Brant on NaNoWriMo Day 8

Before I get into my post today, I want to give a shout out to Kathryn.  Most of the posts out of the this blog have come from her lately.   Kathryn’s informative posts about what music inspires her and where she has been focusing her writing on a day-to-day basis have provided me insights of my own, as well as links to some beautiful music.  Great work Kathryn.

My Current NaNoWriMo  Status

  • Suggested Daily Word Count: 1,667  (Works out to 50,000 words in 30 days.)
  • Words Written Today: 1,800
  • Suggested Cumulative Word Count by Day 8:  13,336
  • My Actual Cumulative Word Count: 17,807
  • Average Words per Day: 2,226
  • At This Rate I Will Finish On: Nov 23
  • Days Remaining in November: 22
  • Total Words Remaining for NaNoWriMo: 32,193
  • Words per Day to Finish on Time 1,464
  • Current Page Count of (Mostly) New Material: 64 

The short hand of these statistics is that I am well ahead of schedule.   I have a comfortable buffer that I can build on to make certain I actually do 50,000 words in 30 days.

A Song That Inspires Me

Song of the Seahorse by Miriam Stockley is a song which I listen to often.  Its sweeping melody and melancholy lyrics makes me think of many different things, but with regards to my story I feel it captures something essential about my character, Artemis Arrowsmith. 

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Song of the Seahorse, by Miriam Stockley

The lyrics dwell on the death of a lover and the how the person feels because of their loss.   This is central to Artemis’ character and the subplots that revolve around her.    The music also captures a sense of beauty and even wonder, other elements central to her character.

A Lesson Learned From NaNoWriMo: JUST KEEP TYPING!

Seriously, don’t dwell on anything.  Just keep typing.

“What am I wanting to accomplish in this chapter/with this character?”  Don’t worry about it, just keep typing.

“Wait…isn’t this character supposed to be dead already?”  Don’t worry about it, just keep typing.

“What color did I say her eyes were a few pages back?”  Don’t worry about it, just keep typing.

“Wasn’t this character a different sex in and earlier chapter?”  Don’t worry about it, just keep typing.

The Result Is An Interesting Mishmash.

On scenes I have reasonably well mapped out in my mind, I blend descriptions and actions and dialogue together in reasonable proportions.   Not great, but workable text.

Then there are areas where I know I want or need a conversation on a subject, but I don’t have the details well thought out. 

This writing tends to be various people talking in an undefined area with characters appearing out of nowhere.  Where are they? Who knows?  What led up to the scenes?  Who knows?  All I know for certain is that there are elements in those scenes that I definitely want to keep somewhere in the overall story.

A Funny Thing Happened While Trying to Write A Story

Along the way, I was forced to deal with the motivations for the character of Demiurge in a more concrete way.  Given that the title of the second book is …Demiurge, Unbound,…, this was unavoidable.

But his origins are located behind a shroud of the distant past, which meant I needed to think about that past in the way he would.  I.e. Discovering the voice of Demiurge required thinking about my story’s mythology as he remembered it.

This led to a multipage “tell” that turned into a surprisingly clean summary of events explaining how the world ended up in its present state.  

Details became clear to me that I had glossed over in my mind, and with those details I realized I needed additional information about the world’s geography that I had never considered before.

The downside:  The new geographic details affect what I have already written in the first book.  On the bright side, what I need to add, while major, can be done by placing a few key sentences in a handful of  areas.  One particularly vivid description in chapter seven in the first book could be the foundation for significant reveals in the second book.

Rather than add those elements to the first book, I noted what I needed as part of my NaNoWriMo efforts.  i.e. I just wrote it in a a major, ugly, info dump.

And while I was doing that, I had a second major insight to the working of my world. 

How magic works and what its limitations are is a subject I have wrestled with often.  Now many of those details are clear to me, and I see how it has affected the path of Artemis and Damon both. 

