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On the Subconscious

Anne Rie House selfie
Quick aside — me in front of Anne Rice’s house where she wrote The Witching Hour! October, 2016

Several months ago my mother and I were chatting about Anne Rice (whose series The Witching Hour we both adore), and she asked me this question: How, as a writer, do you possibly come up with such complicated worlds, characters, and plots?

I’m sure I gave some bland answer about working at it, or using character reference sheets, but I’ve been thinking more intensely lately about the creation process, especially as it comes to getting to know characters.

For context, at the time I started this blog post (the end of September) I was hard at work on Nameless drafting, after the last post’s announcement that I’d cut an unholy number of words from the manuscript. Many thousands of those words have made their way back in, so it’s not as drastic as I first thought, but the new chapters are filling me with all sorts of emotions. The over-arching one is wonder. I’m actually enjoying working on this book again, and creating new emotional plot beats that take this middle part to a new depth.

And yet I struggle. It’s an enjoyable struggle, and thus I’m fascinated by it. With each new chapter from the male character’s perspective, I end up outlining and ‘sketching’ about five different ways the scenes could go, trying to find the one plot line that feels the most exciting and true. I’ve found the abstract emotions; now I’m trying to translate them onto the page, and it’s just bloody difficult.

Why is that?

Why can one book, like The Cobworld, or Shotgun Girl, proceed at a lickety split pace, and if I need to tear it apart in edits afterward the pieces can mostly be reshuffled and re-stitched without significant damage to the overall emotional arc? But Nameless is definitely not a Team Shitty First Draft Novel. If I try to skip ahead, I lose the magic. Instead I have to build on what came before, molding emotions and editing scenes until they’re as right as I can make them for now. Then I can move on to the next thing.

It got me thinking about subconsciousness, and how it influences the building of a story.

We’ve all  heard some writers say they literally hear voices, or have a character show up and start speaking to them as if telepathically communicating. We all slip into this language, talking about our characters ‘complaining’ or saying how they want to go off in different directions than we planned.

How is this possible? How can what are entirely figments of our imagination get so far out of our control?

I think it comes down to this: Characters are a creation from our subconscious, but our conscious minds treat them like people we actually know. We know what they’d do or say about as well as we’d know the words or actions of a close friend or family member, in a given situation. You know what your best friend will find funny, what will make your significant other scrunch up their face, what gift will bring your parent the most joy. We don’t have telepathy, but we know them, by learning their patterns and habits over time. We can predict them.

Character creation works the same way. Our subconscious, trained to generate characters, plots, story emotions, etc., pushes forward someone for our conscious mind to meet. We get a sense of them, a vague sort of understanding of their energy, and we go from there. We pick names from baby books, we start fleshing out a family, and a mission, and a passion. We might try communing with our subconscious by filling out character interview questions. What’s your character’s favorite food? An automatic answer might pop up — blueberries!

Sometimes you can calculate a character, design them like building a house, and form them to the exact plot/theme you need. Perhaps some of the greats did that, but I don’t, and I think a lot of contemporary writers don’t either. We rely on our subconscious instead, teasing out details based on the mishmash stew of everything we’ve ever fed it, from real-life interactions, to the media we’ve consumed, to the thoughts we think.

When I struggle with a character’s actions, usually what I’m running up against is my conscious mind trying to make the character act in a way my subconscious says doesn’t ring true. This behavior doesn’t match the patterns I’ve been collecting and analyzing your whole life, is what my subconscious would say. So I’m gonna go ahead and make being creative really difficult for you until you figure out your mistake and listen to me.

So there you have it. Characters are amalgams of real people and their patterns of behavior, mixed up and repackaged. We both invented them and can increase our knowledge of them, conscious and subconscious minds passing information and instinct back and forth. Writers are both the creators and consumers of their media.

Now the only question remaining is where exactly ‘creativity’ comes from, but that’s a little out of my depth for now :-)

Since we last spoke I’ve switched back to working on Shotgun Girl, but it’s been slow going. I haven’t been feeling so great mentally here lately, probably due to the stress of working and going to school full time, plus writing, plus the other stresses and dramas of daily life. Today is the first day I feel like ‘myself’ in a few weeks, and I had a lovely session at the cafe this morning tearing apart and remaking the opening for Shotgun Girl. Wish me luck on continuing edits!

