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Richard Lee Byers
Forgotten Realms Author

USA
1763 Posts

Posted - 12 Jan 2005 :  05:20:54  Show Profile  Visit Richard Lee Byers's Homepage  Reply with Quote
I plan the story out in advance. Sometimes the plan is a detailed written outline. (Pretty much always, anymore, if the project's a full-length novel.) Sometimes it's a less specific notion I don't bother to set down.
Once I've got the plan, I always create the actual text starting at the beginning and going straight through to the end. I'm sure it works like a charm for some people (writers write in many different ways) but I can't imagine skipping around in the plot as I work. How can you write Chapter 4 until you have 1, 2, and 3? There's going to be stuff--little, detail-y, nuance-y stuff that you didn't plan out in advance--in 1, 2, and 3 that influences exactly what the characters do, feel, and think in 4!
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Josh Davids
Seeker

57 Posts

Posted - 12 Jan 2005 :  05:22:09  Show Profile  Visit Josh Davids's Homepage Send Josh Davids a Private Message  Reply with Quote
First to answer the question for inspiration. Nope I donít use any of the FR or D&D books to get story ideas from mostly for the fact of what I write right now. I have been working the last few years on and off in creating a whole new fantasy world and basing some of the books I want to write in those. I also got two other settings I eventually want to work in and as time comes up I will be expanding those worlds as well. One a sci-fi world and another a horror alternate earth setting.

How I do get inspiration for a story though is listening to music, every great tune can tell a story and certain songs, or orchestrated pieces bring to life in me certain emotions. I then close my eyes and let images, scenes, people and places come to be in them and thus story ideas and novel ideas. Other things I do is watch certain amvís (anime music videos) to do the same thing, the images mixed with songs help.

The other thing I do is ask certain questions. Like the following.

Why would a good aligned fighter follow a lawful evil goddess?

The other is draw weapons of characters in the stories and just get that image in my mind and sometimes I write entire stories based on those images. In fact I got to go through my art gallery on Elfwood and write hundreds of little stories on the weapons, about their histories, who owns them etc. little bits of flavor for the images.

Mostly though stories just pop into my mind, characters come to life as I am just sitting here. Maybe it is the adhd, maybe just a never ending creative streak I dunno but ideas never stop blossoming in my mind. I consider it a curse because I donít get regular sleep, on average I am up till 4am because my mind wonít stop working. Needless to say I have learned to function and write while extremely sleep deprived.



As for the writers block I look at it as two things. One procrastination and the other is work ethic. Mrs. Cunningham touched on it with her doctors, teachers and brick layers statement. Btw worked as a brick layer in my teens not an easy job at all. the stuff I have seen the last year and a half or so from people in my critique group and what others who are currently trying to break into writing has said about it makes me wonder about their drive to become authors in the long run.

To me it isnít a lack of creativity or stories to tell, it is a lack of drive, determination, and work ethic. I have talked to people who would say they were suffering from writers block and then the next sentence tell me how they just finished playing Final Fantasy 10 over the last week. Many use writers block as an excuse not to get the job done or story told, others as a crutch to just goof off and not take it seriously, some as just a reason to take a long time to write a story or just because they are bored and didnít think writing would be so hard. When a person can spend 80 hours playing a game but canít spend 8 minutes writing out a scene it tells me quite well about their work ethic.

Look at it this way. You go to work a 40 hour job. You are bored during your job do you just sit there and stare at a wall and not do your job or do you get through that boredom and get the work done? Do you sit there and whip out a gameboy and start playing a game because your are bored or stressed or do you get the work done? Many seem to take getting published not as seriously as they do their day job so they goof off, blame things that donít exist and generally donít work as hard as they normally would because after all writing is a pretty ethereal experience until you get a contract even then I have seen some who procrastinate until the very end. Then again I have seen others who donít want to write unless they are guaranteed a contract or instant success, but that is a whole other rant.

I also agree with Mrs. Cunning on the finishing a story point. Last year I started work on one book and got to about 74,000 words before I hit a snag. I wasnít lacking a drive to finish the book but I came to realize that several very subtle ideas I want to convey in the story and that were the basis behind the main character just werenít coming out the way I hoped. I set that novel aside and the outline until the skill I have is good enough to get those ideas out in the right way. I havenít given up on it but I came to realize I am not yet good enough to show the story the way it needs to be told. Two weeks after that I started work on another book after getting the outline done and plot finished. Right now it is up to 40,000 words so far but last December I had to set that aside for just a little time. It was either pause on the writing or bury my wife; you can imagine the choice wasnít a hard one to make. Next week I start writing again and hope to be finished with it this fall, the goal I have set for myself is 200,000 words for it. So one fifth done. This story is coming along well and I am having no problems with conveying the emotions or characters I want to probably in two or three years I will pick up the other story again and finish it after I get another book out of the way first just to get the experience of writing.

