Comparing Dragons and Butterflies

Obviously, this post is not going to compare the actual animals.  Although that would be fun, come to think of it.  While they don’t have a lot in common, since one is a real insect and the other is a fictional reptile, there are some similarities.  Both are ectothermic, both can fly, and both occur frequently in body art.  The most important commonality, though, has to do with my novels.  They both are featured in the titles.

What I really want to compare is The Queen’s Butterflies and Dragon Pendant, my two unpublished novels.  (Yes, I have dropped “the” from the working title of Dragon Pendant.  I don’t want to go to the effort of changing the tag in every blog post so it will remain The Dragon Pendant in that context.)  As I have finally committed to working on Dragon Pendant, it might be time for some comparisons.

At eight chapters in, Dragon is running about 5 word-document pages behind Butterflies.  I don’t know what this means, other than so far Dragon is shorter.  It doesn’t mean it will end up shorter, just that the first eight chapters are shorter.  My biggest worry with Dragon is that it won’t be long enough to be considered a novel, but so far it seems to be holding its own.

The reason for this worry is complexity.  Butterflies is a fairly complex novel, with many overlapping plots and sub-plots as well as a large number of characters.  It even has a “cast list” to accompany it to help keep all the players straight at the beginning.  The many threads all come together nicely, but the complexity meant guaranteed length.  Dragon is also complex, but in a very different way.  It is a “quest” story, so the bulk of the tale revolves around one main character.  As no one has read it yet, I don’t know this for sure, but it does seem easier to keep the characters straight since we (mostly) meet them all in sequence as they meet our main character.  Plus, there are generally fewer of them.

Some other major differences between the two novels: Butterflies is set entirely in a made-up world, while Dragon is set half in this world, half in another world accessed through gates.  Butterflies has only minor magic, while Dragon has a lot.  There are no butterflies (the insects) in Butterflies, but Dragon definitely has dragons.  And Butterflies is a human-only story, while Dragon has humans, dragons, elves, and mermaids.  There may even be more non-human intelligent species in Dragon; it’s not done yet, so I can’t say for sure.

Which brings us to the final difference.  Butterflies is finished, whereas Dragon is not.  I’ve handed copies of the first 8 chapters to my new First Readers.  If they both tell me it sucks, well, I’ll be starting on something else.  If they give it the thumbs-up, I’ll definitely keep you updated on how the novel is progressing!

I Wonder If J. K. Rowling Gets Owls?

In high school, a friend of mine made the mistake of sharing with us that she collected penguins.  A birthday and Christmas later, she told us all in no uncertain terms that we were never to buy, make, or in any way give her penguins again.  She was tired of them, and had too many.

This is the difficulty that arises from obvious gifts – they are the default, easy thing to give someone.  Imagine getting nothing but penguins as gifts.  No matter how lovely or rare or perfect they are, a part of you is going to want variety.  Add in the hideous, ugly, “what were they thinking?” penguins and you understand her frustration.

I’ve heard that this happens to authors and celebrities, too, especially when there is something easily associated with their work.  It makes me wonder: if my book gets published and goes viral, will people start giving me butterfly stuff?  I’m not sure I would enjoy that, although I would enjoy my book being popular enough that it is a problem.  🙂

A llama with dragon wings!

The two things that I already have as obvious gifts do not create this difficulty.  I have collected llamas since I started working with them as a teenager.  Llamas (unlike penguins) are not easy to find, so if someone gives me one I know they took some time and effort.  Plus, my collection grows slowly, which means I am always excited to add one.  Besides the llamas, I recently started accumulating dragons (in small amounts).   While I am somewhat particular about my dragons (I prefer the European-style flying type over the sinuous Asian-style dragons) I have yet to be inundated with dragons in large quantities.  Whitney did give me some neat little dragon earrings, but mostly I have acquired my dragons myself.  Even if this changes, for now I like dragons.  I wouldn’t mind a few more.  I have to say I was very excited when I got a package from my parents containing a llama with dragon wings – as if it were made for me!

The butterfly thing is a bit worrisome, though.  The Butterflies in my book are not flying insects, but female spies.  Yes, the butterfly is the insignia of the queen, and there are some used as symbols, but the insects themselves are not part of the story.  I did realize the possibility of this when I bought myself some butterfly accessories – butterflies can be kitschy, or overly girly, or even downright tacky.  And unlike llamas, they are everywhere

I am looking forward to the possible day when I have fans and get fan mail.  I just hope it’s not accompanied by a mountain of butterflies…

Steps to a Story: Outline

Thank you to those who voted on my Steps to a Story intro poll.  It seems to be split – two want me to take on the challenge of a male perspective with my new short story for Serial Central, and my mom voted three times for the Butterflies sequel.  🙂 

I’ve decided that I’m going to need to write two things at once anyway, since I have to write the serial and I need to get started on another novel.  Writing two stories that take place in the same world, with the same rules, makes the most sense to me, so everyone who voted gets their way!

The first step I took tonight is one that I don’t usually do, but seemed necessary considering I will be juggling two stories at once (and I didn’t want to lose the third completely).  I outlined all three stories to the extent that they currently exist in my head.  This also required some data collection from existing documents, which I will explain in a bit.

