Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Okay, so "concision" is not a real word, but it works for me. It is the conciseness-related equivalent of "precision".
Anyway, years ago I used to be very adept at writing concisely. At the same time, I also have a tendency (as my blog postings attest) to ramble on ("verbision"). I'm one of those writers who types 100 wpm or more, and who can sit down and hammer out several thousand words before I even notice I've started writing. However, the writing is usually bloated and needs "condension".
As I'm working on the prose right now, I've gone back and rewritten from scratch some of the earlier chapters, and found that I was able to achieve a level of "concision" that has eluded me over the past year.
Last year at this time I was writing the first draft of THE REFLECTING STONE and my chapters, originally intended to run about 5,000 words, were consistently in the neighborhood of 10,000 words. That novel turned out to be 120,000 words long, much longer than the 60,000-word minimum that was my goal. It's not all fluff or wasted words, of course, just a lot more depth than I was intending to get into. I've been struggling to get back into the habit of writing more concisely. Over a year now I've been struggling with this, and finally I seem to have gotten there.
The upside is my word counts are now running only slightly longer than what I set out to achieve for individual scenes. The downside is that I am leaving out a lot of that extra stuff that more words allow me to address. There is substantial rounding out, or "three-dimensionalizing", of the characters when you take more time to delve into their actions, thoughts, memories, etc. A lot of that is lost in these more "condensified" versions of scenes from my current novel.
I want to continue to work in condensed mode, and look for ways to imbue the briefer text with more depth without taking the wordage to do so.
At least, that's the plan.
Sunday, January 28, 2007
Last weekend an old injury flared up and I spent most of the past week on pain medication and in pain. That is not really the best circumstance for writing, so I had to set things aside, even though I did try to write a few times, but it was entirely unproductive.
I'm feeling much better now and am back to work on the prose. I want to stay in prose mode now until I finish this complete first draft of THE ISLE.
Thanks to "Romance Writer" for your recent comments. I appreciated them! Please feel free to link to my site, and I will add a link to your site soon. I visited your site briefly and was impressed with it. I'll visit it again soon and post some comments there! Nice to "meet" another dedicated aspiring writer!
By the way, I have some links in the sidebar to articles on writing. Those sites belong to established romance writers. The articles are excellent and have been very helpful to me over the past year.
Best wishes to everyone else working on a novel!
Thursday, January 18, 2007
I think there's a dictum against looking for trouble, because it's easy to find and not something you really want, but for a writer it's imperative to have a clear antagonist for your protagonist. Every hero needs a villain of some kind, a challenge, a fight, someone or something specific and concrete to fight against.
As I mentioned in my last posting, I was having a hard time figuring out which of several possible antagonists is really the primary one. The novel could be written with several similar but different story lines.
How did I solve this frustrating problem?
I realized I only needed to look at the main conflict scene, the climax, where good meets evil and somebody wins. It's right there in Act III. Just ask yourself, who exactly is the protagonist fighting against in this last possible moment of the great struggle? Who or what MUST be defeated? Someone or something external, an actual foe of some kind. It can be another character, a grizzly bear, the cold weather (for someone lost in the Arctic), etc., but it needs to be someone or something outside the protagonist and concrete, in some sense.
(Note that the internal conflicts you may have in mind for your protagonist are also relevant: the main internal conflict must be resolved in order for the protagonist to be able to overcome the main external conflict. For example, the hero must overcome his fear of the water in order to learn to swim and then win the Channel crossing competition. Make sure all your conflicts, internal and external, and all your subplots, feed into the main story line in some relevant way, highlighting aspects of your themes, drawing out nuances in the way people deal with their struggles.)
If you're like me and you have themes at work as you imagine your novel, you may be thinking "this member of the proletariat is fighting against the evils of capitalism" but you can't have a worker fight "capitalism" per se. You must bring it down to something concrete, an embodiment of capitalism. Have someone organize a labor union and fight against the evil CEO of a corporation for better working conditions and win. (Disclaimer: not all CEO's are evil, and not all members of the proletariat are good.)
I won't give the answer away, the one I now have for my novel, but in seeking the answer I found that although there are a series of challenges and conflicts along the way in the story, some inherent in the overall situation, some due to the escalating menace posed by the primary antagonist, it was indeed possible to sort out all these various "bad guys" (or things) and figure out which one is in fact the primary antagonist.
