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My friends call me Elldee. And breaking the half century mark has been highly motivating: happy wife, mother, writer, teacher, day dreamer.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Why when my treadmill dies, I'm buying another one

My treadmill: an oldie but a goodie
It has been interesting how my writing process has changed over time. I’ve always approached every writing project with an idea of how the story was going to end. Sometimes I have an outline but usually not. Looking back, I can see some constants: a title tends to come to me first followed by the main characters. Over the last two years, I have found that the book cover is my most inspiring starting point. It follows on the heels of the other two constants. The cover acts as a focal point I can return to as I progress through the story.

Book 1, Standing Stone Series
My second series, Standing Stone, had its covers before I even started writing. The same has occurred with my third series of books (Solstice Dragon World) that I’m working on now. Each Standing Stone cover provides a key character and the stone that is the crux of the story. In the case of SDW novels, it is the main character and the location where key events take place. Each of these covers help ground my writing and are designed to give my reader a sense of the story. I feel with the covers done, I am certain the novel has a developed core. 

I have a contemporary story with about 18,000 words, no cover yet. It’s been sitting for three years. I know the characters, the title and the end point moment. I think I need that cover. I have a space opera: 30K words. No cover. I don't want to admit how long its been sitting. It really needs a cover.

Knowing the ending is very important to me. I don’t need to know the details, just a key moment that will test the main character and bring them out the other side of a conflict, and even that is mutable. It becomes my north star. I may tack numerous directions on my way to it, but having that fixed point in the back of my mind keeps the story rolling. I can ask myself, “How does this relate to that? How does this decision ultimately lead the character there?” I find the answers on the treadmill.

Writing itself has changed for me as well. The treadmill has become a source of inspiration and direction. While striding along, I can focus on one question, one scene, one direction that needs development. Nothing else will interfere. My husband isn’t going to show up to talk to me. He respects exercise too much. My time on the treadmill is set, so there’s no getting off which can sometimes create an urgency in me to write as soon as my time is up. 

Since I exercise every morning before I head to my job, that urgency has is flaws, but that impetus to write with a fully-developed idea gives my writing direction and flow even if I have to wait to write until that evening or after a mound of grading. It is an appointment I feel I must keep because I know being on the treadmill will result in a better first draft. It is also my best opportunity to go over a scene numerous times and realize what I missed or how I can incorporate more character or plot development. Of course, there is the added positive of keeping me in shape since writing means I’m sitting in a chair often for hours at a time.

I talked about change in my writing, and I have mainly covered what I do now. So what was my approach in the past? 

The past:

  • An idea would come to me. I’d sit down and write. Then stop where my idea ended.
  • I’d lay down on the couch and think about a question, such as "How is he going to deal with his daughter’s unwillingness to talk to him?" Fifty percent of the time, this resulted in an unplanned nap.
  • I would have a title and a vague notion of how the character was dealing with a situation or causing a situation 
  •  I'd sit at the computer and hope more words were going to come soon
  • I would develop when I redrafted, slide in side stories and look for inconsistencies
  • Writing a novel was a yearlong process
  • No cover
  • A working title (very much subject to change)
  • Ill-defined characters, setting and plot that took a lot more work to develop and clean up
  • One novel at a time
  • One book a year and a full-time job

VS the present

  • An idea comes to me. I get on the treadmill and walk (fast and on an incline: don’t want you thinking this is a walk in the park :) ) and hash out the idea, Socratic method.
  • I write through the developed scenes (after that visit to the treadmill)
  • Title, character with backstory and fully-fleshed appearance and behaviors. Distinct main conflict and side conflicts. 
  •  I’m at the computer to write, not sit
  • Development occurs in process, daily, a much more recursive process that results in a better first draft
  • Redrafting occurs daily and is more about layering in deeper description, searching out inconsistencies, clarifying, and copy editing in an ongoing approach (more about this in another post)
  • Writing a first draft of a novel takes a month and a half, average word count 90K (summer time writing – six months during the active school year)
  • A cover (changes subtly over time, but the main concept is set)
  • A title (still may change but rarely) 
  • Well-defined characters with greater depth, setting is full of sensory details, the plot is organized and part of a greater series
  • Three novels in development and linked together by plot, setting or characters
  • 3+ books a year and a full-time job

I’m pleased with the changes and enjoying how it makes my writing better and though nothing makes writing a novel easier, this process does make for better flow and direction to my writing, which, after all is said and done, is what makes writing an enjoyable activity. This is why my husband will say, “I know you want to write today and you enjoy that, but can we do something fun together?" I can walk away from the computer not feeling like I’m losing my “special time with my story” to my “special time with my husband.”

That's why my treadmill isn't going anywhere. It takes my writing where I want it to go. So what fosters your creative side? Tell me in the comment box below, and it doesn't have to be about writing.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Stop, drop and research - sometimes you need the answer right now!

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

In March, I started a new series. It’s not really a series as each novel can standalone, but they are all set in the same world of the Solstice Dragon. What they have in common is setting, and there is a solstice dragon that is key to each book.

