Sunday, December 14, 2008

Editing JASPER



Another quick posting . . . gee, this could become habit-forming! Who cares about in-depth posts when there are quick-and-easy posts? They're so much quicker, and easier!

Ahem . . . .

I'm up through Chapter 6 of JASPER with the new editing work based on the recent planning work. The editing is coming along very well. I remember back to how frustrating it was when I was writing the last chapters of JASPER and I'm enjoying every moment of how it feels right now, which is to say, it feels like everything is making sense. Gone is that terrible, frustrating sense of urgency, that somehow I have to stop what I'm doing because it's not really the right thing, and if only I could see it, I'd know it, and then I could write it, and it would be the right thing. I now feel that what I'm doing is the right thing, and I'm fixing things in such a way that they will all tie in together and the plot will be consistent and will build to the right climax, not just any climax (some days, not just any climax will do).

I am debating on whether to go back and rewrite Chapter 5, just to make it more briefer, since extraneous overflowings of unnecessary wordage are superfluous, not to mention excessive. However, I think I'll hold off on that since it's not too extreme a problem, and the nature of that work lies more in balance and general tweakage. My main focus now is on bringing the story in line with itself (ie, general consistency according to the New Revised Plot Plan). After I tackle the large stuff, then I'll go back through for another round, when I can focus on finer details. I may want to rewrite some scenes then if I can think of alternate versions that accomplish the same thing story-wise but which do so in a more dramatic or engaging manner.

In order to keep this posting brief, as promised, I'll stop now.

Adrian

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Planning Has Been Productive!



Just a quick update....

The recent planning work has been productive. I have a substantial amount of new insight into the new project, and it has inspired me to go back and solve the last remaining sticking point with the previous project. In fact, I spent all of last week working again on the JASPER novel. Even though I had previously written out answers to my major questions after finishing the first draft, and had "all the answers", I knew that one of these answers remained a sticking point even still: the issue of strengths and weaknesses, and how they affect the final climactic scene. I read an article recently that helped me get a better perspective on this issue which has proven so difficult for me, and it really helped. I went back through the JASPER story and revised my plan for it, and now am ready to go back to it and edit! Something I just wasn't comfortable to do a few weeks ago. That feels really good. There is much more planning work to do yet on the new project, though, which I am still unceremoniously calling the "CHASM" novel (still need a better working title!). However, I have done an awful lot of work on it, revising the story plan, fleshing it out in greater and greater detail.

So, what's next?

I think I'm ready to dive back into JASPER for some editing and rewriting of later chapters. I'll continue the CHASM planning, which has gotten very in-depth. I really shouldn't rush that. Even though I was so eager to start writing, I feel it's best to do all the pre-thinking I need so that I can really let loose once I start to write. I don't want to run off course, or end up with the same strengths-and-weaknesses issue that I encountered in the last few novels. It's a recurring problem for me, and one I very much want to solve. I think I'm on the right track with that after my recent new insights. I have little time, so I won't go into that further in this posting, but I am very happy to have gotten a better handle on that very critical aspect of storytelling, as least as I experience it.

My respects this December 7th to those who serve and have served in the military,

And wishing everyone a low-stress, high-fun holiday season,

Adrian

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Character vs. Plot



A recent posting on a blog that I read regularly prompted me to examine how I create characters, and how I relate to them after I've created them and am actually working with them, i.e., writing them and watching them come to life. I thought I should post on this since it's worth thinking about and I don't recall posting anything on this topic per se, although I've blogged about strengths and weaknesses, which are critically important aspects to consider in character development.

Without further ado, this is more or less how I create characters, and how I relate to them....

First, I don't always think of my characters as "people", fictional or otherwise. I do try to see them that way as I'm writing them, but before I write them I try to understand them in story terms. To put it another way, I develop my characters first, then I write them. I ask myself what function does this character serve, what is this character's relationship to the main character and the main storyline, etc., what strengths and weaknesses should this character exhibit. I develop at least a vague, general sense of the character's background, a way for me to intuit where the character is coming from, how the character will interact with others, a sense of the character's personal style, image, way of projecting him-/herself, etc. I let the larger need of the story drive the development of the character, at least in the major ideas I associate with the character. Then, as I work on the details, and especially when writing the character, I try to flesh this out a little more, or a lot more, depending on how vital the character is to the story and how much "screen time" he/she gets. I take the purely functional role and transform it into a "real" person (ie, a fictional person who seems real). In summary, my character-creation process has two basic steps: develop the character abstractly in story terms, then flesh out the character as a "real" (i.e., real-seeming but fictional) person.

Second, I consciously avoid creating any characters that remind me of any real persons, including myself. I don't spend much time thinking about this. As soon as I realize a character is reminding me of anyone who actually exists, I ask myself in what way specifically the fictional character is like someone I know, and then I immediately change the fictional character. I reassess the need for the character, the way I see the character in relation to the story (see above paragraph).

Third, I do occasionally draw inspiration from real people, but not in terms of representing them in my story, even in altered form. I take only a specific attribute, not the whole person, and work that attribute into the story. If I need to depict a character who lies well, I try to think of someone I know who lies frequently. I try to understand how I know when this person is lying, what the difference is between a convincing lie and one that is easy to spot, etc. I glean some insight about lying from someone I know and use that insight to help me shape the way a fictional character might lie in a given scene. I never depict the actual real person, or anything unique to that individual. I look for insights, generalities, and apply that understanding to the shaping of an original, fictional character.

Fourth, I intentionally do not write autobiographical or semi-autobiographical stories. Sometimes there are parallels between events in my stories and events in my life, but I separate these quite clearly in my mind. I am not writing about what I have experienced. I am not depicting those specific events. Rather, as with real people, I glean insights and general ideas about my real-life experiences, using those experiences as a source for information about the nature of such experiences.

Ultimately, characters are defined not by what they think or feel, but by what they do. Character is action. Actions are events.

I create events the same way I create characters. I see the fictional events that I write about as based on dramatic need. I shape the events around the main character's main goal and main weakness, and also any additional goals or weaknesses. If I have a character who likes to swim and who wants to become certified as a lifeguard, then I'll put obstacles in the way of that goal. Those obstacles could include having someone close to the character almost drown while attempting to save someone else, and having an unrelated stranger drown while the main character is present, although not primarily responsible for saving him/her. These events would show the danger of trying to save lives, and the cost of not saving them. They would make the importance of this work and its risks very clear to the main character, who must grapple with how he/she relates to the risks and the sense of purpose that drives him/her forward to achieving the goal of becoming a lifeguard. Other obstacles and the characters who introduce them into the main character's life could focus around logistical matters such as having the time to train, having the money to pay for certification, receiving an injury while helping a friend who goofs off, creating an unnecessary emergency for which the main character pays with an injury that threatens completion of training or ability to pass the certification requirements, etc. As you see, the kind of thinking involved here has nothing to do with me; it has everything to do with developing a story that will create a meaningful set of challenges to a main character who has a certain main goal.

It makes no difference whether any of these events occurred or did not occur in my own life -- I'm not writing about my own life. If I have known someone who drowned, or who almost drowned, then I could draw from that experience, but only in broad terms. Any insights I might glean would likely apply in general to anyone in similar circumstances

Characters and events serve a purpose in my stories, and that purpose is defined by the main goal of the main character, which can be expressed in one sentence: "Joe wishes to become a lifeguard like his big brother." I can draw from real life to inform and advise me in how I depict fictional persons and events, but I never cross the line and base my characters on real persons or events. Ever.

Plot is character, and character is plot. They are so intertwined they cannot be separated. A character is defined by what he/she wants to do. What happens is defined by what a character seeks to do. Character drives plot, plot is the expression of character. Too much focus on the quirkiness of an individual character results in a character-driven story that may lack a meaningful plot; too much emphasis on plot may results in an action-thriller which is too shallow and underdeveloped, because the characters don't seem real or organically connected to the line of action.

There is a lot of information in a novel, in the sense of details the writer has to manage while writing the story. They can become confusing, contradictory, confusing, and did I mention confusing? The way to keep it all together and ensure that things fit properly is to identify priorities. Make decisions and stick with them. Decide your basic concept (that one-sentence description I mentioned above). Decide your basic intent for the story (style, genre, tone, theme). Decide the important attributes of your main character: strengths and weaknesses, what he/she has to learn, his/her motivation, the consequences of success or failure. Establish meaningful major complications, decide which few of them absolutely must appear in the story. Brainstorm ideas, other events, other characters, but keep it loose until you have enough information to work with. Start sifting through and pin things down. Prioritize the decisions. Once something is set, keep it set firmly in your mind. Let later decisions hinge on previous decisions. There is a hierarchy to the information, a sense of perspective about it. By keeping things structured in this way, you can build and maintain a clear sense of who your characters are, why they are, how, what, and where they are, etc. Make characters and events count.