I want to expand on one thing before about the ethereal experience. Until you get a contract or an agent or a publisher you are the only one you are writing for. No one else and that is why you got to be driven to get published and push yourself to get the job done in the first place. You have no one else pushing you to get the story written by this or that date. That is the main reason I believe in schedules and goals to set. If you canít live by the goals you set for yourself how on earth will you be able to hit deadlines demanded of you by your publisher? It is a learning experience, and one that needs to happen.
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James P. Davis
Forgotten Realms Author

USA
244 Posts

Posted - 12 Jan 2005 :  07:07:19  Show Profile  Visit James P. Davis's Homepage Send James P. Davis a Private Message  Reply with Quote
quote:
If you have an idea for a story, know the characters, setting, and pace, how do you start writing those first words? Do you start chapter one, page one? Do you develop a few scenes that you just have to get out? Or, do you write the end last?


At that point I begin the prep work, pages upon pages of notes, fleshing out the story and structure until I can boil it all down to a detailed outline. Then its chapter one, page one and on through to the end (though on Bloodwalk I did write the prologue last for various creative reasons).

"Everybody is a book of blood; wherever we're opened, we're red."--Clive Barker

FR: RotD2:"Possessions"
Wizards:Bloodwalk
Citadels: The Shield of Weeping Ghosts
Wilds: The Restless Shore
Ed Greenwood Presents Waterdeep: Circle of Skulls (May 2010)
Book trailers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jC-ska7ohVk
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZfvFdQ8bLp0
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LaughingWizard
Seeker

USA
29 Posts

Posted - 12 Jan 2005 :  15:40:50  Show Profile  Visit LaughingWizard's Homepage Send LaughingWizard a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Do any of you find that extensive outlining "spoils" the freshness of the story? I recall Hemmingway once said not to talk about a piece you were working on; to paraphrase the thought, that its telling would take the drive out of you to write it down. (For myself, I find that I like to outline, but that it can also "cage me in.")

A woman, or a man, may come to hold many treasures in life. Gold, gems, a good name, lovers, good friends, influence, high rank--all of these are of value. All of these most covet. But of them all the most valuable, I tell ye, are friends good and true. Have these, and ye will scarce notice the lack if ye never win aught else."

The adventuress Sharanralee, Ballads and Lore of One Dusty Road, Year of the Wandering Maiden
From Spellfire by Ed Greenwood
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wwwwwww
Learned Scribe

116 Posts

Posted - 12 Jan 2005 :  15:57:44  Show Profile  Visit wwwwwww's Homepage Send wwwwwww a Private Message  Reply with Quote
quote:
Do any of you find that extensive outlining "spoils" the freshness of the story? I recall Hemmingway once said not to talk about a piece you were working on; to paraphrase the thought, that its telling would take the drive out of you to write it down. (For myself, I find that I like to outline, but that it can also "cage me in.")
I do know that many writers like to keep some spontaneity in their stories, so they intentionally keep their outlines very vague and use them only as a guideline, while the characters themselves actually take control and drive the story along.
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Kameron M. Franklin
Forgotten Realms Author

USA
228 Posts

Posted - 12 Jan 2005 :  17:01:48  Show Profile  Visit Kameron M. Franklin's Homepage  Reply with Quote
quote:
Originally posted by LaughingWizard

Do any of you find that extensive outlining "spoils" the freshness of the story? I recall Hemmingway once said not to talk about a piece you were working on; to paraphrase the thought, that its telling would take the drive out of you to write it down. (For myself, I find that I like to outline, but that it can also "cage me in.")



It didn't spoil anything for me, but it did get me more excited about writing certain parts of the book. (And likewise, there were a couple chapters I did not look foward to.)

The level of detail varies in my outline. I'll include specific dialogue or a fight sequence if I feel strongly about an idea. For the most part, it is just a guideline to keep me on track. You have to remain flexible to the demands of both your characters and your editor.

"You keep saying that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." --Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride

Edited by - Kameron M. Franklin on 12 Jan 2005 17:02:31
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Steven Schend
Forgotten Realms Designer & Author

USA
1631 Posts

Posted - 12 Jan 2005 :  17:04:12  Show Profile  Visit Steven Schend's Homepage  Send Steven Schend a Yahoo! Message Send Steven Schend a Private Message  Reply with Quote
quote:
Originally posted by wwwwwww

quote:
Do any of you find that extensive outlining "spoils" the freshness of the story? I recall Hemmingway once said not to talk about a piece you were working on; to paraphrase the thought, that its telling would take the drive out of you to write it down. (For myself, I find that I like to outline, but that it can also "cage me in.")
I do know that many writers like to keep some spontaneity in their stories, so they intentionally keep their outlines very vague and use them only as a guideline, while the characters themselves actually take control and drive the story along.



