Woot, woot!

Another honorable mention in the Writers of the Future contest, this time for ‘the Test’, the story that I mentioned I’d quite liked and been disappointed it wasn’t picked up for the anthology it was written for. Nice to get a bit of writing encouragement in a period of ‘mucky middle’ writing! (for StoneDragon)

I also just finished the Red Rising series by Pierce Brown and found myself incredibly inspired. What a great series, and a wonderful afterword in the third book where he compares writing to building a skyscraper, with all the hard work and angst involved, and then tells writers that the world needs their skyscrapers.

I don’t know if the world needs mine, but it certainly encourages me to keep building. Thanks Pierce!

____________________

I set the image to be my brain with an uzi. Cause I haven’t seen it in a while and think it’s funny. :)

The Holy Trinity of Writing

I can tell you the Holy Trinity of Writing.

But it may not help. 😀

Because execution is very hard, page as I can tell you from experience. But I think it’s still useful to know what you’re aiming for. A challenging map may be hard to follow, treatment time-consuming and frustrating, this but it’s still better than no map at all!

So where did this idea originally come from, to share credit where due?

I was watching TV a year or so ago, and I saw an interview with writer/ director Christopher Nolan on making Inception (I’m reasonably sure this is where the idea came from, at least). In the interview, Mr. Nolan talked about the necessity, and challenge, of a screen-writer having to put themselves into three completely separate mind-sets, or roles, while making a movie. I believe it’s exactly the same in writing a book.

Those three roles are:

1. God of the Story

The plot structure has to be well-structured, for the right events to happen in the right order, to create desired impact of tension and emotion. Mr. Nolan appears, from online interviews, to do this more through plot diagrams than a written outline. (“What I do is draw a lot of diagrams — particularly if there’s sort of a structural complexity. I’ll kind of stick stuff all over my walls.”*) But whatever the tool or execution, the god-like control of events has to be there, for effective story unveiling.

2. The Character Experiencing Events.

To write well about and consistently about the story, to have people subjectively and emotionally relate to the characters on the page or screen, you have to make them react and behave consistently, relatably. To do that, you need to put your mind in their body and understand what it would be like to actually experience the events that you put into motion during #1.

3. Your Audience, Reading for the First Time.

It is difficult, but even though you acted as the God of your story, then the Character of your story, you then have to wipe all that out of your mind and experience the story as if you’ve never seen it before, to make sure that your audience has the experience that you’re intending them to. This seems to match the concept of putting a work in the ‘freezer’ for a few months after you’ve written it, or gaining a fresh set of eyes for a story that you wrote a year or two before, and couldn’t originally see its flaws. This happens to me all the time, in both art and writing. Right after you finish something, it’s extremely difficult to see it objectively. It is one of the reasons, if you do want to put something out into the world fast, that a Beta reader, who is interested in your genre, is so important. Not necessarily even another writer, but someone who can tell you what works or doesn’t for them.

So now you know the secret of success. Let me reiterate, it is by no means easy to execute well. So best of luck to both of us!

Adrian.

 

*Source:

_______________________________

I’m feeling healthy, for a change, work has slowed down, and the kids are only marginally all-consuming. I’m feeling creatively restless as a result, a bunch of projects on the go, and I haven’t done much with them the last couple of months. Including blog posts and art. So here is one blog topic that I really think is important and not often discussed, and if I can ever truly master this, I think it will take me really far (if I ever have time to create stuff!) :) Spring is here, enjoy!

The artwork is a quick charcoal and pencil sketch, more of a concept piece, that I think would look pretty cool in watercolor. If I ever have time to do stuff. :) Have I mentioned my challenges along this line?

Chase Your Character Up a Tree

chased up a tree

 

_________________________________

I sat through a few episodes of Master Ink, which I’d never seen before, as some diversion as I coloured this. I find I can listen to a TV show and let my hand and the back of my brain work, which is very different than when I write. Interesting. And it was interesting to see an art-related reality TV show. Fun.

