fanta’s story

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I’ve been tagged again for this super-fun WIP blog hop, this time by my writers group friend, Daniel Ferguson (you can see his entry here).

Since I told you all last time about my current WIP, Keys, Clocks, Quests I decided to pick the novel project before that, currently in second draft phase, Written By The Stars.

1: What is the working title of your book? 

Written By The Stars. Yes, I purposefully said ‘by’ not ‘in’. If you want to find out why you have to read it 😀

I'm not making it up, vanilla/milk flavoured Fanta. Only in Japan to my knowledge.
I’m not making it up, milk flavoured Fanta.

2: Where did the idea come from for the book?

I had an image in my mind of a world where everything was predetermined, and when you came of age your destiny was tattooed on your hands for everyone to see. That was how the world was born.

My protagonist came into being when I briefly thought how nice it would be not to have to choose anymore. I thought a girl who wants to run away from a tough decision would be the perfect person to throw into that world of fate. At the time I was drinking ‘milk’ Fanta from Japan, so that’s how she got saddled with the name ;p

3. What genre does your book come under?

Cross dimensional fantasy.

4: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? 

fantas hair

I don’t know about actors, but the girl playing Fanta MUST have this hair. That is why I pinned this photo in the first place. Karen Gillan would probably do a smashing job, but until I see her in something else my brain just sees her as Amy Pond (sorry Karen, I’m sure you’ll break that mould in your next gig, I just have a funny brain).

karengillan

Some of my actors are going to be way too famous to actually be possible (unless I’m unwittingly the next JK Rowling), but you get an idea of looks I’m imagining.

That. Right there. Auriga.
That. Right there. Auriga.

Christian Bale with a beard could do a damn fine Auriga (the Once-King), but he’d need to go back to the Batman Begins muscle/bulk to really fit.

alexander siddig

Caelum’s a hard pick.  The closest I can think of is Alexander Siddig, but he needs to be younger, Caelum’s only 25. He has very Caelum eyes in this picture though.

Tucana is the hardest to pick of all, probably because Hollywood doesn’t do normal women. Tucana is not skinny, but not fat. She’s an Australian size 10-12, short to average height with a blonde bob. If you can think of any actress matching this feel free to share.

jeffreydeanmorgan

Eridanus is easy to get the face of. Totally Jeffrey Dean Morgan – but really tall, and 20 years old. His smile, the way his cheeks crinkle and eyes light up, absolutely perfect for Eridanus.

I feel really mean, I keep telling actors they’re too old, or their body isn’t the right size/shape. You’re all fine as you are, just not identical to my characters!

5: What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

When faced with an unwanted engagement ring, Fanta, a young astronomy student, wishes she could run away and wakes up in a world where the Gods make every decision for you. She joins  a group of dissidents in the fight against the gods for freedom of choice.

I know, it’s a little long. I’m still tinkering with it.

6: Is your book self-published, published by an independent publisher, or represented by an agency?

I plan on getting an agent, but the work is still rough, not quite at the stage of approaching an agent, so I’m not going to waste their and my time sending it out just yet.

7: How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Two months and a couple of days. I actually wrote a few posts about the journey if you want to check them out.

First mentionmy post about completing the first draft, a post about making ‘the sentence’ for novels using Written as a case study, and a really awesome research trip, or if you want to check them ALL out use the tag Fanta’s Story(the initial working title) and it should pull up everything.

8: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I think the book that comes closest is actually a manga series, From Far Away by Kyoko Hikawa. Or maybe Fushigi Yugi(Yuu Watase) a bit as well. I’ve not really read any books like this.

There is a distinct fairy tale feel to the novel, it starts off with a sense of Alice In Wonderland, then turns into Sleeping Beauty for a short while – so you can see I’ve got a bit of a thing for fairy tale undertones.

9: Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I pretty much covered this in ‘where did the idea come from’. Milk Fanta, the weirdest thing ever.

