January 28, 2011

Loose Sheep

Writing a novel is a daunting thing. It doesn't happen in a day, so it's easy to forget things that you introduced early on. One of the things you have to do during revision is find all the loose threads and take care of them. You may miss things. You can be so focused on making sure each word choice is the best and the pacing is appropriate that you might ignore something that feels inconsequential to the character, but thematically (and to the reader) is very important.

In my case, driving to work today, I was trying my hand (YET AGAIN) at writing a query that will grab people's attention. What I came up with exposed an unresolved plot issue so large that I can't even call it a loose thread. It's the entire damn fleece. It's a loose sheep.

Jehovah's mother sold her children to get passage to the platform city up above. Jehovah goes up above and not once do I address his mother (at least I don't remember doing so). What the hell am I thinking? If I were a reader and went through a book that didn't address this issue, I would have many course words for the talent of the author.

Oi!


From the Rejectionist, here's what finding a loose sheep feels like:

January 23, 2011

Another Selby Invitational

Saturday was another Selby Invitational. Winter is a hard time to gather friends and this was no different. We had a number of last-minute cancellations due to illness. Regardless, there were nine of us in all, allowing for some larger fun party games and some smaller games.

Telestrations made another appearance. If you're looking for a good party game, this is your go to option. Take Pictionary and cross it with Operator/Telephone and let the laughs ensue. I marveled this time around at some words that deviated drastically and actually managed to make it back to their original word. How did you get Butterfly from Zombie Death Ninja?!?!

7 Wonders was introduced to yet more players. For the first time ever, this did not yield an immediate replay. Usually new players go through three games before looking for something else to play. That's okay, though. Both because I lost and because we got to learn more games.

I learned Pente, which my friend Britt introduced me to. That's a quick, fun, cerebral game.

I also had a rematch on Gobblet. When I taught my friend Hal how to play, we had an intense match, the longest I had ever had up to that point. He defeated me in our first game and I swore revenge and revenge I had! ...after losing again. Our last game saw every piece on the board. It was intense, but I persevered.

I got to try a few new games too, both of which had sinking themes (perhaps we're planning ahead for when all this snow melts). One you were playing rats trying to get off a sinking ship. The other you're treasure hunters trying to get off a sinking island. This latter is from the same guy that made Pandemic. I think it's the better of the two, honestly. It's not SO geared to make you lose like Pandemic frustratingly is.

And of course, along with the games, we had delicious food (olive crustini, parmasean pastry puffs, Swedish meatballs, Helluva good dip, vegetables, and others) and wonderful friends. We do it once a quarter (else we break our grocery budget) and it's a wonderful experience very time.

I hope you had a good weekend too. (That was Saturday. Sunday I quite literally sat around in my robe all day reading Peter V. Brett's THE WARDED MAN. I'll probably post about that book soon.)

January 21, 2011

What's in a Name?

On Twitter today, Ricki Schultz expressed her frustration with choosing a title. I commented that I love titles and do not begin a new work without one (it's one of the rules!). she asked me how I make a title I'm satisfied. Required to offer a response in 140 characters or less, I found that the answer is not so simple or so brief.

Agents often say if you can write a novel, you can write a query letter. This seems like it should be so, but I am HORRIBLE at queries. I shudder to think what that means for my writing! :) In the same way, I think if you can write a novel, you can come up with a title (maybe those query letters are a little harder then you give them credit for, buddy!).

When you're writing a novel, every word choice matters. Sure the reader may not appreciate it or even notice, but we're not writing for the reader. We're writing to make the best story we can and whether they notice a bad word choice, we do. So we craft our stories down to the period. A period vs a question mark vs an ellipsis. These things matter. It's how we establish cadence, how we move our story from beginning to end.

Titles need to do that too. They need to reach up off the cover, grab a person walking by, and shout, "Read me!" So how do I do it? Well, I think of the story that I plan on writing and try to find a short phrase that best represents that story while sounding like something I would want to read. That's my test. If I wouldn't pick up a book because of its title, I'll never use that title.

Like yesterday's new story idea: Captain Majors and the Super Squad: Soldiers of Tomorrow. This sounds perfect for a campy '50s sci fi program but completely wrong for the serious topic the novel covers. The title I'm leaning to now is BEDEVILED DOGS. How did I go from CM&TSS:SOT to BD? Well aside from the tone not matching, that first was incredibly long for a book. It could work if it had to, but in this case it doesn't work at all, so let's not even try to save anything from that. Where does that leave us? Three Marines that survive an Ambush in Fallujah. They see an old program accurately predict their battles, causing all kinds of emotional distress, paranoia, and fear.

