Plotting vs. Pantsing

Wow! Last week’s post is the most popular I’ve ever written. I’m torn between ‘You guys are amazing!’ and ‘What did I write?’. Well, you are awesome. And I hope this post doesn’t disappoint. I’m a little worried about it, to be honest. A simple google search will reveal a ton of articles on this subject.

Writing a story is every bit as much a journey as reading a good story is. And like every journey, how you get there can be as important as where you go.

It’s possible to take a trip where you plan out everything in advance to the point of knowing where each stop will be and how long you’ll stay there. It’s possible to just get in a car and drive, going wherever your fancy takes you. Most people probably do something in between most of the time.

Writing is exactly the same. Some people know exactly where the story is going to go, every twist and turn, before they put words to paper. Useful for more complex works or mysteries. Also you seldom end up lost. But then again, you may miss some of the joy of discovery. Others just start writing and see where it takes them. NaNoWriMo is especially made for these people. Stories are generally less predictable, but it is possible to write yourself into a corner or just end up blocked.

I suspect most of us try a middle ground. (Sometimes called Plantsing). We have some idea of where we want the story to go, but continue to make up things as we go along. This is what I usually do. With a pretty heavy side of pantsing. My current story, I have little to no idea what’s going to happen. Even with its’ prequel, my most planned out story yet, I ended up coming up with a major side plot just because I decided that there was no reason for the Main Character to get the information she wanted just yet. It was too early.

So, which one is best?

None of them.

These are tools. What works for you may not work for me and vice versa. If I waited until I knew everything in a story, I would never get a thing written. But my stories are disorganized in the first draft and need a fair amount of revision and it isn’t uncommon for me to just blank out at various spots. A little more organization would probably help me out. Other people would be driven mad trying to write with as little to go on as I sometimes have.

Not one of these is better than the others. It’s simply what works for you. Experiment. If you’re used to planning everything out, why not try a little more freewriting. You make everything up as you go along? Try plotting things out a little more. Use your Writer’s Bible. Not every story needs the same combination. Maybe a little more planning for a mystery, maybe a little less for a romance. (Or switch them, see what happens). Have fun. If the journey isn’t fun for you, what’s the point?

Speaking of journeys, I missed last week’s Pinterest and Facebook updating, partially because of travel, but I plan to update them both this week. For any traveling this week, safe journeys. And Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers.


Worldbuilding 101: Holidays Part Two

You guys are awesome. I don’t know if last week’s blog resonated with a lot of readers or you were taking pity on an insecure writer (I’m hoping for the first, but I’ll take the second.) but I got more likes faster than any previous post.

You may also be behind the upswing on my Pinterest account. Still didn’t sell any books on kindle, but I remain hopeful.

So, holidays, part two. The problem with putting this off two weeks is I can no longer remember what it was I wanted to say. Hopefully I can remember and put in some good points anyway.

When is your holiday? Is it by the solar calendar, the lunar calendar, always the same day of the week? Christmas is by the solar calendar. It is always December twenty-fifth. Easter is reckoned by the lunar calendar, because Passover is by the lunar calendar. It is also always on the same day of the week (Sunday), like American Thanksgiving is always on the fourth Thursday in November. In Canada, it’s on the second Monday in October.

I can see the Weres using the lunar calendar more commonly, and perhaps the vampires wish to avoid the solar calendar as well. Do races that interact with each other more start using other calendars?

Perhaps your races use another calendar entirely? In Knightfall, there is brief mention of a Yeti holiday, First Winter’s Night which begins the Festival of Ice. Winter is declared to begin when the ice is thick enough to support the full weight of an adult yeti. But no one knows when that will be ahead of time. Also in Knightfall, Violet wishes a goblin RA a happy Mid-year’s day on New Year’s Eve, because the goblin New Year is sometime in June, based on goblin constellations. So, a stellar calendar. Maybe your holiday revolves around a blooming of a plant or the return of a migratory bird or animal.

How is time measured? Without a moon, we may not have months as we know them and it would be harder to differentiate the beginning and end of the year.