Here are some more pictures from when I took my sister to New Orleans at the end of October!

Miss Robicheaux's Academy where they filmed American Horror Story: Coven!
Miss Robicheaux’s Academy where they filmed American Horror Story: Coven!
Toms at Lafayette Cemetery. I highly recommend the Two Chicks Walking tour through the Garden District.
Toms at Lafayette Cemetery. I highly recommend the Two Chicks Walking tour through the Garden District.
Cemetery Wall
The inner wall of Lafayette Cemetery

PS: Got some cool media things happening in the next month or so that I can’t wait to share with you!

<3,

Savannah

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Defining Yourself by Work, not Success

These tidbits from the February 2016 Nelson Literary Agency Newsletter (not my agency but their newsletters are great!) really struck a chord with me:

Your Writing Should Not Be Your Main Source of Validation For Who You Are as a Person – Kristin Nelson

I think this can be the most debilitating mistakes an aspiring writer can make. There be dragons if you start down this mental path.

But here is the reason you need to start thinking like an agent and less like a writer when it comes to submitting your material. If someone passes on your work, that rejection is not a commentary on your qualities as a human being. In a lot of instances, it’s not even a commentary on your ability or talent as a writer!

No matter what an industry person’s response is to your written work, your writing is only one facet of who you are as a human being. Don’t make it everything, or you may lose your joy of writing and find the whole business very depressing indeed.

Ms. Nelson’s article is inspiring and reassuring, but I have a different perspective on her ultimate conclusion. Writing absolutely defines who I am–but my writing career does not, and the difference is an important one.

I used to define myself by my ‘career.’ Ever since I decided in fourth grade I was going to be a writer (abandoning dreams of ‘flying’ as an astronaut), I judged myself by my talents. For many years I was thankfully blind to my faults due to the attention I received from friends and English teachers. I say ‘thankfully’ because if I knew how bad I truly was I might not have written so much or dared to dream so big. And in high school it was fairly easy to shine–I even had an article published in TeenInk which bolstered my cockiness significantly, not to mention the medium-sized but sincere following at Fictionpress for Nameless.

Although it hurt my ego not to have a novel published while still a teenager, like my imaginary rival Christopher Paolini, I did sign with my agent at age 19 and that was a comfort. But even as my understanding of my weaknesses increased, so did my expectation that my worth was defined by my ‘success.’ And for the first year of having an agent, that was good enough. But selling a book just sort of… kept… not… happening. Around me, friends and colleagues were signing deals left and right. But it didn’t happen for me.

I’m on the far side of my twenties now. Still a baby, to most! But my perspective is a lot different than when I was on the other side. At the time, it seemed like there was no tomorrow. If I didn’t catch the debut circles of 2009… 2010… 2011…2012… Then I’d miss the boat entirely. No writing career. No success. Thanks for playing, goodbye.

Maybe it’s because I truly joined the industry in those years, and thought the writer circles I was aware of would be permanent and unchanging, that the big names of 2010 would be the big names for all time. That the incredible frenzy of debuting would always surround the new writers I’d come to know and admire.

But it doesn’t.

And slowly, my awareness expanded to realize that despite how it felt, writing isn’t a race. It’s a marathon. And you’re not really competing against anyone but yourself. Sure, you can see the other runners’ times if you want to, but the only marker for success is the one you place for yourself. Look, I’m 6’2. I weigh 200+ pounds. I’ll never be able to sprint along at an eight minute mile for miles at a time. But when I ran a single (12+ minute) mile without stopping for the first time in my life I was as proud as if I’d completed a full 26-mile marathon. For me, for my journey, that was a win.

Writing is the same. As Maggie Stiefvater put it, it’s not Maggie versus other writers, it’s Maggie versus Maggie. I’m not trying to keep up with anyone else anymore, I’m simply trying to do the best I can in comparison to myself. The market–that’s out of my control. You know what isn’t?

Writing. I can’t stop telling myself stories. I can’t stop imagining new situations, characters, heartbreaks, exchanges. It’s part of who I am. I don’t have a book deal, but that hasn’t stopped me from working on the novels clamoring to break out of me. I would keep writing books my whole life even if I never sold one, because that’s me.

