Liebster Award 2018

This week is special since the charming A.J. Reeves nominated me for the Libster Award! You’ll get to know some odd facts about me as well as discover some blogs I enjoy, yay!liebster-award1a

1. What book had the most impact on you?
There would be three: The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien triggered my first attempt to write a novel; Feeling Good by Dr David D. Burns helped me accept my own depression as an illness and not a fault of character, as well as helped me heal from it; and How To Make A Living With Your Writing by Joanna Penn empowered me to reach for my dreams.

2. What movie would be greatly improved if it was made into a musical?
I’m not a fan of musicals so… none.

3. If given the choice, which literary man or woman would you like to have a relationship with? And what relationship? (friend/co-conspirator/love interest/enemy/etc.)
I’d want to co-write a book with James Patterson! Doesn’t everybody?

4. What is the most embarrassing thing you have ever worn?
I don’t get embarrassed that easily. But the weirdest thing I’ve worn was… Zebra stripes. Like… actual, indelible sharpie zebra stripes on my skin. It was for a team challenge with my swimming team in high school. We won. I had to go to school with stripes still showing for a few days, haha.

5. What part of a kid’s movie completely scarred you?
Nothing really “scarred” me, but I was freaked out by the entire world of Wonderland… especially the Cheshire cat.

6. If you were arrested with no explanation, what would your friends and family assume you had done?
Hm… Assault and battery? Legitimate defence? The dude would have totally deserved it though.

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One of my BJDs (Ball-Jointed Dolls)

7. What is your weirdest hobby?
I guess it depends on your definition of “weird”. Collecting BJD, maybe? Or playing with Lego bricks? Though I neglect those these days because I prioritize writing.

8. What secret conspiracy would you like to start?
I don’t have time to start conspiracies, I have books to write!

9. What mythical creature would improve the world most if it existed?
Fire-breathing dragons? Just kidding. I suppose that would be angels. ♥

10. What’s the most imaginative insult you can come up with?
You have as much culture as a sanitized plastic ball.

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The rules of this award are as follows (cause all nice things have to have rules):

  • Create a new post thanking the person who nominated you, linking to their blog. Include the award graphic.
  • Answer the questions provided.
  • Make a new set of 10 questions for your nominees to answer.
  • Nominate 5-10 recently followed bloggers and share your post with them so they see it.

My questions for you are:

  1. If you had to name one song summing up your life over the last few years, what song would that be?
  2. If you had to describe yourself in a single word, what would it be?
  3. If you could magically acquire one talent or personality trait, what would it be?
  4. If you had no obligations (family, money, etc.), what would you spend your life doing?
  5. If you had to use a piece of fiction (book, movie, video game, etc.) to describe your goals, what would it be?
  6. If you could have anybody, real or fictional, help you reach your goals who would you choose and why?
  7. If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?
  8. If you could live anywhere, real or fictional, where would it be?
  9. If you could change one piece of fiction’s ending, what would it be and how would you change it?
  10. If you could have a device to do any one thing in your place, what would it do?

My nominees for the Liebster Award are (in no particular order):

My Stories With Music
Floatinggold
Matthew Taggart
Brenda
Charlotte Annelise
Lauren
The Ink Owl
Unsaid Words
Keith MacArthur
Crowded Mind

Argh! So many great bloggers, it was hard to choose! Eliminating those who had much over 1k followers and those I’d already nominated last year for the Blogger Recognition Award helped a little but… uuuurgh! If you don’t feel like participating, it’s alright. Just sharing your blogs make me happy.

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Overview of 2017 and resolutions for 2018

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Happy New Year everyone!

I hope you were able to relax a little during the holidays. I have, and now I’m ready to start the new year head on.

However, before I make any resolutions I’d like to reflect on the past year: where 2016 was a year of breakthrough and dreams, 2017 was one of “reality check”. The first quarter of the year was marked by anxiety and frustration due to my lack of income. I also a hard time trying to edit my first novel, which led to the dispersion of my efforts.

Early April, I started working again with a revenge, some 50 and 60 hours a week, which I sustained surprisingly long before I burnt out in September. However, that didn’t prevent me from getting a sense of direction and starting the rewriting process on my first novel. In fall, I also took a creative writing course, which I think helped me improve my skills considerably, and got the amazing opportunity to beta-read Marnie Shaw and the Mystery of Yapton Farm by Deborah Wallace.

