Learning All the Wrong Lessons


My homework was never quite like this.

Not that we’re bloodthirsty or anything, but we sure like ourselves a good character death.  We’ve talked here before about when it’s appropriate, and sometimes even necessary, to kill characters.

Just in case you don’t feel like clicking on those links, our three rules for offing a character are as follows:

1) Would it be intellectually dishonest not to kill the character?

2) Is it dramatically the right choice?

3) Does the character dying have interesting repercussions for those left alive?

One of the examples we used to show the proper killing of a character was Ned Stark from Game of Thrones.  As S wrote:

It would be incredibly dishonest and make the mighty Lannisters look incredibly weak if Ned Stark fails to die. And the drama in that moment is heart wrenching. Plus, so much of what matters in the moment of his death is how it will change the lives of his children, most importantly Robb. Everything about Ned Stark’s death accomplishes precisely what a writer (and reader/viewer) hopes it will.

So Ned’s death was a great moment in the story, and a great moment in TV.  Unfortunately, as we were watching The 100 this past week, it occurred to us that other shows are learning exactly the wrong lesson from Game of Thrones.  Rather than learning that killing a character can drive the story and provide motivation for the characters, it appears as if the writers of The 100 learned that it’s really cool to just bump off characters randomly for shock value.

In what’s been called the show’s ongoing Hunger Games storyline, characters like Jasper and Roan keep getting killed, not because there’s any logic or justification for it, but seemingly just because the writers want us to think “ZOMG!  They totally killed that guy!”  And then applaud them for their bold storytelling.  The worst part is the violation of the third of our rules: there are zero repercussions for anyone left alive, and in fact the other characters barely remember those who died at all.  But then again, that’s always been a problem for that show.  See, for example, poor old…oh, what’s his name?  It’s on the tip of my tongue.

Oh yes, Finn.


Remember when he was the love of Clarke’s life?  No?  Well, that’s okay.  Neither does Clarke. 

So that’s what’s been on our mind this week.  In other news, S just finished posting her latest fanfic series, and the feedback from readers has been very good.  So huzzah for her!  And I’m about ten chapters into my latest Myrciaverse book, which might hypothetically be a birthday present for someone who might hypothetically be S.

Yes, we write stories for each other for our birthdays.  It’s the unicorniest thing ever.  So I’ve got to get back to that.  In the meantime, let’s all hope The 100 figures out how to make character deaths count.  I mean, I’m not holding my breath, but it could happen.



The Long and the Short of It


my silly edit from Versailles

Last weekend I finished the longest solo work of my writing life. (J and I discussed that I’ve easily written 200K+ words of the Quartet on my own, but that’s not really a solo project.) It’s a Musketeers fanfic of limited appeal I started it back in July. It will never be widely read, and it took a boatload of time and effort to write, but I’m really glad I did it. I think it’s quite good, which is something I almost never say about my own writing. I’m, frankly, crazy proud of it. I’m still in the process of posting it for the rest of the world to see, so it’s not out of my life yet, but the blood and tears have been shed, and it’s time to think about what’s next.

Returning to the pattern I had going about this time last year, I think I’m going to juggle multiple projects, at least until one insists upon itself and demands my full attention. Some of it’s going to be original fiction, some is going to be fanfic, and some of it will be Myrcia ‘verse. It’s going to be a mix of short and long pieces, with a healthy dose of outlining thrown in.

The Swift True Road/Mercenary stories

This is my Italian Renaissance mercenary novel I started back for NaNoWriMo.  I never felt truly comfortable with the setting, and my outline is a giant mess, and I was trying to squeeze way too much into one novel. Dropping it was one of the best choices I ever made. But I do want to get back to it, and this time I want to do it right. I asked J for advice, and he came up with something I wasn’t expecting.

Write short stories.

