Novel Progress Update

I have officially passed 18,000 words! I am creeping up to the quarter-point of my goal.

I am less than 200 words away from finishing my fourth chapter.

I suppose this doesn't mean much to you, though; you don't know anything about my novel yet. Soon I will give you some details about the work, so please look forward to that.

Fantasy World Building: The Land

Welcome to the first installment of my Fantasy World Building series of posts. The posts will include: World History; Beliefs; Research; Maps (in-depth). More ideas for the series may crop up, and as always I am open to suggestions. So, without any further ado:

Before your characters begin their journey you will need a world ready for them to explore. This doesn't mean you will need to know every nook and cranny of the land, but it helps immensely when you know exactly where your chracters are, and where it is they're going.

For starters, you will want the country within which your characters will be travelling. If the journey spans a number of countries, you should include those as well. The best way I've found to visualise my world is to draw a map. It doesn't matter whether it looks good or bad, all that matters is that you can see where your characters are or where they are headed. Below is an image of the map I drew for my latest work-in-progress, Aundes Aura.

I have called this world Válkia. I believe there are more details to the world, particularly in Arlea, but considering my characters have only just left their home town, I don't think it is absolutely vital that I have those details right now. For the names of my towns and my countries, you may or may not have noticed that I have borrowed heavily from other languages in my quest for interesting names. The name "Tierra" comes from the Spanish word for "earth". The name "Arlea" bears a resemblance to the French "Arles". "Robarre" is what I came up with when thinking about the French pronunciation of "Robert", being "Robear". The capital "Parthon" comes from the French words "by" and "tuna", mashed together. The name of the southern country comes from the phrase "Du thon" meaning "some tuna". Finally, "Mengerikaan" in Arlea borrows from the Indonesion word for "horrible", being "mengerikan".

This is all very random, no? The roots of these names are meaningless to the point of ridiculousness (tuna, anyone?), but they help me name the places nonetheless. Who says that the names have to mean anything?

As you can see, though, each country has a different linguistic influence. Duthonne is very French driven, and Arlea so far has island-like influences, almost like a tribal language. Meira is far more subtle with its names. One town I have not found the right name for is "Anoria", near the mountain range, but for now at least I have something to work with.

Even more so than what I have drawn on my own map, there need to be differences in your landscape to make it feel more realistic and keep it a little interesting. I think my map may be geographically incorrect, but I doubt that matters much. Which is more important? The story? Or whether or not that mountain range can be there due to the placement of tectonic plates on the world? Like I said, the aim here is to keep the adventure interesting. Grassy fields are nice, but if the whole book were set in grassy fields... well, it hurts me inside to imagine that, both as a reader and a writer.

Within or between the countries you have created, you will want some conflict. This outer conflict will be very much related to your World History, and having one will help you with the other. For example, in The Lord of the Rings, there are the creatures of Mordor who act in the favour of Sauron. Pure Evil. But beyond that, there are the men of the east. Then, stacked on top of that, there are the quarrels between the allied countries, between their own countries, and between their own houses or clans.

Maybe in your own novel, there are two equally fit candidates for the Throne--how do we decide who will be King? Someone assassinates one of the canditates, perhaps? But this is not in any way related to the main characters, it is simply backstory to the world, or history. See how thinking of the outer conflict has brought us to create some history, some reality to this world?

Finally, what do you want your villages, castles or landscapes to look like? Will you go early medieval with small, stone houses? In my case, I have chosen an Elizabethan style for my world. To make sure I understood what I was talking about, I did some research to find out how the buildings were made. Elizabethan buildings had a squared wooden frame, between which was woven a "wattle" (sticks and twigs). A white plaster called "daub" was then spread over the "wattle" to create the walls.

Sometimes it is easier to "see" what your village or area looks like if you draw it. I rarely draw, but here is something I tried out recently.
Welcome to Emareus, the capital city of Meira. This here is the village district. If you follow that path through the forest, you will come to Emareus Castle, where the Queen resides. Of course, there aren't just nine houses in the entire village.

And that concludes my first entry into the Fantasy World Building series. I hope you had as much fun reading it as I did writing it!

Regaining momentum!

Momentum is important. I know when I lose momentum, my story stops flowing. In the months of October and November, I lost my momentum. Below I will list the word counts I reached for each of the months since I have started wring "Aundes Aura".

September - 7,904 words.
October     - 846 words
November  - 1,341 words

And finally,

December (so far) - 2,635

Something incredible happened in the very beginning: I just knew exactly what to write. In that first month I wrote a phenomenal number of words when compared to the other months. There are still about ten days left in December, so by then I should have more than 5,000 words done for the month. I'm feeling great!

