Christian Convictions: Magic in Writing

Christians and Magic

I don’t care for the word ‘magic’. It can be a touchy word in the Christian community. Is magic bad? Is some magic fine to read and other magic not? Is it fine to write? Can I love Lord of the Rings but decide against reading Harry Potter* **? The word magic is so broad that everyone can have their own picture of it without anyone being wrong.

*The answer is yes, by the way. You can choose what to read as you please. You only need to have logical arguments involved if you’re trying to prove why one shouldn’t be read and the other should be read.

**Also, I’d like to note that I’ve not read Harry Potter. I’ve read arguments both for and against reading them, but I’m not currently making any judgments one way other the other. *glances to either side, wondering if I’ve managed to avoid offending both sides or have successfully riled everyone*

Christians and magic

I split magic into two main categories. The larger category is fantasy magic, which I like to address as abilities, gifts, or powers. The second one is real-world witchcraft.

Fantasy Magic

Imbedded abilities

This allows characters in fantasy lands to communicate telepathically, animals to talk, shape-shifters to walk the land, gifts of invisibility or creating fire to be given from person to person, or an unusual ability to pass down a family line. I don’t consider any of this proper magic, nor would I call it magic in a book. There’s no mysterious force involved and no spells and chants. It’s simply the way things are in some faraway place. Why should one expect the laws of nature in a fantasy world to operate the same as natural laws here on earth? That’s the whole point of fantasy; to be able to create something new. Something different. I don’t think there is anything in general imbedded abilities which a Christian need shy away from.

Spiritual Powers

Especially in allegory, this can be fascinating to work with. Characters may have abilities which are gifts from the allegorical portrayal of God. Once again, these aren’t chants or ceremonies or something the character is making happen. It is a gift, and should be used as such or there will likely be consequences. And if there are gifts given by the Creator, there might be dark gifts given by the allegorical equivalent of Satan. I don’t believe there is anything wrong with this type of power either, if handled carefully. There were prophets in the Bible who God healed through, and there were also sorcerers. As writers, we don’t try to ignore the darkness in the world, but rather we show it for what it is, reveal the consequences, and bring out the brightness of the light. That being said, even in allegory I, personally, would not go into great depth of any sort of rites powered by the darkness.

Immaterial Force

In a fantasy world there might be an immaterial force or energy which anyone trained can tap into and use for good or bad. It might be called magic. It might be called science. Or it might be religious in nature. I waver on this issue. I would not call it wrong, but at the same time I think a writer needs to be careful with this type of magic. Here, in the real world, magic is bad. There’s not white magic and black magic. The dangers of using an amoral force is that readers may bring the ideas of a force which can be used for good or bad from the fantasy world and apply them to the idea of magic in this world, especially if one is using wands and spells and chants. A lot goes into how it is portrayed. Is it a sort of energy one can draw out with the right tools in a very science-like manner, or is the tone very magic ridden, with rites and ceremonies? Like I said, I wouldn’t go so far as to say this kind of ‘magic’ is always or completely wrong, but it also wouldn’t be my option of choice.

Portal Magic

This is the ‘magic’ that crosses the borders of time and space, dropping characters into the past, the future, or even different worlds. This can be portrayed as science. Or you can mix fantasy with real-life, as if it is something which always exists, most people simple don’t know about it. I’ve no problem with either of those aspects, though I’d not condone portraying it as a magic one has to speak spells over.

Real Magic

Here in the real world, there are only two sources of power. Power from God, and power from Satan. There’s not white magic and black magic; any magic is from Satan and should not be meddled with, which is why I don’t think any character in this world should have magical powers. They might have fantastical abilities due to a science experiment of some sort, but what they can do should have a natural explanation.

As I mentioned early, just because we are Christians doesn’t mean we avoid writing about any kind of evil. How graphically we describe the evil is a topic for another conversation, but there is evil in the world and we don’t try to gloss over it for our readers. Rather we show its consequences and the power of the light. All this to say, magic is a possibility in writing, if you are working on something like a spiritual warfare thriller, but it should never be portrayed as good. And I’d deal with it only in general terms. There is no need for a Christian writer to study the occult to write a ritual, and readers aren’t going to benefit from soaking up details about the darkness which are best left alone.

