30 Days of NaNoWriMo – Day 4: Maintenance

LS-NaNoWriMoProgress-11.4.14Where I Wrote: Bronx Park, just a short walk from one of the entrances to the Bronx Zoo.

How I Feel About What I Wrote: Really good. I was actually confused by how much I got out and how quickly it happened (from just before sunset to just after). It’s enough to balance the fact that I was a bit below quota.

The Mood I Brought to the Table: Eager.

The Experience: It was around 4PM when the electrician got here.

I’ll explain, but, before I do, I wanted to throw that time out there to show how late of a start I got; it’s Fall here in New York, which means sunset is around 5PM. Not actually late, but about… 5 or 6 hours after I usually like to head out.

But it was necessary; I’ve tweeted about the spooky wiring in my room, the light turning on and off on its own. That was only pretend-enjoyable until November 1st; at exactly 12AM, it wasn’t festive anymore.

A little annoying to have to wait that long after my Anxious Hearts moment yesterday; I wanted to get out and find anywhere new.

But it just wasn’t in the cards; not if I wanted to get any writing done, get back home to post this, and get a good amount of work done.

So I settled for Bronx Park, a place I’m familiar with. And a place that’s pretty horrible for writing. In direct contrast to the miracle that was Pier 15, Bronx Park only has rough, public benches–not the worst offense…

… unless you’re a writer who gets there, looks around, and immediately goes wide-eyed as they wonder, possibly aloud, “Where the hell are the picnic tables?” I wound up sitting on a set of rough rock steps just off the main path. That lasted until nightfall, at which point my back started protesting. From there, it was on to a small set of bleachers. I had to sit on them backwards, using one of the lower foot rests as a seat, the actual bench above it serving as a makeshift table.

Improvisational. Utilitarian. A no frills arrangement engaged just to get some work done before going home and getting more work done.

And man did the pages fly there. I left around 4PM and, when I hit a point where I felt I had to stop (Chapter 2 ends in a plot choice I refused to make willy nilly), I was certain the time on my tablet was wrong. 5 and change? Seriously? I’d only been writing for about an hour?… What?

I don’t know how that works. Maybe it’s because there were no distractions–only people playing sports I don’t care about and, when night fell, only a small handful idling around.

Or maybe it was watching the electrician when he got to my apartment, taking about twenty minutes to fix three problems that I assumed would take hours.

Either way, I’ll take days like today. Straight forward. Fast and devoid of glamour.  Maintenance, done in hours less than I expected.

30 Days of NaNoWriMo – Day 3: Catching Up

LS-NaNoWriMoProgress-11.3.14Where I Wrote: Pier 15 at South Street Seaport.

How I Feel About What I Wrote: Really awesome. At worst, a tiny bit worried that I’m being too indulgent with my main characters in Memory.

The Mood I Brought to the Table: Really, really good.

The Experience: I got out early today, just as I’d planned after the fiasco that was Day 2.

My start was a little stunted, me stumbling with a handful of word processing apps. To accurately summarize, I spent enough time testing them earlier today that the copy of my story that I bounced between them eventually turned into a mash of wingdings and nonsense code.

When I finally found an app that worked well enough (WPS Office by Kingsoft), I set out with absolutely no plan and the possibility that WPS Office would quit on me and destroy Day 3.

But that did not happen. I had no plan, of course, so there was a bit of, “I should get off this train… Right?… Yes!” and then equal parts of, “Shit. I shouldn’t have gotten off that train.” But, in the end, I wound up here:

20141103_150730

Did you… Did you know there are adirondack chairs set up for the general public at Pier 15? There’s a cruise line office there, but built on top of it, there’s an outdoor, waterfront longue… with adirondak chairs. I could not have asked for a better writing spot to stumble upon. To be completely honest, I sat on one of the large, wooden steps nearby for a good hour first before wandering up, curious, and finding these; they’re that tucked away–up a ramp and all the way at the end of the elevated portion of the pier. I’d already written a good amount but when I found this spot, I immediately hunkered down and went over quota.

I didn’t make up all of the ground I lost on Day 2; only because it got really cold as the day drew on. I left hoping to find coffee nearby and a bathroom. Although I didn’t find the former, the latter was also–to my surprise–public access (just a short walk away on Front St.–just off of Fulton). Considering that there has to be coffee somewhere nearby that I missed, I’m really excited for round 2 at Pier 15.

Oddly though, the most intense part of this experience for me was when my futile search for coffee led me north to the Brooklyn Bridge. I know this will sound incredibly nerdy to non-gamers and incredibly fanboy-ish to nerds, but reaching the bridge and looking up turned Anxious Hearts on in my head–like a switch. Instantaneous. The sight of dirty, metal scaffolding and old concrete over head and I’m a kid again, staring in awe, thinking about the countless places that exist that I’ve never seen–that I won’t see. I know that may sound strange, but it’s something that I think of from time to time.

