Preparing to Launch 2018/19

I’ll admit I’ve been a bit slack lately. Sure, there’s been sickness involved and partial-insomnia, which never helps. But there’s also been some slackness. There was some playing of Sid Meier’s Civilization V which is awesome in it’s time-wasting capacity. Because I love turn-based strategy games, that led almost inevitably, to some mucking around with a home-grown battle simulation program where I was trying out if-I-made-a-Civilisation-game mechanics… I also seem to have grown an unhelpful enjoyment of e-sports (StarCraft II). It hasn’t all been bad; there have also been some valuable time-expenses like time with family and friends or doing the necessary chores that part of being an adult.

2018 has found me busier and more spent than 2017, and possibly any year before that. (Take that with a grain of salt, my memory struggles much beyond 24 hours these days).

We’re about to tick over to a new financial year and I’m using that as motivation to regain some momentum and discipline. I’d like to spend my time more wisely and be more productive. Time, after all, is our most precious resource. We never know how much we have (though we assume) and we can’t get it back once it’s gone.

And so I am getting ready for 2018/19 by clearing the distractions out of the way. I’ve deleted most of the games from the computer, and I’m making a conscious effort to not go looking for new e-sport videos. These last few days of 2017/18 are my “training days” for the new year.

It’s been a few years since I’ve tried to make plans (and tried… more/less) to stick to them. Naturally I haven’t done this lately, because I prefer not to broadcast my failure. I know that it’s true though – goal setting is beneficial. I’m going to try to record my productivity, so then I will be able to more-accurately estimate sensible goals.

It is my intention to work toward monthly goals in a more structured approach. These goals won’t all be writing related – but are likely to be broader: writing, faith, programming, health and social.

I’d be curious to hear how you set goals and the strategies you use to keep yourself on-track.

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Highlights from ‘The Fires of Heaven’

Saturday I woke up at a ridiculous hour and so in the absence of sleep, finished book 6 of the Wheel of Time (WOT) series, Lord of Chaos. And although still held by the plot, I finished with a tired sigh and not just because of the hour.

When I began reading the series I knew it was a long series – but my understanding of the term ‘long’ was grossly inadequate. Unsubstantiated Googling informed me that the audiobooks for the series are over 17 days long. Apparently there are also 147 unique points-of-view (more eye-bleeding stats). Knowing too, that the quality of the series dips a little (or rather that the content of the books stretch excessively) I’m feeling a little apprehensive about how much farther in the journey I have to travel. I’m not even half way there yet! But I must slog on…

Perhaps in response to an earlier tweet of mine (ha!) Amazon Studio’s has announced they’re working on a WOT TV series. This is great news and has the potential to deliver a better story than even a series of movies. Jordan has created a fantastic world, rich with wonder and plot. Needless to say though, there is plenty that can be excised.

In any case, here are my highlights from book 5, The Fires of Heaven. I had over 4,500 worth of quotes. I want to write about a few of the themes in this book, and I think to do it well I should split it into at least two or three posts.

The major theme I want to talk about in this post is the interpersonal relationships between the characters, specifically the three females (Nynaeve, Elayne and Ewgene). The oldest Nynaeve was Village Wisdom and so previously in a position of authority over Ewgene. And Elayne as Daughter-Heir of Andor is used to a privileged upbringing. It is interesting to watch how the women see the world – completely blinded to their own faults. It almost gets too much for my male sensibilities 🙂

