Sculpting A Story

I started my novel, Unison, in February  of 2011, and officially wrote the end in June of 2012.  During this whole time period, I woke up with this story on my mind, and it was the last thing I thought about when I went to bed.   For a person with my short attention span, this is a long period of time to spend on one project!

It’s true that no matter how many times we polish our manuscripts, there will always be room for improvement. This is what makes it so difficult to know when to let go.

While working on my first draft, I concentrate on getting the story down, and I clean up as I go along. In my second pass, I do more clean-up; removing redundancies, overused words and grammar mistakes. In the third pass, I begin to sculpt the manuscript into what it’s intended to be. This is when I start to see the story come to life. I can sometimes spend hours shaping one paragraph. This is also the stage when the self-doubts about my story show up. When sentences don’t line up, metaphors sound contrived, or the third act doesn’t seem exciting or fulfilling enough, I start to wonder if I have it in me to finish. I ignore these doubts because the discomfort over an unfinished work is a normal part of the process of creating art.  It may sound simplistic, but it works for me, and it keeps me going.


My focus when sculpting a manuscipt:

1. Go with instinct

2. Make it sing

3. Wordsmithing

4. Connections


Go With Instinct

I don’t say this lightly, and I also go with instinct during the plotting and writing stage as well.  I’m currently in the polishing stage of Jessie’s Song, and I’ve already had plenty of moments where I got tired and wondered if all this time and effort make any difference.  This has been my most challenging story because it went through so many changes. It started out as a high-concept screenplay I’d written for a screenplay class. The main character was initially a hit man who later evolved into a police man in the third draft. My confusion came because I was taking a lot of advice from a screenwriting instructor, who is great at teaching the craft, but our personal styles were very different. This is why it’s essential, as a writer, to gain confidence in your abilities because if you rely on someone else to tell you how a story should go, you’ll be writing their story. I should state here most screenwriters must compromise their vision because there are others involved in the process. There’s a lot of team work involved, and unless you’re Woody Allen, you’re going to have to make adjustments to your work.

One of the reasons I started to write novels was because I didn’t want to compromise. I know where my story wants to go.  Because I gave myself the opportunity to see my story to the end,  changes made to my screenplay won’t bother me as much. I find it amusing how my ego kicks into play here, but I don’t view it negatively, in this regard. Our ego is the tool we use to experience the world. We can either use it to work for or against us.  I may write a blog about this topic soon.

While I was busy rewriting all the drafts to Jessie’s Song, my spiritual path forced me to change direction, and I couldn’t write the screenplay I started out writing. There was too much violence along with an incest thread. That was a whole other issue I wasn’t comfortable with. However, I liked the inner-journey of the story, and I didn’t want to give up on it, but I did…for a while.

After I completed my first draft of Unison, I decided to turn Jessie’s Song into a novel.  I changed the protagonist to a jazz musician and took out the incest backstory, replacing it with a childhood rivalry between two friends. This shift strengthened the theme in that the protagonist and the antagonist both were raised in a similar environment and yet turned out very differently. I found it fascinating to explore what makes one person deal with hardship in a productive way while another one gives up.  This leads me to my next point.

How can we tell if we’re going against our instincts?

If something doesn’t feel right, that’s one sign that tells me I’m going against my instincts. Jessie’s Song went through so many changes because I didn’t listen to my writer’s instinct.  Sometimes, the problem isn’t as obvious. When I first began editing, I ignored sentences that didn’t feel right, as long as they were grammatically correct. I started to notice that through each pass, these areas would continue to bother me…even though nothing was wrong with them! And then something hit me after I spent almost two hours on one paragraph. Words are like musical notes!

Make It Sing

Just like in poetry, from word to word and sentence to sentence, there’s a beat to the narrative and dialogue. I noticed if I put important words on the down beat, this solved a lot of problems with the flow of the text!

From [word] to [word] and [sentence] to [sentence], there’s a [beat] to the [narrative] and [dialogue].

In my example above, from, starts on the pick up, and the down beat lands on word.   All the nouns are on the up beat. When I first picked up on this, I knew this would help cut down  my editing time even further. It used to drive me crazy when I couldn’t figure out why a sentence didn’t work when there was seemingly nothing wrong with it. It was the rhythm that was off!.  Even when I play it back using text-to-speech, it follows the exact same rhythm!

