All posts in Writing Process

28 Jun

The “Keep in Mind” List

In Drafting,Editing,Writing Process by MK England / June 28, 2017 / 1 Comment

I have a quick little something to share today that’s been helping me tons with both drafting new projects and revising THE DISASTERS:

The “Keep in Mind” List

The idea for this came out of two things. First was something I read on Maggie Stiefvater’s tumblr a long time ago that really struck a chord with me. “…when I wrote The Raven Boys, I had a sticky note affixed to my computer that read: Remember that the worst thing that can happen is that they can stop being friends.

In many ways, that is the guiding principle of the entire series, the most important thing for Maggie to remember as she wrote those books. It’s the thing to write toward, the thing that should be an undercurrent in every scene, a constant touchstone. I loved the idea of keeping something like that close at hand during my writing and revising sessions.

Second, I was going through my edit letter for THE DISASTERS and taking notes on things I wanted to change, and I noticed that there were a lot of subtle tweaks that would carry through the whole book, usually in the form of tiny character traits I needed to make sure were present throughout. I was worried that just leaving them on my revision outline under the “general changes” heading wouldn’t be enough to keep them at the forefront of my mind as I worked.

Hence… the Keep in Mind list. I put it up right next to my computer (okay, it’s currently paperclipped to a lampshade, but it WORKS) so it’s always in my field of vision while I’m working. Whenever I surface from the zone of revising, I look over at that list and check in—am I accomplishing what I set out to do? Are the characters coming through clearly? Have I let the stakes drive my characters’ emotional responses and actions?

A Keep in Mind list (for a totally made up project) might look something like this:

  • Jen is a terrible liar
  • Ana always wears blue (except when she doesn’t) because symbolism
  • Callie would be miserable without her creative outlet
  • John’s daddy issues are at the core of everything
  • Make Raj a bit softer throughout
  • If they don’t succeed, a volcano will explode and the whole world will die

If you decide to give the Keep in Mind list a try, let me know how it goes for you! Do you have any techniques to keep you focused on the important concepts while you write or revise? Let me know in the comments. Happy writing!

31 Oct

NaNoWriMo Tips & Tricks

In Drafting,Goals,NaNoWriMo,Writing Process by MK England / October 31, 2016 / 0 Comments

The hour is nigh! It’s October 31st, which means NaNoWriMo is less than 24 hours away. Here are my favorite last-minute tips and tricks for Wrimos and speed-drafters alike:

Aim for halfway. Seriously, that 50k can feel like A LOT, but the first 25k is the uphill climb and after that you’re coasting downhill toward the finish line. Forget about 50k—commit to hitting 25,000 words in the first two weeks. It will be painful, it will suck at times, and you will hate your writing occasionally, but if you can hit 25k, you will have pushed through the worst of it!

Write your first page BEFORE November 1st. You can’t count any words written before November 1st toward your 50k goal, but getting the intimidating blank page staring contest over before the read deal starts can be a huge confidence booster! Turn some of that nervous energy you’re feeling into an opening scene. Just make a note of your wordcount before you start writing on November 1st so you can subtract it from your overall total.

Use placeholders to keep momentum up. You should avoid stopping to research things as much as possible. Don’t know what to call that city? @CITY. Can’t come up with a name for that character? @DUDE1. Can’t remember how many bones are in the human body? @RESEARCH LATER. Can’t get over how bad a sentence sounds? @DO BETTER. Literally anything that will cause you to break your flow as you write, just throw a placeholder there and keep writing. Once you’re done with your first draft, you can use the ctrl+F (or cmd+F on a mac) feature to find every single instance of that placeholder in your doc. I always use the @ symbol, since I rarely write fiction that has lots of e-mail addresses in it, but you can use any character that doesn’t show up in your story.

Stay in the story between writing sessions. Carry a notebook around and always have those characters cooking in the back of your head while you do other things. When you sit down to write, you’ll be ready to go!

Reward yourself. Set mini goals along the way, and give yourself mini rewards! A cookie every 10k words? An hour of video games each week you make your goal? Whatever motivates you!

Let your draft be rough. Real writing is rewriting. You’ll make it pretty and readable and entertaining later when you revise your novel. For now? Its only job is to exist. Make it exist.

