Treasonists update

Today was, perhaps, the most productive writing day I have had this year (It sounds impressive when I say it like that, doesn’t it?)

I started the day by collecting all of my plotting notes for the new ending. You see, I aim to almost completely rewrite (Or at least drastically alter) the current ending because it is nowhere near as exciting and thematically powerful as I think it should be.  To guide me, I resolved to write a new plot outline for the ending.

This was more difficult than it sounds. Most of the last third of the book follows the POV of 3 different characters (and minor scenes in a 4th POV) who are all doing different things in different places, at roughly the same time. They all tie into each other in the Climax of the novel, and have massive effects on each other during the lead up to that point. I was very worried all that could get very confusing.

My first order of business was to write-up the separate plot outlines for each character – To note all of their scenes in chronological order as if I were just writing about them.  That was the easy part.

Next, I attempted to fit everything together in a single outline that detailed everything in the order it will appear in the final book. This was a huge puzzle to work out, and I admit it was a read headache at some parts. (Literally, I ended up taking some Panadol!)

First of all, I wanted to keep everything in roughly chronological order so the reader isn’t constantly going backwards and forwards in time, because that could get very confusing. On the other hand, swapping between characters every paragraph could also get very confusing. There is a balance to be struck somewhere between this two, and I have no idea if I’ve hit it. There is no real way to know, really, until it’s all written down and the beta readers look at me in confusion. But it works in theory, for now.

Another consideration is the excitement and ‘plot’ of each chapter. I’m sure everyone reading this can conjure the graph of how a book’s plot is meant to look when excitement is quantified and graphed; An Ascending line with plateaus and finally a climax followed by a Denouement. It is my opinion each chapter should be set out somewhat similar, with its own goals, climax and denouement (or a set up for the next chapter) and I have stuck to this throughout most of the book. I think it works really well, so I would hate to break it to jump around to another character and ‘start something new,’ instantly destroying the tension and excitement built up over previous scenes.

Lastly, I had cause and effect to consider. As I noted somewhere above, what characters do in their plots have significant impacts on other characters. I had to make sure this all made sense, and that I never accidentally showed the effect of an action before showing the cause. This was just a case of Watching  where I was positioning things, and luckily for me most of the ‘causes’ were naturally at the end of something, allowing me to slip over to the next character to see the effects.

After a few hours of working all this through, I was staring at a shiny new plot outline of the shiny new ending. It is much better than the old ending and, if you don’t mind my saying, pretty epic. I think it provides a much more climactic end both for the main plot and the character arcs that eventually cumulate in the final battle.

But that’s not all I did today (I told you it was productive!) – I also got some work on the actual editing or, rather, writing. I’m at a point where I am adding a completely new chapter, so I’ve had to swap from an editing mindset to a writing one. Thankfully, I’m able to do that without much pain.

This chapter is really shaping up to be an interesting one to write, and I can only hope it’s as interesting to read. The chapter follows a major battle, the Seige of Luftenport, Between Vanessa of the Valkyries and Admiral Garcia of the Azimirian/Silvarian navy. What makes the battle so interesting is the fact those are both POV characters. In essence, what I have in this chapter is a miniature version of the above.

So the chapter follows the POV of both side’s commanders. Think of it was watching a game of chess (or, more aptly, an RTS) where you can see the plans and strategies of both sides as they attempt to implement them, and make the other fall into their traps. We get to see the commanders formulate their plans, we get to see the plans implemented, and we get to see the opposing side make their counter-plans and react. It’s a very interesting dynamic to write because both characters are Strategists, leading to a battle of wits with the lives of a few hundred soldiers at stake.

Not only that, But the battle has the same features of all my battle scenes – I like to show how things play out from the POV of commanders directing the battle (Moving regiments, implementing strategies) and also the POV of the actual soldiers fighting the battle directly.  Again, it’s an interesting method of doing things and I like to think it pull it off well, but there is no real way to know until I have my beta readers look at it.  At some point in the future, I’ll write a post entirely about how I write battle scenes.

