Month: December 2012

A Nostalgic Look Back

There is a certain irony surrounding the date of this post – thanks Mayan calendar… If I really believed the world was going to end, I suppose sitting around with a cup of tea and remembering the good times is as good a way as any to go.  I’m off on holiday this afternoon – so will disappearing off the blogisphere until early next year. I’d like to say I’ll be beavering away at the WIP, but the truth is; if there is lounging to be done – there is a good chance I will be the one doing it. That’s the plan anyway…

I started blogging six months ago after some very intense coaching and hand holding from my good friend, talented writer and blogger extraordinaire; Aimee L. Salter – thank you, thank you, thank you.  (Because I am married to an I.T. guy – I’m predictably allergic to technology).

I’ve been thrilled to find I’ve enjoyed it immensely and have made some really great new writing friends along the way. My novel is slowly growing too and I hope I’m becoming a better writer. Thanks to all of you who’ve followed (I appreciate you all – every single one of you has put a smile on my face!), or have taken the time to visit; I am so glad you did.

If you’re looking for reading over the hiatus I’ve listed some of my favourite posts from the past six months. (It’s not very clear with this format – but click on the title of the post to check it out. It might not look like one, but it is a hyperlink).

The Best of this Blog:

Uncharted Territory – My very first post. I was so nervous about putting anything on the internet. What if no one liked it? What if no one came?

Variations on a Theme – Why certain themes appeal to us.

A Word About Waymarkers – Markers that tell you whether you’re headed in the right direction with your writing.

Multiple POVs – When Everyone Has an Opinion – Multiple POV or not? Some say no – however I’m starting to suspect they don’t write epic fantasy.

Are Action Scenes Kicking Your Butt – I wonder if I like this one just for the title? Seriously, I love writing action scenes!

Writing the Ravine: A View from a Rope Bridge – It’s such a good metaphor for my writing journey.

It Takes a Village to Raise a Novel – A word on those encouraging (and not so encouraging) folk who give input into your story.

I’ve also just posted another post on There and Draft Again: A Fellowship of Fantasy Writers:ThereAndDraftAgain

World Building: In the Beginning – Where to begin when you’re creating your fantasy world. It’s a topic close to my heart.

I’m really excited to be working some very cool writing friends to build this up – so I’d be thrilled if you took the time to check it out.

Until next year, I wish you all a safe and happy holiday season.

Why Everyone Needs a Champion

At some point, everyone falters.  Our courage gives out, we doubt ourselves, our abilities and our dreams. And we need someone to step up for us. Maybe it’s to tell us the truth (with gentle words), speak for us, stand in the gap when the world is closing in or just to say ‘hang in there’. As writers more than ever it’s imperative to have a strong support base, because everyone and his dog has an opinion on your work and they’re prepared to put it out there for the whole world to see.

I have to admit my writing mojo took a bit of a bashing over the past few months. Progress was slow. I’d been working on a challenging transition (and working and working and rewriting…), and I was starting to doubt I was ever going to get it right. To make matters worse, I’d pinned my hopes on NaNoWriMo. Even if I didn’t hit their word count – I was relying on the payoff of writing every day for a month. Not just to push through the transition, but to reinforce to myself that I was in fact a real (read committed) writer.

So when life threw a curve ball and I wasn’t able to complete NaNo, I was more than a little bit thrown. I’d been through an emotional time, and when I thought of sifting through the NaNo output, I just couldn’t face it. I was terrified it had all been a waste of time and there wasn’t anything I would be able to use.

Now this wasn’t so much a pity party, as an ‘I-will-face-it-another-day’ sort of scenario. I didn’t tell anyone about it, hoping it would resolve itself, until my writing buddy asked me to bring something around to share. You know, something I was working on.

As I scrabbled around for anything she hadn’t already seen (because the worst thing you can say to another writer is ‘I haven’t written anything’) my gaze landed on the NaNo file all abandoned and gathering dust. So I took a deep breath, grabbed the unread draft and hoped for the best.

