Monday, 28 August 2017

Refocusing

I haven't posted in a while, the reason being that I should really just focus on the writing I'm doing and not on the writing about the writing I'm doing. I've filled up my life with a few other distractions recently as well, and the blog is something that will have to fall by the wayside for the time being. To the two or three of you that might be reading this, I hope to be back once I've done and written something substantial. For now, I'm off to my writing cave to figure out how best to sharpen my tools to create something worthy of sharing with you.

Bye for now.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Guns and books and third acts

I took a walk down Rue Sainte-Catherine in Montreal over my lunch break today. I passed by the coin arcade, shot some bad guys with a light gun in Time Crisis 2 and felt like it was 1997 for a few minutes; truth be told, it was only around fifteen minutes because I died pretty quickly in the middle of stage two.

Pew! Pew! Pew! Pew!
After satisfying my need for shooting polygonal terrorists, I made my way to Indigo where I browsed the popular book displays at the front before walking upstairs to the fantasy section and soaking in the covers of new and familiar titles. There were books like Red Sister by Mark Lawrence, Sins of Empire by Brian McClellan, and pretty much the entirety of Robin Hobb's catalog. Just enticing book after enticing book.

I wanted to read all of them. I wished I could. (I hope I will one day)

The walk was refreshing and rejuvenating. Despite my skin feeling like rice paper and my eyelids like anvils as a result of jet lag from my vacation, I felt inspired to write and to explore. Unfortunately, today was a lost day in terms of writing anything fiction-based. I opted to listen to podcasts on the bus home instead. It was just easier and less energy-intensive. A bullshit excuse, but I'm owning up to it and sticking to it.

The latest NeoGAF Writing Challenge deadline is coming up this Friday and I've got most of a first draft done for it, but I'm kind of stuck on my third act. It's about a female warrior who slices through some guys in skull masks to get to their leader and challenge him to fight to get back the kingdom's apothecary. Sounds rad, right? Going for Xena meets Indiana Jones or something along those lines. I'm just sticking to very basic plots right now to work on the craft part of writing. I hope it's working. I'll let others be the judge.

"..."
Thanks for the vote of confidence, Tommy Lee Jones.

Oh, and I'm reading The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin and it's quite captivating. Definitely unique to say the least. I don't think there are many writers who experiment as much with POV and structure as Jemisin does, and there are probably fewer who can get away with it. I'll probably post more about it once I'm done.

'K, time to get some sweet shuteye and get back to proper writing tomorrow. Need to finish that first draft and get started on revisions before Friday night. Just have to make it happen. Writing the third act of a 2,500-word short story has to be easier than trying to get to the third stage of Time Crisis 2, right?

Friday, 21 July 2017

Double dose of short stories

Here are the two most recent short stories I've written. Check them out if you feel so inclined.

The Guilt of Innocence Gone (it has a griffin!)
Ageless Wonder (it has a necromancer!)

I got a couple of votes for "The Guilt of Innocence Gone" in the last NeoGAF Writing Challenge Thread. I really enjoyed writing it too.

"Ageless Wonder" is my entry in the latest Writing Challenge thread.

On vacation in Mauritius for two weeks. It's gorgeous here, but things are also moving at a breakneck speed. Such is life when you want to see an entire country in two weeks.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Milestones

Any time you try to take on something new, you're taking a risk. Will you be able to do it? Will you fail? Will you be laughed at? This is nothing new. Common wisdom. Perpetual cliche. The stuff motivational speakers mine to make a point.

But that doesn't make it any less true.

I've been taking this writing thing seriously for just around six months now. I don't know how many writing, publishing, and marketing podcasts I've listened to. I don't know the total number of words I've written. I don't know how many pages of writing advice books I've read or listened to. But I know I've enjoyed the ride despite the risk of failing. And I still may fail, but that's okay because at least I feel like I'm trying as hard as I can right now, and I feel like I'm improving word by word. At least I hope so. (does self-doubt ever go away?)

I'd like to share a risk and a very small victory. If you're one of the two people who has been following my blog, you know I've been taking part in monthly Creative Writing Challenge threads on the NeoGAF forums. Well, last week I took part in one and was voted the winner of the challenge out of a total of ten story submissions. The votes for these challenges are done by the other aspiring writers who contribute to them, which makes it even better, as I'm among my peers who are also struggling and pushing themselves to improve their craft.

I have to say, this feels pretty good even if there is no cash prize or prestige attached to it, and even if I personally felt the story I submitted wasn't all that great. Nevermind that the challenge is forgotten as soon as it's over and then it's on to the next one. But that's not the point even though it's neat to be given the responsibility of setting the next theme and posting the new thread for the next Creative Writing Challenge. (I post as Alucard) The point is, others liked it enough to vote for it, and that's pretty cool.

I'm not going to say this was some massive risk I took in throwing my stories out there and hoping that I got a positive reaction while fearing that I would write the worst prose ever. It wasn't. It's just an informal message forum with a monthly thread that has a small rotating community with a few regulars. Still, I risked the time it took to write the stories and polish them as best as I could given my current skill level. I've been at it for a little while, and it's getting easier and harder the deeper I go: easier to come up with ideas and easier to write, but harder to make sure the ideas are good and so is the writing.

Both of these things will only continue to improve, and I'm going to keep focusing on developing my ability to tell a story well by participating in these monthly challenges for as long as I can, always trying to win or at least get into the top three. I think this is a small goal, but it's the type of goal that's ideal for where I'm at right now.

I'll just keep going.

I'm still pushing myself to write at least three hundred words per day and to read thirty pages per day. So far so good. The productivity app I have on my phone is keeping me honest and motivating me to make sure I don't miss a beat, or at least get back on the horse as soon as I can if I do end up stumbling.

It's a long road. I know that. I knew that going in, so here I am re-stating it again. But at least I'm enjoying the journey with the small milestones and victories along the way.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

The Secrets of Story

My mind is totally blown.

At the start of the week, I was deciding how to spend my latest Audible credit. I knew I wanted to get another book that had to do with writing, and there was one that kept showing up on my recommendations feed. After reading some reviews on Audible and Goodreads, I finally snatched up The Secrets of Story by Matt Bird.

Holy shit. This is the good stuff. This is precisely the type of book I've been looking for to provide me with some concrete steps and advice on how to craft a story, develop characters people will care about, create interesting relationships, and so much more. It's basically a "how to" guide to great fiction writing. What I appreciate most is that it doesn't talk around issues and ideas, but instead gives direct examples - many of them - from films, TV shows, and books, to bolster each chapter's core message. 

The other books I've read up to this point have all been useful to varying degrees, but this is the first one that really starts from step one and walks you through a series of questions that you should be asking if you want to craft a memorable story. Of course, the execution of the story is still up to me, so the writing itself will still be a difficult process, but at least I now have a solid framework and a range of questions to keep in mind as I push forward.

It's not going to be easy, but I'll keep trying to load up my stories with irony, active and resourceful heroes, and concise dialogue with personality. That's not all that's required, but they are just a few of the obvious-but-difficult-to-master aspects of storytelling. 

