Writing

Less Than True, Greater Than A Lie: Writing what your characters think vs. what they do

Have you ever created a scale of values for your characters?

Grace the Mace would say hers looked something like this:

Strangers < Friends < Comfort < Pride < Ambitions < Survival < Mum

The truth, interestingly enough, looks a little more like this:

Comfort < Strangers < Pride < Survival <Friends < Ambitions < Mum

The differences between a character’s self-perception and their true values is often as telling as the scale itself.

That said, it can be tricky to portray a difference between perceived values and actual values within your writing, especially in first person or third person close. The narration must strike a balance between being true to the truth, and being true to the character’s perception of the truth.

The best way I’ve found to stick to both sides of the story at once is to set the opposites right next to one another—as I did with Dalvin’s coin and discourtesy in this passage, and again later with one of my favorite lines in the book:

Dalvin scowled, dug in her purse for a silver dragon, and flung it at the girl. “Get a pair of shoes, and stop being such a worthless friend.”

Grace constantly outs herself by what she’s willing—and unwilling—to give up. While neither her words nor the narration will admit to it, she proves her scale of values again and again by what she sacrifices.

Of course, the same can be done with a character who thinks themselves benevolent or benign, and proves, without a hitch in the narrative’s self-assurance, to do entirely cruel or thoughtless things. One need look no further than The Children of the Light in The Wheel of Time, The Shepherdess in The Legend of Eli Monpress, or Eli Ever from Vicious to find characters of that stripe.

These sorts of internal discrepancies are not just allowable in fiction, they’re to be expected! Cognitive dissonance is a very real part of the human makeup, and a character with impeccable self-perception is an incredible rarity—and I’m not just talking about the female lead who thinks herself plain or ugly when everyone else considers her gorgeous. Don’t take your characters’ word on who they are and what they value. See what they sacrifice when push comes to shove—and let the reader see the truth for themselves.

What do your character’s value scales look like? Do they know themselves as well as they think they do? Leave a comment!

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Bonus scale:

The values of Weylah, the Mum in question, would go something like this:

Comfort < Pretty Things < Plants < Animals < Strangers = Friends = Lovers = Family

Her self-perception… doesn’t exist. She’s like the opposite of a narcissist. When she reflects, it’s never on herself except in terms of how she could better serve her values–i.e., people.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Grace the Mace now available for sale on Kindle and in paperback.

 

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One Scene After Another

Recently, I was reflecting on how I got better at drawing. Not ‘good,’ not in the context of all the truly good artists out there. But good enough to make me (and even a few other people) happy. Good enough to make fan art of the stories no one else is making fan art for—mostly, the stories in my own head, or in the heads of my friends.

I realized that I’d been trying to get good at drawing the same way I’d gotten good at writing—on one project. For years, I wrote and revised and re-wrote and re-revised one book until I was a good writer. That was how I learned, and it worked for me. But every time I sat down to draw, I would slave painstakingly for hours, trying to erase and redo bad lines while leaving the good lines intact—just like I’d done with writing. I wanted to be able to tweak this one picture until it was good enough, but I’d have to give up in frustration and settle for what I got, because drawing doesn’t work like that.

The thing about a novel—one scene can take a dozen hours, and one novel can take scores of scenes. If you write a novel that’s not quite right, that might be a few hundred hours that you poured into this Not Quite Right Manuscript. It makes perfect sense to spend another twenty or fifty hours making it Quite Right. But here’s where I fell down. A drawing isn’t a novel. It’s more like a single scene. You can fiddle and tweak, but after a bit, even if it’s not perfect yet, you’ve got to leave it alone and move on to the next one or you’ll never get anywhere.

Then I decided to try gel-ink drawing. I had a new sketchbook, and I determined that I was going to draw at least one face or figure sketch every day. And man, a gel-ink pen is unforgiving. It was so much bolder than I was, and mistakes had to be integrated or ignored—they couldn’t be erased. And that forced me to work faster. I couldn’t perfect them if I couldn’t employ erasure–or even much in the way of subtlety. So I turned a new page and drew, every day, for a couple of months.

And what I had at the end of that time? It wasn’t even the improved skill level that mattered so much, though that was nice. It was the difference in the way I sat down to draw. The mindset that if this one wasn’t good enough, instead of editing it until it was, (an improbability, since at a low skill level I might not even really know what was wrong,) I should do it faster, let it go, and save the time and energy for trying it again tomorrow. Which led to my drawing a lot more figures and faces, because with the freedom to leave them mistake-riddled, even bad, I was drawing a lot faster and more easily. Not looking behind me, not “line editing,” just looking ahead to the next, better thing. Just putting one scene after another.

Maybe there’s something in that for writing, too.

