Category Archives: Playlist

This is all going to be stalling and animation, apparently

Fighting through a mild fever to transcribe as much handwritten stuff as possible while I’m home sick. Right now, that means plot ideas and research for THR3, short stories on the side, world-building encyclopedia entry-type stuff, and the eternal other-pen-name novel project.

Meanwhile, this has been stuck in my head for days:

Which means that this is also stuck in my head, from mournful string cross-pollination:

Actually, since I’m scrambling lately to meet my self-imposed quota of 500 words a day,* maybe I’ll finally spin off the swoony creepiness of “Perfection” to write a short about in-universe assassins. Been meaning to do that, just for fun.

* Writing itself isn’t hard most of the time; it’s just that I am between projects. I’ve finished everything I wanted to do with THH for now, and THR3 isn’t quite solidified yet. The challenge lies in what to write, not how much.

Dumping out buckets of ideas

It’s cold/flu season, I’m waiting on comments from the beta readers (no guilt, no rush, y’all), and I’m still trying to write 500 words a day with no plan or outline for what to write next. It’s one of those weeks.

Retro-style guitars? Retro-style guitars. 15 minutes of this and I’m ready to tackle some non-specific goal-type thing.

What I’m actually doing is a tentative wind-up for Agna’s Story part 3, if it will exist (I’m still not 100% convinced it “should”). It goes like this:

  • List the characters. Major to start with, then the supporting characters. Anybody. If they aren’t important, we’ll figure that out later.
  • What do these people want? Specifically, non-specifically. Even if they don’t know they want it (we have a lot of that in my stories). This includes avoidant “goals,” like “keep anyone from finding out my deadly secret.”
  • Are any of these goals mutually exclusive, or do they interfere with one another in any way? Across characters or within the same character. I want to be a world-class accordionist, but also the dictator of a small island nation, and I don’t have time/energy to do both.
  • Apart from mutual exclusivity as above, what might stop the characters from reaching these goals? People, situations or events.
    • Sometimes there really isn’t anything; this is just something they’re working toward. In that case, that goal is going to be just a backdrop. Ex. I’m trying to pay off my mortgage. I am steadily employed, so that isn’t in peril right now. I won’t make decisions that get in the way of that goal (like running off to join the circus), but it isn’t really something worth watching by itself. These goals are like guardrails; they mark out characters’ limits. They are not fun to watch all on their own, but they can exist in the background.
    • Personally, I have to watch out while playing around in this part of the process. If my moods are out of whack that day, I get too fatalistic and the exercise goes to hell in a handbasket.
  • How do we show these ideas happening? Ex. how do you express “this character wants to win a gold medal in curling”? Well, they might be getting up early to practice, or taking part in a regional championship, or taping up posters of past curling champions. This tends to look pretty dumb/obvious for starters. We’re brainstorming here.
  • Are there backdrops or feelings in the atmosphere, ex. is the town suffused with existential dread, is the local newspaper out to slander one of the characters? If so, what’s the idea being expressed, and who gets to be the spokesperson for that?

This is not “outlining” in the traditional sense, with “beats” and “pinch points” and “conflict” and, I don’t know, “technique.” It’s a matter of dumping out all the building blocks at once because I kinda want to build a castle, but I don’t have a castle kit, just a bucket of blocks.

The next step is to look for causality between all of those Things Happening, and arrange them so that the stakes get higher from beginning to end. I need more practice with that part.

If this is a Real Method, I don’t know what it is. Books I’ve liked so far, but haven’t had the discipline to follow to the letter, include:

Take Off Your Pants! Outline Your Books for Better, Faster Writing by Libbie Hawker

Rock Your Plot: A Simple System for Plotting Your Novel by Cathy Yardley

And now we’re in “Spider Dance”; writing long blog posts is itself a from of procrastination. Off we go.

Friday Playlist: Microorganisms, magic, and mountains

Today’s soundtrack, unrelated to the post. Just something bouncy. (If anything, it’s on my soundtrack for the Academy. But I don’t know any songs about epidemiology and landscapes, which are the subjects of the post.)


