Thursday, October 27, 2011

Proud To Be a Writer

I'm totally excited for this BlogFest. The question this week: Do you tell other people that you're a writer?

Yes, I do.

The common answer in the writing community seems to be "No." And I get it; it doesn't come up, or worse, you've had a bad experience. When we tell others that we write, we're worried that they won't care, don't understand, or will try to talk us out of it. "That's not a career, it's a hobby."

But more often than not, I get a positive response from my coworkers and friends.

"So what did you do this weekend?"
"I wrote a bunch," I say.
"Oh yeah? You're a writer?"
"Yeah... I finished a book this year. I'm trying to get it published."
"What's it about?"
"A mercenary protects this girl on a journey south. It's a fantasy, so there's trolls and sword-fighting and stuff." (Note: professionally, my oral pitching totally needs work, but in casual conversation with friends, this simple delivery will suffice.)
"Sounds cool. Good luck with that."

Sometimes they actually ask about the writing process, what it's like trying to get published, or ask for more details about the story, but usually that's the extent of the conversation. Painless.

For me, it's harder to not talk about being a writer than it is to tell everyone. It's such a big part of my life. I've been writing since I could hold a pencil, and it's always been my dream to get a book published. But I'll tell you the best reactions are these:

"You're a writer?"
"Yeah."
"Hey, me too!"

We're not as uncommon as we think we are. I have two different writing groups (one that Jaron was referred to, and one that we made on our own) and they're full of people from all walks of life. We have friends who work with children, with medicine, with computers, and with music who are working on something of their own.

My deep affection for my husband started with one such conversation. We were both stuck at our high school, and when we talked, we eventually delved into our stories. The long discussion about rules of magic, types of characters, and family situations that ensued was the starting point for our relationship. So do I tell people I'm a writer?

Always.

-Tsira

Monday, October 24, 2011

Coincidental Resemblance

Story time.

Last weekend, I went on a mini-vacation with my husband, Jaron. For the most part, we lounged at the hotel and ate all sorts of body-destroying deliciousness. We did, however, spend one morning walking around a mall, shopping (but not buying). During this time, Jaron insisted on going into Game Stop. Despite my protests* I was whisked into the store.

After getting high scores on Wii Play Motion, watching several people play inFAMOUS 2, and glancing over hundreds of titles, Jaron and I eyed the used PSP games (we bought a PSP this year). That's when I saw this box art.


The art style and colors are what caught my eye--so I picked it up, and began to read.

"Drunk, despondent, and down on his luck, a spellsword mercenary named Crais Sewell reluctantly accepts a job from a young, cheerful troubadour named Sophie Rothorn. Their mission: to recover seven jewels scattered throughout the world of Iyar- for what reason, Sophie refuses to say. On their travels, Sophie and Crais meet Melrose, an eccentric mage with a penchant for dissection, Tinon, a tomboy who wields her magic a little too liberally, and Patty, a young woman with a good heart and a love for magical items disproportionate to her funds. As it becomes clear that Sophie's quest is not unrelated to a past Crais would prefer to forget, he faces a choice: Will he confront his past failures, and ultimately overcome them, or succumb to despair and misery? It is entirely possible that the fate of the world, or at least Crais's corner of it, may depend on his answer."

Now, let me put this into perspective here. I just finished writing a book about a mercenary acting as a bodyguard for a mysterious rich girl. I'll revise the above description to show you what exactly why I was so startled.

"Despondent and down on his luck, a mercenary named Octras reluctantly accepts a job from a young, mysterious girl named Tsira. The mission: to protect her as she heads south--for what reason, she refuses to say. On their travels, Tsira and Octras meet Shenra, a healer with a penchant for honesty, and Jake, a boy who wields his tongue a little too liberally, though he has a good heart and a love for swordplay disproportionate to his skills. As it becomes clear that Tsira's quest is not unrelated to a past Octras would prefer to forget, he faces a choice: Will he confront his past failures, and ultimately overcome them, or succumb to despair and misery? It is entirely possible that the fate of the world, or at least Octras's corner of it, may depend on his answer."

Anyway, I spent some time looking up this game, Mimana IYAR Chronicle, and as it turns out, the game isn't like my book beyond this snippet. And it's supposedly a failure. Its ratings are really low, the gameplay is considered tedious, and the story apparently falls flat. But it got my attention, so...

Similar stories could be applied to many of the ideas I (and my younger siblings) have come up with. The character Tibblz from my TimiThy story (you know, from the first grade) was almost a perfect match with J.K. Rowling's Tonks. My little brother thinks up Rowan of Fire, and next thing we know, we see Rowan of Rin at the library.**

We joke that someone with brain cameras is stealing our ideas, but honestly, is there anything original anymore? Has this ever happened to you?

