Thursday, October 15, 2009

Pick A Color, Any Color

A couple of months ago someone had asked in the comments to explain how I use color pens. Since I was taking a bunch of pictures for my upcoming school visit presentations, I snapped a few of my color pen graphs.

My primary use of colored pens is to help keep clear different characters or plot line.

This picture is a chart I made for Theodosia and the Eyes of Horus. I divided it up into days, then made a tiny list of what was happening with each character or plot thread on each of those days.

Also, when I'm trying to be sure that I've created enough steps/actions/lessons in any given characters arc, I'll list the major beats down on a piece of graph paper and use a different colored pen for each character. I'm not even sure I can explain how this helps me keep things compartmentalized--it must have something to do with how I absorb information visually--because the different colors really help me.

The the third most common way I use colored pens is when I am writing a hugely complex, mind boggling, confusing action scene that has to be orchestrated with lots of beats and characters. It's kind of like I sketch the scene out with little colored text blocks, like so:

Also, I forgot to mention the lovely PJ Hoover interviewed me over on The Enchanted Inkpot today.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Scooting In Under The Wire

Sorry I didn't get anything posted today. I'm working like a madwoman trying to get ready for my two week long visit to Katy, Texas, where I will be visiting twenty schools in ten days. :-) Yeah. Making packing lists, fine tuning the presentation, practicing, and trying to tie up any household loose ends that might crop up while I'm gone.

I suppose this is a good time to remind anyone in the Houston area that I will be at Barnes and Noble in The Woodlands on October 18 at 2:00.

Also, for those of you who don't follow the Theodosia blog, I've posted the first chapter excerpt (the first of six, one a month until the publication date). If you're dying for your next fix of Theo, pop on over there and check it out!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Story Eggs

Someone asked me to explain what cracking the story egg means.

For me, each story feels as if it already exists and my job is to discover it and then unearth it, not unlike an archaeologist. But I have also found that each story has its own key for being discovered. For some it might be an particular insight to the main character that cracks the whole thing wide open so that I suddenly see the story. Sometimes it’s tied to the antagonist—that is who is key to understanding the story and “cracking” it open. For Theo Four, it was simply remembering to see the world through her eyes. For the first Beastologist, it was the gremlin Greasle who cracked things wide open for me.

When the story spring to life and begins to spark, then the story egg has been cracked.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Couple More Thoughts On Setting

I often think of working on a book’s setting as being similar to an artist prepping a canvas; laying down the foundation that will support and enhance all the future layers to come. Some canvases are prepped with layers and layers of white, trying to create as clean and blemish free foundation as possible. Other canvases are prepped with layers of gesso, building upon each other to create texture and depth that will in turn contribute significantly to the finished texture of the painting.

Setting is the same way. Setting informs character. The type of world we live in, the neighborhoods we haunt, the homes that shelter us all shape us in different ways.

Nearly all cultures and societies are influenced by geography—their creation myths, belief systems, pantheons cultural taboos, their diet, their sources of wealth, all are shaped by their geography.

People too. Even siblings. I’m constantly amazed at the wild differences between siblings. I remember reading somewhere that part of this is because each child is born into a “different” family. The first child is born into an adults only family, the second child is born into a family with another child in which the focus has already shifted from couple to family. And that’s not even taking into consideration the hard-wired personality factors involved.

And even if none of that makes it on the page in an overt way, it will color everything about our characters. Our main characters see the world differently than anybody else. No one has seen Egypt in quite the same way as Theo sees it. That is where the depth and texture, drama and tension will come from.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Painting Oneself Into a Corner

Sometimes, as writers, we paint ourselves into a bit of a corner. I found myself in that position while jotting down notes for Theo Four. As I began my research for the setting—Old Cairo and Luxor—I felt a lot like a bored tourist as I tried to wrap my mind around the layout of the cities (in 1907, no less) and the various societal elements at play. I was uninspired. Nothing was getting my blood running, and I really need that to happen. If it feels boring and flat for me, it most certainly will for the reader.

However, due to the events I had put in play in Book Three, Theo HAS to go to Egypt for this book. But the setting just wasn’t working for me, it wasn’t feeding the story in the way setting needs to. So I’m panicking, stuck in Egypt with no way out, but not loving being there. That’s the corner I’d painted myself into.

A bit of a disaster, really.

So I picked up my pen and notebook and began journaling on the setting. In doing so, I became aware of a couple of things. One, I needed to give myself permission to build my world of 1907 Egypt in a way that served my story rather than historical accuracy. Every writer who writes a story that takes place in New York writes about a slightly different New York—one created or interpreted for their fictional needs. I needed to remember that.