  • Egwene said. “Unless you let your temper get the better of you. You need to hold your temper and keep your wits about you if you’re right about the Forsaken, especially Moghedien.” Nynaeve glowered at her, opening her mouth to say that she could too keep her temper and she would smack Egwene’s ears if she thought differently, (Page 262)
  • Elayne also made two bundles, but hers were larger; she left nothing out except the spangled coats and breeches. Nynaeve refrained from suggesting that she had overlooked them; she should have, with the sulking that was going on, but she knew how to promote harmony. She limited herself to one sniff when Elayne ostentatiously added the a’dam to her things, though from the look she got in return, you would have thought she had made her objections known at length. By the time they left the wagon, the quiet could have been chipped and used to chill wine. (Page 719)
  • Nynaeve knew very well why they touched her most, too. Each story could have been the reflection of a thread in her own life. What she did not quite understand was why she liked Areina best. It was her opinion, putting this and that together, that nearly all of Areina’s troubles came from having too free a tongue, telling people exactly what she thought. It could hardly be coincidence that she was harried out of one village so quickly she had to leave her horse behind after calling the Mayor a pie-faced loon and telling some village women that dry-bones kitchen sweepers had no right to question why she was on the road alone. That was what she admitted to saying. Nynaeve thought a few days of herself for example would do Areina worlds of good. And there had to be something she could do for the other two, as well. She could understand a desire for safety and peace very well. (Page 740)
  • Seeing [the palace], and knowing that, made her understand a little of Elayne. Of course the woman expected the world to bend itself to her; she had grown up being taught that it would, in a place where it did. (Page 745)

And some great descriptions on the differences between men and women.

  • ‘The more women there are about, the softer a wise man steps.’ (Page 85)
  • With a sudden grin, she ruffled his hair. “He is my little mischief maker, now.” From the horrified look on Mat’s face, he was gathering his strength to run. (Page 140)

I like the second dotpoint especially. Matt is a girl-chasing, commitment-shunning individual. Continuing…

  • [On flirting] But I am out of practice, and I think he is the kind of man who might hear more promises than you meant to offer, and expect to have them fulfilled.” (Page 29) … Her usually brisk tones were gone, changed to a velvety soft caress. (Page 33)
  • He denied her, of course. Not his love for Nynaeve al’Maera, once a Wisdom in the Two Rivers and now an Accepted of the White Tower, but that he could ever have her. He had two things, he said, a sword that would not break and a war that could not end; he would never gift a bride with those. (Page 164)
  • Elayne shuddered elaborately. “Three hams. And that awful peppered beef! Do men ever eat anything but meat if it isn’t set before them?” (Page 184)
  • Sometimes she thought the Creator had only made men to cause trouble for women. (Page 285)
  • “Men always believe they are in control of everything around them,” Aviendha replied. “When they find out they are not, they think they have failed, instead of learning a simple truth women already know.” (Page 343)
  • Fall in love with a man, and you ended up doing laundry, (Page 440)
  • There was no point in arguing. In his experience, from Emond’s Field to the Maidens, if a woman wanted to do something for you, the only way to stop her was to tie her up, especially if it involved sacrifice on her part. (Page 469)
  • But neither made fun of him for backing down so visibly. Though that might well come later. Women seemed to enjoy jabbing the needle in just when you thought the danger past. (Page 622)
  • “You did not try to talk me out of it,” he said abruptly. He meant it for Moiraine, but Egwene spoke first, though to Aviendha, and with a smile. “Stopping a man from what he wants to do is like taking a sweet from a child. Sometimes you have to do it, but sometimes it just isn’t worth the trouble.” Aviendha nodded (Page 799)
  • “The Creator made women to please the eye and trouble the mind.” (Page 814)

The Ignition of Revision (2)

This post discusses revisions made to Vengeance Will Come, my first fantasy adventure novel (revisions in progress). In the first part of this blog post I described what I felt was a fatal flaw in my story construction, too-frequent point of view swapping. Reading the manuscript anew, I re-read the first scene. Somehow, only on the 101st time I read it, I could see the scene had to go.

I’ll let you read it first, and then I’ll discuss it – what I was trying to do with it, what I liked, and ultimately why it’s no longer contributing to the word count.

VWC Deleted Ch1Sc2
The deleted scene

What I was trying to do: #1 Surprise the Reader

The first, horribly jarring thing you may have noticed are the references to the two people in the scene, referred to only as ‘the driver’ and ‘the passenger’.

