Thursday, June 16, 2011

For My Fifteen-Year-Old Self

This is the first post in a series about creating a vision of what I want to write, as mentioned in my novel-writing game plan.

I've loved reading for as long as I can remember. My favorites as a teen were YA fantasies, and I still adore them now. I always dreamed of escaping to a magical world, having swashbuckling adventures, and living happily-ever-after with a swoon-worthy guy as the heroine of my own story. I figure the next best thing is penning (or typing, I guess) a YA fantasy novel myself, and write the story I've always wanted to read.

Thus when it comes to envisioning the kind of books I want to write, I already have my target audience in mind: my fifteen-year-old self. I was (and remain) a picky reader, and much of what I want to write is shaped by my reading preferences.

First, the protagonist. I idolized those strong, brilliant heroines I read about; I wished so much to be more like them, or to be part of their world. And yet a part of me felt it was impossible. As often as I fantasized about magically falling into their stories, I knew could never belong — I would be grossly out of place with my East Asian features.

I felt this even as a kid, when I played make-believe with my sister and childhood friend. We pretended to be magical princesses fighting to save our beloved kingdom from our wicked stepmother. Our alter-egos never looked like us, not even when we wanted a break from being princesses and pretended to be their maids (and best friends, of course). They were all blondes or brunettes or redheads with eyes the color of emerald, or sapphire, or steel. Because really, it would be ridiculous to have brown-eyed, black-haired Asian girls living in a medieval fantasy world... wouldn't it?

Almost all of the heroines I admired as a teen lived in worlds composed solely of people who looked nothing like me. I hated feeling I could never be a part of the worlds I loved so much, that I could only aspire to be like the characters in Asian historical fiction or Chinese mythology — who, at times, felt foreign and exotic to me, with values and worldviews that had but little in common with my Asian-American ones.

There were a lot of pseudo-European fantasylands; where were all the pseudo-Asian ones? Or, even better, where were the books where the protagonist happens to have Asian features, set in a fantasyland that's not based entirely on ancient China or Japan?

I know these books exist now, thanks to the increasing diversity of YA. And I am so, so grateful for the authors writing those novels. I admire them to pieces.

But to be completely honest, so far I haven't been able to find a book with an Asian protagonist that I can connect with deeply, despite how much I want to adore those books. It is completely unfair to the authors, because I think that, after so many years of longing, I've built up a specific ideal of the book I wish I could have read as a teen — and the books I read are the authors' visions, not mine. The only way to fix this is to start writing my own, so I can stop comparing the books I read to what I wish they were, and enjoy them for what they are.

That is why I'm going to write — for myself, because there are stories I want to tell; because, after all those years of reading, I want a story that belongs to me: a story that my fifteen-year-old self will embrace and adore, one that tells her that she, too, can be the heroine for once.

So I will write, and the protagonist will live in a world where she isn't out of place for looking Asian, and she will be capable and brave and clever and interesting and selfless (or try to be). She will fight for what she cares about and seek to do the right thing, and she will be the protagonist because of the strength of her character and not because of her birth — she will not be special due to a rare magical power or unique eye color or ancient prophecy, unless I am subverting those tropes (and I will). I will gift her with my own flaws, as well as with virtues I'm still striving to develop, and she will persevere despite all the difficult decisions and heartbreak I throw at her. And I will have succeeded with her when I know my teenaged self would read that book over and over just to watch her in action, laugh and cry and gush over her, and wish desperately to be half as amazing as she is.

It will be a challenge, to be sure; despite reading widely, there are few protagonists I can say I truly adore. Still, I am excited. After all, these are books I'm dying to read — ones that no one can write but me. :)

Thank you for reading! Next week I'll continue the series with my personal preferences for plot, setting, romance, and all that good stuff. Do you have protagonist pet-peeves? Are you also motivated to write by the need to read the book of your heart?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Deadlines and Schedules

Last week, I posted my novel-writing game plan and said that it was missing an important element, one that I'm reluctant to face.

A timeline.

I know schedules are integral to thoughtful planning; otherwise, things are likely to be delayed indefinitely (which is what's been happening with my writing so far). I understand the value of due dates because I am a very deadline-motivated person — just look at how I write English papers: I procrastinate like crazy until the last possible moment, then write the entire thing in one night. Yeah, I don't think that's going to work out so well when it comes to writing a novel.

So maybe I just need to set my own schedule... but that comes with its own set of problems, too.

It's not that I'm schedule-adverse. I like them. I really do. I love the idea of being organized and staying on track and knowing what's coming up so I can mentally prepare myself. But I also like flexibility and spontaneity and having options. Sometimes this results in writing out a meticulous schedule only to blow it off on a whim, leaving me to wonder, later, how I managed to get so distracted.

I realize this does not bode well for my project.

I'm terrible at slow and steady, yet I know it's something I'll have to learn if I plan to write a novel. (I hate marathons too, but that might have more to do with the fact that I detest running.) Besides, the important thing is to keep going even if I fail, right?

I actually have no idea how long any of this is supposed to take — outlining, drafting, revising. I know it's different for everyone, perhaps even different for every project, so for this first one I'm giving myself a lot of leeway: a year and two weeks. That means I'd like to complete at least my first draft by July 1, 2012. That should be plenty of time to write 80k words or so, no?

I'm hoping to have a concrete outline by October/November, just in time to give NaNoWriMo another shot (last year I only managed a few thousand words, so my hopes aren't high). Then, depending on my progress, I'll set a (low and doable) weekly word count goal and go from there.

Fingers crossed that I'll finish on time, if not early! I must say I feel a bit at a loss when it comes to this aspect of planning, so if you have any thoughts or tips, I would love to hear them!

