Tag Archives: Maelyssa Southeby

Magic Kiss

I’d like to talk about magic. And kissing.

Image source: http://martinweigel.org/2013/06/10/the-liberation-of-magic/
Image source: http://martinweigel.org/2013/06/10/the-liberation-of-magic/

Magic comes in many forms. There’s the literal magic of a wizard, ala Gandalf or Harry Potter. There’s the metaphoric magic of a first kiss. There’s the trickery and sleight-of-hand associated with stage magic. And of course, there’s Magic: The Gathering (which I was pretty hooked on when I was 14).

I’ve discussed magic on the blog before, but that series (written in three separate blog posts) was more about the rules of magic, and how to develop them and then break them. Today, I’d like to talk a bit about what makes magic really “magical,” and where the line is between magic, tricks, technology, and metaphors.

The idea came to me when I was talking to a friend about the release of my first novel, Manifestation. I mentioned that the book contains magic and kissing, among other things. Which got me thinking about the difference between a metaphorical magic kiss, and a literal magic kiss.

Image source: http://image-ination.ifthisistaken.com/childrens-story-think-about-it/
Image source: http://image-ination.ifthisistaken.com/childrens-story-think-about-it/

The idea of a “magic kiss” is a well-established trope. From Snow White to Sleeping Beauty to the Princess and the Frog, it’s a common idea in movies, books, and other media for a kiss to have the power to save lives, break spells, and make the audience get all misty-eyed. Heck, even The Matrix did it, which bent the perception of reality when Trinity’s kiss from outside the Matrix was able to save Neo’s life inside the Matrix.

So where is the line between the actual magic that alters reality, and the metaphorical magic that gets your heart fluttering? It might be harder to pin down than you think.

I’d like to discuss two specific examples: The Little Mermaid and The Sword of Truth.

Image source: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0097757/
Image source: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0097757/

The Little Mermaid is one of my favorite Disney movies (despite the fact that I could go on for hours about the poor gender roles being portrayed here). I even wrote an article analyzing the communication practices in the movie, especially with regards to when Ariel loses her voice. But for today’s discussion, I’d like to bring up the “kiss of true love” that is a key plot point in this film.

As I already mentioned, it’s common for “true love’s kiss” to break a spell and save the day. Except that in The Little Mermaid, that’s not quite what’s happening. There’s not technically any literal magic involved in Ariel’s kiss. Though understanding the difference requires taking a look at how Ursula’s spell differs from, say, Queen Grimhilde’s in Snow White or Maleficent’s in Sleeping Beauty.

With both Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, the magic kiss essentially serves as a counterspell. The evil queen discovers in the “fine print” of her spellbook that the spell can be reversed:

“Ah, hear this! ‘The Victim of the Sleeping Death can be revived only by Love’s First Kiss.’ ‘Love’s First Kiss.’ Bah! No fear of that. The dwarfs will think she’s dead. She’ll be buried alive!”

The queen then proceeds to use the poisoned apple anyway, thinking the counterspell will never be possible (it wouldn’t have been, if the dwarves hadn’t put Snow White in a glass coffin and if the prince hadn’t been a necrophile). The kiss in Sleeping Beauty functions in a similar way, except that the counterspell is added in after the fact by the blue fairy’s magic gift.

Ariel’s kiss is different than both of these. For starters, her kiss isn’t a counterspell; instead, it’s the only way to stop the spell from reversing and turning Ariel back into a mermaid. In addition, the kiss in this case is something Ursula chooses to add into the spell. It’s part of her deal with Ariel a condition of the contract that Ariel willingly signs. Ursula’s use of a contract implies that she could have set just about any conditions she wanted. She could have said, “Prince Eric has to brush your hair before the sunset on the third day,” or, “You need to paint a portrait of Sebastian before the sunset on the third day.” This means that, technically, the kiss itself isn’t magic (by the literal, not metaphoric definition of the word). It’s just an arbitrary action that Ursula chose because it was a fitting lure to use with Ariel’s desire for Eric, and one that she was sure she could prevent from happening.

(Ursula, of course, cheats.)

So that’s an example of a magic kiss that turns out to not be as magic as we thought. But what about a normal kiss that turns out to be more magical than we realized? For that, we turn to The Sword of Truth.

Novels by Terry Goodkind
Novels by Terry Goodkind

Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth novels have a set of characters known as Mord Sith. They possess a variety of magics (most of which are used to torture people and break their wills, turning them into slaves). They also look really hot in red leather, especially Cara.

