Saturday, January 30, 2010

Play On

The rest of that quote, obviously, is "If music be the food of love," but since "I've Never Been In Love Before" (sorry, couldn't resist) that's obviously not the point. Music, however, is.

I've survived my first week back at college after a month and a half break. I've also survived subfreezing temperatures and a killer case of writer's block. I think I'm finally starting to get over the latter (the former is still raging on outside my dorm room) and partly because I have been listening to my "Repeated for Writings" playlist a gazillion and five times.

Music encompasses a lot. It can be anything from getting dressed up and braving the Ithacan cold to go see an opera, plugging headphones into your computer, that obnoxious stuff they pipe into elevators, or listening to the girls in the dorm room next to mine belt out "Eye of the Tiger." There are songs you hate, songs you love beyond all reason, songs that won't get out of your head for days and have you inadvertently humming whilst walking along the street or tapping out the rhythm with your pen in class.

Music is very important to me. I love to sing, and I've been dancing since I was four. But for writing, it has another purpose. Sometimes, when you can find just the right song for just the right scene, it can be monumentally inspiring.

Take, for instance, "Rose's Theme," written by Murray Gold as part of the (really amazing) soundtrack for Doctor Who. I have listened to this song on repeat more times than I can count, although my iTunes tells me I've played it 180 times. Not only is it beautiful, but it goes along perfectly with the sweeter aspects of my Rose's character.

"Samson" by Regina Spektor is one I've been listening to a lot lately. It's a great deal more mainstream than my normal music tastes (I listen to an absurd amount of Broadway musicals and movie soundtracks) but the words and melody of the first line - "you are my sweetest downfall" - just leapt out and grabbed me. It helped me reshape a scene (which I won't tell you about for fear of spoiling it ;P) that I was worried I'd have to cut. And I've had it stuck in my head constantly of late; if the next few chapters are intensely fluffy, I blame this song.

I'll also jump away from my writing playlist and listen to the Chronicles of Narnia sountrack, or Pirates of the Caribbean, or Lord of the Rings, or Da Vinci Code, especially if I'm writing an action scene. Nothing like some well-scored action adventure to get you in the right mood. I also have entirely too many Disney soundtracks, and aside from listening to Beauty and the Beast a LOT (after all, A Bridge to War did start out as a retelling of that) I've also put together a playlist of just the score from various Disney CDs. Alan Menken, you are a musical genius and if I ever get published, you are so going on my acknowledgments page.

That being said, I've also listened to music that is completely opposite from what I'm writing and it's worked all right. For instance, recently when I was writing the beginning of "Letters to Oliver," I was listening to my playlist of "normal music" (yes that is actually what it's called on my iTunes list) which consists of Five for Fighting, KT Tunstall, Charlotte Martin, Landon Pigg, Imogen Heap, Regina Spektor, and Jon McLaughlin.

That being said, I suppose the point of all this is that music is God's gift to writers. However bizarre the connection might be, it is so intensely helpful, especially if you need to get yourself out of a writing rut. Often, the right music is exactly what I need to get me into the right mood for the scene at hand. And hopefully, now that I'm a bit more relaxed and all music-ed up, hopefully this writer's block will soon become a thing of the past.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

This must be Thusday...

... I never could get the hang of Thursdays.

So. I have a question for you lovely readers: how do you deal with writer's block?

Usually, it's not too bad for me. I just sort of flounder about for a bit and listen to inspiring music and talk to my beta about where I'm stuck and why, and eventually I get an idea and get unstuck.

But this time, I've been floundering for about two weeks, and I think I know the reason. It's happened to me before - when I set aside a story for a while (this time, I had to stop writing A Tangled Web so I could polish up A Bridge to War for querying) I lose track of the characters and often have a hard time getting back into the swing of things. And, especially since the edits to book one really affect book two, I'm having a particularly hard time doing that this time round.

Anyway, I'll go back to hoping that some inspiration will fall from the sky. Meanwhile, what do you guys do about writer's block? (Aside from beating yourself over the head with your keyboard, that is.)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Teaser Tuesday

Right. So, methinks that today, I ought to post something from the work that is currently riding the query-go-round and thus driving me absolutely insane.

But I do love it so.

I also love the way they talk to each other. It's such fun. I apologize if this is a bit lengthy for a teaser, though.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Writerly Buzzwords

Of late, I've been spending an awful lot of time at the Teens Writing for Teens thread on Absolute Write. And I have been coming across so many terms that people outside the circle of crazed writers on the query-go-round, on sub, and hey, even on the bookshelves, know anything about. One of them is my best friend, who has been increasingly going "what?" when I talk about writing stuff (to be fair, when she talks about colorists and inkers and various kinds of pens, I'm just as confused. ;P).

So, in an effort to chronicle writing lingo, I shall make a list. And will probably forget a lot (a note: I need to write a post about writing things down as opposed to saying to myself that I'll remember something for later, 'cause that never works).

