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Writing Challenge #2

invisible_man

Writing Challenge #2: The Invisible Man
Introduce a character in 200 words or less. The catch: direct references to physical appearances are prohibited!

Post your babies in the comments. Good luck.

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PS: You may have noticed the site is undergoing some changes. It’s hit puberty fast and hard, and has been forced to choose between content relating to this author, and content pertaining to other authors. Over the next few weeks, anneque g malchien.com will become my author site. You will, however, be able to find all the old content, and plenty of new stuff for writers, over at the Writers’ Bar.

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Writer’s Mojo

Writing is a funny thing. When it’s going well, it’s the most fun you can have by yourself. When it’s not going well, it’s a frustrating and heartbreaking process that sucks the soul right out of your fingertips. Anyone who has been writing for any amount of time knows this feeling. The ideas are there, but the point just seems to be gone. You begin to question why you ever thought the ideas were good in the first place. Writing becomes a slog. The mojo, frail as it was to begin with, is gone. That mojo might be the most important part of writing, for reader and writer both.

If the mojo returns, the story comes back to life, and all is well. More often though, the more you try to inject the mojo back into the story, the more it’s slurped away. Projects are abandoned. Ideas are left unsung. The writer moves onto the next project, praying for better luck.

"Maybe I should try romance instead."

“Maybe I should try romance instead.”

When writing is going well, that mojo is almost a palpable thing. It’s magical. The words seem to fly onto the page, your fingers are as quick as your mind, and hours and pages can pass in moments. Maybe it’s because of this element of magic that writers are by nature superstitious. While there is definitely a difference between a story that’s going well and one that isn’t, few of us can say exactly where that boundary lies. It’s in a feeling. It’s in the mojo. We’re superstitious because we don’t want to tamper too much with the magic. And so we develop these little magic ceremonies to keep the mojo flowing. Let me demonstrate.

I’ve had a terrible run of luck with stories in the past three months. The mojo was evaporating the second I set pen to paper. It had gotten to the point I doubted my sanity for ever trying to be a writer. I thought about giving up on writing and getting a real job. By which I mean a job that isn’t any fun.

Giving up on a career is a big decision, and not one to be made lightly. It wasn’t one I wanted to make. Desperate to bring the magic back, I revisited superstitions I haven’t bothered with in years. Write by hand rather than into a word processor. Using the flowiest pen I could find. Writing in a notebook that already had a story in it. Not naming the story until it’s finished. Not making plot notes. I wanted to write about politics, and that failed. I wanted to write something important to me, and that failed. I wanted to write what I knew, and that too failed.

What else could I possibly do, but give up?

I began to think about that mojo. That feeling you get when a story is going well. That feeling had been missing from every one of my projects. But what is it, really? We don’t question mojo because to question it might make it disappear forever. But it is a real feeling, a real sense, and it’s something so important that it can spell success or doom for your stories.

Some of you know I’m a diehard video gamer. I studied Games Technology at university. One of the first things we learnt in Game Theory was the theory of flow. The theory of flow describes the experience of enjoyment created when a person’s skill and the challenge they are presented with are increasing at an equal rate. For readers, you can think of flow a bit like pacing. If a story is slow with actions and details at the start, that can help you get into it, because the pacing will naturally give you time to build your knowledge (skill) of what the story is about. But if the pacing stays slow throughout, you’ll get bored and stop enjoying it. If a story starts too quickly, with too much detail or too much happening, you may become lost and confused, neither of which are pleasant. You don’t have the knowledge to enjoy the story at that rapid pace.

Flow_Senia_Maymin

When a story starts slow and allows you to build your knowledge, and increases its pacing as you progress, it will be a pleasure to read. That’s to say nothing for the content, of course, but that’s the ground roots of flow. The challenge must match your skill. The amount of detail presented must match your knowledge base. It’s okay to have occasional rises in pacing, which push your knowledge to the limit. It’s also okay to have dips in the tension, which let you relax. That’s how a good story operates. But that balance between knowledge and pacing must still exist.

The same is true for writers. However, your enjoyment of a story does not explicitly come from how much you know about it or how fast it’s moving. Your enjoyment comes from how well you are able to meet the challenge you give yourself.

