Know the Novel Link Up Part One

The wonderful Christine Smith has created a writerly link up for Nanowrimo! Yay! Which is next month guys. (I’m not thinking about it, I’m not thinking about it) Anyway. Her link up is all about the beautiful stories we are all writing, or attempting to write as in my case.

It is a three part link up series, the first part is the introduction. Where I get to introduce you to my royal mess of a novel and all of its poor characters. Fun! Prepare to scratch your head and wonder what on earth I was thinking when I started this project. I don’t have an answer for you. Let me know if you come up with one!

Without further ado… Onto the questions!

1. What first sparked the idea for this novel?

Wellll, a long time ago, when I was younger than I am now and when I still had dreams of being rich and famous, I had a scene in my head. The scene was all about a girl who had been hurt by magic and was struggling to heal. I wrote the scene down, and the next one that had the same characters. At that time I didn’t feel up to doing the novel. But I wrote down each scene as it came to me in a notebook. And then eventually I got around to figuring out what happened around those scenes.

2. Share a blurb!

One night changed the future of Valai. A night of betrayal and soaked in blood. The youngest prince alone escapes the rebellion, and he is forced to run to the mountains.

Terrence vows to take back his throne and defeat the usurper who killed his family. But planning a war is harder than it seems. Terrence needs an army at his back, and the only one to be found is in Trium. A country wracked with its own change as a new king takes the throne. A king unwilling to help in another countries civil war.

The only bright spot in Terrence’s journeying is Kerina. The niece of a forester who knows the mountains of Valai like the back of his hand. She waltzes her way through life, bringing sunshine into Terrence’s plots plans. Yet like all things, she is more than she appears to be. And she may be the only thing standing between Terrence and his enemy. Behind the throne is a shadow, a shadow who has placed a price on Terrence’s head.

3. Where does the story take place? What are some of your favorite aspects about the setting?

Most of the story takes place in Valai, with a jaunt or to outside to other countries. Valai is known by its wide stretching plains that threaten to swallow you up if you aren’t careful. On one side the plains are bordered by a ridge of mountains that hold secrets. Or so the rumors say.

Yes, there are elves. When I first began this novel there wasn’t a story I wrote without ’em. However these elves are nomads, wandering the plains in gypsy like caravans. If you search for them, you will only find them if they want you to.

I think the most interesting part about this particular setting is the magic system. It is all within the mind. Almost everyone in Valai can talk to each other in their minds. Some can only speak with immediate family members, other can speak with family and close friends. The most powerful mind speakers are the wizards, they not only can speak with a complete stranger, but can make you fall asleep. Or perhaps see things that aren’t there. They can do anything within the limits of the mind. Things like changing dirt to a flower don’t work too well.

Of course, then there are the ones born with immunity to magic. But no one talks about those people.

4. Tell us about your protagonist(s).

Let me introduce you to Terrence, my poor displaced prince who has been hiding out in the mountains with his small band of men. He is the last royal in Valai, and as such the full weight of taking back his kingdom has fallen onto his shoulders.

Prince Kai from the Lunar Chronicles

This guy, he tries so hard to help everyone and shoulder the responsibility alone. And yet, it doesn’t work. He can’t do it all, and things keep falling apart. Which isn’t all his fault, but he never sees it that way. He blames himself for not paying more attention in class, but why did he need to when he wasn’t supposed to be king anyway? Yep, a second son forced into becoming the royal heir.

In his head Terrence holds up his elder brother and father as the perfect standards for kingship. Every decision he makes is held up to that standard, and every time he fails he thinks of how they would do it better. And it all get worse when he meets Kerina.

Kerina is an artist. She enjoys painting sunsets and forests and would prefer not to get mixed up with the displaced prince thank you very much. But her uncle thinks otherwise, and she is forced to go on with them.

Kerina

Generally a cheerful person, Kerina does things like skip through camp, sing in the top of a tree, and paint the back of her hands when she runs out of paper. She likes to make up stories about her paintings, and tends to hide elves and fairies within her drawings, if you know where to look.

However to get past her cheerful veneer and to the Kerina underneath is something that many have tried and none have succeeded in doing. She has no wish to let people see what is inside and then laugh at her for it. Until, of course, she meets a friend that she would rather not lose, and then has to find out how much exactly she trusts Prince Terrence.