And I think it’s okay to define myself like that. I’m a writer. I’m not an author–yet–but you know what? That word never really did it for me. Writing is exciting. It’s a personal journey with a magnificent destination at the end. It’s a way to share the things that grow inside my mind–A truly bizarre concept, by the way. Why on earth do I feel the need to express these made up scenarios just to describe a fabricated sense of emotion I’ve never felt in real life but want to synthesize because it’s fun? No idea. But having the kind of mind that creates those abstract things, and honing my skills so I can better express them–that’s an irrevocable part of who I am.

As I learned more about yoga and meditation last year I realized that writing is my spiritual practice. It’s expression and self-improvement rolled into one. It is the art that compels me to improve myself in all aspects, and to pursue wisdom about life and being human.

Writing is the garden I work in. Bearing fruit will be satisfying, but that’s only a few minutes of sweetness. Do you think any reasonable person would put in all those months of labor just to eat a single, consumable piece of fruit at the end? No, they’d trot down to the store and buy it instead. But I’m not laboring for the moment of fruition. Not really. I’m doing it for the work itself, for the deep satisfaction of growing something, especially because sometimes that something is me.

And yes, part of my spiritual practice is to keep my eyes on my own paper and focus on writing the best book I can, and to not worry about the rest of it.

Savannah versus Savannah.

Savannah is winning.

As long as I keep writing.

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Writing Revelation: Specificity and Courage

I had a very interesting writing experience with Nameless the other day that I’d like to both record and explore with this blog post.

Side note: Yes, Nameless!!! I’ve turned in edits on The Cobworld and launched immediately into continuing with the new draft on Nameless, which I’d last delved into this past July. This summer I added around 4k words, and I’ve added an additional 7.5k this month, so the total manuscript is now around 65k. Only 35k more to go (and hopefully less)!

A few nights ago I wrote a scene I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. It’s an action sequence involving a lot of people in a large area, and a pivotal moment in the book. I’d been picturing it, and telling myself the story of how it would feel to read, but hadn’t given much thought to the actual words. (In hindsight that’s a warning from my subconscious: if I’m thinking in pictures instead of words, either the scene isn’t ready, or I need to do some hard work to figure out the facts.)

And so, I wrote a thousand words describing what happened. Lots of movement, large groups of people, very little dialogue. It was more describing a flow of movement and crowd reactions versus what was going on with individual characters. I meant it to be sweeping, to have momentum.

It sucked.

I did a thing I’ve done lots of times over the years: I rush past details in an effort to trick the reader. I use long sentences, and gloss over descriptions. It feels like performing on a burning stage, dancing and singing as fast and as loud as I can to distract the audience from the catastrophe that’s really going on.

this is fine dog
Accurate description of my problem.

The writing isn’t technically bad. The sentences are formed correctly. Nothing is purple or over-the-top. But if I had to re-read it I would cringe because I know it’s the equivalent of being super loud and outgoing at a party because you’re afraid no one will like you.

And for years, I’d let this bad writing stay. It technically accomplishes its purpose, and it allows me to move on and finish the book, but eventually some brilliant person will come along behind me and say, “This isn’t working.” Then I’ll have to go figure out what it is I hate about this scene so much and why I’m struggling so hard.

And I finally figured out the universal truth of why.

One of the pieces of writing advice I try to follow is: When in doubt, go slower, not faster. This has helped snap me out of the above scenario in the past, but only sometimes. I recognized that I felt better about the writing when I slowed down and examined the character’s thoughts and actions, but it wasn’t quite the universal truth I needed.

26308619Then recently I read The Anatomy of Curiosity by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, and Brenna Yovanoff. The book contains one short story by each author, with notes detailing their writing process and explanations for the choices they made in the writing process.

Something Maggie Stiefvater (whom I adore) said really stuck with me. It’s something to the effect of, “If I could be the fairy godmother to all new writers, I would whisper in their ears, ‘Be specific!'”

It is specificity that makes good writing. Anyone can describe a person. A good writer will point out the specific things about them that make them interesting. Anyone can write a scene like I did, wide and detached and from 20,000 feet. It is the up-close, micro-view that compels.

This ties in with another lesson I learned over the course of editing The Cobworld: I don’t have a problem with killing  my darlings. I have a problem with deleting bad or mediocre scenes because I’m afraid I can’t replace them with something better.

Specificity and Courage: my two antidotes to that terrible, squicky feeling of trying really hard to disguise bad writing.