So when writing, there are a few basic questions you can ask. Is the book here, or in a fantasy world? If in this world, then magic should not be tampered with as an amoral power. Are there cool abilities you want give a race of people? Go for it. Do you want spiritual power in an allegorical world? Make sure the source of good and evil are clearly defined and don’t get carried away on the dark side with blood magic and spells.

Real magic in this world is always evil and should be handled with care, if at all. But what many call magic in fantasy is nothing more than fascinating abilities. And as for the real magic in fantasy, look at the source, the uses, and the portrayal to decide if it is worthwhile or not.

Note: What I write is what I believe after reading the Bible and holding conversations with friends and parents, but that does not mean I’m not interested in Bible evidence for another point of view. If the topics interest you, I encourage you to study them on your own as well. Friendly discussion in the comment section is encouraged if you have points you’d like to bring up, but this is not the place for a full-scale debate. : )

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New Fantasy Times: Musings of a Minion

Musings of a Minion

Heroes have overwhelming expectations placed upon them, and villains are pressed into stereotypes, but the one character who no one seems to expect much of are the minions. They work hard too, and they’d appreciate some recognition as this anonymous letter from a minion, delivered by Kirin testifies.

To whom it may or may not concern,

Everyone has a trade or craft or position of some sort, from smiths and bakers, to farmers and soldiers, to architects and sailors. I so happened to choose the path of a minion. Not, of course, that you should ever, ever, use that term. It’s a great inside joke, but do you know how demeaning it is when someone address us as a mere minion of some great leader? No? Well, try it sometime to our face and just you wait. You’ll be sorry.

Because honestly, face it, you use the term minion as if it is degrading. As if we are less than the one we serve, less than other people, and sometimes less than human. Is a soldier in the army treated as less than a person just because he’s under a great general? We are people, same as anyone else. We’ve loyalties, duties, likes, dislikes, families…we aren’t some brainwashed mass who does a villain’s bidding. I’d best add here that villain is just another term bandied about. To us, he is our employer. Perhaps a master. Perhaps a friend. Yes, there are some who might serve him out of fear, but then he’s little more than a slave driver. Generally ‘minions’ work because they choose to for money or for other rewards.

We might have ambitions to become like him someday, or we might just be working to put food on the table, but either way where do you think he’d be without others like us? No one, hero or villain, can do everything. So they hire helpers and others volunteer for the job. You don’t see the people helping heroes called minions, do you?

Though, frankly, the gross underestimation that generally comes with the term ‘minion’ does help us out quite a bit. I mean, how do you think we got our jobs? By shooting at a target and the one who hits the least gets promoted? We work to earn our way. If we deal in security, then we are at least a notch above the average shot or swordsman. If we work indoors, we are constantly on the alert. Our rise and fall is intimately connected to that of our employer (do you know how hard it is to find a job after working for someone termed ‘villain’?). This is also the reason a good villain will hire his helpers, not enslave them. But we aren’t just going to look the other way or fall asleep while guarding prisoners (there are severe penalties for that anyway) or (generally) accept bribes. Well, I take that back. It depends on the quality of our employer and what we think the long-term damage will be and how it affects us. The best course of action is to acquire the bribe then go to our employer. Hey, you don’t expect us to act honorably anyway. Why should we?

One thing we don’t do is fight among ourselves. There is a certain code among us, which we all follow for our own good. Sometimes, I admit, some man or woman gets ambitious, but such uprisings are generally put down from the top. Because no house will succeed when ripped apart from the middle. Now there is one exception. If faced with ‘minions’ from a different villain, insults and then blows might fly. But who can blame us? The others are generally insufferable.

We come from all walks of life and for all kinds of reasons. Adventure. Love. Revenge. The need to provide for a family. The experience. If we fail, there are standard punishments like anywhere else. If we betray, we die. But if we work hard and use our skills, we are able to obtain a view from the shadows that very few can see.

