Ashe Elton Parker

A Writer of LGBTQ+ Characters in Speculative Fiction

Tag: Unwritten Letters

Distracted

I’ve been taking it easy with my Camp Nano project, Masks this month. I set the wordcount goal to 25k and haven’t been freaking out if I don’t write on it for a few days. This, I think has been a good thing, because it’s allowed my creative mind to relax. If you look at my Camp Nano stats, you’ll see I’m at the end of a surplus of wordage, though, and part of the reason for that is because I’ve gotten distracted.

Over the past week or so, I’ve taken a tour of most of my incomplete fantasy works, mainly because I got hit with a desire to read them. As is sometimes the case when I make a tour of my wips, I had a desire to read only those which were incomplete. Over the duration of this tour, I came up with ideas for some of my wips, and I felt a vague desire to write on one or two of them, primarily Unwritten Letters.

So that’s what I’ve been doing the past few days. I had about 27 plot cards outlined ahead on UL, so I’ve been taking it slowly and doing a scene every two or three days. I intend to write on Masks tonight, but it’s been good to get a break from it. I’m thinking Maybe, if my mind still wants to play with UL when the next month of Camp Nano comes up, and I’m able to make progress on plot cards for it, I’ll write on UL for that month.

It’s felt good to get back into Merolén’s head. It’s a story that makes me glad I’ve started outlining my stories, even if I don’t do complete outlines for them all at first. Because of the outline, I’ve been able to bring romantic subplots into the story, and I don’t think I’d have been able to do so if I were writing it without the outline. Basically, what I’ve been doing with Merolén is my best to surround him with romances, because, from the first, I’ve seen Unwritten Letters as a kind of romance in absentia. The reader knows things that Merolén is unaware of, and that’s been fun too. I like giving the reader tidbits the MCs either had no knowledge of whatsoever, or have only partial or faulty knowledge of. It’s supposed to heighten the tension—and that’s another thing that the outline helps with.

As for Masks, part of the reason why I’m not writing as much on it is because I’ve left behind a major subplot that I can’t seem to resurrect. I want Eirni to to be a lot more resistant to working with Yavaniel, and it’s just not working out that way this time around. After this month’s Camp Nano, I think I’m going to go through and do some heavy editing, because if I try to continue with things as they are much longer, I’m not going to be able to make any progress on it at all. It should be easy to fix. I just need to read through the wip and pinpoint places where Eirni can be an ass, to put it bluntly. I’ve always seen Masks as mostly Eirni’s story than Yavaniel’s, primarily because Eirni has a lot of growing and changing to do over the course of the investigation. I’ve also been toying with the idea of including the pov of one or more of the conspirators, and I need to figure out how the ringleader is going to make the conspiracy an act of vengeance on someone who she believes ruined her happiness when that red herring has little to do with what they’re actually doing. I may have to change things a great deal. It’s going to take some thought, and I’ll probably have to cut the story back to the point I cut it before in order to make all these plot points work like I want them to.

I don’t really mind all this work on Masks. It’s a totally new genre/subgenre for me. Fantasy, yes, but also a mystery, and I’m enjoying all the work on it. This is part of the reason why I’ve always wanted to write a mystery story. It’s been fun, and that, to me, is what counts most. It’s always been my view that if I don’t have fun writing these stories, my readers won’t have fun reading them.

Masks and Music

I’ve said before in previous posts that I typically work up a pretty extensive playlist for my stories. Usually, I’ll find these just listening to my computer randomly play songs. Once, I went through the entire list of music on my computer and created a list—for Unwritten Letters, if I remember right—by picking the songs deliberately, andI at first hated the list, but was driven to listen to it in order to make progress, which was a weird experience.

Masks has proven very, very different, though. I’ve been able to find only two songs which work for it when I want the boost music gives me for writing. I had them listed on my Nano page last November. One, which I don’t listen to much, to be honest, when working on Masks is “Time Space” by Chang Jing; I don’t know why it works, but if the other song just isn’t working or I can’t stand to listen to it, “Time Space” does the job—it’s an adequate patch.

The song I listen to most for writing on this project is “Heavy In Your Arms” by Florence + the Machine. This song has a mood and a feeling that just resonates with me and the story in such a way that I find myself able to do my little hyperfocus thing and get things done on Masks. Sometimes it’s a little difficult to work past the “I can sing along to this song!” enthusiasm I occasionally have when I first turn this song on, but once I do, I’m able to come up with plot cards and write to it. I’ll even take myself to my bedroom and really focus on the Masks by having “Heavy In Your Arms” playing on my mp3 player while I lay with my eyes closed.

That’s what’s odd about this story. I can’t seem to find any other songs to make this story go. It’s either one or the other, and I much prefer “Heavy In Your Arms,” to the point where if I can’t stand to listen to it, I don’t work on Masks at all.