Tip for non-musicians:  tap your hand on the table while listening to the problem sentence. Once you pick up the rhythm,  note when you hand lands on the table…that’s the down beat.  You may notice the focus words are weak.  Try adding and taking away words until the right words are on the downbeat.


Aside of the usual search for the best active verbs and strengthening of metaphors and meaning, I look for unusual verbs and nouns to ensure I don’t overuse them. I’m reading a book now where the author used the word, waft, seven times in the book, and I’m only fifty percent through. There’s nothing wrong with how the author used the word, but it did pull me out of the story where I  took the time to count how many times it was used.  Sometimes ordinary verbs work better to keep the reader involved in the story. It’s definitely a balancing act!

In Unison, one of my beta readers got annoyed over how many times I used the words, dome dungeon. When I read it the second time, I already noticed I overused  the words, but I hadn’t yet reached the stage of cutting out everything that didn’t feel right.  After the comment was made I went in and did some drastic cutting, and it flowed much better.


In addition to wordsmithing, I look for connections that I can use to link events together in a meaningful way. In many books I read, this is the most neglected area aside of mystery novels that are loaded with connections. Personally, I find connections to be one of the most important parts of sculpting a story. It’s what makes it feel like the sum of its parts. In my paranormal thriller, Jessie’s Song, my protagonist, Markos Adams, plays guitar, and he has a strong aversion to Gibson guitars. It started off as a joke, but the reason behind his aversion was revealed to me yesterday. His  displeasure for an instrument transformed a mediocre chapter ending into something extremely profound.

The little things in a story can also help make a reader connect with a character and add a level of sentimentality. A cup of Bengali spiced tea shared between Markos and his wife also took on a deeper meaning in my story. It’s within these little things that we can attach a bigger meaning.

Tip:  look through various props, idiosyncrasies and character preferences in your manuscript and see if you can use them in a larger way. Sprinkle them in throughout the whole story.

Reaching The Finish Line

After my story is sculpted, I send my manuscript over to my beta readers, whom I ask to be as brutal and nit-picky as they can possibly be. With Unison, I went over the manuscript a fourth time because it has various timelines going on, eight in all! I wanted to ensure I didn’t mess any of them up, and sure enough  I did. After I finished, I sent my manuscript to the editor, and when I got it back I did a fifth read-through, and this is when I realized my manuscript graduated into a novel. At this point, I wasn’t afraid to let anyone read it. That’s how I knew I was finished. The feeling of accomplishment was amazing because I didn’t compromise and stuck it out.   I’m going to use Unison as a benchmark for all future books.  It’s been an exciting, exhausting and fulfilling journey and one I want to travel as many times as I can in my lifetime.

Love and light,


When Writing Rewrites The Author

I’ve written about how spirituality drives my fiction, but something unusual happened to me last week. While doing research on my new visionary fiction story, On The Farm, I was so affected by what I read that I gave up eating eggs. The point of my blog isn’t about the compassion behind vegetarianism, even though that’s my personally held view, but rather about how, as writers, what we write can also influence our own behavior. I’m discovering it’s not only my spirituality that filters into my storytelling, but my storytelling filters into my spirituality and makes me alter my behavior.  Writing pulls out the weeds that cover my spirit.

We Are What We Write

If we can positively influence people by our writing, it stands to reason that all the negative things we write can influence equally as well.  It’s important to explain here that my writing changed my behavior—not out of guilt, but rather from unveiling a little more of my inner-awareness that’s hidden by layers of conditionings draped over me since childhood. All the ethical questions I’ve been forced to answer during the plotting stage led to my unveiling. To be true to the story, I had to step beyond my comfort zone. As I began outlining and digging deeper into one of the characters, I sympathized with her plight.  I didn’t know to what degree until I later went to prepare a quiche for my daughters. I  removed some eggs from the carton and something felt off. I didn’t feel right holding them. I told my daughters I would no longer eat eggs again unless I found a local farm where I could see how the hens are being treated. They asked me more questions, and I told them my research experience—minus the graphic details—and they decided to stop eating eggs as well. I told them they didn’t have to give them up because I did, but they insisted.