5. Who (or what) is the antagonist?

Torroc is the man who now sits on the throne of Valai. He is a paranoid man who sees enemies in every shadow and conspiracies in every whisper. It is soon known that coming to his court is like signing your death sentence. It is not a question of if you will be accused of treason, but when.

Torroc

He has good reason to be paranoid, he did take over a county loyal to the king, and spilled a lot of blood to do it. But his paranoia reaches new levels with every passing month, and recently they have come with hallucinations as well. Which may be the work of a wizard, except he has locked them all up.

He took the throne that he believes should be rightfully his anyway. It would have been, if his father had not descended into madness and was forced to surrender the throne to his younger brother, King Rond, Terrences father.

Yet his greatest fear is that he is descending into madness as well.

There are some who question how he gained the power to take the throne, and those ones will be the first ones to fall to the what lurks in the shadows behind the throne.

6. What excites you the most about this novel?

To be able to finish it! I have been working on this book for years. In fact a few Nanos ago I tried to write it. (don’t kill me for doing the same novel twice, please) However the ending, and to be honest the middle too, has eluded me. This year I will finish it! Even if it takes 100k and all nighters! (okay lets be honest, I probably won’t pull an all nighter, I do have a day job after all)

Seriously though, I am excited to get back to my characters. Terrence and Kerina have been strolling around in my head for so long, I know them better than any other characters I have ever written. They feel like home I guess, they are what I always come back to after the first thrill of another novel has worn off, when I finish a book and wonder what to write next I always think of them. This story is destined to be written, and I hope this year is the year their story will be completed.

7. Is this going to be a series? standalone? something else?

*glares at novel*

You will stay put as a novel. Got it?

Glad we understand each other.

8. Are you plotting? pantsing? plansting?

Plotting aaall the way. This particular novel has gone through extensive world building, character mapping, and plotting. It also has two half drafts to its name. I will brush everything up before I start, but I can say right now that this novel is about as plotted out as it gets.

I am still planning on being surprised by something though. Something always happens that I don’t expect. Always.

9. Name a few things that makes this story unique.

The magic system is one that I personally think is unique. It is all within the mind, and everyone can mind speak. Well, almost every one… It might be hard to juggle mind conversations and real conversations, but I want to try!

Other than that, it is a standard tale of epic journeys, battles, dangerous mountains, and displaced royalty.

Oh, and King Nerl. I can’t forget him. Not that I could if I wanted to.

Nerl

Let me introduce you to the bratty king of the neighboring country of Trium. Terrence and Kerina travel to the kingdom of Trium to ask for help. He and Terrence are old friends, well, that is stretching it a bit. They knew each other when they were kids. They may have also hated each other. So it may not be too much of a surprise for them to realize that Nerl doesn’t exactly want to entangle himself with the civil war of another country.

He also might, might, have a crush on Kerina. But he would kill me for saying that. So don’t tell.

10. Share a fun “extra” of the story (a song or full playlist, some aesthetics, a collage, a Pinterest board, a map you’ve made, a special theme you’re going to incorporate, ANYTHING you want to share!).

For once, I do actually have a pintrest board! Enjoy!

Welp. That is my story. My hope is that I will finish the story, and it won’t finish me. Here we go to Nano!

Shaina Merrick

Plotting V.S. Pantsing

You know how at the beginning of each how-to post the author tells you why you should listen to them? Why they are uniquely qualified to speak to you on this subject? Well. Here is a short version of that.

In the plotting and pantsing world I am not exactly in either camp. Nor am I one of those enlightened people who sit squarely in the middle of the line with their novels. I am a metronome. Sometimes I swing all the way to the pantsing side of writing, sometimes I swing the other way. It really depends on the day.

So do I know what I am talking about when I say plotting or pantsing? Yup. Been there done both. Whether that makes me qualified to write about this is another matter altogether. I will leave it for you to judge.

Lest you become confuzzled, let me define these terms. Ones that are bandied back and forth in the writing world all of the time. Sometimes sparking an interesting discussion, sometimes a heated debate.

