Sunday, December 21, 2014

Writing into a Corner

Ever start writing a scene and feel like you're banging your head against a wall?  Or maybe you plow through that wall with sheer desire to write your scene, but when you go back and read it you find it to be lacking?

In my process, I think of these two instances as two sides of the same coin:  writing into a corner.

Having written into many corners, I have developed a mantra for thinking my way around the corner :  Let the scene be about what the scene is about.

Sounds obvious, right?  Well yeah, but that's why it works for me.

Sometimes I find myself getting really into the setting.  Perhaps a particular building or location really excites me.  Like Doug from the movie Up, a squirrel can take your attention away really quickly from the task at hand. When that happens it is easy to try to couch the purpose of the scene in terms of that particular thing that excites you in the moment.

That never works out for me.

Example:  The purpose of the scene is to show a necromancer unleashing a horror against a protagonist.  The scene also needs to introduce the necromancer's lair, which is an awesome place.  The lair must be developed in terms of the necromancer's actions.  If the necromancer's actions are developed in terms of the lair, the scene tends to lose coherence and I'm left unsatisfied. 

By rewriting the scene and couching everything in terms of the highest priority of the scene, I find that troublesome scenes tend to be easier to write and I like the result better as well.

Cheers, Merry Christmas, and Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Help Must Come to Us

Yes I know I've used a quote from the movie and not the book, but we'll just have to make do with the lesser of two inspirations today.

I've been looking at the pacing of Blind Guardian today, paying particular attention to the ebbs and flows of action sequences.  I'm reminded of The Return of the King movie, where Pippen and Gandalf are on the balcony watching the darkness approach.  It is the deep breath before the storm and it builds tension like crazy.

While I'm working on the deep breaths of my story, here's what I'll be listening to:

Jeremy Soule is fantastic.  You may notice that I listen to a fair amount of video game music.  You'd be right to notice that.  To the uninitiated, the "video game" modifier for "music" might draw a laugh and an inference that the art is silly or cheap but I promise you nothing could be further from the case.  Have a listen and see if you agree.

Bonus LotR art after the break (found it posted on goodreads, I think it's the work of Jian Guo )

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Would-be authors and their blogs

Participation in the flash fiction challenge has led to an unanticipated realization:  there are a ton of would-be authors in the same position as me.

I mean, I always knew that was the case.  But it's different to read a bunch of responses to the flash fiction challenge and see how well these people tell stories.  And the responses to that one flash fiction challenge represent only the smallest of fractions of the total number of people who are working hard to get their first novels published.  If publishers are searching for a needle in a haystack it's easy to feel like just another piece of hay!

But the majority of authors probably feel this way before they get their break and they get their novel published.  And that's an encouraging thought.

BG Update:  character outlines are finished, next task is reviewing the scene outlines and addressing structural weaknesses.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Flash Fiction Challenge: The Ditch that Runs Parallel

I wander through a lot of writing blogs, usually aimlessly hoping something sparks inspiration.  This morning I came across Chuck Wendig's blog.  He has posted a Flash Fiction Challenge.

Oddly, only yesterday I had talked to someone about something and I had a secret thought along the lines of "that creeps me out, it'd be the perfect beginning to a horror story."  That I will eventually teeter on the edge of death has always horrified me.  Will I struggle for life or happily let go?

Mind you, I don't read horror.  It's not that I don't like it, but there are only so many hours in the day you know?  So what follows is my ~1600 word take on the holiday horror challenge, and it may or may not actually be horror.  It started out being holiday themed, but in the end it's only holiday related insofar as it is a foil to the dizzying highs normally associated with the holidays.  I'm titling it The Ditch that Runs Parallel

            Cindy lost control of her Lexus SUV when it hit a patch of ice.  She was an amateur photographer and, as a favor to her brother and his wife, was scouting for a decent location to take pictures for their family Christmas card.  The mountain road that wound through the Cibola National Forest was steep, narrow, and winding.  The road conditions deteriorated the higher Cindy drove, and at last she had decided to turn around.  She hit the ice while performing a K-turn.

            When she realized she had lost control, she felt panic.  But she was at the same time struck by how wonderful the sliding felt.  Slow and with beautiful inevitability, physics dictated that her car slid sideways and into the shallow ditch that ran parallel to the road.  

