My Top 5 Pixar Rules

Since my brother has come up from Georgia to spend time with his dear sister, I apologize if this blog post is lacking. I wasn’t expecting to get any time to write this though, so I’m glad that I’m able to write anything at all.

Anyway, a couple of years ago (Wow, time flies) a friend of mine drew my attention to this article: http://www.pixartouchbook.com/blog/2011/5/15/pixar-story-rules-one-version.html. It’s one of the lists of the Pixar story building rules, and I truly enjoyed reading it when she showed it to me. I’ve decided to list and talk about my five favorites. I’m also sorry that these are not in the same order as they appear on the list. It bothers me too, but it’s necessary.

 #10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.

This is great advice which highlights why it’s so important as a writer to read. Whenever someone is unable to tell me what they liked about something, I consider it a complete disaster. “I just do” is not a appropriate answer. Do you like description? Do you prefer a plainer style? Do you like first person narration? Do you like third person?

but I would also say that it’s important to pull apart the stories that you don’t like. I don’t know about you, but I’ve learned far more from the mistakes that I’ve made than when I lucked into a success. If you have a story (probably one that you had to read for school) that you hated, think to yourself, why you hated it? Was the character uninteresting? What would have made him more credible? Was the pacing off? What could have improved it? Does present tense writing make you want to shiv the author? Why?

#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.

Yes, give your characters opinions. Map out their ethics (if they have them). Make them passionate about something. An apathetic character is a boring character. If they don’t care, why should we? I don’t want to see the pushover. The pushover has no reason for conflict, because the pushover never fights. And for that matter, give your characters flaws. Even better, give them fatal flaws that you can exploit later.

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

I picked this one because I once saw a movie where two characters were fighting in a hospital. All of a sudden, one character turns around and conveniently grabs a hammer, attacked the other with it, and crashed out the window with it. End scene. My problem with it? They were in a hospital. Where the hell did they get a hammer? It just happened to be sitting there. Not all examples of cheating with coincidences are quite this obvious, but the result is the same. My disbelief can only be suspended a certain amount.

#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

I had to rewrite Dragon Wingéd in a similar fashion. It wasn’t until I was at the end that I made this huge realization which resulted in rewriting almost half of it. You can try your best to control where things go, but I find it’s best (at least for me) to go with the flow, and fix it later.

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free. & #17: No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.

These two rules have a lot to do with one another. So many authors and writers I know are married to their material and won’t make changes even if it’s not working. I have come to accept that not every word that I write is gold. Yes, some of it is, and there can be some great funny stuff that is embedded in a scene that just isn’t right. I have to let it go and so do you. Maybe I can bring some of the good stuff into a different scene, but it’s okay if I can’t. The story must come before my ego of having written a fantastic one-liner or the perfect description of a tropical jungle. It’s not right; it has to go. It’s gratutious; it has to go. This is the rule that I now live by.

So there you have it. What are you favorite Pixar rules? Are there other writing rules that you follow? Let me know in the comments.

Colleen

Naming Your Characters: Using Etymology

I started seriously delving into history outside mythology while doing research for my third novel, Dragon Wingéd, which takes place around 2200 B.C.E. This had an unexpected side effect, making a profound difference on how I approach naming a character.

When writing about the present, thanks to planes and other forms of mass transit, the boundaries on names aren’t as defined. For example, finding someone named Cassandra in England isn’t unheard of, but in the middle of the bronze age, it pretty much was. According to behindthename.com, “Cassandra” is derived from Greek. So, anyone could rightly assume that someone named “Cassandra” from the bronze age would be Greek. She could be English; it’s not impossible, but, yes, highly improbable.

While looking into these name etymologies, I came to realize just how old some of these everyday names really are, and just how many stereotypical English names happen to be Greek. It boggles my mind, especially when you realize how popular these names had to be in order to survive to modern day. There were individuals four thousand years ago named Cassandra, meaning “shining upon man”. Think about this. Most English speakers cannot read Old English (it looks too much like German), and that wasn’t even one thousand years ago. “Cassandra” comes from Greek. Modern Greek has evolved from Koine Greek and its cousin Classical Greek. Before that? Attic. Before that? Mycenaean, which falls under the Hellenic and Indo-European family tree of languages. When you consider how these languages have evolved, we have a word, “Cassandra” that has changed comparatively little. That I could be picked up and dropped in the middle of Ancient Greece and be able to identify a word, even just one word… It’s amazing!

So, the rest of this entry is dedicated to some of my favorite stories behind my characters’ names.

