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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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.

Writing a Synopsis

I’ve written before about the amateur author’s pendulum, and the indecisiveness of which route to choose. The spectrum is vast, with traditional publisher at one end and self-publish, release-for-free at the other end.

I’ve decided that I’m going to submit Vengeance Will Come to a traditional publisher. First and foremost, I want the gatekeeper to say I’m allowed through. I don’t want to self publish and (accidentally) add to the slush pile. I know I’m not experienced enough to judge my own quality objectively.

I also know myself. I don’t want to have to worry about things like cover art, promotion and marketing. (I realise there could be elements of this, but I don’t want to ‘go it alone’. I’d rather leave it to the experts).

So now I’m trying to write my very first synopsis. Trying being the operative word.

It’s Hammer Time

In the beginning of Vengeance Will Come I have a made-up saying, a piece of wisdom:

A bar of steel is of limited use

But if it endures flaming trials

And is pounded upon by adversity

It can be shaped into many powerful things…

forge

Vengeance Will Come has been in the fires too long and I have too many other projects I want to progress. To continue the forge metaphor it’s time that some serious hammering occurs.

To that end I’m suspending all work on any other project until the current revision of Vengeance Will Come is complete. No other writing (excluding blog posts) and no programming, no matter how enticing the idea may be.

Ideally I’d like to finish by the end of July, but I’m not sure that’s realistic (based on past experience). In any case, I’m aiming to finish as soon as humanly possible.

And so, it’s hammer time! (Millennials won’t get the pun).

Quick Update

I have a few things I need to prepare for the coming weekend, so I have to make this quick.

I was in the process of writing a blog post on The Red Pill movie. I’ve done about 50% of it, but I’d rather take the time to formulate it well than put it out quickly. So that might hit the blog next week.

I’ve also made a good start on the next installment of my audience-driven story The Guardian. Remember, I’m looking for your input in directing the story.

I’ve decided to excise out the first few pages of “source material” from Vengeance Will Come. I really like these pages (draft here). The idea was that they set the scene for the series (not just the novel). But I also know there’s a real danger in having material which doesn’t relate to the book (setting promises and expectations, and then not fulfilling them). So I’m taking the pages out and instead turning them into a short story. I’ve started to mull it over in my head, and I’m calling it The Heretic.

halo halo brochureAlso, the other day the beautiful Mrs Ezard and I went out on a date. We thought we’d re-live the memories of visiting the Philippines by getting a halo halo dessert. (It didn’t matter at all to us that it was only mid morning).

Here’s what it looked like in the menu (right).

I don’t really remember what it tasted like in the Philippines except for really yummy. Pieces of jelly, beans, fruit, ice and delicious purple ice cream.

halo halo real

This is what it looked like when we received it. Ignore my smile, I wasn’t really sure what to think at this stage. I was thinking something along the lines of “wish I’d gone somewhere else…”

And I’d have to say, the resemblance to the menu is very lacking. One could say, fairly, incomparable.

I didn’t eat much of mine. No point consuming calories if the taste buds are whingeing.

 

 

halo halo 2

But I was on a mission to find good halo halo for the nephews and nieces so I tried another place a few days later. (The sacrifices I make, honestly 🙂 ).

The results were better (far nicer), but I’m not sure if the price justifies it.

VWC Revision: Renaming Characters

Still learning how to write, I don’t always do the right thing at the right time.

The writing luminary Orson Scott Card has rules for naming characters (here and here). The primary rule is that character’s names should not start with the same letter or sound. A sensible rule.

The image below lists all of the named characters in Vengeance Will Come and highlights the problem.

VWC Named Characters Original

(Those in grey are minor characters who don’t get a point-of-view. Some appear repeatedly, and others are only in a single scene).

Too many names?

There are, arguably, too many names and if possible I’ll cull a few of them during the course of the revision by de-naming them.

The reason for so many characters is two-fold. I admit I find it awkward and unnatural to refer to someone multiple times without assigning them a name. Occasionally I’ll give them a nickname (like “Tuxedo” or “Double Muscle”), but doing that too often also feels unnatural – unless that’s a point of view character quirk. Also, like a good fan of Robert Jordan I plan to take a few of the minor characters and elevate them in subsequent books.

Breaking Uncle Orson’s rule

This is a problem I should have fixed much earlier, but better late than never. You’ll also notice in the original image there are a heck of a lot of characters named with similar letters (S, T and M). So here are my proposed changes:

VWC Named Characters Revised

I’m achieving a few goals with these changes:

  1. I’m de-stacking the heaviest use letters.
  2. I’m strategically changing the gender of Teskan (see upcoming post about gender balance).
  3. I’m structuring names in-world. It’s always bothered me that some characters have two names while others only have the one. This was just how it was and I had no good reason for it. Now I do: important individuals (the elite) in the world get two names, whereas everyone else gets one.

The only difficult, and possibly controversial change I wrestled with was “Three”. My opinion pivoted like a see-saw.

On the one hand some reviewers found it understandably difficult, because it’s a real word with a different meaning. It can therefore trip the brain up for a while.

However some respected reviewers liked it and were upset at my thoughts of altering it.

It does breach Uncle Orson’s rule, and is especially dangerous because another major character (Terefi) use the same letter. I can’t change Terefi because of the origin of his name.

But I was also really fond of the name. It’s so different that I think it helps put an “other world” spin on it. (Which, in hindsight, is kind of ironic because we have some crazy names being used on this planet). As I originally conceived it, it is also more than just a name, though that won’t become apparent until later in the series.

So eventually the see-saw motion stopped and Three remained.

A final warning

The other draw back I’ll warn you about is using words that the grammar checker will work itself into a lather over. Because three is a legitimate word, but capitalising it in the middle of a sentence is not kosher, the grammar checker has a perpetual hissy-fit. Even worse (and I’m not sure I should admit this) “Three” started off as “X”. Just a bad move; I don’t think I could get the spellchecker to ignore the single letter.

Hopefully these changes will help to balance out name-usage and make it easier for my readers. Now it’s just a matter of retraining my brain and muscle memory to type the new names instead of the old.


Help over the fence

Want a beta-reader? I’ve been helped in my development process by other beta readers and now it’s my turn to ‘pay it forward’. Each month I’ll read a chapter of someone’s story and comment on it. To be eligible, just comment on one of my posts with “*Review*” in the comment and you’re in the running.