Tag Archives: The Witch’s Tower

On Characters (Qot8B)

So, on one of our truck-drive commutes to WorldCon, M Williams and I realized that we both have a particular weakness when it comes to writing our characters.

In role-play, the world setting is a backdrop to our characters. We know or learn the world pretty quickly and then we spend the rest of our energy focusing entirely on our character (or characters). We know them inside out, backwards and forwards. They become living, breathing, fleshy creatures with strengths, weaknesses, fears, talents, backgrounds, and so on.

But for some odd reason, when we go to write a novel, we focus almost entirely on the world.  Flora, fauna, magic mechanics, society, history, warfare, etc. But when it comes to our protagonists, we know the barest minimum of what shape they hold in our minds.  Then we expect them to somehow enact a plot.

So we both came home from that commute with the determination to treat the characters in our novels with as much time and care as we treat the vivid people living in our heads from our role-playing.

Last week or so, however, I realized after writing about 2k of Queen of the Eight Banners that I did it again.  Firstly, that I ran away with the story idea without really knowing the world as much as I needed to. I was just so impatient to write the story. So I stopped and got my favorite library book on the topic and poured through it, developing the world.  Then I went to set Ilha my protagonist in that world and found that the world was richer than she was.

So this week I’ve slowed down again and have been focusing on her. Who she is, what makes her tick, where she comes from, what her goals are, what she’s afraid of–both in the world and in herself.

I’ve realized–patience is definitely a skill that transfers over to writing. That, and time. Time spent with the people, the world, the ideas.  I’m not the type who can just jump right in and write amazingly, though jumping in allowed me to see where all my holes were more clearly.

So, cool thing.  As I was researching the Jurchen coalition in the early 1600s for story fodder, I came across a Mongolian tribe that asked to join the Jurchen nation. As I described it to a friend,

They just trotted up to the growing Jurchen power and were like, “Excuse me, sir. We want to join our huge forces to yours. You see, there’s this enemy who wants our blood. And we are persuaded that you would be the perfect man to take them out for us. Oh yes, and we will help all your future endeavors. Oh yes, and did I say? We’re awesome?”

So I thought – wouldn’t it be politically savvy if Ilha were from this Mongolian tribe? It makes perfect sense to form a marriage alliance between such a powerful tribe and the Jurchen emperor.  So I tentatively noted that in the back of my mind.   Then I went to Wikipedia to jot down a quick succession of Jurchen/Manchu emperors, their wives, and the regents….

And Ilha, Dowager Empress’ historical equivalent – you guessed it – was from that exact Mongolian tribe I handpicked for her.  My eyes popped. But really, the tribe is politically perfect. Mongolian–so similar training and habits of the Jurchen people.  Marriage alliances meant adoption into the upper Banners and given Manchu status. And because the tribe volunteered to join, they weren’t split up. Huangtaiji/Hong Taiji let them rule their own people and made a whole section of his society just for them. They fought alongside each other, etc.  It really is truly awesome.  I love history. And politics. And politically savvy rulers.  Mmmmm…

In the mean time, my novel isn’t being entirely ignored. I’m allowing things to stew a bit, and there have been substantial additions. I realized as I was writing the last scenes where I am now that one of the newly introduced characters is from a third country that I didn’t even know existed.  (Yes, I was baffled, too.) Yet it fills world, economic and political holes in the world building, as well as bringing variety to my as yet small cast of characters.

I also ended up redrawing my old reference map so that now it has a functional mountain range as opposed to a decorative one.  It has a working river port city, and I got rid of  a grid of waystations that aren’t really necessary.  Oh yes, and that pesky third country now exists.

So now, who knows? Maybe there will be a third book in the world!  This one takes place in Melitene south of the mountain range in a land of forests, plains, and rivers. The next one, (a stand-alone prequel), takes place in Norlakhar in the deserty land above the pass.  And I suppose now there is potential for a third book set in the country I’m tentatively calling Galia, the country south of Melitene that’s positioned along the ocean and the river delta….

(This is a long post, if you haven’t noticed, but it will have to tide us over. I can’t make any guarantees about updates for the next two weeks. )



Yes, I updated The Storybox again.  This time with a historical fiction novel idea that has been popping in and out of my head since 2007.  I figured I now have a good reason to take it seriously. I won’t go into all the details about why, but there you have it.  I have officially added “historical fiction sans fantasie” to my list of genres I write in.  Oh? You didn’t know I write historical fiction without fantastic elements? Well, I do! Just not very often.