These insights led me to know how the second book will end, and what scenes will comprise much of the third book of the series, …And Damon Roth,…

In particular, I now know why Damon first became interested in Artemis, and what he had to go through to find her.  Once again, I decided to jot down these thoughts as part of my NaNoWriMo efforts.

After these insights, I was able to return to a more linear narrative focused on scenes I had long thought of but had written little about.  Once again, I am writing less mythology and info dumps and more of a blend descriptions and actions and dialogue together in reasonable proportions

Insights Learned During NaNoWriMo.

The pace of writing has forced me to abandon quality for quantity.  To pour words onto the page as fast as they appear in my head.  Misspellings abound.  I use the same word in sentence after sentence, creating a repetitive feel that is, frankly, boring to read.  Grammar, the bane of my existence, is sacrificed for rambling sentences that often make little sense even to me.

Fast and furious writing forces you to make decisions that ripple through your overall work.  Earlier text that you think has settled and needs nothing more must be modified.  Plot strands for the future become clearer and more defined.  

Good ideas also end up on the page as details I hadn’t considered until now become facts of the world.  The story evolves and becomes substantially better.

I must admit to a temptation that this style of writing has inspired in me.  Namely to write my whole seven volume story in one gigantic effort as fast as possible. 

Yes, the final product would be craptacular, but it would also be a complete first draft.  After that I could focus on the long slow editing process where turgid text is replace by compelling prose. 

I’m not certain this would be a better approach that my normal style of write-edit-edit-edit-edit-edit-edit-edit-edit-write some more.  But my experiments with NaNoWriMo makes me wonder if writing the whole story at once wouldn’t yield rewards I can’t fathom at this time.

A New Version Of Chapter One Is Now Available

I have posted a new version of The Wizard’s Spells…, a.k.a. chapter one of At The Lady’s Behest Comes…., the first book in the Gods Among Men series.

There are not a many changes, but there are some that are quite significant.  Most notably, I have begun weaving the importance of Tara Rihtwis into the first chapter.  In the process, I made slightly clearer what went wrong when Damon was casting his spell, and what agitated him so afterwards.  

Both of these changes were made in response to my insight that I posted about in A Time to Rethink, namely that I need to sharpen the narrative so that the characters of Damon and Tara are front and center.  My goal is to make it clear from the very first chapter that the reader should focus on Damon and Tara as the story unfolds, that they are the crucial characters around which everyone and everything revolves.

You can download either a PDF or XPS version of the chapter at http://gods-among-men.com/blog/books/book1

I do not plan on revisiting this chapter again anytime soon.  Not because there isn’t room for improvement, but because it is time to move on and focus on other chapters that desperately need attention.  I am currently forcing myself to finish the final edit on chapter two.  Once done I shall post it online as well, and announce it in a blog post.

Take care and have fun.

A New Version Of Chapter One Is Now Available

I have posted a new version of The Wizard’s Spells…, a.k.a. chapter one of At The Lady’s Behest Comes…., the first book in the Gods Among Men series.

There are not a many changes, but there are some that are quite significant.  Most notably, I have begun weaving the importance of Tara Rihtwis into the first chapter.  In the process, I made slightly clearer what went wrong when Damon was casting his spell, and what agitated him so afterwards.  

Both of these changes were made in response to my insight that I posted about in A Time to Rethink, namely that I need to sharpen the narrative so that the characters of Damon and Tara are front and center.  My goal is to make it clear from the very first chapter that the reader should focus on Damon and Tara as the story unfolds, that they are the crucial characters around which everyone and everything revolves.

You can download either a PDF or XPS version of the chapter at http://gods-among-men.com/blog/books/book1

I do not plan on revisiting this chapter again anytime soon.  Not because there isn’t room for improvement, but because it is time to move on and focus on other chapters that desperately need attention.  I am currently forcing myself to finish the final edit on chapter two.  Once done I shall post it online as well, and announce it in a blog post.

Take care and have fun.

