Friday, November 30, 2012

Striking Gold

Sometimes when writing a story, I suddenly realize the best approach to tell it. When this happens, the entire story comes into focus and go off and revise it according to my vision.

That happened this week while revising the first 30 chapters of Book 3. I began reading the story to remember what was in there but as I went I began to see loose ends -- plots not completed, actions not taken, and so on -- so I went in and began making corrections.

But even as I did that, revising for continuity, I began to see where the story was going. I was apparently trying to get the characters to mistrust Nancy. But I was doing it as an afterthought. I decided if that was the goal, it would be better to plant clues early and build toward mistrust.

So I did. Now I start almost immediately after meeting her. The characters notice a few odd things. I also have her try to pry into their affairs -- a total stranger. We might not think much of that but they have enemies and need to be careful who they confide in.

After the third odd comment from Nancy, Ahlan begins to have doubts about her. Then when he talks to Brashani, who does not trust her because he is the suspicious type by nature, that part of the plot ignites and they try to learn as must about her as they can without tipping their hand. None of this helps and so they must wait a little. In the meantime, the tension builds because they are attacked by an evil elf, who happens to be one of the aforementioned enemies they have.

All these revisions are now complete and the novel is better I think but I still need to go back and read it again from the start to ensure these changes work. The important thing is I now have a plan in regard to the opening of the book. That's important because even in Book 4, I need to hook the reader. If I don't he or she won't read Book 5.

The moral here is this: pay attention to what you are doing in your story. If you moving in a direction, then commit to it. Plan for that action from the start and revise the story accordingly. If you are lost, and the story seems aimless, stop and think what changes you can make to get back on track.

Above all, revise, revise, revise. And don't stop until the story is saying what you want to.

Keep writing everyone.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Gear Switching

The plot I created for Book 4 before I started working on it was based on the original draft of the entire story from 2008. In the current revision, I had to add more details and information from the end of Book 3 because the story has changed so much. I finally got to the point where I can connect the draft of Book 4 that I have with the 2008 draft.

But before doing that I thought, I should work on Book 3 a little more to make sure there are no surprises that will impact Book 4. And, of course, as I spent the weekend re-reading Book 3 I began to see that not only do I need to revise Book 4 for continuity, but Book 3 also needs revision.

I sort of knew that last part but with Book 2 waiting for the publisher I saw no rush to revise Book 3. However, it needs some amount of revision so I can continue on with Book 4. So I'm switching gears and fixing Book 3 for one reason: I do not want to write this story out of order. 

I've tried that before and it almost always means more revision than I would have had otherwise because story continuity is all over the map. It is far better for me to stop work on Book 4 and revise Book 3 as needed, noting any loose ends and then move forward with Book 4.

And I've already seen that James realizes he is in love with Iriel in Book 3. In Book 4 Iriel suggests they get married. James's reaction to that needs revision because I had forgotten his realization from Book 3.

That's only one example but it illustrates my point about continuity. So back to Book 3 I go.

And that's one of the biggest challenges with a multiple book series: continuity. Keeping all the details straight is hard and requires that I constantly go back and forward between different scenes in different books to make sure I get reactions and specific facts correct.

And it is not just keeping the facts straight; it is the implications of facts as well so an overall consistency in the world. For example, given the distances the characters have to travel it would be have hard to carry enough water for more than a few days. So I decided that wells would have been dug early in the kingdom's history. Once I decided on this, the implications mean that:

a. the characters do not have to purchase water for their journey ahead of time
b. I need to include scene where they reach public wells for water
c. use the wells as a place to meet others who are doing the same.

And there are other things I can do with this one fact, depending on how far I want to go.

So I dropping back to Book 3 to make sure I get it right. If I uncover other lessons learned from that experience, I'll share it here.

Keep writing everyone.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Spelunking My Characters

As I draft Book 4, I am finding new dimensions to the characters in the story. These are the same characters from Book 3 and several are from Books 1 and 2, and yet as I explore the characters, I am finding new things about them.

That's a really good thing because I want the characters to surprise me and the reader. That will keep them fresh. And it is really easy to do. I just have the characters interact in ways they have not before.
For example, Iriel, the elf, knows the basics of magic. I establish this in Book 1. But she is not a wizard and does not cast spells. However, she is beginning to explore that part of herself in Book 4 and is using Brashani, the fire mage, as her teacher.

Now Brashani has not interacted with Iriel much. So now I get to explore that pairing and built a relationship between them. Moreover, I can explain why Iriel is not a wizard as part of her whole unfortunate background. Her mother abandoned her at a very young age and she was not encouraged to explore her potential -- a result of her father's grief at the lose of his wife.

However, Iriel falls in love with a bard, James, in Book 1 and his central philosophy is to learn new things. This rubs off on Iriel so that eventually she begins to explore her potential and the opportunities she has.