And, of course, it made me a little sad, as the combination of those thoughts and that song often does. Not defeated–not a sting of loss. More like the pressure of yearning; I can’t help thinking that if I’d started sooner–if I hadn’t waited to start these strange, short quests of mine–I’d have found so many more of those unseen places. In a strange way, it made me as sad as it made me hopeful; there’s always a time to start. There are always places to see and things to do, just waiting. All it takes to see them is the desire to find them.

And, in our case, as writers, the desire to put those places that don’t exist–our places–on paper for others to find.

On Choosing the Right Soundtrack

Last time was pretty serious. Well, maybe not serious–maybe more like incredibly straight forward and academic. And <em>boring.</em>

So I thought I’d get a little loose this time—talk about something I like, with the stipulation that I tell you at least twice that it’s something I like.

And that would be assigning a soundtrack for my stories.

Now, before you navigate away, I should specify a few things. Firstly, I use the term “soundtrack” loosely—more on that in a bit. Secondly, I do believe that if you don’t already do this, it can actually help your writing. Thirdly, that is as long as you do it… in moderation.

Firstly, Not Really a Soundtrack

I’m a weird guy when it comes to music (at least). I’m admittedly terrible with actual, normal music; I honestly would not be able to name a single Led Zeppelin song for you. And at the same time, no, I also would not be able to name a Katy Perry song for you—I defy genres and generations with my musical ignorance.

However, I can hear five seconds of original soundtrack from two rooms away, come over, and, without even looking at the television it’s coming from, tell you, “Jurassic Park. The scene when Grant and the kids are climbing over the wire fence. That track is called ‘High Wire Stunts’.”

I’ll go right on to immediately add that I know this is a problem.

However, what I want to specify immediately is that my goal here is not to make that your problem; I’m absolutely not suggesting that you compile a detailed and complete soundtrack. Aside from the fact that it would be incredibly hard to find music that matches all of your scenes and all matches the same tone, it would just be a huge waste of time.

Because, let’s be real—if you compiled a soundtrack worthy of worldwide distribution… who are you showing that to? How are you planning to use it? I don’t want to assume you don’t get it, but this leads right into how you should think of your “soundtrack”—basically, as a writing tool.

I’ll lead with an example: here’s a part of my soundtrack (and yes, it’s more Castlevania). But immediately, let me point out a few things:

1) This song is the theme for an abandoned gallery my characters find at one point. But not all of the song is the gallery’s theme—more like everything but 1:32-2:02 or any other part where it gets insanely Castlevania…y). Those organ solos don’t fit the tone of my story at all.

2) Regardless, there is no point where the piano portion of this song could actually play anywhere in my story; in an animated or live-action version of my story, there just honestly would not be enough suitable time in that gallery.

3) I would also absolutely never write to this song or even reread my work while listening to it; it’s just too distracting.

So how exactly do I use this song at all? Before I write any scenes in the gallery. When I’m thinking about the gallery—how it looks and sounds. When I need to figure out an aspect of it. When I want to remember how it feels to stand in it.

And that means that, like the rest of my “soundtrack,” that song is a kind of personal tool that’s detached from my writing in every way an actual soundtrack shouldn’t be. And that’s what I’m suggesting; that you find whole songs, parts of songs—maybe even clips that are only seconds long—that you compile as writing tools, not expressly as a playlist. And not even expressly music; this is what I played for the weeks it took me to get through chapters 10 and 11, and having this, looped, helped to a degree that’s embarrassing to admit.

Secondly, How This Can Actually Help

Consider what I said last week about assigning a theme song for your characters. I explained that, in my mind, a theme song is a perfect way to hone what you know about your characters. If you can find the right one, they can serve as beautiful, simple summaries of your characters and, when necessary, remind you who the character is and what they’re going through. And if you manage to keep the theme from changing your character, they serve as a great way to hone your understanding of a character.

Well, add to that the idea that your scenes and settings (for the sake of simplicity) are characters. At the very least, they share similar traits; setting can (and should) have a tone. A scene can have a certain mood. A location can and should convey a story, if only briefly and subtly. A cave can be small and close, warm from the fresh fire at its center, where a friend looks up from their book as you enter. Or the fire could be dead, the air acrid with the stench of the charred cook pot hanging over it, your friend’s chair overturned, the man himself missing. In any of those cases, a song used as reference always helps you to find the words that match that tone.

In the case of the example I gave above, the song for the gallery, it’s full of the exact kind of muted, drowned beauty that embodies that setting to me. It easily helps me remember everything about it, from the wet gray color of the gallery’s walls to the sad, sunlit half-silence of it.

I suppose the simplest way to say this is, if you’ve never tried using a song as inspiration, you should absolutely give it a shot. I believe that you can create awesome characters without assigning a theme, but I think having reference music for your scenes is borderline essential.

