May Recap

May was not the easiest of months, that’s for sure. I pushed hard in April for Camp Nano, and after a push there’s always a lull as I fight through the exhaustion. I managed to start May with a steady pace but life got in the way.

I spent a week helping my husband with the foundation for our new garage but now the pad is poured and we can move at a more reasonable pace.

We also had the stomach flu go through the house, which meant one day dedicated to each kid, and one day spent in bed while I had it.

And, the quilt shop in Steinbach had to close their Main Street location which meant shutting down the book nook. As the liaison between the shop and the group that meant a few extra stops at the shop (no big deal, I love going to visit, but it was extra time spent) to organize the take down of the nook, contacting all the authors, retrieving abandoned books at the end of the month, picking up all the display material, etc. I’m more upset to see the space go than I am at having to do a bit of work. Driven 2 Sew was a huge supporter of local artists, writers, and crafters.

On the plus side, May was the book/series launch for The Rose Garden, and Keycon was this month. Both were amazing experiences.

The book launch was held on May 7th at the Jake Epp Library in Steinbach. Maddison did a beautiful job on the room and we had tea, punch, and dainties. I read from the books and talked about the writing of the series and answered questions. My biggest fear was not realized and the room was comfortably full.

Keycon is an annual sci-fi/fantasy convention here in Winnipeg. With Authors of Manitoba I have a table in the merchant room and I did two panels – one with Tanya Huff. Yes, I got her autograph, yes I’m still giddy about that. But, that was three full days of excitement and people and no writing.

Last big change, I’ve switched branches for Tae Kwon Do (not academies, I’m still with Spirit 1) so that I can assist the 3rd Dan Black Belt at this other branch with the instructing. Not only will I continue to learn but now I have the chance to teach.

I want to give a second shout out to Jake Epp Library as well because they hosted a local actor/director who organized a dramatic abridged reading of The Crucible by Arthur Miller. The cast was wonderful, and it was fun to sit and listen to them read. It was like a radio play, but you got to see facial expressions. I’m looking forward to more of these events in the future.

Some stats for May:

  • May was a single-project month, with only Whispers in the Dark seeing new words
  • I wrote just over 30k this month
  • My total for the year, so far, is nearing 240k (260k will be halfway to my goal)
  • I had two days top 3000 words, but I had a lot of days with no words

 

What’s coming up? June 1 is a colour belt test. I’m just going as a black belt to show support. No test for me until April 2020. June 2 is the St Vital Pop Up Market at the St Vital Mustang’s building (200 Frobisher off St Mary’s) from 10-3. June 8 is the Steampunk convention and Grinder’s Market (Crescent Fort Rouge United Church – free public access to the market from 9-12, paid convention access 12-4). June 15 is the first Tae Kwon Do BBQ and Training in the Park. June 23rd is the Anola Family Fun Days event at the Anola Community Center (free access all day, demos from local groups, local crafters, bouncers, petting zoo …).

And, I will tell you all about it, and what the writing looks like, when we get to the end of June.

Advertisements

Call Me Old-Fashioned

I grew up without internet. I know it doesn’t look like it, I don’t look my age, and young people don’t realize how recent easily accessible internet is. But that’s the truth. We had internet in the house when I was in grade 8, maybe. I didn’t have access to a “kid-friendly” chat room program until high school (it was MSN messenger). My first social media platform was MySpace.

All of this means that I also learned the basics of the craft of writing without the internet. I mean, I also learned it without access to a computer because we didn’t really have access to a computer with a decent word processor until I was in late middle school too. And I started young.

Look, I love online writing groups and all, but the more I read posts there, the more I feel like the internet has made people forget how to get good at things. Like, you just put words on the page and they suck and you do it again and again and again until they stop sucking. That’s literally the WHOLE process. There is no one book or course or grammar program that is going to make you GOOD or BETTER. It’s just practice.

Yes, there are books and courses out there. I’ve read dozens of books on the art of writing – I got them from my public library for free and took them out more than once, or I grabbed them from used book sales for fifty cents a piece. I also took a creative writing course in university and the only real thing I learned there was how to teach creative writing – a great thing to learn because I now teach workshops and do panels, but I didn’t need the class to make my writing better.

