Sending Your Story To Alpha Readers



The Holidays are nearly upon us.

Here at Avengers HQ, I find myself listening to banter about fruitcake, watching Christmas films that no one really wants to watch, and generally trying to keep the peace.

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I'm also trying to start a new story. I am a bit... unfocused when it comes to choosing what to write and starting new novels. I tend to go through several plot bunnies and false starts before I find what I really want to write. I play with ideas of editing old projects, too. 

Editing old projects requires a few things. 

1. I have to love this project enough to want to edit it. 
2. I have to have feedback on it. 

The latter of these is both difficult and not. 

I have a couple friends who are willing to read anything I write and they give good feedback. This is the easy part.

But I am also always a bit frightened of sending things to them. This is the hard part.

I know my story is flawed. I want to be ready to send it, feel like it's a good story with small bugs instead of plot holes that will eat you. I know I made mistakes and maybe I should fix them before I send them to my alpha-readers. 

But alpha readers are there to help me find the mistakes so that I know how to fix them. 

If you wait until you're ready to send a story to someone, you never will send it.

The other day, I was playing with the idea of editing the novel I wrote for NaNo '15. One of my alphas had read it and the other had not. I had just never sent it to him. The majority of the story, though fun to write, was mortifying. But the main plot or at least the concept has potential to be great and I loved the characters. 

So I asked my alpha if he'd read it. He didn't need to give in depth feedback; I just need to know if I should rewrite, edit, or move on. 

He said yes. I sent it before I lost my nerve. 

And now, I wait. As I always do. But with Christmas coming up and critique reading of my own to do, I am plenty busy and can be patient.

My advice to you for having someone read your stories:
  1.  Ask. Even though my alphas will read anything I send them, I still find it's good manners to ask if I can send it to them. 
  2.  Be specific about what kind of feedback you want. Do you want specific things or general? Big stuff or line edits? 
  3. Grit your teeth and send it.
  4. DO NOT LOOK AT THE STORY AFTER IT'S BEEN SENT. You will drive yourself to insanity because you will notice mistakes.
  5.  Be gracious when the feedback comes back. Don't argue. (I also find that if you have to explain away feedback, it's because you didn't explain the topic well enough in the story.)
  6.  At some point shortly after you receive feedback, ask your reader specific questions if you have them. This is also a good chance to ask questions about the feedback. 
  7.  Let the feedback simmer before you apply it. Ultimately, everything is your choice; you are the author. You may decide that your reader was wrong and you don't want to add flying ninja squirrels to the story. Or you may disagree with feedback and then realize the reader was right. 
  8. Be willing to read their stories if they are writers. Iron sharpens iron. Help each other grow as writers. 
I hope this was helpful to you. These things have been very helpful to me over the years (I ignored the rule of don't look at the story after it's been sent and I about died of humiliation. Please don't ignore that rule.).

And now, back to getting into my new story and watching Thor, Captain America, and Dr. Banner try to make a gingerbread house. Oh look here comes Mr. Stark... oh dear. I had better go help them.

Don't forget our Twitter Chat this Friday! We're discussing Editing and the chat will start at 8:30 PM. 

Mr. Stark, I really think that building Stark Tower with gingerbread is a bit excessive... 

~Vision




Twitter Chat



Hello, readers.

Here at Avenger's HQ, we're getting ready for the Holidays.


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Look how festive! (This picture is a few years old, unfortunately. Since our dispute earlier this year, things aren't nearly as holly-jolly. But this is still a good one for Christmas Cards, yes?)













Most of you are probably doing the same.

I hope your November and NaNoWriMo's were wonderful. Some of you might have newly finished drafts. Congratulations from us.

This month's Twitter Chat is all about editing. If you are wanting to edit your new story or are currently editing or will be editing in the future, then join us for a chat. We're eager to hear your tips and tricks and share some of our own.

The chat is at 8:30 PM EST on Friday, December 23rd.

We hope to see you then!

~Vision

Completing Your Adventure

Greeting, it is I, Thor.


I have been a way for a while and I cannot tell you where I have been. I can tell you that I was with Loki and some strange things have been happening. (rest of paragraph redacted for spoilers)

I am here to encourage you as NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) comes to an end. There is still time if you have not finishing crafting your warrior novel. Every book has a beginning. Writing a book, whether you wrote it in one month or if you dragged in some book baggage that needed written this month, is an important accomplishment. You achieved something. Even if you only wrote eight hundred words, you started something.

There is still time to finish writing your novel. 

Don't give up.

I can honestly say that I have a folder of novels on my computer labeled as "Unfinished/Shelved Novels". Sometimes once I finish them, I realize that they aren't really good. Or I get part way through writing a book and stop. They all end up in the folder. But that's okay. If you don't finish your novel, you tried. Not every idea is meant to be a book. I once had an idea about three faeries taking a road trip to a place that looked exactly like Lothlorien, along with a cliched villain who killed the main faerie's parents, but was her uncle. Yes, that book is shelved. It wasn't good. But I am happy that I wrote it. Every word on the page is an accomplishment.

