Sunday, February 26, 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, February 19, 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, February 12, 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!

Monday, February 6, 2017

A slight detour but the road goes ever on

TL;DR version

-wrote around 1,100 words, all to "beef up" the front of chapter 1 (full text below)
-nursing and self-medicating a hurt elbow
-finished Uprooted by Naomi Novik
-started listening to Brandon Sanderson's lecture series
-started Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

Winston Smith was right: "Nothing in the world was so bad as physical pain"

You ever had tennis elbow? I'm pretty sure this is what it feels like, and it stinks.

All of last week, I was careful not to extend myself too much due to said elbow pain, nor to overuse my phone and home laptop. This caused a slight dip in writing productivity. Advil and Voltaren gel were and are stalwarts of my daily self-medicating routine: Advil three to four times per day, and Voltaren in the mornings and evenings. At least things seem to be getting better, and I can now apply deodorant and wash my hair without a pain level of nine out of ten shooting through my right arm. Small victories.

I know this is the result of my overreliance on my phone and my addiction to screens. I'm at least conscious of it, which does make it easier to manage; feeling physical ramifications for technological binging is also sobering and quickly snaps you back to reality. Now, my goal is to be even more disciplined and self-aware. I'd like to avoid zombification. Books help with that.

Fairy tales and killing fields

One of the better-written books I've read of late was Uprooted by Naomi Novik.

It's a dark fairy tale that basically takes place in Poland, called Polnya in the book, and it's a story that is constantly moving forward. I'm usually not a big fan of dark fairy tales, as most of them still feel too clean and shiny. Truth be told, that's more to do with movies than books, though. This is the first book I've read of this ilk outside of Grimm's originals, and it's quite good. Check it out if fairy tales are your thing. FYI, it's written in first person POV.

You can also read a slightly longer review of the book on my Goodreads account. After so many years, I'm still trying to find my voice when it comes to reviewing books. I try to give it my all, but it's usually a one-draft affair when it comes to writing about books, as I just want to get on to the next one, and time isn't my ally in these cases. It's similar with blog posts and writing in general. I don't actually "like" much of what comes onto the page. My goal is to get to a place where I can look at something I've written and be able to legitimately say, "this is good." That's a large part of this personal journey I'm on. I'll get there. Maybe.

Anyway, onto my next book.

This is another first person POV about a young prince who watches his mother and brother get murdered while hanging from a briar patch. Hence, Prince of Thorns. It's gotten pretty good buzz for being darker than many fantasy stories, but while it definitely has a bunch of killing, I don't find it all that shocking or disturbing. The first fifty pages were a bit annoying to get through, as there are a lot of scene and time jumps that are disorienting, and you have a hard time getting a grounded sense of place. This is mostly due to a lack of setting description. The main character, prince Jorg, is also an annoying teen, and is written as such.

I'm around one hundred and forty pages in now, and it's been much better since about page one hundred. The book is now following a much more linear path and doesn't feel as choppy. The writing has also significantly improved since the early pages, and I'm starting to see why it's gotten the buzz that it has. I'll finish this before my next blog post. This is actually helping me with my own writing by assessing its structure and judging my own experience with it as a reader. So yay to that.

Free masterclass - thanks, Sanderson!

So, Brandon Sanderson has put up an entire term's worth of lectures for free online. They're very useful and offer solid instructional training for novice writers such as myself. You can start with lecture one here if you're interested. The audio isn't the greatest, but you just get used to it after a while. Headphones are recommended and almost required.

It's hard to dislike someone who's been so generous with his time when it comes to writing advice and being a torch bearer for fantasy and nerd culture in general. I'm looking forward to reading Warbreaker by him when I finish up with Prince of Thorns.

In addition to discovering this free writing advice, I also found another helpful string of YouTube videos on writing fantasy from The Bottled Imp. The best part of these videos are the resource materials that he recommends. I'll be adding a few of them to my birthday wish list for next month, specifically the first two volumes of this series. Right now, I'm trying to devour as much information as possible, as I'm trying to turn writing advice into habit and instinct. I'm enjoying the immersion.

This week in writing

So, I took some of the advice from the Fantasy Writer's community on reddit and beefed up the opening of my novel. I like the original beginning, but the extra thousand words do add some extra world building, and I think it makes the whole thing a lot more intriguing and complete. Plus, the main goal of doing this was to get to know Lucia and her family a bit more before killing Lucia off at the end of the chapter. I think I've done that. I'm actually pleased with this as a mostly-complete first draft of chapter one. Check it out and let me know what you think in the comments. (especially if you know the answer to my capslocked and underlined questions about medieval food in the heart of the text)

See you in a week!

p.s. I typed this up in an hour or so on Monday morning. 5am wakeups aren't the worst things in the world.

The Tale of Lady Midday (words: 568)

Lady Midday loved the smell of children in spring. She delighted in their honeysuckle hair, jasmine-imbued coveralls, and the hint of homema...