The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale: Book One of The Outlaws of Avalon

Welcome to Avalon, a Renaissance Faire where heroes of legend never die. Where the Robin Hood walking the streets is truly the noble outlaw himself. Where the knightly and wizardly players of King Arthur’s court are in fact who they profess to be. Where the sense of enchantment in the air is not mere feeling, but the Fey magic of a paradise hidden in plain sight.

Enter Allyn-a-Dale. The grief of his father’s death still fresh and the doom of his own world looming, swirling realities leave the young minstrel marooned in an immortal Sherwood Forest, where he is recruited as a member of Robin Hood’s infamous outlaw band. But Allyn’s new life may reach its end before it’s scarcely begun. Their existence under threat, the Merry Men are called upon to embark on a journey to the dangerous world Outside – ours – on a quest which must be achieved without delay, or eternity in Avalon will not amount to very long at all.

Cover and Spine, Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale

Okay, full disclosure time: I’m best friends with the author.

Fuller disclosure time: this book is the reason I’m best friends with the author.

I was plugging my own WIP of the time on a National Novel Writing Month forum, and the then-unpublished Danielle E. Shipley messaged me, asking to hear excerpts of my work. Flattered, I sent her my opening scene. Then she sent me her opening scene in return.

Full disclosure again? I winced when I saw the message. Fact is, most people’s first drafts aren’t worth looking at, and I hadn’t actually volunteered myself as a reader for some stranger’s project. But, feeling obligated–after all, she was reading my first draft–I decided to look it over.

I was stunned. It didn’t read like a first draft at all. It read like a–like a novel! Like one I’d keep reading! And so I did, eagerly awaiting every section as she wrote it, as she awaited mine. And over the course of those shared manuscripts and conversations, we became fast friends.

It’s been a few years since then, and the manuscript has been through some revisions. It’s even better now. It’s been through some drafts, and she’s become a better writer. She’s now worked as a player at the Faire that inspired the “What If” behind the story, and she’s gotten to know and understand the hearts of these characters better than ever.

It’s rich and silly and beautiful and hilarious and deep. It’s not one hundred percent to my taste–I tend to like “grittier” and more intrigue-fraught books than this–but it’s an exactly perfect version of what it’s meant to be.

For fans of the Wilderhark Tales, this is the urban fantasy continuation you didn’t know that you needed–but that you desperately needed. For newcomer’s to Miss Shipley’s works, know that The Outlaws of Avalon, while connected to the Wilderhark world, is a series all its own, and a perfectly good place to start. It’s where I started!

 

My Review

For fans of the Merry Men, Ren Faires, or lighthearted, magic-just-around-the-bend urban fantasy, The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale is an automatic win.

As with all of D.E. Shipley’s works, characters are the driving force behind the unique story and beautiful style–and as usual, they are individual, charming, and full of life.

Meet Allyn-a-Dale, a young minstrel whose heart is fresh from a tragedy. He’s just as freshly fallen from the magical secrets of his own world, and into the magical secrets of a modern Renaissance Faire. With his late father’s voice still ringing in his head, (Gant-o-the-Lute is quite the charismatic figure in his own right, even as an imagined echo,) the adaptable bard tentatively finds a new family in the Merry Men.

The Merry Men… you’ll find the upstanding and surprisingly straight-laced Robin Hood, Marion “the fun aunt” Hood, the frighteningly-quiet and hilariously deadpan Little John, and… Will Scarlet. Incorrigible, indomitable, energetic, babbling, brave, manic, shameless, luminous fan-favorite Will Scarlet. Just wait till you meet him. You’ll see. You’ll see.

What might have been a sweet, comedy-filled coming-of-age story takes a sharp and sudden turn into action-adventure, theft, a car chase, magical shenanigans, and battles with fantastic forces. I wish I could show you some of my fan art, but–alas, spoilers! Suffice it to say, Ballad drew me in with its voice, characters, and worlds, but it riveted me with its peril.

In a melodic style that matches the magic and minstrelsy inherent to the story, Danielle E. Shipley spins out a story that is at once fantastic, funny, sweet, melancholy, and dangerous.

Links!

The beautiful paperback is available on Amazon and at Createspace, and the e-book is available via Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and Overdrive.

Here’s Danielle’s release post–complete with potential prizes! 😀

 

Grace the Mace: Now Released!

Grace has always been there for her mother, ever since she was old enough to bite the legs of those thugs and leeches that called themselves lovers. Ever since she was old enough to understand the world in a way her mother never would.

Now, she comes home every winter with blood money from a year of running with a band of sellswords. No more scrounging in midden heaps and cutting purses for a low court lord to survive the lean months.

But this year, home is as dangerous as the battlefield. Tensions are running through the street courts of her old slums, while a new and daunting lover has confounded her safeguards and gotten at her mum–and now they’re all tangled in a vicious turf war.

Is one lone mercenary enough to protect her own? Can she trust anyone else to do the job?