There's even a fantastic blog/website attached to the book, and I've already bookmarked it and am scouring it for material like a starving student of letters. There are mounds of pages on how to generate story ideas, how to evaluate the quality of your ideas, how to create a character, and so much more. While some of this stuff has been covered in other books I've read, such as On Writing by Stephen King, it's never been done to this level of detail and practical application. 

Thanks, Matt Bird. You've created a resource that so many of us bumbling amateurs will use as an essential text for years to come. Also, thanks for solidifying why the Superman in Superman Returns is a bad character. James Marsden's character clearly was the better choice for Lois Lane.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Roadblock

Writing ensemble casts is hard. I'm over thirty thousand words into my book, and I've just assembled the team of five people who are going to travel together for the majority of the remainder of the story. I feel overwhelmed as hell at the prospect of trying to give equal shine to five characters while writing from the third person limited perspective of one. 

Up until now, I was mostly just writing about Taris and Meryl, a husband and wife whose daughter gets murdered in a terrorist attack at the start of the book. It was difficult, but manageable. I focused on how they dealt with their grief, and how they pushed the story forward with their decisions. I then fell into the cliche of meeting up with a few other unique characters along the way. Most recently, the entire core has just escaped a major battle together, and are about to continue the journey and finish off the story in the second half as a unit. You know, every epic fantasy adventure ever.

The problem is, I'm having a really hard time managing this and keeping things straight. It's like I'm juggling five oranges, trying to focus on the one that is currently in my hand while still keeping my eyes and mind on the ones in the air. But my brain just isn't up to it. It's too hard. I'm second guessing myself and whether I should even continue writing the book at this point, or if I should go back and re-work parts of the story so that the group isn't comprised of five people, but maybe three or four at the most. That's still hard to do, but it's easier than trying to keep five of them in my head all at the same time. 

Or maybe I really should just focus on improving my skills through short story writing instead, or just blog writing like what I'm doing here. Truth be told, I feel as though my writing doesn't come across as interesting enough. It's the milkiest of milketoast. I think part of this is a result of getting obsessive over mastering essay structure in university, which also meant mastering grammar and syntax - or at least getting competent at it. 

At this point, I don't think my grammar is the problem. It's my honesty. My ability to speak the truth in the stories I'm trying to tell. Could it be that I'm trying to tell the wrong stories? Could it be that I'm too scared, too lazy, too distracted, or too overstimulated by other things in life to really dig down deep and find those kernels of truth that make me and the world tick? Or could it be that I simply don't have any interesting stories to tell? All of these answers are frustrating and defeating, and I don't know the answer to any of them, except maybe to the one about being distracted and overstimulated by other things. Those are true. You can't not be as an adult with a marriage partner, two kids, a mortgage, and a full-time job.

I'm sure I'll get past this eventually. Whether the answer is just pushing forward, or whether it's taking a step back and working on something different, I'll figure it out eventually. In the meantime, I'm not going to stop writing every day. Six months into it, I'm enjoying the habit and the process. I feel as though parts of my brain are slowly peeling back and that I'm rediscovering the core of myself and my humanity. Writing is about paying attention to details. It's about picking up a stone and describing it as slick, shiny, and smooth, and wondering how it got that way. Forcing myself to think at that level on a regular basis has had some positive effects, and I know it will only get better the more I write and the more I read.

I've committed to reading at least thirty pages of a book every day. That might not sound like a lot to more voracious readers, but it adds up to two hundred and ten pages at the end of the week, which isn't too shabby at all. I even downloaded a goal app to keep myself accountable for meeting that goal, as well as promising myself that I'll write at least three hundred words every day. Ideally, these words should be for my fiction, but just writing a blog entry like this one counts towards it too. As long as I'm writing and getting things down. As long as I'm learning more about stories, about writing, and about myself. In the end, writing is about self discovery, and in that aspect, I feel like I'm succeeding more the longer I do it.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Rediscovering an old love

At some point in high school, I fell in love with anime. At that time, it seemed like a natural extension of my love of Japanese video games, which began with Mario and Zelda, and culminated with Final Fantasy IV and VI on the SNES. These latter games were personally significant for two reasons: they introduced me to complex long-form storytelling in video games, and they made me crave more from the entertainment I consumed.

Having mostly outgrown villain-of-the-day shows like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, and He-Man, I wanted something more - something with bite and with more relevance to my own life and the world around me; something with a little more edge and appeal to my teenage mind. Something with blood, robots, and existential angst. Little did I know that this type of entertainment was already being created in the same country that had already given me the compelling adventures of Cecil, Rosa, and Kain.

Never forget. Though simple today, this was emotional AF for me circa 1994
Oddly enough, I didn't fall into anime through the common gateways of Dragonball, Sailor Moon, or Pokemon like so many of my friends. It wasn't that I didn't like those shows; they just didn't strike a strong chord with me even if I did appreciate their aesthetics. I actually don't remember the show or series that tipped things off for me, but I'm sure the late night weekend offerings on Teletoon played a factor. Canada’s answer to The Cartoon Network frequently showed anime films on Saturday nights, and I was ready for that next level of mature animation, be it Ninja Scroll, Wings of Honneamise, or Macross Plus.

The visceral energy of Ninja Scroll distilled into one image

There was a magical feeling watching these weird and challenging movies on my own right up until midnight. They had blood. They had sex. And they dealt with mature and often uncomfortable topics, such as murder, war, betrayal, and the consequences of each. I felt like I had stumbled into another world and was part of a small secret club.

And I was. Kind of.

Thanks to a friend of ours who was part of it, my friends and I began frequenting an anime club called the Otaku Society for Anime at McMaster University in Hamilton. (OSAMU for short) They would rent out a theatre space at the university and show a hodgepodge of anime series and films for 5-7 hours on a Friday night. It was glorious, and it was where I saw my first Hayao Miyazaki movie, the mind-blowing Princess Mononoke, and where I was introduced to shows that would become part of the shared entertainment lexicon between my friends and I: Cowboy Bebop, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and Vision of Escaflowne just to name a few.

Teenagers with problems, religion, and giant sentient robots: the series
It was an awesome time. I got visceral reactions from these shows that I wasn't getting from anywhere else, and I felt like my mind was being challenged and opened to new and exciting ideas and stories on a regular basis. These shows were filling a need I didn't know I had, and speaking to me in a language I needed to hear; I could relate to the struggles of the characters, be inspired by them, or just be in awe of the epic themes and imagery unfolding on the screen. Sometimes, the visuals and the music were enough. Who wouldn't be moved by the absolutely wicked battle theme from Escaflowne, for instance?

Massive robot battles set to the music linked above made for levels of epicness rarely matched
One of the things that made these shows so special was how difficult they were to access for a teenager who only worked weekends and summers. A lot of them were beyond reasonable when it came to prices, often charging $40 for a VHS tape that would only have three or four episodes on it. It's what made OSAMU such an attractive option, what made Teletoon a must on Saturday nights, and what made any chance to see these shows a special occasion. While I did spend money on VHS copies of Ninja Scroll, Ghost in the Shell, and a few others, I mostly relied on borrowing tapes from friends if I wanted to watch a full series that I just couldn't afford.