The other problem I find with outlining isn't so much the "hemming in" effect (though there is some of that in feel and in getting excited about the plot). What I find is when the characters really get flowing and I give them the reins to tell the story their way, they take the story in directions unexpected by the plot outline. Granted, they're heading in the same general direction as to the culmination of the story, but now I've got to reconfigure and rethink the four intervening chapters to make the book come out correct in word count and all that jazz.

Steven

For current projects and general natter, see www.steveneschend.com
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Richard Lee Byers
Forgotten Realms Author

USA
1763 Posts

Posted - 12 Jan 2005 :  17:09:22  Show Profile  Visit Richard Lee Byers's Homepage  Reply with Quote
I don't find that using an outline makes the story seem stale even as I'm trying to bang it out. Maybe that's because no outline can encompass everything that's going to happen as the tale unfolds. You're always making up some of it as you compose the text, and thus, surprising yourself on some level.
I do think, though, that the vaguer the plan, the more fun writing is, because there are more surprises, and more of a feeling of spontaneity. But since the goal is productivity, not fun, I generally work from a plan that isn't so vague.
I agree with Papa H. that it can be dangerous to talk about stories you mean to write by and by, and or that you're in the middle of. In effect, you've told the story to an audience once, satisfying the need to do so, and that can make it more difficult to get it written down. Of course, not everybody's mind works this way, but it can be a problem for some.
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James P. Davis
Forgotten Realms Author

USA
244 Posts

Posted - 12 Jan 2005 :  19:42:39  Show Profile  Visit James P. Davis's Homepage Send James P. Davis a Private Message  Reply with Quote
I tend to think of the outline as just the bones of the story, with bits of flesh here and there where certain plot-points need to occur. I may change details and whatnot as I go, but I rarely mess with the bones, the underlying structure, which leaves me alot of room to surprise myself.

"Everybody is a book of blood; wherever we're opened, we're red."--Clive Barker

FR: RotD2:"Possessions"
Wizards:Bloodwalk
Citadels: The Shield of Weeping Ghosts
Wilds: The Restless Shore
Ed Greenwood Presents Waterdeep: Circle of Skulls (May 2010)
Book trailers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jC-ska7ohVk
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZfvFdQ8bLp0
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LaughingWizard
Seeker

USA
29 Posts

Posted - 13 Jan 2005 :  13:00:11  Show Profile  Visit LaughingWizard's Homepage Send LaughingWizard a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Points well taken, Gentlemen. Thank you. I probably haven't been published yet, because, I'm not outlining well (You know the typical "I got bogged down in the middle, and never got to the end schtick". Methinks I'll, rethink...er, rewrite, my plan!

A woman, or a man, may come to hold many treasures in life. Gold, gems, a good name, lovers, good friends, influence, high rank--all of these are of value. All of these most covet. But of them all the most valuable, I tell ye, are friends good and true. Have these, and ye will scarce notice the lack if ye never win aught else."

The adventuress Sharanralee, Ballads and Lore of One Dusty Road, Year of the Wandering Maiden
From Spellfire by Ed Greenwood
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Kuje
Great Reader

USA
7915 Posts

Posted - 13 Jan 2005 :  18:59:48  Show Profile  Send Kuje an AOL message  Click to see Kuje's MSN Messenger address  Send Kuje a Yahoo! Message Send Kuje a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Hiya,

As a unpublished fledgling, okay very fledgling, writer this is something I've been pondering and struggling with, which is:

How do you get a feel or know how long a chapter should be. When is a good place to start a chapter and end a chapter?....

For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet and excite you... Books are full of the things that you don't get in real life - wonderful, lyrical language, for instance, right off the bat. - Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

My Goodreads page: http://www.goodreads.com/kuje

Scribe for the Candlekeep Compendium
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Kameron M. Franklin
Forgotten Realms Author

USA
228 Posts

Posted - 13 Jan 2005 :  19:53:39  Show Profile  Visit Kameron M. Franklin's Homepage  Reply with Quote
Some guidelines I follow:

Changes of Location
Changes of POV character
Obvious major scene breaks
Dramatic cliffhanger effect

"You keep saying that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." --Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride
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Richard Lee Byers
Forgotten Realms Author