Do you have any tips or tricks that help you survive NaNoWriMo? Post ’em below! Best of luck to all the wrimos out there. We will be victorious!

24 Oct

NaNoWriMo Prep – Even for Pantsers!

In Drafting,NaNoWriMo,Writing Process by MK England / October 24, 2016 / 0 Comments
(Originally posted in my region’s forum on nanowrimo.org)

NaNoWriMo is less than a month away! Do you have any idea what you’re going to write yet? If not, that’s fine! I’ve got some suggestions to help get you going. Even if you like to totally fly by the seat of your pants when you write, you can really benefit from having at least some vague points in your head before you start.

You don’t have to go all dystopian-YA-novel and declare your faction. It’s not plotters vs. pantsers to the death. It’s not “start without a single idea” vs. “20 pages of meticulous notes”. There’s tons of middle ground between those options, and you can find a balance that will work for you and keep you motivated and inspired throughout November!

If you do nothing else, it can really help to elevate your NaNo plan from a vague idea to a premise. Larry Brooks talks about this in his book Story Physics, and in this Writer’s Digest Article. Here’s an example using The Hunger Games:

  • [Idea]  I want to write a dystopian novel about reality TV
  • [Concept]  (add conflict and tension) I want to write about an annual televised event where poor kids are pitted against other poor kids for sport
  • [Premise]  (add character and themes) A girl named Katniss volunteers for The Hunger Games to save her sister from participating and has to fight to the death against other kids—including a boy from her own district who has always shown her kindness.

Look for that hint of conflict inherent in your basic idea and start questioning it. Want to go a bit more in-depth into the plot than just the basic idea? Larry Brooks also has a book called Story Engineering, and just about every story in the western world* ends up falling into this structure, whether by instinct or by planning.

What’s great and useful about this style of outline is the focus on when characters learn new pieces of information, which makes you think through what bits of info the characters need to learn over the course of the story to achieve their goal, which in turn gives you points to write toward. What does Harry Potter need to know to defeat Voldemort? What does Luke Skywalker need to know to embrace the Force and blow up the Death Star?

The very boiled-down version of the structure is:

  • Part One: The Setup (the orphan) — Introduce your characters, have the inciting incident, foreshadow things that will be important later, introduce your antagonist in some small way. At the end of part one, at approximately the 25% mark of your story, include Plot Point One: The clear statement of the quest/goal/major obstacle, our first full view of the antagonist, and the statement of the stakes. What do you characters stand to lose? Make sure we know why it matters to the characters.
  • Part Two: The Response (the wanderer) — Your characters have their very human reactions to the quest. Run, hide, seek information, get help, find an advisor. At about the 50% mark, you’ll have the Midpoint, where the character learns something new that changes the context of the quest. The game has changed, and it shifts the character from reactive mode to proactive mode. Time to DO STUFF.
  • Part Three: The Attack (the warrior) — Your characters attack the problem/obstacle/antagonist head on. They can’t totally succeed yet, because we’re not at the end of the book yet, but they can make progress. At about the 75% mark, you’ll have Plot Point Two: The final piece of information the characters need to conquer the obstacle/defeat the villain/begin the final chase. It’s ON.
  • Part Four: The Resolution (the martyr) — No new information can be introduced after this point. It’s time to defeat the obstacle/villain, resolve the conflict, let the stakes come into play in a big way, and make the character sacrifice something to achieve the goal. Make it happen, cap’n.

Come up with as much of this as you can ahead of time! If that’s just the big four basic sections (Setup, Response, Attack, Resolution), then great! That still gives you some good direction. If you can, add in those plot points. If you want to go even more in depth than that and plan out chapters, go for it. The level of detail is up to you.

Or, maybe you want to approach things from a character standpoint, rather than plot. Consider: How will your character change over time? What kind of person are they at the start, and how will they be different at the end? Why does the conflict matter to them? What do they personally have to lose?

No matter where you start (plot, character, idea, or even worldbuilding), look for that source of conflict and change. No conflict, no story!

And if you want to do a bit more in-depth prep, don’t forget that NaNoWriMo puts out some excellent workbooks through the Young Writer’s Program. The high school one is great for adults, too!