“Huh?” I thought as I tried to figure out how that was going to fix my novel, but then he explained. Since part of my problem was not feeling comfortable in the world, J suggested I write some short stories, almost like character prompts. I should focus on one character and a part of the setting I need to understand better, and just write that. Once I’ve written, for instance, Francesco’s first night in camp as a mercenary, I’ll know more about that character and how mercenary camps work. (It also helps focus my research, so I’m not “GAH! Must know entire Renaissance world!”) I want to write at least one story for each of my named characters, so I’m thinking that perhaps after a dozen or so of these, I’ll be ready to dive back into restructuring the novel. And I’ll have a nice little collection of short stories I might look into posting somewhere.

Two Shots of Bourbon/Versailles fanfic

I think I’m about to dive into a new fandom with my fanfic—Versailles. I mentioned the show briefly  after we finished watching Season 1 the first time, and since then my obsession with the show has just grown. I’m particularly interested in the brothers at the center of the show, Louis XIV and Philippe I, Duke of Orleans. But as I’ve started outlining my first fanfic and toying with ideas, I’m finding myself a little hesitant for a lot of reasons. My biggest concern is getting Louis’s voice right. Chatting with the lovely Storyskein this morning, I mentioned that maybe I should do a one-shot from Louis’s POV before diving into the longer fic I have planned. In other words…

Write short stories.

I already have a one-shot piece in mind to write from Louis’s POV, after which switching to Philippe’s POV for a story would probably not go amiss. (Just because I’m not as nervous about getting his voice correct right now doesn’t mean I won’t be later if I skip practicing it now.) Also, a couple of short pieces would be a nice way to introduce myself to a new fandom. Plus, having just finished my longest work, I could probably use the mental change of something shorter.

Oleg Omdahl 4

When I’ll get around to actually writing this, who knows. I certainly won’t be ready for April Camp NaNoWriMo, but perhaps July Camp or NaNo proper in November. In any case, it’s never too early to start extreme outlining. I actually outlined Oleg 3 (Fiat Justitia) a year and a half before I wrote it, so there’s no reason I can’t get to work on this at any time J might be up to diving into it with me. (I will admit I really adore outlining with J. It’s one of my great joys in life.) I already know a lot of what I want to do in this one, it will just be a matter of filling in blanks.

And that’s what’s on my plate. And it looks really quite tasty. I’ll be sure to report back on how the short story theory works out.


It’s Not a Retcon Until You Hit “Publish”


Don’t zoom in unless you want spoilers!

Here at Unicorn HQ, we have a three-day weekend, which means plenty of time for writing projects.  At the moment, of course, we’re just sitting around drinking coffee, but we’ll get back to work later on.  Maybe after we go grocery shopping.  But rest assured, we’ll be hard at work sometime soon.

Last night, we worked on the outline for S’s latest fanfic saga.  Maybe at some point she’ll post some more about it, but for now all you need to know is that it’s a sort of romance story with a love triangle.  As originally conceived, it was all about the romance, though with just enough plot to explain how, at various points of the story, two of the three members of the triangle get into rather serious trouble.  (I can’t say how they get in trouble, because that would be a spoiler.)

So a few weeks ago, S started posting chapters of this fanfic at her favorite fanfic-publishing site.  And an odd thing happened.  It turned out that her readers were actually quite interested in the plot.  They liked her original characters and said they were looking forward to seeing what happened later.

You can see her problem now, can’t you?  The plot was never intended to be important.  It was just window dressing—an excuse to get the members of the love triangle in position (as it were) for their romance to blossom.  Now S suddenly realized that she really needed to flesh out the plot.  And that meant going back and outlining again.

We got out the butcher paper, rolled it out on the floor, and she wrote out a quick summary of each chapter.  Then we went through, figured out where the plotting and political intrigue could be expanded, and wrote it in with a pencil.  After that, we did some quick character profiles for some of her original characters.  In the story as originally written, these people barely showed up.  But if they’re going to become a bit more important, S needs to know what they look like, where they’re from, and what their motivations are.