So when that revelation barreled into me at a thousand miles per hour, I realized how to fix my bad scene. It’s not as simple as going slower and not faster. It’s about showing the reader how significant that scene really is, by getting very specific with the emotions and actions of the characters living it

And the ridiculous part is, I didn’t even consider how all this action was affecting my point of view character. I was so preoccupied with explaining the vast movement I didn’t think about all the super exciting things I could say about how it felt. Because there are exciting things to say.

I can’t wait to write them down.

Some housekeeping:

I’ve decided to save Fave Five posts for months when I have nothing new to report. If you see one it means I’m still writing, but don’t have any exciting revelations or personal news to share. I mean, this was a big moment for me recently:

 

<3,

Savannah

(Psst: Here’s a video of my gorgeous/hilarious Bella dog playing in the snow. Because I care about your happiness.)

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On Being INTJ

Growing up, I knew I was different. Not different in a good, quirky way, but different in a bad way. I couldn’t make friends. Music made me feel depressed and anxious. I could only take interaction with non-family members for so long before, again, I became depressed and anxious, overwhelmed with the violation of emotions that weren’t my own. I had no understanding of nuance and exceptions; things were or they weren’t and my emotional intelligence was so underdeveloped I could be quite mean, not understanding how my words affected others. Pretty ironic for a writer, huh?

I recognized my failures to be a normal kid but couldn’t understand why it was so. I remember in sophomore Psychology class the teacher asked us what we wanted to get from our experience in the class, and my answer was, ‘how normal people think.’ One girl repeated my words with offense, ‘normal people?!’ and I just looked away, because I knew: I was different, and I couldn’t explain how. No one could, not my friends who accused me of being exhausting and close-minded (they were right), and not the psychologists who just looked at me blankly while I tried to explain my thoughts.

Something was different, something was missing. As a method of self-defense, at times I wore my difference as a badge of pride, even if only internally, though if I’m being honest it always hurt. Still, this self-deception caused me numerous problems as a teenager and it’s only been in the last few years that I’ve been able to let go of it.

Continue reading “On Being INTJ”

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On Being an Older Sister

I have two sisters. One is 3 years younger than me, and one is 10 years younger. I call them my Middle and my Youngest sister.

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Here’s the most recent picture I have of us (Middle on the right, Youngest on the left), and here’s one from last year where we’re flipping our hair like we’re related or something.

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My Middle Sister and I exist on opposite sides of the family spectrum. She has the body type of all our Foley cousins, and physically I’m more on my mother’s side of things. She’s an extrovert, I’m an introvert. She’s more mainstream culture and I’m more indie. She follows trends and I stare at them in bafflement. My parents got one of each and then a compromise, because my Youngest Sister is an exact split between us.

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Here’s me and Youngest Sister on the plane to New Zealand last month.

Continue reading “On Being an Older Sister”

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The Morality of Villain Writing

“Every villain is the hero in their own minds.”

I believe in writing villains that are shades of gray. I want the reader to empathize with the perspective of the villain, and choose the hero’s side anyway — to me that empathy adds depth to the story and makes the villain more realistic.

Moreover, I feel that in certain circumstances creating an entirely evil character is irresponsible. Here’s why:

Continue reading “The Morality of Villain Writing”

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Things I’ve Learned After 9.5 Years of Writing

This is my list of things I’ve learned about writing that I didn’t know the first time I wrote a book:

Sleep is paramount. I’ve learned the hard way that not enough sleep equals absolutely no energy to be creative with. If I want to write after work, I must have slept well the night before.

Reading feeds your subconscious. Where does writing come from? The subconscious. You have to feed yours if you want it to spit out amazing ideas. I’ve learned that if I don’t read new work consistently I sputter into non-creativity.

You must be true to the vision, not the words themselves. This is a tough lesson for every writer to learn, but eventually you do learn that your words are not sacred. And yes, you will have to kill your darlings. You will have to swallow the fact that your readers all agree a certain scene or phrasing isn’t working for them, and give up the individual words to make the brain-picture you desire come across clearer.

Speaking of readers, let me quote this article about John Green where he says, “We must strike down the insidious lie that a book is the creation of an individual soul labouring in isolation.” Everyone gets edited. Even presidents. Even the Pope. Even best-sellers. Even Stephen King. We all NEED editing because of the blindness in our own brains.  We cannot create gold in the darkness. We need the light of other peoples’ eyes to make a great book. Good critique partners will improve your work every time.