What do you think? Do you give yourself a deadline for your projects? Or is there one decided for you? Do you have word count goals or scheduled time to write, and how did you decide how much they should be? And how do you push yourself to meet your goals?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Inky Linky Love 06.11.2011

Two weeks ago I said I wouldn't overwhelm you with two weeks' worth of links at once... well. Looks like it's inevitable this time, though I did try to cut down the number of links to a reasonable amount.

  • Mary Kole's post on how to convey character through interiority rather than resorting to physical cliches is amazing and helped me to understand why I had a hard time connecting to characters in certain works.
  • Ken Scholes at Genereality gives some tips to pre-plan and draft a first novel — much-needed advice for me!

  • Janice Hardy's posts on plotting are so helpful — she's really great at breaking down the key elements of plot, and my inner structure/outline nerd totally loves it.

  • Kristen Lamb concludes her series on antagonists with a post on the importance of scene antagonists and how they push the protagonist to change.

  • Alexandra Sokoloff writes about the powerful technique of using visual imagery systems to convey theme, using films as examples so you can "see" her points in action.
  • Juliette Wade does it again with another thought-provoking post on using idioms and metaphors to flesh out a culture. I adore all her worldbuilding posts!

  • Given how late I've been with posts lately, Biljana Likic's post at Let the Words Flow on how to deal with missing deadlines is extremely timely.
  • In addition to great posts on anthropology and linguistics, Juliette Wade also provides some helpful tips on how to find time to write — I must say I'm definitely guilty of letting myself be distracted.


Hope you enjoy the links! If you haven't yet, please take a look at my novel-writing game plan and let me know if you have any tips for me. Thanks!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Novel-Writing Game Plan

It's finally here! A bit belated, but at least I got it done. I meant to write an introduction, but that introduction turned into my post on why I need a master plan. So this time, I'll jump right in. Here's how I want to approach writing my first novel:

1. Create a vision

More and more, I'm learning to appreciate the value of having a vision. I always thought I wasn't an ambitious or passionate person, but maybe that's because I didn't really know what I want. How can I get anywhere if I don't even know what my destination is? That's why I'm going to write down my dream of what I hope to accomplish, so I have something to aim for. A guiding star, so I know which direction to take. I'm not sure, yet, how detailed this vision will be, or how well I'll be able to realize it, or how much it will change with time. But this is where I'm going to start.

2. Commit to a story

Remember what I said about putting things on to-do lists that I've already finished? Yeah, this is one of them. I've accumulated lots of different story ideas over the years, and I know I need to stick to one of them — so I chose one. Once I'm done with my vision posts I'll talk more about how I get ideas and how I decided which one to pick (the reason is kind of ridiculous — but you'll see). I hope I can stick with it. I tend to like keeping my options open, which can turn into commitment-phobia, but this time I want to see it through to the end.

3. Brainstorm more brilliance

At least, I hope there will be some brilliance involved. :P Sure, I have tons of ideas, but they need to be developed before there's enough material for a novel. I need to know more about the plot, setting, and characters. I'll be asking myself a lot of questions, coming up with answers that fit with my vision and with the specific story idea I chose, and trying to weave them all together into something that sounds good to me. There will probably be a lot of free-writing and list-making in this stage. Plus a lot of being frustrated with myself for not knowing the answer...

4. Organize an outline

I do enjoy scribbling ideas down by hand in notebooks and having files of random bullet points and snippets of scenes, but I like having my ideas neatly organized even more. I'll be taking my jumble of thoughts and sorting, trimming, and reorganizing them until I can see the big picture with all the pieces where they belong. I like plans and strategies, and having an outline will help me keep track of plot elements and character arcs. Structure is important, and I want to be sure to think ahead so I don't write myself into a corner.

5. Write!

This part scares me. So much. What if I can't make it past a few thousand words? What if my outline doesn't work and I get stuck? What if all I do is open the document and then proceed to surf the web instead of actually working on it? What if I do write something but it's absolutely awful? What if it turns out I'm not cut out to be a writer because I secretly hate writing?

I don't know how I will handle the writing part. I never wrote more than a few brief scenes before. I also never had a complete outline either, so maybe that will help. I don't know. I think I will need word count goals and schedules but I think I will probably fail those and then feel discouraged and not want to write. And I will probably want to edit as I write. Well. I'll worry about it more when I get to that phase. I'm sure I'll be struggling with this a lot. At least that means I will have material to blog about, hm?

6. Repeat 2-5 with a new project

OMG IF I EVER FINISH I WILL BE SO ECSTATIC. When I'm not beating myself up because I think what I wrote is a pile of crap, that is. I'll let myself celebrate a little and resist the urge to dive back in and fix stuff by distracting myself with a new story. I hope I make it to this part.

7. Revise first novel

I'm actually looking forward to revision. How cool is it to be able to read a book and fix all the things you think are wrong with it? I will be so happy to let my inner editor run rampant (though I should probably remind her to be kind, as I don't want me to be too discouraged). I have no idea how much work I'll have to do at this point but I think it'll be fun to see what I've written and try to improve it. Or maybe I'm being delusional and I will actually want to bash my head against a wall and tear my hair out if I make it to this stage. Huh. I guess we'll see.

So, there you go! A general overview of how I'm planning to go about this writing project. Although I did leave out one important element in this plan (there's a brief mention, but nothing concrete). Well, probably more than one, but there's one specific thing I'm thinking of. I don't have a good track record regarding that aspect of planning, so I sort of dread thinking about it. But it's important, so I guess I'll force myself to talk about it in my next post. Can you tell what it is?

If you notice anything else I've overlooked or have any advice or words of wisdom for me, please share! I'm open to suggestions for revising my plan and I would love to learn from your experience. :)