If you want to write a political story, that’s all very well and good. But if you’re going to force yourself to write about large and complex ideas, and say on top of that you must write 1000 words a day, then you are not going to succeed. You are not going to enjoy yourself. And that’s what mojo is, really. It’s how much you are enjoying the story, because you know you will succeed in writing it. Think of mojo as your psychic insight into a story’s sustainability. You can probably hammer out an introduction and a few first chapters for something you’re not enjoying. But you’re not going to get a novel out of it.

The same applies in reverse. If you don’t set yourself enough of a challenge, if you are writing too much of what you know, too much of your everyday life, that sense of flow will also be absent. The challenge must be higher. You already know what you know. Explore the things you don’t know. Give your creative mind a challenge.

You're back, baby.

You’re back, baby.

 

Hold on, you think. You’re not trying to write the next War and Peace, but still the flow isn’t happening. You’re out on a limb and the magic isn’t there. What can you do?

There’s no one solution to restoring  flow to a project. In fact, if you’ve been slogging away at a story for a few weeks now and you’re still not enjoying it, it’s probably a sign to give up on it. You don’t have to be laughing and letting the pages fly every day. But a story that presents a consistent ordeal, one that you do not look forward to writing at all, is one that you should put away for later. Or maybe never. If you feel guilty about scraping a story, remember that there are only so many stories you can write in one life time. Focus on the ones that are worth your time.

Flow, too, is one of the most difficult things to establish. It is as integral for writers to implement it into their work as it is for game designers to implement into their games. If you’re feeling bored with a project, try increasing the pace. Quit writing that long dialogue exchange and move onto the next scene. Skip half the words in your next description and get on with the action. Your readers will certainly thank you for it.

If you’re having the opposite problem, being daunted by the project you’ve taken on, or even worse, experiencing that sinking feeling that you just can’t write this story, try this. Add more to your descriptions. Have your character take a walk around the city. Include a little light banter. Lighten the mood. And then move onto the next scene. You can do it. If it’s a scene that’s both technical and action-or-drama-intense that’s putting you off, consider breaking it into two scenes. We all know technical pieces require copious amounts of research, while action and drama scenes require a lot of mental processing power. Give yourself a break and don’t throw it all in there at once. Have Commander Goatherd manually disarm the sub-spacetime particle separator and break up with Morris in different scenes, not all at once.

When you’re finished with the day’s writing, whatever you’re writing, reward yourself. Go do that thing you’ve been wanting to do. Have some ice cream. Have a glass of wine and some nice brie. Bum out and watch YouTube videos for the rest of the evening. Writing is tough! Reward yourself for doing it well.

I bet you never thought you'd see this today.

I bet you never thought you’d see this today.

As for me?  I got back to basics. I thought about the first novel I’d ever written, back when I was 11 and being a writer seemed like such a distant dream. I thought about how dumb that novel was, all 20 000 words of it, and how goofy the characters were and how I’d just thrown on an ending that was completely out of sync with the rest of the story. And I thought about how much fun I’d had writing it.

I spent the last week rewriting it. It’s quite a different beast, and I think 11 year old me would be horrified. But at its heart, it’s the same goofy story, and I had the same crazy amount of fun writing it. And to me, as a writer, that’s all I can ask for.

logorough2

 

Oh look! I now have a book-orientated YouTube channel, the Book House. You can check it out here (and please do!)

Dell has never looked so … human

About four hours ago I said I would be back in two minutes with another post. And then I remembered I had to draw something. That something was Kordell, star of the upcoming Fallouts novella.

koredell copy

Last week I ran a competition on my Facebook author’s page. It was pretty simple and I didn’t think it would get many hits ^_^;; The deal was this: to enter, you just had to list a word that was written either on your person (tattoo or clothing brand) or was written on an item within arm’s reach. The winning word would become the name of a fallout in the novella.

The competition generated a surprisingly amount of interest, given that Facebook is usually a dead-in-the-water platform for me, and for authors in general, from what I’ve seen. Terry Pratchett does all right but even he is lucky to get 2000 hits for big news, and compared to George Takei’s 20 trillion hits a day the discrepancy is clear. So I was pleasantly surprised, and the character has a name. A friend suggested Kore Dell, and Kordell it was.

