Tag Archives: Gabby Palladino

What I Learned From #NaNoWriMo

Winner-2014-Web-BannerAs I mentioned, I recently won #NaNoWriMo 2014. It was a long haul. I had quite a few nights where I was up until 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning. My back is killing me. I spent several days in a daze, barely able to focus on anything else.

The novel is complete. At 160,484 words, it’s both the biggest NaNoWriMo victory I’ve ever had and the longest novel I’ve written in the series. As you can see by the progress meters on the sidebar to the right, it’s 28,000 words more than the previous novel. This was more-or-less what I expected, and the reason why is the first “thing I learned” from NaNoWriMo:

I learned to better estimate word counts

When I first wrote Manifestation, I had no idea how long it would be. I also didn’t know how the story would shift away from any original plans I had. These shifts can lead to longer word counts on some drafts, since the story expands in places I didn’t expect, then shorter word counts in revisions, when I cut scenes that end up not fitting the new direction the story went in. One of the consequences of these unexpected turns is that the structure of the novel can change.

For example, when I first started the series, I already knew where the third volume, Collapse, would end. I had a scene in mind for the climax and what consequences it would bring. I started writing with that goal in mind from early on, always trying to move Gabby Palladino and Tock Zipporah, the two main characters, in that direction. But at the time that I started writing, I thought that would be the end of volume two, not volume three.

I had originally planned Manifestation to stop in a place that is now somewhere around the middle of the second book, Contamination. I had a story arc planned out for Gabby that would take her through various family dramas, build on her romantic relationship with her main love interest, Callia Gainsborough, and help her grow from the introverted teenage girl we see at the beginning into, well, you’ll have to wait and see what she becomes. But when I was moving past the 100,000 word mark on Manifestation, I realized I needed a lot more time to get Gabby to the point I wanted to take her in. So I devised a new climax for Manifestation, finished the first book, and started the second one.

Then, when I was near the end of Contamination, the same thing happened again. I had a point where Gabby’s relationship with Callia was really just getting off the ground, where Gabby’s understanding of the supernatural changes to the world around her are finally coming together, and where Gabby’s growth as a character was reaching a major turning point. But a turning point isn’t a climax, and I realized I needed another 50,000 words or more to get Gabby the rest of the way down that path. Like with the first book, had I not come up with a different ending, the total length of the book would have been over 170,000 words. Instead, I started the third book, and about halfway through Gabby reached the point of character development I’d originally planned. It was mostly smooth sailing after that to finish the third book, reaching the climax that had originally been planned for book two.

This year, I went into my writing expecting and planning for a length of 150,000. I came up with this number by considering the various story arcs of the previous books, how many main characters had leading roles in each, and how much world building had to be done. When I crossed the 130,000 word mark, I reanalyzed based on the number of scenes left, and adjusted my word count estimate to 160,000. The final total word count was only a few hundred off of that second estimate.

I plan to consider these variables when working on future books as well, so that I’ll have a better idea of how much will “fit” in one book. That way I’ll be able to avoid major restructuring like I went through in the early books.

I learned the difference between a “romance” and a “love story”

As you may have seen by recent blog posts, I’ve been studying romance novels lately. I have a few serious problems with the common romance tropes I’ve seen. Examples include characters who seem to constantly profess their love in the narration without me seeing love in their actions, characters who are too perfect (perfect bodies, perfect hair, flawless morals, etc), characters who fall in love too quickly without enough development of their relationships, and the unrealistic nature of the “happily ever after” ending. I’ve been trying to avoid abusing these tropes in my own writing, by either breaking them entirely, or at least approaching them from different angles in order to avoid being cliche.

However, a new variable was recently brought to my attention. I recently wrote a post about exploring infidelity in romance stories, where I considered the possible roles cheating might play in the development of a story. In particular, I cited novels like The Notebook, where the female lead started off in a relationship then cheated on her fiance with the male lead, who she eventually ended up with. After writing this post, however, one of my romance writer friends directed me to the rules of the Romance Writers of America, and I learned there are some things you can’t do if you want the story to be considered an official “romance.”

According to the RWA, a story is only a “romance” if it has A Central Love Story and An Emotionally Satisfying and Optimistic Ending. That is, the love story can’t be a subplot, and it can’t have an ending that isn’t in the “happily ever after” category.

A happy ending, according to my friend, means things like no cheating. You can’t do anything to betray the relationship or make the reader stop rooting for the characters to get together. If the reader reaches a point where they wish the characters would break up, it’s not a “romance.”

An interview with Nicholas Sparks has another quote that I found interesting in relation to this idea. He responds to the question:

Q: You once said the difference between a love story and a romance is that “love stories must use universal characters and settings.” What did you mean by that?

“Universal” means you feel as if they are real. You feel like you can know them. I don’t write stories about astronauts or CEOs of Fortune 500 companies or millionaires or movie stars. These are stories of everyday people put into extraordinary events that are also very real in ordinary people’s lives: accidents, a past you want to get away from, a husband that got violent.

