Draft 5: Week 1 Update

This week, I began Draft 5 of my story.

I spent the last week of April and first week of May poring over the feedback I received from the beta readers who were able to make it through the entirety of the previous draft. Then I brushed up a few things, wrote a tighter outline for the character arcs, figured out a few plot holes, and then I decided I might as well take the dive and start the next draft.

There’s always a moment’s hesitance whenever I start a new draft. I always feel like I could plan just a little better, I could answer a few more questions, or maybe wait for my writing “flow” to come. But I understand that’s just a little bit of anxiety caused by a blank page. After you’ve been writing 100K words, it’s hard to go back to the beginning. And I’m also the type of writer who finds momentum in the previous sections of my story. That’s why the beginning is so important to me, because the tone I set there, the voice I begin with, will permeate the rest of the novel.

So I really took my time this week to begin with a good note.

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Writing Update

I was going through my blog and I realized I never gave a dedicated update about my novel. In the general update I posted a while back, I passingly mentioned that I finished my novel in February and it was now up on BetaBooks.

Ah, yeah, it’s up on BetaBooks, guys! Complete with a better summary and all. You can follow that link and sign up to read it. Mind you, this is a beta, and I’m just looking for feedback for my next draft. This is by no means anywhere near finished.

In hindsight, I feel like I did myself a disservice there. It’s an accomplishment to have finished a story, considering that it took me 3 years to write a draft that I felt comfortable sharing. Then I just bury the news in a post that was about four other things. I mean, to be fair, I did post a lot about it on Tumblr, where I am more active and have more followers. I think there was just a point after finishing the novel where I just didn’t want to write any more, including things like self-congratulatory blog posts, haha. I was so tired. Also, I guess for me and more introverted writers, trying to hype up your book to get readers interested in it doesn’t come so naturally, and hence, requires a lot of energy that I just didn’t have at that time.

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PSF11 Launch, 07/18 Camp NaNoWriMo Overview and Other Updates

This post is a month overdue, but I was too busy crunching in my word counts for Camp NaNoWriMo to write this.

Without further ado, Philippine Speculative Fiction Vol. 11 is out now!

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It’s been a long time coming. This volume has been in the works for almost 2 years, and I am so, so honoured that the piece I submitted was accepted. My short story is called The Goddess of Debt and it’s about a young woman who is unexpectedly chosen to be a human sacrifice. Yikes, I know that sounds a little morbid, but the story isn’t really about the sacrifice, as it is about the Goddess who offers her a way out, and about whether she will take it or not.

For those of you who may not be familiar with the PSF series, it is an annual anthology that celebrates speculative fiction written by Filipinos about Filipinos for anyone at all who is interested in the genre. It’s one of the few avenues out there that brings Filipino stories out to the world. The good news for you is that all the stories in the anthologies are written in English. So please support it if you can! It would mean a lot to me, whose piece is the first original fiction I’ve written that has ever been published, and to the producers of the anthology who work tirelessly year after year to serve an underserved area of fiction.


And on to Camp NaNoWriMo…

For those of you who have followed my blog for at least a year now, you probably noticed that I try to participate in as many as NaNoWriMos as I can. It’s because it really motivates me to just write down my story. Another reason why I join is because I get an excuse to write about my writing! Writing is such a solitary process, but when you’re part of a program that you know hundreds of thousands of other people are also doing, it makes the experience a little more social.

This month, as I tried to churn out those 50K words while real life was trying its hardest to prevent me from doing so (I swear, it really seemed like it was), I’ve come to realize how much I appreciated the messages written by the camp counsellors. These are real writers who take the time out of their lives to give us newbies (or seasoned — depending on where you are in your career during NaNo) some tips and tricks, as well as kind words to keep us going. Sometimes, I would come home and feel like I don’t even want to open up my word document, or I’d start to lose heart in my story (again), but I would see one of these messages in my inbox, and I’d have the strength to just put down maybe a few hundred words.

So I would like to share with you some of the messages that really helped me this month.

From author Claire Kann:

One of the hardest parts of drafting is getting to The End! While drafting do you prefer to revise as you go, rereading and polishing your previous day’s work before moving on? Or do you prefer to write out of order as the scenes come to you and connect the dots later? Personally, I am a zero drafter. I word-vomit the entire story in chronological order, not stopping to fix anything. There are multiple ways to draft, and no one way is going to work for everyone. It’s important to find a method that works best for you.

And what do you know, I’m a “word-vomiter” too!

From author Kristin Chen:

Just as important as writing every day (or as close to it as you can manage) is reading every day. I read as much as I can, and broadly, too, not just research for my work-in-progress. In my experience, it’s often the books that resemble yours the least that end up unlocking something in your writing. And when this happens, it’s a wonderful reminder of how mysterious and magical this whole process is—and how lucky we are to be writers.

I don’t read every day, nor do I write every day when it’s not NaNoWriMo. (Can you imagine? I have a full-time programming job, and my hobbies include reading, writing and drawing. Practitioners of all 4 of these get told to do these things everyday! I’d be dead if I were to try that!) But I do appreciate Kristin Chen’s advice that we shouldn’t avoid reading when we’re writing, because it’s food for your creativity!

