The Creation of a Story: This Cursed Flame Edition

Want to know the process This Cursed Flame went through? Keep reading!

Last week, to get us into the spirit for This Cursed Flame‘s release, we discussed some of my favorite genie books (by the way, I definitely missed The Midnight Sea by Kat Ross… so good, but not traditional genies. They’re called daevas, but they share some traits with mythological djinn.).

This week, though, I want to go over the development of This Cursed Flame, from story seed to the version that is up for pre-order on Amazon and all other major retailers now. Buckle in, folks. It’s been a long journey.

As you will likely notice in some of next week’s coming material, this book started as just an idea stemming from an old sitcom. I went through a major phase of loving classic sitcoms when I was in middle school, and honestly, I never grew out of it. Sitcoms were my own personal comic relief during school and at the end of rough days. They were light and fluffy and full of magic or imagination or simply characters and worlds (even the realistic ones) I loved.

One of those sitcoms I especially loved was I Dream of Jeannie, but you will have to come back next week for more on that. ūüėČ It inspired an idea in me in 2011, the summer after I graduated from undergrad. I loved the scenes where we got to see Jeannie’s world, inside her bottle, things from her perspective.

And I wanted more. I wanted a book from the perspective of a genie.

It started with an idea of a human girl stolen away from her life and transformed into one of the djinn… but as such, she could never be really djinn (or really human), and so she was thrust into a world not her own where she could never belong anywhere again.

That first version had extra characters, too. And boy did it make the book confusing! The first difference between early versions and the final version is that I had a sub-antagonist instead of the main antagonist, Ahriman. It made little sense, but to my baby writer brain (I was only just realizing what it took to finish a story, even though I’d been writing since elementary school) it felt right.

But the story felt complete to me, and I wanted to publish. I entered grad school and realized how much I loved writing and wanted to share it with the world. I initially wanted to publish this version myself, independently, but life changed during grad school in about 2014, and I suddenly couldn’t afford to hire the professionals who would help me.

So I queried it for traditional publishing. I got some interest, but no one wanted it after reading it through and through.

So I took it back to edits, and I removed that sub-antagonist, and I tried a little more querying with the same results through 2017. I shared this version on Wattpad as well, and got a few enthusiastic views, but I still wasn’t happy with it, and I decided to go back to edits again and head toward independent publishing again (in 2018), now that my financial situation had changed.

So I hired a developmental editor, who suggested a mountain of changes. I had another team member, Afya Sura, who I still love, even though I ultimately had to cut her out of the story. And then there was the human… you’ll see when you start reading that Laurelin is the main human character, and her boyfriend is Cody. Well, it became apparent during edits that Cody served no useful purpose in the story… but Laurelin had a pretty good one. And then there’s Safiyya. I bulked up her backstory and her role and it turned out so beautifully!

And, finally in January 2019, this was the story I wanted to tell, the story I needed to share. I had started 8 years ago with a theme of “Dragons can be beaten”, and eventually I realized that my theme was actually “Sometimes we put ourselves in the bottle.” It covers the story and the feelings I had for it when I started, even though I didn’t realize it yet.

And now, on April 27, 2019, it will be available as this final version as an independently published novel. And I couldn’t be happier!!!

It’s been a long journey, and I know you will adore it just as much as I do. I can’t wait for it to be in your hands in just one week!

So don’t hesitate; head over to the link and see just what I’m talking about. Again, it is on Amazon and all other major retailers now and will be sent directly to your e-reader next Saturday!

Be sure to come back tomorrow for the kick-off of the launch week festivities, and until then, let me know about your own story’s journey in the comments below!

All About Editing

So. You finished a piece of writing. Congratulations! You’ve made it further than the majority of people who want to be writers. But that doesn’t mean your work is done! You still have to go back and revise and edit. You may have heard writers talking about editing, but do you know the different kinds or when to do what? Do you know what types of editing you can do on your own and when you may want to hire someone or ask for help? If not, today is the day to learn. And if you already know, how about a refresher?

First, let’s distinguish between¬†revising and¬†editing.

  • Revising: This is when you are making changes to your work, such as rewriting characters, scenes, or the entire piece.
  • Editing: These are smaller, more focused and technical changes, such as grammar, spelling, punctuation, and line-by-line style. This may occur at various stages of the revision process, depending on how many revisions the work has been through and how close it is to publication or querying. You may do some of this work yourself, or you may find help from others. Developmental editing (which we’ll get into in a minute) is on the border of these two, as it tackles big picture issues of the story while still being considered editing.

