Tami Parker Fantasy Author & Other Duties as Assigned

CategoryWriting

Writing Development – The Waterfall Method

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What do software development principles have to do with writing?

Rather a lot, actually! I’m finding the parallels fascinating, and I thought I’d bring you along on this learning journey.

(Bear with me here. I started a different post about how Lean UX principles and ideas can be applied to writing … and then I went off on a TamiTangent and my very first vocabulary word is long enough for its own blog post.) (more…)

A New Kind of Plotting

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I just saw this on tumblr and I need to share it with you.

It’s an infographic someone developed to help you plot. And it’s absolutely, mind-bogglingly amazing.

Thing is? I’m not going to show it to you here because the original creator deserves the credit and blog traffic.

So please. Click through to see this wonderful graphic. It is absolutely well-worth your time.

CLICK HERE FOR THE PLOTTING GRAPHIC

Hawaii – Research

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Note to my readers: This is not a “post”, per se. It’s a compilation of the research I’ve done on Hawaii in preparation for a book that takes place on a similar (but not exactly the same) set of volcanic islands. Because I’ve never been to Hawaii, I rely heavily on tourist guides and online resources, but it’s nice to have a single place to reference what I find.

I post it mostly in case you’re curious to know what kind of research I do. And heck, once the book’s done, maybe you’ll be interested in going back and seeing where things were influenced.

(more…)

On Discouragement and “Hate Reading”

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The Unclimactic Climax

I unfollowed a blog the other day.

It was an excellent writer’s blog. Frequent updates of a very high quality, including a system to showcase old content that was still relevant but potentially new to many of the readers.

It was witty, entertaining, and it gave superb advice.

Unfortunately, I never once left it feeling fired up and excited to write.

I ALWAYS left it with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. A feeling of shame and worthlessness and hopelessness.

It’s Not You, It’s Me

It took me a very long time to realize what was happening because the blog itself is intended to help writers.

It must be me, I said to myself. His advice isn’t wrong. For example, I SHOULD write every day if I actually want to be a writer.

So I told myself the problem was with me rather than with his blog. That it was my failings as a writer that needed fixing. That I couldn’t turn away from the ugly truth just because I didn’t want to hear it. The very fact that I felt guilt when I read his advice was proof enough that I had something I knew I was doing wrong.

Right?

WRONG.

It’s Not Your Life, It’s Mine

So here’s the thing.

It doesn’t matter if he gave good advice.

He wasn’t giving good advice FOR ME.

I should have stopped following him months ago. Not only was I not his target audience, I was the opposite. I was the lazy wannabe writer he so often impaled on the sharpness of his wit.

I was reading because I thought it would make me a better writer but in truth all I was doing was hurting myself.

He didn’t lie or falsely advertise his blog.

HE TOLD ME HE WAS HOLDING A SPEAR. It’s hardly his fault I kept blindly running forward and stabbing myself with it.

His readership wants his message. Needs it. Theoretically, it is helping them hone their writing edge.

I Need Something Else

I want to spend my time on things that elevate me. Things that inspire me and make me feel good about writing. Things that make me think “hey, I could do that,” or “that’s a great idea, I should try that.”

I know that not all writing is rainbows and unicorns. I know that it’s often a slog. I know that selling a book is a combination of luck and skill that I can never guarantee.

I know, I know, I know.

So I don’t need to keep rubbing my face in it. It doesn’t help me any more than it does a dog or cat making a mess on the carpet.

I need positive reinforcement.

“Hate Reading”

I mention it to you because I realized what I was doing and I want you to stop and think about the social media YOU consume.

Granted, my example is writing related, but you’re not all writers here. You probably ARE all folks who wade in the complex, foggy miasma of the InterWebs.

Do you have blogs that you follow out of a sense of obligation or duty?

Do you have content you read that riles you up in a bad way, that angers or sickens or disgusts you on the regular?

Is it affecting your well-being throughout the day? Is it affecting your pleasure in activities you used to enjoy? Is your reaction to it affecting your friends or family?

Then my suggestion is … maybe stop hate reading.

Maybe stop reading things that make you feel hate.

Self-Defense

YOU HAVE PERMISSION TO PROTECT YOURSELF.

The world is out there and as an American citizen who Can See The Shit Happening, I know how easy it is to fall down several different kinds of awful, horrible, wells.