Friday, December 5, 2014

Nothing accompanies black ale quite like a bard's lute

So there's one thing yWriter software doesn't do:  offer a place to keep youtube videos.  After my last post on the music that is inspiring my fictional world, I realized just how great it is to be able to go to one location and play whatever BG inspiring video I want.  Since this blog, heretofore, is mostly me talking to myself I don't feel any remorse in flooding this space with inspirational tunes.  It's a great way to have them readily available to me as I write.  I hope you, dear absent readers, will enjoy them as much as I do. 

Rhys, Bearer of the Bard Petranth, enchants minds with his musical chops.  He is comfortable playing a flute, hurdy-gurdy, and fiddle but his weapon of choice is the lute.  Or, in a pinch, dual wielding a sabre and dagger.

Sometimes others can't help joining in to jam with Rhys, whether they play a 2 string bass, a less mean lute, or simply pound a beat with fists on tables and feet on ground.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Inspirational Soundtracks

One of the things that gets my writing juices flowing is music.  Soundtracks, in particular.  As my Blind Guardian process continues to chug along, I've been especially drawn to certain pieces when writing certain scenes or characters.

Some examples:

Marstan Raymur, Petranth of Arms Bearer.  Undefeated in battle. 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Joy of Sight 4: Characterization post 1

My process on BG has so far been uneven.  For the first couple years, BG was only something I thought about after watching movies or reading books.  The story changed wildly from one thought session to the next, as did the characters.

The second phase was a free writing stage where I would randomly write whatever scenes came into my mind.  It was as much an exploration of writing as it was an exploration of the characters and the story.

After a long time, a story crystallized from the mess but the structure of the story was still more messy than it was cohesive.  So I studied story structure and spent time outlining the plot for and re-conceptualizing parts of BG.  In retrospect, that time was well spent and a part of me wishes I had outlined from the start.

That outlining fueled me for a long time.  But eventually I found my story lacking in characterization.  My organization of information was all over the place; it was sometimes difficult to find what I had written about certain characters.  My characters were often coming off flat, and they started sounding similar to one another.

So now once again I've returned to outlining, with a focus on writing in depth character descriptions, desires, inspiration pictures, and biographies.  Essentially, it is outlining the structure of each character.  Giving bone structure to a name.  Adding musculature.  Carving imperfections.  Couching them in the world through social and familial connections.  Breathing life into them through the gift of individual intent.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Selecting animals for symbolism

Ever wondered why a certain animal is chosen for a coat of arms for a faction in a story?  Or maybe you've daydreamed about which animal you'd select for your own personal coat of arms?  Or for a crest if you owned an English football team?

So how does one go about selecting such a symbol?  I'm not sure I can tell you, but I recently came across the reproduction of a letter Benjamin Franklin wrote arguing for the adoption of the rattlesnake as the symbol of America.  I found the letter illuminating (besides being convinced that a rattlesnake would have been an excellent choice) and wanted to post it here in case you might find it useful in your symbol creating endeavors.

Benjamin Franklin writes:

Monday, November 24, 2014

Shortcuts make long delays

yWriter software

A gentleman called Simon Haynes, an author and a programmer, has written yWriter software and made it available on his website for FREE.  Yes I know you'll still incur the opportunity cost for spending your time checking his site out here and for maybe checking out a couple of the many youtube introductory videos to the software. 

But it shouldn't take longer than around 30 minutes to get a feel for what the software offers (incredible organizational tool for authors) so I highly recommend looking into the software.

I downloaded it and am in the process of transferring my Blind Guardian files--database population time!  This is going to take a while.  But, in my case, that will be a good thing as organization has never been my strong point and I have notes, scenes, and research spread across a desktop, a laptop, and about 7 notebooks filled with scribbling.  At first, I was frustrated that I was spending hours adding characters into the database.  Once the characters were added and I had the fun of having a designated place to put all the random info related to characters (description/bio/notes/inspirational picture of the character!) I quickly realized how much time this will save in the long run.  yWriter is a powerful database that puts all your novel info at your fingertips, I'm loving it more every hour I spend with it. 

If shortcuts make long delays then sometimes the long way around must be the most direct.