A Time To Rethink

I have been delinquent in my duties to this site for the last week, and for that I apologize.  My intent is to post at least twice a week, but that has proven difficult to maintain with my current schedule.   Plus, I have been plagued by questions about my story of late.  Questions that have consumed much of what I laughingly call my “free time”.

One of the hardest choices a writer can face is deciding what good material must be done away with so that important material will shine.  You can write beautiful passages that slow a story down to a crawl, or have subplots that obscure the main ones, or so many characters that you can’t tell major ones from minor ones.  If this is done intentionally then it is a legitimate artistic choice, even if it turns out to be a bad one.    If any of these happen for no reason, and you make no attempt to correct the problems they cause, then you are guilty of bad writing.

Recently I was working on writing down a chapter-by-chapter outline of my whole story, Gods Among Men.  This became a major task that forced me to think, long and hard, about the order of scenes and what each scene must include.  I have long known my story was big with many interrelated parts, but I am beginning to realize that I have included much that simply needs to be removed. 

A Bit Of Math

I think in terms of books, chapters, and sections.  I have seven books in the series, thirteen chapters per book, three sections per chapter; each section can be as long as it needs to be, but must focus on one central scene or character.    I know at a high level what each book must contain, and where each book must begin and end.

This rigorous structure helps me plot what must be done, and how much space I have to do it in.  A quick calculation reveals that there will be 39 sections per book, 91 chapters in the whole series, and a grand total of 273 sections.  That is the space I have to fill with words; no less and no more.

At first glance that sounds like a whole lot of wiggle room, but it is far less than you might think.  A story has rhythms; a quickening of pace in some places and a slower mood for others.  You can’t mix these elements directly, but must transition from one to the other.  Too sharp of a transition and the story feels choppy, too slow and it becomes boring.  A single book packed with heart-stopping action from beginning to end can be exhausting to read, and can cause readers to not care why characters do what they do.  From there it is easy for the reader to not care about the character at all, and from there to stop caring about the work itself.  The same danger exists with books that meander aimlessly and where nothing important ever seems to happen.

Too Many Notes

At one point in the movie Amadeus, Mozart is told that one of his works has “too many notes” and that he should “cut a few”.  Mozart is rightly offended, and we agree with him that the advice is being given by fools.

But why do we agree with him?  Because we know Mozart is a genius whose works will grow more popular the more people listened to it.  There aren’t too many notes; there is a lack of appreciation from those who are listening.

The truth is that talents on the scale of Mozart are incredibly rare, and most artists think too highly of their own work.  Sometimes there are too many notes, and the best artists are the ones who know which ones to cut.

In my case, I hew too closely to plot and subplot with too little consideration for characterizations.  This is a consistent failure of mine.  Partially it is because I don’t practice characterization often enough, but I have come to believe there is a bigger problem at play here.

Know You Story

It is hard to write a story you don’t fully understand, and it is only in the last few months that my story fully crystalized in my thoughts.  As it did, I came to realize that I had characters that serve less purpose than I had first thought.  Keeping big scenes with less important characters means less space for characters that are crucial.  I have subplots that would be full plots in lesser works, subplots I crammed in because I thought I needed something to fill 273 sections.  I also kept adding characters to flesh out scenes, to provide depth to the work as a whole. 

I was right, and I was wrong.  Yes, a sprawling epic will have many characters and subplots; that is the nature of sprawling epics.  But a story that sacrifices quality for quantity is not worth the time it takes to write, nor will anyone likely read it to the end.

I need to make clear to the reader what are the important plots and subplots, and I need to develop them better.  Also I need to make clear which characters are important and which aren’t; who should be followed closely, and who should be forgotten.  Right now, I have more characters than I can reasonably include and do full justice too, and trying means there is less room to develop important characters.   The work is a maze for me, and someone else has little reason to attempt navigating that maze.

Where To Now?

Gods Among Men is about Damon Roth, and he is not a nice character.  He is not easy to relate to, easy to understand, nor should he be.  But the reader needs someone to focus on that will draw them further into the work.  Someone they care about, positively or negatively, and hope either succeeds or fails.  Damon is ambiguous, and it is important he stay so. 