USA
1763 Posts

Posted - 13 Jan 2005 :  22:18:27  Show Profile  Visit Richard Lee Byers's Homepage  Reply with Quote
What Kameron said.
We might also note that some stories have an implicit internal organization which suggests chapter divisions. Say you were doing a novel hat happens over a week's time. It might work well to split it into seven chapters: Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, etc.
Basically (in my opinion, anyway) chapter divisions are kind of arbitrary and not terribly important. The vital task is to tell a worthwhile plot in a series of dramatically effective scenes. Succeed in that, and readers will like the book whether you decided to slice it into ten chapters, forty-three, or none at all.
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James P. Davis
Forgotten Realms Author

USA
244 Posts

Posted - 13 Jan 2005 :  23:04:48  Show Profile  Visit James P. Davis's Homepage Send James P. Davis a Private Message  Reply with Quote
As Kam and Richard said, its sort of a specific choice and arbitrary at the same time. I look at the outline and choose a good change of POV scene that carries that little cliffhanger that (I hope) makes the reader say, "Okay, just one more chapter..."

So, specific for dramatic effect and arbitrary where length is concerned for me. I have an idea how long the chapters should be on average, but I don't stick to that page number as a hard and fast rule.

"Everybody is a book of blood; wherever we're opened, we're red."--Clive Barker

FR: RotD2:"Possessions"
Wizards:Bloodwalk
Citadels: The Shield of Weeping Ghosts
Wilds: The Restless Shore
Ed Greenwood Presents Waterdeep: Circle of Skulls (May 2010)
Book trailers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jC-ska7ohVk
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZfvFdQ8bLp0
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Hoondatha
Great Reader

USA
2389 Posts

Posted - 16 Jan 2005 :  07:02:39  Show Profile  Visit Hoondatha's Homepage Send Hoondatha a Private Message  Reply with Quote
I just have to say that I'm really impressed with people who can set out a schedule for writing and stick to it day after day. I can't do that even for my everyday life, let alone writing.

I'm more of an impulse writer, I get the idea and have a drive to get it down. Then it pretty much consumes my life until I get it written. This is why I eschew outlines in all but the most unusual circumstances, because if I outline I've put it down in some form and the drive subsides. I tend to know where I want things to go, and let it develop on its own.

Finally, I find that the hardest part is almost always the first two or three paragraphs. Most of the short stories I create (I don't write novels, I'll leave that to the professionals :) I work over in my mind for days before hand, but I just get the interesting things, all the action the characters go through. I often don't figure out exactly HOW they get into everything until I start writing, and it's the hardest part. Once I reach the parts I've thought over, it goes quickly.

All of this worked fine for college english classes, now I just write for myself. Sometimes I wish I could keep taking those classes for forever.

I would also like to ask a pair of questions that have puzzled me for years: 1) How do you name your characters? Especially in a fantasy setting like FR where you can't go to a book of historical names of the time. And 2) How do you strike the right balance of putting your characters in too much danger (and courting deus ex machina) and not enough (and having it be a cake walk)?

Many thanks

Doggedly converting 3e back to what D&D should be...
Sigh... And now 4e as well.
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Richard Lee Byers
Forgotten Realms Author

USA
1763 Posts

Posted - 16 Jan 2005 :  19:14:58  Show Profile  Visit Richard Lee Byers's Homepage  Reply with Quote
For some reason, I find naming fantasy characters, lands, cities, etc. to be rather difficult. But I crib from the FR Campaign setting list of names, steal words from foreign languages, slap syllables together randomly until something sounds right--one way or another, everything winds up with a name eventually.
As far as how much danger is right: My guiding principle is that in an adventure story, thriller, or tale of horror, the more trouble the protagonist is in, the better. But when you apply this general principle, you must bear in mind that, assuming the protagonist is meant to win, you can't pit him against an adversary so powerful that there's no way for him to score a victory that's remotely credible. Now, the point at which the antagonist becomes so powerful that a win for the hero is simply preposterous depends on the capabilities of the hero. We aren't going to believe it if Jimmy Olsen KOs Godzilla, but it's a lot more credible if Superman does it.
Also, in a story of any length (like a novel), the hero isn't necessarily going to face the maximum amount of danger in every encounter, just sometimes. In Lord of the Rings, Frodo isn't always contending with Ringwraiths and Balrogs. Sometimes it's orcs. That keeps the encounters with the big kahuna villains scary and suspenseful. Whereas they'd come to seem like paper tigers if they were jumping out from behind trees or crawling out from under the bed every five minutes without ever slipping in a lucky shot and killing our hero.
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Wooly Rupert
Master of Mischief
Moderator

USA
29901 Posts

Posted - 16 Jan 2005 :  21:35:16  Show Profile Send Wooly Rupert a Private Message  Reply with Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Richard Lee Byers

slap syllables together randomly until something sounds right--one way or another, everything winds up with a name eventually.


