Writing a Novel: DSRV Outrider

Drafts 0-1 with advice for each one on writing novels.
Image Source: https://writingcooperative.com/the-drafts-your-novel-needs-and-why-you-probably-wont-use-a-single-word-of-your-first-draft-c9c84fe0e841

So, one of my colleagues has written a novel and wants help to get it published. Now, I’ve written and published quite a few short stories (I just got a new email from the editor of Storyhack updating me on the progress of HawkMoon), but as long time blog readers know, writing a novel is one of my lifelong goals (one of the items on my “bucket list,” so to speak). Not having actually worked on a novel, I’m giving advice on basic storytelling, but I’m not able to give specifics on novel writing, having never actually completed one.

Those Who Can Do, Do; Those Who Can’t Teach (Not true!)

You don’t know how much this cliche’/idiom burns me up. I hate this sentiment because it ignores the fact that sometimes those who can do, can’t/don’t actually do well). So, knowing full well that movie writers have external pressures (studio notes, etc.), it still rankles that the writer of X-Men: Last Stand got to write Dark Phoenix, and based on the reviews, the latter movie made many of the same mistakes as the former movie (I haven’t seen it yet, so I’ll reserve my judgement). So, this sentiment that people who can’t do things become teachers is so very false–sorry, I’m going off on a tangent here that’s probably better suited for another blog post. My point being is that even people who are allowed to do things (like write screenplays in a closed guild system) aren’t always the greatest at doing things.

I feel that I in order to teach writing a novel, I need to follow the advice in the blog post from a couple of weeks ago: To Begin, Begin. I’ve always wanted to write a novel and a major impetus for coming to grad school was to use the dissertation to get comfortable writing longer 100+ page documents, so I figure this is as good a time as any to try to start (“in the background”) writing a novel.

DSRV Outrider–Writing a Novel to help a Novel Writer

In keeping with my “Year of the Shadows,” the novel will be based on my “Ship of Shadows” short story. I’ve already have a “pre-production” idea of the action and character’s growth. The next task I think will be to actually sit down and write a rough draft of the story that I see so far in my head and continue working on this process until I have the full draft story in mind.

The problem with novels is that I (usually) have a beginning and a (sometimes) an ending, but I rarely have all the parts in the middle figured out and I hate writing “with gaps.” I like to know all the pieces/elements of the story before I start writing (its more fun for me that way), but with a novel, I rarely have all the pieces. I’ve been doing research, however, this time around, that I hope will help alleviate some, if not all, of the “gaps” that occur when I try to write a novel.

My collegue is very good with characters, but is (admittedly) less familiar with storytelling conventions. I, on the other hand, am the exact opposite. I know quite a bit about storytelling and the elements that make a good story, but I am still learning how to create compelling characters–ones that others want to read and not just ones that I like and ones that feel real and alive and not simply vehicles for the plot to hang on.

I won’t bore you with details, but I will just say that I hope that I can use the research and the rough drafting for my novel to aid my grad school colleague, who is further along in the process, to give solid and helpful advice so that she can get her novel published, while at the same time, learning new techniques that will help me become a novelist as well.

Sidney

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  • The Independent  (Sci-Fi Short-Story)–
    3rd Draft of 3 Drafts 
    Drafting Section 1 (of 3)
    Mythic Mag. Deadline = July 31, 2019
  • I, Mage (Fantasy Short Story)
    Pre-Production Phase (Planning)
    Pre-Writing on Rough Draft & Character Sketch
    Mythic Mag. Deadline = January 31, 2020
  • Current Longer Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows Graphic Novel 
    (Sci-Fi) Issue # 2, Currently on Script Page 32
    Personal Deadline = September 30, 2019
  • HawkeMoon (upcoming) = Edits turned in to editor 5/31/19

Year of the Shadow

Arched Shadows on Italian Wall
Image Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/shadows-arch-urban-city-sunshade-1456887/

This has been an idea kicking around for a while now, but I haven’t really been able to decide how to make it work until this year. I wanted to start it earlier this year, but was so focused on my preliminary tests that I didn’t really give it the time it deserved, but I finally figured out a way of making this “Year of the Shadow” work, so I’m going to work at it on the weekends and we’ll see what comes of it.

