29 August 2020

Today's Writers #Ask

Photo by hannah grace on Unsplash

Today's post prompts come from the tumblr of author Amanda Witow

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The Basics

1.     Do you listen to music when you write?

Not all the time, but when I need to build atmosphere I listen to film, anime, and video game soundtracks. 

2.     Are you a pantser or plotter?

I was always a pantser but I have since graduated to plantser -- a plotter that allows opportunity to pants a text where needed. That's my personal definition of it, anyway. 

3.     Computer or pen and paper?

I do research with pencil and paper in a notebook and then I draft with my computer. 

4.     Have you ever been published, or do you want to be published?

I have published a few poems in literary magazines. I want to publish my novels. I keep going back and forth between self-publishing and traditional publishing. I think my eventual goal is to be a hybrid publisher where I do a little of both. Honestly, though, self-publishing to my personal standards is really freaking expensive, and I'm poor. So I think starting out trying to get traditionally published first is the way to go. 

5.     How much writing do you get done on an average day?

Ha. Ha. HA HA HA. According to Pacemaker my average is 1300+ words a day but I can tell you right off the bat this is skewed. More days that not I write nothing. Here's a graph of my progress since I started drafting...and the first day was my logging of the total amount of words I already had, so this is driving up my number.

My lack of progress via Pacemaker

6.     Single or multiple POV?

In terms of reading, there were a couple books that had multiple POVs that I thought pulled it off really well. My first encounter with it was with Susan Kay's Phantom, and she labeled each chapter with a character name and then you got their first-person POV. I really enjoyed it. But as far as writing goes, this strikes me as pretty difficult to pull off, so I'm going with single POV. Maybe when my skills develop in the future I can try multiple POV, but it seems like you have to be a master plotter to pull it off, pulling all the character threads together, so I probably would be reluctant to do more than two or three in a single book. 

7.     Standalone or series?

Overall, I'm going with standalones. Publishing in any form can be fickle, and with writing a series there's always a risk that due to low sales or other issues beyond the author's control, the continuation gets scrapped. As a reader (or sometimes viewer of TV shows), it always bummed me out to be left hanging with a compelling story getting cancelled. As a writer, I don't want this to happen to my readers, so I want to write standalones. However, The Name and the Key has a companion novel, The Step and the Walk, but my goal is to write both as standalones so anyone can come into the duology without having read the other book and still be able to follow what is happening. I had an idea for a third book, The Eye and the Storm, but I don't think that's going to happen anymore because I can't come up with a plot to justify a third book.

8.     Oldest WIP

Officially? The Name and the Key. I decided to rewrite it from the ground up. Its first completed form as a graduate thesis was in 2013, but now that I'm doing the whole thing over again, that makes it my oldest WIP at a whopping ten years... because I first started writing it in 2010. Yikes. The problem is I've paused it in order to write Son of the Siren so this baby is probably going to be a fifteen-year draft or so. I could give up on it but I created a character I love and Andresh needs his story, dammit!

Page 1 of the 2013 iteration of Son of the Siren.
9.     Current WIP

My current WIP is Son of the Siren. It's at 126 pages...but this WIP has also been going on for quite a long time because it started out as a comic at first around 2013. I got through the cover and the first page and found it way too difficult to continue in its iteration as a graphic novel, so I gave up and decided to rewrite it as a novel. Making it into a novel started around 2017. I write SO SLOWLY. 😭

10.  Do you set yourself deadlines?

I tried to do monthly deadlines with Son of the Siren and failed. I have an overall deadline of October 29, 2020 for me to finish my first draft but at the rate I'm going, I don't see this happening, especially with some upcoming issues I'm seeing with the plot. I have a plot outline but I'm not sure how to get to these key pieces in the story, and that's what's taking forever. 


The Specifics

11.  Books and/or authors who influenced you the most

I've answered variations of these questions in different #ask posts, so I'm just going to single out one author. Juliet Marillier wrote Daughter of the Forest, a retelling of the fairy tale "The Wild Swans." In fact, Tor.com listed it as a notable retelling in this article here complete with four other notable versions. Anyway, I read this novel when I was a freshman in college. I want to adapt fairy tales, the stories that shaped my life and my love of fantasy, and how she did it made me count Marillier as writing role model. 

12.  Describe your perfect writing space

A beautiful desk with room for books and pieces of art and knick knacks to inspire me. My desk in Japan is very much my perfect writing space, except the desk is too low (as in I'm too tall) so my knees bum into it a lot. I alternate between my writing shrine and my folding table I use to eat. 

13.  Describe your writing process from idea to polished

OMG. I don't think I know how to do this. I'll try to talk you through the process for Son of the Siren. The general idea pops into my head at first: "A fairy tale that combines elements of other fairy tales and weaves them together." Then I make a list of my favorite fairy tales, including some lesser-known stories. In no particular order, I've got Donkeyskin, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, the Wild Swans, and in the process of writing even more may come up in the rest of the text. Then I started coming up with names of characters and places, and then had to come up with my own cosmology/mythology to explain the magic system in the story. Then I start drafting, doing additional research along the way. 