Here’s a bit from Gloria Chao:

Everyone’s process is different so listen to your gut: if you’re not feeling it today, it’s okay if you don’t hit your word count. Take a break, read, relax, and come back when you’re refreshed. You can make up for these days later when you’re more on a roll. And remember: it’s not about the number but the work you’ve put in, which sometimes can’t be easily quantified.

I always have an equivalent metric for the word count, like number of chapters or the part of the story that I should reach by a certain date. It helps me contextualize that this isn’t about the word count, but about helping you reach the milestones in your story.

And finally, from Jessica Strawser:

I once had the privilege of interviewing Patricia Cornwell—who was adamant that insecurity can be good for a writer. “I’ll be honest,” she said. “When somebody has written their first novel and they tell me how fantastic it is, I know it’s probably not very good. It’s usually the person who says, ‘I’m not sure what I think…’ and then you look at the thing and go, ‘Now that is really special.’ So it’s not bad to be a little insecure. It makes you work harder and pay attention.” When I’m pushing through a draft and that hopeless feeling creeps in, I remember this. Feeling uncertain could be a sign of real magic! You’ll never know if you don’t see it through.

You guys know me. Y’all have seen all my Writing Woes posts. I have major angst about my novel. Knowing that it’s okay to feel uncertain about your story makes me more hopeful that it’s probably not as bad as it might seem.


So where does this get me?

This camp helped me get to the midpoint of my 3rd draft. I really want to finished the 3rd draft before fall, so I will take a few days break, write the outline for the rest of the story, and use August to finish it off. I am hoping that after a little bit of tidying up and editing, I can start letting other people read my story to get some feedback.

In the meantime, I’ll be working on my online presence. I usually drop off the face of the earth when I’m doing NaNoWriMo, but I know I need to improve my reach if I want to get some feedback for my story. I’ll be reworking my website, probably spend a bit more time blogging, and of course, there’s always my Schoolism assignments to help me generate original artwork to post.

Here’s a question for you guys. What are you more interested in seeing? Do you want to see more posts about my story? About the writing process? What I’m reading? The research? How about posts that are more collaborative, you know, something that doesn’t scream ‘Me, Me, Me’ like all my posts do? Lol. Let me know, because I have a hard time gauging the interests of people. If it were left up to me, I’d just talk about my story. But I know that there are people who don’t like that, because the story should speak for itself, and once the story is out there, nothing the author says about it that isn’t written as canon ever really matters.

So, yup, let me know!

Blanking Out on Titles

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Hey guys! I know I haven’t updated very often lately, but it doesn’t mean I’ve been slacking off! On the contrary, I’ve signed up for the next round of Camp NaNoWriMo next month, and during the last couple of weeks I’ve been preparing extensively for it.

First of all, do you guys like the new artwork? =P As I mentioned in my last blog post, I decided not to do my Schoolism assignments one by one, but rather, take note of each lesson and apply it to whatever I’m working on. I haven’t drawn Anina and Sano in so long, and I was in need of some new official art. I really tried to apply the things I learned about pictorial composition here. (On that note, does anyone know how to properly assign resolution to web images? I heard 1200px is the best, but my images still turn out oddly low-res.)

Anyway, I’ve spent the last few weeks restructuring my story. When I finished draft 2, I was convinced that it needed further leaning down and I was prepared to take it apart and put it back together in an entirely new way. As things turned out, the outline I have now is actually not that far from the previous version, which is great because it means I get to use some of the material from draft 2. Even though I tried to approach the story in an entirely different way, I still ended up coming with the same general flow — I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing though. It could mean that I’ve already nailed down the things that make the most sense for my characters, or it could mean I’ve gotten stuck into a single frame of mind. =/

One big change though is the names. I was never truly satisfied with the names of the places I’ve been using, so before I begin this new draft, I chose better-fitting names. One downside (or possibly upside) to this is that while I was browsing my Tagalog-English dictionary, I discovered that the word “aplaya” was actually derived from Spanish. I had intended to name the setting of the story “Alaya” from “aplaya,” fashioning it after the pattern of naming Filipino provinces after places near water. “Aplaya,” or the Spanish original, “playa” means beach. See, this is what I get for using Google Translate! Good thing I bought the dictionary. Needless to say, as this story is inspired by precolonial Tagalog culture, I can no longer use “Alaya.”

And because I’ve been using “Tales of Alaya” as the title for my work, I can no longer use that title either. I’m wary now of including names in my title just in case I make another goof-up, and end up changing names later. So now, I’m in desperate need for a title. Any suggestions? If you’re a writer, how do you usually come up with names for your works?

Streamlining My Story By Controlling Character Knowledge

If you’ve been following my blog for some time now, no doubt you’ve come across one of my many Writing Woes posts. Most of the time, these posts deal with my angst about having to refactor my story, because as I write the outlines for the drafts, or the drafts themselves, I keep finding that my story is too complex. When I say complexity, I don’t necessarily mean the substance or message of the story, or even the style and vocabulary I use. Instead, what I mean is the layers and elements interwoven in the story.

