Baby Steps To a Novel

So, yesterday I took my first steps to trying to complete a novel.  Regular readers of the blog will note that I’ve tried before (without much success) to try to write a novel, but this time I’m using my university’s Writing Center to help.  I’ve worked in the Writing Center myself all last year and I have a friend and colleague who is working there now who has agreed to a “Writing Partnership” with me–a fancy term for a standing appointment to talk about writing over the course of the semester.  Generally, they are used for long term projects (thesis, dissertations, etc.), but they can also be used for just improving one’s writing in general.  We talked about what I wanted to do ultimately (short-stories or novels) and we decided that writing a novel would be a good way to “grow” as a writer.  Then we discussed the idea I had for a novel and what the next steps should be going forward.

Character Sketch
So, my homework is to complete at least one character sketch–the main character/protagonist–and have it ready by the next meeting.  We talked about who the main character is (Skye–which longtime readers will remember from earlier blog posts) and what is her personality like.  If possible, I’d like to write a character sketch for her father as that is her major familial relationship in the book, but based on school work and obligations, there may not be enough time for that.  We spent quite a bit of time talking about the importance of characters and how they should act appropriately–something that I don’t think that I always do well because of my interest in the plot.  Hopefully, I can really nail Skye’s personality and be able to create a convincing character arc for her.

Plot Outline
I also need to produce a plot outline for the next meeting.  Again, one mandatory, but two if possible.  I have “story map” that I use that is a 1 page “synopsis” of the characters, setting, plot, climax, and resolution.  However, I’d like to also provide a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of the story as that is where I always seem to break down when writing the novel, but I may find that that might be better suited to do after we talk about the character sketch/synopsis of the novel.  In any case, I do intend to do what Brandon Sanderson noted about how he writes novels on his podcast, Writing Excuses, where he notes that he writes down big tentpole scenes as he’s generating ideas for his novel.  I think that the tentpole scenes, in addition to the synopsis, would be helpful to do before trying to tackle the larger, chapter-by-chapter breakdown.

NaNoWriMo
November is National Novel Writer’s Month (NaNoWriMo).  I’ve never really tried to do anything for the month because I always had school (or a ton of things to do in the month of November), but as I’m in the midst of trying to write a novel and as the Writing Center will be holding a “Write In” on November 17, I guess I’ll give it a try.  I don’t know what the outcome of all this will be, but I’ll blog about the process here to hopefully inspire other writers (aspiring or practicing) and maybe provide, tangible techniques and tricks to my fellow writers out there as well.

Wish me luck! 🙂

 

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Book Haul for April 2017

 

books images

I love books and I love reading.  I love going to bookstores and libraries and just walking down the rows of books, pulling out books that look interesting, reading the blurbs on the dust jackets and the backs of the books.  However, I don’t love the modern incarnation/conception of libraries and bookstores with their focus on book “communities,” reading “clubs” (aka reading “circles” or “groups”), and focus on other non-narrative media (movies, audio, and even video games are fine for me because of the narrative aspects of those media, but when start moving into toys, and food and beverages, that is where I lose interest).  However, I discovered that if I’m able to get to the bookstores/libraries early enough in the day, I can recapture some of that joy in cruising the aisles in order discover that special book that I can lose myself in.  So, I thought I write this week’s blog entry on the four books that I bought recently at a used bookstore.  I don’t know if this will become a regular feature of the blog, but it seemed like something fun to write about.  I bought two fiction books and two non-fiction books this time around.

TOWERS OF MIDNIGHT (Book 13 of the Wheel of Time Series) by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

Towers_of_Midnight_hardcover

I have read this book before.  I have completed the entire Wheel of Time novel series having started reading them way back as an undergraduate when I started my college career at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville (UTK) before I transferred to U.T. Chattanooga (UTC) a couple of years later.  This series is one that I found with help from a friend from high school who was also attending UTK  (An aside: quite a few of us actually ended up at UTK, especially in that first year and we often talked about cool Fantasy novels that we were reading).  I read this book about a year or two after it was published.  I didn’t read it initially because I concerned about Sanderson’s (or any other writer’s, for that matter) ability to successfully conclude the story that Jordan had been working on for so many years.  However, after reading an Advanced Reader’s Copy (ARC) of Brandon Sanderson’s Way of Kings, I felt confident in Sanderson’s approach that I went ahead and finished the three books the Wheel of Time Series.

WRITING FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION: HOW TO CREATE OUT-OF-THIS WORLD NOVELS AND SHORT STORIES by Orson Scott Card, Philip Athans, and Jay Lake & the Editors of Writer’s Digest.

Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction

Source: Amazon.com

This is one of those books that I simply couldn’t resist based on the cover and the title.  I try to buy only one book in each genre (in this case, how to: writing), but I simply couldn’t help myself when I saw it.  It covers a lot of material that I already know and/or have in other forms somewhere else, but I”m super interested in transitioning from short form Fantasy and Science Fiction into long form Fantasy and Science Fiction and I’m looking for any tips and techniques that I can find to aid me in my process.  It also has a very comprehensive “reference” section that relates to various historical elements that might be useful to a Fantasy writer, in particular and I just couldn’t resist.  I don’t think it will be as helpful to me as the other book on writing that I bought (see below), but it did have a dragon on the cover.  Note to future authors: if you want to pique my interest, just put a dragon or a spaceship on the cover.