Image source: http://fullhdwp.com/legend-of-the-seeker-tabrett-bethell-cara-mason-desktop-mobile-wallpaper/
Image source: http://fullhdwp.com/legend-of-the-seeker-tabrett-bethell-cara-mason-desktop-mobile-wallpaper/

The thing about torturing people with magic dildos Agiels, the Mord Sith’s pain-inducing weapon of choice, is that if you’re not careful, you’ll kill your prisoner instead of just breaking their spirit. As a result, Mord Sith also need to be experts at providing emergency first aid. This includes using mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, which is referred to in the books as “the breath of life.” Mouth-to-mouth is also often referred to by others as “the kiss of life.” And while the Sword of Truth books never use the term “kiss” to refer to it, there is definitely an intimate aspect to the breath of life:

A Mord-Sith shared her victim’s breath when he was on the cusp of death. It was a sacred thing to a Mord-Sith to share his pain, share his breath of life as he slipped to the brink of death, as if to view with lust the forbidden sight of what lies beyond in the next world. Sharing, when the time came to kill him, his very death by experiencing his final breath of life.

–“Soul of the Fire”

This almost makes it sound like the opposite of what’s happening in Snow White, a kiss to share the experience of someone’s death instead of just bringing them back from the dead. But, of course, mouth-to-mouth resuscitation isn’t really “magic,” it’s just science.

Or is it?

Image source: http://sot.wikia.com/wiki/Breath_of_Life
Image source: http://sot.wikia.com/wiki/Breath_of_Life

The TV show Legend of the Seeker, based on Terry Goodkind’s novels, had a different take on the breath of life. As seen in the picture above, the breath of life was depicted as an actual magic breath that could be used to infuse life back into the victim. While this isn’t quite a kiss, it certainly is damn close, based on the intimate pose it’s been portrayed in. So in this case, we have a metaphorical kiss that turned out to be a magical one.

So it seems like there can be a lot of blurred lines when it comes to magic kisses. It makes me wonder whether Snow White could have been revived by mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, or whether the princess could have saved the frog with a metaphoric kiss instead of a literal one because, eww, warts.

Of course, nothing will ever take the place of the real magic of a first kiss. That’s simply priceless.


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Friendships Among Your Characters

A lot of people talk about romantic relationships in their writing. Romance is certainly a popular genre, and one a lot of my friends write in. I’ve written about my thoughts on romantic relationships in books before, in particular the question of whether a romance should be followed until death does them part.

Yet there’s another type of relationship I don’t tend to see as many people talking about: friendships. While I’m sure there are plenty of great books out there that are focused purely on friendships instead of romantic relationships, I don’t tend to see them often. Usually a friendship is developed more on the side of the main plot, rather than being the focus.

I’ve been thinking about friendships in writing a lot lately because I’m developing one in my own novels. While the friendship would certainly be a subplot instead of part of the main plot, it’s still an element I’ve put a lot of thought into developing. There’s a few certain specific concepts I’ve been exploring, each of which has different variables worth considering.

The specific friendship I’m talking about is between two of my main characters, Tock Zipporah and Maelyssa Southeby. They’ve got quite a bit in common: they’re both teenage girls who have developed magical powers, they both dislike authority figures, they both roll with a tough crowd, and they both enjoy excitement and wild rides (Mae is a skater and Tock likes to cruise in arcane-powered vehicles of her own design).

Of course, your novel might not contain these supernatural elements. You might write about detectives solving crimes. Soldiers returning home from war. Explorers on an interstellar spacecraft. Llamas procrastinating by drinking coffee. But whatever your story is, the focus should be on the characters.

So what elements will affect the development of a friendship between your characters? One question is “What is the basis of their friendship?” This question can help you know whether the friendship is a key part of your story or just part of another plot element. For example, many romance novels have a friendship story on the side, usually between the female main character and her best friend. These kinds of friendships fail the Bechdel Test, which asks the following:

1. Does the story have to have at least two women in it?
2. Who talk to each other?
3. About something besides a man?

It’s #3 on this list that will make the difference between a friendship that’s there to be a friendship versus a friendship that’s there to support the romance plot. Usually, the best friend in a romance novel is someone for the main character to talk to about her new boyfriend, someone to support her after the inevitable fight that almost breaks the romance up, and possibly someone to backstab her somewhere along the way (such as by revealing a dirty little secret or trying to seduce the main character’s love interest). In a situation like this, the friendship doesn’t have anything to stand on by itself.

