Using the Voice Journal Writing Technique

Originally posted on another site on 5 April 2010.

Further to my post the other day entitled Character Development, Using the Voice Journal Writing Technique I am pleased to say that I find this technique excellent.

This simple technique allowed me to get into the character’s head so completely, that I now have a thorough understanding of why she earned the love of a young man and then lost it. It wasn’t enough for me to know that she must of had qualities that endeared her to him, I had to know what made her turn nasty enough to do the things I’ll make her do in the story. I needed to know what those qualities were and what experiences changed her.

With this in mind, I opened a blank document and started typing. I did not pause to edit and I did not suppress my thoughts. I just let the words appear on the screen before me. The end result is a three page history of a woman that is to be the antagonist. The three pages gives me the answers to my questions – valid answers. I feel as if this character is no longer a drawing on a sheet of paper, but a real person standing before me.

Please meet Lonia Navra from Whispering Caves (this is the first three paragraphs only):

My name is Lonia Navra and my life has been filled with death, longing and outrage. My mother died shortly after I was born, from the birthing sickness, and my father never forgave me for that…or for the fact that I was a girl. One daughter was tolerable, but two was insufferable, especially when there was no longer a wife to produce a boy. By the time I was born, my older sister had already won my father’s love, but I was never to be as lucky.

When I was almost six, my sister died from Butterweed Fever and I’m not sure why that was also blamed on me, but it was. My father hated me wholeheartedly from the day he buried his precious Katryn. By then I had given up trying to win him over as, even at that young age I knew it wouldn’t happen.

Is it wrong to be glad when a parent dies? I don’t think it is a sign of good character, but I beseech you to understand that my father’s hatred of me was not restricted to harsh words. I often received the back of his hand across my face or the sting of a thick leather strap when I displeased him. And it pains me to admit that the torment didn’t stop there, the suffering I was subjected to during the long hours of night has left me terrified of the dark. I could never please him. Never! So, on the day I arrived home from tending the goats to find my father laying dead beneath a fallen tree — his skull cracked open — I couldn’t help but feel gratitude that the man would never again place a hand on me. I was nine summers old at the time.

I needed her to have deep routed reasons for her actions and now I have them. I want the reader to feel sorry for her, understand her misery, but condemn her reaction to what happens in the story. It comes down to morals, upbringing, experiences and knowledge. But in the end, she makes a choice. She can go either way. She can pick right or wrong. She is in control. Can she put bitterness behind her…?

I am so pleased with what has come out of a few hours writing today and I highly recommend that you try this method to give your characters realistic depth.

My Writing: Turning the Focus Around

Originally posted on another site on 19 March 2010.

Firstly, you might remember that a while ago I talked about trying out “writing on the train in the afternoon” – I thought I’d give a quick update on how that is going. So far, it’s working out really well. I’m doing about an hour and a half of work during this time frame, which I think is pretty good. Generally, it isn’t too difficult to concentrate and the more I use the laptop on the train, the less self-conscious I feel. The first week was spent on the Whispering Caves planning – more about that later in the post. The second week has seen me reading through my completed short stories (and doing some small adjustments). There are only four in total, which are now all newly edited and ready to submit. I have also set up a spreadsheet with sheets showing “Completed Stories”, “Submissions”, “Rejections” and “Publications”. One of the stories is out on submission, so my goal for the weekend is to submit the other three stories to likely publishers. I will then turn my attention to my completed novel length manuscripts and do the same thing. Once this is done, I’ll feel a lot happier and then I’ll move back to my main project – Whispering Caves.

Whispering Caves is proving to be a difficult story to plan. The character storylines are done, as is the history and world building and I’m extremely pleased with what I have. A single, important thread is where the problem is. I feel it isn’t as strong as it could be and I’m not sure what to do about it. Actually, if I had to put it into words, I’d say it had a wishy washy middle that just isn’t up to scratch. I’m certainly not happy with what I have and cannot start writing until I figure out what’s to be done about the problem.

Despite this small setback, I made another decision that has made me very happy. Due to the fact that I’ve been working on my small list of short stories and intend to submit them over the weekend, I came up with the idea to write short stories using minor characters from Whispering Caves. Not only will this cement the world and its people further into my mind, if I can get the stories published, they could be used to generate interest in the novel length story.

I’m excited by this idea. I know I need to stop planning and start writing. This will be the perfect opportunity to do just that. In the meantime, I can still let that problem thread roll around in my mind and perhaps I’ll find a solution.

Whispering Caves: One-Sentence Summary Revised

Originally posted on another site on 6 March 2010.

As noted in Whispering Caves: Planning a Novel I had a one-sentence summary that I wasn’t 100% happy with. This morning I’ve been physically working on the plan and have a revised sentence.

Transported to a forgotten world, a neglected, modern-day teenager must cope with being the centre of attention as she battles to find a way home.

The above isn’t that different to the first one I had, but it feels more complete and I’m much happier with it.

