean that small, quiet voice that whispers, “This isn’t right.”

If the story has zigged when it should have zagged, I need to go back to the place where I took that wrong direction and correct course. Otherwise, I risk writing a story that needs a page-one rewrite—beyond the normal revisions a story needs.

Part of this is understanding my process better. I need to solidify those first few chapters before I dig into the rest of the story. This could mean I write the first chapter three times before I feel that I’ve established a solid foundation. I need to do that so I know the rest of the story. That’s just my process.

I don’t regret the mistakes I made with that recent manuscript. Though I’m taking a break from it so I can return to it with much-needed distance, I think about those characters and that world daily, and each day they reveal a little more to me. A will-o-the-wisp haunting a forest full of bluebells. A character dabbling at her watercolors. A cat, a witch’s familiar, rubbing against a character’s denim-clad legs. Good writing is good listening.

Before, in my rush, I wasn’t listening, and the story suffered. But it’s live and learn. And the lesson I’ve learned is that an important tool in our writer’s toolbox is letting that voice that whispers guide us, telling us when we’ve veered from the story’s true path. In short, we need to listen—to our writer’s instincts, but also to our characters, to their worlds and to the world around us. Because it’s in the howling of the wind and the night’s creeping shadows that horror stories find their way into this world. It’s a view of the mist-shrouded mountains that calls an epic fantasy into existence.

We have to listen to our writer’s instincts. We have to listen to our characters. And we have to listen to this world we live in if we are to make our stories come alive.

Lastly, my Sunday ROW80 check-in…

Writing goals

1.) Make measurable progress on one of my WIPs. Revised the first chapter in “The Phoenix Feather.” Did some world-building for that story. Revised the first chapter of “Made of Shadows.”

2.) Read two books on the craft/business of writing. 1/2. Began reading “How to Market a Book” by Joanna Penn.

Social media goals

1.) Check in on Twitter or Facebook daily. Goal met.

2.) Blog twice a week. Goal met.

3.) Comment on three-five blog posts daily, Monday-Thursday. Goal met.

Life goals

1.) Do yoga or tai chi or meditate three times per week. 0/3.

2.) Do morning pages in journal Monday-Friday. Met for 4 of 5 days.

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A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. It’s also a blog hop! Click here to cheer on fellow participants.

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World-Building for Writers: Creating a world readers will love

There’s nothing more exciting—and, often times, overwhelming—than creating a fictional world and populating it with an interesting collection of characters, each with their own agenda. A fully realized, richly detailed fictional world can capture readers’ hearts, minds, and imaginations. The world is full of readers who would eagerly receive their letter of acceptance to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, who’d gladly take a stroll through the Shire, who wouldn’t mind flying off to Neverland or entering a world where dragons soar or werewolves roam.

So where do we begin? Here are a few of the exercises I use to get my stories off the ground. (Many thanks to Michelle, whose comment on a previous post inspired this one.) Discovering and creating a fantasy world takes patience and time—with each draft, with each exercise, we dig a little deeper, all in the hopes that readers will one day be eager to lose themselves in that world.

Getting the lay of the land

image by Alarna Rose Gray, WANA Commons

image by Alarna Rose Gray, WANA Commons

If I’m setting a story in a fictional place, it helps to make a map. That makes the logistics of writing a lot easier–you’ll know about how long it takes to travel from one part of the world to another and the names of important places and geographic locations. It also makes a world feel so much more vivid if we know the specific names of places in our world. Not just the woods, but the Iron Wood. Not just the mountains, but the Misty Mountains.

Even if the maps we create don’t make it into the pages of our books, understanding the size of our worlds and the places within them helps us create rich, detailed worlds.

Understanding the history and mechanics of our worlds

If your story is a fantasy, how does magic work in your world? What sorts of magical creatures populate it? If it’s sci-fi, what are the important technologies in your world and how long have they been around?

There are plenty of areas to consider—politics, climate, significant historical events, cultural norms, architecture…the list goes on.

When I create a new world, I also will create Word documents in which I explore the major historical events that took place in my world, how the governing system works, etc. If there’s magic, I’ll figure out what the rules of magic are in that world and how magic works. If there are magical creatures, I might make a glossary listing their names, abilities, and basic backgrounds.

For example, in my newest WIP, the first book in what I’m calling the Mage Wars trilogy, a centuries-long war has been raging. There are five different factions, each with their own agenda, so I created a table that lists the name of each group along with their strengths/weaknesses, symbols, alliances, and where they stand in the battle—what their end goal is. I plan on expanding it to include a more detailed history as time goes on—major battles won or lost, that sort of thing.