I know, I know. The line is a little tight there sometimes. But both of these are critical to the development of a good piece of work. In fact, revising can fix a bad book. See what Alex Bracken has to say about it:

books made in revisions
Gives us hope for all those horrible first drafts.

Okay. So now that we have editing and revising straight and we understand how important editing is, let’s take a closer look.

Developmental Editor: This person takes your manuscript and looks for overall problems, such as issues with character arcs and development, plot and pacing, and loose ends and holes.

  • This type of editing tends to be the most expensive, but it is vital to the development of the story.
  • This editing should really only be done after several rounds of editing on your own and with critique partners and beta readers.¬†Then you can go ahead and hire one.
  • This may not be strictly necessary to hire professionally if you plan to query, but it is non-negotiable if you plan to self-publish.

Copyeditor: This person looks at your work from a technical standpoint. In this pass of editing, the editor is searching for problems with things like grammar, spelling, and punctuation. They are not looking for big picture issues or style issues.

Similarly, line editing is looking at your work closely on a creative and stylistic level. A line editor will look for overused words and phrases, awkward or overly verbose sentences and passages, run-on sentences, pacing, and confusing writing. They approach with an eye for detail and clarity, looking at the ease of reading your work.

  • The overlap between copyediting and line editing is pretty large, and not every editor will distinguish between the two.
  • The cost for this is often somewhere between developmental editing and proofreading.

Proofreading: This is typically the last step of the editing process, as this type of editor is only looking for things like typos and missed errors from early editing passes. It is the last clean sweep before publishing.

  • Tends to be least expensive.
  • Critical for self-publishing, but still important for querying.
  • The very last step, after all other changes are made.

Whew! Okay. So now we have the types of editing straight, and we understand the difference in content and cost.

But editing can be super expensive, and everyone likes to save a little money. So let’s think about what we can do ourselves versus what we should hire out or ask someone to do for us.

  1. Developmental Editing
    • First of all, NEVER hire a professional to look at a first draft. You are throwing money out the window. Do everything you possibly can on your own and with beta readers and critique partners before spending any money!
    • As I said above, this is a must for independent or self-publishing. Hire a professional!
    • If you plan to query, you may choose to hire someone if you want to spend the money. It can’t hurt, but it’s also not necessary. And it will definitely help you polish up that manuscript!
    • If you want to attempt any developmental editing on your own, I suggest leaving the manuscript out of sight and working on something else long enough to forget the details. You need to look with fresh eyes. Personally, I set a minimum of two weeks, if I can, for shorter works and one month for full-length works before I allow myself to look at the document again.
    • Beta readers and critique partners can offer some developmental editing, if you find the right ones and ask nicely.
  2. Copyediting and Line Editing
    • Probably wait until after developmental editing is done. You don’t want to still be making big picture changes when you’re line editing and fixing grammar; more will likely pop up, and then you’re wasting time, money, and effort.
    • Sometimes we are okay doing this on our own, particularly if we let it sit for long enough and forget it. But it might be better to ask a writer friend or, if you can’t find someone willing, a professional to look over your work. It is hard to see flaws in your own writing, as our brains tend to skip over things and fill in blanks so we don’t always catch common errors.
    • This is a good way to learn how to improve our writing, also, by asking others to critique flaws in our writing style or weaknesses in our knowledge. It will all get better with time!
    • You may consider hiring a professional if you don’t have a friend good at grammar and writing, if you plan to self-publish, or if you struggle with your own grammar and writing style.
  3. Proofreading
    • Do this last. Very last step.
    • Please do not do this on your own. While you may be good at catching errors in other people’s work, as I said above, it is all too easy to miss errors in our own work because of our brains and the closeness to the story.
    • If you have a friend you trust, have them proofread.
    • If you don’t have a friend you trust, hire a professional.
    • If you plan to query, make sure you get someone to proofread.
    • If you plan to self-publish, for the love of all things good, make sure you get a proofreader. This one is especially critical; while one typo may be forgivable, a reader who finds multiple typos and simple mistakes in a finished, published book is less likely to trust your future books and may give up on you altogether. I’ve done it, and I know other people who have as well. It looks unprofessional and messy. Do yourself a favor and avoid the hassle!