Anyway, I might do more of these (Writing Rule cartoons) if there is interest and I find I like the look of it later. Might tweet it too, use some of my new social media skills. :)

First draft of the fantasy short story now done, a little less than 4,000 words. Will polish it up and post to OWW, see what people think…

Footprints in the Waves, or Books that I Remember

Most of what I read is simply entertainment, a way for me to keep my mind busy and amused, as I get bored easily. I read voraciously and often don’t think back on a book once I’m done, even if I enjoyed it. But there are some books that I’ve both enjoyed and thought about afterwards, usually leading me to read it more than once. I thought that it might be interest for me to take a minute to examine that list, the books that bubble to the top of my mind even today—years after I read most of them–and think why that is. This is not a ‘best book’ list, although you could use it that way, but rather the books that (at least for me) didn’t disappear from my memory, like footprints in the waves. It will be interesting to see if this exercise helps guide me in consciously finding the themes and elements that I found to be meaningful in other people’s stories.

And if not that, it’s still a decent ‘best book’ list. 😉

So here it goes (in no particular order):

  • The Magic of Recluce, LE Modesitt Jr (Fantasy). Builds slowly. Character is more talented at magic than he realizes, the story is big scale, but with considerable time spent on the main character’s attention to detail and good craftsmanship (interestingly, in woodcraft, which I spent some of my youth working at as well), that ultimately leads to him earning his success. One caution: I haven’t reread this in years, and some of the reviews comment on an over-abundance of detail. Honestly not sure what my reaction would be today. I may re-read it , just to find out. :)
  • The Belgariad Series, David Eddings. (Fantasy) I’m not alone on this one, obviously. The series was huge. Cool magic concept (one of the stated reasons that Eddings wrote it was to explore the concept of the Will and the Word, which was an original idea). Plus, epic. Great humor in the dialogue (I’m thinking Silk and Barak). And touches of wisdom here and there, from different characters. Touch of romance.
  • Dragonsong, Anne McAffrey. (Fantasy) Underdog, lonely, special talent (music and attraction for small dragons), who has people amazed with her talent, but works hard to get it. Great world-building, cool premise of dragons and people living as allies. Touch of romance. Isolation and talent. (Apparently McAffrey studied music herself, in her youth)
  • Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card (Science Fiction). Special abilities (intelligence, martial talent), cool concept (originally a short story), and a cool twist (although this was not what drew me back). An audience won over and admiring, despite overwhelming odds of success, but a lonely struggle, and earning success with small and difficult victories.
  • The Hyperion Cantos Series, Dan Simmons (Science Fiction, Hugo winner). Cool question of the Shrike and its motives. Question revealed at the end, with a cool but logical answer. Have to admit, this story question was a major draw, so I have less urge to revisit the series than some of the others on the list.
  • The Fionavar Tapestry Series, Guy Gavriel Kay (Fantasy). Beautiful language (Mr. Kay was originally a real poet and you can feel the care in his wording). Magic. Sacrifice. And Epic, with tie-in to Arthurian legends, which I enjoyed. Touch of romance.
  • The Player of Games, Iain Banks (Science Fiction, Hugo winner). Cool abilities (intelligence and game playing prowess), cool premise, epic scale (in game and without), a limited understanding of implications of the game, a difficult struggle to master it, earning success, and the respect of people for winning. (Echoes of Ender’s Game here, in themes if not in content, which is interesting to think upon.)
  • Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny (Fantasy/ Science Fiction), a book about space-faring people masquerading as Hindu gods, with godlike powers, and a rebel in their midst. Cool abilities, underdog, struggle to keep to a moral code.
  • The Black Company Series, Glenn Cook (Fantasy). Gritty, magic, underdogs with underestimated power, bring down arrogant bad guys. Some hint of ‘knights in rusty armor’, but realistic. Epic.
  • The Garrett PI Series (especially the earlier books), Glen Cook (Fantasy). I know, two series in a row by him, but they’re completely different. These are quirky fantasy detective stories, more standalone. Beaten down detective, ‘knight in rusty armor’, cool idea of a god-like room-mate with big limitations and very sarcastic humor.
  • The Tiger and Del Series, Jennifer Roberson (Fantasy). Man and women swordsmen, tension between them on who’s best. Grew from a short story. Ice and Fire. Sacrifice, love, pride, world exploration, past being battled and conquered. Humor. Some touch of romance.
  • Sherlock Holmes Series, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. (Detective) (I know, not fantasy, but so cool). Mystery, abilities (intellect, deduction), dark mood. A slight touch of the ‘knight in rusty armor’, being on the side of the good guys despite a cynical and realistic word view.
  • The Man called Noon, Louis L’Amour (Western). Famous western writer, and for good reason. Cool premise of amnesia in the midst of a deadly conflict (similar to The Bourne Identity, Robert Ludlum, also a great book). Deadly past, unclear moral compass, mystery even to character, overwhelming odds, hard decision to follow his morals. Touch of romance.
  • The Kate Daniels Series, Ilona Andrews (Fantasy). Cool abilities, dark and deadly past chasing her, underdog, outnumbered, cool world building. Slightly heavier touch of romance.
  • The Dresden Files Series, Jim Butcher (Fantasy). Cool abilities (very powerful magically). Dark and painful past to earn it. Struggles to hold to his moral code. Earns his success (I liked when he built the statue of Chicago), imperfect, outnumbered, struggles to earn his success.
  • Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien (Fantasy). Obvious, but it still has to be said. The archetype for generations after. Epic. Sacrifice, holding to morals, outnumbered. Especially Aragorn, mysterious past, earning followers and proving his abilities. Hidden deadly talents. Stepping forward against overwhelming odds.
  • Hunger Games Series, Suzanne Collins (Fantasy). Cool world building and concept, game that is more than a game, sacrifice, cool abilities (archery, subtle mind), overwhelming odds, sticking to moral code. Inspiring people at the end. Touch of romance.
  • Magician Series, Raymond Feist (Fantasy). What I remember especially is when Pug crosses worlds, loses his memory and does the water bucket exercises, earning his way to becoming a great black magician, holding magic of two worlds. Cool abilities, epic, defying odds.
  • Legend, David Gemmell (Fantasy). A deadly past, underestimated and cool abilities (axe fighter and sword fighter), underdogs, overwhelming near hopeless odds, lots of action, inspiring people, holding to moral code.
  • Wolf in Shadow, David Gemmell (Fantasy). Cool abilities (gunslinger), deadly past, struggling to follow his moral code in fallen world, haunted by his killing of  a small child, struggle to follow the right path afterwards.
  • The Saga of Pliocene Exile Series, Julian May (Fantasy/ Science Fiction). Cool abilities, cool premise (time travel/ maybe aliens). Some interesting twists and characters.