What the heck am I prattling about?

I’m talking about “The Year of the Shadow.”

Year of the Shadow

So what is the “Year of the Shadow.” Well, the short version is that is where I develop a character that I’ve already published in a story somewhere into multiple projects throughout the year. The long version is that when I was talking with Toni, a fellow Graduate Student and a Writing Consultant at the MTSU Writing Center, I felt that the stories that I’d already published meant that there was something there that intrigued editors enough to buy them and publish them and I should probably use those stories as starting points to help me create longer works with those same characters. She agreed and thought that would be a great idea. I started with Tana from my short story “Ship of Shadows.” This is where the idea for the Graphic Novel came from. However, I got stuck shortly afterwards because I didn’t really know where to go with. I thought I was “unstuck” a couple of weeks ago, but when I tried to write it, I found I still didn’t know what the purpose of the story truly was and discovered that I still felt lost in the story.

Year of Tana

I could have almost entitled this the Year of Tana because my goal is now to focus on the character Tana from Ship of Shadows. In the short story, Tana is a “pilot” of a DSRV. My graphic novel will (hopefully) show how Tana goes from a pilot to a captain. The novel that I’m planning for her will show how navigates being captain and being her own independent contractor/small business owner as she struggles with both crew issues, finding ways to make money, and external issues. I intend to branch off and do a “variant” version of Tana for a screenplay where we see an alternate version of Tana and see her parents for the first time. Finally, I hope to finish off the year with a Pilot for a TV show going back to the novel and using Tana’s adventures there as my guide.

52 Weeks

I’m already 16-17 weeks behind schedule, but I didn’t really have plan earlier (or rather, I had a very nebulous plan), so I can’t really worry about the time lost. All I can do is work hard to make sure that now that I have a plan in mind, to devote time each weekend to making the plan work to the best of my ability. So, while I’m about 17 weeks behind, “The Year of the Shadow” has now commenced.

Writing: Sprints and Marathons

Images of Marathoners and Sprinters
Image Source: http://upandhumming.com/2014/05/marathoners-vs-sprinters/

So, in many writing manuals over the year, I’ve heard/read that writing short-stories is akin to sprinting while writing novels is akin to running a marathon. I never really paid much attention to it until I started really reading the feedback to some of my recent submissions. Now, to be honest, I love reading novels and have been since my earliest days. There is something about Tolkien’s formulation of the “secondary world,” an imaginary world where I can lose myself, that simply appeals to me as a reader, writer, and a human being.

Sprinting for the (Short-Story) Win

So, the feedback on my stories is that they usually start interesting, but veer off into, let’s face it, “boring-town.” Why? Because, after the initial hot start, I want to then engross myself into the world and the action and the description, but not necessarily the characters. In effect, I’m treating the short story form like a novel.

A short story is different. Poe, the creator of the form, argued that a short story is something that can be read in one sitting. It doesn’t have the time to be detailed, lush, and description heavy. It is a sprint from start to finish that should leave the reader (& writer) breathless with wonder, characterization, and emotion. This is what my goal will be this year–to work on getting my short-stories to resemble the best sprinters ever.

Marathoning the Long Way Round

I’ve long wanted to write a novel, but every time I’ve tried to do so, I’ve found one block after another. However, after completing a game that I’ve played pretty much every weekend for an entire year, I see how a novel can be written. I requires diligence and hard work, but I have those in spades (not being braggadocios), but I need to simply find something that I’m interested in and apply the necessary discipline to see it through even when it seems like I’m not making progress. There was a time in March/April/May of last year when I thought I’d never see the game through to completion as it seemed too long and too arduous to complete, but here I am, in January 2019, having completely finished the game and earned the maximum reward for it (a Platinum Trophy for those PS4 gamers out there), so I know it can be done–now I just have to do it and that’s my goal.

