introducing a group, part ii

After my last post, about how to introduce several characters, and the distinctions between character and setting, I thought that I’d go visit Gav Thorp’s blog ‘Mechanical Hamster‘ and ask him if he would be willing to say a few words on the subject. I really love Gav’s advice– he writes some really excellent articles on writing tips and craft. Anyone interested in advanced creative writing should stop by and browse through the archives.

Much to my delight, Gav obliged me and wrote a long, detailed post on how to handle secondary characters that really addressed some of the problems I was having. You can find it here, and I think it’s well worth a read.

Thanks, Gav!

writing names and groups

It’s been a heck of a week! Trying to get the hang of teaching has drained me pretty dry for the last two weeks. I’m glad to report that we’re now working with code (which to me is easier to teach than history), my students look to be a fun group, with the exception of one or two of the guys who seem to be far too ‘cool’ to be taught by a hyper nerd-ette.

Which means that after two weeks of delays, it’s back to my novel, and back to thoughts on writing craft.

I remember watching old bugs bunny cartoons, and knowing what’s going to happen next, because one plank of a fence board will be a slightly different color than the others. It always annoyed me, letting one prop stand out from the others. Lately, I’ve been having the same problem in writing.

If you have a group of characters show up, how do you handle them? Do you go through the entire process of developing them? Do you name one or two, and leave the rest as blank faces? Leave them all blank, and hope that they’re still important?

Option 1– develop them all. It’s realistic. It brings a lot of focus on the parts of the new force, maybe even too much, detracting from the main characters and whatever else would be going on. Name them, and the reader will feel obligated to remember their names. Another advantage is that if one is utterly unimportant and another will make a huge difference later on, the device isn’t just inobvious– it doesn’t exist at all. I think this can be a good choice if introduced early into the book, or if they’re a constant presence.

Option 2– name the important ones. … I feel awkward about this method. It always seems painfully obvious who the returning characters are. Like the joke from Order of the Stick, “They won’t survive! They don’t even have names!” (link). It’s less weird if the main character has a reason to note one out of the group, say they’re looking at a girl he likes, or if something they do stands out. But that’s interaction as an individual, not as a part of the group.

Option 3– name no one. Make them all faceless. Last summer, I attended a fantasy-sci-fi conference in Spokane. One of the panels I attended included Timothy Zahn, of Star Wars fame, discussing villains in stories, and we made a comment that a lack of familiarity with the villain, not understanding who he is or his motivation makes said character less of a villain and more of a force of nature. Of course, this might be easier when you’re working with stormtroopers.

These are the techniques that come immediately to mind… but here’s what I want.

I want an immediate impression of a group as a whole. I want to be aware of the characters in a vague light, as tertiary characters ought to be seen, but ready to pop out, without being obvious which one will be used for plot, yet supported and foreshadowed.

Any thoughts on this?

mid-way blues– an adventure in writing

So, my last post about being slowed down at the end of writing a novel didn’t get the responses that I thought it would. I expected thoughts on procrastination and being a perfectionist. Instead, everyone else seems to hate middles.

They’re not alone. I remember that Steve Malley wrote a post about how much he hates middles (and preceding it, another post about how to get through that middle).

I remember once having trouble getting through the middle of my book. The first two drafts of Blue Crystal might have sunk the book if it weren’t for friends that talked me through the plot points. The middle of this draft gave me no trouble at all.

Personally, I think it’s because of the type of book that I’m writing. Even so, I thought I’d share what I’ve done, in case it helps anyone else out.

Halfway through Blue Crystal, a man is executed because of the heroine. Someone that she had decided not to trust because he was keeping secrets from her. The heroine is attacked, the hero goes out for revenge (not successful). A crooked judge is brought to light, and the king’s lenders are angry. There’s simply no time here to let the plot sag– there’s far too much going on. (And that’s less than half of the events in those middle pages.

When writing teachers diagram plot, they tend to use a rising mountain, a sharp climax, and then a drop off that curves to a nice resolution. It looks like this:


With no offense intended to creative writing teachers everywhere, this diagram really never did it for me. These were characters and situations that you cared about– not a graph of overall anxiety. And from a compositional standpoint, one has to wonder if this chart is even misleading.

Instead of thinking of the story as a mountain hike, I think it does better if seen as a series of beginnings and endings. One problem is resolved, and another rears its nasty head. One character takes an interest in one aspect of their troubles, another looks elsewhere. Perhaps both are aspects of the same source. Maybe they’re unrelated, but the conflict of interest between characters creates a new conflict.

Something more like this.

Try not having a middle. Try having little climaxes everywhere.

new query letter!

I’m just about to finish up chapter seven– six more to go, but I’ve been having trouble motivating myself to finish the last thousand words before I get to the fun, violent part of the book.

So instead, I took a break to write a new query letter (minus the boring title-genre parts). I think they’re getting better; feel free to tell me if I’m completely deluded. 😀


In Marla, wars are fought with assassins, not armies.

The duke of Marla’s northern providence had been in the king’s disfavor since the duke married the king’s sister. The king’s opinion worsened when the duchess died suddenly and without explanation.

Duchess-to-be Wyrren Jadis is the king’s niece, but very much her father’s daughter: honorable, unsubtle, and with a firm sense of duty. Twelve years after her mother’s death, the king uses a mounting revolt on Jadis lands as an excuse to have his niece kidnapped and brought to his underground city of Vastii, which struggles to recover from plague, famine, and violent objections to their unfair monarch. Armed with a formal education, a specialty in a non-combative magic, three talented maids, and a high-ranking slave, Wyrren isn’t quite prepared to be her father’s assassin. But the king means to use Wyrren to accuse the duke of murder regardless of guilt, and he isn’t above making examples of her maids, or her slave, the man she secretly loves.

