In this blog post I discuss how I came to realise that I had a gender balance problem while writing my novel, Vengeance Will Come, and the steps I took to overcome it.
I took an unplanned sabbatical from blogging.
So what have I been up to?
My first novel Vengeance Will Come has been completed (and submitted). You might notice I’ve gone from 29 chapters down to 22. I suspect it probably needs expansion around the 4/5ths point, but I’ll leave that until I can get an expert opinion.
I’ve also been doing some work on my writing application. The development wasn’t writing related, but rather the application infrastructure. I’ve added:
- a debug output panel (to help me in development)
- ability to close a panel (will prompt for save)
- ability to name, save and load a layout (size and position of the application, and all windows within the application).
And I’ve done some chores and procrastination: gaming and TV shows.
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.
- The story opens with Kvothe (aka Kote) “hiding” in a backwater pub. Is he hiding from danger, fame or infamy?
- What does he know about the “demons” on the country roads?
- There’s something different about Kvothe, the young boy, who is exceptional in learning. What is it and why?
- What is the name of the wind, and will Kvothe ever learn it?
- Will he get to go to the university?
- His family, his entire troupe, is killed. Why, exactly? What part of his father’s song was so dangerous to the Chadrian?
- 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?
- 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?
- He makes enemies among the Masters (teachers).
- 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.
- 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?
- 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?
- 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.
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.
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…
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).
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.
Also, 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.
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.
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.
Still learning how to write, I don’t always do the right thing at the right time.
The image below lists all of the named characters in Vengeance Will Come and highlights the problem.
(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:
I’m achieving a few goals with these changes:
- I’m de-stacking the heaviest use letters.
- I’m strategically changing the gender of Teskan (see upcoming post about gender balance).
- 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.
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.