Tag Archives: Contamination

Self-Imposed Deadlines

I just graduated from Rowan University with my Master of Arts degree in Writing. I’ve been in school since Spring of 2012, after going back finally after a long leave of absence. Being in school for so long meant that I always had deadlines and structure imposed upon me by the school. This was especially handy when working on the sequels to Manifestation, two of which were written as part of my school projects (I got A’s on both).

I’ve been trying for awhile to work on revisions for Contamination, the second volume of Arcana Revived. Since this one wasn’t something I was working on for school, there have been times that I had to find the balance between working on revisions on my own time and working on school work. Since the school work had deadlines imposed upon me by my teachers, it usually got the higher priority. Now that school is over, I’m putting Contamination above everything else.

The problem is, now I’m the only one creating my deadlines.

I just missed a self-imposed deadline last week. I’m currently about 1/3 of the way through my third draft of Contamination. I have some notes and feedback from critique partners, and I’m going to be getting more feedback from my Rowan classmates, since we’re keeping in touch and we will be continuing to work together on our writing projects as time goes on. But none of them can force me to stick to a deadline. I’ve got to handle that on my own.

Working through depression makes meeting a deadline a lot harder. I’ve struggled with depression for a long time, and it’s been particularly bad over the last few weeks. Part of the problem is that I’ve left school and as a result I’ve left the structure of my class schedule. I’m also only employed part time at the moment while I look for a more permanent position somewhere in the publishing field. As a result, I’m spending a lot of time at home, alone, with nothing but my thoughts, my writing, a stack of books, and the Metroid Prime Trilogy.

All in all, it’s been a struggle to meet my personal goals. I’m pretty sure it’ll improve once I’m back in a regular work schedule. When I’m home alone everyday, there’s an extreme lack of structure to my daily routine. This makes it easy to lose track of time and end up spending twelve hours straight trying to restore the Light of Aether to the Luminoth homeworld.But when I have a regular work schedule, it’s a lot easier to work my writing and revising schedule around it, such as by setting aside a couple of hours after I get home from work each night. I need that routine, and once I get into the groove again, my writing and revising process will improve greatly (and hopefully so will my blogging schedule, since I really need to get back into a three day a week blogging routine).

In the meantime, I’m going to keep plugging away as best I can. And if you’re a fan of my first book, I promise I’ll have the second one on its way before long.


mani_promoManifestation is available in paperback format through:

CreateSpace and Amazon

and in ebook format through:

Kindle and Nook

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Distance and Objectivity

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m currently working on two different revision projects. One is Contamination, the sequel to Manifestation. I’m currently about 80% of the way through Draft 2 (and I need to update that progress bar on the right to show that). I’m mostly working on line edits, making sure everything reads well and is clear, adding descriptive details where needed, and looking for plot holes that need filling or scenes that need cutting.

The second project is my Rowan University Master’s in Writing Thesis Project, a.k.a. Arcana Revived Volume Six (currently untitled). I’m pretty much doing the same thing there that I am on Contamination: basic edits and cleaning up the prose. I’m not to the point yet where I can make major changes since I need more time analyzing what is already there. I already have a few ideas on chapters that need to be cut, but I’m not to the point yet of making those decisions.

Normally, I wouldn’t be working on both of these projects at once. After all, Contamination is book two, so why be working on book six? Well, because I need to for school. Book six obviously won’t be published for quite some time, and I’m only doing the amount of work on it now that I need to for it to be “complete” in terms of what the thesis project requires. Mostly this means focusing on polishing up the first 30,000 words, and leaving the rest for later.

However, I’m running into a slight issue on Book Six that I’m not running into on Contamination, and I think I’ve figured out why. I don’t have enough distance from the first draft yet.

See, I wrote the first draft of Contamination for NaNoWriMo 2013. I’ve had close to a year and a half to get some objectivity about what I’ve written, so I can look at it and decide what needs to be changed, what needs to be cut, what’s working, and what isn’t. It’s a lot easier to say “Okay this is crap, it needs to go” on a scene or chapter that I wrote so long ago. It’s not so easy to do that with Book Six, which I just wrote a few months ago, for NaNoWriMo 2014.

The result is that I feel like I’m slogging through each chapter on Book Six, but I have no trouble with Contamination. The revisions on Book Six feel too “big.” I’m having trouble looking at individual issues instead of seeing the whole novel as, from the point of view of my critical side, one big steaming pile of crap. I’m still too connected to the rush and joy I felt writing the first draft and all the fragile emotions that go along with it.

In his book, On Writing, Stephen King says that when you finish a draft, you should put it in a drawer for six weeks or more. This is so that you can come at it with a fresh perspective. I feel like I need a little more than six weeks. Maybe six months? Which means that if I didn’t have a deadline, I’d be shelving everything to do with Book Six for a long time, until I’m more ready to deal with it. Which is besides the fact that I’ve got four other novels to revise before I touch that one.