I love the way that plays because it mirrors life. And while she is learning magic, life has other plans for her -- which also mirrors life. And this -- in a nutshell -- is what I'm doing now in Book 4, 16,000 words into the novel. The characters are exploring new aspects of their lives by learning things or exploring a relationship or perhaps planning for the future and somewhere in the middle of that, life -- in the form of the plot -- interrupts and forces them to deal with events in front of them. This causes them to react and will creates new things to explore and planning after the crisis is past.

And that's how life has been for me over the last few years. So I thought I'd do the same to my characters. No rocket science here. Just touch of realism to help the reader suspend his or her disbelief.

And it is something you can try at home. So keep writing.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Giving Thanks

This time of year is always difficult for me. Partly because my first experience with death came when I was a teenager in high school about this time of year. My grandmother died of lung cancer. Such an experience sets deep impressions and I've not forgotten her or the experience.

Another reason it is difficult for me is that in the last year, I seem to have suffered one crisis after another. In such an atmosphere, I don't feel like giving thanks for anything. And there are people far worse off than I. People suffering from a death for the war in Afghanistan, or a loss of the home from hurricane Sandy, or perhaps they are still waiting for the economy to improve so they can go back to work after three or four years. Perhaps they depend on the Gulf of Mexico and are waiting for the environment to improve after the BP oil spill or they are rebuilding from the fires in the west this past summer or they are farmers who suffered one of the worst droughts since the Great Dust Bowl of the 1930's.

You see the list is long and possibly endless. And yet I think the approaching holiday is a good one. It is a time for families to gather, whether you can tolerate your relatives or not. It is a time to remember that despite all the catastrophes you've suffered, you are still here and able to continue on. That, if nothing else, it a reason to giving thanks.

For me, I am thankful that my mother has survived her surgery. She still has much work to do to regain muscle strength, but she is here, alive, and for that's a lot better than the alternative.

I am thankful that my first novel is in production and will be released next year. After years and years of trying to write a story that could be published, I managed to achieve my goal. And now I am told, cover designs should be coming my way in the next few weeks.

But most of all I am thankful that for the life I've had and the life to come. I have no idea what that life will be but I am sure it will someone I could never had imagined. I say that because my life is already something beyond what I thought possible. I never thought, for example, that I would be able to own a home or find someone to share my life with and yet I have. Life is constantly throwing you curves. Most of the time they are things you want to avoid. But sometimes they are gold. 

The important thing is to keep swinging at every pitch and hope for a home run. 

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Deja Vu

One of the things about writing that I keep forgetting is this: if you forget any of the basic lessons you learn, you'll relearn them once you start writing again. Case in point: I was struggling with several scenes in Book 4 the other day. What I should have done (and eventually did) was sit down and figure out the issues facing each character and how they would fit into the plot. The plot also needed a little foreshadowing which would give the characters something to react to.

I say this because I had no action or drama for the characters at the time. So what I did was let the characters react or overreact to see where that would take me. This is a perfect fine technique and I've used to get passed blocks in stories. Sometimes it works well and you end up learning things about your characters you never knew.

But the other day, it wasn't working. The characters were just squabbling among themselves -- much like a modern reality show -- so I deleted all that and started over by taking the troublesome scenes in hand and thinking through what I needed to include and where this book was going.

You see, writing fiction is all about including the relevant things and eliminating the rest. So if the characters are going to face the dreaded Jabberwock, then one thing you can do before that fateful scene is have the characters talk about the awesome creature, its strengths, its weaknesses, and strategies for overcoming it. This gives you something to write about and is relevant since it orients the reader -- especially those who have no idea what a Jabberwock is.

So in my case, knowing what I am planning for the characters, I decided to start preparing them for the challenges ahead of them since the events I am planning for are several days in their future. This is a simple enough thing to do. They know, for example, that thieves live in the forest that they are traveling alongside. And the reason they are traveling alongside it and not through is because of the thieves. So they meet a peddler on the road and ask if he encountered the thieves. As they get closer to the point where they will meet the thieves, they start to see things moving in the forest. Is that a wild animal -- there are wolves about too -- or scout from the band of thieves?

Either way, this adds tension and things for the characters to talk about as they move toward their fateful encounter. And I had to remember all this (again) and rewrite, revise, and arrange the characters and the scenes leading up to these events so that when the reader finally sees the story they see nothing out of place.

And now that I've done this, ideas for the story are starting to come. Which is good because I hate to work on a story without some idea of what's next. So I'm going to keep working the novel.

Hope you are continuing to write too.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Silence was Deafening

Somewhere in the mix I broke Twitter. Or more accurately I broke the automatic feed of my blog posts to Twitter. I think it happened when I reset my passwords recently but I'm not sure. Worse still, when I went to fix the problem, I found that the blog no longer supports -- or does not seem to -- send the output to Twitter.

So I used another, easier method to fix the problem. But that explains why responses from Twitter went to zero. I thought that odd; now I know why.

The lesson here is this: when you connect social media, make sure you check the connection and update it whenever you change your passwords.

By my estimation, folks on Twitter did not see three weeks of blog posts. That's not the end of the world, but that's not good for me -- the struggling fledging novelist who is trying to build an audience.