But I had so much interest that I wanted to nominate someone else, too, so I counted the entries (34 whoo!) and used a random number generator to give me a count. That gave me fellow author Kristi Lazzari’s suggestion, Lilly, who is her dog. Very cute! And now we have a Lilly Peninsula, which will be the setting of the story.

So that’s that. I’m encouraged by the success of this, and plan to have a few more competitions in the coming months. I’m thinking one will be to suggest a location for a dystopian novella, another may be to suggest a super power. I’ll keep you posted, and if you like my Facebook page, you can participate and win things. Hurray for winning!

Anchorman-DI

Now for the news.

Serials. The Sunday Witch Hunters is rattling along at its own good pace. As of next week we’ll be a quarter of the way through the first book. Gees! Wow, that just flew by. I suppose there will be about 36 chapters, finishing some time in September. It may also be appearing in Jukepop Serials in the next few months. When the entire first book has been published, I’ll compile the chapters and publish them for Kindle along with a bunch of extras, such as exactly what Lily wrote on the sheet she gave Joe.

Speaking of juicy extras. I have a few new projects in the works. One is Fabled Ultimate, a fantasy series. Unlike Witch Hunters, Fabled Ultimate was written to be a serial, and so it should translate really well to a weekly release. The first 26 chapters will start going live when Witch Hunters is finished. I’m really excited about it! Gosh. I’m typing up the story at the moment from my handwritten copy, and it’s just heaps of fun and quite personal. There are like, two characters. I really tried to limit the characters, so that they could develop a very natural and very strong friendship, which is at the heart of the story. It’s also nice to work with a small cast after the huge number of characters in the Fallouts, and the fewer but still fairly intense numbers in Witch Hunters.

One (two) last bits of news. My plan for the rest of the year is to write and publish five novellas in ten months. The first of those is the Fallout novella. The next three are also planned, no idea what five will be. I hope to be doing some process workshops during that time, maybe sharing a few techniques for a solid editing regime. Uggggghhhh.

And last before the reading list, I have to thank everyone for their support over the past five months. It’s been unbelievable. These communities are so rewarding to work with, meeting other authors and readers is brilliant. And! I need a favour. But it’s nothing monetary. I’m caught up in some RL dramas at the moment. I hope to be able to update the site frequently and get everything done, but as you can see with the podcast (or lack thereof) it isn’t always possible. So, I don’t know how long it will take for things to be normal again. And I’ll be around, so, hold on, I guess.

All right, and now for the reading list.

No! You can't cheat and read Dune now!

No! You can’t cheat and read Dune now!

Now Reading:

  • Blue Mars (still T-T) by Kim Stanley Robinson
  • Brilliance by Anthony McCarten

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Just Finished:

9781483403656_COVER.indd

Up Next:

  • Storm Front by Jim Butcher
  • The Great Bazaar and Brayan’s Gold by Peter V. Brett
  • Balanced in an Angel’s Eye by Shaune Lafferty Webb
  • Heavenfall by Robbie MacNiven (finally!)
  • Achromatic by D. James Fortescue (also finally!)
Come on come on come on come on!

Come on come on come on come on!

And that’s it from me this week. Have a wonderful weekend full of adventure and books. :3

Bring You Self-Publishing News: Literature Emergency Broadcast

Episode one of Literature Emergency Broadcast is ready to roll! You can find it here:

http://malchien.podbean.com/2013/11/15/literature-emergency-broadcast-ep-1/

This weekend I’m racing to finish my NaNoWriMo project, Love Charybdis. There’s another 15K to hammer out today and tomorrow. How are your NaNos going? Getting through it, sick of it, quit already? Or the holy grail, finished?

For all you lovely readers out there, this post will be updated later today with the reading list. Have a listen to the podcast and let me know what you think! Especially if it’s about the noise. I’m working on fixing that, but any help would be vastly appreciated.

Links:

Clarity author Anna Herlihy (chapter 10 is live!)