Surprisingly, it was pretty good.

My friend was engaged with the story, made lots of encouraging and interested noises and we had an amazing session discussing some of new characters she hadn’t met before. It certainly had first draft, NaNo issues – like the character referring to ‘the hated skirt’ four times in the chapter (it’s not half obvious when you read it back…), but it had heart. Good useable heart. As I talked with her I got excited about my story, realised I had made good inroads into the transition, and also rekindled some of that writing joy that had been sorely absent.

In the fantasy genre, our heroes generally can’t do it alone. There are always kindnesses, unexpected helpers and occasionally a great friend who will point out their faults or be loyal when everyone else gives up hope.

The Lord of the Rings wouldn’t have been the same without the Fellowship – as flawed as it was at times. Frodo never could have destroyed the ring, if Sam hadn’t been faithful to prop him up when he was failing. Gandalf sacrificed himself to save the others. The dwarves and the elves put aside their differences and even Boromir, who gave in to his own unheroic desires, was repentent and was able to give Aragorn his horn to built a bridge between their different peoples.

In C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter had a whole army of helpers and hopers working with them: Mr Tumnus, the Beavers, and of course Aslan. One who was willing to lay down his life for a boy who didn’t deserve it, and didn’t really know his savior at all.

In my own WIP there are lots of times when people come through. Some fail spectacularly, but more often the true hero is the one who sticks up for someone in the face of opposition. Chooses kindness over prejudice. Accepts failure and hopes for better. It’s the kind of thing I love to write – and to watch for in real life. There are a lot of small champions all about us if you care to look. Including my friend who is worth her weight in gold!

Has anyone been kind to you today? Do you have a friend who always champions you? Or a particular character / friendship that’s really appealed to you? I love to hear from you!

The Hobbit: An Extraordinary Movie!

It’s no secret on this blog that I am a huge Tolkien fan, so if you think this is going to be a balanced and critical view of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey you’d be sadly mistaken.

Just so you know I’ve been looking forward this release forever. I went to the world premier and stood for hours trying to get a glimpse of anyone on the red carpet (when you’re as tall as a hobbit a glimpse is all you can realistically expect), and my writing group recently gave me my own Elvish name – Rarwen. So now my street cred is out the window, I have to say I went to the movie expecting to love it – and I was not disappointed.

I’ve actually done a full (and less biased) review of the movie on There and Draft Again, the fantasy blog so if you want to check it out you can here.

However I couldn’t wait two whole days without saying anything, so consider this the uncut, fangirl version… (I’ve tried to avoid spoilers).

Why I loved The Hobbit.

1. Peter Jackson gets me.

What – it wasn’t all about me? Well it was clearly about the fans – people who love the original story and the world that makes up Middle Earth. I liked revisiting Frodo and older Bilbo (Ian Holm) and taking time to introduce all 13 dwarves. I loved that my favourite songs (Chip the glasses and crack the plates) made the cut, and that the trolls were as slapstick as the book.

Tolkien didn’t write to a slick formula – yet there is something about his stories that have continued to captivate readers decades after they were written. Peter Jackson gets that. So even if he did tinker with the story, he’s certainly tried to stay true to the spirit of the books.

2. That Old LOTR Magic.

The achingly familiar music, the spectacular landscapes, the return of beloved characters (Gandalf, Frodo, Gollum, Galadriel, Elrond, Saruman – and of course Bilbo). It feels like coming home.

Peter Jackson didn’t mess with a good thing (the film franchise) he just improved the technology.

3. Really great acting.

Honestly there was the odd cheesy line (or three), but I thought the acting was amazing. Ian McKellen was every bit the Gandalf we know and love – although much more active (and present) in this movie. He has a way of making those throw-away lines (‘Run!’ and ‘This Way!’) – sound really good too.

Martin Freeman does a sterling job as Bilbo. So good I can’t even pinpoint why. He just was a great Bilbo – and every scene felt real.

