The Slog of Rewriting

I’m hoping to release a full novel (Vexation: a Tale of Swords and Sorcery) within the next few months, but it’s proving to be a challenge.  I finished the first draft of what was then called The Pumpkin Knight back in November of 2014.  Ignoring a 150,000 word in-joke novel I wrote for my wife, it marked only the second time I completed a serious novel from start to finish, and it also marked that terrifying period of editing and rewriting.

Having completed a few first drafts of novels by this point, the elation of writing “The End” quickly gives way to the daunting task of making your work something you can actually put out there.  I imagine it’s something like making it to the big leagues of a given sport: it’s an incredible accomplishment and a huge success just to get there, but the real work is actually still in front of you.

When you’re doing that first draft, there’s a lot of leeway.  Nothing needs to be set in stone: characters can be easily tweaked, plotholes and questionable decisions can be left alone, and the goal is just to make it from point A to point B.

My previous novel (also unreleased) was an incredible learning process, and each of the handful of rewrites I did marked drastic changes in the overall storyline and character make up.  I had little grasp on acts and structure (although hints of the natural tendency toward three acts were there), and it was more-or-less barreling ahead blindly and learning as I went.

With Vexation, things worked a bit differently.  I had a solid outline in place before I even started, with characters and the general flow of events in place and still present in 2018.  Yet I’m somewhere on the fifth or six ground-up rewrite in terms of the actual text.  What I’m learning now is the sheer amount of nuance that comes into play in any longer work.

Why would she do this?  Where is his family in all of this?  What season is it in that specific geographical region?  What’s the time frame?  Why does his magic help here, but not there?

To illustrate further, let’s take the idea of traveling, since it’s a fantasy novel and they’re off on their quest.  Why would Randell insist they take this route instead of that?  The obvious answer is because they need to arrive at a specific location for a specific event, and in the first run through or two that’s acceptable.  Yet this location can’t occur on the main road–so what excuse do they have to go tromping off the beaten path?  The later rewrites need to address that.

Further still, there are no easy answers.  Maybe the bad guys are watching the main roads.  Maybe the main road is blocked because a bridge is out, or local warlords are battling back and forth.  Maybe Randell just has a terrible sense of direction, or Idona can feel the magical pulses given off by this location and they can follow that.  Maybe this even can occur on the main road: maybe the village only appears to those it wants to.

The choices are myriad, and when you’re the author, it’s your world and your decision.  So which explanation is the most reasonable and fits best within the overall tone and style of the story?  Now multiply the above situation over and over again across every event, every important bit of dialogue, every meaningful choice made by a character, and the daunting task of rewriting and editing becomes clear.

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Reading List: April, 2018

As a writer, reading is of vital importance (or so I’m told–and it makes sense to me!).  What I’m not sure about, however, is whether I should stick to the genre I prefer to write, or if reading outside of the box can help create a more well-rounded story.

For example, would utilizing the western’s affinity for wide-open plains and dangerous travel help create more tense, exciting travel in a fantasy epic, or would the difference in style be a turn-off for fantasy fans?

All the same, as a reader, I find myself quite enjoying dalliances into different genres.  Fantasy is like home, but there are all sorts of great vacation destinations out there to visit.

So what’s on the agenda?  In no particular order:

1984 by George Orwell.  I’ve never read this classic, but now it’s more relevant than ever.  A little more than halfway through, I’m surprise at how modern it feels, and indeed, quite relevant.  More George Orwell is almost certainly ahead!

Malice by John Gwynne.  After the pleasant surprise that was John Marco’s Bronze Knight series, I’m looking forward to my next foray into thick fantasy tomes.  I’ve heard good things about Malice, and it’s waiting on my shelf.

The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher.  I started this one about two years ago and stopped early into it, not because I wasn’t enjoying it, but because I was enjoying it too much, and I suddenly felt terribly insecure about my own partially-done airship-based fantasy novel.  The writing was crisp and snappy, and the handling of the ships in motion was incredibly detailed and mind-opening!

MST3KHamlet

Hamlet by some obscure old poet.  I’m intending to slowly work on the Shakespeare catalog in between other reads, and Hamlet seemed like a great place to start.  (Of course, it won’t be the same without a spaceman and his robot pals commenting as I go along.)

What else?  Both my digital and physical shelves are packed with titles.  Dante, Aquinas, Chesterton, Brian Jacques, Robert Jordan, Louis L’Amour, Ray Bradbury, Terry Pratchett, C.S. Lakin… the list goes on.