I also updated The Storybox with a brief description of what my as-of-yet-coolly-unnamed Armenian fantasy will be about.

The thing is, The Storybox isn’t even a complete list of all the things swarming my head, either.  I printed out the book I translated in 2008 and I’m currently working on English-to-English edits, also.  It’s going really well, and it’s remarkably fun, now that the stress of deadlines  is long past.  I’m hoping to finish this batch of edits before I get to Utah where I have the rest of my materials.  There I’ll compare these edits with my French-to-English edits, the original manuscript, and… Okay, so this is the wrong audience for translation talk, so I’ll spare you.  I do have hopes to publish it, though.

In any case, for my own sake, I need to organize the chaos of storylines and characters clawing for my attention.  Pretend I’m in the principal’s office with a gaggle of wayward children.

So! THE WITCH’S TOWER and OF GODS & WITCHES are set in the same world and are highly interconnected.  It’d be to my advantage to write them one after another and do the final edits at the same time.   Each can stand alone, however, so it won’t hurt to try to publish either of them separately.  Doing them together has some disadvantages: namely it pushes back potential publication of the first one.  But it has the great advantage of cohesion and gives me a greater flex time for potential editor-deadlines. I really hate deadlines with CFS.

Otherwise, of everything and everyone bustling about in my head, THE WITCH’S TOWER, OF GODS & WITCHES, and OTHERSIDE have the most meta-work and progress done on them, so they’re easiest to finish.  My sister also keeps wondering when I’ll get back to finishing OTHERSIDE. (I agree, I absolutely love the story!)

ARMENIAN TALE and THE SCHEMER I’m a little worried about because ARMENIAN TALE depends largely on my ability to remember a lot of details about my year living in Armenia, so I need to do it fairly soon.  THE SCHEMER depends on my French and French history&culture knowledge, so it also is time- and memory-sensitive.

You see the chaos’ whyfor, don’t you.  I can’t possibly write four novels at once.   To combat my failing memory, I’ve written a 5k document on Armenian culture…which still barely scratches the surface, of course, but I’m chipping away at it. But that can’t make up for the feel or memory of something.

I’m also tentatively considering a non-fiction project.

Not to mention all my short story ideas. Oy! Ah! Crowded! Spinning! Can’t think!

So! Order to chaos, here we go:

  1. Priority #1 – Finish THE WITCH’S TOWER. Remember? You need to finish something first!  And the natural act of finishing this project will mean that its prequel will get more work done on it, as well.
  2. Finish The Harvest Mask before October 1st.
  3. Finish English-English edits for ANDROMEDA.
  4. Tell all the other characters and stories to wait their turn, like well-behaved children.

See, self? Work on finishing what you’ve started before starting lots of other new shiny projects!


As a break from the ramblings of last week, have some Internet on a platter.

Like, look! I am not the only writer with a fascination for crows.  And a couple weeks ago I watched the awards ceremony for the Writer’s of the Future contest and I have decided that this guy is awesome.

As for thought-provoking articles, a friend of mine has written the best defense for multicultural casting in movies I have ever read. I highly recommend that you trot yourself over and see what she has to say.  These are current issues as we saw in the failure of the Avatar: The Last Airbender movie and The Hunger Games film which is currently in production.

Tor.com also has two very interesting articles. The first is basically how the 3-Act Formula can actually kill trilogies, and the second is a very fascinating summary on the movie The Dark Knight‘s conversation on what crime is and how to fight it.  Both are very intelligent articles and well worth the time to read and mull over.

Finally, have another song that originally influenced the book I’m writing.

I find music to be one of the most inspiring things in this universe.  Don’t you?

(Note: There are two videos embedded in this post.)

Update on Goals.

There’s no way I can meet my goal of finishing A Cautionary Tale of Love and War by the end of the month.  I have to keep playing the back and forth game of dreaming of reaching the stars and then belatedly realizing that my health means I have to crawl–not run–to get there.

If there’s one thing I have a hard time doing these days it’s meeting deadlines.  I managed to meet all the ones I set for myself in April, but this go around it looks like that’s a No.

One thing I have learned from this is that expectations are what take the most energy out of you and give you the  most frustrations.  Expectations should be moldable, interchangeable, adaptable. Hope should be a constant fuel.  I hadn’t realized that expectation and hope were two separate things before.  I’m still trying to work it out, but that’s what I’ve got so far.