In other news, I have draft profiles for three of the four main characters. Two of the characters were quite easy to write, but the third one offered some difficulties for me to overcome. I couldn’t work out his epiphany, but with a short discussion with my partner the problem with quickly resolved (I was looking at the character’s situation from the wrong angle). That character’s motivations have changed as a result, which means he’s going to be a different person to what I had imagined. It will be interesting to get to know him.

Anyway, that’s my morning writing session come to a close. I have some things I have to do now, but I intend to have another writing session this afternoon. I’m already looking forward to it. 😀

Whispering Caves: Planning a Novel

Originally posted on another site on 4 March 2010.

I haven’t been writing or planning, as such, but I have been spending a lot of time thinking about this story, which is almost like writing. 🙂 Anyway, before I get stuck into the physical planning, I thought I’d make sense of my thoughts and see where I’m at.

First, there’s the one-sentence summary:

Transported to a world forgotten in time, a neglected, modern-day teenager must cope with all the attention and death threats directed at her.

I’m not 100% happy with the sentence, but I can continue to tweak it until I am. However, the sentence is true, which is a necessity. It also hints at travelling between worlds, which I feel is important, and there’s a hint of conflict – a neglected teenager having to face being the focal point (and that’s not even taking into account the mention of death threats). To top it off, the sentence is under 25 words which was my goal.

Alright, I’m happy to move on to the theme. Of course, the theme isn’t necessary at this early stage, but I know the story from beginning to end and feel comfortable putting my thoughts into words.

The theme should be expressed in a few words or a short sentence. This is my theme:

To be happy and free let go of your past demons.

That was much easier to write than the one-sentence summary. Of course, letting go of past demons is easier said than done, but we all know the truth of the sentence and that’s what really counts.

What’s next? Backstory maybe. That was done some weeks ago. I opened a blank document and wrote it like I was telling a story – with dialogue and everything. I really enjoyed the process and now have a thorough understanding of “how things came to be”. This transgresses into world building too. It allowed me to know how things work in my world, and what the limitations must be.

Apart from the plot, the only thing left to think about is the characters. The four main characters are like personal friends, I know them so well. However, having said that I intend to put them through the Jung’s Personality Test to see if I can define them even more. (I did this test myself the other day and the result was exactly me! It was amazing to read.) I will also take some time to write backstories on these four characters, just to be sure they act and react the right way in the story and to do that I need to know where they’ve come from and what their demons are. Once I’ve finished with the main characters I’ll turn my attention to the minor ones. I have a full list of minor characters, but they could use a bit of an overhaul, so I’ll spend some time doing that in coming weeks too.

As for the plot, that will take the largest amount of work, but I figure that with all the other stuff completed, it will become a lot easier once I turn my focus solely on it. I know the beginning and the end, it’s just the middle that needs a lot of work.

Being a planner, I feel satisfied that I’m ready to start planning Whispering Caves properly. That job will start on the weekend and will continue for several (even many) weeks.

Attempting to Take My Life Back with a Goal

Originally posted on another site on 3 March 2010.

Over recent days I’ve been reading a reference book called Writing Fiction for Dummies. When I purchased the book, I was mainly looking for inspiration even though I know I’m a bit passed the “dummy” stage. It seems my impulse has proven to be correct and I am feeling the urge to write stir within me.

Now, before I move on I want to explain that the lack of the urge to write has nothing to do with writer’s block (which I don’t believe in anyway), burn out or not wanting to write. It is completely due to exhaustion from the long hours I am forced to endure. I worked it out that 14 hours of my day is used up in travelling and working and 7 hours is for much needed sleep, which leaves me 3 hours to do everything else – including chores, eating, spending time with my family…and writing. Often, all I feel like doing in that time is sitting like a brain-dead vegetable in front of the TV because I simply don’t have the energy to do anything else. Yes, I could do some writing during the travel time, but at the moment…in the morning, I’m just too tired; and in the afternoon, I read but I’m thinking of changing my routine in coming weeks.

Anyway, let me stop whining and get back on track. I purchased the reference book with the hope of finding inspiration. I knew a lot of the information would already be well known to me, but I was hoping for quick and easy tips to help me get stuck into the planning of Whispering Caves.

Luckily for me the book is co-authored by the snowflake guy (you can find a link to his website at the bottom of this page). And, I recently purchased a copy of Snowflake Pro (the software for the snowflake method of writing a novel). I use the snowflake method all the time, so any tips are always welcomed and I’m finding them in the book.

I feel inspired!

The question is, what am I going to do about it? I cannot write in the morning. The conditions are perfect for writing – it’s always quiet on the train at that early hour, it’s not as crowded either, but I feel so tired that my eyes water, I can’t concentrate and my sight goes blurry because I want to close them and not think. Writing in the morning is not an option. Writing when I get home from work is not an option either – there’s not enough time and my family deserve some of my time. I’ll just have to learn to write in the noisy afternoon crowd instead. There’s nothing else for me to do.