This gave me the main story question as well, nice and clear: how will the protagonist rise to the challenge and defeat this particular antagonist? That's really what it comes down to. Again, it can be a bear, the weather, a murderer, a bank robber, whatever -- depends on the story you are writing -- but there must be a clear struggle and this presents a clear question, if you didn't already know it.
I tend to see many "tracks" or story lines which run alongside, through, within and without each other, a more complex way of seeing how major and minor plot lines work together thematically and dramatically. I have a hard time pulling just one out and saying "this is the main one, the one around which to organize all the rest".
Even though these ideas are obvious and containined in every good how-to book on writing, nonetheless I still had to wrestle with these ideas until I truly made them mine. Hopefully I'll always remember this way of tackling the problem when there are too many possible directions to go in. Just ask what the final conflict scene is in your mind. You may not yet know which one you prefer over the other possible variations, but when you compare the possibilities visually in your mind, one or the other will stand out as the most impactful, the most meaningful, etc. It was easy enough once I realized where I needed to look in my imagination.
I added up all my planning notes to date on THE ISLE and the total word count is 48,274, of which 10,367 are the most recent notes I generated in reworking my outlines and problem-solving the antagonist question. Also in the grand total are the 7,497 words I wrote in finally answering my lingering questions about the mythology and magic. I'm not satisfied with surface-level answers, quick or common solutions. I always seek the deeper meaning, the real meaning that is part of the fabric of the story, the truth within the story. I keep looking until things ring true, until I can see the information I come up with forming the basis of a conversation or action between characters that makes real-life sense, while also making my point in some larger, thematic context.
After struggling with the ever-recurring planning questions, those nasty tentacles that I would pin down only to have them fly up at me again, this recent progress is very satisfying. Having the definitive story question gives me the one main hook that I can tie everything else to. The rest of the details fit into place and every other question becomes much easier and quicker to answer. It's nice that although I was spinning my wheels before, all those planning notes are in fact useful. I still need that information. It's just that now I can organize it and prioritize it and make selections from within it with clarity, since I know the main question and the ultimate conflict.
Hopefully I will start writing prose tonight, getting the first draft back on track. Unless another tentacle or two pops up again, but with the recent answers I'm optimistic nothing will come up that would slow me down as much as these last questions have.
Monday, January 15, 2007
While toiling away on minor site maintenance this evening I found that the link to the description of THE REFLECTING STONE had become outdated and no longer worked. I fixed it so you can now read the back-cover blurb for my first novel again. Just look for the "BACK-COVER BLURBS" header. Coming soon will be the back-cover blurb for my second novel, THE ISLE, as soon as I finish revising my outline!
Also, Dayya has updated her Pendrifter blog, moving it to a new site. Looks great! But then again, it always did!. I updated that link also under "WRITERS' BLOGS".
If you haven't visited the Pendrifter site, you should, since it's always interesting and the images Dayya shares are wonderful, very inspiring for us creative types.
No, that's not a drinking sound (I wish), but the sound of the little train that knew it could, still chugging along.
I wrote about 4,000 words last night in a detailed scene list, about 85 scenes, working through the first two acts, stopping just at the transition to the third act. So, that's 3/4 of the story.
Then I realized the recent story developments needed to be seeded in much sooner!
So, tonight I'll rework the scene list, a simple numbered list of short paragraphs explaining the key events in each scene. The final number will be somewhat less.
I haven't been able to get a solid outline I can live with by outlining alone. That's why I'm approaching it now from a scene list, a chance to get into the story in a story-telling-like mode, brief "telling" of each scene in sequence. This lets the story take off in a certain way that it doesn't by working only with brief outline-type notes. It's working. Many good ideas came out of it.
Hopefully it's only another day or two away, the outline I'm looking for, then I can resume the work on the prose.
By the way, all the recent advances for THE REFLECTING STONE are still very solid, and are continuing to guide this current revision of the plan for THE ISLE. I just need to rework this outline, then I think I'm ready to just write until finished with the first draft of THE ISLE.
The work goes on!
Sunday, January 14, 2007
After the great strides forward with the magic and mythology, it's only natural that instead of jumping back into the first draft of THE ISLE, I would feel the necessity of stopping to take yet another look at the plot of this second novel. I ended up going back to the drawing board, re-examining the conflicts, the complications, the plot pillars, etc. I ended up with a whole new slew of questions. I've worked a lot this weekend on this, trying to pin things down again, to make sure I have the plot pillars I really want, the proper spacing over the course of the novel of the main dramatic scenes, etc. And, of course, I still haven't managed to tie it all down again!