Someday all of your work will be worth it.

And remember, it's a first draft. First drafts are not meant to be perfect and sparkly. They are full of plot holes, accidental name changes, and some horrible writing. The important part, is that you finish the draft. You can fix the problems in revisions later.

Write.

Write and don't give up on your novel.

Now I seem to have misplaced something important. Darryl is supposed to be procuring a horse for us to ride. (spoilers redacted)

-THOR

And Now The Weather

*rap beat*

Hey.

Listen up, writers of NaNo or just those who are writing and maybe you're stuck and not feeling your story. Whatever you're doing, Vision is here to cheer you on.

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Keep dreaming and reaching for the moon.

Keep plotting because you will get there soon.

Keeping scheming just because you could.

Keeping writing because I know that your story is going to be good.

I can't wait to read this story of from you.

And now that you're encouraged, you've got writing to do. (And me too!)

Vision out.

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NaNoWriMo Is Upon Us!

Greetings, writers!

This is Vision and I have a couple of announcements.

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Firstly, our monthly Twitter Chat will be on Friday, November 11th, starting at 9 PM EST. This will be less of an informative chat and more of a "How's the writing going?" chat.

Secondly. We spoke last month of potentially doing word wars and virtual write-ins through out the month of November. We got a good response from you on Twitter, telling us that you would enjoy both of these activities.

While we have decided to do both of these, we've also made the decision to make this easy and instead of trying to schedule around different things (like other enjoyable word war events and write-ins) and promote and hope for a good turn out, we will open a chatroom.

That's right, we have a chatroom!

We're going to keep this chatroom open 24-7 throughout the whole month. The chatroom is not Premium, so it will only hold 10 people at a time, but if we find ourselves faced with overflow, we'll open a second chat and I'll be there, too.

To ensure that we all enjoy ourselves, there are a few rules.

Rules:
1. Be kind.
2. Please keep discussions at a PG-13 level or lower (preferably lower). We might have younger guests.
3. No swearing.
4. No spam.
5. No spoilers (This does not have to include your own book that you are working on. You may spoil that if you wish. We are willing to help you brainstorm through a tough spot.).

Here is the chatroom.

You are welcome to come whenever it is convenient for you and you can invite friends. I will be there a lot of the day, ready to host word wars and discuss writing as needed.

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We hope you can join us!

Vision out.

You Are a Warrior

I like to think of the Avengers as warriors, instead of soldiers.

Soldiers are noble—they fight for their country, to protect those they love. They have honor, and camaraderie.

The Avengers…we are different. I was not surprised when we fought each other over the Sokovian Accords. Warriors have their own personal reasons for fighting. A sense of responsibility. Of past trauma.

Someone like Steve fights because he cannot help it. He needs a purpose for his strength. Why have abilities if you do not use them to help people?

Stark fights because he feels guilty about his past. Thor fights to protect a realm he cherishes. Each of us has a reason. I can see them all like fault lines in our minds. Are we each broken in a way that makes us strong, or are we on the verge of shattering entirely?

It is a delicate balance.

I think writers are the same kind of people. Warriors. Each writer has a reason. A deep, driving urge that encourages them to put pen to paper, or fingers to the keyboard. When you are a warrior, sometimes you must fight alone. Sometimes you must push on past your fear, past your uncertainties. Sometimes you are very lucky, and someone like Hawkeye tells you to put the past behind you, to fight for the present.

So you step up. You become an Avenger, or sign up for NaNoWriMo. You commit to use these maddening, frustrating abilities in a world that doesn’t make sense. Because you are a warrior.
That is what NaNoWriMo is all about. It gathers up all the lone warriors, driven by individual motivations. Whether you have a detailed outline or absolutely no plan how to defeat the robot horde you helped create—you are a warrior, and telling your story is one of the most important battles you’ve ever faced.


Do not lose heart. It is a big job, and scary. But you control your own fear. And you can win this battle.

~Wanda

Plotting and Planning and Being a Slow Writer

In the grand scheme of Team Iron Man and Team Cap... I'm not sure where I stand. I Follow Mr. Stark and understand his point of view, but Captain Rogers... his point of view is different yet also makes sense.

And yet, this isn't really about teams. This is more of "what do you believe" separated into two groups. I don't like being made to choose when I understand and don't have a problem with either choice.

Thankfully, there's absolutely nothing in writing that is like that. Or is there?

Two teams: Pantsing or Plotting.

I used to say I was a pantser, or one who wrote "by the seat of their pants". I hated outlining. I hated the thought of outlining.

But then I looked back at my notebooks and realized that I did indeed plot. Just not the whole thing before I started. And I felt lost if I didn't know what was going to happen.