-Tsira

*Going into a game store is exhausting in much the same way as going into a book store. It's partly because I want them all, and I know I can't afford any of them. I mean, we can afford like $50 a month for that stuff. That's only ONE game. And right now, we're waiting for Skyward Sword.

**Rowan of Rin has very little to do with my brother's idea, and was published before then, but I was just talking about the shock of finding a coincidental resemblance here. At the time we discovered the book, we freaked out. I was only ten.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Newness

It's been a pretty crazy week. Between teaching, getting spit out of my hair, celebrating a wedding anniversary, visiting art galleries, fixing Jaron's haircut, browsing for Halloween costumes, trying to beat those stupid red chocobos (curse you, Final Fantasy Tactics!), attending writing group meetings, and many other things, I've written a few new scenes.

For me, this is a totally different style. I haven't written much from Tsira's perspective, since Tsirash takes place entirely from Octras's POV, and finally getting into her head is so strange. It's kind of like visiting my seventeen-year-old self, who had a pretty depressing, hateful thought process. But I have to balance that tension with her sensitive side so that she doesn't come across as, as my friend Nikki put it, a heartless b****. 

I have a lot of practicing to do. 

-Tsira

Oh, and by the way--Jaron, I love you. :) Happy anniversary, angel.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Three Types of Stories

They say there are two types of stories: character-driven and plot-driven. But, being a fan of fantasy and science fiction, I suggest that there is a third--world-driven.

While every novel should be some combination of the three, most writers tend to favor one over the other two. I've stated my preference before; I love books that are primarily about the characters. But what kind of story do you favor? Where should you begin when you write? Do you draw up a character, a world to populate, or a fantastic adventure?

Character-Driven Stories

My ideas generally spawn from ideas for characters, and ways to make them interact. My first novel, Tsirash, relies heavily on the relationship between Octras and Tsira. They are foils for each other, "mirror characters" who handle similar circumstances in different ways--and different circumstances in similar ways. While the plot and world are interesting, the focus is on the characters.

If the story consists mostly of internal conflict or dealing with relationships (and I mean all relationships, not just romantic ones), you are probably reading/writing a character-driven story.

Examples of character-driven stories:

Plot-Driven Stories

My little sister and I once worked together on a story called "TimiThy" (although we later decided it was a stupid name). The story had a specific goal: kill the villain, Mr. G.(Gladiator), and restore the kingdom of the Fairies. While we had some fun characters, Timi and her friends were really just along for the ride, doing what was necessary for the plot to advance. 

Whatever the goal may be (getting the Holy Grail, rescuing the princess, or achieving enlightenment), if it takes center stage, it's a plot-driven story.

Examples of plot-driven stories:

World-Driven Stories
Dave, a friend from one of my writing groups, cannot say that he has people living in his head the way I do, nor can much of his writing fall under the plot-driven story. You see, Dave's specialty is world-building. His science fiction creations often revolve around ideas of virtual space, countries where video games affect the real world, and theories of quantum mechanics. And that's perfectly fine--in fact, it has worked for many, many authors. There are lots of readers who love nothing more than delving into another world for the possibilities it presents.

Science fiction, and its sister, fantasy, are the rulers of the world-driven story. I listed Lord of the Rings as plot, but it could just as easily fit here. J.R.R. Tolkien was a master of world-building and languages; writers and game creators almost always draw from the mythology he created for their fantasy. Even I am using the race "Elf" in my book (although the similarities between my Elves and his are few).

When the mechanics of the world are explained in great detail, even to the point of halting the plot, the story is a world-driven one.

Examples of world-driven stories:

What kind of story do you like the most, or the least? (Any other thoughts about these three types of stories are always welcome. I love hearing from you!)

-Tsira

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Getting Around Writer's Block

In recent months I've heard a great deal about writer's block. I'm sure that all of you have at some point felt it--your drive just isn't there, or if it is, the words you're searching for can't seem to be found. But what can you do to overcome it?

1. Write. I've heard this advice countless times. When you've written yourself into a corner, write your way out of it. Actually, all other solutions are pointless unless you write. If you're stuck on one scene, try writing another scene and coming back to it later. You may also want to backtrack and try the previous scene again. Maybe you can't do that. Well, then, you'll write a different book, or if you must, write about a completely different topic.

2. Brainstorm with a close friend. I struggled with a scene last week because I can't write about nothing. It bores me. While I knew I needed a scene between point A and point B, all I knew about it was that it had to show the relationship between two characters. There was no conflict, however, and when I realized this I tried to solve the problem on my own. I had no ideas. So I asked my husband, Jaron, to help me. He gave me a simple suggestion that spurred my imagination again: "Do they celebrate birthdays in your world?"

The answer was no, but that prompted more questions: What do they celebrate? Would there be some kind of festival at this time? What would it be for? Would they give gifts? What kind of things might they give as presents? Having a second mind was just what I needed.