Remaining nameless to protect myself,

A Sharpshooting ‘Minion’

 

Have any questions, legends, or trending cliches you’d like Kirin Quillblade (or Elena) to address? Please comment below; he promises to at least read what you have to say between his realm leaper’s missions, even if he holds the rights to choose what to write about and what to ignore.

 

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How to Self-Publish on Amazon: the beginner’s step-by-step guide to self-publishing their first book

Ready to self-publish on Amazon?

Considering self-publication on Amazon, but don’t have a clue where to start or what to expect? Take a glimpse behind-the-scenes, so when the time comes to push the button and create your own ebook, you already know what lies ahead of you.

Before you publish

Assuming your book is already proofread and edited, the next step is formatting. You can hire someone to do this for you from places like Fiverr, or you can spend an hour or two and format the book yourself. Though some people use HTML code, I’ve found that following Amazon’s free ebook of guidelines using Microsoft Word works very well and is pretty easy to do. You can download a free copy of their formatting guidelines here.

You also need a cover. Don’t rush this step. Almost everyone judges a book by its cover to some extent and you don’t want your months of writing ignored because of a sloppy cover, especially when you can hire someone on Fiverr to make a good cover for as low as $20. Amazon’s guidelines for ebook covers can be found here.

Finally, research categories and keywords. You’ll be allowed to choose two categories and seven keywords when you self-publish your book, so pick the best ones you can to increase your book’s chance of being found in a random search.

Categories can be found on Amazon’s sidebar, with subcategories and sub-subcategories. Once you click a category, the number of books for that category will appear in the upper left-hand corner, giving you an idea of the competition. If you click the first few books and scroll down to the book information, you can see what number the ebook is ranked in the kindle store, getting an idea of how popular the category is. Together, these numbers will help you figure out what categories will give your book its best chance.

Keywords are somewhat similar. Think of Amazon like a search engine and imagine what people looking for a book like yours might type in. Try out the keywords and see how many results you get and what the books are ranked.

Finally, set up your Amazon account. Even if you have one already, you’ll have to get a KDP account and enter in tax and bank information, as well as chose a payment option (electronic transfer, check, etc.).

The Publishing Process

On your KDP dashboard, right at the very top, you’ll have the option to create a new title. Once you’ve clicked it, you only have two pages to fill out.

The first page is metadata about your book. You enter in your title, subtitle, series name (if it’s part of one), author name, a description, categories (after all your category research, the categories you see here and the ones you see on Amazon aren’t quite the same. You might have to do some experimenting with them to get your book in the categories you want), keywords, and the age range of your book (optional, but if you want your book in a children’s or young adult category, you might need to use it). At the bottom of the page upload your cover and manuscript, and move on!

The second page is all about money. You set the price for your book and choose your royalty option. You can select between receiving 35% royalties or 70% royalties. To use the 70% option, your book must be priced between $2.99 and $9.99. Once you’ve chosen your price, you push publish, wait around 12 hours, and your book will be live on Amazon and ready to buy!

After Publication

You can’t set a book’s price to free, but if you want a permafree ebook for marketing purposes, you can upload it somewhere like Smashwords, then contact Amazon to ask them to price match your book. They’ll generally do so within a few days.

Also, if you find a mistake, want to update a portion of your book, or change a category or the description, it’s very easy. Just click on the book in your dashboard and it will take you to the same pages you filled in when you published the book. Switch or change whatever you like, push publish again, and the changes will be live around twelve hours later.

Set up an account on Amazon Author Central so people can look you up and see what else you’ve written.

And you’re set and ready to go! Don’t let the publication process scare you and if you have any questions, feel free to ask below!

 

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Developing Your Characters: Part 3 – The Dependence

There are three main questions, powerful, yet short, which an author should ask and answer for each of their characters. The first question is, what does your character want? What does he desire more than anything? What will he give anything for and what is he striving for? Coupled with this question (if the character is a major one) is what does he really need, and is it what he wants?

