Injecting Life into Archaic Words for My Fantasy Novel

McGyver-ScatteredStonesFRONTI love finding new words that describe what I’m trying to say perfectly, especially if they are not common words. I often find these words have fallen out of use and are labelled archaic.

Using them and introducing them to readers who have never before seen them is a treat. I love sprinkling these little gems throughout my story.

I’ve had a lot of fun finding new words for Scattered Stones. They are—of course—archaic because Ath-o’Lea is in the past, long ago before electricity and engines and words like trailer.

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Update on Editing Epic Fantasy Novel Scattered Stones

EditingLate last week, I completed the first serious edit on Scattered Stones, the second book in The Castle Keepers series.

First, let me define serious. The dozen or so edits that occurred before focussed on over-all story, aligning the characters and the plots, and removing unnecessary material that would never play into future books. I edited large sections at a time, but never from start to finish, and I didn’t focus on each particular sentence. Non-serious edits are quicker. I can do a page every five minutes or so.

My serious edit focussed on each sentence individually and at times, it took an hour to do a page. It looked at every verb and weighed it to see if it was the right one, the strongest one for the situation. If there were two verbs in a sentence, I evaluated them both to see if they were necessary. The weaker one—if unneeded—was removed, shortening and tightening the sentence.

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Do Writers Need Protection from their Failures and Successes to Continue to Write?

I recently watched a TED Talk video by Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert. It was called Your Elusive Creative Genius.

Gilbert discussed the impossible expectations placed on artists, particularly authors. She admits, her greatest accomplishment—the Eat, Pray, Love novel—is probably behind her, so how is she to go forward and continue to write?

She takes us on a trip back in history, when the people of Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome believed spirits who lived within their walls visited artistic people. These invisible spirits assisted the writer, so the writer could not take full credit or all the criticism for the completed work.

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Writing Tip: How to Make any Story Good

Writing TipLast week while I was cooking supper, my thirteen-year-old son walked into the kitchen and asked, “Do you know what makes a movie good?”

I looked up from peeling potatoes, and the expression on his face told me it was a rhetorical question. He didn’t want to know what I thought; he wanted to tell me what he thought made a movie good.

My son is a Marvel fanatic. He’s watched them all: Captain America, Hulk, Thor and, his favourite, Iron Man. He’s also seen Guardians of the Galaxy multiple times. He’s analysed them, critiqued them and guessed at the story line. Immediately after watching a movie or Agents of Shield (the TV show connecting with the movies), we know to expect his mind—travelling at light speed—to start churning ideas, and his mouth—also travelling at light speed—to start sharing them.

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Writing Tip: Giving Characters Their Distinct Voice

Writing TipHow many times have you heard, all the characters sound the same? Probably more than once. One of my exercises the past few months is reading reviews on Amazon. I don’t bother reading the four and five stars. They don’t tell me what I want to know: what a story lacks.

One of the pet peeves of readers I see often is lack of distinct character voice. One reviewer went as far as to give an example of how characters can make themselves individuals and sound more distinct.

Using his example as a guide, I created my own example:

If I stubbed my toe, I’d say damn. If my teenage daughter did the same, she’d say crap. We are different generations—which certainly sets us apart—but we are also different people who grew up in different neighbourhoods.
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Writing Romantic Scenes

Writing TipI grew up with older, conservative parents. They were born in the 1920s and lived through the Depression. My father served overseas in the Second World War. They never spoke about sex. In fact, my mother—born in rural Newfoundland—arrived in Canada in 1945 believing babies came from under rocks. She was seventeen. That’s what her parents had told her; it was what all the children in the community were taught.

In my very conservative raising, I wasn’t exposed to a lot of smut—as they would put it. When I was about fourteen, however, I found magazines my mother was reading. They were called True Stories. Anyone who remembers these magazines filled with short stories knows what I mean when I say, there was a little smut amongst those pages. And I read many of them, hiding out in my bedroom or in the work shed.

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Familiar Character Names

Writing TipOne of the best parts of writing fiction is naming the characters. For some, this may be the most dreaded part of creating a story. Still, it has to be done. Being prepared with a name makes this game easier. For me, the most annoyed time is when I’m writing a story and I need a name now, and I don’t have time to look for one because the story is coming faster than I can type.