I know how easy it is to feel like you HAVE to read it. You HAVE to expose yourself to this awfulness because if you don’t, you’re just deliberately being ignorant.

Right?

Wrong.

Just because you aren’t deliberately diving into a river of sewage daily in order to Make Yourself A Better Person, that doesn’t mean you have to be ignorant of what’s happening and that you can’t or shouldn’t do the right thing.

Find Your Warriors

There are people out there who THRIVE on this. There are people for whom it isn’t hate reading. They are our warriors, our defenders, our champions. I salute them and I depend upon them.

I try to find those people and read what they share and listen to what they have to say, because I am trying to find a balance somewhere between burying my head in the sand and caring so much I shred the heart on my sleeve daily.

I pick my battles based on my energy levels and the things around me. I vote with my money. I vote with my vote. I don’t back down when “mild” racism or misogyny crop up in my life. (Well, I try. I’m not even close to perfect, but I am making an effort).

Honor those on the front line fighting the battles you cannot.

And Unfollow The Rest

Everyone has a different limit. For me, that particular writing blog was having the opposite effect on me – I associated writing with failure, which is just about the worst thing that could have happened to my productivity.

(Sorry, the blog was encroaching on politics there, so I’m wrapping it up. I’m not interested in preaching to a choir OR a lively round of sea-lioning from anyone looking to spark a debate.)

I just … I want everyone to drop any burdens they don’t need. If you can lighten your mental and emotional load, please consider doing it.

NaNoWriMo – Modified

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I … am attempting a thing.

NaNoWriMo

As many of you may know, November is known as National Novel Writing Month, a self-inflicted game whose only real rule seems to be reaching a wordcount of 50,000 before December.

The benefits of this exercise are well documented — it forces you to set aside your internal editor and aspirations of Perfection in the interests of just getting the bloody words out already. It also fosters a feeling of community as the lonely art of writing becomes an activity discussed and celebrated in group format.

The downsides area also publicly lamented — quantity over quality rarely yields publishable results and the grueling pace it demands doesn’t forgive even single-day failures or missteps. Miss a day and you’ve got a LOT of work to do in order to catch back up … and that work happens to fall on a dreaded Family Holiday Month.

My Sordid NaNoWriMo History

I have “won” NaNoWriMo twice.

Neither time yielded a marketable story. Neither time yielded a revisable story. In truth, neither time yielded a story I ever wanted to see ever again, may it burn in hell for a billion years.

Ahem.

That being said, I don’t regret either of them, and some of the lessons I learned on those frantic months are ones I could probably do with a refresher for.

I did get a coupon that allowed me to purchase Scrivener for a drastically reduced price, which is still my all-time favorite software (the mac version. The Windows version is gaaaarbage).

I also got a lifetime pass to the Complain About NaNoWriMo club, which is nothing to sneeze at. *wink*

Lessons
My Primary Goal:

  • Build a Habit of Making Time For Writing

Additional Reminders I Need:

  • Stop Waiting For Perfect
  • Stop Making Excuses About Not Having Time
  • Remember What the Flow of Writing Feels Like
  • Any Draft (Even an Admittedly Terrible One) is Better Than Nothing
  • Push Through the Saggy Middle Doldrums

“Lessons” I can Live Without:

  • Not Writing A Lot Every Day is Doom
  • Meet This Goal Or Fail
  • Florid Writing Is Better Than Clean, Concise Writing
  • Any Plot Point Will Do As Long As You Don’t Stop
  • Don’t Stop Dear God Don’t Stop Ever

This Year

I’m not doing NaNoWriMo this year.

At least, not according to the rules. (breakin’ the lawr, breakin’ the lawr)

I want to build the writing habit, and I want to do it in a way that encourages me to continue without using the Sharp, Pointy Stick of Failure to “motivate” me.

New Goal

So instead of the almighty Word Count as my goal, I am instead going to set myself a Number Of Days goal.

How many days? In a utopia, I’d write every day. While we don’t (yet) live in a distopia … we are still miles away from ideal. (Which is not to disparage the advice to write every day. It’s got its place and purpose, but it is not my goal for this challenge).

So instead, I am going to focus on what I know I want to get out of this, which is a habit.

So! I’m going to steadily increase my involvement, with an eye toward reasonable goals … even considering Teslacon at the beginning of the month, Thanksgiving at the rear, and an absurd number of social events in the middle.