Secondly, what does your character fear? What will he do almost anything to avoid? Is what he wants more powerful than what he fears or vice versa?

Today, we’ll move to the last major question which should be asked while developing characters:

What does your character depend on?

Does your character depend on himself for strength? To get things done? Is he the ‘end of the line’? Or does he rely on someone higher than himself. A family. A king. A magical weapon. A nation. A God, either true or false.

Though this question may be very much in the background of your story and plot, it makes all the difference to the character. Even if the actions of a man rescuing his daughter, or a princess taking back her throne end up being the same, the attitudes and emotions coupled with their actions will change drastically depending on who, or what, they rely on.

The degrees of reliance may change too, though for minor characters simply answering the question will be enough. For others, reliance on self, land, or God may shift through their character arc, either for better or worse.

And there you have it! Three questions to keep in mind for each character as you write about them. What does your character want more than anything? What do they fear? And what do they rely on?

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Developing Your Characters: Part 2 – The Fear

As I mentioned last month, developing fictional characters can stray into great detail. Writing pages of likes, dislikes, hobbies, and backstory can be helpful, but it can also swamp you with information that doesn’t really have a place in the story, and still leaving you wondering about how to distinctly portray the character in question.

There are three main questions, powerful, yet short, which an author should answer for each of their characters. The first question is, what does your character want? What does he desire more than anything? What will he give anything for and what is he striving for? Coupled with this question (if the character is a major one) is what does he really need, and is it what he wants?

Today, we’ll move to the second major question which can be asked of all characters:

What does your character fear?

Except in rare cases, your character is bound to fear something. If he doesn’t fear anything, then you can probably glean quite a bit of information about him by figuring out why they don’t fear anything. But generally your character will have some fears.

There are two type of fear. The first one is situational fear. As your character is hiding in a dark closet or running from wolves or in the middle of battle, his or her fear is natural. And, while some characters will be afraid to different degrees, in different situations, and of different things, if they aren’t afraid sometimes then they’re probably not human.

You can learn a lot from situational fear, but other kind of fear, the fears you want to find for this question, are the ‘great fears’ of a character’s life. Unlike ‘what does your character want’ the question about ‘what a character fears’ may have more than one answer and will likely have several layers of answers. A man may fear breaking under torture, but he fears for the safety of his family even more, while the topmost rung consists of his fear of failing his nation or his God.

Still, there will probably be one culminating fear, coupled with several others, which may or may not be related, but which also shape the character. These fears will tell you quite a bit about your character: what or who he cares for most and where his deepest loyalties lie. It also gives you another weapon to torment your poor character with, by making them choose between two fears or prodding them to see what will make them face their fear, if anything will force them to allow the fear to come to pass, or what they will give to keep a fear from coming true.

So, discover what your character wants, what he fears, and be on the watch next month for the last main question to ask of your characters.

MASTERSOFTHESOUND.COM

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Developing Your Characters: Part 1 – The Want

Developing fictional characters can stray into great detail, from what a character likes to eat, to his favorite color, to ‘does he snore’? I’ve filled out pages of questions about various characters, so much so that I forget almost everything I’ve written, then don’t bother to look back, and write the character as he or she first comes to mind. A problem, I know. I’m working on it.

But there are three main questions, powerful, yet short, which an author should answer for each of his or her characters. In fact, character development might not need to go much further for some secondary characters. Meanwhile, with main characters, keeping these questions in mind while writing will be a great help in giving them their own voices. And the first question and answer is…

*rolling drumbeat*

What does your character want?

Not the little things, like food and shelter. There’s always going to be some things a character needs and others he wants. But what does he really, really, really want? What is always in the back of his mind? What would he give almost everything to gain? Honor? Love? Gold? Salvation? He may not realize his desires narrow down to a single phrase but, once we the authors know what this desire is, we can use it to inspire him, torment him (we’re awful, I know) or change him.

