7 Great Online Research Resources for Writers

We may have a love/hate relationship with research, but no one says no to research resources! Who knows when you’ll need to research the shell patterns of the earth’s first living turtles?

Editing Addict, LLC

[found on dailywritingtips.com by Mark Nichol]

“Doing research to strengthen a current story or article, or to get ideas for a new one? You can google all you want and hope for a productive return, but to engage in a focused search, try one of these mediated experiences instead:

1. Infoplease

From current events to reference-desk resources to features about history, this site puts a remarkable array of information within reach. Guides to the nations of the world, timelines of political, social, and cultural developments, special quantitative and qualitative features like “The World’s Most Corrupt Nations” and “Color Psychology,” and more cover just about anything you could think of.

2. The Internet Public Library

Unlike the other reference centers on this list, the IPL is a portal to other Web sites, brimming with directories of links in topics like Arts & Humanities. (Dictionary of Symbolism? Check. Ask Philosophers? Right. Legendary Lighthouses?…

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Guest Post: How Properly Structured Beginnings and Endings Hold Your Book Together

Everyone loves novel structuring advice from the experts!

The Artist's Road

The indomitable K.M. Weiland is at it again with a new writing craft book titled Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story. We have on occasion posted on each other’s blogs and we like to retweet each other. Today I’m providing a new guest post from her that provides a bit of free wisdom from her latest book. I was given a preview draft of the book and was struck by what an easy read it is. K.M. brings to the book the skill she brings to her blog. It is well-organized, full of lists and to-do’s, the type of book you can pick up and put down as you please and still draw value from it. Without further ado, here’s K.M.

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Perhaps the one thing that most distinguishes a book from real life is the fact that a book has a beginning and…

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Epiphanies of Gratitude

Has anyone ever thought about the things they are good at and been truly glad for it? Like running fast or unfailingly burning toast; sketching comics or creating a world of words. I never really had a moment like that even after so many years of writing. In fact, it was only recently that I started to realise I wanted to be a writer; a dedicated writer, not the whimsical hobbyist I started off as. I can’t say that’s going spectacularly right now, but the new resolve sure makes me feel better!

I was listening to the radio the other day and a pop tune was playing. Now, I have to admit that I’m not a fan of the hot hits on the airwaves these days. Pretty much most music older than me would hold my ear better. So you might say that I might not have had this light bulb moment if ABBA had been playing instead. What I thought was: Gee, it takes a lot less effort to sing a popular song than to write a novel.

Then I scowled at myself because I hate catching myself being judgmental. My dad gave me a pretty funny look.

I righted the thought. All forms of art require effort and time, and deserve respect, whether it’s an abstract spatter of paint or the Mona Lisa. Sure, some products might take less time than others, and some may be more acknowledged than others, but if there’s one thing they have in common, it’s that the people who made them tried to put a little bit of themselves into the process. At least, that’s what I like to think.

Writing a song, practicing it and getting it recorded takes more time and money than radio-listeners appreciate. A single piece of paper with a simple landscape drawn in oil pastels might have taken half the time you expect, but twice the years of experience to get right. Then there’s the actors and actresses, magicians, comedians, etc. No one gets to snap their fingers and have results appear out of sheer friction.

But damn, writing a novel can take a very long time!

And then I realised: I’m actually glad that it does. For the first time in my life, I realised that I was grateful to be a writer rather than another type of creative artist. I knew I was in the right place.

Again, I admit the pop song pumping beats about partying all night and one night stands probably glorified my epiphany. It’s obvious work had to go in to produce such a song and it’s popular for that reason. What I was glad to realise was that to write something, anything, I had to dig so much deeper into myself than I would writing a pop song. The moment I decided to write a novel (more like a series but let’s use euphemisms at this stage), I committed myself to a schedule of headaches and heartaches and feeling like an unproductive slop of radioactive goo. Even if the words I write are utter garbage, I’m still writing them one by one, so slowly. It’s something I’ll be doing for a while, something that doesn’t really have a shortcut. I’m not a fast writer so this pet project could very well take me a decade. And I may not even truly accomplish it.

But I’m still grateful to be a writer, grateful to have something I love and can actually do. Because every spark of creativity is a climb and the longer it takes, the more you see yourself reflected in the final product.

Call me crazy but I write to see myself on the page. I want to see the world through the eyes of a character I brought to life on a plain white page, and breathe in words I wrote one by one. I reckon it’ll be worth it. Just maybe.

