Escaping

In the last couple of weeks I’ve made significant progress in my revision of Escape from Hell, my faith-based story. When I announced the re-write I mentioned my goal was to lengthen the story in order to smooth out the abrupt ending, which almost universally caught readers by surprise.

(Side note: Now that I think about it the abrupt ending was kind of ironic given that the character dies abruptly at the beginning of the story… and that our own deaths can come equally without warning. The unintentional irony works with my dark sense of humour; but that doesn’t mean it makes for a good writing quality).

The story has gone from approximately 9,000 words up to 23,000 in this first draft. I expect it to contract a little as I tighten my prose. The original story wasn’t formatted for chapters; now there are a total of 7 chapters, 3 of which are entirely new content.

The most important question though: is the story better for it? That’s the question I’ll be asking myself (and soon, alpha readers) as I let it’s melody play in the foreground while I do another editing pass. There are definitely elements in which the story has improved: the story has more depth and the ending is smoother now that it has more of a story and character arc. And yet, I’m still a bit apprehensive.

The first few chapters (the pre-existing chapters) that I wrote while highly inspired sing to me. I’m not sure yet if the other subsequent chapters are singing in harmony.

Even my choice of metaphor is suspect: who’d think I’d ever be any kind of singing conductor…

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Plotting by Pen

I’m a fairly hi-tech writer. Generally speaking I like to use my computer heavily for all-things writing. It’s a by-product of being a nerd; I use normal software (Scrivener, Word, OneNote) and my own programs and beefy spreadsheets to keep track of everything.

However there are also times when I break out ye old pen and paper and work through problems by sketching, writing, arrows and scribbles. I’m not sure why moving away from the keyboard helps my thoughts flow more freely but it is sometimes helpful.

As an example, I’m going to share a section of my novel Vengeance Will Come (available on Amazon). This post contains slight spoilers. Regent Danyel Abudra while frantically searching for his missing wife has a confrontation with a criminal kingpin named Zekkari.

If you can read my writing…

Originally my plan was to have Danyel kill Zekkari during an interrogation. This would begin a moral slide for Danyel who had always been a man of integrity. You can rescue your wife, but it’s going to cost you style plot device. This eventuality raised several questions of world-building and plausibility.

Would Danyel, as Regent of Tador, be held accountable for killing Zekkari? What are the laws surrounding the treatment of criminals who are yet to be found guilty? How much immunity from prosecution does a ruler have? What is the relationship and interaction between Tador’s laws and the planetary Regional Assembly judiciary?

More importantly, is it plausible, even under the significant duress of his wife being abducted that Danyel would kill Zekkari? The more I considered it the more I realised he couldn’t. Granted, if I saw someone harming my wife they’d find themselves in not-insignificant danger — but that is different to “I suspect you know something about my wife’s disappearance and you’d better tell me.” I just couldn’t see a cultured, intelligent person resorting to murder on such circumspect evidence. Perhaps of equal importance it didn’t fit who I wanted Danyel to be.

So initially, as the result of my pen etchings I decided that Danyel would accidentally kill Zekkari. An accident is far more plausible than intentional murder.

While my example in this picture is fairly clean it is not uncommon for me to have a half-dozen possible solutions and write the pros and cons of each approach down.

As it happens, that’s not exactly how the story plays out — but I did promise no spoilers…

Bloody Vomit

Today I share the beginning of a short story. It came to me as a synergy of two things. The first was from my reading of Living Water:

Centuries ago Christians built remote monasteries in the mountains to help them get away from people and supposedly avoid the “contamination” of the world. Today in Protestant circles the same thinking prevails in a different guise. It results in a stream of believers only equipped to play spiritual games inside the safety of their church walls, but totally ill prepared when they have to leave their Christian environment and interact with real people in the outside world.

Yun, Brother. Living Water: Powerful Teachings from the International Bestselling Author of The Heavenly Man (p. 256). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

The second was the two words “bloody vomit”, which have a lot of emotional resonance of innate fear.