The story that is going to be shelved had some existing outlining done in several documents, as well as one very hard to read training outline scribbled in my notebook.  These I streamlined, detailed a bit (for future Leigh), and saved.  Dragon story: shelved for the moment, in the best condition possible for later use.

The sequel had only one sheet of notes in one of my writing notebooks, labelled “Sequel Thoughts.”  These ideas have grown since, so I put them into a computer document that I can access later.  The outline is very rough, consisting only of an overarching plot idea and several sub-plots.  I know a little more than I wrote, mostly a couple of scenes that are rolling around in my head, but since this is a project I am planning to actively work on, the details seemed a little less needed.  Butterflies 2: rough plot ideas outlined.

The third story, the serial short story, is a pseudo-prequel.  I think that’s the best term for it; unlike Burden or even Bonded, the actual plot of the new story doesn’t directly impact the plot of Butterflies (other than the need for the main character to be in a position to father one of the main characters of the novel).  However, it is the back story of someone who plays a role in Butterflies, so I do have some preconceived notions of the story.  For this pseudo-prequel, I went through all of the sections of Butterflies where he appears or is discussed and made notes about what I already know about his story.  I also returned to the first draft of the novel – I streamlined my first few chapters in the second draft and some of Matthew’s story had been cut.  Going back allowed me to remember what I had originally created for this character; even though it is not in the current version of the novel, it did impact how I wrote his character, so it is relevant.  Plus, why re-create something if it already exists?  Short story: briefly outlined.

So tonight’s writing session was more a fact-finding, drafting session and not so much a creative session.  It was needed, though, and now I’m ready to start writing!

Steps to a Story – Intro

This blog is supposed to be about my adventures trying to get published and writing another novel.  It’s about time to focus on one of those and blog about it; thus, the idea for a new series.

I know that I wrote some about the process of creating a story as I wrote Burden, but it was just as I came across difficulties or interesting tidbits.  This time I’m going to write about it as I go through the process.  Truthfully it will accomplish two tasks: giving you something to read about and making me write so I’ll have an update for the blog.  The series won’t be every post, but it will show up (hopefully) on a regular basis.

Before this series starts, it’s time for you to vote.  We’ve had this “conversation” before, but I need to ask again since you will be sharing this journey with me.  Here are your choices:

BUTTERFLIES 2: this would be the follow-up to The Queen’s Butterflies.  It’ll be set in the same place as Burden and Bonded.  The downside?  If you haven’t read Butterflies you may get spoilers, or be confused about some of the characters.  The new novel will be a stand-alone story, but there will be some assumption that the reader is familiar with the people and places from Butterflies.

DRAGONS: this is the new novel that I have started developing.  It’s new to everyone, so all blog readers will be on the same playing field.  The downside?  I’ve already started creating some of the story (and even written part of it already) so the blog series about the process will not be as comprehensive.

There is a third choice, which is helpful for me in a different way.  That is SHORT STORY: the next story that I am writing for Serial Central.  I have to write this one either way, but it doesn’t help with the writing of the novel. This one is my first attempt at a male protagonist, and other than knowing the basics of what happens (it’s another prequel of sorts) nothing else has been created, so we’ll be starting mostly from scratch.

Time for your thoughts!  If no one votes, I’ll have to pick on my own.  I don’t really want to do that, since it is your adventure, too.  Please vote!!

A Little Help From My Friends

Friends are important.  Good friends support you when you are having trouble, make you laugh when times are good, and keep your head from swelling.  Friends are fun singly or in groups.  And friendships can make book characters more believable.

It can be tricky to develop friendships in books.  A real relationship between people includes a variety of moods and moments, and these need to be present in a novel, too.  There are seven girls, 4 main characters and 3 supporting, who form a tight-knit group in Butterflies.   They become friends through shared training, and we see their connection develop and strengthen in various groupings and scenarios. There are even variations of the depth of friendship between individual pairs within the group.  Some of them are paired for projects; two sets of three have overlapping courses. Three share the same birthday, and they all turn to one another as resources.

The trick to a group of female friends is the blend of emotions.  One girl may treat another with sympathy in one scene and sarcasm in the next.  Women who are friends know all the clever teasing and loving humor that works with each other, and it is a skill we develop as teens.  This can be easy and difficult to write all at once; the dialog flows freely but much of the conversation is body language and tone, hard to convey in words. 

The most enjoyable writing of this set of friends was when two of the girls begin to develop some romantic relationships.  As any woman knows, you are happy for a friend when she finds someone but a little jealous at the same time.  The conversation is at once teasing and encouraging, with just a hint of cattiness.  It was supremely fun to write, with blushing, tongues stuck out, things being thrown, and innuendo.

There are two groups of friends that form the reference point for my writing.  One is the “Upstairs Corner,” a group of 6 girls that I was a part of in high school.  This is the main source for the friends in Butterflies, as the ages and general scenario are quite similar.  The other group is the social group I have at work – a better refernce for adult friends, but with the same balance of support, teasing, and fun that I found in school.