Since that golden period, I've always kept a casual eye on what's been going on with anime, but I've never matched the level of unapologetic fandom I had for the medium when I was first discovering it.

Bringing things up to the present, I've been slowly adding to the Studio Ghibli library that I'm building for my two daughters, including classics like Kiki's Delivery Service, Castle in the Sky, and My Neighbour Totoro. As a parent, it's hard to describe the feeling of showing something that you used to love when you were younger to your child, and realizing that they love it too. I literally had to hold back tears the first time I watched Kiki's Delivery Service with my four-year-old to Kiki and saw how much she enjoyed it, even dressing like the character for Halloween, while her sister dressed up as Jiji, Kiki's black cat and closest friend.

Absolute magic
This nostalgia and wishing to pass on my love of the medium to my kids has made me take a closer look at it myself recently. I've started re-watching The Vision of Escaflowne on YouTube, and I recently finished and tremendously enjoyed a series I never got around to when I was at the height of my anime fandom: Berserk.

A bloody bromance with an ending that promises to mess you up, and a soundtrack that is just wonderful
It's incredible that many of these shows, which you used to have to pay $40 for just to watch three or four episodes, are now available in their entirety for free on YouTube. Does that take away some of the magic of having to track them down or find creative ways to get a hold of them? Maybe. I'm not sure. It's impossible to say as a thirty-six-year-old man who has been exposed to tons of television and storytelling since he first laid eyes on his first mech battle or gut-twisting graphic death. I will say that Berserk had me as captivated as any show I've watched in recent memory, though. In fact, I felt compelled to write this post just because I wanted to share my love and appreciation for the show. It gripped me, made me cheer, made me cringe, and stirred my heart in much the same way those old shows from my early fandom used to.

Going into more detail, there is a surprising amount of complexity and thematic risk-taking in this twenty-year-old show that is, at its core, about a big muscly guy who only gets meaning out of his life when he's swinging around his big sword. (plenty to take apart there, and it gets explored) Really, it's the cast of characters and how they interact with one another that makes the show worth watching, even today. There's a badass female warrior who has to struggle with being a woman in a world of men, even going into battle while dealing with her period in one episode - and it's great. There's an androgynous and explicitly bisexual leader of a mercenary group who will stop at nothing to achieve his dream of essentially ruling the world, even if it means performing sexual favours for older less attractive men who are in positions of power. And there are brutal deaths and power struggles that will anger you and hit you at the gut level. There is also rape and the implication of rape in a couple of the episodes, which is always divisive in terms of what or how much to show - if anything - but its purpose isn't to glorify, but to elicit feelings of sympathy, anger, and sadness on the part of the viewer. In those respects, the show succeeds.

In the end, anime has always been able to elicit powerful emotions from me. To keep this post relevant to this blog, most, if not all of these shows are rooted in fantasy, and just go to show how powerful an effect the genre can have on a person, and how viable it is for illuminating social, cultural, and personal issues at a relatively high level. I'm glad I've been able to rediscover my love of these fantastic shows and films through my kids, and that they still manage to engage me and fill me with real and nostalgic pathos. All the best stories do, regardless of which genre or medium they come from.
So much pathos. All the pathos. God damn it

Monday, 12 June 2017

Inspiration can come from anywhere

Words this week: 2,000+

I've been meandering around writing the book, again feeling stuck, then pushing through to just make something happen. It's old hat by now, but I have to keep reminding myself that regardless of my feelings towards my prose and my story, I need to just keep pushing on until the end. I don't hate what I'm writing, but I'm not in love with a lot of it either. 

For some inspiration, I finished reading Starless Night by R.A. Salvatore this week.

Look at that sexy cover. I still have no clue if the old man is actually supposed to be Drizzt.
The plot left a lot to be desired and understood, but the action sequences were really well done. It reads like a blockbuster summer movie with a ton of hack and slash broken up by occasional dialogue scenes. I tried to internalize the vocabulary and movement of the action sequences, as I'm writing a big action scene in the book right now.

I'm also currently waiting for the results of the latest NeoGAF Creative Writing Challenge. I'm not going to win it, but I'm happy that I got at least one top three vote from one of the most talented writers in the group. This particular challenge resulted in some really fun stories that I was also inspired by. I'm going to keep participating in these challenges to study what other writers are doing, and to continue pushing myself to be better. I firmly believe that in order to improve, you need mentors and goals to shoot for. There are several talented people in the group whom I feel are not entirely out of my league in terms of prose and storytelling ability. They're still better than I am, but it's not like I'm reading Nabokov and thinking that I'll never reach that level. 

Speaking of inspiration, the Pittsburgh Penguins just won the 2017 Stanley Cup last night, and as a fan of the team, my mood has been buoyed, as this is just another reminder that success comes with hard word. The team played on a knife's edge for much of the season, and that's exactly where I need to be if I want to be successful. 

When I'm writing my best stuff, I feel like my mind is at the farthest point in front of me, as if I'm projecting myself into the world my story and characters are inhabiting. I don't mean that to sound strange or pretentious. I just want it to sound as close to the experience I'm having as possible. I need to keep projecting out that far, looking over the edge of my own vision, and walking out onto that edge to see and record as much as I can.

Hope you all have a great week.

(Let's go Pens)

Sunday, 4 June 2017

A Housemage Back Home (draft 2)

Well, I got some useful feedback on my first draft from the NeoGAF creative writing community, and tried putting it into action in the second draft. If you have time, here is the most recent (final?) version of what I ended up calling "A Housemage Back Home." It's around 2,400 words. This is also the version I just submitted to the most recent NeoGAF Creativing Writing Challenge. The theme for the challenge is utopia. I think I hit on it substantially enough.

On a couple of random notes, I've been listening to and reading some 80s fantasy for motivation. I've mentioned before that I enjoyed an R.A. Salvatore short story which was include in Philip Athans' Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, so I decided to pick up one of his old books, and ended up getting Starless Night, which is part of the Forgotten Realms world. It was two bucks at a used book store, and I wanted to get rid of some change. I'm also randomly reading pages from Dragon Wing, and re-listening to the audio book of Dragons of Autumn Twilight, both of which are written by Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman. I'm trying to get a feel for pacing and description, and these are written at a level that I feel I should be able to achieve with dedicated practice, and I'd be over the moon to do so. It's good to have targets and inspiration.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Housemage (draft 1)

Want to read a raw first draft of a 2,189-word short story that took about two days to write? Wish granted, dear reader! Check out the first draft of Housemage (working title) right here.

I like many of the ideas I came up with for the basic premise of the story, but various parts feel clunky. I'm hoping to give it a full service wash before submitting it to the latest NeoGAF Creative Writing Challenge.

Speaking of NeoGAF, I recently collaborated on a longer short story for the previous challenge. We had a team of three people and were dubbed Master Alutan. Our group came in third place out of five. Woohoo. I actually quite enjoyed the vast majority of the story we were able to come up with. The first third of this one was written by me, and underwent a decent amount of editing before it hit this final form.