I'm not a published author, but when I need a name, that's what I do, too.

Also, every now and again a name comes to me out of the blue. What I do then is find some convenient place to scribe it down. Later, I add that name to a spreadsheet that I have. I actually have two of them -- one spreadsheet is nothing but names, and the other contains the names that I have used or at the least know something about (the files are entitled "unassigned names" and "assigned names," respectively). So sometimes when I need a name, I browse the list of unassigned names. I may or may not get a hit, but if I don't, I usually have something catch my eye and wind up spawning a good name.

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Murray Leeder
Forgotten Realms Author

Canada
220 Posts

Posted - 17 Jan 2005 :  00:18:11  Show Profile  Visit Murray Leeder's Homepage  Reply with Quote
Sometimes names, both fantasy and non-fantasy, just pop in my head and rattle around in there until they need to be used, as if exorcised. Such was the case with "Laathine," which seemed like such a perfect elf name that I used it for the surname of my wild elf in the "The Strength of the Jester," the story that will appear in Realms of the Dragons II. But even that didn't do it, so I reused it in "Rotten Blood," which was published in Cloaked in Shadow: Dark Tales of Elves. That did the trick.

I find naming very important. When I was putting together my outline for Son of Thunder, I spent a few days mulling over a name for my protagonist. Once I decided to call him "Vell," I had a much better idea of what he's like.

I find it's an interesting exercise to look at people at random, across a bar or on a bus or something, and then decide what, if it were up to you, you would name them. If you decide to do this in a group, be sure to do it quietly enough that nobody catches on!
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Josh Davids
Seeker

57 Posts

Posted - 17 Jan 2005 :  00:19:13  Show Profile  Visit Josh Davids's Homepage Send Josh Davids a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Sorta same thing with the names here. When creating a FR character for game play I do the same thing Richard does though I tend to stay away from elf characters, I just never can get the names to sound right.

For my personal world I have settled on name lists at hay day of the roman empire, from Persian names to Greek, Roman, some Celtic, as well as the Huns etc. many of the name styles just seem to fit the characters I come up with, though that is not a hard and fast rule. There are some I just create that sound like they will fit the characterís personality.

As for the challenges I follow a few basic and simple rules. Number one is ask questions, why, how or what. Why was this one person tossed in a dungeon, how did they escape? Etc. if you keep asking questions there will always be a reason for everything to happen.

The other rule I live by is this. If they can bleed they can die. My fighters no matter how good they are always get wounded, sometimes horribly(I have one hero who is missing an arm). I also plan on killing off characters, even ones I like or might be popular. If it is in the story for them to die, well they will die. Er well that is unless the editor says no then it will be out of my hands. There is one thing that drives my frustration level in reading. A hero who is surrounded by fifty bad guys all armed with swords and somehow the hero not only kills them all, but doesnít get a single drop of blood on him and doesnít even get a scratch. UgÖanyway just a pet peeve of mine.

The last rule I go by is have them scarred in some way. Physical scars are the easiest to have on a character and show to a reader that this character has seen better days and it also tells them that hey they can be beat or even wounded(in other words they arenít a god of destruction). The second type is mental scars, the rarest in writing and one most overlooked. The third is spiritual scars, for as many settings that I see have religions I rarely see battles inside a person, their faith, beliefs and beliefs within their church. If you have them go through hell and come out of it have fine it just isnít believable. have them in some way scarred, believe me it would make for a more interesting and believable character.

For me as a reader if an author has a character scarred in some way during the story they will have a life long fan. On the other hand if the author has his or her hero character never in true mortal danger they will in time loose me as a reader. I really wonít care what the character goes through because I will always know they wonít be in true danger.
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Winterfox
Senior Scribe

895 Posts

Posted - 17 Jan 2005 :  05:06:17  Show Profile  Visit Winterfox's Homepage Send Winterfox a Private Message  Reply with Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Richard Lee Byers

But I crib from the FR Campaign setting list of names, steal words from foreign languages, slap syllables together randomly until something sounds right--one way or another, everything winds up with a name eventually.


I find it almost frightening that just about everyone I know seems to do this. Hee.

Not a published author, of course, but I do that, too. I put some guidelines down for myself, though: no ridiculous amount of apostrophes or dashes, make sure the name can be pronounced, and limit the syllable count to four. (Not to malign the DL authors, but "Lauranalanthalasa" is taking it a bit too far. Even if it doesn't come up frequently.) Naming female characters is easier for me. I tend to stay away from names that have real meanings in English, though. Why? Because most of the time, what the author thinks is cool, the reader will probably find ridiculous, overwrought or cringe-worthy.