Collecting images

When I first began collecting images for my stories, I started looking for images of each of my main characters so I could visualize them better. But this can also be expanded to include images of the geography of our world or the homes of our characters, important buildings, etc.—anything that helps us in describing our worlds in rich detail.

What about you? What exercises do you use when creating a fictional world? What are some of your favorite fantasy worlds and what do you love most about them?

Lastly, a midweek ROW80 check-in…

Writing goals

1.) Make measurable progress on one of my WIPs. Revised the first chapter in “The Phoenix Feather.” Did some world-building for that story. Wrote 223 words in “Made of Shadows.”

2.) Read two books on the craft/business of writing. 1/2. Began reading “How to Market a Book” by Joanna Penn.

Social media goals

1.) Check in on Twitter or Facebook daily. On track to meet this goal.

2.) Blog twice a week. On track to meet this goal.

3.) Comment on three-five blog posts daily, Monday-Thursday. On track to meet this goal.

Life goals

1.) Do yoga or tai chi or meditate three times per week. 0/3.

2.) Do something related to volunteer work or spiritual practice at least once a week. No progress.

3.) Do morning pages in journal Monday-Friday. Met for 2 of 3 days so far this week.

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A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. It’s also a blog hop! Click here to cheer on fellow participants.

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You can’t rush the process.

In the last year, I’ve learned a lot about my writing process, but I also know that there’s a lot to learn. I know that our writing process changes and evolves as we grow as writers. But I also think that having a basic understanding of our creation process can help us stay on the right track when writing and revising.

Sometimes the biggest lessons come from our missteps. The last story I wrote, a 16K novelette/novella, needs a lot of work–I mean a major overhaul. I’ve set it aside to gain some distance and perspective and am now working on a new story, but I’ve also come to a few realizations:

One: You can’t rush the process.

I’ve felt this need to produce work at an ever increasing pace, but what I’ve overlooked is that getting to know a story can take time. We’re exploring a new world, meeting new characters and discovering their voices, their motivations, their quirks, their fears, their desires. I’ve been rushing the process, too concerned with adding to the story that I haven’t stopped to use the exercises that work—character backgrounds and questionnaires, character voice journals, world-building exercises. We can’t chart a new world overnight anymore than we can learn about a different culture by stepping out of the airport. It takes time.

Two: Word count doesn’t have to mean just words on the page.

I’d like to do a better job tracking my word count this year. Usually I keep track on a weekly basis and then move on, charting week by week. But in order to better understand my process, I’d like to keep monthly and yearly records. I think I’ll learn a lot about my writing process that way. I’ve already created a spreadsheet to keep track; I just have to remember to use it. I’m also thinking about changing the way I track my word count. Normally, I don’t count character work, voice journals, backstory, etc. But all of that adds to the story, even if it doesn’t put words on the page. It’s necessary work, and it’s work that I can’t skip. Not if I want to make my stories sing.

Three: Be patient.

Building a writing career and growing in our craft takes time, energy, discipline, and patience. We don’t always realize how much we’ve grown, and sometimes the biggest struggles are what help us grow the most. For example, last year I struggled with revising a novella, but my struggles paid off. The story is so much stronger than it was before—and I now recognize how much I learned by not giving up on it.

What about you? How do you get to know your characters and worlds better? What exercises work for you? How do you track word count?

Lastly, my Sunday ROW80 check-in…

Writing goals

1.) Make measurable progress on one of my WIPs. Wrote 3,401 words in a new novel, tentatively titled “The Phoenix Feather.”

2.) Read two books on the craft/business of writing. 1/2. Read “Let’s Get Digital” by David Gaughran. Loved it and highly recommend it. It’s tailored toward self-published writers, but it contains a lot of info that any writer, whatever his or her publishing path, can benefit from learning.

Social media goals

1.) Check in on Twitter or Facebook daily. Met for every day except Monday.

2.) Blog twice a week. Blogged once. Missed Wednesday’s check-in.

3.) Comment on three-five blog posts daily, Monday-Thursday. Met for every day except Monday.

Life goals

1.) Do yoga or tai chi or meditate three times per week. 2/3.

2.) Do something related to volunteer work or spiritual practice at least once a week. No progress. Update: I totally forgot, but I had Tibetan singing bowl therapy on Friday, which definitely counts as spiritual.

3.) Do morning pages in journal Monday-Friday. 2/5.

