Writing Update

With my ambitious editing goal it’s not leaving much time for other writing, i.e. blog posts.

A darling, cut from Vengeance Will Come:

Humans were top of their evolutionary chain until they discovered that the universe was so much larger than they had originally dreamed. Faced with the knowledge that they were just a small ant in a vast garden of much more formidable creatures, would they, if they could, take back the earliest space travel?

I like the passage, but it was part of a section that was too introspective. My natural writing style (at least early on) was introspective – heavily introspective. Now I am cutting down on that, pushing narration into dialogue or more often off the page entirely.

I’ve edited 24,865 words (23%) and so far cut 12% from the overall length of the story. (Which I think means I’m actually about 7k words behind schedule 😩 )

Ambitious Goal Update

It’s been less than a week since the announcement of my crazy/ambitious goal of finishing editing by Christmas. So far I’m well ahead of target, having edited the first six chapters (16,642 words – initially 20,074 words).

edit chart 1-6

This initial quick-progress was expected largely because I’ve already edited these chapters before, meaning there were less changes. It never ceases to amaze me that I’ve now been over these passages several times and I still find improvements. I think that’s why new authors can get stuck in the ‘eternal re-write’ loop. It is, however, my intention that the only editing I will do now on these chapters is limited to a) punctuation or b) at the direction of a professional. (The quick launch was also important, because there are going to be days when I don’t get my 1k words in… like when I’m studying up for interviews :))

During this editing blitz I did have one new scene to write. Fortunately I’d previously made dot-points on what the scene had to achieve, which sped things up. The goals for the scene were not only what happened in the scene but also added some support to later elements of the story.

I still ended up writing the scene about 1.8 times. The first time I wrote the scene it was functional – ticking the necessary boxes on my todo list. My re-write where I changed the tone of the conversation hopefully added some flavor to the story, as well as introducing just a touch of doubt around the plot.

Author’s Notes: When Nightmares Wake

This post is my author’s notes to When Nightmares Wake where I describe my thought processes, decisions and mistakes in writing the story. Think of it like the Director’s commentary on a DVD; only better because it won’t be in monotone (unless you read it so).

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When Nightmares Wake

I’ll save my thoughts and analysis for a follow-up post, but here is my promised writing exercise When Nightmares Wake, a full-strength Fantasy piece.

I am moderately pleased by it (but it remains in the shadow of the short story The Captive [slice-of-life genre] or the novelette Escape from Hell [faith-based genre]).

After you have read the story, you might like to read the related author notes.

When Nightmares Wake

Great Lord Tarius’ eyelids flickered as awareness trickled back into his mind. Dulled by the stupor of sleep an awareness of danger seeped in, as though it was of no consequence.

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On “When Nightmares Wake”

When Nightmares Wake is a short story I’ve been working on inspired by a bout of poor
sleeping. It was supposed to be a quick little project, a little oil for the editing-weary pistons of productivity…

Well it hasn’t been a nightmare, but neither has it been a beautiful dream. It’s taken longer to write than anticipated and the draft is (so far) not as great as I expected. My quick little side-adventure is now impeding work on my main project, Vengeance Will Come.

I have considered abandoning it as a troublesome off-shoot of creativity… However having already invested time, and promising it to you, dear reader, I feel somewhat obliged to deliver; even if it isn’t a polished gem.

So can I learn anything from this experience? Why has the project gone awry?

Firstly, I over-predicted my productivity. I have been less productive than hoped- partly due to a lack of self-discipline (distractions) and partly due to forces beyond my control. Discipline, as a writer, again proves to be of inestimable importance.

Mainly I blame my lack of preparatory plotting.I started with a great ending, but nothing else. I didn’t know where the story began or what events happened in the middle or the sequence of them. I also vacillated over points of the story, changing things back and forth with as much conviction as a swinging pendulum. Does my main character arrive before or after the big battle? Is it the dark of night or the light of day? Small changes like this meant I kept having to rehash the earlier parts of the story.

