My Writing Method, Per Brain

I’ve actually been learning a lot about my own writing over the past three years. I know I’ve told you about developing my outlining system and about some of my experiences with specific books (see the Writing Process tag for posts), but I don’t think I’ve told you what I’ve learned about my own brain.

I’ve been fascinated by personality tests for decades, so when I heard about Clifton Strengths, I was very intrigued. A “personality” system that talks about your strengths in dealing with the world, rather than introversion or sensing or openness? Tell me more! So I took the test and started learning.

Turns out there are good reasons why I love personality theory and learning about everything. I have Individualization (enjoying differences) in my top ten, and Input (collecting stuff–in my case, information) and Learner (obvious…) both in my top TWO. And Intellection (thinking about stuff) in my top five. In fact, my top ten Strengths include FOUR thinking Strengths (and four get-it-done Strengths).

Yes, I spend a lot of time sticking stuff into my brain and then thinking about it and then thinking about how to use it. And then thinking about it just for fun. And then thinking about it some more because I don’t know how to stop. Ahem.

Anyway, when I was trying to learn how to use my brain better to write better AND faster, I concentrated a lot on the lower four of my Top Five, because Input was only useful as a background power for absorbing story and giving me energy pennies. Achiever and Responsibility are get-it-done Strengths, so they seemed obviously useful to, you know, get it done. And Intellection is my steering wheel for life. No, really. It’s not the invisible engine (Achiever and Responsibility–go, go, go!) or the frame (Input and Learner, making the shape), but it’s what I semi-consciously use to drive everything, all the time. First I think, then I do. Learner, of course, is my research superpower.

And indeed, improving my usage of those four did improve my writing speed, along with my improved plotting method. But something still seemed to be missing. If my outline process was pretty much working now, and my research process was pretty much working, and my goals were pretty achievable, what was wrong?

It was only a little while ago that I learned I had underestimated Input. Yep, #1 Input, that I thought was only good for background stuff and energy pennies is actually doing a LOT behind the scenes. I finally realized that Input is the one handing me all the puzzle pieces of the story.

Ideas? Why, thank you, Input.

Characters? Yes, Input has it.

Plot? Hi, Input!

Conflict? Input to the rescue!

I just didn’t realize how much Input was running things. Input, darling girl that she is, keeps shoving new puzzle pieces at me. Most of them don’t fit, so she takes them back again, only to hand me a new selection. It’s the “take back again” that threw me off my understanding. So many false starts, so Input isn’t really helping, right? Surely it’s Intellection’s pondering that’s finding my ideas.

Not really. Eventually, something will click, and Intellection will grab a piece and smoosh it down into the outline. There it goes! And Learner will run off to research how to make everything fit together, and Achiever will update the outline with the new plot points and characters. And then Input will nod and shuffle through her puzzle pieces to see what else might spark ideas (no matter how little they might resemble each other on the surface). Yep, it was Input’s idea in the first place, and she’s ready to go find the next one.

Which means that all the crazy reading I do isn’t just giving me energy pennies (still very important), it’s filling out a ton of pieces for Input to shuffle around when I’m brainstorming.

I’m sure you’ve heard writers talk about where their ideas come from—overheard conversations, random thoughts, etc. Mine come from Input handing me a strange collection of puzzle pieces and seeing if any fit together. Never mind that the colors don’t match, because if the edges are the same shape, Input can turn them into a new photomosaic. You just won’t see the whole picture until she’s finished. 😉

Yep, Input runs the show very quietly in the background, and you never quite know what she’ll come up with. But it will be amazing. You’ll never be able to tell that the puzzle pieces didn’t originally come from the same picture, because the picture will be soooo cool.

Now, back to writing for me, and for you, back to… what are you working on?
Marty C. Lee

© 2022 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.

Updated Day in the Life of a Writer

The last time I mentioned my writing routine was two years ago, and things have changed since then. So here’s the latest. Keep in mind, it’s a work in progress as I figure out what works for me and what doesn’t.

I don’t write or do business on Sunday, and Saturday tends to be erratic, so this is for weekdays. Minus Thursday, which I will discuss below.

I wake up at 6 am. I shower, dress, eat breakfast, and read my scriptures. I throw a load of laundry into the washer, then I go for a walk (this is new). I don’t actually like exercising right after breakfast, but I’ve discovered that I get it done more often then, and more importantly, it increases the amount of writing I get done. Sigh. So I do it anyway.