I suspect I’ll have a similar issue with other books in the JID series. I’m hoping I’ll be able to find a different song to push me along in each book, though, instead of being stuck listening to “Heavy In Your Arms” for them all. That would soooo suck.

And I thought it sucked being stuck with the same list of songs I have for the Discordant Harmonies series. At least that’s a variety!

Writing “Soundtracks”

A fair number of the writers I know from Forward Motion for Writers create and use music to help them focus on their stories. One I’m close to (as close as one can get over the net) uses Techno blasted at incredibly loud levels to unhook her mind enough to be able to write. Another creates playlists whose songs either match the “epic” feel of what she’s writing, or specific character emotions and the plot.

Occasionally, I’ll use one song to help me focus on a story or project. For instance, recently, I’ve been listening to “Somewhere Only We Know” by Keane to help me write scenes in Degrees of Subtlety. Don’t know why this song is working for me, but it works a lot better than the rest of the playlist it’s from at present, and has been for the past week or so. It doesn’t have any tie to a particular plot point or scene, though it does reflect Arrowroot’s feelings, particularly once he’s separated from Sweetbriar; it seems to be a song which describes regrets and a longing for an earlier time, and though he’s firm on his “need” to be away from Sweetbriar, Arrowroot does nurse these emotions.

On the other hand, when I get ready to read through anything in the Discordant Harmonies series or to do anything related to it, in fact, I’ll put on the full playlist. Recently, I’ve been opening this list and manually selecting the first song to play, which has typically been “Stairway To Heaven” by Led Zeppelin. The only relation to anything in this story the song has is the fact Géta’s father, who is on his deathbed, tithes Géta to the Temple. That’s all. However, the mood of the song is what induces me to play this one first, because so much of Géta’s life as Asthané’s musician rides on the fact he has no choice in his status. Yes, he could have chosen not to accompany Asthané—but at the cost of something he loves dearly, something which gives him peace, comfort, and happiness and which he has always dreamed of pursuing. Another song from this playlist, which I listen to before going to sleep at night, is “Follow You Follow Me” by Genesis. This epitomizes in a lot of ways the way Géta comes to feel for Asthané, particularly in the later books I have planned for this set of books. I don’t listen to “Stairway To Heaven” primarily because the volume of the song fluctuates too much for me to find a comfortable listening level where I can hear all the lyrics without half of them blasting my ears out—something I definitely don’t need when I’m trying to relax before falling asleep.

I typically acquire my story/series specific playlists by turning on my Daily playlist (the one without Christmas music), and announcing to myself I’m listening for songs which seem to fit a specific story. I did this to find the songs which seemed to fit DoS a few weeks ago, when I returned to working on it. The playlist I had at the time for it consisted of fewer than ten songs (I think only about half a dozen, in fact) and some didn’t really fit as I now saw the story. I removed those songs from the list, put on my Daily list, and listened to the randomized music until I finally had a playlist of over ten songs for the story.

I have, once, gone through my Daily playlist with a deliberate intent to hunt out the songs which I thought might best fit a story. I did this for Unwritten Letters. And I found plenty of songs which fit the story. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the best solution to finding a playlist. I detested the playlist for the first week I listened to it, but my creative mind refused to work on UL unless I was listening to it, so I couldn’t avoid it. This was not a pleasant experience, though it did not turn me off the story or the music. I did eventually come to like the playlist, but I don’t intend to ever go through my Daily list on a deliberate hunt for songs; I’m much more comfortable with the playlists I develop with my standard “notify subconscious of search” and random play method.

For an example of the reasons why certain songs “click” with a specific story/idea, I’ll provide one playlist and the reasons behind why the songs worked for the story I wrote while they played. (Spoiler Warning)

Story: Brotherhood A: Stirrings

Playlist:

1. “Baby Come Back” by Player – Doéna develops a romantic relationship with another character, and it ends badly; this song describes how they both feel about their separation afterward.

2. “Ballare” by Cirque Du Soleil – Essentially represents how Doéna’s romantic interest feels about him.

3. “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” by Elton John and Kiki Dee – Pretty much every prominent relationship in the story.

4. “Hope Has A Place” by Enya – Why Doéna doesn’t give up on anything until absolutely forced to.

5. “Hopelessly Devoted To You” as performed by Olivia Newton-John – Doéna’s conflicting feelings for his prince and his romantic interest.

6. “I Melt With You” by Modern English – How Doéna feels about his romantic interest.

7. “I Want Your Love” by Chic – The reaction Doéna’s love interest has to Doéna’s unswerving loyalty to his prince.

8. “Joanna” by Kool & the Gang – It’s an ode, and if nothing else, Doéna’s love interest is sappy over him unless they are disagreeing on his loyalty to Lorien.

