It’s not fun until someone loses an eye.

I grossed myself out today during writing. I don’t know if it’s because the AC is broken and it’s 90 degrees up here and the humidity is through the roof, but I apparently needed to outdo myself in fiction. It was one of those weird moments where I’d planned for the scene to go one way and it took a sharp, brutal detour in a direction I hadn’t anticipated. Like the title says, someone literally loses an eye in the process. Of his own volition.

I can get away with a bit that I normally couldn’t in Dev’s narrative, because he’s on this Dante-esque journey. I’ve got to hit some of those high notes. But I realize whenever I talk about these chapters (which together work almost like a novella in the middle of the novel) I sound a bit daft.

Anyway, I wanted to start recapping my writing progress with a little more panache, so I’m trying a new format.

Two Things I Loved: I finally got to write another Dev chapter, and his character arc is coming to a close. The appearance of Cai in human form (she/he’s a god/goddess) was pretty unexpected, and I linked the mythology of Ardesia up with the mythology of the rest of the realm pretty well.

Two Things I Loathed: The description of the beast Dev fights in this chapter got under my skin a bit, but I’ll redo it later. It’s called draft zero for a reason. Also, still not 100% convinced of Dev’s devotion to Marna… which I’m realizing is okay, in the grand scheme of things, but may need to become more apparent to readers. Or something. This ain’t no romance, but I can’t be cruel about it.

Best* Quote of the Day:

It was an easy place to get lost, an easy place to want to get lost. The trees had a cadence of their own, a whispering and seductive rhythm.

“So,” the knight said, “listen. Listen to the trees, and you will see where this poisonous beast is, this creature who is slowly killing my realm and claiming it for Her.”

“Her? Another goddess, then? I’m not sure I want to meet another. The last one I fell in with tried to eat me.”

*see? I spared you from the eye scene. Really, really you should thank me.

Worst* Quote of the Day:

This beast—this creature you want me to find,” Dev said. “It could kill me.”

“It could. But you were well on your way to killing yourself when you came to me… I am not asking much more than to risk what you were prepared to throw away.”

*worst because Cai, the god/goddess knight here, sounds a bit like Gandalf.  Or something. I hate when I lapse into Tolkien. And for some reason, whenever deities start talking in what I write, they go all Shakespearean.

Thoughts of the Day: Been thinking a lot about the concept of passion in writing. Drafted a post on it, even. Passion is the single driving factor in what I do; I lost it for a while, but it came back. :)

Also, came around to the realization that this novel is certainly not steampunk. I mean, it’s got steampunk elements… but the more I write the more I realize this is Gothic fantasy, really. As if the squids weren’t a dead giveaway.

Around the Bend: Squid extraction from our heroine’s husband, slightly admirable villain reveal, wind-up to the big-time boss fight with the Mother Squid. Also, this whole draft is going to be significantly shorter than I planned; I’ll be surprised if I crest 90K. Which actually makes my job easier, as that has never happened before. I’m always hacking away at a draft, rather than enhancing it.

Onward, squidlings.

Birthday goals, and halfway there.

The girl is a geek. Sometime in 88-89 or so. Suitably embarrassing. What the heck is up with those flowers, really? And I can't believe people are purposefully wearing glasses like these today. It was a form of torture back then.

No, this has nothing to do with football. (Or, soccer.)

Just a quick one before the D&D game starts. My birthday is tomorrow, and I wanted to play D&D with our amazing group. However, I also wanted to achieve a personal birthday goal; I wanted to hit 55,000 in the WIP which marks the exact halfway point in the novel. I had until tomorrow to do this but finished today.

Personal goals are important. It’s been hard for me this year, as I usually try to mimic the output of Important Published Writers. (I was reading a post of mine from last year when I wrote 35K in ten days at one point). I used to force myself to write 3K a day. But issues have meant that my output is slower. I can’t keep up as I used to. But still, this is not shabby. I started the book in March and it’s only June. My plan is to finish by September. I can do this. I have to do this, however it goes.

Onward to my last year as a twenty-something, then. Amusingly enough, I once had a silly notion to give up writing if I didn’t get published in novel form by 30, which of course is ridiculous. But when you’re writing novels at 21, that feels a long way off. These days I feel like I’m just getting started. I mean, seriously. How could I stop writing novels? Ah, the innocence of youth.

So, a moment’s pride if you will as I happily display the wee little meter:

The Novel’s Life

I have said it before: novels have lives of their own. Maybe I should expect it by now, but it still amazes me how a book can simply do things that I didn’t anticipate–often without my permission.

Case in point, my current work in progress Dustman. The idea for this book was simple: girl loves boy, boy goes mad, girl gets married to man who promises to care for boy, man loses boy, girl goes on quest to find boy. (Okay, not simple simple, but you know.) For me it’s even simpler, since I’m using a pre-developed world. It just started out with three characters, and three points of view. Then a fourth appeared, and I figured that was okay… I would let him. He’s cute.