As an extra note for major characters, is what the character wants what he needs? What they want may drive the story to the end where they get it. Or what they want may be wrong or not as important as they once thought and, by the end, they will give up what they want more than anything else for something else they’ve realized is more important.

Or what they want might change.

The character’s desires will drive what he says, does, and how he views the circumstances going on around him.

Keep an eye out next month, for the second of the major question which should be answered for every character, large and small.

MASTERSOFTHESOUND.COM

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Longbows – Part 2

Read Part 1 here

Longbows, and bows in general when used in battle, were not just a weapon shot from safe heights or long distances. As one of the most expensive artillery weapons, bows and archers played a large role in the outcome of battles.

An archer was more vulnerable than many foot soldiers. Due to the motions and work connected with drawing back a bow, archers had to wear non-restrictive clothing…meaning not much armor. But, as it was also necessary for archers to be affiliated to various groups, they did quite often wear certain colors. The commonest form of archer’s clothing was the courtepy; a short coat or tunic, or perhaps a hooded cloak of sorts which extended just below the shoulders. They also, at times wore stout padded coats, with a mail collar and plate leg-harnesses along with a simple helmet of iron or boiled leather.

While it was possible for a longbow to be shot from the back of a horse, the level of skill required took years to attain. For the most parts, the bowmen who rode horses used them only as a means of quick transportation.

When it battle, bowmen standing on their own without defenses were very vulnerable to any sort of charge by the enemy. Archers needed to be posted in prepared, defended positions. Or, at other times, they were shielded by men at arms or were interspersed among the foot soldiers.

In pitched battle, long range flights of arrows were likely to be carefully controlled due to the cost of arrows, with the majority of arrows shot at ranges of 50 yards and closing. Though cool in the movies, it’s highly unlikely there were numbers of arcing volleys toward the enemy lines with all archers shooting in unison.

The advantage of ground, especially high ground, played a great part in how well a force of archers could operate. And, as the battle lines clashed, the archer’s job wasn’t over. As the enemy troops closed in on their defenses or army, archers – who were sometimes interspersed with the men-at-arms – shot though the confusion at enemy targets only five or ten yards away.

But not all fighting was done on the battle field. Bows were used in siege warfare too. Incendiary arrows could set fire to buildings inside city or castle, while regular showers of arrows could put everyone inside in danger, not the less because soldiers inside the walls might fail to wear armor due to their perceived security. Archers could also keep the walls clear as their own men tried to mount with ladders, but such work required a keen eye and skilled shooting to hit friends.

The besieged could also use bows against those mounting their walls through various means including arrow-loops in the walls. Shots from within the wall required the archer to place himself in a vulnerable position in relation to the vertical slits (sometime with horizontal openings crossing them), but those shooting from below also had to advance to try to hit the openings. Due to potential structural weaknesses, an arrow loop was buttressed with splayed sides ranging from six to ten feet deep, forcing archers inside to shoot a considerable distance from the actual opening. But, though harder, the further back an archer on the inside shot, the wider angle of shot he could achieve.

Bows lasted the longest in naval warfare, being used into the mid and even late 1500s. From an effort to catch the enemy ship on fire, to hanging in the rigging and shooting down on the enemy deck – or shooting from the deck to topple enemy snipers, bowmen were quicker and more accurate than early guns.

Though expensive, archers were also deadly and well worth their cost in battle. Due to the many combinations and elements of war, it’s difficult to put an exact scale of importance to a longbow in battle. As but one piece in the larger realm of war, archery was neither for the weak nor the cowards. With less armor than most soldiers, but still near if not among the front lines, archers had to be able to draw their bows back again and again and again. But in both large and small scale fighting, they often helped to set the stage and were instrumental, if not crucial, to the final outcome.

(Most information from The Longbow by Mike Loades)

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Longbows – part 1

I’ve always loved archers and archeress. Robin Hood, Queen Susan, Hawkeye, Katniss, Legolas, Silvara… Whether in movies, books, or real-life, archery is cool to watch. There’s something about the quick draw, flashing arrow, and bullseye impact dozens of feet away. And, in a fantasy or medieval battle, bows are an important feature on the field.