I’m not really sure how to address this issue right now, since I need at least one revision of the first 30,000 words before March 1st. Which is totally doable for me in terms of the amount of work that I need to get done in that time frame, but less doable from an emotional point of view.

For the time being, my solution is to focus on Contamination. I’ve got a self-imposed deadline to finish that one by March 1st as well, and I’m more confident in my ability to do that. And maybe, by working on a different project for awhile, I’ll remove myself from Book Six a bit and be able to come back in during crunch time and get it done.


mani_promoManifestation is available in paperback format through:

CreateSpace and Amazon

and in ebook format through:

Kindle and Nook

Schedules and Deadlines

I don’t do well at keeping myself motivated.

In my academic life, schedules and deadlines are an important part of keeping me on task. I’m handed down schedules from the professor in each class, and individual assignments have deadlines that are usually nonnegotiable. Most of my professors at Rowan tend to forgive if you are late with an assignment, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t strict about when things are due. I consider this a good thing, because as it turns out, I really need those deadlines to make sure I get things done.

Over winter break, I accomplished almost nothing useful. I had plans to finish the second draft of Contamination, but I had a hard time getting much work done because I didn’t have any kind of set routine. Sure, I can say to myself “This revision is going to be done by January 30th!” But that doesn’t mean I’ll do it. In a way, this is one of the downsides to going indie. I’m my own boss, I set my own deadlines, but I also have to be solely responsible for making sure those deadlines are met. There’s no one else who can hold me accountable (though sometimes my friends on Twitter will step up and give me a hard time until I buckle down and get to work).

Now that school is back up, I have some deadlines again. Not for Contamination, since that isn’t a school project. However, Arcana Revived Volume Six (currently untitled) IS a school project. I wrote it as my master’s thesis project. As such, I have deadlines imposed upon me to get a certain amount of revision done by certain dates, in order to keep up with the class schedule. Combined with the feedback and notes I got from the professor, I have a revision plan, a deadline, and a schedule worked out for how to get these revisions done before March 1st.

And while this doesn’t technically have anything to do with Contamination, I’m able to use this externally-imposed deadline as a way to reinforce my own self-imposed deadline. Which means that I’ll be revising both Contamination and Volume Six at the same time (one for school, one for publication). If things go according to plan, I’ll have the current draft of Contamination finished before March 1st, and ready to send out for critiques.

Feel free to nag me about it in order to keep me on task. Because like I said, I tend to need external motivation.


mani_promoManifestation is available in paperback format through:

CreateSpace and Amazon

and in ebook format through:

Kindle and Nook

All I Want For Christmas is a Revised Manuscript

Christmas and I don’t get along.

Christmas-Lights-11Okay, so Christmas doesn’t kidnap me, tie me up with sparkling lights, and lock me in the bathroom (though it could!). However, I do tend to have bad experiences with Christmas, and I don’t expect this one to be any better. I’m not on speaking terms with most of my family, my Dad is living on a tight budget so Christmas these days has no thrills, and I don’t expect anyone else in the world to get me anything. Beyond that, I can’t even get on board with the whole “Christmas should be about love and hope and etc etc, not presents!” thing because I’m not religious and I don’t really have the kind of hopeful, positive influences in my life that would make Christmas worthwhile. I have casual friends who I’m sure will text or tweet me some Christmas wishes, but I don’t really have the kind of deep personal relationships where you expect to bond with people over hot chocolate in front of the fireplace Christmas day.

All I want for Christmas is to finish this draft.

I think I’ve been suffering from #NaNoWriMo Burn Out, coupled with a touch of seasonal depression. Which happens every year. After writing 160,000 words on my NaNo novel, I’ve written . . . five blog posts in two weeks, and revised one chapter of Contamination. That’s not much. And I have no excuse. I just sit home all day anyway. It’s not like there’s a reason I can’t get the work done.

All I want for Christmas is some motivation.

I think that Author Fragile Ego Syndrome is keeping me from working on my novel because I’m afraid that it sucks. That no one is going to read it or buy it or like it. That people who praise my writing are just doing so to be nice. That one day soon I’m going to be back to working at a crappy restaurant for a sexist boss, Master’s Degree from Rowan University notwithstanding.

All I want for Christmas is some self-esteem.

What I said a moment ago, about Christmas not being about presents? It’s true. Christmas isn’t about presents. I don’t want material goods. I just want a Christmas where I can get out of this rut and get some work done. I want to be able to send my revised novel to my CPs as their Christmas present. I want to stop feeling like crap. I want to get through a Christmas without crying.

All I want for Christmas is to be successful with my writing. But that’s a gift no one else can give me. So I’ll have to do it myself.


mani_promoManifestation is available in paperback format through:

CreateSpace and Amazon

and in ebook format through:

Kindle and Nook

Quick #NaNoWriMo Update

NaNoWriMo.org
NaNoWriMo.org

As you may know, I’m participating in #NaNoWriMo this year. If you didn’t know that, you haven’t peen paying attention for the last 19 days. I’ve been chugging along at a pretty crazy pace, and so far, I’ve written 117,349 words.