Now, I don’t necessarily agree with his entire view here, but what he’s basically saying sounds like “romance novels have unrealistic characters but love stories have ordinary people.” I wouldn’t call this a 100% accurate statement, but it touches on what I mentioned above. Most romance novels I read have people who are too perfect. They’re rich, famous, gorgeous, and flawless. Now, I think you can have a traditional romance novel that has believable, down-to-earth characters (just many of the ones I’ve recently read don’t). But if you go by Sparks’s views, romances are fantasies, while love stories are more realistic.

Even if you disagree with how sparks describes this difference, I do think that the distinction is related to the “no cheating” rule I already mentioned. Characters who cheat on each other would spoil the perfect fantasy of the ideal relationship. But characters who have to struggle to heal and forgive after an affair might better represent the kinds of people we see in real life.

I’ll probably follow up with some more things I learned in a future post. It was definitely a long and educational experience.


mani_promoManifestation is available in paperback format through:

CreateSpace and Amazon

and in ebook format through:

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My #NaNoWriMo Excerpt

I was peer pressured encouraged to share an excerpt from my current #NaNoWriMo Project, Arcana Revived Volume Six (currently untitled). The chapter below is an early chapter that introduces Gabby Palladino and her sister, Adrianna.

Be warned, spoilers ahoy. Since this is a sequel, there’s massive spoilers in here for my first novel, Manifestation. Read ahead at your own risk.

Don't say I didn't warn you!
Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

 

Gabby and the Manifested warped into Evesborough, landing at the edge of the city in a flash of light. They staggered a bit in catching their footing and adjusting to the difference in elevation; Evesborough was in the mountains, high above sea level, so it was a stark shift from the coastal city they’d just left. The air was cooler, the sky was clear, and the mountains around them were covered in fresh evergreens that climbed the slopes all around the city.

Gabby rubbed her temple, fighting off a headache. The pressure around her skull from the ever-present weight of her aura was worse than usual. She was sure it was a mix of not only the stress she was going through, but also of the massive mana surges she’d just witnessed Tock wielding in the City of Arcana. Tock’s power had become immense, far greater than it had been last time Gabby had seen her a couple of months before. It was something she wasn’t sure how to handle, or even wrap her head around.

“What happens now?” Mason asked. He stood off to the side with the others, outside of the range of Gabby’s aura. She was having trouble holding the aura in right now and pulses of mana were leaking through it. The Manifested kept their distance in order to remain safe.

“Gather the rest of the Manifested in the city square,” Gabby said. “We’re going to have to make preparations for tomorrow.”

“Preparations for what, exactly?” Vijay asked. “To fight?”

Gabby shook her head no, but she didn’t know what other answer to give. “We’re going to stop the fighting.”

“How?” Mason asked.

Gabby sighed. “Just get everyone together.” She turned to Jaden. “Send out a city-wide summons. Not just our usual crew. I want all willing volunteers with any kind of arcana to come. We’re going to need everything we’ve got.” Evesborough currently held a few hundred thousand citizens, most of them refugees who had fled from other mountain towns in the surrounding area and come here for the protection offered by a more well-defended city. Out of the whole population, somewhere between ten and twenty thousand were Manifested, though they hadn’t been able to perform any kind of census to get an exact count. Plus, many of the Manifested were children who were too young to fight, or people who were unwilling to join the struggle. Gabby could hope for a thousand, maybe two, but that would be it. Not enough to stand against the entire massed force of the Northern Union army, to say nothing of Tock’s mass-produced golem army.

Jaden raised her megaphone and channeled a stream of mana into it. Translucent emerald light flowed from her fingertips into the gemstones that were encrusted around the device, melding arcana and technology together in a design Vijay had developed just for the telepath. When she channeled her thoughts into the megaphone, they were amplified by the arcanatech and channeled across the whole city. All Manifested willing to help us stop the war, please gather in the city square. Commander Palladino requests all Manifested willing to fight . . .

Gabby gave Jaden a grateful smile. “I’ll see you guys there in a few minutes.” She headed off on her own, walking down the street towards the lodge that had been turned into a makeshift command center. She kept her head held high as she walked, giving professional nods to the citizens and Manifested she passed by. The streets were fairly crowded with pedestrian traffic, though there wasn’t a single car in sight. They hadn’t yet had time to develop any arcanatech vehicles, and gas was a resource that had all but run out in the months since the mana storm. She didn’t think there was a single operational car or truck left anywhere in Evesborough, and in the other cities to the south, the military had taken control of all the gas supplies to keep their jeeps and tanks running.

She headed into the lodge, where groups of volunteers were working to coordinate everything from the details of Evesborough’s defense force, to the management of their food supplies, to the manufacturing of arcanatech weapons and devices based on Vijay’s designs. Several people stopped her with questions as soon as she entered and she was stuck for almost ten minutes making decisions about where to mount the newest arcanatech gun turrets, how to handle distributing food supplies to different parts of the city, and how to settle disputes between different teams who each wanted a bigger portion of their limited manufacturing supplies. She didn’t have the first clue what the best answer was to half of the questions, so she just made her best guess, or delegated the task to someone else. She didn’t really know how to lead an army or be responsible for the lives of others. She’d just been roped into the job because of how powerful her arcana was, and how it made the others look to her as their leader.