1. query - the business letter for writers. Basically, saying to a prospective agent "my book is cool, ask for more and I will love you forever."

2. query-go-round - that hellish time of sending emails out into the interwebs and hoping for a response. And getting rejections out of most of those responses.

3. synopsis - not your middle school book report summary. This explains the plot, as does the query, but a) is longer, b) reveals the ending, and c) is more plot driven while a query is more character driven. Methinks.

4. SNI - stands for Shiny New Idea. What I call a plot bunny, for this reason: calling something a shiny new idea suggests that it is pretty and distracting you from whatever you're supposed to be doing. Calling something a plot bunny seems, to me, to signify something that is cute and attention-getting, but once you first pay attention to it it will BITE YOU AND NEVER LET YOU GO.

5. agents - awesomeness squared.

6. publishers - awesomeness cubed.

(I feel like I'm being very obvious here, but the good one I had before is not coming to me. See writing things down prior to forgetting them.)

7. sleep deprivation - perfectly normal.

8. the "you-suck" soundtrack - the case of the blues that all writers are fighting off on a constant basis. Writing is a constant ego-maker and -breaker. Depending upon the particular second.

9. voice - God, but I've heard a lot about voice lately. Basically, the way your character talks, especially applicable to first person since the way the character talks is the prose for the whole book.

10. trope - generally obnoxious stereotypes (usually particular to a genre, like the old mentor type in fantasy stories) that are extremely fun to mess with.

Well. There's ten, anyway. I feel like this could have been a good deal more original, but alas, that's where the not writing things down comes in.

So, does anybody have any other writerly buzzwords I seem to have left out? Do please comment and tell me! :D

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Query-go-round + Hamlet

A brief explanation of this insanity - I am currently waiting for the second half of my round one queries to come back with replies. This waiting is leaving me rather listless about continuing A Tangled Web, starting something new, or just about anything that doesn't have to do with refreshing my Gmail account every thirty seconds. Ah, the lethargy provided by the query-go-round... something tells me I shall get to know it well.

I also recently watched the RSC's recent production of Hamlet, starring David Tennant. Need I say more?

(If this is a bit incoherent, I apologize; it's sort of how my brain is at present. It would have to be, to come up with an idea as mad as this one.)

To revise the timeline of book two or not to revise – that is the question.
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of maddening future rewrites,
Or to take arms against a sea of plot hole troubles
And by opposing, end them? – To edit, to delete, -
No more; and by delete to say we end
The confusion and the lack of continuity
The book is heir to – ‘tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To edit, to write; -
To write, perhaps anew – ay, there’s the rub;
For in that new idea what words may come,
When we have jumped away from my current work
Must give us pause: there’s the respect
That makes calamity of writers’ life.
Oh, who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The rejection’s wrong, the hope crushed easily,
The pangs of empty email, the agent’s delay,
The insolence of plot bunnies, and the groans
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When she herself might her quietus make
With a cup of tea? Who would these fardels bear,
To cry and panic under a writer’s life,
But that the call of something after querying, -
The undiscover’d country, from whose bourn
No writer returns unscathed, - puzzles the will,
And makes us toss aside all sense of self preservation
In flying to ills we know naught of?
Thus querying does make maniacs of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of eager anticipation;
And enterprises of great pith and moment,
With my mind elsewhere, their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Teaser Tuesday!

And for my first Teaser Tuesday, I present Rose and Avar fluff. Hooray!


Saturday, January 16, 2010


So. Enough about me. More about writing! And, since it is now Saturday (the day I know I shall be able to post relatively regularly), 'tis time for a writing post, methinks.

I know that my characterization is one thing I can pride myself on. I still have a great deal to work on, of course (such as overuse of adverbs) but I do like the way I create my characters. I think part of that reason is that they have a tendency to come to me. Generally, what happens is that I get an idea for a character - they come looking more or less the way they're going to look - and they will say to me "hello, I have a story to tell. Give me a name and I'll tell you." (A note: I very frequently call my characters 'the voices in my head.' Partially because it's more or less the truth, and partially because it's fun freaking people out that way.)

Then I give the new character a name. I really ought to have a post just on naming, because naming characters is a HUGE part of making them who they are for me. I agonize over names, and I absolutely despise changing them (I just had to Frenchify a whole bunch of names for A Bridge to War, and I dread being interviewed about it now because I know I am going to say 'Freda' when I mean 'Amelie' (the new name) and whoever's talking to me is going to think I'm crazy for not knowing my own characters' names). Because to me, a character doesn't become real until they have a name that suits their appearance and personality. Sometimes just their appearance, and I'll later build their personality around that and their name.

The latter works especially well with minor characters. For example, my one MC's (Avar's) younger cousin Sergei. I knew Avar needed a cousin, and I love the name Sergei. I knew more or less what he would look like, and Sergei seemed to fit quite well. Later, as I began to write him into the story, his personality took shape around that, and he became a springy, cheerful, excitable twelve-year-old boy.