Finally, even though I am not my characters and my characters are not me, my characters are ultimately an expression of me. Not in simplistic terms, but in a roundabout way. I am a gay American male. When I create characters, I do so based on my way of looking at the world. They are my characters, engaged in my events, meaning the events which I have created, in stories that I create. My characters and events, and therefore my stories, serve a greater purpose, which is that they collectively communicate something that I wish to express in writing to potential readers. Writers build a body of work over time. That work is unique to each writer. That work is the writer, but not in simplistic terms. Without the writer, the work is nothing. I don't own my characters, any more than parents own their children. We bring them into the world, we give them life, we raise them up, and we send them on their way, hoping the world will be kind to them. If they deserve it. Those that don't should get what's coming to them. Sadly, there are no protagonists without antagonists. Such is the nature of fiction: conflict, through and through.

Of all things, stories are about people. Our characters must ultimately become people to the people who read about them.

Happy character-creating,

Adrian

Planning Still, & Congratulations!



First, the congratulations -- to Sherry Thomas, whose blog, Plotters & Manipulators United, is one I read from time to time. Sherry spends her time writing historical romance and doesn't blog that often, but some months ago she had some very interesting posts that I enjoyed. The congratulations are due because one of her novels, Private Arrangements, was named one of the best books of the year by Publisher's Weekly! It was one of five mass-market paperbacks to make the list. That's worth some celebrating! Congratulations on such a wonderful achievement!

[By the way, I read about writers and writing techniques from various genres, even though my focus is on fantasy, because I believe we each have a piece of a larger puzzle, and I can learn from a romance writer, a mystery writer, a horror writer, etc., and not only fantasy writers. A fantasy is that much more interesting if it has an element of romance, of mystery, etc. Historical fiction is of particular interest to me because it parallels in less fantastic terms the sort of stuff that my fantasy stories are made of.]

Now, to the Planning . . . .

Yes, a week after my last post, I'm still planning my new novel! I started writing it the last week of October. I worked on it slowly but steadily for that first week, then stopped writing in the 2rd week (early November) to do some more planning, after having written about 7k words. I was then supposed to restart the writing this past week (week 3) and carry on, which I did, starting again with a new first scene and a fresh start, but once again I wrote only so much (this time, about 9k words) then ran into issues that just begged me to stop and plan some more. It's like deja-vu, except this time I know I've been here before! Tally: three weeks, two false starts, and a lot of extra notes from planning!

What's good:
  • I enjoy planning -- I really do!
  • The results I'm getting are fantabulous!
  • I've now got a usable MAP for the first time!
  • I've even got a "character map" (more below)!
  • The story just keeps getting better!
  • I'm so excited about all this!
What's not-so-good:
  • I'm still planning!
  • Gee, shouldn't I be writing?
  • I'm not writing!
  • My engines are revved but I haven't released the clutch!
  • "Fantabulous" is not a real word!
Okay, so the good is really good, and the "bad" is not really so bad, it's just not so good. All in all, that weights pretty favorably.

Now, what's a "character map"? Well, I don't know what that means to you, but here's what it means to me: I used a generic drawing program (this could also be done with a text editor) and I mapped out character names on a sheet of paper. Characters who are in the same group are listed line by line without skipping any lines, usually just a few names at a time. If there is another, related group, I skip a line and then list them (for example, two opposing sides or differences in rank or other associations). I then placed these groupings of names around the page (text fields dropped onto a blank page in a drawing program). I situated the names geographically in a way that corresponds to my map of this fictional world. So, the kingdom that is in the southeast is represented by a short list of names of key characters from that kingdom, located in the bottom right area of the paper.

What good is a character map? It looks like a page with names written all over it, in bunches, and they don't even line up with proper margins!

Yes, it looks odd, but it's useful to me. I can look at my map, which I printed out in a larger size than it would appear in the book, and I can look at my character map, which shows the same geographical relations but lists the actual characters, and I can mentally work my way through the story, or sequences of the story, specific scenes, etc., and see visually who people are, where people are, who comes and goes to and from where, etc. These tools, together, help me visualize when I'm doing all this extra planning work.

I already have over 50 names on the character map. These are characters who will be named in the story. Many of them are minor characters who will appear in only a scene or two, but they interact, so these are "speaking roles" and not just "voiceless extras". There are at least a dozen "major" characters, meaning they play a significant role in a chapter or sequence of chapters, and their input into the story has an important impact on the main character and the small group of truly major characters he associates with. For me, 50+ is a lot of named characters, more than I usually work with. What's really cool: I can look at the paper and name off instantly who these characters are, and what role they play throughout the story from start to finish! All of them! So yes, I do know the story well, as well I should.

Now, as to the exact nature of the planning . . . what is it that I'm coming up with these days, and do I really need it? Is it truly so important that it justifies stalling, restarting, then stalling again the writing of this story?

As mentioned before, I already have all the major events in each of the three acts, and the major plot pillars, and many minor events along the way, and all the characters I can foresee needing, certainly all the major players. However, I still get a little fuzzy about the back-story, the history, the mythology, and the ending, as well as making sure I have the right motivations that are reasonable and true to character. In other words, I have "everything", yet everything is suspect, and I know there are some holes here or there in spite of having filled every hole I can find. As I beat my head against the wall, I find incredible new ideas dislodging from the recesses of my mind and adding themselves to the mix. The added insights and improved decisions (where I have choices) are definitely worth the extra effort. Definitely.

What I have pinned down, without giving the story away:
  • What happened years ago between a man and a woman that explains why they hate each other still to this day, enough to try to destroy each other.
  • The exact sequence of events that start the present circumstances -- they were always there, I just finally drew them all out in a cause-and-effect series that makes very good sense.
  • Who that strange race of beings is that lives far to the north -- I always knew the simple answer, but how they are tied to the history and mythology, and the epic proportions of the story was hard to pin down among several choices (not anymore!).
  • What's located inside that large body of water and why it matters, and matters, and matters.
  • What's permanent, what's changeable, and why the difference.
  • How the two major threads come back together -- still working on the exact details, but at least I now have a clear sense of the way this needs to unfold -- my previous version did not rise to the dramatic potential I had created, this new version certainly does.
  • What's up, what's down, and why it matters.
That's really an enormous amount of progress achieved by joining together the various plot details and seeing how they relate on a closer level than I had achieved earlier. Now, what I'm still working on, which is why the planning will continue a little while yet:
  • Details of the second and third acts that are too fine to have been explored fully yet. I want to explore as much as I can before writing, though I know I will discover more when I actually write.
  • As always, the critically-important issue of the main character's strengths and weaknesses, lessons to be learned, and how this ties in to the final confrontation and resolution.
I've accomplished a lot of work recently, but there is still a lot to consider before I regard this initial planning as "done". I know the story will grow as I write it, in terms of fleshing out the details, but not in terms of adding significant new plot twists. I just want to take as much into account as I can before writing because I hate to write knowing that I have to rewrite it even as I write it. I can write effective scenes, and when I know what they need to consist of before writing them, I can get them on track right from the start. I don't want to write a loose, choppy, rough draft. I want to write a first draft that is usable, that requires editing, not rewriting. As much planning as possible does help (obviously, within reason).

So, I'm still planning. At least I'm enjoying it!

Best wishes to everyone else with their ongoing efforts, whatever they may be,

Adrian

Thursday, November 06, 2008

New Novel Up & Running!



My new novel, CHASM (still want to find a better working title!), is up and running. I mentioned having written the first 2 chapters last week, about 7k words. Well, over the weekend, while editing those 2 chapters and reflecting more on how the story was going, I felt I had a new set of questions that needed answering. In spite of all the planning over the summer -- I filled an entire composition notebook with notes -- I realized there were still a number of angles that I hadn't addressed. So, I spent the weekend and early into this week going back over my notes and reflecting in greater depth on certain key issues. The result is the story has advanced very nicely, with a much richer plot and set of relationships and interrelationships between characters, events and places. It's the same story, just more evolved. I also added some entirely new elements, which are useful in drawing out the ideas I already had established, but in a way that helps me dramatize things better. I did nothing that changes the original intent or basic story line. Those were already well-planned. I'm really happy with the new material, and it has that feel to it that tells me it's "right on" -- you know something is working when the pieces fit seamlessly together and everything just feels right.

However, with the new ideas, I felt I needed to go back to the beginning and make a fresh start again. I wanted to allow the new ideas to percolate and affect how I was beginning the story, and the exact way I was going to introduce the characters and circumstances. I'm glad I did. One important new change is, for the first time since I started working (again) in earnest a few years ago, I'm going to use multiple points of view. I have kept my last four novels strictly focused on one main character who is the protagonist and hero. Every scene of every chapter featured the MC, and was from that one character's POV. In earlier years I did write with multiple POV's, but when I started writing again in 2005 I decided to restrict myself to just one POV (the MC's) and keep it to that until I had mastered a number of other aspects of the novel-writing process. I wouldn't say I've mastered anything, of course, but I'm certainly doing much, much better on a number of fronts and have clearly learned a lot in these past few years. I feel comfortable branching out now, with a sense that I have enough of the key elements of good storytelling under control now that it is time to grow again. It's very exciting to work with multiple POV's after my self-imposed exile from them.