Sidney




  • Current Work-in-Progress: The Independent (Sci-Fi Short-Story – 2nd Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Project Star (Sci-Fi Short-Story -1st Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows (Sci-Fi Graphic Novel – Script, Issue # 2, Currently on Script Page 32)

NaNoWriMo: 30 Days of Novel

NaNo-2018-Writer-Twitter-Header
Image Source: NaNoWriMo.org

November is National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo as it is more colloquially known).  I have a love/hate relationship with NaNoWriMo.  I love the concept of it as it seems like a great idea.  50,000 words isn’t that much (especially for a Fantasy or Sci-Fi novel) as many of the novels that I read end up being 100,000 words plus.  However, November is the absolute WORST month ever (for me) for this type of project.  No matter where I am, Library, Teacher, or PhD Student, trying to do 1,667 words a day (or about 2-3 hours of writing EVERY DAY is simply not tenable for me.  At the Library, that meant that I would have not played any video games or done any work for school (while working on my two Master’s Degrees).  As a teacher, planning lessons and grading had to be done, and now I’ve got both teaching duties, student duties, and a part-time job and (surprise) there’s no time this month either.  However, I’ve come up with a way around this–I think.

30 Days of Write

So there was a movie a while back called 30 Days of Night.  The basic plot of the movie is that the heroes have to survive 30 days (of night) at the arctic circle until the sun comes up.  I’m going to take this premise and use it to help me write (or more accurately, plan a novel).  So for the next 30 days in November, I’m writing a 1-2 sentence synopsis of each chapter for the current project that I’m working on: Ship of Shadows.  So, today I wrote a 2 sentence synopsis for Chapter 1.  My plan is to do this for the next 30 days and have a plot outline for a Ship of Shadows novel.  In December, I’ll update you with how it has gone, but this is the only way that I can actually participate in NaNoWriMo.  Instead of actually drafting, I’ll have to use it as a launching pad to help me get ready for 2019, which I’m hoping will be a year of Ship of Shadows where I try to write a chapter per month (*fingers crossed*).

So, I guess I just wanted to update everyone on what I’m doing in terms of writing and in terms of NaNoWriMo this year and inspire myself to simply sit down and do it and get my novel written (and to find techniques that I can use to help me get my dissertation written as well).

Well, that’s all for now.

Sidney




  • Current Work-in-Progress: The Independent (Sci-Fi Short-Story – 2nd Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Project Star (Sci-Fi Short-Story -1st Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows (Sci-Fi Graphic Novel – Script, Issue #1, Currently on Script Page 28)

 

 

Finished Rereading Towers of Midnight (Wheel of Time #13) by Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson

TowersofMidnight_BookCover_Goodreads
Tower of Midnight (Wheel of Time #13) Book Cover.  Image Source: GoodReads

Word Count

  • Project Paradise Word Count: 357
  • Project Skye Word Count: 1617
  • Project Independence Word Count: 2428 
  • Project Ship of Shadows Graphic Novel Page Count: 12

I didn’t manage any new words on any of my major projects–I didn’t even manage a blog post.  I realize this is where I’m sabotaging my writing, so I’m redoubling my efforts to write at least 250-500 words each day on at least one of these projects.  

Currently Reading

  • For Fun: Edgedancer by Brandon Sanderson (Fantasy Novella)
  • For School: Rhetoric in the European Tradition by Thomas Conley (A Book on the History of Rhetoric)
  • For Research/Personal Development: Great Aircraft of WWII by Alfred Price and Mike Spick (for Project Skye)

I wanted to read Oathbringer over the summer break before classes started again, but BS said that it might be helpful to read a Novella entitled, Edgedancer, before starting on Oathbringer.  I finally found a copy at MTSU’s library and I’m reading it now.  X gives a history of Rhetoric.  Great Aircraft of WWII is a book that I’ve had in my collection for sometime–I’ve glanced at it periodically, but never read it cover-to-cover.  Now, with Project Skye, I intend to do just that.

