Tuesday, March 13, 2018

I'm a little bit addicted to Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, so I decided to doodle some of the campers in a more anthropomorphic style.

I'll probably do more of these when I have the time!

Monday, March 12, 2018

Today's writing notes:

Working on: Finishing revisions on "Worth Searching For"!

Apologies if you're getting tired of these. But the good news is, I'm done! :)

The most major change in the latter half of this story has been a different dynamic between Hyren and Isengrim. In the original, they were at each other's throats constantly, and the only thing keeping them from attempting to fight to the death was that they both wanted to save Terra.

The revision takes a bit of a different spin on it. This time around, Isengrim is truly trying to be nicer - and he would never want to hurt another of Terra's Neopets, no matter how much they annoy him - and overall he's much less vitriolic and sarcastic. He is also sincerely apologetic to Hyren, but now it's Hyren who becomes a bit antagonistic as he's having difficulty forgiving Isengrim. Finally, when he saves Isengrim's life during the Battle of Sweetwater Fields, Hyren realizes that holding on to his anger and hate isn't helping anyone--and if Terra sees some good in Isengrim, that's a good enough reason for Hyren to protect him. Also Isengrim just saved Hyren's life, which makes Hyren realize what a jerk he's been to someone who's truly trying to make up for what they did.

Another major change during the climax is that Isengrim tries to reason with Skoll, which again shows how far Isengrim's come--having been on the receiving end of forgiveness, Isengrim understands the importance of forgiving others and trying to help them, rather than just destroying them outright.

Finally, I really changed around the conversation at the end in order to fit better with the revised character arcs, and put the resolution of Hyren's insecurity at the very end, because pacing-wise it seemed to make the most sense there.

All right, I'm handing this one off to my proofreader, and then I should have it up on FFN and a petpage soon!

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Today's writing notes:

Working on: Revising "Worth Searching For"

I'm coming up on the first climax! So excited. I still feel like everything surrounding the Well of Souls is appropriately creepy and intense. I still think I did a great job with that. By this point the reader should be mentally shouting "PHARAZON NO". Or shouting it out loud. That's okay too.

Another major edit to this story is that, during the pizza party, Terra tells Isengrim that Pharazon is plotting to get rid of him. Isengrim believes her and sends the other Werelupes to apprehend Pharazon and Skoll, who escape and aren't heard of again until the next night, when Skoll activates the Well of Souls.

In the previous version, after learning of Pharazon's plans, Terra didn't tell Isengrim because she didn't think he would believe her, but that definitely doesn't fit with the dynamics of their revised relationship in this version, which has so much to do with Isengrim trusting Terra. Plus, now that I know how to write Terra better, I know there's no way Terra would sit back and let something like that happen. She would tell Isengrim regardless of whether or not he believed her, because it's the right thing to do, and she's all about doing the right thing.

This also allows the reader to see more of who Isengrim really is, as he tenderly comforts Suhel when Pharazon attacked her with magic, knowing how difficult it was for her emotionally, and reaffirms to Terra that he trusts her, even when faced with the betrayal of someone who he had trusted for years. It shows how far he's come just in the few days he's known Terra, and how much she's helped him. I'm really enjoying making him much nicer. I like this version of Isengrim way better, and I think readers will, too. :)

I also completely changed the scene where Terra and Isengrim start Isengrim's family portrait on the wall. It's much more upbeat now, and also ties in to the new idea of Skoll and Pharazon going on the lam. I wanted to give the sense that things might be totally okay between Terra and Isengrim now, but they've got other problems to deal with--but by working together and giving each other strength, they can conquer those problems.

All of these edits have brought the word count up to over 94,000 words. I'm not even mad.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Today's writing notes:

Still working on: Editing "Worth Searching For" for FFN

Although, I've decided I'm going to put it up on a petpage on Neopets when I'm done, too, because I'm growing less and less fond of the version that got into the Neopian Times, and I want this new edit to stand as the "canonical" version of events.

I'm glad I've been making Isengrim more sympathetic and less sociopathic, because I think it gives greater weight to when he does things like donate the slain Monocerous to Caxton Bank. I think the old version portrayed him as socially obtuse and completely lacking in empathy, but this version paints a picture of a Werelupe who is naturally very warm, giving, caring, and protective, but had that side of him severely hurt by his creator, and as a result he became much more guarded and neurotic about it. I think this version better serves to portray Terra as a strong individual as well, because her kindness and compassion is powerful enough to swiftly break through those emotional barriers and give Isengrim the courage and confidence to truly be himself. In addition, we see the effect spreading as Isengrim earns his peasants' trust through being genuinely kind and generous to them, and softens their hearts as well. (Also, it makes Skoll's comments about Isengrim being cruel and unchangeable even more conspicuously odd, because the reader is instead seeing the direct opposite of that idea.)