9. “Lost In Love” by Air Supply – Doéna and his love interest . . . when they aren’t disagreeing over Doéna’s loyalty to his prince.

10. “Misery” by Maroon 5 – Lorien’s relationship with Necée; how Doéna feels about his separation from his love interest and, at the beginning, about his unwelcome feelings for his prince.

11. “Missing You” John Waite – How Doéna feels after he and his love interest break up.

12. “Moondance” by Van Morrison – Mood, something which hit the heart of the relationship between Doéna and his love interest—the simplicity their relationship could have had if they hadn’t been at odds over Doéna’s loyalty to Lorien.

13. “One Of These Nights” by Eagles – Doéna’s hopes for all the conflict in his life to settle favorably for himself.

14. “River” by Sarah McLachlan – Doéna’s despair when everything goes badly.

15. “So She Dances” by Josh Groban – How Doéna’s love interest feels about him.

16. “Somebody’s Baby” by Jackson Browne – More of how Doéna’s love interest feels about him.

17. “Still Loving You” by Scorpions – The lingering feelings Doéna and his love interest have for each other after the fallout which separates them.

18. “Suddenly” by Billy Ocean – Apt characterization of the way the relationship between Doéna and his love interest begins.

19. “Take My Breath Away” by Berlin – How Doéna feels about, at first, his prince, then, later, his love interest.

20. “Tender Is The Night” by Jackson Browne – Mood, pretty much fits how Doéna feels about Lorien at first and his love interest later.

21. “Walking On Sunshine” by Katrina & the Waves – Doéna’s moments of joy, when things are going well between himself and Lorien or himself and his love interest.

22. “When It’s Love” by Van Halen – Mood, Doéna’s sappiness over, at first his prince, then, later, his love interest.

Now, if you’re still with me (LOL), I’ll add a bit more.

The more songs I can fit to a particular story, the better my focus on the story. It sometimes bothers me I have so many relationship-oriented songs in my story playlists (this is typical of all of them thus far), but I find I’m better able to concentrate with longer lists, so I try not to fight my discomfort too much. Usually, I find when I start a playlist and get into a scene, the act of writing enables me to focus past any discomfort I may be feeling, which is part of why UL’s playlist worked so well despite me detesting it for the first week or so after creating it.

Sometimes I can listen to my Daily playlist, but that’s rare. The utter randomness of the songs which can go from Enya to Ozzy Osbourne to Danny Elfman breaks into my concentration too much. I’m also for the most part mainstream in my music selection. This is not because I’m afraid of stretching my music tastes, but purely because what little time I spend hunting out “fresh” music to add to my Daily playlist is still, even after years, focused on finding music I’m already familiar with in some way. I’m always happy to find new songs I like to add to my music collection; I simply haven’t found the time or attention necessary for finding them unless I’m passively listening to the radio in a friend’s car or while I’m showering (both methods being the ways I discovered any of the more “recent” songs on my example playlist or mentioned in this post).

Writing Insanity

There are times I think I’m more insane than being bipolar makes me. Like right now.

I have, at this moment, a total of five writing projects pulling me in various directions.

Five.

Main project I’m working on is Unwritten Letters. This is the one where I want active wordage on as close to daily as I can make it. Missed yesterday due to a variety of reasons, not the least of which was because I hadn’t been to bed the night before, but have written every previous day since Sunday and will get another scene on it today. I’m outlining two plot cards per one scene written on this project, as is my usual habit with writing now.

I’ve “set aside” Casi/Vel, whose title is now Sense of Balance and looks like it’ll be a trilogy, possibly with both characters’ points of view. I’m debating POV while I consider what I need to research to make this project roll. Usually I balk at heavy research; what I can’t take care of on an “as needed” basis usually scares me off of a project, but I’ve known for a long time that all I needed was to conceive a project whose characters grabbed me by the creative-mind’s throat and held on. SoB is that project. So, as soon as the snow starts melting and I’m done with cancer treatments (which may happen at about the same time depending on what radiation research study arm I end up in), I’ll be heading up to the public library to start my research. Can’t go ’cause of snow and ice on sidewalks right now, and taking the bus is a waste of money when I can walk there (and need the transit money for trips to cancer treatments and other appointments). So this story is “set aside” but very much on my mind, and I intend to make a list of plot points over the duration I’ll be waiting until I can start the research.

Third project is going to go a bit slower. This is the first book of Autocrat’s Rise. I’m writing this according to to the steps in the Two Year Novel Course written by Lazette Gifford. She’s teaching it now on Forward Motion For Writers, and since I have to basically build Ghulia from the ground up, I decided to join the class. This will be a slow process: one class a week, so I should be able to keep up with it (provided I don’t have any more major unplanned events like last year, which caused me to drop out of it). I’m not too worried about moving fast on this project, so using the 2YN course should do me fine by it.