So here are my new set of goals to attempt to adapt to the situation I’m facing.

  1. Continue to crawl towards my goal of finishing A Cautionary Tale soon. (Never give up, never surrender!)
  2. Sign-post goal of finishing THE WITCH’S TOWER by the end of July still. I likely won’t make that goal, but if not I still have the goal of finishing before WorldCon in August.
  3. It appears the short story a month goal is too much to add on top of that. So let’s change that to short story per quarter, so I can have something to submit to Writers of the Future.  I have short story ideas enough to last me the end of the year while still focusing mostly on noveling.

My Medea by Vienna Teng

I haven’t had a ton of energy lately, and what I’ve had I’ve been spending other places. So I’ll be brief. This song is what gave me the original inspiration for the story to THE WITCH’S TOWER, my Rapunzel and Jason&Medea remix and retelling.  Rather than go into a lot of detail, I will simply let you listen to it.  Pay attention to the story in the lyrics.

Writing Tools

Gdocs vs. yWriter vs. Scrivener

So! Because every wannabe artist always wants to know what tools people use to create their art, (see: video below)

Toronto Comic Arts Festival: Pencil it In from Toronto Comic Arts Festival on Vimeo.

I thought I’d share the things I do to help me organize my writing.  The Writing Excuses crew recently talked about their “story bibles” and wikidpad; I will have you know that I’ve had the idea to talk about what I use since BEFORE they mentioned what they use. Just so that we’re clear. :p

I’ve been using Google Documents since they first came into being, back in 2007, I think. I originally used it to write all of my school papers since my laptop was so broken that the only program I could open was Firefox, (and only after a thirty-minute boot-up).  Gdocs are great because they automatically save your work and you can access it anywhere there’s internet. No need for cumbersome flash drives and remembering to save or lose everything.  You also can share your documents so other people can edit or simply view your files.  They can leave comments, too, if you would prefer they not write directly on or edit the documents.  It’s been great for doing homework–but also for keeping role-play records through the years and other collaborations, such as translations or joint stories.  I still use Gdocs for brainstorming sessions and rough notes to myself. Oh, and you can watch people type = fun feature.

The cons? Well, this year they’ve taken to adding a ton of formatting to their pages, meaning that instead of a blank limitless slate, now we have pages formatted like a regular word processor. I don’t like formatted word processing pages, so I’m rather disappointed Google has gone this route. Still, the pros outweight the cons and I continue to use Gdocs for various purposes.

Currently, I have my novel OTHERSIDE all in Gdocs, and this is my default starting point for new stories and projects.

yWriter: freeware.

Back in 2009 before I left for Armenia, one of my writing buddies introduced me to yWriter.  I immediately saw the benefits and plugged my novel THE WITCH’S TOWER into it.  It’s great because I can divide by chapters and then divide the chapter by scenes; I can see the wordcount for each and what version I’m on–if it’s an outline, rough draft, second draft, etc.  I can see what povs, characters, items, and locations appear where and I can easily access all my information about each of the above.  I can add descriptions and notes to scenes and chapters, and I can keep track of character arcs, conflicts and goals if I need to.  Mostly I love keeping track of what characters and items appear where, what scenes are doing what and where they’re located.

yWriter also allows me to see how many words I’ve added to my novel that day and it keeps track of wordcount goals and figures out how many words per day I need to write in order to meet my long-term goals.

Scrivener (windows beta).

The same friend showed me Scrivener when I got home from Armenia. It’s for Macs but there is a free beta version for  Windows, which is what I’m using currently.  What I love about Scrivener is the divided view where I can see two files at once, so I can look at research while I’m typing up new material.  Research, you ask? I currently have my alternate history/future Manchurian China short story plugged into Scrivener, and the awesome feature where I can load all of my old university research papers and files into the program and have it in one easily accessible location while I work is absolutely amazing.  I don’t have to load up multiple windows or go looking through my files anymore. It’s just on the lower left of the navigation bar.

Like yWriter, chapters divide themselves into scenes. I can keep track of characters and locations–not as nicely as yWriter, but the feature is still there.  Scrivener relies heavily on pre-formatted pages, templates rather.  There’s the famous corkboard feature where you have “notecards” to rearrange scene order according to your fancy, which I don’t use. There’s also a full-screen writing feature that allows you to cut other distractions while you write, if that would be useful to you.