I tried plotting a book last summer. An entire book using the J.K. Rowling method. I plotted it and it was beautiful. And then nothing else happened with that outline. I tried writing the story a few times, but never really got going.

Another division that doesn't get talked about a lot in writing: the people who write fast and the people who don't.

A lot of the time, it seems like I am a really slow writer. But I just finished a novel (well, 32K words...) and it took me about two months. Which to some is really fast.

Like with the dilemma between the Avengers, I don't know where I stand.

But may I submit that it doesn't matter?

The point of being a writer is to tell a story in your own unique way with your own process. I am a writer who plans a bit, getting what I need to know of my story, and then writing, making things up and planning more as I go. I write at my own speed with my own length of novel. I do not need to compare myself to other writers, unless I wish to learn from them.

NaNoWriMo is coming up. I have managed to write 50K during November once, last year. And now I have a novel I don't really want to go back and edit. Not entirely, perhaps, because I wrote it all in one month. But I don't want to try writing a novel that fast again for a while.

Instead, I am going to use NaNoWriMo to my advantage, not worrying about how many words I write in a month, but using it as a tool to encourage me to work on whatever story I'm working on.

Good luck in all your writing endeavors, no matter what your process is.

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Vision out.

Write What You Love

Sometimes, I get a little tired of what I’m working on. It feels like all I ever do is write the same stories over and over, just in different formats. As if I’m never producing anything exciting or original to share with the world. Of course, I’m also trying to save the world at the same time...but that’s beside the point.

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We’re already more than a third of the way through October, and many of you may be preparing for NaNoWriMo in November. In fact, preparing for November is the exact reason that I’m writing a shorter post this week - it takes up more time than one would think.

If you’re losing interest in your work, or if you’re unsure what to do, let me ask you this:

What stories do you love?

Is it the exciting stories where every action flows into the next? The suspenseful stories? Stories with complex characters? Ones with bittersweet endings?

Many writers are also avid readers (although it’s not a prerequisite!) and what we enjoy reading tends to affect what we enjoy writing.

So today, I’ve got two tricks of the trade for you to try, tricks that I myself have used more than once. Sadly, they aren’t impressive fighting maneuvers. (I’m still trying to learn those.)

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First, there’s a brainstorming technique.

Make a list of the following:

~ What book clich├ęs frustrate you?
~ What topics do you feel aren’t written about?
~ What were the flaws in a book you didn’t like?
~ What were the virtues of a book you did like?
~ What books would you love to read?
If there’s a book out there you want to read, then write it! It’s as simple as that. Don’t wait for someone else to write it for you.

The second piece of advice that I have to offer is this: Look at your manuscript with the eyes of a fan.

It may sound silly, but I’m my own biggest fan. Of course, I’m my own biggest critic as well. But when I’m losing motivation, when I don’t feel the same love for my work as I normally do, I have to take a step back.

Imagine your favorite fandoms, the way that you react towards the stories you love - and then imagine someone applying that same love to your novel.

Yes, there may be flaws in your plot, uncertainties in your world-building, problems with your character development. But every author's work has that. No one writes a perfect book, not J.R.R. Tolkien or J.K. Rowling or any other famous author.

Your story has merit - and someday, I hope to be one of your fans.

Announcing October Twitter Chat



Hello, readers.

I'm here to announce that this month's Twitter Chat will be on October 22 at 8:30 PM EDT. We will be discussing NaNoWriMo preparations and strategy.

We hope you will join us!

~Vision

Trust Your Instincts


One thing I've learned in my life as a soldier is that you have to trust your gut instincts. Sometimes there isn't time to make a decision and you have to react quickly. In those instances, you sometimes have to rely on your gut and just hope for the best.

Writing isn't terribly unlike that. You can read dozens of blog posts and books about the craft, you can take webinars and classes and attend critique groups. And there isn't anything wrong with that! But when it comes down to it, sometimes there isn't a clear-cut solution to every question or choice. And choices? Writing a novel is full of them.

What POV and tense should you write your book in? Is your beginning strong enough? Should you keep this character or nix them? What about this plot point where there's a fork in the road? What do you do?


Even the most famous authors or the best writing classes can't tell you what to do because it's all subjective. It's your story. It's your writing. And the only one who can make that choice is you. 

Making those choices can be difficult, though. I can't tell you how many times I've let a WIP languish while I tried to decide what to do with it. However, my mindset changed when I joined the army, and it changed even more when I became the Winter Soldier. In a way, my time as the good old WS meant that all I could do was rely on my gut and my base instincts. Though I'm not the Winter Soldier anymore (at least I'm trying not to be), I try to trust my instincts still. (Like I trusted my gut instinct that told me I knew Steve Rogers, for example. Except not at first...)

Still sorry about this, Steve.

