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fiction, writing

Writing process? Part two – characters

Part two Characters, who are they and how do they happen?

Some of the time my characters appear fully fleshed out and raring to go, most of the others take a little breaking out.

The hardest part for me is always naming them though. Good reference lists for names are googling baby names websites, especially for meanings. Or searching for names on pinterest – a quick search for ‘male names for romance’ for example, will bring up some names. Baby name websites, a google for ‘names which mean…’ is also useful for meaningful names.

Once I have some names, I assign a character archetype to each one. This is kind of intuitive and kind of not. I start with a Hogwarts house sorting…

For example in Rival Princes, Nate is a Gryffindor with strong Hufflepuff tendencies, and Dash is a Ravenclaw who people read as a Slytherin. This gives me a broad intersection of personality types and a springboard to more information.

Dash and Nate
Dash and Nate

Then I think about the role the character has in a story – okay, so Nate’s a Gryff in a new job, and I know he’s a natural charmer, because Dash is a hard worker who has researched and planned and strived to get where he is. The natural conflict there is that Dash feels like Nate hasn’t ‘earned’ his stripes the same way Dash has. Which is a totally normal and relatable way to feel. What does this tell us about the characters? Dash is competitive and has a bit of a chip on his shoulder. Then I ask myself, what is a good contrast to that? What if Nate was kind of oblivious to all that? What would make you oblivious? Maybe Nate just believes the best of people all the time, he’s a genuine and kind person, and he assumes the same of others.

If you’re not into Harry Potter, you can also use Horoscopes or zodiac, Myers-Briggs style personality types, oracle cards, whatever works for you.

Then I look at those characters, recognise parts of myself in both and build on those as well.

Add in some character details which I can bring depth into the characters with, working in contrasts really makes this easy. Dash is a neat freak, so Nate doesn’t really care about mess. Dash eats a healthy, well thought through and locally sources diet, Nate gets a lot of takeaways. Dash has one friend, and everyone else finds him prickly, Nate is a charmer who makes friends quickly and easily.

From there I start writing and let the characters reveal themselves as they go. I keep a document open for notes and have little profiles for each of them I can refer back to.

For characters who are harder to nail down I’ve had luck with character questionnaires before. You can find these by Googling or searching in pinterest. There are a lot of them out there, but they all seem to have questions that I wouldn’t think of otherwise, and even if the stuff you discover never ends up on the page explicitly, it might inform something.

At a recent conference I attended a panel by Jan Goldie about faceblindness and how it informs her character creation. She had folders of information with all the physical and personal details of her characters recorded to refer back to. It was like police records for each character, but included things like what their sense of humour is and who they look up to. I aspire to this level of information, but I’m not there yet.

Also….there’s nothing wrong with borrowing from other characters. Maybe your lead is partly Mr Darcy and partly Clark Kent. Maybe you want to take a tablespoon of Veronica Mars and a half cup of Tahani Al-Jamil and blend them up in a big bowl of Lisa Simpson, I dunno. I’m just saying you have permission to use characters which aren’t totally unique. Don’t copy directly – that’s gross, and people will notice – but it’s okay to make homages with some aspects of your characters.

You don’t have to be a genius Zeus plucking fully formed and utterly original new gods and goddesses out of your brain.

So, those are some of the ways I come up with characters. I also like to mooch around online and find an actor or a model who matches the basic idea of how my character looks as a reference but your mileage may vary on that one.

The point of going deep with all this stuff on your characters before you start writing is that if you know them well, then you know how they’re going to react to things. You’re going to find it easier to write their interactions and responses. That’s gotta be a good thing, right?

Next time: getting the actual writing done.

Part one

wellness, Writers, writing

Mischief and Mayhem – and editing and deadlines

In all my research about how to make money from writing, I’ve learned the term ‘rapid release‘. This term just means, don’t make readers wait an age for your next book. Put them out regularly so people can get momentum from reading one, then the next, then the next.