So far this week I've written only two scenes, going slowly and carefully, making sure I get it right. I believe the beginning of a story is very important as it establishes the foundation that you write from as you proceed through the rest of the story. However, I'll try to avoid the meticulous editing I normally do to the first three or four chapters. The first two scenes run a little over 3k, and I'll add another scene before closing Chapter 1. This fresh-start manuscript is up and running, and as I get past the first couple of chapters I expect the pace to pick up and the editing to fall by the way side. I don't want to rush too quickly through it, as time allows reflection, which in turn creates better scenes, but I want to set a good pace and keep it moving. I have no idea the length of this novel, but will set it at 80k to 100k.

Once I get a few chapters in, and have edited the first chapter enough times that it seems pretty well set, then I'll share the first chapter on my secure blog, ADRIAN'S ARCHIVE. By the way, thanks to Scotty for his feedback already in the comments on that blog, and, Debra, I've sent the password email but I'm not posting your comment requesting it so that I don't divulge your email address publicly.

One really cool thing about the new CHASM novel is that I feel like I'm writing a real fantasy novel for the first time. It's actually my fifth fantasy novel, but with all the growth over the past four I feel I'm finally able to write the kind of prose I was hoping to write with the first one, THE REFLECTING STONE. That was a fine story in terms of plotting and characters and the struggle the MC faces, but my prose was not then what it is now. It's nice to see progress.

I'll keep working on CHASM, enjoying the ride, not in a hurry, but feeling excitement about this story and anticipation. I can't wait to see what the finished story looks like.

Best wishes to others with their WIP's,

Adrian

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Feedback Anyone?



Breaking News:


I've been wanting to share excerpts of my fiction so other writers can see what I'm working on and provide feedback. I have a publicly-available blog for that already, ADRIAN'S FIX, but I can only share brief excerpts there. To help me share more substantial excerpts, I've created a new secure blog. It's called ADRIAN'S ARCHIVE. I've already put sample chapters on there from three of my WIP's:

  • THE REFLECTING STONE
  • JACK & JILL: THE UNTOLD STORY
  • The First Novel in the JASPER Series

I'll post more content there on a regular basis (I have it readily available).

Why a secure blog?

If you put anything more than a brief excerpt on the internet for everybody to see, it immediately loses any potential commercial value for publication. A publicly-available blog like ADRIAN'S FIX is fine for sharing bits and pieces, or for sharing stuff that I do not plan to market one day, but it is not suitable for longer excerpts or whole works. I need a password-protected blog to share more substantial excerpts, and I'll only share this content with a handful of writers for feedback.

How do I visit a secure blog?

In case you're not familiar with secure blogs at Blogger, I'll explain briefly....

You visit the secure blog the same way you visit this one -- by going to the URL (internet address) for the blog. However, since it is a secure blog, you will first get a screen that asks you to enter a password. This way, only those who have been invited, and given the password, can enter the blog to view its contents.

Once you've entered the password, you can have your browser save the password (via a cookie), and then when you come back to the site, you can view it instantly without having to re-enter the password each time. Or, you can decline the cookie, but then you have to re-enter the password each time you visit.

How do I get the password?

In order to send you a password, I need your email address. I have to enter it into a form in my Dashboard (control panel at Blogger that I use to manage my blogs). Once I enter your email address in the form, authorizing you to view the site, Blogger will send you an automatically-generated invitation email that invites you to view the blog. The invitation email gives you the URL, and a password.

Therefore, if you would like to visit my new secure blog, please send me an email. Identify yourself and let me know you want a password, and I'll have Blogger send you an invitation!

Send requests to:

a m e r i c a n a u t h o r [ a t ] y a h o o [ d o t ] c o m
(minus the extra spaces, of course -- it all just runs together).

In conclusion....

I hope my fellow aspiring writers will request the password and visit the new blog to see what my stories look like, and to offer feedback. You can share general reactions, as well as more detailed feedback, by posting comments on the secure blog.

Additionally, if you would like to receive a longer excerpt or entire work, when available, let me know and I can send you a Mobipocket eBook version, which is also secure. You can download the Mobipocket eBook Reader and Creator programs for FREE from the Mobipocket site. It's a great tool, allowing you to read your own stories in eBook format, share them with others (with or without password encryption), and add comments directly to the text. Their site also offers 10,000 free eBooks for immediate download, and of course you can purchase eBooks as well. Check it out, if you haven't already.

Thanks for your support, and feel free to ask me to critique your own work as well. I'm more than happy to reciprocate.

Adrian


Friday, October 31, 2008

Moving Ahead



I've decided to move ahead with my next novel, CHASM. I've already started it this past week, and have written two chapters, about 7k words total. It's off to a very solid start, and I'm very excited about the rich story, rich characters, and wealth of possibilities which this story affords.

I'll continue to work on JASPER, and JACK & JILL, as time permits, editing and rewriting. However, I don't want to hold up my forward progress with a lengthy editing phase at this point. I want to keep moving forward, developing my skills. I see such a huge jump from one story to the next that I feel compelled to move forward, rather than waiting for the editing of these last stories to be complete.

I won't be doing Nano this year. I've already started my next project, prior to November 1st. I couldn't wait.

Best wishes for your Autumn writing,

Adrian

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Aha!



It's always nice when that "Aha!" moment comes. I took a little time away from the JASPER novel and then spent a little time thinking and sketching some notes for the rewrite, then I let those notes sit, and then again I sat down after rereading those notes and thought some more and the "Aha!" moment struck. During that moment of great clarity, I managed to establish about ten key points that will guide me in the rewrite. These ideas count as course corrections, bringing the story back on track where I wasn't sure before. The ten key points mostly affect the characters' attitudes and motivations, which in turn drive the way the final events unfold, keeping them much more consistent with the rest of the story. In other words, "Aha!"

Now that I can see the answers that I was seeking before, the lack of which caused me such consternation during those final chapters, I can't help but feel it's all so much simpler than I was thinking it would be. That's one sign that I have the right answers. You know you're on the right track when things fit seemlessly together and feel right with very little trouble.

Now I'll move on to the rewrite. I wasn't sure if I'd go back and do some of the major work first, then fine tune, or just go through in sequence and fix the problems as they appear, whether large or small. I decided I should go through in sequence, to help ensure the logical flow and catch any other things which I haven't already settled with my ten key points.

I don't know how long the editing will take. I'll shoot for a month, knowing it might well be two, but it shouldn't take six months or another year. Half the story is already significantly edited and refined and totally on track. The other half needs some work, but only a few chapters out of 25 are in need of actual rewriting. So, as long as the answers remain clear to me as they did in the "Aha!" moment, the rewrite should not be too much trouble.

Fingers crossed,

Adrian

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

JASPER: Complete @ 95k



I wanted to complete the first draft of the JASPER novel by 9/30, and I did! The word count came in at 95k, which is quite a bit over the original goal of 60k, and even the revised goal of 80k. This is now technically a completed first draft, but in reality the first half of the manuscript has been edited quite thoroughly, and is really on draft #7, at least. So, the bulk of the work that remains will focus on the second half, in particular several of the last chapters, which are quite rough. I will shorten to a maximum of 80k.

The recent planning paid off as I was able to look at my extended table of contents and remember what each chapter was supposed to address (goals, complications), and then sit down and write it. One at a time, I made my way through each chapter of Act III. The material feels right, and the antagonist issue worked out well, but the strengths/weaknesses issue remains a concern. I'll focus on that tonight when I reflect on the recent material and write notes to guide me in the editing of the second half.

After tonight, however, I'm not sure if I'll carry on directly to the editing of the JASPER novel, or will return to the editing of the JACK & JILL novel, or whether I might take a "Creative Break" or even a short breather then dive in to another new story, the "CHASM" novel which I had planned out in detail over the summer. I'm eager to start that one, when the time is right. I think I should edit, though, because I very much want to complete one story or the other by year's end -- that should be a priority. Whether it's JASPER or JACK & JILL doesn't matter, just that I actually finish something this year, to the point of a completed, edited and polished final manuscript. That was my goal last year, and I didn't make it. This year it is possible and more than worth aiming for.

I'd do a little happy dance and shout for joy at the completion of JASPER, but the truth is I'm too frustrated after the last several chapters to feel the joy right now. Once I reflect on what I wrote, and tie up the one remaining loose end about strengths and weaknesses, then I'll feel like celebrating. And, I will. That's something we should always do when we reach a major goal.

Best wishes to others in completing their drafts or rewrites,

Adrian

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

80k & Counting



I'm making progress on the final chapters. JASPER now stands at 80k with two more chapters to go, or three, depending on how it turns out. I should finish it this week.

The new material is rough and there will definitely be a need for editing. However, I have seen where my rough material winds up very nicely polished once I spend time with it, so that doesn't concern me.

