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Archive for August, 2010

I’m approaching the half-way mark on the second draft of MAGE STORM.  It’s going really well, so far.  I had a lot of fun writing a scene where the main character gets attacked by a griffin.  But the pace is about to slow down.

I’m at the point, now, where I need to start building the conflict with the antagonist.  This is where using a single point of view is making things difficult.  In other books, by this time I would have introduced two or three scenes from the antagonist’s point of view.  That makes it easy to show what the antagonist wants and what he’s willing to do to get it.  This one is entirely from the point of view of the main character, so I can’t do that.  It’s posing a bit of a problem.

I can work in the antagonist’s motivation, but not for several more chapters.  The antagonist isn’t going to monologue in front of the main character (who he thinks he has duped), so the only way the protagonist can find out about it is from a third character who knew the antagonist way back when.  That character won’t be introduced for three or four more chapters.  Meanwhile, the antagonist just has to be a confusing and occasionally menacing presence.  Well, for at least another chapter or two, before something happens that strips the mask away.  Even then, the main character won’t understand why the antagonist would do something like that.  Of course, that inability to understand can be used to make the antagonist just that much more scary for a while, so it’s not altogether a bad thing.

This, unfortunately, is probably going to take more than this draft to get really right, but it’s really necessary for this story to work.

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Yesterday, I finally got back to MAGE STORM.  I know, I know, I said back to new writitng.  But there’s so much material that needs to be added in the second draft, it’s really more new writing than revisions. 

So far, in fact, I’m pretty happy with everything that I wrote in the first draft.  The first couple of pages have gotten good responses on the new David Farland’s Writers’ Groups, so I think I’m on the right track.  There are just a number of places that need to be expanded, which is almost the same as writing the first draft, except this time I have a much more detailed structure to work in.  That’s what I’m focusing on in this draft.

  1. I need to expand the main character’s journey a little at the beginning.  He needs a few more adventures before he arrives at what he thinks is his destination.  This will give him a reason to be glad to get there and not notice that there’s something fishy for a couple of days.  It will also give me a chance to foreshadow the existence of certain creatures in this world so they don’t just pop out of nowhere in the last third of the book.
  2. I need to spend more time developing the friendships between the main character and his sidekicks. 
  3. I really need to spend more time developing the antagonist, his menace, and his motives.  I know what they are.  I need to put it in the story.  This is typical for me between the first and second drafts.  I almost always concentrate on the main character in the first draft and neglect his opposition.  The antagonist gets better treatment in the second draft.
  4. I think I need to spend a little more time with the mentor character, too.  I just have to do it in a way that doesn’t slow down the plot too much.
  5. I need to bring out the inherent conflict that remains in the falling action after the climax.  It’s there.  It gets resolved.  I just haven’t fully developed it in the first draft.

So, that’s mostly new writing, even if it is a second draft.

Meanwhile, I’m continuing revisions on DREAMER’S ROSE (which may end up getting recast into a YA novel, too) and THE IGNORED PROPHECY, as well as one of my short stories.

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This post is likely to grow throughout the next day or two as I have time and inspiration.