Calendar Time!

November has days on five separate weeks, with the first and final weeks having fewer days.

  • The first week of November, my goal is to write 2 times.
  • The second and third week of November, my goal is to write 3 times.
  • The fourth week of November, my goal is to write 4 times.
  • The fifth week of November, my goal is to write 3 times.

If I miss a day, I can make it up in a following week.

My Monthly goal is 12 writing sessions.

What Does It Mean to “Write”?

I have to be specific, because Procrastinating-Against-Writing Me is really good at finding loopholes. Just as my super-clean house every time I try to work on a plot wrinkle.

Rules, rules, rules:

  1. Writing must be on Creative Works. It can be a short story or a novel-length work or anything in between, but it cannot be emails or blog posts.
  2. Writing must be at least 45 minutes in length. I have a sand timer to assist me in this endeavor.For those who do not follow the Writing Excuses podcast, the sand timer was a tool they recommended because it runs out of time SILENTLY, so if you’re in the middle of a good flow, you often just keep going without realizing your self-imposed time has run out.
  3. Writing CAN include minor research.But if details can be bracketed out with [[Find out How Vodka Is Distilled And Add Details Here]] they should be.
  4. Writing CAN include “Crap, How Do I Fix This Plot Point” type planning…. but not for two sessions in a row. If I am more than one-session worth of stuck, I need to skip over it, work around it, or phone a friend to help me iron it out before the next session.
  5. Writing does not include Editing for the purposes of this NaNoWriMo challenge.

So Stick That In Your Pipe and Smoke It, November

I’m hoping that by openly blogging about this, it’s more likely to stick. “Secret” goals are a lot easier to shrug off when things are a lot less shiny around week two and three of a new habit.

I think I’m finally ready to stop dipping my toe into the wading pool of flash fiction twiddles (though I do hope some of you have been enjoying those) and get back into a more serious mindset.

If anyone wants to join me in any sort of November Writing Festivities, I’d love to hear what you’re doing and have a buddy (or three) who are also rising up to meet goals that have been consistently pushed aside.

Show Me Your Vampire

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Lazy Vampires

I think one of the things that really bugs me about popular media portrayal of vampires is how often they seem to waste their time.

They’re immortal, right? Many of the popular ones are hundreds of years old. Yet when we meet them, they seem like teenagers or normal people, with no sign of having taken that most precious gift — unlimited time — and using it to better themselves.

And then I think to myself, “Heh, so they’re doing what most people do. Procrastinating. Not starting. Not finishing. Swinging from one day to the next watching Netflix or playing video games.”

Ouch, I says to myself. But I’m not wrong.

Apples

Perry and I have a shorthand communication tool that we used, based on an ancient Cracked article he sent me many moons ago.

“Making apples”

There’s nothing wrong with eating apples. With consuming media and entertainment. Heck, those who produce content would be nothing without fans.

But if you feel called or compelled to create. If you define yourself as a creator — a writer, an artist, a musician — there IS something wrong with never actually producing apples.

If I am not writing, I am not a writer.

There’s wiggle room in there, of course. But I’m sure as hell not fooling myself when I say I’m “thinking about writing” and weeks fly by without any actual wordcount happening. I know what I’m doing. I know that fear is what is keeping me from making apples. Hell, I even know how to conquer that fear — by giving it the swift kick in the teeth of sitting down and actually writing.

And yet.

Daydream Time

So I found myself judging vampires for their laziness and I want to ask yourself some questions.

If you knew you could live forever (and let’s be generous here and say that you won’t be murdered by monster hunters or turn into a bloodthirsty beast with no self control. Let’s assume this forever looks an awful lot like your today …. but maybe you’ve got ten million dollars starting capital to work with.

And why not, let’s go ahead and give you a hearty dollop of motivation. Your mental health issues? Gone. You have the energy and the stick-tuitiveness to enable you to actually take advantage of this opportunity.

You’re rich, healthy, and young forever as long as you don’t like … fall chest-first on a silver-tipped stake or something.

What do you do?

What do your days look like? Do you have a job? Start a company? Invent something? Learn to play the accordion? Finally take those yodeling lessons you’ve always yearned for?

Go ahead and daydream your perfect you. Mine can play multiple musical instruments. She writes novels and short stories and rides a horse like she was born on it. She speaks a dozen languages fluently enough to travel the world. She cooks and bakes and has a square-foot garden the size of a football field, filled with flowers and vegetables and trees and wild birds.