The most difficult part for me is writing beginnings, so I do get beta readers to look at the opening, then I try to knock through the rest of the book without having additional readers until it's done. With Son of the Siren, though, I've been a bit more self-conscious with it and have some self-doubt, so I've asked for more people to read it before it's finished than I usually do. After I finish drafting Son of the Siren I'll sit on it for a few days to a few weeks, print the whole thing out, directly write changes on the manuscript, and hop into the post to retype. I have a crappy memory so I often edit as I write if I know bigger changes are needed. Every single writer manual says that you should not do this, but I can't help myself. Anyway, after I make my changes, I plan on hiring a beta reader or two before submitting to agents for representation.

14.  How do you deal with self-doubts?

OMG #2. I'm embarrassed to say this but I need to seek validation from outside sources. Writing this all out, I see a lot of unhealthy behaviors in my process, especially caring so much about what others think, but this is how I've always operated and I don't know how to change myself. 

15.  How do you deal with writer’s block?

To be honest, I do stop writing, as you can see from my Pacemaker progress. But when I'm really desperate, I try to watch TV that looks and feels like my own writing (especially if it's heavy on costumes and set design), or I immerse myself in music that makes me think of the story I want to tell. For example, Son of the Siren isn't clearly set in a specific time period, but I'm taking a lot of clothing descriptions from the reign of Henry the VII and Queen Elizabeth. So if I'm blocked, I pop on The Tudors or Lady Jane or Elizabeth or Wolf Hall and let myself get sucked into the designs of the period. I don't think my readers will be able to tell that I'm talking about a pseudo-16th century unless they are very, very familiar with clothing terms, but as long as they are able to see that the story is "once upon a time, long ago," I'll be happy. 

16.  How many drafts do you need until you’re satisfied with a project?

I will write as many drafts as it takes until I'm happy. I save all original versions in case I need to go back to something I previously wrote, but I basically am running at version 11.4.2 ...and I just realized my numbering system doesn't exactly make sense, but oh well. 

17.  What writing habits or rituals do you have?

Back in America I used to stick a hat on my head while I was writing, most commonly one of those sea captain/cadet caps. In Japan I don't have a neat writing hat like that (my sun hats are ginormous) so I often just tie my hair back. I wonder why I do this.

18.  If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be, and what would you write about?

Knowing my personality, I realistically do not think I could collaborate with anyone. I'm really picky and sometimes a little pushy if I have a specific outcome in mind, and I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings or take away what they want, so I think it's better if I just work alone. 

Lirien from Son of the Siren (c) Lauren Walsh.
19.  How do you keep yourself motivated?

It's pretty much the same answer to the writer's block question...but I also do an extra step, which is hire authors to make character art. The work they produce intensely motivates me. For example, Lauren Walsh's art of Lirien for Son of the Siren will motivate me for months to come. She really went above and beyond with an absolutely beautiful piece and I can't thank her enough for her work. 

20.  How many WIPs and story ideas do you have?

Including Son of the Siren I have five books in my head or on paper. 

The Favourites

21.  Who is/are your favourite character(s) to write?

Andresh from The Name and the Key and The Step and the Walk; and Lirien from Son of the Siren has been an absolute joy to work with. I also have a lot of fun writing siblings and showing their loving relationship with the lead characters.

22.  Who is/are your favourite pairing(s) to write?

Lily and Andresh are my power couple. 

23.  Favourite author

If I had to single it down to one, it would be Juliet Marillier for writing Daughter of the Forest. 

24.  Favourite genre to write and read

Fantasy

25.  Favourite part of writing

Character creation

26.  Favourite writing program

I've been using Novel Factory to help me plot and that's been pretty fun! 

27.  Favourite line/scene

"If there's no difference between above and below, and all and one are exactly the same, then anything is possible." -- Andresh from The Name and the Key

28.  Favourite side character

In The Name and the Key it's Lily's sister Lainey; in Son of the Siren it's Kitra. 

29.  Favourite villain

In The Step and the Walk I created a villain named Sebastien Arvensy and he's been fun to write. 

30.  Favourite idea you haven’t started on yet

Kill It With Fire, which is clearly influenced by my love of Japanese anime, about demons from the Lesser Key of Solomon and similar demonology books summoned to fight a great, apocalyptic evil. 

The Dark

31.  Least favourite part of writing

The plot! It's sooooo difficult to come up with enough things for my characters to do!

32.  Most difficult character to write

In Son of the Siren, it's Kitra. Kitra is a fox spirit who shape shifts and I am having a hard time justifying why they change forms aside from a generic "I just feel like it 'cause it's fun." Plus, it's the whole thing with plot -- giving them enough stuff to do for reasons that are reasonable.