In the winter, I walk on my treadmill, because the outside air is too cold to breathe. In the summer, I might go outside. While I walk, I ponder my writing project for the day. If the chapter/story is new, I’ll turn on my phone recorder and talk to myself about the plot, or ask myself questions, or very roughly sketch out scenes or dialogue. If I’m still working on the same chapter/story, I’ll ponder plot holes or where I need to add details. I’m still working up my time & distance, so this walk doesn’t take long. Even so, those few minutes of warming up my brain for writing have made a huge difference.

On Thursday, which is a non-writing day, I’ll plot AHEAD of where I’m working. The next story or chapter, or the next series, or even wishful thinking. I discovered the hard way that I can’t plot story B on a day that I’m writing story A, or else I can’t actually write story A. So I save the extra plotting for when it won’t mess up my writing for the day.

I now have my own office. Yay! It’s the smallest bedroom in my house, but it does have a door to shut out disturbances. I even got a light for the door that glows in different colors so I can color-code my availability. I have white boards and bulletin boards and four bookcases (two are hidden beyond the others) and an extra table. I even have artwork for prettiness. My kids gave me the blue flower triptych, the tree photo was taken by my grandfather, and I embroidered the two pictures by the bookcase. The big whiteboard is for plotting & writing notes, and the smaller one is for tasks & reminders. There’s nothing on them in the pictures because I had just set them up.

Ideally, by 8 am, I’ll be at my desk with a full water bottle. I turn on classical music very, very quietly and try to write new stuff until noon, though sometimes “write” means “outline” or “brainstorm” or “research” or “pick names” or “world build” or any of the other author-y tasks that sometimes have to come before actual writing. (Now that I plot-walk in the mornings and use Thursdays for these tasks, I get more actual writing done on the other days.) I also resort to side tasks when writer’s block is being stubborn or when I don’t feel well.

I’m not particularly fast, but I try to get 1500 words by lunch. With the new addition of my morning walk, I’ve gotten 2000 words moderately regularly, and once or twice as many as 3000. I’d love that to be a regular occurrence. I’m sure you’ve heard of writers who can write 10,000 words/day (good for them!), but I used to get about 5000 per MONTH, tops, so I’m still faster than I used to be. (By the way, don’t compare yourself to others. Nothing good comes of it.)

On Thursday, my critique group takes the place of my morning writing.

After lunch, I take a break and do more-brainless activities, like house cleaning, reading, errands, or social media. I try to get my laundry folded. Sometimes I give up and take a nap.

Around 1 or 1:30 pm, I get back to work. After a quick spin through my email, I spend some time editing my own work and/or beta reading/critiquing other people’s stuff. I also use this time to go over my own beta feedback. I love my beta readers. 🙂 I love finding out what’s working in my stories and what needs to be fixed. (If you’d like to be a beta reader, let me know…)

Most of the time, beta reading for others is also fun, since I tend not to accept beta reads that bore me. Reading other writers’ works-in-progress is actually a good way to learn more about your own writing, by the way. Somehow, it’s easier to see mistakes in someone else’s work, and THEN apply the lesson to yourself.

In a couple of hours, I switch to business things like marketing, budgeting, or formatting. This is not the funnest part of my day, but it needs to be done. Always keep track of the business stuff, guys, or you’ll be sorry later. As you set up your system, try to imagine how much trouble it will be doing it that way when you have a lot MORE of it. Granted, you will still probably have to redo your system at some point, but planning ahead might postpone the remodel.

I stop either when my husband gets home (on days someone else cooks) or when I need to go make supper. Occasionally I have an important task that has to be finished after supper, but I try not to do that too often.

Did I miss anything you wanted to know? Feel free to ask questions in the comments.

Happy writing,
Marty C. Lee

© 2022 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.

Writing Update: Legends 2

I was telling you about how I wrote the “fairy tales set on my fantasy world.”

Now that I had all the source-tales selected and assigned to cultures, with factors chosen for each and the rough outlines done, the next step was actually writing. My main goal was to rewrite the fairy tales as if they came from my own fantasy world, but each story ended up handling the source material in different ways. Some of the stories are based on different versions of the same fairy tale (like Snow White), some are based on similarly themed stories (like The Stonecutter), and some are the result of firmly mashing together completely different tales while cackling wildly (Twelve Dancing Princesses + Ali Baba & the 40 Thieves + Rumplestiltskin. Underwater. With mermaids and pirates.). *shrug* When I got to the last story, I even threw a ballad into the mix.