To get all this working together, I’ve had to make heavy use of ‘***’ on an In-chapter level, to indicate a change of character. On a larger, inter-chapter level I’ve come up with the idea of calling Chapters by the same number with a different letter to indicate Concurrent timelines. For example, Chapter 6A and Chapter 6B happen at the same time, but follow different characters.

What do you think? How do you deal with different POV characters affecting each other’s stories? How do you show a battle from both perspectives? How do you indicate to a reader that two scenes are happening at the same time, in different places?

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The Baron’s Daughter – Reflection

A few days ago I posted a short story titled ‘The Baron’s daughter’ that I had written for a short story competition. Now, I’d like to look at the story in a little more depth. If you haven’t read it and would like to, it can be found here.

The short story opens with Aralia facing her father, the baron, after refusing to attend an arranged marriage with a prince. Here, I dive right into the first redemption arc. Furious with his daughter’s disobeyal, the baron vents his anger and sends her to the mines to redeem herself for disobeying him. This starts the first of two redemption arcs, but it should be carefully noted this one is a subversion of the theme. Aralia does not particularly care about redemption, and just wants to escape the prison-mine.

The next scene shows Aralia arriving at the prison-mine, where she has a discussion with the prison warden, a man named Panax. This is the major characterizing paragraph for Aralia, and is supposed to paint her as a somewhat witty/snarky character, perhaps a little too self-assured and self superior.  Originally, I had a scene directly following this where Aralia immediately starts a fight because she is not shown proper respect as the daughter of the duke, but the scene had to be cut for word restraints. Essentially, Aralia is not meant to be a very likeable character at this point. She is selfish and considers everyone else below her.

The next scene serves to detail the conditions of the prison-mine. It is short and passive not because of word count restraints, but because it would slow the plot down if it dragged on for too long. In all honesty, I’m not too happy with the way this part turned out. It seems forced and on the tell scale of the ‘show, don’t tell’ rule. Ideally, I would have woven the information into the scenes around it, but I certainly didn’t have the word count to do that effectively.

Warden Panax then takes Aralia to his office, a little foreshadowing for the ending, and offers Aralia ‘redemption.’ Panax tells Aralia she will be able to leave the prison if she sets a trap for the other prisoners, explaining the mine is no longer turning a profit and the continued existence of the prisoners it too costly.  Aralia, thinking only of herself and escape, accepts. Here the real subversive nature of the redemption arc comes into full view. Redemption is, traditionally, about a character seeking to undo or atone for some horrible past action, not actively cause death to save their own skin.

Aralia continues to set up the device; however she is trapped in with the fallout through a beautiful turn of Karma. This signals the beginning of the second redemption arc, the one that is played straight. Aralia is saved by a prisoner named Rauk, and this was meant to be a character-flipping moment. Aralia realizes the full magnitude of what she has done, and realizes the true redemption she needs to seek is for this.

After realizing exactly what had happened, the Prisoners decide their only option is to escape. Seeking Redemption, Aralia offers to go through with a plan that will allow the prisoners to escape. She doesn’t want to put anyone else in danger by letting them do it, and goes ahead with it despite her broken arm.

Redemption was the prompt of the contest and the central theme of the story. My single largest goal was to make the redemption theme as clear and exciting as possible, without slipping into cliché. I think having the nature and meaning of redemption to the character change as the story progress was a really cool idea, especially having one cause the need for another.  I think, in this respect, I was successful.

That said, the rest of it was pulled off pretty poorly. Character and general writing quality would be my biggest concerns if I ever write a re-worked version. Some work though the middle on developing Aralia and introducing the prisoners that show up later would not go astray.  Another big part would be at the ‘turn of redemption’ where Aralia has her epiphany – That part is quite poor, and I think would be the first section I revise.

So what have I learned though this experience? First of all, that I can’t write short stories. I think, if I had left it, this would have turned out between 6000 and 8000 words, all together. However, that’s a bit negative so let’s see what else it taught me.