But to put that in a little perspective, here’s some pictures of my sticker calendar.

First, here’s what I wrote in September, before I started working on this novel:

20141026_204137Every sticker is either 1000 words or 1 blog post (I get a sticker for writing this blog post you’re reading right now). As you can see, I had a shitty month. Busy with work and school, I went days at a time without writing. I had a nice surge of energy at the end of the month, which was mostly revisions for Contamination, the sequel to Manifestation.

Next, here’s how October went:

20141026_204146A lot better, all said and done. The stars are for new chapters I wrote in Contamination, and the “Wow!” and “Great!” stickers are for every chapter I revised. I made pretty good progress . . . but I still had long stretches of inactivity. I maybe managed a sticker or two per day some days, and there were a few days at the end of the month I only got three per day. After the big rush at the beginning, I was starting to slow down.

Now, here’s my #NaNoWriMo calendar so far:

20141119_124920I know, right?

I had a few days in there where I managed between 10,000-12,000 words per day. Which is really killer on the back. My average goal has been 5,000 per day. I’ve hit that . . . most days. I’ve got a few days with only one or two stars (the round star stickers are still the same, one sticker for 1000 words written, but I ran out of the shiny stars on Sunday and had to switch to new ones). But as you can tell, the last week or so has been a lot slower than the beginning. I only managed two stickers yesterday, one last Friday, two last Wednesday. I’m losing a bit of steam, but I’m almost done.

My goal is still 150,000 for the month, give or take. I’m almost done the novel itself (which is still untitled because I can’t think of a title). The main characters, led by Gabby Palladino, are marching off to the epic final battle right now. Some of them will live, some will die, and some will kiss. Though I don’t plan on anyone kissing someone who died, cause, eww, that’s some creepy Disney stuff right there.

funny-memes-finds-random-corpse-in-the-woodsAnyway, that’s all for now. Wish me luck. I may break something before the end.


mani_promoManifestation is available in paperback format through:

CreateSpace and Amazon

and in ebook format through:

Kindle and Nook

 

#NaNoWriMo 2014, Word Counts, and Revisions

NaNoWriMo.org
NaNoWriMo.org

#NaNoWriMo starts in about 24 hours.

I’ll give you a moment to freak out about that, then we can continue.

. . .

Back? Okay.

This will be my third year doing NaNoWriMo (you can see my profile (and add me as a buddy!) on my NaNoWriMo author page). The first year, I was working on Manifestation, which (as evidenced by the link I just slipped in there) is now a published novel. The second year I was working on the sequels, Contamination and Collapse. This year, I’m working on the sixth volume of Arcana Revived. And I’d like to talk a bit about word counts, including how my NaNoWriMo word counts have improved over the years and how each novel’s word count can shift drastically during revisions with expansions and cuts.

mani_promoMy first year, I was what NaNoWriMo refers to as a “rebel.” See, the “official” rules for NaNoWriMo say that you start writing on November 1st, finish by November 30th, and confine all your writing into that time period. But I had already started Manifestation in September of 2012. I ended up writing the required 50,000 words (actually, 53,552) during NaNoWriMo that year, but I wrote most of the novel during September, October, and a little bit of December. The first draft of Manifestation was 123,139 words, so it was definitely more than I had to write all in November in order to “win” NaNoWriMo.

My second year, I was a rebel again. I started Contamination early in 2013, and by the time NaNoWriMo arrived, I had about 40,000 words written. I ended up finishing the novel in the first two weeks of NaNoWriMo, writing another 80,000 words. Then, since it was still NaNo time, I dove straight into Volume Three, Collapse. I wrote about half of Collapse during NaNo, then finished it in December. All together, I wrote 141,151 words for NaNoWriMo 2013, about 80k on Contamination and 60k on Collapse. A vast improvement over my previous year. (Though I ended up with a bit of NaNoWriMo Burnout at the end).

This year, I’m starting (almost) from scratch. I’ve got 7100 words written on Volume Six, and the only reason I did those was because I’m writing this novel as part of my Rowan University Master’s in Writing Thesis Project. To meet class-imposed deadlines, I had to write the first three chapters. But I’ve been avoiding writing anything else until *checks clock* about 23 hours and 37 minutes from the time I’m writing this.

2014 CalendarMy “goal” this month is 150,000 words. Part of that is because I want to surpass last year’s 141k. And part of it is that I’m expecting this book to be the longest one yet, so I’m aiming high. It comes out to 5000 words per day, and my Writing Calendar (an idea I stole from Victoria Schwab) is set up with daily totals listed so I can keep track. If things go according to plan, this will be the first year I write a WHOLE novel (give or take that first 7100 words) all in November. No starting a month beforehand, no finishing in December. Just doing it all in one mad rush.