Marines are also called Devil Dogs. They are tormented by the fact that their pain was foretold. They are bedeviled. BEDEVILED DOGS.

Why isn't this a perfect title? Well, it's dependent on you knowing that a Marine is a Devil Dog. The cover illustration can go a long way selling this. But it still feels a little hokey, so this one doesn't immediately go in the can. If a title feels like you're trying to be catchy, then it's never catchy. It has to be organic.

I wish I could write a bullet list and say here are the things you need to take into account when naming your title, but I've been staring at my computer for awhile. How I approach it is "sell me on your novel in three words." I didn't say tell me about it. I said sell me. You need to convince me to read your novel in three words, how do you do it? (Granted, by this method, Firefly would have been named Cowboys in Space, but whatever.)

I will admit, I'm not better at instructing how to pick a good title because I have been known to pick a title at the same time I had the idea. THE TRIAD SOCIETY? Yup, the title was the second thing I thought of (the first being men in a steam-filled alley wearing top hats). THE LOST LEGION? Hell, it was the title that gave me the idea for the story.

Titles are your pitch to the reader. It describes tone and topic, style and substance. Find the kernel of awesome that is your story and you'll find it to be 1-5 words that you feel wouldn't describe anything else you write.

Or I could be full of it. Who knows. :)

January 20, 2011

Captain Majors and the Super Squad: Soldiers of Tomorrow!

So I don't know where this idea came from. It hit me while I was driving home from work. It's incomplete, though. Still, it's worth writing down so that I can work on it later if the mood takes me. The interesting thing is that it's not a fantasy book. I don't get the sense that it's sci fi either. It feels more like a popular fiction where there are sf elements in it but it has a broader market appeal so they call it "fiction" and be done with it.

ANYWAY...main character is a decorated Iraqi Freedom vet. He survived the worst fighting in 2003-2005 including all the fighting in Fellujah. His platoon was ambushed by insurgents and only a handful of them survived. He's cycled back to the real world and is off his tours while he goes through physical therapy over some kind of injury that prevents him from being sent back to Iraq/Afghanistan.

It's not your typical, "I'm scarred by war" kind of story. While it's not easy to just reinsert yourself into a non-war environment, he has a wife and family and friends and they have enough experience as a military family to help him work his way back to equilibrium.

One thing he likes is golden age television. All the early black and white stuff right after Vaudeville. All the way up to the pulp sci fi of the 50s. All the space ranger and silly stuff like that. While garage saling, they find a DVD boxed set of "the greatest shows of public television." It's a collection of public television programming from across the country.

One of the shows is "Captain Majors and the Super Squad: Soldiers of Tomorrow!" After gaining a cult following, it aired only one episode on national TV and was cancelled. It was seen as not futuristic enough.

When he watches the episode, he sees that Captain Majors has a cell phone and a blue tooth. There aren't flying cars and they're not on the moon. They're dressed like Marines, carry modern rifles, and use modern military parlance. Then the "action" begins and Main Character sees that the episode is a perfect reenactment of one his own missions from Iraq. He gathers a few other episodes and finds them to be perfectly accurate as well.

I am waffling on how this is happening. I'll have to make a decision later. That's what I got for now, though.

Holy Balls!

I have been pondering it for months and I finally made a decision. An agent gave me feedback on WANTED: CHOSEN ONE, NOW HIRING. He wanted Bastin to be the main character rather than Nashau. I've discussed that here before. Bastin is clearly the most likable, charismatic of the group, but the story was Nashau's and I didn't want to give that up.

So after a lengthy amount of pondering, I finally saw the story as Bastin's while keeping Nashau's subtext. Thus, I chopped off the initial four chapters (which were all Nashau and Podome) and condensed them to a single chapter 2. I kept the alive/dead juxtaposition that I loved in the original draft (something you won't understand unless you've read it, but take my word for it, it's awesome) and have moved on through chapter three.

You know how people often say they can't go back and read their own work? That they find it embarrassing? Not me. I LOVE this story. LUVRE IT! I wrote the damn thing and after watching Bastin hoodwink Farmer, I was just bouncing up and down on my seat. Holy balls this is a good story!

I will revise Podome/Nashau's story and hopefully inject more of Bastin's early energy later into the story. And then the hardest part: I'll need to write a new query for it.

JEHOVAH'S HITLIST will be the next story I query once I get beta reader feedback, but this one will follow shortly thereafter. I consider it a significant enough revision that requerying is appropriate. I have tentatively changed the name to FLIMFLAM just so I can keep the two stories separate. Not sure if I'll keep WANTED: CHOSEN ONE, NOW HIRING as the final title. It seemed to turn some people off.