Holidays can be heavily linked to the values of the culture. Why do we celebrate Thanksgiving? Mother’s Day and Father’s Day? Because as a society we are supposed to be grateful and honor our parents and ancestors. Some holidays are made up for commercial reasons. Does anyone really think there is a good reason behind National Ice Cream month other than to sell more ice cream? (I originally used National Pancake day and National doughnut day, but apparently there are reasons behind them.)

Most religions have a day they consider more sacred than others. Most Christians (other than Seventh Day Adventists) have Sunday as a day of rest. Most Jews (and the Seventh Day Adventists) consider Saturday the Sabbath. The Muslims consider Friday a holy day. This is essentially a minor holiday each week. If you are inventing a religion for your race, a weekly holy day is not a bad consideration.

When does the holiday begin? Is it at midnight? At dawn? At sundown the night before? How old is your holiday? You may not think that matters, but it does. What a holiday is meant to be is not always closely related to what it becomes after some decades of time. Memorial Day is supposed to be a time to remember those who have fallen in battle. It was originally observed by decorating the graves of soldiers (and by some partisan speeches and bickering). But it has been turned into a three day weekend which is often celebrated by cookouts. I don’t believe I did anything last Memorial Day. I’m not passing judgement, but I think we can all admit the holiday changed over the years. The further a holiday is from the original founding, the more likely that the meaning and way of celebrating has changed.

Have fun making up your own holidays and celebrating the upcoming ones!

A little note, I’ve made Hyde University pins. You can see them and read about the development of the Hyde University crest on Facebook.

Impostor Syndrome and Writer’s Envy

Sorry about being late posting this week. Yesterday was supposed to be spent catching up on my NaNoWriMo word count, and I didn’t really succeed on that either. I also appolgize for changing the topic I had planned. I still plan to do a Holidays Part Two (probably next week), but wanted to cover an issue (two, really) that I’m struggling with a bit right now.

First off, Impostor Syndrome. The feeling that you are actually a failure, and sooner or later, everyone is going to catch on. It’s actually extremely common, and ironically, it becomes more common the more successful you become.

I’m working on a new book, and the plot simply isn’t coming. I don’t know what I’m going to write. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I definitely don’t know if I’m going to finish fifty thousand word this November. I’ve been okay with rewriting, but have had a hard time coming up with anything new for almost a year. Maybe my creativity has run out…

No, it hasn’t. And I know it. But that doesn’t stop me from feeling that way sometimes. Doesn’t stop me from wondering what right do I have to advise other writers. Doesn’t stop me from wondering why I even bother to write.

But I know why I write. Because I can’t not write. Sure, times will happen when I have a dry spell, maybe even a long one. But I’ve been there before, and that time will pass. I will come up with new ideas, and while the book I’m working on (Book three of the Moonlit Memories series) may not be written this month, it will get written.

Which comes to the other part. Will it be any good? Will people want to read it? What right do I have to convince people to spend their hard-earned money on my books? Is my writing good enough?

I re-read my work, and I see the flaws. I see the stupid typos and mistakes that somehow made it through despite the story being checked by three different people. I see the factual mistakes I made despite checking for the truth. I see the lousy sentences, the places where the plot is thin, where the characters don’t act like they should. I read the story I’m currently working on and it’s lousy in parts.

But it’s a first draft. All first drafts are lousy. It’s the nature of first drafts. There are a small, infinitesimal number of people who can write a good first draft, but most of us, are re-writers. If we get a good finished product, does it really matter if it was draft one or draft fifty-one?

I know that I am not the best writer in the entire world, because there is no such thing. Your favorite writers are not my favorite writers, and writing is subjective anyway. By the same quality, I’m not the worst writer in the world.

I believe that I am a good writer. I know that there are others who like my writing. It is my hope that someday there will be a lot more people who enjoy my writing. Will I suffer from Impostor Syndrome in the future? Undoubtedly.  But in my case, knowing that others, even ones as famous as Maya Angelou  and Neil Gaiman (Do read the Neil Gaimon link, it’s great!) suffered from it too, helps.  Hopefully it helps you too.