I wanted to make sure Tock and Mae’s friendship existed independently. So I made sure to develop it based on their personalities and interests and goals, rather than on any external variables. So far, they’ve never once talked about a man or each other’s love lives (though I’m sure they could in the future, after their friendship has been firmly established). They show genuine, platonic affection for each other. They’ve supported each other through some serious tough times. And they have a really good rapport, so that when you see their interactions on the page, you should really feel that they’re true friends.

Of course, not all my characters have developed as strong of a friendship as Tock and Mae have. For instance, Gabby Palladino and Maria Vasquez are good friends as well, but their friendship hasn’t gotten quite as much development. That might be because there was always a greater focus on Gabby’s relationship with her main love interest, Callia Gainsborough. Which means that Gabby and Maria’s friendship might have a harder time passing the Bechdel Test.

And I think another interesting type of friendship to explore would be a platonic friendship between a guy and a girl. Usually, male/female friendships have some underlying sexual tension and the assumption (or hope) that they’ll eventually get together. Just look at something like the Harry Potter series and how many people ‘shipped Harry and Hermione (including, it later turned out, the author herself). A lot of studies have shown that male/female friendships are rare, and the majority of the time one person or the other is secretly attracted to their friend. Despite this, it could be interesting to explore a legitimate friendship with no romantic or sexual aspects whatsoever. Though odds are, your readers will still ‘ship the characters anyway (just like some will probably ‘ship Mae and Tock, even though that’ll never happen).

There’s probably a lot of other variables that go into a good literary friendship. I’d be happy to hear your thoughts, along with any other examples of well-developed friendships in the books you’ve read.

Photoshop Experiments: Maelyssa Southeby

Maelyssa “Mae” Southeby is one of the major supporting characters in the Arcana Revived series. She’s also known as “the girl with the belladonna tattoo,” and in addition to her supporting role in the novels, she’s the main character of the short story Belladonna. Her character inspiration is a model I only know by her online username, “Ledabunnymonster.” Here’s an experiment with adding both glowing arcana eyes and the manifestation of Mae’s power pouring from her palm:

Mae with Arcana Eyes
Mae with Arcana Eyes

How Video Games Have Influenced My Writing

Most of the time, writers seem to talk about the books that have influenced their writing style. I’ve certainly been influenced by Tolkien (naturally), Robert Jordan, Terry Goodkind, James Alan Gardner, and plenty of other authors. I’ve taken inspiration from many other sources, including webcomics like Girl Genius (the main character of that comic, Agatha Heterodyne, was one of the primary sources of inspiration for my character Tock Zipporah (whose proper name is actually “Minerva Agatha Zipporah”)). But since I’ve been playing video games since I was about six years old, gaming has definitely been another influence that has changed the way I write.

There are a few different specific ways that video games affected my writing, so I’ll address each one individually.

The Influence of Gods and Monsters

I write urban fantasy, and my work is steeped heavily in mythology, magic, monsters, and other classics of the fantasy genre. I try to veer away from overused creatures (such as vampires, werewolves, elves, dwarves, and dragons) and create a combination of my own homemade creations along with my interpretations of less-used mythological creatures.

One basic example of that is golems. Golems are creatures made from inanimate matter, and can range from magically-animated stone statues to living clay to robots that are powered by mana instead of electricity. I don’t tend to see golems used all that often in most of the books I read (though I’m sure I could name a few examples, like the animated suits of armor in the Harry Potter books). They’re a common sight in both video games and tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons. My character Tock is a golem-maker, and video games are definitely a big influence in the way I design her golems. Instead of creating animated stone statues or living suits of armor, Tock tends to go for things like magitech creations, similar to those seen in Final Fantasy VI. In that game, you see things like robots that fire magic-powered lasers, living war machines created by magic, and magic-powered mechwarrior suits (called “MagiTek Armor” in the game). All of these things have been a huge influence in the way I view Tock’s ability and the things she creates, particularly in Contamination and Collapse.

Another influence from the Final Fantasy games in particular is the design of their summoned monsters. Many of them are based on various real-world myths and legends, and you can go into a lot of detail analyzing how closely the games stuck with the mythological inspirations versus how much creative license they took.

I don’t directly draw from many of the summoned monsters in Final Fantasy, but my all-time favorite has always been Shiva. So much so that Shiva is a very direct influence over my short story, Radiance. In some of the later books in the series (including Book 4 that I’m working on a first draft of right now), there are other places where you’ll see the influences of Final Fantasy summoned monsters emerge. I tend to take things in a vastly different direction with a lot of creative license, so the results don’t have much in common with the games, but I can’t deny where some of the inspiration came from.

