What’s writing to me?

girl writing on a black keyboard
This is an update on my old post “What does Writing Mean to you?” that I wrote 3 years ago. Reading that old post again made me realise 2 things: 1) a lot of what I said still remain true: I see writing as freedom and self-expression and the intrinsic worth/quality of my work is important to me as opposed to commercial potentials; 2) I was a bit of a ‘tentative writer’ back then- unsure of whether I want to be published or not. But now I can confidently say that I do want to be a published author and I’m now working towards becoming one.

That was the broad picture and in this post I want to drill down a little bit into the type of writer I am and the type of author I hope to become:

  • I would want to focus on being a niche writer in Chinese fantasy which I define as fantasy set in fictional ancient China, starring ethnically Chinese characters. But I might dip into what I call traditional fantasy as well (basically epic/high magic/sword&sorcery fantasy).
  • I have a natural tendency to think up stories that best fit in a tight-fitting series ala LOTR style as opposed to what I call a standalone series in which books from the same series are only loosely related to each other. I plan to be publishing a complete series or at least blocks of 3 books all in one go (but don’t hold me fast to it yet *wink*).
  • I don’t plan to be an author producing high volumes every year because I don’t have the speed/level of skill to match and I also need as long as possible to produce something that matches my internal quality standard.
  • I’m heading towards the indie route because that I feel it gives me the most control and flexibility I can have as a writer. I think mindsets are changing towards indie work but I might as well set it down clearly here: that does not mean I will be producing work of lesser quality than if I went for traditional publishing. I will pay for professional accredited editing, book covers and other services as needed.

That’s it for this week. Next week, I will talk about books again.

Moonlake’s Book Discoveries- April 2018 (2)

fashion woman girl women

Other than the 2 books in the first half of this post, it was really another Christie splurge…

Passenger to Frankfurt by Agatha Christie
So apparently I had read it before and then picked it up again from my local library and I think it’s okay, I didn’t particularly like it but there’s nothing to majorly hate about it either. Reading over others’ reviews, it seems like the ending was the issue for most, For me personally, I did find the ending somewhat jarring but in retrospect I think it’s still a proper ending to this story meant to end it on a hopeful note. So I’m giving it a solid 3 stars.

The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie
The premise of this book- that death could occur via supernatural means- drew me right in. Of course, I knew that the real modus operandi wouldn’t be supernatural means but all the way till the very end, I was (again) fooled by Christie and as always, I’m very pleased to be fooled by Christie.

One, Two, Buckle My Shoe by Agatha Christie
I think this book wins hands-down as the book by Christie with a most relatable beginning. Previously I had noticed sometimes descriptions from Christie’s times that are no longer relevant nowadays but the beginning of this book makes me experience the complete reversal- the continual relevance of one’s fear in the dentist’s chair. That amuses me.

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie
This book has the requisite Christie twist right at the end but I’m not particularly drawn to it- I think it’s because I don’t think that twist that clever nor do I bond to any of the characters. It’s still a decent Christie piece though. And oh, it works as a nice counterpoint to Christmas in its title.

Moonlake’s Book Discoveries- April 2018 (1)

business coffee cup data

I clearly had enough of just light reading so I changed it up a little by branching out to a new sub-genre: historical fantasy. This coincided with my decision to join a historical fantasy book club on FB.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley
This wasn’t that engaging a read in that there’s no urge for me to binge read it (in fact I haven’t been reading it in one go on a day-to-day basis but the pacing certainly picks up towards the end) but I’m intrigued by the characters enough to stick to the end (which I didn’t get 100% not that it bothered me that much). I think the author has written a solid story overall (despite the fact that the actual genre isn’t really to my taste- it’s really more straight historical fiction rather than historical fantasy as I was led to believe it is and it’s really very literary fic in nature) but I’ve certainly read worse debut novels than this. Not that keen to follow the sequel to this though.

A Gathering of Ravens by Scott Oden
In essence, what the author has done was taking Tolkien’s orcs as inspiration, adopting them for his own while retaining that lore-rich feel of Tolkien’s so while I have no fascination with Orcs in general, I’m sucked in by glimpses of the Old Way that we saw throughout this book. This is an anti-hero story, a story of vengeance (which I have to say doesn’t appear on my usual diet) so I don’t expect to root for Grimnir and I don’t, not really. However, I prefer him vastly to Etain at the start (who annoyed me cos she had established this blindfold for herself due to her faith and wouldn’t acknowledge the Old Ways that she saw right in front of her eyes but luckily that changed with the character development) and certainly by the end of the book, I’ve grown comfortable with Grimnir.

To be honest, this book has a chance at 5 stars from me except that the underlying premise of this book is about the start of the downfall of the Old Ways and that’s what I love about fantasy so I wasn’t as immersed in this book as I could have been if I was to read a book before such a downfall (but that would have been another story, I know). For this same reason, I’m a bit apprehensive of picking up book 2 of the Grimnir series since I expect that the downfall of the Old Ways will happen in earnest there. I’ve since been reassured by the author that book 2 is actually about the rally of the Old Ways and so I’m eagerly awaiting its release which is very soon- it’s on pre-orders when I last looked at it. My current plan is to read the whole trilogy and then decide if I want to acquire it for my personal collection which is reserved for books that I would at least award a Goodreads 4 stars to.