Finally Finished

So, this past week, I finally finished rereading Towers of Midnight, the 13th book in The Wheel of Time Fantasy series.  This series was started by Robert Jordan in the early 1990s, but he sadly passed away.  Brandon Sanderson was asked to complete the series based on the notes left behind by RJ after his death.  I can’t remember if I’ve done a formal review of the books based on fact that I’ve already read them, but I won’t do a full one here, just a shorter one that tells why I like the book.

Secondary Characters

If the previous book’s focus is mostly on Rand (the main protagonist of the series), then this book focuses more on the two side characters who also act as protagonists, Perrin and Matt.  RJ & BS do the time-honored tradition of splitting up the characters and having them go their separate ways.  This book checks in on the pair and offer resolution to their separate storylines so that they might be unencumbered by dangling plot-lines for the final epic battle that RJ & BS are setting up for in Book 14 (the final volume).  In this case, the book works, although even though we spend quite a bit of time in both characters’ heads, it still feel like this one is more about Perrin than Matt.  I think that it may be because the author may identify more with Perrin than Matt, but whatever the case, this is what makes it feel slightly unbalanced to me.

Not Sure at First

When Brandon Sanderson first took over the reins of the series, I was hesitant to read the final books because I wasn’t sure how they would turn out.  I actually delayed reading them until all three were out because 1) I hadn’t read anything by BS yet, so I didn’t know what his writing style was like and 2) because of the mixed reviews on Amazon.  Some praised his characterization and said it matched the “spirit” of RJ’s original books, while some were disappointed in the way the books were characterized.  For me, The Wheel of Time was always more about the characters than the world (at least, in the later WoT books).  Jordan had a dense style, and while that was sometimes helpful to “world-building”,  it was also sometimes off-putting and (dare I say it, a little dry and boring).  It was his characters and traits that really stood out, from one character’s tagging on her braid when she was angry to one character also being an absolute flirt while claiming he knew nothing of the opposite sex, Jordan’s ability to create characters was amazing.  After I read Sanderson’s A Way of Kings, Book 1 of his Stormlight Archives series, I had enough confidence that he would treat Jordan’s characters right and so I dived in and I’m glad I did.

Sidney




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Read, Write, and Improve

read-write-stephen-king-quote_prdaily_com
Stephen King Quote on the Importance of Reading and Writing (“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time–or the tools–to write.  Simple as that.”  Image Source: PR Daily 

I written on the blog before that I haven’t really been able to write like I’ve wanted to based on the demands of life.  I expect that to continue for the near future for reasons that I won’t go into here, but I’m going to try my best because I feel like I’m missing a “piece” of me by not writing everyday/reading things for myself rather than school everyday.

I was really excited after reading the article on PBS.org profiling author Jesmyn Ward called “Persist.  Read, Write, Improve,” by Elizabeth Flock.  It was a short, but informative article and it really seemed to set out a “path” that I wanted to follow for 2018 (the closest thing a New Year’s Resolution as it were).  My goal was simple.  I would persist through 2018 by reading and writing every day and at the end of the year, I would (hopefully) see improvement.

Read

This is my most favorite thing to do, but I haven’t been reading like I wanted to.  I think it is because over the break, I was able to devote an hour (sometimes up to two hours) just to read every day and make substantial progress on my books.  I just don’t have that much time in the day.  I finally decided to devote half an hour to reading each day.  Also, last year I didn’t really have anything to read because I only certain authors (the few who aren’t drawn to the Dark Side of the Force with the allure of “GrimDark”).  However, ALL my favorite authors published material last year, so I want to read all of my favorite series and I just don’t have the time and it is really frustrating.  I’m also “supposed” to be reading books for school, both books and articles assigned for class as well as books in my “field” (English) on my own.  It is hard to enjoy my “reading” time when I have to read a book called Multimodality during my “reading time”when what I want to read is Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson.

Maybe I could read school books during the week and my personal books on the weekend?

