Tuesday, March 27, 2007
I have now written the first five chapters of the second draft, coming in at about 10k words. I covered the first step of my outline in the first three chapters, which ran about 6k words instead of 10k words as in the first draft.
This makes me happy. It's what I was shooting for the first time through, but things just ran long all the time. I'm leaving stuff out now, focusing on keeping what's most important. The result is a story that moves forward much more directly, with more momentum and continuity. It's tigher, leaner.
Regarding the "stuff" from my previous posting: I ended up moving most of it to an "outtakes" file and completely rewriting these chapters. It's worth it to take the time to get it right, especially at the beginning, the foundation of the story. Wasn't difficult, and successive versions improved naturally. One new chapter was amazingly solid the first time through. I definitely see where keeping at it is helping me over time to become a better writer. I know I can write, but my skills are continually sharpening. The more I practice the particular style I am using, the more natural it becomes (more about that in a later blog posting).
I'll have to rethink things a few times along the way, I'm sure, since I'm skipping scenes, consolidating them, and sometimes shuffling them around. This is not a major change to the story, just a refocusing, a narrowing of purpose. It's good to do this, the results are positive. I'm connecting with the "dramatic need" and the internal plot as well. I may change some chapters, or rewrite a bit of the new stuff, to redistribute the load between scenes/chapters, if I misjudge. Want to keep it in balance, moving forward plot point by plot point, without spending too much time on any one event.
I'm not limiting myself to simply retelling what I wrote in the first draft. The basic story will be the same, with a revised and improved ending. What is different this time is I am allowing myself to truly rewrite scenes, to reimagine them, to use a new take on them that might work better. I am drawing out differences between characters, heightening the pressures at work that are bearing down on the main character already at the beginning of the story. I am seeking ways to be more dramatic, or subtle, as the case may be, whatever will help convey the story and involve the Reader.
One example of this is one of the principal characters, a woman we meet early on in the novel who is of lasting importance (she reappears several times throughout the story). I am experimenting with a new way of depicting her, quite different from the way she appeared in the first draft. She is much more intense now, and quirky. Much more interesting and mysterious. She is also less friendly, more distant, and possibly scary. This is a great new development because it will heighten the suspense in some later scenes when other characters are present, and help provide a better basis for how the main character interacts with her later. It has even prompted me to rethink her involvement in some later scenes. That's not good, if my rewrite has me rethinking too much! However, this change would be significant but easy to integrate, so it doesn't put me off. Her attitude change has helped bring several pieces together more tightly, so I am happy however it turns out with her later role.
Another new development is taking more time for the main character to interact with his love interest. These interactions did not reveal enough of the love interest's personality in the first draft. It's important to know who this person is, and why the main character is so interested in this relationship, and why the obstacles to the relationship matter and are not easy to overcome. Getting to know the love interest better is a big plus in this second draft.
This same thing is happening with other characters as well. They are getting more meaningful interaction with the main character, and their personalities and motivations are much clearer now, more apparent. I chose to dramatize some interactions that were only exposition in the first draft, allowing characters to speak for themselves about what turn out to be key points.
This fluidity is important. "The story's the thing." How can I best tell this story? Again, the idea of successive layers, but not in the story, in my own understanding of it. Each time through I learn more, can do more with it. The story evolves as my understanding of it evolves. I am getting much closer now to what will be the final version. I don't know when that will be, after this draft plus editing, or after another complete draft, but I can see light at thd end of the tunnel, a sense of what this will look like when it's finished. It will be tight, and the characters will be well drawn. They will be distinct, three dimensional, vivid, memorable.
Back to work!
Saturday, March 24, 2007
I wrote Chapter 2, then it grew, then I cut it in two . . . .
Wait a minute, this wasn't supposed to rhyme! Anyhoo . . . .
[Ouch. My keyboard shocked me. Getting its revenge.]
