Answering Reader Questions Squeefully

Today, I present you with a reader-driven interview of fantastic indeterminable quality and size.

Scott R. Asks: Have you ever loved a character concept but found it just would not fit into the project you were working on? If yes, how did you work that out?

    In fiction, I suppose I’m rather odd, because I feel the most connected to my work when I hear character voices. Those voices usually “talk” to me after I decide what type of story I want to tell. So I begin with the elevator pitch or concept first, and then match characters to that. When I start the other way ’round, the story just doesn’t flow like it should, because I’m so giddy about that character I don’t have a plot. I’ve never heard a character that needed to be silenced for a story; but I have had plots that didn’t work for characters.

    In games, though, this sort of thing happens all the time when I’m outlining. “Oh, it’d be so cool to…” occurs frequently. This is why line developers (a.k.a. gaming gods) exist to rein me in. (Or, when I’m developing, to handcuff myself.)

Mark B. Asks: What advice would you give to people who “run out of creativity” when writing?

    There is some reason why you did. Either it’s an emotion, like insecurity or boredom, or it’s something deeper but just as annoying, like the realization that you really can’t stand writing “X” or you have given up on working for “Y” or you can’t write with someone singing words in the background. Find out what that trigger is so you can recognize the warning signs and make better decisions for yourself, your mental health, and your career.

    Then? BE CREATIVE. Pick up some silly putty. Draw a stick figure. Learn how to bead or cross-stitch or paint or scrapbook. Choose anything — anything at all — that you can pick up and put down at your leisure and do it in a space where you can be completely free. No judgement. No feedback. No money exchanging hands. You do this hobby because you enjoy it immensely to get a creative break. Do this for a set period of time. Fifteen minutes. Half an hour. Then get back to it!

    Other methods that work are: switching projects, using a timer, or diving into a creative writing prompt. I do not recommend sitting at your computer until the words flow for the thing you’re working on because that will kill your productivity. If you turn writing into a punishment, whether that’s mentally or emotionally or not, you’ll do less of it without even realizing it. Yes, you have to write and I firmly believe this, but you also need to be good to yourself or you’ll kill that which you most desire.

Ursula M. H. Asks: What do you wish you had learned in school?

    I desperately tried to understand the business side of writing when I was in college. My Creating Writing program was outstanding because it offered me the flexibility to master form and function, but making money was something I did not learn. That, more than anything, would’ve helped me move forward with a career in writing as opposed to just storytelling. I very much lament the two paths presented in front of me — a literary career (a la The New Yorker) or a career in academia. Neither of which appealed to me at the time, but *shrugs* you never know.

Tiara L. A. Asks: How do you transition from short-story pacing to novel pacing? This is a constant struggle, and I don’t seem to be improving, even after years trying. I can rock a short story but my novel attempts just run out of gas, always about the same point.

    The software that helped me the most was Scrivener, because I was able to separate out the pieces of a novel. If you think about the pieces as interconnected (I always write short stories with the promise of more, more, more…) then you’ll have an easier time with it. More than that, I cannot say, because my novels aren’t out yet.

    I also feel, as I alluded to above, that if you’re stuck on a particular form you may have something else on the emotion side that’s blocking you. I feel you need to figure out whatever that is, perhaps take some time to meditate on the subject, so you can work through it. It may be simple as: “I’m really insecure about writing a novel on spec because I’m not sure if I can sell it and I have other projects people are paying me for.” (Which was my hold up.) Or, it may be complex as: “I’ve never done this before, there’s no one out there to teach me, and I’m worried I’m going to suck.”

    I know others have said to just power through that blockage, but the reality is that you have to do what’s best for you. You may determine that you aren’t a novelist or you only have the one book in you or you have resigned yourself to writing short stories. If that’s the case, own that. Be the writer you want to be, not the one you feel pressured to because everybody else says you won’t be a real writer if… These are your stories, your legacy. Own your own destiny as a writer, and you’ll be so happy you just never know what’ll happen.

David J. Asks: Out of all the things you’ve written, what’s your favorite?

    The novels that haven’t been published yet. I love them so hard… You have no idea. I’m so deeply emotional about these stories that I’ve been very selfish about not sharing them and not polishing them for submission. Soon, though. It’s time.

    In terms of what stories have already been published? I’m enamored with Atlas, my mysterious vampire who first debuted in modern-day noir story called “Fangs and Formaldehyde” for the New Hero anthology through Stone Skin Press. This story was completed a little over two years ago and was part of a very successful Kickstarter. It’s my commentary on the vampire genre (MY VAMPIRES BLOW UP IF THEY GET TOO EMOTIONAL!) and there are more stories to tell in this world.

Preston D. Asks: At what point does more coffee become counter-productive?