I figured I could do that, since I had three manuscripts already drafted* which are all in the same series and are interconnected. I had the start of the fourth book started and ideas percolating for more.

(*Careful readers will notice I said drafted and not ‘ready’)

Here’s where I risked failing: too short a time between books.

Or rather, too short a time to edit. I’m a fast editor when I have the time and the right frame of mind. And giving myself just three and a half weeks would have been fine if that had been the only thing going on in my life. As it was I went to Rarotonga for eleven days in that time, and in Rarotonga wifi is rare and expensive. We had enough to be online maybe five minutes a day, and downloading large files of edits on Google docs wasn’t an option.

Obviously it wasn’t all just on me either, my editor has a life and other demands on her which means she can’t just hand over pages when I want them – and I wouldn’t expect her to! She’s a great communicator, and we managed time frames just fine. It was just tight.

What it meant was, as soon as I got back from Rarotonga (July 17th) I treated editing as my full time job. I’d already done 50ish pages of the manuscript, so it was 130ish pages I had to get through, and my deadline was July 23rd, which was the last possible day I can upload to Amazon and not mess up the pre-order.

A tight time frame to be sure, but doable. Just not without stress. But I love my editor, she makes her corrections and notes clear and easy to understand, she gets what I’m going for, she cares about my characters and she inserts teaching moments in her comments. Seriously, it’s brilliant.

So sitting down and committing myself to editing full time was easy enough for two days until…

I got a cold.

Let me tell you the last time I had a cold… it was probably this time last year. I have largely been outside office spaces, and resting well and avoiding sickness making places, and this means I just haven’t caught colds. When you haven’t had a cold for a while, getting a cold makes you extra pathetic. Well, maybe it just does that to me.

So I was in that weird space where making myself a hot drink seems too hard, and I’m crying so hard over the new Queer Eye episodes that I can’t breathe through my nose, and my eyes hurt from behind and I’m still focusing everything I have on editing.

Oh, also I had to do a full day shift at zinefest… where I needed to be bubbly and interact with people and hold my own head up.

The good news is I got the editing done, and I’m confident that the story of Cody, the sarcastic and mischievious security guard, and Dean, the manic pixie dream boy who runs a roller coaster, is a good one. They’re sweet and funny and there’s some darkness and some triumph, and there’s two recipes in back in case anyone was curious…

and Monday was entirely spent on formatting and checking ISBNs and Anna going through and re-formatting all the text conversations by hand because you have to have those in san serif but Vellum the formatting software doesn’t handle that automatically…

But it’s all done. It’s uploaded, and as soon as I get the paperback cover from my cover artist, the paperback will be available as well and I can’t wait for people to read it!

preorder now

Order now

So my lesson is that rapid release is all well and good, but maybe be further along in the process than I was before you set up your pre-orders. Life gets in the way, and bodies are fragile. But having a good system of people around you is absolutely invaluable.

So, in conclusion, I’ve set the release date for book three to 21st of September, so instead of one month I have two months to edit and update and format and do all the things to get it ready to launch.

writing

Auckland Zinefest 2019

my table

For the third time, I attended zinefest Auckland this weekend. I love zinefest, it’s a weird mashup of brilliant artists, punks, queer kids and rich people shopping for Art. I feel a little counter-culture when I go to it, and this year I really wanted to take some paperback books with me, in case someone wanted to buy a book.

I was also sick with the first cold I’ve had all year, which wasn’t great. I’d spent the day before chugging hot drinks, napping and bundling in blankets to stay as warm as possible. On Sunday I was rocking a fever and the kind of disconnected ‘I’m in space’ feeling that comes with a fever. But I wasn’t going to miss it.

My dear friend Teresa volunteered to help out and I’m so grateful to her for that, because I don’t think I could’ve got through the day without someone to talk to and someone to send me out for food and water.

Because of said fever, I don’t have a whole lot of depth to say, but I did make some notes of some awesome encounters I had, so… here they are.