But aside from character, this book is quickly becoming one of the most complex I’ve ever plotted. Sure, I’ve had intertwining narratives in a multi-POV story before; I love doing that sort of thing. But this time around, it’s just so much deeper. Little details (like the fact that the main city is built on a lake) suddenly become vastly important, for reasons I’d never expected.

I should point out that I’m not a plotter. I’m a pantser. My first draft is as much a discovery for me as anyone, but usually it takes a draft or two to get to the point of such nuance.

Honestly, this feeling is like a drug. One character is traversing the Seven Hells; another is being controlled by a Temple run network connected to this godlike creature in the lake; another is falling in love with her brother’s ex-crush… they’re all involved in politics, and so far four separate factions are all looking for one person. (Who happens to be the one traversing those aforementioned hells.)

Also: squid.

Today, at the gym, I was giggling thinking about what I’m writing next, just getting so excited to take the time and do it, to roll with it, to get completely wrapped up in it.

Ah, the honeymoon stage…

Current metrics for Dustman:

Six Ways Twitter Can Make You A Better Writer

Many people consider Twitter solely for networking purposes, for meeting people with common interests and conversing. And while that’s a big part of it, Twitter can also be a very useful tool for improving your writing.

When I first started building my Twitter follow list, I started with a lot of writers. And soon I discovered, mostly through feeds of people like Jay Lake and Paul Jessup, the #wip hashtag. Easy enough, WIP stands for “work in progress”. Basically, writers sample little 140 character or less sections from their work, sharing it with their friends and followers. Not every writer does this (either some don’t like the attention it brings, while others might feel it’s a little too flashy or something) I’ve found it very helpful for a number of reasons.

  • Most importantly, excerpting your #wip brings people into your creative process. It allows your friends, fellow writers, and general followers a glimpse into your current project. The line you tweet may or may not be that good; it may or may not end up in your final draft. But does it matter? If you’re a new or emerging writer and you have a tidbit to share, it’s a great way to get buzz. If you’re a more established writer it helps to generate excitement about your new project and certainly gives fans of your work a reason to follow your feed (besides, you know, tweeting about what you eat).
  • #wip sampling also leaves a written record of what you’re working on when. I find this very useful, and something enlightening, to go back and watch my progress. I can actually figure out how long it took to write various short stories and novels by searching the #wip tag in my posts. To get even more specific, I can add another hashtag, mostly for myself, that indicates what project I’m on (sort of just for myself).
  • #wip sampling really forces you to look at the words. It takes them out of context of the story, which is a fantastic way to edit. In fact, there’s probably only one or two instances where I’ve ever tweeted a #wip that I didn’t end up editing. Sometimes the rhythm of the language is off, sometimes it just dosen’t punch enough; other times, it just needs a tiny tweak to make it better. In the end, it puts a good distance between that sentence or sentences and the whole work. No, I don’t suggest tweeting every sentence just to edit, but if you can every once in a while it can certainly give you some insight.
  • I do this exercise typically when I’ve hit my 1K for the day. I’ll look over the whole work and try and find the best section to tweet. If there’s nothing–absolutely nothing–for me to share, chances are that I’ve done something wrong. If I’ve written 1,000 words and nothing is worth sharing with my writer and reader friends, then something is surely missing. There’s got to be some place with tension, with humor, with excitement! If there isn’t, I’ll go back and do some house-cleaning, even if it’s a first draft.
  • If you’re shy about your work, and don’t like to share, tweeting little bits and pieces is a good way to warm you up. Because, honestly, if you’re going to start publishing, well, everyone is going to have access to everything. While some #wip tweets get responses, many don’t. Mostly because they’re just snippets, of course. But it’s a perfect opportunity to get your feet wet.
  • Lastly, I love going through my friends’ #wip tags. It makes me feel like part of a writing community. String them together and you’ve got some truly fascinating tidbits of creativity going on. Widen your scope through all of Twitter, and there’s a collective, beautiful cacophony of image and craft. To me, that’s just absolutely inspiring. Knowing that other writers are doing the same thing as I am (hopefully not exactly the same, but you get my drift) definitely encourages me to get through the daily writing grind and make my work better.

How about you? Have you discovered any way that social media has helped your writing process?

Crowded house: writing a party

Nah, not the kind with ale and food and wenches, though that happens from time to time.

More like a party of people. At the moment I’m struggling with some of my chapters, as there are just too many damned people there all the time. Up until this point most of what I’ve written has been fairly straight-forward, with a handful of people doing fairly straight-forward things. Two, maybe three people in conversation, nice tight little story arcs… It was particularly comfortable in The Aldersgate because, well, every chapter was a new point of view, and helped me keep things neat and in a row.

Now, in Peter of Windbourne, all of the sudden there are at least five people in just about every single scene. Oh sure I can write it out. Sure I can finagle it. But that doesn’t give me many options. Not to mention that my inability to balance characters was one of the reasons the first draft didn’t work (one of myriad reasons, but one still). I mean, I’m traveling with an entourage. There were five, but soon there will be seven. Seven!?