That’s what my vampire would be like.

Bringing it Back To Earth

Now that you know that. Now that you have painted this obviously impossible picture, because you don’t have enough years in your life to do all those things …

… are there any small steps you could make in your life now that would get you closer to those goals? Any portions of that picture that are more precious than others? Any piece of it worth being brave enough to take those steps?

Show Me Your Vampire

I’d love to know what your vampire looks like.

What big risks would you take if your success was guaranteed?

Are there any small risks you can take today?

Improving Tropes and Cliches

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You know that thing? That situation you read over and over again, because it’s just so satisfying that authors can’t help to use it?

We all have those tropes we love no matter what.

But … but what if we inject some reality into that situation, eh?

Take, for instance, the handsome hero watching his beautiful heroine sleep. (after she completely consentually allowed him in her bed, mind you. Some tropes are toxic.)

Typically, it’s all very romantic. He admires the sweep of her hair, the brush of her eyelashes, the softness of her cheekbones. Whatever, you get the gist.

Well, I hate to break it to you? But I am a VERY active sleep-talker.

So the reality I would inject into that scene would probably involve me sitting bolt upright, staring directly at him, and telling him the avocados are safe. Potentially with a charming dash of me shrieking and slapping at the blankets because sleep-me thinks they’re filled with spiders.

(These are based on actual sleep-talking-Tami events, by the way. In no way fabricated, even the bit about the avocados).

I would love (lovelovelove) if anyone in the readership can think of a wonderful, beautiful trope … and slap some hilarious reality into it to give it a new spin.

“Only one bed, I guess we’ll have to share it” is even more exciting when paired with “Snores like a sailor and steals all the covers”.

“Love notes from a secret admirer” improves greatly when “he has such horrible handwriting that she spends her lunch hour with her besties trying to decipher his message.”

Lay it on me, I wanna hear them. <3

Making the Reader Care about Your Characters

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Save the Cat

Most of you have heard the term “Save the Cat”, popularized by the excellent book by the same name — Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder.

“Save the Cat” refers to an early beat in a story outline where the main character does something that makes the audience like them. You can take a grouchy, mean, violent anti-hero of a main character and have them do something redeeming (saving a kitten from a tree, for example) early enough in the story, and suddenly you have the audience rooting for them and hoping they succeed.

It’s like a magic trick that keeps on working even after you explain the secret.

Make Me Care

Thing is, it’s not just about making the character do a good deed — it’s about making the reader CARE about them and what happens to them.

You may think that your character is plenty likable, and you don’t really need to worry about having the readers care because surely they will adore your character just as much as you do … but the truth of the matter is, even if you have the sweetest, kindest main character ever to grace the pages of a novel, you STILL have to do something that makes me care.

Maybe you’re lucky enough to get it by accident, but for those of you like me who want to have more of a deliberate approach to this sort of thing, let’s talk.

Why Should I Care About This Character?

Because just having your character save a cat when that has nothing to do with the theme or plot of your story … that’s going to fall flat, isn’t it?

So ask yourself — why do you (the author) like the character? What aspects of their personality really draw you to them? What habits do they have that you think the reader will like or care about?

Show those early. HIGHLIGHT those early.

Your character has an adorable nervous tic where she doodles in the margins of her papers when she’s listening to someone, but maybe it looks like she’s not paying attention at all? Show me that.

Your character is depressed and heartbroken and lonely and it seems like all is lost … but he comes home to build the most intricate tiny dollhouses in his spare time? Show me that.

Your character has crazy mood swings and speaks entirely in song lyrics? Show me that.

It sounds simple and silly, but it’s so easy to focus on pushing the story as fast as possible that you forget to tell me why I should care about this person. What makes THEM special.

Now That I Like Them …

More than that, now that you’ve got the groundwork for making me care about the character … show me what they want.

Show me the hole in their life.

Maybe they see it — someone looking for romance.

Maybe they don’t — someone who doesn’t realize how lonely they are.

It doesn’t matter if the character sees the hole as long as the reader can see it.

… Although if the character doesn’t see it, they still have to WANT something. Give them a goal. In most cases, they should have a plot-related goal, but maybe they have subplot-related goals, too.

I want to know what this character thinks they want (even if they don’t get it, or shouldn’t get it).