Thirdly, Be Casual About It

I’m a firm believer that any extra work that’s meant to supplement your writing can eventually hurt it instead. I want to say, “excepts for like, making up a custom language for your world.” But even in that case… if you’ve spent ten years perfecting that custom language … that’s probably not helping your stories in the long run. Particularly because, if you’re like me, you’re an amateur; we don’t have the luxury of spending years honing any one detail because, honestly, the point at which we should’ve been writing—and letting that experience dictate how we refine our worlds—is always. If we spent the majority of our time working on a language or compiling a detailed soundtrack, it would be like someone calling out of work to spend the day sorting their pennies. Probably a horrible comparison, but my overall point is that actually taking time out of a writing session to hunt down relevant tracks? Not a good idea. Using any time that you could spend writing to instead find the perfect pairing for your campfire scene? Not better than just taking a shot at writing that scene.

What I’m saying is, the best way to handle this soundtrack business is to put the entire idea in the back of your mind—not out of mind, but somewhere easily recalled—while you watch movies, play video games, or pretty much do anything. You should take from this the idea to listen to what you hear with the background knowledge that you can apply anything to your writing. Maybe that sounds a little bizarre, being ready to relate everything you hear to your stories.

But, honestly, that’s writing 101. If you haven’t started insanely thinking of everything in relation to some plot you’ve been working on, well, there’s no time like the present to go the writing-appropriate amount of crazy.

All kidding aside, you are a writer. Either you’re sitting here thinking, “I already do this,” or you should be.

On Reaching the Creative Writing Milestones

Earlier this week, I popped open an email from a friend. She’s an aspiring author like me, and like me, she has her strengths and her weaknesses as a writer. In particular, she does really amazing research; I definitely search for a quick answer or example for an element I want to use, get it and stop reading if I can work with what I found, but she learns all that she can about a topic, records relevant details, makes an educated decision about what she’s going with and why (and then records those reasons as well, I believe).

Anyway, I’m reading her email and spot something that comes up off-hand; she’s actually written a bit–her words (well, tone [whatever]), not mine. She only spared a sentence for this bit of information, but I smiled. Not in a douchy way, but because, in my mind, she hit the third Creative Writing Milestone (or Waypoint? [Tier? Tier! That works… No it doesn’t (not Event [not Phenomenon (not Happening [Got it! Yes!… Milestone!])])]). And just knowing that–seeing where she was in my concept of the writing process–made me want to tell anyone about that concept. So here we are!

Before I go on, I should caution you that they aren’t a defined thing supported by research; they’re the product of my observations and opinions as an aspiring writer and, as with nearly everything on this site, they’re flavored with an implied “fantasy” before every instance of “writing” and “fiction” (whatever application you can take from them as a general fiction writer, for example, is completely up to you).

That said, in my mind, there are Milestones that every aspiring writer experiences. Each of them is an event (phenomenon, or happening) that–while not all difficult–are still steps we have to surmount and experiences we need to have for better or worse. They are events that I believe we all experience, although their prominence in our lives is different for each of us. I should add that if you get nothing from this, you’ll at least have a pretty clear idea of my growth as a writer.

Anyway, enough foreplay.

The First Milestone – The Realization

You realize that you want to tell stories. Specifically fiction. You aren’t sure what or how, but you want to entertain people. Perhaps you’ve read something and enjoyed it so much that you wanted to try doing the same. Or you experienced a story in a different medium that you enjoyed but that you knew could’ve been better, and now you want to figure out how by writing the story you expected. No matter how you came to realize that you want to write, the point is, you know now and it starts to color how you see everything.

However, for a while, there’s only guess work. You fumble with a few ideas as you try to decide what stories you want to tell, but these ideas may never fully take. Eventually, you may either forget these ideas or remember them fondly regardless of your choice (I hope you remember them fondly). At the very least though, you find characters and story elements that you really like during this time, and often carry them with you afterwards, growing with them and eventually finding their stories if you can.

For me, the Realization only came in full after I did two separate things: played Lunar: The Silver Star for the first time and watched Jurassic Park for the first time. I do fondly remember the characters that I found in those days, but I’m not the person to tell many of their stories (although I brought many of them with me, I could not bring them all; oddly enough, one of my current characters is actually named after one of my First Milestone characters who I had to leave behind [because he was literally just the stereotypical noble knight]).

I haven’t met many people who come to this point and don’t continue–this time for a writer is usually exciting, I think, so there’s an uncontrolled, unplanned, and potentially accidental progression to the next Milestone.

The Second Milestone – The Concept

After trying a few ideas, you experience your very first, oddly cartoonish epiphany; there’s a really good chance that somewhere in your timeline, a young you actually stopped what he/she was doing, jumped up with eyes wide and said, “That’s it!”

After the epiphany, everything happens very, very quickly. You start to create a world based on that single, brilliant idea–an idea which can be anything from a particular setting to a social element in your world. It could be the origin for a character or even just the reason why they wear an iconic piece of clothing.