Chapter 2 is now 3 chapters long, which means I have stuff labeled as chapters up through chapter 4, but of course I really only have Chapter 1, which I had written previously, and 3 chapters worth of some pretty rough stuff. The good side of this is that I've dived in and explored the characters and their personalities, motivations, etc., in more depth than before. The challenging side of this is weeding it out, pruning it, getting it down to one or two solid chapters instead of three loose accumulations of, well, whatever that stuff is. I like what is happening so far with this rewrite. I have much more control in the sense that I know the story well by now, but also I am "discovering" much more depth to what is already there. It's like I'm getting "the rest of the story" now. That's cool.
I added four new blogs to the list of WRITERS' BLOGS (see the sidebar). I found them on the index list, AUTHORS BLOGS, which has grown substantially in the past few months. When I joined that list last Fall it was much shorter. I was absolutely amazed at how much it has grown. I think it's ten times longer now than when I last viewed it. The new blogs are wriers who identified themselves either as gay or as working in the fantasy genre. Glad there is such a convenient way for published and aspiring writers who blog to learn about one another.
The four new ones on my list are:
The Broken Quill (published author, Erik Buchanan, of Canada)
The Maze of My Mind (aspiring writer, Paul Westdorp, of USA)
MYPAJAMA.COM (aspiring writer with a long name I can't spell easily, of India)
Thom Jaymes (published author of erotic gay fiction, of USA)
I don't read nearly as many blogs as some others do, and I only read blogs related to writing. I guess I just don't spend much time online! I prefer to use my time writing. Speaking of which . . . .
Back to work!
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
I have tied things together well enough that I feel comfortable starting the rewrite of THE REFLECTING STONE. This will be the second complete draft. I'm starting at the very beginning and will continue through to the end. I will write it in such a way that it could stand alone, but would readily lend itself to serving as the first of a series should it get published and a publisher be interested in a continuation of this story. There is much, much, much more to tell, although this first volume is already an amazing, epic story in its own right (are writers biased about their own work?).
I wrote the first chapter and went back over it, editing it a bit, although I will try to curtail my tendency to heavily edit the first several chapters before turning myself loose to move quickly through successive chapters. I'm getting back to "draft" mode, which is enjoyable once you put all your cares aside and let go of the internal editor. I hope to finish this draft in about a month, no more than six weeks if I run into obstacles.
It's possible this draft will be close enough to a finished product that I can simply edit it, but if I feel another complete rewrite would aid in the storytelling, I'm willing to do it. Each time through you understand better the connections, the motivations, the cause and effect relationships. Each time through you get better at telling it. I had tried to avoid successive rewrites, putting emphasis on the planning before writing, but I'm willing to accept the need for rewrites even with all that planning. Anything to make the story better. "The story's the thing."
This week I have been feeling a little under the weather, so I haven't pushed myself as much as I would have liked. I think I needed a bit of a break. I'll just ease into it, and within a few days should be in full swing again. Then it'll be a mad dash to the finish line. Loads of fun for us writerly types.
Gearing up again,
Monday, March 19, 2007
As so often happens in planning work, I have come up with a few different versions of how things could work. I also took a couple of days off to let things sit, so I could come back with a somewhat fresher perspective and use that to see more clearly which route seems best.
I'm still not done, and I realize this work on the mythology and possible series is very important and must not be rushed, even though I am more than eager to move ahead with the next draft.
As I've looked over the options, I've also considered again that there may be a virtue in keeping different story ideas separate -- not linking them into a series. In general, in the fantasy genre, series are a good thing. Publishers like them, and fantasy readers love them. However, for a first novel, it is often best to have a stand-alone volume. Publishers are more comfortable with that from a first-timer. If that stand-alone volume could also later be used as the starting point for a series, so much the better, but it's not obligatory.
I will probably end up splitting the difference, doing the rewrite with an eye out to how it could fit into a larger series while also writing it in such a manner (mostly, ending it in such a manner) that is is satisfying on its own. I want that anyway from volumes in a series. There is nothing worse than ending an installment with a call that beckons "Sequel!" (I'll never forget my disappointment with the ending of Star Wars Episode V). The reader wants satsifaction each and every time, as well as the titiliation of more to come.