I think working under such a strict word count with such a ‘big’ idea really forced me to change my style and make everything much more concise.  Especially near the end. For the most part, I don’t really like the style, however I have noticed some things work well here that have always felt a little odd under my normal style. I’ll give an example of something I sometimes do that has always annoyed me; let’s say a character was sitting down at a desk reading a book when he hears a knock on the door.

Bob placed his bookmark within the paperback’s pages and snapped it shut, letting it rest on the desk in front of him.
‘Just a minute!’ He called as he pushed his chair back and stood. Bob walked to the door and turned the handle, pulling it open.

Now, that is just not very good. Ignoring the fact it’s a rather mundane example, it’s far too long for what little it says and really just holds everything up. Perhaps something similar could be selectively used to create tension in the reader, but it certainly doesn’t work in general use. Whenever I catch something like this in my writing, it always annoys me a little. Working on a word count, however, forced me to shorten things.

Bob snapped his book shut with a bookmark and opened the door.

That is thirty-five less words. Already, I can’t believe I was working like the first example. That’s the biggest lesson i learnt– Just do it. Just have characters do what they need to and move on, not every little detail needs to be explained.

So what do you think? Is the story worth a major touch up, or should I let it go and focus on larger fish?

The Baron’s Daughter

And here it is!

This is ‘The Baron’s Daughter’ A short story I did for LegendFire’s annual ‘Legends contest.’ In all honesty, it was a bit of a rush job (especially the ending) and I got it in just in time.  That said, I’m rather proud of what I was able to achieve working with the restraints I was working with – time, word limits and from a prompt. I have a fear of mandatory prompts, a symptom of English at high school I’m afraid.  I may spend some more time on this, fixing her up. I still have the deleted scenes and know I need to work on character and most of the style. If nothing more, to keep it consistent. But then, that takes time from my already overwhelming projects. Tomorrow (or sometime within the next few days) I will post a more in-depth analysis to explain what I was trying to do, and why I did what I did. Watch out for that if you want a window into the way a (read: this) writer does things.

Please remember this is not me at my best. So, here we go – The Baron’s Daughter, Third place winner of LegendFire’ 2011 ‘Legends contest’ for fiction.

Yes, My LegendFire pseudonym is PenPen. Does anyone know what it’s from?

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1Q84 In Hindsight

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

1984 by George Orwell is one of my all-time favorite books.

That’s why when I saw the title ‘1Q84’ while browsing the book store I was more than a little interested. 1Q84 is a novel by famous Japanese Author Haruki Murakami and “as the title suggests, a mind-bending ode to George Orwell’s Nineteen eighty-four. (The number 9 in Japanese is pronounced like the letter Q)”

Imagine my disappointment, then, when 1Q84 had absolutely nothing to do with Orwell or 1984, besides a few throwaway references. Heck, my own novel has more in common with 1984 – both heavily feature the theme of propaganda.

But despite my disappointment in this regard (I was hoping for a 1984-in-tokyo – We were always at war with Oceana.) I guess I can’t really fault the book for that; it might have still been interesting despite its misleading title and blurb.  Might have been.

I was not aware so little could happen in 300 pages. In total, 1Q84 is a monolithic 900 pages, split into three books – I have only read the first one. The story (if you can call it that) follows Aomame, an assassin who hunts down and kills wife-beaters and child-rapists with a modified ice pick so small it leaves no trace of the murder. Or, that’s what we are told – In the 308 pages of book 1, only once does Aomame do anything remotely interesting. In the second chapter she sneaks into a hotel dressed as a member of staff come to check the air conditioner – There, she assassinates a businessman. This was early in the book, and mislead me into thinking there was an interesting plot, but the rest of the chapters about on Aomame focus on either her history ( which is told and re-told, without even adding more detail the second, third and fourth time) or her sex life. Murakami goes into great detail about Aomame’s preference in men – middle aged, balding and slightly plump (by coincidence, I’m sure, that’s what Murakami himself looks like) – and we Follow Aomame and her young friend, Ayumi, though the nightlife of Tokyo as they search for sex partners and have ‘rumpus sex feasts.’

