Category: writing

What I Learned from NaNoWriMo

I think I’ve only just today recovered from the sleep deprivation that was last month’s flurry of creative writing called NaNoWriMo.

For those who don’t know it, it stands for National Novel Writing Month, in which you attempt to write a 50,000 word draft in 30 days!

Some folks have even moved on to perfecting their draft from this month into actual novels.  Winners get the self-satisfaction of having met such a goal, as well as a 50% off code for the incredibly useful novel/screenwriting/etc. literary organization software, Scrivener.

I didn’t manage to make it to 50k words (more like 18k), but what a learning experience it was!  Here are a few things I learned during this wild writing ride:

1.  Refreshing the Creative Well – The most important thing I learned is that having an outlet from your main craft which you can pursue without too much expectation can really refresh your inspirational well!  I’ve been feeling so tired and overwhelmed lately and participating in NaNo was just the shot in the arm I needed to find my motivation again.  Thankfully, the characters I’ve been exploring for NaNo have given me the right kind of urges to illustrate my own scenes, draw concept sheets, and much, much more!  It’s an amazing cross-pollination of inspiration.

If you’d like to read some snippets from my NaNo Novel, you can check them out here to see what I’m talking about. (WARNING! Unedited raw draft stuff plus some cursing. Melakim is quite the foul-mouth.  I love her.♥)

–  A Ceremony for Creative Thought – I was made pointedly aware that I have an actual ceremony for my creative process when it comes to writing.  It requires doing something to transition my brain from ‘work mode’ to ‘writing mode’ by resetting it with either exercise and/or an episode of something brainless (like One Piece) to empty my head of work thoughts.

I must then have coffee and something sweet before I sit down to keep me going the whole time, lest I stop and have to retrieve a snack partway and ruin the flow.  I also must write after everyone is asleep because any interruption throws me out of my flow.  Music was a particularly powerful tool for keeping me in the ‘mood’ of the story. I began my nights almost every night by listening to Song of Exile for Ramah’s scenes and What the Water Gave Me for Melakim’s scenes. (I’ve got a whole playlist for novel writing, if anyone’s especially curious what I listen to)

Getting immersed is important for me. All e-mail notifications and social media outlets are banned from my sight while I am doing this.  I need to apply this to my art time too. I have a bad habit of hawk-eyeing my e-mail, messengers, and other things while I work and it probably does  make me less productive than I could be.

– Sleep Deprivation is Unproductive – I haven’t done this many late nights in a row since college.  I can’t say that pushing myself this way really ended up making me more productive, in the end. Maybe it is for short term bursts just to get words on paper, but I think I prefer to be much well paced and less sleep crazed as I continue to write this draft in the future. Not sleeping does not help my mood or creativity, but rather causes me to doze off in the middle of trying to think of the more mundane details of a story while I’m writing.  It needs to be a balance of keeping our bodies healthy AND being properly productive.

– Routine Equals Productivity and Accountability – By the same token, scheduling myself to write almost every night really gave me a sense of accountability for doing this activity.  It made me look forward to it each night and set a high bar that something, ANYthing needed to be done at this point in time, or I am returning to old habits where I’d convince myself the tiny accomplishment wasn’t worth it because it would never amount to anything.  I think I need to push my art and drawing time the same way if I really want to get to the next level in my skills.  Those tiny studies and sketches are going to equal improvement, no matter how insignificant they might feel, at first.

All in all, it was an amazing experience!  I am hopeful that by the time the next NaNoWriMo rolls around, I’ll have a full draft to be editing.  Or maybe I’ll use it as an excuse to write the adventures of that immortal Gypsy vagabond that’s been chilling in the Neglected Characters Bar in the back of my head?  You never know!

So did any of you do NaNoWriMo?  What did you learn about yourself from this experience?  How has this informed your other creative habits?  Share with me in comments!

Characters on the Couch

I’m taking a bit of a detour today to talk about another aspect of my art that I don’t talk about as much as I’d like on this blog – characters.  You might have seen a few of my muses here and there in my art, but never quite gotten to know them, as they’re all on the sidelines while I sort out the Artist part of my career instead of the Writer.  Eventually, I want to bring characters to the forefront of my art AND writing and that is where the savvy Jeannie Campbell comes in!