If I proceed with this idea of "stand-alone and/or first-of-a-series", then I should be ready to begin writing the next draft tonight or tomorrow night. I can always use the weeks to come to revise the ideas for the series. At least I do have a general framework now for the series, which I did not have before, and the key questions of how this first volume interfaces are nearly answered (they are answered, just in different versions, so I have to pin it down to which version I'll go with).
Anyhoo, it's been an eye-opener the past several days, seeing the potential for the series in various incarnations, three volumes, five volumes, and more. One thing has definitely stood out: I have other exciting stories I want to tell that are not part of this possible series, so whatever I'm doing with it, I need to get a move on -- there's so much more writing to do!
Keeping it exciting,
Thursday, March 15, 2007
Making good progress on the mythology, which I worked on Sunday night. There are still different aspects of it that need fleshing out. Last night I wrote about 3500 words detailing the last major issue in the mythology, which is very important for linking the stories together now that I'm planning on a series. I'll work on this again tonight, and when finished should have a plan for the series.
The key concept helping me right now is EXTRAPOLATION. Given a part of the story, can you figure out what other parts go with it?
To help me in this I am remembering my 12-step outline based on the 3-act structure. I am asking myself questions like "what is the big story question?" and "what big conflict will it come to at the end of the series?" and "which characters will be essential in solving this conflict?", etc. Instead of doing this on the story level within the framework of one novel, I am doing this on the series level, creating the overarching story that will guide the individual volumes.
As I create all this information, I realize that some of it will be revealed early, some of it withheld and not revealed until later volumes. I have to see each story as it will seem to the Reader at the time, focusing on the story questions that are raised and how they will be answered, giving enough information to satisfy, piquing the Readers' curiosity to learn more, and working in foreshadowing for larger things to come. It's fun to see how this fits together. A complex puzzle, to be sure.
The work is very exciting, at times thrilling. This extra time spent developing the mythology, not settling for what works but seeking what is better, more interesting, more meaningful, is generating some really amazing material that I had never envisioned at the outset. The story is certainly growing, maturing, coming into its own. It just takes time and TLC.
The planning work is nearly done. I hope to wrap it up tonight or after one more night as I am eager to start on the second draft of THE REFLECTING STONE. The work I did the other night on the internal plot, the growth of the main character, will guide that rewrite. The external plot is fairly solid. Only a few minor events will be shuffled around, and that in order to bring out the internal development of the main character. Having this mythology work complete will also help whenever this story touches on the various aspects of it. It does affect the story in some places very directly, in other places indirectly. Again, what I'm creating now is consistent with what I already developed and wrote before; I'm just expanding on it, enriching it. So, the differences in this second draft will not be so great that they upset the apple cart. It's more a matter of revising the exposition and fine-tuning the goals, motivations, and attitudes of certain characters during certain moments.
The work goes on!
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
I've been on Cloud 9 since completing the first draft of THE ISLE, but it's time to move on. I've worked every night without missing a beat, revisiting my planning notes for THE REFLECTING STONE, preparing myself for the next draft of that novel, which is my first completed novel, still in first draft form.
On Sunday, after I finished THE ISLE, I spent several very productive hours reworking the mythology for both stories. I am now set on linking them together as part of a larger series.
When I worked on THE REFLECTING STONE last year, the mythology was always a struggle. Progress seemed slow and challenging, with a constant need to simplify. By the time I had finished the first draft, the mythology was in pretty good shape. With THE ISLE now complete and serving as a sequel, there are new ideas for me to incorporate into that existing mythology. Specifically, I needed to expand the range and focus of events.
In my work Sunday night, the new and the old meshed well together and it was not only NOT difficult, it was fairly easy going with terrific results -- the first time that has EVER occurred in the past year and half when working with this mythology!
Monday night I spent another several hardworking and highly productive hours working through the internal plot for THE REFLECTING STONE. I used Alicia Rasley's excellent article on this, working through her nine questions to help put things in perspective. She approaches the topic through the notion of the heroic flaw, but your MC does not have to be a Greek hero for you to find the article helpful. In fact, unless you're writing a tragedy, you want your MC to learn a lesson and overcome the difficulties, which is what those nine questions are geared toward. You can find her article on the internal plot here, and an index to her other helpful articles here.