Even if you're scared, that's okay. Writing a book is scary stuff! But know that you are perfectly confident and capable to write this story. It's a story you came up with for a reason, and you've got what it takes to make all the right decisions. And even if you don't, there's always a second draft. And a third. And on and on... You don't have to get it right the first time.

No matter how many drafts it takes or where your writing journey takes you, trust your instincts. Trust your story, too. As Madeleine L'Engle said:

"If the book tells me to do something completely unexpected, I heed it; the book is usually right." - Madeleine L'Engle

Your story telling you to do something? That's your gut instinct. So go with it and believe in yourself. You are more capable than you know, and this story is yours. Do whatever you want with it. Chase the stars, aim high, and trust your gut. As Amy Butler Greenfield said in her interview with Loki...

“Trust your deepest instincts. Write the book that only you can write.” - Amy Butler Greenfield


Don't worry. I believe in you. You've got this.

- Bucky



Education for the Modern Hero

Write what you know, conventional wisdom says.

We've all had problems with this advice.  I used to hate it.  These days, I interpret it differently.  Write what you know-- and what you can infer.  Write what you can assume, based on the things that have happened to you.  Write what you can guess.

I don't know what happens when a dragon breathes fire.  But I know what fire does, and I can guess.  I, personally, haven't felt the power of a wormhole-- not like Tony has-- but again, I can guess.  My writing would be pretty boring if I just wrote about basic training and being frozen.

I guess a lot of stuff, but in almost every area, I try to make it as educated a guess as I can.

How do you make an educated guess?  You already know the answer: educate yourself.

Book Learning

Read!  Attend classes!  Be scholarly and all that.  It takes time and dedication to the topic, but it's usually worth it.  I once read Moby Dick because I thought I was studying the whaling industry.  I never used that information in a finished book, but I did learn a lot.

Be smart about this, though.  If your story really needs an in-depth understanding of Kantian ethics, go for it.  If not, just get the overview.  There is no limit to what you can learn, so be careful with what you choose to pursue.  Advanced differential equations?  Not much use in literature.  Basics of astronomy?  A little more useful in the sci-fi realm.

Is it worthwhile to take classes geared toward writing?  Well, I'll let you figure that out for yourself.  I'm a special case-- I chose to join the military rather than take a single writing class.  Who knows what would have happened had I pursued a liberal arts major instead?  I probably would have enjoyed myself, and I'd probably be a better writer.  But to me, this experience was worth it.  And that brings us to the next point...

Experience

Try stuff!  Ask people to show you things!  Get out of your comfort zone.  It's easy to study a million different topics, but actually getting yourself elbow-deep in a profession or an activity is a different thing altogether.  Sometimes this isn't practical-- space, for instance, isn't something you can jump into, per se.  But there are plenty of things in this world that are worth experiencing.  Each of those experiences allows you to infer a little more about the rest of the world.

Again, be smart.  Don't hurt yourself.  Don't spend so much time trying things that you forget to write.  And don't try to do the same things you put your characters through.  That could prove fatal.


Classroom learning cannot substitute for experience.  If you have a choice between the two, choose experience.

***

If you're at a loss for what to try learning, try some of the following: for book learning, psychology and social sciences are always fun.  History can inspire some good stories.  Languages are a ton of fun.  It doesn't really matter what you learn, however-- a better understanding of the world, people, and past will always help flesh out your writing.  For experiences, try martial arts, visiting new places, and different styles of living.  You might end up finding a lifestyle you'd like to pursue, rather than putting your characters through it.

Finally, let me reiterate: exploration and learning are fun, but keep your goal in mind.  If you spend all this time discovering the world and yourself, but not writing, you're not moving forward on that path.  Maybe you're okay with that.  Maybe it's time to hang up the writing costume for a while as you pursue other things.  But if your goal is to improve your writing through expanding your mind, you need to keep writing.  Writers write.  Just keep that in mind.

This post was partially inspired by Iron Man's post from years ago, about learning languages.  This is still one of my favorite pieces of advice, and while I haven't settled on a single language yet, I'm working on it.  I encourage you to reread that post if it's been a while.

Write!  Live!  Learn!  But mostly, write.

~Captain America

What is holding you back?

If I may ask a question, what is holding you back? 

Imagine, if you will, that you are writing your novel (or short story or poem or whatever) and everything is going marvelously. Words are flying out of your fingertips (figuratively speaking, of course) and the writing is all coming together. 

Then, quite suddenly, something has happened. You know what you are planning to write, but the words have stopped flowing. 

[Open W/ A Member of Team Cap ] “Yes, I understand what your point is, but signing the Accords could prevent many horrible things.” His forehead wrinkled and he looked at them with slight understanding. —“There is a point to my actions.”

This is a bit of a problem.

If you've been writing for a while, you may decide to just take a break. (We're still imagining this scenario.) You take a break, have a cookie, get some fresh air. You come back ready to write. Fully prepared to attack this thing on which you are stuck. 

