From the Archives: A Journal of Two Writers – Research, Part I: Just the Facts, Ma’am

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Welcome to our new feature, Throwback Thursday – From the Archives.  This part of the series features content created for a now defunct publisher, and I’m making it available for you to enjoy here.  Happy reading!


Happy Thursday!  Today I’ll be talking about a topic that’s near and dear to both our hearts, research.  Even though we write fiction, research and fact-finding are integral parts of what we do because, in order to create plausible worlds, we have to have enough of the facts “right” so that readers trust us when we start to fabricate reality.

Throughout the day, I’ll post how-to’s, ideas, pictures, and a cautionary – but funny – tale.   I hope you’ll join me.

First up, the facts.  How do you find ’em, and once you find ’em, how do you include them in your story?

Let’s do a little bit of talking about the how’s, and then I’ll let you give it a try.

So.  First.  How?  In our book Emerald Fire, we created a totally fabricated world called Persis.  We wanted it to feel real, plausible, like a planet that we reasonably would have settled and whose culture grew organically from the socio-political climate involved.

When you read it, though, you aren’t inundated with all that bla-bla.  We know it, but we don’t necessarily have to tell it all at once:  and there, in a nutshell, is how to do research in a story.  You do all the research in advance, or while you’re writing, but you don’t dump all the facts in a pile at the readers’ feet – you parcel them out sparingly, like a good spice in a dish.  No one would just eat a spoonful of cinnamon, but put it in cookie batter and yum – spice cookies!

We knew we wanted to create a world, simply put, of desert sheikhs and harem boys.  It’s a common trope in classical romance:  the wealthy sultan and his many harem girls, who find love amidst the clash of cultures and … etc.  So.  How do we do that on another world, in a way that makes sense for M/M romance?

We based our culture on a blend of Middle Eastern, Asian, and American influences.  The two main cities are named after the greatest rulers of Classical Persia, Cyrus and Darius.  The later city, Reghdad, is purely made-up but based on Baghdad, which was a rival culture to the Persians, the Mesopotamians).  We studied several different cultures and decided to use Persia because it was a great classical empire and therefore, plausible that future people from Earth would be nostalgic and name their cities for it.

We also studied astronomy and figured out whether a dual star system would work, and what color the sky would be on a planet with no standing water.  We studied a bit of geology to make the mining plausible.

It’s not like we did ALL of this up front.  We took what we already knew, (for example, my neighbor growing up panned for gold and had a sluice, so I got to see that process first-hand), and added things we learned to synthesize unique environments.  You’ve probably heard that old adage, “use what you know,” and this is one way to do that.

One example of not throwing all the facts into the hopper for the reader, but parceling them out slowly, is in the founding cities’ names.  That doesn’t factor into the plot of Emerald Fire at all, so it’s not something we bring up.  It will factor into later books, so we’ll reveal it as we go along.  On the other hand, the mining is key for Emerald Fire so we go into a lot of detail – but taking care to show the reader, and not dump all the data there to tell the reader.

That is the second tidbit:  when you’re giving the reader information, show them the things you want them to know, through the eyes of your point-of-view character – i.e., the one who is telling the story.  In the Harry Potter stories, for example, Harry Potter himself is the point-of-view character.  Through him, we see Dumbledore and watch our understanding of him mature with Harry from the adoration of a young boy to the respect of a young man.

So now, it’s your turn.  This prompt is called “Listing.”  Get a pen and paper (it’s better to do by hand) and list everything in your bedroom (or, if you’re currently in your bedroom, list things in your office or living room).  Imagine you’re standing in the doorway and go left to right, around the room, listing everything you see.  Don’t forget to look up and down.  Allow five minutes for this exercise.

Next, take 3 things from your list and write a three-paragraph description of a character named Bob walking into the room for the first time.  He can be there as your guest, your lover, a thief, or a police officer – use your imagination (or do one of each).  If you’d like, share your paragraphs with me in the comments.

 

Originally published on the Torquere Press LiveJournal, 07/26/2012

From the Archives: A Journal of Two Writers – Thoughts from the Other Side of Edits

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Rachel and I published our popular series The Persis Chronicles with Torquere Press, which, sadly, is now defunct.  I realized at one point that all the posts I’d written for their LiveJournal and blog would disappear into the ether, so I’m going to republish them here for your enjoyment.

This first one was the first LiveJournal post I did for them, back in May of 2012:

As Rachel and I wrapped up the editing of Emerald Fire, our new release from Torquere Press this week, we found ourselves reflecting on how to make the process more streamlined so we can speed it up – and make it less painful.  Since folks sometimes ask us what it’s like to write with a collaborator, we thought we’d share some thoughts on what it’s like to edit stuff we’ve written together, since that’s the most visibly collaborative part of our process.