For whatever reason, the two most wildly mashed-up stories ended up being set in the same culture. Actually, I’m pretty sure it’s because of the culture… The Nokai are rather interesting. (They’re the mermaids-without-tails who think that there’s no such thing as too many parties. Don’t think that makes them only silly–they have plenty of experience hunting sharks, and they’ll happily bat their eyelashes at you while they bargain you out of your last coin.)

For various reasons, including chance, I ended up writing the long stories first. Some of them went fairly quickly (for me) and were pretty close to being finished after a draft or two. Some had to be majorly rewritten. The Japanese story about a stonecutter who kept wishing to be more powerful was problematic, and I had to change the entire character arc to make it fit the romance I wanted it to be. Grrr, I hate that! But it’s a better story now, which was the point.

I got partway through Red Riding Hood and had to delete half a chapter because I suddenly realized it was turning dark–way too dark! I don’t write dark, and I really wanted the story to be funny, so I had to back up and reconfigure a motive. In case you’re wondering, I can describe the finished story as “What if Red Riding Hood was the wolf?”

Then the last story stalled completely because The Frog Prince depends on magic my world doesn’t have. But I really liked the story, so I polled the internet for stories that fit a partial idea I had, and found a ballad that fit my needs. (Scarborough Fair, if you wanted to know.) By the time I finished fixing the problems, the ballad was the main source and The Frog Prince had become one aspect in the story, along with The Brave Little Tailor and Cupid & Psyche. I see those skeptical looks you’re giving me… Really, it works. 😉

Some stories needed more research than others, too. The frog story, for instance, made me look into seaweed harvesting, wool infections, and the average rate of spinning thread. Yes, that’s all for the same story. I promise, it makes perfect sense within the story. 🙂

And as a bonus for my beloved readers, one of the stories is exclusively available through my newsletter. I took Dick Whittington and Puss in Boots and smooshed them together into The Cat’s Fortune. And it’s FREE! (With a signup to my newsletter…)

On another world, so long ago that truth has faded into legend, a cat and a boy seek their fortune together. You think you know the story, but do you?

Orphaned and homeless, young Aktar travels to the city of Rapata for a better life.

But it seems the rumors of gold-paved streets are false. Can he find a home and a job before he starves?

Maybe with the help of a foundling kitten.

A retelling of Puss in Boots and Dick Whittington, set on the fantasy world of Kaiatan, home of the Unexpected Heroes.

Click here to get the free story!

It will give you something to read while you wait for the rest of the Legends to come out, May 2022. Preorder available now at your favorite retailer!

Happy reading,
Marty C. Lee

© 2022 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.

Writing Update: Legends 1

I just finished the final edits on Legends of Kaiatan, which is pretty exciting! Looking back at old posts, I promised to tell you about them, so now seems like a good time.

I had the idea for this story collection a long time ago, back when I was working on… books 3 & 4, I think. At the time, the premise was pretty vague. Stories “loosely based on Earth fairy tales, as they would be if they came from Kaiatan.” Back then, I frequently used Red Riding Hood as the example when I was gushing to people. What would that story look like in a land of shapeshifters? (Oddly, Red ended up being almost the last story I finished, because it gave me troubles. Ahem.)

When I finished book 5 (the contemporary short stories) and started working on the fairy tales, they gave me more trouble than I expected. As is always the case.

I started by reading through all of Andrew Lang’s “colored” Fairy Books. Yes, all of them, I think. Plus some Asian and Irish and English fairy tales and some Greek/Roman myths and the Arabian Nights. So much reading… Fortunately, I like reading.

As I read, I made notes about potential story ideas. Anything based on pure magic wouldn’t work, since Kaiatan doesn’t have “magic that can do anything at all.” Anything with ghosts as a vital part wouldn’t work. Actually, lots of them wouldn’t work. Sigh. But I did end up with a list of 20-30 fairy tales that MIGHT work.

From there, I sorted the ideas into the Kaiatan cultures that would work best. Then I took the list to my critique group and discussed possibilities. Finally, I selected ten stories that I thought I could write well. Armed with that list, I started plotting.

I wanted a variety of stories, so I chose some to be romantic and some not, some long and some short, some funny and some serious. And mixed those up among the cultures. Yes, I am very good at over-thinking. It’s a superpower of mine. On the other hand, it does let me give you some very deep worldbuilding and interconnected plots…

I copied summaries of the source tales into my plotting files and started sorting the different versions into major plot beats, marking differences. For instance, in the Snow White story, I noted the different villains (not always the step-mother, did you know?) and forms of murder, as well as the general timeline.

I spent weeks copying and pasting and summarizing and reordering and deleting and altering…

Once I had the plot beats identified, I started deleting what I couldn’t use and translating what I wanted to keep into outline notes.