Pop Quiz:

For bonus points, I’m going to include some stories that I know were favorites when I was younger, but can’t for the life of me remember the titles to. Some of these are very old and not necessarily best sellers, so for people looking for quality off the beaten track, these could be worth a read (if we ever figure it out, and they’re still available). Your clues are:

  1. A series (3 books or so), science-fiction, around a unique soldier. In one book it’s revealed that he was one of (something?)-kids, children who were found in space with unique abilities. He restores old spaceships in one book, turns a derelict outpost into a thriving repair station. That book builds slowly, shows strong morals, earning success, underdog, outnumbered, inspiring followers, and cool hidden abilities (talents of assassination, strength, reflexes). I think he had gold eyes, and a disconcerting gaze.
  2. A series (3 books or so), science fiction, where an assassin is cloned and brought back to do a very difficult mission. The first book reveals that the first clone (a twenty year old) died for being rash, so they resurrected the thirty year old. At the end of that book, he fakes his own death, so the following book is a clone created that is even older, to get more wisdom. Cool concept. Outnumbered. Cool abilities (legendary assassin, cold, smart). Has a twisted but strict moral code of his own.
  3. A Bard Series, fantasy, where the main character is a hook hand druid with more than human powers and enemies. I never did find book three, although I watched out for it for years. I think it might have not been North American. Maybe Irish? Dark magic. Touches of ‘rusty knight’, if I remember correctly.
  4. One book, fantasy, where a brother sets out to a distant land, after the death of his brother. I think for a merchant family. He had a pet mongoose as a child, which ties into the finale as part of a magic battle. I remember, as one detail, that the main character was imprisoned and tortured, which I don’t think was too graphic, but still stuck in my memory as an unusual plot turn.