Another alteration I made to Terra's character is that she's now wary of Skoll from the start. Terra isn't stupid and she's certainly not oblivious--she's extremely observant, reads people well, and easily picks up on if something's off about someone. Her mistake in this edit, though, is not trusting her intuition--she's worried that Pharazon is a coward because she's been babying him, and she tries to make herself stop being a helicopter-owner, even though something doesn't sit right with her about Skoll. The lesson she learns is to always trust your gut, even when it's telling you something that goes against your reasoning.

I really enjoyed writing Skoll being super manipulative in the chapter where Pharazon learns to use the Lupe Moon Charm. Skoll knows full well that Pharazon will use it to ask for help, but totally pretends like he doesn't, giving Pharazon a false sense of independence and courage when he breaks his promise to his mentor. In reality he's just learning how to lie and break promises. Skoll's such a jerk.

Speaking of Skoll, I also solidified his backstory quite a bit and made him make more sense as a whole. In the original, he was expelled from Brightvale University and exiled from Brightvale after being cursed into a Werelupe while searching for spell reagents in the woods. When he returned to the university, they turned on him and cast him out, and as a result he grew bitter and vengeful. But I realize now that, as arrogant and stuffy as Brightvalians are, I don't think they'd do something so severe to a student-turned-Werelupe simply out of species prejudice, especially if his transformation was accidental. (Later, when something similar happens to Connor, it makes more sense in his situation because he's attending a regular boarding school, not a magic university--and he lives in the Haunted Woods, where everyone is much more jumpy about Werelupes, and for good reason.) Plus, I wanted to give more of a hint early on that Skoll was not entirely an innocent victim, and that he'd started down some paths in his youth that, left uncorrected, led him to his villainy later on.

So, in the revision, we learn that when Skoll was a university student, he'd begun dabbling in off-limits magic, and the reagent that cursed him was an ingredient that he needed for said magic. That is something that the university would take extremely seriously, because even though Skoll says otherwise, certain types of magic are off-limits for a reason, and it seems the faculty deemed it simply unsafe and a bad idea to allow Skoll to continue learning magic--and to keep allowing him access to dangerous knowledge. That makes his banishment much more reasonable, and also gives the reader the foreshadowing idea that he is not exactly the kindly old grandfather figure he plays himself out to be.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Today's writing notes:

Working on: Editing "Worth Searching For" for FFN

Yessss I got my work done so now I can play with writing! :) Work hard, play hard, I say! Although a lot of my play looks suspiciously like work. Hmmmmm. (Pro tip: that's how you know you've got the right job.)

I know I keep talking about the changes to Terra's and Isengrim's character arcs, but they're kind of important and by far the most major alteration to the story. Isengrim has undergone a considerable change in character as well, because I wanted to make his character arc (and the story as a whole, really) more upbeat and hopeful.

In the original, he's kind of a sociopath who doesn't particularly care about the emotional needs of non-Werelupes and only starts to change when he's confronted with his worst fear: abandonment. In other words, the only thing that gets him to alter his actions is fear, and throughout the rest of the story his progress is slow, as his motivations are still essentially self-serving up until the very end. Looking at it now, I feel like that idea is just much too grim and depressing.

So in this revision, Isengrim is a much more hopeful character. He clearly shows guilt and remorse for upsetting Terra and taking her from her family, and it is his conscience - and listening to it - that gets him to change, and much earlier on than before. From his first appearance we see hints of nobility and kindness in him that are being fought against by his hurt and anger, and now his turning point in the middle of the story is not marked by resignedly deciding to listen to his owner because he doesn't want to be abandoned again, but by resolving to trust Terra and let himself be kind to her, to reciprocate the compassion she has shown him.

I also chose a less depressing route for him this time around because I feel it is a privilege and an obligation of writers to create things that help people feel better about life and give them examples of a better world. I want to impart a hopeful outlook in my work, and give people a sense that there is good in the world and it's worth it to believe that. I think the world would be a much better place if everybody really thought that and acted on it. I strongly believe fiction writers should hold their characters and plots to a high standard, and by so doing they might just pull the rest of the world up with them.

