Sunday, March 29, 2015

A Twist in the Tale

I don't like history.

There's not really a logical reason.  I'm not good at absorbing old facts and even worse at numbers.  I know history is important and it's not like I don't know anything about it, it was just always the hardest thing for me to do.  Numbers aren't my friends.  We have a mutual respect for each other and try not to interact anymore than humanly possibly. I've never been into math, I've always been into words.  

This being the case, it is complete craziness that I've taken on the book I'm writing

I'm writing a retelling of the Arthurian legend. Not a Arthurian legend, mind you.  The Arthurian legend.  It's a project I took out of love and one I'm living to regret.  I'm not a history buff.  My internet tab consist of Pinterest eye makeup tutorials and blogs written by history nerds.  Granted, my book has a sci-fi angle to it so I have some leeway but certainly not as much as I'd like.  For instance, if I was writing the true legend, my main character wouldn't even be able to understand what the people of Camelot were saying.  The English people in the six hundreds spoke an offshoot Celtic language, something no English speaking person today would ever understand. For those interested and wondering about the crest at the top, it's a concept drawing of the first known documented crest of Arthur Pendragon.

To add to the craziness, I have a main character who isn't a lot like me.  She doesn't talk a lot (I do!), she's a peacemaker, willing to be thought of badly as long as it means keeping others happy (definitely not me), and she's really smart.  I'm not a dummy but I won't even try to compete with the smarts of my main character.  I'm a writer who doesn't like history and numbers writing about a girl who loves them both. 

Along with these difficulties, I hit a bit of a snag. 

My main character was put in a situation which filled a few chapters of my manuscript and influenced the rest of the story.  The situation wasn't working out and it was limiting the places she needed to be.  For the last week I've laid awake in bed at night, trying to figure out how to make it work.  Yesterday morning (maybe a little closer to afternoon), I woke up knowing exactly what I had to do.  I needed to scrap it.  Last night I cut 12,000 words from my manuscript.  Might not sound like a lot but when I have a 40,000 word WIP, it's a chunk.  It needed to happen but it's leaving me a bit breathless moving forward.  I'm going to have to put in a lot of work to stay on schedule to finish, something I've let slip a bit this week.  Every two weeks I have to submit a chapter of this book to my critique group so I've been working overtime on getting it to a place where my critique partners can at least understand what I'm talking about!

Despite my fears, I can tell the story is already tighter.  I have to finish up this blog post to get back to it.  I'm in the middle of the scene where Gwen meets Guinevere for the first time!

- Anna Leigh

Friday, March 20, 2015

Writing a Legend

I've been faithfully working on my manuscript every day though unfortunately, due to the business of an average day, I'm only getting about 1,000 words written.  If I stick to a thousand words a day, I should be done with the first draft some time the end of April, beginning of June.

I took a break today though to write about one of my biggest problems.

If you've read any of my previous blog posts, you'll know my current WIP is a retelling of the Arthurian legend.  I'm not a historian or even a super fan, I just find the original legends interesting.  Several of the characters in Camelot come from the legends, with me throwing little tidbits of their original characters into the mix of my new creation.  It's worked out really well so far with one exception.  Arthur.

In lots of the retellings, I hate Arthur.  He's a creep of the major kind and not the saintly king he's made out to be in the original legends.  I didn't even want to read most of it.  Needless to say, with a teeny tiny bit of help from the original legend, I wanted to write Arthur my own way.  The thing is, the fear of drawing a historical hero is more daunting then I would've imagined.

I've written scenes with the other knights like Kay and Gawain.  I've even written scenes with Merlin.  It's a bit weird at times but when I get to Arthur, I freeze up.  I scrutinize every word he says, every action he does, every expression he gives.  I'm not making him my character, I'm trying to rewrite what someone else already did.

I've considered a few fixes.  Maybe giving him a different name until I'm done writing at which time I'll use the find and replace and replace "Bob" with "Arthur".  I know, it sounds silly, but I have to find the right names for my characters or I can't even write them.  Of course, Bob isn't very inspiring.  Don't think I could write a main character with that name.  Sorry to all the Bobs out there!

The most logical next step seems to be doing a really indepth character sheet on Arthur.  I may be including things from the original Arthur but this isn't the original Arthur.  This is my Arthur and I can do what I want with him.