Longbows generally stood taller than the men who drew them because the height of man is proportional to his arm and, hence, his draw length. Yew wood is the traditional wood of choice for the longbow, but other woods worked well too such as Wych elm and the Italian yew. There were also recurve longbows, where the end of the bows limbs are bent slightly out to increase power for the length of the bow. These, however, took more work and were more expensive.

Bows shot on the battlefield likely had draw weights between 90 and 120 pounds, though views on this differ. Some archers may have even brought two bows with them. A stronger one to begin shooting and a lighter one for later on when their arms were tired, or as a backup if one bow broke. There were even some bows outfitted with pointed limbs so they could be quickly transferred into a stabbing weapon if arrows were gone and the enemy fast approaching.

Longbow men could shoot fast, and at quite a long range. Old archery fields sport marks with distances ranging from 130 yards to 345 yards. During the 1500s, under Henry VIII, archers were expected to be able to shoot with accuracy at a range at 220 yards. Well trained men could shoot 250-350 yards while there are claims of a man loosing an arrow 482 yards with a longbow.

An expert bowman could loose 10-12 arrows a minute during battle. (A quick side note here; arrows are loosed from a bow, not fired. That term came later, in relation to guns.)

Providing for archers in war was anything but cheap. At various times, law required archers to provide themselves with a sheaf of 24 arrows, but during battle these would swiftly be gone and the resupplying of arrows must have been a constant job.

Ash and Aspen appear to be some of the most popular wood for arrow making, while repairing arrows was a viable possibility after battle, considering the cost of a sheaf being nearly five days wages.

Arrowheads were of various qualities, with the best arrows carrying tips of hardened steel using a quenching process. Since the iron for these tips had to be of a certain quality, and the process took longer, these arrows were more expensive. The vast majority of the arrows were boiled or tempered.

Different arrowheads were required to shoot against various kinds of armor, and it is a very real possibility that archers carried two or three kinds of arrows, laid them out before the battle, and chose their arrows depending on their targets.

The cutting head, broadhead, or long-needle bodkin were ideal arrows when shooting against textile armor (more on armor below) but some arrowheads would curl against plate armor. A short bodkin, on the other hand, might punch though plate armor but would not pierce mail, while a long bodkin would. But it is important to note that an arrow, even if unable to pierce the armor, could deal strong blows with bruising or worse simply due to the force behind the projectile.

SANYO PHOTOLABO V250

1) Swallowtail broadhead. 2) Small straight broadhead. 3) Forked hunting head. 4) London Museum type 16 war head; it is a war head of the later medieval period used to pierce plate armor. 5) War bodkin long type 10. – This war head is the most common of the medieval period. It was used against knights in plate armor and will penetrate armor up to two millimeters in thickness. 6) Needle bodkin type 7. – This war head was developed to pierce mail with devastating results

Barbed arrows existed, though they were more expensive and it is unknown to what extend they were used on the battlefield. But, barbed or not, many arrowheads were simply shoved firmly onto the arrow instead of being fastened. That way, when one was wounded with an arrow, the head would likely be left in the wound.

The shield was the most significant single item in the defense against arrows. Made of wood, reinforced with multiple laminations of heavy canvas and sometimes even with parchment, most shields were not meant to last for long periods of time like swords and bows. A well thrown spear could disable it, while swords and axes could chop it down during battle. But, if made properly, a shield could adequately protect the vital areas of the man bearing it from longbow arrows.

But a shield can’t protect the whole body and so armor was worn.

Mail was perhaps the most commonly worn metal armor of the medieval period. It combined good protection with flexibility and also held the potential of repair. Of a greater or lesser strength depending on its make, mail was especially effective against cutting blows from a sword or ax, but was less useful against a bodkin-style arrow. To penetrate, any arrow needed to strike the mail at close to 90 degrees to the target surface.

