Category Archives: On Writing
Every year I prepare a writing playlist specifically for NaNoWriMo. Sometimes I need absolute silence to write, other times I can do with some tunes to get me in the right frame of mind.
I find that film soundtracks work best of all.
This year I discovered Spotify. It’s a free web player with a massive library of albums. The only downside is that sometimes they put in ads, but that’s OK because they tend to only last for about 30 seconds. It can be frustrating interrupting your music flow, but for a free web player i won’t be complaining.
NOTE – I tried using the Spotify app on my phone, but it’s not the same. Selecting a playlist led to other random songs being played as well. Only on the web player and on tablets does it actually do what you want it to do.
Here is this year’s playlist, thanks to Spotify:
Spotify says it’s about 6 hours worth of music. It’s remarkably different to my 2011 NaNo soundtrack which eventually consisted of one song played on repeat.
I’ve been super busy this year producing work under a couple of different pen names, but I always find November’s NaNoWriMo to be a good writing exercise and time to produce something under my real name.
I’ve done NaNoWriMo every year since 2010. Two of the books I completed and self-published under NaNoWriMo were highly praised. The third is currently being looked at by a publisher. We’ll ignore the year my cat and computer both died and I lost half the novel I was writing. I still haven’t quite recovered from that and can’t bring myself to re-write the lost novel.
But anyhow, it’s October again and time to start my NaNo prep.
A few months ago I won a pre-made book cover in a giveaway, and I decided to build a story around the cover.
I still wasn’t sure what I was going to do for NaNo 2014, but I pretty soon managed to settle on a character, figure out her goal, throw some obstacles in the way and develop a plot.
I’m a planner. If I don’t know what’s going to happen in the novel I sit there staring at the screen.
Conversely, if I know how the story’s going to end, I normally don’t feel the urge to complete it.
(Which is probably why I have so many unfinished novels.)
I’m planning my new novel using the three act plot structure.
Act 1 ‘Exposition’:
- Inciting incident
- First turning point – where the hero accepts their new calling
Act 2 ‘Rising Action’:
- Obstacles and progress
- Mid-way point – a major setback
- More obstacles and higher stakes.
- Second turning point – what I call ‘the point of no return’.
Act 3 ‘Resolution’:
- Stand up and fight – the final push.
This is the structure I’ll be following in writing my novel. Let’s hope I can stick to it!
I know it’s stupid, but there’s something that has obviously affected me deeper than I previously realised.
Back in 2012, when there was a scuffle on Goodreads that led to some particularly nasty people being kicked off, my books were targeted in a slew of hatred by a number of individuals Goodreads eventually permanently banned for their harassment and breaking of their terms of service. Among many of the artificial insults slung my way (because I was an author and therefore vulnerable to attack) such as my being jealous, my sending trolls after critics, and other things, was one insult that seems to have stuck in my mind all these years later.
It was targeted to my book the Edge of Darkness, which I self-published in 2011. The insult was that my book was ‘not long enough to be a real book.’
I guess that word count insult has stayed with me, because I wrote The Edge of Darkness in 2010’s NaNoWriMo. For those of you who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is an event held every November that encourages you to write a 50K long book.
The world was a vastly different place back in 2011. Small press publishers didn’t have the clout they have now. Indie publishers and self-publishers didn’t have the clout and even the respect some of them have now. Some people assumed self-publishers would be producing traditional-publishing-worthy tomes but simply at cheaper prices.
I’ve made no secret the fact that I didn’t query The Edge of Darkness is because as a full-length adult sci-fi it only stood at 52K words, and traditional publishers only look at sci-fi if it’s much longer, around 70-110K. There was no way I was adding word padding to a completed story, so I was stuck. Small presses were so far off my radar I didn’t even consider handing my book over to them. I felt the only other option was to self-publish.
Three years later and I’ve noticed several things that have changed in the world around me.