Do you have any NaNo prep strategies to share with your fellow wrimos? Post ‘em below!

Happy writing,
M.K.

* – except literary fiction which, by its very nature, is about experimenting and subverting expectations.

19 Oct

Three Kinds of Writer’s Block

In Drafting,NaNoWriMo,Writing Process by MK England / October 19, 2016 / 0 Comments

…and how to beat them

It’s NaNoWriMo season, which means everyone has speed-writing on the brain.

john typing

(That’s not how you do it, John.)

Writer’s block is oft spoken of in groaning complaints and hushed whispers like it’s a thing that sneaks up on writers to ruin their flow and steal away their creativity. In reality, though, I don’t think “Writers Block” is really any one thing. In my own writing experience, I’ve found I’m affected by at least three distinct types of writer’s block:

Totally Lost Block: This block usually comes from a lack of prep work. Not sure what comes next in your story? Even if you’re a pantser (you write by the seat of your pants), it’s time to stop and brainstorm. List your core elements: Main characters, central plot conflict, stakes (what the character has to lose if they fail). What’s the end goal for the central conflict, the problem to be solved, or the farthest point forward where you know what happens? Make a list of 10 potential ways to get there, then pick the most interesting one. What information do your characters need to get to that point? Brainstorm interesting ways for them to get that information. Keep breaking it down until you have several points to write toward. You don’t have to obey those points if you come up with something better along the way, but it helps to have a light at the end of the tunnel. Or, is there a point later in the story where you DO know what happens? Write that first, and go back to connect the dots later.

Depression Block: Not in a good place mental health-wise? That can have a big impact on your writing. If this is the case for you, take some time for self-care. Give yourself permission to do something you love to recharge your creative batteries and mental energy. Once you’re in a better place, set reasonable but challenging goals, manage your expectations for yourself, and re-dedicate yourself to your writing. If you haven’t already sought help for depression, definitely do! Taking that first step can be a huge load off your mind in and of itself.

Motivation Block: This is the most common type of writer’s block. You’re not actually blocked, writing is just HARD and it takes a lot of time and effort and it can be a struggle to get motivated. Even seasoned writers get this kind of block sometimes. Sit down at your computer or open your notebook and commit to writing one sentence. You can manage that, right? Once you’re over that hurdle, it’s surprisingly easy to keep going. You’re already there, so why not make it a whole paragraph? How about a page? And there’s no rule that says you have to write all your daily words in one sitting. Write a little in the morning, a little at lunch, and a little in the evening if you need to. Or, binge it all in one sitting and enjoy your free time afterward. Also consider small rituals that tell your brain it’s writing time: Light a candle, get dressed like you’re going to work, put on comfy PJs, whatever works for you. You can do this! Just remember BICHOK: Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard. Make it happen.

Have you experienced any other kind of writer’s block? Any advice for overcoming? Tell me in the comments!

28 Jul

Pitch Wars Live Video

Last night I was on Pitch Wars Live answering your questions from Twitter about Pitch Wars wish lists, submissions, and the craft of writing. It was a TON of fun, and we got some really great questions! I haven’t been able to go back and watch it because I know I make incredibly stupid faces when I talk, but if you want to be entertained by my face, you can watch below, or on youtube here.

If you want to follow up on any of the questions I answered, or get answers to any of the ones I skipped, let me know in the comments!

27 Jul

Critiques and Cultivating Self-Awareness

In Editing,Pitch Wars,Writing Process by MK England / July 27, 2016 / 0 Comments

I’ve written about critiquing and revising several times before. There’s a reason for that—in the last two years, I’ve personally had to come to terms with how critiquing works, how it feels, what I should take from it, and what role it plays in an author’s career. I’ve also watched how those around me have learned to deal (or not deal) with critiques, from casual one-time crit acquaintances to long-term crit partners whom I adore and still work with. You really do go through the five stages of grief when learning to accept critiques, but successful writers eventually make it to the acceptance stage: critiques are helpful and healthy and the best way to ensure your story does what you want it to do.