So, I'm still stuck in outlining mode, although I've gotten once again a much clearer sense of the story questions and conflicts driving this story. The main issue is honing in on the main conflict, since there are several, exactly as it was in THE REFLECTING STONE. I have a hard time creating just one antagonist and making the story primarily a path toward that antagonist and a major confrontation at the end. Instead, there are a variety of antagonists along the way, and since I tend to work with epic themes, ultimately the entire world is called into question at some point. It's never "man vs. nature" in my stories, although I could theoretically write such a story. Instead, it's man against the following:
--individuals who stand in his way
--armies that stand in his way
--a specific leader of a community
--a specific leader of a relgion
--a group of powerful leaders
--society as a whole
--the world as it stands
So, my challenge is always to personalize these larger concepts. Armies are easy to fight. Traditions are much harder. In a combat-mode sense.
I wrote several additional paragraphs for this posting, then just cut them out. I'd like to cut out a lot of things, like spinning my wheels, going in circles, wasting time trying to make progress when I'm not making progress, etc., etc. Anyway, in this case, I was able to think through the questions I've been working on all weekend and suddenly I found my answers, nice and clear, while writing what was the rest of this blog posting. Since I don't want to put that "sensitive" information in the actual blog, I had to edit it out, but I replaced it with this nice paragraph which informs blog readers (actual individuals, people like you, only different, except including you also), that I found the main fight or struggle for the antagonist after all, at a moment when I least expected to, since I was writing a blog posting, not overtly working on my novel, but alas the two were the same.
Okay, need more sleep.
At least I found what I was looking for!
And now I'll take more time later today to work up a fresh new outline from the perspective of this new information. At least I have that to work with now!
The work goes on.
Saturday, January 13, 2007
So many ideas that have been floating around in the back of my mind for over a year have finally crystalized into concrete form!
The work on Thursday night was very productive. I tied down the magic system and mythology in a rare moment of utmost clarity and was able to work in my mind without notes and run through the entire plot line of THE REFLECTING STONE and consider all the major scenes where magic is wondered about, hinted at, revealed, learned about, and finally used. There were seven key scenes that mattered significantly, and I was able to jot down notes for each describing how things *really* should work. I was able to review the entire novel in detail and in depth in just a couple of hours, and the insights were tremendous. Finally all those loose ends which I had wrestled with in the editing, which ultimately stalled the editing, were brought together.
I feel like I now have the keys to the castle! I built this huge thing, and now I am the master of it! I'm talking about the story, of course, and how things work in the world of the story.
Finally, after so much work and bewilderment, I realized questions that I needed to ask, questions which I had not realized existed. I found answers to everything except a few minor details, which I can work out, but 99% of it was answered clearly, including every major issue.
I now know the limits of magic, which are very few, the cost of magic, which is nothing in a direct sense, and only one thing in an indirect sense, making this a little unusual for a fantasy novel, but it works and makes perfect sense and fits the story. I won't give it away, but there is an effect of working the magic, having the magic, that changes the attitude and culture of those who possess the magic over time, without their realizing it. Otherwise, their magic seems to have no cost whatsoever and virtually no limit. It fits this story in which those who possess magic are connected to the gods, though are not gods themselves.
I can also see a few alternate interpretations of the mythology, other ways I can work with it in future novels in the series, changing the tone of things, shedding new light on things, twists along the way that will transform the Reader's understanding while not undoing or negating what has already taken place in the first novel. This is good, since it gives me room to work with, a chance to let the story grow over time.
And, of course, all this not only makes it possible to resume the editing work on THE REFLECTING STONE, but also provides a solid foundation to expand on the mythology as I continue work on THE ISLE. As I noted in my last posting, these two novels appear totally separate, unrelated, as if in different worlds, stand-alone novels, yet in some way they are related, and that becomes clear to the Reader over time in the second one. However, like a lot of people I don't like "sequels" that are written so obviously as part of an ongoing story and that leave you hanging at the end -- I like stories that have stand-alone impact, yet also fit into a running story line. There is more satisfaction if you feel your effort in reading one story was rewarded within the context of that one story as it would be for a stand-alone novel. It's great if that story also contributes on a higher level toward a larger, developing plot line as well.
It never ceases to amaze me how I can put so much effort into planning, developing and writing a story, only to find that I still have so much to "learn" about the story months and months down the road! At least I have allowed myself to stand back and let the story grow as it needs to, since it wasn't "done" yet even though I thought it was. I think it is now but, again, we'll see.