Once we’ve finished a manuscript, we each go through it and make minor changes and continuity checks.  That’s where a partnership is good and bad – because we have two pairs of eyes looking at it, but we cannot work on it simultaneously because of varying work schedules and time zone differences.  In addition, we both edit very differently:  Rachel is a hawk for continuity problems and timeline issues, whereas I am the grammarian and look for “POV” (point of view) problems.

Our first step is to sit down together and go through the manuscript chapter by chapter.  We break our sessions into 30 minute chunks, so that we have a way of judging our progress, since we might not get all the way through a specific list of chapters in one sitting.  We also learned the hard way not to do too many at one time because it fries our brains.  Usually we don’t do more than three or four chapters in one sitting since, from experience, doing five or more leads to exhaustion which can make us sloppy.  Editing is a left-brain sequential process, with established rules, and because of that, the approach is much more logical and methodical.

After we finish our first edit, we then go through what might be called “line edits,” except that we’re looking for specific words or problems.  For example, Rachel looks for excessive use of names in dialog (since people in conversation don’t usually repeat each other’s names over and over), as well as punctuation and overuse of things like exclamation points.  I look for POV problem works (like “felt” or “thought”) and rework the sentences in which I find them.  For this part of the process, we tend to work separately; however, this means that only one of us can be working in the main manuscript at a time since we’re using the “find” command to look for problem words and are jumping around non-sequentially.

Finally, we print out a copy of the manuscript and read it from front to back as though we were one of our readers.  It’s best to do this process a couple days after completing the other sections; this isn’t always a possibility if, for example, we’re under deadline; however, if it’s for stuff that isn’t on deadline then it’s good to let a week or two go by so the manuscript is “cold.”  Once we have our printed copy read and marked up, we meet again and go through our changes to make sure we both agree on them.

One thing we both have noticed is that it’s more fun to go through the editing process with a collaborator, whether or not that person is a “CP” (critique partner) or one’s coauthor.  Having that second pair of eyes and another person to bounce ideas with can mean the difference between dreading edits and looking forward to them as the final stage of completing a manuscript.

 

Originally published on the Torquere Press LiveJournal, 05/30/2012

 

Luck O’ The Irish! Enter To Win $100 Gift Card and Other Prizes. Plus, Blog Posts from Noony!

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Do I have a party for you, Dear Reader!  It’s in full swing, and you can enter to win a $100 Gift Card from the online retailer Amazon, plus many more prizes from participating authors.  When you go to the site, be sure to enter both drawings on the right-hand panel.  Plus, each of the authors can write up to five blog posts each day, which I took as a challenge.  Of course I did.  I’m Noony.  ~grin~

So, what are you waiting for?  Check it out!

Sunday, March 13th

(Note – I don’t have any posts on the 12th due to a family emergency, but there is plenty of content from my fellow authors so don’t be shy!)

  1. Daylight Savings Time and a Fairy Tale
  2. Coming In April – the A-Z Challenge. Where’s YOUR Alphabet?
  3. Movie Night with the Nice Girls Writing Naughty
  4. The Honey Pat
  5. Pysanky!

Monday, March 14th

  1. Crafts and Stress – Why *Else* Do You Think I Knit?
  2. From the Tip of the Pen – Work In Progress, Excerpt M/M Romance
  3. Mini Vacations – Galena!
  4. Myths and Modern Life
  5. Coffee!

Tuesday, March 15th

  1. Tiger by the Tale
  2. Calendaring and Color
  3. Journaling
  4. The Joy of Baths
  5. Kids and Chores

Wednesday, March 16th

  1. Another World – Why Make It Up? (with an Excerpt, M/M Romance, Mild Heat)
  2. Cooking and Food Porn
  3. What’s Next – Sapphire Dream (Excerpt, M/M Romance)
  4. The Music of Persis – Beats Antique
  5. In the Future – Seekers and Mystery

Thursday, St. Patrick’s Day!

  1. Plausible Premise – M/M and Lamiae
  2. Have Fun With It (M/M Excerpt)
  3. What’s Next for the Emerald City Shifters – Sealed by Duty (M/M Excerpt)
  4. Fun Stuff – A to Z
  5. Movie Night – and Thank You!

Throwback Thursday – Suffering from amnesia / a talking dog / refused to leave the bathtub.

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Introduction:  I love writing from writing prompts.  Over the years, I’ve amassed a collection of story bits from various prompt circles and exercises.  A particularly fun one to play with is called The Amazing Story Generator.  You pick three pieces at random and write a story based on what comes up.  

Writing Prompt:

  1. Suffering from amnesia
  2. A talking dog
  3. Refused to leave the bathtub

Flash Fiction Snippet:

“No.”

“Ralph, come on. You have to get out of that tub! Now!”

“Why? And who are you, anyway?”

“Oh, Ralph. I’m Louise.”