But aside from the number of words I’ll write in NaNoWriMo, there’s another thing I need to consider: how my word counts fluctuate during revisions.

In his book On Writing, Stephen King said that when he revises, he aims to cut unnecessary words (particularly adverbs) and to tighten up descriptions and prose. He says his formula is “Second Draft = First Draft -10%.” It’s a good bit of writing advice . . . that just does not match up with how I work at all.

See, the first draft of Manifestation was 123,139 words, but the next draft ballooned up to a whopping 139,023 words. Why? Well, for one thing, I was adding new scenes to fill in plot holes, flesh out minor characters who hadn’t gotten enough development, and build up certain themes and foreshadowing more. For another, I find that I tend to not be as descriptive as I should in a first draft (something I’ve mentioned on the blog recently). The same thing is happening with Contamination as I revise it now; the first draft was 123,559 words, and it’s currently sitting at 133,343 (and I have at least two more whole chapters to add to fill in some stuff that’s missing).

Now, I DO end up cutting later on. I cut about 60,000 words from Manifestation, added about another 20,000 back in with new scenes, and the final, published novel ended up sitting at 100,180 words (and a bit less than that, really, since that number includes the copyright page and the About the Author section). So draft three of Contamination will probably slim down, after I fatten it up during draft two. And Volume Six, despite my 150,000 word goal for NaNoWriMo, will probably end up smaller than that in the long run.

So, hopefully I can write 5000 words per day for all of NaNoWriMo, even if some of those words don’t make the final cut. And if, like last year, I finish the novel before November 30th . . . well, maybe I’ll start writing the seventh book (which will actually be Volume One of a new series, tentatively titled Arcana Revived: The Dark Ages).

I hope you’ll be joining me in writing like a crazy person, or at least in cheering me on and making sure I don’t completely lose my mind. Cause the madness starts in . . . *checks time* crap, 29 hours and 12 minutes.

Time to panic!


mani_promoManifestation is available on:

Createspace in paperback

and Amazon in ebook and paperback.

 

Timelines and Continuity

The Doctor said it best. Time is a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey . . . stuff.

Especially when you’re on the first draft of a novel.

How a novel’s timeline works will depend a lot on the genre you’re writing in, how many points of view you’re alternating between, and whether or not your story takes place in multiple time periods (such as between a character’s present life and flashbacks to their troubled past). Even while working on a first draft, these factors are going to influence the decisions you make.

Some genres demand a more traditional linear narrative; romance novels, for example, tend to be very forward-moving in order to show the progression of a relationship, starting with the first meeting, through the first date, and into the complications that develop as the relationships grow. A mystery novel, on the other hand, is more likely to include flashbacks as key events are revealed while uncovering who committed the murder, where, and with what. A novel taking place in two time periods, such as a character’s adulthood and childhood, may alternate between each time period chapter by chapter. Likewise, a novel with two or more main characters may alternate between them, spending one or more chapters with a certain character before switching to the other.

But regardless of whether your novel is linear or not, you may find yourself having to make tough decisions about how to lay out the chapters. For one, it may be difficult to decide which character’s story to show first. For another, it may be difficult to decide when to move between the present and the past. Or you may actually decide to change the order that certain events take place in.

Contamination
Contamination

One way to make decisions can be to consider the emotions, themes, or motifs being represented in each chapter. You can then arrange the chapters to line up those that have thematic similarities.

The image to the right is a screenshot of my Scrivener file for Contamination, Volume Two of the Arcana Revived series and sequel to my first novel, Manifestation. The majority of the chapters are titled “Untitled X” because I haven’t yet picked chapter titles for them. If you look at the numbers, you can see I made some major changes to the order: 23, 24, 31, 25, 26, 32, 27, 28, 33, and so on.

There’s two main reasons why these chapters were reordered. One was to thread together the storylines of the two main characters, Gabby Palladino and Tock Zipporah. For example, 23-29 are chapters with Gabby, originally written all in a row and showing a series of events she went through in a single day. 31-38 are Tock chapters, also originally written as a single sequence showing what Tock went through. Part of the rearrangement was designed to interweave those two stories, since both sets of events take place on the same day. I felt that it made more sense to go back and forth between the two characters so that the reader can keep track of both of them and be carried along to threads of excitement, adventure, and tension at the same time.

The second reason why the chapters were rearranged is in order to keep chapters with the same emotional tone in the same place. For example, if there is a chapter with Gabby running for her life from mutant wolves and another with Tock fleeing from a military helicopter, those chapters have a similar emotional tone and tension. Later, there are chapters involving lots of combat, and even if Gabby and Tock are fighting different enemies, it makes sense to keep the action-oriented chapters back-to-back. And later still, there’s chapters where both characters are going through more emotional bonding (in one case as part of a romantic relationship, in the other, a budding friendship) and I wanted these chapters to be aligned as well.