10: What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

When I’ve been telling people in my personal life about it every one really seems to dig the Hyakan, the destiny tattooed onto your hands. Personally I love the fact I’ve stranded an astronomy student in a world with almost no stars, I like the little bit of symbolism that provides too.

If you’re curious, I have a couple of Pinterest boards (that I really should update) for this novel too, one for clothing research and one for anything else.

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Oooooh, Harper Voyager are going to do open submissions for epic fantasy (and some other genres) novels. True it’s for their e-book line, but still – HARPER VOYAGER!

I have to get out the polishing cloth on ‘Storybook Perfect’ and the still-not-quite-perfectly-named ‘Written By The Stars’. I promise I’ll keep blogging, but definitely going to be focused in on those manuscripts for the next few weeks.

PUMPED!

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My earlier post on research referenced online research and how a writer should use their research to enrich the world and create atmosphere, not show how very well you can search through Wikipedia. I just finished reading the section in Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ related to research and to use his words, “don’t let the tail wag the dog”. Not sure I could say it any better than that.

In that post I sort of made research sound dull, like you’re stuck in front of your computer trawling the internet for information fish or in a corner in a library flicking through encyclopaedias. Research doesn’t have to be, it can be fun too (not saying the library and computers aren’t fun). Another example, and from the same book, is my trip to the Brisbane Botanic Gardens.

Mentally I was (still am) quite adamant that I wanted my ‘real world girl’ to live in Brisbane. I moved her into a house I once lived in, sent her to Uni in the heart of the city and even knew the path she would cycle along to get from home to Uni. I also knew if I went to Uni at the Garden Point campus I would have lunch EVERY DAY (well I suppose except for rainy ones) in the Botanic Gardens, so I wanted my girl to have a favourite spot. Everyone has a favourite spot, why shouldn’t she? This required some knowledge I didn’t have, so yay: family trip to the city!

We explored the Botanic Gardens, met a lizard, saw baby pukekoes, played in the bamboo and eventually even found a tree I deigned perfect for my protagonist to sit under every day. I even went to the effort of wearing the clothes I imagined her in the first time I visualised her (hence including that terrible, blurry shot) the white singlet with mystic symbols, the jeans shorts and the fabulous strappy sandals. Of course I’m not 21 anymore and certainly not a red head, but it was fun to play dress-up and get into my characters head, and all in the name of novel research! Now, if only I can convince my husband to let me swim with a manta ray as ‘novel research’.

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It’s rather odd researching for a novel. You need to know a lot of details (even when your world is made up) but while you research you have to be careful to not put too much of your findings in your writing and bore your reader. It’s a fine line to walk down. You need to create authenticity with your details, but you can’t bash your readers over the head while fanning yourself with a smug smile that says ‘I know more than you do’.

For example, I spent over an hour trawling the internet looking up Bedouin musical instruments (I started off thinking Arabian musical instruments, but then thinned it down a little more). I researched what they looked like, where they came from, listened to how they sounded on YouTube, all for perhaps a paragraph and a couple of tiny references when a musical troupe performs for my protagonist. The instruments themselves and the music they created were overshadowed largely by their players and the dancer alongside them. Those characters in turn were overshadowed by my protagonist.

I could just have written ‘they played music’, but how does that help illustrate the strange new world my protagonist finds herself in? I detail my music, give you some sounds and a picture for your imagination to work with, but I don’t tell you everything I’ve learned about rebabs and khallols because frankly, the reader doesn’t need to know. The reader only needs the atmosphere the presence of these instruments creates.

That is what your research details are for, creating atmosphere – not showing how well you can comb the internet.

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Writing my second novel was the easy part. My son was a sleepy angel who would wake me for a 5:30/6am feed then sleep til 8am and go to bed at 9pm (obviously there were naps during the day as well) allowing me to get up early and stay up late without exhausting myself and I used this fabulous month to tap the novel out of my brain and onto the page.