You attack with all the grace of a two-headed hippopotamus. (It's a metaphor... I think.)

The words are coming. But they don't flow like before. You have to force them out. They feel wrong. Then the whole story feels wrong. 

You doubt yourself. Sometimes, it will get to the extent of wondering if you even can write or should you. 

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Now, sometimes this is just writerly doubt. All writers, even published ones, go through this. Sometimes this is just you not being excited about the thing you have to write. Sometimes this is your subconcious telling you something is wrong with the story.

There are many reasons why this writing is not fun at the moment. But there is one specific reason that I would like to address.

Who are you writing this story for? 

I am not speaking of your general audience. I am not speaking of whom you plan to dedicate this story to.

Are you writing for yourself?

If you are stuck and you begin to fear that someone will not like this story, whether that be a specific person or a general someone, then there is a problem. That is not writing for yourself.

You cannot write a story under the fear that you are writing things no one wants to read. You cannot write under the fear that this is bad writing, even if it actually is bad writing.

In the terminology of author John Green, you must allow yourself to suck. (This is from the same man who says "Don't forget to be awesome.")

What does this mean? It means that it is okay to write badly, especially in a first draft.

First drafts are full of potential. Much like a cake mix.
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You have eggs, sugar, butter, flour, oil/butter, and baking powder. Then you mix those things up. You have a bowl of goop that might taste good, but will taste much better once you pour it into a pan and cook it.

But if you spend the whole time you are mixing it up thinking that eggs are terrible and flour is bland and sugar is the only good thing-- how could these things ever come together to make something good and what if this person doesn't like it... you will not enjoy baking.

Likewise, if you spend writing time worrying, you will not enjoy writing.

So, what do you do?

You don't worry.

1.You write this story for yourself. Right now, you are the one hearing this story. Write it to entertain yourself. Find out what makes you excited and write that. You don't have to keep your writing and the process to yourself, but bear in mind that if you share too much, you may be putting too much pressure on yourself.

2. Allow the story to feel wrong for now. Everything is fixable. Chances are that your writing is not as bad as you think it is. Writers have a tendency to overreact sometimes (we have a good imagination). 

3. Writers also have the tendency to take things personally. After all, what you write is a small piece of you and something you've worked hard on. But just because someone dislikes your writing does not mean they dislike you. This is very good to remember if the person you’re worried about is someone whose opinions you value, like those of a parent or a good friend.

Your job right now is to not worry about anyone else. You can burn that bridge when you get to it. (Are my metaphors getting any better?)

Your job is to write your story and have fun doing it.

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What is holding you back? 

~Vision

Postscript: Our September Twitter chat is next week! (Friday, the 23rd, 8:30-9:30 PM EDT)  Join us!

Choose Your Story

When I am not on Avengers business, I get to enjoy Fall. When we were younger, after our parents died, Pietro and I had some difficult winters. Sokovia can get very cold. Now though the air gets more crisp and I think of warm sweaters, hot drinks, and NaNoWriMo.

September is one step closer to October. October is meant to be spent preparing for NaNoWriMo. It is in September that I think of what story I might write this November.

We all have a number of stories in our minds. It is why Tony and Steve fought over the Sokovia Accords. It is why each of us had a slightly different idea of what was right. Every NaNoWriMo, we get to choose which story we want to tell. That story could take over your life for months. You could be working on it for the next year, polishing it up so that it becomes what you imagined it could be.

Choosing which story to tell can shape your life.

Just like we choose which life story we wish to tell with our actions.

When Pietro and I decided to fight against the Iron Man, we thought we knew what was right. We took the information available to us and we used it to target the man we felt was responsible. We gained our powers, we helped Ultron come into being. We were telling a story of justice and courage.

Then I saw into Ultron’s mind, and discovered that his was not a story I wanted to be a part of. The Avengers let us fight beside them. Hawkeye gave me the encouragement to change the story, to make sure that Ultron’s tale of destruction was not the story we went to bed with at night.

I was free to choose which story I wanted to tell. Just as I am free to choose the story in my mind that feels right—the one that I want people to remember me for.

There will be mistakes. Sometimes our stories are misguided. Sometimes the stakes are too high, and we experience pain and grief because it does not come out the way we wanted it to.

Then we start to tell a new story.


Think hard about the story you want to tell this November. But know that I will not judge you if you change your mind, somewhere down the road. We do the best we can, with the ideas available to us. That is all anyone can ask of us.

Setting The Stage: How To Begin Worldbuilding

When I had to break into Pym Technologies to steal the Yellowjacket suit, I made sure I knew the layout of the building beforehand. Where were the guards? Where did the security system operate? How could I use my ant-riding skills in the most awesome way possible? (All right, maybe not that last one. But you’ve got to admit, it was pretty awesome.)


            


Similarly, it can be very helpful for you to know about the setting of your novel before you begin to write it. You might be setting it in a place that already exists-London, Brazil, the Sahara Desert, you name it. Or you might set it in a different universe entirely. The possibilities are practically endless.