In November, I participated to NaNoWriMo, though I also took care not to exhaust myself again. In December, I slept a lot, did a lot of house cleaning and spent a lot of time with my family in order to start the new year in the best conditions.

I checked 5 of my 13 resolutions (#4, 7, 11, 12 and 13) which isn’t so bad considering everything that happened. Also: more important than those goals was “finding a source of income”, which I did.
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For 2018, my theme will be: the warrior’s training. Being a writer, I see my own life as a story (or a series of stories). If I gave up writing early 2016 and then went back at it with a revenge by mid-year, but was slapped in the face in 2017 by reality… I must be at that point in the story where the hero, after having been defeated, needs to train much harder than ever before to vanquish his enemy. That could also be the moment where the hero gets a mentor using unconventional methods.

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In other words, I intend to get out of my comfort zone this year. I’d love to try variants of the exercises I did during my creative writing course (poetry, short stories, creative non-fiction). I have no plan yet, but something like one short piece every 2 weeks a sounds acceptable, though most likely, I’ll only start in April. And if I can gather enough courage, I might even publish some of them online.

Reading-wise, this year I’ll allow myself to indulge: I’ll read whatever I want whenever I want. Last year, I tried to read more modern novels, but though most of them were good and some even excellent, I often found myself wishing I was reading something else. That might explain why even just reading 13 books took some effort. I’m starting the year with Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. ♥

Besides my theme, I’ve also set a few goals for the year:

1 – Rewrite my first novel

2 – Continue blogging weekly (or almost weekly) and being active in the blogging community

3 – Read at least 13 books

4 – Take another creative writing course

5 – Experiment with poetry, short stories, creative non-fiction… maybe even comics!

6 – Take care of my physical and mental health

7 – Furnish my house (at least one room)

Quite a bit fewer resolutions than in 2018, but I’m aiming for 100% success this year (or at least 85%)! I’ll print this list them and paste it on my wall to keep it in sight all year.

Do you make New Year’s resolution? Do they help you reach your goals?

Creative non-fiction: Happy Endings

Foreword: As part of my creative writing course, I had to write creative non-fiction with narrative elements: characters, setting, plot, etc. It was extremely challenging, even scary. I made a list of events I thought could be of some interest and started several drafts. In the end, I chose a fairly cheesy event, but I think it was worth writing. It could be extended, made more tangible, but I’m fairly satisfied with the current version. This happened 5 years ago, around this time of the year. It’s also an ode to happy endings in literature. They’re the best.

~*~

Happy Endings

            I graduated in the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008. All through my bachelor’s degree, teachers kept repeating that there was a huge need for translators and we’d never lack work. It turns out language professionals aren’t always up-to-date on the matters of economics.

I spent two years doing odd jobs before I finally got one in my field… in Ottawa – 5 hours from everyone and everything I know.  I went. I’d stay a year, get some experience, then find a new job back in Québec City.

By the end of my ninth month of exile, I was restless. I had gone to several job interviews in my hometown, but none of them had paid off. I was almost 25 and nowhere near “having my life together” as I thought I should. An existential crisis ensued.

I used several tricks to feel better. I started writing a middle-grade novel for NaNoWriMo to get my mind off things. My fiancé tried to help me, to find a way to bring me back home that wouldn’t put us in a financially unsustainable situation… But without him by my side to make me laugh every day, my mood only got worse.

Then, on my birthday, my roommate, who was also my landlady, told me I had to leave within two months because she was going to sell the house to move with her new boyfriend.

I broke.

I hate moving, and I hated the idea of having to move somewhere else in Ottawa. In my mind, the next time I’d move would be to go back to Québec City.

A few days later, I sent my fiancé an email that was more or less a break-up letter. I woke up the next morning more depressed than ever, dragged my feet downstairs and… saw my white Elantra through the window. The car I’d bought with him. The car he’d kept when I moved to the national capital. What was it doing there at 6 freaking a.m.?

No doubt he saw the light turn on, because he got out of the car and came to the door. I didn’t understand. How was he there? He lived 5 hours away from me, how was he there a Thursday morning at 6 a.m.? I opened the door for him.

“What’re doing here?” I asked. I am a fairly intelligent person, but, confronted with an improbable event two minutes after waking up, my mind was trapped in a loop of confusion.

“I’m taking you home,” he said.

“We went over this.”

“We’ll be alright, kay? It’s not healthy for you to stay here anymore.”

