Discussion · writing · Writing Diaries

On Writing: Figuring Out Your MC

Every writer has their M.O but if there is one advice I am going to give (and you know, if you think I am worth taking advice from), I would tell you to know your MC character factually at least before you start writing their story.

You may think this would be obvious but you would be surprised. I am not saying that you have to know the colour of their eyes or their physical measurements (which you do) but that you have to engage with your MC on a deeper level.

A person is the combination of nature and nurture. Their landscapes shape them as much as the people around them do. So have a conversation with your MC before you start writing their story. What’s their favourite colour? What’s their deepest fear? What flavour of ice cream do they prefer? Sometimes what they don’t like is more revealing than what they do.

Are they afraid of the dark? If yes, then why? Is there a childhood trauma or incident? Do they have any triggers? There’s no reason your main character cannot be as complex and layered as a person.

Chances are, figuring out your protagonist will give you insights into the story you are writing. So open a word doc or a fresh notebook and have that conversation with your MC. Write your notes. Watch them grow and come to life before you. It’s a grand feeling when they do.

Discussion · writing · Writing Diaries

On Writing: A New W.I.P and A New Method to my Madness

I took some time off between restarting the job search (erghhh) and finishing the first draft of The Fire Within. Just one week. And realized that I am most happy whenever I’m writing. I miss being sunk into a different work, miss my characters, and miss their lives. No matter how much I whine and whinge (sorry), writing is what makes me happiest. It only took me 33 years to make this realization. Heh.

So I decided to start a new WIP.


So this new WIP is inspired by Peter Pan in exciting ways and I’m super keen to begin it except you know, I’m kinda still working out the structure. Somewhat.

I mean, also, the story.

The actual meat of it. The thing that will make people invest their emotions and care and right now, it’s really too early to say. So, like fungus, I’m in my absorptive stage. I’m going to read and read and read and see what I can come with.

This will be my 4th novel and I have learned that each one requires a different method, i.e. what works for one probably will not work for another. This one in particular is totally experimental and unconventional which is exciting but at the same time requires a lot of thinking.

Anyway, so I have decided to create a reading list for The Wild Ones. So far, I have read:

  1. Bone – Yrsa Daly-Ward
  2. I’m Judging You – Luvvie Ajayi
  3. Here We Are – Kelly Jensen
  4. A Bestiary – Lily Hoang
  5. The Geek Feminist Revolution – Kameron Hurley

More titles to be added as I read them.


Discussion · writing · Writing Diaries

On Writing: The World According to the World

A decade ago I wrote a little snippet about a girl running through the streets of a city, desperation on her heels, her face contorted in an expression of anguish, the skies dark and threatening, the roads dirty and wet. Her name was Fatima.

As I grew up, the girl grew with me. Much in the same way that Croi, the protagonist of my first novel grew with me, so did Fatima. She learned from my lessons, learned from my mistakes. She hurt when I did, she knew the same joy and happiness I did.

Now I am writing her story.

And it humbles me. The idea that I am writing her story–who is so much a part of me but is her own person at the same time–humbles me. I could make some analogies to explain this feeling, give a sense of this experience, but I don’t think I want to.

A lot of Fatima Ghazala’s story is shaped by the world today. Even though the setting is fantasy and ultimately an escape from the real world, I have peopled it, sometimes unintentionally, sometimes intentionally, with characters going through the same things as we are.

It occurred to me that there are more females in my book than males (with major speaking parts anyway) and I worried about that until I realized that so many books exist in which women are present at the periphery, often limited to roles as wives, girlfriends, maids, or whatever subservient position is available.

There are a host of different cultures in The Fire Within and I get so much pleasure in exploring, even slightly, the different facets of that culture. Just the greetings alone are so different and give so much information about the kind of people they belong to. I grew up in a hodgepodge of cultures and I live in a place that is incredibly diverse. I wanted to convey that in my book so I did. I also want to present all the women as fully realized as possible but also reflecting their different cultures without any commentary on the disparity that exists between how the white feminists expect all women to be and the reality of how different women exists as feminists in their culture of origin.

Perhaps I have made the book more political than it ought to be. I am almost 48k words into the book and feel so very determined to make it as beautiful a piece of literature as I can.

I will just forget about how the sentences don’t sentence very well right now and just get the story (in all its dubious glory) out on paper.