I have also learned that people who love books but don’t have any publishing knowledge don’t make the best critique partners. Use people who know about selling books, not just reading them.

You should know acceptable manuscript lengths, and chapter lengths, BEFORE you start writing.

I was fine with being a pantser when I was younger, but now that my writing time is shorter and I’m more focused on creating a sellable product, I’m definitely a plotter. I want to make sure the story works, and is marketable, before I put hundreds of hours of effort into it.

If I can’t envision the first scene, the story probably won’t work out. This is something it actually took me 9.5 years to figure out. For all of the books I actually finished, I had a definite starting point in mind. For all the ideas that are glorious but occur midway through the story, I never actually figure out how to write.

Essentially, if I’m thinking of the book in sentences, we’re good to go. If I only have pictures in my mind, it’s a dead end.

Trust your instincts. If you get advice that doesn’t resonate, don’t take it. (Of course, sometimes you get advice you don’t LIKE, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t resonate.) If you get that suspicion your plot isn’t working, figure out why.

Let your characters tell you what they truly want, instead of trying to wedge them into your plot. Usually what they really want is far more interesting than what you had planned anyway.

Sometimes you have to be firm with your writing space and schedule, and not let anyone pull you away, and not give in to your own need for distractions.

Everyone works differently. You don’t have to be a word machine to be successful. You don’t have to write a 500-page worldbuilding document before you begin, although some find it helpful. You are not any other writer, and your path will not be the same.