I think the internet culture, the culture of answers at our fingertips and a network of knowledge, and everything shipped to your door at the press of a button is making people lazy. I love the internet. I love blogging, I love having friends around the world who I will likely never meet in person but whom I adore, I love sharing photos with family halfway across the country with the push of a button, I love being able to look up answers without driving 30minutes to the nearest library for everything. I don’t like how people are starting to look for magic button answers to things that take time, dedication, and practice.

Please, go out there and create. Suck at it for years. Put in the effort and the practice. Get frustrated and quit. Regret quitting and come back. Get laughed at. Do it again. And again. Frame your rejection letters or burn them or ignore them or whatever you want – they don’t define you. Please, do this the long way, the hard way, because in the end, it’s worth every painful minute, every lame word, every laughably bad story.

I know I wrote a whole article on writing crap, but please, be a little old fashioned when it comes to writing, or art, or dance, or whatever it is you are creating – practice, practice, practice, and stop coming to social media looking for handouts.

Chapter Length

One of the frequently asked questions over on the writers’ group I belong to is some variation of “how long should my chapters be?” The short answer is “It depends on the book”, but this isn’t the place for short answers, so let’s explore chapters.

A chapter is a natural break in the story and should always occur between scenes. It indicates a change in characters, a change in point of view, a change in setting, or a passage of time. Somewhere in the first half page of a new chapter, there should be some indication of where you are, how much time has elapsed since the last chapter ended, and who is present. The ending should be the end of a conversation, a person leaving, or an event wrapping up. It can end with a reveal, a question, or a tone/mood.

So how long?

In my Underground Series, I aimed for 2000 words per chapter. This was a Middle Grade (grades 4-8) science fiction series and each book in the series was 20-30k total length. 2000 words per chapter, give or take, plus a prologue and epilogue in each book, gave me roughly 9-10 chapters.

When I was ghostwriting 50k erotic romance I aimed for 4000 words per chapter, or roughly 12 chapters. This allowed me to follow a common pacing framework within the stories.

Now, I’m working on an epic fantasy. I’ve got no clue how long it will be, but the outline fits nicely into 20 chapters. These chapters are ranging between 3500 words and 5800 words, give or take. I figure as long as none are over 6000 or under 3000 and all break at natural places, they’ll feel fairly uniform.

In all of these examples the length of the chapter changes in relation to the total word count of the book – a bigger book has both more chapters and longer chapters. But chapters don’t have to be uniform.

In the Rose Garden Series, I didn’t use traditional chapters. Instead of Chapter 1, Chapter 2 … each chapter starts with the date of the scenes taking place. Each chapter is one day. Some chapters start with a time-lapse recap if there is a gap of several days between chapters, but otherwise, one chapter is one day. So, some chapters were 4000+ words and some chapters were 250 words.

So, what’s right?

There is no hard and fast rule, but something to keep in mind about chapters is that they are put into books, not only to signify the changes I mentioned earlier but to give the reader a place to put in a bookmark and take a break. It’s a breather. Even if it’s just long enough to refill your tea and come back. If the chapters are too long, the reader may feel that the book is dragging (“When is this chapter going to end?”) but if the chapters are too short it can make the story feel broken and choppy, like too many interruptions at dinner.

Let’s sum this up into a few simple guidelines:

  • A chapter should end at the end of a scene.
  • A chapter should be as long as it needs to be to complete the scene, or related series of scenes, in a satisfactory way.
  • Longer books generally have more chapters and longer chapters than shorter books.
  • Chapters should be long enough to give the reader something to enjoy but short enough that they can take a breather.
  • Chapters do not have to be uniform in length so long as the follow points 1 and 2.

 

Now, what about chapters within chapters?

Off the top of my head, the first example I have of this, are the Black Jewel novels by Anne Bishop. The first book starts with “PART 1”. The next page says:

Chapter One

1 / Terreille

Now, Terreille is a realm in her world and chapter one happens to have three of these segments, each in a different place from the one before it. So, she has 3 books. Book 1 has 3 parts, each part has multiple chapters, each chapter has multiple sections. Sections start as soon as another ends (on the page – there are no page breaks), chapters start on new pages but no spacer pages in between (so they can start on either the left of the right) and Parts get a new page on the right with no other text on them.

Confused? It’s harder to explain than it is to follow when you’re reading. It works for her. It allows her to navigate a multi-planed world with several distinct settings without wasting a lot of time or words setting up each scene with needless description or exposition. Her method is not common and if you find it intimidating, or confusing, don’t use it.