(This means I'm suspending work on 7Sac for the moment. I'm having a crisis of confidence following my rejection and can no longer manage the pacing. I'll need to get my feet back under me before I can continue on that one.)

January 19, 2011

Cheating at Dreaming

Monday night I dreamed that I was selected for the first New Hampshire HUNGER GAMES. This was not an event to celebrate Suzanne Collins' popular YA trilogy. This was a handful of people being send into the wilderness of New Hampshire to fight to the death until only one remained.

There were some differences between this dream Hunger Games and the literary reality. Obviously we had not risen up against a capital established after the collapse of the United States. Also, we were able to equip ourselves from a selection of various items before going into the arena (unlike the book where all the equipment was in the arena). There were only 4-6 contestants total rather than the 24 of the various districts. And most noticeably, the book existed in this dream world. This gave me a significant advantage because it turned out I was the only one who read the book and thus truly appreciated just how dangerous this thing we were going into would be.

I got a backpack full of various survival goods, water, rations, sleeping bag, tent, and as a weapon, I got...a pick axe. Don't ask me why. There weren't any guns or bows or knives. I don't even think this was meant to be a weapon. It was with the rest of the survival gear.

We are dropped into our arena, which is simply the forested White Mountains of New Hampshire. It's dark, night is already on us, and everyone scatters in different directions. Not much occasion for a melee if there's no cornucopia and only six total contestants. Everyone goes off to find a place to camp and rest so we can start fighting tomorrow when the sun comes up.

What? That's crazy. This thing has started. None of them understand, which means I have an even greater advantage. No one is hunting me. I move along a valley looking for the most advantageous spot when I see a field to my left. Dead center with no trees or cover or anything, one of the other contestants has set up a tent. There's a lantern on inside and I can see him/her moving about. Seriously? This one is going to be easy. My pick will go right through the tent. (S)He won't even know I'm there until it's over.

I make for the field and that's when I hear something behind me. I turn around and see what I think is another contestant--though she looks a lot like the little girl from "The Ring," white shirt, white pants, hair hanging over her face. And much like the girl from "The Ring," she shuffles when she walks but does so at extreme speeds. There's a cool little sound effect (this is a dream after all) and she's right in front of me!

Oh no, she's a Muttation (the stupidest word from that entire trilogy--seriously, they can still be called Mutts as a shortening of Mutation)! I lunge at her with my pick at the same time she comes at me. I only hit her in the shoulder with the haft.

My dream freezes. I am annoyed that I didn't just kick this mutt's ass. That was going to be a glorious overcoming of fear and surprise to show that I was destined to be the victor but instead I just whacked her on the shoulder with a piece of wood. How lame is that?

So I rewind my dream and react a few seconds earlier, sinking the head of my pick axe through the soft part of the mutt's shoulder. That's right, I cheat in my dreams.

(My dreams, my rules!)

January 16, 2011

Rejection

We only went into a day of injury time before the game came to an end. Our beloved hometown heroes have lost this one in a buzzer beater. While it's easy to feel torn up and brought down by rejection, you do that shit in the privacy of your own home, not on the internet. On the internet you tell everyone else the same thing you will eventually tell yourself. It's just one more step in the process. You have another story to tell and another opportunity to tell it. Stop whining and get to work.

So with that, I'm going to go work on THE 7TH SACRIFICE.

Enjoy your Sunday. (Go Patriots, beat the Jets.)

January 14, 2011

The Waiting Game

So you've written your novel, you've revised it, you've received feedback, you've revised it again, you've written a query, you've revised it, you've received feedback, you've revised it again, you've queried, you've paced madly worrying about rejection, you've been asked for a partial manuscript, you've revised the partial in fear of it not being good enough, you've submitted it, you've paced madly worrying about rejection, you've checked your email obsessively, you've paced madly worrying about rejection, you've been asked for a full manuscript, you've revised the full in fear of it not being good enough, and you've submitted it.

What happens now?

You wait. And wait. And wait and wait and wait and wait.

It's a common enough topic among writing blogs. Don't wait for a response on your current work. Move on to the next one. Publishing is a lot of hurry up and wait. You'll revise your entire book over the course of a weekend to make it as perfect as you can and then nothing.

It can be hard to deal with. The closer you get, the harder the rejection is, and the harder it is not to make it back to that level again. If you come close to touching the sky, nothing short of reaching your hand up into heaven will do. It's maddening to not achieve your goal no matter how hard you try.

But wait you must. Good things come to those that wait. ...crappy things too, I can attest, but nothing good comes from something rushed (just ask my previous girlfriends).