Discussion · writing · Writing Diaries

On Writing: This is YOUR book until it isn’t.

It feels remarkably self-indulgent to be still concerned with the lighter things considering everything that is happening politically across the border and around the world but here we are. Still concerned with art and the making of it. (Also the marketing of it but that is a different post for a different day.)

I am still working on my current project for which I wrote the back copy as:

“You are a child of flesh and blood and I am a being of fire and ink. Were I merciful, I would bid you run and end this tale here. But I am Ifrit and my stories are eternal even though I am not. So come here child, and in return for the kindness I have shown you, become the ink that writes my tale.”

Qirat is a country ruled by the humans who claim its forests and the Ifrit who claim all that is desert. The City of Noor, located on the border between the forests and the desert, is the seat of power for both the human and the Ifrit rulers. When Fatima, a human citizen of the city of Noor, delivers a letter to the Name Giver of the Ifrit that ends up fatally wounding him, she becomes the unwilling recipient of an ancient power not meant to be wielded by humans.

The days following the Name Giver’s murder are full of fire and smoke. Fatima is stalked through the city by the Djinni Guard which is led by an Ifrit called Zulfikar. The Name Giving power she received from the murdered Ifrit leads Fatima to discover a name and its associated Djinn fire that, inexplicably, belongs to her. She is captured by Zulfikar who finds himself drawn to Fatima for reasons he cannot understand or accept.  (This doesn’t happen because things are a bit more complicated than the above sentence implies.)

Old enemies resurface and chaos threatens to submerge Qirat into war once again. Fatima is thrown into a world where danger wears many faces and all roses have thorns. She learns that those who love often have the most to lose but that those who don’t love are often the most easily lost. With the war coming, Fatima has to decide which loss is more palatable to her.

Today I will talk about how your book is your book and no one else’s book and how you are writing it as the person you are and not the person you wish to be or the person you will be in a couple of years.

And obviously all these thoughts pertain to me because I am self-absorbed like that but perhaps these thoughts will help you reach some clarity in your own work so here goes nothing.

I spend a lot of time reading articles and posts on writing, taking in advice, talking to people about writing, and generally just learning the craft. So sometimes when I sit down to write I don’t know where to start because sometimes the advice I get is contradictory. I flail, I eat cookies hanging upside my bed, I have heart to heart conversations with my nephew whose entire lexicon is a variance of the word “goo.”

It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that this is my first draft and I am going to make a lot of mistakes writing it. And that it is okay to make mistakes. This is YOUR book and you are allowed to write it the way you want to. Sometimes that will mean not taking the advice given to you and sometimes that will mean doing exactly what people told you not to. Because this is your book and it is the first draft.

So write it. Get it all out. Make all the mistakes. Flail. Cry out loudly. Scream. Get it done.

Because it is your book.

And then, once you’re done with the first draft, woman up. Because as soon as it goes to beta readers, editors, critique partners, it becomes their book too. Learn to take critiques, take all praise with a grain salt ESPECIALLY if it comes from your mother.

Then jump into rewrites. Buy lots of chocolate.

Good luck.

Discussion · writing · Writing Diaries

On Writing: The Process and What it Does to the Writer

That is a very ambitious title for what I want to talk about and I have no confidence at all that I am going to be able to express myself with any clarity but…

what the heck… it is past midnight and clarity is optional on this side of the night.

Last autumn, I experienced autumn as if for the first time in a while. I crunched through the leaves and watched winter bloom and wane all as if I had skipped the previous year. Which was odd because I hadn’t gone anywhere.

Everything felt new to me. I felt more alert and more present in my own reality than I had been for a long time.

This made me realize what writing does to a person. Fiction writing specifically because it’s the only one I am familiar with. And okay, I am generalizing so this could totally be my experience alone. I’m sure other writers will pitch in if they read this.

I feel like to write somebody else’s story, you somehow have to thin yourself out so much that you exist as nothing but the pen which is doing the writing. Your you-ness is cast in shade and you become nothing but the reflecting lens for the characters whose stories you are writing.

And it’s bloody exhausting.

But in some ways this process of writing is deeply fascinating. I wonder if someone has compared the brains of writers with the brains of non-writers. What differences exist? How do our brains differ? Are the differences significant?

I should probably sleep. I always get into trouble when I think about things like these…like thinking about writing a book about writers writing books. Hah.