3. Read. You may find the answers you're looking for are right under your nose. Books, poems, critiques, articles, blog posts, research... there's so much in the world to be studied. Chances are, one of those things will ignite your interest in your writing. 

4. Go outside. I know how easy it is to relax in your jammies and just eat cereal. But leaving the comfort of your home is essential if you're going to write anything. Why? There are so many things that you can't have from your seat in front of the computer screen; the sights, scents, sounds, tastes, touches, and emotions that make up your experiences will shape your writing, in whatever form that may be. 

Go to a museum, or a park, or a restaurant. Enjoy life. Soak up that information, and then use it. Take a notebook with you wherever you go, and write your thoughts down. It's simple and effective.

5.  Imagine the problem as an obstacle you can overcome. Jaron once told me that he imagines a little samurai slicing up his fears like they're made of paper. This can apply to your writing, too--and in a strange way, it works. I've fired catapults at imaginary fortresses, pretended flight or invisibility, and punched holes through 'impenetrable' armor. It's a temporary solution, but if it's the kick in the rear you need, go for it.

I've used all five of these things at one point, and they've always worked for me. But if there's any others that work for you, feel free to comment and I may include your solution in a future post. 

-Tsira

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Great News

Yes, exactly that. I come bearing great news!

A new site for writers, called inkPageant, has launched!

inkPageant is an easy-to-use writer's reference, aggregator, and search engine. Having the pleasure of joining the site before its official launch today, I see huge potential for this site. I have already enjoyed exploring the posts on inkPageant a dozen times, lapping up the information from both professionals and hopefuls like me. And with your help, this could be the #1 place for writers from around the world. 

Right now the site holds about a hundred blurbs, all linked to writing ideas, tips, and reviews... and guess what? You can be a part of it for free. You can share your ideas, your tips, and your reviews. For their launch, inkPageant is even holding a contest for a $50 Amazon gift card, where the writing posts you share become your entries.

--

I also have some great news about my writing--I sent off my first batch of queries yesterday. From one time-efficient agent I already received a reply: "No, thank you."

Polite, sweet, short. Rejected. 

Yay. I think I'm going to print it out and hang it on my wall. (I'm being serious here. I'm not disappointed or angry; in fact, I'm just thrilled to receive such a prompt response.)

-Tsira

Monday, October 3, 2011

Concise, Character-Driven Stories

I know, I know, you think I'm a slacker because I haven't posted anything. And in a way I guess that's true. Work leaves me stressed and tired, and keeping up with everything I enjoy is very difficult. I think I have too many hobbies.

But writing takes up most of my time. Most of the hours I spend on the internet are for precious networking and research. This weekend alone I spent over twelve hours researching queries, synopses, outlines, agencies, and agents. And how many agents did I end up with? Eight. Sure, it's easy to look up agencies. The Writer's Market helps with the basics, but even using that, finding someone who would enjoy my particular style took a lot of time.

I'll make this clear now: I love fantasy--but while I love exploring worlds, that is not the only purpose of a book. To me, a good story must first and foremost be about people. Elves, Drow, Na'vi, whatever you call them, a story needs interesting characters. My favorite book right now, Inkdeath, is centered around diverse but realistic people; Dustfinger in particular is so interesting to follow as he struggles against the roles assigned to them. My favorite video game, Majora's Mask, forces Link to relive the same 3 days over and over again, living in a beautiful but sad place where all the citizens are trying to cope with the prospect of imminent death. Their dreams and nightmares, successes and failures, become his purpose.

Hand in hand with my love of people is my love of concise language. Fantasy is often full of florid descriptions, which sometimes bores me to a stupor. The best way I can think to present my idea is through comparing it to poetry. Using vivid, tight language will get your point across in a much better way. While you could string any words together to make a poem:

I like to read a lot; reading is awesome and fun.
I curl up in a corner, getting ready,
then soak up every little part because my mind is like a sponge for words.
I feel a sort of aching in my chest because I love it so much.
I go to a different place in the story; I am no longer me, but the people of the book.

(Bored? I was... I couldn't continue to write this.)
Carefully choosing your words will strengthen every aspect of your writing.

Out of curiosity I grasp the giant book.
My fingers start to trace
The letters black and smudged. As I begin to look,
I’m in another place.

The words flow with such eloquence, the paragraphs with grace,
And I, in reverence rare,
Wander to a corner, finding my own space,
For this I cannot share.

I have never been so ready, never so engaged.
My body starts to chill.
My mind enraptured, focused, devours every page.
My eyes cannot stay still.

Until into reality I step, I’ll stay right here.
A world of fantasy
Awaits my anxious heart. The story whispering near
Is beckoning to me.

I included these two points in each query letter. I'll be sending those off tomorrow or the next day after I get some feedback on my synopsis. Hopefully there won't be too many major problems with it... I'm off to edit it now. Wish me luck!

-Tsira

PS. The poem at the end is titled "Reading" and was first published by me in 2008. It can also be found here.