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A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. It’s also a blog hop! Click here to cheer on fellow participants. denise signature

Sunday ROW80 check-in

For those of you who saw my post on Wednesday, my dog, Angel, is back at home after spending a few days on an IV at the vet’s office. She seems to have improved and has a follow-up check-up tomorrow. Thank you to everyone for all of the well wishes and positive energy you sent our way!

This week was, well, chaos, but I’m looking forward to kicking it into a higher gear in the weeks ahead.

This week’s check-in…

Writing goals

1.) I have a long list of projects I’m currently working on, so I’m just going to make this first goal “make measurable progress on one of my WIPs.” This week I finished a read-through of “Stolen by Magic.” Not a whole lot of progress, but I’ll take it.

2.) Read two books on the craft/business of writing. No progress to report.

Social media goals

1.) Check in on Twitter or Facebook daily. Met for every day except Monday.

2.) Blog twice a week. Blogged three times.

3.) Comment on three-five blog posts daily, Monday-Thursday. Met for every day except Monday.

Life goals

1.) Do yoga or tai chi or meditate three times per week. 3/3—Technically, two of those were pilates, but I’m going to go ahead and count those.

2.) Do something related to volunteer work or spiritual practice at least once a week. Attended a ritual on Sunday, emailed to inquire about volunteering at the local food pantry.

3.) Do morning pages in journal Monday-Friday. Done for three of five days.

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A Round of Words in 80 Days, founded by author Kait Nolan, is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. It’s also a blog hop! Click here to see other participants’ goals for the current round.

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Midweek ROW80 check-in

It has been a hectic and anxiety-provoking week in my household. Since Monday, our 15-year-old beagle, Angel, has been at the vet’s office on an IV. Her liver values aren’t very good and she’s having problems with her gallbladder and one of her kidneys. So, much of my time has been spent in vet’s offices. We’re hoping she can come home soon and that she makes a full recovery, but we’re currently in wait-and-see mode. Needless to say, I’ve been a very worried pet parent this week.

I’m breaking from my usual check-in method. Since it’s been a crazy week, I thought I’d list what I’ve accomplished to date. Here’s this week so far:

1.) Blogged Monday and Wednesday.

2.) Checked in on Twitter Tuesday, but not Monday.

3.) Finished some critique work.

4.) Commented on seven blog posts on Tuesday.

5.) Did my morning pages on Tuesday, but not Monday.

6.) Did a little bit of world-building/brainstorming for “Stolen by Magic.”

And that’s my week so far. Hopefully things calm down soon. I’m hoping to complete a read-through of “Stolen by Magic” and dig into revisions the remainder of this week.

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. Click here to cheer on fellow participants.

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Kicking off the new year: 2015 ROW80 round 1 goals

It’s hard to believe that another year has gone by, but here we are in 2015. This is going to be a year of revising for me, as I created a lot of first drafts in 2014.

A friend recently asked me if I had any New Year’s resolutions in place, and I usually don’t—I prefer to set measurable goals for the year. But one thing I want to do is spend less time thinking and more time living. I’m a very cerebral person, and it’s easy to get lost in my own thoughts, forgetting to get outside of my head and jump into my life.

photo from stock.xchng

photo from stock.xchng

I’d like to volunteer in my community more, to refresh my spiritual practice, to start submitting stories for publication, to try new things like geocaching or ballroom dancing, start a regular practice of yoga, tai chi, or meditation…Well, the point is there are a lot of things I want to do, and I’m hoping 2015 will be a year of action, of moving forward and really engaging the world.

And now, here’s my list of goals for the first round of ROW80. Happy New Year!

Writing goals

1.) Clean up “Stolen by Magic” and send to critique partners.

2.) Revise “Stolen by Magic” (Cabot Sisters book one).

3.) Revise “Called by Magic” (Cabot Sisters book two).

4.) Write another short story or novelette.

5.) Revise “Good Old-Fashioned Magic” and write query letter and synopsis.

6.) Read two books on the craft/business of writing.

Social media goals

1.) Check in on Twitter or Facebook daily.

2.) Blog twice a week.

3.) Comment on three-five blog posts daily, Monday-Thursday.

Life goals

1.) Do yoga or tai chi or meditate three times per week.

2.) Do something related to volunteer work or spiritual practice at least once a week.

3.) Do morning pages in journal Monday-Friday.

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A Round of Words in 80 Days, founded by author Kait Nolan, is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. It’s also a blog hop! Click here to see other participants’ goals for the current round.

What about you? Do you have a New Year’s resolution this year? What do you want to add to your life in the coming year?