Visual Effects of Magic

Magic can take many forms in novels. In Harry Potter, we see characters using wands and chanting magic words in faux-latin. In the Sword of Truth series, we see a lot of mystic glyphs and arcane inscriptions. In the Wheel of Time we see magic described as a weaving of energies, which for me usually brings to mind the image of glowing threads creating a tapestry of power before they are unleashed.

Many video games tend to have more visual elements. A lot of this has to do with practical issues of gameplay. For example, you can’t expect a character in a video game to stop mid-battle and sketch magic runes on the ground with white sand in order to create a spell effect. Instead, there tends to be flashes of light that are designed to add to the excitement of a game while also adding a personal touch of style. These visual styles can be so distinct that you could easily identify which game a spell came from just by the way it looks, which adds something to the overall style of the game.

The magic in my books tends to be very visual. There is a complex rules system that determines how magic works, and that is far more important to the plot than what a magical effect looks like. But at the same time, I feel that vivid descriptions can make a battle scene more exciting and add more personalization to it. In some books, like the Wheel of Time series, there are times when two magic-users are simply staring at each other while an invisible battle rages between their minds. That can get fairly boring, whereas the more interesting battles are those with plenty of fireballs and lightning bolts being thrown around.

I also feel, however, that there should be a certain uniqueness to the visual effects of magic. Many of the book series I’ve mentioned have unique enough magic systems that if you were to see a description taken from each one, you’d immediately know which series that description is from, just from the way magic is described. Again, this isn’t a plot-central issue (and the way magic is related to the plot is far more important than the visual effects). But creating unique visual elements can be a good way to develop a personal style that will be associated with your particular books.

A good example of this in my series is the character Maelyssa Southeby, from the story Belladonna (which is currently in revisions). Like Radiance, Belladonna details a character’s journey as she develops a strange power that she doesn’t understand. Mae has a power that, technically, could have been created without visual elements. She could have used it with pure magical energies that couldn’t be seen by a normal person. Instead, however, I developed a design for her power that is more personalized and unique. I think it helps make the power more “hers” and not just “another superpower.” Part of the difference is purely aesthetic, but those aesthetic choices can be a good way to personalize something.

Combos

Some types of books have magic systems that have certain specific things they can do, and certain things they can’t do. In Harry Potter, for example, you’ll tend to see the same spells used over and over again. One thing you don’t really see is the characters finding a way to combine their powers.

Now, the idea of powers combined can, if done improperly, become cliche and trite. I tend to veer away from anything that requires characters to combine their powers in order to send a message about teamwork and how “together, we are stronger than we are alone.” That sort of thing gets a little too after-school-special for me.

However, there is another way that the idea of combo powers influences my writing. In many video games you can have characters combine two completely different abilities in order to do something that isn’t just stronger and more effectively, but which is actually impossible to do with a single character alone. I’m not just talking about increasing the power level to a greater scale (if you read the Wheel of Time books, you’ll see Aes Sedai “link” in circles for greater power, but they still just throw fireballs and lightning bolts; they merely throw BIGGER fireballs and lightning bolts).

When designing my magic system, I made sure to keep things very open-ended. There are no fixed “spells” that have to have a certain effect in a certain way. Many magical effects in my books are based on how creative the character can be in how they use their power. Because of this, characters can also find ways to use their powers in conjunction with each other to create unique effects. This leads to some interesting scenarios in the later books where the characters are able to puzzle out some unique solutions to the problems they face.

Leveling Up

In video games, the power levels of your characters tend to go up steadily throughout the course of the game. Books aren’t always like this. In the Harry Potter series, Harry might become more skilled in his use of magic by the end of the books, but he’s not casting spells that are more powerful (for example, he still uses “Expelliarmus” in the final battle, but it’s not like he’s able to disarm a dozen wizards at once). The same applies to some non-magical books as well; Katniss Everdeen starts off The Hunger Games as an expert archer, and there’s no real sign that her archery improves over the course of the books.

I prefer to have my characters grow, not just in terms of their personalities and flaws, but in terms of their skills and magic as well. So at the beginning of Manifestation, no one even HAS magic. No one has a clue how it works. Chaos ensues. A big part of the short stories Belladonna and Radiance is the way the characters first manifest their powers and have to learn how they work. Characters then grow steadily stronger throughout the course of the books, learning new ways to use their abilities and increasing the scale they can operate on.

There’s probably some other more subtle influences video games have had on my writing, but this is a pretty good run down. Of course, there’s always the chance my books will one day be made INTO video games, in which case these influences would come full circle.