    Apparently, Preston follows my blog… So, yes. It’s true. *raises hand* I am a coffee snob and a caffeine addict. To manage said addiction, I have been marking down what happens when I have too much of it. Soda is… Whoa. Bad. Very, very bad. I try to limit myself to one 20 oz. per day (or less) if at all possible. My recent addiction to cardio workouts has also reduced my caffeine consumption, because here’s what happens to my sensitive system when I have too much of it…


    …soooooooo it has to be managed and stuck into the queue of moderation. Provided (key word there) I have a strong focus. Caffeine without focus is counter-productive. But? Caffeine WITH focus is a worthy time for consumption. Indeed.

Jim C. Asks: Is creating an outline really a necessary part of the writing process?

    Gods, no. I would even drop an F-Bomb or two in there for extra special emphasis. My process varies depending upon what I’m working on, where it will be published or submitted, and who I’m working for. Outlines are not always required. They are necessary for certain types of publishers and genres (I’m thinking romance, my friends…) but you can also get away with writing down milestones or reminders for yourself.

    I mentioned this earlier, but if I’m writing something, I prefer to begin with my goal or logline. When I don’t, the story evolves and shifts and changes as if it has a life of its own. And, well… If you’ve met me, you probably think they do, since my nickname is Miss Random USA.

    An example of this is what happened last week. I saw a contest I wanted to enter and I had a concept floating around in my head. It began with a title and a specific scene. I heard the voice in my head and I started writing. BAM! 2,500 words later… I realized that the story was too big for the contest parameters, so I trimmed and trimmed and trimmed and pared and found another story that tried to sneak past me. So I focused on that and cut off the original idea like a bad habit. Mind you, I really like both concepts, and I did get not one, but TWO stories out of the effort — but if I had been writing for a publisher? This would have been bad. “I asked for ‘X’ — but you gave me ‘Y’. That’s not what I wanted!!!”

    Regardless of how you write, there’s a fair amount of technical skill involved — especially when you start involving other people in your process. While I don’t believe outlines are a requirement for you, persay, I do believe they are necessary as part of the professional writer’s toolkit.

Anyhoo… OY. Now hitting that over-caffeination point I was referring to earlier… (In my defense, I’m answering these question as I prepare for the midnight showing of The Hobbit… BUT I LOVE THE WORLD AND TOWELS AND EVERYTHING AND ZOMG!)

Eric C. Asks: Any subject matter you feel is taboo and you won’t touch?

    Okay. (Puts on serious face.) I despise anything that goes in the realm of “creating for the sake of…” Writing for shock value, a la rape/incest/sodomy/etc., is so far removed from what I want to do as a storyteller it’s not even funny. When I tell stories, my goal is not to grab you by the throat to shock the living beejeezus out of you — even though that is a type of story to tell — it’s to entertain you in a way that leaves a different, softer lasting impression through a sense of wonder and mystery.

    Take rape for example. Rape is ugly and common, overlooked and not socially forgiven (e.g. the woman is often treated like the culprit), and is very, very, very wrong. When a writer defaults to that in a horror story, at the exclusion of all other possibilities, there’s very little room for plot. You see vengeance. You see character motivation. You see the victim becoming the antagonist/protagonist. But that rape is a story in and of itself and when it’s not? It turns into gratuitous violence.

    I feel an overemphasis on that (gratuitous violence) against women or people of color or any other “minority,” gross body behaviors (e.g. focus on defecating), and slaughter are cheap tricks that overwhelm plots. There are so many other dark dimensions that can be explored — which I do to highlight that little pinprick of light. In my storytelling world, death means something.

    Other writers may choose to go the shock and awe/gore pr0n route, but that’s not me. Not unless there is a very tangible reason related to the plot and I can write it in a way that does not serve those tropes up on a platter or overly disgusts the reader. There’s already enough of that out there.


Here’s my guilty admission for the day: my favorite lunch to make is a variation on macaroni and cheese. I’m a huge fan of Annie’s Organic Macaroni and Cheese and often add in things like: tuna, buffalo chicken, broccoli, jalapenos, portabella mushrooms, etc. I could write a whole cookbook just on the 100 varieties of mac-and-cheese we’ve come up with!

Monica Valentinelli is an author, artist, and narrative designer who writes about magic, mystery, and mayhem. Her portfolio includes stories, games, comics, essays, and pop culture books.

In addition to her own worlds, she has worked on a number of different properties including Vampire: the Masquerade, Shadowrun, Hunter: the Vigil, Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, and Robert E. Howard’s Conan.

Looking for Monica’s books and games that are still in print? Visit Monica Valentinelli on Amazon’s Author Central or a bookstore near you.

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