I'll post on my progress in the next few weeks.  I've spent all morning trying to identify my problem and now I have to go do something about it!

-Anna Leigh

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

What Makes A Person

It doesn't take a professional to identify my writing weaknesses. I tell instead of showing, my plots have big holes in them, the plot twists are relatively easy to see coming, my world building is weak, and I can't write deep characters. I've scratched the surface of the how-to in the writing world and I could think of those five weaknesses off the top of my head. If I wanted to be here all day, I could detail my weaknesses. The hard part is finding out what I'm actually good at.

I'm obsessed with people. I watch them, question their motives, eavesdrop on their conversations, and generally make the kind of judgments I hope no one else would make about me. Part of my love for people watching came from writing and part of my love for writing came from liking people watching so much. At thirteen and fourteen, I went through this phase where I'd sit on the front porch and watch the neighbors. I owned a ton of notebooks and had started filling them with my stories. Sitting on the sun warmed concrete of the little porch, I'd watch the neighbors and make little notes about them. It was weird and earned me a lot of teasing but I enjoyed it a lot. I made up all sorts of stories revolving around the different people I saw and used them for my books. 

Yes, you can totally judge me. I know I'm weird.

If this were a great success story, I'd end it with saying that's how I became an amazing writer and how I can build such great characters. Unfortunately, all that habit earned me was an insane curiosity about what those people were actually like and little to no improvements in my character building ability. At thirteen, I didn't think you even had to do character building in a story. I mean, why would that be important? 

Anyway, this all ties in to my current problem.When writing a first draft, I don't worry too much about my inability at world building or plot holes. I focus on getting my thoughts written out in a mostly concise manner and getting to the end. It's rough, ugly, and sometimes frustrating. But in order to have a good, solid story, you need to start somewhere. 

Looking at my weaknesses, I've identified the one that bugs me the most. The fact that my characters all feel shallow and very similar. 

I've written before about my fear of writing guys in my books. I'm always afraid they're going to seem as unrealistic as several male characters I've read in other women's writing. I don't have that fear anymore. I write guys all the time. Unfortunately, the lack of depth in my characters is a much bigger problem. 

I didn't know until two years ago that people put so much into developing their characters. I mean, they're a pretty important part of having a good book. Some may argue the most important part. A lame plot can scrape by with good characters. A strong plot isn't going to be much if you have a main character who's shallower than a puddle. 

For Only Human, I dabbled in character profiles and finding out true motivations. My current WIP is ten times harder.

Gwen lives in an abusive home situation, has abandonment issues, blames herself for the things wrong around her, and she gets transported back fourteen hundred years in time. How would she react to that? How would she make things work? What would she even say?

The things I've written about Gwen so far have read inconsistently. Sometimes she's all cowering and afraid and other times, she pulls herself together and does the hard thing. My personality is warring with how little I know about my character and it's showing. My home life couldn't be less abusive, I don't have abandonment issues, I occasionally blame myself for what's wrong around me, and I've never gone back in time. 

Now, you may ask, why I chose to write someone so different than me. Because I don't want someone like me going back in time to Camelot, I want someone like her to.

I have to know more about Gwen than whether tacos are her favorite food or not. I need to get to the root of her problems and her ambitions. I have to know her as well as I know myself. 

I put together a profile on her and every night, I enter in a bit more. I have a whole cast of characters to develop and have a profile started for almost all of them. In life, every person has their ambitions, their fears, and their inconsistencies. I'm super girly but I like playing Planet Side 2 which is a first person shooter (no, I'm not usually into video games. My brother started me on that one). To someone meeting me for the first time, they'd probably be shocked. I'm into all sorts of girly stuff, I wear makeup, I'm into music, I like bright pink and sparkles, and...I like first person shooters? To anyone who knows me better, they'll know it's not out of character at all. It's just part of what builds me into a three dimensional person and  part of what makes me interesting.

Actually, people are most surprised when they find out I'm a writer. Apparently my constant talking doesn't clue them in :).

With my character profiles, I started with the basics. Age, appearance, family. After that, I wrote any back story that came to mind, pertinent to the story or not. Truthfully, it's all pertinent. Everything about your character, whether it's liking orange nail polish or the dog they saw get run over when they were first learning to drive, builds them into something real.

I'll post a character update when I get a bit more advanced into my story and hopefully learn more about my characters.

- Anna Leigh