Still keeping on keeping on. These detours are pretty pleasant. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. Or maybe just cringe. Either way, let me know.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

How we measure success

Words this week: 2,500

I'm writing a massive battle scene that is the first major pivot point of my book. It will take the story to around fifty percent completion, and I expect it to take many thousands of words to write. The hard part of this is not to let my imagination be too dominated by the awesome scenes of castle siege warfare from the Lord of the Rings movies, but that's where my mind is automatically going. Still, I'm trying to keep it fresh, and I'm enjoying the process and am also doing research along the way.

One of the bits of research that was key to the part of the book just before this one was: where do the soldiers live? What do soldiers do during times of peace? What did they do in the middle ages? I've basically just had them continue training in their barracks, which I think is believable enough. Funny that all I could think of were the months I spent playing the first Warcraft PC game the moment I started using the word "barracks" in my story.

All that to say, another productive week. If anyone ever asks me in twenty years, "How did you write so many books?" my answer will be "with three hundred shitty words per day" to riff on this story that Mark Manson wrote in his blog a while ago.

Who's Mark Manson? A blogger, but I know him more as the author of this little gem of a book:


I used my Audible credit to get the audiobook version, and I'm forty five minutes away from finishing it for the second time. It has its faults and I have the usual complaints that I have with most catch-all philosophy books written for public consumption (i.e. soft research, generalized claims about the world, and trying to touch on too many things in one book), but it's quite illuminating in so much of what it says about life. It's basically a crass-but-not-so-explicit-it-makes-you-want-to-roll-your-eyes advocate for Buddhism and the idea that life isn't about finding happiness, but about accepting that pain, suffering, and problems are just part of existence. The main idea, as I understand it, is that you shouldn't be trying to fix all of your problems, but that you should be looking to find better problems in your life. Instead of only asking "What do I want out of life?" ask yourself, "What kind of pain do I want in my life?"

Anyway, don't leave it to me to sell you on it. If you're tired of overly-positive books about never giving up and doing all you can to achieve your dreams, this is a refreshing punch to the gut. I totally recommend it, and it's something that I'll be listening to from time to time to keep myself grounded and focused.

How does this relate to writing? Well, this book is really about what we choose to value in our lives and how we measure success in our lives. It uses the example of Dave Mustaine, the former guitarist of Metallica who got kicked out the band, formed Megadeth, sold over twenty five million albums, toured the world, and still felt like a failure all because of how he chose to measure his success: to sell more records and to be more popular than the band who kicked him to the curb.

Of course, it's utterly ridiculous for Mustaine to compare himself to one of the biggest rock metal bands in history, but it was his choice to measure his success that way, which left him feeling like a failure until later on in life. The lesson: set realistic expectations and realistic benchmarks when measuring your own success.

Yes, I could compare myself to Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, but that would be ludicrous and incredibly unrealistic, especially with where I'm at now. A more realistic goal is simply "try to write three hundred words per day consistently." That's how I'm choosing to measure my success. It's the process that's the rewarding part - the feeling that you're doing something you enjoy and are getting better at it.

So, in terms of what I choose to value and how I measure my success, I'm choosing to value creative output and measuring it by simply checking myself and making sure I hit my daily word goal. That's it. And that's good enough, as it's been keeping me grounded and content, so I'm just going to keep doing it, one word at a time.


Friday, 12 May 2017

Shut up and write

Words written this week: two thousand and change. Maybe closer to three thousand. The days melded into each other and I know I missed a week of tracking. I will just say that I've been hitting my goals for three straight weeks now and don't plan to stop.

Okay, onto business.

If you want to get good at something like writing, you have to take it seriously and basically treat it like a job. This is not news for those who have been doing it for a while. I'm mentioning it now because I'm in my infancy as a writer, so I'm going through the paces that almost every writer goes through at one point or another, including needing to learn that excuses for not writing usually end up being nothing more than bullshit.

That's because they usually are.

If I have time to play a game or to endlessly scroll through Facebook posts on my phone, I have time to write. If I have time to watch a sitcom on my PVR, I have time to write. If I have time to sit on the toilet, I definitely have time to write.

You get the idea.

Today, I finished reading The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction by Philip Athans.


It's a quick book with a very surface-level approach to SFF writing advice, but it has a few positive things going for it, and it also has a passage that really spoke to me today:

"Many books and articles on writing advise something like this: Find a safe place to write - an office, a nook, some kind of cave in which you can work in absolute silence and solitude, surrounded by inspirational knickknacks or whatever.

It seems like good advice, and for years I followed it and wrote very little.

Never do this. Buy a laptop as soon as you possibly can. Write while sitting on the living room couch, in bed, at a coffee house or bar, at the library, on the bus or plane or train - write everywhere and whenever. If you find yourself thinking, "Well, I can't write without, unless, or until..." then stop right there, get your laptop fired up, and write something. I don't even care what it is, just write.

Write when the kids are asleep or running around you in circles screaming at the top of their lungs, with the television on or off, with or without music, where people are talking or silent. Do not ever let yourself be limited to a place, a time, or a set of circumstances in which you can write. Free yourself, and your words will follow."

Hell yeah. As I type this, I'm sitting on the couch at almost 1am with Jackie Chan's Drunken Master playing in the background. (sidebar: excellent movie. There are few people better at the "show don't tell" rule of storytelling than Jackie Chan)

To put it into a broader perspective, right now, I'm doing all I can to surround myself with the type of thinking above by diving headfirst into writing advice books, fantasy stories of all types and mediums, and making sure that I do at least a bit of writing every day, whether it's in the morning, on the bus, or once my kids have gone to bed. Or wherever and whenever else.

In short, I want to treat writing like a job, but one that runs around the clock and doesn't get weekends off. I truly feel like I've learned a lot in just over four months of taking this seriously (with an ill-advised one-month break in the middle), and I want to keep riding that momentum.

Is the book I'm writing right now any good? I think parts of it are, but I also think a lot of it is gutter trash. Most of it probably is, actually. But hey, that's how I'm going to learn, and I do feel I've gotten better even in the short time I've been taking writing seriously, and I intend to keep it up.

Star wipe to final scene.

To finish off, I'll end with something a little random but not entirely unrelated.

I used to think that writing was mostly about stringing together original sentences and working in flowery language wherever one could in order to ignite a reader's imagination and keep them reading. Writing was more about saying things in a beautiful or creative way. And it is that, don't get me wrong. However, the most important thing that I'm learning right now (subject to change as the journey continues), especially as it pertains to genre fiction, is that storytelling is the heart of writing. Exploring worlds and getting to know characters is great, but if there isn't compelling action, conflict, and consistent progress, it's boring. You can write the most beautiful prose in the world, but if nothing happens, few people care.

So that's where I'm at right now...just trying to focus on being a better storyteller. Showing more, telling less. Planning ahead more, pantsing less. It feels damn good, and I'm looking forward to seeing what breakthroughs await.

Thanks for reading this far, and if you liked the quote I typed out above, check out Philip Athans' fantasy writing blog. It's incredibly useful and another essential text that I'll be adding to my growing list of websites and resources. Thanks for the fine work, Philip!

Finally, check out his excellent article related to the topic at hand entitled "Save the Bullshit Excuses."

Now go write.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

On writing talent

I want to be a weaver of words with the ability to thread vivid images and emotions through people's imaginations.