The Edge of Darkness isn’t an adult book, it’s a New Adult book. My heroine, Max, is 26, but because she was a prisoner for five years she’s psychologically undeveloped and is still a young adult, I’d estimate in her early twenties. She’s still facing issues other young adults aged 18-25 face. She’s just doing it in deep space with robotic parts. New Adult was barely a genre back in 2011. Now it’s everywhere.
The other thing I’ve noticed is that a lot of digital imprints are calling for books exactly this length. They want genre books up to 50K or thereabouts. They don’t want to wallop their readers with enormous books. They want to offer somewhat shorter fiction, to entice readers into investing less time and effort reading this one book, in the hopes the reader might read more.
When I wrote Storm of Blood, I was still stinging from The Edge of Darkness ‘not being long enough’ (according to a troll who was kicked off Goodreads for harassment, so I know it’s ridiculous I’m still stinging from that one insult). Storm of Blood topped in at 80K, but writing that much burnt me out. For a long time I couldn’t face writing something so long when I’m clearly made for writing shorter fiction. I know in the grand scheme of things 80K isn’t particularly long when there’s 110K-150K tomes out there vying for attention, but 80K is pretty respectful among the traditionally published. I don’t regret writing that much, because I do feel the story is complete and every word and every scene was needed.
But the next thing I wrote after Storm of Blood was much shorter. I needed a break from the pressure of producing longer fiction. I wrote a series of contemporary romance novellas. They topped in at 25K each, but they were a connected series.
And then I panicked, because Lissa doesn’t write contemporary romance. She writes sci-fi and paranormal books about kick-butt women with magical powers.
So I don’t even know if you’re ever going to see these romance novellas, which I honestly do love and am very proud of, because this genre doesn’t fit in with my brand. I’ve left them trunked for six months while I figure out what I want to do with them. Do I want to self-publish them under Lissa, or a pen name, or even query them?
And then there’s the question of the daunting task of the next Storm Force book. Storm of Magic is coming, I swear. But trying to match 80K in a year as well as the dozens of other books I want to write, including another sci-fi about superheroes and that paranormal bisexual romance I lost half of when my computer died… add on to that the pressure to be ‘successful’ and to churn out my work as fast as I can even though I have a day job and a family and my writing is a slow process anyway because I actually trunk my novels and leave them to breathe between edits…
…and the word on the street is that if you’re not producing 2 books a year, your audience will forget you…
All of this pressure is why I’m struggling to write anything long at the moment. Well that, and the fact that I literally have dozens of ideas and trying to catch one to pin it down is like trying to herd river water by throwing darts.
I’ve been writing short fiction, short stories, to keep up with the craft, but it’s nothing the sci-fi/PNR part of me can ever publish.
I’ll settle, eventually. I have lots and lots of books ready to be written. Maybe this is simply the post-Book 2 blues getting to me. We’ll see.
- They will not change your voice.
- They will not improve the overall general standard of writing.
- What I mean by that is they will not comb through each sentence and rewrite it for you. If your writing is shit, it will still be shit. it will just be readable shit.
- They will catch the majority of typos and grammatical errors.
- They will fix your punctuation according to the accepted style.
- They will tell you when your sentence just sounds stupid.
- They will check to see how colloquial your slang is and if it is understandable.
- They will tell you to rewrite, but will not rewrite it for you.
- They will make sure you don’t use stupid speech tags (SORRY, K!).
- They will research the correct terminology and make sure you’re not saying something stupid and/or incorrect.
- They will laugh at unintended innuendos.
- They will tell you when you’re being cheesy.
- They will tell you when they want it to be better.
- They will teach you about your own weaknesses, but this does not mean that you won’t need an editor ever again.
- They will not be offended when you do not accept a change. After all, they are only advising you. You have the final say on your own product.
Day Eleven? Hah. Technically. This is only the second time I’ve sat down and actively written anything. The second time I have opened my veins and bled.
I miss it sometimes. I hate it sometimes. I don’t miss it when I’m not writing and when I am I love everything about it. All the ideas that come out of my head and flow past that (metaphorical) paper (as I write on a computer, not by hand). Some of the ideas catch, like twigs in a fast-flowing river. Others go on and are forgotten or dismissed to join up in some vast ocean of abandoned ideas.