By the same token, while I like the character of Artemis Arrowsmith, and while she is a crucially important character, she also is not easy to relate to or understand.  She is also not a nice person, nor should she be.  She is the lens though which the reader comes to see and understand Damon.  She is important, but it is impossible for her to be someone the readers latch onto emotionally.  I have written much of the first book as if she was the central character, and that was a mistake.

The person the reader must care about is Tara Rihtwis.  She is the one whose success everyone must root for, whose failures everyone must cry over.  Damon is the brain of the story, it is his quest for redemption that is the central-most plot line.  Tara is the heart of the story, whose hardships make the reader want to turn the page and find out what happens next.  Artemis is the character that joins them together, that is friend and ally to both.

This is my core insight in the last few weeks, and now I must begin trimming my notes to turn this insight into action.  Anything that does not directly affect either Damon or Tara, that does not move their stories forward, must be eliminated.  Any character that does not directly interact with them or influence them must be eliminated, or at least reduced to their most essential moments.  Essential being defined by how it impacts Damon or Tara.

It is a harsh insight that carries with it drastic implications.  I now have a scale to weigh what must be kept versus what must go.  The hard part is actually forcing myself to live with what that insight tells me I must do.  Major portions of Gods Among Men must be rethought, whole chapters rewritten.  The plot remains as it was, but many subplots will be sacrificed so that the most important subplots can be adequately developed.

I must admit, I am not looking forward to this task I have set myself.  But I think it is the right direction for me to take the story.  The right choice to turn Gods Among Men into something people will want to read.

Reverse Engineering An Outline

I have long had a good idea about the plot of my story, Gods Among Men, and a high-level outline for the first half of the story.  Lately, as I have been working on my new website and planning to forge ahead with writing new material, I have come to realize that it would be useful to have a brief chapter-by-chapter outline of the whole story. 

This goes back to my natural inclination as a plotter, as opposed to a pantzer (someone who write “by the seat of their pants”).  My plot is convoluted enough to easily get lost in, so I need a road map to guide me. 

Having made that decision I was now faced with the prospect of actually writing the outline.

The Insights of A Child

As a child I loved to solve mazes, to trace a line from beginning to end through a convoluted collection of passages.  And as a child I discovered something that shaped my thoughts to this day: Most mazes are easier to solve if you start at the end and work backwards.

All mazes have a plethora of choices at their beginning, false paths and dead-ends design to confuse and confound those trying to solve them. 

But almost all mazes have only one route open to the end, a predefined choice essential to completing the puzzle.  And while the path back may be littered with choices, it is often easy to spot which ones dead end and which lead back to the beginning.

And so in life I have often found that if you want an end result, it is easier to plot your way back from that end result than to decipher how to move forward from where you are.

And This Relates To Outlining How Exactly?

As I tried to wrap my mind around the effort of creating a chapter-by-chapter outline, I came to think about the insights into my story I had some months ago.   Those insights focused upon my realization of what the ending must include, and what was required to get there. 

And that I discovered is the key to the outline I shall create. 

Starting at the beginning and going forward to the end is hard and treacherous.  It is easy to get lost in the details, to pursue sub-plots and minor character arcs that go nowhere. 

Starting at the end, however, and working backwards is much easier.

The finale is about Damon and Artemis, the end of their character arcs and the conclusion of the plot.  A known point I must reach. 

So what must happen immediately before to set up that scene?  I can answer that question, and in doing so write down the outline for the preceding chapter.

That preceding chapter will also include the ending of plot threads and arcs for lesser characters.  Those endings must be setup by chapters that come earlier in the story.  Now I know what to write down for those even earlier chapters. 

And so on and so forth, until I reach the parts of the story I have already written.  Back-tracing through my maze of a plot to my known beginning.

It may seem an odd technique, but it is one I have used often to solve difficult problems.  And when faced with a thorny plot is a useful way to sort out the wheat from the chaff.