I'm following the extended outline and sticking to it. I felt a sudden urge to add yet another twist, but refrained from venturing off the course I've set. I feel that I'll finally understand what I'm trying to do once I've done it. In spite of having a definite plan that does spell out the important issues, I still feel as though I'm not familiar with it. It's an odd feeling and could be the result of either my not seeing something that I need to know and don't even realize that I need to know, or the simple fact that this newer material at the end of the story is just so much newer to me than the rest of the story that it's taking time for it to sink in. It'll be interesting to see what I think about it once it's written, whether the ending I'm writing now is really the right ending and just needs editing to blend it all together, or whether I've missed the mark in spite of thinking I know what I'm doing.

I've also reflected more on the issues discussed in my last posting. I realize the late-stage slump is really the main factor in my tribulations which are now playing out in Act III. I never thought I suffered from that like other writers do, but now I see I do experience this syndrome. The fact that I recognize it gives me courage, because I'm good at solving problems once I know what they are. I'm sure I'll prepare myself well for this with my next novel and will find ways to help me through the late-stage slump. I already see several things I can do to minimize the difficulty and delay I encounter when I'm most of the way through the manuscript. I see also that this is exactly what happened to me with the JACK & JILL story when I set it aside. Different story, different story particulars, but the very same experience for me, the same pattern or syndrome. Well, I'll be ready for it next time!

The writing goes on, and I'm happy that I'm making progress, even though it's a weary, trudging sort of progress. Each step through the muck and mire brings me closer to the final page....

Best wishes for your own continued progress, and ability to stay out of the muck,

Adrian

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Lessons Learned



The past month has been one of ups and downs and going in circles. After a terrific, exuberant start, I quickly found myself mired in uncertainty. I made a series of valiant efforts, but in the end there were too many unresolved questions in spite of having found "all" the answers I needed to write my way through Act III. The result is that the work stands very nearly where it was a month ago, in terms of pages written, but now I really DO have a very firm and solid grasp of the plot issues. My thoughts about it are written out in detailed note form, with an "expanded table of contents" to back me up, and several lists of useful information that show how things fit together. I've thoroughly explored several options and made the difficult decisions.

What have learned from my work on the JASPER novel?

First, I have noticed that I have allowed too many distractions to keep me from being as productive as I need to be. Summers are always my least productive time anyway. At least this year I did not stop writing altogether and declare myself on another of my "Creative Breaks". I kept working, and I did accomplish something. However, realizing the need to be more productive, I have already negotiated with those affected and will be setting aside more time to focus on my writing without causing undue consternation or finding my writing time interrupted.

Second, I have appreciated the need to prepare for writing before writing. The past couple of years I focused on a great deal of preparation (note-taking, research, outlining, revising, re-thinking, re-revising, etc.) prior to writing the first draft, and then revising all my notes again before embarking on subsequent drafts. I wrote 60,000 words in notes before I wrote one manuscript page of my first completed novel two years ago. That investment has paid off wonderfully, allowing me to complete drafts for the first time, after many years of struggling to finish manuscripts only to get bogged down and lost in the middle. However, after two years of extensive preparation, I felt constrained, and longed for a sense of open and unfettered creativity while writing.

Therefore, I did very little to prepare myself for the current JASPER novel. I thought up a basic idea then sat down and started writing. All that structure and discipline paid off as I found myself racing through the JASPER story and producing quality results, thanks to having internalized the underlying three-act structure. I was on a roll with it, until I got the Nano bug last year and interrupted the story at the mid-point to write a new novel (JACK & JILL). When I finally got back to JASPER, it was a different experience. I had lost that focus and passion, and have had to write it through hard work. It's doable, and I'm still producing very engaging material, but it's more work and harder work than it was before. I should never have interrupted this successful ongoing project just to do Nano, although I am happy that I now have another wonderful story to get back to once I finish JASPER.

Taking all this into account, I'd say I've learned that while this chance to write without constraint has been stimulating, I still need to plan my stories in advance because it does save time later. The tie-ups over the past few months have really all come down to lack of planning. I'll find ways to give myself unfettered writing experiences, but when it comes to a novel, it's best to be prepared.

Third, the specific planning issues with the JASPER novel, stuff I've dealt with as I prepare to write Act III, are as follows:
  • Identifying the antagonist. I had two options, and a third option which involves the two possible antagonists working together. I had one version fixed in my mind at the outset, then while writing I sensed a better (i.e., more complex) story if I made some alterations. I ended up leaving the story open as I wrote it so that I could end the story with any of the possible outcomes. Now I need to go back in and tie things down for the version I've finally selected. I should have kept one main focus. A story hinges on exactly who the "bad guy" is, and it's not something to toy around with while writing!

  • Identifying the protagonist's strengths and weaknesses. This is also an essential ingredient and one you must clearly define at the outset because you need to include scenes which show these things, and which move the protagonist from weakness to strength in order to face the final confrontation. Again, I had a sense of it, I had thought about it, had written some brief comments about it in the little planning that I did before starting the manuscript, but over time I realized a deeper need, and how to tie things in better to the exact nature of the final confrontation. In part, our understanding of our story evolves over time and we can't help but revise and refine, but also I feel I could have looked deeper and sought out a better understanding of this at the outset.

  • Fleshing out the back-story and "greater story". I generated enough of the world and back-story to start writing, but throughout the time I've worked on JASPER I've contemplated additional twists and complications that can surround this present story, how it can be set in its world against a background of greater intrigue. This is because I want to write more than one JASPER story, and use that material to drive a series of novels set in this world. I don't think it's necessary to know everything up front, especially when those details don't even appear in the present novel, but I do think it helps to have some sense of the greater story that the current story is part of. The more refined that information, the easier it is to work with. I now feel a stronger connection between those ideas and the way this story will end. In light of that development, I feel it would have been better to spend extra time reflecting up front on how I might envision the series developing.
Fourth, I've noticed a pattern that requires attention. Previously, my greatest struggle lay in simply completing an entire draft. I used to get lost in Act II, unable to bridge the middle of the story. I put a lot of effort into planning before writing and managed to overcome that difficulty. Now, I can complete a story with confidence. However, my new greatest struggle seems to lie in keeping the story together when I'm 2/3 or 3/4 of the way through. In each of the four stories I've worked on in the past couple of years, this seems to be the area of the story where I face the greatest challenges. I think every writer does experience a rough spot at about this point. It is fed partly by fatigue, the need to catch a second wind to bring us in to the end point. However, I notice my stories tend to unravel, my ideas go in too many directions, and the simple becomes complex, allowing the complex to become even more complex. I need to prepare for this next time by establishing a sharp focus and using it to guide me through this portion of the draft. I don't want to change my stories every time simply because I'm now 2/3 or 3/4 through. I want to plan well enough and stay the course, so that things get easier, rather than harder, the more material I have down in writing. Maybe the rethinking at this point is unavoidable, but if I can prepare for this stage of the writing process, maybe I can minimize the interruptions and maintain the forward momentum.

Finally, another thing I've learned the past few months while looking over JASPER and my earlier completed drafts, is that I've made tremendous progress in the span of just four novels. While none has yet reached completion in the sense of a finished, polished final manuscript, they have all been written from start to finish and have all been edited at least somewhat, or extensively, including rewriting portions or the entire drafts. I've done a lot of work in the past couple of years, to be sure. My writing is now much richer, much more focused, much better paced. I'm still "just learning" and expect substantial progress over the next four novels, but the prose I am ending up with now is clearly much stronger than it was two years ago, and now at a point where I would be happy to share it with others. The point of this is not to pat myself on the back, but to take to heart the notion that I am making real and measurable progress. That, more than anything, encourages me to continue and work harder than ever.

To conclude this posting, I will now attempt to write Act III of the JASPER story using the notes made over the past month. I estimate another 15,000 words to finish the story. I'll set a goal of September 30th to achieve this. I may or may not meet that deadline, but as long as I make substantial progress within this time -- progress not in planning yet again, but in churning out useful manuscript pages -- then I'll be content. Once the draft is complete, I'll go back immediately to revise earlier portions to agree with the new plot details, and then will edit, edit, edit, to get that polished manuscript as quickly as possible. The JASPER story is entertaining, engaging, interesting -- one I would be happy to send out. I'd like to do that within this calendar year if possible.

Best wishes to other writers for their planning, re-planning, writing, and re-writing,

Adrian

Thursday, August 07, 2008

JASPER: 68K



Apparently I must have written 5k words yesterday, since the word count grew by that much. I did a little editing of the last chapter, then wrote the second chapter that I knew I needed. I finished it, and actually started on the chapter that follows that one, which means breaking fresh ground!

Yes, I'm now officially into Act III! (*loud cheer* *happy dance*)

And it's off to a great start. I ran out of time to write and literally had to DRAG myself away from the computer (no, not that sort of drag -- not my scene -- more like a forceful extrication of someone who does NOT want to leave his keyboard!). The story is literally writing itself at this point. If I can keep this up, I can charge admission to paranormal fans who want to see what it looks like when a writer channels a story from the great Unknown. Definitely, I'm on a roll.

Well, enough for the joy and elation and all that.

Back to work, as soon as I can!