I printed it out as soon as I’d run spell check and tried very hard to wait a fortnight before editing(a well-known writer’s trick that is supposed to ‘distance’ you from the words you wrote).

The entire editing process has been painfully slow. I’m only about two thirds through. I wrote the novel faster than this. The lethargic pace is partly due to my son not being so generous with his bed times (babies love to change up their schedules every few months). The other (read: larger) problem was that something was wrong, but it was eluding me.

In my earlier posts I told you all that my writer’s group sure as heck knew what the problem was. As soon as my problem was identified I was full of ideas and went back through that first chapter and a half and rewrote probably 90% of it. A few lines and paragraphs made it through alive, but the remainder were slaughtered as sacrifices to the Muse.

It’s very interesting to see how much a simple idea (or hint or tip) can help you. It’s just as interesting to see how much of a problem the same ‘simple’ idea can be when it remains unidentified.

Has anyone else found this to be true?

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In my previous post ‘Nerves’ I told you all that I had submitted the first chapter and a half of my current WIP for critique. One of the reasons I chose that was because of how much I was struggling with my revision of the first draft and how I couldn’t pin-point what was wrong. Well my group certainly knew! It was unanimous that my protagonist was a whiny, passive bitch. It makes perfect sense. In Storybook Perfect my main protagonist (Yui Watanabe) is already a strong young woman so doesn’t have a great deal of growth in that area. I wanted Fanta to grow more so I purposefully weakened her at the start, burdening her with an anxiety disorder among other things. Unfortunately I made her so weak she’s not easily likeable.

Fortunately this is something I can fix. The person Fanta becomes later in the story will simply have to be clearer at the start. I’m quite confident that this is the problem I was sensing from my manuscript – the false/forced growth of my protagonist. I’m sorry Fanta, hopefully they’ll like you a bit more next time ;p

Getting my work critiqued was great. It was also widely agreed that the alternate world setting was awesome. That makes me beam with pride since the reason my other novel was turned down by the agent who requested the full manuscript was because the world was too ‘stock standard fantasy’(I’ve made a lot of changes now so it’s a bit less run-of-the-mill for those curious – I listen to feedback). Funnily enough she disliked the world, but loved my protagonist – the exact opposite of this story, so I’m laughing quite a bit right now.

I also really love talking to several of the members of the group. I’m looking forward to next time eagerly.

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The last two weeks have been crazy with work. My once part time job in which I worked two days a week for 5 hours a day or less is suddenly a five days a week, full day shift job. It’s because the store manager is on holidays and while the boss is away everyone seems to be looking to me to run the store and the massive mid-year sale set-up. I can understand why, I was a manager for 5 years sometimes running much busier stores, but I came back from maternity leave as a simple casual for a reason: to avoid this. This is the cause of my less-frequent posting, but not the cause of my nerves.

I’m nervous because I uploaded my first piece for critique with my writers group. I originally planned to post some of my very best work (the first chapters for Storybook Perfect if you were curious) but didn’t for two reasons. Number one is because I am struggling a bit with revision on Fanta’s story – something’s not clicking right, but I can’t pinpoint it (editing in tiny fragments of time is not helping me either) – and a critique of the early chapters might help me find what I’m missing. Reason number two is because what would I do if my ‘best work’ was torn to shreds?

I know I’m just being paranoid, I mean the work is pretty solid – those opening chapters were enough to get the first agent I approached to ask for my full manuscript, so they can’t be too crappy – but that doesn’t ease the fear that all writers have: that I’m just not good enough.

Funnily enough, even with that thought in the back of my head it doesn’t stop me from uploading other work for critique or from continuing to work on becoming a published author. Even if I worry I ‘might not be good enough’ I’m not going to give up, because you know what? If I’m not good enough now, what’s to say I can’t work hard and eventually be good enough – or better? Anyway, giving up just isn’t my style.