I don’t want my children to follow my example because they think that’s what I want. As a parent, I know I’m a role model; however, I’m teaching my children to develop value systems from within themselves. Through my own personal experience, I’ve come to learn internalization is the key to inner-growth, not copying. Inside us is our inner-guide and when the right moment comes, a new bit of self-awareness is pulled out.  For me, a blog post I had read at a  great Taoist site a few years ago led to my vegetarianism. Derek Lin never came off as preachy or condescending , and  I personally appreciated his reference to Hitchiker’s Guide To The Universe.  Even after I read the article, I didn’t internalize the content until a few months later while passing a farm on a road trip. Time will tell what motivated my daughters. They both joined me and have been lacto-ovo vegetarians for a year, and they haven’t even once asked me to go to a McDonalds.

An Allegorical Tale

The best method to tell a story without coming off as preachy is to use allegory in storytelling. George Orwell’s, Animal Farm is a prime example of allegory. I’ll also be using animals for my next project—but not in a political context. My husband pitched me the idea, and I loved it enough to begin plotting. I’d like to begin writing it in August; however, I’m finding that piecing this story together is quite challenging.  I’ve got the beginning, and the ending came to me last night. I was stuck on the mid-point, and it came to me after I began the first draft of this blog. As with many of my other breakthroughs, it happened while I was working out at the gym.

Power to influence…without the preaching.

If my story organically could change my own behavior, I wonder what kind of an effect it will have on the reader. Will the characters from this story affect people as strongly as they’re affecting me? It will be interesting to see. I don’t preach vegetarianism or any other isms in my stories, although a character may become engaged in or attached to one form or another. After all, it’s our attachment to places, things and ideals that create conflict, including vegetarianism. I’ve read about a few instances where vegetarians splashed paint on fur coats…while people were wearing them. When we attach labels to our own behavior, we must be mindful not to identify with it so strongly that we lose our ability to think critically and act rationally. By the time I type the words, the end, the ism is replaced by whatever inner-lesson the character had to learn. To me, that makes a more positive and satisfying read.

Love and light,


Transcendent Experiences That Inspire The Sci-Fi Author

This blog was inspired by Dr. Jeff Kripal’s podcast interview on Skeptico discussing his book “Mutants and Mystics” which I’ve ordered and am looking forward to reading. The book is about how authors use their own paranormal experiences to write their stories. I was immediately intrigued as that’s what I do, although I don’t refer to my kundalini awakening as paranormal.  The very meaning of normal is a subjective interpretation of reality, and  my experiences are as natural to me as waking up in the morning.

Ever since I was a child, I was transfixed by science fiction. From Captain Kirk on Star Trek to Ripley on Alien, I was awed by the limitless possibilities of the imagination. Anything could and did happen in these stories, and since I had a sad childhood, these stories helped me forget about my own life for a while. One step into the time doorway in Land Of the Lost, and I was in their world.

The signs of being a writer were always there, but it took all my experiences to feel worthy of writing science fiction.  Since my spirituality drives my fiction, I thought it would be interesting to draw parallels in my writing to what I heard on the program.

The titles in bold were the key points of the podcast that I relate to as a writer of science fiction and speculative fiction.


Humility Versus Certainty

The host discussed humility versus certainty when it came to how one deals with what’s beyond our current level of understanding, and I thought it was a great way of explaining my own motivation in writing.  I was brought up Greek Orthodox, and there was a level of certainty I had towards my faith. That was all gone after my kundalini awakening and not because I was shattered or depressed. The further I tried to understand what happened to me, the more I realized I could never know anything for certain and that made me more humble.

In Unison, the protagonist, Damon1300-333-1M, is a scientist, and he begins his journey as a materialist. His position makes him shortsighted regarding his invention of a technology that ends up enslaving his people. When things start to move beyond his world view, everything he believes in is brought into question, and he has a difficult time adjusting. The movement from certainty to humility is depicted in Damon’s inner journey, mirroring my own interior struggles.

With my newly developed humility, I became less self-centered, and I had a strong desire to help people. I wanted to reveal how my spiritual evolution led to a happy life. I could’ve written self-help books, but that wasn’t my style. I didn’t want to make the message about myself.  Writing under the umbrella of visionary fiction flowed into my writing organically and without any pretense or proselytizing. As an author, my intention is to transmit positive energy through my writing, and I would find it rewarding, and more humbling if my stories  open hearts and minds in addition to being entertaining.