But how do you get to that point? How do you eventually make it through the hurt and come to a place of understanding and acceptance? That, dear writer, is the million dollar question. And sure, there’s the usual answers of time, perseverance, blah, blah, blah, but what can you really, actually do?

so much pain

Long answer: For me, the answer is self-awareness. By this point, I know myself, and I know my reactions. I know that when I first get a large critique I will be very sad, and I need to give myself a few hours (or even days) to process that. I know that I’ll have a lot of emotional reactions to the feedback at first. How can I not? It’s like getting up on stage and being booed. It’s a mixture of shame and humiliation over making mistakes, anger over people “misinterpreting” things or just “not getting it”, and sadness for having poured so much of my soul into something and having it criticized. These are honest, real reactions, but they shouldn’t dominate the way you react to feedback, and they absolutely shouldn’t dominate how you revise. Because ultimately, that feedback is what’s going to make your book shine.

Short answer: Don’t bullshit yourself. Learn to spot when you’re bullshitting.

My common bullshitting reactions include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • But I like it this way
  • But I did it that way for a specific reason
  • But I worked so hard on that
  • But this scene is essential for Reasons
  • But does that little thing really matter?
  • But changing that will require huge changes in these twenty other places
  • I don’t get how they see it that way
  • NO. *growl*
  • This is terrible, I am terrible, there is no hope, I should give up

Other things to look for in your own reactions (mostly compiled from the #PitchWars class of 2015, thanks y’all):

  • A different crit partner didn’t have a problem with that scene, therefore I’m justified in not fixing it
  • I’m staying true to my art
  • They’re reading it wrong
  • Let me explain it and you’ll understand
  • That’s just the way I write
  • They just don’t get it

The answer to all of these is the same. It isn’t working for this reader. Their opinion is valid. Take a step back, take stock of what you’re feeling, and really think about what you’re hearing.

Next time you get feedback on a piece of work, try this:

  • Name the feeling you’re having. Anger. Shame. Embarrassment. Disappointment. Allow yourself to feel it. Don’t say or do anything to react to it, but specifically acknowledge it and let yourself feel it.
  • Let the feedback sit. A few hours, a few days, a few weeks, however long it takes for you to feel less emotional and be able to approach it more objectively.
  • What is it specifically about that one piece of feedback that bothers you? Is it the work required to fix it? Does it change something you’re particularly proud of? You can be proud of your writing and still acknowledge that it’s not right for the story.
  • What’s at the core of the feedback? Maybe you don’t agree with the specifics, but you can see that there’s something wrong. You don’t agree that the chapter should be cut, but you do agree there are pacing problems, etc.
  • Is it a grammar rule you’re having issues with? These are probably the easiest to let go of. Learn the rule, do better in the future. You might feel some embarrassment over having messed up, or defensiveness because you’ve always done it that way and you don’t think it sounds wrong, but when it comes down to it there’s no need to feel prideful over an established, industry-standard grammar rule. Follow the rule unless you have a really good stylistic reason for breaking it that others agree works.
  • Change your attitude going into the critique. When you first deliver your MS to your critique partner, say, “Do whatever you gotta do to make it awesome,” or, “Tear it up, I can take it!”. When it’s time to receive the critique, mentally prepare for it. Go into it calm, sit down with your crit partner, and say, “Okay, tell me how I can make this better.”
  • Set yourself up to receive the critique however you need. If you need to be alone to process, ask your CPs to send their critiques as edit letters or with track changes in Word or Google Docs. However, I’d really encourage you to try receiving your crits over the phone or in person. It reminds you that the person you’re talking to is a real human who cares about your MS, not a nameless enemy out to hurt you. It also lets them explain a bit about the suggestions they’re making, so you don’t see them in a vacuum.
  • Go into it expecting changes. I’ve talked about this before, but lots of people go into a critique wanting validation. That’s not the point. The point is to make the story better. You’re never done making changes until the book goes to print. A good crit partner will give you some cheerleading too, but that’s not what it’s about.

If, after you’ve done all this, you still feel that a piece of feedback isn’t correct, feel free to disregard it. No one critique partner is correct 100% of the time—not even a Pitch Wars mentor! But make sure you’re rejecting that feedback for the right reasons.

Learning to accept critiques is one of the hardest parts of being a writer, but it’s absolutely essential if you want to be a professional. Better to learn now than to try to learn when the critique is coming from an agent or editor!