Larger questions like how the magic system functioned also dammed my creativity. Whether it was internal angst at the delay the story was costing me or something else, the words just didn’t flow. I was hoping for an experience like when I wrote Escape From Hell which almost wrote itself. (The one challenge was balancing important but unpleasant scenes without putting the reader off).

Another contributing factor may be the genre was outside of my wheelhouse. When Nightmares Wake is very much strong fantasy with full-blown magic; not something I have written before.

Two more lessons that I’ve learned are:

  1. I don’t need a good solid block of quality time sitting at the computer. I can successfully contribute to a story, even if it’s a paragraph at a time written on a mobile on the bus.
  2. I didn’t write it chronologically, I jumped around like corn on hot oil. If that’s what it takes to get it done…

When Nightmares Wake is about 75% complete; hopefully coming soon…

The Eye of the World Review (1)

I’ve decided over a large number of posts to critically examine Robert Jordan’s Eye of the World from an aspiring author’s perspective. My goal will be to analyse the novel to see how Robert Jordan has created this story; what works, and what doesn’t. (This book was one I identified as inspirational).

Firstly, some important caveats:

  1. Robert Jordan was a professional, backed by a team of skillful professionals at Tor. I am an amateur; and all thoughts and opinions should be weighted accordingly.
  2. Our writing styles are different; that doesn’t mean one is better than the other – just different (see point 1).
  3. Our genres are different. Robert Jordan is very much EPIC fantasy (travelogue, heavy on description), whereas I’ve discovered my writing in comparison is more adventure fantasy, if that tag can be applied loosely. My writing has more pace and less depth.
  4. The Eye of the World was first published in 1990. That’s 26 years ago and standards and styles change over time. (e.g. Lord of the Rings beginning)
  5. This will contain vast amounts of spoilers; be warned.
  6. It is my opinion; feel free to agree or disagree. (I’m interested in hear how your opinion might differ).
  7. I’m not sure at what age group this book was initially targeted. By the age of the protagonists, I suspect perhaps Young Adult. I do not squeeze into that demographic by any means of contortion.
  8. I’ve read (most of) this series before (2-3 times). That means my perspective is polluted: I know what is going to happen, which is both good and bad. I will see things a first-time-through reader might miss, but I also can’t evaluate how much of a surprise or plot twist things are because I know they are coming.

Before the Story Begins

Tables of Contents and Chapter Titles
The first thing that I notice is that the novel has a table of contents with a list of titled chapters. Personally, I think for fiction, a table of contents and chapter titles are redundant (especially in an e-book). When reading, I very seldom even looked at them.

One could argue that a good chapter title entices the reader to read-on. However if the content of the story is not achieving that, a chapter title won’t add much impetus. A possible danger is that chapter titles could act as (unintentional) spoilers.

I have been known to add a table of contents and chapter titles while drafting. A title
helps orient me in the storyline, and a table of contents can excite me as the story grows.

Anything which helps inspire or encourage you to write is a good thing. That doesn’t mean readers should ever see it.

Prologue
The Eye of the World, in classic EPIC fantasy style, starts with a prologue. A prologue is a chapter which relates or explains something pre-dating the beginning of the (actual) story.

I’ve read/heard that some publisher’s hate prologues, to the point of throwing a manuscript in the bin at the first sight of a prologue. That’s a bit extreme, and obviously different genres have different standards: write for your genre.

It is vitally important that the first pages are a vicious hook to the reader which traps them – even kicking and screaming – into the novel.

The very first sentence piques my interest,

“The palace still shook occasionally as the earth rumbled in memory, groaned as if it would deny what had happened.”

What is so bad, I wonder, that the earth would deny that it happened?