But 1Q84 is about two characters, their story told though alternating chapters. The Second one is only slightly more interesting. Tengo is middle-aged writer living alone and working on his first novel when he becomes involved in a literary conspiracy. He is approached by his editor and asked to re-write a remarkable novel written by a 17 year old girl (Who has a nicely shaped chest, which is mentioned so much you’d think it was important). The core story of this 17-year-olf girl’s novel is brilliant, or so we are told, but the writing style is horrendous. All Tengo has to do is re-write it so it can win a contest and be sold. After some (a few chapters) debate Tengo accepts and is soon stuck elbow-deep in the conspiracy with his editor and Fuka-Eri, the 17-year-old dyslexic writer of ‘Air Chrysalis” (with a nicely shaped chest.) Oh, before I forget (I can’t forget, it’s featured every second chapter) we also read about Tengo’s sex life, and how his ‘older girlfriend’ gets very jealous.

None of this is to say 1Q84 is an Erotic novel – it’s not. While we read a lot about the characters sex lives any of the actual sex is left unexplained or IKEA Erotica. It’s just that Murakami has some determination to explain anything and everything as long it has no direct relevance to the plot (and if it does, it is skimmed over as quickly as possible). I know what kind of Pajamas Tengo wears (and what they smell like after Fuka-Eri has been wearing them,) and I know the finer details of Aomame’s diet and how she stays healthy and avoids constipation. I know about the Gilyaks, the natives of a small Russian island who don’t walk on roads. I know this because Tengo spends a chapter reading to Fuka-eri about them, while she sleeps in his bed in his pajamas, while her nicely shaped chest is mentioned every paragraph. It is exactly as creepy as it sounds. Despite never having heard the thing, I know more about Janacek’s Sinfonietta then a classical music professor.  1Q84 reads like an attempt to break free from writers block, where the writer just gushes anything and everything from their mind with no real plot, point or purpose above ‘writing something.’ I think most writers have done it when they are feeling a little writers block, but it’s not usually published.

Despite all this criticism, 1Q84 has some interesting things in it. There is a communist revolutionary organization lurking in the shadows; A religious cult with more secrecy than North Korea; the (very drawn out) promise that Aomame may undertake another assassination (when she gets out of the clubbing scene, it could be a few hundred pages yet,) some magical ‘Little people’ who are apparently very wise and remain mostly hidden, and a joint US/USSR project to build a functioning base on the moon, not to mention the fact there are two moons. But I do suspect those last two were thrown in just to prove to the reader the book isn’t set in the real 1984, and Murakami probably has no intention of following them through. But then, it doesn’t appear Murakami has any intention of following anything though in this novel.  I must admit, I am a little intrigued to find out more about the revolutionary organization and the cult, but I’m not willing to wade through another 600 pages of Murakami delving into excruciating detail about everything that comes to mind and the sex lives of his characters. I think I’ll give the Wikipedia page a whirl. Or maybe I’ll just go read 1984 again – At least the fact Julia and Winston had a sex life meant something.


Vanessa and the Valkyries

Only a few short days ago I passed the 60,000 word milestone.

Passing the mark was an exciting moment as I realized just how quickly I had raised the word count some 6000 words. My ultimate goal is 75,000 and I’m very confident in my ability to reach (even surpass) that in the 15 chapters I have left, especially considering most of my large-scale plot changes and additions are still to come.

The last chapter was an exciting chapter to work on because it contained the introduction to new character – A woman named Vanessa – who I was particularly looking forward to working with again. In the original first draft, she did not receive nearly enough attention or development.  In the end, Vanessa was less a character and more a plot device with dialogue. She was the kind of character that exists only because the plot demands it, and has no complexity or dimension. She didn’t feel like a person.

And I wasn’t happy with that. So while I was collecting my notes and making plans for the edit, I set improving her and her involvement in the story as a major goal. First I had to fix her character, so I gave her a much more detailed personality, complete with some new motivations. Hopefully now she can be a character in her own right – and like all good characters, she can give something to the story.