In the unlikely event Simon ever visits this page, a thousand thank yous are in order. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Peter Jackson's version of J.R.R. Tolkien's THE HOBBIT

Peter Jackson's version of J.R.R. Tolkien's THE HOBBIT

This is the last time we'll have a brand new movie to revel in Tolkien's Middle Earth.  Long ago I came to grips with the fact that the movies would not stay as true to the source material as I would prefer (the end of Return of the King being the thing that grinds my gears the most; or perhaps it is the failure to develop Faramir further--I'm not sure).

I did not love The Hobbit as much as I loved LotR, so my gears were only ground an average amount when I watched the first movie installment and I felt that Peter Jackson took it upon himself to change the way Bilbo proves himself to the dwarves.  This is a story that is first and foremost about Bilbo discovering himself, and to change important elements of that journey is to change the character of the story on a core level.  How strange is it that LotR and Hobbit were both given three movies but, despite being significantly longer, the LotR movies were truer to Tolkien's novels than The Hobbit movies have been.

Jackson has grown a bit too big for his britches in my opinion.  The whole creation of the white orc seems to imply that Jackson felt The Hobbit, as told by Tolkien, did not have enough action.  Why time was used on made up scenes or why scenes were changed unnecessarily, I'll never understand.  The scene in the cave before everyone is captured and taken to goblin town, for example.  Or the scene where Gandalf brings the party to Beorn's house.  Telling a story, getting Beorn hooked, refraining from telling Beorn how many dwarves were in the party, all while more dwarves are showing up--that is classic Tolkien and classic Gandalf.  Replacing that scene with some ridiculous running from a bear scene where the door is shut just in the nick of time is an absolute crime.  And Jackson's replacement scene is so horribly cliche that it is surprising it's anywhere other than the editing room's wastebasket. 

So given that my gears are being ground by each new instance of Jackson's revisionist take on Middle Earth, why am I excited?  I guess I've just accepted that Jackson is going to do his thing and that whatever he does, a fair bit of Tolkien will still shine through in the end.  And it's a bit harsh to only focus on how Jackson is putting his own stamp on Middle Earth while staying silent on the fact that he does a lot to make Tolkien's world look and feel real.  Jackson, afterall, makes Middle Earth look beautiful.  I mean it looks so good that I think every 2 bit fantasy hack like myself harbors secret daydreams of their own world looking that good on the silver screen one day.  And that's pretty high praise. 

In the end it's a real treat to get to experience Middle Earth and the characters I love, even if what we get is an imperfect version of the original. 

December 17 is when the magic happens.  It should be amazing.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The things that keep us writing

So this is a very happy post.

My cousin and his fiancee have both finished their first novels!  I can't wait to read their stories, they're some of the most imaginative people I know.  I've been privy to some advanced reading and can guarantee readers are in for a good time!

Every so often my cousin will send me a text asking how my progress is going and telling me he's looking forward to reading more.  That kind of encouragement is invaluable when you're working on a novel.  I'm certain that kind of support is one of the reasons why both of them have been able to finish their novels (and why his mother, my aunt, is on the brink of finishing hers!)  Finishing a novel is a huge accomplishment.  That's why I'm here yakking about my journey and probably why you're here reading about somebody else's journey to getting published.  So if you find yourself struggling to finish your book and you don't have people around who can encourage you, go out and find some people on whom you can rely.  I wouldn't have done that on my own if I didn't have family that was all writing fantasy novels.  That would have been a huge mistake.  Support is invaluable.  Make sure you have some!

Back to those fresh new novels.

My purpose in this blog was not to advertise or critique other novels, but based on the above I think you can understand why I'm pleased to advertise their novels here.

My cousin's is entitled Riddle of Regicide and is available now for preorder on Amazon as an ebook for $2.99.  You can preorder here.

Riddle of Regicide blurb:

Draxin Stormgarde awakens in the Thieves Guild with no memory of his past, no memory of his family. After being forced into training with Yortaz the evil jester, Draxin learns that the Thieves Guild is plotting to assassinate the king. And he's the person they expect to do it.

During a raid gone awry, Draxin escapes and meets Ravelin, a mysterious royal agent tasked with protecting the king. Together, they race against time to stop the Thieves Guild before the king arrives in town for the annual Elk Day Festival.

Throughout his quest to save the king and unearth the demons of his past, Draxin must outwit a menagerie of fearsome beasts and sinister villains to keep from literally losing his head.