For me, it was a single social detail about a world that I didn’t know otherwise. I thought the element was amazing, and, in my memory, it was immediately followed by countless details about that world and the realization that two of the characters who I’d been drawing for the past year were key players in its story.

Now, the important thing to realize here is that the Concept can be absolutely addictive. It can go on for ages and can ultimately swallow a writer whole. It’s beautiful, pure creativity, but it requires a lot of work that most of us give willingly, which is part of the problem. For my part, I spent at least ten years of my youth creating new ideas for the one fantasy series. In retrospect, it would’ve been a terrible idea for me to start writing that series in high school, but regardless, the point is that I just kept building that world. And when it got too big, I didn’t stop–I remember having countless files on my computer that conflicted with each other (we’re talking about conflicting world timelines). When I realized this, I tried to prune it all down, but in my excitement, I just created more details and piled them on. Ultimately, I never started that first series in part because it’s still an incredible tangle of concepts that I know I can’t use and won’t do justice to until I’ve had experience actually writing and being published. The point is, however, it’s incredibly easy to burn out from all of this; in my experience, in fact, this is the point where many of us ultimately give up. We carefully and meticulously build worlds and then life happens and for whatever reason we forget or we let go. Either way, very few of us actually move on to the next Milestone.

The Third Milestone – Actually Starting

I don’t want to say that anyone who hasn’t made it to this point isn’t a writer–I believe that anyone who meticulously and lovingly builds a world is someone who wants to write.

However, there is ultimately a huge difference between building that world and actually writing a story in it. Put simply, no matter how much you love your world and your characters, no one will ever find out about them until you start putting pen to paper. Actually doing it–actually starting to tell your story–is one of the most important things you can do. Because, to vastly understate a fact, it’s the hard part. This is the point where you challenge yourself to do this thing you’ve wanted to do for years but were afraid of. This is where you actually try to give these characters you love their voices.

And if you’re anything like me, this is where you suddenly realize that among all of the elements you created, all of the tense dialogue you outlined between characters and all of the plot events you lovingly polished until they were all shiny with epicness, the one thing you didn’t actually do was write out a full, detailed, logical plot that your stories follow. There is a first scene or a first chapter that you work through, but you eventually get tired and stop because you find that there’s no chapter 2 outlined anywhere in all of those notes.

It’s important to say here that this Milestone isn’t all failure though–it’s a victory. You’ve actually started to write and that’s awesome. However, it’s another, strong opportunity for an aspiring writer to stop. Suddenly things don’t work and, at best, you struggle to make them work. You start to let go of some projects while focusing instead on the best you have because you start to realize that what you considered a collection of awesome stories is actually just a group of ideas that require execution to be completed (and enough logic to be executed).

But at the same time, the experiences that come with this Milestone are synonymous with actual, successful writing, and for some of us, the entire process can stop here. Over the years, you can figure out everything about a story, finish a novel, get published, continue writing, and be happy. But again, that’s for some of us.

For the rest of us… there’s the Fourth Milestone.

The Fourth Milestone – Realizing that Everything You’ve Been Writing Is Complete Shit: The Reckoning

<sigh> So… every Milestone is important. But for a lot of us, this is the final, terrible hurdle. Like I said, not everyone experiences this one.

But for the majority of us, there comes a reckoning. It will have been coming for years, and when it finally hits, you’ll melodramatically realize, “I always knew.” It may come out of nowhere or it may come from finally and honestly trying to accept harsh criticism you’ve received for a sample you sent out. Regardless, it is, officially, the point at which criticism stops being inherently harsh in your mind. Not because you’re suddenly zen, but maybe because your third eye opened, and through it you realized that when someone said they didn’t like x and y about the excerpt you sent them, it wasn’t because they were assholes (unless they were actually assholes about it)–it’s because your excerpt actually sucked. And why? Because when the Third Milestone came, you realized that “things don’t work,” you spent the last few years struggling to “make them work.” And in the process of trying to force things to make sense, you took shortcuts and made tenuous, odd ties between conflicting elements. You held onto original concepts you liked (i.e. the magic flute that lets the one character talk to animals) even though they no longer worked with newer, more logical angles you created (i.e. it’s silly how unnaturally useful this flute is). Put simply, your brain and your heart have been fighting on paper and you stepped in to force a settlement between them. And that torn up battle ground? That story that doesn’t make the sense you thought it did? That’s what you’ve spent the last few years writing.

You were too close–that old creative writing adage you’ve heard and used so many times without actually knowing what it meant. In short, the answer was never “make the magic flute less useful.” The answer was, “You honestly think this fucking magic flute is stupid, just like everyone else. Why aren’t you seeing that? Why are you so afraid to delete that stupid flute?”

But, it doesn’t matter. As harsh as all of this is, the point is that you realized you were too close. You finally saw what you were doing and you stepped back and honestly reevaluated your writing. You actually took the criticism and looked at it instead of just glossing it over and telling your friends, “Thanks. I’ll definitely keep this in mind.”

