On Writing - Archive - August 2014

  • Building Grey: Editing, Part 2

    August 29, 2014

    Let the editing continue! Last time I talked about taking a break, letting yourself forget about your work so you can look at it with new eyes, and cutting parts that add nothing to your story.

    Another easy way to self edit, after having removed yourself from your work for a while is to read it out loud. I'm always amazed how many little phrases and details my mind autocorrects for me when I read silently. I also feel this is the best way to pick up little pieces that computer checks miss. Most computers can tell you when you misspell a word, but it rarely tells you when you happen to type 'of' in place of 'off', 'on' in place of 'one', 'the' for 'then' and so on. When you read it out loud, you notice a lot more about the structure of your text.

    And it's an easy way to tell if some bits of conversation sound natural or not. If I have long stretches of dialogue that go back and forth, I actually like to copy it and read it with a friend to see if the rhythm and cadence of the conversation sounds right.

    Another important part of editing is getting someone's eyes other than your own on the work. It helps if that person is a competent english major, or at least likes the genre of the book you're writing. But at the bare minimum, someone who doesn't have the whole story mapped out in their head and knows all the backstory. At one point I had Khristian talk to Roland as if they had already met, not realizing that I had skipped that bit earlier, and only going off the memory that I had planned to have them meet.

    A good editor can pinpoint all your loose ends and phantom encounters, which, the longer you spend working on your book, the greater the chances of you adding them are. Especially if you take a few months off here and there because you need a break, or life happens.

    The last part to mention is, all the above being noted, you don't need to listen to everything your editor tells you. Plot holes, yes, character tone, not necessarily. Make sure you're still telling the story you want to tell.

  • Character Study: Fatima Zhe

    August 27, 2014

    Fatima is only with us for a brief time. She is brought in from Jenner's acting troupe to train Aerika in the finer points of swordplay, tumbling and acrobatics. She's a diminutive woman in her early 40s, and hails from the southern wild Isle region of Ouran.

    Fatima spent her youth training at Tamino's School of Flickering Lights, but had to leave early to help her family tending fields at her home in the Wild Isles. A terrible monsoon claimed the lives of her family, and she left Ouran shortly thereafter, not wishing to continue the family business.

    She had a difficult time finding employment in Ramza, where she couldn't find an employer who wanted both her skill set and her moral code. While leaving a restaurant one evening in Caulment, Fatima dispatched a group of street thugs with relative ease who thought her an easy mark. This was observed by one of the actors at the R.A.T., who was highly entertained by Fatima's fighting style.

    Word of Fatima eventually reached Jenner, who had her audition for a play he was bringing to his theatre, and after putting the competition to shame, kept her on as a full time actor. This pleased Fatima, who never loved combat as much as she loved the workout it provided.

    Through the years, she eventually retired from the stage and stayed on as a trainer for newly hired acrobats and entertainers in Jenner's employ.

  • Building Grey: Editing, Part 1

    August 25, 2014

    This will have a little overlap with pacing, but editing is so much more. It's correct sentence structure, using grammar correctly, making sure points of interest and plot elements are cohesive, and can affect the general mood of the story overall.

    Fallen Throne was a much longer story in its first pass. Almost twice as long in fact. I wrote about everything. There were tons of little side stories, characters talked at length about morality and religion, pages would be devoted to describing a walk from one place to another. Suffice to say, there was a lot of rambling.

    When I first started writing Fallen Throne, I told myself I wanted it to be epic. I loved the 1,000+ page classics. I used to judge the value of a movie by its run time. And when I was finished writing, I reveled in the page count I had created. And no one wanted to read it. I wanted to get some friends' opinions of it, but they were daunted by the page count. And when I had originally shopped it around to publishers and agents, they all balked at the length, saying it should be split into separate books.

    I kind of learned a one-two punch in that, I had a terrible time cutting anything out. Everything felt important. What I would realize later is that I was too close to the material. I'd finished writing it weeks ago, and was still filling out entries in the encyclopedia. I may have sent submissions out before it was finished, because I saw what the return times were like.