I used to go back and forth between being obsessed with a name’s meaning and how it either defines or add symbolism to my story and using whatever name happens to be handy. On the one hand, I’ve given names to my characters like Kapera. I almost created her character around the name, because I loved it so much. It is of African origin (which is crazy vague, I know) and it means “this child will die.” It’s incredibly depressing, and furthermore, since the character is a foiche Dé, beings that are reincarnated, I appreciated that it was both fitting and ironic. Yes, the foiche Dé do die over and over again, but they are in a state of perpetual life. It’s one of those things my creative writing professor would love because it’s “dripping with meaning”. This name almost created the Wingéd sequel on its own.

On the other hand, I am also prone to putting in place holders for names that never end up getting changed, which is how my favorite character, Angel Dyson, came to be named after my parents’ vacuum cleaner. In my defense, I also loved that vacuum cleaner. I wish I could have taken it with me when I moved out.

The name I get the most questions on will probably always be Friedel, the girl who started it all. And… as much as I love the name and could not imagine that character being named anything else, I frequently regret naming her that. Partially Mostly… Okay. Okay. BECAUSE no one ever pronounces it correctly. Friedel is actually named after the last name of a famous actor, Will Friedle, who pronounces it “fri-DELL”. I changed the spelling because it looked better and to aid in pronunciation, but it didn’t help. The most frequent pronunciation is “FREE-dl” that rhymes with “Tweedle”. And a little part of me dies inside. When I did my rewrite, I seriously considered either changing her name to something more symbolic or thoughtful or changing the spelling to better reflect what I was trying to achieve. I did neither, because she is Friedel. I did eventually look up what her name online, and it is a variant of Friedelinde which means “gentle peace”. It’s actually appropriate for describing the dead, but I lucked out.

I highly suggest that you check out both Behindthename.com and this Indo-European languages tree from Wikipedia, especially the Latin languages.

Do you have a special process when it comes to naming your characters? Do you have a funny story about how one of your characters was named? Leave me a comment!

What do you use for inspiration?

I honestly had a difficult time with this question for a couple of reasons. There were many times when I sat down to start this blog post that I started writing about my influences instead. I started writing about my introduction to fantasy with Cinderella. I bowed my head to those nights that my dad and I would stay up to watch Star Trek Voyager together. That’s all well and good, but it’s not what you asked for. I consider inspiration to be something that I keep coming back to, because it makes me want to write. I apologize if this turns into a miniature Pinterest board. 

Images

When I was younger, I was sick a lot. I would have to call my mom to come pick me up from school rather frequently, and my parents were starting to lose a significant amount of income because of it. So, one day, my mom came home with a home terminal (that’s what she called it), so she could telecommute. And her computer was of course way better than mine, but what’s most important, and the point of this story, is that she had a program on her computer called Webshots. It was this program for your desktop where you could download these amazing pictures, and it would rotate them for you as often as you wanted. My mom had all of these fantastic ones of landscapes, waterfalls, flowers, and cute fluffy animals.

I don’t use the same program today, but it’s the same idea. I have about 150 pictures from the internet that rotate every hour. I, like my mom, have landscapes, mostly of mountains, forests, and waterfalls since those features occur most often in my novels. I love color contrast. I love light. 

 These are a few of them. The picture will enlarge if you click on it. I have no rights to any of these images. I have never used any of them for monetary gain, and simply enjoy them. Image

 My current favorite picture is of the Seven Sisters waterfall in Norway. I wish that I could cite the photographer. 

Image

In addition to that, I have also used Photoshop to put together a picture of what I believe my characters would look like together. It’s probably my biggest source of inspiration. I can’t tell you how many hours that I spent putting it together. Once again, I don’t own the rights to the individual images. In case you’re wondering who the actors are, they are Nathan Fillion, Jewel Stait, Hattie Morahan, Dwayne Johnson, Misha Collins, Natalie Dormer, Taylor Kitsch, Matt Czuchry, Michael Clarke Duncan (may he rest in peace), Erin Way, Eddie Spears, and Steve Byrne. 

Image

 

Music-

I know that I’ve already posted my soundtracks for my novels. However, those didn’t include ANY of the instrumental music that I love and adore. These are written down here in no particular order, and you may be interested to know that I walked down the aisle to the first song on this list. I’ve also highlighted the songs that I love the most. 