This kind of re-outlining is always a bit tricky.  When you write a scene, it hopefully has a certain flow or rhythm to it.  So it’s not always easy to find places to add new information.  Let’s say you have a scene where Susan and Bob are talking about their friend Frank.  And in your new outline, you’ve decided (for some reason) that it’s really important to find some way to mention that Susan and Frank went to college together.  Maybe that could be entirely straightforward—rather than telling a story about something stupid Frank did at last year’s office Christmas party, you can just change that so it’s a story about something Frank did at a frat party in college.  Bingo—you’ve got that information into the scene for the reader to see, and almost nothing had to change.

Sometimes, though, you’re left pulling your hair and banging your head against the keyboard, thinking, “There’s no where to put it!  There’s no reason why Susan’s college years would ever come up in this conversation!”  Now you’re faced with either rewriting the conversation from scratch, or writing a new scene.  Which means more outlining, of course.

But that’s what you have to do, and that’s what we’re up to this weekend.  Also, I’m still working my way through the reference guide that I’m writing about the main city in the Myrciaverse.  Last night I invented a number of markets and shopping districts.  It’s good fun.  Just the thing for a cold winter afternoon.


Time Management


Did you remember to set your clocks back? (The astronomical clock in Prague. Our picture.)

I was all excited when I started NaNoWriMo this year with how together I was. I used October to not only to do my outline and research, but I finished up a couple of other writing projects so they wouldn’t be looming over my head all month. Next year, though, could someone please remind me that I need to write a couple of blog posts in October as well? There’s nothing like being behind on your NaNo novel and waking up in a cold sweat because it’s also your day to blog.

But, I did get an extra hour this morning, because I forgot to set the clocks back, so I can ramble at you all for a few minutes about what’s currently bothering me with my NaNo novel, which I titled The Swift True Road. (It’s a line from Petrarch, which suits my well-read Renaissance characters.) The characters and some of the incidents are based on a fanfic I wrote, and I just hit one of the scenes that I figured I could use from my fanfic. Obviously, I always knew I would need to make some changes, because they aren’t the exact same characters, and I was changing the POV of the scene. But when I started to write it yesterday, I realized I had a problem.

I wrote the scene better the first time.

There was a reason I chose the POV I did in the fanfic. And the setup there was so much easier, because I didn’t have to explain who the characters were or why they would be interested in one another. A lovely friend on Twitter tried valiantly to talk me through my despair last night, as did J, and I think what they helped me see is that my instincts were right when I planned this chapter—this is the story I need to tell and this is the POV I need to tell it from. I need to figure out how to make it work.

So, today, I’m going to push my way through this chapter, no matter what. It may suck, but that’s a problem for December me.


Satisfying Partnerships

satisfied grin

My silly edit from The Musketeers and a representation of what coauthoring should look like at the end of the day.

Thanks to a fanfic I posted a few weeks ago, I have now officially coauthored fiction with two different people: J and a lovely woman I shall call Max. I always felt as though whatever alchemy allows J and I to write happily together might not necessarily allow me to write with someone else, but now that I have, I think I’ve learned some tips that apply to any coauthoring situation.

Have a Plan
Even before J and I started outlining obsessively, we had a plan for the entire Quartet worked out in an Excel spreadsheet. It allowed us to know what happened in relation to everything else, which we quickly learned was vital if we were going to be writing at the same time. For instance, before the spreadsheet, we both introduced the same character multiple times. Yes, coauthoring is almost always going to mean spending a little extra time in revision to smooth over the rough patches, but once we had even a rough order of events, we stopped wasting a lot of time doing the same thing.

With Max, I wrote what’s called a 5 Times story, meaning there are 6 vignettes that are tied together. Once we had the progression of those 6 scenes figured out and each claimed 3 of them to write, we were able to get started with some assurance that we knew where we were going and could be writing simultaneously. We still had some details to decide on, but we had enough to begin without fear that we would be stepping all over each other’s toes.

