Laying out a Story Seed

The title of this post is a play on words. First I’m going to talk about my programming, and why I’m so keen for layout management, and then share the idea of a story seed, just to whet your appetite or get your writing juices flowing.

Programming: Why do I care so much about layout?

Each time I start my computer for a writing session I follow the same steps:

  1. Open Word on right hand monitor, align to left (50% width).
  2. Open Excel on left monitor, full size.
  3. Open OneNote on left monitor, full size.

When I’m programming I do things a little differently:

  1. Open Eclipse on left monitor, full size.
  2. Open Windows Explorer and navigate to folder structure, left align.
  3. Open SQLiteStudio on right monitor, full size.
  4. Open Firefox, right monitor, right aligned. Load Trac.

At least now Windows 10 remembers on which monitor the application was last on, but that is far from customised in how I prefer to work. For my productivity to be maximized I’d ideally want to tell Windows what I’m going to be working on as I log in. It should know what to load and where to place it.

You can’t do this with Windows yet, but at least in my own application it allows that level of control.

Even while working on writing (generically), depending on which project I’m working on will determine what layout I’ll want. If I’m plotting one, and editing another, chances are a different view will be more beneficial.

My intention is that when you save a project it will save the current layout (project-specific). These layouts are really for quick-use templates.

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The layout functionality is done now (except a few edges I’ll smooth later). Using a layout you can:

  • position and size the application window
  • position, size and name all windows on the screen
  • saves the panels and their names on each of the windows

Writing Seed: Lifetime Magic

I’ve been toying with a fraction of an idea for a while.

Normally magic systems revolve around a select few, who by ancestry or knowledge can wield powers. Often they incur a cost for doing so, and need to recharge their abilities or rest between efforts.

What if the following were true:

  1. The majority of the population has an innate ability to wield magic.
  2. The limits of magic are not well understood, though evidence suggests the environment and objects can be temporarily manipulated. (Objects or persons cannot be imbued with lasting magical effect).
  3. The quantity of magic a person has, is born into them. There is no known way to measure, extend or replenish the spent magic. Once gone, it is believed to be gone for good.

Using these three foundations, what could happen in such a society?

  • the inability to measure magical capacity would mean it isn’t a significant part of a power structure. However those who are known to have used all their magic would be an underclass. The lowest on the social strata would be those few born without magic.
  • people would likely horde their magic, wanting to save it for life-and-death situations and often for selfish purposes.
  • the poor would be forced to use their magic (to survive), thus pushing them further down the social ladder.
  • people would try to bluff or conceal running out of magic.
  • with the cost of experimentation being so high, understanding of magic would be limited. Unscrupulous researchers might go to devious schemes to trick, manipulate or even harm others in an attempt to gain more magic.
  • there would be fads and self-help gurus who posited various means of increasing one’s capacity.
  • magic would run out unexpectedly, causing potential mayhem or embarrassment.

At first I had no story to go along with this, but in the last few days one has begun to unfold in my mind. I may do a short story to explore this idea further in the future.

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Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Just to prove I’m not the only who loved this story.

The Critiquing Chemist

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Rate : 5/5
Medium : KindleBook

Overview (No Spoilers): One of my good friends, Cory, had been after me to read this series for a while and trust me, this is one of those books you’ll be trying to get everyone to read! Rothfuss does a wonderful job weaving a story, within a story, both intricately detailed and constructed in a manner in which the reader, becoming lost in the second story, is shocked back to the main narrative. The world and characters are all developed to an exorbitant detail, which satisfies my analytical brain, is often my main grievance upon critiquing books. With that being said, READ THIS BOOK! The Name of the Wind opens in a small, rural town, in which a seemingly ordinary barkeep and his helper are far more mysterious than they appear. Upon a series of baffling and dangerous events unfolding in the quiet community…

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Thick Plots and Progress

I’m spine-tingly close to finishing reading The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. To be honest, I’d rather leave this blog and go read – but it can wait until the bus trip tomorrow. Or perhaps before bed tonight.

This morning I was thinking about the thick plotting in The Name of the Wind. Not thick as in dense or stupid, but thick as in many-layered. In my first novel, Vengeance Will Come, I have quite a few points of view, but there is really only two major plot lines – two main goals, with a few minor goals running in parallel.

In contrast The Name of the Wind has only one point of view, most of the story is told in past tense, but it is jam-packed with a plethora of goals, intrigue, wonder and danger.

Spoiler alert: I’m about to share some I can come up with in the next 5 minutes.