As I’ve been writing them, I’ve had to stop now and then to research. Sometimes the research has required an hour or more of reading and notetaking, such as when I was researching castle building. Other times, I’m searching for a word or term appropriate to the time or I need to know if a certain item or clothing would have been used in the 1700s which is the time period these books are loosely set in, largely just for reference as the world of solstice dragons is a creation not an actual place on known Earth.

So what have been these little items that take a minute or two of sleuthing about the internet? That is what this post is about. Just this week, I have tracked down the following words.

  • What are the three walls that make up the back of a fireplace that keeps the heat from damaging the building called? Firebox.
    Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash
  • Parts of a horse – namely the withers: the high point between the shoulder blades of a horse
  • A particular roof style that has roofing angled on all four sides versus say an A-frame: that’s a hip roof.
  • What is the difference between trousers, pants and breeches? Trousers go to the ankle whereas breeches stop at the knee and are often tied about the waist to keep them up. Pants? Apparently, those reference panties in the time period I’m working with. Definitely don’t need to mention the lady’s undergarments at inappropriate times.

  • Grains – these took a little more time as I was looking into identifying both a grain as well as having a picture to aid in describing it properly.
  • A picture of a stove. There’s a kitchen, so, of course, I needed to get a good impression of what a stove of the Solstice Dragon World would likely look like and how it should operate.
    Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

That’s all folks. Do you stop and search for scraps of knowledge when you realize you’re missing some information? What did you search for this week that you thought was pretty interesting?


Monday, January 8, 2018

When you gotta build a castle, research is the answer

Every time I start a new novel, I find myself researching a variety of items, especially with the fantasy novels I've been writing lately. I have selected the 1700s as my template years for technology, clothing, architecture, and transportation.

Picture credit: Okamatsu Fujikawa from on Unsplash
Since drafting my newest fantasy novel, I've found the need to increase my areas of research. Castles. I need to know more about castles, especially, older castles versus new versions, defensibility determined by terrain, and terminology and personnel.

Research is a double-edged sword. It needs to be done, but if you're like me, it is easy to get sidetracked by interesting sites, such as the following site which actually BUILDS castles. BUILDS them! CastleMagic Castle Building. At first I thought it was a spoof that would turn out to be about building paper castles. The drawings were pencil sketches, and the video showing an example of the building process reminded me of Minecraft. But then I looked at their other pictures and videos. They BUILD castles. So you see I did get a bit sidetracked and for good reason. Too bad I don't have the money to have them build me a castle. They do a really good job and can include secret passages. Hmm, secret passages.

This is a site I found for terminology called appropriately Castle Terminology.  Every term I could possibly need, their definitions and alternatives seem to be on this site. Though I don't intend to be dropping castle terms all over my draft, I know I should refer to specific parts of castles correctly.

I toured two castles about ten years ago, both in Sweden which is helpful as the location of the castle in my novel is in mountainious terrain and very cold.

Laying out my castle is my biggest issue. I need to configue it to fit the story but stay within the standards of castles. Thus the following site is useful. It supplied a variety of layouts of castles and the reasoning behind them. Medieval Castle Layout. It's proving useful as I plan out my version. I'll probably have to plan out two more as well. Hmm, a castle building author is never done.

You know, I have to make room for a dragon in my castle. But enough about my research.

What research are you doing lately, and what about it sidetracks you?

Saturday, August 19, 2017

A Stab at a Self-interview: Question 12 ~ collaboration

Mirror Image ~ writing. Modified from a 
Would you consider collaborating with another writer?

I would have to know them very well and feel that we had similar writing styles and a united focus on the plot and characters. Of course, after saying that, I must admit I have been talking to two people about collaborating.

My husband and I have a couple of ideas we would like to turn into a series of books. Though we have never worked on a creative endeavor of this sort together before, lately I have been finding him very easy to brainstorm with. He has often over the years offered ideas that I have found intriguing and inspiring. Usually I write notes down about what he came up with and look forward to when I can work them into my writing schedule. Some have turned into short stories, but at this time none are published.

After I finish editing Standing Stone 3 and drafting Students of Jump 5, I hope to begin working on a novel he and I recently brainstormed together. And we have a second planned out as well. At this point, I will probably be the one writing while he contributes to the process in brainstorm sessions. But we may migrate into actually writing a novel in tandem or in pieces together in the future.

Another individual I am in discussion about collaborating is my daughter. We both are very busy, creative types so we are trying to figure out how we can make this work. Recently, we chatted via Skype so we could brainstorm the organization of an idea we have in mind. We have already determined which parts will be mine to write and which are hers. The unusual structure of the piece makes it possible for us to write separately, share and adjust what we've written. Also the idea we have is more non-fiction than fiction, most definitely not science fiction or fantasy. A contemporary work based on personal experience ~ fictionalized true to life, perhaps is a good description. LOL, without actually describing it.

As for writing with an author I am not related to, that has not come up yet. I'm not against the idea; I just have not had any reason to consider it.