I'll often use minor characters to heighten the characterization of my MC's. Avar's girlfriend Nayiri for example, is present solely for characterization purposes (and because she's so awful she's fantastic), and she does a lot to highlight Avar and Rose, especially when it comes to their eventual relationship. *snicker*

In any case. Sometimes if I'm really stuck, I'll do one of those character meme things you see floating around the internet sometimes. Often, they don't help me much at all. (Admittedly, the questions about "what is your MC's greatest fear?" and suchwhat are pretty useful.) Partially because I utterly fail at writing in the modern day, so questions like "what is your MC's favorite TV show?" and "what flavor of ice cream does your MC like best?" are utterly useless. But partially because the answers to questions like "what is your MC's favorite food?" or "what is your MC's favorite color?" is "I don't know."

I know my characters the way I know my best friend. I don't know what her favorite color is (although I have recently discovered she likes black and pen and ink drawings; not her favorite color though). I don't know what her favorite food is (tea is a beverage so that doesn't count; whenever I'm asking her what kind of food she wants, she'll just have whatever I'm having). I probably should, but you know what? I don't think it matters. I still know her.

By that, I mean I know what expression she's making when she's talking to me on the phone. I finish half her sentences for her. I know the kinds of things she's liable to say, the kind of gestures she's liable to make, the way she'll probably react to certain things. I know what makes her specifically her, and I know it very well. It's that kind of knowing you need to achieve for characters. They need to not be words on a page; they need to be real people, and you need to know them very well, the way you would a best friend. You need to know them well enough that you would feel comfortable telling them all your secrets, so that they will tell you theirs. That's how I write characters, really. Once they're real people, it's hard to make them inconsistent with themselves, because you know how they would react to the things you're throwing at them (namely plot).

And besides, if a character doesn't seem real to the person who created him or her, why should the rest of the world believe it?

I'd love to hear your thoughts on characterization. Am I spot on? Completely out to lunch? How do you guys do it? Do please let me know.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


As I was trying and failing to sleep last night, I thought that I should probably add a post explaining why I have this idea that I can teach you anything about writing.

I am not a published author, although I am working on that. I am not a genius. I'm 19, so I don't have years of wisdom under my belt. I just like it, and I think that I've gotten rather good at it over the years. So, without further ado:

I have been writing since the seventh grade (so, five years now?). I used to write entirely by hand, on lined paper in three ring binders that I treated as though they were sacred. I still have all of them; they're in my closet, and that is where they will remain. That amounted to seven and a half "novels." The first one I wrote I actually managed to send, through a friend of a friend of a friend, to someone at Penguin. They turned me down, but my little writer mind was encouraged by the fact that they said no because they had another too much like mine (they even sent me a proof, which I still have) rather than not liking it.

Around my freshman or sophomore year of high school, I discovered Phantom of the Opera and this lovely thing called fan fiction, which I started writing like there was no tomorrow. Now, most people I meet think fan fiction is stupid and ridiculous, and that may be, but it helped me a lot. Mostly because pre-fanfic, my characters had been flatter than cardboard. But writing PotO fanfic forced me to work with very rounded characters, characters that had real issues in just about every aspect of life. And, since I now pride myself on my characterization, I think it did some good.

Now I am a freshman in college, and in about a week my second semester will start and I'll take Intro to Creative Writing. I have just finished my manuscript, finished editing it, and sent off queries. That doesn't make me a genius, or 100% right, or anything, really. I just know what works for me, and maybe if I put it out there it will work for somebody else as well.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


Oh goodness. Hello then.

When blogging first became a really huge thing, I thought, I'm a writer, I should do that. And then I thought, "Caitlin, no one wants to listen to you prattle on about your life. Sit down before you hurt yourself."

This blog came about for two reasons: one, I recently joined a forum called Absolute Write as I was preparing my manuscript for the query process. I don't think I have seen a single person on that site who does NOT have a blog. Absolute Write also led me to a contest on an agent's blog; one thing he said about publicity was that it is very good for authors to have a Google-able web presence. And that makes sense.

Two, my best friend is a brilliant person. She's an illustration major, and is constantly bamboozled by my use of words instead of pictures. I was jibbering on about characterization or some such thing, and she said "gosh, I wish I could do that." And I thought that that was one thing I could blog about. I could write about writing: what works for me, what doesn't, what my writer friends and writing professors say. (With additions of pictures of things like cats and David Tennant, because you can't ever have enough of that, of course.)

Plus, once I came up with the title Tea & Biscuits, I couldn't NOT use it.

So. A little about me. I am currently a freshman creative writing major at Ithaca College. I need to meet with my advisor next semester about adding either a history minor or double major. As you can probably already tell, I am horrendously geeky. I love writing, reading, singing, dancing, and acting. Also, cats, tea, chocolate, old book smell, the sound of rain, musical theatre, my wonderfully geeky friends, and Doctor Who.

Also, I am long-winded. I apologize in advance.