Fighting Paralysis

I’ve hit the difficult spot in my story.

I believe I know what is wrong with it, but I am not quite sure how to fix it yet. And the change seems so big that it results in a fear-like response. It is too big a problem to fix, my brain says, shying away from the task. The worry expands and grows: have I changed that character’s motivations earlier in my revision? What is the timing of the different scenes, and can I fit them together?

It’s an irrational fear. I know I can work through the problems, however it feels like I’m at the base of Mt Everest and have one gigantic, massive mountain to climb.

I can’t let paralysis win. I can’t let it chase me away or stop me dead. I need to choose the fight response (and not flight or freeze).

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How goes the Revision?

A quick writing update on the revision of my first novel, Vengeance Will Come. It was my goal to finish the revision by the end of this month and I’m currently sitting at 70% complete. I’ve been making a few structural tweaks and expanding it out a little, as well as improving the language.

As an example, I just came across this:

The exclamations of surprise and dismay reached their climax.

Now that I re-read that line I am embarrassed by it. It’s talking about shock in a way which would put people to sleep. (And considering I am very sleepy, it’s not helping).

I always felt there was a problem at the 5/6th’s point of the story, where I leap-frog forward in time. More than one beta reader was surprised that the ending came quite so quickly. This suggests to me a stunted story. It was my intention to soften this leap by writing new content – whether that be some decent-length scenes or even a couple of chapters.  However, I’m also aware that I don’t want to write a chapter if it’s only ‘padding’. That would be a bad move. The goal of revision – whether it’s expanding, contracting or completely renovating should be to improve the story. This means I’ll need a good chunk of time to think through and write the content so that it is valuable and can be blended in to the story. At this stage I have no idea how I’m going to do it.

Fortunately, after discovering I haven’t had a meaningful holiday since March 2016, I’m taking a week off. Expect a writing surge. (Or feel free to shame me if there’s not).

And I’m thinking of releasing my novel for free…

 

A Race to the End

I’ve got work-related activities that I need to focus on coming up. In order to focus my attention, I want to finish my revision of Vengeance Will Come by the end of September. That’s possibly an unachievable goal.

Given that I suspect I need a new chapter at the 9/10ths part of the story, I need to leave a good chunk of time for writing that. So it’s a race to the end and I hope you’ll be seeing some massive jumps in the progress bar to the right.

The progress starts now. Go!

Another deleted scene from Vengeance Will Come

It’s been an anxious couple of weeks on the writing scene. Weeks is an unfair way for me to describe it… possibly 10 hours is more accurate in terms of available writing time. And yet a couple of hundred words spread over 10 hours is enough to make me anxious. In fact it did more, it sucked my enthusiasm dry and wrapped it in the cold embrace of a black hole. I literally had no enthusiasm left.

In an effort to reduce the number of point-of-view (POV) changes, I had decided to delete the scene below.

It’d been a day and a half since the female Brethren agent had discarded her cloak of normality. She dropped to the rubber mat for some rapid push-ups and then did a series of stretches before returning to the wooden chair. She let her head and neck relax into position behind the thermographic scope of the sniper rifle.
It had started by been comm’d and told to not go into work. The same morning the Shadow Generator had been delivered to her house in the shell of a large fridge-freezer unit. The nameless ‘delivery men’ had reassembled the device while she used a laser cutter to dig into the house’s foundations to the secret weapons-cache.
Throughout the day construction workers had begun building a pool and patio in her backyard with heavy machinery. The work outside was purely to hide the noise of the real construction: a shield box in the attic where she now sat. The shield box was a large metal cage which protected her high-tech weapon from the Shadow Generator in the kitchen.
While some of the workers had left at nightfall others had remained with their supplies and equipment. They watched through the ground floor windows, ready to defend the Shadow Generator with their lives. She had never met them before but they were Brethren; that was enough.
Her mission was clear, even if its ultimate purpose was not: keep the Shadow Generator running for as long as possible and prevent the enemy from capturing it. She was honoured to have been chosen as a martyr of the New Order.

The enemy arrived in under three hours, approaching in a staggered formation with the lead squad moving through her neighbour’s yard. The forward unit was closing in, but she watched further up the street for the unit leader. As the unit leader stepped around the corner she placed the crosshairs on his face and pulled the trigger. She shot two more soldiers in the chest before the Tadorian squad returned-fire at her en-masse, shredding the attic and forcing her to roll down the stairs to escape the inferno of lead.