What I liked best about my writing ‘session’ today is the secrets I unearthed about a secondary character. Things that I don’t know yet and my main character doesn’t know yet, but the seeds of the secrets, the promises that it will mean something further down the line.
I write to a plan, but only a very basic one. I have to see how the book will end – not necessarily the climax: I don’t have one yet, though I am rolling ideas around in my head. The climax for Storm of Blood did not come to me until well over half the book was written. I know how this book will end, so my job is to fill in all the other bits. Some of those bits are written down for guidance: basic ideas for fight scenes, some light romance, the overarching three-act plot. But it’s the little things that come out during the actual writing that I get excited about. The stuff you don’t plan.
My secondary character lives in a huge drab mansion that is grey and uninspiring on the outside and splashed with every colour paint on the inside. This character is obsessed with colour. Every room has a different colour theme, and the hallways leading to each room look like there’s been a paintball match held there. I don’t know why this character feels the need to decorate her house this way: I will find out later. In the meantime, my main character’s bedroom is just white. There’s no colour in there at all. That stands for her ‘blank slate’ of being, as she’s just moved to this city. If this was a film, maybe we’d get a montage of my character adding various decorations to the room to make it more colourful. Maybe my character is the kind of person who, because she feels she will only be there for a short time, she won’t decorate at all. I’ll find out later. The important thing is that I’ve set the seeds for these revelations. These unplanned tidbits will morph into something relevant, given time and attention and, hopefully, skill.
This is the beauty of writing. I don’t expect anyone to get as excited about it as I do, but that’s why I write.
August Camp NaNoWriMo starts today and I’m excited to rejoin Jessalyn, Tuomas, and the Dragon Prince after a month-long absence editing Storm of Blood.
Last November I did an interview with Olsen Jay Nelson’s awesome sci-fi blog about my debut novel, The Edge of Darkness, what with it being a NaNo novel and all that (National Novel Writing Month – held annually in November).
Olsen’s decided to take his blog in a new direction and as such, has given me permission to re-post the interview here. He says
“The guest blogging was quite successful in a kind of way. Over the months following publication, some of the posts started doing quite well and gaining traffic from around the web including Stumbleupon. In fact, Stumbleupon became a growing referrer; this led to one post, the Cyborg/dystopian interview with Lissa, leading all the posts on the blog with over 1500 page views in May.”
So here it is, the cyborg/dystopian interview originally hosted by Olsen Jay Nelson:
OJN: I’d like to introduce, Lissa Bilyk, author of ‘The Edge of Darkness,’ a futuristic, dystopian scifi novel with subjugated cyborgs who find a means to revolt. I love the sound of this, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to ask Lissa some questions related to this and her continuing participation in NaNoWrimo since it’s November again. Thanks Lissa …
‘The Edge of Darkness’ is dystopian sci-fi, right – among other things? What’s your opinion about why dystopian realities have such appeal? Also, how did you make use of dystopian themes in the story, and what’s the effect you were looking for?
Lissa:I think that dystopians appeal to a lot of readers because they themselves feel disenfranchised with reality. In the 21st century, we should really be living in a better world than what it is. There’s still mass murder and civil war and millions of people starving while the 1% live fat and rich in first world countries. Three billion people on this planet can’t read or write. That’s almost half the population. I think that dystopian fiction help people think about the world we live in now: well, it’s not great, but it could always be worse. At least we have a degree of personal freedom and can make our own choices. In dystopian fiction, characters are limited in their choices and their lives and most end up fighting back against the system. I also think that is what appeals to people: the idea of rebelling because their lot in life just isn’t good enough.
In my book, the cyborgs on the travelling spaceship the Eden vastly outnumber the Authorities keeping them in line. If the cyborgs weren’t happy, they could rebel. So how do you keep people happy? Give them want they want: jobs, recreation time, structure. Keep them afraid of stepping out of line. The consequences for breaking the rules on the Eden are dire. The life should be simple and pleasant, and if Max hadn’t made the choices she did, she would never have discovered the life isn’t so great after all. That’s what dystopians are all about.