I think this also makes Isengrim a much more realistic character, because people in real life do feel remorse and respond positively to kindness and patience, even the most hardened-seeming individuals. One of the lessons of this story was always supposed to be that love changes people for the better, but I don't think four years ago I got the point across quite right. Now, though, I want this story to carry the message that love is powerful because it resonates within all of us, and inspires us to be better simply because we truly care about others. I think that's a message everybody needs.

I also like these changes because I think they empower Terra a lot more. The reader can see that her kindness and patience are actively having a positive effect on Isengrim, and by having him fully arrive at his change of heart halfway through the story instead of at the end, it's evident that she has made a concrete impact on him. By the day after she arrives at the Burrows, she's got things under control on her end, so the reader can rest easy--but I also think it adds some amusing dramatic irony that Hyren and Blynn still worry that she's in danger. Terra knows how to take care of herself, though--because one of her biggest strengths is that she's quite adept at turning enemies into friends through the power of love and kindness. Just like she did for Hyren twelve years previously.

Pro tip for writing for the Neopian Times: One of the NT's rules for stories is that the species and colour of all Neopet characters must be explicitly stated. I believe most of the reason for this is so that the editor can select an appropriate thumbnail image. However, I've learned through experience that you absolutely do not need to mention the colour of "background" Neopets that occur throughout the story, such as a random Bruce at a bookstore or a Grarrl in a parade crowd that a main character briefly pushes past. In fact, assigning them colours can be distracting, because it places undue importance on them, giving the reader impression that they have more to do with the plot than you intended, or that they'll come into play later.

Actually, that's pretty good advice for writing in general: don't include unnecessary details. For example, readers don't need to know the layout of a room where a character only spends a moment of the entire story--you can just say she leaned into the kitchenette to grab a bagel and leave it at that. Only include details that either come into play during the plot, or contribute constructively to a setting that you are trying to immerse your reader in. Going back to the kitchenette example, you would want go into more detail about what it looks like if your purpose is to paint a vivid picture of the character's Manhattan apartment for reasons of atmosphere or because it's a setting that occurs frequently in the plot.

It's kind of one of those things where you ultimately have to use your best judgment, but if you're reading through a text and phrases like "a yellow Kougra recognized Pharazon's name" or "a single Royal Girl Bruce browsed the shelves" start sticking out like painted thumbs, that definitely means some changes need to be made.

I enjoy characterizing Brightvale as a kingdom of incredibly intelligent and also incredibly self-absorbed Neopets. Most of them give little thought to anything besides their research and their academic respect, and so you have things like a historical War of the Typefaces (which I made up but sounds perfectly reasonable for Brightvale). King Hagan is especially fun to write as an individual who is smart and wants to be thought of as wise, and hasn't quite understood yet that true wisdom can't be gained from books--nor is it earned after you utter a certain number of pithy quotables. I have a short story that I wrote that I hope to get in the Neopian Times sometime later this year (after "Shadow of Takeryuu") that's mostly about Hagan and Master Seradar and the friendship between them. Seradar, on the contrary to Hagan, is both smart and wise, and his long years of dealing with short-sighted Brightvalian academia have made him quite irascible, but he is kindhearted beneath that. He's basically the Gandalf of Neopets. (He was super fun to write in "Worth Searching For", too.)

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Today's writing notes:

Working on: Revising "Worth Fighting For" for FFN

You know I'm hooked on a project when I keep working on it on Saturdays! Plus, I heard back from my client for the kids' book, so I'm going to be working more on that starting Monday. I may as well get some editing time in while I can.

Pharazon's story arc requires substantially less editing than Terra's and Isengrim's, so that's kind of a relief. One thing I want to point out is that Suhel isn't trying to be cruel, she's just a big tease. She tends to assume the "bossy older sister" role in friendships, but she really does care about Pharazon--as evidenced when she bravely follows him and Skoll to the Well of Souls, despite her intense phobia of magic, because she is worried about what Skoll is getting Pharazon into.

