7 Quick and Dirty Worldbuilding Tips for Surviving NaNoWriMo

7 Quick and Dirty Tips to Survive NaNoWriMo

We’re already more than a week into the 50,000 word writing challenge madness that is NaNoWriMo, and that means that plots are picking up, rising actions are building, and characters are reacting to crises of conscience with all the subtlety and skill of a Walking Shovel of Death. It also means that your word count is probably behind, and you might soon be ready to start weeping in a corner.

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The Writer’s Voice Contest Entry | BETWIXT

Just informed that I got a place in the Writer’s Voice contest run by Brenda Drake & Co (more info here). So, the blog’s coming out of retirement, and I’m posting my query and the first 250 words of my middle grade contemporary fantasy novel, BETWIXT, both for the contest and for your reading pleasure 🙂

Enjoy!

DEAR AGENT,

In the small Appalachian town of Candle Creek, the boundaries are clear, yet Elsa Roberts still manages to get tangled in them. As a scholarship student at the prestigious Candle Creek Day School, the public schoolers at her church can’t trust her. At the private school, she’s been labeled “trouble” since the day she punched Izzy Whittaker in the glasses (even though Izzy deserved it). And it doesn’t matter how much Mamá tries to convince her otherwise; Elsa already knows that the kids of Candle Creek will never accept her as one of their own.

And so, she escapes her thirteenth birthday party, crossing a bridge into the wood beyond. There, she finds Aza, a spirit trapped by an ancient curse, who gives her the acceptance she has always craved, and who tells her that she can be a hero.

But the wood beyond is full of danger as well as wonder, and when Elsa sets out to slay a dragon and break an enchantment that threatens to destroy her family, she releases monsters that she never could have imagined. Caught between the dark forces of ancient magic and the very human monsters of Candle Creek, Elsa must find the power to reshape the boundaries of her world, or risk losing her place in it forever.

A middle grade novel that combines fantasy elements with the bittersweet realities of modern middle school, BETWIXT is a story about a girl growing up stuck between worlds, between communities, between histories. Complete at 70,000 words, it is available upon request.

Betwixt

1 | The Wood Beyond

Elsa Roberts was fleeing her birthday party.

She had to climb down the oak tree to do it. Her bedroom was in the attic of the house, three stories up, and the only way for her to escape the party unnoticed was to clamber over her window seat and onto the sill, her fingers clinging to the top of the window frame as she stepped across the two-and-a-half-foot gap to the oak tree’s nearest branch. In jeans and sneakers, it was a feat that made Elsa’s heart pound, no matter how many times she managed it.

Of course, she wasn’t wearing jeans or sneakers. She’d already put on her dress.

There was no time to change into anything more practical. She’d taken too long getting ready, and Mamá would soon come up to check on her. And so, with the late August breeze grabbing at her skirt and the branches trembling beneath her feet, she scrambled out her window and into the old oak, scuffing her shoes against the rough trunk as she lowered herself through the branches. She dropped into the backyard, pausing just long enough to catch a glimpse of the guests through the downstairs windows.

Elsa ducked behind the oak before anyone could think to look outside. At the other end of the yard, a weeping willow tree bent over the path into the woods: a path that led to the Candle Creek, to a bridge that Elsa had never dared to cross—

Not until today.

Montly Reading Wrap-Up | Jan-Feb 2014

Monthly Reading Wrap-Up | Featuring my past two months of reading, because I’ve been really bad at keeping up with it 😛 BUT, I have been reading quite a bit, and I’ve been reading some really awesome stuff. For one, I tore through the first two books of Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy–and I’ve also pre-ordered the final installment, because I have no words.

I also devoured A Darkness Strange and LovelySusan Dennard‘s sequel/middle act to the Something Strange and Deadly trilogy. As I’ve said before: Victorian-era zombies + steampunk? More please? Entwined by Heather Dixon was a present from home, a gothic-y retelling of the fairy tale of the Twelve Dancing Princesses that was super fun to read, and in Middle Grade, I started the Secret Series by Pseudonymous Bosch (you know, that guy) as well as a reread of the His Dark Materials trilogy. Over all, a lot of clockwork and airships this month.

Other reads this month, not in MG or YA:

Kindred by Octavia Bulter

Night Film by Marisha Pessl

Currently Reading

We believed them, even though we could see that what they were doing was wicked and evil and wrong…

Currently Re-Reading | The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman. Just finished my reread of this first book in the His Dark Materials Trilogy, and I need some time to be alone with my feelings and memories of my childhood.

My Week In Tropes | Feb 9th

This week has been a mess of editing, catching a stomach bug, getting insomnia, and scrambling madly to finish work for my contracts on time. But in terms of my writing, I’ve been working on fine tuning my world’s magic—with special focus on editing the scenes in which it’s involved.

Trope of the Week: Functional Magic

“As for what experimental theology was, Lyra had no more idea than the urchins. She had formed the notion that it was concerned with magic, with the movements of the stars and planets, with tiny particles of matter, but that was guesswork, really.”

–Philip Pullman: The Golden Compass

It’s a pretty safe assumption to say that, if you have magic in your fantasy novel, it’s probably going to actually be effective at doing something. However, the something can differ GREATLY between worlds.

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(Actually, those two are pretty similar: a spell that wards away dark, evil, scary things.)

In any case, I’m not going to talk a lot about how the magic in my world works (when the book ever actually comes out, you can read all about it!), but suffice to say that, though the magic in my novel is effective at doing a good many things, most of those things aren’t entirely flashy.

So, my focus this week was on making the magic in my world feel more… well… magically functional, without betraying its base conceits (which are really very simple, in comparison to the system that ends up being built on top of them).

Much of this work has taken the form of rethinking my descriptions of magic to make them stronger—and no, I don’t mean making flashy lights prettier or explosions bigger or lighting bolts clearer, because none of those apply. Rather, I’ve been focusing on how magic feels.

This may be something of a weakness in the functional magic trope—by focusing solely on the function of magic within the story world and the plot, the things that make magic, well, magical, can suffer. Now that I’ve found a couple touchstones to refer back to and ground my magic in the experience of my protagonist—to describe how it affects her, both physically and emotionally—it helps make the instances when spells are used both work in terms of the plot and the action, as well as create the emotional impact that I think is at the core of writing about magic in any world.