Writing the Story Themes

May’s blog topic for WriYe is the question – “What are some of your ‘go to’ themes you like to write about?” – and I’m not sure. I know theme is important, and I’m pretty sure it’s in there somewhere, but I have to be honest I don’t really think about it all that much. I concentrate on the character journey, and on the plot that the characters navigate to learn and grow. I actually had to google what themes might be because my brain went blank.

Character (destruction or building up) is actually on the list. So perhaps that means I have already answered the question. Except that doesn’t feel accurate enough because stories are mostly driven by characters, and not all of those stories are the same. Characters struggle and they evolve but I think it’s what they struggle with, where the theme plays out.

In which case I suspect that one of my ‘go to’ themes is to do with fear. The novel draft I finished last month was very much about fear of love, fear of loss, fear of being vulnerable and opening herself up for heartbreak. However, just like with character I feel like fear is an ever-present theme, that is simply a component of whatever the actual theme is. Characters are afraid they won’t complete their journey, or they are afraid they will, they are afraid of change and the story is always about some kind of change.

So what else do the characters grapple with? I think I like ‘sins of the past coming back to haunt them’ as a theme, if that qualifies. I think I like exploring about ‘power and corruption’, questioning authority and the whether said authority is morally correct – probably tying back to the whole corruption thing. Prejudice and how bloody stupid it is. Equality definitely. How people should be able to be themselves and not be judged for it. The power of choice maybe, and that people often make their own worst enemies. I don’t really do true good vs. evil as I prefer shades of grey. Pain and bad memories being a motivator.

In the end I like to end all stories with hope. I like the characters to be in a better place than they started. A happy ending of sorts. I don’t know if that is a theme but I think it’s important. The world is a dark place where everything is uncertain, but stories can have that certainty and end well. I like characters to be happy. I mean sure sometimes characters have to die but not the main ones. I do tend to operate a “bullet-proof cast” and I’m not even sorry. As a reader I despise character-death, so why would I inflict that on people? As I said the world is bad enough, fiction doesn’t need to be unrelenting misery too.

Self-improvement maybe is a theme? Characters working on themselves, overcoming past mistakes or past trauma or whatever is holding them back, and then making themselves a brighter future. When I put it like that I suddenly see far too much of myself in there as that’s what I ultimately want the most. I’m constantly afraid, utterly terrified of everything, and I want so badly to be better. I also crave the impossible – a certainty of a good ending.

Wow that got deep. Thanks blog topic, I hate it.

My Best Writing Memory

I’ve a feeling I’ve either answered this question before for a WriYe blog topic, or I’ve talked about this before for something else. Either way I’m pretty sure that I’ll have mentioned two specific incidents.

1) The Great Fanfic Crossover of 2009
I’d been in the Without a Trace fandom for a few years but I’d stopped watching the show. I’d sort of drifted. I had basically quit writing fanfic but I missed it. My obsession at the time was Alias and I’m not quite sure what sparked my head but suddenly I had this multi-show crossover just spilling out of me. I merged the aforementioned Without a Trace and Alias, and also added in Numb3rs and CSI:NY for good measure. I wrote almost the entire thing in one day (so it was a 10k day) and I was cackling with amusement for most of it. That was just pure fun. I don’t even recall it feeling like work, I just couldn’t stop writing until I was too tired and finally ran out of steam. I finished it off the next day. So that’s a really great memory because I “wrote with joy” and that doesn’t happen often.

2) The ‘Just Write and See What Happens’ of 2012
November 1st, NaNoWriMo. I had planned to do yet another draft of Perfidy but I wasn’t feeling it. It was Day One and I had no words. The previous year (2011) was the first NaNo I intentionally skipped and I’d failed 2010. I felt so blah, like I wasn’t a real writer. So I said screw it and I opened a blank document and just started typing. I had nothing. Within a few pages I had characters, I had a setting and I had the beginnings of a plot. I only wrote about 5k of this before I did switch back to Perfidy and I’ve never developed it further. However the confidence I drew from creating out of nothing was immense. It was so comforting to think that yes I could create. I wasn’t just a fanfic writer playing in other people’s sandboxes. I didn’t just take ideas and twist them to be ‘original’ I could have my own ideas too. So I’m very fond of this memory as it’s the first time I felt like a ‘real’ writer.

The problem with saying those are my ‘best writing memories’ is they happened a decade ago – over a decade ago, and that’s just sad. Has nothing good happened since? Nothing I can hold onto and say yes, I love it, that’s a good memory?