For more on the subjects of critiques and revising, see my other two posts:
On Receiving Critiques
It’s Not Selling Out!: On Revising From Feedback

How do you react to critiques? Any strategies to share? Let me know in the comments.

04 May

It’s Not Selling Out: On revising from feedback

In Drafting,Editing,Writing Process by MK England / May 4, 2016 / 2 Comments

Typically when something makes me angry, I’m tempted to immediately fight back with an extremely pissed off torrent of logic that overwhelms my opponent. Just ask my partner. I know it’s not the best reaction, so I’ve worked hard to chill out a bit and take some time to process my reactions before word vomiting all over everything.

But when something is still actively angering me a month later, I think it’s worth talking about.

Upon hearing about all the revisions I’ve done based on critique partner and agent feedback, two separate people have made comments that really stuck in my brain. I attempted to play it cool at the time and tried to brush the comments off, knowing they weren’t intended to hurt me. Both people were writers who were going through that awful period when you’re getting critiqued for the first time and learning to deal with the pain and aching pride. But months later, I still haven’t forgotten those words.

One casually asked, in a somewhat condescending tone: “So, you’re writing for the masses, right? That’s your goal?”

The other made blatant comments about “selling out” and how revising based on feedback makes it “not my book anymore”.

take a deep breathOkay, look.

If you are writing only for yourself and have no particular interest in whether anyone actually reads or enjoys your work, then perfect. Don’t revise. Don’t get others’ opinions. That is completely fine and valid and wonderful. But if that’s your goal, then don’t submit your work to others for critique. And definitely don’t be surprised that when you ask for opinions, you get them.

If you are writing with the hope that people will eventually read and enjoy your book, though, you must seriously consider reader feedback.

Here’s the thing. For me, the biggest part of being critiqued is making sure readers are getting the experience from the book that I want them to have. When I get feedback that the pacing in my first chapter is dragging, I don’t change it to “appease the masses”; I change it because I’m not evoking the feeling in my readers that I was hoping to achieve. I’m changing it because I’m not fulfilling my vision for the book. If my goal is to deliver a fun, fast-paced space adventure and I get feedback that the pacing is off, you’re damn right I’m going to fix it. That’s not what I want for my story. At the end of the day, it’s my book, and I want it to be the best book it can be. Revising based on feedback doesn’t make it any less my book. If anything, it makes it even more my book, makes certain that I’m accurately conveying what I’m trying to accomplish through my story. And yes, you know what? I do want to appeal to as many readers as possible because, for me, the goal of writing is to share the story with other people. That means doing what I can to bring readers in while staying true to the soul of the story.

But M, what if the story I’ve written is exactly as I want it to be and I don’t want to make any changes based on reader feedback? That’s fine, but you have to live with the fact that some readers—possibly most readers—won’t connect with what you’ve written. They’ll stop after a few chapters and never make it to that beautiful scene at the climax of the book that you so want them to experience.

But if they only gave it a chance! You need to give your readers a chance, too. If you want to share your story with them, you need to meet them halfway, invite them into your world. I’m not talking about changing anything critical about your story or watering down your style, language, or complexity. I’m talking about paying attention to things like pacing, cutting self-indulgent scenes that don’t serve a purpose, and acknowledging reader reactions to your writing as valid. Sure, you can write whatever you want—but readers can also react however they want. Again, it all comes back to goals, but if your goal is to have readers magically understand your artistic vision… good luck.

Maybe you will be one of those hole-in-one authors that gets it right without outside feedback. There’s always a chance. But don’t rely on being the exception. Put in the work. Grow that thick skin. Care about your readers.

Deliver the story you want to tell.

 

(I’ve written two other posts about critiques: On Receiving Critiques and Critiques and Cultivating Self-Awareness)

09 Mar

On Receiving Critiques

In Drafting,Editing,Writing Groups,Writing Process by MK England / March 9, 2016 / 2 Comments

Getting critiqued is hard.