But how do you begin to build a fictional world, one that really makes sense?

There’s no right or wrong way to start the process of worldbuilding. However, I’m here to offer some pointers on getting started.


If your setting already exists, then research can be a huge help. Especially if your story takes place in a historical time period, then it’s a good idea to make sure the facts are correct. Look in books, look online, even talk to experts if you can. And who knows? You may uncover cool facts that inspire whole new stories. That’s the wonderful thing about research.


If you’re creating a setting from scratch, you may think you don’t need to do research, or any planning at all. But surprisingly, you probably do. Even in completely fictional worlds, the details still need to make sense with one another. Contradicting facts will lead to many headaches later on in your writing. So take some time to create the structure of your world. The small details are important too - tiny facts can have immeasurable power.


                     


The setting of a story will have an impact on its characters. Their backstory, their beliefs, their language...all of that will be affected by the world around them. Sometimes, the process of building and researching a world will help you learn more about your character. Other times, you might learn more about your world by developing your character first. Again, there’s no right or wrong way. It took me a long time to learn how to use my Ant-Man suit, but eventually, I found a method that worked for me, and the same goes for writing.


Don’t forget about the mundane or basic truths of worldbuilding, either. What currency is used? How do people obtain food and shelter? What about plumbing and sewage?


Here are some topics you might want to think about.


  1. Geography, weather, and climate. What is the physical location of your story like? How does it affect those who live there?
  2. Basic needs-food, clothing, shelter, and so forth. How are they obtained?
  3. Trade, economics, and money. Do these have an effect on your world? How does everyone get the goods and services they want/need?
  4. Religion. What religions exist in this world, if any? How do they affect daily life?
  5. Government. Is someone in charge? Does it vary depending on where you go?
  6. Technology. How advanced is the world? What tools have they created to serve their daily needs?
  7. History. Have there been wars? Times of peace? Changes in government, advances in technology, social breakthroughs? Where has society come from and where does it seem to be headed?


One more important truth about worldbuilding is that it can seem never-ending. When my alter ego is developing her world, she normally ends up with more questions at the end of the day than at the beginning. It feels as if each new discovery - how the government functions, where the water comes from, what types of animals exist - just opens up another issue to be solved.


That’s perfectly all right.


The process of building a world from scratch isn’t easy, and the process of writing about a world that already exists isn’t easy either.


But I know you can do it. Writing is a marathon, and it takes a lot of stamina. Even when the end doesn’t seem to be in sight, keep running.


                       


Write on!

~ Ant-Man

Twitter Chat for September

Happy Saturday to you.

I'm here to announce that this month's Twitter Chat will take place on Friday, September 23. We will start the chat at 8:30 PM EDT and finish approximately one hour later.

This month we will be discussing Pre-Writing, the things you do before actually starting to write.

Join us!

~Vision

I Remember All of Them: Piecing Together Your Character's Memories

As a brainwashed supersoldier, memories are kind of a big thing for me. I mean, they're the biggest thing for me... considering I don't have a lot of them.


As I try to remember what my life was like before becoming the Winter Soldier, it's occurred to me that my quest for memories can translate to writing, too--particularly character development.

In order for characters to become fully-fledged people, it's important to give them all the things that people tend to have in reality. Characters need an origin story, a personality, a manner of speaking, a fatal flaw, etc. One thing I personally forget to give my characters is MEMORIES. (Though that's probably because I'm still trying to find mine).

Even though it's something that isn't often considered, characters do have memories (unless they're like me). They have good memories, they have bad memories. Every memory comes together to form a complex patchwork of the character's history, what makes them who they are. And I bet their memories impact them a lot more than you'd think. Whether those memories are traumatic (I have a lot of experience with those) or happy (I have some experience with those), they can influence the character's decisions. The past affects us more than you might think (I have experience with that, too).


Sometimes there are bad memories. In my quest to remember, I've been watching movies. One in particular is The Lion King, which has an applicable quote: “The past can hurt. But the way I see it, you can either run from it or learn from it.” Is your character running from something? (I would know what that's like... I've been doing a lot of running.)


But then there's nostalgia--good memories can also a major component of your character's back story. Is your character running to something, trying to get their past back? Trying to recreate it? (I've been doing that too.)


There are so many possibilities. To develop your characters and move forward with your story, maybe you need to look back. Try figuring out...

Your character's best memories
Your character's worst memories
Your character's first memory
Your character's "defining moment"
Your character's most embarrassing memory
Your character's proudest memory

However you choose to piece together your character's memories, I hope it helps you figure out more about your characters. And I'll be with you every step of the way. Eventually, we'll be able to remember everything... together.


Signing off for now,
-Bucky

Live Your Dreams: Make A List

Do you have goals?