“Louise, come on. Just leave him in there.”

“Dad, you can’t. He’s gonna clog the drain!”

“Janey, don’t whine. And put your phone down; this does not need to go on Facebook.”

“Oh, Mom.”

“I’m hungry. Are you people part of my pack? Where’s the food?”

“Yes, hello? Animal Control? Harry, I got through. Yes, hello? This is Louis Hancock and six-two-five Crescent. The dog won’t get out of the tub.”

“Damn right I won’t. None of you will give me a straight answer. I’m hungry, too. Hey, is that a cat? I could eat a cat.”

“Mooom!”

“Yes, he’s a Siberian Husky, but he’s from Canada, not Siberia. He doesn’t have any Russian accent at all. What? Who? No, Harry’s from Poughkeepsie. The dog’s from Saskatoon.”

“Janey, your mother said no Facebook. Ralph, you may not eat the cat. You love that cat. You’ve known him since he was a kitten.”

Want to give it a try, Dear Reader?

 

Monday Morning Pages – Using Diary Techniques

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Writing a journal or diary has a long history.  It’s taken many forms throughout the years, and diarists have developed tools that help get at the heart of the self.

Two of my favorites are cathartic writing and listing.

In cathartic writing, we write about something that evokes strong emotions – a memory or an event that happened to us.  If we’ve experienced trauma, it’s a good idea to do this with the assistance of a therapist.  But cathartic writing can help us get the emotion out of our heads and onto the page, where we can begin to work with it and make it something positive.

In listing, we make lists of related things.  They might be lists of tasks to accomplish, or it might be lists of places we’ve lived – roommates, pets, apartments, etc.  Listing can be a way to free associate – for example, start with coffee and make a list of all the beverages you can think of.  Setting a timer for five minutes can help add structure to this exercise.  Try listing things in your bedroom at home, if you’re away from home; or your office, if you’re at home.  Use it to strengthen memory, by listing everything in your bedroom growing up at the age of five, then eight, then twelve.

What about you, Dear Reader?  What tools do you like to use in your journal?

Monday Morning Pages

20141201_193155It’s Day Two of NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month.

Those of us who are participating feverishly scribble or tippet-tap all day, in between our other tasks: at lunch, on breaks, while the kids are asleep, anywhere we can. That’s how NaNo works: accumulate words. Like Julia Cameron says, “Accumulate pages, not judgments.”

Why Morning Pages?

The Artist’s Way teaches us that forward motion creates its own momentum. In order to sustain that momentum, we need to know, and practice, that which feeds our inner artist.

Why, then, do Morning Pages during NaNo?

Morning pages are three pages, longhand, done in the morning. As Cameron points out, they’re not meant to be Writing with a capital W. They’re more like brain drain, she says. Natalie Goldberg likens this type of writing to meditation.

Whatever you call them, Morning Pages work.

Try it today: take out three letter-sized pieces of blank paper and a pen or pencil. Write three pages, and then put them away. Don’t read them, and don’t share them. Then tomorrow, try it again. Try it every day in NaNo and see what effect it has on your month.

Write on!

U Is For… Understanding!

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I have found, in writing, that I need to get deeply into a project before I know where it’s going.  I typically need to write 20,000 to 30,000 words before I have a good feel for it, and know who the characters are and where they’re going.  Sometimes I know the plot of the book, other times I don’t.  But I definitely don’t know the world or the people in it without that first drafting process.

I have met writers that have a few thousand words, or maybe a thousand, and get lost in the plotting and outlining process.  I knew a writer that said he needed to get the “story beats” down first.  He was so insistent on that, that he refused outright to do any writing until that was done.  When I asked him what “story beats” were, he didn’t have a concrete answer, and what I gleaned from his answer is that he puts the story arc on index cards.  That’s fine and dandy if it helps you get on the page.  But since it didn’t help him, and he was effectively blocked by trying to do it, I’d argue it’s not useful.

It’s like many things:  it’s a lot harder to rock the boat when you’re rowing.  Get into the project.  Learn to draft.  Put down the words.  Trust yourself, and trust story.  Tell the critic that says it’s not worth it, no one wants to read it, you don’t know how to do it, and all the other bullshit that critics like to say, that they’re on vacation for the next 30 minutes – set the timer and just draft.  Write.  It’s called a “rough” draft for a reason – but it’s a helluva lot harder to edit it if it hasn’t been written yet.  So write it.

What about you, Dear Reader?
What advice do you have for someone starting something new?

O Is For… On the Page!

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To boldly go… onto the page.  Journals and computers.  Which is better?  I get that question a lot from writers, as to which one to use.  Both are useful.  That’s almost always my answer.  Use whatever gets you onto the page.

Yup, it really is that simple.

What about you, Dear Reader?
What makes you want to get up and write?