“The dead lay everywhere, men and women and children, struck down in attempted flight…”

Jordan uses excellent description, where a lesser writer might have spoon-fed their reader with a single word. Jordan shows it is a slaughter – indiscriminate killing of powerless victims – instead of just telling us it is a slaughter.Sometimes, more IS more.

Quickly we learn the perspective we are looking through (on the second paragraph) : Lews Therin Telamon. It is a 3-name character, but notice that it is often shortened to just Lews Therin.

“His eyes caught his own reflection in a mirror.”

Seeing one-self in a mirror might was probably acceptable back when Jordan published, now it has become a cliché to be avoided.

The protagonist Lews Therin is suffering madness (and amnesia). Jordan does a good job displaying this; Lews Therin continually losing his thought, getting distracted or not seeing danger for what it is.

In classic epic fantasy style there are a LOT of unfamiliar names and terms. Personally, for my liking this is excessive, throwing so much unexplained at a reader.I’ll do my best to keep track of these things to see if they are ever explained.

wot_terms_1

While only a few characters are introduced, they have many aliases.

wot_characters_1

Waffle
Sometimes I could accuse Jordan of waffling, adding extraneous sentences which don’t progress the plot, character arcs or add much value. But what is waffle to me, might be the gravy for another reader. It’s about perspective, and perspective always differs.

Purpose
Jordan’s prologue describes an event that comes to be known as the Breaking of the World. It also magnifies the important aspect of the Wheel of Time – that it is about a continuing battle between good (the Light) and evil (the Shadow), where the hero is reincarnated.

“Ten years! You pitiful fool! This was has not lasted ten yeas, but since the beginning of time. You and I have fought a thousand battles with the turning of the Wheel, a thousand times a thousand, and we will fight until time dies and the Shadow is triumphant!”

So the question is, does the prologue add value? I wrestled with this question. In terms of content no; the subject matter of the prologue could have been “bled” through the remainder of the story. We could have learned about the reincarnation of the Dragon, the One Power and the Breaking in other ways.

However, in terms of overall structure of the story I’d say not only is the prologue good, it is absolutely necessary. I’ll describe why in my next post, but suffice to say the prologue provides a necessary hook to reel the reader in.

(I’ve previously highlighted some of the writing from this section which I appreciated the style in).

A Changing Perspective: Writing and Work

I sit at the computer desk, motionless. Fully dressed for work, but mind remaining in neutral with no thoughts beyond the now. The flavour of strong coffee fills my mouth even as the sweet scent of last night’s tea lingers in the emptied cup. All is quiet, all is still. I wish to remain motionless until a time of my choosing, but I know it cannot be.

With an internal sigh I stand and make my way regretfully to the bathroom and the waiting toothbrush. In the adjacent bedroom my wife’s alarm goes off for the third time, pulling her from sleep and me from waking-slumber.

Time is not relative, it marches on regardless. The bus travels on its schedule, not at my whim. Work must be attended, regardless of my mood or desire.

I have approximately 17 hours a fortnight which is ‘uncommitted’. That factors in a reasonable amount of time spent doing chores, occasional socializing and precious time with my wife. (It doesn’t factor in time for exercising, which highlights another problem).

That’s a maximum of 17 hours, mostly divided into two-hour chunks at the end of a workday, which is not my most productive time. I already rise early, so extending my day at either end is not possible.  (I realise that for some people, 17 hours a fortnight is a luxury).

At times I have lamented – nay: complained and whined – that my writing time should be so dominated by my occupation which pays the bills. I have seen it as a distraction from what I would rather be doing.

This attitude could be both good or bad. At its best the desire to “break free” could propel me toward the near-mythical publication success. More probably, is that I could grow to resent or have bitterness toward my occupation.

My current reality is that while I want to write I still need to work. To do both well and have a healthy attitude means accepting that fact.

Besides, until I am squeezing every ounce of productivity out of those 17 hours then I shouldn’t be wishing for more. (And I have a way to go with that still).

How much time do you have to write? How do you balance your recreational and occupational commitments?