Anyway, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this book despite the fact that I don’t have a personal fondness for orcs and that I’m really just a fantasy reader and I have no personal knowledge to appreciate the historical element in this book (but from what I heard from the historical fantasy book club, the history elements are great too).

Moonlake’s Book Discoveries- January 2018 (2)

The Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie

This is one of the so-so books in my opinion from Christie. I don’t think it’s badly written per se but there’s just nothing to make it memorable for me.

Death in the Clouds by Agatha Christie

This book has all the necessary suspense attached to a case with a limited number of suspects (only the passengers within a specific compartment) and I’ve enjoyed its delivery. But I wasn’t particularly engaged with the woman who Poirot recruited as his ‘side-kick’ so overall, I didn’t think this made it into my ‘preferred read’ from Christie.

Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie

As I was reading this book, I kept getting the deja vu and then I realised that I had actually read it before. This is one of the books that I really enjoyed upon the first read and I still like it upon the second reading.

Private Royals by James Patterson

I finished it but reading this put me off further book shots by JP. It’s just all page-turner without any characterisation and since I haven’t read any of the full novels from the series, all the characters are just cardboard cut-outs to me.

Reapers of Souls and Magic – A Rohrlands Saga by R.E. Fisher

I reviewed this for an ARC and my full review is here.

The Colour of Magic by Terry Prachett

I picked up this series thinking that it would be similar to Robert Aspirin’s MYTH series- light reading, full of humour. Unfortunately, this first book in the series is not actually a full novel but rather a collection of two short stories. As someone who most definitely prefers novel reading as opposed to short story, this really threw me. In addition, while I liked the idea that the whole universe is carried on the back of a giant turtle, I just didn’t really think the inept wizard that’s the protagonist all that humorous and all in all I don’t think I will be reading more of the series.

And that’s it for January. Next week will be April discoveries so stay tuned.

Moonlake’s Book Discoveries- January 2018 (1)

Bad girl me had left this series by the way-side for too long! But, to be honest, I haven’t been reading as much so I possibly could in the past, since reading does compete with my writing time. And I’ve also been doing more of what I consider light reading too. But that’s enough preamble, I will leave you to the meat.

Taken by the Wind by Ellen Hart
Not quite the mystery that I’m used to, more like a drama that concentrates on relationships as opposed to a fast-paced detective story that I thought it is from the back-cover blurb.I finished it but I can’t say that I really like it and I’m not adding this author to my comfort author list.

Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie
For me, this book delivers the typical Christie- a plot twist right at the end that satisfies my needs. Other than that, though, it doesn’t have anything over other works of her.

Death Masks by Ed Greenwood
This book is my revisit of the Forgotten Realms after substantial absence so I like it okay in reconnecting me with some of the characters I’m familiar and fond with. At the same time, I also feel that the new developments going on in the Realm- weakening of magic and all that, is going to take away my continual interest in this setting since I definitely prefer high magic fantasy to low.

Death on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
I loved the ending to this book and I saw the movie last year though I prefer the book much better (I always tend to do that but the movie was just too slow, making me want to fall asleep constantly except that I bought a cold cola to drink). Anyway, back to the book. I loved the ending specifically because I felt like it gave an additional layer of depth to Poirot that made him human. In the other books, Poirot’s basically just a detective trope with few character quirks but we never really got into touch with the ‘human side’ of him. Well, no longer so after I read this book.

The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie
I think this is one of my preferred books from Christie. I like the heroine (I don’t love her but at least I appreciate her adventurous spirit) so I enjoyed reading about the set of events centring around in this book. I also think the opening is fairly enticing.

Where have you gone, Moonlake?

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I went off to outline the first book of a Chinese fantasy series that I intend to debut with under the name of Moonlake (I am waiting until I have more materials before sharing details but stay tuned!). Yes, you heard me correctly, I’ve been outlining a book for almost 2 years now and I intend to wrap it up and move onto draft 1 in October this year. Why so long? Well, I set out to trial a more comprehensive outlining method and this is the result. I think my outline is more robust with this procedure but I also figured out where I could chop it down to a year in the future. We will see.

What else have I done? I’ve enrolled in two intensive online writing courses for the purpose of self-education. I’ve read a healthy number of books and watched a healthy number of TV series to replenish the well of inspiration I can draw upon.

And oh, I shall be back on weekly basis and stick to it more than ever before. I will also be shifting the focus of my blog away from being predominantly the documentation of my writer’s journey towards a split between writer-journalling and having more fun and relevant content for my future novel readers.

Glad to be back and hope to do better at engaging with my blog followers.

Dissecting Character Grids (5)- Memories

Here, I think we are starting to get to the meat of a character, an important aspect that shapes a character’s personality, worldview etc. Before I dig into actual tips, I think this aspect is generally easier to fill for a character who’s older or with a wide variety of experiences. Or maybe that’s just the way I tend to conceptualise important memories.