I guess it’s been a hard decade and the depression tends to colour everything. The lows feel really super damn low but the highs never reach any kind of height, as they are starting from a very big hole. I’m very good at reframing what other people would say were notes of success with a “yes, but” as if those ‘successes’ didn’t stay as successes, then they are just wiped out. Yes I technically have indie published three novels – none of them are available now. I messed up, I didn’t persist, and I wrecked it.

But this blog topic isn’t about what’s gone wrong – it’s about what’s gone right! It’s about the good memories, not the bad. So let’s try this one on for size.

3) The ‘Revival of Obsession’ of 2020
Let’s be real I wrote very little for over three years (and that’s despite technically being at university on a ‘creating writing’ course, yeah I know). I signed up to WriYe with the best of intentions for January 2020 and then I was besieged by panic attacks every time I opened a document to write. I was miserable and frustrated. I thought perhaps I would never write again. Cue NaNoWriMo and cue Sanctuary and my new ship of James/John/Helen. I wrote a long-fic for NaNo, over 60k, and I finished it within the month. I can’t tell you how incredible it felt to type ‘The End’ on anything after so long. To feel that buzz of writing, of crafting a story, of imagining something and making it manifest on the page. I’m not saying it was good writing but it was writing.

4) The ‘Return of Original’ of 2021
More fanfics followed, hundreds of thousands of words by this point and I’m not showing any sign of stopping. However, the point is the floodgates have been opened. In March I did what I had thought was impossible – I finished an original story, working title Fall of Camelot. I’d planned it for it to be 20k and it turned out to be 53k. I love the characters and there’s a lot more story to dig into. One day I plan on turning it into a trilogy. In April for Camp I started another original novel, Carbon Scars, and that went less well (it’s still unfinished, it is my solemn intention to finish it this month). However, there’s about 60k of that. It exists. A whole universe, characters, planets, settings, plots, history. My world building isn’t the best but I can see a lot in my head. I joke that they are the worst first drafts in history but they exist. After years and years of not writing, and then not being able to write, I got it back. Might not be good but it’s happening.

I have my dream back. Sure I doubt myself a lot and I don’t have any faith that it’ll work out. I feel like I’ll never be good enough (this was the source of my panic attacks in 2020). The world is on fire and my life is a mess but I’m writing regularly. Unless something goes wrong I’ll be moving into my own house in a few months. When everything’s settled I plan to dig in and really work on getting novels ready for publication. Perhaps if this topic comes back again next year, I’ll have a new best memory made there.

What kind of planner are you?

With how it breaks down to: planner, pantser or plantser, it feels a bit like filling in one of those questionnaires and getting your personality type. Like it’s one of those identity things that says something about you when you tell people.

Now I’ve written blog posts about planning before. In fact I think it was a topic towards the end of last year on WriYe. I don’t like to repeat myself so I’ll try to say something a little different this time. In the past I’ve talked about the planning process itself and how precisely I do it. This blog topic tacked ‘why?’ onto the end of ‘what kind of planner are you?’ and it’s the why I wish to consider today.

How much I plan differs based on what I’m writing. I think I have said that before. With original novels I plan for more thoroughly than I do with fanfic. Furthermore with fanfic how much I plan depends on the scope of the project. I have written fanfics with barely more than a premise, so completely pantsing basically. Those tend to be short ‘oneshots’ that aren’t very long. Anything chapter-based needs some kind of plan. The question is how much?

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My Shipper Heart: The Role of Romance

This month, likely in honour of Valentine’s day, the WriYe blog topic is about the role of romance in the fiction I write. Well, actually the topic said “in your novels” but I write all kinds of stories, and actually the role of romance changes depending on the type of story, which I thought could be interesting to explore. I’m talking of course about fanfiction, hence the use of the term ‘shipper’ in the title of this post.

Having said it changes, as I was considering how to begin, I realised I’m not sure it does change. With my stories I consider them all to be character-centric. I’m telling a tale of a journey and yes cool stuff happens in cool places but it all comes back to character. Now obviously journeys can take multiple forms – it isn’t all about romance! Personally I’m ace/aro and so romance plays zero part in my life personally. However, I probably do write a lot of romance. It’s a very rich story vein because romance at it’s core is love. Now love can be family and friends obviously, but a lot of what I come up with is romantic love. To be honest until I started writing this post I don’t think I’d quite realised how much.