✰ Book Review: Blood Song by Anthony Ryan

BLOOD-SONG-FINAL

“The Order fights, but often it fights in shadow, without glory or reward. We have no banners.”

Vaelin Al Sorna’s life changes for ever the day his father abandons him at the gates of the Sixth Order, a secretive military arm of the Faith. Together with his fellow initiates, Vaelin undertakes a brutal training regime – where the price of failure is often death. Under the tutelage of the Order’s masters, he learns how to forge a blade, survive the wilds and kill a man quickly and quietly.

now his new skills will be put to the test. War is coming. Vaelin is the Sixth Order’s deadleist weapon and the Realm’s only hope. He must draw upon the very essence of his strength and cunning if he is to survive the coming conflict.

Yet as the world teeters on the edge of chaos, Vaelin will learn that the truth can cut deeper than any sword.

I can’t explain what it is that I love so much about coming-of-age stories. Growing up with a character, gaining friends, experience and scars – it’s amazing to see someone grow. That’s why I loved John Flanagan’s The Ranger’s Apprentice series, and it’s exactly the same reason I picked Anthony Ryan’s Blood Song from the shelves. (That, and my writer’s voice kept telling me to read some fantasy tales because that’s what I’m writing. Nothing beats researching through a hobby!) Also, one does not simply say no to that cover.

I just finished the sizeable book half an hour ago. It’s been many hours of sneaking pages during breakfast. Now here’s an honest review on a great book that I truly recommend.

Naturally, I did my research before picking up the book. The ratings on Goodreads were great, and I was ever more curious to discover that Anthony Ryan first published Blood Song as an indie writer. I went to the bookstore the next day and bought it, big doorstop of an epic novel.

My enthusiasm died a little at the slow start. Pages of a not-yet-relevant prologue stared up at me in blinding italicised font. A little overwhelming and I wasn’t a fan of it, but I’m glad I persisted. Unfortunately, these italicised interludes popped up several more times throughout the book, remaining my least favourite sections. That said, I appreciate their role in retrospective, the way everything neatly fell into place by the end.

But moving on – the story itself. Was. Brilliant. It was everything I set out to buy, and more. By the end, I was stunned by how… linearly complex the story turned out to be. Story arcs rose and lingered with satisfying pace. I love it when the author drops details early on that keeps me wondering, knowing it will play a bigger role later, until the moment comes in the final acts. In many instances, these revelations fall short with predictions. I was delighted to find that Ryan provided believable twists to most – not quite all, but definitely most – of these cases. Definitely made me late for uni more than once (okay, that’s partly my habit of aiming to always finish on a chapter; Blood Song had some loooooonnnggg chapters). I’m thrilled to continue the story in upcoming books of the trilogy, which can’t come out soon enough.

As in most fantasy novels, the world in Blood Song is a character in itself, supporting much of the plot with its politics and slight tinge of magic. I’ve always been bad with world-building, both writing and reading it, so I wasn’t surprised when Blood Song‘s world overwhelmed me at the start. The country in which the main character, Vaelin, lives, is comprised of four fiefdoms united under one king. Ryan built in a strong sense of history and especially religion, which is a key theme he mentions in book interviews. He did a good job pulling me into the realm, enough that I wasn’t jarred by the places I thought were a little underdeveloped.

For me, Blood Song – and most good stories – shines in characterisation. I’ve winced at books with protagonists I just didn’t like. Vaelin Al Sorna does not fall into that category. Ah, Vaelin. Naturally a splendid fighter, intelligent, says the right things at the right time, and stands firm in his beliefs. Everyone’s standard hero. But Vaelin doesn’t stop there. He’s far from perfect, his moral compass gets confused at times, he isn’t above swearing and losing his temper, and he’s always getting picked on by his temperamental war-horse. What I love most about Vaelin is that he grows and he changes. He doesn’t forget his experiences, good or bad, and he learns from them. He makes no excuses for himself. He’s a character I both love and fear, whose eyes I trusted to experience the story through. I have never trusted a character so much.

Here’s something the author had to say about Vaelin, taken from his interview with Upcoming4.me:

“There was a famous study produced by the US Department of Defence after World War II that indicated only ten percent of combat troops actively fired at the enemy, most were deliberately firing wide for the simple reason they didn’t want to kill anyone. I saw Vaelin as one of the ten percent, a group that has no compunction about taking a life in a worthwhile cause and no tendency towards post traumatic stress when the war’s over.”