I’m telling you about it because you can do it if you choose to. You can have Parts and Chapters. You can have Chapters and numbered sections. You can have all three. You can have just chapters. You can name your chapters “Chapter One, Chapter Two …” or use “Section” or “Part” instead of “Chapter” or you can name the chapters with words (I believe A Series of Unfortunate Events does this)

When do you decide?

For some writers, it works best to use no chapter breaks at all in the first draft. Just write. Once the draft is done and you’ve reordered the scenes to make a cohesive story, then you find the chapter breaks.

For some writers, they do it as they go along, putting in a chapter break where scene breaks allow or where it feels right.

For some writers, they do so much outlining, and have a decently clear idea of how long certain scenes will be and how they fit together, that they can break their outlines into rough chapters. This is me, though I’m often off by a chapter or two as scenes will run away with me or I’ll realize I need extra scenes somewhere (Whispers in the Dark started off at 18 chapters and now it’s 20, for example). This method isn’t better than either of the others.

The method you use depends on your writing style as much or more than it does on your level of experience. To be fair, I used the second method for years and only started doing the “chapters in the outline” method recently (I wrote crap for 15 years before getting published).

I hope this helps. If you have any questions, or you think there’s another point about chapters I should address here, or if you have suggestions for future articles, drop me a comment!

 

World Building 5 – Religion and Politics

As I said in previous posts, culture is a messy, complicated thing. There is no real linear way to go about creating a new culture for your book, but I’m going to try to break it down for you.

In my last post I talked about how the physical appearance of your species/group and their geographic location play into their culture. Now, we’re going to look at religion and politics.

I start by choosing a basic political structure for my group. Monarchy, theocracy, democracy, republic, oligarchy, or anarchy … those are the basic choices. There’s also the question of patriarchy vs matriarchy vs egalitarian. A patriarchy is a society that has male-based inheritance laws, men hold the majority of power positions and make the big decisions, and generally has a male-based naming structure (you inherit your family name from your father or husband). A matriarchy is the reverse – female-based inheritance and naming, women in positions of respect and power. An egalitarian society is one that does not favour one gender over the other.

Once I have that, I choose a style of religion – monotheistic or polytheistic. Then I build on it – what sort of holy scripture do they have? How much oral tradition do they have? Deity names and genders have to be selected. How does the gender of the deity affect the political structure? How ritualized is the religion? What symbols do they have? What things or days or people do they hold sacred? What sorts of religious laws do they have? How do the religious and political laws reflect or conflict each other?

Let’s jump back into the Thelaran Fairies we were talking about last post.

Fairies have a monarchy. Due to the rapid nature of their aging, sometimes the crown skips a generation – otherwise they can end up passing on the crown every few years and that’s hard on the population and their relations with their Human neighbours.

Fairies worship Olina, a female deity. Olina is known for her joy, reflecting the carefree nature of Fairy life. As fairies began interacting with other groups, they adopted other deities as part of Olina’s Court – Rhys, the god of the Dryads and Nymphs, represents fertility, while Helene, the goddess of the Humans represents magic. They are viewed as lesser spirits to the Fairies, “servants” in Olina’s Court who help the Joyful Goddess with her work. Fairy “church” is very casual and very fun. They gather a few times a year, based on the seasons, to celebrate the natural world. There is a lot of music and dancing and laughing. They also gather to celebrate marital unions and births, generally gathering every few weeks to celebrate everything that happened during that time.

After the Great War, as they began interacting with Humans more, they started creating new, stricter, religious “rules”. They wrote a holy book and introduced ritualized prayers for certain celebrations, because they wanted their religion to look more like the Human religion. (The Dryads and Nymphs on the other hand have almost no ritual or structure to their worship and even after the Great War rejected the Human notion of holy texts and rituals).

Laws – Fairies have pretty basic laws – no killing, no stealing, no rape. They ownership laws but have a trade based economy. Their laws of inheritance are based on age, titles, houses, and possessions go to the “next of kin” regardless of gender to be sorted out.

Because of their short lifespan and casual lifestyle, not much else is needed. They do have some “international laws” dictating territory boundaries, how and why and where Humans may enter or pass through their territory, and how, why, and how much as far as Humans gathering wood from their territory.