I was going to say that I never write pure romance, there’s always something else going on, but I don’t think that’s true. Not if I consider fanfic where sometimes there’s a plot (and the relationship weaves around it) but sometimes the relationship is the plot. I remember years ago saying I could never write pure romance, that I couldn’t think of anything more boring, how do you even move the characters across the page without a crime to solve? or some kind of gun battle? But I wrote a 50k arranged marriage fanfic last year and managed just fine. There wasn’t a gun to be seen.

So what role does romance play in my novels?

Let’s go through a couple of examples. My sci-fi thriller where the former agent turned mercenary is framed for murder, and goes on the run with her ex-girlfriend (who happens to be a PI) and has to dodge her former colleagues while trying to clear her name. Obviously the ‘ex’ is not such an ex by the end, as part of the character journey has her realising she shouldn’t push away those she loves just because she’s scared. A leap of faith kind of thing. So there’s lots of running and shooting and intrigue (hopefully) but the romantic relationship, and working out the issues between them, is a big part of the book.

Then there’s my Arthurian retelling about the Fall of Camelot. There’s no relationship drama in this as Mordred and Galahad are firmly in love, but that actually forms the bedrock because they have such a strong bond, and they can seek support from one another. This will contrast with Arthur’s grief at Guinevere’s death. It will be an important thread given their immortality. Promising someone a lifetime is one thing, but spending eternity together? What relationships crumble and what relationships deepen, and navigating that.

With the fanfic that I write I have ‘ships’ like Helen, John and James from Sanctuary, they are my OT3 and current major obsession. I’m also shipping Bering and Wells from Warehouse 13 really hard right now, and to be honest Artie and MacPherson too. That ship doesn’t even really exist (I think there’s less than 10 fics on AO3 and one of them is mine) but on my last rewatch I couldn’t unsee it, and it’s a thing now. On my fanfic WIP list I have a combined total of 10 ideas at the moment, across three fandoms (Sanctuary, Warehouse 13 and the Librarians). Some of the ideas are AU, some of them are canon-divergent. All of them have happy endings with the ships making a life together. Interestingly the sole Librarians fic doesn’t revolve around a ship, though of course I will write Flynn/Eve into it, and wherever the fic ends they will still be happily together.

So in summary…

I’m circling back to what I said at the start of this post – my stories are character driven, and romance plays a much bigger role than I think I’d appreciated until now. Therefore I would class romance to be something of a cornerstone of my stories.

WriYe: Impossible Year

So I recently did the retrospective on how 2021 went, and now I get to make the world laugh by dreaming about 2022. I said last time that I really didn’t want to get to the end of the year and be disappointed again – but I was. However, really that is my dream. I want to feel like I’ve made progress, as most of the time I feel like I’m getting nowhere and that time is running out.

BUT (and it’s a big but!) I am going to be aided in my quest for progress this year by a big life change – I’m moving house. I’ve said this before, I said it in my retrospective because once it was decided early October everything tanked as the chaos consumed me. We still haven’t sold and I don’t know when we will (but I hope it’s soon) and so we don’t know where we’ll be moving (as there’s no point in looking at houses that sell before we can buy). However, I think it’s a reasonably safe statement to make, to say that by this time next year I will be writing this post in a different house – my own house. I have big hopes that having my own space will make a lot of difference to me, but I’ve got to get there first which means surviving the process.

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WriYe 2021: Year in Review

Another year has come and gone again
Look around and think where have you been
Can’t believe it’s that time of year again
Can you believe the life you led?
Did you achieve the goals you set?
Did you lose your mind?
Another year has come and gone again
Look around and wonder what happened

Sick Puppies – That time of year

This year I called my WriYe progress thread ‘Try Everything’ as to be honest I was that desperate to make some progress, that’s what I was willing to do. When I made my yearly goals I tried to be realistic, and I put as a subheading ‘starting small and dreaming higher’ because that was my intent. I had to balance what I wanted in my heart, with what was possibly practical (and I have never been good at judging that).

I set my initial WriYe target as 75k because that was the bare minimum. I knew I was going to be writing fanfic but I wanted 75k (aka a full length draft of an original novel). I also wanted to make progress with my art and – yet again – I set the goal of doing a drawing a month. If I look back at the goal post I made and quote myself, I said “What I want the most from 2021 is to make progress, to move forward, to finally get somewhere. There is nothing I want more than to get to the end of December in 2021 and type up a yearly review, and to list all the things I accomplished. I want that glow of satisfaction, of being able to feel like yes I did something good. I don’t want to get through another year and feel like I wasted the time again. Like I said I really want to feel like I made progress.”