Aurora Adonai, one of my
first muses.

Any writer will tell you that research is key to writing convincing, engaging scenes and never is that research more important than when you’re working with characters with psychological disorders.  We can make as many guesses as we like about the textbook definition of a psychological disorder and its effects, but this can come off as stiff, as if we’re recalling a grocery list of symptoms when we write.  That is where Jeannie comes in.  As a licensed marriage and family therapist, she has opened her couch to the analysis of our fictional brainchildren.

Last year, Jeannie did an analysis for Aurora, my unstable Elvish hitwoman.  Her analysis opened my eyes to the possibilities with this character, not only for what she is capable of, but how best to balance the darkness of her past with that element of humanity that would keep her sane and also grounded as a character.  For Aurora’s full analysis, you can read on here.

With so many characters chilling in the backstage of my brain, I plan to use Jeannie again in the future.  For that purpose, I’ll be visiting her newly opened website – The Character Therapist!

Jeannie Campbell, The Character Therapist by Elizabeth Mueller

She offers brief assessments of characters for free or a detailed assessment at $14.99.  If you sign up for her newsletter, you can get a copy of her ebook “Writer’s Guide to Character Motivation”, a handy 28 page guide to help you build your characters from the ground up.

For those of you pondering characters, I recommend giving Jeannie a shout!  Meanwhile, I’ll continue plotting ways to send more imaginary folks to fill up her proverbial waiting room.

Eventide Hijacked: The Artifice of Character

Coming to you from the fingertips of fellow fantasy enthusiast, Hayley E. Lavik:

Artist and fantasy writer Angela Sasser hijacks the blog today! Angela has hijacked the blog in the past to explore the overlaps between fantasy writing and fantasy illustration, and she’s back today to talk about dissecting fantasy characters with her cross-media point of view!

(Check out my guest post at Eventide Unmasked and join the discussion!)

Guest Post – When We Were Young…

My final guest post at Eventide Unmasked (for now!).
This week’s topic: What were you writing when you were young? Remembering the joy and staying inspired.

Greetings again, Bat-fans! This is Angela chiming in for my last post here before Hayley’s grand return from England!

It’s been fun and if you want to keep up with me, I have my own blog that’s actually mine here. It’s a grab-bag of art inspirations, writing experiments, and marketing adventures so be sure to come on in and join me.

For today’s post, I feel the need to reminisce, as I think we all should once we get to that point in our creative lives where we may be a little distracted by this grand thing in life called ‘making a living’.

Do you remember what you were writing when you were young? (In the early teen range, perhaps?) I certainly do!

(Read on at the full blog post)

Guest Post – World-Building: Animal Lore

My series of guest posts continues at Eventide Unmasked. Join my latest discussion on animal lore. What is it? How can you implement it into your stories effectively? Tips, tricks, and examples at the link!

World-Building – Animal Lore

Hello all! Angela here again for a Wacky Wednesday guest post. Hayley’s been talking a lot lately about world-building so I thought I’d chime in with a particular niche in the world-building skillset – animal lore.

What is animal lore?

Animal lore differs from generic mythology for the fact that it specifically involves creatures which are a part of the natural or supernatural order of things in any given story’s setting. Some real world examples include Hayley’s infamous black dog, bringer of ill portent, the European and Asian dragons, unicorns, and all manner of beasts we can conjure up with a quick jaunt through our childhood memories.

Animals often convey the mythical beginnings of our universe, shedding light on mysteries that inform a culture’s mystical practices and even methods of dress. The raven who created the world, the spider whose web brings life, or the coyote who stole the secret of fire. A culture rich in animal lore also suggests a culture close to nature, magic, and the mysteries of the world. Most cultures with deep ties to Animalism are less inclined towards industrialization and generally less reliant on science and technology (a situation ripe for tension and change, if you’re looking for inspiration prompts!).

(Read on at the full blog post)

Guest Post – Introductions and Trading Spaces

I’m excited to announce my Wednesday posts will be over at Eventide Unmasked while my good friend and writer, Hayley E. Lavik, is off on vacation in England! Join the discussion on literary interests, artistic minds, character creation, world-building, and more! This week’s topic: The link between artists and writers.