I hope you have friends to lean on, both in real life and your writing!

A Fresh Start

I am completely moved, although not unpacked, with a lot of help from many friends.  (It took 7 people, plus me, to make the move happen!!)  I also have internet in my lovely new apartment – thus, blogging ability returns!!

Exhaustion is a funny state – I know I have been this physically worn out before, but I can’t remember it.  Sleeping on an air matress for two nights, staying up late and getting up early to pack the two nights prior, and working all day in between will make you tired regardless, but moving boxes and furniture on top of that has taken it out of me.

Now that I have moved, I plan to focus once again on my publishing and writing adventures.  I am hoping to get the next several parts of “Burden of Knowledge” finished and send out a few more query letters within the next week.  I also have to decide which novel to work on.  What do you think?  Dragons (the new one) or Butterflies (the sequel to my existing novel)?  At this point both are equally in the front of my mind, and I will outline both before really jumping in to one or the other.

Please help me choose!  The choices are: Dragons, a “gate” fantasy – half set in this world, half in another, with dragons and elves and magic – or Butterflies, a sequel to my existing manuscript – for a better description of the world and the premise, read my synopsis page and the beginnings of my serial story on Serial Central.

What’s your vote?


I started to really work on the next scene for Burden of Knowledge in my head today and realized that I have to go wade through my manuscript for Queen’s Butterflies before I can continue.  I think there is a scene in the book that is in the same location as the scene for the story, and I want them to be consistent.  It drives me crazy when a story or series is inconsistent.  The people who check those things in TV and movies call it “continuity” and even there, they can mess up.  The storyline for one of the recurring serial killers early on in CSI: had a continuity issue, and it bothers me a little every time I watch the episode with the mistake.

Of course, my short story is set three generations before my book and room decor can change, so consistency in this case is not quite as tricky.  Architectural details are a different dog, however, so I’ll still need to confirm.  Too bad the hard copy is “checked out” by one of my coworkers; I’d rather flip pages than page down on the computer, but it seems I have no choice.

I hope you enjoyed part 1 of Burden of Knowledge!  Look for part 2 next Sunday!

A Picture is Worth…

Today the first 1000 or so words of my new short story Burden of Knowledge posted today on Serial Central! 

Even if you haven’t read my manuscript, The Queen’s Butterflies, you should give my story a try.

Here is a sample, a teaser, a taste, just for you:

“The funeral of King Ewan was a grand affair of state.  He had died unexpectedly, when a pleasure ride with his children was interrupted by a fleeing poacher and the pursuing woodsmen.  His spirited young gelding spooked, throwing him, and his neck had broken, leaving Prince Stefan to rule the kingdom before his time.  Ewan had been a good king, and kind, always considerate of the welfare of his people and the good of his nation.  The whole of Diaea mourned his loss.”

Now you want to read the whole thing, right? 🙂

Writing Magic

For those who haven’t read my manuscript, the world of Butterflies does not include a great deal of magic.  It is fantasy due to its setting – a world of my creation – not due to magical creatures or abilities.  This is for two reasons.  The first: magic is mostly unnecessary to the plot.  The second is bigger.  Magic is hard to write.

Magic is truly fantasy; it has to be created whole cloth from the author’s imagination.  Sure, many writers use previous stories as the foundation for their magic.  Elves, dragons, and fairies make frequent appearances in fantasy due to their traditional roots and their familiarity to readers.  Some authors have created excellent rule-based magic systems that provide an easy beginning for other writers.

I prefer to create my own system of rules for magic and how worlds work, but this is a big challenge.  I’m also a scientist, which requires finding a method of magic that reconciles with the way my mind reasons.  I’ve found a way to make some of it work, and other things I’m still developing.  Fortunately, the main character of my new story has instinctive use of her magic, making the need to establish full-blown rules less pressing for the creation of the novel.

And I get to return to the world of Butterflies for my serial story and the sequel I plan to write, relieving the need for magic to strain my brain.

Inside Information

My family are visiting this week, and as my sister says, “We are the coolest people ever.”  My parents, sister and I have a lot of inside jokes.  I know this doesn’t sound abnormal, but, trust me, we have a lot of inside jokes.  They are also historical in nature – we have comments and sayings from trips, from visits, from specific events.  I would share them with you, but that would sort of ruin it.  Besides, you wouldn’t get it. 

Visiting with them brings up all the inside jokes, and whoever brings one up gets points for remembering.  We’ve also created a new one, just in the day that we’ve been together.  For my family (who read the blog): look at that park bench!!

In books, there may not be inside jokes, but characters often have inside information.  There is knowledge shared between people that is important for them to know, and others to not know.  The trick is knowing when to share it with the reader, and how to share it.  In Butterflies, there are many back stories and pieces of info that the reader gets to see in small parts.  There is also shared info that everyone in the book knows, but it is more than the reader needs and would bog the story down to share.  This is the basis for my first story at Serial Central.  The best is when the reader knows something that someone in the book doesn’t; it makes the character’s slow realization agonizing and enjoyable all at once.

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