So did I meet those goals?

Yes and no is the simple answer.

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Fail to plan, plan to fail?

That’s a cliché and I think it’s an unfair one. Everyone needs different amounts of information before they begin and I don’t judge. Anyway, as you can probably tell this months WriYe blog topic is all about planning.

Explain your planning process. Do you write a detailed outline or are you more of a bare bones only writer?
Ok I start off with an idea. This could be a scene, a character, a general concept, a world detail – something. I then do a lot of brainstorming, which is basically free typing where I write down everything that comes to mind as I think about the idea. I ask myself questions and try and reason out the answers. I do this until I have answered all the questions. This results in a very long and messy document.

So I then need to pull out all the relevant information and put it into various documents. I’ll have a world building details file. I’ll have a character detail file etc. Then I’ll have the explaining the plot file where I edit the rambles and put it all in order, but it’s still very much long paragraphs. So I’ll create another separate file and make up bullet points for each scene described, so there’s a brief list for reference and not just the long descriptive document.

Ultimately I guess that makes me a detailed outline person – at least when it comes to novels. I don’t tend to go that far with fanfic. I’ll reason the story out and sometimes write up scene lists but I don’t do a scene-by-scene outline, and I’ll add as I go with what feels right and sometimes straight up change things. I’m a bit less flexible with the novel because I plan it more in-depth.

Are you happy with the way you plan currently?
I guess? Sometimes I think maybe I over-plan when it comes to novels and it sort of sucks all the life out of it. Essentially I’m just fleshing out the story, in many ways I’ve already written it. That doesn’t mean I’ve written it sensibly though. It doesn’t seem to matter what kind of process I put my plan through, in an attempt to check that I’ve not been dumb – I’ve invariably been stupid somewhere and something doesn’t make sense.

End of 2019 I made a ton of notes on structure and applied them to the outline of the novel I should be writing at the moment (it’s not going so well). As I’ve not finished the draft yet, and thus haven’t attacked it in revision, I don’t know whether that has helped or not.

To be honest I’m kinda set in my ways. I’ve been planning by brainstorming and then pulling it into an outline for well over a decade now, possibly closer to two. It’s just how my brain works. Am I happy with it? I don’t know. I think so but at the same time I’m not happy with the novels I write from it, but then would those novels be any better if I planned another way? I don’t know.

Are there things you would like to try that are different or new to you?
Yes. I don’t do details very well. I need to think more deeply about my world building, and then plan/record those details in an easily referenced document. With the novel I’m currently writing I was struggling to get started and so a friend tried asking me questions, to sort of get my head ‘into the scene’. I didn’t know most of the answers because I couldn’t remember if I’d decided about these details before, or what I’d put if I had. I struggle with description at the best of times and not thinking about the details until revision hurts me.

Top 7 Writing Tips

What it says on the tin aka this month’s WriYe blog topic. I didn’t do last months because it was on balance and hahahahaha I do not have any. Seriously none, zip, nada, no freaking clue. Anyway, I thought I would give this one a stab. I also thought I would try and go for a bit more of the “weird and wacky” rather than the standard. As I read Kandy’s post this morning, which expertly covered everything I would otherwise have said, and I felt like I should at least make an attempt to be different.

So without ado!

Tip #1 – Trackers are your friend
I get down on myself all the time and my brain likes to lie to me. So have some concrete evidence. Now this can go horribly wrong as that evidence can be twisted into a weapon BUT facts are facts. It’s like glass half full, glass half empty, but at least you know for sure how much is inside. So record how many days you write for, record how much you write, go further and time yourself if you’d like. That way when the brain lies and says “you haven’t written in forever and you suck” you can go “nope actually I wrote for 20 days this month” (or whatever the truth is) and that’s better than nothing. Progress may be slower than you’d like, but the progress is still there and it is measurable.