I had way, waaaaay too much fun writing Skoll. He's supposed to be giving off warning signals if you read between the lines of what he says to Pharazon--for example, he blatantly lies about the other Werelupes to feed Pharazon's prejudice against them, and also feeds into Pharazon's self-pity in ways that look superficially sympathetic, but actually just make Pharazon feel more victimized, angry, and embittered against the Werelupes and even his own family. Interestingly, the magical training he gives Pharazon is solid, but Skoll's mistake was that he assumed Pharazon would never have the backbone to stick up for himself and use that magic against Skoll. Skoll was just trying to gain Pharazon's trust so he could use the Draik to power the Well of Souls. Hmmm, come to think of it, this story has a lot of lessons about trust.

Annnndddd we're back to under 93,000 words, because I nearly completely altered Terra's and Isengrim's heart-to-heart near the middle of the story. I think their character arcs make much more sense now, though.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Today's writing notes:

Working on: Revising "Worth Searching For" for FFN (how in the world did I get something this crazy long into the Times)

Okay, I ended up altering Terra's interactions with Isengrim quite a bit, and drastically changing her entire character arc. Part of me is a little wary of making such large changes to the story like this, but as proud as I am of this story, as time goes by its weaknesses become more and more apparent to me. I figure if I'm going to put it on FFN, I want to make it stronger, more enjoyable, and contain more powerful lessons. One of those lessons, of course, is to not give in to anger and vengefulness like Pharazon did, but one of the most important lessons I want to impart is that compassion and forgiveness toward one's enemies is not only possible, but the best course of action--and really, life's a lot better if you don't consider anyone your enemy in the first place, like Terra's way of thinking.

I guess one of my problems with the version that got published in the NT is that I realize now that I didn't have a good enough handle on Terra's character. I knew she was smart, and nice, and a little off-kilter, but I did not really have a firm idea of how she would respond in a crisis, and I think I was so concerned about not having her come across as unrealistically strong that I erred too far in the other direction and made her depressingly weak. It didn't help that the only other severe situation she'd been in so far - the events of "Worth Fighting For" - was told through Hyren's point of view, so I did not have much opportunity before that to explore Terra's thought processes. I think I was also trying too hard to make Terra into something she wasn't, because I was worried, once again, that she would come across as too strong if I let her be level-headed, sweet-natured, and mature beyond her years.

So I've done some major retooling and let Terra be as strong as she wants to be. This Terra doesn't get scared easily; she keeps her head in a dire situation, even when faced with something that scared her in the past; she is calm and diplomatic with her family's antagonist; she takes life by the horns, doesn't give up hope, and has faith that everything will work out as long as she keeps working toward making things better; and, most importantly, her immediate response to being wronged is to try to help the other person, because clearly they are struggling and suffering and need kindness and compassion. And yeah, this does make her stronger, but she is a strong person and I'm tired of trying to hide that out of fear of what others will think. I believe the world needs more stories about people who are strong by being kind, understanding, and forgiving.

The lesson to take away here is to never, ever let concerns about a character's perceived strength dictate how you write them. Some characters and some people in real life are just awesomely strong, and that's okay. There's nothing unrealistic about that, especially when you take care to write them well. Many of Hayao Miyazaki's heroes and heroines are extremely strong people, but do people criticize them? No--on the contrary, they're beloved icons of animation and their films are lauded as masterpieces. Aragorn from Lord of the Rings has pretty much no personality flaws except for his self-doubt, but I don't see people walking around criticizing his immense character strength--I think he serves as a role model for a lot of people, an example of courage and perseverance and nobility under fire.

In my opinion, the tired old idea of the "Mary Sue" is bogus and needs to die. Writers need to stop shaming other writers and nitpicking at characters, because that just makes writers afraid to write stories the way they want to. Writers should focus on kindly, constructively helping other writers learn general writing skills, so that other writers can tell their own stories well, not try to mold their stories into what they think their beta readers want.

I'm just kind of sad that I can't change the version that's in the Times--I think it's an okay story on a technical level, but the edits I'm making now make it so much better. Well, at least the better version will be up on FFN.

Anyway, the word count has jumped to over 93,000 words. The sad part is that most of it is adding dialogue tags.

I'm also heavily reworking Isengrim's character arc, because I'm much, much more familiar with his character now. Overall his actions and motivations in the story now make much more sense, and I think his conflict is more interesting because now, it's an internal struggle between his natural desire to be kind and caring and his anger and bitterness manifesting as distrust and control issues. He wants to trust Terra but he doesn't think he can, because his previous owner betrayed him, but Terra's unflagging kindness and patience finally convince him to let her into his heart so she can help him heal. I think this also helps make him a more sympathetic and likable character. It does make his personality read differently, but if anything, I think it helps him fall more in line with how he's portrayed in future stories.