Will Draxin solve the riddle of regicide in time to save the king, or will Yortaz and the Thieves Guild prevail?

His fiancee's is entitled Curse of the Moira and is also available for preorder on Amazon as an ebook for $2.99.  You can preorder here.
Curse of the Moira blurb:

In a world filled with darkness, three races clash. Tension between the divinares, brutarians, and humans has been brewing for years and war is imminent. In this twisted tale of friendship, love, betrayal, and fate, you'll follow the journey of a young woman, Mahlia, as she discovers what it truly means to be a divinare. Mahlia is the last of her race to be born with the gift of sight, but doesn't know what this power entails.

As symbols predicting the future ignite on her skin, she must escape from the Iron Gates, where she's been imprisoned for over half her life, and journey across the realm to find the answers she seeks. But will she have time to learn the symbols' meaning before chaos is unleashed?

You can follow Saxa on her author blog here

As an aside, they did their own cover art and totally blew me away!  If Ryan and Saxa are reading this, best of luck, you two, and I look forward to reading parts of your next books in the very near future!

Here's to our supporters and the things that keep us writing!

You never know where the road might lead

It's been six months since I last posted here.  A thousand apologies to anyone who would have liked to hear more about my journey.  The truth is that I haven't touched my manuscript in that time.  Life has a way of making you feel busy.

Since last time, I've decided to leave attorney work behind me.  Instead, I'm headed back to school to do the thing I always should have done in the first place:  economics.  It was always the subject that stirred my passions and which felt "important".  As a naive college student, the dollar signs that everyone associates with attorneys turned my head and I went to law school instead of continuing with economics.  My experience in law left me completely disenchanted.  I had expected to be a warrior for truth and justice.  Instead I was expected to be calculating in maximizing billable hours and a proponent of truth only so long as it was relevant to the case I was building.  

But there's no time like the present to correct past mistakes and so I've set off on the path toward a new career and the long term uncertainty that goes with a career change.

So now I'm a student once again, while also learning to be a teacher (on evenings and weekends I'm an LSAT instructor for a Test Prep company).  Which is perfect because while my primary purpose in getting my econ PhD is to do research, I am very interested in being the best teacher of economics that I can be.

My professional life has been marked by a niggling thought:  success in this world may be mutually exclusive with idealism.  I'm hoping to find an outlet for my idealism in academia, but I fear politics and pragmatism rule every realm under the sun.  Perhaps that is why I write, so that I may carve out a place for heroicism to flourish.  What do you think?  Can you be idealistic and successful at the same time?

Monday, March 17, 2014

And some things that should not have been forgotten

I love books.  Not all books, but a good many.  Of those I like, my favorites are usually from a specie of fiction we now refer to as epic fantasy.  I hadn't really thought about the lineage of epic fantasy until by chance I came upon a rather interesting article by Tom Simon that briefly touches upon the subject.

I started looking for more information on heroic fantasy and romantic fiction (romanticism, not works belonging to the romance genre).  An hour or so later I emerged from my google induced rabbit hole.  It appears epic fantasy belonged, not long ago, to a genre called heroic fantasy.  Heroic fantasy itself had previously branched out from romantic fiction. 

Fascinating stuff if you ever care to start into your own virtual rabbit hole on the subject.  For me, the romantic hero is still the taproot of the entire epic fantasy genre. Most (perhaps all?) of the epic novels I read attempt to put a new gloss on the romantic hero.

Returning to Tom Simon, his article incorporates Mark Twain's Literary Offenses of James Fenimore Cooper, in which Twain lists 18 rules governing the art of of romantic fiction (Twain says there are 19 rules, but is of the opinion that Cooper only violated 18 of them and does not say what the other rule is).

I am not generally a fan of rules, but I think these are general enough to be helpful without being harmful.  If that makes sense.  They seem like good rules of thumb to keep in the back of your mind when editing. 

Twain's rules:

1. A tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere.

2. The episodes of a tale shall be necessary parts of the tale, and shall help develop it.

3. The personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others.

4. The personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there.

5. When the personages of a tale deal in conversation, the talk shall sound like human talk, and be talk such as human beings would be likely to talk in the given circumstances, and have a discoverable meaning, also a discoverable purpose, and a show of relevancy, and remain in the neighborhood of the subject in hand, and be interesting to the reader, and help out the tale, and stop when the people cannot think of anything more to say.