My daily goals are small, but it seems they have been effective. My goal is simply to write at least 200 words a day. It keeps the story moving, and having a goal helps me move on through the more difficult sections. The number of words I do usually sits somewhere between 200 words and 1,000 words. For example, last night I wrote 600 words.

Unfortunately, I have not written at all on some days of this month. I am completely determined to reach my goal, and thus I have begun a "word debt chart". Every time I miss a day, I write down the date on the list, and next to it 200 words. Every time I write 200 words more than I needed to to reach my goal for that day, I can cross that date off the list, having "paid back the debt". It is difficult to explain, so I will give an example.

On the 14th, the 17th and the 19th I didn't write anything at all. Those dates went onto my debt chart. Last night I wrote 600 words. That is 400 words more than my 200 word goal. So I cross off the 200 words from the 19th, and the 200 words from the 17th. Then that's 400 words of debt paid back. This will help me reach my 200-words-a-day goal.

Am I crazy? Have I gone too far?

A question for my followers.

It is evident that I will at some point run out of ideas for posts on the technicalities of writing. After that, this blog will be much more based on my novel and other musings. My question for you is: What would you like from me?

1. To continue posting on the technicalities of writing until I run out of ideas, and then move on to my story.

2. To begin revealing things about my novel now, and interchangably write about writing.

3. To write mostly about the novel, and every now and again write about writing.

In addition, I invite you to add any ideas for what you would like to see from me. Character interviews? More on publishing? More about random things? Synonyms for overused words? Anything that comes to you, please put it in the comments.

Thank you for reading my blog!

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Need further motivation? Have a carrot.

So, today I decided I wanted to write four hundred words, but I was really lacking the motivation to do it. "What's the point in writing four hundred words? It's only a tenth of a chapter, and what's the use in that?" But if I didn't write those four hundred words, tomorrow I would have to write that and more to make up for my lack of writing today.

But that won't be happening. Not this time. Four hundred words isn't much, but I am a slow writer. This is because as I write, I read over to make sure it makes sense, and if it doesn't I edit it until it reads easily. (In fact I just edited that last sentence, and I am already up to the next paragraph.) People who have read my work have said that it is a good first draft. It's good to know the time I put in isn't being wasted.

Anyway, today I wrote exactly four hundred words, and I wouldn't have followed through with it if I hadn't used this motivational method. I found three motivational methods for writers here, and the one I used today was the second one: "The Carrot". The premise of "The Carrot" is that you have a reward which you will only recieve if you reach your goal.

So, I walked down to the milkbar in the 39oC heat, bought two packets of Skittles, came home, put them in the fridge and told myself I wouldn't get to eat the Skittles unless I reached my four hundred word goal. Of course, the reward will need to be something you actually want, or you won't really be motivated to work for it. With the reward in mind, I sat down and wrote for just over three hours (yes, three). Then, my goal having been reached, I took my reward from the fridge and devoured it contentedly.

Mission accomplished.

How to keep yourself writing

We write because we love it. Many of us write because we can't not write, because we have so many ideas floating around inside our heads that if we don't write them down we will explode. Okay, that was a slight exaggeration.
But for some of us it is difficult to keep on writing, especially when we have so many other commitments. Most of us have jobs, and when we aren't working many of us have children to look after, or work that needs to be done around the house. Some of us are still going to school or University. It is difficult to find the time to write amongst all our other commitments.
But don't fret. If you can write just one hundred words a day, you can write a novel. In fact, in two years you would have a seventy thousand word novel.
What's important is to keep your story moving. I have discovered one rule that keeps me writing, and keeps me feeling that my story is going somewhere. This rule is to write every day. It doesn't matter whether you write one sentence or a whole chapter. If you sit down and write something each day, your story will be at least a little closer to the end. If you are finding it difficult to push through a particular section, see if you can write one hundred words a day for a week. After the seventh day, you will have written seven hundred words in total. A hundred words a day may sound a bit lazy to some people, but if you hadn't done that--if you hadn't written anything at all in that week--that would be seven hundred words more you would have to write.
There is one other thing that helps me to keep writing, and this I have learned this from Garth Nix. On his website he said that each time he finished a chapter, he would write the date he finished it, the word count on that chapter and the total word count on the novel.
He says: "The word count is a relatively small thing, but it has an amazing psychological effect, particularly as more and more chapters appear and the word total grows. I find it very encouraging, particularly in the first third of the book, which always seems to take me half the time."
In the picture for this blog you will see my own adaptation of his technique. Every day I sit down and aim to write at least two hundred words a day. Every time I finish writing, I enter the date and the total word count on the novel. Then, whenever I look at my log I can see that, yes, my novel is actually getting somewhere. Now I say I aim for two hundred words. Sometimes I go under that, but more often I write three hundred words. When I am inspired, when I suddenly have a burst of ideas, I can write between four hundred and eight hundred words. Then there are the rare but valuable times when I write over a thousand words.
For those of you who can easily write a thousand words or a chapter in a sitting, you are incredibly fortunate, and if you have the time to do so, writing a thousand words a day would get your novel finished very quickly.
For me, though, I write rather slowly. So when I see the word count on my novel rising, it gives me hope that I will be able to finish it. For such a large project, it's important that I have that hope.
Even though I am a slow writer, looking at my log I can see that over the month of September I wrote approximately eight thousand words. Seeing that statistic boosts my faith in myself, that just maybe I might be able to reach my 70,000 to 100,000 word goal.
Garth Nix has written a great piece on how to get a novel written, and it can be found here.