Characters

I’d like to talk about characters.

I’ve just finished reading The Looking Glass Wars, by Frank Beddor. I gave it 3 out of 5 stars. I don’t want to get into a full review of the entire novel (short version: great, imaginative story with stunning detail, but poor structure, plot holes, and problems with the prose), but one particular thing the book left me thinking about is the characters. I feel like the book had too many characters, and several of them came off as flat, undeveloped characters that didn’t serve a real role in the story.

How many characters does your story need? How much detail does each character need? How much do they need to be developed?

You could find thousands of different answers to those questions on various writing blogs. I’ve read a few before, and they all seem to approach the question from a different perspective. Some answer from the perspective of the role the character plays in the story: are they the protagonist, antagonist, love interest, sidekick, or something else? Others approach the questions from the point of view of character archetypes: the orphan hero, the mysterious traveler, the trickster, the wise sage, and so on.

I tend to approach this question from a slightly different point of view: are we being told this character’s story, or are they a minor player in someone else’s story?

Allow me to explain.

If you’re writing a novel from a single character’s point of view, then you’re writing their story. The Harry Potter novels are, when it comes down to it, Harry’s story. There are sporadic times when we see another character’s point of view, but it’s rare in those books to be taken away from Harry and see events going on elsewhere. He’s the central focus. In a situation like this, any other characters exist in roles relative to the main character.

You see this in movies all the time as well. Any superhero movie  tends to focus primarily on the hero. We see a great deal of Batman or Superman’s life, and very little of what is going on with anyone else. If we do see events taking place away from the character, it’s only based on how those events relate to the main character. For example, if we see what Lois Lane is up to on her own, it’s usually only to show the danger she’s about to get into so Superman can come and save her. That still makes it Superman’s story about how he rescued Lois Lane, not Lois Lane’s story about how she was rescued by Superman.

You can also have a central group point of view that functions the same way, if the characters remain together all the time. A movie like Saving Private Ryan is a good example. The entire movie follows six soldiers on a journey together. We’re never separated from those characters, and they’re on the same journey with the same goal the entire time. Other characters who appear serve a role in relation to them. The group encounters people who need to be rescued, but the focus remains on the soldiers doing the rescuing. They encounter other groups of soldiers, but only for as long as it takes to question them about where Private Ryan is. When the main group moves on, we never see these minor characters again.

So in the above examples, we have a single central point of view (whether it’s the point of view of a single person or of a unified group). Other characters exist only in relation to the main character(s). We never see more of those minor characters’ lives, so they don’t need much development. This is a good thing, because in a short book or movie, there’s only room for so much development.

But what if you have multiple POVs?

A lot of people say that for books around 50,000 words or so, you should stick with a single point of view (or maybe alternating between two points of view, such as between the two main characters in a romance novel as their relationship develops). This is because 50,000 words is only really enough time to get deeply into one or maybe two people’s lives. It’s better to focus your attention on them as much as possible so that they get the greatest amount of development. If you split such a novel up between 10 characters’ lives, we’d barely get the chance to know each of them.

Now, longer works are very different. Robert Jordon’s The Wheel of Time series, for example, has 15 books (14 + a prequel) totaling well over 4,400,000 words. There are no less than a dozen “primary” main characters who each have their own ongoing story throughout the series, and then hundreds of other supporting characters that end up tied to one of the main characters. In essence, by the later parts of the series, each main character develops a “team” of their own. Matrim Cauthon has the Band of the Red Hand, and multiple well-developed characters seen with him regularly throughout their many adventures. Perrin Aybara has the combined Two Rivers, Mayener, and Aiel forces he commands from book 6 onward, and his own team of supporting characters. Egwene Al’vere ends up leading the Aes Sedai with her own team of supporting characters.

So by thinking about a story like this, there ends up being several “tiers” of characters. When working on my own novels, I’ve developed four tiers that each character can be divided into. These go from the main characters, to their major supporting characters, to minor supporting members of their teams, to miscellaneous (often unnamed) characters.

An example of this setup would go like this:

Tier 1: Gabriella Palladino (Main Protagonist)
–Tier 2: Gabby’s major supporting characters: Her family (Mother, Father, older brothers Frankie and Anthony, older sister Adrianna, nephew Dante), plus her best friend Callia Gainsborough.
—-Tier 3: Gabby’s minor supporting characters: Classmates at her high school (Jacob, Rick, Charlie, Erica), her brother’s friend Matt.
——–Tier 4: Miscellaneous unnamed students, teachers, police officers, etc.