In the process, some ideas died and had to be replaced with others. I thought I was going to use Icarus, for instance, but even though it’s a winged story already and I have winged people, when I started plotting, I couldn’t make it work. Le sigh. All my ideas should be good ideas, but sadly, that isn’t true.

And I’ll talk about the actual writing in the next post. 😉

Happy reading,
Marty C. Lee

© 2022 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.

Finding an Editor

As I mentioned in an earlier writing post, I’m in a lot of Facebook author groups. A frequent question is “How do I find/choose an editor?” (Sometimes preceded by “Do I really need an editor?” but the answer to that is “Usually.”)

So, let’s talk about editors.

First, not all editors do the same thing.

Developmental editors work on big picture items, like plot, character, theme, broken endings. Sometimes they give you a shorter report, like an editorial assessment, and sometimes they give you comments all through your book. Ask what they do…

Line editors work on your prose. Do you have paragraphs in the right order? Do you make sense? Can your sentences be improved? Are you having the effect you want? If your story is good but you want to sound better, this is frequently the kind of editor you want.

Copyeditors work on the nitty-gritty stuff. Did you get your character’s eye color the same every time? Is the spelling and grammar right? Did you accidentally use the wrong word? Did you have Thursday and Friday and then Thursday again? Some editors will combine line and copy editing, so ask. Editors will sometimes define their own work a little differently, too, so ask…

Proofreading. Here’s the controversy: true proofreading is done AFTER formatting (reading the proof…) to make sure it’s formatted correctly and printing errors haven’t crept in or the layout gone wonky. Now that most formatting is done electronically, you frequently find editors billing light copyediting (grammar, spelling, punctuation only) as proofreading. So ask how they define it. 🙂

Now that you’ve chosen a kind of editing, where do you find an editor??

Lots of places. Facebook groups. Linked In. Professional organizations like EFA or ACES. Referrals from other authors or from reading the acknowledgement page in your favorite books. If you have a local university with an editing program, you can ask if they have any last-semester students who want work. Seriously, this is the easiest step, even though I used to think it was hard.

So how do you choose the right one?

An excellent question.

Research.

Start by reading their websites or Facebook pages or whatever they have. Check out their reviews or testimonials. Look for experience in your genre. See if they offer a sample edit (free or paid). They probably don’t have samples already posted, but if they do, read them. They might or might not have prices listed, but if they do, eliminate any that are out of your budget. No, you may not ask them to drop their price or take a royalty share. If you really like them, you can haunt their page to see if they ever have a sale.

And/or you can post your project on a job board at one of the professional organizations and THEN do the research for the responders.

Talk to them and/or request sample edits.

Now email/call/message all your chosen finalists to get a quote. If they offer a free sample, ask for one. If you’re willing to pay for sample, you can query the editors who do those. Don’t ask a paid-sample editor to do a free sample. Follow their guidelines for how much and how to submit. DON’T ask twenty different editors to sample-edit twenty different chapters in hopes of getting your book edited for free. First, that’s rude. Second, the different styles will show, and your book will be weird.

Also, developmental editors rarely do samples because of the nature of their work. If you’re looking for a dev editor, you’ll have to depend heavily on testimonials and an interview with them.

Read your sample edits.

When you get the samples back, don’t even look at the quote yet. Read all the comments in detail. Read your work before and after editing. See what you like and what you don’t, both in corrections and in communication style. It’s okay if you don’t agree with everything they say, but if you don’t agree with MOST of it, at least after thinking about it, then they aren’t the right editor for you. (I once declined an editor who uncorrected my subjunctive mood. If you don’t know what that means, then don’t use it as a filter.) Competence is important, but a good fit for your book is just as important. If they don’t get what you’re doing with your story, they aren’t the right editor for you. If they make you feel bad, they’re not the right editor for you.

If you have questions about any of the suggestions, follow up with the editor. Ask lots of questions. Now is a much better time than after you’ve paid a deposit and suddenly decide you don’t like the editor. If they can’t explain their suggestions, they’re not the right editor for you. If they’re rude, they’re not the right editor for anybody.

Look at budget and scheduling.

Hopefully, you’ve narrowed your choices down after going through the samples. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a clear favorite. NOW is the time to read the payment quotes. If you can afford your favorite, go with that editor. If you can’t afford your favorite but the next two or three choices are pretty satisfactory, pick one you can afford. If you can’t afford any of your favorites, you either need to save up or start the process from the top.