Vanessa is the commander of the ‘Valkyries,’ a criminal organization active throughout the independent city states, but mostly in and around Luftenport. She is the ex-commander of a military regiment from the Astral empire, and a veteran of a heated war, as are most of her loyal troops.  She is cool under pressure, tactically and strategically brilliant, and ruthlessly and mercilessly cunning.  Simply put, she is a magnificent bastard. There is an interesting dynamic I have here between Silvara, the antagonist, and Vanessa – because they are so alike.  They are different enough to be unique characters in their own right (I hope) but similar enough for it to be noticed.  It’s interesting because they use very similar methods to maintain power, and rule their respective sphere though fear. On one hand, we have my characters opposing the tyrannical rule of Princess Silvara, while on the other hand we have the characters accepting Vanessa’s help. I’m going to enjoy having my characters think through that.

My next task was to think about how I am going to give her more involvement in the story – this was an easier task. She already played a large part, it was just background. Vanessa was organizing and doing things while I was focused on the adventures of the main characters. The solution, then, was to write the parts focused on her.  I resolved to write a chapter that chronicles the Battle of Luftenport (The Azimirian invasion of Luftenport.) while the main characters touch on this battle, I felt it could be expanded from Vanessa’s point of view. Not only would this be an exciting addition, but it would help develop Vanessa and answer some questions I quietly swept under the rug in the first draft.  Additionally, I made some plans for new scenes throughout the novel that show Vanessa’s action – a good implementation of the show, don’t tell rule.

Overall, I hope the additions with Vanessa help develop her character and clarify some parts of the story that may have been a little shady before.

In Bleed Country In Hindsight

The first time I picked up In Bleed Country, I had no idea what to expect.  I have never really been ‘into’ horror novels – My first and last attempt at one was Clive Barker’s ‘The Hellbound Heart’ at the age of 8, and while that was an … interesting experience, the genre never grew on me. ( I wonder if I still have that book around, actually…) But none the less, after meeting Brian at Legendfire I decided I’d take a look at his work. I was originally going to get ‘Petty Like a God,’ but he recommended I read his latest novel ‘In Bleed Country.’

And I’m glad he did.

In Bleed Country is one of the more memorable books I read last year (and, Perhaps, ever) especially due to its villainous side. The villains are simply wonderful. Excuse me for a minute while I rant on this, but I don’t think I have ever encountered villains as fun and enjoyable to read about as the Armada Of Sensation. Not only are they a well written, complex bunch of characters who change as and grow as the story progresses, but they are a pure joy to read about. I wish more of the book was in their POV, and I found myself grinning throughout their scenes and hoping for  more whenever the protagonists took the spotlight. Honestly, they are absolutely everything an antagonist should be.

That’s not to say the protagonists were lacking at all – Reality is quite the opposite. Brian has a talent for creating interesting and enjoyable characters, and in this regard he far surpasses much of that I read in print. I just have a soft-spot for villains, and good ones are hard to come by these days.

The novel concerns Jeff Palmer, a young man who becomes a part of Bleed Country after a car accident. We follow him as he delves into the mystery of Bleed Country and his power as an Agent of bleed country, all while fighting to defend it from the Armada Of Sensation and cast of other antagonists with their own personal goals, all crossing each other’s paths. One very interesting aspect of In Bleed Country is the fact Brian shows us what the other characters are up to, instead of sticking rigidly to the POV of a single protagonist. It allows him to follow multiple plot threads at once and, perhaps most deliciously, allows us to see what the antagonists are doing through their own eyes. It’s a good implementation of the ‘show, don’t tell’ rule of writing, and pulled off fantastically.

The book is not entirely without its flaws, however.  It was composed of two shorter works that have been merged together, and while for the most part this is done well and without any visible scars, but it is noticeable. Don’t get me wrong; In Bleed Country is a single novel, but the Second ‘half’ seems a little rushed compared to the first, and while it is still enjoyable in its own right, I would have liked to see the two parts more entwined.  This is grasping at straws, really, and I can’t find any serious complaint with this book.