Introductions and Trading Spaces

Well met and hello, all! I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve kidnapped Hayley’s Wednesdays while she’s on her folklore hunting adventure in England. I feel much like Mr. Rogers coming in, adjusting his favorite sweater, and settling on a chair to tell a story when I’m here, but I’ll refrain from singing about neighbors for the good of us all.

Hayley briefly introduced me, but I wanted to divulge more about how the heck I’ve come to kidnap her blog. I was a starving caffeinated college student double-majoring in English and Studio Art when I first met Mrs. Lavik through random conversing about lore, logic, and anime through the backways of DeviantART. I have since become one of the apparently many caffeinated sardonic women with which she spends her late night conversation. We have done much scheming, plotting, and debating since we met those many years ago, much of which has bled over into each other’s blog discussions. We share a similar love of empathetic antagonists, character tormenting, and folkloric research.

(Read on at the full blog post)

Aurora Goes to Therapy!

Just in case you’ve missed this plug in my other online outlets, I’m pleased to announce that one of my more dangerously unhinged characters has finally gone to therapy!

You may remember Aurora Adonai from a past blog entry. Jeannie Campbell, the Character Therapist, did an excellent reading of Aurora and what I might need to consider when writing about her to make her more believable as a character.

Treatment Tuesday – The Hitman Hitwoman

“This week features a science fiction/action character created by Angela. Her character is Alaura*, an orphan who witnessed her mother’s violent murder when she was 4 or 5. At age 8, the orphanage caretaker began to engage her in molestation. He liked it rough and would get very angry if Alaura cried or showed signs of pain. Alaura endured for several years before she hid a knife in the sheets and murdered him. The other orphans helped cover up the crime and Alaura moved on to become a hitman for a criminal organization. She feels that nothing she does can make her any more “unclean” than she already is. She thinks she’s damaged goods and irredeemable…”

(Read on at Jeannie’s blog)

At this rate, perhaps Melakim might show up on her couch? I always did say they went to the same therapist.

Many thanks to Jeannie for providing such an excellent service to writers. Where psychological problems are involved with our characters, it’s definitely helpful to look beyond our own scope of experience.

Q&A With Jacqueline Carey Event!

As many of you know (or perhaps don’t), I have long been an admirer of the works of Jacqueline Carey (specifically her Kushiel’s Legacy series of books). With some of the most unique spins on obscure angel and fallen angel figures I’ve seen in modern literature, how can I not love it? Not to mention her sumptuous writing style and palpable imagery always set my muse a-tingling. (This bodes for a ‘top ten novels that make my muse tingle’ post in the future!)

Anyways, the point of this particular entry is to set your eye on an event going on this coming Tuesday, June 1st! My fellow plotter, upcoming author, and friend, Hayley E. Lavik, is having a Q&A event with Jacqueline! Check Hayley’s entry on the matter for details, as this could be your chance to win hand-crafted swag of my creation and a copy of Jacqueline’s latest release in the series, Naamah’s Kiss.

Not to mention how wonderful and rare it is to have questions answered by a best-selling novelist in the themes of world-building and advice for aspiring authors everywhere!

So set your calendars and don’t miss this event!

Only In Our Dreams: The Denigration of Fantasy

I remember a time in college when I found myself so incredibly frustrated by my homework and completely lost as to what to do with myself. I wanted to draw angels and elves, not splatter paint on a canvas and call it art. I didn’t want to tear up little bits of my journal entries, stick them in jars, and talk about how this was a wonderfully artistic bearing of my soul. This sort of expression just wasn’t me. My personal issues were for friends and family only. Why should I put them in jars for other people to puzzle over? Why should I abandon my long beloved symbols that I was impassioned for? Why, all the sudden, did fantasy become invalid as a form of expression in a School of Fine Art?

I understand the answer now that I have completed school and had a great deal of time to ponder my frustration. If I didn’t experiment outside of my comfort zones, I never would have discovered the joy of experimentation and how this has enriched my ability to express myself. Sticking to a single genre and never exploring has a way of stagnating your work, your art, and your inspiration. Still, I never forgot the eyeroll that came with admitting to some that I was an avid lover of fantasy. This extended not only to the art community, but to the writing community as well. My love of exaggerated descriptions and epic tales did not go over so well in my Creative Writing classes either.