The first time I had a full manuscript (BLACK MAGIC AND BARBECUE SAUCE), I was told to expect a twelve-week response time. I was mortified when twelve weeks passed, thirteen, fourteen. Were they JUST about to get to my manuscript? If I asked for an update when they hit delete and tell me to sod off? Was it all a test to see if I would be a low-maintenance client and not pester them a thousand times a day with inane questions?

Finally at fifteen weeks, I emailed to confirm the file had been received and asked if they needed any additional material. That's the polite way of asking, "Hey what the fuck?" They confirmed that they had received the manuscript and apologized for the delay. The assistant was super awesome and I like her a whole lot. She was never anything but professional with me.

In total I received an eventual pass 7 months after I sent the materials off. They offered feedback which was awesome. I never expect feedback on a query. I don't expect it on a partial (though it would be nice). While I don't expect it on a full, after waiting so long and having invested so much, it certainly would be nice for even a paragraph of feedback. But hey, we're not entitled and that's not a statement of how things should be. I got it on my first two manuscripts, though, and it was incredibly helpful.

I thanked the assistant and the agent for the pleasure of working with them and the feedback. I then said I had finished another novel while I was waiting and asked would they like to see it? Sure it was a dig, but only a little one. I really had finished a second novel (and not first draft, the thing was done and in the can). I queried the second one (HELP WANTED: CHOSEN ONE, NOW HIRING) and we went round and round again.

They passed and I think it was for the best. This agent wants a manuscript ready to shop as soon as it's submitted. While I hope to be able to produce such a manuscript eventually, it doesn't seem like I'm producing them yet. I'd like an agent who not only points out what (s)he thought was weak but how that could be improved.

Which brings me to the current manuscript (THE TRIAD SOCIETY). This is with a different agent, one that I think is exactly the person I would want to work with. When they asked for my full, they said to expect a turn around time of two months. This is a third less than the previous agent but nothing says it won't be another seven months. Except for my experience with this agency. I queried (twice) my first two manuscripts (for a total of four queries) and they were prompt and always beat deadline. Two months is up Saturday. Of course, that two months covered Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, and the general winter holiday.

This brings us to what I'm calling Injury Time (watch soccer to get that joke). Given the number of holidays that occurred during that stretch of time, I really don't think the two-month mark hits until February 5th, three weeks later. If they replied to me within that time, I would still consider it at or less than two months.

Now like I said, that's just an estimate. Things come up, emergencies with existing clients, illness, family emergencies and the like. If it takes seven months it takes seven months. I have finished the second draft of JEHOVAH'S HITLIST and sent it to beta readers for feedback (could use a few more if you're in the mood for adult, dystopian, alternate-history science fiction). I'm also working on the first draft of THE 7TH SACRIFICE. I've got plenty to do. No resting on my laurels here.

BUT, like I said earlier, this folks have always come in before their deadline. The arrival of injury time means that it's likely I'll hear back from them soon.

OH MY GOD! *PACES MADLY WORRYING ABOUT REJECTION*

You can tell yourself not to obsess, not to worry, but really, I consider all this anxiety part and parcel to my ambition. I want this and have wanted it for decades. This is my life's goal and I've taken as many steps as I can take without an agent. That's the next step. That's the next step in my publishing plan. I could query publishers directly or self-publish, but there are other blogs for that kind of thing. Here in the Inkwell, we follow the traditional mode of publishing and we plan on ruling that bitch with an iron fist!



I won't even begin to tell you how many times I've checked my email just writing this post. Granted I have a smart phone so all I have to do is glance at it and see if it's blinking at me. That only enables the obsession.

I started actively tweeting and blogging about my writing before I was published not only to build platform but to document how hard it is to try and achieve your dreams when you can send off a completed manuscript and not hear anything for months and months and months. When I'm the flipping Clint Eastwood of fantasy, aspiring writers will read these early posts and see all this desire and anxiety and worry and think to themselves, Clint Eastwood? Really? I would have gone with John C. Reilly.


OH MY GOD! *PACES MADLY WORRYING ABOUT REJECTION*

Arcadia

When I was a young lad, only twelve, and had decided in earnest that I was going to be a novelist, I began tap tap tapping away on my Apple IIGS (Appleworks, baby!). There were a number of ideas bumping around in my head. I wrote stuff for Jim Henson's Storyteller (which in no way fit the program but what the hell did I know). I got into a lot of trouble when my mother (who spied on me to make sure I wasn't being amoral--that clearly didn't work) saw me title a story "Lucifer Jr." The work I put the most effort into was Arcadia--I don't remember the actual title.