I wonder how much of this ability is dependent on my own innate talent, or lack of it, and how much of it can be trained and learned with practice and discipline. Much of what I've read on the subject says that talent is a necessity when it comes to writing. Ernest Hemingway himself once wrote, "Real seriousness in regard to writing is one of two absolute necessities. The other, unfortunately, is talent." If that is so, what is talent? More specifically, what is talent in the realm of writing?

My personal definition of talent is a sensitivity towards and instinctive knowledge of a particular skill, as well as an instinctive ability to use that particular skill. The question then becomes this: can people actually be born with these types of talents, or have them activate at a certain point in their lives? I say, maybe, but there's more to it than talent simply being a gift. That would be too easy.

Surely, Hemingway didn't come out of the womb with a pen. Neither did Einstein come out writing equations. Hell, even F. Scott Fitzgerald questioned his own writing constantly. They all had to work and discover their talent; mine for gold within themselves. So if figures such as these had to work at their crafts and sciences in order to get good at them, and if they struggled before becoming masters, what's stopping someone else from doing the same if they invest the time and earnest effort? If you truly love doing something and want to do it well, and you take the steps necessary to get better at it, what's stopping you from becoming good or even great at it?

In On Writing, Stephen King writes that "it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one." I prefer this line of thinking to Hemingway's. It at least looks at writing talent as a spectrum and not as an either/or scenario. Perhaps Hemingway didn't mean it that way and also believed that a person could have a range of talent, but King's words are more explicit and offer more hope on the matter. 

At this stage, I certainly wouldn't call myself a good writer. If I'm being kind to myself, I think I am merely a competent one. (at least, I hope so) I assume a bad writer lacks the foundations of grammar, vocabulary, and punctuation, while also lacking the organizational skills to make themselves understood in print. Of course, there are plenty of people who lack the ability to string together a coherent sentence, never mind a series of them, but even they might be able to write something which tugs at the imagination once in a while. It's also worth keeping in mind that some bad writers are likely so because of a lack of proper training and opportunity, so it's quite possible, and probably very likely, that there are many potential writers out there who simply haven't been put in the right situation to allow them to nurture their talent.

And there's the rub.

I firmly believe that talent - being an instinctive sensitivity towards and knowledge of a skill, as well as the ability to use that skill on instinct - can be developed, cultivated, and nurtured. The human brain is infinitely permeable and capable of adapting to new knowledge. Given the right conditions, mindset, discipline, and guidance, a person can learn to become a master in almost any field, creating the equivalent of muscle memory, provided they have a love for it. In some cases, even if they don't.

For the writer, developing sensitivity means observing, listening to, and experiencing life with an open mind and an open heart - focusing on the details of what makes people do what they do, say what they say, and react how they react. This is done both at the micro and macro levels. A great writer absolutely must have empathy and compassion for others, be it for their partner, their work colleagues, or people across the sea going through difficult times. These are traits which, barring a damaged amygdala, everyone possesses to some degree, and which everyone can learn to develop.

In regards to knowledge, a writer can study the rules of grammar; they can pick up books in their genre; they can learn the types of turns of phrase which stir the imagination; they can study story structure; and they can put all of these things to use through practice.

In the end, both sensitivity and knowledge, and thereby talent, can be acquired. It may take some longer than others, but it is possible. Once a writer acquires enough knowledge and fine tunes their sensitivity towards the world, themselves, and language, they are able to weave the types of tales that have the effect of magic on a reader.

Once I personally acquire enough knowledge and fine tune my sensitivity towards the world, myself, and language, I hope to be a weaver of words with the ability to thread vivid images and emotions through people's imaginations. One day. One step. One word at a time.

Monday, 1 May 2017

A burst of inspiration

Total words written over the past seven days: 5,500

This is great. After an extended period of creative barrenness, I feel like I'm back on track with the book. I'm doing my best to push through the crap as much as possible and to write the best scenes and dialogue that I can. Well, maybe not the best best, but still something that keeps in line with the story I want to tell. Luckily, that story is becoming clearer in mind the more I write. I'm not going to be surprised if I end up tearing my first draft to bits once it's all said and done. Right now, the key is to get all of my ideas down on paper, then rifle through them and see what sticks and what needs to be tossed in the trash.

When I haven't been writing, I've been reading about writing. The book I'm into right now is The Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy Volume 1: Alchemy with Words. Every chapter is written by a different author, so it's proven to be a mixed bag, but some of the chapters are filled with tons of useful resources, and fantasy story planning gold, such as information on how to design a magic system, how to make sure you get food, weapons, and clothing right - the nuts and bolts of fantasy writing, which I'm currently lacking and constantly working on. I hope I'll get there one day.

Well, that's all for now. To finish off, here's a very small chunk of those 5,500 words I mentioned at the top of this post. Any feedback is welcome.

---------

He had never taught Lucia the Laws. Not word for word, and never attached to Valaron. He wasn’t sure why exactly, but he now reasoned that he probably hadn’t had the time. Between working for the king, caring for his home, and nurturing the relationships between himself, his wife, and his child, there were few minutes to spare for Valaron. Regardless, he felt he had done a respectable job of teaching his daughter the difference between right and wrong and the large space between the two.

Right and wrong. The words hung like two apples on a tree - one sweet, one sour.

He knew the time to pick one would come soon enough, and he hoped he would be able to tell the difference when the hour arrived. And it would arrive. He was sure of it, even though he didn’t know the name of the man he sought to confront.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Straight lines

With the possible exception of hyperspace travel, no long journey is a straight line. Taking into account that hyperspace travel is currently and will likely always be an imaginative flight of fancy, much to the chagrin of the scientific community and to myself, the second statement stands true in all cases.

And it has been true for me lately.

I ran into a snag since my last check-in. The name of said snag was discouragement. That's the name I'm giving it anyway, if a snag can be given a name at all. The discouragement was brought on by hitting a narrative wall in my book. Specifically, I had reached around twenty thousand words in it, which is a quarter of the way to completing my first draft and a reason for a mini-celebration, but then I stopped. Because I didn't know what to do next.

My characters didn't know what to do next.

So I sat. And I didn't write. For one day, two days, three days - easily more days than I should have. In that time, I tried reading A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens at the recommendation of a friend, the experience of which I loathed so much that I gave up on the novel despite finishing around seventy percent of it, all over the course of an agonizing four weeks. Of the seventy percent I completed, I estimate that I probably only enjoyed around fifteen of it. Sorry Mr. Dickens, and sorry to anyone I may offend by admitting to not enjoying the aforementioned Mr. Dickens. In truth, there are too many books that I can love and be inspired by for me to try to finish books that I think I'm supposed to like based on the tastes of literary historians.

To be fair, I've enjoyed my fair share of classics, but Dickens is not a writer I'll be going back to any time soon. No sir. Keep your dusty (though still vastly superior to mine) prose far away from me. They're more interesting as an idea than as an experienced reality, though I respect that they may be more enjoyable in a classroom setting where greater context and analysis is provided.