Following a guideline is a technique I've discovered in the past year. It helps keep me focused. I normally don't use someone else's template to guide my own thoughts, but in this case Ms. Rasley knows her stuff and her articles keep me focused and save me a lot of time when I'm wrestling with difficult concepts or ideas that become convoluted when applying them to a lengthy and involved story.
Internal and external plots are related. My understanding of them is that there is a main external plot, something the main character (MC) is trying to accomplish: a goal, in other words, with obstacles that stand in the way. Separate from this, there are things going on in the MC's life that define how he/she sees the world, and responds to it. These emotional issues, beliefs and patterns of thinking and behaving affect how the MC solves problems, how he/she reacts in a variety of situations. Ultimately, they define some aspect of his/her personality, and will impact how he/she responds to the obstacles along the way toward achieving the external goal. The internal plot is essentially a progression for the MC from one point to another on some emotional and/or cognitive level. The internal plot is a journey of internal change in attitudes, beliefs, values, etc., that will ultimately affect external behavior and affect whether he/she can achieve the external goal over time. Ultimately, the MC has to solve some internal conflict, has to grow as a person in some way, in order to be able to "win" in the final climactic event.
In real life, this is not always the case. Sometimes we set an external goal, strive for it and achieve it, and we do this without any significant change in ourselves or our lives other than we worked for something and got it, whether it be through actual work (earning money, putting it aside, buying something), or in some other figurative sense (wooing someone, earning their affection).
However, sometimes our lives do play out exactly like this. Sometimes we are our own worst enemy. Sometimes we have something in our attitudes or beliefs or patterns of behavior that cause us to stand in our own way. We cannot achieve a certain goal sometimes until we resolve some inner conflict, find a better way of coping or acting or managing ourselves or our lives. Only after resolving our own issues are we finally able to achieve some other goal. This could mean learning to manage a budget in order to buy that new house or car, or overcoming drug addiction (or whatever) so that special someone will consider a relationship with you.
For purposes of our fiction, it is convenient to think of the MC as having a particular strength that will help him/her achieve the external goal. That strength comes with a price, a weakness, on the flipside. For example, being daring might help the MC rise to the occasion when others shy away from it, but this strength is also a weakness if the MC takes people up on foolish dares and gets injured. There is what Ms. Rasley calls a "default behavior", a way of acting when pressed on the issue that is purely reactional. If someone offers a challenge, for example, the MC takes them up on it. I think of the BACK TO THE FUTURE movies where the MC could not turn down a dare if someone called him "chicken" (or whatever the case was). When challenged, the MC will typically engage in the default behavior, which in turn can lead to negative, even potentially dangerous consequences which hurt the MC's chances of achieving the larger external goal.
It is important to show this trait as both a strength and a weakness, and to establish the default behavior as a reaction under certain circumstances. It is also important to show that while the MC may respond with this default behavior more or less automatically, in fact he/she does not have to. There is a choice. As the MC learns that this default behavior is not a good one, he/she has the opportunity to make a choice and do better (= growth).
Circumstances must develop that put the default behavior to the test, and finally teach the MC the lesson he/she needs to learn. At some point, the coping mechanism is simply not good enough, and a better response is needed. The MC will not necessarily do the right thing at that time, but at least the idea will get through. Ms. Rasley points out that even a moment's hesitation before engaging in the default behavior is enough to show that the concept has gotten through to the MC, that he/she is now aware of the fact that this behavior is not helping, and maybe something better is out there, a better way to respond. Eventually there will be other opportunities for the MC to try out the new pattern, and by the end of the story the MC will be able to combine the main strength from the beginning of the story, which is still there, still a strength, with the insight gained along the way, the lesson learned, thereby overcoming the weakness, capitalizing on the strength, and overcoming the final conflict to win the prize.
Of course, sometimes winning the prize is realizing that the prize was not worth winning in first place. All sorts of twists and turns are possible.