It turns out my "one page" of notes that I intended to write after my last posting was many pages long and nearly 8,000 words, but with those notes I am now ready to push on with a much clearer sense of just what it is I'm doing! I love it when my work is that productive. Wish it were that way all the time.
Long live the Tentacle-Fighters! (Nod again to Debra for that image.)
Will get back to the prose now and update later this weekend.
Thursday, January 11, 2007
Other work has kept me away for most of the past week, so I'm only now able to update my blog. However, I did keep my thoughts on the story questions.
I don't want to give the stories away, but I'll try to share what I can of the key questions and decisions, evidence that something is transpiring between my ears to justify my periodic haircuts.
One key question was whether or not to keep two minor characters on THE ISLE after the plane crashes. I went back and took out everything from Chapter 4 on, about 10,000 words, and completely rewrote several chapters there, WITHOUT those two pesky characters. The story works fine without them. Debra's point about checking whether they contribute to the complications enough to justify their presence hit home. The two characters were only derailing what was supposed to be the main focus of the conflict through their ever-expanding subplot. I can always find a creative way to bring them in later if I still need them.
The other big issue was to revisit my purpose for the story, the vision of the story that I wanted to tell, the point I wanted to get across. Of course, the story does not really belong to me: it's ultimately the main character's story, and that of the other characters, too, but that story needs to be one that I want to tell. I had worked this out already in my initial planning, but with the variable story lines emerging in the first draft I had to take another look and pin it down yet again.
To help me in this, I have been rereading Orson Scott Card's book on writing science fiction and fantasy. I had read it once before, but that doesn't mean I can't find additional insights as I read it again. A good book on writing is worth several readings at different times.
His sections on choosing the type of story have helped. He gives four: character-driven, event-driven, milieu-driven, or idea-driven (ie, question-driven). Most fantasy novels are event-driven, particularly epic fantasies. Something happens that sets things in motion, disturbs the order of things, and then there is an epic pursuit to restore order to the universe (ie, the world of the story). Mysteries are idea-driven, raising a question that needs answering ("whodunnit?" and "why?"). Character-driven stories focus on the need of a character to make some life change. Milieu stories focus on exploring some new world that is fascinating in itself. An example in the book is Gulliver's Travels, which focuses not so much on Gulliver as on all the strange worlds he encounters, which serve as social commentary when we compare them to our own place and time.
Also, the section on magic was helpful. My first novel, THE REFLECTING STONE, involves magic, and ultimately that fantastic element will reappear throughout the series. I still had some issues with that, questions in need of answers, and as I have worked again on this I have finally found some answers that I was looking for over the past year. This information will help me go back and edit THE REFLECTING STONE and will also help me in the present novel. I had previously blogged about needing to revise the mythology of THE REFLECTING STONE: that and magic are tied together. I did improve what I had, but it still was problematic. I think this time I've pinned it down enough that I can breathe a sigh of relief. Again, moving on to the second story is a big help as I look back at the first story with a sense that it needs completion and has a direction it must lead to. When I only had the first story to work with, getting some of those answers was harder to do. This second story reminds me there are things that happen after the first story, unrelated for the most part, but still drawing on some elements from that first story, the bigger ideas. Anyway, this current reflection has been immensely helpful.
Finally, I have allowed room for the story to grow, another thing addressed in OSC's book. I have been intuitively on a path of expanding my sense of how a story develops through planning, first draft, revision, and possible successive drafts. The past week has helped me gain an improved, conscious understanding of this process. I was trying to pack as much punch as possible into the planning and first draft to eliminate the need for a second complete draft, front-loading the thinking to save time with the rewriting. However, my editing of THE REFLECTING STONE got stalled and ultimately I think now it was because I was trying to put a lid on it, so to speak, when in fact the story development was not yet complete. The new answers I have gotten as I have solved problems with the next novel in the series, THE ISLE, have helped me to better understand the previous novel as well. So, stories must be given room to grow, and we as authors must allow them that space, and be patient, and keep working with them, cultivating them. It's definitely not helpful to attempt to gain closure or completion before it is possible to do so.
In summary, over the past week I've been able to rewrite the last 10,000 words, removing the unnecessary and distracting minor characters, regain the focus on the main character and his antagonist, and revisit the big picture, not only for the current novel, THE ISLE, but also for the novel which preceeds it in the series, THE REFLECTING STONE. In that work I have been able to better define the mythology and magic involved in the series. These stories are separate, but on some level they are also part of a larger series. How things will ultimately connect down the line is clearer now on the detail level (the big picture for the series has not changed).