So, do please enjoy some “Bloody Vomit”…

Bloody vomit. That’s how it started, and that’s how it would end. Bloody vomit: the first sign the grim reaper had selected you, and the final sign he’d returned.
I’d woken up in the middle of the night to hear my wife Sarah retching. No other sound was as scary these days. She’d looked at me, and even by the moonlight we could see the fear in each other’s eyes.
“Get away,” she’d yelled and stumbled backwards, even as I ran to hug her.
“I’m not going to leave you. We’ll get through this together,” I promised as I held her tightly.
It had been just 3 months since the first incident of the plague had occurred. Two days later there had been localised quarantines, a week after state borders were closed. Within a month all international travel stopped. And then came the mass death. Everywhere you looked people were either dying or panicked out of their minds. And both categories of people were dangerous. The Government, or what was left of it, was desperately working on a cure to what was being called the precursor of human extinction. The officials and scientists worked in isolated and fortified emergency compounds. Soldiers guarded the perimeter and used their guns to enforce it. Sadly, it was simply too dangerous to be out among the sick; any attempt to care for the unwell was highly selective – the vast majority were left to die without aid or comfort. And now Jessica was infected.
“We shouldn’t have left the secure zone,” Jessica said, “we should have stayed there.”
“You know someone had to make the trip. If there’s a cure, we have to find it.”

Escaping from Hell

I’ve made significant progress in my revision of Escape from Hell in the last week (hence the pun in the blog title). I’m currently working through the 5th and what was the final chapter of the original story.

The observant among you might notice that doesn’t match my progress bar on the right (and it’s not because I’ve been lazy in updating it… this time). The 50% indicator is because I am strongly considering extending the story by approximately another 4 chapters. In fact the first version of the story didn’t have ‘chapters’ at all. It was a single block of 9,700 words. I’ve broken it into chapters because the text naturally divides into chapters. Plus chapters are friendlier for the reader. If I’m torturing the character in my story, the least I can do is make it convenient for the reader 🙂

There was a time, now thankfully in the past, where the mere idea of lengthening a story would be enough for me to do it. After all, word count was the measure of success, right? Now the important question of any addition or reduction is will it make the story better?

I believe that it will. By lengthening the character arc I can be more nuanced in telling the story and make the ending punchier. I can also explore the themes more. I’m just about ready to sketch out the next few chapters…

Vengeance Will Come, First Review

Today I discovered that I had a review for my novel, Vengeance Will Come on Amazon. Further more, I’ve had the review since November and didn’t even know!

For some strange – and surely nonsensical – reason, it appears Amazon displays comments only on the Amazon site where the novel is purchased. I would have thought it’d make more sense to display all of the same-language reviews on every Amazon site that caters for that language… i.e. give your customers more feedback about a product (and not to mention, potentially help your authors).

The review is very generous:

An engaging story with a surprising twist at the end. The characters are very well developed and vivid. The story is told masterfully and I wish to congratulate the writer on such a well written book. I only wish that they make it into a movie! I look forward to Book 2.

Thanks so much “Amazon Customer” 🙂 Such a review is encouraging, and encouragement is a big help. You too can buy my novel at the Amazon US, UK, AU or other site of your choosing 🙂

I have heard before that every author (regardless of previous successes) doubts themselves and their writing ability. It’s nice not to be alone in that feeling. It just so happens Francine Rivers who is an incredible writer, recently wrote about her continuing doubts and how she overcomes the immensity of the goal.

Writing Again

In the last week I’ve been doing some writing again (it’s been a while).

I’m revising my novelette, Escape from Hell. A novelette is longer than a short-story, but smaller than a novella (sitting in the 7,500 to 17,500 word count range). Escape from Hell is definitely a personal favourite. It’s a first-person faith-inspired trip into the afterlife. If I remember correctly I wrote it in a very short time frame, the whole story coming together in a few days. That is to say, I felt inspired to write it and the words flowed out of my brain and heart onto the page.

The only point were I slowed were the violent scenes, of which there are a few. It is literally Hell, so it’s not full of Sunday picnics with butterflies and rainbows. It’s a tricky balance to strike though. It’s hell: I want it to be horrific – and yet I don’t want it to be so overwhelming that the reader disengages.

Because of how excited I was by the story I didn’t revise it much… I just put it onto my website to share in a rush of endorphins. (I’ve removed it now, pending publication). So now, with a year or more writing experience behind me, I’m taking another look at it to see how I might revise it.