So why is it that Fantasy, as a genre, is no longer seen as ‘High Art’ by the intellectual majority? Somewhere over the years we seemed to have lost our appreciation of the paintings of dryads, Naiads, and all manner of mythological folk. The Knight and the Dragon, the Damsel in the Tower, the Unlikely Hero Versus the Orc/Goblin/Dark Wizard, it’s all been liquified, told, and retold again till it has no meaning, no impact anymore. The magic of the myths has faded to a passing fancy, a colorful tale to be told and pondered and thrown away. Perhaps because people no longer believe in faeries or the wrath of the gods? Perhaps because these roles (or rather the execution of them), as Joseph Campbell prescribes, are no longer relevant to our modern society who crave something updated? Perhaps because we no longer need illustrated stories to teach us about the mysteries of the universe?

We are no longer the illiterate adult majority who used art to experience the emotion and morals of stories. There are few of us who remember the meaning of flowers or the very specific numerology of medieval imagery. Even for those of us who do study these symbols, the spiritual influence is not as fervent as those in the past who relied heavily on the act of venerating art in order to understand the passion and morals passed on by the stories these illustrative paintings were inspired by.

These days, we can pick up books ourselves without having to rely on the teachings of provocative images. We are told by art historians what pieces deserve our respect. Is that why there is a division between ‘low brow’ Fantasy and ‘high brow’ Romantic art? Because we are told there is? Or maybe there’s just too much out there so we’ve truly lost touch with the uniqueness of these original pieces? I always found it amusing that a modern artist could paint a dryad, but it would only be seen as Fantasy, while older paintings of the same subject are classified as “Romantic” and somehow more classical and valid. Like Duchamp, who first set a commode on a pedestal and called it art, no one can ever do such a thing again without being compared to the first person who had the great idea to do something different.

Perhaps Fantasy is merely escapism? A way for us to experience idealistic morals, beautiful figures, and perfectly rounded narratives? I, personally, find this definition an oversimplification of a genre capable of so much more. True, there is an element of escapism, but to say that’s all there is to it seems an understatement. Fantasy presents a way for us to tap into various parts of ourselves, a fear of the unknown, an indulgence of what we can and cannot do, as well as a way for us to reveal stories that tap into that long dormant sense of wonder and primal fear we remember only in our dreams.

In this modern (or is it post-modern?) era, we’ve given up the purity of genre and married things like Fantasy to Drama, Comedy with Horror, and have truly pushed the definitions that have kept things like ‘Fantasy’ from becoming respected art forms. I can only hope that strolling down the street, I’ll see more museum exhibitions like this one and more stories of a fantastical nature working their way into academia.

Just a bundle of questions for you guys to ponder. Whatever the reason for the denigration of Fantasy, I am content knowing I am not alone in its appreciation, that there are others who, for whatever reason, arrive at the conclusion there is more to its richness than bulging heroes, pretty ladies, repetitive epics, and hard to pronounce names.

Image: “The Lady of Shalott” by John Waterhouse.

Introducing the Muses – Aurora Adonai

So far, you’ve met the lovable rogue, the faithless Hunter, and the werewolf Prince. For the last of the muse series, I’d like to introduce the first of my character muses, the beginning of my redhead obsession, and the most foul mouthed Elf I know, Aurora Adonai, street samurai extraordinaire.

Aurora’s Artistic Evolution:

The Short Bio: Aurora has little memory of the life she had before she was brought to the Home for Goblinized Children ran by David Becker at the tender age of 9. She grew up plagued by the abuses and unwanted affections of David, who labeled her his ‘Little Butterfly’ and sought to control her in every way. At the age of 18, however, something snapped in this once sweet, unassuming child and David was found murdered one morning with 41 stab wounds coupled with the words “Little Butterfly” cut across his chest.

The home was shut down and the children scattered to the wind, none of them willing to admit just who it was who murdered the home’s owner. Aurora struck out on her own with the help of her best friend from the home, David’s daughter, Natalie. The girls found the only work they could as exotic dancers in the red light district of Seattle.