And you know, this also makes me understand how people married to writers suffer. Personally, I wouldn’t want to be married to someone who wrote if I wasn’t a writer myself because they’d always be selfish of their alone time which would differ from their thinking time and their writing time.

I should stop talking to myself now.


writing · Writing Diaries

On Writing #2: We’re Still Talking About Info-Dumping

So I sort of finished the first chapter of The Fire Within, my current W.I.P. and…


I am not even joking. The chapter felt like the most difficult thing I have written in ever and you guys, I am old so that is a long while.

You see, with The Fire Within I have to establish the world (have I already said this? Let me go check) (no I haven’t, let’s continue) in which the story is set before I can tell the story. It’s the best way (I know) to give the story as much weight and drama it deserves.

But let me tell you the things I discovered:

  • Not info-dumping while giving information is possible.
  • Not info-dumping while giving is possible and extremely ‘will make you throw up blood’ difficult.

I am not certain I have it down, to be completely honest.

I shall give you an example.

First Draft: The City of Noor never sleeps. Located on the border between the forest and the desert, being the nation’s capital, and being a profitable stop on the Silk Road makes the City of Noor the busiest place in the nation.

(Look, I know this is terrible. But it’s the dirty draft so I am allowed!)

Second Draft: The City of Noor never sleeps. Being one of the more profitable stops on the Silk Road means a steady stream of caravans enters or leaves the city at all times of the day or night. With the merchants come goods to be traded and people who either want to visit the City of the Djinn or who want to live here. Dark-skinned Bayars dressed in stately robes jostle for space on the same sidewalk that the lighter-skinned Hanguk people do.

(This needs more work but it will do for the moment.)

I was so frustrated by my lack of progress on this chapter that I finally grabbed a notebook and wrote each sentence on one line and attempted to unwrap whatever felt like info-dumping in ways that would make the world seem more alive than it would otherwise.

You might be tempted to cry tears of blood but please refrain as it is difficult to see the screen through blood….which is also difficult to clean up later.

Happy writing.

Writing Diaries

On Writing #1: Worldbuilding and Info-Dumping

I am going to pretend we all are friends and you have a fairly good idea of how my mind works so let’s get down straight to it.

Writing is hard work. I know many people think it’s all sitting in coffee shops dressed hipsterishly, sipping on overpriced coffee while writing a word every five minutes or so until somehow, magically, you have a book.

That cannot be further from the truth.

For one thing, you usually don’t have money for overpriced coffee. For another, asking a writer to put on clothes other than pajamas is usually asking for too much. (This is, of course, a generalization and not all authors spend all their lives in pajamas. Just the majority of it.)

When I wrote The Road of the Lost I first came to appreciate how difficult storytelling can be. I came to know how much the story is influenced by the character telling the story. Croi, the protagonist of The Road of the Lost is a very eccentric, a very loud, character and writing her is in some ways easy. She always says everything that comes to her mind. She’s irreverent and optimistic with loads of energy. The Road of the Lost is written in first person present and I realized how limited I am by the perspective when it comes to worldbuilding. In first person, the world can be built to the extent the protagonist knows it and as she finds out more about the world, so do the readers. You can’t talk about politics or economy or anything if the protagonist has no idea about these things.

In my newest writing project, The Fire Within, I have chosen to use 3rd person omni because I may as well pull out all of the stops to build this world that is just so intriguing in my mind. Of course I am not entirely sure I am even capable of transcribing the vision in my mind to words on the page but since this world belongs to me, I will do my best.

And gosh, my best is currently kicking my ass.

As a reader, I know that swathes of info-dumping, though sometimes necessary, can often lose the reader. So I am trying to maintain a fair distribution of action and movement while establishing the fictional world and it’s tough.

So tough that I have had to resort to longhand because the whiteness of the computer screen mocks me in ways I don’t want to think about.

I write a “dirty draft” where sentences and words are flung haphazardly at the page not even pretending to try to make sense. Tonight I will attempt a first draft where I will do a better job of trying to make sure my sentences sound like sentences and not a green monkey’s laugh.

Show don’t tell is always the mantra with writers and for good reason because as a reader, I know that being told how a character feels is very different from being shown the same thing. But as a writer, I don’t often know how to show the thing my character feels.

But I guess that’s the challenge of any thing you do. Strive at it and hope you learn it before you pull all your hair out.