And a couple of thoughts from this week.

Cool story, Professor Bro, but what about magic?

THR2 continues; lots of fun. Also getting lost in reading about the  history of medicine, and continuing to adapt it to the story-world by warping it through the lens of this world’s differences from ours. For starters, magic is a thing; how does that change history?

For one quick instance, in real life, there was a very long stretch of time in which we knew that germs/microorganisms existed, but we didn’t know that some of them were responsible for the spread of diseases. Most people believed that diseases were caused by bad smells, in what was known as the miasma theory. Being around open sewers made people sick; open sewers stank; obviously the stink was what caused the disease. Discovery is often about explaining what you can see with the technology you have at the time, and more importantly in practice, fitting it into the structure of ideas that people already have.

In the story-world, because they already use magic to heal people, they tend to shoehorn a lot of new discoveries about biology and anatomy into a framework of ideas explained by magic – even if magic isn’t related to the topic in question. But they don’t know that; all they know is what they’ve observed so far, and what people believe so far. According to the Church of the Divine Balance in particular, magic/life force is literally everywhere. Of course those wiggly bits you managed to spot under your new lenses are related to magic somehow. So they come up with an explanation that gels with what they believe about magic.

Less magic, more eye candy:

They’re still quite small, but I’ve opened up my scenery inspiration boards on Pinterest. So far, there are boards for Wildern, Vertal, Nessiny (the largest so far), Furon/the Islands, and I Don’t Know Where Yet, But This Is Cool, and I’d Like to Note It for Later. I’d like to work on a Kaveran Country board eventually, as well as cracking into Yanwei and at least one of the cities in Achusa. But since the main novel to take place in the Kaveran backcountry is already finished, I don’t want to get too sidetracked. That’s less “inspiration for me while writing” and more “fun side material for you while/after reading.”

(Caveat / disclaimer: Even if a location serves as visual inspiration for a location in the story, that doesn’t mean that its real-life culture is necessarily tied into the culture in the story. New Zealand is not Middle-Earth. Fiction is fiction. End disclaimer.)

If you prefer to keep your own mental image of things, that’s fine, too. If I ever get a character-based board together, I will keep that private for that very reason. Character mental images seem more deeply tied into the experience of a story, and having wrenches thrown into those works can be upsetting to a lot of people. On the other hand, it is interesting to me – and, I think, important – to realize the biases in the images we dream up for characters. As a writer, I think I can do better in portraying visuals; that’s an area I’m trying to improve.

It’s a fine line: I hope that others’ impressions of my characters are true to the spirit of the characters (ahem), but I can’t police their impressions, either.

Scenery, on the other hand, is less loaded, and I’m comfortable with sharing that. So that should be fun.

Friday Playlist: Whoa-oh-oh-oh, also names

It’s been over a month since the last Ingrid Michaelson entry on the Playlist.  *turns over “days since” sign’s digits*

There’s not a ton of stuff going on in the lyrics, but because of its tone and spirit, it’s been one of my Healertown Passage theme songs since the beginning. Hope! And things!

Didn’t do as much writing at Origins as I’d planned, though the story is still moving. Unexpectedly, I was a) walking A LOT (which is good) and b) playing a whole lot of board games. I look forward to losing several more hours to our own copy of Empire Builder shortly.

Two book-related splurges from the con: a copy of the City Designer expansion for Campaign Cartographer 3, and one of these letter d30s. Why? Well, I have banks of (northern) Nessinian names on hand, and I can throw together Yanweian names pretty easily, but Kaveran names, which are Standard Fantasy Phoneme Soup, not so much. So if I have a random new side character — or four of them, as in this last scene — I can roll up an initial or a Scrabble slate’s worth of letters and cobble together something that doesn’t sound too ridiculous. Hopefully.

And that’s how the sausage is made? Dice. Dice and calling everyone things like (dude) and (the young one) in the first draft, until I have time to name them. So very professional.