Your First 1000 Copies by Tim Grahl

Song Pocket Zombie is by Flex Vector, used under creative commons distribution. It’s such a cool song.

leb copy

 

Your Local Writers: Providing an Alternate Lifestyle

First of all, thank you to everyone who made it a fantastic weekend, providing their stories and art, and their opinions and views. Good evening everybody, happy Tuesday. Isn’t it great how the months and the years cycle unevenly, but this, this has been Tyr’s day every seven days since somebody first thought it would be a good idea.

It means nothing, of course, because the days aren’t aware they have names and a day is all in the eye of the beholder. But it’s interesting to think that this is the definition of our existence; our lives are in the eyes of their beholders. Namely, us. No matter how hard we try, we can never see the same way someone else does. Not even another human being. No matter what we do, how close we become, another person is, even just by being another person, foreign. Our lives are eternally witnesses from behind a screen, even if it is the screen of a mortal body.

The point I was going to make was exactly the opposite. Good when that happens.

Three years ago I spent three months hiking around Japan. I started in Okinawa in the south, and worked my way up through Kyushu, Shikoku, then onto the mainland through Hiroshima, Kyoto, Osaka, Nagoya, Nara, Hide Takayama and Tokyo. I stared in Okinawa because I was sure Tokyo would be the most expensive, so I wanted to make sure I conserved my funds for the entire three months. It took three months of living mainly off cup noodles and delicious onigiri, but the plan worked.

I arrived in Okinawa at the end of September. Flying onto the island from Shanghai, it didn’t seem there was even enough room for the plane to land! But the pilot navigated his way onto the air strip, and we all bundled out onto the runway, where we were guided past one Pikachu aeroplane and a roar of fighter jets passing overhead, to the terminal.

I hit the island at the end of tourist season, and so maybe the reduced number of people in the cities and town contributed to the relaxed atmosphere of the island. But, maybe, the Okinawans are just a friendly and relaxed people.  The island is hot, tropical, the beaches are beautiful. Kitanashiro Beach, with its background of dense sugarcane plantations and jungle, its rocky bays and verdant islands… incredible. I can still hear the sound of a million hermit crabs migrating across a rocky beach. And feel the warm dampness of a sudden tropical storm. I was caught in one on my second day on the island. It hit without warning and soaked me and everything in my bag to the very core. I took shelter in a phone booth, but even thirty seconds’ exposure to the rain was too much – my guide books were twice the size and my money and passport were floating in their plastic pockets. And looking at the colourful shisa statues outside houses. Everyone in the bank waving and calling goodbye and thank you in their bright Hawaiian shirts. I don’t know why the banks in Japan do that, it’s probably a form of respect, but never do you feel so important as when bank managers all wave and cheer you out. Even the ones on the mainland in their suits and their cutting-edge technology do it. It’s certainly a different world.

Really, how could you not fall in love with this place?

Really, how could you not fall in love with this place?

The beach...

The beach…

And the sunset...

And the sunset…

And the tiny hermit crabs! Though there were big ones too.

And the tiny hermit crabs! Though there were big ones too.

These days I look back on my time in Japan and wonder why I remember it so vividly. Maybe it’s not the case, but I feel like were I to try, I could recall the most minute details, the colour and the perfume of every second. I know for sure it wasn’t all good, although there was very little bad, but it feels so much closer than, say, last week. I’ve never been one to dwell in the past, but on this, the memories are too vivid not to revisit.

And I think, deep down, that it was a more pleasant and simpler time. I travelled alone, I had no one’s expectations but my own to fulfil. I found my purpose as a traveller and I was happy with it. Go, experience, return, share. That was enough.

It was like seeing from someone else’s eyes. Except they were my own.

And isn’t that why we write? Why we create these stories? More than entertainment, more than education, aren’t we giving people the chance, the brief, flitting chance, to live another life? The writer’s life is often a lonely one, but that’s when he writes best. The traveller experiences more of the culture when travelling alone. And the reader cannot really read unless reading alone. It’s lonely, and joyous, and it’s the commonality of our experiences rather than the impossibility of cloning them, which make them something to be cherished.

What do you think?