BLEAK HOUSE by Charles Dickens

bleak houseOkay, so this is one of those books for “school.”  My program has a fairly exhaustive list of famous/important literary works for incoming PhD students to read and take a test on.  Now I’ve already taken (and PASSED! 🙂 ) this exam, but I the idea of a list of important literary works is a “challenge” that I really want to undertake.  So I’ve made it my goal to finish all the books on this list.  I actually downloaded the audio version of this book to listen to on the drive to and from school, but I really do follow the story better when I can read it, rather than listen to it.  So, I decided to buy this copy and read it during my “downtime” between classes, waiting in lines, etc.  I’ve read Dickens before, but not this specific book, so I’ll be interested to see if I like it as I do all of the other Dickens novels that I have read.

WRITING THE BLOCKBUSTER NOVEL by Albert Zuckerman

Writing the blockbuster novel

Source: Amazon.co.uk

This is another book that I’ve read before–I read it at the Chattanooga Public Library long before I started working there.  It didn’t really make all that much of an impression on me at the time as I was primarily interested in learning “short story” writing.  I wanted to learn how to write short form fiction before stepping up to the “big” works of novels, screenplays, and the like (graphic novels, while around, were not really viable options at that time).  Now, however, I think that I’m ready to learn the lessons of novel writing.  I especially love the fact that point number on the dust jacket in the inside cover is “how to develop and use an outline.”  Anyone following the conversation that I had two weeks ago with a blog commentor named Tom Cordle will appreciate the fact that I like outlines to guide my stories into rough draft stages.  Outlines make sense to me where as just jumping in blind does not.  I can’t tell you how many novels that I have “in my mind” that did not make the translation onto the page because I did not complete a strong outline/rough draft.  I’m hopeful that this book will allow me to produce an outline for a novel over the summer and (fingers crossed) a rough draft for it by Christmas of this year as well.  Well, I can dream big, at least.

Well, that’s it for me.  Here’s hoping you have wonderful, book-filled, week.

 

Why I Write Fantasy . . .

So the trailer that I’m posting is for Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls Online game.  It is long–it clocks in over 23 minutes, but if you have the time, it is well worth the investment as it helps to illustrate the reasons that I write Fantasy stories.  Go ahead, take a moment to watch it, I’ll wait . . .

Finished?

I hoped you liked it as much as I did.  But in case you didn’t, here are my reasons that I found it inspired:

  1. Larger than Life Characters – There were 3 main characters.  I don’t know their backstories, don’t know their histories, don’t know much about their motivations (other than they seem to want the city/citadel for conquest).  However, you do learn a lot about their personalities through this trailer.  You get a sense that guy with the beard is a “rough and ready” sort of person, the kind of person you’d go drinking with, but definitely not the type person you’d invite to tea with the Queen. There is a gruff, down and dirty feel to him that is emphasized by his headbutting, spitting, and all around mean/callous disposition.  The Ranger of the group seems to have a nobility about him.  He kills with precision, but is never cruel about it in the same way the bearded warrior is and that makes his “corruption” all the more tragic.  His most poignant moment comes when we see him holding the cloth of a presumed paramour as his eyes implore the female elf to end his suffering.  And speaking of the woman elf, she is no damsel in distress.  She is more than capable of holding her own and giving just as well as she gets.  In fact, I would argue she’s the main hero of the trailer in that it is her actions that ultimately save the group from outright death at the hands of the “evil” forces.  Without her quick thinking, the entire group would have mostly likely died on the field of battle.  No, they do not have the emotional depth and growth of characters in War and Peace, but even from this short vignette, we can get a clears sense of who these characters are and what makes them tick.
  2. Stunning Visuals – Computer graphics and imagery are wonderful.  Having grown up in an era of practical effects and now watch CGI, I can see how far the effects industry has come.  However, I would argue that NO visual effect can match the mind’s eye.  Being able to describe on paper all of those cool things that were in that trailer is both my challenge and my reward.  I SEE the stories in my head just like I see these trailers–as movies.  They progress and then they finish just as the trailer did.  My challenge is to find a way to replicate what I see in my Mind’s Eye into words on the page.  Rarely, I get it right the very first time.  More often than not, I get only bits and pieces right while others don’t come out correctly–as that image was “fuzzy” when I was trying to replicate it on the page.  I sometimes have to do 2 or more drafts for the story to come out like I wanted.
  3. Insane World-Building – So what’s on the other side of that Rift that held the anchors?  Why do they want the city/Citadel so badly?  What is the Elf “King” hiding in that city?  Just where did the bearded guy end up at the end of the trailer?  There are so many avenues of exploration for world-building here that one spin stories out for a long time.  That’s what good characters and good world-building gives you, a way to tell stories.  Now, because it is Bethesda’s property, there is already a history and backstory to this world.  If you’re at all interested, check out the YouTube video below (clocks in @11:00 mins).  But just imagine that YOU were the writer of this vignette and the Possibilities that could come from fleshing out this world.  Awesome!
  4. Dramatic Action – This is my final reason and is also my most personal.  For me, History is not a dry thing learned from textbooks and recited from rote memory, but rather a living breathing thing.  It is alive and active.  It moves, it adapts, and it is something that requires action.  Right now, we live in a world of drama (and I mean that in both its formal and slang definitions).  Readers and writers today seem to want to see things that are dramatic, but not necessarily filled with action.  For instance, I find myself rereading an older Fantasy series called the Belgariad and the Mallorean by David Eddings or newer series such as The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson because they are trying to save their worlds from destruction using the tools that they have available.  I personally cannot read popular works such as Game of Thrones because it is “Mean People doing Mean Things to each other and Mean Things to Non-Mean People.”  I tried to read The Game of Thrones but couldn’t get past the first few chapters–not because of the writing, but because they weren’t doing anything but being mean to one another just because they could.  I want to see/write action, where the goals can be large or small (but are usually large) where they struggle and strive rather than bicker, wench, and murder just for the sake of it.  Now, I realize this is probably just me, but to me, action defines a story, not limits it.  Just because there are beautifully choreographed fight sequences, doesn’t make it resonant any less than a story that lacks those same scenes (and the inverse is true as well–a story that lacks action is not inherently more of a story).
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Well, that’s all I have for today.  My next post will *probably* be a post on why I like Science Fiction.  If not, it will come later on this year.  Now to the Weekly Updates:

APPLE ROUTER WEEKLY UPDATE

Soooo, I thought I was over/past the hump on this problem, but it seems not.  On Tuesday, wi-fi began to work properly without me doing anything.  It stayed up through Friday, so I thought everything was fine.  Yet, when I just started to write this blog, Wi-Fi went down and would not let me connect to my laptop.  I had to plug in my ethernet cable and restart in order to write this blog post.  Uggghhh!  So frustrating.

WEEKLY WRITING UPDATE

Soooo, I made a mistake.  As a teacher, I find my body HATES Mondays., trying to get back into the school schedule really does a number on me.  I usually crash 1-2 hours earlier than I do for the rest of the week.  So I don’t even try to write on Mondays.  I start writing on Tuesdays.  Since school started on Tuesday, I  did not write on Monday, but tried to keep to my normal schedule, but found that I couldn’t keep my eyes open.  I did manage 4-5 strong paragraphs on HawkeMoon, but was not able to complete the section, so I’m going to say .5.  Did not get to work on any other projects this week. 😦

  • HawkeMoon (.5 of Section 2 = Total Progress on Story – 1.5 sections done of 4 total sections)

I finished reading Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson this weekend!

I finished Words of Radiance last night–here is my review from GoodReads.com:

Words of Radiance Cover

Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

I’ll keep this brief and spoiler-free: I really liked it, then I really hated it, and, by the end, I loved it. I have been waiting for this book every since I finished the 2nd read of the Way of the Kings. The first read of the Way of Kings didn’t really grab me, but the second read did. I’ve been hooked every since.

When I first started reading this one, I liked it, but by the middle I didn’t. The difference between this book and the Way of Kings is that this one is essentially Shallan’s story. Kaladin still has a significant place, but he’s not the focus of the story in the same way he was in book 1. As I identify with Kaladin more than Shallan, that was frustrating. By the middle of the story, I felt that Kaladin was acting out of character based on his characterization in the Way of Kings. The book was really frustrating. It got so bad that I had to take a three week break from the book. But I finally came back to it this past week–and I’m glad I did.

Based on Brandon’s podcast (Writing Excuses), I *think* I see that he wanted to bring his character back low to set up the ending, but the way it was written was very difficult for me to take–not because of the “suspense” but because it felt as if Kaladin was acting out of character. In book 1, Kaladin could make mistakes, but he was a “reflective” character. He would reflect on situations, good or bad, and then take actions. For most of book 2, Kaladin did almost no reflecting. He would still act, but there seemed be little reflection on his actions before he did them or after he did them (unless it was negative reflection called for by the plot). This left me very dissatisfied.

The last third of the book, however, seemed to rectify the problem for me. The last third of the book seemed to get more balanced. Instead of the 75/25 split it seemed happened through the first part of the book, the ending seemed to restore the balance of the novel to a more equitable 60/40 split (with the 60 going to Shallan–we are learning her backstory after all). I was fine with that–I like Shallan (I just like Kaladin a little more). But more importantly, the ending had much more “reflection” on the part of both of the leads–not just with Shallan. That’s what I was missing–the thinking/feeling of the soldier/surgeon figure that Bk1 set up and seemed missing in most of the book.

I won’t spoil the book, but I will say that I was very pleased with the way the book ultimately turned out. You learn a LOT more about Shallan and Kaladin, and the plot spins out in a very exciting way. I will be looking forward to Book 3 in the Stormlight Archives series!

View all my reviews