By the way, I’ve read ‘Utopia,’ the book that spawned dystopians. It’s actually a dystopian itself.
OJN: Cyborgs play an important role in the story. What’s your take on why cyborgism is such a compelling area for sci-fi? And, could you explain a bit about the type(s) of cyborgism you employed and how this fits into the reality you wanted to convey?
Lissa:I must admit, I’ve never read another book with a cyborg in it, certainly never a lead character. I was influenced a little by the film Bicentennial Man, which is based on Isaac Asimov’s book of the same name, and I was influenced a little by the Terminator films. But my cyborgs are a lot less human-looking; they are less fine and less evolved versions, clearly still half robot. In writing The Edge of Darkness, I wanted to explore what it would be like if a human really was plugged into a computer and made into a super-powered being.
But more than that, my cyborgs are a stand in for another social issue that is very dear to me: social equality. In my novel, cyborgs are viewed as semi-human with no civil rights: they can’t get married or raise babies or vote or even earn minimum wage. Despite all cyborgs being former humans and more than capable of doing such things, there is a huge prejudice against them because they are different and a threat to social norms. I am a passionate defender of marriage equality and I hope my readers make the same parallels I worked so hard to weave into the narrative.
OJN: You’ve written fantasy fiction as well. I’m just curious if you could explain how you manage writing in the different parent genres and particularly your sub-genres of these, and what influence your understanding of fantasy had on you when writing ‘The Edge of Darkness’?
Lissa:I grew up reading light sci-fi and anthropomorphic books. I didn’t get into fantasy fiction until I was a teenager. I never really thought about how the two of them are so different: I guess to me, one of them is based in the future and their magic is technology, and one of them is based in the past and their magic is sorcery. It’s all speculative fiction that uses imagination. I tried writing a novel once where everyone was a normal human and I failed tragically.
My novels are always character-driven and about the choices the characters make, and especially the consequences of what happens when they make the wrong choice for whatever reason. My characters are directly responsible for their plot: they are active engagers and never simply react to what’s going on around them. If there’s conflict, it’s more than likely they’ve been directly responsible for it through a choice they’ve made. I can’t stand these books where the characters are passive doormats simply reacting to events and taking on a victim mentality.
OJN: Finally, you wrote ‘The Edge of Darkness’ during the 2010 NaNoWriMo; you’re also participating again this year. Could you tell us a little about that process and why you find it valuable to your productivity and narrative construction? Also, are you writing scifi or fantasy this year?
Lissa:NaNoWriMo challenges participants to write a 50K word novel in a month – granted, unless it’s a middle grade novel, hardly any publishers will even think of accepting such a short book. That’s why I self-published The Edge of Darkness, because it was a complete story within itself at 52K words. This year I’m writing an urban fantasy. This urban fantasy isn’t titled yet, but it’s the first full-length novel starring the heroine of five short stories I’ve made available to readers on Smashwords, about a teenage demon hunter called Tina Storm. I find that high fantasy comes to me so easily that I like to challenge myself to write other genres in the NaNo season. Other genres I considered writing this year included chick lit, historical romance, paranormal romance, post-apocalyptic, and psychological thriller.
Because I write genres I’m not 100% comfortable with, to make sure I achieve the goal I plan ferociously: I lay the bare bones and bigger details of the novel out (this year the plan is two pages, which gives me plenty of wiggle room plot-wise), and I plot exactly where I need to be at the end of each day on a calendar that I stick on the wall behind my laptop. Then it’s a case of reaching the word count every day. I need this kind of planning otherwise I sit there wondering what happens next. Plotting the novel in a three-act structure also helps me envision the entire project.
As for why NaNoWriMo is valuable for my productivity and narrative construction: it’s completely psychological. There’s a deadline that I don’t get in the off-season. I find the idea of holding in my hands a complete book I’ve written to be an irresistible lure.