Oh -- and research the name, just in case. I've seen people name their characters Lithium and Ethylene. *giggles* And that drow named Mellifleur (honey and flower, basically. So much for kickarse, big bad drow warrior).
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Hoondatha
Great Reader

USA
2389 Posts

Posted - 17 Jan 2005 :  05:33:04  Show Profile  Visit Hoondatha's Homepage Send Hoondatha a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Which of course brings up the question: how did the original module designers (especially for ones like Cormanthyr, which I usually raid whenever I need the name for an elven PC or NPC) come up with so many of them? The non-Ed Greenwood designers, I mean. Hmm. Maybe I should wander over and ask Ed that ask well.

Thanks to everyone who's answered so far.

Doggedly converting 3e back to what D&D should be...
Sigh... And now 4e as well.
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James P. Davis
Forgotten Realms Author

USA
244 Posts

Posted - 17 Jan 2005 :  06:55:05  Show Profile  Visit James P. Davis's Homepage Send James P. Davis a Private Message  Reply with Quote
For naming characters I have several little tricks I think about while doing everyday things (one of them involves driving to work and watching license plates, heh-heh!). The last thing I want to do while working full-time is to come home, sit down at my desk and mull over just the right name to fit a character when I could be writing about that character. That said though, I am the type of person who would focus on a name to the exclusion of all else until I discovered just the right one. The feel and sound of a name helps me to shape the character which will have an impact on the story itself, so its hard for me to get going until I get it right.


"Everybody is a book of blood; wherever we're opened, we're red."--Clive Barker

FR: RotD2:"Possessions"
Wizards:Bloodwalk
Citadels: The Shield of Weeping Ghosts
Wilds: The Restless Shore
Ed Greenwood Presents Waterdeep: Circle of Skulls (May 2010)
Book trailers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jC-ska7ohVk
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZfvFdQ8bLp0
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Thomas M. Reid
Forgotten Realms Designer & Author

334 Posts

Posted - 17 Jan 2005 :  16:45:43  Show Profile  Visit Thomas M. Reid's Homepage  Reply with Quote
Lots of interesting discussion going on in this thread! So, to hit a few points:

Maintaining Writing Pace
------------------------
I preach and preach to prospective new authors the importance of hitting deadlines (in work-for-hire fiction at the very least, but in all writing to some extent). Whether you are actually under contract to produce a WotC novel or you're just slaving away on your own speculative work, make a point of reaching milestones (not just the final deadlines, but intermediate milestones). If you are under contract, do yourself a favor and make your editor happy--don't be late. Your chances of getting more contracts down the road are much better.

With that having been said, I will confess right now that I am far from perfect in this regard. Honestly, I have been slipping a lot of late, and one of the factors that has been hurting me is the internet. As a writer, much of my day is solitary (by necessity, obviously), and the cravings for human contact can get pretty overwhelming. One surrogate social outlet is the internet, particularly chat rooms and message boards. While useful in moderation, they can quickly suck up an entire day if you let them. Even just perusing an internet news or sports site regularly can be disastrous to your schedule. You'll reach the end of your day and ask, "where did the time go? What did I get accomplished today?" and either not know the answer or realize that you let yourself get carried away by it. And it's insidious; I have found myself thinking, "Not sure what to do next in this scene; I'll just check the message boards really quickly to see if anyone said anything interesting about my latest book." It's a great way to stall and avoid working. It's just too darned easy to click on the browser and open that window to the world. No effort at all, still sitting in my office, and it's "only for a moment."

My solution? I've started taking my laptop to the local coffee shop (wisely leaving the wireless network card behind), getting a good cup of my favorite beverage, and pounding out a few pages while listening to CDs with my headphones on. It's improved my efficiency quite a bit. Alternatively, when the weather gets nicer, I can take it to the park. Even when I'm at home, I've discovered the joy of taking the laptop into another room in the house and working there. Whatever it takes to stay focused and on track. Then, if I need to look something up research-wise, I do it afterward, when I return to the office computer and access to the internet. As often as not, I'm either done with my writing for the day and I'm just polishing (or planning tomorrow's polishing effort), or I'm still in the midst of writing but I'm mentally engaged in it and not as likely to stall or avoid.

As far as writing to a word count, I absolutely do. First off, the best way for me to make sure I'm getting what I need to get done each day is to know what I need to write in order to hit milestones and deadlines. I set up a spreadsheet that shows all kinds of information: number of days until deadline (using special date functions), number of words/pages per day, number of words/pages per chapter, what I've gotten written so far, etc. Actually tracking my progress that way is both paramount to keeping on pace and also useful for knowing how much I can write comfortably each day (which tells me how much work I can contract for and not wear myself out).