As she was moving among the various desks that filled the lodge’s main lobby and central rooms, Gabby spotted her sister seated at a desk in the corner. She arched an eyebrow, curious as to why Adrianna was there. Her doctor, Mahir Pavari, stood by Adrianna’s side. Gabby walked over to the and gave them a small wave. Adrianna looked up from the paperwork she was working on and gave her a tired smile.

“Hey, Sis,” Adrianna said. “How did it go?” Her eyes showed signs of strain and dark circles had formed under them. She was dressed in a hospital gown and slippers, with a fluffy blue robe on top.

“About as well as could be expected,” Gabby said. She decided not to go into detail, not wanting to add to her sister’s stress. “What are you doing here? Should you be out?” She looked to Dr. Pavari.

Adrianna frowned and lowered her head. She pressed her palms down flat on the papers that covered the desk before her. “I’m not an invalid,” she said. “I’m perfectly capable of being out on my own.” She glanced over her shoulder at Dr. Pavari. “I don’t need to be babysat.”

Dr. Pavari pushed his glasses up his nose and said, “We’re giving it a trial run. I think it’s good for her to get out and try to get into some kind of normal routine.”

Adrianna pressed her hands down harder on the desk. “Don’t talk about me like I’m not here.”

“I’m sure he didn’t mean it like that,” Gabby said. “It’s okay.” She paused, chewing on her lip. Then she nodded to the papers. “So, what are you working on?”

Adrianna cast a glare up at Dr. Pavari, the turned back to Gabby. “Food inventory. I used to do this at the restaurant.” She patted the papers before her, then smoothed them out, then patted them again. “I know how to do this. I used to do it all the time.” Adrianna had worked at a small restaurant in the West District suburbs for a few years, back before she got pregnant. She had been planning on going back to work when Dante was old enough. Though his death, and Adrianna’s subsequent breakdown, had prevented that. So had the beginning of the apocalypse.

Gabby opened her mouth to reply, but she was distracted by the way Adrianna continued smoothing out the papers before her. Her movements became rougher and she ended up ripping one of the pages. She held the two halves of the page up and pressed them back together, frowning. “I can fix that,” she said, her voice a bare whisper. “I can fix it. I just need tape.”

“It’s okay,” Gabby said, giving her sister a reassuring smile. “It’s not a big deal.”

“No,” Adrianna said. “No. I can fix it.” She opened one of the desk drawers, her hands shaking. She dug through it, her movements becoming more frantic by the moment. She slammed the drawer shut and reached for another. It stuck and she yanked on it, squealing. “I can fix it!” She yanked the drawer open and knocked it off its tracks. Pens, pencils, and paper clips spilled all over the floor.

“Maybe it’s time we head back,” Dr. Pavari said, touching Adrianna’s shoulder. “It’s been a long day, and it’s time for your pills.”

Adrianna sat stiffly, tilting her head towards him. “I don’t like the pills,” she said. She pressed her hands down on top of the desk again. “I don’t like the way they make me feel.”

Gabby swallowed a lump in her throat, fighting off tears. “Addy, if the doctor says—”

“You’re always taking his side!” Adrianna snapped. She stood up and slammed her hands down on the desk. “Don’t talk to me like I’m a child, Gabby!” She leaned against the desk, shaking.

Gabby held still, not sure what to say. She hated having to treat her sister like this. She’d always looked up to Adrianna when they were growing up; her sister was two years older than Gabby, and she used to teach Gabby about life and love and making friends. But their relationship had broken down during Adrianna’s pregnancy, and fallen apart completely in the aftermath of Dante’s death.

Dr. Pavari touched a hand against Adrianna’s back. “Let’s get back to the hospital. You can get some rest, and we can come back to finish the work later.”

Adrianna turned and glared at him, her fists clenched. Then she turned her glare on Gabby. “Fine,” she said. “It doesn’t matter. Fine.” She swung her hand out and knocked the pencil sharpener off the desk. Flakes of pencil trimmings flew everywhere. Adrianna turned and stalked from the room with Dr. Pavari trailing behind her. He gave Gabby an apologetic look and Gabby responded with the bravest smile she could force onto her face.

When they left, she took a deep, shuddering breath. The rest of the people in the room were staring at her, though most of them were trying to hide it. She held back her tears and pushed down her feelings, then forced herself to get back to work. There were still questions that needed to be answered and concerns that needed to be addressed. She was the one in charge, so she had to keep working.

* * *


mani_promoManifestation is available on:

Createspace in paperback

and Amazon in ebook and paperback.

Timelines and Continuity, Redux

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about Timelines and Continuity. It had a lot to do with rearranging chapters during revisions, due to my nonlinear writing process (note: Professor Ron Block of Rowan University says all writing is linear, even when it’s not, because you have to write it and read it in a linear fashion across the page). As an example, I said I usually write, say, 6 chapters from Gabby’s POV, then 7 from Tock’s, then back to Gabby, and so on. But during revisions, I need to weave these chapters together to flow more fluidly back and forth between each character. The result can throw off some details that need to be fixed in revisions (such as if a character refers to something that happened “yesterday” but due to rearranging the order of events, it now happened “this morning,” or it won’t happen until tomorrow).