Now, I’m probably biased because I just got to this Milestone a few years ago, but I cannot help thinking that it’s something every writer should look out for. If you’ve been writing for a while now and you love what you write to the extent that you’re sure everyone’s opinions about your work are wrong, you need to stop and very openly and honestly reevaluate yourself as a writer. If you have friends who have told you that your work is great but you have a hard time tying scenes, character motivations and plot events together in a simple, logical, and compelling way, then–as harsh as it sounds–you need to consider that your friends are being nice and that your story / characters / writing in general is missing something.

Something, by the way, that you can absolutely provide. At this point, you will have already worked on your craft for years, and despite how bad this sounds, this is not a reckoning that you won’t understand. When you get here, you’ll realize you’ve been ignoring issues with your writing for ages. Whether it’s because you’ve heard it from others or because you’ve made excuses for clear plot holes, you’ll know what’s wrong.

But when you get to this point, you’ll have found a solution. And maybe it won’t be clear (maybe you’ll have to figure out exactly what you need to change about your writing to produce quality stories), but finding this solution–admitting that you can always improve as a writer and that you always need to try harder–is synonymous with producing quality writing. If you reach this Milestone, you haven’t been defeated. For lack of a more melodramatic phrase, you’ve been set free.

~

Well, that was an incredibly long post. If you read through, I hope you enjoyed and got something out of this. Either way, thanks for reading.

A Year Later

So I was on the bus with Chaos Mechanica last week after seeing The HughJackverine. It had been about two years since I’d last seen him (Mechanica, not HughJackverine), and talk eventually turned to work. Our days after Infinite Ammo have seen him get a position with Dual Shockers, a gaming website. And they’ve seen me…

… Well, definitely fail to finish writing my book in the time constraints I originally gave myself with Brand New Day–let’s just throw that right out there. It’s been a very long year after IA and it hasn’t been kind; there’s been all manners of fighting with friends, fighting with family, various fun injuries, and a lot of other issues I don’t want to get into. Really, the fastest way to say it is, life happened. Oh, did it ever happen.

Anyway, back to Chaos Mechanica; we got around to talking about our blogs eventually. He asked me how long it’s been since I’ve written on mine. I was all, “I seriously have no idea.” We talked about how blogging was a therapeutic thing anyway, and how, really, we just didn’t have the time for it.

But, despite having a job now, I realized… I do absolutely have the time for this blog.

If I’m completely honest about it, time was never really an issue in writing this blog the same way that time is never really an issue… with writing. It wasn’t that I couldn’t–I just didn’t, which is always the brutal truth of writing anything; yes, we may come home from work and we’re exhausted. And yes, we may get to our day off and we just really can’t be bothered to start because we just want to relax. But, really, those are always comfort choices; it’s never that we absolutely need to spend the whole day gaming, watching TV, going out or doing whatever–we just choose to.

And that’s absolutely what happened with me. While it would be nice and dramatic to pretend that I took a break because I was sad that I lost Infinite Ammo, the truth is, Mechanica and I gave it up; for my sake, I can admit that journalism was not for me at all and the constant pressure, along with the certainty that I didn’t really know what I was talking about a lot of the time, absolutely burned me out. Pulling back from that–taking a breather from talking about the gaming industry and comics industry like I was an expert when I absolutely wasn’t–was so cathartic that I kind of just gave up everything. It was a choice that I made the same way an aspiring writer comes home after work, sits down, and decides without a thought that, nope, they aren’t writing tonight. And, really, it was the worst choice.

But, there’s something important to specify here. While I say I gave up everything, I mean everything except for writing my book. My book which I’m super embarrassed to admit I’m still working on (even though I’m somehow also absolutely proud to still be working on). More to come on that, but for now, the point is, I haven’t given up on that, which, I believe, is why I’m writing this blog post at all. Because despite everything falling apart–despite deciding to give up for a while–there was something that I never questioned sacrificing–my writing. As hokey as it sounds, I just kept doing it in part because it was always there, always waiting, and always relying on me to do it. Because there are characters with voices that only I know and places only I have seen and I would be nothing without those people, those places, and the chance to bring them to others.

Man did I say “hokey”? Not a strong enough word.

This is all to say, I realized that I have the opportunity to write about all of this here on this blog because I haven’t given up. And I have the opportunity to share my findings with other people (specifically my findings about writing fantasy–the one thing I’m certain I know about). So why shouldn’t I do that? Because I’m tired? Because I got burned out? If I say yes to those things, then I’m not a writer.

So, instead, I’ll just say, hi. I’m back.