Word count does matter

People will tell you that the word count of your novels doesn't matter. This is largely true. While you're writing, you should be worrying about the writing and not the word count. However, what it doesn't say is that word count really matters if you seriously want to be published.

So, as I didn't wish to recieve any nasty surprises (namely my novel being too short), I sent queries out to a number of agents in Australia where I live. I am writing an epic fantasy novel, and I believe it is also young adult. So here's what went down with the agency, Australian Literary Management:
When it is ready, I plan to submit my manuscript to Australian Literary Management. I was wondering what kind of range would be acceptable as far as word count for an Epic Fantasy novel.Also, when stating the word count should I be using the word count that Microsoft Word tells me? If not, which method should I use?

Dear Ryan,

A word count given by microsoft word is fine. As a rough guide fantasy novels can be anywhere in the range of 100, 000 words to roughly 160,000 words.

Best regards, Karen Colston
That was where I started to get worried, because for my novel I am aiming for between 70,000 and 100,000.
Thank you for your prompt reply. If the novel was marketed as a YA Fantasy, would 70,000 to 100,000 words be too short? I may have to integrate the idea of the sequel to reach the 100,000-160,000 mark, which is entirely possible, but I'd prefer not to.

Dear Ryan,

Yes that word count would be fine for the YA market, unfortunately though, we are not looking at any YA material at this time. A list of literary agents can be found on the Australian Literary Agent's Assoc website;

Best regards,

Karen Colston

So there we go. This agency wouldn't accept my manuscript if it wasn't within the range they were looking for. As you can see, the number of words that are needed are dependent on the genre you are writing. A young adult, epic fantasy novel would have a word count of 70,000 to 100,000, as opposed to a general fantasy which would be 100,000 to 160,000 words.

Writing Dreams

Why include a dream in your novel? Dreams have no meaning. Right?
Dreams are a fantastic way of creating symbolism within your story. Something to make your reader think. With a well-written dream, you can reveal things about your character, and give hints about events to come.
You'll want to keep in mind that while dreams are illogical, you still want them to make a fair amount of sense to the reader. Now, because we are using symbolism, the dreams we create shouldn't be completely random. They must be somehow linkable to the plot, the character's history or future, or the character's relationships.
Nature is a great representation of life.
So, how might the character's life tumbling down be represented? A falling tree. Is it the character's fault that their life is tumbling down? Make it so they are cutting the tree down. Are the problems in the character's life now affecting the lives of others? Set the tree on fire, and when the character cuts it down the fire spreads through the grass and burns down other trees.
Now for an example from my own work.
The snake wove its way towards Ralta, its red eyes a pair of glowing ovals in the black night. It slithered up his leg, all the way up to his neck and coiled itself around him. Then another snake appeared, and another, and another until he was completely overwhelmed by the creatures. And there wasn’t any antidote. Why wasn’t there any antidote? Suddenly all the snakes were gone, and Saera was standing there with a bow in her hand, smiling and waving. And then a scream pierced Ralta's ear.
What does this dream tell us? Night is symbolic of evil, so we have learned that Ralta believes snakes to be sinister. The term "overwhelmed" implies that he feels trapped. He has been stuck in one place for too long. His wish for some antidote represents his desire to break free of his "prison". His sister Saera is smiling, which must mean she is happy. But if she is happy, then why does she scream? Perhaps this refers to an idea that maybe she seems happy on the outside, but Ralta believes she is not truly happy.
But then, what is the significance of the bow she is holding? Maybe Ralta feels safe around her.
I admit, I had never thought of all that symbolism when I actually wrote the dream. I simply wrote how the dream played out, and just now I interpreted it in a way that would give it meaning. So if you're writing a dream, don't stress too much about making it all symbolic. If it's written in a surrealistic style, the reader will naturally try to make sense of it.