Maintaining a word-count pace has other benefits, too. By forcing yourself to hit a quota, you're training yourself to write for a living. It doesn't have to be much; even 500 words a day works for this. That's not to say that you should necessarily write just to that point and then stop, or that you have to hit that quota every single time. But if you can average that in the course of a week or a month (depending on how chaotic your life is), you are conditioning yourself to be a writer. Everyone has heard the people who say, "I've always thought about trying to write a book, but I never have." What separates the writers from the wannabes is not just understanding pacing and good, tight prose or having great ideas, it's having the discipline to actually write the darn book. And no one just sits down one day and starts writing regularly. In the same way you don't just go out and run a marathon without training and conditioning, you also don't just start writing a book. You have to practice and get better at it.

Not only does writing to a quota teach you how to keep your butt in the chair long enough to work, but it also trains you to get into a flow every day. Writing is hard; someone mentioned those first three paragraphs, and it's true. In order to get good at it, though, you need regular, consistent effort. A great guitar player doesn't play at his peak ability by practicing eight hours one day, skipping two days and then practicing five hours on the fourth day. He keeps his fingers limber, his memory of the music fresh, by practicing a consistent amount every day, day in and day out. It's the same with writing. If you take time every day (ideally, the same time every day--that time when you're most enthused and feeling energetic) to work at writing, you get better at it.

Some folks gear themselves up by rereading and polishing the last few pages from the previous day first, to get into the flow of the story again. Some just pick up right where they left off. Whatever works, so long as you make it a regular part of your day.

Outlining
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Outlining is one of the aspects of writing that I have A) come to appreciate much more than I used to, and B) still have to work at very hard to do well. I didn't used to enjoy outlining, and usually only gave it a cursory attempt before just diving into the writing itself. After all, the part that gets me most excited is generating that scene where all the action, intrigue, and resolution happens. I've got that image so clear in my head, and I just want to get it down on paper. Someone mentioned that outlining sort of took away from their enthusiasm, because by generating even a cursory description of the scene in question, it lost some of its luster for them. That's true. But it's also why writing is hard. The flash of inspiration is easy. Sticking with it and seeing it through to the end is what separates the writers from the people who romanticize writing.

But outlining does far more than that. It helps you figure out exactly how to get from point A to point B in the story, it helps you keep all of your elements straight, and it allows you to nail down almost every variable and surprise up front. Without it, you spend a lot of your energy during writing time thinking about how the characters got to be in the predicament they're in, or what, exactly, they have at their disposal to resolve the situation. Outlining also trains you to know how much you can fit into 320 pages. When I first started writing, my outlines would include far more story than would actually fit between the covers. Each chapter of my outline had multiple events, scene breaks, and sections of dialogue going on, and inevitably, after I started creating the chapter, it would run long. Way long. I kept having to revise my outline, trimming things out and adjusting the story to make sure I got to the end when I got to the end. My second novel, The Temple of Elemental Evil, suffered from this. The first draft burned up nearly half the page count just getting the characters to the temple. I had to go trim a ton during revisions, and as a result, several people complained that the characters became friends way too fast and easily (all of their character development along the way was no longer there, and the pacing was thrown off as a result). Now, I have a much better grasp of how much story I can write in 90k words -- I just have a better conditioned intrinsic sense of pacing -- and my stories flow better because of that.

I am just wrapping up the third book of my very first trilogy. In writing that third book, I have come to wish I knew back at the beginning of the trilogy process what I know now about outlining. There are so many things I wish I could have foreshadowed better in the first and second books, because they are such great elements in the last book. But because I didn't do as thorough a job of outlining in the beginning (I jotted down a few notes for Books 2 and 3 when I was outlining Book 1), I never gave myself the chance to include those elements initially. So I learned the hard way about the importance of outlining.

Now I preach it religiously. Outline. Know your story thoroughly before you even start typing Chapter 1 in your manuscript. You're actually doing the heavy lifting when you are doing the outline, and it should take you a significant portion of your time frame for writing the book to generate the outline. In fact, I would say that you're doing great if you only outline a couple of chapters each day during your writing time. Taking a week or two to properly outline a standard novel is not overkill, IMO. Include snippets of dialogue that you hear in your head, include bits of description, whatever you've already got implanted in your mind's eye. It'll be worth it later.

I said that you're doing the heavy lifting during outline phase, because ideally, when you're done, you know exactly what's going to be happening when you actually start writing the prose. You don't waste valuable keyboard time pondering what Character A has available to defeat Big Nasty, or why Character B knows the secret of Big Nasty's weakness. You've already got it figured out in your outline. Then the story just flows, as fast as your fingers can type. The outline is where you actually create the story; the writing is just transcribing it.

Wow, is this long. I'll hit some more points in a second post.