Secondly, and more importantly, I needed to remember to see Egypt through Theo’s eyes—not a dusty 1907 British traveler, but Theo herself. What filters does she have in place as she travels through Egypt?

Well, for one, she’s looking for signs of the Serpents of Chaos everywhere. She is also almost painfully aware of the hum and throb of all the magic in the air, emanating off artifacts large and small. She is also nearly beside herself with excitement at being back in Egypt on a real live dig with her parents. Which is overshadowed by the promise she’s made to someone and the reason she finagled herself along on her trip.

Boom. Remembering that, putting those filters on as I tried to establish the setting for the book, totally made everything come alive again. Ho hum buildings and dusty streets teemed with lurking shadows and haunting magic (and yeah, Theo’s a little melodramatic...) Everyone Theo saw held the possibility of being a Serpent of Chaos, a Chosen Keeper, or an Eye of Horus. (No, you won’t find out what that is until Book Three.) Truly, it was like looking through a pair of binoculars and twisting that little thingey in the middle so that everything came into sharp focus. Very happy moment.

And then, finally, the thing I always wait for began to happen. Bits and snippets of the “movie” of the book began playing in my head and ideas began forming. It became clear to me that I need to spend the majority of the next two weeks building the “set” of this book. Creating the inherent conflicts that the streets of Cairo and Luxor, the nearby temples, the parents’ dig, the various antiquities and consul offices will provide. And I need to all of that with Theo’s filters firmly in place.

Sometimes I think that nearly every problem we run into in writing can be solved through character—we just have to dig deep enough.

Friday, October 2, 2009

When The Muse Won't Come Out To Play

One of the things I miss most about being an unpublished writer is that I could pretty much dance when my muse said to, and sit on the sidelines when she remained silent. I know there are many, many people out there who disdain that, but my muse is pretty active so it was rare for me to not write for more than a couple of days, and I always found that this little mini-break from the story served me well by giving my subconscious time to figure stuff out. In fact, this works so well for me that even still I tend to think in terms of weekly output and set weekly page goals rather than daily.

But now that I'm published, I have, you know, deadlines, and professional expectations I need to meet. Which means that even though story A may be screaming at me, agents and editors might have other plans or publishing needs for story B . Which is very, very thrilling, don't get me wrong, but since my muse is totally right brained, she doesn't see it this way. Very spoiled and demanding, is my muse. I found out just how much so when on a walk this morning I happened to listen to a song on my dark medieval YA's playlist. Oh my god. My muse immediately got all aroused and began pining for this project in the worst way. I imagine it was how Juliet felt about Romeo. Very distracting.

Only problem is, I canNOT work on that right now. Between the presentation for my upcoming two week stint of school visits in Texas and the impending deadline for Theodosia Four, I simply have other projects.

However, I also apparently drained my battery way below critical levels, because I am still not being able to jump start things like I normally can. In fact, I had to laugh yesterday when I got my Daily OM, which said:

Your energy may be low from working too much, and this could leave you feeling tired today. Perhaps you feel that without you your work would not get done, and as a result you have pushed yourself to your physical limits.

I tend to think of exhaustion as a physical thing, so I forget that we can do this mentally and creatively, as well. I also wonder if that's why my wrists gave out. Our bodies are very good at sending us messages, which we then ignore at our own peril.

So I am going to do something a little daring and scary for me: I'm going to give myself permission to not write for the next four weeks (two of which will be an insanely busy school visit trip, so I'm only loosing two weeks working time, but still.) Yep, even though I have a deadline in five months. I'm going to trust my muse here, and listen to her. An old boss of mine used to have a saying about needing to "dance with the one that brought you." Well, my muse has gotten me where I am today, so I need to remember to trust her. So for the next month I am simply going to journal any ideas that occur to me for Theo 4, putter with an outline, do some research every day, and work on my school presentations.

Then I'm going to hope my muse will become so restless from all that down time, that come Nov. 1 she will come out with both barrels blazing. (Am I the only one having fun with the mental picture that brings? A filmy, airy muse sporting two pistols?)

The other thing is that I will be coming off a two week immersion in kids, something that is always energizing, uplifting, and full of revelations. (Okay, and exhausting when done in huge quantities.)

I might even consider signing up for NaNoWriMo, just for the absolute focus it brings. We'll see.

Warning: Do not try this at home unless your muse is a proven producer and has demonstrated a high level of dedication in the past. :-)