After Dickens, I needed a palate cleanser, so I listened to this offering from the Great Courses series:


It was very good and was a nice trip down memory lane for me. After listening to it, I realized that I had actually read a pretty hefty chunk of the most seminal sci-fi works in the genre's history. I was also introduced to a bunch of books I haven't read and will read moving forward. I actually debated whether or not to get this book/lecture series with my Audible credit because my current focus is on writing fantasy exclusively, but it was a damn fine diversion in any case.

After that, I re-listened to On Writing by Stephen King and felt inspired all over again, and I'm currently re-listening to Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. I feel I need to have both of these in print, or at least have specific passages printed on a wall behind the kitchen table where I do the bulk of my writing. They're both excellent, and I'd recommend them as must-buys for anyone with any interest at all in writing.

So, here I am again. I only started looking at my book again two days ago and have added a respectable one thousand words in that time. I'm trying to commit to writing a minimum of three hundred words per day, be that for the book or otherwise. As long as I'm writing. As long as I'm telling the truth or trying to. And I am trying to.

See you soon. I promise.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Short story: Firk in Trouble

Two short stories posted in one day? Gasp. I've actually been sitting on this one since January, and added the final five hundred words to it today. It's my attempt at fantasy comedy and is about an elf who falls into a well, and the sassy unicorn who comes to his rescue. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments.

Firk in Trouble (2,208 words)

Friday, 17 March 2017

Short story: Shine a Light

Hey, I finished a short story for the current NeoGAF Writing Challenge! It's more sci-fi than fantasy, and I'm actually pretty happy with it overall.

I started with the basic idea of a small team of space marines and a reluctant telepath working together to find out what's going on in a mysterious cave. From there, I tried to focus on motion, dialogue, and personality development. The climactic reveal was something that just popped into my head today while I was walking home from work, and I think it's serviceable, if not terribly original. I would have added more details if the writing challenge didn't have a word count limit, but as I said, I'm still quite pleased with this one overall.

Check it out and let me know what you think.

Shine a Light (1,793 words)

The best part is that I'm way ahead of the submission deadline for the challenge and will be able to refocus on the book for the next seven days. Bring it on!

Also, Moana. Go watch it.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Speed bump

Total words added to the book last week: 1,668.

Not a great number, as I'm looking at two thousand as the bare minimum every seven days. That said, I won't beat myself up about it. I drove seven hours with my wife and kids to visit my parents, and between playing Joking Hazard and Marvel Munchkin (both of which are top tier games to play with friends) until two in the morning on a Friday, and attending a birthday party in a reception hall on Saturday night, it just wasn't going to happen.

I'm continuing my efforts to streamline my style to just focus on telling the story instead of trying to focus on overdoing it with flowery prose and metaphors. In short, I'm just trying to write as quickly and clearly as possible. The flowery stuff can come in editing if needed.

Here's a short chunk of something I've written recently:
--------

Morning came fast.

Taris and Meryl packed their bags and headed out early into the city. Taris suggested they walk to get a better sense of the place, and because horses were not the most efficient mode of transportation in densely populated areas. Plus, they still had a lot of time before noon and their meeting with Moth and Dinah. Unless Orlan was wrong, Taris thought, We don’t even know how long ago he was here.

He didn’t dare turn his thoughts into words in front of Meryl.

They got their weapons from the front and stepped out of the inn. The cobblestones were bathed in the gentle light of morning, and everywhere, people were beginning their daily rounds. Even though the amount of bodies was less than they’d seen the afternoon before, witnessing so much life so early in the morning made Taris cock his head left and right despite his best efforts to seem calm and collected in front of Meryl.

We’ll get used to it, he told himself. It’s just like Kingsroot but bigger and with more people. Framing it that way made it easier to deal with his new surroundings. At least in spurts.

---------

So there you have it. Oddly enough, I feel a little stuck mentally at the moment, but I'll push on through and get to the next scene soon enough.

Oh, and I ended up fifth out of eight on the NeoGAF Writing Challenge I posted about a while ago. Probably deserved that spot based on the work I produced. I wasn't happy with it either, and I'm looking forward to making a better impression and improving my work for the next challenge.

That's all for now. I won't even mention how I'm still trudging through the final one hundred and some-odd pages of Warbreaker. Instead, I'll tease a post I intend to make about Disney's wonderful adventure film, Moana.

Stay tuned.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Chugging along

OMG The Legend of Zelda; Breath of the Wild looks absolutely incredible and I wish I had the money to buy it and the time to play it AHHHHH!


Seriously, just looking at this thing and watching videos of it is inspiring me to create better art. It looks and sounds gorgeous.

Anyway...

It was an interesting week. I started it by continuing the book I'm working on, and ended up writing a short story to finish things off . Here are my total word count figures from the past seven days:

The book: 1,198
Short story: 2,461
Total: 3,659

I like the sound of "the book." I think I'll keep referring to it as that from now on instead of wavering between "the story I'm working on" and "the book I'm writing." So, the book is advancing at a decent pace. It's still incredibly rough and well on its way to ending up a shit sandwich, but that's okay.

(Hmm, maybe I should refer to it as the shit sandwich instead of the book? The self deprecation would either result in lazy don't-give-a-damn writing or just end up making the process even more fun than it already is.
...

Nah, let's stick with the book.)

So, why did I end up writing a short story? I mentioned in a previous post that I used to mildly participate in some writing challenges on the NeoGAF forums. Well, I decided to participate in the latest writing challenge thread. To make it feel like it's still contributing to the book, I wrote a short story that takes place in the same universe, just a few years before.

The writing challenge has a word limit of two thousand words, which I went over, so the version I submitted is very cut down and missing close to six hundred words that are in the full story. All in all, I'm not really happy with either version of it, but I submitted it anyway because any feedback is good feedback at this point. If you want to check out what I submitted, read post #27.

In terms of the book, I got a lot of feedback from the Reddit Fantasy Writers subreddit. The most valuable thing I took from all the comments was this:

"I think OP is focused on the trees rather than the woods here. He needs to really push forward with the substance and get it all out on paper or screen rather than second-guess every scene. He is fixated on individual metaphors which end up being worked to death at the expense of actual story substance."

I think there's something to this; I've been asking for too much feedback instead of just writing and pushing on until the end. So that's something I've decided to focus on moving forward. I've also tried to adapt my style to be more direct instead of flowery. With that in mind, I'll copy and paste the last little chunk I wrote after receiving the feedback above: (apologies for the formatting)