Grace the Mace Cover

Now available for $2.99 on Kindle and for $5.99 in paperback!

My Five Favorite Things About This Book

(Sans Spoilers)

1.  I finally get to introduce a bit of the world I’ve been building for the last eight years! This isn’t the story I expected to be sharing first–I thought that would be Sy’s story, Ever the Actor, but the story and world grew so complex, with each new draft trying to catch up to my latest revelation, that I had to take a step back from the manuscript. What better way to do that than to write an entire novella set over two centuries earlier in the same world?

2. Grace herself. She was an enigma of a character for several years, angrily stewing in the back of my mind. When I finally unlocked her, I was delighted by her (often hilarious) contradictions–chill and passionate, self-serving and selfless, stubborn and flexible, cruel and kind. It’s been a fun challenge, trying to show the truth of her dual and tangled nature throughout the narrative.

3. The swearing. That girl’s got the most interesting, varied, and versatile curses I’ve ever heard, borrowing indiscriminately from the filthiest sentiments of four different cultures. All my other characters have been pretty basic– “Chance damn it,” and “Seed of man and beast!” and “Early frost, woman!” and “What complete rot,”–but this chick’s on a whole new level.

4. The cover. Yeah, I’ve got to admit, one of my favorite things about my book is the picture on the cover. The sum total of my contribution to the cover was, A, a detailed commission request, and B, the all-too-necessary but faintly detracting addition of the title and author’s name. The talent behind the art is DarianaLoki… But I spent a whole other post gushing about that!

5. It’s a book I’d want to read. I’d enjoy the characters, the voice, the themes, the plot, the setting… It can be hard to step back and look at a work objectively after months spent immersed within it, but evaluating it as accurately as I can… I think Reader Me would love this even more than Writer Me. That’s partly because Writer Me has an anxious ego at stake, but mostly because this is exactly the sort of content Reader Me pores over shelves in search of. And that, my friends, is sweet success.

My Five Least Favorite Things About This Book

(Sans Spoilers)

1. It’s got hardly any magic, so I don’t get to show off my awesome system! Bah!

2. It’s a little tough to categorize. My instinct is to call it fantasy, but I don’t want people thinking there’s more magic and mythical creatures in it than there are. But they’re there! They’re just… fringe. But it’s still got a very fantasy world feel. Should I call it Fantasy Lite? Diet Fantasy? Low-Mana Fantasy?

3. It’s a novella! No hate to novellas, but I’m more of a novel fan, and I was sort of surprised when it didn’t come out longer. Still, I’m not going to force it full of fluff to fulfill some arbitrary page-count ideal in my head. She is what she is.

4. Oh, this had me banging my head against a wall: trying to write dialogue for a major character who’s reluctant to say anything. At all. Who has a lot to say, but likes to talk like a minimalist, if he must be more than a mime. Oh my gooooooosh. Just taaaaaaalk like everybody else, man. But! That struggle is in the past. I think I found the balance for him to express what had to be expressed without violating the truth of his character.

5. Writing blurbs and short pitches for it! Trying take the central themes (“Uh, sacrifice, mommy issues, bitterness, and trust?”) and the more concrete aspects of the story (“Oh, lots of snark, warriors doin’ macho stuff, ye olde inner city gang wars, death and struggle, some sex, some flowers, and tense family dinners,”) and fit them together–and to do it in two to four tight paragraphs? Impossible. But that’s ever my aim, nonetheless.

Now available for $2.99 on Kindle and for $5.99 in paperback!

I look forward to hearing about your five favorite–and yes, even your five least favorite–things about Grace the Mace!

Excerpt I

Excerpt II

Excerpt III

 

Write it Wrong

There’s something about writing in a separate document from my work-in-progress document that really takes the pressure off. For one thing, in the slag pile, there’s no such thing as a blank page. For another, when I’m writing something in a story that’s been going really well, looking really good, and suddenly I’m not confident about what I’m writing, I’ll usually slow down. Stop. Re-do a sentence or paragraph over and over, question the content, the concept. Here, it’s a slag pile. I’m writing the scene that needs to be written, but I’m writing it in between free-form babble and concept prattling and brainstorming notes for a future epic, emotional journal entries and… well, what I can only describe as word-doodles:

Missing wishing pity smithing wherewithal to find the binding grind of cogs that wind up doing the f—ing thing I asked for in the first place, eh? Can’t screw my eyes right into my brain.

Well, okay. Stay away in the grey miry May. Sweltering in the aimless heat of the mind.

Wtf is that? I did that? I do that? Holy cuss. I’ll quite literally write anything that goes through my mind in this document, won’t I?