After all this progress over two nights, I spent last night, Tuesday, going back over all this work and for the first time officially putting together ideas for the remainder of the series. The series is based on ideas I've had for years, and had intended to put together in one volume, a stand-alone novel. However, I am now drawing on that concept, applying these stories to it, and seeking to develop a multi-part series that expands on the original idea and makes use of some pretty cool and interesting stories, in my opinion (THE REFLECTING STONE and THE ISLE -- I like them both a lot).
I'll comment more on that work tomorrow, since the work will continue tonight, and I'll be sure to include comments on the virtues of EXTRAPOLATION.
Best wishes, whether planning or writing, or even just dreaming,
Sunday, March 11, 2007
The photo is of a spiral galaxy that emits a colorful, natural fireworks display. No actual fireworks or galaxies were harmed in the making of this image or this blog posting.
Yeah! Done! The first draft of THE ISLE came in at just over 130,000 words, only two of which actually fit together (duh-dum). If you overlook the purely random punctuation and the tendency to replace words that almost make sense with words that bear no relation to one another, the text could almost qualify as one of the greatest pieces of literature ever written by a monkey on a typewriter.
Disclaimer: No actual monkies or typewriters were harmed in the making of this draft or this blog posting.
I had to work against a lot of interruptions the past few days which made it a challenge to maintain the continuity at such a crucial time. I patiently kept at it, whenever I had time. Bit by bit it came together. It ran a little longer than intended because of some exciting new twists and turns that developed in the delivery of the climax.
It was like....
You know how great sex suddenly gets even better when everyone involved slips and slides and collapses in a heap on the floor, thereby spontaneously discovering a whole new approach that did not even seem possible just minutes before?
I'll take your word for it.
I think there are 51 chapters at this point, typically in the 2,000- to 3,000-word range. Some of them are actually divided into paragraphs.
At one point I confided to a loved one that it felt like I was in one of those Irwin Allen Airport movies, trying to land a severely damaged 747 with pieces flying off it, the wings shuddering from the gaping holes in them and an abandoned baby crying in a stroller on the runway below. Whoosh!
Well, I made it. The plane made it. And no babies or baby strollers were harmed, although the neighbor's children might have been adversely affected by all the screaming as I re-enacted the final scene with sound effects on a karaoke machine at 3 am. I was wearing headphones at the time. I didn't realize my voice could carry like that.
The story also ran a bit long because I took the time to explore some additional back story and foreshadowing for future volumes in the series, if I will indeed link my last novel and this novel and expand on them. I think I will. It's a great concept and made for a really gripping, fascinating ending to this second novel. If I take out the series aspects and make each novel a stand-alone work, each would certainly stand on its own. But linking them allows me to create another layer that really draws out a lot more from these same stories.
Thanks for the encouragment and support from those who have shared comments with me over the past months as I planned and wrote THE ISLE. I really do appreciate the support. I am happy to offer it as well. Sharing the ups and downs in this process does make it more bearable.
After 15+ years of trying to write without completing a single novel, I have now completed two first drafts (120k & 130k) in the past 17 months. That includes significant planning time and a few months of downtime. Actual writing for both of them together ran about 6 or 7 months, I think. Amazingly I wrote about half of this second novel in just the past couple of weeks. Once you get on a roll, things can really move along.
I feel so much more capable now after so many years of struggling to do this. I see that I can, and I've done it twice, and it got easier the second time. Practice hasn't yet made "perfect" for me but it has certainly helped. Now the challenge is to rewrite and edit and turn these first drafts into finished manuscripts which I can send out to agents and publishers so they can send them back to me with restraining orders prohibiting further contact.
I kept an eye out on the process this second time to try to discover what my hang-ups were that stalled the editing of my first novel. I think I have figured out enough to jump back into the first novel now and get some serious work done on it. The main issue was trying to edit where I really needed to stand back, throw up my arms in frustration then sit down for some serious rewriting. I know which parts need the rewriting.
I don't want to miss a beat, so I'll start later tonight with getting back to work on THE REFLECTING STONE! As I do, I'll also make some notes on THE ISLE to keep thoughts in mind for when I get to the second draft of this novel.