Oh yeah. Vaelin Al Sorna is a badass.

It wouldn’t be fair to simply say this book had me hooked. I was there, and only the start of a new chapter could make me even think of putting it down for a break. That’s not to say it wasn’t without its faults. For one, Ryan’s grammar wasn’t always up to grade in some areas. More specifically, it felt like he had read somewhere that writers should avoid the semi-colon, and so did a find and replace search for all the semi-colons in his story, replacing them with a comma. It doesn’t impact the quality of the story at all but it did jar me from the flow at first, until I got used to it. As a whole, Ryan’s writing is not the most polished but he is nothing if not consistent. He knows his genre, did his research and it shows. Ryan’s writing has a formal tone that suits the manner in which his characters speak, that probably wouldn’t work as well elsewhere.

Reading this book taught me many things. Firstly, that writing fantasy is hard. Doing it well is a whole new level. From a writer’s perspective, I looked at Blood Song and imagined myself in Anthony Ryan’s shoes. All I saw were a mass of places where I would have gotten hopelessly stuck. I’m sure Ryan had his share of trouble, but he pulled through and we have an amazing novel to thank him for.

I picked Blood Song because I wanted to experience a fantasy story similar to my own: a journey. And some pleasant similarities I found indeed. It seems the idea of annexing nations into a larger power is a common one, as are militant backgrounds and, unsurprisingly, wars. I learned so much about brotherhood and politics. Wars especially. Gets me pumped to reflect and continue writing!

Finally, I learned to never slack off on research. It will show.

I really need to stop rambling before this poor excuse of a review puts you off a wonderful book – and I assure you, Blood Song by Anthony Ryan is a very good book. One not without its faults, but certainly one that many readers of adventure, fantasy and coming-of-age would enjoy.

Blood Song on Amazon and Goodreads.

Anthony Ryan has his own wordpress blog at http://anthonystuff.wordpress.com/ Be sure to drop by!

A week of resources and inspiration for the Writer – Day 5

Useful tips for those in the revision process. I hope to reach this stage sometime in the next 12.346 years!

Blotting Away

For the final post in my week of resources I am going to cover off on the editing process. This is something I am elbows deep in at the moment and an activity that can prove more tiresome and taxing than anything else you will do on your journey to publication.

As I have mentioned before everybody works differently, but quite often I come across a handy tip that I haven’t tried out or considered. Here are the 3 things I have found most useful in editing and proofreading.

1) For your final edit, DON’T edit front to back. Start from a random chapter and keep doing another random chapter until you have finished. Alternatively start at the end and go backwards. When you edit from page one to the last, you will become engrossed in the story, regardless of how hard you try, and will miss things that you…

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What exactly is a High Concept Novel?

Simple but well worth a good read! It’s nice to get thinking about the nature of presentation. I have to admit I’ve never made an effort to learn about ‘high concept’ (I didn’t even know there was such a term!). Somehow this really motivates me to get working on an elevator pitch. “I’m writing… a story…” is a can of worms I really need to stop opening.

Destiny Cole

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Okay, so I’ve never really understood this term. I could vaguley give you a description, but Beth Revis on the YA Reddit group I am involved in spelled it out SO perfectly that I have to share here:

What is High Concept?

First, what high concept is not: it’s not “high.” This is the thing that throws people off the most. Most people think that “high concept” means something that’s very literary, artistic, and not commercial—and the exact opposite is true.

High concept is something that has immediate commercial appeal.

Typically, the way this is explained is that:

  • You can sum up a high concept idea in a sentence or two
  • It has obvious appeal to the masses—it’s a concept that most people can get with just a sentence
  • It’s a story that you can immediately see what it would be like just from a short description

High concept is…

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All packed for Camp NaNo!

You know I’m serious when I set my alarm for 7.a.m. Really, really serious.

It’s the last hour of June here in Sydney. It’s only been a little over a week since I shackled myself to the decision of doing Camp NaNoWriMo. It’s just hit me that this is as ready as I’ll get.

I’ve been good about my preparations. I trained myself into writing 1,000 words for the past week. I managed it quite consistently at first, hitting 1,500 a lot of the time. Using Svenja Liv’s word count spreadsheets kept my motivation high (I really recommend other Campers to check them out!). I haven’t been that good the past two days though. I still wrote but it wasn’t clicking. I was pacing a trench in my room. This can’t be real. Am I going to get blocked hours before Camp?