The unnamed character in this scene had this, and one shorter scene and then disappears from the story line. Hence, why it was a prime candidate for POV removal.

However, I had originally added the POV because I needed someone “close to the action”. Removing her, meant I had to view the scene as a bystander… which was risky in the slowing-down of action. Try as I might, I couldn’t get enthusiastic at writing the scene from the alternate location. The words dribbled out and my enthusiasm quickly evaporated.

Making a beginner’s mistake, which I thought I was smart enough to be immune to, I misinterpreted that lack of enthusiasm as more than what it was. The story was horribly flawed, broken and should be abandoned. Not true, but that’s how I felt. I wrestled with the complete death of my enthusiasm. I tried to puzzle out what my problem was and it wouldn’t come to me. Day after day, the same soul-sucking dread. I lamented to a friend over coffee that I was considering putting the whole project aside, or completely reverting the scene deletion (and then putting it aside).

The morning following the coffee while getting ready for work, I had a brainwave. It would mean going back and changing a couple of earlier scenes but if it meant breaking the deadlock it was worth it.

Not only that, but I’m also taking a riskier step. My protagonist is going to have a slightly longer sulking session, which is a very dangerous move. If he is too sulky the reader won’t like him. But as it is currently written, he overcomes his emotional distress in the speed it takes Jack Bauer (of 24) to recover from a near-death experience. Which isn’t authentic at all. It’s a risk. I’m taking it.

Highlights from A Crown of Swords

This is approximately the seventh in my series of posts where I share the highlights I made in the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. This post covers book 7, A Crown Of Swords. Given the lengths of the books, this selection is ‘the best’ highlights; otherwise there’d be several thousand words worth of quotes. As it is, this post is longer than intended…

Serious Matters: Dealt with First

It seems odd to start my ‘highlights’ post by talking about something which I found genuinely disturbing. But it needs to be discussed. Matt Cauthon, who frequently seduce any willing woman, finds himself aggressively pursued by Queen Tylin. No, I’m going to call a spade a spade: she rapes him. I’ll post the encounter here in full and then discuss it.

It was too much. The woman hounded him, tried to starve him; now she locked them in together like . . . like he did not know what. Lambkin! Those bloody dice were bouncing around in his skull. Besides, he had important business to see to. The dice had never had anything to do with finding something, but . . . He reached her in two long strides, seized her arm, and began fumbling in her belt for the keys. “I don’t have bloody time for—” His breath froze as the sharp point of her dagger beneath his chin shut his mouth and drove him right up onto his toes. “Remove your hand,” she said coldly. He managed to look down his nose at her face. She was not smiling now. He let go of her arm carefully. She did not lessen the pressure of her blade, though. She shook her head. “Tsk, tsk. I do try to make allowances for you being an outlander, gosling, but since you wish to play roughly . . . Hands at your sides. Move.” The knifepoint gave a direction. He shuffled backward on tiptoe rather than have his neck sliced. “What are you going to do?” he mumbled through his teeth. A stretched neck put a strain in his voice. A stretched neck among other things. “Well?” He could try grabbing her wrist; he was quick with his hands. “What are you going to do?” Quick enough, with the knife already at his throat? That was the question. That, and the one he asked her. If she intended to kill him, a shove of her wrist right there would drive the dagger straight up into his brain. “Will you answer me!” That was not panic in his voice. He was not in a panic. “Majesty? Tylin?” Well, maybe he was in a bit of a panic, to use her name. You could call any woman in Ebou Dar “duckling” or “pudding” all day, and she would smile, but use her name before she said you could, and you found a hotter reception than you would for goosing a strange woman on the street anywhere else. A few kisses exchanged were never enough for permission, either. Tylin did not answer, only kept him tiptoeing backward, until suddenly his shoulders bumped against something that stopped him. With that flaming dagger never easing a hair, he could not move his head, but eyes that had been focused on her face darted. They were in the bedchamber, a flower-carved red bedpost hard between his shoulder blades. Why would she bring him . . .? His face was suddenly as crimson as the bedpost. No. She could not mean to . . . It was not decent! It was not possible! “You can’t do this to me,” he mumbled at her, and if his voice was a touch breathy and shrill, he surely had cause. “Watch and learn, my kitten,” Tylin said, and drew her marriage knife. Afterward, a considerable time later, he irritably pulled the sheet up to his chest. A silk sheet; Nalesean had been right. The Queen of Altara hummed happily beside the bed, arms twisted behind her to do up the buttons of her dress. All he had on was the foxhead medallion on its cord – much good that had done – and the black scarf tied around his neck. A ribbon on her present, the bloody woman called it. He rolled over and snatched his silver-mounted pipe and tabac pouch from the small table on the other side from her. Golden tongs and a hot coal in a golden bowl of sand provided the means for lighting. Folding his arms, he puffed away as fiercely as he frowned. “You should not flounce, duckling, and you shouldn’t pout.” She yanked her dagger from where it was driven into a bedpost beside her marriage knife, examining the point before sheathing it. “What is the matter? You know you enjoyed yourself as much as I did, and I . . .” She laughed suddenly, and oh so richly, resheathing the marriage knife as well. “If that is part of what being ta’veren means, you must be very popular.” Mat flushed like fire. (page 515-517)

