Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Seven Things About My Writing

Posted by: Angela Korra'ti
There was a writing meme going around Facebook not too long ago, and fellow writer and NIWA member M.M. Justus tagged me on it. So since this is a question that deserves longer consideration than I can easily give on a Facebook post, I'm putting this here instead. Here, therefore, is my response to the Seven Things About Your Writing Meme, courtesy of answering questions from a couple friends, readers, and fellow writers, as well as some hopefully interesting general commentary!

1. First and foremost, from Nienna on Facebook:
"What drew you toward fantasy as a genre in which to write?"
An excellent question to get this started. I discovered pretty early on that fairy tales are awesome, and likewise, science fiction and fantasy. My earliest memories of favorite books are ones that involve the fantastic—particularly once I discovered Tolkien in my sixth grade English class.

I also knew pretty early on that I wanted to tell stories. The very first one I ever wrote was when I was about eight, about a girl who got spirited away by leprechauns to be their queen for a day. Even at age eight, I knew I wanted to write about the supernatural.

2. Related to the previous item: I do not plan to restrict myself to fantasy, epic, urban, or otherwise. At least two of my current works in progress are science fiction.

I've occasionally considered whether I'll ever write a romance novel, as well. This has come up my scale of probability after regularly interacting with romance novelists, as well as developing a much clearer idea of my own tastes in the genre. It's certainly possible that at some point I might write something that tilts harder into science fiction romance or fantasy romance than I currently do.

For now, though, I'm sticking with fantasy and SF, with a strong side helping of love story. Or, as they say in the parlance, "SF/F with romantic elements".

Next, a two-fer from my friend and reader Pauline!

3. First, Pauline wanted to know about the motivations and inspiration for the Warder universe—not how the first two books are set in Seattle, but rather, how I decided to make everything fit together the way it does.

The overall structure of the universe is pretty easy to trace through my own reading habits. There are Sidhe because I've always loved elves and stories about them. There are Warders because they are the main way I'm giving human characters a chance at holding their own against non-human characters, in magical terms—and because a lot of people relate better to human characters than they do to non-human ones.

Kendis is a heroine of color because a) I wanted to do my own small part to contributing to getting people of color into protagonist positions, and b) I love Elfquest, and I loved how an entire tribe of elves in that comic are dark-skinned.

Kendis and Christopher being a multi-racial couple—in more ways than one—is directly traceable to my love of Tolkien, and how the "elf female, human male" pairings Tolkien sets up are amongst my favorite parts of his lore. I.e., Luthien and Beren, and Arwen and Aragorn. (I was always rather disappointed that Idril and Tuor didn’t get nearly as developed a story—or so it's always seemed to me on prior readings of The Silmarillion. A reread may be called for!)

The Warders being magically constrained to never leave the cities they protect draws a lot on old myths about kings having to sacrifice themselves for the good of their lands—something which Christopher directly references in Faerie Blood. But I’ll also cheerfully own up to some connection to my favorite line of the Genie’s in Disney’s Aladdin:

4. Pauline also asks:
"How do you manage to keep your various multiverses encapsulated into their own works without having bleed through?"
To date, at least with my published stuff, this hasn't been much of a problem. It helps that the Rebels of Adalonia trilogy is set in its own world, while the Free Court of Seattle is set in the world that's ostensibly our own.

Admittedly, both of these series have elves, so I've run into a couple of challenges making sure that elf names in one don't sound too much like elf names in the other. Fortunately, my editor at Carina helped me intercept some of the early drafts of character names in the Rebels of Adalonia books, and advised me to change them. This helped them not be too obviously similar to the names in the Free Court of Seattle books.

Once I finally release Queen of Souls, that'll be a bit more of a challenge as well since that's also a story set in the Seattle area. It's probably not the same universe as the Warder universe, though. I'm pretty damn sure that Millicent would have noticed if Greek gods crossed the Wards of Seattle!

(But don't hold me to that. I may change my mind once I start editing Queen of Souls in earnest.)