Arcadia was a post-apocalyptic story. Between pollution and natural evaporation, there was so much moisture in the air that clouds could actually sustain weight. Humanity fired took what could survive and sent them up in rockets. Over times, they evolved so their bones were lighter and they had wings. They kept their prisoners down below but one of them escapes to the clouds above.

I'd print pages off on my dot matrix printer and send them to my sister to read. She thought they were interesting. She was upset when I stopped writing it. I thought it was crap. This says something about her taste. I never forgot that story, though. It was my first genuine attempt. It was my first real failure. And it was so BAD!

My sister still asks about it from time to time, when we talk (which granted is not often). A small part of me tries to write the absolute best story I can so I can send her the book and say, "See, this is why I quit writing that novel when I was 12. This is good. That was crap."

It's kind of odd how much influence a 21-year-old failure has over my effort today. (My writing is totally better though.)

When all is said and done and I'm bereft of new story ideas, I'll totally resurrect this thing and shell it out there. :D

January 13, 2011

Measuring Progress

On my website, I have a page named the Queue where I list all the ideas I plan on pursuing to completion. This includes novels, short stories, plays, etc. My current wip will have a general word count (I don't update it every day) and those works I've finished will be struck through with a final word count (usually of the first draft).

I modified it today and removed the word count on everything except my current work in progress. I only work on one story at a time and with the exception of HOSNR, all of them would be restarted when I get to them. So having a word count there--especially a word count that hasn't changed in years--makes me look like I'm scatterbrained and/or unable to finish work I start on.

So it's all gone. Now, only 7Sac has a word count. I think the page looks much better, cleaner, more focused. It's a laser! bzzzzrrrzzzzzzzz!!!!!

January 11, 2011

Knowledge = (the battle)/2

I was watching a movie the other day and character A says of character B that he is a marksman. He can strike a man square in the chest at 50 meters. This was a modern piece with modern weaponry. There are different levels of writing what you know. The soul of some things can only be realized through experience. Others simply need research. In either case, you need to address a first-hand account of the subject and not just lend your interpretation to someone else's interpretation. That just becomes the operator/telephone game.

In this case, I immediately knew the writer had no idea what (s)he was talking about. 50 meters? Good god, not fifty meters! That's so hard!

...no, wait, no it's not. On a standard marksmanship target range, the SHORTEST target is placed at 50 meters. The longest is set at 300 meters.

Rather than paying attention to the movie, I began to wonder if the writer had even fired a gun before or just thought a dramatically delivered line would go unquestioned.

Now I'm not a hunter. I've never killed anything larger than an insect. ...except for a bird that done under my tire when I was a teenager. I was, at one time, a certified marksman (my preferred range being between 175 and 250--though I ALWAYS missed 300. I never got the arc right). If you're going to write a book that includes modern weaponry, I recommend finding a local sportsman's club and renting a pistol, a shotgun, a rifle, and if they have one, an M-16. Each of them has different uses, different feels, and different results. A little research will dramatically improve your weapon choice and description. You'll also avoid throwing your reader out of your story when they realize you have no idea what you're talking about.

The Rhythm of My H--Fingers

I wrote today. By itself this is not a big deal. I write a minimum of five days a week. Near the end of JH, I was writing seven days a week1. But I had a powerful flu that caused me to do not much of anything but sit on the couch under a blanket and watch TV2.

I went back to work yesterday, but just didn't have the energy on the train to write. Hell, I barely stayed awake. I read on the way in and the way home. This morning, though, I made myself take up the keyboard and give things a try. I was in the middle of a chapter and was worried I'd struggle to find the rhythm, so the sooner I started, the sooner I'd figure things out.

The good thing is that I was able to remember where I had been headed and finish the chapter. I even wrote a few things I hadn't expected. But it reminds me how important rhythm is to the way I write. There was a team building exercise we did in my fraternity called a rock pull. Take an 800-1200 pound rock from the local quarry. Drop it off 1.7 miles away from the house. Drill three holes and install ribar. Tie off ropes that lead to three logs. Each log is wide enough for four people. This was the pledges' rock. They'd stay on the logs the entire time. The other spots (we were a small house) were filled by active members. Everyone was on the rock. Look at the things you could accomplish as a team that you couldn't accomplish on your own.

Now at some point during the pull, you'd want to take a break, but you couldn't take a break. It was a thousand times more difficult to pull the rock from a stopped position than while you were moving. As long as the rock was moving, you could keep going3.

It's the same with writing. It's so much easier to keep going than to stop and start. The rhythm propels you forward. In those instances where you have an extended stop, I recommend skipping back a few chapters (never start over, that's just a whole mess of trouble that violates the rules!) and read. Read your own work until you find the rhythm and can press forward. If you just start back up where you stopped, that break may become noticeable.