In a weird irony, I think Impostor Syndrome is linked to Writer’s Envy. Basically, the other side of the same coin. “I’m a better writer than …. Why are they so successful and I’m still struggling?” Or, “I deserve this award more than…” Or, “How did so and so sell ten thousand copies of their book, and I only sold three thousand? Or none.”

It takes a certain amount of arrogance to be a writer. To assume that others will actually want to read your thoughts, your stories. We have to assume that our work is worth reading.

And the cool thing is, it is! Your work does have worth, and no matter how good or bad your writing is, there will be people who love it. And there will be people who hate it. Because you can’t please everybody. And there is no guaranteed way to please the majority either.

But it can be hard sometimes, comparing yourself to others. Wondering why they get success and you don’t. I’m running a sale on Secrets of the Moon Fox on kindle, ($0.99 right now). It’s been going on for almost a week and the sale ends tomorrow. It hasn’t sold a single copy yet. Despite my advertising it here, Facebook, and Pinterest. I’ve had two new books come out, and so far, neither have sold a single copy. I don’t think I need to tell you how discouraging that is.

But it is not because I am a lousy writer. People who read my books seem to enjoy them. I get likes on these blog posts. I know I can write.

It’s because I am an obscure writer. So I continue. The only way to succeed is through continuing until I am less obscure. But only I can determine what success is for me. And if I continue to compare myself to others (“I’m not successful until I’ve sold as many copies as …”), then I will only make myself miserable. And that kind of comparison has the tendency to move the goal posts. First we have to sell two stories like John did, then, when we do that, we have to get at least as positive a review as Susan did, then we have to sell a book like Luke did…

Remember, we’re all writers. We’re all a little crazy in our own way, and while our work is just as worthy to be read as someone else’s, that someone else’s work is just as worthy to be read as yours. The writing world is big enough for all of us.


P.S. You could make me deliriously happy by buying a book, or even just reading them in the Kindle lending library. First chapter of Secrets of the Moon Fox is available for free online here, for those who like to try before they buy. I am also made happy by likes and comments on my blog posts, likes and comments on Facebook, and saves on Pinterest. And I love positive reviews. Basically, any interaction makes me happy.

Tricks and Treats

Nightmare’s Revenge is now available on Amazon in paperback and kindle! Yay! To celebrate that, and my birthday (tomorrow) I have a present for all of you.

From November 1st to November 8th (I don’t remember the exact hours), Secrets of the Moon Fox will be available in kindle format for a reduced rate. The rate goes up as time passes so get it early. It is so important to read Secrets of the Moon Fox before Nightmare’s Revenge that I am hesitant to even post the first chapter of Nightmare’s Revenge online like I did for the rest.  For non-spoiler-y (mostly) excerpts of both books, check out my Facebook and Pinterest accounts.

I had a lot of things I wanted to mention in the blog post about holidays, but I had to finish up in a hurry and get to work, so I’m turning yesterday’s post into Part One, and Part Two will be next week.

Happy Halloween!

Worldbuilding 101: Holidays

Since tomorrow is Halloween, this seems like an appropriate time to mention holidays. Holidays are intrical to our culture, and always have been. I see no reason for that to change, or for it not to be the case for non-human sentients. While you can ignore them completely, they can also add a fascinating layer to your stories.

Holidays are, at their heart, community affairs. Even private holidays, like birthdays and anniversaries, are usually celebrated with a group, at very least family. Some holidays are major holidays. Whether you celebrate it or not, you know that Christmas is December 25. That happens to be the only day of the year my current job isn’t open. But on the other hand, without looking it up, I can’t tell you even what month ‘National Secretary’s Day‘ is. Apparently that’s in April in this country (and is a little more complex than I realized). Is your holiday one that affects the entire community, or one that is mostly ignored?