So why am I revisiting this topic? Well, my #NaNoWriMo novel, Arcana Revived Volume Six, is requiring me to look at chapter order in a very different way than in my previous first drafts. As an example, here’s the chapter order (before any revisions) for Volume Four, Mutation.

Mutation_Chapter_OrderAs you can see, I wrote 16 chapters in a row of Gabby, just because that was where my Muse was taking me. I kept writing on Gabby until I reached a point where I wasn’t quite sure what to do with her next. Then, to avoid getting log-jammed by writer’s block, I switched to Tock and Mae. I wrote with them for a while, then switched back.

Once I get to revisions, these chapters are more likely to go Gabby/Tock/Gabby/Tock/Gabby/Mae/Gabby/Tock or something like that. But when I was writing them, I just went with where my flow was taking me, in order to get all the words down as smoothly and quickly as possible. And it didn’t really hurt the narrative or the continuity at all, since Gabby and Tock weren’t directly interacting with each other in those early chapters. They’re in different places, going through different (but parallel and directly linked) events. Which was all building up to a point, close to the end, where their individual halves of the story merge and they end up in the same place at the same time.

This is the method I’ve really used with every book I’ve written so far, from Manifestation to Contamination (which is currently on Draft Two) to the next three books (which are all first drafts). It’s worked well each time. But the sixth book, which I’m currently writing for NaNoWriMo, is turning out to be an entirely different process. I’m handling continuity and the order I write the chapters in a completely different way.

Book_Six_Chapter_OrderAs you can see in the chapter orders for Volume Six, I’m alternating a lot more between the characters from chapter to chapter. Really, this is what the above chapter order will look like after revisions. I’m just doing it during the first draft this time, spending no more than a few chapters in one character’s POV before I move to the next. This is because the stories are more directly interwoven than before. As a result, I have mostly fallen into a pattern where I write Gabby/Indra/Jaden/Gabby/Indra/Jaden in order. I have to do this because it’s not just a question of “which event happens first.” It’s a situation where all the characters are having a very direct impact on each other’s actions, so I can’t continue to write the next character’s chapter before I finish the first.

Here’s an example of two scenarios, one from Mutation and one from the new book, that demonstrate what I mean in a more concrete way.

During Mutation, there’s a point where the characters are battling a variety of giant mythological creatures that have come back to life because of the revival of magic. At one point, some of the characters are split up, so that Gabby is battling one Beast of Legend, Tock another, Mae a third, and Callia a fourth. The individual battles don’t impact each other, but they all impact the overall plot and together the battles determine whether everyone will be safe or if the Beasts will crush entire cities and kill thousands of people. So, after each battle has been decided, the characters can reunite and we can see the aftermath, but during each battle, each character is on their own (or “the character plus the miscellaneous supporting characters helping them fight”).

What makes the new book different is that for the majority of it, the characters are coordinating their efforts in the same struggle, instead of battling separate (but related) foes. For example, right now, Gabby is lying in ambush, waiting for a signal from Jaden that a certain task has been completed before it’ll be time to strike. But Jaden can’t do what she needs to until she gets crucial information from Indra and her cousin Vijay. So while I’m alternating between characters from one chapter to the next, they’re working together on a common goal, and their actions directly impact things. Gabby literally can’t proceed from her current position before I’ve written Jaden’s next chapter (unless she wants the entire mission to fail), and Jaden literally can’t accomplish her goal without the key information she’s waiting to receive. It requires me to look at the book differently than the previous volumes.

That’s not to say that either method, “nonlinear” chapter order or direct alternation between POVs, is better or worse than the other. It just means that the revision process for this volume will require less rearranging (in theory), since the chapters are already in more-or-less the order they’re going to stay in.

Hopefully things continue to flow well throughout the rest of NaNoWriMo. And if you’re also writing a novel this month, good luck, and may the continuity be ever in your favor.


mani_promoManifestation is available on:

Createspace in paperback

and Amazon in ebook and paperback.

Series and Stand-Alone Books

#NaNoWriMo is about to start, so naturally I’m both excited and scared at the same time. The first year I did NaNoWriMo was in 2012, when I wrote Manifestation (which, two years later, is now a published novel). Last year, I wrote Contamination and Collapse, the first two sequels to Manifestation. I managed about 141,000 words.

This year, I’m writing the as-yet-untitled sixth volume of Arcana Revived. I’ve already done about 7100 words of preliminary writing (mainly because I’m also writing this novel as my Rowan University Master’s in Writing Thesis Project). I’ve had some early feedback on those first few chapters, and there’s a particular issue that keeps coming up.