There was a reason for this: I wanted the fact that they were police to be hidden until the very end of the scene. If the reader catches it, it would shock them and re-frame the entire scene in their mind. Two men killing homeless people (and semi-sentient creatures) was bad enough, but then you find out it’s police doing the killing it makes it even worse. It might cause the reader to wonder:

  • Why are the police killing the homeless?
  • What kind of society is does that?
  • Does this happen often, given the policemen are carrying silenced weapons?
  • While one officer has a conscience, the other doesn’t seem to be phased by it – or chooses his employment as more important than the lives he is extinguishing.

I say if the reader catches it, it does those things. But what if they read-on so fast that the last few words at the end of the scene don’t ‘click’? In that case I have made it clunky for very little purpose. Worse, what if the reader only reads that much and decides the writing style is terrible, and assumes it’s like that throughout and gives up? The very first text should be a hook, a sales-pitch to grab the reader and tell them it’s worth investing dozens of hours to read. And that scene was just too risky, a huge gamble; too little gain for way too much risk.

(I could have given the characters names to make it less clunky but I don’t like naming characters – even a first name – if the character isn’t going to be around long, especially at the start of a book).

What I was trying to do #2: Set the Scene

The shock of killers being police is that it also describes the environment in which the scene is set. That is added to be the description of the environment:

“derelict grey warehouse” … “Not in our life time. What the war didn’t destroy outright it comatosed: buildings and people alike, empty shells ageing slowly towards death.”

The economy is bad and the place is run down; the people demoralised.

“…a job that we’re very lucky to have. … Let’s just get this done and get out of the rain.”

The disassociation of the driver in uncaring about what they are doing, in justifying it, shows how brutal life is. They need the job, and are willing to do whatever is required. The passenger seems to have reservations (but not enough to make him refuse the order); the driver justifies his actions. The fact that the passenger grimaces at the incoming rain when he’s about to kill someone is a value statement.

In an earlier draft of the scene the homeless man was shot in the head. This added to the brutality of it and makes it clear that they want him dead not injured. This was cut (probably) to reduce the brutality so early-on. Likewise I considered removing the reference to the silencer. Doing so would signify the police aren’t afraid of the populace knowing about their violence. It normalises it. Keeping the silencer, however, also suggests that police have occasion to secretly kill people; like the CIA ‘wet work’.

Also important in setting the scene was the introduction of the alien lifeform, the slime-spitting, fast-moving Dugar. It was supposed to be a clear (and entirely blunt) hint to the reader that we’re talking other-worldly. I wanted the reader to be able to orient themselves quickly.

So why did I cut the scene? Firstly, because of the clunky referencing which sounded amateurish, but second because it only tangentially applies to the story. The entire scene can be replaced by a few words to describe the fact that the area has been sanitized. Likewise the reference to the Dugar can be placed slightly further back in the text without a problem.

With hindsight I deduced that the scene was hurting me far more than helping me…and so it had to go.

Highlights from ‘The Shadow Rising’

Hi! After an incredibly busy week (in which no writing was done), here are my thoughts on the highlight-able parts in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, book 4: The Rising Shadow. This time I’ve done it a little differently and sorted the quotes by category.

(If you’re interested you can also see my highlights from book 2 The Great Hunt and book 3 The Dragon Reborn).

Genders

  • She thought the Creator must have been tired when it came time to make men; sometimes they hardly seemed human. (Page 12)
  • ‘He was an easy little boy to manage most of the time, if you handled him properly, but when you tried to push him, he was as muley as any in the Two Rivers. Men don’t really change that much, only grow taller. (Page 721)
  • Why do men always do things without asking? Does growing hair on their chests sap their brains?’ (Page 767)

These are not the first gender-based observation I’ve highlighted. Men and women are strange creatures to one another, and it would be incorrect and shallow if there wasn’t some thoughts, actions and emotions of “how strange” the other gender was. It’s a touch of humanity to make the story more real. This is even more so the case with adolescent characters who lack the wisdom and experience of age… Age notwithstanding, men and women should squint at each other strangely from time to time (Are you crazy?). The same is true of anything which would create different worldviews (cultures, religions, even professions to an extent).