6. When the author describes the character of a personage in his tale, the conduct and conversation of that personage shall justify said description.

7. When a personage talks like an illustrated, gilt-edged, tree-calf, hand-tooled, seven-dollar Friendship's Offering in the beginning of a paragraph, he shall not talk like a Negro minstrel at the end of it.

8. Crass stupidities shall not be played upon the reader by either the author or the people in the tale.

9. The personages of a tale shall confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle, the author must so plausably set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable.

10. The author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones.

11. The characters in tale be so clearly defined that the reader can tell beforehand what each will do in a given emergency.

12. The author shall say what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it.

13. The author shall use the right word, not its second cousin.

14.The author shall eschew surplusage.

15. The author shall not omit necessary details.

16. The author shall avoid slovenliness of form.

17. The author shall use good grammar.

18. The author shall employ a simple, straightforward style.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Joy of sight 3: Kill your darlings

"Kill your darlings."  What does this mean?

It has been explained to me like this: 
"If you think you’ve written something particularly lovely, it probably needs to be deleted."

An author will create scenes, turns of phrase, dialogue, and characters whom (s)he loves.  It is inevitable.  If we are supposed to kill our darlings does that mean we cut those scenes on the basis of our love?  Perhaps I am naive, but I say no! 

Instead, I believe "killing your darlings" is a reminder an author must learn to approach self-editing dispassionately.  Writing and editing should be distinct functions. Each has its own place in the bicameral system governing the creation of a story. 

When it's time to write, an author should feel free to write anything. The writer has absolute freedom to put words on page.

When it's time to self-edit, an author should feel free to remove or change anything. Anything and everything!

The problem "kill your darlings" addresses is temporal.  Writing always precedes editing.  Since authors tend to love (or love to hate) what they write, they develop an emotional connection to their work.  Emotional connection will get in the way of self-editing if an author lets it.

Where the phrase came from I haven't the foggiest.  Perhaps "kill your darlings" was once a mental exercise to strengthen the sovereignty of the self-editor function.  Pick your favorite character.  Would the story be stronger if you killed him/her?  If so, do it.

George RR seemingly turned this exercise into a formula that has produced wildly popular novels. And we've all probably heard the adage that goes something along the lines of "if you become stuck in your writing, kill off a character."

But you don't have to kill what you love.  The point is you must free your mind to pull the trigger or hit the delete button if it improves your tale.  Don't let your love bias the editing process. 

The self-editor must look at everything with critical eyes. If anything in your manuscript doesn't serve the story, and serve it efficiently, then it needs revision. 

So don't let yourself be a slave to so-called rules of writing. Instead, work to tell the story that needs telling even if doing so means cutting parts you love. That's my take on it.

A fine reminder to edit dispassionately:  Kill your darlings.    




Thursday, March 13, 2014

Joy of sight 2: repeated and unnecessary words

Repeated words.

Unnecessary words.

Cull these when you revise your MS.  It's obvious, but they have a way of sneaking in when you're focused on other things.  So it's worth a blog post as a reminder.

Repeated words:
  • will occur as part of the creative process
  • may just need to be changed to another word
  • may be an indication of too much description
  • may be an indication of inefficient paragraph construction

Unnecessary words:
  • multiple actions (the right one is usually better)
  • multiple adjetives (the right one is usually better)
  • adverbs (often an indication that a better verb can be used instead)
  • redundant information
  • unimportant information

Editing is a skill.  Writers, keep honing your craft!

Joy of sight 1: Too much description

It's time to do some internet-based research on the suggestions from my critique.  First item: over-description.

Some interesting links on the subject:
I don't really believe in using rules to write.  I've tried to abide by writing rules (no adverbs, cut speech tags, etc.) while writing chapters and it always makes my writing feel too wooden.  It crushes my creativity.

I do, however, believe in understanding the problems which the rules of writing aim to remedy. Once an author understands those problems then (s)he may pick and choose when to flirt with danger.  Or choose not to flirt with danger.  But the understanding is key, because it puts another element of writing under the author's control. 