It was the climax of my own fairy tale. Prince charming had come to get me. This prince wasn’t rich, and a sedan is less romantic than a horse, and I was still in my pyjamas, but that moment seemed perfect nonetheless.

I quit my job the following Monday, became pregnant two weeks later. We had our struggles, but we made it. Besides, my Ottawa employer called me a year later to hire me as a long-distance employee.

There might be no real “happy ever after” in life, but there can be happy endings on paper. Of course, I skipped over the part between then and now where I wanted my life to end. But “happy” and “ending” are all a matter of perspective.

~*~

I hope you’ve enjoyed this and happy holidays!

NaNoWriMo 2017: Week 2&3

Week 2 of NaNoWriMo went a very little bit better than week 1: I wrote a total of 5,488 words, bringing my total to 9,704 words. Whoops, that’s less than I should have written in the first week. But I held on. Part of those words was my final creative writing assignment, which I am rather proud of it even if I can’t get rid of my writer insecurities.girl-3-copie

What I’m particularly proud of is that I managed to write a whole story in under 1,000 words. I don’t write short stories because whenever I try, I end up wanting to expand and expand on them until they’re novel-length. Even for this one, one of my teacher’s comments was:

It […] feels like it could keep going, as the world of the story feels fleshed out and inhabitable. It reads a bit like an opening chapter or a television pilot, where you could keep the story going significantly after this.

Yeah. Absolutely. I know at least 3 different possible directions in which to extend this into a novel. Buuut it can also be read as a short story, and that’s an achievement for me.

As for my NaNoWriMo project, it became… weirder. The hero developed a taste for BDSM – though he’s a teenager – and the heroin sort of digs it. Ahem. That might not make it into the final draft.

NaNoWriMo Week 2-3a

Week 3 was uh… a warp zone. Poof! Before I knew it, it was week 4 already and I almost hadn’t written anything. See the sad, flat line in the graph, like a dead person’s ECG?

sigh

I went to a Lego convention on Nov. 17, 18 and 19 and came back with a bad cold. If I wanted to be able to work 8 hours in a row, I had to go to bed right after supper. I know all too well that trying to “push through” at that point would have been harmful to my physical and mental health.

Now week 4 is well underway and I’m still sick, but I feel a bit better. My total word count is 12,177 words. It is clear that reaching 50,000 words won’t be possible for me this month. I know people who can write 10,000 words per day, but I’m not one of them. It’s disappointing. However, I’ll write as much as I can until November 30 (and beyond) because the ultimate goal is to write the story without compromising my health or my enjoyment in the process.

Don’t give up, people. NaNoWriMo is hard and it’s not for everybody, but the good news is there are 12 months in a year. November is just one of them, so keep writing.

Blocked? Get to know your characters

It can happen any time: during the outlining, the drafting, the rewriting or the editing process. You feel blocked. No worries, there are a number of ways to get you going again. One of them is getting to know your characters. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

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Character sheets

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I used to love creating character sheets, then abandoned it because “hey, I know my characters, they’re mine”. But I’m starting to do it again, except I don’t write the same things I used to. For example, I used to skip the part about inner conflict. “Why, it’s all over the pages!” I’d think. Except summarizing it is an excellent way to see whether it “holds up”. A story is a bit like a labyrinth: the characters and the reader don’t know its exact configuration, but the writer must know it to make sure it is sound. It wouldn’t do to have holes or too many ways leading to the center (or climax) or none at all.

There are a plethora of templates online, from basic to elaborate. I find the basic ones useful while I’m outlining, but while editing I use one that’s much more elaborate. For instance, in the past couple of weeks I wrote several pages of background story, inner conflict, motivation, and ghosts (aka those things that haunt people). Doing this helped me realize that I didn’t understand my main character quite as well as I used to think.

Character interviews

carouselleriecreative_pinkishblooms_elements_berries-11You get to mimic your own favourite interviewer and ask your characters all kinds of questions. I don’t actually watch interviews, so I use Marcel Proust’s questionnaire to get me started. My characters don’t always tell me the truth… but I know when they’re lying and what they’re lying about tells me a bit more about what they’re ashamed of or how they’d like people to see them. Then I go deep, CIA agent-like, and discover the truth. This might sound weird, but I think reading Get the Truth made me a better writer.