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I do have some proper content to provide you with, but first I just want to gush briefly about my son. While buttering our breakfast crumpets I wondered why on earth he was being so quiet in the living room, so peered around the corner to check, assuming Sesame Street would be filling his little eyes with wonder. Instead I found him on one of the chairs at the dining room table. He had prised open my laptop and grabbed what remained of my morning tea and was drinking the tea with one hand while bashing the keyboard with the other. This is exactly what he perceives my early morning to be ;p It was so cute, but I couldn’t grab the camera for fear he might spill the tea on my precious PC.

OK, on with the content my title promised.

I’m revising the recently finished first draft of (working title) Fanta’s Story – it has a temporary alternate title of ‘All The Stars’ but it’s fighting against ‘The Missing Stars’ and ‘The Dissidents and Stars’ all I know is stars are most definitely going to be involved in the title. More on titles in a later post.

Right now I’m wondering if I may have jumped into my revision a little too soon. There’s plenty of red pen to be found, rewrites scrawled on the back of the page it will belong to, but something still doesn’t seem right. I can’t pinpoint it right now and the work is still far too rough for me to show it to anyone just yet. Possibly my squirgly tummy is reacting simply to that roughness – Storybook Perfect was rewritten about eight times before it even made it to first draft stage NOT THE WAY TO DO THINGS, BELIEVE ME! – or maybe my brain is filled with the paranoia which comes along and plagues writers and other artists from time to time. You know what I mean, that ‘I’ll never be good enough’ attitude that pushes to the fore-front of our grey-matter on occasion to make us doubt our skill, our talent, our resolve, our very self-worth.

Writers often talk about ‘the Muse’ as the wonderful part of our mind that blesses us with the very best ideas. This beast that bursts forth I call the Anti-Muse. Creativity splutters to a halt, and the editor becomes even more perfection driven than usual, critical of everything without reserve. I’m even looking at my website – which long term readers will know took me three days to get to this stage due to a lack of knowledge of CSS code – and thinking it looks too kiddie, like my attempt at a Sailor Moon fan site when I was fifteen. It’s frustrating because I do not have the time to learn the code I need to make the site look more professional but neither do I have the money to pay someone to do it for me and the Anti-Muse sure as heck won’t let me leave it like this for much longer.

The Anti-Muse has some good ideas of things to add, like perhaps the blurb or pitch for my novels and a teaser or taste of the first chapter – I might leave that for when I have the books at a stage where they are ready or almost ready to sell – but she’s none to nice when she offers these ideas up.

A part of me wants to step back from the revision and give myself a little more time, but the other part of me tells me I might as well finish this run off and then come back again at a later date, after all, we all know I’ll never just do one revision anyway.

I think what I really need to do is take the Anti-Muse and go for a drive and leave her in some ditch on the side of the road between here and the highway (there’s a lovely, long stretch of road with not much but fields, trees and distant houses that runs for about 15 kilometres) but considering she’s a part of me (and has a few valid points) I think it might be better to weather the storm and keep reminding myself she’s just my anxieties given voice.

Do you have any good names for your Anti-Muse? Or can you think of any particularly heinous monsters whose name could be used? Let’s have a good laugh at the expense of our inner-critics.

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When I say ‘the sentence’ to another writer they usually nod gravely in acknowledgement or scowl remembering the last time they grappled with this particular writing beast.

The sentence is the hardest form of synopsis. It is your entire novel boiled down to a single sentence – and no Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn style sentence that flows on like the river for one and a half pages – fifty words or less.

Difficult though this may be, make a good sentence and you have the perfect answer to when you are asked ‘What is your book about?”. Trust me, that person asking, they don’t want you to ramble on about how the politics of your Dragonmeet are carried out, or in-depth details about your magical system. What they want to hear is “In a world where the gods predetermine absolutely every moment of your life, a young woman from another world joins a group of dissidents in a fight against the gods for freedom.”