To solve this problem, I keep a file containing names I come across that are interesting and may make good character names. I gather them from various sources: obituaries, news announcements, movies, baby name sites, food boxes, by-lines in newspapers…the list goes on.

If the character was born in another era, say 1920, I’ll search for popular baby names for that time and pick an interesting one.

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Making a Mountain Out of a Mole Hill

Writing TipAll my life, I’ve been told to not make mountains out of mole hills. Why? Because situations are usually not that dramatic or life-threatening. If we can stop and evaluate the situation, we often find we can deal with it without creating too much anxiety.

However, as a writer, you should get in the habit of making mountains out of mole hills in your fiction. They make for interesting stories, ones readers can’t put down.

We all have stories in our lives—real stories. We go through our day doing small and medium sized things. We get the kids up and ready for school, we clean up the garden to prepare for planting, we drive to work through heavy traffic and so on. All of this doesn’t sound very interesting, but if you let your imagination run wild—and mine often lives on an open plain—we can turn a simple outing to a park into a story others might want to read.

We can also take that little scene and drop it into the middle of a larger story. Here’s how it works. Below is a simple story, one that actually happened to me. The names of my children have been changed.

We walked away from the SUV, and I looked back at it, cursing. Why had it failed to start at the end of a dirt road, miles away from houses and the main road? Glancing at the sun, I determined we had about four hours of daylight left. It’d take us over half of that to reach the first house where we might find someone at home to drive us the rest of the way to our camp.

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Food for Thought

As I mentioned in a previous post, my son is writing his first novel. He’s working on the first draft and is almost 5,000 words in. This is the most he’s ever written. It’s a little choppy and filled with action scenes. I contribute most of this to being a boy; he’s all about the doing.

At this point, we would call the folks in his story cut-out characters. They don’t have a lot of depth. They’re quick to react, and we don’t know why they are reacting like they are. But they are moving forward and they are doing things. The story is getting written.

The first draft is like this for many writers. It’s supposed to be imperfect. It’s supposed to be a little choppy. It’s supposed to be messy like a three-year-old eating chocolate pudding.

The one thing I noticed my son’s story lacked was thoughts. Any and all type of thoughts. The characters never shared their thoughts with readers. They talked and they acted. I pointed this out to my son, and he began adding a thought here and there. I told him not to worry about it too much; this was the first draft and things like thoughts can be added later.

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Men Writing Women

For some reason, women writers used to believe that they had to use a male pen name to make their books more saleable. George Eliot is a case in point, and only in my third year of varsity did I realise that Middlemarch was actually written by a woman.

But there is a new breed of man; the one who realises that women read woman’s fiction by the container load, and they would like to cash in on the insatiable thirst for bubbly pink romances and other types of women-only stories.

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Cool Online Dictionary

I have about a dozen or more paperback and hard cover dictionaries. They sit on my shelf a few feet away. They contain thousands, possibly millions, of words that will help me write a story.

But sometimes I’m lazy, and I don’t want to get up. Sometimes I have my feet soaking in warm water and essential oils, so I can’t get up without making a mess. Sometimes I need to check on current changes to spelling and grammar use.

So sometimes, I use an online dictionary. There are many, and you don’t have to settle on one. Almost all are free.

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First Draft Skeletons

My son is writing a novel for a school assignment. I’m walking him through the process. Sometimes he gets stuck and doesn’t know what details to add and which to leave out. I remind him that he’s writing the first draft; it doesn’t have to be perfect, it needs only to be written.

I tell my writing friends the same thing; it’s the philosophy I live by.

I compare the first draft to a skeleton. The flesh and muscles along with the finer details (hair, eyes, freckles) are added later in future edits and revisions.

Often when I write, I add details, but if I’m stuck, I don’t spend time thinking them up if they don’t come on cue. I write on.

Here’s an example of what I might do if I’m stumped on a scene. The key in this passage is to get the character out of her home and on the way to work. Instead of spending unproductive time working out the details—or worse: being stalled in this one spot and not moving forward—I list what will happen and keep going with the story.

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Create, Organise, Rearrange with MS Word

G. Kaye wrote a post not long ago regarding Scrivener, the software that is meant to make our writing life easier. Like me, however, many writers have found the program’s large learning curve frustrating and time-consuming.