-----------

Taris shut the door and drowned the outside noise. The smell of pine permeated the air, and a throw rug softened his and Meryl’s footfalls as they entered. Taris welcomed the sensation after two days of earth, stone, and stirrups beneath his feet. A man and a woman sat at a table in the corner, a pitcher of ale between them. To the right, a middle-aged innkeeper stood behind a counter. He was thin, well-groomed, and wore a dark blue jerkin with a grey shirt underneath.
Taris and Meryl walked up to the man.
“Good evening,” he said, smiling politely, “Will you be needing a room?”
“Yes,” Taris said.
“Common room or private?”
“Common.”
“For how long?”
“Just one night for now. Maybe more.”
“That’s fine. Anything else?”
“We’ve got two horses.”
“No problem at all. We’ve a stable in the back. It’s ten coppers a night, and two coppers per horse.”
Taris reached into his money pouch and put the coppers on the counter. The innkeeper took them and continued smiling, pleased with the sight of coin. His eyes fell to the blade at Taris’ side, and to Meryl’s short dagger.
“I’m afraid we don’t allow arms in the rooms. You can leave them with me and pick them up on the way out.”
Taris felt a tinge of discomfort, used to the heft at his side. More than that, whether paranoid or not, he wanted to be ready for any sudden attacks. Still, rules were rules, and this wasn’t the time to be ruffling feathers. They unfastened their weapons and handed them over to the innkeeper, who swept them off and behind the counter.
“Follow me, please.”
He showed them to the common room opposite the counter. It was small but clean with six beds, three to a side; it looked nicer than any room Taris had ever slept in.
“Here you are. If you’re hungry, we’ve got bread, cheese, or stew if you’d like something hot. Just ask at the counter. The outhouse is in the back beside the stables. Will you be needing anything else at the moment?”
“Yes,” Taris said, “Could you tell us how to find the Howling Wolf?”
The man’s face beamed. “Of course. That’s my cousin’s tavern in the northwest of the kingdom. Best mutton in all of Dunsmire. It’s past the slums and at the end of the main road. You can’t miss it.”
“Thank you,” Taris said. “Anything else we should know? We haven’t been in Dunsmire in a few years.” His face stayed neutral in the lie. He wasn’t well-traveled, but he knew better than to admit he was brand new to a place. He wanted to fit in.
“Not much has changed. We’ve still got the markets in the southeast, the castle in the north, and if you’re looking for a temple of Valaron, they built a new one just east of that.”
Taris felt his heart jump at the mention of the temple.
“Thank you for your help,” Meryl chimed in. “We are grateful.” She nudged Taris and they went into the common room.

-----------

So there you have it. If that gave you any type of impression, whether negative or positive, I welcome the feedback. 

In terms of reading, I'll say that I'm still working my way through Brandon Sanderson's Warbreaker; I've got less than two hundred pages to go. It's taken me longer than I would have liked, but I got distracted by listening to Neil Gaiman's Norse Mythology three times, and I also started listening to The Death of Dulgath again...and realized it's an even finer book than I originally gave it credit for. Michael J. Sullivan's sentences are super refined, and I can only hope to be that clear, precise, and poetic one of these days. I'll get there eventually. I hope. Yeah. I will.

To end things off, here are some more words of wisdom and motivation, as I struggle to find my own voice in the void of the internet, and to keep pushing myself to create without panicking about criticism:

“To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard.”
—Allen Ginsberg, WD

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Narrative U-turns

Total total words this week: 3,300
Total actual words this week: 2,200 (scrapped 1,100 and changed direction in part of the story)

I started the week off great. I wrote a combined eleven hundred words on Monday and Tuesday, but the story just wasn't clicking for me. Basically, my characters were traveling to the capital city of my story world because they wanted to have an audience with the king. They met an old guy on the road who used to live in the capital, but has since become a nomad. He gave them the names of two people to seek out once they get to the capital, as they could at least show my main characters around, and potentially help them to arrange the desired meeting with the king.

So I then had my characters travel through some mountains on the way to the capital, and I started writing a scene where they were accosted by some bandits and were taken prisoner. The issue was that I really just needed to get them to the capital to keep the main story rolling, and I couldn't think of a way for them to escape from the bandits in an efficient way. (who are actually part of the terrorist faction that killed my main characters' kid) After setting up the two characters to meet in the capital, I felt this detour was going to take too long, and that I'd be breaking a promise to the reader. I just needed to get my characters to the damn capital!

On Wednesday, I scrapped the whole scenario and got the idea of my male lead simply having a symbolic dream relating to the death of his daughter while traveling through the same mountains mentioned above. The scene causes some questions to be asked, has some character and world development, and it doesn't feel like the story takes a major detour. In this scenario, the characters are both still moving forward, and when the guy wakes up, he still gets to ask questions, but quickly gets to continue on with the journey.

You can read the dream sequence here. My apologies for the formatting. (and the writing quality)

I've already gone through various periods of feeling like my writing is garbage, but I'm going to keep pushing forward until this story is done. My goal is to have the first draft completed by the end of October. I'm a little behind the pace at the moment, and I'll be happy to get it done by the end of the year if needed, but I'm really hoping to have some revising time at the end of the year before getting an editor to look at it and either a) tell me it's crap or b) tell me there's something that can be improved and maybe made readable. I'm also good with just being told to "keep practicing."

Like I said at the start of this journey, I'm buckling myself in for the long haul. Even if it takes ten years or more, I want to improve my ability in this craft and eventually create something worthy of being put out for public consumption.

Getting back to my writing week, after the dream sequence, I actually wrote the sequence in which the characters reach the capital and enter it for the first time. I got some tremendous feedback on those words from the Reddit fantasy writers community, so I'll be revising that bit over the next few days, or I'll copy and paste the feedback into my Scrivener file for now and come back to it at a later date.

Once I do revise this bit, I'll see if I can post the original piece, the feedback, and the revised piece for reference.

What I'm realizing more and more is that I do need regular feedback. It helps to have another set of eyes on this stuff, especially ones with experience in the field. For now, I'm going to stick to leaning on the Reddit group a bit, though I don't want to press too much there, as the community is not an editing service and is meant to be used as more of a discussion circle if you get stuck in your story or need a little feedback on a plot point. In the future, I may consider getting a writing coach or taking something like one of David Farland's courses.

In short, I'm going to keep doing the work while seeking seasoned feedback.

Thor in a bridal gown

I finished the audio book of Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman last week. I actually listened to it three times, and I'll probably run through it a fourth time as well. It's only six and a half hours, and Neil Gaiman's voice is smooth as silk. He does a really nice job with the narration, and you can tell he's really passionate about his subject matter. I also want to go back again just to catch more details, as there are tons of place and character names, and some of the events happen pretty quickly. All in all, it's a fun book and retelling of some truly fantastic stories. It even has Thor in a bridal gown, which leads to an entertaining faux wedding scene.

Otherwise, I'm still making my way through Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson. It took a backseat to Norse Mythology last week, but I expect I'll finish it in the next week or week and a half.

If you've made it down this far and haven't lost interest, yaaaaay. Thank you. I'm more than a bit tired at the moment, and I'm slightly annoyed by my own lifeless writing style, but I'm hoping it'll come alive the more I sit down, practice, study, and practice some more. Even when I don't feel like it.

In the words of Stephen King...


Hell yeah.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Murky territory

I wrote three thousand words over the past week, which is awesome from a productivity standpoint. I kept myself disciplined and wrote practically every evening, and one morning where I woke up at 5am. The thing is, if I just write three hundred words per day, that's over two thousand at the end of the week. I feel there's no excuse for me not to hit that number on a consistent basis, but I won't beat myself up about it if I don't. Life and fatigue have a habit of getting in the way from time to time.

The only problem with my most recent cluster of words is that a chunk of them felt like filler. I'm trying to make them feel like connective tissue from one part of the story to the next, but it's hard to view them in that light knowing I just used discovery writing and made up this section of the journey as I went along. I know the next major event in my story, but getting there is something I'm feeling my way through. Having listened to other writers talk about their processes, even big names like Brandon Sanderson, this is not an uncommon approach. Basically, as long as you have your story tent poles set up along the way, you can allow creativity to take over in between.