FTR the rainbow pins were my best seller – no one bought a paperback 🙂

❤ Two women with rainbow badges who were excited to see me because they have zines of mine from previous years. One of them mentioned that they keep my RPG zine Manic Pixie Dream Girl in their flat and play it regularly! I showed them the paperback books and they were so happy for me.

❤ A beautiful, shy, boy with gorgeous long hair who nodded enthusiastically when I described why I wrote the anxiety zines, and loved my stories about Mochi.

❤ A woman with a brilliant Baymax T shirt who bought my cats zine and we commiserated about how hard it was to continue to produce art. (She’s tabled at zinefest previously.)

❤ Two ladies (in their 50s or 60s?) who questioned if I was old enough to remember the 80s. (I have a ‘things I miss’ 80s time capsule zine). They asked how the zines were written and reproduced, because they were inspired to make their own.

❤ A little boy insisted his parents buy him the Monsters zine I made (a bunch of monsters I made up) after I talked to him about his pokemon cards. Half an hour later he came back to show me the monsters zine he’d made himself at the craft table downstairs.

❤ Two much older ladies (one was 82!), who took their time looking through my zines. I talked them through my games for teambuilding zine and one suggested new zines I could make, things which would appeal to kids or for grandparents to buy for their kids. Some of their ideas were brilliant so I said I’d do them for next year, and one said she’d come back to the next one to check I’d done it.

Then a couple of days later, this popped up on instagram

My plan as soon as my cold fades, is to set up an etsy store with all my zines, so they’re available year round…

wellness, writing

Author emotions around publishing

So both times I have published a book I’ve had some Pretty Big Feels over it . I’m a big believer in emotional honesty – every time I’ve shared things which make me sound weak, or an ass or are embarrassing I get really good feedback. The more people understand that they’re not alone with feeling weak, like an ass or embarrassed or anxious the better, I think.

So.

Mostly at the point my book goes live, or the night before, I get a wave of anxiety.

Where are these feelings coming from?

A lot of places.

  • I start feeling like I’m not good enough – that despite positive feedback from multiple beta readers and my editor – what if this book sucks and I actually can’t write?
  • What if despite my writing being okay, no one buys it ever? (This is regardless of any preorders )
  • What if people do buy it, and all rate it very low because I have inadvertantly written something super offensive/racist/terrible?
  • I’ve forgotten some vital step of the publishing process, what is it?

Some of this stems from a doubt that I should have good things, or that I should get what I want. I have a lot of trouble believing I should be ‘allowed’ to have what I want, due to various things in my past.

Any big anxiety is bound to bring up other emotions as well. I might start feeling lonely because I haven’t seen X friend for a while, or that people don’t like me and are actively avoiding me. I might start thinking about shitty times in my past and revisit all those old hurts and emotions because y’know, why not?

This all manifests in stress, tension in my body, snappishness, feeling physically ill, heart racing, feeling miserable and a horrible temptation to pull the plug on the project before anyone can read it. (Again, this is regardless of however many beta-readers and ARC-readers I have already given it to).

So what do I do about it?

First, realising what’s going on helps. I don’t always connect the feeling with the cause right away, but if I sit and think about the emotions usually I can get there. Or I talk it through with my wife and she helps me find the connection.

Then it’s self care time. I make sure I’ve had something to drink (milo is good and comforting), something to eat, that my body is warm. Then I take a step back from the laptop and the process. Most likely I have done all the things I absolutely have to do and I’m just fussing. I can put the whole thing down and go off line.

Ideally I’d have a long hot bath, but I’m not currently living in a house with a bath so long hot shower is an okay substitute.

Early to bed. Or, if it’s really too early for bed, go get comfortable on top of bed with something to read. Catch up on comics, or whatever novel I’m reading at the time. Take my head somewhere else.

Going for a walk in the park usually makes me feel better but if I really need to get out of my head, I’ll do it with an audiobook or a walking meditation on headphones. Otherwise my brain might just keep on spiralling.