  1. The story opens with Kvothe (aka Kote) “hiding” in a backwater pub. Is he hiding from danger, fame or infamy?
  2. What does he know about the “demons” on the country roads?
  3. There’s something different about Kvothe, the young boy, who is exceptional in learning. What is it and why?
  4. What is the name of the wind, and will Kvothe ever learn it?
  5. Will he get to go to the university?
  6. His family, his entire troupe, is killed. Why, exactly? What part of his father’s song was so dangerous to the Chadrian?
  7. We see Kvothe struggle to survive on his own – first in the wilderness, and then in the city. He must avoid his also-homeless arch-enemy and the cruelty of the constables. He battles against hunger, sickness, isolation and trauma. Will he ever reclaim who he was before tragedy struck?
  8. He gets admitted to the university, but how will he pay his tuition and have enough to live on? Will his pride be his undoing?
  9. He makes enemies among the Masters (teachers).
  10. He is banned from the Arcanum for recklessness after being tricked by a privileged peer. Unwilling to be beaten, the two of them will be continually at each other’s throats.
  11. His tuition fees keep increasing because he antagonises some of the Masters. How will he pay back the dangerous money lender? Will he finally go too far and be expelled?
  12. He has a love interest, but there are also other suitors for both of them. Will they find true love with one another? What secrets does his beloved have?
  13. The demons are back…why?

As you can see his battling to have his desires met (attend the university, music, get revenge on the Chadrian); battling his own stubborn character and those around him; wrestling with people he doesn’t get on well, and love interests. There’s just so much going on!

I wish that the book had been less engaging – so I could have studied it more. It would make a great study in wish fulfilment, and balancing success with failure.

And about Vengeance Will Come…

I’ve got 34 things on my TODO list (most relate to checking the timing of scenes) and I am working my way through merging chapters together to make them longer.

 

 

On Mentors

It’s a classic device in fantasy writing that a mentor will educate the hero or help them along in their journey.

Partly it’s an excuse to explain to the reader the rules of the magic system or society. It’s conveniently feeding them, at the same time as the protagonist, bite-sized pieces of information.

It also dovetails nicely with the protagonist’s character arc, developing competency and knowledge. The mentor teaches, and then stands back and watches, offering correction as best they can. Eventually, the mentor leaves – or is killed – and the protagonist must survive on their own, to show how capable they have become.

In The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf is a mentor-archetype. It is he who explains to Frodo the urgency of the mission and points him in the right direction. Gandalf helps to construct the fellowship, leads it and finally protects it when confronting the Balrog. While in some respects Gandalf is hands-off (frequently disappearing on side missions), he’s also a super-mentor. He pretty much knows everything and can be trusted to do the right thing. I don’t think I can remember him having a weakness or character flaw?

I really like what Patrick Rothfuss has done in The Name of the Wind. The lead character Kvothe is a child among the Edema Ruh, travelling performers of great repute with an eclectic mix of talent. After a tragedy befalls them, he lives alone in the forest for the summer, and then becomes homeless for many years in a crowded city. Circumstances occur so he can join the University he’s dreamed about as a child.

Kvothe’s vast range of experience, and the various mentors he’s had in life, enable him to believably possess a wide repertoire of skills. It’s a clever move by Rothfuss – putting him in such environments and contexts.

It is an epic-length read, but I’m greatly enjoying the book. Rothfuss has a great way with words, and I suspect I’ll be forced to read the entire series.

Today is the Day

I barely slept a wink all night.

The countdown is close to reaching zero on two separate events. One event is that today I mail off my submission packet for Vengeance Will Come to a publisher.

My very first submission. It feels like I’m breaking new ground. Or better yet, stepping out on the ice, hoping that it’s frozen enough to bear my weight.

To be honest, I’m fully expecting a template rejection letter. Thanks, but no thanks. It’s my first novel and I’m sure I have much to learn about writing. I could have moved on without attempting to publish this first book – but the project would never have felt complete otherwise. (I still have a few wrinkles to smooth out in the manuscript, but they are minor and I hope to be actually complete in two weeks).

And without attempting submission I would never have learned about writing a synopsis, which was both a pleasure and a pain.

Writing a synopsis is an art all of its own and different to a query (or “pitch”). It forces you to distil your entire manuscript down to the core ingredients. (Vengeance Will Come is 300 A4 pages and my synopsis was 7 pages). In complete contradiction to an author’s normal impulses you must outline all major plot points, plot twists and character arcs. You must lay bare your secrets in a summarised recounting, without making it sterile.

I found creating the synopsis helpful in how it articulated the character arcs. In future projects I’m going to write the synopsis in parallel to the manuscript.

Cutting Words Without Value

I have to admit that self-restraint around food isn’t one of my strengths. I like food a little too much. I’m working on down-sizing my appetite… and then hopefully my wardrobe.

One of the things I use to say when younger was about “unwanted calories”. If you aren’t going to enjoy eating something (e.g. the flavourless crusts on a pizza) then its “unwanted calories”. Why consume calories when it’s surplus to need and not going to be enjoyable either? It’s smarter on so many levels just to bin it.

There are certain words that have no value, just like unwanted calories. They add nothing to the story and so should be deleted.

One of the tasks I’ve done recently is to review every use of the word ‘that’. It is most often a filler word whose presence can be removed without altering the meaning of the sentence at all. I know I use it unconsciously. When I did my word frequency analysis I had a massive 735 ‘that’ uses.

that
A particularly bad example of THAT shame

My ‘that’ hunt eradicated it down to just 149 instances. A good hunt, indeed.