I'm sure you have dreams.  Everyone has dreams.  I dream of finally learning to dance.  I dream of having a real job.  I dream of using that real job to buy a mountain of cannolis and eating them all in one sitting.

Maybe eating cannolis could be my job.

At any rate, we have dreams.  But dreams are lofty.  They're out of reach.  I can imagine a mountain of cannolis, but I can't have them.  Yet.


That's the key word: yet.  It might be lofty, but there are a bunch of little things I can do to work up to that dream.  Those little things are your goals.

You know all this.  You're a productive member of society.  You have dreams that you'll achieve someday (I know you will!) and you know to keep working toward them.  So why am I writing this?

I have recently discovered a wonderful magic more powerful than any of my new friends.  It's called writing stuff down.

If you get it down on paper, you can start fixing it.  Everyone says that about first drafts.  If the story just stays up in your head, it never goes anywhere.  Not all goals are the same way, but in general... yeah, goals are the same way.

If my life was a musical, my monologue song would be "I wanted to do that but I forgot!" with a carefree yet disappointed melody.  I've thought up moves to try with Barton, technology things to ask Tony, and workout tips for Thor.  (The man skips leg day ritually.)  I can remember thinking all of these things-- but I can't recall what I actually thought up.

I started writing my goals down a couple weeks ago, and it's changed the way I work.  I look up, see that list, and decide on something to tackle.  I immediately can see how much work I'll have to do today, or this week, or this month.  I still forget stuff, but when I remember I add it to the list.

But remembering stuff?  That's small potatoes.  Consider this: each time you make a list of goals, you reevaluate.

We need to constantly reevaluate to live.  I'm not the same person I was last year-- I'm definitely not the same person I was ten years ago.  (My body temperature is much higher now.)  If I want to grow, I need to keep figuring out where I am in each journey I've begun.  Creating a goal list forces you to do that.  It forces you to figure out a timeline for getting stuff done.  This, to me, is the most valuable thing I've learned from goal setting.


So what kinds of goals am I talking about?  I've got a million of them— how do we break up that giant list into smaller and smaller bites?

Long Distance Goals

Long distance goals are the building blocks for your dreams.  Dreams are still lofty and unreachable-- long distance goals are large steps along the way.  You can't accomplish them in one fell swoop, but you can certainly chip away at them.  These are things you want to accomplish by the time 3 to 6 months pass.

For me, this involves querying a novel, writing a couple of blog posts, and some miscellaneous workout goals that line up with my current level of fitness.  It isn't anything too crazy-- it's achievable in that time period-- but it will take some effort.

Be careful with these goals, though.  While they're easy to write down, they can become frustrating if you don't see yourself making progress.  Don't be afraid to change them.  Our goals change over time as we change.  These should be easy to write down, but also easy to change if need be.

Middle Distance Goals

These are closer to the here-and-now, but they're still complex problems.  They still require a couple steps to complete.  These are goals that build toward your long distance goals, achievable over a week or two.


Every day this week, I want to do X.  I put these goals up there.  Things that might happen a couple days from now, I put here too.  But also, things that I could do any time, but need to get done this week.  For instance, writing this post.  I knew I wanted to do it by the end of the week, and now I'm doing it at the start of the week.  I'm happy with that.

Short Distance Goals

Finally, the urgent goals.  These are things that need to be done today, or you'd like to get done today.  They're generally one-step tasks-- easy to write down, easy to check off.  If it's something you'd like to do, however, it could end up being pushed to the next day.  That's just how life is.

Today, I needed to write this blog post, work out, and actually write out this week's goals.  I've managed to do most of that already, so I'm ahead of schedule.

Lots of goals, lots of productivity.  I hope this has helped you a little bit-- it's not the standard writing advice, but I promise it'll help.  Write down your goals.  Get a clearer view of what you need to do.  Above all, reevaluate your position in the world.  That's how we grow.

Live awesomely.

~Cap

I Wish to Understand Them

Hello. I, Vision, have some thoughts for you on Character Development.

When you begin a new story, one of the most important things is to develop is your characters. If you do not have good characters, if no one cares about them, then it doesn't matter what amazing adventures and antics you put them through. No one will want to keep reading.

You must get to know your characters. You must understand them so you know how they act and think.

But how do you get to know your characters when, perhaps, you've only just met them?



This is very simple, actually. You do this the same way that you do it when you meet a real person. You ask questions and talk to them. You learn more about them.

"Oh. You mean that I have to fill out those 100-question questionnaires..."

No, not at all.

What I mean to say is that yes, you can do that. But there are other ways to get what you need for the story. And honestly, these might be more enjoyable. (Unless you love filling out those questionnaires. Then please go ahead.)

But before we get into that, what do you actually need for successful character development?