Description is no different. If your story is a raft floating down the plot of a river, then description is everything else in the river.  It's the unexpected eagle sighting that adds wonder to the story.  It's the glacier melt sediment that can be heard as it flows against the rubber of the raft and makes the story seem more real.  It's the boulder in the river that diverts the plot and creates places for side-stories in the back-eddies.

The problem is the raft trip will be slow when the river is jam-packed with eagles, floating debris, and boulders. If you've ever been kayaking and have become stuck on a sandbar, then you know how quickly frustration will mount when the trip isn't moving forward.

So how should we endeavor to describe?

A random example from LotR:

"It was evening, and the grey light was again waning fast, when they halted for the night.  They were very weary.  The mountains were veiled in deepening dusk, and the wind was cold.  Gandalf spared them one more mouthful each of the miruvor of Rivendell.  When they had eaten some food he called a council."

As many of the articles above suggest, Tolkien mixes description with action.  Looking at each sentence individually we see:
  • It was evening, and the grey light was again waning fast, when they halted for the night.  Description and Action
  • They were very weary. Description
  • The mountains were veiled in deepening dusk, and the wind was cold.  Description
  • Gandalf spared them one more mouthful each of the miruvor of Rivendell.  Action
  • When they had eaten some food he called a council.  Action
The random example I chose was the first paragraph in Chapter 4, A Journey in the Dark.  These introductory paragraphs are common for Tolkien to use at the start of his chapters.  He also uses them when scenes shift.  Half of the paragraph moves the action along.  Half a sentence describes the time.  One and a half sentences describe the setting.  One short sentence describes the state of the Fellowship.

When description is deftly mixed into action it adds interest without stealing attention.  A river runs in riffles when it flows over many submerged stones.  The riffles add a new dimension to the flow without changing the course of the whole river. That seems like a good goal for the bulk of a story's descriptions. 

The other thing we might learn from the good professor's paragraph is that his sentences are not overly complex.  Each simply carries a thought.

He doesn't over-do his descriptions even though he is capable of writing stunning scene descriptions.  He chooses to embellish just one thought with flowery language: "veiled in deepening dusk". 

Simplicity appears to be an important component of mixing action with description.  Let the description get too long or too complex and those submerged stones start poking out of the river and the story has to navigate around them.

Against a background of simple descriptions mixed with action, the occasional embellished description becomes exciting rather than tiring.  

Of course there will be exceptions.  The art of writing is in applying these lessons to a story in the appropriate way for that particular story.

In novel news, I have just completed a reading of part 1 of Blind Guardian while focusing on description alone.  Unsurprisingly, it resulted in significant changes to the story.  I am happier with it now, but not yet satisfied. Onward.

Good luck wrestling with the art of description in your own writing. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Vain was Gandalf's trust in me

Work has prevented me from doing any revising for about ten days.

Nearer to the truth, work has been the excuse I poured myself into. A necessity. But also an excuse to avoid writing. Avoid writing?  Why ever would I avoid my story when a passion for it has occupied my mind for years?

It was a strange phenomenon and one I didn't understand at first.  My first critique returned to me a laundry list of suggested improvements. The list did not bowl me over all at once. It didn't sadden me to see a stranger say my story needed to be reworked and rewritten.  I already knew those things. I sought out the critique (indeed, I had told the reader to "hold nothing back" and to be as "blunt as possible") because I wanted to know where the limits of my writing ability unfairly chained my story.  I wanted to set my story free.

But after taking a day or two to digest the critique, I discovered all the wind had leaked from my sails.  I was floating in some kind of writer's doldrums.

It was a scary place. I waited for my writing energy to return and power me forward once again. But it did not come. An inner gate-keeper barred my way.

You see, the critique helped to educate my editing eyes. I reread my first chapter and it was so far from the mark that I had to face the possibility it might never be good enough for other people to read and enjoy. It is likely that the only people to read Blind Guardian will be my friends and family.  And it is more likely than not that even they will skim to the end just to be supportive.

So the question left in my mind was: Am I okay with that?

My initial answer was: Yes, because telling this story is the most meaningful undertaking of my life.

But that answer, while truthful, did not satisfy the gate keeper.  Another realization was yet before me.

If this story is the most meaningful undertaking of my life and it isn't important to anyone but myself, then wouldn't that mean that my life's work was unimportant?  Am I just wasting my time?

It was time to do some serious soul searching.