There is no singular throne. No one has to be toppled for you to succeed. There is only your own glorious ascension ;-)

~~~

In personal news, I’m renovating my guest bedroom for when my BFF comes to visit for a week next month. I’m also finishing up the last edits on ACORAS (this battle scene was killing me omg). Other than that, I’m very boring right now.

What have you learned about writing that you didn’t know before your first book?

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My Struggle with Detail Minimalism and Self-Conscious Writing

Recently I decided I was finally ready to read On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta. You may remember Melina as the author of the beyond-amazing Finnikin of the Rock. I’d heard her other work was just as good, and so I didn’t immediately seek it out.

I wanted to save it. To savor it. I was totally right.

On the Jellicoe Road is one of those writer-altering books, and I will never be the same. But it made me look at my own writing and confront some problems I’ve noticed but never consciously verbalized: I over-explain. I’m self-conscious. And I believe in adverbs.

These problems manifest themselves in my dialogue. My characters tend to analyze each sentence someone speaks. Often times while writing I wonder ‘how in the heck do other writers do it?’ because it seems that if my character’s don’t ‘react’ then I’m being boring, but if they do react then I’m writing awkwardly.

I seem to feel compelled to add modifiers to almost each sentence as well. From describing what someone’s face is doing to how their voice reads. It only occurred to me recently to consciously delete that stuff out, but now I wonder if it will read as boring or vivid to the reader.

I believe in the power of writing as a form of telepathy, and I absolutely believe in the beauty of minimalism and letting readers fill in their own details. I also believe in ‘trusting’ the reader, yet still I struggle.

What is your philosophyHow do you balance the lure of explicit, lush detail with beauty through minimalism and the reader’s own vision? How do you combat self-consciousness yet maintain an emotive character?

I guess it’s time to return to beta readers to assure myself that I’m on the right track. Your thoughts, however, are always appreciated :-)

<3, Savannah

 

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Creating a Magic System, and the Philosophical, Economic, and Social Implications

I love magic. My greatest secret desire as a child was to suddenly discover I had magic powers. My best friend and I would spend hours in the woods trying to display some sign of magical talent. And yet nothing.

These days I do get to play with magic. It’s not mine, but I can feel the wonder and power of my characters. I won’t get all corny on you and say that imagination is magic, but… okay, maybe I will.

But using magic in my books has led to some conundrums I never considered when trying to develop powers of my own. As I’m doing more world-building for the sleeping beauty story I had to decide the parameters of my magic system to maintain consistency. Here are my thoughts, along with some notes from my actual world-building document:

What is magic?

Well? Is it a force? A particle? An element? A type of energy? Where does it come from? Is it finite or infinite? Is it always there, or just when a practitioner calls it? What could summon something like that? Why do words, or gestures, or certain ingredients have the power to bring forth magic?

I’m very interested in small particles, though I’d hesitate to say I’m interested in quantum mechanics, mostly because I don’t understand much of it. But thinking a lot about how physics works makes me want to strongly define precisely what magic is, where it comes from, and how it’s accessed.

What are the limits to magic?

Is magic limited by supply, or by the capabilities of the practitioner? If supply there’s not really a huge problem, but there need to be at least some limits to how much and how often a practitioner can use magic, and thirdly what magic is capable of. Consider it: If a magician could make literally anything imaginable out of thin air and never exhausted his or her powers, then literally all of society would crumble.

Nothing would have value anymore. The entire way our economy works would collapse. There would be no rulers, no servants. Anything you wanted would be yours. And there are philosophical implications to this as well. When you can have everything/anything you want… what’s the point in living? What do you have to strive for?

Side note: Star Trek introduced this concept with the Replicators, but never really examined how in reality the Replicators would have wiped out society pretty much as I described above.

In a more story-related sense, if your villain and hero are both infinitely powerful, who could ever possibly win?

There are several options for limiting magic when it comes to practitioner. Magic could take a toll on physical strength, or mental strength, or even a third ‘magical’ strength. There has to be some reason for a practitioner to have limits.

And there also have to be limits on WHO can be a practitioner, but that goes back to what exactly magic is, and how it is accessed.

What are the capabilities of magic?

I briefly mention this in the above section, but it bears its own section. We’ve talked about how magic can be limited in using it, but magic also needs limits in what results you get with it.

For example, in Harry Potter the students don’t seem to get particularly taxed by most spells (though some spells are harder to summon the proper will power for). And yet you can’t create matter out of nothing. All charming and transfiguring must be performed on already-existing matter.

Fairytales don’t usually talk about magical limitations, and yet there must be some. Otherwise all those witches and fairy godmothers could, once again, bring forth anything they liked at any time. Don’t tell me all those witches chose to stay ugly :-)

Can you use magic to go back in time? Raise the dead? Make someone immortal? Limitations must be set.

Are there different types or classes of magic?

This relates to what magic is and how it’s accessed, but let’s talk about it anyway. Going back to Harry Potter, there were different types of magic that the students studied… I think you could argue that Potions and Transfiguration were very different from each other. One used pure magic funneled through a wand, and the other created magical results by combining certain ingredients.

In Born Wicked, which I read recently, there’s regular magic and then thought magic, in which the practitioner can control the will and memories of the victim.

Will your story have classes of magic or just one type? Personally I feel that there needs to be an explanation for the difference between potions and regular magic, which, yet again, goes back to what you decide magic inherently is.

My Magic System in ACORAS

As promised, here are my world-building notes on magic in ACORAS :-) Some character names have been redacted.