These techniques keep the storylines in synch, even though the characters are in different places and going through different experiences. To see an example of this in action, consider the following clip from the movie Magnolia. It shows multiple characters in multiple different situations, none of whom interact, but all of whom are going through the same emotional journey.

The director of Magnolia has stated that his goal was to blend the experience of these different characters together so that it feels like one story, not eight. And he does an amazing job at it.

Another good movie to consider is Pulp Fiction. This movies uses a very nonlinear style of storytelling, and the scenes are arranged in an order that takes you on a certain emotional journey. The order of events builds on the emotions evoked throughout this journey, rather than worrying about the chronological order of events.

Of course, if you want to keep things chronological, you can also consider changing when an event takes place. For example, let’s say you’re writing a romance novel where two characters get together, build their relationship, have a huge fight, almost break up, then get engaged, go through turmoil with their families, then get married and have their happily ever after. You might decided that the emotional turmoil of the huge fight will go better with the conflict the characters are having with their families, because that adds additional tension from multiple sides all at once. You could therefore take the same fight and simply have it happen after the engagement, instead of before. Thus you’re rearranging the chronology to better serve the emotional journey.

These sorts of changes can be complicated, and it’s likely enough that you’ll go through several versions as you work through revisions. But I’ve found that reordering events can be an important part of improving a novel. Just be careful not to add more plot holes than you fix when you swap things around. There’s such a thing as being too timey-wimey wibbly-wobbly.


mani_promoManifestation is available on:

Createspace in paperback

and Amazon in ebook and paperback.

Fight Scenes: The Styles of MMA (MAGICAL Martial Arts)

Image Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/wfmullen14/7690794070/
Image Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/wfmullen14/7690794070/

We all like a good fight, right? Especially when the people involved are wizards. From Dumbledore vs Voldemort to Yoda vs Palpatine to Willow vs Bavmorda, a good magically-powered duel can be exciting, dangerous, and visually stunning. It can also have a lot of differences when compared to more traditional martial arts (i.e. anyone fighting without magic).

I’d like to discuss some of the principles I find helpful in writing a magical fight scene, using examples from my upcoming novel, Contamination, which is currently in revisions (and will be released next year as the sequel to Manifestation). I was inspired to do this after reading some posts on fight styles, written by Kat Loveland. She wrote a blog post about using fight scenes to develop your characters, and another on showing emotions and motivations during a fight. They’re both excellent reads, and I definitely recommend checking them out (and following her blog for more updates, since she has two more posts in this series coming up).

To touch on a couple of points Kat raised in her post, before I move on to the magical stuff, I’d like to quote a couple of lines that do a pretty good job summing up what she was getting at. One is when she discusses different fighting styles, and she cites Jason Bourne as an example:

Jason Bourne is an assassin, plain and simple, his entire existence is get in, kill, get out. As a result there is no hesitation, no flair, no fancy movies just fast, efficient violence.

This is something to consider when it comes to the personality and goals of your character. Kat makes some comparisons that show why one fighter will be quick and efficient, while others might have reason to draw out a fight with fancy moves. These types of details can really tell you a lot about a character’s personality.

Another quote from her second post  touches more on the emotions of the characters in a fight scene:

Ideally the reader is drawn into both the life and death drama of the physical violence but the internal drama that the characters present as well. There is no exposition going on yet you feel what the character is feeling, fear, rage or the need to prove that you are worthy and gain respect.

This shows another side of a fight scene, the way it can tell you about what a character is feeling in the moment of the fight, or how they feel when they have to kill someone.

So how does all this relate to magic? Well, just like a character’s physical fighting style (quick and efficient vs showy and elaborate) can tell you things about their personality, the way a character uses their magic can tell you about them as well. And there are a few questions you might want to ask about how your character’s personality dictates their magical strategies. I’d like to explore three aspects in particular, and I’ll share an example for each one.

Image Source: http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?106639-3-5-Arcane-Knight-ToB-14-level-PrC
Image Source: http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?106639-3-5-Arcane-Knight-ToB-14-level-PrC
 1. To Fight or Cast Spells?

Not all wizards are strictly limited to using their magic. Harry Potter fought the Basilisk with a sword, a Jedi will alternate between a lightsaber and force powers, and even Gandalf pulled out Glamdring the Foe-Hammer when it was time to face down some foes with brute force. So if you have a character who can use both magical abilities and physical combat skills, which do they prefer?

Sometimes, this decision can be one they make based on necessity. Most genres show that magical abilities tend to be draining, leaving the user exhausted if they overuse their powers. In other cases, a character might find themselves cut off from their powers in some way (such as in The Wheel of Time, when Aes Sedai can shield others from the source of their powers, leaving them helpless). A character who can draw a sword and defend themselves physically will have a backup for when their magic fails. While another character will draw their sword first, and resort to using their magic only as a last resort.