A Brand New… Vamlemtime’s Day Tribute to Baelbericht, the “War of Exiles” Character Who Got Away

If there’s one thing I love to do on this blog, it’s say one thing and be all, ” ‘S fuckin’ right, dude. S’a way to do it!” but then totally come from the other hand with, “<sigh>… Yeah… That’s the… way to do it. *sniff*”

So, hey, I thought I’d do some of the latter to celebrate this Valentine’s Day. And, ya know, maybe talk about writing at the same time—maybe stumble upon some kind of meaningful, important concept… maybe.

But, really, the learning—the important concept—shit’s not important. What’s important is paying tribute to a character who, I realized earlier today, totally did not make it to the rewrite of War of Exiles. Ladies and gentlemen, this post is for my friend…

<3 Baelbericht <3

So last year, Week 13 of Brand New Day, I wrote a post that was all about how I’d deleted a character. That was Ozi, who I’d called “the Laughing Ghost.” Still love that guy, still totally going to use him somewhere else (and I’m really excited for that), but this isn’t about him. In that post, I talked about how great and important it was to delete a character and chapter that were just not working with the rest of the plot. That’s still a good and healthy thing to do because a lot of aspiring fantasy writers (and I’ve totally been guilty of this) tend to add way too many ideas to one world or plot. The result?

Well, think of it like cooking; you’re trying to make your first dish the very best dish ever, which isn’t the worst idea, only you try to do it by adding in everything that sounds delicious… which is, like, everything in the cupboards. There’s already a jalapeno in there (intrigue?), but fuck it—empty the jar. Chocolate (romance) is awesome, so I’m going to throw that in there! Wait! Lemons (Jar Jar Binks)!? Going in! That last one was a joke, but the point’s gotta be clear; whether or not these elements are good or bad, they can’t all work jammed together with no rhyme or reason. Even a trained chef can’t make every single awesome element work in the same composition (i.e. why Dinosaurs aren’t in Game of Thrones). The discerning writer knows this and it’s ultimately why deleted scenes / characters / chapters happen.

But sometimes, deleted scenes are awesome and that’s what this post is (supposed to be) about.

Baelbericht was an awesome character who I really loved. He was a barbarian (they aren’t called that in my story, but I don’t want to get into the mess of naming analogue races [or, ya know, the mess of analogue races] right now, so I’ll just say barbarian). He had an awesome weapon that was so cool I’m not even going to talk about it. I will say that his shoulder guards were bear skulls (only the skulls were faced inward, so that it looked like he’d shoved his arms down their throats)… Not really sure how that armor worked out visually, but it was a cool, smaller detail on a character I liked a bunch.

Of course, the thing is though, I totally didn’t remember he wasn’t in the book, which says a lot about my capability to love things, right? But months ago, I’d planned out exactly how and when he would make his appearance in the rewrite.

It just didn’t happen.

So am I going to go back and write him in? Well, of course not. That’d be ridiculous and although I’m on a really awesome writing schedule right now, I don’t have time for bullshit like adding a character into chapter six and editing back up to twelve.

And really… Looking back at this character who I’d thought was so damn awesome, at this point, is like looking back at another time in my life. It’s perhaps, the same reason why I took out Ozi; I’m different now in the same way that the rewrite is different. Two years ago, War of Exiles was something else. Something I enjoyed at the time, but something that was, ultimately supposed to be a really quick project written by someone who definitely hadn’t read enough fantasy or tried to do anything more than create analog races (in a written story, at least [the series I started planning back in high school had a bunch of original races that I often go back and tinker with]).

When it came down to it though, the me I am now, nearly at the end of this extremely weird time in my life, just didn’t remember Baelbericht. Somewhere between figuring out (and always [always] writing down) exactly how my characters feel and just which twists are / should be hinted at in a scene, I’d completely forgotten to put in the generic dude with the crazy bear armor and the wicked cool weapon. And the plot (sorry, Bael) totally forgot as well. Because it isn’t a plot about giant warrior dudes battling zombies with their electric guitars (I swear that never happened in the first draft); it’s a plot about emotional people with real problems, thrown into a terrifying situation and trying to get out of it (add a bit of jalapeno).

So what’s my point here? How is this even a Valentine’s Day post? What does it have to do with anything?

Well, a major part of love is letting go, right? Whether it’s letting go of insecurities so you can trust someone or letting go of the one who got away so you can find someone else, goodbyes are essential for love.

So I thought it was appropriate I say goodbye to Baelbericht tonight.

I know I’ll see him again somewhere down the line, and I know that when I do, it’ll be awesome and he’ll be a real character. But for me, it’s just one of those Valentine’s Days that’s all about letting go.

A New Methodology

Writing used to be a feel good, hobby-ish thing for me. I would sit down and stare at my computer and brainstorm about what would happen next. And more often than not, an answer would not come. But that was always okay–cause it would come in time! As long as I was getting something done at all–as long as I was at least sitting at the computer with the intent–I was doing alright for myself. And to an extent, that’s true; just sitting down and clocking in is the first test of all writers.