And that’s the beauty of it. I can start a section when I’m not sure whether it will work. I can write a paragraph I’m uncertain of, and then continue past it to write more. Because whatever it is, for heaven’s sake, it’s competing with “Missing wishing pity smithing”! (And believe me, I was kind to myself in choosing an excerpt with real actual words.)

It might work, it might not. It might have to be heavily edited, it might not. I might throw the whole thing out altogether, I might learn only what won’t work in the section I’m looking for. But dude, now I’ve written it, because there was no pressure to make it fit with the rest of the story, no pressure to get it right, no pressure to make sure it’s functional. Only the pressure to type, to try, and to see what the muse gives me today.

If the section works, sounds good for a scene or a blog post or whatever, then I copy it over to its appropriate document and edit it into place. If it doesn’t work, if it’s not good enough, no big. It’s a slag pile. It’s where I pour out all the word-buildup that gunks my brain. It’s okay if I write it wrong. It doesn’t need to be anything.

And because it doesn’t need to be anything, especially, I can let it become something, particularly.

Scrap from a Slag Pile

With this document, I hope, begins a new era. But then, I’m always hoping for a new era, aren’t I? But don’t I get them? New eras, they don’t come because of one decision, one thing, but they do come, because I won’t stop trying another new thing. I won’t give up my attempts. So maybe this will languish, and falter, and fall, but it’s an attempt, and for that, I’m glad. It’s a sign that I keep trying.

Trying what, you say? Oh, a hell of a lot of things. Trying to write, to blog, to finish something. Trying to do a good work. Trying to sort out my thoughts. Trying to give my life shape, to fashion it into an arrow, aim it at an end goal, see it fly true. To change. To become more. To become great.

How will one new document, one new project idea, help me do that? Oh, it probably won’t. I’ve tried enough of them by now to know that I’m likely going to stop in a week or so. That makes me sad. But it’s… it’s almost not the point. The point is that I’ve got to keep getting up and trying something, another something, another something, until all of these attempts and false starts and unfinished stories and stories finished years after they were started add up into something, add up into MY story, the story I want to tell.

The big idea with this little concept is that if I create a slag pile, maybe I’ll be able to do year-‘round what I do during NaNoWriMo. Write. Write every day. Write bullsh*t if I must. And when I say that, I mean serious, face-to-keyboard, weeping-on-my-knees, copy-and-paste-a-paragraph-in-pure-cheating-disgrace bullsh*t. Hideous. But I do what I must to get my daily count.

And apparently, that’s something I need to do. Because for every day I write like a worthless gobsh*te, there are two other days. One is a journal day, where I write the sort of thing I’m writing right now, writing from my soul, writing to explain myself to myself. And that is good. Sometimes it becomes a blog post, sometimes it goes nowhere, but that’s not the chief point. The chief point is that sometimes, to quote Flannery O’Connor, I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.

And then there’s that other day. Zombie-mumble days, Dear Diary days, and, glory be, Story days! These are good. Hard, harder than writing like this. So much harder to be satisfied with any passing paragraph; that’s why I can’t do it every day. Some days, I just don’t have it. But if I don’t try, I don’t know. Do I have it today, or not? How many days have passed that I could have written good story and I didn’t?

So this is what it’s for. A thousand words every day, a thousand words of I-don’t-give-a-crap. Just to see… can I do it today? Can I write something that means something today? Can I write a story today? If not, ah well. But now I know. This is a grab for the brass ring, and whether I reach it or not, I mean to lean out, stretch my fingers, and snatch at it on every single go-‘round.

Will this 1K-a-day challenge collapse? Probably. I’m bad at doing anything every single day. But another challenge will rise up after it. I’ll find one, or make one up. One desperate gambit at a time, I will drag myself into authorship. This is my story.

Deerstalkers and Hands-Free Blackberries

*Walks along in rain, contemplating Serious Decisions in my Writing Career Plans*

*Stares down at rainwater rushing past feet in a stream, begins by extension to contemplate the condition of the universe, man, chaos, order, and art*

*Angst and ennui* *Everything is so much vague but potent feeling or something*

*Glances up and sees a deer, freezes*

*Deer glances up, sees a me, freezes*

*Deer goes back to grazing*

*Swallows whoop of excitement, begins stalking deer*

*Freezes every time deer glances up*

*Crouches in brush, creeps through trees*

*Scares deer away*

*Laughs and runs back through grass, thoroughly soaked*

*Sees drips of water on leaves, licks them off*

*Sees blackberries, makes game of eating them off their bushes without hands*

*Ow ow ow thorns*

*Walks home in rain, contemplating serious decisions in my writing career plans*

*Green hair plastered to head, can’t stop grinning, can’t take self too seriously because just stalked deer for no reason and ate hands-free blackberries*

*Yay for rain! Yay for the universe, man, chaos, order, and art!*

And so my quest to become the Manic Pixie Dream Girl to my own Angsty Serious Artist carries on swimmingly.