Friday Playlist: *twee whistling*

I don’t even care that all the Friday Playlists posts are on Thursday. What’s time, anyway?

This song is twee as hell, and it repeatedly sticks in my head. Finished an emotionally wringing infodump scene today (because… everything I write is emotionally wringing, even infodumps), so let’s have some twee.

After completing the plot outline for THR2 and talking about it with my Number One Forever Beta Reader, I decided it wasn’t my imagination that there are still enough dangling plot threads to fuel THR3 someday. Funny how that works out. Try to resolve some questions in the characters’ lives, and even if you answer those, you a) generate more questions and b) introduce more characters with questions in their lives. HELP.

And by “help” I mean “yay,” of course.

Friday Playlist: I am not taking this seriously enough

Every time I read about What I’m Supposed to Be Doing as a Writer, I want to throw something through my monitor.  I give up, y’all, I’m just going to write the unclassifiable wordstuff that I write and you can all give yourselves hives trying to figure it out instead. Back to my story about bitchy mages and the bitchier bards who platonically love them.


This week I got to write in two characters I’ve been looking forward to writing for some time. They’re classmates of Agna’s who have been counting their days under contract, being overbearing know-it-alls and not bothering to learn anything about their host city. Hmm, sound familiar?

This song was also on my Unserious Extras playlist for The Healers’ Road, but it’s more apropos here. With a whole passel of healers on hand (that’s the scientific term, passel), a lot goes into considering what they can do and what they’re about to discover. Bear in mind that at this point in the story-world’s history, nobody knows what germs are, and yet (because of healing magic) they can reattach limbs like it’s no big deal. Fun fun.

Because this song is a giant knot of outdated medical terms, here are the lyrics.

Friday Playlist: Reason Left to Create

Repetition or not, I gotta go with this song this week. No more Go! Team for a while, I pinky-swear.

So far, my personal favorite on the new album is the closer, “Reason Left to Destroy,” but this one is pretty representative, and fits into this playlist thread better. (RLTD is a bit mopey for a Go! Team song, which is like saying “it’s slightly darker bright yellow.”) The Go! Team is in its Marching Band Meets Sesame Street mode through most of album, and the title track has a jangly, sparkly, weekend afternoon sound. As usual, the vocals are buried so far into the background that they’re hard to make out, so don’t worry about the lyrics so much.

There’s the hopeful song for today.

If my posts seem like a lost soul tacking desperately in one direction after another, that’s probably because that isn’t far from the truth. Life imitates art in that regard, in that the course of the series is now caught in a question of What You’re Supposed to Do vs. What You Want to Do.

What You’re Supposed to Do: Write a funnel book that will be cheap-or-free, appeal to a wide audience, and rope as many people as possible into the series, like a gateway drug. Ever wonder why there are so many perfectly cromulent free books on Amazon? It’s a universal marketing tactic, and it’s quite successful. (You’re supposed to write this first, but Agna and Keifon ran off with my motivation, so their book got done first.)

What I Want to Do: Follow the characters into the next phase of their lives, and play out a bunch of plot threads teased in the first book. (Yanweian politics and charming rabble-rousing ex-boyfriends, the tension between regions/cities in Kavera, the new hospital in Wildern and its effects on the growing frontier town, the fate of the Despana Agency after 200 years in Agna’s direct line of ancestry…)

I’m not demanding that the world want the same things I want, or buy it in droves, or even care. For my own stress levels, I’m going to stop trying to square this circle and just write some more circles.

I care about the backstories of these characters. There are pieces of the Academy years that I want to get into. But maybe not now, and maybe not as an introductory novel. Right now I’m thinking that Agna’s backstory can form a second-narrator thread in another book (backing up Rone or Esirel), or it can be bonus material, like the lore documents that I eventually plan to use that way.

THR2 now has the dorky working title Healer Town. And that sounds like a children’s TV series, so a proper title is TBD. It and the second-pen-name rewrites are the priority this summer.