That was a lot of information, but understanding the editing process is crucial to producing a polished manuscript, wherever it is destined to be published. I hope this overview has given you a better understanding of what types of editing exist, when you may want to hire a professional, what you can do yourself, and other little details you may not have considered before. Good luck with your own revising and editing, and be sure to leave questions and comments below!

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News!

I am currently preparing to offer all three types of editing to writers, for any length of manuscript (though my focus is fantasy). If you are interested, or if you are interested in consulting with me about biology or in need of a map for your world, please keep an eye on my Services page for more information.

Inquiries about services and booking can be sent to papercraneswriting@gmail.com.

And if you want the most up-to-date information, including when new services are officially live and upcoming releases, sign up for the newsletter! Insider hint: the newsletter is also the first place to receive free bonuses and stories!

Five Reasons Why First Drafts Are My Favorite

Every writer has a part of the writing process they love most. For some, they love going back to their manuscript and fixing and polishing, so they love to edit. For others, they live for the brainstorming and information gathering that is a pre-write. For many, including me, first drafts are the most desirable stage of writing.

Let’s talk for a moment about the first draft. What exactly is it? Obviously, it’s the first time you write your story down on paper. But there are a few other definitions and ideas floating around that are also useful. My personal favorite is by Terry Pratchett:

The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.
What a beautiful sentiment.

Then there’s Anne Lamott, who said in her absolutely excellent book¬†Bird by Bird: “Now, practically even better news than that of short assignments is the idea of shitty first drafts. All good writers write them.”

It’s awesome to hear someone giving us permission to write something bad (pardon the language in the quote).

Jane Smiley says of first drafts: “Every first draft is perfect because all the first draft has to do is exist. It’s perfect in its existence. The only way it could be imperfect would be to NOT exist.”

Again, someone telling us it doesn’t matter what we write, as long as we write it.

So why do I love first drafts so much? I have five main reasons.

  1. First drafts provide a place for short-lived catharsis.¬†We can say whatever we want, with no fear. We can yell at the top of our lungs about something unjust or painful. We can write something just because we want to write it and for no other reason. We can write scenes that ease our hearts and sing beauty to our souls… and then delete it in a later draft.
  2. There is no judgement. Seriously, this is the best place to write without fear of judgement. I don’t know about you, but some things I want to say or include, I don’t actually want to share. I just want to get it out. But I know it’s for me, not for the people who might judge it. And no one is judging how good it is or if you wrote something correctly. You can write as poorly as you want. An extension of catharsis, this is a place of no fear.
  3. It’s all storytelling and no fixing. It can be one of the fastest parts of the writing process, which can be encouraging to the feeling of accomplishment. I know some people edit while they write, but for me, I just love being able to zip through telling a story without worrying about what I already wrote or fixing keystrokes or scenes. It’s incredibly freeing, to have no worries about what happened before or what the edits will bring. I soar on the pages of the book. I get to live in the story. Speaking of which…
  4. You learn the story for the first time. Just like Pratchett said, the first draft is where the writer really gets to know the story in a way much more intimate and detailed than any outline or plan can give you. This is where the feels happen. This is where the magic happens. This is where you begin to find out what it is you’re actually trying to say with the story.
  5. You get to truly create… it’s magic. Writing is its own kind of magic. You create where nothing was before, and you shape it in the way¬†you want, to play with the world you built and the world around us. You are in complete control of what happens. No other stage of the process can give you that pure creation. Everything else is innovating and improving what you start with. But the act of that first creation, the first keystroke or pen stroke,¬†that is true magic.

Those are definitely my top five reasons why first drafts are my favorite part of the process. It’s a magic, creative endeavor that lightens the burden of everyday living and allows the writer to truly play. What could be better than that?

But what about you? What stage is your favorite? Why? Tell me in the comments!

From Spark to Story: My Writing Process

One thing I’ve always found interesting is how the development of a story can vary from author to author. Everyone eventually finds techniques and patterns that work for them, helping them to cultivate their initial idea into a finished product. Personally, my process has developed through a great deal of trial and error of different methods until I arrived at the way I approach stories now. Today, I want to share what my process looks like.

The Idea

Yes, the elusive spark to a greater story.

Like many authors, I can’t really tell you where all my ideas come from; a lot of us honestly don’t know. But there are a number of things that can spark those thoughts. For me, my initial ideas have come from things like dreams, other people’s works (books, movies, magazine articles, etc.), things I’ve learned in school or through my own research, or even something as simple as a photograph, as happened with my most recent idea. But that’s all it takes: one simple moment of “that could be an interesting story.”