Tip #2 – Don’t fight fate
Kinda ties in with the “track everything” idea, in that patterns will emerge! I know, I super love patterns too. They are very cool except when they are harmful, and I have a pattern that hurts me. Inevitable due to, shall we say life events, I often have a week or so in the month where my head is just not in the game. I get so mad at myself and I’m all “you were doing good, what the hell is wrong with you!?!?” but through tracking I realised the correlation. Now it still irritates the hell out of me but I’m a bit less mad now as I know why. There are things in life we can’t change. If the words aren’t coming, there’s probably a reason for that and that reason might be out of your control. So for instance if you are trying to write and getting frustrated on Sunday’s, then maybe that’s a day you skip. Save yourself the aggro. Less frustration hopefully equals more productivity on days without those issues.

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Blog Circle: Writing Organisation

Another month, another blog topic. I’m so glad this is continuing this year. It’s interesting to see what the different topics are each month. This one seems pretty straightforward, not as soul searching as last months!

How do you keep your writing organized and backed up?
I have to be honest I’m not as good about this as I should be. Back in the day I used to keep all my files on a USB stick so they went with me everywhere I went. I wish I could say that I kept them regularly backed up somewhere but that would be a lie. These days I keep a lot of my files on gdocs and again *cough* I can’t really say I have backups. That at least is on the cloud and therefore isn’t prone to hardware failure but seriously self? Yeah I think I might need to go and do some backing up haha. Plus not everything is on gdocs, I have all my archived stuff just on my removable hard drive.

The one thing I don’t do is ever store any of my writing on the computers actual hard drive. To be honest I don’t store any data on there at all. I’ve had far too many occasions where the computer has malfunctioned and I’ve had to do a complete wipe and reinstall the operating system, so ever be comfortable keeping files on the PC.

So that is how it is stored. What about organisation? I’m not sure whether to answer this here or below as it sort of crosses over. Basically I keep things simple. Back in the day it was word documents, and now it’s gdocs but either way that’s where everything is. I do have Scrivener but I’ve only ever used it to compile ebooks, I just can’t be doing with all the fancy features. I’m sure if I got my head round it then it would be helpful but I’m a creature of habit and I stick with what I know.

For any large project (aka a novel) I always start with a brainstorming file where I just free type. I ask myself questions, I answer them, I call myself names (and type that too) and just general ramble until I work out everything I need to know about the story. I then pull the relevant information out and sort it in a numbers of files: plot info, character info, world details etc. so it’s easily referenced. Sometimes if I have less detail then it’s all just in one file, occasionally I don’t even pull it from the brainstorming file and just work from that (if I’m running really light).

However, for my normal extreme planning once I have all the details in their respective files I do a bullet point scene by scene outline, which is again in another file called outline. On a normal day when I’m writing I usually only open the outline and the plot info file, in addition to the novel itself and my working file. Now what do I mean by working file? I mean everyday I create a new file which is called #file number Day “day of the month” e.g. today if I work on Carbon Scars the file will be #16 Day Two. At the end of the day I copy everything I wrote into the combined novel file.

Why do I do it like this? To be honest I think it was something I started to do during my very first NaNo and it’s just stuck. I guess I like being able to easily tell how much I’ve written in a day. I’m a very linear writer so it’s not that I need it to write out of order but sometimes I do have to go back and rework a draft while it’s in progress (I know I shouldn’t but sometimes I can’t move forward until I do), and then it’s helpful for that as the working file is all choppy and disconnected, but everything is slotted into place in the main file.

Do you have any tips or tricks to share that have helped you?
Well I would recommend the working file method, as it’s very accurate then as to how much I’ve written in a day, especially if I have to chop and change a bit on any previous words. I can highlight any “reused words” in red in the working file, and then at the end of the day (after copying everything into the main novel file) just delete everything in red to get the accurate count.

I would also say make sure you have all your writing files available to you wherever you go. I can guarantee that whatever you forget to bring will be the one file you need. So stick it in the cloud, carry it on a USB stick, just keep it with you. Obviously this only applies to trips where there will be an opportunity to write. However, even if there isn’t a known opportunity, I’d still say keep some method of writing about your person. Whether that’s a phone with a notes app, or a notebook and pen for some handwriting, you never know when you’ll need to jot something down. The biggest lie we tell ourselves is “I’ll remember that” so write it down.

Just be consistent with your organisation too, so there’s never any confusion. If you do every project the same way then it’ll always be clear. Also never delete anything. You never know when you might need to look back and check something. An idea might seem beyond salvaging but you never know, there might be something about it: a detail, a character, a particular plot point etc. which can be repurposed in something else. Plus I think it helps sometimes to look back and see how far you’ve come. So keep everything, just in case.