That can change depending on location. No one cares here whether or not I wear green (or orange, since I’m Protestant and green is supposed to represent Catholics) for St. Patrick’s Day. It seemed like a bigger deal when I lived up in Pennsylvania and Delaware. And I’m told (though it’s probably exaggerated) that wearing the wrong color in the wrong neighborhood on that day in Ireland can be a good way to get hurt. When I lived in Russia, December 25th wasn’t a holiday at all. Under communism, Christmas was banned, and the holiday moved to New Year‘s. People have new year’s trees, Grandfather Frost gives out new year’s presents, etc. They do have a Christmas, which is January 7th, and that is purely a religious holiday, and generally a quiet one. Meanwhile, International Women’s day (March 8th) is a big deal over there, and it is customary to give flowers to women of your acquaintance. In the States, most people probably don’t know when that is.

Is your holiday historical, religious, or tradition? Do people get off work and school? Or is it mostly just another day? How is your holiday celebrated? Food is an important part of most holidays, either the partaking of or abstaining from. In the United States, we celebrate the Fourth of July with fireworks, but not other holidays for the most part. In Russia, almost every holiday was celebrated with fireworks. We would stand on our balcony and see over a dozen different displays.

How do you come up with holidays? Pretty easily. Look at what’s celebrated around the world. Most cultures have a day for remembering the dead (often, but not always, in the fall), a day for renewal and rebirth in the spring, a day for the founding of their nation or people group, a day for their leader or leaders (President’s day here, other places may celebrate the birthday of the current ruler), and at least one community gift giving festival. Your story involves a colony of humans on Mars? What about colony founding day? Or the birthday of the first leader? Your main characters are a community of Elves? Probably a few nature based holidays.

Different people celebrate holidays differently. The way my family celebrates Christmas is different from anyone else I’ve heard. Your family traditions are not the same as another’s. Different groups (racial, ethnic, or religious) will probably celebrate different holidays. Can minorities celebrate their holidays openly?

Okay, but what if you want to write a darker story? No feel good holidays here. Well, holidays have their darker side too, don’t they? Any holiday that involves drinking runs the risk of drunkenness and the assorted chaos that goes with it. Stress goes up during the holidays, as does domestic violence. Those who have lost loved ones find holidays particularly hard. And what if your holiday has a darker side built in? Who says that the vampires don’t have a few humans kept in stock for Bloodletting Day?

Holidays are what you make them. Enjoy.

Book note. Nightmare’s Revenge, the sequel to Secrets of the Moon Fox comes out tomorrow. Check it out. Warning, this is one case where you really do have to read the first book first. More information to come. Check out my Facebook and Pinterest accounts. I’ve got excerpts up and random quotes from my books. It’s fun.

Worldbuilding 101: Food and Drink

On first appearance, this might seem like too narrow a topic for a blog post. After all, does it really matter? Can’t you write a whole book without ever bothering to mention what your characters ate or drank? Yes, you can. And it might even be a good book. Will your book be any better for mentioning food and/or drink? Maybe. Maybe not.

Consider this. Eating has deep emotive roots for humans. Who we eat with, what we eat, when we eat it; it all matters. A dinner for two by candlelight, a giant cake shared by friends, chips and pretzels at a sports party, cold pizza eaten alone at breakfast. They all bring up different emotional responses. Why not spend an extra few minutes considering what your characters do or don’t eat?

Who does one typically eat with?

Are most meals communal? Do families separate? Do men eat one place, women another, children a third? Is eating an intensely private thing? What happens when characters from communities that have different practices collide?

What is eaten when?

Are certain foods reserved for or forbidden at special times? Fruitcake is generally a Christmas treat. Most Jews avoid yeast at Passover. You don’t eat oysters in a month that doesn’t have an ‘R’ in it. Is the reason for this practical (the oysters), traditional (fruitcake), or religious (yeast)? Or a combination of the above?

What is taboo?