The Slow Simmer

After I get that idea, it simmers on the burner for a while, building up some flavor. Okay, metaphors aside, after I have an idea, I sit with it and simply think about it. This simmering phase can be anywhere from days to weeks to months long before I’m ready to move on to the next phase. I let the idea build until I know where I want to start.

The Exploration

Once I have an idea and I’ve given it some thought, I pick a fresh, brand-new notebook. I have a separate notebook for every project, one that I love to pick up and open. Sometimes I’ll even match the look of the notebook to the aesthetic I see in my head. And I also keep a small library of blank notebooks for the sudden idea I MUST write down immediately. Those can be unpredictable, and I need to be ready!

Then, the research begins. I start my notebook with research on what exists in our world that relates to the story. To keep with the theme of my most recent idea (which is currently in this phase and the next two phases), this was when I sat down and researched the picture that sparked it all, a photograph in a unique setting. So I looked up information about that setting, its geology, its geography, the earth science behind it, the flora and fauna associated with it. I learned everything I could and let that build on the ideas I already had.

In this phase, I also tend to make a board on Pinterest to help me envision what is to come, the Build. I save pictures for anything that could relate to the story, real or fantasy, any character inspirations, setting inspirations, or aesthetics to help me feel how the world feels, to achieve the emotion I want to achieve, to visualize the things I need to create.

Then I take it further.

The Build

I move past the real and into my own creation. I begin the worldbuilding stage. I get to know what my world looks like from the layout of the country to the ecosystems to the culture. I write down everything I can think of to build the setting for the story. This naturally leads to filling in other details, such as characters. In this stage I complete (or set up a solid foundation for) the setting and the major characters I need to start the story, any details I want to include, what makes it unique. And I fill all this information into my notebook.

Note: sometimes the characters come first. Some of my story sparks are a character, and I build out from there. Every story is different. But the general process remains the same, even if the specific parts change and rotate.

The Simmer, Part II

Then I let the story simmer again. This phase could last anywhere from minutes to weeks to months, depending on how the previous phases went. This is where I need to take the build I created and turn it into a story. What is going on in the world that could create an interesting tale? What are the characters facing? Where is the story in the place I found? With these people I met? I ask myself these questions, write down the possibilities, and let them sit in my brain as more ideas.

The Plotting

After I brainstorm the direction I want to go (which can happen all at once or in stages), I generally sit down and write a basic outline for the story. (Side note: I tried to pants one of my books…write it without an outline or any clear direction…and have decided to never put myself through that again! The editing has been a monster.) This helps me find my story beats, lay out the map for the story, and understand where everything is going before I begin. Sometimes, after that basic outline, I will fill in more detail, such as chapter by chapter, but this doesn’t always happen.

The Writing

Finally, I’m ready to draft. And this is my favorite part! I tell the story.

I typically write in a dedicated word processor. Previously, I used Word, and I tried Scrivener, but it didn’t benefit me much. Now, I do most of my drafting on Google Docs so I can open it anywhere and on any of my devices. I wait to convert to Word until I’m ready to share it. This may change in the future as my circumstances change, but I doubt it would deviate much from this basic setup. I prefer to type my stories directly in manuscript submission formatting.

The Revising

After I complete my first draft, which has historically taken me anywhere from a few months to years to complete (depending on how dedicated I was at the time of the writing, how motivated I was, or my health and life circumstances), I am ready to fix the problems.

First I let it sit for at least a month before touching it again. I want to forget what I wrote so I can look at it with fresh eyes.

Then, I read through the entire thing, changing nothing and keeping minimal notes, just to get a feel for how the story flows, feels, and accomplishes what I want it to accomplish.

Then, I do the first rewrite. A brand new, fresh document, where I write the story over again. I use some of the first draft, but the story typically morphs and changes along the way, so many of the scenes, especially early, also change.

Then comes more of the cycle of revisions, allowing others to read and critique my work, and revising again. This process never really ends, so at some point I say I’m done changing it (until I decide to revise again).

The Sharing

This is the end of my work on it. At this point, either it gets shoved into a word processor deep down on my hard drive or it moves to the next step in publishing. This could be anything from sharing it online, such as with Wattpad, to beginning the query process.

And then it is out of my hands.

 

Now that I’ve shared my process, I’m curious to know yours. Do you do any of these things the same way? Do you keep a dedicated project notebook or Word file for every new story? Tell me about your process in the comments. Let’s talk writing!