Textile armor was commonly worn beneath mail, leather, or plate armor. It consisted of a stuffed and quilted knee-length coat which offered formidable resistance to the shock of an arrow impact as well as obstructing penetration.

Plate armor, consisting of metal plates riveted to the inside of a leather or linen base, was the next step up and a good defense against arrows. But all such armor gave way under an arrow strike and could cause bruising and internal damage. Full piece plate armor was an even better defense, and well able to deflect arrows unless the arrow struck close to the perpendicular.

Helmets were also useful. But when the wearers took them off or lifted the visor due to heat or to rally their men, archers tended to aim for their wearer’s faces.

The longbow was a powerful weapon, used for hundreds of years. As with any other weapon, the training of the archer, the quality of the bow and arrows, and the quality of defensive armor were all factors to the damage done on the field.

And that will be the topic of my next article; archers in battle.

(Information from The Longbow by Mike Loades)

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How I Wrote a Novella in One Week

Since I wrote a novella in one week, I decided I’d get as much mileage out of the feat as I could and write a blog post about it as well; both how I did it, and how you can do it too. 🙂

Preparation:

In the week leading up to writing my novella, I looked up names, planned out characters, and outlined the story. It wasn’t perfect; there was a character who appeared halfway though and I didn’t figure out the climax until the day before writing it, and even then I changed it while writing. But having an outline to work from, and knowing what is supposed to happen next, is a great help while trying to write a bunch at one time.

Secondly, I cleared my list for that week of everything which didn’t need to be done. No extra writing. No Greek. No extra reading. I’d mainly just school, hat knitting, and normal chores to do.

Finally, resolution. I was determined to get the novella done in a week and I prepared my mind accordingly. If I’d went into it half hearted, only partly wanting to do it, I’d have stopped a few days in. One must have the resolution of the will and mind, not just of the desire of the heart, to accomplish something like this…unless, of course, you absolutely love writing and would sit down and write thousands of words in a day if you could.

Progress:

On the weekend before starting the novella, I’d actually written the first 2000 words to get myself into the tone of the story and make sure I knew the characters’ voices. This also gave me some cushion room if I couldn’t make my 5000 word quota one day (cushion room which, though I didn’t end up using, is mentally relaxing to have). Since my last novella was around 23,000 words, I was expecting this story to run in the 20,000s as well and so I knew 5000 words a day for five days would land me near, if not on the end. Saturday was set aside for any wrapping up which might need to be accomplished.

Monday went well. The story flowed pretty smoothly and I finished my 5000 words by late afternoon. But halfway through Tuesday, I’d fallen back on will-power rather than desire. I’d resolved to write the novella in a week, and write it in a week I would, regardless of mental weariness. There were several things which helped me during my writing, especially during the afternoons of that week.

The first item was headphones and music. The music helped keep me focused and it blocked out noise from the rest of house…at least some of it.

Secondly, I only wrote in 500 word sections. 500 words is a natural break, at least for me, and I’d write 500 words before breakfast, then another 500 during cleanup and another later on. After each section, I’d look on social media sites or go walk around or read a chapter in a book; something to give my mind a break. I also had minor goals during the day, such as writing 2500 words before lunch.

Also, I kept in mind that it was a rough draft. Though I wrote as well as I could, I didn’t worry about going back and polishing up unless something important needed to be changed.

Finally, I’d reward myself when finished with the day’s writing, whether it was with chocolate or simply relaxing and letting myself forget about all writing for the rest of the evening.

Payoff:

Besides having the rough draft of a novella complete in one week instead of a month? That, it and of itself, is a great reason to do this, but there is more. Writing a novella this quickly shows you what you can do. Even if you don’t intend to write that quickly on a normal basis, you know you can if you want to. It’s a challenge, but it will strengthen you as a writer and as a person, preparing you for greater challenges which lie ahead.

