Vengeance Will Come: Gender Balance

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.

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What’s been happening?

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.

vwc

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).

layout application.PNG

And I’ve done some chores and procrastination: gaming and TV shows.

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.

Micro Story: John Roskan

I’ve had a crazy-busy weekend thus far and pushed my body too hard. My back and legs are sore and I’m quite tired. For this post I’ve just written a micro-story, a small piece of fiction inspired by several real events.


John Roskan

The first thing that I noticed, that anybody notices, about John Roskan was his involuntarily shoulder twitch. It was off-putting, especially when you first met him. You were simultaneously curious and worried about being rude. Once you could pry your eyes and attention off his shoulder he quickly impressed you with his brilliance as an engineer.

John really knew his trade, and he spoke maths more fluently than any other language. If there was ever a problem in your calculations, John would be the one to ask. I’d be lying if I said we were friends, we didn’t talk about anything other than work, but I respected him as a colleague. To be honest, even though his office was just down the hall, I’d never really thought about him much.

Until he disappeared.

What do you do when a colleague inexplicably vanishes? One day he’s in the office, working away; taking client calls and berating the interns lacklustre grasp of math. The next day, he just doesn’t come in. Or the following. Or the one after that, or any day since.

He didn’t have recreational leave planned, there’s no “get well soon” card circulated or farewell drinks. There’s no announcement from management about the Senior Project Engineer’s absence. He’s just gone and other are assigned his work and clients without an explanation.

I innocently asked around if colleagues know the story and no one knows anything. Anything. There isn’t even rumours circulating. Then I asked management.

My manager, who I’ve known for years, hardens like concrete at the question. “It isn’t my business.” I’m told in no uncertain terms. And the manager hasn’t softened in the week since. I’m pretty sure he’s told other managers, because all of a sudden every manager in the firm seems to know my name.

I keep my head down and just do my work. I’m not sure what John did, but I know now I should never have asked about him.

One day soon, I may be the one not turning up to work.

Cutting Words Without Value

I have to admit that self-restraint around food isn’t one of my strengths. I like food a little too much. I’m working on down-sizing my appetite… and then hopefully my wardrobe.

One of the things I use to say when younger was about “unwanted calories”. If you aren’t going to enjoy eating something (e.g. the flavourless crusts on a pizza) then its “unwanted calories”. Why consume calories when it’s surplus to need and not going to be enjoyable either? It’s smarter on so many levels just to bin it.

There are certain words that have no value, just like unwanted calories. They add nothing to the story and so should be deleted.

One of the tasks I’ve done recently is to review every use of the word ‘that’. It is most often a filler word whose presence can be removed without altering the meaning of the sentence at all. I know I use it unconsciously. When I did my word frequency analysis I had a massive 735 ‘that’ uses.

that
A particularly bad example of THAT shame

My ‘that’ hunt eradicated it down to just 149 instances. A good hunt, indeed.

Thoughts on Cliffhangers

Cliffhanger: A suspenseful situation occurring at the end of a chapter, scene, or episode (source).

For months I’ve been promising a post on cliffhangers. You’ve been waiting, eagerly, like a kitten ready to pounce… and now it has finally come. Did you anticipate it? Was it a good cliffhanger?

I apologise that it’s taken so long, and for the never-ending stream of Dad-jokes which I have floating around in my head. There’ll be more in future posts, undoubtedly (I can’t turn them off).

Logo_of_the_100I wanted to write about cliffhangers after (re)watching The 100 on Netflix. It’s a great dystopian series.

(Side note: I complained a while back about some flaws with The 100. One of the things I’ve come to realise recently is that nothing is perfect. A great TV show that runs for multiple seasons will have bad episodes. The 100 starts out really promising, but takes some mis-steps along the way. Nothing or nobody ever measures up in every aspect (including myself), so we just have to take the good with the bad. And so I’m learning to appreciate the bits that worked well and not be disappointed that it wasn’t perfect).

Background: The 100

The basic premise of The 100 is the remnant of humanity live on a space station called The Ark following a nuclear event on Earth. However, unbeknown to most, The Ark is running out of oxygen. In an attempt to give themselves longer to solve the problem, 100 incarcerated teenagers are sent down to Earth – which may or may not be survivable yet. The 100 is the story of the teenagers surviving Earth, and all it throws at them.

Full of Cliffhangers

(Spoilers). The 100 has episode-after-episode (especially in the first season) where you just have to keep watching. It nails the concept of cliff hangers.