It is such a tricky situation. Matt does complain about it, clearly uncomfortable. It is culturally appropriate in the city of Ebou Dar for women to do the pursuing. Matt doesn’t entirely hate the situation or Tylin. But he does feel so uncomfortable that he seeks his friends out for help…

“You listen to me! That woman won’t take no for an answer; I say no, and she laughs at me. She’s starved me, bullied me, chased me down like a stag! She has more hands than any six women I ever met. She threatened to have the serving women undress me if I didn’t let her—” (Page 653)

I suspect the scene was written in a failed attempt to be funny. The gag was probably supposed to be the chaser becomes the chased. Only it isn’t funny. If you swap the genders and have a man forcing a woman into bed at knife-point it’s rape. It doesn’t matter what the individual’s sexual past has been.

It’s important to note in the world-building of WOT, it isn’t rape. Matt never describes it as such himself. It’s in a grey area that has and can be argued over. However the problem is in modern times it equates to rape in the reader’s mind. At least in this reader’s mind.

Not everyone will agree that it was rape, citing plausible arguments. That’s OK. From a writer’s perspective is it a good thing that a significant portion of your readers will be uncomfortable about the scene? (When that isn’t the goal of the scene). I would say not. I found it incredibly jarring when I realised that’s what it was. I was shocked and disturbed.

Now I’ve read other books with rape or similar uncomfortable material. (I think of Rage by Wilbur Smith in which I couldn’t warm to any of the characters due to their despicable and abhorrent natures). Part of the reason why it disturbed me so much was because I wasn’t expecting it – it doesn’t fit the rest of the WOT books. Some author’s have made their careers by making readers squirm, but Jordan wasn’t one of them.

I don’t think Jordan is bad because of the scene; it was a poor choice with unintended ramifications. Who, among us though, hasn’t had a joke which has backfired horribly? It’s just that Jordan’s mis-fired joke was written down and mass-marketed. A good warning.

Onto Better Things

Now onto the good highlights.

“The White Tower will be whole again, except for remnants cast out and scorned, whole and stronger than ever. Rand al’Thor will face the Amyrlin Seat and know her anger. The Black Tower will be rent in blood and fire, and sisters will walk its grounds. This I Foretell.” (Page 16)

What I particularly like about this is it’s a prophecy of the future that is guaranteed to come true. Only, the interpretation that the character puts upon the Foretelling is a different outcome to what will happen in reality. I knew this because it’s not my first time reading the book, but for a new reader it would throw them off-track. A clever manoeuver.

More on the differences between men and women:

  • Standing on the ground, she somehow made it seem that she was looking down at him. Not an Aes Sedai trick, that; he had seen Faile do it. He suspected most women knew how. (Page 71)
  • Only a fool thinks a lion or a woman can truly be tamed. (Page 354)
  • “Women keep promises in their own way,” (Page 646)
  • Usually when a woman was in the wrong, she could find so many things to blame on the nearest man that he wound up thinking maybe he really was at fault. (Page 652)

And some real-life humor, a dig at us authors:

Loial strode up, bubbling with energy despite his obvious weariness. “Rand, they say they’re ready to go, but you promised to talk to me while it’s fresh.” Abruptly his ears twitched with embarrassment, and that booming voice became plaintive. “I am sorry; I know it can’t be enjoyable. But I must know. For the book. For the Ages.” Laughing, Rand got to his feet and tugged at the Ogier’s open coat. “For the Ages? Do writers all talk like that? Don’t worry, Loial. It will still be fresh when I tell you. I won’t forget.” (Page 87)