In the deepest tunnels of Vastii, far from the palace gentry, red crosses are drawn in chalk where effects of the plague have been seen. Wyrren’s slave is also a doctor, accustomed to slums, and has evidence to support a friend’s theory that this plague might have been started intentionally months before their arrival, and not by the king.

end of november

… And the beginning of December.

NaNoWriMo. It actually seemed to get easier, since last year. Not working full-time probably had something to do with that. I laughed, I cried, I killed off large portions of my cast. At one point I realized that I’d started a chapter wrong, and instead of erasing, put in a page break, wrote ‘chapter six’ over again (still haven’t titled that one) and started it again.

It seemed to have turned out alright, though.

All that work, paid off in the end.

Fifty thousand words. That’s half the size of your typical fantasy novel. And it’s half of mine; I need to finish.

Instead of officially joining NaNoFiMo (National Novel Finishing Month), I’ll be holding the same pace through December. Since I’ve figured out that it’s the personal graph that keeps me going, I’ve recreated the NaNo graphic in Photoshop to reflect December as well. My absent status in the blogging world will continue… but I’ll be back for the new year.

NaNoFiMo Count

How’d the rest of you do?

checking in

By tonight, I’ll be at or above 35,000 words on my novel, roughly 1400 from where I’m standing now. I’m frequently a bit below par, but I blame that to writing late at night, past the midnight line. I’m not dead, just very, very focused. Sorry I haven’t been around a lot!

I’ve said this before, but I think I need to say it again. Complete rewrites are beautiful, wonderful things. They’re a lot, a lot of work, but the improvement to the plot and composition are fabulous, and well worth it.

Since I’m finally very happy with my plot and the balance between characters, I’m going to keep up my NaNo pace through December (I’ve heard of a NaNoFiMo– National Novel Finishing Month– next month). Depending on how long this new draft takes me, I’ll be done a little before or a little after the new year.

So, based on that, January through March are going to be editing and revising months. I’ll start agent-shopping this April.

Wish me luck!

almost on schedule

In other news, it appears that I’m not dead. 🙂

It’s been a hectic few weeks, leaving the story virtually untouched as the house gets remodeled. It’s hard to think about writing in a house mostly lacking heat, not to mention the predominant smell of fresh paint and a roofer tromping back and forth directly above one’s head. The wrong carpet was ordered (we’ve got our furniture on pressboard), which means that everything gets moved out of the carpeted rooms and back in again as of a week from today. I have also refrained from blogging about off-topic adventures, such as ‘My car protests the northern Idaho cold’, or ‘Why is the cat in the duct work?’, and “Haha, let’s not try to transport drywall on top of the car again’.

We have three and a half days until November 1st. Despite all these little adventures, I’ve been getting ready for NaNoWriMo. I even suspect that taking this month off to do so much distracting house work was good for me. My mom contends that truly excellent fiction is written by people who have experience in real-life situations and relationships, that pure escapism deadens even the most poetic prose. I’m not sure if that’s entirely it (reading and writing often helps), but I wouldn’t discount the thought.

Note to self: get a life.

I’ll see you guys in November!

starting the 3rd draft

I’ve started the 3rd draft of Blue Crystal today.

I haven’t finished my plot-scrub. I’ve made some changes, questioned some motives, filled in several characters, but the detailed chapter-by-chapter plot lies incomplete on my notebook. I think it’s time to admit that I’m not much of a plotter. Which isn’t to say that I won’t be using all the ideas that I did come up with for those chapters.

I’m resetting the word count bar. I’m also putting up the first five hundred words in my excerpt page. Go take a look– I think this draft is already much better than the last.

(intelligent) magic

I’ve been reading through one of the Forgotten Realms series– not a particular favorite, but since D&D is a hobby of mine, and because some of the aspects of the books are interesting, I’ve been slogging through them.

One of the things that annoys me is just a little detail. Anyone familiar with the D&D magic system knows that the spells are geared to be balanced game mechanics, and doesn’t really hold a lot of internal consistency, or even any economic sense. I can accept fireballs, I can accept bolts of lightening flying from wands, teleportation, shadow-stepping, slow-falls, ect.

But I can’t accept an enchanted whip.

Not just any whip, either. This whip is fashioned to have snake-creatures instead of lashes, which will occasionally speak to their wielder, warning of poison, eavesdropping, ect. And when she uses this whip, the snake heads will sink their fangs into the victim, poisoning them.

I’ve seen this whip in action for three books now. And every time the snake heads bite down, they inject poison. So you have long, extended battles with this weapon in use, and all I can think of is ‘where do they get all that poison from?’.

Since the snakes never eat, never drink, never diminish, I can only assume that they somehow repeatedly conjure poison up from nothing, expending no energy or resources to do so: a never-ending supply of venom, by nature of the design. Nothing else in the book does this. I don’t see good, cheap poison readily available. It’s a ridiculous mental image, but I keep picturing the characters getting into financial straights and trying to figure out how to milk this amazing whip.

CHARACTER: “Here, you guys each grab a head. Now, whip, when I say ‘go’, start squirting poison.”
WHIP: “F*** you.”
CHARACTER: “Hey, you always contributed this stuff before…!”
WHIP: “I demand death first. It turns me on.”
CHARACTER: “Hmm. So you’d say that you’re rather ‘limp’ right now?”
WHIP: *attempts to murder the character*
CHARACTER: *holds up the vial, tries to hide behind it* “The tube, not me, the glass tube!”

Please, fellow fantasy writers. Do not do this. Please think carefully about your magic/magical items/magical effects.