Humanism Versus Mysticism

During my kundalini awakening I was plugged into something larger than myself, but I never viewed it as above, outside or beyond human potentiality. Because we’ve collectively accepted the paradigm of materialism, anything outside the scope of this understanding is labelled paranormal. As I’ve mentioned in the opening, I find my experiences normal, and within the realm of human potential. What my experience showed me was that all of creation is part and parcel of the life force that created it.  I also see it as a natural process as opposed to supernatural.  So in my stories, the characters all have their chance to transcend, but what they transcend to is never referred to as magical or mystical; it’s part of a natural order.

Writing  To Understand

Dr. Jeff Kripal mentioned that Phillip K. Dick wrote to understand his experiences. I write for the same reason.  I’ve written journals and a few blogs in the past that helped me come to terms with my experience; however a complete understanding is impossible. Socrates understood absolute knowledge is elusive. I’ve reached a similar point in my journey, so I’m not a seeker anymore. This all leads back to how I can never be certain of anything. The only thing I do try to understand is how to tailor my new paradigm into a world that appears so vastly alien to me. At times, I feel like an alien in this world because I can’t talk candidly about my experiences with people. Damon goes through similar challenges along his journey as he tries to find his own place in a world he thought he understood. Writing science fiction helps me reveal my spiritual evolution that I would otherwise keep to myself.

Culture Dictates Experiences

My kundalini awakening wasn’t part of my culture, although there is a Greek mystic sect known as Hesychasm where the monks sought out the “uncreated light,” This was shocking when I had first heard about it as it sounded a lot like kundalini.  I haven’t heard about Hesychasm until a few years after my awakening.

I can’t prove my visions are divinely inspired anymore than I can prove that some undisclosed technology is producing them in my brain. Being unable to state what exactly creates my visions is why I don’t define them. It’s safer to observe them as they are, without any judgement. The more I ruminate over them, the more strange reality appears to me. It’s as undefinable as my visions. This is another aspect that’s humbled me.

“There is no such thing as truth. The only thing that is actually there is your logically ascertained premise, which you call truth.” U.G. Krishnamurti

…Which is why science fiction is the cultural vehicle in which I express my spirituality.

Freedom To Say What I Want

I found that no matter how delicate I present my position, if it counters something a person is passionate about, they get offended…even when it wasn’t my attention to offend. As I’m not a mind reader, I have no way of knowing how deeply someone feels about their position, so I’d rather not risk hurting feelings.  This goes back to my feeling like an alien because I can’t speak freely with people.  Science Fiction is the only way I can say what I want. However, it’s important to mention that even in fiction there’s a fine line between preaching and remaining true to the story. How I avoid preaching is I make sure the character speaks through his or her personality and not my own.

As I don’t live in a world of certainty, it’s easy for me not to be preachy in my stories. The only time I’ve slipped is when I wrote while being angry.  Since then, I avoid writing when I’m over emotional. To get the best story out of me, I need to be detached from myself and fully engaged in the story world. Some of my characters may be preachy, but that’s to demonstrate their particular character flaws rather than to convince the reader of some personal ideology, of which I have none.  Unless you consider not having an ideology as an ideology. It’s a vicious cycle!

Relating experiences through characters

If I try to explain my kundalini awakening to people, either I’m viewed as crazy, or I’m asked what kind of drugs I was on. However, if it’s happening to a character, people are more apt to accept it, so I nestle my visions and experiences into my fiction.

Future is creating the past

I’ve had many occasions of feeling like I’ve already lived through particular events. This was the basis of Unison in that time is not linear but happens in a constant loop.

Do we author the world or does the world author us?

My ideas never come on a conscious level, so I definitely feel authored. This has been a humbling admission for me. Since  accepting this, my work has become more authentic. It’s almost like my stories are tailor-made for me. I’m right-brain oriented, so writing a first draft is very visually intense. I capture different pictures of my story, and they come to me in no particular order. Eventually, they make sense. For instance, in Sunrise, I envisioned a green flame flickering in a cave. I had no idea what it meant when I saw it, but I wrote it into the scene knowing it would eventually make sense when I got all the pieces, and it eventually did.

I’m in the middle of outlining my next book, On the Farm. I’ve already got a few images  and designed the book cover.  Working on the cover gave me a lot more visuals for the story. It was so effective,  I’ve decided to include book cover design during the development phase of my stories.  Visuals tell the story, and words interpret what I see.

Near the closing of the show Dr. Jeff Kripal claimed the culture is writing us.  I close with asking who or what is writing the culture?  There’s definitely another loop here which further demonstrates how limiting our understanding is. I have my theories, but I’ll save them for another book.