Other good quotes:

  • The wind shook the banner hard and was gone quickly, as if glad to be away. (Page 50)
  • Defeating Aes Sedai was not easy; making them admit defeat lay on the far side of impossible. (Page 57)
  • Perhaps they would only still them. From the little he had picked up, stilling an Aes Sedai amounted to a killing that just took a few years for the corpse to lie down. (Page 59)
  • “You think I can’t teach them as well as you?” Rand’s voice was soft, the whisper of a blade sliding in its sheath. (Page 82)
  • In Cairhien, maybe in most lands, ordinary folk could be crushed unnoticed where the mighty walked. (Page 116)
  • He floated in the Void, surrounded by emptiness beyond knowing, and saidin filled him, trying to grind him to dust beneath steel-shattering cold and heat where stone would flash to flame, carrying the Dark One’s taint on its flow, forcing corruption into his bones. Into his soul, he feared sometimes. It did not make him feel so sick to his stomach as it once had. He feared that even more. And larded through that torrent of fire, ice and filth – life. That was the best word. Saidin tried to destroy him. Saidin filled him to overflowing with vitality. It threatened to bury him, and it enticed him. The war for survival, the struggle to avoid being consumed, magnified the joy of pure life. So sweet even with the foulness. What would it be like, clean? Beyond imagining. He wanted to draw more, draw all there was. (Page 144)
  • It was always better to know than to be ignorant, but sometimes ignorance was much more comfortable. (Page 269)
  • A yellow-haired woman in red belt and plunging neckline made a faint sound as her eyes rolled up in her head and she slid bonelessly from her red chair. (Page 552)
  • “Yes, but there is the matter of the Bargain.” That word was plainly capitalized in Harine’s tone. (Page 597)
  • Mat crashed into the killer’s back, and they all three hit the floor together. He had no compunctions against stabbing a man in the back when it was necessary, especially a man who could tear somebody’s throat out. (Page 666)
  • Insults to Thom’s flute or his harp were insults to himself. (Page 684)
  • Rand blinked, and snatched one hand from the crown to suck on a pricked finger. Almost buried among the laurel leaves of the crown were the sharp points of swords. …  Gingerly he set the circle of laurel leaves on his head. Half those swords pointed up, half down. No head would wear this crown casually or easily. (Page 739)

Writing and Coding Update

Coding : Character Point-Of-View Chart

I want to learn how to program in C# to add that arrow to my professional quiver. You never know when you need another arrow.

In light of that goal and also to aid in my writing I’m going to build a small application (“Perspective“) to generate my Character Point-of-View (POV) charts.

The charts display by chapter and scene which character has the point of view. I first described them in Examining Character Balance and shared the Excel file which I use. However the spreadsheet does so much it is complex and I could understand people being scared off by it. And, it’s a great excuse to do some C# and get side-benefits from it.

Draft Cal POV

It is important to note this will be an iterative development. The first version won’t look anything like the final product. I’m not quite ready to share my code, but I will – and the application – in the future.

v0.1 screenshot

I’m using Windows Forms. (I think this is a slightly older technology, but I thought it was a good place to start). The form doesn’t do much, and data entry is simplistic: character names will be separated by commas, and a chapter will be ended by a semi-colon.

I’ll be putting formatting options on the form so you can control what it looks like. Here are the terms I’m using at the moment.

Style design

I’ve also got a few experimental ideas with which I’m keen to include. I think they could really add value to the chart.

Writing

One of my goals in this revision was to reduce the amount of head-hopping. So how am I going so far? I’m glad you asked, because here are some outputs from my Perspective application that demonstrates the progress so far.

Original manuscript. Without the benefit (yet) of labels, I’ll explain it. Below shows the first 4 chapters.

  • Chapter 1 = 6 scenes
  • Chapter 2 = 5 scenes
  • Chapter 3 = 8 scenes
  • Chapter 4 = 8 scenes

VWC - Old Version

Revised manuscript. It’s a bit hard to see the difference because the image comes out a different size…. *scratches head*

  • Chapter 1 = 3 scenes
  • Chapter 2 = 4 scenes
  • Chapter 3 = 5 scenes
  • Chapter 4 = 6 scenes

VWC - New Version

With less scenes there is less head-jumping, which should result in less fragmentation for the reader. I’ve also expanded the word count (in those four chapters) by 2,000 words.