My writer’s reflection in the mirror rolled her eyes at me. “Does it really matter?”

Oh. Now that you mention it. No, I guess it doesn’t.

After all, wasn’t this the whole point of doing Camp? I’d get blocked, give up and never finish that story I want to bring into this world. Didn’t I want to go wild and return to the good old days, where I’d smash through writer’s block with obnoxious boldness?

So yeah, I’ve hit a rough patch. The scene is hard. Going from fanfiction to original stories, it is so hard for me to face the first chapters. But hey – that’s what first drafts are for! I’m not feeling good about the list of things I know I’ll have to come back and completely rehaul, but I’m not going to stop for them right now. I really have to train myself hard for this. My inner editor is as fussy as a mandrake.

But you know what? In spite of everything, I think I’ll be fine. Even if I’m not, well, I’ll have to be because I just announced it to you guys! My pride is reliable like that.

To my fellow Campers out there – there are days where we will feel terrible about our writing and our goals. When that happens, I hope that we can look back at the current me, forty-five minutes before the campfire starts up, and be comforted by the knowledge that at least you got stuck during Camp. This silly girl ran headlong into a wall before Camp even started. But it’s okay. She’s got a rock-hard head. She’ll get her 31,000 words done and with any luck, they might not be the worst 31,000 words she’s ever written. She’s going to remember what it’s like to love the writing process, word by word.

I’ve added a progress meter on the right for you guys to follow as I scribble away. Please feel free to prod me any time you think I’m slacking off, because chances are I’ll need it! I’d love to stick this tough month out with you guys, so let me know if you’re doing Camp as well. The writing life doesn’t always have to be solitary! All the best, everyone!

Now please excuse me while I set my alarm.

✎ Seize the Plot Bunny: The Importance of Getting Your Ideas Down

Yesterday, I went to bed a little earlier than usual (that is to say, while it was still p.m.). Lights were out, blankets perfectly arranged and alarm set for an early writing start. Perfect. I closed my eyes.

Thirty seconds later, a teensy detail about my story lit up against the darkness of my eyelids. I frowned. I can’t be bothered getting up. I’ll remember it. It’s just one little thing. I’ve memorised whole essays before. Easy.

This is a classic scenario. Haven’t we all had this before? ‘Yes Mum, I’ll vacuum later. Oh, we need to buy some toothpicks. I think my main character’s uncle should have a peg leg.’ Most of the time we tell ourselves we’ll remember these minor things – because they are minor. We tend to remember the really big things. But if it’s just something small, we’re sure it’ll occur to us as we get up to writing the scene. We’ll know to include that wonderfully witty dialogue we thought up while waiting to pay for our toothpicks. Sometimes we do remember it and we’re reassured of our mental health. Other times?

Well, let’s just say that we are creatures capable of being distracted from hunger and bursting bladders. We don’t. stop. thinking.

Write it down, everyone says. Carry a notebook, leave a voice memo on your smartphone, write it on the back of your hand, on index cards, on shopping receipts and, in my case, on napkins. It’s really basic advice, expounded to the point of irritation. But I really can’t stress it enough.

I was inconsistent about recording my ideas for so many years and it cost me. I was lazy. But because Camp NaNoWriMo is coming up and I’m schooling myself into a good writing habit, I dusted off my notebook and put it on my bedside table. Just in case. When that plot bunny ran wild while I was about to sleep, I grumbled, turned on the light and scribbled it down. Then I went back to a blissful sleep. Except, of course, it happened again. So I repeated the process, albeit drowsily and reluctantly.

But convincing you to take notes isn’t why I’m writing this post.

See, I had an epiphany as I was writing down those pesky thoughts in the middle of the night. It was about why it was so important to write your ideas down on the spot – and not just to stave off dementia.

It’s because, when that awesome idea first falls from the sky, it gives us a one and only inspirational moment for that idea – a creative window. Each idea has its own window, that only exists at that moment. It won’t stay open for long. Once it’s closed, you will never have the same epiphany for that idea again. Why?

Because everything after that becomes a memory. If you wake up the next morning with the plot bunny thankfully still with you, you are actually remembering that creative window. If, sadly, you forgot the idea overnight then you will just remember that you have to remember something. So chances are, you will not realise the idea with the same freshness again.

In other words, your first experience of a particular idea or thought only happens once in a lifetime.