My writing alter-ego recently had the pleasure of attending a writers' conference (Chapter One Con) and listening to author Francesca Zappia (she wrote Made You Up) speak on character development across genres. She said that no matter what genre, you need to know five things for your characters:

  1. Background-- Their history
  2. Skills-- What they can do and are good at doing
  3. Goals-- What do they want to do (things they have to do for the story and the kitten that has nothing to do with the plot)
  4. Motivation-- What keeps them going
  5. Appearance-- What they look like, how they dress (and why they dress like that), facial expressions

Learning these things can last throughout the entire time you're writing and maybe even after all things are written. Don't panic if you don't know absolutely every detail about your characters' lives. You do not need to know every little detail.

So how do you find out what you do need to know?

You start by writing down what you already know. But keep in mind that this is not set in stone. If you write down that your main character's favorite food is pizza but then find out later his favorite food is actually paprikash, because his Hungarian grandmother made it for him when he was a child, that is okay. And characters can have more than one favorite food.

So, you've written everything down and it's not much. Maybe you have almost nothing written down. That's alright. The next thing you do, is fill in some of those blanks with things you want to write. Go ahead and give that character blue eyes. Your character's blue eyes do not need to have a deeper meaning other than you wanted this character to have blue eyes. 

Done? Now, the extra fun. Become a fan of your own writing. 

(Suggestions with asterisks are suggestions Ms. Zappia made)

1. Write fan-fiction.* Put your characters in crazy scenarios. Put them in Narnia or Wonderland. Put them in a murder mystery. A coffee shop. Put them in a "well what if this happened instead of this?". The possibilities are endless and the goal is to find out how they react in these situations. And no one has to read this except you.

2. Draw your characters*. This may help you get a better idea of what your character looks like. Again, no one has to see this except you, so don't worry about your drawing skills. 

3. Put your characters in the Hunger Games. This is a good one to do if you don't know their personalities yet, because THG is dependent on skills and how well a character can fight. Rank your characters from "dead meat" to "victor". And don't worry if your main character is "dead meat"; that just tells you more about them. 

You could also try to figure out which, if any, of your characters could lift Thor's hammer.
4. Personality-based fun. What Pokemon does your character have*? What Hogwarts House are they sorted into*? (I've actually been doing that one for a while and I've discovered that if I don't know what House they'd be in, I don't know them well enough.) And you could do other quizzes online-- what fruit are they, what famous book, etc.  

The main thing to remember about your characters is that, to an extent, everything they do comes back to background. It all should make sense with your character's history, even if the traits are not direct causes of it.


The other thing to remember, like with all writing things, is to have fun. Your goal is to understand your characters. Get to know them. There are no rules and you do not have to do any or all of this before you put pen to paper. And no one has to see how you have developed your characters. This is for you.

With that, I close. 

~Vision


Mind Control

Whether you are writing realism or speculative fiction of some sort, readers have to believe in the world you create. Your characters are their window into that world. We all want to see a bit of ourselves in others. It is your job to shape a character readers can relate to.

Mind reading is not so different from reading books. When I read a mind and see nothing human in it, nothing I can relate to, that scares me. Ultron was like that, when he used Dr. Cho’s cradle. When I read a book and cannot put myself in the heads of the characters because there is nothing I can relate to, I probably will not finish that book.

So how do you read minds if you have not undergone experiments with a magical scepter?

My powers need to be exercised so that I can learn best how to control them. For people who are not “Enhanced,” I would say you should exercise empathy. There is a difference between saying, “I understand,” and feeling the same thing as someone else. Empathy is not just listening, it is a deliberate attempt to feel what someone else feels.

The best way to exercise your empathy is to talk to people. Talk, and listen. When a loved one tells you something sad, do not immediately say “it will get better.” Take a moment to sit with them in that sadness. Only by feeling what they feel can you understand and truly comfort them.

Likewise, only by understanding emotions well enough to empathize can you write believable, compelling characters.

It is a unique struggle for some people. Take the Vision, for example. Jarvis did not have access to human emotions, or the capacity for empathy. He had only programming. When the Vision was created, he gained *access* to human emotion, but not exactly the capacity for it. It is something we all have to learn, I think. He was young enough to comprehend the passions and fears that drive humans, but not quite experienced enough to feel them yet.

Now, he does his best to talk to us. He studies people, how they work and why they do what they do. As any good writer should also do, if they wish to write characters readers will love.

Thankfully, we are not all synthetic humans like Vision. We sometimes have to be reminded to step out of our own problems long enough to feel someone else’s, but we are very capable of doing so.

Your assignment is to practice this. Make empathy an intentional act. Gain control over when and how you use it. You understand the building blocks of a person when you comprehend their emotions. What drives your characters? Do they feel pain, or fear? Make them as human and fallible as the rest of us.


Eventually you will have control over minds in your own way, making readers feel what you want them to feel. It is a big responsibility, having that kind of power. Thankfully, writers can’t abuse the power of empathy the same way that I can abuse my magic. Don’t hold yourself back.
~Scarlet Witch