Richard Armitage brought to life a brooding and burdened Thorin Oakenshield, beautifully. I read a review which said he was a poor imitation of Aragorn – but I didn’t see that at all. I’ve always liked Thorin as a character (he made quite an impression on me when I was young) – and this version sat really well.

And who can go past the extremely talented Andy Serkis, who impossibly made Gollum even better in this movie.

4. A Visual Feast.

Gollum was amazing – a miracle of CGI. The sets and settings, including some very dreamy Rivendell shots – spectacular. The fight scenes were fast and furious. It might be a long movie, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen!

5. Good Fun.

There were jokes, funny songs, and a few gags (think troll butts and snot…). The Hobbit is a lighter story than TLOTR and I was glad Peter Jackson had some fun with it too.

I read a few lukewarm reviews of the movie this morning; some picked at the additional storylines, some at the characters and some just weren’t feeling it. To me the point of reading or watching fantasy is the joy of suspending disbelief and immersing yourself in another world – where dragons can be overcome, fellowship is valued, and the little guy can make a big difference. If you haven’t seen the movie, leave your expectations at home, sit back and enjoy!

What do you think? Have you seen the movie? Want to see the movie? Heaven forbid – don’t get it at all?

Inevitability – Let the Dominoes Fall…

Some things seem to be inevitable. The other day my daughter knocked over a box of cereal. As I cleaned up a significant volume of crunchy breakfasty goodness, it struck me how many things had come into play to ensure this particularly messy outcome:

  1. It is the end of the school year and I have caved somewhat and am buying the children ‘special cereal’.  (Yes mother guilt here… usually they eat toast and porridge).
  2. Typically I would only buy a small box, but this week the large box was on special…
  3. Because the contents of the large box wouldn’t fit in the plastic cereal container I put the whole box on the table.
  4. I put the box next to my six-year-old daughter, on the edge of the table (you can see where this is going).
  5. I thought to myself, ‘that box is a bit close to the edge‘.
  6. My next thought was, ‘no – she’ll be right’...
  7. My daughter knocks the box with her elbow.
  8. She catches the bottom of the box as it falls.
  9. Because she is holding the bottom of the box the considerable contents inside continue to rain down all over the floor…
  10. I do that slow-mo “Nooooo” as I wade through the crunchy tide in a futile attempt to stem the flow.
  11. I have to clean up the floor because it’s a bit sticky and crunchy and bits have bounced everywhere…

You might think the moral of this story is: Don’t buy the cereal. But as a writer, the moral is actually:  Don’t overlook the power of a good set up.

If you know your character needs to stumble, or encounter setbacks – work out ways of making sure they fall into your clever trap their circumstances are such that the only way forward is into conflict. This can be either internal or external, but it can be enough to give your story real momentum.

The Plotting Tool.

The movie Signs is an excellent example of how to make the most of the set up. The beginning of the movie establishes some strange and random character idiosyncrasies that end up being the key to saving lives and defeating the ill-informed alien invaders. As a technique it’s fairly simple.  Identify your desired outcome and work backwards from there.

In my WIP, The Fall of the Kings, one of the important plot points turns on one of the characters helping another. It’s an unlikely scenario because Jae (the helper), belongs to a group typically shunned by the general populace. Tobias (in need of help) is not only of the general populace, but is also part of the religious order Jae is particularly leery of. Yet although it’s unlikely she would go out of her way to save him – it is imperative to the story that she does. So I needed to lay some groundwork. This started with questions:

  • What would cause her to risk her life (and the life of others) to save this man she doesn’t know? Answer: She wouldn’t for any stranger. There would need to be some sort of connection between them.
  • What could he do that would impact her enough to a) recognise him again; and b) cause her to act. Answer: He would show her he was different – had a different attitude towards her people. Maybe show her unexpected kindness.
  • Where would their paths cross before the major plot point?

You get the idea. When all the elements line up, Jae and Tobias are set for their own adventure – one that seemed destined from the beginning.