Based on that kind of breakdown, it would make sense that Gabby would get the most character development. She’s the one who is the central focus of her scenes, and we see supporting characters (such as her family) only as they relate to her point of view. We do not, for example, follow her dad to work and find out what his life is like away from his family. We do, however, follow Gabby to school and see parts of her life away from her family.

And that’s just one “team.” There’s also another team for Tock Zipporah, who has her own central story to follow. She also has major supporting characters, minor characters, and miscellaneous characters who are all a part of her ongoing story.

Here is also where the short stories I’m writing become fun. I mentioned recently that I’m working on a short story, Belladonna, which follows the story of Mae Southeby. Mae is a Tier 2 character in the main set of novels, which means she gets a lot of screen time and action, but we aren’t really reading her story; we’re reading Gabby and Tock’s story. Tier 2 characters can get tons of development, but they’re not the central focus. Writing a separate short story about that character gives them a chance to be Tier 1 in their own story. That’s also what I did with Radiance; Maria Vasquez becomes a Tier 2 character in Gabby’s team in the later books, but in Radiance, she’s Tier 1.

This is also how spinoffs work. The Sarah Jane Adventures gives the character Sarah Jane Smith, from Doctor Who, the chance to move from a supporting character to a main character. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. does the same thing with characters from The Avengers. In each of those series, there will be a new set of major, minor, and miscellaneous supporting characters. Plus, if a character from the original series guest stars on them, they technically become Tier 2 since they’re only a guest on the spinoff.

So based on all this, the question isn’t really “How many characters do you need?” It’s a question of “How many Tier 1 MAIN characters do you need?” In a shorter book (50,000 words), there should only be one or two Tier 1 main characters. Each of them can have as many supporting characters as they need, so long as those characters remain tied to the main character. In a longer work (100k-150k), you can easily have three, four, or five Tier 1 main characters, each of which can have their own groups (family members, friends, coworkers, classmates, comrades in a military squad, etc). Just remember who the MAIN characters are, the ones who get the most central focus, and think of the other characters in terms of how they support the main characters’ stories.

Belladonna

So I mentioned the other day that I was shifting gears a bit. Manifestation is currently in the hands of four people who are reading it and preparing to offer me critiques. Meanwhile, I’m refocusing some of my efforts on another project, Belladonna.

Belladonna follows the origins of Maelyssa Southeby, or “Mae” for short. She’s a teenager living in San Lorien during the events of Manifestation. Like Maria Vasquez, the main character of Radiance, Mae undergoes an arcane change that unlocks a mysterious power like no one has ever seen. Throughout the course of the novels, Manifestation, Contamination, and Collapse, Mae becomes a major player in the events that unfold. Belladonna, however, shows how it all got started.

I originally wrote Belladonna back in September, when the Kickstarter for Radiance was still going on. I then left it to sit for awhile. In his book, On Writing, Stephen King suggests that after the first draft of a piece of writing is complete, you should stick it in a drawer somewhere and not look at it for like six weeks or more. That way, when you come back to it, you can look at it with fresh eyes. So that’s what I did with Belladonna, and I’ve just now started revising it.

I ended up getting some new ideas today, and as a result I added quite a bit of new material to the story. Belladonna has now been increased from 4500 words to over 10,000. That’s quite a bit longer than Radiance, which is about 3000 words. It’s possible Belladonna will be trimmed down a bit during revisions, but it’ll still be a nice long story, and a lot of action takes place in those pages.

I probably won’t be finished with revisions of Belladonna any time soon. I just finished Draft Two, but most of my stories get four, five or six drafts before they’re finished. I’ll probably work on Draft Three later this week. Then, by the time I finish that and get started on school next week, I’ll end up needing to get back to Manifestation. Then what will most likely happen is when Manifestation goes to my editor on March 6th, I’ll dive back in for a fourth revision of Belladonna. Then there’s a good chance the short story will be released (as an ebook) around the same time as Manifestation comes out. Maybe a bit sooner, since a 10,000 word short story takes far less time and effort to polish up than a 120,000 word novel.

I’ll keep you updated on the progress. It’ll be some time yet before the story is released, but when it is, I hope you love it.

Critique Partners, and Shifting Gears

So as of this morning, I’ve sent Manifestation out to four people for critiques. I made the decision late last night after going over the document a few more times. I ran through my entire stack of notes until they ran out. Some of the notes were about scenes that I’d already cut. Others were old notes about issues I’d already worked out without needing to consult the notes to remind myself. The rest of the issues in the notes I addressed, until I didn’t have a single note left to consult.