33.  Have you ever killed a main character?

In my play In the Hands of Mr. Hyde, Dr. Jekyll kills himself. This will probably be the only time I kill a main character. I don't like doing it. 

...Maybe in Kill It With Fire it would happen, but at the moment I'm really not pushing for it.

34.  What was the hardest scene you ever had to write?

In The Name and the Key, it was this stupid accident with a horse bucking and throwing my characters from it. I had watched videos of people getting up from being thrown off a horse, and some even being rolled while still attached to the saddle, but even with all this, the scene was not convincing enough for my mentor and crit partners in terms of the injuries sustained and how it even happened. I think I rewrote that scene four or five times. It was so difficult!

In Son of the Siren, I'm in it right now. I have my characters transported to a mysterious castle in the middle of nowhere overrun by thorny vines (sound familiar?) and I'm trying to combine elements of Sleeping Beauty and Beauty and the Beast with this castle while at the same time making the scenes creepy and enticing at the same time, and wow, this is challenging!

35.  What scene/story are you least looking forward to writing?

In Son of the Siren, I know I'm going to struggle with the last act of the story...not just the ending itself but the penultimate task the characters have to face in order to solve their problem. There's a big reveal during this part of the story that I'm not sure how to pull off or again, justify. I'm not looking forward to this section even though I mostly know what should happen. The getting there is the hard part. 

The Fun

36.  Last sentence you wrote

"The armor the guards wore looked old; likewise, the remains of tattered clothing that poked out of each seemed dated by a hundred years or more."

37.  First sentence or your current WIP

"Late on the night of Lirien’s eighteenth birthday, his father walked into the sea."

38.  Weirdest story idea you’ve ever had

I came up with an idea for a Southern Gothic necromantic musical with characters named Doc Carrion and Marie Tourniquet. It was basically about reanimated corpses/ghosts putting on a carnival-like show. No real plot whatsoever; just a big danse macabre.

39.  Weirdest character concept you’ve ever had

In Kill It With Fire the main demon is Pruflas and his "human" identity is Lucien Pruflas. He has memories of being flame outside of Babel and I acknowledge his many animal/hybrid versions of himself. I also plan on having him being a seductive romantic lead. The only problem is his name is similar to Lirien from Son of the Siren, gahh! But I really like how "Lucien Pruflas" rolls off the tongue (if I'm even saying the name right. My head says it like Looshie-en Proof-luss and that might not be how you pronounce the demon's name. If it's something like Pruff-luss I'll scream). 

40.  Share some backstory for one of your characters

Lirien is a bastard son of King Neven, and his mother is a mysterious siren who, after eighteen years, calls his father into the sea. Lirien uses the siren song to try to bring his father back, but as he is half-human, the magic backfires, and he accidentally bewitches the first person who hears it -- his stepmother, the Queen. The Queen will stop at nothing to possess Lirien, even if it means sacrificing the ones she loves most.

...This became less of a backstory and more of an elevator pitch, lol.

The Rest of It

41.  Any advice for new/beginning/young writers?

Do what's right for you and don't worry about how everyone else does it. To paraphrase my mentor Tim Waggoner, "don't fight your process."

42.  How do you feel about love triangles?

Mehhhhhhhhhhhh not a fan. I have something close to one where Lily's sister crushes on Andresh, but it's a youthful crush and the feelings are definitely not returned. So it's more like two lovers with a third party trying and failing to invade. 

43.  What do you do if/when characters don’t follow the outline?

I let them go where they want to. 

44.  How much research do you do?

Tons of research ALL THE TIME, even in the middle of drafting.

45.  How much worldbuilding do you do?

I do as much as needs to be done to appear in the story. I don't want to overdo it (like creating encyclopedias or tons of maps or anything like that) because I don't want to infodump. It's important that readers only know just what they need to know for the story to make sense.

46.  Do you reread your own stories?

Yes. Obsessively. It's how I find out what's wrong with them. 

47.  Best way to procrastinate

Streaming!

48.  What’s the most self-insert character/scene you’ve ever written?

I'm super embarrassed but the character Emma in my musical Melancholia was supposed to be a bit of a self-insert and...it's just so wrong. I look back and she's not even me. She's more like a bit of what has happened to me and she was my way to process that. 

...I never want to do self-inserts or "based on real-life" plot points ever again. I didn't realize at the time that using my writing to process such things can actually be harmful.


49.  Which character would you most want to be friends with, if they were real?

When I was a ballet dancer growing up I wanted to be friends with the girls from the Bad News Ballet books. These were from the 1990s and was kind of like the babysitter's club in terms of girls being friends in a group with different personalities. My favorite book was when the girls were cast as dancers in the musical The King and I. I just wanted to be friends with this group so badly -- they seemed like so much fun!

50.  [Other question—ask me anything]

Feel free to comment, or answer some of these questions yourself below!

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