Inevitability is not the same as Predictability.

The difference between inevitability and predictability is one of perspective. Predictability is knowing something is going to happen; inevitability is looking back and realising it couldn’t have happened any other way.

No one wants to write predictable stories. The trick is not to be so obvious when you line things up that the reader knows exactly what’s going to happen. Use a light touch. There is plenty of room for nuance, subtlety and surprise. If  all goes well the story will feel real – rather than manipulated.

Set-up with Care.

We’re told as writers not to include anything superfluous in a story – i.e. don’t go giving Frodo the light of Earendil’s star and then not have any opportunity to use it. But also don’t give Frodo the light and then have him use it in the very next scene either. Let him carry it around for a while, and preferably leave it to the very last moment to realise it might be of particular significance against a creature steeped in darkness. Even better for tension if the reader has had time to forget about it too. Unless you’re writing a pantomime you don’t want your audience yelling use the light.

Reader Pay Off.

In my personal experience (as reader or viewer), I love it when things all of a sudden fall into place.

Take the classic line in Star Wars – The Empire Strikes Back, where Darth Vader says: “I am your father.” What can I say – one of the best reveals ever!

Or in a smaller way in The Name of the Wind by the amazing Patrick Rothfuss, the main character Kvothe breaks a string on his lute and has no way of replacing it. So every time a string breaks he teaches himself to play with those that remain. Although this is appropriate to the place in the story – it really comes into its own much later when someone tries to sabotage him by breaking a lute string at an important concert. Honestly as a reader I literally started jumping up and down…

How about you? As a reader what are some of your favourite set-ups? As a writer do you actively set things up to fall like a line of dominoes? I love to hear from you…

Feeling Inspired

Today I was nominated for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award by the very talented E.M. Castellan. If you haven’t already – check out her awesome blog for great book reviews, author interviews and tips for writers of epic fantasy. She is also the driving force behind the very exciting new blog There And Draft Again: A Fellowship of Fantasy Writers which officially launches later today (1 December). I’ll be contributing along with some cool writerly friends – so drop by and check us out!

So by accepting this award I need to tell you seven things about myself.

1. I’m overly excited about the new Hobbit movie. NZ tends to go a little Middle Earth crazy every time Peter Jackson makes one of those movies, and it’s one of those rare times when I can come out of my Tolkien closet.

2. The first time my husband called me for a date I was watching Stargate Atlantis. Although he’s not a reader he watches all manner of sci-fi and fantasy with me… (true love indeed)!

3. One of the scariest things I’ve ever seen are the weeping angels on Dr Who. Stone angels with sharp teeth that move when you aren’t looking… Even writing this I want to keep checking over my shoulder. *shudders*

4. Despite being terrible at computer games – I am the Plants v Zombies queen in our house. It’s the only game my son asks me for help. (This is a very big deal).

5. My all time favourite band is U2. I play them on loop, and they make up over half of my play-list for The Fall of the Kings.

6. I am a cat person. We have 2 kittens; Caramel Paws a large and beautiful tabby who dislikes being held, but who at this very moment is being wrapped in a baby blanket as he’s trying to sleep (and pretend the children aren’t there), and Bella a tiny black and white female with big foxy ears who bosses her much bigger brother about, but will share her love with pretty much anyone.

7. The best piece of writing advice I’ve ever received: Write what you love to read.

Thanks for the nomination E.M. Castellan!

And if you want to check out people I find to be Inspiring Bloggers (I feel like I’m nominating the same people over and over, but they have all encouraged me in some way and their blogs are well worth following):

Aimee Salter – who is the poster child for her blog’s motto: “There’s a word for a writer who never gives up… published” – Joe Konrath

Janice Hardy – who gives great writing tips and always replies to your comments!

Yesenia Vargas – whose Friday Features pull together the best of the writing blogs each week.

K L Schwengel – a fellow fantasy writer with a great sense of humour!

Have an awesome weekend – and let me know which blogs inspire you. I love to hear from you!