That left me sitting there, staring at the document, going, “Now what?”

I decided my lack of certainty about what to do next meant it was time for critiques. After all, I’ve already rearranged the chapters, done line edits, cut scenes, added more scenes in, rearranged some more chapters, split some scenes in half, cut stuff out of the middle, slid the pieces back together to fill in the gaps, and made sure that every chapter flows as best as possible from one into the next. I’ve done as thorough of a job as I can making sure the writing is solid, the grammar is clean, and the story is sound.

Which means I needed a fresh set of eyes on it to point out whatever I’ve missed. People call this “Author Blindness” or things to that effect. After working on this novel for almost a year and a half (off and on), I’m at the point that I can’t view it objectively. And NO ONE has read it yet. I have given a couple of chapters here and there to a few people, but no one has ever yet read the whole novel from beginning to end (not counting the first draft scenes that used to be on the blog).

Hopefully my CP’s will have some excellent suggestions for me to work out, so I can dive back into this project with full gusto. I’ve still got a March 6th deadline to get Manifestation to the editor I hired. That’s just about two months, minus whatever time it takes for my CP’s to finish reading and critiquing the story.

Meanwhile, I need something else to shift my efforts towards. I always have projects I need to work on, but there’s always a “central” project that I’m devoting most of my attention to. Part of my efforts will be classes at Rowan when the spring semester starts on Jan 12st. I’m also working on a literature review for my Graduate Assistant job. Then there’s the Goodreads Reading Challenge I’m participating in. But none of those are a core project for my personal writing career.

So what I’m going to do next is start revising a short story. If you haven’t heard yet, I’m self-publishing a series of short stories to go along with the Arcana Revived series. The first story in the series, Radiance, follows the origins of the character Maria Vasquez, who starts playing a major role in the third book in the series, Collapse. Originally, Maria’s entrance was supposed to be in the second book, Contamination, but that book ran longer in some parts than expected and certain events were pushed back to book three.

In addition to Radiance, I’ve written several other short stories set around the events in the series. Most of these are all in first draft form, but I plan to revise them all and get them ready for publication. The short stories are naturally pushed back behind the novels in terms of importance, so I’ve been focusing more on Manifestation first. However, since I’m on a short break from Manifestation, I decided it’s time to start some revisions of these stories.

The one I’ve decided to work on first is titled Belladonna. This story follows the origins of another major character in the series, Maelyssa Southeby. Mae is first introduced in Manifestation, then steps up into a major role in both Contamination and Collapse. Belladonna not only gives a closer glimpse at Mae’s individual life as a character, but it also serves to show the reader what else is happening in the world beyond what we see of Gabby Palladino and Tock Zipporah, the two main characters of the series.

So today, I’m going to work on those revisions. Belladonna is currently about 4500 words, making it one of the longer short stories I’ve written (and longer than most individual chapters of Manifestation). I’m going to take it through at least a second or third draft before it, too, goes out for critiques. Then it’ll be polished up for publication, and will soon join Radiance as part of the Arcana Revived short story collection.

#NaNoWriMo Day 7

Hello people who read my blog!

Today was an interesting day. I got into a fascinating Twitter debate about copyright. Well, “debate” is a loose term. I manually retweeted someone’s tweet, they yelled at me, I apologized and asked them for their opinion on copyrighting tweets, they insulted me and blocked me. But then AFTER that, about 20 people on Twitter got involved in a rather fascinating discussion about the actual laws of copyright and how they apply to Twitter. Here is an example of one of the articles cited during the discussion.

Meanwhile, I managed to get some more writing done. Let’s take a look at the #NaNoWriMo chart:

#NaNoWriMo_Day_7_ChartIt’s been seven days, and in an hour we’re about to cross over into the 8th. According to this chart, I’ve averaged 4,709 words per day. That’s pretty good, I think. I’ve written 32,967 words in the past week, for a grand total of 71,562 on “Contamination.” My goals are 90,000 for NaNoWriMo and over 120,000 for the novel. I’m well ahead of schedule for those goals.

The plot is coming together quite nicely. I’ve been on a lot of battle scenes the last few days. There are a couple of issues that need to be fixed, mostly things like the order of the scenes. However, as you should with NaNoWriMo, I’m leaving most of that for revisions. None of the issues I’ve found so far are things that will affect the outcome of the plot. They’re things that affect a certain scene, but that’s it. For example, I might write a scene and then remember, “Wait, last scene it had snowed, why is there no snow on the ground?” I’ll need to fix that up during revisions, but since the snow or lack of it is only a setting detail and irrelevant to the plot, I don’t bother trying to figure out what to do just now. During revisions, I’ll review more carefully and figure out how many days passed between those scenes, then decide how to best describe the new spring and the melting snow, etc.