No, I really don’t recommend picking an editor solely by price. I see a lot of horror stories about authors who did that and then had to pay for ANOTHER editor to fix what the first editor did.

Also make sure the editor has an opening for you that will meet any deadlines you have. Some editors are booked for months in advance.

While you’re at it, read the contract, too.

Sometimes it’s called Terms of Service or something else. It’s perfectly normal to ask for a deposit, even a non-refundable one. It’s normal to reserve copyright on the edits UNTIL final payment, but then it should be released to you. Make sure you know when payments are due, and how. Make sure you know the deadlines on both sides. When you have to have the manuscript in? When will it come back? How do you submit, including prep work and app/format? What format will you get back? Read all of it, boring or not. If you can’t go along with all the terms, you can ask the editor for an amendment, but if the answer is no, find a different editor with a contract you can fulfill.

Did I miss any of your questions? What else do you want to know?

Happy writing,
M. C. Lee

© 2021 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.

How I Deal With Feedback

I’m in a lot of author (and reader) groups on Facebook, and recently, I’ve noticed a lot of people asking questions about how to deal with beta or editor feedback. So I thought I’d tell you how I do it. 🙂

(I usually work in Google Docs, though Word’s commenting functions work in the same general way.)

So, I sent a book or short story to a beta reader or editor, and now I’ve gotten it back. What next?

First, I just read through it.

If I find something I easily agree with (spelling errors, stupid mistakes), I might or might not hit “accept” as I read. Either way, this is just a preliminary run. The goal is to read, not to change. I don’t have to agree with the edits. I’m just reading.

Second, I put it down and cry.

Okay, really, this step is optional, but I frequently use it. Feedback hurts sometimes, guys, and it’s okay to admit that. I find that I recover faster if I just admit the hurt. So I take a break, rant PRIVATELY (not in public, not on social media!), cry, take a nap, eat chocolate… whatever I need. Sometimes this only takes a few minutes. Sometimes it takes a couple of days before I feel ready to face the feedback again. The more years I’ve spent getting feedback, the shorter this step USUALLY is. Thicker skin is truly something that develops with practice for most people. Anyway, I stay away from the feedback until I feel ready to face it.

Third, I accept the easy stuff.

If I didn’t hit “accept” as I went, I go back and do it now for all the changes I already agree with that don’t require rewriting. Punctuation, grammar, spelling, small word choices, fixing oopsies. All the easy things. Yes to this one, yes to that one, sure whatever, yes, yes, if you say so, yes.

Fourth, I fix or make a list of the harder but obvious fixes.

These are the things I agree I should fix and I see how to fix, but they require actual rewriting, rearranging, additions, subtractions, whatever. Depending how much I’m dreading the rest of the feedback, I’ll either do all the fixes now or start a list to fix later.

Fifth, I reconsider the icky stuff.

These are the reasons why I have the crying step in my process… This is the comment about hating my character. This is the comment about needing more emotion. This is anything I don’t know how to fix. This is anything I don’t agree with. “What do you mean you don’t like my favorite part, buster?”

Unfortunately, this is usually the part that takes the longest. Ick.

I pull out the homework.

I make a list of the might-be-right-but-don’t-know-how-to-fix to ponder and/or discuss with my critique group and set that away for later. Maybe I need to learn a new skill. Maybe I need to rewrite the whole scene or write something elsewhere in the book to support it. Maybe my critique group will tell me the beta reader is crazy and I don’t need to change anything. (Sadly, that’s not the most common answer.) When I figure out how to fix the problems, I’ll come back to them.

“You put in too much world-building here. It’s boring.” Okay, well, most of my readers like my world-building, but let’s look at that page very carefully. What do I absolutely need to have? Keep that, of course. Is there anything that is completely frivolous? Move it to my deleted scenes file. Now the borderline stuff… it adds color and makes the world more realistic, but what’s the minimum amount necessary to do that? Can I cut it in half? Add just a vibrant detail or two? Split it into bits and pieces so it’s less dump-y? Several of the above? Slice, slice, slice.

“Your characters did something stupid.” Did I not give enough mental explanation/motivation? Did I make a change-of-direction too quickly? Did I miss a step in their character arc? Did I skip a setting/plot description that would explain why their decision was necessary under the circumstances? Did I not exert enough pressure on them? Did I leave any “smarter” possibilities open? Do I need a confrontation scene? Did they ACTUALLY do something stupid??

That only leaves comments that might be wrong.

I very carefully read the rest of the comments, one at a time, very slowly. I dissect those suckers down to their component parts, looking for any part that might be right.