 

But, that approach wound up leading to some major issues. First and foremost, I was way too laid back about what was happening in my story; things would feel right and I would throw them on the page, always going with my gut, never wondering how often my instinct matched what was happening or the tone I’d already set. More crucial than that though, plot lines got completely out of control; my first edit took months because I was just trying to close loopholes. I remember thinking, say, in the middle of my first draft, “Hey! This should happen! I’m going to write it in even though it hasn’t been mentioned anywhere else in the book yet! I’ll just catch it later and smooth it all out!” When I reached one of those moments during my first edit, I remember stopping, sighing, and (probably) saying aloud, “You bastard.” Tack on the countless switch-ups of characters’ moods and logic and the zig zagging plot (products of my returning to the computer completely clueless after weeks of not reading a word of my book), and the first draft of my manuscript was kind of a nightmare. And yeah, maybe it was a nightmare that would’ve sold–cause, sadly, I’ve seen worse in published Fantasy–but not something I’d want to produce.

So, really, the only option was to rewrite the whole thing, but the question became, “What can I do to keep everything from falling apart again?” The answer is probably too bureaucratic and neurotic  for everyone’s taste, but, hey, I’m just explaining how I do things.

 

An Outline, for lack of a better word. A single master file that compiles all of the post-it notes, standalone files, and thoughts I ever had about any snippet of my book, including the full outline of the plot. I’m not going to post a sample of the Outline here, but I will give a vague example of its set-up.

Chapter Number / Chapter Title

Main Characters: A list of all of the characters who are present in the chapter. But not just Name, Age, and Place of Origin; we’re talking everything about them, from what they’re wearing and thinking in this chapter, to whether or not the wound they took two chapters ago is still sore.

Side Characters: The same, only I add side characters’ back stories (I have a Foreword detailing all of my main characters’ stories).

Locations: A full description of all the major areas featured in the chapter.

Plot Lines: A list of plot lines, keeping close track of what I’m revealing, what I’m hinting at, and what I’m saving for later.

Bullets: The full outline for the chapter in bullet portions that are as simple or complex as I want.

 

This is a very streamlined, boring summary, but I have to add, before you bail on me, that it has a lot of great advantages if you use it correctly:

  • First off, approach the Outline chapter by chapter in solid, helpful steps. This is your chance to experiment and work out all the details of your story. To make sure I’ve worked out the initial kinks, I start with the Bullets written by hand in a notebook. Writing by hand keeps me from correcting or even caring about corrections because I can’t free-hand half as quickly as I can correct in my mind; I give up and just get the plot down, bullet by bullet. Here I take my time, deciding what happens on a ton of different criteria (“Is this too boring?” “Does this make sense?” “Would my character actually do this, or is it just from that one movie?” “Is this to simple / predictable / cliche?”) After I finish the Bullets by hand, I look them over and find every character, location, or thing I’m going to talk about in the chapter. With these points of interest, I return to the Outline and that’s where my supplemental info (Main Characters, Side Characters, etc.) comes from. After I have all of the supplemental info down, I copy my handwritten bullets onto the Outline, using the info to improve what I already have and, thus, making sure what remains is as solid of a first draft as it can be.
  • Actually write the supplemental info. All of it. When I was rewriting the first chapter, I decided I’d use a town called Mycelston. But it wasn’t until writing supplemental info that I realized Mycelston had a mine. And, hey, wait, if it has a mine, I could use that at the end of the first chapter… and it’d be awesome. Since doing this, I’ve found a healthy terror in the amount of things I know about my world that I’ve never, ever realized. But also, right there with it was some frustration; that first draft would’ve been a lot better if I’d known Mycelston had a mine. Or that Dawnspear has outlying farms up and down the Dawn Coast. But, hey, how was I supposed to know these things about my fantasy world if I didn’t write or even think about them? More importantly for you, what do you know about your fantasy world that you haven’t realized? You’d be surprised, I bet. Take the info dumps as opportunities to explore your world; don’t sell your it short by rushing through this step.
  • Treat the Outline as a very rough first draft. The bullets are there for you to explore and express your story without you getting bogged down by things like writing style and narration. You’ll have all the time in the world to work with those–give your plot its own attention and see where it takes you.
  • And stay on point with your plot. I know tracking all of your plot points for each chapter sounds tedious, and, yeah, it totally is. But the only thing that’s worse is losing hold of something or forgetting a very important but very minor detail 230 pages into a 461 page book.

Overall, is an outline like mine insanely time consuming? Yes. Will it require you to create a ton of content that (and this is necessary) isn’t even mentioned in your book? Yes. But will your world feel that much more complete? Will you have (as Ron Carlson calls it) more fuel for your story when you create that content? Of course. And when you’re done, will you have enough fuel left over for a collection of short stories set in the same world? Ohhhh, you betcha. Try it out is all I’m saying. I haven’t gotten anything published yet so I’m no guru and there’s a great chance this approach is just a crazy, Louis thing, but if you’re struggling, I hope this helps.