Ghulees – Anne McCaffrey, Tania Opland & Mike Freeman – Sunset’s Gold
Over Hill – Howard Shore – The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
The Fellowship – Howard Shore – LotR: Fellowship of the Ring
Orchard House (Main Title) – Thomas Newman – Little Women
This is Berk – John Powell – How to Train Your Dragon
Emma Opening Titles – Thematic Pianos – The Music of Jane Austen
Dawn – Various Artists – Pride and Prejudice
Piano Lullaby – Mark Mancina – August Rush
Dear You (Piano Cover) – Higurashi no Naku
River Flows in You – Yiruma – First Love
Inside the Tam House – Greg Edmonson & Alan Steinberger – Firefly
The Tudors Main Title Theme – Trevor Morris – The Tudors
Healing Katniss – James Newton Howard – The Hunger Games
Forbidden Friendship – John Powell – How to Train Your Dragon
Henry Meets Anne Boelyn – Trevor Morris – The Tudors
Jane Seymour’s Theme (Composer’s Sketch) – Trevor Morris
Behold the Great King of England – Trevor Morris – The Tudors
End Titles – Rachel Portman – The Duchess
Cantiga 166, “Como Poden Per Sas Culpas” – I Ciarlantani – Alfonso X
Scarborough Fair – Celtic – Celtic America
Nonsuch – Anne McCaffrey – Masterharper of Pern
Gatheritza – Anne McCaffrey, Tania Opland & Mike Freeman – Sunset’s Gold
Equinox – same as above
Kingdom Dance – Alan Menken- Tangled
Julie-O – Amy Sue Barston – Memories and Souvenirs
Suite No. 1 in G Major
Fate and Destiny – Patrick Doyle – Brave
Concerning Hobbits – Howard Shore – LotR: Fellowship of the Ring
Henry and Anne – Trevor Morris – The Tudors
Katherine Stripped of Her Jewels – Trevor Morris – The Tudors
The Execution Ballet – Trevor Morris – The Tudors
Bari Improv – Kaki King – August Rush
Kara Remembers – Joohyun Park – The Music of Battlestar Galactica
Begin Again – The Piano Guys – The Piano Guys 2
Bittersweet Symphony – Thomas Luxton – The Ballads
Beethoven’s 5 Secrets – The Piano Guys – The Piano Guys
My Immortal – Lindsey Stirling – My Immortal Single
Waterfall – The Piano Guys – The Piano Guys 2

Movies and TV- 

My dad has always referred to the movies I watch as “my favorites”. When I love a movie, I love a movie. Most of them include some sort of voice-over narration that make me want to write. 

Ever After: A Cinderella Story (1998) 
Sense & Sensibility (2008) 
You’ve Got Mail (1998) 
Harriet the Spy (1996) 
Pride & Prejudice (2005) 
Little Women (1994)

I watch these movies more than any others because of how they aid my writing process. No matter what kind of mood I’m in, if I play one of these movies, I want to write more than anything. 

Novels – 

I really hesitate to put anything here, because pretty much any reading makes me want to write. I am planning on doing an influences entry too, so I don’t want to bore you repeating myself. However… Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern is my favorite novel of all time and is one of the most inspiring novels that I’ve read. It’s magic every time I read it. I love that it shows a classical Pern. I love McCaffrey’s writing style. It’s not too fast or too slow. There’s just enough detail. I’m engaged every minute that I’m reading. And the end of it is simply gut-wrenching. Nothing happens like you expect it or how it’s “supposed to”. It’s magic! In fact, I partially credit this novel for bringing me out of my funk in between Winged and Foiche De.  

Yes, I am a huge fan girl when it comes to Anne McCaffrey, may she rest in peace. If any of you are considering reading Pern, I don’t actually recommend starting with Moreta. You either have to start with Dragonflight or Dragonsdawn. Dragonflight was the first in the series and Dragonsdawn is the first chronologically. Moreta is the worst novel to start with. 

I’m sure there is more, but writing this blog post has made me want to write some more. I wonder why! And I must answer the call before my little brain explodes. 

Self-Publishing: Novel Promotion for the Introvert

No matter what anyone says, being a novelist is a social act. At any given place in the novel writing or publishing process, you’re going to encounter other people. When you sit down to write, you consider your audience. (If you’re not, you really should.) Does this make sense? Is this believable? When you start putting it together, you consider what will be most pleasing to the eye. Things like cover art, font size, line spacing, and pagination all affect the reader. If you’re going the traditional route, you write query letters to agents. However, promotion is undoubtedly the most social step in the novel process. The most important part of publishing is getting the word out. Contrary to popular belief, these no item ever just sells itself. That means going out into the world and making other people see you and care about you and your work. If you’re an introvert like me (I hear that most authors are introverts), that makes promotion the most difficult step.

I have never been good at human interaction, especially in large groups. It was never that I wasn’t socialized; I have two siblings, and I was in a lot of daycares growing up. I went to public school. There were plenty of opportunities for me to socialize with the other kids my age. However, as young as three, I was notorious for getting into trouble just so that I could go on time out. Time out was never a punishment. Time out was great. I got to sit for extended periods of time alone in peace. It’s not that I didn’t like everyone; it’s just that they were exhausting.

So, when that logical part of myself asks me to go out and talk to a whole bunch of people about my book, it takes a LOT of discipline in order to make myself do it. I had once been under the impression that, if I went the traditional publishing route, I wouldn’t have to self-promote, but I’ve been assured that isn’t the case. So what’s an introverted author to do? Get out of my comfort zone or hide away in obscurity? If neither of those things sound appealing to you, there are a few things that you can do that both promote and allow yourself the space that you desire.