Oh so eager,
Adrian

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

JASPER: 63k



It's nice to be able to report progress again! I hope I'm not shocking anybody by posting to my blog a second time within the same month. The feeling is just too good, so I thought I'd share it.

I mentioned in my last posting I have two chapters to finish before the current sequence in the JASPER novel is complete. I finished the first of these two chapters, along with some additional editing elsewhere in the sequence.

The new chapter runs a little long still, around 3800 words. Up to this point, I've kept my chapters generally in the 2500-to-3000-word range. The new chapter is solid enough that I'll leave any additional tightening for later. That will be purely an editing issue, not a story issue. I'll trim the good stuff where I can, but not because of unneeded digression--there is none. The chapter stayed on course.

I mentioned in my last posting that I had a previous draft of the chapter to draw from. Well, that version was actually twice as long as it needed to be, and it took more than shortening. I ended up rewriting it, borrowing bits and pieces here or there but substantially reworking it. It's a new chapter now, even though it draws from the flow of the previous version of it. No problem, and I love the way it comes together in the end. I've had a lot of success with building chapters to some sort of chapter-level climax. In fact, all the chapters in this novel end with a tight focus on a key story issue. It don't get much better than that! (*grin*)

As things are progressing, it's looking increasingly like my word-count estimate of 60k for the finished text, an estimate which has already grown to 72k, may soon grow to 80k. Yep. Probably 80k. That's only 20k over my original intention. Didn't miss it by much as novel-writing goes, but I'm glad I'm not the navigator for a Mars probe.

Best wishes for staying on target with your writing,

Adrian

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Progress on JASPER



This past week was an excellent one for my writing. I wish every week could be like this! I worked several hours each day on the JASPER story and the quality of the work was very gratifying. I managed a level of objectivity which is so helpful yet so hard to achieve, and even harder to maintain. I think it is a sign of growth that I was able to manage it. I hope I can hold onto it.

I browsed back over the past several posts and realized that I've been working on JASPER since late May, when I set aside the JACK & JILL story to give it more time to ferment. Somewhere along the way I lost track of time. On June 12th I described my current place in the JASPER story as the transition from Act II to Act III: it's where I'm still at! Yet so much has happened in the past couple of months. I have written, rewritten and edited so many times I've lost count. I have worked through several completely different versions of this sequence, trying out various possibilities, and worked through them all again. I simply stopped noticing how much work I was doing in the effort to get it right. I don't think I've ever worked this much on any particular sequence before, for any story.

At least I can now happily relate that I have finally tied it down. I have the version that works best, that is truly woven into the fabric of the story in the best way I can imagine. I got to it bit by bit through each of the earlier drafts which didn't work. Always some part of them did work, and by weaving these ideas and insights together, casting and recasting them, eventually I figured out just how to handle these events and move the story forward in a way that really holds one's attention, satisfies the story's needs, and comes across as genuine and authentic for the characters.

Through the rewrites, the length has grown to 60k, which was the original goal for the entire story -- I wanted this to be a shorter novel. This suggests a finished word count closer to 72k.

Although I have now settled on the final version of this current sequence, I haven't finished writing it. There are two more chapters to go before I'm done. The first one is already written but needs substantial shortening. The second is yet to be written. That chapter will bring all the previous chapters together and propel the Reader into Act III. I'm working on them even now.

Best wishes for your own clarity and progress,

Adrian



Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Pillars of Perseverance



Somewhere along the way every aspiring writer comes to the realization that writing a novel is a lot of hard work. Hopefully, this realization comes early, and the writer accepts the fact and buckles down to the task at hand. We all have our own way of managing this. Some are real troopers, writing daily no matter what. Others prefer to write when the inspiration strikes them. Unfortunately, for most of us, that is too seldom and too short-lived to allow the creation and completion of a novel in anything less than several hundred lifetimes. Somewhere between the die-hard fanatic and the casual poseur, there lies a happy, healthy balance between life, work, family, hobbies, recreation, unexpected obligations, spur-of-the-moment getaways, etc., and the hard work necessary to complete a novel within a reasonable amount of time.

Oh, and did I mention that writers are also supposed to find time to read?

Yes, writers must be informed about what is going on the in the world. It is important to read about current events, to read up on history, to research topics relevant to our writing projects, and of course to read about writing in the never-ending effort to improve and expand our professional capacity and horizons. Finally, we must also read what other writers write in order to keep abreast of what is being published, and to find examples to learn from in the case of those writers who do a darned good job of it.

Currently, I am reading THE PILLARS OF THE EARTH by Ken Follett. It was one of Oprah's Book Club selections last year. It's a well-written and engaging story, the sort of novel that makes you wish you had written it yourself. It is always inspiring to find prose that is so clear, so expressive, so focused, and which sustains this high standard for hundreds upon hundreds of pages. This is the first novel I've picked up that happened to be on Oprah's list. I had a copy of it already in German, which I had begun reading but never finished. When I saw Oprah promoting it, I remembered wanting to get back to it and finish it one day, so I decided to get a fresh English copy and see how it was meant to be experienced in the original language. Some books read better in one language or the other, for some reason. I definitely like this one in English. Perhaps the fact that it is set in England has something to do with that.

In the Preface, the author writes about how he was inspired to write this novel but then put it aside. He came back to it ten years later and then took over three years to complete the process of writing and polishing it. I recognized my own struggles in his comments, particularly where he mentions that the reason he set it aside was because he realized he was not yet able to write it. When he started out, his writing skills were not sufficient for such an ambitious project. Follett also mentions that a longer novel is much more work than three novels of shorter length. I have also read in several blogs and articles on writing that a beginning writer might find it advantageous to start out writing a shorter novel, or a few YA or children's stories, in order to get the basics of storytelling down. Everybody has to start somewhere, and a shorter or simpler project helps you gain a foothold and advance your skills toward more ambitious projects.

I chose to take this good advice last year, when I shifted from adult-level novels to YA fiction. My intention was to write a few (3-5) YA novels as a way to simplify things and gain some practical experience (as well as tell some interesting and worthwhile stories!). So far, I have been very happy with that decision, and with my progress. This approach has been particularly helpful for me because I tend to make things more complicated the longer I work on them. It's happening even now with my current project, the JASPER story. As the novel winds into the third act, it should become more focused, more driven, the momentum increasing, the expectation rising, a clear sense emerging that all that has gone before has led to this moment and that this moment is inextricably leading toward something, and not just anything, but something which was ordained from the start, and which will reward the Reader with a gratifying pay-off (and reward me, too, by the way -- I also enjoy the thrill of seeing the story pull together and end well). Nonetheless, when everything should be clear, I find myself constantly seeking new twists, new surprises, the unforeseen shift that will make the Reader (and me) gasp with surprise and awe. I still seek a deeper significance, a way to draw out the themes, a profundity that frankly oversteps the requirements or the expectations of the genre. I need to remind myself that it is only a story, and that I must finish it, and just accomplishing that much is already accomplishing more than I have accomplished previously: I have yet to send a manuscript out the door!

A work like PILLARS inspires me to carry on, to keep things in perspective, to remember that other writers have passed this way, too, on their way toward meeting their personal goals. As Follett writes in his Preface, we must write the sort of stuff that we're good at, that rings true according to our unique talents. It is sound advice to start small, acquire the skills you need, and then carry on until you reach your ultimate goals. There are many stories within us, many great stories just waiting for a chance to be written. They will be, if we persevere.

Wishing all aspiring (and published) writers progress toward their goals,

Adrian


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Update



Wow, it's been a month since I updated this blog! Shame on me. I normally post more frequently, but sometimes I guess I'm just not in the blogging mood.

I did complete the transition sequence that marked the mid-point of JACK & JILL. I revised the way the new pivotal character was introduced and things worked much better. I kept at it with tenacity and perseverance and all that sort of thing and did accomplish what I set out to do. However, once I moved into the second half of the story, I realized that I needed to set it aside for a while to let it gestate some more. I have the basic sequence of events and the basic story: the entire first draft spells it out plus the notes I wrote before and while working on that draft. However, thematically, I still sense loose ends. Already the "dream time" I'm allowing this story has helped me see some important connections between the three major characters, stuff I hadn't seen before and which I will draw out. This means a change, but only a minor tweak, yet with a significant shift in their relationships and the meaning of key events. I don't have to change the whole story, just a few details, and suddenly the big things that will happen later on take on a much deeper meaning. So, it is clear from this alone that the extra "dream time" is needed. There is more to learn still about how this plays out, the potential impact on the characters and all that sort of thing.

I also see that while this story does get rather dark, it's the nature of the story based on the few key parameters of the story. It's like a racehorse coming out of the starting gate, but from the way the gate is angled, there is only one way for the horse to run -- not on the brightly lit track, but down some dirt road that leads off into a dangerous, dark, cloudy, mysterious place. The story has to go there based on the primary tenets that define the story, and they come from the rhyme the story is based on. It all springs from the source, and unfolds as it needs to. I regret that it turns out to be a dark story, since I'm not particularly fond of dark stories or the suffering I endure in writing them, but I do feel the ending is positive enough for me to continue working on this project. Also, and most importantly, I've grown rather attached to these characters and their world and really do not want to set them or it aside. I feel this is a worthwhile novel and one I should keep at until I finish it. I have too much respect for the characters not to see it through!