This weekend, I will install Snowflake Pro on my mini-laptop. Starting next Monday, I will trial writing on the train in the afternoon and see how it goes. As the train is really crowded for the first half hour, I’ll read during that time and then I’ll bring out the laptop and write for the rest of the trip.

There, I’ve set a public goal. Now I just have to wait and see what happens from that decision. I will, of course, let you know.

Knowing When to Let Go

Originally posted on another website on 1 March 2010.

I’m attempting to plan a rewrite of Whispering Caves. It’s been much harder than I envisioned. It almost feels as if I’ve stalled at the bottom of a mountain that looks too difficult to climb! Yet, I know the characters extremely well and the world is very clear in my mind (and on paper). The only area that needed improving was the plot. I couldn’t understand why I was having so much trouble until today.

What I’ve basically done is kept the characters and world, but gotten rid of the “old” storyline/plot. This is where I’ve run into trouble because the details of the old plot are so well known to me that I’m having trouble discarding them completely. I’ve realised that subconsciously I’m trying to work the new details into the scenes I’ve laboured over for so long. This is bad! Very bad! It won’t work and I know that. I have to discipline myself to drop the old plot altogether and start again.

The (very) basic storyline is the same but the motivations are stronger, the conflicts are different, the focus on the characters has changed and a new ending has been decided on. All this means that the old scenes must be dropped. I knew this, of course, but obviously I wasn’t completely ready to put that into action. Now that I’ve realised what is holding me back I am hoping I’ll move forward and get this planning finished!

Return to Normality and Setting Goals for 2010

Originally posted on another site on 8 January 2010. The comments made in reply to this post have not been transferred.

As my holiday period will come to an end in a couple of days, I find myself thinking toward what 2010 could mean for me. Of course, I could leave it to fate to find out, but I’m not always satisfied (rarely, in fact) with what is offered (or forced) onto me so I think I’ll try to set my own path. It might be more satisfying.

I’ve already declared that 2010 is the Year of Doing. This means that instead of talking about doing things, I’m going to do them. No excuses!

I have always put myself out there and made public goals. I find it’s the best way for me to actually try to keep them. It’s a written commitment, which means I can’t pretend I never set the goal in the first place. Ah, the things I do to myself. Anyway, the goals I’m going to set will be kept simple as there’s no point attempting to reach goals that are too high as I’ll only be disappointed at the end of the year.

So what’s on my list for this year?

1. Complete the planning for Whispering Caves by the end of summer (end of February).
2. Write the first draft by the end of the year.
3. Compile a list of publishers for Cat’s Eyes and submit, submit, submit.
4. Write a proposal for the children’s non-fiction and, again, submit, submit, submit.

That’s it. It’s not a lot, but it will be a good Year of Doing if I achieve these four goals. If I manage to do anything else along the way, that will be an added bonus.

That’s my year planned, in a few short sentences. What’s yours?

Introduction to Whispering Caves

Originally posted on another site on 2 January 2010.

Long ago, in a land far, far away…oh, hang on, that’s Stars Wars not Whispering Caves. Anyway, a long time ago, when I was young and unhappy I wrote a manuscript (two, in fact) that was 200,000+ words. This particular one was written as a form of escape from real life and it was a romantic fantasy in which all good things happened and all the characters were lovable and perfect. Everything was tinged in rose coloured happiness. It was beautiful, but, it wouldn’t have made a good best seller. Actually, it would have been the biggest flop in history! But I loved it.

Back then I was a closet writer, writing for my own enjoyment only. Since then things have changed. My life is no longer unhappy and I am a writer who strives for publication. I have grown in all ways, especially as a writer…yet the manuscript is still a favourite of mine.

Over the years I have tried to transform the manuscript into something other people would be willing to read, and hopefully enjoy. Yet on each occasion, my efforts were unsuccessful. I have always been the first to admit that. In the last six months, I have found myself revisiting the manuscript yet again and, this time, I believe I have the knowledge and know how to do the job properly. This time, I’m willing to give my characters flaws. I’m willing to give them real hang-ups and real problems. I’ve managed to pull myself away from them and tell a real story. A story with a plot, with conflict and emotions. At long last, I’m willing to put these characters through the wringer…and high time too.

I scraped the previous story completely, but kept the setting and the bare bones of the characters (ie their names and parts of their histories). Over the last few months I have been rebuilding the story from the ground up. The setting has been tweaked, as have the characters. A new plot is unfolding slowly. There are still a few unsure bits that I can’t fit into the puzzle all that well, but I’ll find a reason for that with time. And…to my delight…I wrote a short story which tells the events of how my people came to be in the world I’ve created. Everyone were given names and backgrounds and the setting was blended especially well (if I do say so myself) into our own history. I wrote this backstory in the form of a journal written by the main character, in first person. This allowed me to explore reasons and methods for what was happening. By the end of the short story, I felt I had a solid background for Whispering Caves. Almost none of this information will be included in the manuscript, but it’s important I know how things started, where names came from, why some traditions were kept and others discarded. The result is that I have a firm foundation to build the story upon now and that makes me feel very confident that this time I’ll get it right.