See, since this is part of a series, I need to make sure that each book can serve both as a stand-alone volume by itself and as a continuation of the ongoing plot of the series. This is something you see done effectively in a lot of long-running series. Take Harry Potter, for example. Each book has its own internal conflict and its own climax, telling a complete story. But the whole series taken together lays out plot threads that don’t get resolved until the end. Yet, you could randomly pick up, say, book five, and still be able to follow everything that’s going on.

The trick to this is to re-introduce familiar characters and elements so that new readers will be able to understand who they are and what’s happening, without piling everything in via information dumps that will bore readers (especially readers who have already read the previous novels.

I’ve been struggling with this, and I’m trying to make adjustments based on the feedback I’ve received so far. Most of that feedback includes questions and comments like “What does this mean?”, “I’m not sure what happened here, but I guess if I’d read the other books I’d know”, and “I’m confused about how this magic works.”

As an example, here’s the first three chapters of the new work-in-progress. There’s two versions below: the original first draft, and the slightly-edited version I made to address the questions and critiques that were brought up. (Spoiler Alert: Obviously, since this is book six, anything below could be potential spoilers for the events in Manifestation).

            Gabby Palladino stood at the top of a hill, overlooking the abandoned suburbs that stretched to the north of the city once known as San Lorien. No one had lived in those houses for months and every house was falling into disrepair, most of it from the aftermath of the mana storm that had devastated the countryside and laid waste to everything within hundreds of miles. Wild animals, many of them once household pets that had been left behind after the storm, now roamed the streets. Cars sat abandoned along the suburban roads. Lawns and gardens were overgrown with weeds. And the only signs of human life were the military trucks, jeeps, and tanks that rolled through the streets, heading south towards the city.

            Gabby drew on her arcana and wove strands of light through the air in front of her. The air shimmered and warped as a web of light formed from the criss-crossed strands. A broad stretch of air twisted and blurred, then slowly came into focus, showing a magnified image of the distant army that crossed through the suburban streets. Warping light was a new trick for Gabby; it took far less effort and consumed less mana than some of her other arcane spells, but it required a lot more precision. It took her a few moments to bring the magnified image into focus.

            “I didn’t think there’d be that many of them,” a voice said from behind her.

            Gabby glanced over her shoulder at her squad. She’d brought four of the Manifested with her. Jaden Farrell was the newest of them, a fifteen year old telepath from Evesborough. She was also the youngest, three years younger than Gabby herself.

That opening basically sets the scene and introduces the characters, the setting, and the basic conflict. Right away, you know who the main protagonist is, you know this is a war-torn world, you know it’s a setting with magic, and you know a war is brewing. Pretty much covers the important points of an opening.

But there’s lots of questions that might be too confusing. What is the mana storm? What is arcana? What are the Manifested? Some of these questions might be things you’ll simply learn more about as the story goes along, but some are such basic, fundamental parts of the setup that they need to be addressed at least a little bit.

Here’s the revision, based on feedback from workshop sessions:

Gabby Palladino stood at the top of a hill, overlooking the abandoned suburbs that stretched to the north of the city once known as San Lorien. No one had lived in those houses for months and every one of them was falling into disrepair. Most of the damage was the aftermath of the mana storm that had devastated the countryside and laid waste to everything within hundreds of miles. The storm had raged worse than any hurricane the country had ever known, and it had carried with it arcane energy that had contaminated everything the storm touched. Wild animals roamed the streets, many of them once household pets before the mana contaminated them, mutating them into monstrous beasts. Cars sat abandoned along the suburban roads. Lawns and gardens were overgrown with weeds. The only signs of human life were the military trucks, jeeps, and tanks that rolled through the streets, heading south towards the city.

Gabby drew on her arcana and wove strands of light through the air in front of her. The air shimmered and warped as a web of light formed from the criss-crossed strands. A broad stretch of air twisted and blurred, then slowly came into focus, showing a magnified image of the distant army that crossed through the suburban streets. Warping light was a new trick for Gabby; it took far less effort and consumed less mana than some of her other arcane spells, but it required a lot more precision. It took her a few moments to bring the magnified image into focus.

“I didn’t think there’d be that many of them,” Jaden said from behind her.

Gabby glanced over her shoulder at Jaden and the rest of her squad. She’d brought four of the Manifested with her. Each of the Manifested had been touched by mana, either during the storm or before it, and had been changed ever since. Like Gabby, their manifestations had brought them arcane powers, though each person’s arcana was different from anyone else’s. Jaden Farrell was the newest of them, a fifteen-year-old telepath from Evesborough. She was also the youngest, three years younger than Gabby herself.

The edits here are minor, and each was made to address a specific concern raised by my classmates during workshop sessions. It explains that the mana storm was a disaster that spread magical mutations. It explains that the Manifested are people who were altered by the storm and gained magical powers. The explanations are brief and to the point, because I don’t want to info-dump. But hopefully, the second version explains enough that the reader won’t be confused (intrigued, curious, and questioning are fine, but confused is bad).

Hopefully as I proceed into NaNoWriMo, I’ll be able to keep these issues in mind, and always feed just enough information to the reader. Though I expect that I’ll have to revise more sections like this when critique partners and beta readers say, “I don’t know what this means?” I’m currently studying some other urban fantasy series, such as The Dresden Files, in order to see how other authors have addressed these issue. Hopefully I can learn from them and manage to do this right.