As to other things I do to keep my universes separate, it also helps to keep copious notes on my worldbuilding, so that I can have things available to cross-check as necessary.

5. Some writers periodically get asked what tools they use, so for general reference, I'll note mine here.

I do the vast majority of my writing in Mac Word 2008 on my laptop. And I am aware that there are more recent versions of Office—but I hate the ribbon in later versions of the software, and Mac Word 2008 was the last ribbon-free version. So I haven't bothered to update from there. Word 2008 still does the job, after all.

If I’m trying to write on one of my mobile devices, I turn to Docs To Go, an app I have installed on both my iPad and iPhone. Docs To Go talks Office format, and lets me save stuff out to Dropbox as long as I have wifi handy.

If I'm taking world building or outline notes, I fire up TextEdit on OS X and save out my stuff to straight text files. What kinds of notes I usually take: one file per character for character sketches (often in similar structures to how I used to apply to play feature characters on MUSHes, when I had to write character applications for them), and one file pertaining to the story outline. I'll often also do files on specific other topics, such as Language, Technology, Cast Lists, Culture Notes, and such. I've got plenty of data I could use to whip up a wiki about the universes I write, if I so chose.

6. From friend and reader Cynthia:
"You should talk some about how your first book needed words (mostly adverbs) cut, rather than added. In particular, finding the right words, and the right sentence structure to convey your vision, rather than as many words as possible."
Ooh, good call. Funny story: the original draft of the book that eventually turned into Valor of the Healer clocked in at a whomping 167,000 words. This is because when I wrote that draft, I was coming out of a long history of roleplaying on MUSHes, and that had a big impact on how I worded things at the time. I was used to having to juggle multiple characters at once in a scene, and verbosity was my superpower. In one scene I was starting on a game, one in which my wife was also participating, she took one look at my opening pose and promptly announced that she would be responding in poses of three words each.

Verbosity is still my superpower. However, after sending five novels through editing cycles, particularly the ones I have with Carina Press, I’ve learned how to tighten things up considerably. I lay this squarely at the feet of my awesome Carina editor, and will now call out a few of the things I've learned from her:

  • In an action scene, do not use semi-colons. They drag down the pace.
  • Don't get overly fancy with your dialogue tags. Yes, it's a nice change of pace every so often to use a verb besides “said”. But on the other hand, while “said” is usually invisible, you also don't need to use that nearly as much as you think you do. You can leave out dialogue tags entirely if it's clear in any given paragraph who's speaking.
  • For the love of all that's holy, lay off the adverbs. Yes, even that one you think is critical.
  • I have a really bad habit of saying things like "Kendis felt the prickle of magic along her skin", as opposed to the much tighter "Magic prickled along Kendis’ skin". I look out for wording like that whenever I do an edit pass through my own stuff.
  • I'm usually pretty solid on both spelling and grammar, but I'm not infallible. One of my biggest offenses is swapping an incorrect—but correctly spelled, mind you—word for the word I actually meant. Another is when I leave out a word that I thought was actually there, because my brain got ahead of my fingers. Neither of these get flagged by spellcheckers. Which is why beta readers, my children, are your friends.
  • I will grudgingly put up with style guides if I'm working with a specific publisher, but if left to my own devices, I will not give up my Oxford comma. And I will STET the hell out of any suggestions that I should.
For general reference, Valor of the Healer's final word count was about 118,000. I lost over 50,000 words between the first draft and the last. That's an entire Nanowrimo right there, people.

7. Last but not least, fellow NIWA member Lee French wants to know:
"How do you manage to be so awesome without hurting yourself?"
There's really only one way I can answer that.

I think it's safe to say that Mal Reynolds will never abuse his adverbs.

Angela writes as both as Angela Korra'ti and Angela Highland, and you can find her on angelahighland.com, Facebook, and Twitter. She is also, as you might guess, a devout Browncoat.


  1. Dropping a comment on my own post so I can subscribe to the comments feed. ^_^

  2. Glad to be of inspiration :-)


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