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How to describe a scene

Books are not movies; books are books, and therefore it is not as easy to put an image into a reader's mind. How do writers combat this?

Think of all your senses: touch, taste, smell, hearing and sight.

To help me describe scenes in my novel, sometimes I practise describing things that are not in my novel, but in my immediate vacinity.

"I grasp the pen, and find it is very cool to the touch. The white imprint near the end reads 'Faber Castell', and is accompanied by a tiny image of two jousting knights. As I roll the pen between my fingers, I notice that an immovable beam of light expands along the length of it. Six rows of tiny bumps line the plastic; a simple, yet unique design choice. I pull at the lid, and hear a hollow sound as it lifts off. It is a soft sound. A pleasing sound."

Did you notice I didn't mention that the pen is black? Or that it is a felt-tip pen? Or that it is a rounded-triangular shape? When readers aren't given every detail, they either consciously or sub-consciously make up the rest of the image in their mind. It is not necessary to give every single detail, but you must decide which details are worth keeping.

When you are writing a scene, either:
1) Make sure it gives the reader a clear image of the scene so they know where the characters are, or
2) Give the most important details that are relevant to the plot, background, setting etc.

As I said before, see how many of your senses you can use to describe. So, if I want to make a point about the architecture in the story, you could mention the cathedral. Talk about the colour of the building, but also talk about the cracks where it has aged, and the places where it has been spoilt by bird-droppings. Mention the nest at the corner of the roof. Is the roof flat? Triangular? Domed? You can hear the birds screeching, and their chicks tweeting. Where is the sound of that bell coming from?

That's if you want a clear picure of the scene. Now, what if you want to describe the things that are important to the plot here? The architecture and the birds become less important. Perhaps the most important thing here is the bell. Once the bell tolls, our main character knows that demons will rise from below and he will have to fight for his life. At this point, the character doesn't really care about the bird's nest on the roof, and neither should the reader. The reader should be in the moment with the character, worrying about the impending event. Descibe the character's heart racing.

Books are not movies; books are books. Thus, it is important that we choose exactly how we are going to describe a scene, because it will have a great impact on how the reader reacts to it.

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"Write what you know"

They say "write what you know", but when you're a writer, you really only know what you read. Therefore, a more direct translation might be "write what you read".

This is the rule I follow when writing. I read epic fantasy novels, and therefore I am writing an epic fantasy novel. Because I have read so much of this genre, I know what the cliches are. Then I can consider whether or not I should be dodging these cliches.

Do I really want that unlikely young hero to join that elitist group? Anikan Skywalker to join the Jedi? Eragon to become a Dragon Rider? Harry to become a great wizard? Frodo to join the Fellowship? The Pevensie children to become Kings and Queens of Narnia?

It's been done before, so next time, maybe we can try something different. Remember "The Tragedy of Macbeth"? It is not the tale of the hero's rise, but the fall of said hero. Sure, Macbeth rose to his status, but where did it leave him in the end?

Why not consider this for a new story? The character is a good King, but one day he does something a King should never do. He spits in the face of the neighbouring country's Queen. In an outrage, the inhabitants of the King's city rebel against him, and he is overthrown and stripped of his title. The story then tells of his attempts to regain the respect of the population.

This example may be weak, but it shows that the character doesn't have to begin from the bottom of the hierarchy and work his way up; there are also stories to be found from those characters who begin at the top.

But what would make us care for this King fallen from grace? Well, we would have the advantage of being able to see the truth. We know that the King is a loving father. When he discovers that the Queen has poisoned his son, he acts without thinking, and he is then punished for his actions.

"Poor man!" we think. "He was only standing up for his son! The Queen should be punished." And thus the reader is on the side of the fallen King.
What this gives us is something different from the norm.

Star Wars: Boy living with uncle joins a reputable group and tries his best to save the world.

Eragon: Boy living with uncle joins a reputable group and tries his best to save the world.

And so on. So, by changing the starting point of the hero, the reader is wondering, "What's going to happen next?" And they turn the page.


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An Introduction

Bonjour! My name is Ryan and I am an aspiring author. I am currently working on my first novel, Aundes Aura, and hope to one day have it published. The purpose of this blog is to tell of the triumphs and annoyances I find as I write, as well as my thoughts on writing. And you may discover a little about the story if you're lucky.

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Welcome to The Dark Corner of the Mind. My name is Ryan Sullivan and my aim with this blog is to help others with their own writing, as well as to make note of some of my own writing endeavours.

Here at The Dark Corner, Real Life is both our best friend and our worst enemy. Look to him for inspiration, but don't let him get in the way too much.

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