Thomas

"A knight is not truly virtuous, only truly resolved to be so."

www.thomasmreid.com
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Kameron M. Franklin
Forgotten Realms Author

USA
228 Posts

Posted - 17 Jan 2005 :  17:03:03  Show Profile  Visit Kameron M. Franklin's Homepage  Reply with Quote
I take the easy way out and use a name generator. EBoN (Everchanging Book of Names) is my personal preference. It even has an FR chapter. I'll typically generate 20 or so names until I find one that fits the character idea/portrait in my head. That's not to say I don't come up with names on my own, but more times than not, this saves me from getting stuck trying to come up with something and lets me concentrate on writing.

"You keep saying that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." --Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride
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Thomas M. Reid
Forgotten Realms Designer & Author

334 Posts

Posted - 17 Jan 2005 :  17:16:10  Show Profile  Visit Thomas M. Reid's Homepage  Reply with Quote
Chapter Length
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As almost everyone else has said, there's no hard and fast rule for this. But at the same time, there are some things to consider. First off, every scene has a right "feel" to it as far as length goes. Whether it's a fact-finding dialogue type of scene or a skin-of-the-teeth battle royale scene, the flow of the story needs a certain pace, and that pace is going to be hit in a certain number of words/pages. Some are a little longer, some shorter, but they do fall into a range, IMO. I wouldn't worry too much about chapter length early on in your efforts. Trust that, as you get more comfortable in writing, the correct length will start to become instinctive.

Funny story: When I was working on Insurrection, I had Richard Byers's first draft of Dissolution in front of me. Richard had broken his manuscript down so that each scene was a new chapter (he mentioned this earlier in this thread, I believe). That resulted in about 43 chapters in the book. I thought that was the standard style for the series, so I did it, too. When Phil (our editor) got a hold of my first draft, he wrote me back and said something like, "Cut it out! I already had to make Richard quit doing this, now you're doing it, too!" Of course, it was all with a smile, but I was easily able to adjust the manuscript during revisions to correct the problem. The reason Phil didn't want so many individual chapters was the loss of space for the text; every chapter start has half a page of white at the beginning, and it was causing the book to flow too long for the page count. So there's another concept to keep in mind when you're figuring out chapter length.

Character/Place Names
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I suck at this. I have to wrangle with all sorts of names before I find one that works. I have gotten better at it in recent years, though I still sometimes generate a real stinker and end up changing it in mid-book. Like tight prose, good pacing, and proper outlining, creating names is a learned skill, I think.

I have a few tricks I try to use. First, big long names are all right, but I like to provide shorter nicknames for those. Nicknames in general are helpful a lot of times. Also, I take a real-world name (a baby name book is great for this), change a letter or a syllable, and come up with something that sounds similar yet fresh. I also try to do at least a rudimentary bit of etymological work, whether I'm writing in the Realms or developing a novel's setting from scratch. By this I mean I try to ferret out some sense of the most common sounds, syllables, and letter prevalences in the language. For the Scions of Arrabar trilogy, for example, I adapted a rather italian sound to a lot (not all) of the surnames of the region (partially because I envisioned the place as being a lot like Renaissance Italy in flavor and culture). Elven words and names have a lot of "L"s, "Sh"s, and "A"s in them, and I tend to try to create elven words and names with that in mind. Sometimes it works very well, and others, I spit out a real dud. (Side Note: I believe Ed Greenwood actually has some documentation somewhere on the rules of language for the elven language, though I've never seen it.)

I hear great names in my head when I'm doing something else. I think that my mind must need to hear potential names in context with other language, rather than in a vaccuum, because a lot of ideas pop into my head while I'm driving and listening to the radio. I've learned to keep something handy to jot down ideas for names and words, because these flashes of inspiration always hit me at inopportune times, otherwise.

In the end, you want words that roll off the tongue. A name that is unpronouncable is not going to be realistic. Imagine a mother calling to her toddler with a garbled mess of syllables and sounds. It just doesn't work. Even in real-life society, many parents who give their children unusual names often truncate them or develop nicknames based off of them. (My youngest son, Quinton, is often referred to simply as "Q", Q-bert, Q-man, or Q-Tip [he's very blond right now] in my house.) An unpronouncable name in a book is going to be turned into something easier for the reader's internal voice to hear and say, and any flavor you as a writer might have hoped to create with such a name is sadly lost. Simpler really is better in a lot of ways. Historically speaking, early man's words were simple tones and combinations of tones, and names developed from that. Later words grew from those early tones. Make your syllables simple, combine them in pleasing ways, and you'll come up with a few winners eventually.

Thomas

"A knight is not truly virtuous, only truly resolved to be so."

www.thomasmreid.com
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