Good hunting! :)

_______________________

One side note, it strikes me as interesting that so many of these books have a fairly cool premise, rather than just relying on strong writing and powerful themes. Which seems to support my post: Professional Riders Don’t Ride Fat Ponies. :)

This image is a smaller section of an Angels and Devils war picture I did in my teen years, which I still think is pretty cool in composition and effect, even if some of the details aren’t as polished as I could do now. And admittedly it’s a bit dark. I may post the bigger image in its entirety, but I haven’t taken a good picture of the larger piece yet. Prismacolor pencils.

Roses are red, violets are blue–Is that an axe that’s stuck in you?

Poetry and fantasy novels. Jim Butcher and Dr. Seuss. Have they got anything in common–other than Tolkien’s rambling poems and songs (which, I admit, I still skip, despite reading ‘Lord of the Rings’ a dozen times)? I claim yes.

Full disclosure: This post is different than others I’ve written so far, in that I’m still figuring out my opinion on it. Not so much on the value of the technique, which I’m convinced has some value, but rather the trade off between the ‘value add’ and the ‘time spent’, which isn’t inconsiderable, and an important consideration for a commercial writer. But I’ve found this topic only marginally explored in my pile of Writing Craft books, so maybe my ramblings are of interest. And if I’m overlooking an authoritative source for this topic, please mention in the comments!

To bring it back to writing, this post is about ‘voice’. And the benefit that basic poetry skills can bring to it. If you haven’t yet recoiled in horror at the topic, from a horrible memory of an ancient English teacher with massive jowls and knuckles like a fifty-year-old boxer, let me backtrack. :)

First, about me. Growing up, I had two creative outlets: a love of art and a love of fantasy and science fiction novels. I read Anne McCaffrey, Orson Scott Card, and David Eddings, along with many lesser known names. And I spent hours in my parent’s basement, drawing and coloring the type of images you see on the site. Some kind of dark. I’m sure my parents were thrilled. :)

When I was older, and looking to get back into the arts, it occurred to me that I could combine my interest in writing and art in the field of picture books. So I joined SCBWI and started writing and illustrating (NOT the same dark style, don’t worry). It was fun, and I learned a lot. And even got an occasional sniff of agent and editor interest. But the picture book market was tough (still is) and my writing skills were still budding. Eventually, I got restless and shifted to longer fantasy novels, my first reading love and the genesis of this site.

Hang with me; I’ve got a point, I promise. :)

In my picture book journey, I went through a period where I wanted to develop my skill at rhyming stories. So I joined an online poetry group, which included some published poets, and put some effort into it. At one SCBWI event, an agent read an anonymous sample of mine (in a ‘first pages’ session) and announced that “the author obviously had a lot of talent”.  I also had a humorous poem published on a reputable poetry site. Not to toot my own horn here, I just want to establish that I have a grounding in rhyme and meter.

Fast forward to a year or so ago, when I finished my first draft of Black Diamonds, a story written much quicker than my two previous books. I’d embraced the idea of an outline and some world and character building before I typed the first sentence, encouraged by the quality of writing that one of my critique partners produced in her first draft, using the same type of approach. Another critique partner noted that she thought some of the line-level writing could be improved, based on the first draft.

At the same time, I happened to read David Coe’s mention on Magical Words about how he reads his words aloud–I think David has exceptional sentence and scene-level technique–as well as a few tangential mentions from other authors. So I decided to give it a try. And when I did?

I realized that it was exactly what I had been doing for my rhyming stories. Spoken out loud, I could hear the meter, the BEATS of emphasis that gave the words rhythm and music. And I could smooth it out, make it sound more pleasing, more musical.

The drawback? It took FOREVER. Doing poetry level polishing on language takes a long time. I estimated that it took me roughly an hour a page, and there were days it was much slower. The first draft took me maybe four months. The sentence level edit took me about eight more.