Here’s an example of Jeremiah Pritchard, one of the main protagonists in my novel, fighting with both physical and magical abilities:

The men coughed and gagged on the smoke and fired blindly at him, their shots flying wide over his head. Then one of them rushed through the smoke, half-bent over and coughing. He rushed for the door, seeming not to see Jeremiah through the smoke.

Jeremiah whipped the butt of his rifle in the man’s face and knocked him back. The man fell backwards and slammed into the ground. As soon as the man hit the ground, Jeremiah pulled the stun baton from his belt and slammed the tip into the man’s stomach. The baton crackled and send out sparks as it unleashed its charge into the man. He shook and trembled on the ground, then went limp.

Another spray of gunfire whipped past Jeremiah’s head. A burning sensation built up inside of him. His hands shook and he felt the light building up inside of him. But when the shadowy figure rose through the smoke, Jeremiah didn’t reach for the light. He dropped the stun baton, raised his rifle, and fired a quick, clean shot that caught the man in the neck. He dropped to the ground in a heap.

Another figure appeared at Jeremiah’s right. The man raised a shotgun and fired it right at Jeremiah’s head from point-blank range.

Jeremiah’s arms flung up on reflex, and with them came the light. A silvery-white field of mana erupted before him, crystallizing into a solid barrier. It deflected the shot, though the crystal buckled and cracked under the impact.

Jeremiah let the light dissipate as he rushed at the man. He used his rifle to knock the shotgun aside, then he swung his fist at the man’s head. The man crumpled under the blow, dropping to his knees. Jeremiah rammed the butt of his rifle into the man’s jaw and a loud crack filled the lobby. The man slumped to the floor, blood dripping from his jaw and the shotgun falling from his limp hands.

 As you can see, Jeremiah uses his combat skills first, his magic second. That’s because of his greater confidence in his military training, as opposed to his uncertainty about his magical capabilities. He’s the sort of person who only uses magic as a last resort. He doesn’t trust it, and he doesn’t want to rely on it.

Will your character rely on their combat skills first, and save magic for emergencies? Or will they break out the spells right away and go for broke?

Image Source: http://myworldsofmagic.com/images/updates/spell_circles.png
Image Source: http://myworldsofmagic.com/images/updates/spell_circles.png
2. Adaptability

Another thing to consider in magical combat is a character’s ability to think on their feet and use what’s around them. Think of this as the magical equivalent of the way Jackie Chan fights in his movies. He tends to grab anything that’s handy and use it as a weapon, even if it means opening a cabinet door and slamming it in someone’s face. He’s not the type to make himself rely on a certain weapon or a certain style.

Magic can be similar. You don’t have to stick with one or two “signature” spells. Harry Potter, for example, tends to use expelliarmus quite often, so much so that his overuse of it becomes a plot point in the last book. But what if you have a character who can think on the fly?

Here’s an example of Tock, my golem-maker, showing how she can adapt to make use of whatever happens to be around her:

Tock screamed in unholy fury and started shooting. Mana channeled into her gun and charged the bullets up with unstoppable force. They flew through the air as blue streaks of energy and pierced the cop’s armored vest with ease. She emptied the clip into him, screaming pure murder the entire time.

The other cops fired back at her, and she threw her empty hand towards them. Their bullets flew with kinetic energy. She was an energy manipulator. If she could change her own bullets with kinetic energy, then she could drain it as well. The air between her and the cops began to glow and she robbed the bullets of their energy. They hung still in the air for a moment, unable to even fall as she robbed them of gravity’s pull. The glow faded and drew back into her hand as a compressed ball of kinetic force.

“Oh shit,” one cop said.

“You ‘urt my baby!” Tock screamed. She reached into her tool belt and pulled out a handful of thick screws. She hurled them with the force of a shotgun firing, the collected energy from the bullets channeled into them and magnified a dozen fold with the extra mana she charged into it. The second cop was pelted with glowing shards of metal that pierced his flesh and punched clean through the other side.

As you can see here, Tock breaks out the magic right away, something very different from the way Jeremiah fights. But she also doesn’t limit herself to the things you’d expect. She also smoothly switches from channeling her mana into a gun to channeling it into a handful of screws, using them as magically-propelled shrapnel. And that’s just a small example of how much she’ll think outside the box with her abilities. The more creative your character’s personality is, the more they can break from the norm when it comes to magical combat.

Will your character fight with a few key spells? Or will they adapt on the fly and never use the same spell twice?

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3. Direct Combat or Ambushes?

Is your character the type to rush at their foes, hurling fireballs and lightning bolts from their hands? Or will they take on a more subtle approach?

Sometimes there can be merit to using magical abilities with stealth, like a ninja. A magic ninja. You might be faced with foes who are stronger than you are and have more experience using their magic. Or you might be outnumbered. Or you might have to worry about how long you can keep using your powers before your energy is drained and you can’t use them anymore. In any case, there’s always times when it can be a good idea to avoid a direct fight.