Maybe this is one of the hallmarks of pure fantasy, rather than steampunk fantasy. With no travel available but horseback, people tend to cluster together and travel in groups. It certainly goes back to the whole retinue concept, of a knight and his soldiers trolling the countryside, and always reminds me a bit of Tolkien’s Fellowship. What Tolkien did was to segment his characters, and build stronger relationships between the to facilitate dialogue and plot. Legolas and Gimli had their competition, Merry and Pippin their food, Frodo and Sam their melancholy, and Aragorn and Gandalf their leadery stuff. Oh, then there was Boromir somewhere in between. But he didn’t end up so well.

So certainly the first step is trying to forge relationships between the characters. It’s also essential to “pull a Dumbledore”–that is, to have a character who serves as a point of exposition, someone that the reader–and protagonist–can believe. Not only does this prevent all the characters constantly asking questions of one another (which would be unbearably annoying) but allows me to advance the plot without resorting to straight-out exposition.

One of the biggest changes I also have done in this draft is to make Peter, the protagonist, smarter and a little older. I think in the first draft he was 15 or 16; by the second he was 18. This draft, he’s almost twenty, and he’s spent his life with tutors. It makes sense for the course of the story, as he was schooled for a monastery. In earlier drafts I was frustrated with his lack of character, which was really more a result of his ignorance and starry-eyed (cliche) nature. Well, suffice it to say I was a little sick of it. I mean, this is sword and sorcery; there are some things I should keep from the genre. But not everything.

More than anything though, it makes Peter active. Even though he’s learning a great deal through his new companions, he’s got something to say. He’s got opinions. He’s not just a sponge. And sponges, as I’ve learned, are boring. Right?

What I didn’t expect, however, is a heightened sense of tension with this revamped crew. I find that because so many characters are in so many scenes, there’s much more opportunity for argument, disagreement and confrontation. It also makes fight scenes a whole lot more like a coordinated dance. Without guns, which was the primary weapon in The Aldersgate, there’s a focus to combat that I didn’t have before. And it’s actually a blast. Both of my readers have commented that the scenes are a bit nail-biting–and they should be. It’s one of the things about medieval warfare that I love so much; it’s more brawn and endurance than skill, sometimes, and it’s drawn out, difficult.

I’m still learning this whole “big crew” perspective. Thankfully it’s not something that will be apparent through the whole book–they move on and split up a bit, and reconvene, etc. But I’ve got at least one more solid chapter to keep the balance…

Any writers out there experience similar juggling acts? I’d love to know how you manage a crowd!

Ringing the WIP.

I’m working on something right now, something I started during my horrific cold the last few weeks. I’m purposely taking a bit of a break from AGC (no worries, Alderpod listeners; I have plenty of chapters yet to read, so y’all won’t notice the difference) to work on this WIP, which is a project I’ve actually been contemplating since I started my undergraduate career a decade ago (how did ten years pass?!). At that point, I’d written thousands of pages of writing, but had yet to complete a novel; that came years later, with the end of the YA novel, Peter of Windbourne (unpublished… may never see the light of day, but we’ll see). The current WIP is pure, unadulterated fantasy, except when it itsn’t, and for the first time ever, it’s told in the first person.

With The Aldersgate, of course the challenge is juggling so many voices. Six-to-eight in the first novel, getting tone right, etc. But it’s all third person, as is Pilgrim of the Skies, so there’s still a comfortable distance. However, this WIP is not. It’s an uncomfortable proximity. I’ve written short stories, and even poems like this, but I’ve never undertaken a whole novel.

What gets me is that she follows me around all day. It borders on creepy, but I’ve been spending so much time in my protagonist’s brain that I can’t just turn her off when I want. I’m in the shower, she’s talking; I’m trying to sleep, she’s illustrating her opinion like some old radio station that I can’t quite get in clear. Never have I had a single character so invade my daily doings, prevent me from sleep, and snap me into moments of “huh?” so frequently.

This is also the fastest I’ve ever written a novel in my life. When her story starts going, I can’t write it fast enough. I literally had a snap of revelation the other day in which all the major events of the novel unfolded in front of me in a brief and frenzied burst of energy. Everything. Down to frightening detail. (Not that I had no idea where it was going, but I did have some pondering to do on some subjects…)

Unlike the other non-Aldersgate novel I’ve worked on in the last few months, the book I wrote for NaNoWriMo, nothing feels forced this time. I’ve gone back and tried to read bits of Pilgrim of the Sky, and some of it is good. But plenty was me just sitting, spinning my wheels, contemplating my navel, and trying to churn out the daily word count.

Yesterday, my WIP stood still. The line went dead.

So today, I’m dragging my feet, hoping for the call. I’ll be ready.

Anyone else ever experience this sort of thing? Or am I showing signs of the crazies again….