I’ve picked up on TPOM3 again, too. Been getting about two plot cards a day on it, and that’s been my goal for five days this week. I need to organize the cards I have, so I know what all I need to get done. For this, I’ll probably finish the outline before I pick up on active wordage for it, then I’ll have to go through and add in all the (few) unwritten scenes in the first two books before I can call the whole trilogy complete. Then I’ll have to go through and correct age/time/date references since I finally completed the Calendar and age conversion tables (which I may write more on later). Once I get done with this, I’ll start work on A Life of Note, which follows the same MCs into different situations.

For my final project, I’ll be spending the next week or so going through Stirrings. I spent all day yesterday reading it to get an idea what I need to do to fix it, and Jennifer Amriss read through it for me and told me what I needed to know in order to do a full edit run on it (verdict was I didn’t make any character completely unlikeable and I don’t need to do too much work to emphasize certain plot points). Basically, the major issue is correcting all the age/time/date references and picking out typos and other minor things like making sure everything makes sense (came across a sentence earlier which I needed to correct). This shouldn’t take much time, though, so I should be officially DONE with it within a few weeks at most.

And these are all in addition to things like reworking the Timeline for the stories/world and Real Life Things and finding time to read and work on other crafts (namely, crocheting). I want to get UL and TPOM done before this fall, when I plan on going to college. I’d like to have ALON and AR outlined by November and be at least starting on the outline for the first book of SoB by then, too. I’m trying to learn to treat my writing professionally now, so when I’m able to start publishing, I have a backlog of outlines and story ideas to do background work on as well as write.

Beginning of the Writing Year

On 1 January, I started a new story. This was unplanned, the result of an idea which wouldn’t leave me alone long enough to focus on other stories. Writing out the initial scene on this NewIdea worked; I was able to write on Unwritten Letters. The next day, I ended up writing more scenes in NewIdea, which, for lack of a better title at present I’ll refer to as Casi/Vel (the two MCs).

January second and third, I rather plowed through the opening of this story. Unfortunately, this focus on the NewIdea coincided with a rather severe case of chemo fatigue, as I had chemo on Tuesday. I was not expecting my third round of chemo to take me out like it did, but I lost my connection to my writing, though I wrote anyway. It was the oddest, most disturbing two days of writing I’d ever experienced, even taking into account Hell Year of Writing in 2012, which was my worst year of writing overall. In 2012, I spent most of the year in despair with my writing, hating every word, but so desperate to write I forced words out, which only exacerbated my depression and writing downswings. I spent at least half of 2012 in a writing downswing, where I didn’t write unless I had an outline and some sort of incentive (Julno, Nano). I barely got my 2012 FM Anthology story written and turned in on time, and it was the only writing I actually enjoyed the whole year.

The second and third days of this month were like that, only worse. I not only detested my writing and couldn’t stand to look at it immediately after writing it, but I also felt so disconnected from it I doubted it was any good. Normally, when I have doubts, they’re not unfounded, but I was in no condition to figure out the problem and deal with it until yesterday (the 4th).

When I came back to myself—started feeling connected to the story and characters again—in the evening of the third, I asked an online writer friend, Jennifer Amriss, to read through what I’d written already. This was important. I’d regained contact with my writing on an emotional level, but I knew something was wrong with it, and couldn’t identify the issue. Not knowing the issue blocked me after I wrote one scene where I felt connected to my writing and my characters, so in order to progress, I knew I had to identify the issue and deal with it so I could move on. The reason why moving on this project was so important? I was not receiving any inclination to work on either of my other projects; the only ideas I was coming up with went to Casi/Vel.

Jennifer kindly agreed to do a quick read-through of the 12+k words I’d managed to write on Casi/Vel. I emailed her the project and distracted myself until she contacted me. Her verdict: the first several scenes read like a textbook. She told me where she thought the story actually began to open up and where my writing started touching the characters in such a way to make them real.

I had two options. Either try to fix the faulty writing, or simply cut the first four or five scenes or so to the point where Jennifer told me my writing got real. I didn’t make a decision on the third, primarily because I wanted to make sure I was actually in touch with myself and my writing mind and I knew the best way to do that was to sleep on the issue.

Yesterday, I cut the scenes out. They had no pertinent information I could not provide a different, better way, and it would have taken too much time and effort to fix them up to a point where they didn’t read like a textbook. What little important information I needed to include, I was able to sprinkle into the first couple scenes as exposition attached to dialogue or in descriptions and whatnot. After the cut, I had just under 7k words, and I proceeded to rebuild my wordcount right after the cut, since dealing with the problem removed the block.

Another good thing about making the cut . . . I’m now able to deal with UL and TPOM3. I read the most recently written scenes of UL and its plot cards last night before bed and am ready to get two new plot cards on it before I write a scene. I also plan on getting at least two plot cards on TPOM3, out of order, later.

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