  1. E01: the plucky teenagers cross a river en-route to a needed food supply. They’re happy to be on the planet and enjoying nature. (After all, they’ve only ever known a sterile space station). They cross a river ‘Tarzan-style’, cheering jubilantly that they made it across. There’s love in the air and excitement and then a spear comes hurtling out of the trees and skewers Jasper in the stomach.
  2. E02: The adults aboard The Ark watch as the teenager’s bio-wrist bands indicate they are dying en-mass. Belamy, the bully is exerting his control over the teenagers. In the last seconds of the episode we see the teenagers being watched by a savage (“Grounder”) in the trees.
  3. E03: The protagonist (Clarke) makes up with best friend Wells, who for years she thinks has betrayed her. In reality his lies have been protecting her from the truth. Wells is on guard duty when a young girl sits down next to him. They have a little chat and then Charlotte stabs him in the neck and hums to him as he bleeds-out.
  4. E04: Clarke and her new flame Finn “get together”, just as Finn’s girlfriend, Raven, is coming down from The Ark. It’s going to get pointy in a way that a love-triangle does, with 3 points to stab and 3 edges to cut.
  5. E05: The Ark’s oxygen supply is worse than expected. They plan to kill off more people in a “malfunction”, when the truth comes out. Volunteers step forward to die so that others may live and are suffocated when the oxygen is turned off. Shortly thereafter, they see a signal from the Earth, letting them know that Earth is survivable (and the people died unnecessarily).
  6. E06: Belamy has a fight with his (loved) sister Octavia, saying things we know he doesn’t mean.
  7. E07: Up on The Ark the ruling council announces (to their members) that while there are 2,237 people on The Ark there is only enough drop ships for 700 people.
  8. E08: The teenagers are getting guns to protect themselves from a Grounder attack. Meanwhile on The Ark it’s revealed the new Council member is the one who tried to have the Chancellor (President) killed in E1.
  9. E09: An effort at diplomacy with the Grounders ends in sparking off a war. The teenagers think help is on its way when a drop ship comes down early, until it crashes into the ground (presumably with Clarke’s mum aboard).
  10. E10: The traitor, Murphy, who  they let back into their midst has turned over a new leaf and is helping to heal the sick. Only it’s just a momentary change and he sneakily kills someone in the last seconds of the episode.
  11. E11: Clarke and Finn are captured by Grounders and Monty mysteriously disappears.
  12. E12: The adults aboard The Ark plan to send the satellite down to Earth knowing that 95% of the station won’t survive re-entry.
  13. E13: After winning a big battle with the Grounders, a strange new enemy they’ve only heart of “the Mountain Men” come and abduct all the teenagers. Clarke wakes up locked in a Quarantine Ward, seeing Monty across the hall.

As you can see from this list, almost every episode ends on a cliffhanger, but not all cliffhangers are the same. From this list I can see a few variants:

  • Shock factor – something shocks the audience (this could be a good or bad shock). We’re not expecting Jasper to get speared in episode 1, and it turns the moment of triumph into defeat. And now, having known the danger is “out there” we’re completely shocked when a young girl (one of “their own”) kills one of the strongest teenagers (episode 3). We suddenly realise – again – that there’s more danger than we recognised.
  • Impending danger – could be danger to a character, or danger which threatens the plot (what the character intends to do). The Grounder watching the teenagers from the treeline in episode 2 is menacing. The teenagers are busy partying, not knowing that an enemy is so close by. At this stage we know so little about the Grounders that our lack of knowledge intensifies that fear. When Murphy starts killing sick people we wonder if they’ll discover his duplicity, and who might die first (episode 10).
  • A sense of dread – something bad is about to happen, or has just happened and we wonder what their response is going to be. This can be something that happens in the plot, or with the characters. The love triangle emerging (episode 4) and the “we just killed lots of people needlessly” (episode 5) are both senses of dread.
  • Something amazing – a lot of those above are negative/bad, but we can also be encouraged to keep reading because of something amazing happening. For a bad example, “He picked up a sword, to discover that it was a Sword of Truth”. Now, I have no idea what a Sword of Truth actually is, but I’m sure if I was reading that story I’d be wanting to know.

Notice how the types of cliffhangers are alternated and some are character-based while others are plot-based?

See too how the threat is often escalating (but not always). I agree with the Writing Excuses podcasters that cliffhangers are an ‘occasional device’. If every chapter ends in a cliffhanger it can induce weariness in the reader.

The key point is that all cliffhangers should be executed well. A bad cliffhanger, where you over-build the scenario and then under-deliver is cheating the reader. These should be avoided at all costs. (It would severely aggravate me as a reader… If an author did it to me twice I’d probably put the book down).

 

Based on The 100 I think one of the best places for cliffhangers in a novel is the first few chapters. In doing so, the hook is nicely baited.

Cliffhangers can be internal (in the body of the book) and external (at the end of the book). Great care needs to be taken with external cliffhangers. If you’re using them to bait the reader toward the next book, you need to make sure they won’t have to be waiting too long for you to release the next book.

Got any other types of cliffhangers or examples of good ones to add?