Overall I loved In Bleed Country – It drove me into the night with bloodshot eyes more than once, and I can still remember staying in the classroom after school because I didn’t want to shut off the computer to stop reading. (And subsequently, I can remember walking home in the rain. It seems reality got the last laugh.) If you are a horror fan (or not, remember I wasn’t) then give it a try. Even if you don’t fancy it, at least you can say you survived a trip to Bleed Country.

Since I read the book, Brian has released a new special edition through Dark Red Press that includes some extra illustrations by the man himself, and three short stories set around the novel’s universe.  I don’t have that version, so I can’t pass comment on those. I really hope one of them is about the Armada Of Sensation.

You can find In Bleed Country at…

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Goodreads

And of course, the Dark Red Press website.

Brian’s Personal blog can be found here.

Thanks for reading, be sure to tell me what you think if you purchase the book.

Are you a Horror fan? What are your experiences with the Horror genre? Let me know in the comments section!

Legends Contest Debriefing

The worst part about word limits is cutting back.

Earlier I made a post about a Writing contest based on the theme ‘redemption,’ hosted by Legendfire.com, a community-based writing website. After some initial worry, I was able to come up with an idea I thought would be of the right size. As someone who writes primarily novel-length stories, the word limit of 3500 was a real (but welcome) challenge. Fortunately, I made it at 3494 words, just in time. Though I can’t give out any specific detail until after the winners are revealed (January 14th) , I can say I’m pleased with how the piece turned out – given time and word constraints, especially with the stress of the holiday season. It’s not the best I’ve ever written, but it’s not the worst.

But it took some effort to get it to the place it is. I should have seen the trouble coming when my plot outline was 1700 words.  By the time I had finished my first draft, the whole thing was 5200 words. That’s more than a little over, and especially troubling considering my habit of forgetting or skipping parts in the first draft. I had to cut a lot from the story, including some semi-important scenes in the middle. In my previous post, I spoke of the importance of character when dealing with a theme like redemption, so it’s unfortunate that characterizing scenes had to be cut. The Main character is far from as fleshed out as I wish they were, but I think it’s enough to carry the story. The bigger problem comes from the lack of development of the side character’s who seem to pop into the story at the end, out of the blue.  I initially had some introduction scenes where they appeared before they became really important, turning them into Chekov’s gunmen, but that had to be cut entirely. That’s what I get for using a three act structure in a one-act play. The plot made it though alive, even if there is a noticeable scar across the middle. (Perhaps I can only see it because I know it is there?)

Another sacrifice I had to make was the description and detail. You see, I like detail. Now, I’m not talking about purple prose or describing everything in such excruciating detail it becomes tedious, but I like sprinkling detail around to add flavor. Occasionally, I’ll even stop to describe something important to the plot in a few hundred words, especially if it’s awesome. I had to cut a lot of that flavor out, something that really bothered me. It leads to a very snappy writing style I’m not sure I like, especially near the end. It’s almost possible to see the point where I realize I’m running out of words and start to cut down heavily. That’s probably not a good thing, but maybe – like above – it’s something I can only see because I know it’s there.  Overall, it’s very quick and skeletal. Don’t get me wrong, I like a fast pace, especially in combat, but I like description too. I’ve struck an odd balance in my writing style, but I had to cut it away for this.

I might play around with this new style in the future, as I think I could learn a little from it. (And isn’t that the best prize I could possibly get from a contest?)

One healthy lesson is about transition sentences between actions. Sometimes, I know where my character is and what I want them to do, but don’t know what to put in between. It always felt weird to have ‘nothing’ in between, but writing with the limit forced me too and, after re-reading the results, I can honestly say it works a little better at many points. I know I’m being vague. I’ll post the story here once the contest has been decided, with some short pieces of analysis so you can see what I was trying to do at certain parts, and how I was doing it. I may even put some of the deleted scenes back, but I want to keep the work true to its purpose – and that was to be short.

Where ever you are in the world, happy New Year and good luck with those resolutions. My biggest resolution is to stay on track and see Treasonists published, so there’s still more on that to come!