Also, I'm at 11 chapters already, and I'm not even halfway through the manuscript yet. Chapters for days!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Today's writing notes:

Working on: Revising "Worth Searching For" for FFN

I really enjoyed writing Captain Tuan. I like to imagine that when he's not dealing with crewmates pushing each other overboard, he's a jolly old soul.

One major edit in this portion of the story was to  alter Terra's and Isengrim's initial conversation, to make Terra's motivations and actions fall in line better with how I've established her character, and better convey the character arc I was trying to get across the first time around. Looking back, I could have done a better job with it, but I know my writing skills have grown a lot in four years.

I also think that when I first wrote this thing, I was just happy to have figured out Isengrim's character--I'd actually stalled on writing the first draft for a month or so, because I was having real difficulty figuring him out, and trying to determine his motivations and how to properly transition him from a one-off villain to a multidimensional character who would undergo a redemption arc.

Considering that, and how complex the rest of the story is, I suppose I should cut myself some slack for being a bit lax with Terra's character development. However, now that I have the opportunity, I am definitely going to tighten up that element of the story--I think it will help her relationship with Isengrim make more sense and also help her better come across as the strong person I intended her to be.

Also, I want to point out that vinegared rice sounds nasty and awful, but actually it's sushi rice, which was originally developed to keep for a long time and keep fish from spoiling. It's exactly the kind of thing Shenkuuvian sky-sailors would pack in their ships, so sky-pirates would have it on hand to feed to prisoners.

Annnnddd now I'm craving sushi. Of course.

Pharazon probably could actually do things with his magic breath if he tried. Of course, the problem here is that he's not really trying. Terra is usually an extremely patient person, but one of the few things that can really exasperate her is when people are lazy and irresponsible. She's been repeatedly trying to solicit Pharazon's help, practically holding his hand and walking him through assisting in their escape, but he's just refused to do anything but cower and despair. I think, though, that it makes it that much more meaningful when Terra bargains with Isengrim for Pharazon's safety, because as annoyed as she is with Pharazon, she refuses to act vindictively toward him.

I also had a lot of fun writing the Uni's Scottish brogue, because, SCOTLAND Y'ALL. Suhel has a Scottish accent, but it's more urban, while this guy has a thick rural accent from the highlands. I clearly like playing around with accents.

I greatly enjoyed doing lots of research for this story, because I wanted to make sure that I portrayed the Meridell region accurately, specifically the Werelupe Burrows and the surrounding settings. I played the Darkest Faerie PlayStation 2 game again, because it contains the most in-depth information about that setting, as well as a few fun details that helped me flesh out the story, like the animosity between the Werelupes and Illusen, and the graveyard with the mausoleums that ended up playing such a big part in the plot. I really enjoy stories where the author takes time to make the setting come to life--I think that's one of the reasons why I like The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings so much, because Tolkien pays such loving care to Middle-earth and paints such vivid images of his world that you really feel like it's a real place, and the world itself is just as important as the story that takes place in it. It's something I strive for in my own writing as well. I like crafting worlds.

I also had to do a lot of research on wolf body language, because I wanted to make sure I wrote the Werelupes accurately. In "Worth Fighting For", I actually accidentally gave them feline body language, which is different than that of canines. (I fixed it in the FFN revision, of course.) Comes with living with cats, I guess. :) (Of course, living with cats comes in handy when I'm writing Kougras like Lexora!)

Finally, a word on why Terra sympathizes with Isengrim. Someone mentioned that it seemed unlikely that Terra would sympathize and befriend someone who had given her and her family so much grief, but Terra is the kind of person who does not hold a grudge and who sees the bigger picture. She wants everybody to be happy, and she knows that people do bad things because they're hurting, and they need all the kindness they can get. Her compassion and ability to see and draw out the good in everyone is one of her biggest strengths, and especially with these edits I want to draw out and emphasize that idea, to make sure her character reads more clearly.

Of course, none of this would mean anything if Isengrim was not receptive to it, and one of the other things I want to make clearer is that, once he realizes the mistakes he's making, he wants to change and he does change. He's someone who was hurt in the past and responded to it poorly, but at his core he has a good heart. He just needed someone like Terra to have the courage, wisdom, and patience to help him overcome his weaknesses and lingering traumas. And once he's figured himself out, he more than compensates for the mistakes of his past by being a way hardcore hero, as well as a kind and fair ruler.