I don’t recommend necessarily using your own diet as a guide here. We are fortunate enough to live in a time and place where we as a society can afford to be picky. Not everyone does. Americans, by and large, balk at the idea of eating insects while much of the rest of the world doesn’t blink an eye at that. Like the above, is your reason for the taboo practical, tradition, or religious? Is a sacred animal not eaten? Eaten only at certain times and in certain ways?

Salt has an interesting enough history to write a novel solely about it. There were times salt was worth more than it’s weight in gold. In some cultures, sharing salt with someone was the same as a binding peace treaty. Wars have been fought over salt and the access to it. In Russia, when a young couple marry, upon their return from their honeymoon, they are supposed to be presented with bread and salt.

If you have non-humans, things can get even more interesting. There is no reason in the world that your non-humans should have the same exact diet range as a human. In the Moonlight Memories series, Liska’s food allergies have been used as minor plot points. In the Hyde Chronicles, Violet makes a point not to pay too much attention to what others eat, because some of it is really disturbing from a human point of use. Can these differences be plot relevant? No reason why not. Maybe something healthy to one is poisonous to another. Tell me you can’t make a plot point out of that.

Even if you are using humans, if they are in a different world, they will eat different things. One of my works in progress is a fantasy world where they don’t have horses (though unicorns do exist, but they are aggressive and you don’t want to get near them), but there are giant lizards that are used as pack animals. It occurred to me that such a society would probably use as much of the lizard as possible. Lizard leather, lizard meat, etc. Much like the ancient Mongols used horses for everything, and some still do. Horse meat, mare’s milk, horse hair, etc. Can’t use lizard milk because lizards aren’t mammals, but close enough.

Consider the society you are using. Nomads should have a different diet than farmers who have a different diet than fishermen. Those who spend most of the hours of the day working aren’t likely to spend much time and effort into making the food look better, unless that is their work. What’s the level of technology? If there isn’t much in the way of refrigeration, foods have to be preserved or eaten quickly. Try some research into other time periods and see some of the things they did with food. Even in the middle ages, for banquets, the food was supposed to be decorative as well as tasty. Can’t say I would necessarily want to eat a lot of it, but they took pride in their work just as we do today.

No, I haven’t forgotten drink. It’s easy to overlook the possibilities for beverages. Water is a given, no matter how dry a climate may be. If there is no water, there is no life. Fermented beverages usually came next. Mostly from grapes and similar, but mead comes from honey, and a popular drink in Russia called kvass, is made from bread mold. That comes in both alcoholic and non-alcoholic varieties. In places where the water quality is bad, it might actually be safer to drink alcohol.  Milk is common though not always from cows. Milk can come from any lactating mammal. Goat’s milk is relatively common even in this society, and I’ve heard of people drinking mare’s milk. Other possible sources are sheep, camel, reindeer, buffalo, donkey, yak, and moose. Why not consider some of the options in your world? Don’t forget teas of various sorts whether they include actual tea leaves or not. These can be used for refreshment, for medicine, for magic or religious ceremonies. Most fruits and some vegetables can be made into juice. Perhaps they all can but some are less appealing than others.

Some books talk a lot about food, some do not. Neither is inherently wrong. It’s just another layer you can use. Definitely something worth considering. You can always add recipes as an added bonus for your readers. Bon Appetit!


Sorry I’ve been off for awhile. Sometimes I get blocked and then distracted. I hope to have a real post on Monday. But in the meantime, I’m pleased to make a few announcements.

Knightfall, the sequel to The Pawn’s Play, is now out as the second book in the Hyde Chronicles. Available on Createspace and Amazon. First chapter can be read for free here.

I now have a Facebook and a Pinterest account. Each has unique items that are not available elsewhere. With a little luck and organization, the plan is to release a blog post on Monday, new pins on Wednesday, and something new on Facebook on Friday. Being me, this probably won’t work out for long, but here’s hoping. Check them out.

Nightmare’s Revenge, second book in the ‘Moonlight Memories’ series will be available on Halloween. First chapter will be available soon. Sneak peek of the cover is available on Pinterest.

I will be a guest at Marscon (Jan. 12-14) and Ravencon (April 20-22). New announcements coming soon.