Sometimes they’re right about the symptom but wrong about the disease.

“Your ending stinks.” Ouch. WHY does it stink? Let’s go research endings, shall we? Add it to the homework list… (As it turns out, my ending was fine. My lead-up to the ending needed work and a lot more page-time, and I needed a confrontation scene. Now my ending is great, thanks.)

Sometimes the reader is not my audience or doesn’t get the book.

(This kind of comment should rarely come from your editor, or else you have the wrong editor.) “I think you need more romance.” Sorry, honey, this isn’t a romance book. “When are we getting to the sex?” Yeah, never. Actually, if the answer is that simple, they’ll get eliminated in the first round, but sometimes they’re more complicated and I have to think if they fit my genre/book or not. “Why did you skip over the interesting part in the middle? I think there were pirates!” Um, no, there were no pirates, and I skipped the boring journey. And pirates aren’t going to fit. But hey, I can put pirates in a different book for you, okay? “Your use of contractions is lousy.” Well, the different cultures use contractions differently, but I can explain it better, I guess.

Even with these comments, though, I analyze to see if I somehow gave the wrong cues and skewed reader expectations. Do I need to fi something ELSE to avoid making future readers ask the same wrong questions? Depending how far off the comments were, the reader is sometimes added to my do-not-beta list.

Sometimes the reader is just wrong. Or a jerk.

As always, I analyze these comments to make sure I don’t need to change something, somewhere. Then I delete the comments with a fair amount of satisfaction. Take that. If “jerk” is the problem, I also add the reader to my do-not-beta list. Look, don’t be a jerk, people.

By the time I get to this point, I should be finished with everything except my list of homework. Time to go write again!

In a later post, I’ll talk about choosing an editor.

Happy writing,
M. C. Lee

© 2021 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.

My Job as a Manipulator

No, I’m not serious. Not really.

But there’s an internet game where you describe your job in a way that makes it sound bad. So a police officer might say she locks people in small rooms or scares small children with a weapon, or a teacher might say he ruins teens chances of a better life by writing bad recommendations (i.e. bad grades). Yes, I know that isn’t really the way it is– but if you look at it sideways, it can be. That’s the point of the game.

If I were playing the game, I could tell you that I brainwash people. Sure I do. I manipulate them into believing what I want them to believe. I put my own words in their heads. I make them picture what I want them to see. I make them remember something other than their own memories.

What? you say. Isn’t that illegal or something?

Well, it would be if I were doing it in real life, but I’m an author, remember? I’m only doing it to you within the covers of a book.

If I do my job right, then when you read my books, you’ll be immersed in my world. You’ll picture the scenes I want you to see. You’ll hear my characters’ words in your heads. You’ll remember my story instead of just your own life. Your real life will disappear while you live the imaginary life I created for you…

I just highjacked your brain.

*cue evil cackle*

And it’s all legal. In fact, if I’m very good at what I’ll do, you’ll beg me to do it to you again. 😉 And again, and again, and again…

Ah, now you’re getting interested. And just how do I do this, exactly, you ask?

Well, that is too complicated to discuss in just one post, but I’ll give you a few hints.

First, it’s a careful balance. If I tell you too little about a scene or a character or a world for you to picture it/them, it won’t draw you under my spell. But if I tell you too much, then you’ll get bored and remember your real life. I can’t have that, now can I? So I have to figure out just the right amount of information to spark the picture in your head without jolting you back into reality. That’s right, my world is more fun than your world. Stay a while and play…

Second, it’s about choices. What words will evoke the right emotions without being distracting? Will a precise but unusual word bring the picture to life or overshadow it? How would the character say it? How would the character NOT say it? The more natural the writing feels, the less likely you are to notice the way I’ve made you think what I want you to think.

Third, it’s about emotion. If I can make you feel for the character— or from the character— then I can really brainwash you. I might even make you temporarily forget who you are. If you feel my character’s emotions, like you are my character, then I’ve really won. You don’t even exist anymore, because you’ve become my creation.

*cue more evil cackling*

And that’s why I can describe my job as being a brainwashing, manipulative telepath. I put my thoughts directly in your head (okay, almost directly) and take over your brain. Until you put down the book.

Here, have another book. You know you want to…

Happy brainwashing reading,
Marty C. Lee

© 2021 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.

My Editing Routine

In case some of you might be interested in how editing works for an author, here’s what I do. 🙂

First I write the book. That tends to take months, if not a couple of years. I’ve gotten faster, hallelujah, but I’m still no book-a-month author.