It’s not easy to remove an element or a thread from a story, especially if, like me, you love big, epic things and you tend to plan or outline before writing. Removing an element could unravel other foundational threads, and then you find yourself with all kinds of plot holes that cannot be plugged no matter how much you try. After finishing another streamlining last night after weeks of reviewing my story again, I realized that I’ve been using the same revamping technique to tame the wild mess I’ve planned:

When I want to discard a thread from my story, I make the outcome of that thread already well-known to the characters.

See, the threads in my story add some layer of mystery that the protagonists have to grapple with. It’s another stumbling block that stops them from reaching their goals, but once that thread is resolved, the characters would have gained something. At least, if the thread is at all useful, that’s what is supposed to happen. Of course, you could have a thread that doesn’t really add any value to your characters’ arc, but if that’s the case, then there should be no trouble removing it at all. (Or even having it there in the first place.)

I’ll give an example from my story. I suppose it’s a bit of a spoiler, but well… not really anymore. In one of my more recent refactoring, I axed a character named Xiehun who was supposed to be investigating the death of his father. Now, he was relevant to one of the protagonists, Anina, because the person who betrayed his father also betrayed her. And that’s important because once Anina finds out who betrayed her, then the investigation would be resolved.

Anyway, since there’s already so many things going on in my story, I didn’t have time to elaborate on the investigation of his father’s death. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even have much time to allot to Xiehun at all, except for moments in the story where he reminds everyone about the mystery of his father’s death. Which… is not a compelling use of character, to be honest. So I needed to remove him.

But then that leaves the mystery of Anina’s betrayal dangling. So when I removed Xiehun, I removed the mystery of his father’s death too. Instead of murder, I made it an accident, and I made it common knowledge in the story. And thus, I’ve disentangled Anina and Xiehun’s threads.

I find that when something becomes common knowledge among the characters, then you save the time you would spend writing how they acquire this knowledge. I used this tactic many times. When everyone was trying to figure out how to neutralize a really dangerous magical McGuffin, it added another layer to the story. But when I made that solution well-known (or at least known to 1 character), the only thing I have to worry about is how to get the characters to that point. When some mysterious thing that happened in the past came cropping up, it blindsided the characters. The characters would have to deal with processing this, so I have to write them connecting the dots. But if it’s already in their repertoire of knowledge, their reaction would be completely different, perhaps tamer and better prepared to confront the situation.

In hindsight, I think the reverse was how I ended up with such a convoluted story in the first place. I wanted a lot of plot twists and big surprises, so I made my characters really clueless. Everything was stacked up against them; every time they turned a corner, there’s something waiting to surprise them. So I suppose if you want to make your story more complex and layered, just make your characters not know about a particular thing.

I don’t know if this is something most writers already know. I definitely didn’t until I started doing so many refactors and streamlining sessions, and I realized I was performing the same technique to slim my story down. So there you go. Did you already know about this? What other things do you do when your try to simplify your story?

Writing Joys: Re-outlining

Wow, I realize that I’ve only ever had “Writing Woes” posts, where I talk about everything that goes wrong in my writing. I didn’t actually have a positive writing post until now, which is kind of sad now that I think about it.

Anyway, “joy” is probably an overzealous word for what happened, but small wins are still wins in my book. Nothing dramatic happened, except that I managed to untangle the big hairy plot that I talked about in my previous Writing Woes post. Not only did I manage to do it, but I did it in 7 days. That’s… impressive by my standards, considering that I’ve been straining against this plot since the beginning of the year. Is it super-polished? Hah, no, I don’t think I’ll get to that stage until I’ve gone through 3 drafts at least. But the good news now is that I can move forward with my 1st draft without wanting to pull all my hair out.

I took a 3-week break from my story, and when I was re-outlining, I considered every plot point up for debate. And that worked out so well for me. When I considered that some of the determining plot points didn’t need to happen, or did not need to happen the way that I envisioned it would, it was much easier to tease out the tangles in the plot. I still lost a considerable number of characters, but I think it’s for the better. (Remember Nasi, the tarsier? I don’t know why I didn’t nuke him out of the story from the get-go. The poor animal had no speaking lines, had very little motivation, and didn’t contribute to the plot. But as attached as I had become to this useless character, I wound up giving him the pink slip as well.)

I believe there’s another Camp NaNoWriMo coming up in July, and I am going to try and finish the 1st draft then. I know it’s an ambitious goal, seeing it’s taken me 7 months to write the first half. But I think it’s also pretty telling that this children’s book is only halfway done at 70,000 words. I think I need to tell the story with less verbosity. Considering this is the first draft, I’ll resort to ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing’ if I need to move the plot along.

My hope is to be able to churn out a complete 2nd draft by the end of the year. It’s actually this goal that prompted me to re-outline my plot. My initial plan was to push through the first draft and figure out the changes to the plot as I go along, but it was causing me to lag behind my goals. I’ve read many writers advice that when you’re writing a draft, you shouldn’t go back and edit right away, but keep writing with your changes in mind. This wasn’t enough for me. I really had to revisit the entire story. It was disorienting for me to keep writing without addressing the issues from the parts I’d already written. It’s hard to build upon the story without knowing what events happened previously.