Get the Reader Asking Questions

Don’t underestimate the importance of having a character WANT something. Even something as silly and small as “I am thirsty, and thus want a glass of water” — that desire compels the character to DO something.

It forces action. If your character needs to be in the kitchen so that they meet up with the Genie-on-the-run who promises them three wishes in exchange for helping them get out from under the heels of their current master … don’t have your character go to the kitchen for no reason. Have them be thirsty.

It’s a small thing, but it’s huge in relation to the impact on the reader. It starts us asking questions — even tiny ones — like “will he get the water?”

And the moment we ask ourselves questions about what will happen, we’re already half-hooked on turning the page to find the answer.

Your Turn

What are some of your favorite stories (book/tv/movie/whatever) that have great early character moments that made you fall in love with them? What are some examples of it being done right?

Finish the Story: Darkness

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Join in for a lighthearted, no-pressure writing prompt. Leave your perfectionist at the door and follow a dangling story thread to see where it leads you.

I always post my story doodle in the comments, and I’d absolutely love to see yours as well if you feel comfortable sharing it!

The darkness was thick and suffocating, like a heavy blanket had been thrown on the world. He had to get over the wall, had to get across the border before …

Finding Happily Ever After

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Writing Prompts

Perry and I have been doodling together with the writing prompts I’ve been posting here on the board (you can typically find both of our entries in the comments for them).

In doing so, we’ve found some really interesting parallels in our writing. Our stories tend to be similar in tone or content, even with just a few scant sentences as a seed.

My theory is that this is because we both have a similar sense of “twist” but that’s not why we are here.

Grimdark

We’re here because we both agreed that some prompts WANTED to lead both of us down the path of grimdark.

And we both let it … but my stories tended to end with hope and brightness.

Maybe not a fairy tale Happily Ever After, but the sort of ending that I require in stories that I like to read.

(Both Perry and Faith can attest that I have a very low grimdark threshold)

He asked me how I did it, and until that point I’d never really thought of it, but the conversation has stuck in my head since then.

Where to End It

The answer was simple.

I push past the bad until I find the good on the other side of it.

You cannot have a story without the bad, and the most impactful stories often have very very bad indeed. I remember reading the Arrows of Valdemar series and just absolutely sobbing at the third book — and yet it has remained one of my all-time favorites. Not because it ignored the bad, but rather because it acknowledged the bad unflinchingly and promised light on the other side.

I’ve been listening to the elemental genre episodes of the Writing Excuses podcast and I had a related epiphany.

Horror ends in that grimdark most of the time. It takes you on a journey, stares into the eyes of gut-twisting dread, then leaves you there.

The stories that I write will look past that horrible and thus end up more likely being adventure with a sprinkling of mystery or romance.

SPOILERS AHOY – The Midnight Meat Train by Clive Barker.

A horror story such as The Midnight Meat Train follows a detective as he chases down a serial killer in the subways and just as he succeeds in that goal, he learns that the killer has been feeding horrible monsters that live beneath the earth, and now he either needs to continue feeding them or see the world befall a far worse fate.

The story DROPS you there, with that (wonderful, incredible) horrible twist. That feeling of something bad not only happening, but being worse than it was before.

Not all Horror follows this pattern, of course, but it is a common theme to see that the heroes do not, in fact, succeed in staving off the bad.

My story set in this world would probably take place AFTER the monsters irreparably damaged the world. Perhaps humanity has splintered off into post-apocalyptic tribes and our heroes trudge forth to defeat a monster. Or heck, maybe not defeat them at all, and simply have them as A Thing In The Background.

It doesn’t really matter where I would write it — the difference is that the horror story ends on a stunning note … which is not where I would end my story.

No “Happily Ever After” stays that way in my mind. The only thing that stays the same is that everything changes.

But in stories? I want to stop it at a point where the reader feels good about what has happened. Maybe not all of it, and hopefully it ended with events that surprise the reader, but I intend to evoke a solid, good feeling.

SPOILERS END

I think this whole thing is rather magical.

You, the writer, are deciding SO much about the story that you’re writing.

What you focus on, what language you use, and where you end it can determine everything from tone to freaking genre.

The same story in the hands of different authors has the potential to be almost indistinguishable.

And that is awesome. It makes me feel powerful.

And I hope it makes you feel powerful too. <3

Tami Parker Fantasy Author & Other Duties as Assigned

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