Reassurance is important as well. It’s hard to ask for – I don’t want to feel like a whiny needy annoyance – but looking back over past reviews or nice comments people have made can help. I even have a couple of pages in my bullet journal for nice things people have said that I want to remember.

My hope is that the more I do this self-publishing lark the easier it will get both in the actual process and emotionally.

Time will tell, but in the mean time, I remind myself that this is a great achievement. Part of me really tries not to believe this, because my Impostor Syndrome will fade if I believe it. I have to reassure myself and remind myself that I have come far.

My child self would be immensely proud to see the paperbacks of my books and hey, even if no one buys it, I got over that impostor syndrome wall and did it all the same.

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Rival Princes is Live!

Holy crap! I published another book! The eBook and paperback on Amazon

My first ever romance is live, and the second one’s on pre-order for the end of July, and the fourth is scheduled for the end of August… phew.

I make ads now!

There are three golden rules for new recruits at Fairyland Theme Park:

1. No breaking character, even if you’re dying of heat exhaustion
2. Always give guests the most magical time
3. No falling in love.

Nate’s only been at work one day, and he’s already broken all three. 

Fast-tracked into a Prince role, Nate’s at odds with Dash, the handsome not-so-charming prince who is supposed to be training him. Nate doesn’t know how he ended up on Dash’s bad side, but the broody prince sure is hot when he gets mad.

Dash has worked long and hard to play Prince Justice at Fairyland. Now, instead of focusing on his own performance, he is forced to train newbie Nate to be the perfect prince. Nate’s annoying ease with the guests coupled with his charm and good looks could dethrone Dash from his number one spot … so why does he secretly want to kiss him? 

Fairyland heats up as sparks fly between the two rival princes. Will they get their fairytale romance before they’re kicked out of Fairyland for good? 

Find out in this standalone MM contemporary romance by Jaxon Knight, set in an amusement park where fairytales can come true.

— 

Buy it now!

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Guest writers series: an interview with Heather MacLee

It’s not Summer any more in my hemisphere, but I understand it is in other one? At any rate, I’ve enjoyed hosting authors here enough that I’m just going to keep doing it. I hope you like being introduced to new writers and their works 🙂 Please welcome Heather…

The name’s Heather MacLee, I was born and raised in Glasgow, and I’ve been living in Cyprus for almost a year now! I write LGTBQIA* sexy romance, and my debut novella Too Good To Be True? just came out.

If you had to describe yourself in terms of a soft drink, which would you be and why?

Soda water and lime, because I’m bubbly with a wee bit of a tang.

Harry Potter world: what house are you? And what animal would be your patronus?

Ravenclaw! And an otter.

Are you a Think Everything Through Before Acting person or a Great Idea Let’s Try It! Person?

The moving to Cyprus was definitely the latter! It very much depends on the situation, but I do tend towards ‘Fuck it, let’s do this!’

What got you into writing?

I must have been about seven or eight years old when my parents were called in by my teacher because I kept interrupting story time by suggesting alternative scenarios. They got me a notebook and made me promise to write down any thoughts that came up instead of suggesting them out loud. I guess the rest is history?

Why do you write now?

It’s a compulsion. I tried to not write for a long time because my ‘wild imagination’ wasn’t appreciated by my secondary school teachers, but it drained me. At university, I finally caved and took a creative writing course. I’ve been writing again ever since. It keeps me sane.

What’s the earliest story you can remember reading and loving?

The Animals of Farthing Wood by Colin Dann

What’s a book you remember reading as a teenager and absolutely loving?

Our local library was in the same street as my parental home, so there have been more books than I can possibly remember. It has to be Harry Potter, though. None of the books grabbed me like that series did.

What are you reading right now?

I’m about to start reading The Sky is Everywhere, by Jandy Nelson. Her I’ll Give You the Sun is one of the best books I’ve ever read.

What’s a book that you have on your shelf that you think might surprise people?