Next goal is to go over my new ideas, make some detailed notes on them, a page or so, to capture the main points, how they will impact both novels, and then resume work on the first draft of THE ISLE.
More later, probably over the weekend!
Thursday, January 04, 2007
Here's the link to the YA novel I came across while searching for fog-related images on Google. I found a great beach scene while doing some searches, an image I'm using as my wallpaper right now, imagining events from my novel unfolding on the sand as I look at it. Helps to visualise. Anyway, one of the images that came up was the cover to a fog-related novel, ISLAND OF FOG, so I checked it out, and while it's not relevant to my own work, nonetheless it was interesting, and I was very impressed with the clarity and style of the writer, who has worked on the first four chapters for several years, editing them and getting feedback.
I only read the first chapter, but it was impressive and I do hope he'll keep at it and finish the novel since it should certainly be publishable. The guy can write! He has put the four chapters on lulu.com, and they can be purchased in book form for a few dollars, or you can even download a file for free and read them off your computer.
It's worth checking out to read his prose. You won't be disappointed.
Here is his web page:
KEITH ROBINSON'S WEB PAGE
And, here is the page at lulu.com where you can download the free text file:
DOWNLOAD FREE COPY HERE
Otherwise, I'm still working on answers to those two questions! But at least I know what to think about, and how to think about it, so that helps! I should have an answer by tomorrow, I hope, and will post again then.
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
Thanks to Wynn and Debra for their recent comments! It was nice hearing from you. Yes, it sure does take perseverance, and I think I'll stop by the marina store sometime soon and ask whether they have a can of "TENTACLE-OFF". I think Batman had some of that, I'm not sure. It would take a superhero/ine to keep those tentacles under control without a can of that stuff.
The current word count is 20,624, still in Chapter 8.
The holidays did get in the way of writing, but I kept the novel in mind and continued thinking about the plot and characters. I got back to writing recently and hammered out between 5,000 and 6,000 new words, some of them from rewriting when I replaced text in the later chapters, and some of them new additional words that went into Chapter 1, expanding a brief scene there and helping develop the story in more detail (yet again).
It turns out I keep running into the same problem. The story is about a group of young adults on a long-distance flight. Their plane crashes and a group of them winds up stranded on THE ISLE. The problem is: which ones??? I know for certain the bulk of the group I want to participate in the events that unfold on THE ISLE, but there are a couple of extra characters who are important, and who can be used to good effect, but it also hinders developing other aspects of the storyline if they are present. So, I keep going back and forth with this and it's driving me up the wall.
I tried really, really hard to work out an answer to this, and thought I had it, but again I am never satisfied. As soon as one version looks good, another one looks better. I did hammer down the other big questions that I had previously, prior to my last posting. That stuff has remained solid. It's just this one question at this point, who to keep in the group, and who to let go of. It's a significant issue since whether a character is present or not will impact the bulk of the rest of the book. The two characters that I am going back and forth over are both minor, but important. Their presence or absence will make for very different stories.
A few days ago I was steadfast in my determination to keep them, even working out ways to have them "go away" for a while if needed. Now, since last night, I'm back in the mindset that they should just go away. So, later today I may well sit down and rewrite EVERYTHING after Chapter 3 (about 10,000 words), starting with the premise that those two characters are NOT there and WON'T be after the crash.
Whichever way this ends up, I can't progress until I decide. Oh, the drama of it all! And I'm usually such a low-drama or no-drama person.
In other things, I've been watching a lot of good movies recently, expanding my familiarity with gay and lesbian cinema. I also found a good fantasy novel, finally, with a style that I like and that I can think of as a source of inspiration for me as I write my own fiction.
And, I came across another aspiring writer's blog. He has written the first few chapters of what appears to be a YA novel. I found it when searching for images related to FOG (Google image search), since the survivors on THE ISLE encounter a heavy fog. I wanted to find some nice pictures of fog and island scenes that I could use as wallpaper to help put me in the mood when I sit down to write. When I saw a picture of the cover of the novel, I thought I should check it out. I was incredibly impressed with the author's style. His first chapter is about the tightest, clearest, most focused bit of fiction I've read from an aspiring writer!
I promise to post a link to the free online chapters (Adobe) in the near future. The author has also made the sample chapters available through lulu.com, hence the availability of an image of the cover.
Best wishes for COMPLETION and SUCCESS to all aspiring writers in 2007!