  1. My favorite author is Lois McMaster Bujold.  Her kind of storytelling, her damaged protagonists who have to overcome their own limitations as well as the external obstacles–that’s the kind of story I want to be able to write when I grow up.  Well, I could do a lot worse than as a role model than a multiple Hugo and Nebula award winner, right?
  2. I am a dyed-in-the-wool animal lover, although I do exclude things with six or more legs.  I’ve been known to rescue lizards and birds.  You tend to get funny looks when you arrive and say “Sorry I’m late.  I had to rescue a lizard.”  It’s bad enough that when it came to the place in THE IGNORED PROPHECY where I intended to kill off one of the dogs, I couldn’t do it.  It was harder than killing a character. 
  3. This is on my “About Me” page, but I’ll put it here, too.  My sport and therapy is dog agility.  It’s a sport where your dog is your team mate.  The human is intended to be the leader of the team.   (Corgis are bossy dogs by nature and sometimes that position is disputed.  I am still the only one that can read the course map, though.)  My job is to help the  dog run an obstacle course, composed primarily of things the dog has to climb over, jump over, or run through.  The obstacles all have to be performed correctly and in the right order, within a time limit.  Dogs run off leash and the handler may not touch the dog or the obstacles.  All of the instructions are communicated by voice and body language.  It’s a heck of a lot of fun for both me and the dogs.  You should see the grin my older girl gets when we play.  (Corgis are also a breed that needs a job.  Agility works very well and it helps keep them in shape, too.)
  4. Greatest time wasters that keep me away from writing:  Obsessively checking my e-mail, forums, web comics, and blog statistics.  (Sad, really sad.)  Playing stupid (and old) computer games.  Not even the new, hot ones.  Reading, when I’m into a really good book (not the case right now).
  5. When my evenings aren’t as messed up as they currently are, I frequently embroider while watching television.  Otherwise, television has a tendency to put me to sleep.  About half the time, I design my own embroidery patterns.  Almost everything that is hanging on the walls of this house has been embroidered by me.
  6. There’s a harp in my closet.  Not the kind you see in the orchestra.  That’s a pedal harp.  Mine’s neo-Celtic, which means it’s patterned after the celtic harps, but it has monofilament strings instead of gut and has been updated with sharping levers.  (Sharping levers do essentially the same thing pedals on the big orchestra harp do.  They allow you to change the length, and therefore the pitch of individual strings.  This is to mimic, as closely as the harp is able, the white and black strings of the piano, so it’s possible to play more modern music.)  I haven’t actually played the harp in a while.  In fact, not seriously since my father died.  That’s almost eleven years ago.  It’s time.  I’ve lost the calluses on my fingers.   Here’s a resolution (and it’s not even New Year’s), I’m going to take that harp out, tune it, and play at least a couple of carols this Christmas.  How’s that?
  7. I garden organically.  Although, around here, gardening could be classified more as sticking my finger in the dike than anything you’re likely to see in one of those glossy gardening magazines.  The yard’s just too big for one person to take care of, unfortunately.

There.  That’s seven.  Later on, I’m going to move this post to my About Me page.

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Versatile Blogger award

Versatile Blog AwardAnn, of the Shadows in Mind blog has awarded me the Versatile Blogger Award.  Thank you, Ann.

According to Ann, this comes with the following responsibilities:

  1. Thank the one who gave me the award.
  2. Share seven things about myself.
  3. Present the award to 15 other bloggers.
  4. Drop by and share my appreciation with those others.

I’ve already thanked Ann.  I’ll get to the rest in future blogs.

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Endings

The stereotype is of the writer sitting in front of a typewriter–or computer, now–with Chapter One at the top of the page and no idea what to put next.   I usually have a pretty good idea of where the story starts before I sit down.  Of course, sometimes that beginning changes in the later drafts, but it doesn’t usually move very far on the timeline. 

Actually, for me at least, endings seem to be harder than beginnings.  Of course, I also know how the story ends before I start.  Not as precisely, though.  There’s that bit of denoument in a novel, after the main conflict is resolved.  A chapter or so that shows the characters settling into their new equilibrium.  I’m often surprised by what they decide to do with their freedom once the battle is over.

One problem I know I have is that sometimes at the end I’m just not quite hard enough on my characters.  I’ve been (hopefully) torturing them physically and/or emotionally for 100,000 words or so and I start to feel like they deserve a break.  Right at the time when it should be at its worst.  See, by the time I’ve spent a novel or two with my characters, I tend to like them and I want them to be happy.   I’ve done that in early drafts of a couple of novels and then had to fix it in the second or third draft.  Of course, as long as it gets fixed, it just becomes one of those things that I need to know I’m going to have to look for in those drafts and no harm done.