And I really should read the Harry Potter series sometime–whoops, my fantasy credibility just flew out of the window with that admission!

The Embarrassment of Returning

Putting yourself out there is rough.  I imagine it’s the same whether you’re a writer, an artist, a stand-up comic, or any sort of “ideas” type.

Around the middle of last year, I was making social media progress.  My Twitter followers tripled, my blogs started getting hits, and I released a set of short stories.

Somewhere around the first week of NaNoWriMo, life kicked in hard, and there went the blogs and the tweets, and the grandiose plans of uploading chapters as I went and making a big production of the month disappeared.  It was, to say the least, a pretty big fail, and more than a little embarrassing.

In the months that followed, a couple of false starts made it easy to heap further scorn on myself.  The joys of putting yourself out there, and the joys of being your own worst critique!

And then I realized: so what?  We all leave failures in our wake, but it’s really not about the failures so much as how you respond to them.  Feeling a little silly suddenly blogging again after a few failed attempts is nothing compared to the progress lost by wallowing in self-pity.

So put yourself out there!  Brush the failures off and look forward, not backward.  Delaying because of some embarrassment will only push those writing goals and dreams further away!

NaNoWriMo Progress #1

If you’re struggling with NaNoWriMo, it’s still early!  Don’t give up.  Even a mere 500 words a day hits the 50k mark in under four months.  A “failed” NaNoWriMo is really just delayed success.  It’s awesome if you can get it done in a month, but it’s awesome if you can finish in December, January, or February, too!

As for me, how much have I written?  Short answer: very little!  I’m only rocking around 1500 words.  It’s been the battle we all face.  50-60 hour work weeks (yay for writing challenges during peak business season), family dropping in for the (or, rather “my weekend”: Monday and Tuesday!), and general weariness.

Does this mean it’s over?  Of course not!

The month is still young.  The chapters will still be posted.  The blogs will still arrive (probably!).  Let’s see how far we can take this!

NaNoWriMo Update!

For November, I’m working on a book called “Relic Empire” (a mere placeholder!) featuring airships, magic, and high fantasy.  The protagonists are a couple of young adults, a boy and a girl, who dream of adventure and end up caught in something much bigger than themselves.

Inspired by, and a tribute to, that SEGA RPG classic, Skies of Arcadia, but I hope it becomes a worthy fantasy in its own right, neither derivative nor a tribute in name only.  The spirit is what I hope to capture more than anything, and if I can manage that, I’ll consider it a success.

As for the writing itself?  It’s not going the best, but that’s okay!  Even with just 500 words a day, a novel can be finished in under four months.  So if you’re struggling too, keep in mind that you’re still pushing ever closer to the ultimate goal: a novel, even if it takes more than a month.

For me, as for many, life is busy!  I had every intent of plotting beforehand, which greatly increases my writing speed, because I know what to write.  Instead, I’m working with a mixture of the two: some existing characters and a rough framework from a couple of past, failed NaNoWriMos (but written from the ground up, 0 words to 50k!).

I’m going to try my best to hit the 50,000 word goal within a month, but more than that, I’m going to have some fun with it.  As I finish chapters, I’m going to post them here as blogs.  They’ll be entirely unedited.  Typos will be present, plot threads will be malnourished, and even names, places, and characters might change, or come and go completely, between this draft and the final.

But maybe it will be fun for you to see a first draft, done heavily on the fly without much pre-planning or plotting.  Watch for the first couple of chapters to appear over the next few days!

A Change of NaNoWriMo Pace

“It’s ain’t about how hard you get hit: It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.” – Rocky, Rocky Balboa

My blogging, tweeting, and general writing has suffered a bit lately, but that’s okay!  November is almost here, and with that comes an exciting new opportunities to take those next steps toward achieving those dreams.  This will be a challenging period in which to write for a lot of people, but that’s where we take those hits and still take those steps, however small they might be, toward our goals!

I’ve had to make a little change-up to my plans.  I was mulling over writing the first part in a new, four-part series, something more complex than I’ve ever done before.  I’m not quite ready.

Instead, I’m going to revive my failed NaNoWriMo projects from 2015 and 2016: an airships-and-swords fantasy about the excitement of adventure.  I’ve pinpointed a few of the weaker plot aspects that slowed me down in previous years, and I think the intended spirit will be much stronger this time.

The writing will start from scratch, and I’ll be posting bits of the book up here as I finish them–perhaps even each chapter as I finish!

This will be the busiest month in which I’ve ever attempted a large writing project, but it will also be the best I’ve ever done.  That’s the only way to approach it!