I tend to think within life stages: childhood, coming to age, adulthood, middle ages etc. So in general, they often span the following aspects:

  • life/deaths experienced
  • coming to age ceremonies
  • love relationships incl. marriages
  • personal triumphs/tragedies
  • first time experiences

To be honest, I usually just let my mind wander across different life stages of a character and it will eventually throw up enough memories. Not sure that I can add further to this other than that I refer to Relationships and Past-times in a pinch.

Dissecting Character Grids (4)- Past-times

Firstly, I’m back! Well, actually this is my 2nd week back but you gotta give me some slack since I went straight back to work on Monday after arriving back in Melbourne on Sunday 10am. I didn’t realise how tired I was until I was nodding off on the train back to home after work while standing last Wednesday!

Anyway, back to this post where I will provide some personal tips on how to brainstorm how characters tend to spend their time. Essentially, I cheat a lot since I think about the following questions/prompts:

  • key individuals from the character’s social circle and the normal activity that character tends to do with each
  • hobbies of the character which usually come from talent section
  • activities that the character tend to on a day-to-day basis besides self-maintenance activities so could include housechores, a particular occupation/living etc.

And that’s it, short and sweet today.

Dissecting Character Grids (3)- Moods & Feelings

If you followed this blog from the start, you would know that I started off with just character moods but then I found that often what I put down is not a mood but rather a feeling (yes, I’m pedantic with definitions and technicalities). I tried to just focus on moods but it didn’t work and thinking about it some more, I don’t really think that I need to be making such fine distinctions since the goal of the character grids is just to brainstorm. So I just changed the label instead.

I don’t think tips really needs to be provided for coming up with moods & feelings for characters (other than an Excel sheet of moods&feelings candidates, I will put up a link to a Google sheet containing candidates for selected aspects of characterisation at the conclusion of this particular blog series) but I do think it is useful to think about two categories for moods & feelings:

  • The character norm: this is moods & feelings that a character tend to experience in his everyday life. They convey a sense of personality and how a character tends to behave
  • Story-event-driven: this is moods & feelings that a character experiences as particular story events happen to them. These might reinforce the character norm or might come into conflict with the character norm. I wouldn’t worry too much about whether it’s one or the other at this stage but this might be an useful area to consider later on.

By the way, I’m going on a 3 week holiday to China at the end of next week so there will be no posts during that time but I will come back. This series will continue and there’re still more author interviews lined up to go alive once I’m back so stay tuned for them and more!

Dissecting Character Grids (2)- Talents & Flaws

So this is the 2nd post in the series where I dissect specific components of the character grid, a method I use to flesh out my characters. Since I tend to fill in Talents and Flaws in a block, I’m just going to combine them in a single post.

Before I delve into the tips, I want to firstly say that I interpret talents as skills/capabilities and in broad terms such that an inability or low skill level in something also goes under Talents. Does this lead to unbalanced characters with more flaws than positive aspects, you ask? I would say no, you will see in a minute.

In general, whether it’s talents or flaws, I tend to brainstorm a mixture of 2 distinct categories: major/story driving ones and minor/innocuous ones. So this is one of the tricks for keeping a character balanced; give them flaws/inabilities but they don’t have to be major ones and can have nothing to do with the story. The goal of the character grid is just to brainstorm character traits to get a better sense of how characters are like and relevance to the actual story is actually secondary here.

Now, let’s consider minor/innocuous talents and flaws. I usually draw them from 3 sources (there’re more that one can think of but remember these are personal tips so not meant to be exhaustive. In fact, I would appreciate it if anyone can leave comments that expands on what I put down here):

  • artistic (including calligraphy, poetry and literature)/musical pursuits  ie. whether someone is good/bad at drawing, playing a specific instrument etc.
  • the physical senses: sight, hearing, smell and taste. So far I don’t think I’ve made use of the touch as a sense but unless the character happens to be blind or has a specific occupation, I guess it wouldn’t occur to me to think that a particular character has a superior/inferior sense of touch relative to the average person
  • personal habits and past time: For innocuous flaws, I usually fall back on things like sweating, snoring that are personal habits, character traits like tendency to spoil loved ones or hold grudge depending on rough character orientation on the good/evil spectrum and in terms of talents, I drill down to details like good/bad at a particular childhood game in a pinch

Turning to story driving talents/flaws, I usually think about the following sources:

  • Fighting skills (weaponry, strength, stamina, dexterity, speed, magic powers etc.)
  • What I call reactional abilities such as:
    • Decision-making: how fast they can make decisions, are they rash in decision-making or do they weigh all of the pros and cons, what factors impede them from making an informed, rational decisions as the norm
    • Social interactions: leadership skills, negotiation/bargaining skills, are they stubborn/prideful
    • Ability to adapt to new situations and speed

The last part of the puzzle to character talents/flaws for me is that I constantly remind myself that most things in life is double-edged.