Few of us have the luxury of writing a book from start to finish without interruption. The key is to make it look as seamless as possible.


1 I'm actually trying to tone that down. My wife was starting to get annoyed with me going out weekend mornings so we never had breakfast with one another. I'd like to start using my weekends for hobbies that have fallen to the wayside. Problem is, I love writing so much that it always feels like more fun.

2 A streamed a few new movies on Netflix that I had never seen before. "Bottle Shock" was a great movie with Alan Rickman and Chris Pine. We also watched seasons 1 and 2 of Angel and season 1 of Psych on DVD (which we own and have seen repeatedly). Like I said, it was a powerful flu. Lots of time in front of the TV.

3 There was a scheduled break half way there. To my pride and pleasure, no pledge ever fell off the rock in the years I was there. Only one member ever refused to pull and his dickitude has already been illustrated in a previous post here.

January 10, 2011

At the End of All Things

More and more often, one of the arguments against ebooks I'm hearing is: When society collapses and there is no more power to charge the ebook or run the servers or what have you, I'll be happy with my paper books.

It's a hyperbolic example, but not for the reasons I think they're intending. I think they're going with the "if the world ended" as an extreme example, but I think the extremity is to believe you'd have time for leisure writing once a power grid collapsed.

Without electricity, your entire day just got dedicated to survival. You'll need to learn how to make candles or lantern oil. You'll need to learn how to farm. You'll need to learn how to stockpile necessities for the winter.

When you have a finite number of candles and your daylight is spent staying alive, when exactly does all this reading happen?

(This all assumes you survived the initial riots that decimate the population and you don't use book pages for kindling on your first sub-freezing night.)

(A little binger to brighten your day. ;)

January 9, 2011

Timing is Everything

Like the classic joke goes, "In comedy, timing is...

...

...everything."

I'm reading the last in the Shadowmarch tetralogy by Tad Williams, SHADOWHEART. It's a less than stellar name and most people don't know that a four-book series is a tetralogy1, but Tad Williams is the reason I write fantasy--the reason2. So we're going to give him a pass on that.

I have to admit, though, between Williams and Martin, I'm starting to get worn out on epic fantasy. Their stories are the epitome of epic, but frankly, there are characters whose chapters are fundamental to the resolution of the entire thing and I could care less. There are just too many people. As I wade through this lofty tome, after having consumed the three before it, I find myself impatient for the end. I want that long-awaited climax and resolution of the various characters I've come to care about. And having to read through yet another chapter of a character I don't care about where content that I know well is repeated (and repeated) in internal dialogue is getting frustrating.

That is not so much the focus on today's writing, just an observance. Perhaps that's why my word counts have been shrinking. Not so much an intent to cowtow to the industry and its word limits, but the desire to tell a more compact and immediate tale. I will ponder this in the future and see if that's the case.

No, the focus of today's telling is timing. This is crucial in any work, and the more characters you introduce, the more difficult it can be to align character actions to further the plot but to remain consistent with the story's own chronology.

Specifically, there are two characters who will influence other characters who will influence other characters. They finally make their trip to Southmarch and I am enthused becomes here comes the domino that will set the whole chain a falling! Woo hoo! Here it comes.

...but it doesn't come. Now granted, this is an epic fantasy, so while characters A and B swim across the bay to the nearby island, the author can focus on characters C, D, E, F, G, H, I, and J without losing any time in the total advancement of the story. It can maintain the preferred pacing of this rumbling epic without losing track of the domino that is about to set the chain falling.

But then Character E gets another chapter. And then Character H gets two more chapters. Too many things are happening. Why haven't we gone back to characters A and B?

Well, the obvious thing is that when next we see them they won't still be swimming across the bay. They will have done other, irrelevant things necessary for their trip but unnecessary for the enjoyment of the reader.

That doesn't happen. In fact, when we finally return to characters A and B, they are finishing their swim across the bay. This is offensive to anyone paying attention. Some stories may play loosely with the passage of time, but most don't. So unless you're slip-streaming back and forth, be mindful of your timeline. When characters begin moving at different speeds, the reader can see the hand of the author in the story. You're this giant distracting thing like a boom mic that falls into frame. You're holding onto the characters while their legs turn so you can have the plot play out how you want.

And that's a funny thing. While you're the author, when a reader invests, the story becomes theirs. They don't want to see your hands in their stories mucking everything up. You need to be invisible. You are the mirror in which your readers see your story. There may be glass and silver there, but all they see is themselves.

Timing...

...is everything.


1 Instead of a tetralogy, people try to call it a quadrology.

2 I can tell you plenty of influences, but I know when the light bulb turned on. I was thirteen or so reading the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy and knew this is what I wanted to do. No hemming or hawing. Tad Williams showed me the path.