Every single thing, from rocks to birds to trees, contain secret, magical functions. Items harmless on their own can create powerful potions when properly combined. When accessed through magic, the hidden functions of items can be utilized in creative ways. That’s why ‘eye of newt, leg of toad’ works.

Magic exists inherently in the world. It’s the miraculous side effect of everything that makes up the world; but primarily gravity and energy from the sun. As the world turns it churns out an endless bank of transferable energy that can be stored inside objects or people, and easily translated through magic users into new forms. Magic only dissipates when converted into a new item or function.

Worms, which live in the earth and consume it, act as magical amplifiers.

Some creatures, like witches and Fae, are conduits of this natural magic, and so the use of it does not exhaust them. Humans, on the other hand, are not good conduits of magic, and so few of them can use it. Even those who have had magic in their family for generations, like [name redacted], cannot easily renew their supply, though they can spend it as good as any Fae. The ability to carry and use magic is transferred in the blood.

Blood, as a carrier of life force, is the ultimate binding agent for magic. That’s how non-magical beings can make magical deals, if sealed with their blood.

Limitations on Magic:

Magic cannot create something out of nothing. Also, something cannot be formed out of pure magic. It must have another object to react with. A practiced practitioner will use their own flesh, hair, or blood in a pinch, especially because their bodies are greater conduits. Example: Rowan can create straw from snow, but could not make straw out of nothing. Hay is a very simple creation; more complicated creations would take more matter and energy.

Because magic, unlike regular energy, doesn’t dissipate until used, magic can be locked into an endless loop of power, binding the subject to certain rules. Magic can be locked to abstract things, such as words, creating spells. Anyone with magic capability can say the words to a spell and the magic locked into that combination of words acts like a computer program, running the user’s own magic through a process and spitting out the desired result.

For example, Silaine performs a blood binding on [name redacted]. This particular spell requires the blood of both participants, and then binds the subject to the practitioner’s very life force. [name redacted] is inseparable from Silaine because their own existence has been fused with hers.

Creating new spells is very difficult, and requires lots of blood. This is why the practitioners of old were so feared and often reviled, because they sacrificed many people for their power.

Does that make you want to read my book more than ever? :-) I’m working hard, guys, don’t worry.

Other fascinating magical systems I’ve read about:

Sabriel: Magic bells? Um, yes! Sabriel gets to use different bells for different functions within Death. It’s an absolutely unique and beautiful magical system.

Alphabet of Thorn: This one had two I really liked. The first was the magic contained in written language that spell-bound the reader. The second was something I absolutely loved and was envious of – the magic the students have to practice in the forest. The wizards at the school were given multiple magical tests and had to think their way out of them. Each test was a magical brain puzzle, and I loved it!

Finnikin of the Rock: ‘Walking the dreams’ is the coolest phrase ever, and to do it a character must be shedding blood. That means menstruating or self-harming. Brings a whole new meaning to sometimes you gotta bleed for the cause.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone: I don’t think the magic system was necessarily defined, but there was definitely a magical process for (Spoilers!!!!) ahem… continuing on… reincarnation, which involved collecting teeth and diamonds. I got chills it was so awesome.

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What are your favorite magic systems? What do you take into account when working with magic?

<3, Savannah

 

 

plant-a-tree-today

Why YA?

Every now and then you see an article crop up on the difference between YA and Adult; not just the technicalities, but the possibilities present in each genre. Today I’m adding my own voice to the discussion, based on some deep thinking I’ve done lately about YA.

I never used to call myself a YA writer, and not only because I didn’t know what YA was. I honestly thought I was an adult writer. Then I went through a really hard process where I had to fit NAMELESS into a single genre, and I’ll be honest, for a time I really struggled with what it meant for a story to be YA and have a YA voice.

Then came the sleeping beauty retelling. By this time I’d read enough YA, including the fabulous stories by my debut writer friends Kat Zhang and Susan Dennard. I didn’t see YA as a category for kids anymore. YA isn’t just sloppy paranormal romances and high school gossip books. YA has depth. Adventure. Freedom. And I found my YA voice through Rose, who taught me how to re-approach NAMELESS and rework it into the tone I needed.

Why do we write stories about teens? From an outsider’s perspective it might seem strange and/or creepy: what are grown men and women doing fetishizing the teenage experience? But then it occurred to me: We write about teenagers because they have a freedom that adults don’t have.

Yeah, adults can vote and legally drink alcohol and have the legal capacity to sign on the dotted line, but that’s not freedom. If Amanda, the 32-year-old marketing assistant with a husband and two-year-old child opened her closet one day to find a magical world asking her to come on an adventure this very second or never get the opportunity again, what would she do? She would have do decline.

Adults have responsibilities. They’ve made promises. Amanda can’t abandon her husband, her child, her job, her mortgage, her dog, etc., and go on some magical adventure.

But Kristen the teenager can. Sure, she’d miss her family and boyfriend and struggle to get back to them, but what does she really give up if she plunges through that portal? Kristen could hitchhike across the country, sign up to be a crew mate on a deep fishing boat, or join a team of deep space volunteers.

Adults may not like to think about it, but teens have a freedom adults do not (Not to say adulthood doesn’t come with its own freedoms. For example, I think it’s way more fun to be an adult than a teenager, in a non-magical setting). Teens have not yet tied themselves down.

Plus they’re the best-looking they’ll ever be, and their bodies typically don’t have chronic pain that would get in the way during escape scenes.

The kinds of stories I write (thus far) involve adventure, and coming into your own and figuring out how to love. Teens are doing all this for the first time, when everything is new and exciting and meaningful. Is it any wonder they’re more fun to work with?

I do plan on writing adult books (in the distant future, lol), but for now I’m happy and proud to call myself a Young Adult writer.