Their simple life changed forever when the two girls witnessed a Yakuza hit by the famous Elven hitman, Oberon, son of the local Oyabun. Instead of disposing of these witnesses, he took them under his wings, Oberon taking a liking to the young Aurora who had a strange fascination with his deadly trade. He was responsible for aiding her in cyberization. Aurora was tattoed with the tribal style butterfly wings at her own request instead of the traditional Yakuza markings, her way of ‘honoring’ her murder of David, who used to give her the gift of fake cloth butterflies which sparked her obsession with them.

Now, she works the bar by day and does the dirty work of her Yakuza employers by night.

Written Stories:
Jade Tears – | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 |
Jade Tears Character Sketch: Serenade – Available Here

What Inspired this Character?

Aurora came about from my first concerted effort to put deep thought into a character for the purposes of a roleplaying game called Shadowrun, which takes place in an alternative future where magic has begun to re-emerge in a modern world. I didn’t want just another cardboard cutout who was a reflection of myself. I wanted someone different, someone dark, someone with real issues. She was my first step in getting outside of my own psychology and towards a character who was wholly different, an imbalanced, violent woman with little tolerance for others. I was fascinated by the concept of an untrustworthy hero, for that is what Aurora is. She may seem beautiful and like someone you want to nurture, once you see her emotional scars…

…but by the same token, she killed a man…and enjoyed it just a little too much. Aurora is damaged goods and she knows it.

She is plagued by that thought daily, that her soul is stained because she took that slightest bit of pleasure in ending another person, and does it daily for her current employers. And yet that little demon inside of her, the one she echoes with her cyber fangs and horns, delights in that feeling of power and the righteous justice she brings. Aurora stands on the edge of that bloodthirsty abyss, fearing the monster she might become of she loses her humanity, but listening to the little whispers that tell her “Come on. It feels so good. Why not do it again? You have the power now…” A hint, also, that she suffers from a possible Multiple Personality Disorder.

Aurora is a sado-masochist, a boiling angry soul, and someone who is anything but ‘good’. And yet, she still has a basic sense of morality, like many of my characters, an inclination to do the right thing. Perhaps sparing a child after killing the child’s parents, or saving a woman by maiming her abusive boyfriend. Like Melakim, the more years pass without hope, the less she will begin to care. That little light of hope in her soul is why she was named Aurora Adonai, meaning roughly “First Light of God”.

Come to think of it, Melakim and Aurora probably go to the same therapist.

Amazingly, this is the first time Aurora’s back story has seen the light of day outside the little known comic pages and stories, and yet I’ve had so many individuals come to me professing their adoration for this character. I believe this exemplifies how sometimes a visual presence is enough to garner a viewer’s interest, even if I’ve always thought she looks like a reject from KISS.

On a final note, I’ve actually had people ask after reading her story if her life experiences involving sexual abuse are inspired by my own. They are not, thank heavens! But it is the fascinating battle with inner duality and her own off-kilter sense of sanity, morality, and self-worth that echoes so true of those who have survived abuse which make her so convincing. I have known those who have suffered similar circumstances and who have come to fear the strange things they enjoy or the state of their souls after enduring something that no person should. But like Aurora, the ability to overcome these challenges lies within and only needs an ember of love to begin the healing.

I still have many plans for this character, despite the fact my tabletop roleplaying days are long over. A web comic is on the horizon and I fully intend to push her story as far as I can go with it. My ultimate dream is to see her animated or portrayed cinematically.

How do you get inspired to create for this character?

Movies with Angelina Jolie tend to get my juices flowing for Aurora. This character was NOT based on Jolie originally, but over the years I was attracted to this actress’ self-destructive beauty, her seething intensity, and her propensity for bladed weapons. Consequently, Aurora began to echo Jolie’s looks more closely, though I’ve recently tried to bring her back to her non-Jolie roots. Kill Bill‘s story of bloody revenge and sword swinging action also lend themselves well to portraying my foul-mouthed muse. If there was ever an Aurora movie in my lifetime, Jolie would star in it with Tarantino as the director.

Aurora’s Playlist: Available Here

I hope you have enjoyed this glimpse at the characters playing poker in my head and that hopefully next time a piece of character-centric art pops up in my gallery that your first reaction won’t be “who the heck is that and why should I care?” I hope as well that those of you who have mentioned that you don’t have any characters will read this series and be inspired for your own creations.

May the muses guide thee just as you guide them.