As with everything else in life, wouldn’t you naturally want to capture that moment?

At least, that was the conclusion I came to (while in PJs and feeling dumb about my silly brain’s timing).

Have you had triumphant moments where you actually remembered the list of things you were thinking of, and wrote them down? It feels good, doesn’t it? For me, it’s a great relief. But it also feels rushed. I’m paying less attention to each point in my hurry to get the rest out. It feels like a burden off my chest. But writing is supposed to be something I enjoy. Hmm.

Another reason to get your ideas down immediately is because your mind is probably more engaged. The window is at its widest. While you write down that one idea, you might suddenly know how to tie it in with everything else, or snap up another idea. Your planning may move along faster. Of course, you can still do this elaboration afterwards, whenever you like. Just pray that it does not happen while you are trying to remember it for later. Just imagine: thinking about idea A and realising ‘hey, this leads into idea B and that character and wow, it parallels idea C here with – omg, I just came up with the best sentence to end the chapter on and-‘

Yeah. It happens. To me, at least. It goes both ways. Linked ideas make it easier to recall because they are related. On the other hand, forget one detail and the whole thing may fall apart.

So please, please, please write down your awesome ideas if you’re not certain you’ll remember it later. If not for future reference, then perhaps for the special ‘once in a lifetime’ experience. I admit I’ve got random notes all over the place. They’re in my Scrivener project, my notebook, err… another notebook, napkins, my iTouch, uni lecture notes, shower door (bad idea; steamed over and I ended up having to painstakingly remember what I’d written). The super quick ones, the ones that help me the most, are actually the ones at the bottom of the Word document I’m working on. I write down dialogue, ideas and reminders for future scenes in the chapter, even if I’ll be up to them in the next two minutes. These scattered ideas probably aren’t the best solution. I forget what I’ve written down, where I’ve put them, when I need them. I’m working on it. But it’s quite nice when I’m scrolling through these places and am surprised by what I’ve written. Then I remember writing it, remember the special moment that idea came to me. And it feels good. Now I can open the window whenever I want.

Of course, I’ve successfully remembered ideas without writing them before (yippee!!). Yes, there were times where I wanted to write them down but literally had no way of doing so. And a big fat yes to having forgotten things. I don’t know how many but even one is one too many.

I’m always saying that all writers are different. It’s a wonderful thing. So do things your own way! Fold a paper crane if it helps you remember. Memorise it if you know you can. Tell someone else to remember it for you (so you have someone to blame if both of you forget). But the next time you’re visited by a plot bunny – or any thought – just try, once, to hold onto that moment the way you would the last ten seconds of December 31st.

We’re having once in a lifetime moments every second of every day, if you think about it. It’s impossible to capture all of them. I’m going to treasure the few that I can :)

P.S. That night was one of the best and worst sleeps I’d ever had.

On Parenting your Characters: How Authors Treat Characters Like Toddlers

Interesting perspective on raising your characters and how to take better care of them/keep them in line. Wish I could bring a few of my characters back to the hospital and get a new one!

Creative Writing with the Crimson League

738051_attitude_1Have you ever thought about how characters are like toddlers? Or how, in order to be successful, an author has to treat characters, to some degree, like great parents treat their kids?

Seriously. Great parenting can be a model for great authoring. This post is all about why that is, and how to get the most from your characters.

THE CENTER OF ATTENTION

Have you ever lived in a household during, or heard horror stories about, the adjustment period a toddler goes through when a sibling arrives? Why is this?

Simple: toddlers enjoy, and are used to being, the center of attention for vast periods of time. When baby brother or sister comes, that changes all at once, and a toddler is hurt, confused, and angered by the new addition’s impact on his or her life.

No matter how much you try to prepare a toddler for what a new…

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5 Tips for Writing Multiple POVs

Great checklist of useful things to remember when writing a story with multiple POVs. I’ll be carefully scrutinising each POV of mine with glasses now!

...and then there was Sarah

h1DE1B460I’m a shameless fan of writing in multiple POVs. My series has a large, diverse cast of characters and I’m all about giving each of them a voice, where possible. I also believe that telling the story through the eyes of varied characters gives a well-rounded perspective on the tale that you would not get otherwise.

Of course, this is not always a popular narrative choice. Some readers are very vocal about their dislike of this style. Does that deter me? Not even a little. But it does evoke a stubborn desire to want to do it right.

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