Now, how about the excerpt I promised? I think last time I said I was going to try to get to a Gabby and Callia scene (there will be kissing!), but I was still tying up loose ends with the big battles, so I haven’t gotten to that yet. However, there’s another scene I had fun writing that I’d like to share. It involves Minori Tsujino, aka Mithriel, the Angel of Truth (the Minori/Mithriel thing is, well, complicated, but for the purpose of this clip, they’re the same). She’s a new main character in Book Two, who was originally created on the same collaborative writing and roleplaying site as Gabby and Tock. Minori doesn’t enter until Book Two, but she becomes a rather important character here and I’ve LOVED writing her again. Here’s a snippet of what I wrote with her over the last couple of days:

            The helicopter twisted through the air, tracking her movements. The stream of bullets chased her, pelting the glass behind her, but it was unable to catch up. Her angelic wings thrust with divine strength and she rose higher in the air, then dove down on the other side of the helicopter. It turned awkwardly in the air, trying to catch her. She glided through the air, guided by light and righteousness, and trailing sparkling feathers that mingled with the broken glass and bullet shells that rained to the earth below. Each time the helicopter turned and tried to get her in its sights, she dashed this way and that with mighty thrusts of her four white wings.

            The helicopter rose higher and sped away, and for a moment Minori hovered in place, watching its movements in confusion. After it put some distance between them for a clear shot, it turned and aimed at her again, then a pair of missiles streaked forth from the twin launchers. Minori gasped and thrust her wings upwards, and she rose into the sky, climbing above the tops of the nearby buildings.

            They follow, Mithriel thought. Minori glanced below her and saw the missiles twisting through the air and following her path. She thrust her wings harder and continued to rise, but the missiles followed. When she neared the peak of the tallest skyscraper, she twisted into a curving dive around the building. Her heart raced as she flew around it, weaving corkscrews past the windows that glimmered in the light of the setting sun and reflected the radiance that shone from her body. The missiles followed the entire time, until she twisted and dove through the glass. The upper-floor window shattered and glass shards pierced her body. She flew on, weaving past abandoned desks and cubicles. Behind her, the missiles impacted with the side of the building and exploded. Fire chased her through the empty office, and her skin trailed streams of sparkling blood.

I hope you enjoy this little clip!

Kickstarter Update #8: First Goal Reached!

You can also view this update on Kickstarter.

I’d like to give out a huge, warm, enthusiastic THANK YOU to everyone who has offered their support! Saturday night, in a rapid flurry of back-to-pack pledges, you wonderful people pushed me over the first goal line!

I cried. Literally, I cried. Not for the $230 you’ve donated. I cried for the fact that 22 people believe in my writing enough to offer their support (plus the other wonderful people who have helped out sending tweets and spreading the word about this project). Whether you donated yourself or you helped spread the word to get support from others, you’re awesome people who are making a huge difference in my new career.

Meanwhile, I’ve been hard at work taking steps to ensure all the support leads to a successful end. I’ve been working nightly to polish and revise the poems in the collection, “The Poetry of Gabriella Palladino.” All of the poems in the collection were written over the course of the last two and a half years or so, and most have been revised several times before, but I’m working to refine them to the highest level of perfection I can. Just like “Radiance” went through a full five revisions before it was ready for publication.

I’ve also begun work on another short story for the “Arcana Revived” series. The new story is titled “Belladonna,” and it follows the origins of a villain, Mae, who appears in both the first novel, “Manifestation” and the sequel, “Contamination.” This new short story shares the secrets of how Mae learned to use her own power when it first manifested, similar to how the character Maria learned to use her power in “Radiance” (though the results in “Belladonna” are very different and much darker). It will probably be some time before “Belladonna” is published, since it’s just one of a collection of multiple short stories to be released in the future.

Hopefully I’ll be able to share all of these stories, one after another, each with an amazing cover designed by a talented artist. If this Kickstarter continues to get more support, I can afford to buy more pieces of art for the future covers. The next goal is to raise at least $400 to have enough for a second cover (or if the artist’s production and labor costs run high, the additional funds raised will help ensure those costs are covered). I hope to continue to gain more support, and I hope you won’t mind if I continue to get emotional and sentimental over how wonderful you all are. Thank you.