I think the other hint about all this was Klout. I'm not a big fan of Klout. I don't think you can measure social influence the way they say. But even so, my Klout score has dropped over this same period and one reason could well be the disconnection between Twitter and my blog.

I'll be watching to see, now that the connection is repaired, whether the score improves.

Meanwhile, I am continuing to re-read Book 3 and write Book 4. That will be my life for the next few months I'm sure.

Keep writing everyone.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Plot and Characters

I've trying to make some head way in Book 4 but it's been hard. The main problem is I have no clear recollection of what's in Book 3. I've been so busy with selling Book 1 and revising Book 2 -- not mention all the short stories I wrote over the summer -- that I've total spaced on Book 3.

The good news is that I can read Book 3 with fresh eyes. The bad news is it makes writing Book 4 a lot harder. I'm faced with revising one and writing the other simultaneously. Still, ideas for Book 4 are coming, if slowly.

I think another issue is I stopped novel writing for too long. It's been at six months since I put Book 3 away and writing new material is different from revising existing text. But I'll muddle through. I always do.

I have a rough plot and I know my characters. I just have to fine tune their actions with the plot in mind.  And I've already begun that process. I'm planting seeds in the beginning of the story that seem harmless but that will be needed later.

I prefer this approach. Just as I introduced the poor relationship between Iriel and her mother in Book 2 because it was important for Book 3, so now, I am laying groundwork in Book 4 for Books 6 and 7.

And I really need to get back to it. So if you'll excuse me, I've got some writing to do.

Hope you do too.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Writing for the Ear

Anyone who has been writing fiction for a few months or more probably knows to write for all the senses. When describing a scene what is heard or felt or tasted or smelt is as important as what is seen. But most descriptions you read are for your eyes because when you read, you visualize the sense, often in your mind's eye. That's only natural, humans are very visual and sight-dependent creatures. But you can write for your ears too.

Perhaps this is just me, because of all the poetry I've written or maybe I have visions of having my novels turned into audiobooks, but it seems to me that writing so that your words sound good when spoken is just as important as writing that reads well. I am reminded here are an interview with Robert Jordan that took place after the first books of the Wheel of Time became audiobooks. He observed that he listened to the books because that give him a different view of his writing and his story.

I think he's right about that. When I listen to a book, my mind is free to notice all sorts of things my eyes don't. And I always listen to my own writing to ensure it sounds good -- or more importantly -- to make sure it sounds the way I want it to. You see, there are two versions of any story: the one in my head and the one on the page. When I'm really lucky, there are the same. But most often than not, the one of the page is a shadow of the one in my head. So by listening to a chapter in a novel, I can bring the two closer together.

But how do I listen? Simple. Most computers now have text-to-speech features. So I let the machine speak it back to me. I had to purchase a human-sounding voice because I couldn't stand the mechanical ones provided. And I had to adjust the pronunciation of some words but was only successful up to a point. The word 'mages' sometimes is 'migs' and 'read' (the past tense of to read) is sometimes spoken as if it is the present tense.

But I ignore this errors on the part of the machine and make adjustments for the ear as I go. I think my work is better for the effort. I hope you will think so too.

Keep writing everyone.

Friday, November 2, 2012

A New Day

It's a new day here. I've completed my second novel and have been thinking about my next project. I love moments like this when the world seems full of possibilities and I have all of them to choose from. Of course, in my case, that's something of an illusion since I already know what my next project is. But still I like to think about the possibilities.

So once I create an ebook of Book 2 for myself I'm done with it until the publisher tells me they are ready for it. They aren't at the moment because my main contact is suffering from post-Sandy damage down in New Jersey and is without power. Consequently, she is having trouble contacting others in the company. But since Book 1 is still in production, I can wait a bit for them to get to Book 2. The important thing is I completed it before the deadline I gave myself and can now move on.

And so I now can begin work on Book 4. That's so surreal to me. I haven't worked on this part of the story in five or ten years. And with all the setbacks I had selling Book 1 in 2010 and 2011 I never thought I'd be working on it so soon. But here I am.

I sketched out the plot for the novel months ago when, one Saturday morning, it all became clear to me. Since then I've been thinking about where to resume the story. You see, I end Book 3 in a very dark place. Iriel, the sweet young elf, who takes in stray animals and is willing to help anyone in need, kills another elf. The elf an important person in Iriel's life -- saying more than this would be a spoiler and I don't want to do that. 

So in Book 4, Iriel must deal with the loss and what she's done. And so I think the story resumes a few weeks later once the group is on the road again. That allows Iriel time to grieve and the group time to go back to town to get supplies before setting out.

But the really important thing here is Iriel's character development. She changes from this experience and I want to show that. At the same time, I had to add a lot of new scenes in the sketch I did to make the book complete and I wanted to take the reader some place they had never been before. That was hard to do but I had one idea along those lines. Now I get to see how well or how poorly that idea works.

So I'm off on a new adventure of my own, drafting Book 4. I've give updates as I go because I think I want to show the readers of this blog what the writing process is like for me. And the best way to do that is to capture it at I go.

Keep writing everyone.