It sounds odd, but I started thinking about my own character arc as an author.  Character arcs are all about what a character wants versus what a character needs. Eventually a character learns the difference between those two things.  How they react governs the rest of the story.  My writing doldrums were the place I finally distinguished between what I wanted and what I needed as an author.

What I wanted was to write a meaningful story to inspire people in the way my favorite novels inspire me. I wanted to share a story and characters that I loved with other people.  I wanted other people to be able to love the story as I do and to share in its joy.

What I needed was to accept that the worth of my life's work cannot be determined by anyone but myself.  I either write Blind Guardian for myself or else I write something that will not make me happy. 

There is a profound difference between want and need. When I chose to accept what I needed, I was able to begin revising my story again.  I am sure it will take a great deal of effort to internalize the lesson.  But the making of Blind Guardian continues and I am happy. 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

One who cannot cast away a treasure at need is in fetters.

Part 1 of my novel, Blind Guardian, has been rewritten at least ten times.  The manuscript is sitting at 45k words.

It's an epic fantasy, which means the internet has told me the finished product should be 100-120k words.  I've caught myself worrying how Blind Guardian would ever fit inside the magic 120k word box.  Complex threads must weave together.  Necromancer tyrants must be overcome.  A man must learn to be a hero.  It seems impossible for it to all fit!

I'm not worried any more.

I just received a critique on chapter 1.  From someone other than my girlfriend or sister.  From a fellow wordsmith who also happened to be a complete stranger.

***dramatic noise***

The good:  I "did not fall prey to many of the classic beginner mistakes".

The bad:  I fell prey to a host of other mistakes:
  • over description
    • in the form of prepositional phrases
    • too many actions
  • repeated words
  • unnecessary prose
  • I did not "kill my darlings"
  • a profound lack of pronouns
  • stilted dialogue 
    • lack of contractions
    • long blocks of words rather than quick exchanges between characters 
    • fully formed thoughts
    • "As you know, Bob" dialogue
  • incorrectly punctuated dialogue
  • little character development
  • protagonist comes across as wooden
  • poorly executed "in media res"
    • possibly the story started in the wrong place
    • flashbacks are difficult to weave into a story
  • I turned an event into a long section of "tell" (as in: show, don't tell) through a flashback
  • POV shifts in the form of narrative information that the POV character could not know

If the first 3.5k words of my story suffer from those problems, what did I screw up in the other 41.5K?  Also, if those aren't beginner mistakes then what qualifies as a beginner mistake?  The road to finishing my manuscript is going to be long.

Not all those suggestions are superficial.  Some go to the heart of how I told the story in chapter 1.  It's no fun to receive that kind of criticism.  It's agonizing to realize the criticism is spot on and that it's time to rebuild the chapter from the foundation up.  And it's funny to think about how much time I spent sweating over stuff that will be cut.  There is going to be a lot that gets cut.  

The nice thing is that no matter how badly I wrote chapter 1, it's entirely within my control to make myself a better writer.  That list of criticisms is a tool for improvement as much as it is a barrier.  On the other side is the story as I want to tell it.

And that is an empowering thought. 

Upcoming blog entries will address these issues one-by-one as I wrestle with them.   

A Blog is Born

So here we are.

Wanna-be authors inevitably create a blog.  Why?  We're told we need a platform.  We don't know what that means exactly but we desperately want to share our preciouses with the world.  So blindly we grope to discover ways of connecting with our potential future readers.

And this is my version of that.

A couple ground-rules for this blog:
  • It's a blog about the process of writing my novels.  If my novels are ever published and people care to read them, it will expand to include related topics.
  • My novels are neither political allegories nor are they designed to be political statements.  Therefore, this blog will not be about politics.  Is there anything grosser than celebrity--or unknown author--rants on politics?  Rants do not intend to be persuasive.  Their purpose is to use the author's platform to push some "truth" on all the idiots who just don't get it (and for like-minded people to pat themselves on the back).  No ranting on this blog.  The singular exception is this rant on ranting.
  • One does not simply blog about writing epic fantasy fiction without referencing Tolkien.  It is folly.  Assume my post titles are the work of professor Tolkien or are referencing his work in some way.
  • I will post regularly.
  • Let's keep it civil in the comments.

Enjoy the ride.