There is a part of me that wants to significantly expand it, though that will come after much careful deliberation. I’ve thought of a few different places where I could lengthen the story arc – and make it more gripping to read – but it’s balancing that disengage factor. Perhaps I will write the extra story arc and have a few alpha readers test it? (The words after all are not wasted, they count towards the ‘million practice words’ every author needs).

I’m going to be more structured in my revision process this time. I envision a three-pass process. The first revision (which I’m currently in) is looking at the broader story arcs. The second revision I’ll look at the detail, trying to tighten each sentence and the third pass I’ll be hunting for typos etc.

Nerd-Author Fun v2: Text Analysis

I promised this week that my blog post would be about some of my C# coding, which also happens to dovetail in beautifully with my writing. I’ve taken my earlier work and begun the super-charging process. That being said: this is just the beginning. In the future I plan to make it available, far more powerful and with a few of the bugs ironed out.

The general premise behind the program is that it can load your story from a text file, and then allow you to analyse it. At the moment it is sans-UI – which means it doesn’t have pretty user windows, checkboxes and other controls. I’m calling it Text Analysis Command Line (TAC). As it’s a command line program you have to type commands in to operate it.

So what can it do?

Like any good program it contains help – typing ‘?’ will give you a list and basic description of the available commands; typing ‘<command> ?’ will give you detailed options on that particular command.

wordcount-1

When you see a pipe symbol ‘|’ it means or. Square brackets (‘[‘, ‘]’) mean optional.

Most commands can either display output on the screen or save the results to a file. If using a single greater-than symbol (‘>’) the file will be saved (unless it already exists). Using the double option ‘>>’ will save the file, overwriting it if necessary.

Below is a description of all of the currently available commands. The results are based on processing Vengeance Will Come, my scifi/fantasy adventure (available now):

wordcount. You can display the frequency of every word used. Earlier in the year I bought Scrivener (left). For the most part it’s a great program but I was disappointed there was no way to export (or even easily query) word count data. The image of TAC (right) shows a snippet of both the textual version (default) and the ‘basic mode’ (using -b option). The basic mode is valuable if opening the file in Excel to do pretty graphs.

wordcount can also provide wordcount-word lengththe number of words which begin with given letters (-f) or the length of words (-l).

Just in case you’re curious the longest word at 20 characters is ‘uncharacteristically’. The three 16’s are: ‘conspiratorially’, ‘incontrovertible’ and ‘responsibilities’.

For the purpose of completeness, I’ll briefly mention the data command. At the moment it’s limited, a means to interrogate the data. In order to do all of this (and future) processing I painstakingly categorise every character of text into a type. Using the -expseg option outputs this information.

datacmd-2
-expseg option

 

At this stage the only two other data commands are -sen (output sentence). For example outputting the sentence at segment 128 is:

At first light they invade my mind, besieging it to the point of exhaustion.

And -block (output block) at 128:

“I wish that I didn’t know the future; that I couldn’t see the prophecies unfold before me. At first light they invade my mind, besieging it to the point of exhaustion. Even in my fitful sleep they haunt me as wild animals stalk the scent of blood, turning what little rest I get into an extension of my waking nightmare. I cannot escape.

The find command is powerful and will be leveraged heavily in future updates.

find-1

Unsurprisingly, find locates the occurrences of a specified word. Importantly the before and after options allow displaying the word in a variable level of context (e.g. want to see 10 words preceding the word, or only 5?).

find can also locate every instance of a specified type of punctuation. Want to know how often I use exclamation marks? Typing ‘find -p’ brings up a list of punctuation options from which a selection can be made.

find-2

The answer is of course 45 (as displayed on the screenshot). However, now I know exactly where they are (and in what context).

find-3.PNG
The first use of ! occurs at the 660th character in my novel.

I’m a big believer in not over-using the exclamation mark, so a tool like this would let me easily see how often I’ve used it in a given book (and calculate the amount of text between each usage). More importantly, it can also let me track down when I’ve used a ” instead of a “ which seems to happen no matter how careful I am.

This brings me to the end of the tour of TAC v0.0.1, I hope you liked it.