Some writers love it, wouldn’t write without it, but my brain—and obviously those of many others—don’t function the same way as those lovers of Scrivener. So Scrivener not only looks confusing, but it also becomes illogical to use because other programs work better for us.

Personally, I organise my ideas—including story lines—through memory and patterns. I’m a visual person. I see words in my brain as shapes, and when I see a misspelt word, I recognise it as such because it’s not in its correct shape.

My brain records all things—words, people, places, feelings—in shape form. Yes, you are a blob that floats through my brain, but a blob I recognise easily if your aura has left a marker in my subconscious.

Being a visual person with blob properties, I have to see either the big picture or a large section of it to work efficiently. Scrivener doesn’t allow me to do this easily. It’s like their windows have curtains over them. MS Word allows me to have curtainless windows, giving me a perspective on the entire project while closing off those unnecessary to a particular section of work.

Because here’s the kicker: too much information amounts to clutter. Too many blobs floating around my peripheral vision confuses my brain and reduces my ability to concentrate. That’s the downside of having a wide peripheral view of the world. Narrow glasses drive me nuts because my eyes keep focussing between what I want to look at and the frames. I’m a ‘John Denver, wide-rimmed glasses’ kinda gal.

So while Scrivener may be the cat’s meow for some writers, it doesn’t correlate with my brain. MS Word does, and I can do everything in Word others can do in Scrivener, including rearranging scenes and chapters. Here’s how you do it.

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Lesley Crewe on Making a Film

Atlantic Books Today asked Lesley Crewe to share five things she learned while turning her novel, Relative Happiness, into a movie.

  1. Always answer “yes”, when someone calls you out of the blue and asks if you own the movie rights to your novel. The only reason I did, is because Jane Buss of the Writer’s Federation of Nova Scotia told me it was absolutely necessary, and I was not to sign a book contract without it. I was anxious to sign any book contract, and did it really matter if I had sole ownership of film rights? I mean it wasn’t like my novel would be made into a movie. That was ludicrous. It was my first book. Who the heck would want it? Turns out someone did. And because I listened to Jane’s advice, I didn’t have to share my movie earnings with anyone other than my agent.

To read the four other things she learned, visit Atlantic Books Today.

When Should You Give Up on Writing?

Castle clouds cropped02 5x5aIn the recent WritingWorld.com newspaper, the following question was posed by a reader named Sheila: At what point should an author give up writing?

After thinking about this a bit, I wrote the following post:

When should you give up on writing? I’ve asked myself that dozens of times in the past twenty years. In fact, I’ve asked that question more in the past five years than the first fifteen. There are so many writers out there, everyone struggling to be read.

Up until about eight years ago, I was consistently getting my nonfiction published in newspapers and magazines. It was fun and paid the bills. But it wasn’t exciting. Like Sheila, my passion was for fiction not nonfiction.

I slowly slipped out of nonfiction (though I still write a weekly genealogy column), and while I occasionally get an article published, I write what makes me happiest: fiction.

I went through the query phase and decided to self-publish. Like Sheila, all the work (blogs, social media, publishing) hasn’t generated a huge interest or a lot of money. Yet I’m satisfied with the experience. I am currently in a position that doesn’t force my writing to pay the bills, or I’d think differently about it.

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Old Habits are Hard to Kill

The other day while driving home from picking up hay, I ran through the current scene I was writing in Healing Stones. I played it out in my mind as if a movie. The actors spoke their lines and I analysed each one. I got inside their heads and thought about how they were feeling, what they were smelling and what they were seeing. Did their equipment dig into them uncomfortably?

Then something disrupted the scene. The image of the story on the computer stuck there like a sore thumb. Had I done it again? Had I started this manuscript, which will most likely end up around 150,000 words, just as I would a genealogy column?

In other words, were there spaces between all the paragraphs? If I were only a fiction writer, the habit of creating an easier to manipulate document would become habit. But I switch from fiction to nonfiction weekly, so sometimes, I begin on the wrong foot…in the wrong format.

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My Library of Books for Writing Fantasy

5x5 fantasy bookA short time ago, Ernesto San Giacomo posted his 2015 Reading List. In the list was Writing About Magic by Rayne Hall.