There’s really no way around it. When you first start getting hardcore critiqued, it hurts. It took me the better part of a year to grow thick enough skin to really get something useful out of my critiques, and I felt horrible the entire time. Part of it is the battle of what you tried to do vs. what you actually did. The following thoughts tend to creep in when being critiqued for the first few times:

  • But they just didn’t understand this part, even though it was obvious
  • Well, they completely missed the point here
  • I know they think this, but I really like this part as-is, so I’m going to leave it
  • It’s MY book anyway, so I’m going to do it my way

thanks input

Don’t shut out your critique partners!

Secretly, everyone who submits their work for critique for the first time wants one thing: VALIDATION. We want readers to come back with a few little comments here and there, maybe catch some typos, but overall want our work to be loved and understood. Above all else, we want to know that we do have talent, we can do this whole writing thing, and we aren’t wasting our time. We all want to be the exception, the one that really is talented enough to get by without revisions.

I get it. I’ve been there. I still wrestle with these feeling every time I submit something. But you have to let it go, because there is exactly one purpose to submitting your work for critique: getting better.

If you’re writing purely for your own enjoyment, you shouldn’t worry about having your work critiqued. Don’t even bother! So long as you’re happy with it, mission accomplished. If you want to share your work with readers, though, critiques are absolutely necessary.

There are two sides to any creative work: the work itself, and the audience’s view of the work. We all have things we hope to convey through our work, but if we’re conveying those things in a way that doesn’t come across to the reader, it doesn’t matter how in love we are with our own words; the meaning has been lost. Our work must stand on its own once it’s out in the world. We can’t be there to defend it or explain it to those who misunderstand. It is a product wholly separate from ourselves, no matter how much of our hearts we pour into it.

These days, when I present my work for critique, I have a very different attitude: Be ruthless. Overlooking mistakes doesn’t help the work become stronger. It doesn’t help me become a better writer. I want to know everything I’ve done wrong. Everything that’s unclear. Everything that makes the reader pause and question. I don’t want my feelings spared if it means the book is worse for it. That said: don’t be a dick. Self-explanatory, yes?

And of course, there’s a whole other essential skill set to master once you’ve become numbed to the pain: Sifting through the feedback, identifying the useful bits and, hardest of all, figuring out how to fix everything. Learning to spot the problems and learning to fix them are two separate skills. Fortunately, I think the key to both is the same: critique other people’s work. As you learn to see things in others’ work, you’ll start to see them in your own work. It’s a brilliant symbiotic relationship, and it really helps with internalizing that a story isn’t any less yours because you’ve incorporated feedback.

Critiquing others, more than anything else, helps writers understand that it’s not about following the rules of style because they’re rules, but because of the psychology of reading that backs up those rules. There are reasons you need to say things in the clearest way possible, reasons you should ensure your first chapter sets up certain elements of your story, and so many reasons you should show instead of tell.

As my brilliant agent Barbara Poelle once told me: you need crit partners who can kick your ass. I wholeheartedly believe this now, and not just because a good ass-kicking got me the greatest agent in the world. I can see how much better I’ve gotten, and it’s exciting. That’s my new form of validation: Being able to look back and see the improvement with my own two eyes. I’m a completely different writer than I was a year ago, and I have so many brutal crit partners to thank for it.

cheers

Also, seriously, grammar is not optional. But that’s a post for another day.

 

(I’ve written two other posts about receiving critiques: It’s Not Selling Out: On Revising From Feedback and Critiques and Cultivating Self-Awareness)

24 Feb

Idea Seeds and Updates

In Drafting,Questions Answered,Writing Process by MK England / February 24, 2016 / 3 Comments

It’s been a while. I know. Forgive me. Things got pretty real in the beginning of 2016.

So what’s happened? Two things, mainly.

  • I completed my R&R for Space Academy Rejects, which includes a completely new second half and tons of fantastic revisions to the front. I looove it. It was brain-bendingly difficult, but I’m thrilled with the final product, and I hope my beta readers are enjoying it right now!
  • A lot of stuff went down in the city where I work. Public libraries are part of local government, so whenever a city has major financial issues, its public libraries suffer. We’re talking possible bankruptcy, state takeover, layoffs, the whole nine. Fun times.

So, y’know. I’ve been a bit off the grid. But I return!