Then I do a self-edit, rereading it and fixing what problems I notice. With earlier books, I did this several times before the next step, but nowadays I can usually get away with one pass.

Next, I run it through my critique group, one chapter at a time. (If my schedule is tight, I might run chapters through as I write them instead of waiting for the end of the book.)

Then I self-edit again. If the chapter (or book) is giving me problems, I might repeat the self-edit and critique steps more than once.

This edit/critique cycle took four years with my first book. Yep, four years. It was torture. Even now that I’ve gotten better, it takes months because I can only submit a chapter or two at a time.

When I think I have the problems worked out, I find beta readers. Based on their feedback, I always, always find more problems to fix. Sigh. No, I am very thankful for beta readers who aren’t afraid to tell me I could improve XYZ; I just wish I’d make fewer mistakes. But I’d rather hear about problems while I have the chance to fix them, instead of in reviews of the published book. Some of my best beta readers are other authors, but some are just readers. I have a very nice fan who’s happy to tell me where the story is broken.

So, then it’s back to self-editing, then back to beta readers. I repeat this cycle until the only problems being reported aren’t ones I consider problems, or until I admit I don’t know how to fix it and have to send the book to a developmental editor. In earlier books, this took many, many cycles. I’ve gotten better since then, and found better critique partners, so the process is shorter.

Once the book is theoretically as good as it can get, I finish with a painstaking copyedit for grammar, problem words, typos, and other nit-picky stuff. Why don’t I do that before the beta readers? Because it’s wasted effort until I know I’m not going to be changing whole sentences, paragraphs, or plot points. Please note that my natural grammar is good enough that beta readers won’t suffer even if I made a few minor mistakes. (If your grammar isn’t that good, please edit it before you ask for betas. It’s painful to struggle through a big mess of grammar, spelling, punctuation, and other technical errors. No, readers can’t just ignore the errors and concentrate on the story if the weeds are bigger than the flowers.)

After that, I submit the final copy for formatting and publishing. Yay!

If beta reading sounds like fun to you, let me know! I’m always looking for good beta readers. 🙂

Happy writing,
Marty C Lee

© 2021 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.

Character Personalities

“So, how do you write your characters?” people ask me.

“Do you fill out a questionnaire? Do you figure out their personality type first?”

No to both. I just write them. But AFTER I know them well, I’ve been known to run them through a personality test. *clears throat* Or six.

I started off with Meyers-Briggs and Color Code

I was already familiar with those two personality systems. (MBTI in college and CC from reading).

In Color Code, each of my four main characters in my secondary world fantasy series ended up a different personality color (of four). Hmm. I always thought they were very different, and I guess they are. But one test is hardly conclusive, right? So I ran them through the MBTI. Each of them ended up not only a different type (of 16), which was not surprising, but in an entirely different section (of four). More hmm. Considering I wasn’t TRYING for that much diversity, it’s pretty impressive.

Then I found a Hogwarts test online.

My stories aren’t even set on Earth, so the characters certainly wouldn’t go to school there, but okay, I’m curious. Guess what? Yeah, that’s right — each of them ended up in a different House. And, by the way, Slytherin isn’t automatically bad. They just feel that “their” people are more important than “all” people. Obviously, that can get out of hand, but go ahead, tell me you’ve never once given preference to someone you love just because you love them… (No, I’m not Slytherin, but I can imagine how they feel.)

Then I read about the Four Tendencies and the enneagram

Of course, I HAD to run them through those, didn’t I? (The answer is yes. Don’t be silly.) Both of these were trickier. In the Four Tendencies, I’m pretty sure the four characters ended up in four different areas all over again. And oddly, this was the only test where I was like one particular character, whom I usually write by saying, “What would I NOT do.”

The enneagram took even longer, but I finally figured it out. I’m sure you can predict that they all ended up different. Some of them overlapped a smidge, some didn’t even touch.

Recently, I found the DISC system.

And all four characters still scored in different areas. By now, I was very amused but not at all surprised. A little more surprisingly, all four fit fairly solidly in one of the four main groups, rather than overlapping (which is allowed). When I took the test for myself, I overlapped…

I have not yet figured out their CliftonStrengths.

I’ve been very busy and frankly, it’s intimidating. But I’m willing to bet they’ll end up different. 😉 Of course, with CS, that’s less surprising, since there are 34 strengths and millions of combination/orders of having them in your top 5 or 10. (I did take CS for myself, and wow, that was an eye-opener. Some of my top strengths are so ingrained that I couldn’t imagine people NOT using them, but now I see it just is not so… But seriously, people, how do you not think all the time??)