I commented, saying I had several books about magic, herbs and stones to help me with writing my fantasy stories, but I hadn’t read that one. A list was requested, but I hadn’t gotten around to making it until tonight.

Some of these books are one-time reads, but others I keep on the shelf as references. I can’t remember all the properties of stones and herbs, and I can’t recall all the spells (though I make up a lot myself), so these are keepers for me.

Natural Magic – Spells, Enchantments & Self-development by Pamela J. Ball: This book provides insight to magic and how a sorceress might work her spells. Not every magic-user is the same, so you can take a little of this and a little of that to create a character. This book was okay, worth buying, but not my favourite.

The back cover states: Before there was formal religion there was magic, and to this day there are people who purport to perform ‘miracles’ with the aid of magical powers derived from nature or the spirit realm. These powers are still out there to be tapped into by us. All you need is the knowledge and know-how contained in Natural Magic.

This book reveals: How to become a natural magician, using knowledge gathered over thousands of years by magician and mystic alike. Techniques employing plants, trees, crystals and incense along with meditation, ritual, chanting and dreams. The tools to give expression to your creativity and beliefs. A wide range of methods to bring about positive changes in your life.

The Druid Magic Handbook – Ritual Magic Rooted in the Living Earth by John Michael Greer: This book speaks of Life Force, the alphabet of magic, the elements, enchantment and Ogham writing. It gives a great history on the druids, which I thoroughly enjoyed and ‘connected’ with. I discovered many potential story lines by reading it.

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Keeping Score with your Credit

5x5 Credit ScoreWe finished our three-day business program today, the one that was postponed from last Saturday due to the weather. The big “wow, I didn’t know that!” moment came when we were talking about credit scores.

I don’t pay much attention to my credit score; it is what it is when you are working here and there, not holding a steady job since 1997 because of giving birth and taking care of kids. But today, I learned about something that may affect my score negatively without me realising: forgotten, unused credit cards.

Apparently I wasn’t the only one in the group who had a credit card, but never used it and thought nothing about it. My story is a simple one, one many others may have.

Once upon a time, I had a credit card. A few years later, I was offered another card from a different company. They were giving away a special gift just for signing up, so I did. Who doesn’t love a gift?

A few years afterwards, I got another card from a different company for the same reason: a gift. Like all creatures of habit, I used the credit card I always did to make purchases and only occasionally used the other two. My credit rating with these companies rose, and in turn, they raised my spending limits.

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Snow Day from Business Program

Well, this was unexpected. A snow day. My plans were to complete a three-day business program today, but I received word before 7:00 am that due to hazardous road conditions, it was postponed until next Saturday.

Today we were going to delve into marketing. I was looking forward to it more than the ‘business side’ of business. The business side of business is often the side many like to forget about, ignore and put off until they absolutely have to deal with it.

You know what I mean: bookkeeping, accounting and taxes.

I’ve learned a lot in the past two days about all three of these items. I am still far from being an expert, but I have a better grasp of keeping track of my financial responsibilities. This will not only help me in my new soap-making adventure, but with my writing, publishing and personal finances.

I would recommend anyone going into self-publishing to take one of these programs. Sometimes they are offered for free through your employment centre. Other times you can find them listed in night course programs (We call them continuing education in Nova Scotia). Local business organisations may offer them. I was told local commerce groups hosts similar workshops periodically. In fact I’m signing up for a marketing workshop hosted by our local group.

Although you might find one for free, more than likely you’ll need to pay a small fee to attend. Sixty bucks, however, is a great investment in your self-publishing company if it’s going to save you money and headaches, and get more sales.

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Murder in the Sky

This evening I stepped out the back door to feed the animals before tucking them in for the night, and I was met with an amazing sight: dozens upon dozens of crows flying over the back yard, swooping, squawking and following their ancient instincts to flock together before darkness settled the land. I stood watching, the gusts of wind blowing my hair, as the endless line of birds flew into the distance only to be replaced with more birds, coming from away.

This was not the first time I saw this number of crows fly over our property coming on dusk. It seems to be a regular occurrence these days. Two days ago while working at the new fence, my mind completely immersed in hitting the nail on the head and not my finger, I had looked up and saw the sky filled with the black birds.

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