The problem has come up, differently and for different reasons, in a couple of short stories, too.  The complaint I’ve gotten there is that the protagonist isn’t doing enough to resolve the problem of the story on his or her own.  In one of those short stories, “Mage Storm” (the short story that sparked my latest novel), I think the criticism is fair.  After all, it turned out that there was a lot more to the story.   I did change the ending of the short story to make the main character more responsible for what happens to him, though.  It’s more of a choice, now.   

In my latest short story, well, that one’s more a journey than centered around an event.  The central conflict is self-discovery.  Yes, another character holds some key information that unlocks that knowledge, but it’s still the protagonist who has to learn and accept it.  I’ll have to go back and try to make that more clear.

Thing is, if you don’t have a satisfying ending, you don’t really have a story.

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What I call knee-jerk critiques occur when a critiquing partner has just internalized one of the “rules” of good writing.  You can tell when this has happened because every third or fourth comment is the same.  “Avoid -ly adverbs.”  “Watch out for said bookisms.”  “You’ve used passive voice.  Make it active.” 

I put the word rules in quotation marks above because, while these guidelines represent best practices to a large extent, there isn’t one that hasn’t been broken to good effect in the right circumstances.  Barring basic grammar and spelling, of course.

It is always better to use a strong verb instead of a weaker verb and an adverb.  “Strolled”, “ambled”, or “trudged” convey more than “walked slowly”, but not all adverbs are necessarily the work of the devil.  Used sparingly, they still have a place. 

Contrary to the rule above (just to show that there always is an exception), it is almost always better to use “said” or “asked” in dialog tags, rather than the stronger verbs like “whispered”, “screamed”, “commented”, “suggested”, “whined”, etc.   In this case, you don’t want to keep the tag simple so that it doesn’t detract from the dialog.  Then again, sometimes the fact that the character is whining might be the point and more important than what they’re saying.

Passive voice is my least favorite because half the time the segment that’s marked by the critiquer isn’t even in passive voice.  It might be in, say, past perfect tense, but that’s not passive voice.  And again, while I recognize that active voice is more interesting, I might choose to subliminally emphasize my character’s helplessness in a situation by using passive voice for a short section.

The only problem with these knee-jerk critiques is that after a while they generate so much white noise that it’s hard to sort out the valuable comments.   

It’s a fine line.  Like anyone else, I’m capable of slipping back into bad habits and, say, using a said bookism when I didn’t intend to.  I appreciate having that pointed out to me.  But I guess you only need to point out the same thing just so many times in any one critique.  Too much, even of a good thing, can be distracting.

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This is what I’m wrestling with right now.  THE IGNORED PROPHECY is intended to be the second in a series (of four, hopefully).  However, I very much want it (and all of them) to stand on its own.  That requires a very delicate balance.  I need to give the reader enough background to understand how the characters got where they are now, how they know each other and relate to each other, and establish the milieu all over again.  All without sounding like an info dump or slowing the story down too much.  Piece of cake, right?

It was easier in THE SHAMAN’S CURSE.  I had a handful of characters, basically a nuclear family, with only one or two exceptions, to start.  All the other characters got introduced as my point-of-view character met them.  Simple.  Now, I’ve got all these characters–and I mentioned in an earlier post that there are quite a few–and I have to reintroduce them with enough information for the reader to go on with, but not so much that I stop everything every time a “new” character turns up.

Last pass, I clearly had way too many characters introduced in the first chapter.  Some of that was unnecessary.  Just because I know they’re there doesn’t mean they have to make and appearance.  I’ve cut that back.

I’ve added a little reflection by the main character to hopefully give the reader some understanding of how he got where he is now.  I’ve tried not to make it too long or an info dump, but only a reader will be able to tell me that for sure.

Now, I’ve still got to work in how the main character is related to various groups in the story and show a little more depth of the world-building.   Oh, and there are still several characters I need to do a better job introducing. 

This is nowhere near as easy as it sounds–and it never sounded easy.

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