Highlights from the ‘Fire of Heaven’ (2)

This is my second post about Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, book 5 in the series, ‘Fire of Heaven‘. I hadn’t intended on making it a multi-part post but I had too much highlighted to fit into the first post. I still have too much for two-posts, but I have decided it only gets two posts: whatever doesn’t fit, misses out.

(After reading so many books (and so many pages) in such a short timeframe it does all blend into a quagmire. I couldn’t tell you the main plot line of any book – it’s all one continuum in my mind. And I’m currently reading book 7, so forgive me if my thoughts and comments stray across lines. Unintentional spoiler alert).

In book 5 I definitely noticed the different journey of the characters. Matt, Rand, Perrin, Nynaeve and Egwene all started out in the same Two Rivers village. There were slight differences between them: Nynaeve was older and in a position of authority as the Village Wisdom, and Egwene had a tiny bit of status as the Mayor’s daughter. Excluding personality, gender and occupational differences they essentially shared the same world-view.

Now, after all going on separate journey’s, they are all radically different. This gives me one (or is it two?) insights on how to treat and understand characters:

  • a different journey produces different results
  • if you want different results, you must send characters on different journeys

It’s cause and effect from both angles. A characters growth doesn’t happen in a vacuum. No two characters should go through the same event and come out exactly the same. Personality and individual resilience should at least create some differences, but for radical change I’d recommend radical diverging paths to make it believable. Egwene is destined for greatness – in her own way – and so her path leads her to be a Wise One’s apprentice among the Aiel. This radical diversion forces her to grow up much more rapidly, and have a different worldview from those she grew up with.

The same is true for Rand, forced by circumstance and prophecy to become a ruthless leader for the sake of the future. There just isn’t enough time before the Last Battle and everything he must do. Nestled amongst the writing is a class on plotting, I suspect tongue-in-cheek by Jordan, as described by Rand:

He could trace the steps that led to them, each necessary as it seemed at the time and seeming an end in itself, yet each leading inevitably to the next. (Page 663)

Which is exactly how plotting should be: surprising, yet inevitable developments. And the protagonist should not be master of their own domain. They must struggle – internally and externally, with deadly foe, lover and compromises in which no answer is perfect. They must be forced to choose, pushed and pulled like the wind and rocked by the waves. (And I’ve slipped back into Siuan’s fishing references). The protagonist who is in control is either a mistaken, or weakly written.

It would be easier if this was a story, he thought. In stories, there were only so many surprises before the hero knew everything he needed; he himself never seemed to know a quarter of everything. (Page 671)

There were always limits and rules, and he did not know them here. (Page 865)

Also present in this book is a great deal of emotional turmoil for the characters. Rand’s self-loathing over the fact that women were dying for him and worry that Elayne would believe the rumours that he killed her mother.

A Maiden or a Stone Dog, a spear is a spear. Only, thinking it could not make it so. I will be hard! He would let the Maidens dance the spears where they wished. He would. And he knew he would search out the name of every one who died, that every name would be another knife-cut on his soul. I will be hard. The Light help me, I will. The Light help me. (Page 843)

There are many different kinds of emotional strain that a character can face – visible threats from enemies, but also angst over love, friends and family. There are internal fears of failure or faults of success. A good story milks all of the human emotions in their varied forms.

And to finish up, some more noteworthy lines:

The hill valley twisted and forked as he angled north, but he had a good sense of direction. For instance, he knew exactly which way lay south and safety, and it was not the way he was heading. (Page 633)

Only a battle lost is sadder than a battle won. (Page 655)

The topknotted men, not much less ragged than those they fought, worked their two-handed swords methodically, craftsmen at their craft, and the onslaught went no further than their thin line. … Yet if they held the mob, it was Galad who broke them. He faced their charge as though awaiting the next dance at a ball, arms folded and unconcerned, not even bothering to bare his blade until they were almost on top of him. Then he did dance, all his grace turned in an instant to fluid death. He did not stand against them; he carved a path into their heart, a clear swathe as wide as his sword’s reach. Sometimes five or six men closed in around him with swords and axes and table-legs for clubs, but only for the brief time it took them to die. In the end, all their rage, all their thirst for blood, could not face him. It was from him that the first ran, flinging away weapons, and when the rest fled, they divided around him. As they vanished back the way they had come, he stood twenty paces from anyone else, alone among the dead and the groans of the dying. (Page 723, 724)