Now...to celebrate. I want to see if I can spontaneously erupt into a human fireworks display. I'll keep a bottle of sherry on hand to douse the flames.
Warning: Stunts performed by trained professionals and/or unrestrained monkies. Do not try this at home. Or anywhere else.
Best wishes to everyone else working on a novel! And thanks for humoring me. I think I'm having one of those happy moments.
Thursday, March 08, 2007
Back into the swing of it. Currently just before the final climactic scene. I will write a chapter for the main conflict, possibly two if it carries over and there's a suspsenseful breaking point, then one or two chapters to tie things up, and it'll be done.
Feeling good that I can finish a story that I start! After so many years of trying, that means a lot.
Looking forward to the final words on the last page . . . .
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
Had a lovely weekend. We're back to the cold weather this week, so I'm happy I took the time to enjoy the better weather while we had it.
I worked in a few writing sessions and managed to bring the word count up to 96k. The word count really doesn't mean anything, since I'm planning on a total rewrite, but it is a sign of progress. I'm into Act III now, turning all the corners toward the final home stretch. I want to wrap this draft up in no more than 120k words. Hope to have it done within the next few days.
Then, I'll reflect on how it went, make some notes for the rewrite, and set it aside for later.
At that point, in the near future, I'll turn my attention back to my first novel, THE REFLECTING STONE, and do a rewrite of it. The first 3 chapters were very solid, so I may limit the rewrite to chapters 4-12, or I may just go ahead and do a complete rewrite. Either way, it needs work to bring it into a form that I can simply edit. The second half in particular is loose. I imagine I'll spend up to 8 weeks on the rewrite, but will try to get it done in 4-6 weeks.
After that . . . well, I hope to edit and polish that first novel and then start sending it out! And then . . . rewrite the second novel, THE ISLE!
So much to do, but I am enjoying it and do sense finally that I am getting near some tangible results. They're coming. Down the road a ways, but they're coming.
Best wishes to all aspiring writers,
Saturday, March 03, 2007
Although I didn't manage to keep up the fast pace that this week started out with, I did keep at it and do what I could, when I could, and now I'm up to 90k. I'm nearing the turning point that marks the end of Act II.
The story is almost writing itself at this point. I only have a little thinking to do at certain points, but otherwise there is enough momentum from what has gone before to carry it forward. I am following the outline, but only in terms of shooting for and reaching main plot points. I also draw from the earlier detailed scene notes I made, but only as a resource. I also follow inspiration as it strikes, and it's striking a lot.
I can see additional layers now that I am not writing during this draft. I am focused here on the main movement through the story, the key events, the broader emotions and motivations. There is much subtlety that I am aware of but am not depicting consistently. I think it's just a level of detail that is too much to capture right now as I move quickly through this first draft. I can see writing a second draft, developing those nuances. I do want the "rest" of the story to be there in the final manuscript. As they say, stories are layered, built up one layer at a time.
I'll spend today playing tourist, doing some sightseeing, taking a break after all the nasty winter weather. There are causes to celebrate which have nothing to do with my writing, but I think while enjoying the day I'll also make it a point to celebrate the past weeks' progress. I did good this week.
Worth a toast, at least.
Thursday, March 01, 2007
Apparently there's a site that will turn your name into a monster name, complete with graphic. I saw this on Scott Marlowe's site and thought I'd give it a try. I think I have too many letters -- name's kinda long. Should have used "Bo" or something.
Check it out for a laugh!
Due to the "other things" that came up, I only wrote 1k words the other night, then was very tired and only managed 5k last night (I haven't been getting enough sleep for days and days now). So, I'm only up 6k after two more days.
The important thing is to keep at it. I hope to get some more written tonight. I'm well into the second half of Act II now and a few new plot ideas have come up that are helping me keep on track with the main series of events. Things are pulling together and tightening toward the turning point at the end of this act that will thrust the characters forward into the third act.
Still enjoying spending my winter on THE ISLE! It's nice to have a story like this to work on during the winter months.
Best wishes finding the path through the jungle,