By now, I have reams of notes.

I rarely use them in plotting or character development, unless I’m stuck on something, but I read them for my own enjoyment. Because that’s the nerdy kind of person I am…

Surprisingly, I found things as I studied that fit my characters perfectly even though I hadn’t known them as belonging to a certain personality before I wrote the books. For instance, one character is pretty intense— except when he isn’t. He can quite suddenly flip into humor or pranks (oh, his pranks!). I’ve had readers call me on that as not fitting his personality, but according to the MBTI, it’s a real thing for his type. LOL. I’d really like to claim I’m a genius and planned it all, but really, he just told me that’s what he does, so I wrote it down.

People also ask me if my characters are like me.

Well, they can’t possibly ALL be like me, since there are four of them (not counting minor characters or all the short stories) and only one of me.

But really, the answer is still no. Some of them are a little like me in this way or that, but none of them are really like me. Of course one of them shares a Color with me, since there are only four, and a Hogwarts House and a Tendency for the same reason, but our MBTIs are different, and our enneagrams are different, and because DISC allows for partial overlaps, we’re still different. And whenever I break down and figure out four sets of Strengths, there will probably be some overlap, but also some significant differences.

“So will I like your characters? Is one of them like me?”

I hope you’ll like all of them, whether or not they’re like you! But with four very different characters, chance are pretty good that you will feel a kinship in something with someone. And if you don’t feel kinship, I hope you will at least find friendship.

Happy reading,
Marty C. Lee

© 2021 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.

Writing Update: Tales of Kaiatan

My next planned book (not counting an omnibus with bonus material) is a collection of short stories set “contemporary” to the Unexpected Heroes series. The earliest one is 60 years before the first book, and the latest one is a couple of years after the last book. (The NEXT planned book will be “legends” from much earlier in “history.” Think “fairy tales not placed on Earth.”) You can read a few of these contemporary stories already, in Unexpected Tales.

In a way, short stories are easier to write, because the plotting is much simpler. On the other hand, description and character have to be squished into a smaller space, and there’s no time to meander.

Anyway, all of the stories have ended up being connected to the series rather than merely set in the same world, though some are tightly connected and some are merely side stories of characters or expansions of casual mentions. Three of my four main characters have parents-meeting stories (the fourth was an arranged marriage). I’ve got survival treks and new jobs and races and pirates and weddings… It’s an interesting mix. A few of the stories have sequels in the collection (or in the series).

Some of the stories were easy to choose, for one reason or another. The last handful were harder, because I was looking for holes to fill. (Like needing a story from a female Nokai POV that took place between books 2 & 3. Yes, really.) In fact, I just figured out the last tagline in January, because it ended up being the prequel to another story I decided on the week before. And by “figured out,” I mean very generally. I actually finished writing that story before I finished one of the earliest planned stories, which gave me fits. It was supposed to be a short, one-chapter story but expanded to four chapters and almost 10,000 words. Some of the older stories in the collection had to to be rewritten to have complete arcs instead of just being bonus scenes.

I discovered a few entirely new characters for this collection, and they still ended up tying into the series. I can never read chapter 2 of Wind of Choice the same way again because the new backstory explains so much. I cried writing the last scene, literally. My mom cried when she read the sequel, then she backed up to read and cry again. Um, okay.

For my short stories, I use an abbreviated version of my usual outlining process, and sometimes I wing it (now that I’ve written almost half a million words). Except for that ornery romance… I had to research romance beats, alas. I still always start with a character and a situation and an ending and/or premise, and then I connect the dots from there. Sometimes I use more than one POV, sometimes only one. I’ve balanced stories from each country as well as male and female POVs. I tried to sprinkle the stories between the novels, but they still ended up heavily pre- and post-series with only a few between the books. Most of the stories have happy endings, because I like that, but a few ended up being sad or dark. I can’t help it! Some stories are sad!

One of the stories that’s already in Unexpected Tales has gotten so many questions about what happens next that I’m pondering turning into a complete novel. I’ll let you know…

Mmm… what else do you want to know? Toss me a comment, and I’ll either comment back (for a short answer) or write a post (if it needs a long answer).

Another time, I’ll try to remember to tell you about the “legends,” which I frequently describe as “loosely based on Earth fairy tales, as they would be if they came from Kaiatan.” For instance, Japan has a story about a stonecutter who kept wishing to be more powerful. What would that story look like if the main character was a shapeshifter??

Happy reading,
Marty C. Lee

© 2021 M. C. Lee LLC. All rights reserved.