Ouch. I mean, not all was to do with voice. But still.

The problem was, and still is, that the exercise undoubtedly improves my writing. Aside from improving the ‘musicality’ of the words, reading a story that slowly makes you realize when the meanings aren’t quite right. When a description or reference doesn’t tie into later chapters. It does a lot of things to make the story better.

But it doesn’t touch story. Plot. Character development. Or premise. The bones of the story. Polishing for sound is the most superficial of skills. I would recommend, if you do it all, to do it last, even after you send it to a developmental editor. It’s a final draft skill. And it still begs the question: is it worth the time invested?

I don’t know.

And that is the crux of it. I polished Black Diamonds (my current work in progress) this way, for 75% of the story. Then a good critique and major edit came around, and I changed a lot of those words. Did that time invested make any lasting change? Was the time spent worth it? I don’t know. And honestly, how would you even know? You can’t send out two different versions of a story to the same audience. How do you disentangle a reader’s liking of word-level polish from their view on the bones of a story? Ahh.

I should clarify a bit on why the time spent was so disproportionate. Another issue with this type of edit? You’re reading it out loud. While I let the utter obviousness of that statement wash over you, :) let me clarify. I can’t do it riding on the train (or at least don’t want to). I can’t do it in a coffee shop. I can’t do it in my backyard as people walk their dogs on the other side of the fence. This last winter, I would drive to a coffee shop, buy a coffee, and sit in the passenger seat of my car, window fogged up, so that no-one would look at me strangely as I muttered to myself. A couple of times, I forgot to turn off the headlights and drained the battery. CAA loved me. :)

But don’t take that slow timeline as set in stone. For one, I just discovered a partial solution to the obstacles above. Only last week, and it may be because of my own lack of tech savvy, I read an author’s post about how she used the Apple text to speech option* to hear her own words. That comment hit me like a smack of bricks to the forehead. I could make my laptop read to ME? Using HEADPHONES? ARGH!

And it works. Mostly. The tone is a bit flat, it doesn’t read things as naturally as you would yourself. But it also doesn’t get tired, distracted, or bored, ending up watching a squirrel nibble on an old muffin instead of actually working on the manuscript.

Did I mention: Argh! Oh well.

In any event, there you go. It’s worth thinking about: Meter. Rhythm. Reading your words out loud. You’ll be surprised at the difference it makes. Of course, polish is nothing without solid story structure and the other writing skills that you need, most mentioned in this post. Reading out loud is not a first draft tool, but a last draft one.

But if you want to improve your voice. If you have a solid story and sentence level problems are holding you back, it might be worth a try.

Your big-jowled English teacher be damned**.  :)

____________________________________________ 

A book that I found a helpful resource is The Ode Less Traveled. Even better were SCBWI’s discussion boards—or at least they were a few years ago when I frequented them, as they had real poets willing to guide you in the basics, although I can’t weigh in on whether that’s still the case…

*If you have a Mac laptop like me, it’s the Speech and Diction option in Preferences, and has a default Option Esc key combo to make it work, once you’ve selected the text you want it to read.

** My apologies to English teachers everywhere. I’m just kidding, of course. My English teacher was a lovely lady and actually spurred me on to writing, with her encouragement and enthusiasm. I still remember and appreciate it.

Other random thoughts:

  • Shakespeare had a great command of plot and scene. But isn’t it interesting that one of the most enduring writers of history wrote in a structured and proven meter pattern (iambic pentameter)?
  • The first time that this concept was even partially introduced to me was in a writing craft book–I believe Bird by Bird, although I could be wrong–where the concept of ending a sentence with a hard beat was discussed, to add power and emphasis. I was rocked by the thought that a successful author cared about the SOUND of the word and not just its meaning.

The image for this post is actually not a finished one, but rather a few snapshots of the current piece that I am working on. I thought it looked kind of cool to show the progression, rough to more finished, and I didn’t have it completely done for today. Instead of waiting for the final piece, I thought I would include the roughs instead. It’ll save me rushing and potentially ruining the artwork through haste, or holding up the post until it’s done. I will probably post the final piece later, unless it takes a turn for the worse…