Anyway, if you want to see what I produced over the past seven days, you can check it out here. Here's how it starts if you're not sure whether you want to invest your time:

The clouds had gathered like thieves in the night and rained daggers over the Grasslands. It was the kind of rainfall that pelted and stung, not soothed. The horses kept their stubborn pace by moonlight, as Meryl huddled deeper into her cloak, Taris alongside. The worst part was the complete lack of cover with not a tree or cliff in sight. Meryl did her best to shield her pouch of provisions from threat of the damp.

The Grasslands seemed to stretch endlessly. The landscape was mostly flat with hill clusters popping up now and then. It was virgin territory, but Meryl wondered how long it would take some avaricious ruler to start digging them up and laying them over with stone.

She also wondered how long they could ride in this downpour.

Thanks for reading, and I welcome your honest feedback and/or advice.

Gods of fiction, Gods of myth

On the reading side of things, I'm over two hundred pages into Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson. This could be one of my favourite fantasy novels ever if it keeps developing the way it has up to this point. The way gods are used and abused in the story is fascinating, and Sanderson does a great job of building mystery and anticipation. He's basically laying down a breadcrumb trail trying to get the reader to figure out just what the hell is going on behind the divine politics of a city which resurrects the dead and then keeps them alive by having them take "the breath" of a regular person once per week. It's weird and wonderful and just great. I'll see how I feel by the end of it, as I imagine this type of story would lose something on a re-read once you know the mystery going on. However, as a first time experience, it's been a fun ride.

With my latest Audible credit, I purchased Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman just yesterday. I've been fascinated by the norse myths, and myths in general, for a long time. I have books and a gorgeous illustrated encyclopedia on the subject. The problem with myth is that it's filled with too many names, and the stories just stand on their own, often with no link to other parts of the greater mythology. When there is overlap between a story, it's up to you to remember that god x hooked up with goddess y to create new god w who now wants to kill god z because god z wants to usurp the throne from god x, who actually usurped it from god p, who was given it by god a. So...I love myth, but it's not the easiest thing to create a chronology out of.

With that in mind, I'm enjoying Neil Gaiman's attempt at explaining the major Norse myths in what appears to be a semi-chronological order. They're also told with Gaiman's usual mix of humour and word craft, and I'm enjoying listening to the author himself read the text. Oh, and Thor is amazing. I feel like his depiction in Marvel comics only scratches the surface of his depth and greatness after learning more about his cunning and strength. If you like trickery, death, and larger than life feats and characters, I'd recommend this. With that in mind, I'm off to bed and will end this with an image of said badass thunder god.



Have a great week, and see you in seven days!

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Checkpoint reached

TL;DR version

-wrote 1,300 words of mostly crap. Revised and got over 2,000 words that I'm semi-pleased with
-semi-officially 10% through my novel
-finished Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
-started Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson

In the white room

I wrote what I think will be the third chapter of my book this past week. Originally, it was 1,300 words. After getting some feedback from the Reddit fantasy writers group, and just feeling my way through the text on my own, it wasn't working. Basically, I had committed the fatal error of what is known as "white room syndrome." This is where two characters just talk back and forth with minimal action or scenery description, and it ends up feeling more like an info dump in an empty room than a real scene in a novel. I also really didn't like a lot of the dialogue I had written - too much of it felt stilted or like it was from a soap opera. I think I'm still "getting to know" my two main characters, so nailing their voices is going to take some time.

So, after taking stock of my pile of narrative shit, I went back at it and fleshed it out. I changed the POV from the male lead, Taris, to the female lead, Meryl. I added more action and more character thoughts and observations that felt genuine and not as scripted. I also tried to give them distinct voices. In the end, I went from 1,300 words to over 2,000 for the chapter, and I felt relatively proud of myself for it. In short, it was a reminder that writing is about revising, revising, and revising some more. I now understand why so many forewords to books begin with authors thanking their editors for "making them readable" or "making them look good." This gig takes time, and I'm happy to put in that time.

Also, I've now written over 8,000 words of a story. This is the biggest story I've ever written, so that's to be celebrated. The other reason this number is significant for me is that it puts me at 10% of the fantasy industry standard 80,000-word minimum for publication. So far, I'm right on target to finish my first draft by the end of the year. We'll see how things develop the deeper I go, as I fear how much of a shit sandwich the middle is going to end up being if I find I'm running short and needing to fill out the narrative.

Honestly, I don't know what an 80,000-word story feels like to write. I'm basically learning as I go and trying to take as much useful advice as I can along the way. It's been fun, and I figure I'm about to head into some rough waters and experience some necessary growing pains.

If you'd like to read how chapter 3 changed over the course of one revision, you can read the original here, and the revised version here. Thanks for your feedback.

Prince of pacing

I finished up Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence this week. (Goodreads review here) In short, I admired the pacing of the book, and I ended up enjoying that the chapters were all three to six pages long, as it gave me hope for my own book, knowing that's something which is possible in fantasy today. It was a bit jumpy, which made parts of it hard to understand, but overall, the middle clip of the book was just excellent. I loved how things just kept moving forward without a second to breathe. I'd like my own books to have a similar feel, but with more dashes of scene description than Lawrence provides. Actually, The Death of Dulgath by Michael J. Sullivan is pretty great in this regard too, and it's far less jumpy. It's even closer to the type of pacing I'd eventually love to have in my own stories.

Now that I'm done with the Mark Lawrence book, I'm moving on to my first Brandon Sanderson stand-alone novel: Warbreaker.


It sounds wonderfully inventive, which is what fantasy should strive to be at the best of times. Thinking of my own story at the moment, it's not going to reach the thematic heights of something like this, but right now, I'm writing with an eye on improving my craft, not changing the entire fantasy industry. I'm definitely pushing myself to be as creative as I can be, but within the self-imposed limits of the world and story I'm crafting in my head.

Getting back to Sanderson, in case you don't know, he's currently the it writer in contemporary fantasy. He's also very generous with his time and is a proud nerd. Finally, he's the guy who was tasked with completing Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. By most accounts, he did a remarkable job of it, so needless to say, I'm looking forward to diving into this one.

Of note is that this is actually the first third person limited POV contemporary fantasy that I've read with an eye on studying what other writers are doing, so I'm looking forward to that in particular after back-to-back first person POV stories. I'll talk about the POV stuff a bit more later on, but for now just say that the third person limited POV is what's in vogue in published fantasy these days, so I'm trying to build my skills with that in mind. It's hard because most of the time I just want to default to third person omniscient where I have access to every character's thoughts. This is much harder, but it's also pretty fun. (Game of Thrones does this FYI)

Welp, that's all for this week. I should make some good progress this week, especially since I'm now mostly healthy, and I know the next steps I want my characters to take in my story.

Thanks for reading if you've made it this far, and have a great week!

Bless the Light Eternal (words: 1870)

The heretic spat at Brother Baskara, spittle flecking the corners of his mouth as his eyes blazed with contempt. “Bless the light eternal,...