At any rate, I’m going to keep working it. Right now, I’m almost on chapter three. It is, in fact, taking forever. But really, all I ever have to do is compare the old draft to what I already have now and the time and effort are immediately so, so worth it.

The Editing Process

Around when his eyes start to sting and his head begins to throb, Louis realizes he misses the writing process and very much prefers it to the editing process. Fondly, he remembers that the former was like this:

-Louis sits down at his computer and rereads the pages he wrote the previous day (or the day before that, or the one before that, etc.).

-He then remembers what he wanted to happen next. He contemplates the next pages, running them through a complex, mental filter.

-He then starts awake and remembers that he decided what he wanted to happen and how best to execute it around when he dozed off.

-Ready now, he starts. With “Then.” Or no-wait. “But then again.” Ah yes. That’s right. “But then again.”

-Satisfied with this start, Louis gets up and locates a snack.

-He returns to find “But then again” and sighs deeply.

-He starts awake again and realizes he needs to brainstorm.

-He lies down on his bed to do so.

In contrast, editing is a far more constant and steady business that is frighteningly portable (like Pokémon), so that it can dominate your life even when you think you’re safe (likePokémon).

And so, Louis squints at the red mess of a particularly bad page and realizes that there are no snacks. There is no “brainstorming” required. There is only the deed, so glaringly simple now (as it is, in fact, simply transcribing corrections from his massive hand edit to his computer).

But then again…

Starting a War

A Different Experience

From the beginning, my approach to story telling has been grounded in a desire to give readers something fresh. But I realized early on that different experiences go further for making stories fantastic than different worlds do; a novel set in a world full of dwarves, elves, and orcs gains strength from it’s familiarity and accessibility, no doubt, but it fails to be intriguing if the three races are engaging in another war for another magical relic, or fighting the same evil from the North.

How does this relate to War of Exiles? Simple – this first novel was a side project. Before, behind, and after it, I’ll be working on my masterpiece. However, I needed something to kick start my career – a debut that’s both familiar in appearance but truly fantastic in narrative. I believe Exiles achieves this. With deep characters, the unique, exiled setting of Ashiaden, and an interesting twist on the traditional quest narrative, War of Exiles gives readers something unexpected – a different experience.

A Different World

“And somewhere, in a direction he couldn’t discern and a distance he couldn’t fathom, there was a wasted continent where someone from his long-forgotten lineage had laughed, cried, fought, and at some point sacrificed themselves to ensure that his grandparents or their parents escaped, lived, and carried on the bloodline that eventually ended with him.”

I can’t boast that Ashiaden will be visually new and breath-taking. There will be barbarians – the Baerlungs. There will be short men somewhere far away who make weapons and tools that run on steam – the Steiners. There will be druids who can shape nature – the Ceudin. But these will not be orcs, dwarves, and elves. They are Ashiads, all human – their differences cultural, not racial – with a lineage that falls back to the unifying event of their exile.

About 300 years before the novel starts, the exiles touched down at Ash Landing. Having escaped the fall of an empire, the refugees settled there or escaped South, East, and North, only certain that this new land would be called Ashiaden, “ash home” in the Old Tongue, as the elders claimed. Centuries later, villages have expanded and fortified, but unified systems of law and rule have yet to be established. Baerlungs raid towns and rob weary travelers, bandits and the native creatures called Lessermen do the same, and the strongest bit of the Old Continent’s Magic exists only in Necromancy. Travel is dangerous, travelers rare – save for bards, who gain fortune from selling information whether through story or song and in truth or fabrication, and merchants foolish enough to gamble abroad.

Among the cities on this island is New Dawn, where the novel’s protagonist, Lethe Dega, is born. An austere rock just off the coast of the mainland, the veritable island fortress is as closed as any other city of Ashiaden, and kept that way by the sects of Sentinel and Rider.

Different Characters

Traditional character types are offset by unique personal situations. Lethe Dega, a Sentinel of New Dawn, is driven to rid Ashaiden of necromancers, despite how deeply it affects his relationship with his family – an already tenuous bond. Etalen, a druid of Clan Terra, finally decides to put her life on the line if it means she can escape her family’s intent to let her dwindle into obscurity. Semacien, one of the island’s bards, seeks a story he can live off of for years to come. And all of them and others grow and change  in ways that the strapping hero, plucky rogue, and wise old mage would not.

A Different Quest

Without saying too much, the adventure of War of Exiles takes a different approach that I’m sure will intrigue readers easily. When I decided to start off with a more traditional, familiar story, I knew that I couldn’t give my readers an adventure that spent hours on the road. Although authors like Robert Jordan and Garth Nix do well with such quests, I’d already heard enough of them that I couldn’t be satisfied giving another to my audience.

So instead, I looked at all the ways you could do a quest narrative without doing a quest narrative. In the end, I found an answer that could suit my needs, serve the plot, and give readers something unexpected, unfamiliar – different.