So, while JACK & JILL is benefiting from a little additional "dream time" to help me keep the second half on track during the rewrite, I have shifted focus to my other WIP, the one that was moving along quite nicely until I interrupted it to write JACK & JILL back in November. That story, of course, is the first JASPER story. It has a title, but I won't share it with you since it's ultra-cool and I don't want to give it away. The main character is a boy-mage named Jasper. It's set in an entirely new world (meaning, separate from the worlds of my other stories). It's written with a sense of humor, although not specifically for laughs (at least, most of the time -- sometimes I admit there is a more direct effort at amusement over plot progression).

My recent progress on the JASPER novel has brought the word count from 28k, where it was after some editing and a little slicing, up to around 55k, in the past couple of weeks. That's pretty good progress, considering I've also gone through the newer chapters and done some editing as well, which takes time but shores up the progress. I was at the mid-point in that story, and labored on it as well some time ago, but now I am up to the next major transition point, the change from Act II to Act III. I am still in that sequence now, and as the plot has thickened unexpectedly I am having to do some work to make sure I don't let things get over-complicated (a recurring issue for me, since I tend to take things that could be simple and make them more complicated than they need to be). I'm going back now and uncomplicating things a bit, then I'll continue on with the rest of this sequence. I won't set a specific deadline but the first draft should be finished in another week or two, and then I'll do the editing and it'll be DONE.

I love that word, and hope to use it more often in the coming months.

One other note to share: I've almost finished extensive note-writing on a new novel, an original story of my own creation but whose creation was inspired by the reading of several other writers' work (see below). I guess reading their work inspired me to get creative, and when I did I came up with an interesting new story of my own. As that story developed over the past several weeks, it changed significantly. I've written over a hundred pages of notes for it, and will write many more in the coming week or two as I complete the planning. I won't share the title, since it's rather a nice one and I don't want to give it away, but I'll refer to it as . . . well, uh . . . CHASM since there are some giant gaping chasms in it, but it's not about chasms specifically, although they might serve as a symbol for the gulfs that separate people within the story. Yes, a mighty fine metaphor for social divisions. It features four major characters who share a series of adventures together. The story is allegorical, a fictional representation of some of the struggles that some of us will recognize readily and identify with from everyday life. I won't hint at what struggles, or anything else. I'll save that for a later time, but I feel the planning work on CHASM is by far my best to date. I'm learning and growing by leaps and bounds, and see that time and time again.

By the way, if you scroll down a little you'll see a posting just a few away where I mention reading excerpts from other writers' work that was posted online, both published and unpublished writers, including sample chapters of published novels and unpublished nanovels, etc. One of the writers I mentioned has just posted a comment, letting me know he is now sharing short stories on his LiveJournal site. If you get a chance, please check out his work -- I'm quite impressed by his progress over the past few years and see a lot of potential for this guy's writing career. His novel excerpts can be found here, and the one in particular that inspired me is here.

Separately, and sadly, I must note the passing of one of my dear relatives. I commented that three of my relatives had been hospitalized back in December. Two of them are much better now, but one of them has recently passed away after suffering a major stroke. This was one of my aunts, who had major health problems last year and into this year, from which she recovered, only to suffer a stroke on the day she was to be released after months of hospitalization and rehabilitation. I will always remember the times I visited with her and her family when I was little, and my visits to see her in these past months. May she rest in peace!

Best wishes to all aspiring writers,

Adrian

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

2/3 Through This Transition Step



The sequence of chapters that I've been working on for some time now, which build to and end with the mid-point of the story, are coming along! I'm glad.

This sequence, like so much in storytelling, can be divided into three parts: a beginning, middle and end. I'm 2/3 of the way through now, thanks to a combination of intensive editing and even rewriting.

The key changes center on drawing out the true motivations, feelings and reactions of the characters, and updating the way a pivotal new character is depicted when he is introduced here. He evolved during the first draft, and I needed to bring his earlier representation into line with how I know things will turn out later. Also, the extra emphasis on the thoughts of the central characters has helped in showing character development for the main character. He has to change his mind about something, and that needs to seem authentic.

The impact of these changes has been significant. The story rings true now, and feels tight. It grips you and holds you, moves you right along, which is fitting for a sequence that involves high stakes. The improvement is very noticeable and it's very gratifying to see. (Of course, this is just my opinion; I'll have to wait a while yet until I finish the editing for a beta reader to tell me whether there's any truth to it!)

What remains in this sequence is just to draw the story forward another step, refining the focus down to the point where there is the key decision by the main character which marks the mid-point of the story. Another night or two and I hope to have this finished.

After that, I will follow the existing flow of the story through the second half of the novel as laid out in the first draft, trying to edit where that will do the trick, but also rewriting entire chapters as need be. I don't see changing the basic plot in any significant way. All the changes I've made in the first half have only reinforced the existing plot line. Nothing is competing with it. Fortunately, I'm not being pulled in two directions at once with this story, as I so often have been with other stories.

I'm learning a lot about editing. I'm sure I still have much to learn, but I think finally I really am clued in to what editing should be, what it should accomplish, and how to go about it. I knew these ideas before, but after doing so much of it, I'm seeing these ideas in a whole new light. I feel I'm really "getting it" now.

I also believe that you have to write at least 500,000 words, if not a million, before you really understand how to write. I've heard quotes to that effect, and read them in a number of articles, blog postings, forums and books on writing. I'm really understanding so much more about storytelling, how the various components and parts of a story tie together, and also about language, how to structure it, pace it, develop it, nurture it along to various effects. Practice may never make perfect, but it certainly does generate a considerable improvement in quality over time!

And, again, it always comes down to enjoyment. For me, at least, that is the key. I must enjoy the process, and the results, and have a reasonable hope that Readers will enjoy the results as well. Without that, there really is no point, for me, in spending so many hours on something called fiction.

Best wishes to other aspiring writers,

Adrian

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

More Good Progress



I have been working steadily on the editing of JACK & JILL. I'm now thoroughly immersed in the detail of the first half of the story. I have gone through again and again with the cluster of chapters that mark the mid-point. Each time I make things better and better. I even went back a few additional chapters, just to see what else I could tweak, and sure enough I found a few things. Seeing that, I went all the way back to the beginning again and worked through yet another time, over stuff that had pretty well been edited to a final shine already. Just a few things here or there, but each additional change has helped tighten and improve.

What has emerged from all this work has been a new way to handle a key, pivotal character, who is introduced in this cluster of chapters that has proved so problematic. I cast him in a new light, borrowing from what I know comes later, seeding it in much earlier, right from the start. Gee, when we write first drafts, we don't have it all figured out from the get-go, do we? Hence this character evolved a bit in how I handled him, and so there is room to alter how he first appears, in order to bring it in line with the take on things that I ended up with after completing the first draft. It's working wonders.

The most essential thing, as I blogged about recently, has been to make sure the scenes are true to the characters. The whole story depends upon the thoughts and reactions of the characters. The story must be character-driven. That is, it must propel itself forward based not on external plot events, but the thoughts and reactions of the characters to their circumstances, and their efforts to move toward an outcome they desire. It's the horse before the cart, not the other way around. Some stories fail because plot takes precedence, and it always shows. If you follow the characters through the maze of events you have created for them, they will choose the path that makes the most sense for them, and it will ring true.

Anyway, sometimes I love what I've written and sometimes I hate it, but mostly I think it's good, and some of it is excellent in terms of clarity, conciseness, motivation, a constant forward momentum. Overall it's good, at least to my satisfaction. Certainly I will be quite pleased to send this manuscript out once finished, based on reasonable expectations I have about its quality as a polished final draft.

The intense editing that this first half has received over time has done wonders to tighten it. With my present understanding of the key characters, and knowing what lies in store for them, I feel very much more confident now in proceeding into the second half, albeit gradually and with much revision until they are clearly on their way. This transition is so important because it changes the story direction and moves it toward the ending, although the Reader won't see what lies so far down the road, just what it seems lies so far down the road. That's good, keeps the story from being too predictable.

Another thing I've noticed is how much more strongly I now handle the issues surrounding magic. When I first started writing fantasy, which was only a couple of years ago with THE REFLECTING STONE, a novel that remains in progress after two complete drafts, it was a bit awkward for me. I had read fantasy stories and seen the movies made from them, as well as the sagas and epics the genre draws from historically. The idea of a fantasy story, or a story with fantastic elements, including magic, was nothing new to me and something I was quite comfortable with as a reader (or viewer). However, to actually sit down and write one was another matter entirely. I felt so self-conscious about it at first. After two years of work, I am now so much more comfortable with the genre and magic in particular, which is an essential element in my stories. I'm getting much better at utilizing it as an essential element, and am having spontaneous ideas for new novels, new stories which are quite different from anything else I had ever imagined writing. I see that as a sign of growth, my new ability to explore and create within this genre. A good sign, to be sure.