That’s the sentence I just tapped out for Fanta’s story. It isn’t the tightest sentence, a little tweaking of words will probably occur between now and approaching agents, but I need to know this sentence so if by some crazy, random happenstance I come face to face with an agent or publisher (oh I can dream, can’t I?) I can quickly sum up my novel and hopefully garner interest.

The sentence needs a few things to work.

You need to make your setting clear. Obviously mine is a fantasy world as implied by ‘in a world where the gods predetermine absolutely every moment of your life’. Of course, you don’t need to be as blatant as I am. If your world is just our normal, modern one you can make that obvious by mentioning a job or a landmark or something else that pertains to your story that will tip the reader/listener of your sentence off as to where the story is set.

You need to mention your protagonist. You don’t need to tell their entire back story but it’s usually good to throw in a powerful adjective and maybe a job or descriptive to give people a little more information about your protagonist. I started out with ‘young woman’ because that’s what Fanta is, a 22 year old woman, but you aren’t necessarily compelled to find out more about her by simply reading young woman. Young, scantily clad woman draws some attention, not the right attention but you get the idea. What you need is something pivotal to who she is or the problem she is facing (apart from the fact she’s about to fight the gods themselves). Fanta is struggling with the decision to get married to her live-in boyfriend, who she doesn’t know what to feel about anymore, so ‘romantically confused young woman’ could be good, but that can imply lots of different things. In the end I decided the fact she isn’t from this world is a compelling piece of information.

The absolute most important thing for your sentence is your main conflict. Clearly for this tale that is the war with the gods over the right to choose how to live their own lives with the antagonist of the tale being the gods themselves.

Usually the writer should start with the sentence and use it as a tool to keep their story on track. I didn’t. Didn’t with Storybook Perfect(to be honest didn’t even know its importance back when I started my first novel) and didn’t with Fanta’s Story. Breaking the rules! This worked in my favour in this particular case because I when I became sick a few weeks back I stopped writing – it was hard enough keeping up with commenting and the blog – and when I tried to start again I felt disconnected from the narrative. So I wrote my sentence to try and get myself back in the groove. It worked, because now the first draft is finished. Hopefully now the sentence will help keep me in check during my revision as well.

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I just finished my second novel.

Wow, my head is spinning with the excitement and I feel like I can’t catch my breath even though I’ve not run or danced or am having an asthma attack.

It’s hard to believe that what took me nearly ten years the first time around has this time taken only a smidge over two months – definitely an improvement on efficiency. I started on February 14 with the intention of entering the novel in the Vogel Awards (since changed my mind). That’s crazy fast. Admittedly, I had the idea a little over two years ago but had never tapped out anything more than a general outline and one funny bit of banter between the main characters and the occasional scribble of an idea I had from time to time. On the 14th I outlined the whole thing into scenes in Scrivener and on the 15th I started to write. Now, on the 19th of April, I have finished my first draft.

Fanta’s Story (which I’m considering calling ‘All the Stars’ or something damn close to that) is 65,000 words, but will probably end up a little longer in revision as I’ve had a few ideas and need to develop a few more things in my revision. If you’re curious and on Pintrest, I have two boards up related to this novel: ‘For All the Stars’ and ‘Clothing Research For My Latest Novel’. A bit more of a description will be coming in my next post, but I’ll leave you hanging for now for the sake of this post’s brevity.

So what’s on the-to do list now? Well I need to revise. It’s only the first draft I’ve completed and I’d be ashamed for anyone to see it yet (apart from perhaps my parents). First I’ll probably make myself read something non-fiction (after I finish ‘The Forbidden Land’ anyway), then re-read my book on revision (I have two, so I’ll probably flip a coin) then try to do the best edit I can. After that off to my loyal test readers and while they devour it, onto the next project, which is still a bit up in the air as to what it will be.

Well, now I’ve made this post its time to run spell check ;p