And hopefully I can wrote 150,000 words this November. Wish me luck.


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.

Research: What Counts as a Source?

I’m enrolled in Rowan University’s Master’s in Writing graduate program. I’m currently working on my master’s thesis project, a project which represents the bulk of my final year’s work. The requirement of the thesis is a 30,000 word written work (or equivalent, as some students are pursuing research-heavy academic projects that will come in at lower word counts for the same amount of effort). The type of project is open-ended; some students are writing memoirs or nonfiction pieces, others are doing academic research, and others are writing novels. I’m using the thesis project to write the sixth book in the Arcana Revived series, following the stories of Gabby Palladino and Tock Zipporah, who made their debut appearances in my first novel, Manifestation.

Part of the thesis project, in addition to writing the novel itself, is creating an annotated bibliography of the sources that informed or inspired my work. In the case of a creative work of fiction, such as mine, this can include the works of fiction that inspired me or where I drew some of my ideas from.

But what counts as a “source” in this context? Well, the professor is pretty open minded about that. Our sources can include, among other things, books, movies, news articles, poetry, and in my case, webcomics and video games.

Some of my sources are, naturally, fiction novels:
Jordon, R. (1990-2013). The Wheel of Time. New York, NY: Tor.
Anthony, P. (1977-2014). The Xanth Series. New York, NY: Del Rey, Tor.
Hickman, L., Hickman, T., & Weis, M. (1984-2014). Dragonlance. New York, NY: Random House.
Roberts, R. (2014). Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m A Supervillain. Virginia: Curiosity Quills.
Boswell, H. (2012). Mythology. United States: Artemathene Books.

I listed the various novels that have influenced me in different ways. In some cases, they influenced the way I write about magic (The Wheel of Time, Xanth). In other cases, they influenced how I write about specific elements in my series such as steampunk-style inventions (Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m A Supervillain) or angels and demons (Mythology). Or even how I’m structuring the different novels and collections in my series (Dragonlance). I deliberately chose a wide variety of sources in order to show the various ways that my work has built off of what came before me.

Some books, naturally, aren’t going to be works of fiction:
Stein, S. (1995). Stein on Writing. London: St. Martin’s Press.

In this case, it’s a book on writing techniques that greatly informed the way my novel is written, from the character descriptions, to the dialogue, to the way the chapters are laid out. These variables are as big of an overall influence as any specific works of fiction that inspired me.

But what about a book that, well, isn’t exactly something you’d expect to see cited in a bibliography?:
Martin, J. & Rateliff, J. (Eds.). (2003). Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide. Renton, WA: Wizards of the Coast.

That’s right. I’m citing the DMG, because it taught me a lot about world-building, from designing my cities to developing the politics and culture of my world. I also drew from concepts of the multiverse and various parallel dimensions, which are common D&D tropes. My characters explore some alternate dimensions where the laws of physics aren’t quite what you’d expect, and my designs of those dimensions were heavily influenced by the DMG.

And, of course, there’s another book that I drew heavily from:
God. (1400 B.C.). The Holy Bible. Moses (Ed.) Manuscripts written while children of Israel wandered the wilderness for forty years after the Exodus.

Yes, I’m serious and yes, that’s how I’m citing it in my bibliography. That’s correct APA format for citing a book edited by someone other than the author (Moses transcribing God’s words). And I’m quite serious about the importance of the bible in my writing. My main character, Gabby Palladino, is very religious. Over the course of the novels she’s struggled with falling prey to the seven deadly sins, she’s worried about the state of her immortal soul, and she’s sought guidance frequently through prayer. And from her own persona guardian angel.

But what about sources that aren’t actually books?:
Foglio, K. & Foglio, P. (2000-2014). Girl Genius. Retrieved from http://www.girlgeniusonline.com/

Girl Genius is a webcomic that heavily influenced my other main character, Tock Zipporah. Many of her personality traits as a mad scientist/inventor are based on Agatha Heterodyne, protagonist of the Girl Genius series. Without reading that series, Tock wouldn’t be who she is today.

Then, of course, there’s movies and TV shows:
Johnson, M., Steuer, P., & Adamson, A. (2005). The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. United States: Walt Disney Pictures, Walden Media.
Whedon, J., Greenwalt, D., Noxon, M., Kuzui, F., & Kuzui, K. (1997-2003). Buffy the Vampire Slayer [Television series]. Los Angeles: 20th Century Fox.
Kring, T., Hammer, D., Arkush, A., & Beeman, G. (2006-2010). Heroes [Television series]. Philadelphia, New York: NBC Universal Television Distribution.
Todd, J., Todd, S., & Nolan, C. (2000). Memento [Motion picture]. United States: Summit Entertainment.

I drew different types of inspiration from these different shows and movies. Memento is a heavy inspiration for my newest major character, Jaden Farrell, who suffers from severe memory problems. The Chronicles of Narnia influenced Gabby Palladino, who, as you can see here, is modeled after Susan Pevensie, played by Anna Popplewell. And Buffy and Heroes influenced me as works with superheroes and supernatural forces fighting in grand struggles for the fate of the world.