In simple terms, plotters plan out their story before the first draft. Pantsers plot it out while they are writing the first draft. Plotters figure out their characters, plot, and setting waaay ahead of time. They are the ones with multiple notebooks dedicated to different elements of their story. Pantsers sit down with the germ of a story idea, a pen, and a piece of paper, and figure it out as they go along. Plot outlines? Character worksheets? What are those?!

The most heated debates come when writers begin to discuss which one is better. To plot first, or to plot later, that is the question. To which I say, depends on the day?

Pantsing Strengths

At this particular moment, the novel I am working on has been completely pantsed. When I began writing it I had a phrase, and half of a character. As I wrote I found more characters, and eventually figured out what on earth was going on with this story. That is the magic of pantsing. It is like a movie going on underneath your fingers. No one knows what is going to happen next. Least of all yourself. Everything is a surprise, and the magic that keeps us writing is everywhere. It is the first blush of that story, untainted by planning, that gets you through that first draft.

Also in pantsings favor is the fact that you can start right away. No waiting until every plot point is filled and every character question answered. You don’t even need to know the theme before you write those first words. I love that. I love that I can sit down and begin, and somehow that first bit of a story idea becomes a full story.

Plotting Strengths

Now while my current WIP is being pantsed, I have many many many plotted stories in progress. Ones that were plotted withing an inch of their life before I even started the first chapter.

As with pantsing, I start with the first blush of an idea. And then I figure out what on earth I am going to do with this idea. Which means all the worksheets, all the character questionnaires, and all the theme wonderings. What I love about this method is that I get to answer all of my questions before hand. There is something breathtaking about creating a character arc and watching it unfold before your eyes. I don’t have to wait for the end of the book to find out what is going to happen to all of my characters. I can figure it out right now! Then there is writing out each and every plot point and deciding what happens when. My organized self gets a thrill out of that part! When each character arc connects to the plot points, and it is all tied together by the theme, that there is pure magic.

I must say that the actual writing of the story goes much smoother when you have it all planned out before hand. There are less writing block moments and way fewer times that your characters have backed you into the corner with less than no ways out.

Pantsing Weaknesses

What, did you think I was going to let you leave without telling you the dangers of each method? Nope! Prepare to be overwhelmed.

If you absolutely hate writers block, if even the mention of it wants to make you hide under your bed with chocolate, then don’t pants. Trust me. When you barely an idea with where you are going to go with your story, writers block springs up often. Yelling ‘surprise!’ and then wondering why you are running away screaming.

It is easier to write yourself into a corner with pantsing. You eagerly follow each and every rabbit trail, and then wonder how on earth your characters ended up on the edge of a cliff with no ways of rescue. Hm, maybe I should write in a flock of eagles?

Also, you will have to edit many many times. There is no first then second then finished draft with pantsing. Unless you are a writing genius of course. You will have to do way more after the first draft to make sure that it all goes smoothly. And that includes refining character arcs, filling in plot holes, and foreshadowing. Things that you would have already done if you had plotted. So if you hate editing, try to have some of the planning and questioning done before hand.

Plotting Weaknesses

Even with your mega plans and color coded plot your novel still might fall flat on its face. Or never get written in the first place.

The greatest weakness I have found in plotting is the fact that you are never done planning. There are always more questions to answer about your character, always more bits to find out about your world, and always more research to do. You may find yourself always plotting and planning and never getting to the first draft. And if you don’t get to the first draft, you don’t have a novel. Only a well planned project that you will get to, someday.

Also, if you have created a multi faceted plot that has planned for every eventuality and filled every plot hole and put every character in a firmly defined box, your characters will grab the reins and run away with the whole story. It seems to be the rule of all plots. The more you tack them down, the smallest thing will upset them. If I don’t make sense, I apologize.

You see, writing is a creative process. Which means you are using the creative side of your brain most of the time. You know, the side that wakes you up at 2:00 AM with a great idea. That side will refused to be tamped down, and when you least expect it will pop up with this great idea that will send your perfect plot careening off course.

Pantsing Ideas

I thought this post was long enough, but I didn’t want to leave you with all of this dismal news. My hope is that these how-to posts are useful, and so I want to give you a few ideas to make each side easier to write. To avoid each pitfall and tap into the strengths.