Consider this scene with my main protagonist, Gabby Palladino:

Gabby ran behind a bush and crouched down. With how dark it was, she hoped they wouldn’t see her. The heavy footsteps and sounds of breaking branches got closer, then the two soldiers emerged from the bushes. All Gabby could make out was vague shadows, barely illuminated by the moon.

“What’s that?” one of the men asked. They both stepped closer to where Gabby had been a moment before.

“Yeah, I feel it too,” the second man said. He leaned over and pointed to the ground right where Gabby had been crouching a moment before. He waved his hand over the area. “Something . . . some kind of energy. Like what we sense in each other.”

Gabby silently cursed herself. The mana pool was like a beacon in her senses, and no doubt in the senses of the soldiers as well.

The first man looked up in her direction and pointed. “There’s something else,” he said, “there.”

They moved forward, and Gabby froze in indecision. She could fight, or she could flee. I’m tired of running, she thought. She stood up and drew back the arrow she still held in the bow. She aimed low, letting her mana sense guide her as she targeted the invisible pool of energy on the ground. She didn’t want to kill these men; they were Northern Union soldiers. They were the good guys. She may not want to let them arrest her, but that didn’t mean she wanted them dead. She’d seen enough death.

She released the mana-charged arrow and let it fly. It shot through the air and landed in the ground, piercing right into the heart of the mana pool there. When the two opposing charges of mana—the one in the ground and the one in the arrow—collided, the energy erupted in a flash of light. Mana exploded and an eruption of dirt blew out from the ground. The two soldiers were thrown back, screaming. One smacked into a tree then fell to the ground, the other landed in a thick bush. Gabby could still sense the mana flows inside each man, so she knew they were still alive. She turned and ran to the side before they recovered from being tossed about by the explosion.

As you can see here, Gabby isn’t really a fighter. She doesn’t even go for the kill. She hides in the shadows, then strikes before her opponents know what hit them. Then she runs deeper into the woods before any other enemies approach. These are the tactics of a hunter or sniper, not a warrior.

Will your wizard kill from the shadows? Or weave illusions to deceive their foes? Or maybe even muddle their enemies’ minds and make them fight each other, ending the battle without the wizard having to set foot on the battlefield?

There’s many possibilities. And these possibilities say a lot about the personalities of any individual character. I develop each character’s style based on their personality, background, and experience.

So what about you? How will your wizard fight with magic?


mani_promoManifestation is available on:

Createspace in paperback

and Amazon in ebook and paperback.

Revising Descriptions

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I’ve been working on revisions for Contamination, the sequel to my first novel, Manifestation. One of the important things I try to focus on during revisions is the level of detail I put into certain descriptions, including those of the characters, the setting, and people’s emotions.

The first draft, in a way, is just the skeleton of the novel to come. I write the bare-bones draft down in order to lay out the story and cover all of the key points. I certainly try to be as descriptive as possible along the way, but sometimes I look back at a scene and feel like it needs to be fleshed out a bit more.

When this happens, I find that it helps to pick out certain key visual elements that will serve as descriptive markers for the character or piece of the setting I’m describing. I don’t necessarily need to go into excruciating detail about everything from head to toe. Instead, I pick out the most important and visually distinctive details I can think of to help get the image across.

To give an example, here’s a few descriptions from the most recent scene I was editing today. The first is a grocery store in a small town:

There was only one store in the whole town. It was small and probably family-owned.

Not much of a description. Fairly bleh. And it doesn’t really tell the reader anything about the store, other than that it’s “small.”

I revised it to this:

There was only one store in the whole town. It was a small grocer’s, one that wasn’t part of any chain Gabby was familiar with. The sign above the front entrance, which read “Zeilman’s,” was made of wood and hand-painted. She guessed it was probably family-owned.

That’s not an excessive amount of detail, but I think it does a good job adding some character to the little store. The reader now knows that this isn’t part of a big supermarket chain, and it should seem more quaint and unfamiliar. The hand-painted wooden sign gives it a real “Mom & Pop Shop” type of feeling. The reader’s imagination will fill in the rest of the details, but those details should be “small town” details. For example, you probably wouldn’t picture an automatic sliding glass door or any bright neon signs in this store.

The second description starts off even more vague:

Gabby looked up and peered over the tops of the shelves to spot a police officer who had just walked in.

This isn’t really much detail at all. “A police officer” could mean just about anything. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time describing every visual detail of this officer, but I did add one simple piece to his description:

Gabby looked up and peered over the tops of the shelves to spot a police officer who had just walked in. He was wearing the uniform of a highway patrolman.

Not much of a change, but it tells us something more about this man. He’s not a local street cop. He’s not a detective in a suit. He’s highway patrol. The reader’s own imagination will fill in the rest of the details: perhaps they see him in a tan uniform instead of a blue one, or sporting a mustache.