One last source, of course, might be the one that stands out the most:
Sakaguchi, H., Kitase, Y. & Ito, H. (1994). Final Fantasy VI [Super Nintendo game]. United States: Square Enix.

Yes, I’m citing Final Fantasy in the bibliography for my master’s thesis project. I’ve mentioned the influence Final Fantasy has on my writing before, starting with the concept of magic returning to a world that had lost it. Some of the Final Fantasy summoned monsters, like Shiva, Leviathan, Quetzalcoatl, and Titan, also influenced the types of monsters that appear in my later books. In fact, this video game was probably the most important and influential source of all, more than any of the books I’m citing.

It just goes to show that inspiration can come in a variety of forms. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t draw on unorthodox sources in your research. What you find might just surprise you.


mani_promoManifestation is available on:

Createspace in paperback

and Amazon in ebook and paperback.

Revising Descriptions

Image Source: http://my3000lovingarms.blogspot.com/2010_08_01_archive.html
Image Source: http://my3000lovingarms.blogspot.com/2010_08_01_archive.html

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.

How Two Gems Make A Novel

One of the most common questions I get asked (and I think most writers get this) is “Where do you get your ideas from?”

Image Source: http://drgretchentorbertphd.com/2013/05/21/my-brain-is-exploding-my-ideas-are-godly-ones/
Image Source: http://drgretchentorbertphd.com/2013/05/21/my-brain-is-exploding-my-ideas-are-godly-ones/

I’m on the record as saying that I get most of my ideas in the shower. But I don’t think that’s really the answer people are looking for (even if it IS a good answer!). Nor do they want to hear that my stories are taking place somewhere in an alternate reality somewhere and I’m simply watching them and seeing what happens (even though I believe this to be true).

Instead, I think what people really want to know is, “How can another writer use your own idea-generation techniques for themselves to create a good book?” Which is something a bit more substantial, and something I can actually go into detail about.

The first thing, in my opinion, is to start creating some fascinating characters.

Image Source: http://www.cgchannel.com/2014/02/autodesk-rolls-out-autodesk-character-generator/
Image Source: http://www.cgchannel.com/2014/02/autodesk-rolls-out-autodesk-character-generator/

I mentioned before that I’ve created some characters based on roleplaying games. This can be a good place to start. A game, whether it’s Dungeons & Dragons, Storium, or an online roleplaying forum, can be a good way to delve into a character’s personality, goals, mysteries, and nuances. The more time you spend with a certain character, the more you’re going to get to know them, and the more depth they’re going to have. If a character already has a lot of depth and development before you start writing page one of your novel, you’re going to have a lot more to work with.

This is what I did with both Gabby Palladino and Tock Zipporah, my two primary main characters. Before I ever wrote the first line of Manifestation, the first volume of the Arcana Revived series, I had written a lot of short stories and roleplaying scenes with both characters. I actually wrote over a million words on each character, most of which is now buried on some old forums deep in the web.

You can actually read a couple of the stories I was developing here on the blog. One of them, “A Hard Life in the Big Easy,” is actually the very first piece of writing I ever wrote about Gabby. It’s a short action/adventure piece showing her in a fight for her life. Of course, there are many differences between what you’ll read in that story versus what you’ll see in Manifestation (such as how that story takes place near New Orleans, whereas Manifestation is on a completely fictional world). But the heart of the character is still the same. (It also contains possible spoilers about Gabby’s role in the novel, just a warning.)

There were other characters I wrote about during those roleplaying years, but they didn’t all make the cut. For example, I had a lot of fun writing the crime lord Aamon Dukushu (especially when dancing ballet), but in the long run, his storyline didn’t feel like one I could reboot and expand upon in a new series. I also had another character who didn’t fit because she was an alien, one who didn’t work because he was designed more for a romance plot than an urban fantasy adventure, and another who didn’t fit because she was a lycanthrope and I didn’t want to include vampires or werecreatures in this series. All in all, I had over a dozen good characters with strong backgrounds and interesting plots. But I had to pick out the two gems of that batch who had the most potential for growth, the most passion, and the most ability to generate conflict.

I picked out Gabby Palladino and Tock Zipporah because they both fascinate me, and because they could not be more different from each other. Gabby is a poet, a gentle soul, and a girl who would never hurt anyone if she had a choice in the matter. She bears a lot of great burdens on her shoulders and she rises up to take on responsibilities that no one should have to bear. She can also get a bit sassy with a very punny sense of humor (something she uses as a coping mechanism when dealing with difficult situations).

Tock on the other hand, is a lewd, rude, crude mechanic who likes to get dirty, build things, fix things, and follow her urges. She also never takes shit from anyone and she won’t hesitate to tell you exactly what she thinks about you. Messing with Tock is generally a bad idea, though she usually won’t go out of her way to start trouble with others.

Once I picked out my two gems: the gentle poet and the shit-talking mechanic, it was a matter of putting them in a situation together and letting the sparks fly. But to get the most sparks, I had to make sure they were tied together.