The Glasgow Coma Scale by Neil D. A. Stewart. It’s not a genre I usually read, but I read it just after moving to Cyprus, when I felt homesick.

What book would you like everyone to read?

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson.

Are you a stop reading at the end of the chapter, mid chapter, or just whenever reader?

If the book is good enough, I’ll stop when I collapse. That could be anywhere in the book.

Can you name some formative books for your own writing?

Books not so much, but the idea for the world I’m building right now comes from The L-Word. In my world, it’s a local bookshop that connects all the characters, whose love lives are central in the different trilogies I’m planning to write, instead of a bar, but that whole ‘everyone is connected’ thing, I definitely got that from the TV series.

How do you organise your personal library?

I gave most of my books away when I moved (I know!) and I’m still organising my living space, so ‘pure chaos’ would be the best description of my current system. I usually go by genre though 😉

Writing: What do you do/where do you go for inspiration?

Anywhere on this island works for me, although I love living close to the beach (I can see the sea from my window). Nature always works for me, and coffee shops, where I can shamelessly people watch.

Is there anything you’ve seen passed around as writing advice that you really disagree with?

Too Good to be True cover

Write what you know. Ha, no, it’s called ‘imagination’ for a reason. Sure, I believe stories do reflect the author at least a little bit, but most authors have too boring a life to just write what they know. We spend vast amounts of our time behind our computers!

Do you believe in a divine muse, and if so, what’s yours like?

Of course, I do! Mine is a playful imp who makes sure I don’t take myself too seriously when writing.

What does your physical writing space look like?

One of the first things I did when I found my current abode was organise a writing space on my balcony. It’s partially covered, so no direct sunlight hits me or my screen when I stay in that corner, and there tends to be a lovely breeze.

Open up your skeleton closet: can you tell me about an abandoned project of yours which seemed awesome when you started but you’ll likely never return to?

When I first visited Cyprus, I started a YA novel that had a complicated triangle relationship in it involving a pair of twins, a boy and a girl. I wanted to write something that wouldn’t condemn the bisexual main character, who falls in love with both siblings, but at one point the characters wanted to head in a different direction and I became afraid to perpetuate harmful clichés. I was on the soapbox Stephen King warns against, and the only way down was to give up on the project.

Any advice for anyone looking to start writing?

Just do it, but don’t tell anyone you don’t fully trust. It’s a vulnerable process, the becoming-writer one.

Favourites: Ideal holiday, price and time no concern, where would you go?

Anywhere that has unapologetic nature.  

If you could plan perfect meals for a day, what would each be, and would you snack?

I would have apple pie porridge in the morning, a lunch with freshly made hummus, grilled veggies, and Greek pitta, and cauliflower sabzi for dinner. I would snack fruit and healthy veggies throughout the day. Needless to say, this isn’t even close to what my daily diet is like…

Imagine you won one of those ‘grab a cart and spend five mins in a store’ competitions. Which store would you want to win it for, and what goods would you be shoving in the cart first?

A stationery shop, obviously, and I’d be stuffing my cart with notebooks, fountain pens, different ink colours. If I have time left, I’d go for the funny bookmarks and whatever pens and pencils I can get my hands on. You can never have enough writing material.

Imagine you’ve had your best ever year, what photos would you have from that year?

While they do registered partnerships here in Cyprus for same-sex couples, getting married is still a no-go, so my best year would include not just pictures of my own beach wedding, but also those of our friends’ weddings.

Favourite song to sing at Karaoke?

What’s Up by 4 Non Blondes.

Favourite song to sing in the shower when no one else is home?

From Eden by Hozier

What’s your favourite quote?

‘For what it’s worth… it’s never too late, or in my case too early, to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit. Start whenever you want. You can change or stay the same. There are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you’ve never felt before. I hope you meet people who have a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start over again.’ F. Scott Fitzgerald
__

Heather MacLee was born and raised in Glasgow, although she has strong ties to the Highlands. After falling in love with the gorgeous island of Cyprus years ago, she finally took the plunge and moved there in the summer of 2018.