And besides, how cool is it to say that you wrote a novella in one week, completing over half of NaNoWriMo in a quarter of the time? 🙂

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Building an Inspiration Portfolio

Where does a writer get inspiration for writing? Well, speaking for myself anyway, the answer is ‘pretty much everywhere’. A random line dropped at a store; a sibling’s innocent comment; a heartrending scene in a movie; a thrilling scene from a book; or a random line or picture of my own which tickles my brain right before I fall asleep. But even a writer can only remember so much, which is why long ago I started building what I like to call my inspiration portfolio.

An inspiration portfolio is so much fun to build that I’d probably do it simply for the sake of building it. But not only is it fun, it can also be very helpful. I’ve divided mine into three main categories.

Words:

By far the largest category is ‘words’. Originally I had a notebook where I wrote down all the random lines I heard or thought of. I’d other sections for descriptions and others for one line story ideas. But there was simply too much material and, as cool as paper was (and still is) I eventually transferred everything to my computer.

Right now, my portfolio consists of several documents. The largest is titled ‘sayings, descriptions, and one-liners’. It runs over 100 pages and has hundreds of says, categorized under ‘happy/hopeful/inspiring’ to ‘bad guy lines’ and ‘danger/war/fighting’. Some of these lines are based off of books or movies, while others I came up with on my own. I would suggest, when taking lines from movies, to either write down the line exactly as it was spoke and make a note of where it came from, or else change it slightly before you even write it down. This is something regret not doing in the past; it’s nice knowing what is my own idea and what isn’t. This isn’t to say you can never use a direct quote from a movie; there are only so many combinations of how something can be said after all, but I tend to reword slightly most if not all the time.

My descriptions range from a few sentences describing a misty morning to a detailed paragraph laying out the step by step process of my face becoming numb during a dental visit. And one-lines are exactly that that, random phrases such as ‘a dungeon of ice’ or ‘calling helicopters helochoppers’ or ‘hopeless climb’. I also have a page of titles; catchy one-liners full of promise.

The beauty of using a computer and something like Microsoft word is that you can easily locate all your different categories as well as simply search for a keyword. Fore example, when love was a theme for a book, I searched for the word love and then skimmed through all the entries which came up. It’s not a perfect system, but better than trying to do it all manually.

My second largest document bears the title ‘plots, themes, ideas, scenes’. Any fragments of a plot or theme idea I get goes there, along with character ideas, beginning lines for stories, and the bare bones of cool scenes. Again, everything is categorized to help me find what I want easier.

I also have several more documents, some containing names I’ve run across, others holding full scenes I’ve written but which don’t belong to any stories, and others containing interesting bits of research that I can someday throw in a story.

Pictures:

My second largest category is pictures. I use Pinterest for this and have dozens of boards now. Some contain pictures of all sorts which could be used for a character. Young men, older men, women, children…fantasy creatures. I’ve also boards full of random quotes or story prompts and others with inspirational pictures or random pictures of cool items which could be in a story. Pinterest is afloat with ideas of all kinds and you can get a glimpse of my boards here.

Once I decide to write a story, I make a storyboard and go through all my other relevant boards, pulling in the various characters, lines, and settings I think could help me write my story. To be quite frank, sometimes I get so much material it’s as much a hindrance as a help because there are so many cool things I could do and I have to settle on one. But I will say that finding pictures of characters has helped me develop them more than anything else since discovering character questionnaires.

Songs:

There are some songs I listen too over and over simply because they seem so full of story ideas Mordred’s Lullaby, for example…a weird dark song but perfect for a villain. Or the Plague song in Prince of Egypt or Once Upon a December from Anastasia (though I don’t recommend the movie but this song is really cool). Songs can be perfect for characters or stories and, though they take up a much smaller percentage of space than either words or pictures, they are too moving to ignore.

Now please note, this is how I have structured my writing portfolio. There are many different ways you can form one of your own, and there may be other categories which you have which I’ve skipped over. And that’s perfectly find because there isn’t one right way to set up a portfolio. You could have photo albums or photo books or notebooks or files. But, however you structure it, an inspiration portfolio you can search through when you’re working on developing a story, or are stuck wanting something to write, is a great help to any writer. Plus, it’s great fun to create.

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