Write

This is where I really feel that I let myself down.  Partially, it wasn’t an intentional act of laziness on my part.  Forgetting the computer, one week, and the charger, the next week meant that I was without my computer for essentially a week and half (pretty much all of my time here school).  Now I did have access to the school’s computers and since I have the blog and many of my writing files online, I could have gone there to write, but the frigid weather and uncertainty of the car starting put a major damper on that, so the end result is that none of the goals that I set for January were finished.  I’d really wanted to finish a Rough Draft, Working Draft, and Edited Draft every month, but perhaps that was too ambitious based on the amount of school work that I have.

While I can’t devote two hours every day, perhaps I just need to find a way to better utilize the time I do have.  I was up early to work on the blog–perhaps shorter, more consistent blog entries and use the remaining time to work on the writing projects I have in mind?

Improve

What I really want to see from my writing and my reading is an improvement in my ability to write long.  I don’t want just write short stories–my real desire is to write novels, screenplays, graphic novels, and pilots for television (of course, Sci-Fi/Fantasy based).  While I most certainly want to improve my storytelling abilities on ALL fronts, I really feel that improvement is needed in my ability to write long and to craft stories that can exist in the long-form media in order to see success as a writer.  That’s what I’m hoping Jesmyn Ward’s advice will help me accomplish this year.

Writing a Scene

Infographic-5-ways-to-begin-a-scene_NowNovel
Infographic for 5 Ways to Write a Scene, Image Source: NowNovel.com

So last week I began to create a tentative “Bible” for the world of the novel.  It wasn’t much, I just put down on paper some of the ideas floating in my head and fairly hastily sketched out the ideas for the world that I needed to know such as the history, important people, and the important institutions of the world.  Again, nothing major, but all of it is helping me to refine my process of thinking about the larger world and Skye’s relationship within it.

This week, while I finally have decided on how Skye should look, I still don’t have a clear handle on her personality, so the consultant and I decided I should write a scene with her in it.  I know next week is going to be hectic for me so I actually wrote out the scene write after I the session.  I’m not sure that it accomplishes my goal.  It is an action scene, so it has Skye doing a lot of things and being clever, but she doesn’t really say a whole lot, nor does she really emote.

I think I’m going to have to try to find time to write a non-action scene that is heavy with dialogue as well to see what that looks like.  I can’t seem to find the emotional resonance with her character.  I’ll see what the response is next week, but I think the action scene doesn’t show enough of Skye’s emotions or feelings to really give an indication of who she is and how she acts in real life.  I really need to know more about her personality and what makes her tick in order to do this story correctly.

EDIT: While search for a heading image for this blog post, I came across this interesting Infographic about 5 ways to write a scene.  Considering that Infographics was one of the “genres” that I taught this semester, I thought it only appropriate to include one in my blog post–also, since I’m still having issues, maybe if I try writing a scene in each of the 5 “ways” that the graphic suggests, maybe by the end of the process, I’ll have a better understanding of Skye’s personality and who she is as character and person.

Baby Steps To a Novel

novel_edx_org
Chapter One of a novel on a Typewriter, Image Source: edx.org

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! 🙂

 

Finished The Green Rider by Kristen Britain 


I finally finished the novel The Green Rider by Kristen Britain and I liked it.  It wasn’t my favorite fantasy novel ever but it had enough characterization and and action that I forgave some of its flaws. 

According to Wikipedia, this book is a first novel and I could tell.  Not to be disparaging, but there were elements that seemed out of place.  The meeting with sisters early on in the book seemed to exist only to give the protagonist items she would need later on in the story–a la Tolkien.  Her desire to ignore the repeated attempts to get her to believe that she had the necessary talent to be a good “Greenie” based on all that she had gone through was also particularly irksome.  But overall, I’d say it was pretty good.  Will I read the sequels? Probably, just not right away.

Yet, Kristen Britain did in 1999, what I haven’t yet found a way to accomplish yet in 2017.  She wrote, finished, and published her first novel.  This is the goal I’m working towards.  I hope one day (soon) that I can also reach this milestone myself.  Fingers crossed! 😀

Overall Grade: B-/C+

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