Another way of “interviewing” your characters would be to make them complete a personality test. I have already stated my love for the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (or MBTI), but I know a lot of people like The Enneagram too. If you’re more esoterically oriented, name meanings and astrology can help, too… even tarot cards or runes, if you’re into that. You can even sort them in one of the houses at Hogwarts!

Simulations

I’m not sure whether a lot of writers do this, but sometimes I like to momentarily take a character out of their normal context and see how they react. Write a scene or two of them meeting people they’ll never actually meet in the story, or make them do crazy things that they’d never actually do. Sometimes, those can end up in the actual story as a “fantasy” of theirs. Most of the time it only serves as fuel, but it’s an exercise that I find so fun and entertaining it also provides powerful motivation.

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Finally, we tend to want to focus on main characters, but do not forget to do it for your secondary characters, too. They have their own agenda and can sometimes impact the main plot in unexpected ways (as they should).  In fact, in my current project, it’s a secondary character that helped me get unstuck. I also like to imagine what a story centered on their lives would be like… though that’s dangerous. It can make you want to make them more important in your main character’s story than they should be, or give you more story ideas than you could possibly write in a lifetime. But it’s a good problem to have, I guess.

I hope you enjoyed this post! Feel free to share your own techniques to get to know your characters.

Spotlight on K.M. Weiland

For the past two weeks, I’ve been working on story structure. Like I said in my previous post, I found a few structural issues in my first draft that needed fixing.Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000035_00015]

Last year, I’ve read Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering, which contains close to a hundred pages on story structure. It was interesting, but I was still a bit confused about a few things, so I figured I’d get a second opinion. That’s when a writer friend from my NaNoWriMo community shared K.M. Weiland’s 5 Secrets of Story Structure (5SoSS), a free e-book. I felt like the book had been written for me, by a friend (unlike Story Engineering, which felt like it had been written by a grumpy and sour creative writing teacher). It explained everything I needed to know.

It can be read in an afternoon, which is great when you’re eager to start getting to work. And it is so packed with information that I’d think it’s easily one of the best free e-books on writing you can get out there.

Because most of the terms in there are linked to the “hero’s quest”, you’ll find terms like “confrontation” that might not be very eloquent for, say, a romance novel. However, the writer happens to have a story structure database, so you can go and see how other novels in your genre have handled this or that particular point.
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Curious, I proceeded to read her other freely accessible work, including Crafting Unforgettable Characters. You have to subscribe to her mailing list to get that one, but if you ask me, you should subscribe anyway. I can’t say that it was as eye-opening as 5SoSS for me because I already knew most of what’s in there, but it definitely is worth the read. This one too is short enough to be read in an afternoon. It also includes a list of pointers to perform a “character interview”.

For podcasts aficionados, she’s also posting one episode a week dealing with varied subjects like “How to Calculate Your Book’s Length Before Writing” or “How to Ace the First Act in Your Sequel”. I’ll certainly listen to those while knitting.

I love how the website is organized: there is a Start Here! page where the author gives you a quick tour of her website and most popular resources, which I find so clever that I might shamelessly steal the idea and implement it on my blog. Then, in the left menu, she has six big categories of resources for outlines, story structure, character arcs, scenes, common writing mistakes and “storytelling according to Marvel”. Each page leads you to a list of the articles in that category, in a recommended reading order.

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If writing isn’t your thing, but you enjoy reading, she also has a free e-book titled Dreamlander. I haven’t read it, but it has great reviews on Goodreads. I might review it myself later…

Last but not least, the website has been awarded 3 years in a row the Writer’s Digest 101 Best Website for Writers. I didn’t know that such an award existed before I saw it on her page, but then I started noticing it on others pages I sometimes visit.

I don’t know if her resources are going to “help me become an author”, but they’ll certainly help me edit my novel!

Rewriting a novel: self-critique

A nice reader told me my previous post How to rewrite a novel using scene cards, was more about “why” than “how”, and I agreed. I wanted to show everyone my new technique, thinking somehow that everything surrounding it was a matter of course… which it isn’t. So I went and renamed that post and will make this a series as I progress in the rewriting process.

In this post, I’ll focus on the first step: rereading and filling my scene cards, then critiquing each scene and the story as a whole.

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Rereading

girl-5-copieWhen reading my first draft, I like to pretend I’m a creative writing teacher providing constructive criticism to their student. This accomplishes two things: 1) it allows me to focus on what’s wrong rather than going straight into problem-solving mode and 2) it puts some distance between me and the draft.