Write – Waiting for your first work to take off is a complete waste of your time. I’m sorry, that was blunt. Let me try again. Waiting for your first work to take off is a complete waste of your time. Okay, never mind, that’s just the truth. From personal experience, I lost four or five years, focusing on trying to get my one novel seen. I didn’t write anything new, I just waited. And what did I have to show for it? A huge box of unsold novels that mocked me every time I looked at it. Instead, I should have spent at least some of that time working on something new. And actually, those who had purchased my book had to wait four years for me to get my head out of my butt. Not only did I not get any new readers, I alienated my current ones by not giving them what they wanted, which was more. Keep writing. Your current readers, no matter how few, are your bread and butter. Every time that you announce something new, it’s more likely that your first work will be seen as well. Remember: novels, like dominoes, aren’t as much fun if you have only one.

Blog – I have had my private blog for much longer than this public one. It has taken me nearly a decade to build my current network of friends, but blogging does provide the introvert with a few things. It allows you to the luxury of mentally preparing yourself to interact or interacting in short bursts, and as the case was for me, it allowed others to get to know me on my time and on my terms and vise versa. If I had nothing to say, that was okay. I never had the stress of having to think on my feet or risk not being able to say something how I wanted to say it. You can search for like-minded people as actively or as inactively as you feel comfortable. Of course, the more active you are, the more that other people will see you, but it’s not a requirement. When you network is big enough, you can even go on blog tours. This is where you make guest appearances in someone else’s blog. I haven’t tried this on my private blog, and I’m not active enough to WordPress to try it, but if I ever am, I’ll tell you how it goes. So, if word of mouth isn’t your style, maybe word of fingers is.

Reviews – One of the ways that a novel can be seen is if it’s been read and gets a good review. There are three ways to get reviews: family and friends, bloggers, and professional reviewers. You can start by getting friends and family, but for better results, make sure they don’t indicate that they know you to prevent other potential buyers for perceiving bias.

Notifying bloggers falls nearly under the same category as going on a blog tour. In addition to doing guest spots on another’s blog, once your novel is out, contacting popular reviewers can be very helpful. Be aware that you may have to email dozens of bloggers before receiving a single answer, and of course, there is no guarantee that every review you receive is going to be positive or as positive as you want it.

The final way to receive reviews it to send them to professional reviewers. These include but are certainly not limited to: Kirkus Indie Reviews, Midwest Book Review, Foreword Reviews, Bloomsbury, The San Francisco Book Review, The Sacramento Book Review, the Portland Book Review. Since they’re professional, most of these cost. (Some of them don’t, but there’s no guarantee that you’ll actually be reviewed.) The Kirkus Indie Review $475 for standard service. However, depending on the review, it could be a real asset. CreateSpace currently offers a discount at $379 and the option to “kill” the review if it’s poor. You might think that paying that much for a review is ridiculous, but what you’re really paying for is authority. And if it’s a great review, you’re much more likely to recoup your initial investment. These reviews can also be sent to and printed by local newspapers.

And the best part is you can contact them all by email if you wish (and a lot of them actually prefer it that way).

Kindle Direct Publishing Select – I haven’t mentioned KDP Select on here before, so I’ll quickly summarize what it is. Kindle Direct Publishing is an affiliate of Amazon.com and CreateSpace and is the program you go through to sell ebooks on Amazon. Enrolling your ebook into Select gives you two things: 1) It puts it into the Kindle Lending Library. Every time your novel is borrowed, you receive royalties. 2) It allows you to make your novel free for five days during a ninety day period (the amount of time for each enrollment). These can be consecutive or single. You don’t even have to use them. It’s all up to you. However, there are conditions. In order to enroll in Select, you must sell on your novel on Amazon exclusively for these ninety days. This means you cannot sell on any other site including your own during that time. Like anything, it’s a trade off.

I’ve heard mixed things about KDP Select. While many authors say that they’re pleased with the experience, I have read a few blogs that say you shouldn’t have to resort to giving your novel away for free to drum up business. I’m on the fence. On the one hand, I did get a few sales as a result of my free weekend, and I realized that there was a demand for what I was offering. I made it up to #9 on the epic fantasy free list. It was visible. Was it worth it? I’m not 100% sure yet. Yes, I made money off of the offer, and I gained a lot of confidence from it. However, I don’t know if there was a better way to get my novel seen. Maybe these people would have purchased it if it wasn’t free, maybe not. The important thing here is that it’s an option. And an option where you don’t have to talk to a single soul. That’s always a plus.

Whether in your head, or on the street, you’re going to end up encountering the public in one way or another. I know how difficult it can be to venture outside your comfort zone when it comes to dealing with the outside world. Hopefully, this article provided you with some options to start promote your novel. We’ll work on being more outgoing later… Much later.