Heather writes LGBTQIA* sexy romance and her debut novella, Too Good to Be True?, is out now. Set in Cyprus, it’s the first novella in her Wild Violet series, a world Heather created around the fictional book shop Wild Violet, or Άγρια Βιολέτα in Greek.

Find Heather online:

Website

Facebook

E-mail

Newsletter sign-up

Get a copy of Too Good to Be True? here

fiction, writing

Writing process? Part one

Advice about writing? What is my process? Well, first it’s just write. Write as much as I can, when I can and make time for it.

The longer answer is a bit more complicated. Let’s see if I can answer over a couple of posts.

Part one: Planning plants?

I used to write pure ‘by the seat of my pants’ aka Pantser, and just let the story tell itself through me. It was all very Romantic Poets – the wind through the lute and me just the instrument to the divine muse.

I got several novels written that way, but when I gave them to publishers or various others to look over, there were big problems with them.

e.g. The plot ambled around. The B plot started half way through the book instead of near the start as a concurrent stream. The characters made choices which were bizarre.

Some of those manuscripts are salvagable with some hard work, but looking at myself and realising I wanted to write fast, get something out there and hopefully make a little money, I knew I there had to be a better way.

So, in August and September last year I changed it up.

I read this article about increasing daily word count to 10,000 words.

Now, I’m generally enthusiastic about my work, and I can sort of find time most of the time, but planning was where I fell down. Like the Romantic poets I mentioned above, I didn’t believe in it. I thought I was above it.

Well, that’s just pretentious nonsense, isn’t it? You can’t sit around and hope a divine muse will pop into your house and dictate a book to you. You have to do the mahi and make it happen. And that meant planning.

There’s a lot of great books out there on planning* and I’m sorry but I haven’t read a single one. I had a fire under my butt and I wanted to get started immediately. So I went to planning articles and beat sheets.

Beat sheets are wonderful. Beat sheets break down the story beats into acts and important turning points, and there’s all these wonderful genre specific ones out there, too!

I’m a big fan of Jami Gold’s worksheets. She has put a ton of work into breaking down different genre and explaining each beat in a succint way.

So, I grab the beat sheet for the kind of book I’m writing and then brainstorm some things about the story.

Who are the characters? (I’ll do a post on my character notes, because I find them hilarious). Name the characters, what are their relationships and what are they most afraid of? Then I start mapping out the novel scene by scene using the beat sheet.

I don’t map the scene out exhaustively, I suppose I’m a little afraid of feeling like it’s done already, and losing the impetus to write it. So I give myself generic description. Something like:

Intro character A = house routine with daughter M – visit Important place – meet character B there. Show A’s need for love, and a way out of his lonely routine

Or

Character A is in the backyard , is startled by figure – heavy on atmosphere and description, then startle awake.

You can see I don’t give myself too much to go on, just enough to get the scene in my head so I can write it fully. Also reminding myself to write atmosphere is important or I’ll rely on dialogue too much. This makes me a planster – a planner who also writes by the seat of my pants.

I’d love to show you a picture example of one of my plot plans but it’s all spoilers for unpublished books… maybe someday.

I write this all longhand and leave lines in between each scene for extra notes. Characters can surprise you, they can move the story forward or change their minds when you didn’t expect it.

I’ve also found that as I write I might see a need for another scene to expand on something, so I give myself room for that as well.

Then, plan done, I just start writing those scenes. It really does save time, and it lets me see the shape of the story in advance. It ensures my B plot is present and interconnecting with the A plot, and it means when I’m focused I can just tear through words.

I don’t believe in divine wind from Heaven any more. I believe in working hard as often as I can, instead and tools like a beat sheet have really helped me with that.

*Romancing the Beat and Save the Cat! seem to be the two most recommended, and I have every intention of reading them… some day…