Update Regularly
If your writing partner is going to be relying on you to write Susan’s character introduction, and that introduction is going to inform your coauthor’s section, you need to get Susan’s first scene written and shared in whatever fashion you’ve decided. J and I share OneDrive folders for the Myrcia ‘verse, and Max and I had a Google Doc where everything—outline and chapters—went. It was vital that we put our finished chapters in the Google Doc for the other to see and comment on, again to keep us on the same page. (J and I don’t use comment features much since we’re usually sitting right next to each other, but we have been known to bust those out in Word on occasion.) Point being, get your part written and don’t forget to get it to the other person in a timely manner.

Make the Important Decisions Together
J and I have killed a lot of characters. We’ve surprised the reader with twists. We’ve waged battles and thrown a fair few characters into bed together. And we made all of those big choices together. Or, at the very least, if we wrote a fundamental change to a character without asking the other first, we always did so knowing the other had veto power, and we might be rewriting.

With Max, we didn’t kill anyone, just threw two characters into bed. But since the whole point was to get them into bed together over the course of 6 chapters, we certainly talked about the best way to build from initial attraction in Chapter 1 to penetrative sex in Chapter 6. So, what got touched, kissed, licked, or petted was something we decided together.

Be Willing to Change
Did I mention that sometimes you might still need to change things no matter how much time you spend discussing it beforehand? For instance, in the story I wrote with Max, I wrote the even number chapters and she wrote the odd. I started work on chapter 4 before she wrote Chapter 3, and I had the POV character remembering something very specific from Chapter 3. When I showed this to Max, I did so with the understanding that if she couldn’t work that in elegantly to Chapter 3, I would take it out. Lovely coauthor that she is, she changed her plan to add what I had referenced. With J this happens infrequently because we share a brain.

An Agreed upon Referee
So, you’ve coauthored your thing. Now you need someone else to read it. J and I have a mutual best friend who is an incredibly astute reader who is incredibly mean and we trust completely. Without her to step in and say, “This sucks. Fix it,” I don’t know what we’d do. With Max, we needed someone to read through for consistency and grammar, and bless Max for being trusting, we had J look at our story for us. He did an awesome job and we were both pleased with the result. As were our readers.

So, go forth and find someone to write with. It has the benefit of making you accountable to someone else, and providing you with a partner to help out when you get stuck. I honestly don’t understand how people write completely alone.



Fanfiction: The Stigma and the Literary Value

Hey readers,

As you know, I’ve spent the last year pretty immersed in fanfic, and I really rather like this post on the topic, and I wanted to share. Hope you enjoy!


Fanfiction opens community discussions of deeper metacognition than I have ever seen anywhere else. People have gone into deeper psychological and deconstructive analyses than I have ever encountered…

Source: Fanfiction: The Stigma and the Literary Value

The End

the end

My silly edit from The Musketeers.

It’s the last day of Camp NaNoWriMo, and J and I have both gone well past our goals for the month. J is somewhere in the 6 digits, and I officially have over 34,000 words typed up, but more still lingering in my journal, and I plan to write more today. (My Camp goal was 25,000, so, yes, I “won” by Camp standards.) I think we can both leave Camp satisfied with the work we’ve done.

Because it really has been a productive month for me. I did some work on my modern romance novel, although, I will admit, I would have liked to do more. But I got distracted by two fanfics. One was a brand new idea I got this month, and I just had to run with it. I’ve written 12 chapters in it and have a solid outline for the rest. (I’d say I’m not quite half way yet.) I foresee some serious revision down the road, but this one is really writing itself. More than anything, I’m not further along because of lack of time.

The other fanfic, which I’m hoping to finish up today, is one I’m coauthoring with a friend. It’s been an interesting experience collaborating with someone other than J, and it’s gone well. I think the key to working with someone else is having an outline ahead of time so both parties can be working at the same time with minimal revision later on to smooth over the rough patches. But there will always be some inconsistencies that need worked out in “post,” as it were, even when you write alone. J, bless him, has agreed to read through it for us for continuity, and I have real hope it will be a well-received story.

And that has been my Camp. Between now and the NaNoWriMo in November, I hope to finish some stuff. I’ve got the fanfic and the novel I worked on this month, but I also still have the third Oleg Omdahl novel lingering unfinished from last November. And, of course, I’ll have to start planning and outlining for this November. Not sure yet what I’ll do. I have pretty solid ideas for Oleg Omdahl 4 and 5, so perhaps Oleg 4. Or something completely different in the Myrcia ‘verse. Who knows. But we’ll be sure to keep you updated!