The first point helps me move forward and not get stuck on individual scenes: at this point, the goal is to see the story as a whole, not to troubleshoot each individual scene. That’ll come later.

The second point allows me to see the scenes as they are written and not as I first imagined them or as I remember them. For example, I can see then that even though my narrator doesn’t notice her surrounding much, with next to no setting description she and all the other characters are just talking heads.

For some reason, it also allows me to judge my main character mercilessly. I love her, so I tend to be too compassionate towards her… like a mother who doesn’t see their kid’s flaws. I muffle her harsh words, soften her acts… like her being perfect could somehow make me closer to perfection. It can’t. All it does is make her unreal and boring. It’s not that I didn’t give her flaws; she has plenty of them. But she never acts on an impulse; she’s never conflicted about her own actions; she never let her flaws get in her way. She’s nonhuman.

Distancing myself from the book also helps me tell whether the plot works or not. I had a fairly solid outline for this book, but… either I never looked at it as a reader, or I couldn’t tell before writing the thing that it wouldn’t work.

I kept on throwing obstacles on my MC’s path, not realizing that I shouldn’t have made it so straight and clear to begin with. The result was that she had it too easy AND the obstacles looked like I’d stolen them from a B movie.

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Filling scene cards

After I’ve read each scene, I fill the corresponding card. As an example, here’s my first scene (featuring Ingrid Sunberg’s scene cards and my terrible handwriting):

Scene 01a

The notes in the margin were written as a quick-reference. I wasn’t sure whether I should rewrite the thing or delete it, but either way, I knew it didn’t work.

Most boxes are fairly straightforward, but I’d like to add a word on scene goals. A scene must always have at least one concrete goal, and one more abstract. For example, in my first scene I want to introduce my main character (concrete) and create empathy, i.e. make the reader care about what happens to her (abstract). For this, I’ll have to set the stage, introduce my MC’s external and internal conflicts, thereby hinting at some of my story’s themes.

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Critiquing

Right after I’ve read the scene, I go ahead and point out its faults in free form. It’s actually halfway between critique and brainstorming. As an example, here’s the back side of my first scene:

Scene 01b

Because it was the very first scene to be reviewed, I didn’t want to come to the conclusion I had to delete it. I tried saving it as much as I could… in vain. It simply didn’t fit in the book anymore. It had value all through the drafting process, because every time I had interrogations about my MC I’d go back and reread this scene to remember who she was, but that was it: it belongs in my MC’s character sheet, not in the book proper.

That being said, some issues relate to a whole bunch of scenes or even the entire book. For those, I have a separate binder divided into as many sections as needed. Currently, it contains notes and improvement ideas on story structure (especially “beats”, i.e. opening image/hook, inciting incident, first plot point, etc.), character development and 2 particular story arcs that don’t work.

It’s important I detach myself emotionally from my draft and not think in terms of how long or hard it would be to change this or that, which would only discourage me. I focus on what’s in front of me, what works, what doesn’t, whether a passage is too long and boring or whether it feels rushed, etc. Then I’ll have to focus on the baby steps I can take to reach the goal, which is a structurally sound and entertaining manuscript. Of course, I probably cannot avoid some degree of emotional ups and downs, but I want to avoid the downs to go so low I get writer’s block (which in my case is almost always due to performance anxiety).

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Notes for the rewrite

Now, this step is about finding problems, not fixing them. But if, while tossing and turning in bed at night or while reading a book on writing I suddenly see how a scene should be, I take notes.

In this case, I realised I didn’t want my book to start in my MC’s head, nor did I want her to introduce herself through narration. I wanted to introduce her by showing what she endures to make her dream of being a professional musician come true (external conflict), and how her issues with appearances and gender identity and double standards have an impact on her life (internal conflict). I might even hint at her total lack of social skills while I’m at it. “Show, don’t tell” as they say. A good example of what this might look like would be the short story Programme by The Loyal Brit.

With that in mind, I printed and filled a new scene card, which I stapled on top of the old one:

Scene 01c

Now I have a place and a date and even a mood, implied in “rough conditions of life”. We get to skip the introduction and go straight to the action and, shortly after, the hook. The card mostly serves as a reminder, so it’s okay if it’s a bit vague. I’ll figure out the details when I rewrite the thing.

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The next step will be to fix the story and fine-tune my characters. Only when that’s done will I actually start rewriting.

First post in this series: Rewriting a novel: the scene cards technique