Image Source: http://sincity2100.deviantart.com/art/Sailors-tied-up-in-ribbon-213386051
Image Source: http://sincity2100.deviantart.com/art/Sailors-tied-up-in-ribbon-213386051

I wrote a while back about the crucible, a technique for building tension by putting opposing characters in a situation where they’re stuck together. They’re either forced to deal with each other as family, as coworkers, or as people trapped in the same place and unable to escape each other’s company. This can mean either physically jailed or tied up and forced to stay together, or it can simply mean they’re stranded together, such as on a desert island. Or, in my case, in a city going through an unexplained supernatural disaster.

After that, I basically let the characters write the story for me. I had these two fascinating characters, the poet and the mechanic, trapped in a city filled with danger, magic, mystery, a touch of romance, and a dash of attitude. I could have thrown any two characters into that setting when the magical dangers started to appear, but having two characters who were both strong willed but had vastly different viewpoints made for a much better story.

It was also interesting to see how they each reacted to the dangers around them. After all, how do you think you would react if you found yourself surrounded by dangerous people with uncontrolled magical abilities, in a city held in the grip of fear and chaos? Gabby, the gentle soul, and Tock, the short-tempered mechanic, each react to those situations differently, and I feel like that adds a lot of depth to the story.

They’re my two gems, and I love them. That’s probably why I’m about to start work on the sixth novel with these same two characters, still going strong, and still completely different from each other.


mani_promoManifestation is available on:

Createspace in paperback

and Amazon in ebook and paperback.

I think I felt my soul today

“I think I felt my soul today”
By: Gabriella Palladino

I think I felt my soul today
Lost in this dark expanse
I got down on my knees to pray
But never got the chance

I may have felt my soul today
I couldn’t help but gasp
But then I felt it slip away
Eluding my weak grasp

I think I felt my soul today
But now I think it’s lost
And all the things I want to say
Were taken as the cost

I know I felt my soul today
It may be the last time
If it was lost along the way
My soul I’ll never find

And if I lost my soul today
Where will it go from here?
Will it wander? Will it still pray?
Or will it disappear?

I think I felt my soul today
When pierced by Satan’s lance
And so I’m on my knees to pray
For just a second chance


mani_promoManifestation is available on:

Createspace in paperback

and Amazon in ebook and paperback.

Character “Speed Dating” with Gabby Palladino

“Character Speed Dating”? What’s that?

Well for starters, Cairn “Pile of Rocks” Rodrigues posted a speed-dating profile on her blog, discussing her character “Awnyx Tiell, Captain of the Fist.” (If you find this character interesting, you should check out Pile of Rocks’s book, The Last Prospector, on Amazon). Then, she tagged Alicia “I can’t remember what the K stands for” Anderson, who introduced her own character, Rolfgar of Two Lands a.k.a “The Nightmage.” A.K. then tagged me, asking me to give an introduction of one of my own characters. So, to keep this blog hop “hopping,” as A.K. put it, I’m going to introduce you to Gabby Palladino, main protagonist of my debut novel, Manifestation.

Gabby with bow and arcana eyes 4

Gabby Palladino is a teenage girl from the city of San Lorien, a metropolis in the fictional world I developed for the Arcana Revived series. She’s sometimes called “Boost” (for reasons that will become clear during the course of the novel), and she gains a number of other nicknames and titles as the series go on, but those will be revealed in the future when the sequels are released.

mani_promoThe story is set in the world of the Arcana Revived series, a modern-day world where magic and supernatural abilities are returning for the first time in centuries. Most of the people in this world don’t believe that magic exists, and that any stories about it are nothing more than ancient myths and fairy tales. They’re therefore completely unprepared for the consequences when magic starts to return and nobody knows how to control it or how to stop it.

There are a few important details about Gabby that are a key part of who she is. She’s the youngest of four children. She’s a high school senior. She’s very religious. She’s a lesbian. And she most definitely believes in magic. This belief is a big part of what sets her apart from others when the supernatural changes start coming to her home.

The central conflict of Gabby’s story is her attempts to survive when chaos erupts as supernatural powers begin manifesting all around her. She’s lost, alone, scared, and confused, and she seems to be the only one who realizes that there’s more going on than meets the eye. But how does a teenage girl do anything about the rebirth of supernatural forces that are beyond comprehension, especially when those same forces are bringing death and destruction all around her?

Her first goal is survival. But more than that, Gabby seeks understanding. She’s driven to figure out what is going on around her, and to understand why she is somehow caught in the middle of it.

If you’re interested in reading more about Gabby Palladino and the strange events that start cropping up all around her, you can read the first six sample chapters of Manifestation here on my blog, starting with Chapter 1: Magic. You can then follow the links below if you want to read the rest of the book and find out what Gabby’s ultimate fate will be.

And lastly, a big thanks to A.K. Anderson for tagging me and giving me the chance to share Gabby with you.


mani_promoManifestation is available on:

Createspace in paperback

and Amazon in ebook and paperback.