Nonetheless, I am keeping my focus on JACK & JILL to finish it as quickly as I can, whenever that will ultimately prove to be, but hopefully within a couple of months, given the slow and tedious rate of the editing. I'm not concerned -- seeing the quality of the work that is resulting from this editing, I'm quite pleased to continue trudging along. The story is fun and meaningful, and anything I don't like -- well, I'm making it better day by day.

It feels good to see more good progress!

Best wishes to other aspiring writers,

Adrian

Monday, April 28, 2008

Back to Work



Last week I did manage some more work on JACK & JILL, and I'm happy to say this week is off to a good start. I find I'm still going back over the same few chapters, even though I've edited my way through them a number of times already. They form a unit together, a series of scenes that are directly related to each other and which serve as the crucial mid-point of the story -- they build to it and end with it.

My effort to rediscover my joy of writing has helped immensely. I am really hearing the characters again, and sensing their concerns, and finding the scenes vivid and meaningful as I work on them, and as I reflect on them at other times. The changes I made last week and already this week have helped focus the scenes around the real issues.

It's another one of those vase situations that I've blogged about before. You know, you find a beautiful vase and bring it home and put it on your table and marvel at how beautiful it is, yet something seems odd. Somehow, it just doesn't work. Then you discover some minor detail, some way in which it clashes with other things in the room, even thought at first glance, and second glance, it seems to go so well with them. It's an excellent vase, but not the right one.

I'm finding that I need to find exactly the right vase here, the right set of motivations, the right set of issues. The characters need to struggle over just the right things, and arrive at just the right decisions for just the right reasons, or else this section of the story will not ultimately ring true. I'm now closer than ever, and hot on the trail of that ultimate fit.

I'm happy to have that familiar feeling of being back to work. I'll work hard to keep myself moving forward, now that I'm getting something serious accomplished again.

And, most importantly, I'm enjoying it.

Wishing everyone else progress and pleasure in their work,

Adrian

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Joi d'Ecrire




Recently, I spent a little time reading excerpts from other writers' work which was posted online. This included both published and unpublished authors and works, ranging from nanovels to published books. It was very interesting. I found a link to a nanoer who has several excerpts of nanovels written over the past handful of years and I was quite impressed with how his work has evolved. His most recent novel reads quite well, and I found that it inspired me. I also found a small publisher of gay and lesbian fiction. Their site includes sample chapters and several of the excerpts I read there also inspired me.

I think what really moved me in all this was seeing how others are realizing their dream, and even with all the imperfections which I could find in the various texts, they had their own rhythm, their own flavor, their own excitement about them. The writers each had a vision, and they found a way to express that vision, and to get the job done. Since I've been in editing mode, it seems all I see are the imperfections. No work is ever "perfect". If getting started is half the battle, the other half is finishing what you set out to accomplish, warts and all. Readers won't notice the minor blemishes nearly as much as we do.

With all the stress in my life over the past few months, which has exceeded all the stress over the past few years put together, I have been very distracted and emotionally focused elsewhere. Reading these texts has reminded me of why I write: the JOI D'ECRIRE (joy of writing). I have never been one to believe in driving myself in die-hard fashion through thick and thin, writing seven days a week no matter what. I have always found when I sit down to write and have nothing to say, that whatever I write is ultimately garbage and ends up in the appropriate receptacle. For me, writing is a joy, and it should remain so. If I cannot find that joy, then I should not write. After all, in spite of the joy and the pleasure, writing is hard work, and why would anyone put themselves through that if they did not enjoy it? There are other, surer and easier ways to make a living.

I am seeking now to rekindle that joy, that excitement about stories, that spark. It is only through that joy that I would ever want to write. Writing has not become drudgery to me, but pushing on to complete a project without a sense of the joy of it cannot by definition lead to good writing, at least in my opinion, and, from what I have seen, in my work. Writing is not combat, fighting against the enemy (blank pages) with a winner-takes-all mentality. It is magic, an expression of love -- love of story, love of discovery, love of characters and places and times and events and the hope, which the Reader will share, that maybe somehow things will work out okay in the end.

A little humor helps.

Wishing each of us the joy in our writing which we require and our Readers deserve,

Adrian

Friday, April 11, 2008

It's Spring Already



I finished generating feedback for another writer on a short story. I'll summarize my feedback in an email and send it back soon. That's not progress on my own writing, but it was a helpful exercise, not only because it provides someone else with feedback, but also the process of doing that helps me to see how I react to a text in detail, how the other writer's style compares with my own, what sort of editing changes I would make, or not, etc. Hard to explain, but suffice it to say that it was an enlightening experience, an opportunity for reflection.

Otherwise, earlier this week I did edit another one of my own chapters, which is encouraging.

I'm enjoying the Spring. Hope everyone else is as well.

Adrian

Monday, March 31, 2008

CSS?



I have done a little work recently on Jack & Jill, in addition to reviewing a short story for another writer. I'm half-way done with my comments for the other writer, and still only half-done on my novel, but at least I've managed to get something writerly accomplished in the past week. I plan to continue, even at a snail's pace, which is usually not my modus operandi, but better that than no work at all on what is most important among my creative projects: my writing.

Apart from that morsel of progress, I am looking at the prospect of learning CSS in the near future. It seems Scott Marlowe's new site has inspired me to do some much-needed work on my own site. Not the blog -- I recently enhanced its presentation and am still happy with it -- but on my actual internet site, or homepage, or whatever you want to call it. I need to learn CSS as a better way to control the look of the pages, and to make changes, without having to go into each and every page and change a thousand little format instructions in HTML. CSS is a new (to me) way of doing that and it saves a lot of time -- if you know how to do it. With my progress with Java I'm emboldened to tackle CSS, which should hopefully be a little (or a lot) less daunting than Java itself.

Otherwise, I'm almost ready to start making my first Java applications. Spilling coffee down the front of my shirt regrettably does not count as a Java application, at least in this sense [boo-hiss, I know].

It's gratifying that my yearn to write is growing steadily. The creative side of me is saying, "Hey, if you can let that logical part of you do all that good work, then why not let the illogical part of you continue its good work, which it was already doing so well previously, and which is more important anyway?"

Can't argue with that logic.

I'm remembering some of the tenets of my belief in myself as a writer, ideas which I had conveniently forgotten about in order to shy away from writing. One of these tenets is, "Don't think about it, just write it". I only distract myself by thinking about my writing. It's better just to immerse myself in the stories and focus on writing them, rather than thinking about the fact that I'm writing them. Another tenet is, "This present task is only piece of a much larger puzzle." I let myself get bogged down in the specifics, and the issues surrounding this one story. I need to remember that the task at hand, and indeed this story itself, are just steps along a greater path. I need to finish this edit so I can get the story out for feedback and move on to my next writing project (probably finishing the Jasper story). I need to finish both of these stories so I can get back to the STONE novel, and then the ISLE novel, and then on to other novels. Can't let myself spend too much time in one place. Gotta keep on keepin' on. Get a move on.

Tally ho,

Adrian

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Scott Marlowe's Impressive New Site



I wanted to offer a plug for Scott Marlowe's impressive new site: ScottMarlowe.com. If you haven't checked it out, you should!

Scott's old site is still up, but he launched a new site not long ago and raised the bar. It's a very professional-looking site for a serious, aspiring fantasy writer.

May the arrival of Spring inspire those of us who need to get back to our writing,

Adrian

Thursday, March 20, 2008

My Brain Hurts!



I don't know if it's technically plausible or not, but my brain actually hurts these days. I've been working very hard for a couple of weeks now on one of my creative projects and it has me floored, or spinning in circles, or whatever effect it's having. If my "instances" hint in my last comment wasn't enough of a tip-off, I'll share that one of my creative projects involves learning to write computer programs in Java. This is purely as a hobby, a leisure-time pursuit, but also a means to an end -- there are some simple programs that I very much want to write.

In spite of the cold, hard, inhuman logic of it all, programming is actually a very creative activity. It's also a real challenge. Anyone who has ever struggled to make sense out of something they call object-oriented programming will know that it's a bit confusing for someone who knows absolutely nothing about it. I'm very proud of the progress I've made. I'm already close to where I need to be to begin work in earnest on my first project, so that's a lot of progress in picking up this difficult material in a very short, if grueling and painful, time.

I think whenever we devote our minds to some organized study of something, we glean from that a sense of the underlying structure or system of whatever we are studying. We force a certain logic into our thinking, and it helps us see the logic in other things, too. Anytime I study anything complex, in a serious and protracted effort, I always feel more "logical" myself afterward. The effect is only temporary, but it is very interesting to experience.

I have to ask myself whether the short-term benefit of all this hard work is worth the pain incurred. I won't know for sure until I write my first Java program. I also won't know for sure until I return to writing, and see whether I think I'm thinking more logically in some sense, able to see the complex system which is a novel, its many interrelated parts interwoven and, well, interrelated, with some greater depth of understanding due to the imposition of another system of logic. Is there a carry-thru? I think there is.