Let’s look at one last revision, also a minor one:

Carl looked dizzy.

This is a classic example of violating “Show, Don’t Tell.” I shouldn’t have to tell you that Carl (the highway patrolman) is dizzy. I should be able to describe him in a way that helps you figure it out for yourself:

Carl swayed on his feet and held a hand to his head.

That’s not a big change, but it’s an important one. It’s still a brief, simple sentence. But it’s one that shows Carl’s actions and body language. This gives a clear feeling of his dizziness, without me actually telling the reader he is dizzy. I think that’s an important change.

I’m going to be doing these kinds of changes all throughout the current revision, which is Draft Two of the novel. I’ll also be looking for ways to strengthen the plot and develop the themes and motifs. But those are topics for another blog post.


mani_promoManifestation is available on:

Createspace in paperback

and Amazon in ebook and paperback.

Write One and Revise One By The End Of July

So, I’m a crazy person.

As I mentioned the other day, I’ve been making plans for Book Five, while Book One, Manifestation is on the path to publication. I’ve also got to start on revisions for Book Two, Contamination in order to start getting that ready. That’s in addition to working on getting a few short stories prepped.

In the midst of all this, I’ve recently quit my day job (the manager was a crude, abusive, sexually harassing such-and-such who responded to my requests of “Don’t curse at me” by cursing at me more). This has given me a sudden surplus of free time. I’m currently semi-employed: I have two part-time jobs, one as a graduate research assistant, one as a professional blogger for the Rowan University admissions blog. I’m also doing freelance work. And, of course, I’m sending out resumes looking for a full-time professional job in some kind of copywriting or editing position. Until I find something, however, I’ve decided that now is the time to get the rest of these books moving.

Did I mention I’m also in a summer graduate course at Rowan? I think I mentioned that when I said I was a crazy person.

So in between 20 hours a week blogging for Rowan, 10 hours a week doing research, however many more doing freelance assignments, and attending a grad class, I’ve decided I’m going to revise Book Two and write Book Five during the next ten weeks.

Why am I doing it this way? (Aside from being a crazy person.) Well, there’s a few reasons:

1. Manifestation is currently mostly out of my direct day-to-day hands. I’m currently waiting to get it back from my editor, after which point I’ll be sending it to be professionally formatted, and hiring the cover artist. All of those things require very little direct supervision from me, leaving me with nothing to do but wait and chew on my nails. Manifestation will, of course, be the top priority over all other projects (after all, I should get Book One out before worrying so much about Book Five), but there’s a limit on how much I can do with it right now. So focusing on other projects makes sense.

2. Contamination is the next highest priority after Manifestation. Book Two is sitting as a first draft right now, untouched since I finished it in the middle of NaNoWriMo last year. I delayed working on revisions for awhile because I wanted to finished up revisions on Manifestation first. I therefore began writing Book Four, Mutation, simply because it was the best option. I could write Book Four while waiting for Book One to be ready, with plans to start revisions on Book Two after the rest was all done. Except I ended up finishing Mutation about a week ago, after a sudden and unexpected surge of productivity. I had planned on working on it all through the summer before things suddenly came to a head and I wrapped it all up. So with Book Four written and complete, and Book One out of my hands, it makes sense to revise Book Two, right?

3. So then why am I writing Book Five now? Why not wait until NaNoWriMo this November, like I originally planned? Well, that grad class I’m in is a class called, wait for it, “Writing the Novel.” I was planning to write Book Four as part of the class, but that plan is out the tubes now, so it’s time to start Book Five. Now, the class doesn’t expect students to write an entire draft during the course of the summer semester. Our classwork will involve exploring ideas, outlining (blegh), developing characters and settings, and so on. We’ll also be expected to write 6000 words which will be workshopped in class, giving us feedback. I’m sure all of the other students in class don’t plan to write much more than that 6000 during the 10 weeks the class is being held. But I’m the crazy one who decided that if I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it NaNoWriMo style and crank out the full novel (expected to be 120,000 words) before class is done.

So there it is. I’ve updated the wordmeter status bars over there —-> to show the new progress I’ll be making. While all five novels are up there, Manifestation, Collapse, and Mutation won’t be changing any time soon. However, expect to see the revision bar for Contamination and the writing bar for Book Five both building steadily over the next two months or so. I plan to have Book Five written by July 31st, and have at least a second (probably a third) draft of Contamination done by the same time. While also getting Manifestation and the short story Belladonna published somewhere in there.

Also, if you’d like to support my craziness, please check out the short story ebook I have out, Radiance. It’ll give you a glimpse into these worlds that I’m creating, and it’s a story I’m rather proud of. The Amazon reviews have called it “hauntingly beautiful,” “well-written, intriguing,” and “totally great.” And if you like it, I promise, I’ll have much more coming in the near future!