January 6, 2011

Germ Warfare

So here's my suggestion: Write a guest post on a popular blog and then get sick when it runs, causing you to miss the brief exposure it provides you.

Yay my immune system!

I hate being sick. Mostly, I hate it because I'm sick. I doubt anyone sits at their computer writing a blog post about how they love being sick.

I also hate being sick because when I take off from work, I have so much free time for writing! But all I do is sit around feeling miserable.


Moooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooan

I haven't been this sick in over a year. I don't like it. If someone would like to take over being sick for me, that would be much appreciated.

...yeah, that's all I got. This seemed funny when I thought it in my head. Now that I've written it, I'm not so sure. Then again, I've been breathing through my mouth for two days and everything tastes like mucus. So...

Hope you're all doing well. Hello to the new readers. Aren't you glad you stopped by? It's not always this lame, I promise.

...well, at least I hope not.

January 4, 2011

Arbitrary Milestones

I passed 10,000 words on THE 7TH SACRIFICE this morning. This pleases me. I don't know why it pleases me more than passing 9,000 words or 11,000 words. 11,000 is more than 10,000 so why doesn't that please me more?

And it can't be some ridiculous "if I pass 10,000 then I know I'll finish it" because this very novel was abandoned at 27,000 words when last I attempted it (though this time around it's a bajillion times better--I have yet to describe the main character climbing down off his wagon and then climbing back up again).

For all that, I like passing 10,000 words. Perhaps it was all those times in my youth that I said, "I'm going to write a novel" only to fizzle out at 2500 words or some pathetic total that barely qualifies as a short story. 10,000 is progress. It says, you're working toward your goal.

I also like 50,000 words. 50,000 is the big number for me. I've never written a manuscript pass 50,000 words and not finished it. 50k, 100k, 150k are all obvious yet arbitrary milestones we assign because of our decimal-based learning structure. You can rope 10k in there too, as it is the essence of decimal.

It feels good, though. Especially to have done so so quickly. I had a lonely little intro chapter. Then I brainstormed with Liz. Now I have 10,000 words and a week hasn't even passed yet. That's pleasing. That's invigorating. This baby is on its way.

Writing is good.

(I'm coming down with something, though. You should see the stuff coming out of my nose. Not sure how much progress I'll make on the way home.)

Waning Fanaticism

I follow George Martin on LiveJournal. I thrilled to see the amazing actors that will perform in "A Game of Thrones." (Peter Dinklage!!!!) I have watched the trailers and am anxious to see the finished product in hopes that it will be as great as it appears. I even follow A Game of Thrones on twitter.

Sometimes I see responses to that twitter account by other followers and it reminds me, I'm just not into the story as I once was.

Friends introduced me to the series when A FEAST FOR CROWS first came out, and I bounced on it. I read all four books in a row and was just as enthralled as they were. But now? By the time A DANCE WITH DRAGONS releases, it will have been a minimum of six years since CROWS came out. I say minimum because there's no guarantee the book will actually release in 2011. It was supposed to release every September for the last three years.

There's a lot of "don't judge until you've been there" about this whole thing. How could anyone understand what it takes to...blah blah blah. It's an invitation for fate to smote me with their lightning bolt of humility, but at the moment, I really don't care. Six years for a novel that doesn't even advance the plot from where the previous book ended. It simply parallels it.

I fully expect this series to go unfinished or to follow THE WHEEL OF TIME and require a different author to finish it. This also influences my interest in the TV show. If it's a rave success and they cover a book per season, and (assuming DANCE comes out this year), the next book won't be released by the time the series has run its course.

Two years used to be a standard for fantasy. When I was growing up, an author had two years to put out the next installment of a series. Somewhere in the nineties that started to balloon. In the aughts, turn around time for the major names has become ridiculous. Of the major best sellers, only Williams and Sanderson seem capable of producing content on any type of schedule.

As a fan, this is incredibly frustrating. As an aspiring author, I cannot fathom how a person is managing their time if they write full time and cannot produce a finished book in over half a decade.

I list Martin and his series on my website as a favorite. And he is and it is, but the more time goes by the more this changes. I can't really call myself a fan of a series if the series no longer exists, can I?

What about you? What are your thoughts?

January 3, 2011

A Good and Happy Life

Occasionally I'll rant in my head1. Something touched me off yesterday. I think it was a webcomic or a response to a webcomic. I don't know. The jist of it was that an author uses his medium as a pulpit for his own opinions.