Moriarty(1)

The big topic on my brain lately is book ideas. After each book I finish, I have a major panic moment where I feel like I’ll never have another good book idea ever again. It inevitably passes and I fall in love with another project, but it doesn’t make the fear any less REAL each time. It’s like:

giphy

I’m coming off another such crisis right now and am beyond thrilled to be outlining a new YA space opera with a main character I adore. But the question that gets asked of every writer at some point is: where do your ideas come from?

For me, there are two stages: Seeds and sprouts.
(and I hope you’ll forgive the cheesy metaphor, which I’m about to beat like a bad cliche)

I have a whole document full of unspecific ideas that can come from anywhere at any time. Concepts I think are cool, bits of dialogue in need of the right character to say them, worldbuilding details that need a plot to go along, and other tidbits. Some are more fully-formed than others. These are my seeds: little story bits that are fully of potential, but need the right catalyst to get them growing.

But what’s the catalyst? What provides the water and sunshine for the seeds? (What will stop this awful metaphor from continuing?) That’s where my own media consumption habits come into play. When I’m having an awful time getting a new book idea going, it’s almost always because I’ve been neglecting reading, TV watching, and video game playing in favor of 100% focus on my writing and critiquing responsibilities. For those little concepts to turn into real, feasible story ideas, they have to collide with something I’m experiencing in media.

For Space Academy Rejects, the seed was utterly generic: some kind of space academy thing, a wacky sense of humor, and the whole found family crew concept common to sci-fi like Joss Whedon’s Firefly. That’s nothing. There’s nothing to go on there. No plot, no conflict, no character. That seed planted itself in my brain in mid/late 2013 and lay dormant for over a year.

Then I saw Guardians of the Galaxy in the theater in August 2014, and something about the sense of humor in that movie jumpstarted the voice of my main character, Nax. Suddenly I could hear him so clearly, hear his humor and self-deprecation, and in September 2014 I vomited the first chapter onto the page in one go. I toyed with it, thought about changing tenses out of fear of writing first person/present tense, decided to stick with it, wrote another three chapters, then added 50k words to finish the novel in November 2014 for NaNoWriMo. I haven’t written all that many books yet, but each time, it’s worked the same way: an idea seed lies in wait until it meets the right catalyst, then sprouts.

groot dance

Any time you plant seeds, there will always be some that don’t sprout. Some cool ideas will only ever be cool ideas. And that’s fine. Maybe they didn’t meet the right catalyst, or maybe there was something wrong with the seed to begin with. Maybe they’re still waiting for the right reaction. BUT. So long as you keep planting seeds and watering them, something will eventually grow. Keep that list of cool ideas and engage with lots of media. A new idea will take root soon enough.

(Hear that, self? STOP PANICKING.)

How do you come up with new story ideas?

28 Nov

Casting for Space Academy Rejects

In Book Extras,Writing Process by MK England / November 28, 2015 / 0 Comments

I was recently made aware that I’ve managed to write an entire novel without ever physically describing my main character. Space Academy Rejects is written in first person, present tense, so it was easier than you might think to accidentally accomplish this ridiculous feat, but it was a huge oversight nonetheless. Meanwhile, in the #PitchWars 2015 facebook group, folks were posting pictures and descriptions of their main characters for another mentee to draw, and I thought… damn, I really need to go digging for some photos.

And I have.

I present to you, the Space Academy Rejects look-alikes:

SAR cast(Image credits at the links below)

Nax (center) — Imran Abbas
Rion (top left) — Donald Glover
Case (top right) — Freema Agyeman
Zee (bottom left) — Jenna Talackova
Asra (bottom right) — Some random beautiful person on Pinterest who happens to look exactly like my mental picture of Asra (we need more hijabi actresses/models!)

Do yourself a favor and google more pictures of Imran Abbas. Go on. I’ll wait. I chose this one because he looks closer to the right age, but there were many, many options.

I was surprised to see how joyful this little exercise was for me. I’m giddy at seeing my characters’ faces like this, and I’m even more pumped up to work on edits now that I have a more concrete idea of their appearance in my mind. Lesson learned: I should cast all my books before I ever do my first round of revisions!

Do you make pinterest boards or cast characters from your own writing? Link me in the comments and I’ll take a look!