I have found that pantsing becomes more manageable when you take notes while you are writing. Whether those notes are in a different color within your draft, or in a different notebook, or even at the end of each chapter, write ’em. Notes will save you from wondering where your characters went, and keep you from hours of finding where you wrote down what color your MC’s eyes are.

If you are writing notes, you have a quick look at what you will have to edit later. Possibly saving you a draft, or at least a bunch of time.

This idea is to keep writers block in the corner. Keep the ending in mind. No, this isn’t me trying to finagle you into plotting. Know where you are going with your story, at the very least you will know when you need to end it. Chances are, you already have an idea of where your story is going, just fine tune it a bit. What is the goal of the characters? Are the characters going to get their goal? Or not? Figure that out, and your pantsed novel will end right on time.

Plotting Ideas

Don’t plan too much. That about sums up my advice for this side of the question. If you plan too much, your novel won’t be written. Which isn’t quite what you want, is it? We all want to finish our stories, so do yourself a favor and stop planning. Find a point that you can stop, and stop. Decide beforehand what that point will be. Are you going to plan until you have a basic idea? Until you have the whole plot finished? Answer that question, and when you have hit that point. Stop. Don’t let yourself plan any more.

Again, if you plan too much and too tightly, one small thing will make it all crash off course. Okay okay. I might be exaggerating. Your plot will probably not go crashing into a mountainside and shatter into smithereens.

However, when you are plotting, leave breathing room. Room for your characters to do unexpected things, and for unexpected people to show up. And if the unexpected happens, don’t sweat it, or try to erase it. It will be easier to put toothpaste back into a bottle than to stuff your idea back into your brain. Play with idea a bit, let it percolate. Maybe it will make your story better, even if it means that your plot will have to be adjusted a bit.

Phew. If you made it to the end of this ridiculously looong post. Congratulations! Take some chocolate strawberries. I hope it was helpful, at least a little. So go out, finish those stories! I will be over here trying to end my pantsed novel. I need to take my own advice and figure out what the ending is for this thing…

Shaina Merrick

Writer to Author

I suppose it makes sense that I would be a writer. After all, I read stories, dream stories, critique stories. So why not create them too? Thus said my little brain many years ago, little knowing the consternation (read blood sweat and tears) it would cause in the years to come.

Guys, writing is HARD. Very hard. Especially if you are a perfectionist. Especially if you sit and agonize over the first sentence in your first draft because you are under the mistaken belief that it has to be perfect on the first try. If you were wondering, no it does not. That is what a first draft is for.

Now, I can sit here and complain about writing which if you have a writer friend you have probably heard it all before. (thanks for the patience mom) OR I can tell you the cool parts of writing.

Namely, being able to share it with other people.

Like this blog, or like publishing a book.

Yup, I’m publishing a book. And here I am acting all chill about it when really I am screaming inside!!!! I’m actually getting a book published!

On Amazon anyway, which means it will become part of the millions of other books trying to get noticed on there. Oh, my poor baby.

So! If you were one of the poor, *cough* I mean lucky people who read my old blog you have most likely heard of this. For months on end.

Well, the months before I publish have turned into weeks and I am realizing just how much I need to do before handing it over to readers.

Sigh.

But before I go back to doing all of that boring stuff, I am here to remind you all of the title and tell you what on earth this long talked of book is even about.

So here you go!

The Fantastic and the Wondrous.

Snazzy title if I do say so myself.

This book is not a novel, or even a novella. It is a collection of short stories. These short stories are all connected with the web of the fantastical. (hence the title) Fantasy, scifi, and mash up of both, all are found in my collection.

You will find time travelers, fairies, hero’s, and robots in these stories. Some of them are designed to make you laugh. Some to make you cry. (that’s the intent anyway, we’ll see if it actually works)

You will get to read all 12 of them on April 4th! The date I am releasing my hard work to the world.

Until then you will get to hear gobs about this book, all in the hope that you will throw your hands up and say “Fine! I’ll go buy it if only to stop you from pestering me!”

Its called marketing folks. Basically an excuse to bug people so that they will buy something.

Anyway.

Next up will be my cover reveal, so stay tuned for that!

If I disappear before April 4th you can say that cause of death was stress over publishing. All the writers will understand.

Here’s to not dying and getting a book published!

Shaina Merrick