At face value, this can be true. The context of the statement was saying that an author always uses his medium as a pulpit for his own opinions and this is just crap. It's an opinion that comes up more frequently than I think it should. In short, it says an author is incapable of envisioning or writing a world or action that deviates from his own perceptions of said world. What? If that's the case, Jennifer Hiller is a serial killer2. Of course authors can create characters that have opinions, desires, and motives different from their own.

That was a short rant because I've had it before and with real people. I then began to examine my own work and realized I've never actually written a work (to date) where the characters or events are representative of my opinions or beliefs. Some might fall in line, but none of them are a megaphone. None of them are a purposeful allegory.

So I pondered about writing a story that represents my biases and opinions and frustrations and proclivities. And as I pondered the happenings of this treatise, A Prairie Home Companion uttered the phrase "A Good and Happy Life" and I found my title.

SPOILER

Summation: The disparity in wealth widens and leads to its inevitable conclusion. The have nots rise up, the economy collapses, and in the anarchy before a new regime brings order, we set our stage. A wealthy teen away from home returns to find her parents murdered, her sister taken, and her house being ransacked. She pairs up with a street urchin who was looting the house at the time. After yelling and haggling and an offer of payment, the urchin says she knows where the sister is being held and will take the girl there. They brave the mean streets of [New York/Boston/St. Louis/not sure] in an effort to get the girl back. They voice their opinions on what's happening, extol the virtues of the young girl taken to be sold into who knows what kind of depraved service, and what they dislike about the other group.

In the end, the older sister makes a mistake, continuing to act from her station. With her life threatened, she begs the urchin to save her. To which she does not, as the mistake was a sign of her selfishness and disregard for others. If she truly had loved her sister, she would have endured. The girl is killed. The urchin then goes and rescues the little girl [maybe] as she was worth saving.

Not sure when I'll write it, but I like it enough that I've added the title to my queue.


1 This is not surprising.

2 She's made a similar such comment on her blog or on Killer Chicks. I can't remember which.

January 2, 2011

Hurry Up, Technology!

I've made this complaint before, but we need those dream records they have in "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within." I had a sequel/continuation to a previous dream. Both of them were awesome. Both of them vanished from my brain the moment I woke up. I have little broken pieces, images mostly, floating around in my brain. But it was SUCH a good story. It focuses on a young adult and given how dark YA has been skewing lately, I think could be fit in that genre. The protagonist is a young girl, maybe 14 or so? New Zealander I think, or somewhere around there. She's put in a facility for problem children and...something.

This story blew my mind. It was so heart wrenching and poignant. I don't think I could ever just take these few scraps and craft the story that I saw. Sometimes it feels like I'm not even dreaming, that I'm watching someone else's life. That if I could just record it, I'd have a story more true to form and detailed than anything I could craft with my imagination.

But it's in a dream! It's trapped there, and I can't get to it!!!!

Little pig, little pig, let me in!!!!!1


1 Not by the hair on my chinny chin...frontal lobe.

January 1, 2011

Find the Fun in the Boring

I wrote chapter 2 for 7Sac today. This is a big deal because it's the first fully original chapter of this version. Pieces of chapter 1 got held over from my first attempt and much more of it came from the wind sprint I wrote. Chapter 2 was wholly fresh. I actually tried to write a little at the party last night, but how lame was that? And I got stuck on a naming convention (which I figured out either late last night or this morning, I can't actually remember). This morning, though, I knocked out the whole chapter and I am quite enthused.

I am enthused because so much of the chapter was unexpected. I started in a tricky spot with one of the main characters at a gate to a city. Oh how many D&D adventures annoy you with guards who are all flippant and bossy. But at the same time, there isn't a lot of use starting an early chapter with crossing a gate unless it's going to build character or somehow affect the plot. In this case, I quickly recognized the boring that was starting to spread. Cliche and unoriginality threatened to ruin my attempt, and I don't think the story is strong enough to survive a failed chapter this early on. I needed to rescue it. How do you resolve a character vs. gate guard situation without one of them acting a dick or both of them being polite and the scene becoming completely irrelevant?

Introduce another character! Hence Knight General Merchel arrived and saved the day for March Lord Albrecht. We got to skip past the guards and learn a little of both characters. More importantly, they stopped for coffee at a shop and I got to describe people and culture from the Waodian Republic. This is something I had never done in the previous draft and had no thought of doing in this draft. It's awesome that it happened, though, because one of the characters that gets introduced later is Waodian. Woo hoo! Laying the foundation baby!

Mostly, I love writing a chapter where all of a sudden a new and awesome facet of the setting comes into play totally without any planning. And it's rich and involved and I just love it and am so pleased and it gets me all excited.

So...um, yeah. Happy new year.