I’m Late!


Lewis Carroll has been on the mind thanks to Philosofishal, a fellow local WriMo.

What can I say but that I’m running late for another write-in with my local NaNoWriMo group. My Camp NaNo is actually going great. I did some excellent work on my modern novel, The Sorrow Thereof, before I got a crazy idea for a new fanfic. Of course, the original idea was for what we call a one-shot in the fanfic world, meaning it was supposed to be short and self-contained. Then I got another idea, couldn’t figure out how on earth the scenario I had playing in my head could actually work, and then realized that what I needed was a bridge scene between my one-shot and my new idea, and I could put them together in one story. And as long as I was doing that, I thought I should maybe outline a little, give it an actual story instead of making it Porn Without Plot, and the next thing I know, I’m knee deep in a project I have outlined to run at least 18 chapters. But I’m absolutely in love with the story, and the drafting is just flying by, so I’m alright with everything I decided.

I try not to actually cross-contaminate, as it were, the work I do as part of JS Mawdsley with my fanfic, which I write under a completely different pseudonym, but when I finish this story up (which doesn’t have a title yet), I may make an exception. Some fellow fanfic authors who I’ve been chatting with lately about our processes have shown some interest in mine, so I’m trying to be more careful than usual documenting just how I go about writing so I can share the complete beginning to end process I go through with them when I’m finally ready to publish my story on AO3. If I think it’s of genuine value, I just might share it here as well.



A-Camping We Will Go

Milady ring

Milady wins the camp scavenger hunt.

Team Unicorn is still at camp this week.  S has been working on The Sorrow Thereof, her novel set in Cleveland and Chapel Hill.  And she just recently got a new idea for a Musketeers fanfic starring Athos and Milady de Winter, which she’s hoping to get started today.  Perhaps she’ll write more later about what she’s been up to.

I’m plugging away at my latest Myrciaverse novel, Joint Command.  It takes place immediately after one of the chapters of My Private War, involving many minor characters from that story, and it required a lot of pretty intensive outlining, just to make sure that I knew who was there and who wasn’t, and which characters already knew each other, and which ones are meeting for the first time.

There are definite benefits to this—I’m writing about characters I already know, for example, and I don’t need to spend much time figuring out who they are.  But there are problems, too.  For example, once I’d figured out which characters could possibly be around, and I’d identified the ones that would be most interesting for my main character to meet, I looked at my outline and discovered I had my heroine meeting three women in two pages, all of whom had names starting with the letters, “MA”: Marcella, Maedea, and Martina.  And the last two are pretty important in the story.

That’s the sort of thing you’d never do if you were able to start picking character names from scratch.  But there’s no way around it, other than to give them nicknames or codenames or something.  I’ll figure out a solution when I revise the novel.

Anyway, our Camp NaNo meeting is getting started, so it’s time for me to get writing in earnest.


Home from Camp!


Hey everyone!

S and I are back from camp, and once again, Team Unicorn is a winner: I wrote 149,156 words, finishing my newest novel, Written In Sand.  And S wrote 40,551 words spread among five different writing projects.  Of those, she completed three, including a 20,000-word fanfic.  So we both met our word-count goals for the month, and we’re both pretty happy with how our writing turned out.

Metaphorically speaking, we’re still unpacking our macrame art projects and still-damp swimsuits.  So we don’t have a real blog for you today.  What we do have, however, is a much-needed update to our page about “The Myrcia ‘Verse.”  Talking to one of our writer friends last night, at our last local write-in of the month, I realized that I hadn’t updated that page since last August, and that since then, I’ve written four books.  (This brings our collective total up to 28 3/4.)

So go check out that page, where you will discover such wonders as “epic banking” and the fusion of Mad Max and Juno.

We promise we’ll have a real blog again soon.  Probably.