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?

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Assassin’s Creed: An Overview

There are 12 Assassin Creed games and I own 11 of them (+ Liberation as it was bundled with III). I don’t own Unity because I read so many comments about it being ‘buggy’ that it put me off. I didn’t feel any particular draw to the location either. If it had been super cheap like the earlier games I might have decided to try it, but even with the Steam sale it wasn’t quite cheap enough so I decided to skip it.

Anyway, I’ve talked a couple of times about reducing my backlog of games so this weekend I booted the games that I’d not even touched. I’ve now at least loaded all of the Assassin’s Creed games. Breaking it down game by game, this is what I thought:

Continue reading

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.

Drawing 4: MerMay

Oh dear. I started the last post, critiquing March’s drawing going “third month running! I’m sticking to my promise” aka “Yay!” and now it’s August. In my defence I did a drawing in April but it wasn’t digital, it was with colouring pencils. I attempted a landscape for my mum’s birthday. So theoretically that could have kinda counted for April’s drawing and I did start this one in May – it was for MerMay as the title says – but then I never finished it.

I was without my PC for three weeks end of May and into June. I should have then picked the drawing up but I’d started a ridiculous number of fanfic WIPs while I was without a computer. So I sort of lost the rest of June and July to clearing the decks a little bit. Unfortunate because I did sign up for a drawing course – which I haven’t touched. Still, the intentions are very much there so all is not lost in my art goals for the year just yet.

Anyway the drawing! It was done as a cover for the Sanctuary fanfic I wrote The Tragic Tail.

I have to be honest I tried something new with this one. I did the bulk of the drawing in Clip Studio Paint, as opposed to just the line work and then swapping to Photoshop. I used an oil brush and painted, rather than doing block colouring and then blending. I don’t think it would have worked so well if I hadn’t had references that I was basically just copying. It was interesting though using a new tool.

I’m quite pleased with how the icebergs at the back came out, and the lifeboat on the left is pretty good too. The lines of the Titanic itself are a bit wobbly in places but through basically copying the reference I managed to capture the general impression I think. The ice on top of the water was more difficult and I’m not sold on that. I think it needed more highlights. I also think I over blurred in the end the mermaids body that was under the water, and I didn’t manage to draw waves, the ocean looks far too flat really.

Still considering it’s a cover it actually looks quite nice thumbnail size, which is always a good test for a cover. I like how the title came out. I’m pretty pleased with the overall effect. It’s quite simple in a lot of respects. I know I said that I felt I over blended on the last drawing I did, and I don’t think I have quite the same issue on this one. Usually I spend forever on the face but I did the mermaid quite quickly, and I didn’t worry so much about it being too dark/too light with the shadows. Some of that I think is that I wasn’t trying to capture a likeness, and also it’s a mermaid not a person which I think tricked my brain a little bit.

I think I’ll have to try again doing more colouring in Clip Studio Paint. I swapped to Photoshop for fiddling with the lighting, adding some textures etc. and of course the text. Now technically I owe at least three drawings – June, July and May (or August if we’re counting this one for May as I started it then) – and possibly April as well if we don’t count the pencil landscape I did.

As I said I bought a drawing course for coloured pencils so I see a lot more of those in my future. I need to have a think about my drawing goals and what will best serve me in terms of art progression. I thought that the pencil drawing course might help me with fundamentals which I could then apply to digital but we’ll see if that’s true or not. Either way I hope it’ll make me a better artist.