Time for Reflection (1) – What I’ve learned over the last three years

by Mikaheyla Kopievsky

Inshallah, I’ll be uploading my debut novel Divided Elements (Book 1) – Resistance to the cyber marketplace for pre-orders in the next couple of weeks. It’s a surreal feeling to even contemplate releasing the beast I have managed to tame over many late nights and sleepless hours. Sitting here, after a day spent fine-tuning my marketing plan, I realise just how far I have come since that first day, when a seed of an idea germinated in this chaotic brain of mine.

For some of you – you have seen my musings, trials and errors from the very first post. For others – you stumbled across my words a little later and joined the rest of us for the ride. I realise, however, that I’ve never shared with any of you the ‘real’ process behind this mammoth task of writing a book. Yes, I’ve shared bits and pieces (mainly the good bits), but never have I dished the dirt on the process. 

So, now, for those of you who are interested, I’m having a kind of pre-pre-launch party – a riding on the coattails of the ghost of Christmas past – and opening up the crazy history of a little book that changed my life.

So here is part one – I hope you enjoy it!

When it started…and why.

I had dabbled for years in writing novels. Actually, I was more interested in writing screenplays – I found them easier: the short, choppy exposition; the flurry of dialogue. (Interestingly, I still write in present tense as a throw-back to that habit, but struggled for a long time to find my voice in writing good dialogue). Anyway, back to the point at hand – I was one of those who started a lot of stories but never finished them.

I was a pantser (although, at the time, I had no idea what a pantser (or plotter) was) and a premise writer – what a terrible combination. Basically, I would come up with cool ideas for the premise of a story (e.g. a zombie gang member goes rogue and patches over to the vampires) and the just start writing the story – with no idea about where the story was going or whether it would even work as a story. So, yeah – those years were not my most productive.

And then I got so tired of reading bad novels. I love my literary fiction (most of my favourite novels are contemporary or classic literature), but I also like my brain candy reads. The literary fiction never disappointed, but my late-night chocolate snack of a book invariably would. After one too many bad brain-snack books, I caved in and decided I would figure out how to write a book and actually complete one.

In the beginning, without an idea or a premise, I still knew my writing goal – I wanted to write a book the equivalent of a good gastro-pub meal. Not the ultra-refined, sous vide ocean trout with pickled samphire and sauce vierge literary novel. Not the ‘I’m so very hungover and am dying for a greasy cheeseburger’ fast-food full-of-regrets meal. But the truffled mac n cheese with gruyere and jamon bliss-food that isn’t entirely nutritious or refined, but that feels good and looks good and tastes good, and that is the type of meal that turns a small, non-descript bistrot into your favourite weekend-special hangout.

My first lesson – golden drops of wisdom or a dead-end path?

I still remember that moment – that decision to actually write a real novel. A real novel – one people would read. And I still remember the first thing I chanced upon when researching my next move.

I love research – I am a HUGE research nerd. I love learning, what can I say? So, obviously, the first thing I do after deciding to write (and complete) a novel is consult my bestie, Dr Google, and ask “What do I need to do to write a novel?”

Interestingly, the answer I found (or gravitated towards) was this:

SET UP YOUR AUTHOR PLATFORM

I had no idea what an author platform was. (Remember, I had no idea what pantsing or plotting was). But, being the research nerd I am, I went about figuring that out. And that is what led me to starting this blog.

In hindsight, it was excellent advice. Setting up a blog was one of the best things I could have done as a newbie author – it instilled a much-needed ethic to write regularly, it gave me a place to reflect and report on the lessons I was learning as a new author, and it gave me exposure to you – my potential readers – and introduced you to my narrative voice. Win-win.

So, to all the new newbie writers out there – my first piece of advice to you is this:

Start a blog! Grab your free WordPress template. Introduce the world to what makes you tick creatively and tell it in a way that only your unique voice can 🙂

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And that was Part One. I hope you join me for the next installment…

 

Image courtesy of Aaron Davis via Flickr Creative Commons
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Time for Reflection (1) – What I’ve learned over the last three years

Character Mapping

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

I’m a bit of visual learner, so it’s no surprise that one of my favourite Scrivener functions is the ability to see a novel outline as index cards pinned to a cork board. I’m also a big fan of the character sheets (which allow me to note key characteristics of individual characters), but recently I was struggling with how I could best articulate the relationships between characters.

I love the idea of visualising these relationships in a diagram and have taken to using Google’s Lucidchart app to develop a network map that clearly and simply articulates the links between the characters of my novel-in-development, Elementals. Below is an early draft of the network. As you can see, I’m able to identify both direct and indirect relationships between characters as well as use colour to code different elements (in this case, red text boxes for Fire Elementals and coloured text for emotional (rather than functional) relationships).

Using Lucidchart to visualise character relationships in ‘Elementals’

I love being able to see the full tapestry of character interactions at a glance – it affords so many great advantages:

* Identifying opportunities for minor characters to have more influence on the plot through their relationships with other characters
* Identifying heavily-linked characters – allowing me to better consider how plot developments will impact on them through their direct and indirect relationships
* Keeping track of how relationships change as the novel develops (perhaps through using colour-coded arrows for different parts)
* Identifying and addressing unnecessary complexity in the character network – e.g. “Do I really need another character for this plot development or could an existing character perform this role?”

What about you? How do you plan and keep track of character relationships and networks?

Character Mapping

Sculpture & Fiction

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

The first draft of a novel always feels like a marathon for me. I will write a few paragraphs and then read them and then re-write them, add some more paragraphs and repeat the whole process again (ad nauseum). I just really, really want my novels to be good. To be worthy of reading. To be something I can be proud of.

I remember studying for my end of high school exams and Brother Celestine reminding me, “Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien (the best is the enemy of the good)”. Both he and Voltaire understood that our desire and desperation to be perfect was a hopeless cause and ultimately counter-productive – that it would cause stagnation through never-ending improvements spurred on by fear of failure and crippling self-doubt.

I wish I could say that I went on to heed their advice, but I still strive for a kind of perfection every time I start a novel. I want my words to encourage me along the path, to reassure me that I am a capable writer whose story is worth telling. This inevitably results in a very long (and always, in the end, aborted) first draft process.

But this time it will be different. Why? Because I have two pieces of the puzzle I didn’t have before.

The first piece – I am not alone. Seems like this is a fairly typical illness most writers are plagued with.

Second piece – I now have some reassurance that writing a messy, incoherent, awful first draft is not only common, but necessary.

Joshua Wolf Shenk said it best when he advised that it is

Hard to know the shape of the thing until you have a draft

The quote immediately reminded me of sculptors – who hack at a piece of marble or hew a piece of wood into a rough shape first, hinting at what the final product may be, but never eliciting any real detail. Their’s is a work of constant refinement, of slowly magnifying their focus to concentrate on smaller and smaller details, until the final masterpiece is unveiled.

It made me realise, that a first draft of a any piece of writing is the discovery stage. It is about finding and setting free the story trapped within my mind. It is a first incarnation, born without sophistication, yet with a direction and sense of purpose. And it is from the first draft that we can begin to understand this beast that is our story and better understand what it needs to mature. For writers, like sculptors, this additional refinement is (as August Rodin noted) a simple matter of chopping off what we don’t need.

Sculpture & Fiction