Just Great Prose

This was mad panic tied with a frayed rope. (Page 81)

An excellent descriptor: mad panic tied with frayed rope. I sometimes marvel at the regularity by which Robert Jordan is able to come up with such apt expressions. I wonder if he would sit back and examine every third sentence to see if he could turn it into a beautiful piece of prose. Certainly he does it well.

Other note worthy lines:

  • Three thousand years had not dimmed that memory, even if time had altered many of the details. (Page 4)
  • It wanted him dead the way a starving man wanted food. (Page 72)
  • The clan chief of the Taardad Aiel had no visible weapon except the heavy-bladed knife at his waist, but he carried authority and confidence like weapons, quietly, yet as surely as if they were sheathed alongside the knife. (Page 86)
  • Moiraine could not lie, but she could make truth dance a fine jig. (Page 104)
  • Neither expected an easy day, but both wore stony determination like cloaks. (Page 947)

Wisdom

I enjoy having wisdom packed into a book:

  • no good decision was ever made in anger. (Page 119)
  • it was better to guide people than try to hammer them into line. (Page 121)
  • ‘You call this being protected, roofmistress?’ Bain said. ‘If you ask the lion to protect you from wolves, you have only chosen to end in one belly instead of another.’ (Page 482)
  • A general can take care of the living or weep for the dead, but he cannot do both.’ (Page 686)
  • The worst sin a general can commit, worse than blundering, worse than losing, worse than anything, is to desert the men who depend on him.’ (Page 687)

Character Insights

As I’ve also mentioned before Jordan does a wonderful job of describing the world through the characters perspective. The banker does not see the world in the same way as a homeless beggar. They act differently, talk differently and notice different things.

The classic example of this is Siuan Sanche who grew up in a fishing village. Here are quotes from her point of view, or her dialogue.

  • Everything was sailing along according to plan. (Page 773)
  • That was what had her flapping like a fisher-bird whose catch had been stolen (Page 774)
  • There were lionfish out there, and she was swimming in darkness. (Page 775)
  • This was not the first hard corner she had ever been in. A fifteen-year-old girl with nothing but her bait knife, hauled into an alley by four hard-eyed louts with their bellies full of cheap wine – that had been harder to escape than this. (Page 777)
  • ‘It’s time to stop trying to hack a hole in the hull, and start bailing. Even you can still mitigate your offense, Elaida.’ (Page 777)
  • She ground her teeth. Burn my soul, I’ll use this lot for fish bait! (Page 778)
  • I swear, one day I will feed that woman to the silverpike!’ (Page 781)
  • ‘I may no longer wear the stole,’ Siuan replied just as flatly, ‘but I still know how to ready a crew for a storm. (Page 796)
  • Just because I can hook a shark from a boat, I do no offer to wrestle it in the water. (Page 853)

I have read some opinion that Siuan’s fishing analogies are over-used. And as good as they are, I do agree. They are packed together tighter than sardines in a can. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself). They are good, but a little too numerous for my taste.

Similarly for Perrin, the blacksmith:

  • He felt as weak as the worst wrought iron, ready to bend to any pressure. (Page 685)
  • Swing a hammer in haste, and you usually hit your own thumb. (Page 689)
  • Blood trickled down his side; his side burned like a forge-fire. (Page 677)

‘Death is lighter than a feather, duty heavier than a mountain. (Page 397)

‘No.’ The word came thin as a whisper, but strong enough to fill every ear. (Page 408)

A touch of humour:

Master al’Vere put his head into the common room, and came the rest of the way when he saw them sitting apart. ‘There is an Ogier in the kitchen,’ he told Perrin with a bemused look. ‘An Ogier. Drinking tea. The biggest cup looks …’ He held two fingers as though gripping a thimble. ‘Maybe Marin could pretend Aiel walk in here every day, but she nearly fainted when she saw this Loial. I gave her a double tot of brandy, and she tossed it down like water. Nearly coughed herself to death; she doesn’t take more than wine, usually. I think she’d have drunk another, if I’d given it to her.’ (Page 486)

Some irony…

In the stories, when somebody fulfilled a prophecy, everyone cried ‘Behold!’ or some such, and that was that except for dealing with the villains. Real life did not seem to work that way. (Page 566)

And even love…

She wanted to go after Rhuarc and introduce herself to Amys – reintroduce herself – but Rhuarc and Amys were looking into one another’s eyes in a way that excluded intruders. (Page 369)

Jordan, the master story-teller is leading us through the series with prophecy.