For a long time people said if you study Latin you will learn to think more clearly, or be more smarter, or speak English better, or whatever. I think that is true, even if it isn't. My other significant creative project at this time is learning Ancient Greek. I chose Attic Greek, the language of the Classical era in Athens, as opposed to Homeric Greek, which predates it, or Koine Greek, which follows it. I have a terrific book to study from and I'm enjoying immensely the exposure to this tangible piece of the reality of that long-ago world. If a study of systems is of any benefit to the mind, then learning both Ancient Greek and Java programming at the same time ought to qualify me for a discount on my next purchase of a scientific calculator, at the very least (I have never purchased a scientific calculator because I am not very scientific, but with my brain bulging with organized thoughts, I might become more scientific in the future).

All of which leads me back to the brain-related impact of this logical effort. Since I am so into logic right now, my creative side is feeling, well, rather neglected. The whole "arts and humanities" side of me is reeling from disuse. Just the other day the creative part of me threatened to sue the logical side of me for wanton neglect. It's not something I take lightly, that part of me that cares. The other part, the reckless, adventurous side, refuses to worry about it and urges me to carry on with wild abandon, learning all I can about loops and class declarations and public access, about declensions and verb stems and theme vowels, about GUI's and passing methods and operands, not to mention the dual, the aorist or the vocative.

That tiny portion of me that is left in between this struggle wishes with utmost sincerity that my brain would stop hurting, that my foray into logic would wind gracefully to an end, and my heart would be allowed to sing again as I merrily produce the sort of emotion-laden fiction that, well, makes my heart sing.

And all this because I'm getting too close to a finished product. Yes, I think I got into these projects as a way of distracting myself because I don't feel ready to actually finish a novel yet, as silly as that sounds. I have to learn to step out of the way and let the part of me that wants to be a writer pass through and become that writer.

int confidence = 10;
int apprehension = 100;
int diversion = 0;
boolean ready = false;
if (confidence < apprehension) {
diversion++;
confidence = diversion;
}
if (confidence >= apprehension) {
ready = true;
}

Wishing us a peaceful Easter in all parts of the world,

Adrian

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Working Hard ... On Other Things!



I've been working very hard since my last posting, but not on my writing! I did a little more with it, but I've been very preoccupied with two other projects that have been long in coming, and much expected. The timing seems to work for them. Perhaps because they are providing me with a thorough distraction from my writing. In any event, I am working very hard again with my creative time, just not on my story. Perhaps this is good in that at least I am back to hard work, and momentum, etc. This will carry back to the story once these other projects get to a point where I need to slow the pace. I think this hard work will stimulate me to continue the flow of hard work once my creative energies cycle around again to writing. I've been trying, and it's on-again, off-again. Perhaps I realize I'm getting closer now to an actual finished product (manuscript), and that scares me.... I must have some reason to work so hard at avoiding my story! I had other distractions, but at this point I should be hard at work on it.

I won't worry about it, though. I am happy to be working hard, and I think my theory is a good one -- this hard work will pay off by putting me firmly back in hard-work mode, and as soon as I get back to the story in earnest, I'll already have the pace and momentum of hard work to carry me along. Now, I just need the focus, when I'm ready for it. In the meantime, these other two projects are incredibly satisfying to be working on. They're not writing projects, but they are creative projects that are very engrossing and exciting to me.

I love being vague, if that's not clear enough already.

Wishing everyone else the progress on their novels that I should be making on mine, and I'll catch up before long, really,

Adrian

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Excellence Award



Something unexpected and very pleasant came my way. Writerwoman has bestowed my blog, Chronicling the Novel, with the following auspicious award:


Thanks, Writerwoman! That really made my day. Since good news is best shared, I'm supposed to nominate others to receive this award. The actual number I'm supposed to nominate is higher, but I'll shorten it to only three, which makes it more special. Here are three blogs of excellence, focusing on other aspiring writers:

Living the Writer's Life

The Lost Fort

Pendrifter

Congratulations one and all!

Adrian

Some Significant Progress



Within the past few days I managed to substantially rewrite most of Chapters 9 and 10. The same basic events occur, but I needed to draw out questions/issues that were of concern to the main characters, Jacques and Giel. There was a lot of tension that was building over all the previous chapters, and they had stuff on their minds, and the situations they found themselves in presented them with opportunities to raise those questions/issues and seek some answers. I had touched on this stuff lightly, but needed much more focus on the main story questions, since this is now leading in to the mid-point and it all comes together with a decision that Jacques must make. The new version is much stronger and more directly connected to the rest of the story. I'm very happy with it. Now, just need to ride this out to the mid-point to complete this transition sequence, then it's on to the new, as-of-yet unedited material of the second half.

It feels good to have made some progress!

I'll also mention that some of the other research I'm doing these days involves philosophy, ancient Greece and Ancient Greek. Perhaps the blogs of certain historical fiction writers have inspired me.... ;-) Unrelated to those topics, I've also conceived of a new novel I'd love to write. It is definitely "high concept" and would make a great best-seller and film version, not that I'm seeking to write only for commercial reasons -- my writing is my art, a way to take my life and experience and seek meaning in it and all that sort of thing. But it's fun to realize I've got a really cool, potentially hot idea.

So, the inspiration is there again. Now I just need to buckle down. I think that part is harder, since I know how much work I do when I'm writing and taking a break from all that is such a naughty pleasure in itself. Perhaps Janet Jackson's new album will inspire me. [Disclaimer: The preceding was a joke, it was only a joke, and nothing other than a joke.]

Wishing everyone the discipline they need to get things done,

Adrian

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Making Progress



Thanks to those who shared their comments to my last posting. I do appreciate your kind words of support.

It has felt like the doldrums, where sailors loathe to sail, that place where you have your sails at the ready yet no wind rises to greet them. Patience is the key. Eventually the currents themselves will cause you to drift to a better place, a place where there is a breeze, and before long that breeze will lead you to better seas and stronger winds.

I have not worked on my writing nearly as much as I had intended, but I have kept it in mind, and have spent the time whenever I could manage it. I am still editing JACK & JILL and the results are positive. The first half of the novel now reads very smoothly and is nearly finished, except for any minor polishing that may yet occur to me. I feel much more confident about the story overall, and just need to press on to complete this work, which with any reasonable effort could well be done in 2-3 weeks.

I am seeing the light at the end of the tunnel where this difficult time is concerned. I'm feeling a little traction, and a sense of hope again that I'll actually get fully back into the swing of things. It just takes me time sometimes to rebuild that focus which is so essential to my work: the more utterly it's lost, the more effort it takes to recapture it. I'm making progress and the editing work continues. I'm beginning to feel the joy again, and the excitement, associated with my writing. I want to cultivate these feelings and others which will lead me back into the swifter currents. The breezes are tugging at my sails even now.

To help things along I've been reading and researching, finding much enjoyment and food for thought.

Wishing us all progress and satisfaction with our work,

Adrian


Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy V-Day!



Wishing visitors to my blog a Happy Valentine's Day!

It's been longer than usual since my last posting. I'll update you....

Back in December some unfortunate things happened, affecting the health and well-being of three of my relatives. These were separate and unrelated events, but they happened one after the other. All three ended up in the hospital, including stays in shock-trauma and intensive care. The last of them has just now been released from the hospital. In all three cases, there was a concern that things were, or might have become, life-threatening. To say the least, this terrible string of unfortunate events really threw me for a loop. It caused such a significant interruption to the routine of things that I found myself far too distracted to maintain the creative flow and focus necessary to keep up with my work. Not to mention on top of all this there was the holiday season as well! Anyway, it took until mid-January for the dust to settle, and until now for things to finally get more or less back to normal.

This past week I have finally been working again on my writing, something I have longed to do throughout these many weeks but have simply not had the focus I need to be productive with. I dabbled at it here or there, but could never get anywhere with it. Instead, I used the creative time to read and catch up on some other projects. It turned into another of my "creative breaks" where I seek to feed the soul and replenish the well-spring. Over time, and with the improving conditions of all three family members, I have found my way back to where I was before all this happened.

So, at this point, I am happy that everyone is doing well, and I am back to work and have been for a week already. I am still editing JACK & JILL and it is going well. I like the story, and feel after rereading the entire manuscript that I do NOT have to make significant changes. I'll keep the story as it is -- it works. I just need to continue editing for clarity, to increase focus on scene goals and complications (which helps to raise suspense), and to fill in little tidbits that keep it smoothly flowing. I am reluctant to set any goals at this time as I don't want to invite another series of disasters, but with any luck I'll manage to keep the flow going and should be done with the edit in the next 2-4 weeks (end of February or by mid-March).

After that, I'll get back to the JASPER story to finish it off, and will invite Beta Reader comments on each, do any additional editing, and start sending this two stories out. And then it's back to work on THE REFLECTING STONE and/or whatever else, depending on where my interests lie at that time.

Glad to be back at work, and glad to have the stresses off my shoulders. Glad things worked out for all concerned.

Wishing everyone else focus and productive writing time,

Adrian