  • ‘The stone that never falls will fall to announce his coming. Of the blood, but not raised by the blood, he will come from Rhuidean at dawn, and tie you together with bonds you cannot break. He will take you back, and he will destroy you.’ (Page 408)
  • With you …“He shall spill out the blood of those who call themselves Aiel as water on sand, and he shall break them as dried twigs, yet the remnant of a remnant shall he save, and they shall live.” A hard prophecy, but this has never been a gentle land.’ She met his gaze without flinching. A hard land, and a hard woman. (Page 573)

But that doesn’t mean we know exactly what’s going to happen. There’s still some chance at work, and some red herrings (not a pun, this time):

For a moment she let herself think of the images she had glimpsed, just for a moment, flickering around Gawyn’s head. Gawyn kneeling at Egwene’s feet with his head bowed, and Gawyn breaking Egwene’s neck, first one then the other, as if either could be the future. (Page 798)

And a memory from my own writing. The very first story I can remember writing was in Year 3 and began with the something like, “The branches scratched the window with an eerie crrrr-crrr noise”

He fought wrapped in the cold emotionlessness of the Void, but fear scraped at its boundaries like wind-lashed branches scratching a window in the night. (Page 72)

I hope you’ve enjoyed these highlights as much as I did.

Every Man’s Battle

Revery man's battleecently I’ve re-read “Every Man’s Battle” by Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker. It’s a brutally honest book that acknowledges the trench-warfare-like struggles most men have with sexual purity. The authors don’t sugar-coat reality:

“Before men experience victory over sexual sin, they’re hurting and confused. Sexual immorality in our society is so subtle we sometimes don’t recognise it.”

The authors encourage the reader to fully examine their hearts (and actions) and offer practical tips for freeing oneself from a cycle of sexual compromise and sin. They openly acknowledge it’s going to be hard battle – with backward steps as well as forward. The cost of failure, however, is more than any man can afford. They encourage the reader to choose manhood, purity and honour.

“Holiness,” as they define it simply is, “a series of right choices.”

Sexual purity is a challenge for men of all ages and stages in life. Let’s tackle it head-on, and be men who learn to throw off the shackles of the enemy, and stop him from also oppressing those we love.

The Ignition of Revision (1)

What was it that caused me so quickly to begin a revision of Vengeance Will Come, when it had literally been the farthest thought from my mind?

In the months since putting the manuscript in the mail, I’ve been mulling over how I wrote it. One problematic issue has risen to the surface of my consciousness like foul oil sitting on the top of clean water. The frequent point-of-view (POV) swapping and I’m now convinced it’s a problem.

While some POVs lasted for an entire chapter, there were many, many more far shorter. Someone wise once coined the phrase, ‘a picture tells a thousand words’, obviously that person has never played Pictionary on my team… My lack of drawing skills aside, here’s a picture to demonstrate. (All the yellow highlights are scene changes).

VWC POV changes.PNG

(Wow, even though I knew it was a problem… this display makes it clearer – and me dizzy).

At the time of writing, I thought that the rapid POV/scene changes added to the speed of the novel… but I’ve gradually decided that too many rapid POV-shifts disorient to the reader. Possibly also, my constant POV changes hinted at a weakness in my writing. I believe it’s easier to head-jump than describe the same thing through one character’s brain.

Recognising this flaw, the main change I am going to be doing through revision is cutting down on the number of scenes and POV changes. Small POVs will either be discarded or made meatier.

Do you agree – does frequent and short POVs confuse or annoy you as a reader?

(Next writing-related blog post, I’ll show you the first ‘real’ scene of chapter 1 and explain why it’s now lying on the cutting room floor).