    In any event, it wasn't until I got away from the book for a bit, and came back to it, that I felt confidant editing it. For we it was almost a year. When I came back, it was painfully obvious what needed cut. There was so much, for lack of a better phrase, self-indulgence. I thought to myself ‟What was I thinking when I wrote this?” when I went back over a lot of the sections. Swaths were cut. Whole chapters disappeared. In most cases, if you can remove an entire chapter from your book and nothing would be missing, it's probably something you can cut.

    I tightened it up on the micro level too. Shortening sentences, changing tense, hundreds upon hundreds of little corrections that made for a better read.

    There's more editing I want to talk about, but I realize I've already spent lots of text on cutting a manuscript down to size, so I'll save the rest for the next time.

  • Character Study: Ripalst Mansion Males

    August 22, 2014

    So last time I talked about the women in Jenner’s life. Now I'm going to shed some light on the men. That would be none other than Carrensby Hornuldo, Gregory Knightsmith, and the man, the myth, the legend, Azt’ze.

    These men are cornerstones in Jenner’s life as much as anyone else. Carrensby was Mrs. Fensworth’s first hire when the family moved to Caulment. He is a gentleman through and through, has an eye for detail, and keeps a calm head at all times, being less emotionally invested than Madeline is, but caring all the same. Carrensby is a few years younger than Madeline, and takes great pride in his work, so much so he likes to brag a bit to his friends about it when he takes off for a drink at his favorite bar.

    Gregory and Jenner have been friends for a little over a decade, when Gregory came upon the man in the streets of Caulment, fighting a losing battle with his horse. Gregory let the untrained animal know who was boss, and then proceeded to calm the horse. He said he had never seen such a poor equestrian, and that he needed to learn Jenner the proper ways of the horse. And they have become close friends since.

    And then, the wise old Azt’ze. He has been employed by the Ripalst family in some manner longer than either Jenner or his mother can remember. Bought as a slave from the M’lan empire Azt’ze was treated as family. His skill in the kitchen gave him quite the reputation around Balthwell and the northern parts of Ramza. Azt’ze loved working around their kitchens so much that he asked to stay on when Jenner’s grandmother, Bea, moved in with some friends and told Azt’ze he was free to do as he pleased. He’s old, even by M’lan standards, and is always ready with a warm story and hearth for visitors in the mansion.

  • Building Grey: Magic

    August 20, 2014

    I want to talk of fireballs and ice storms and lightning bolts. Animated corpses, teleportation and incantation. I am a lover of all things magical. The very first novel I can remember reading was about a girl who could literally absorb magic out of the air and throw it back in a fiery stream of death.

    I remember when I sat down to watch 'The Fellowship of the Ring' that I was surprised by the lack of flashy magic. I thought surely, in the land of dwarves and elves and goblins, that magic would drip from the scenery like rain on an overcast day. But I learned something else. Tolkien made magic precious. When you saw it, it was something special, or made a point, or was wrapped in a concept grounded in the believable. Tolkien was already telling a fantastic adventure. He didn't need to create something that might detract from the story.

    When I thought about writing a novel, I always imagined I would have skies the limit when it came to magic. Mighty wizards would topple buildings, throw the elements around like it was effortless, and the very earth would tremble. But I realized that while it might make for edge of your seat entertainment, that wasn't a story.

    I realized I wanted to make magic special too, and not put it everywhere. When Roland brings forth his sword, it's obvious it's one of a kind. Colette is a being of magic, and she is a force to be reckoned with. But magic can be a very simple thing as well, as Mao shows everyone. And I think the story is richer for it. I don't want magic to detract from a story, but help build it.

    In the end, this isn't to detract from you using magic in your own story, but just make sure you're doing it for the right reasons. Make it part of your world, and make it special.

  • Gencon 2014

    August 19, 2014

    I am continually surprised by how much I enjoy Gencon.  I always feel like 'this year' will be the one where I get bored, or feel like I've seen it all before, or tire at the thought of one mroe 5 hour drive.  But this show delivered just like previous years.

    I enjoyed a lot of the games I demo'd, including Pixel Tactics, Kaosball, DIsc Duellers...actually, I'll same some space and just say anything by level 99 games was worth coming back to.  I also enjoyed Mai-star, Samurai Spirit, Doom Town, and Tragedy Looper.  Though, I think my brain was a little tired by the time I got to Tragedy Looper.  It involved replaying events of the day in order to try and prevent them, based on the locations characters were in at the time things happened.  I was trying to prevent a murder and a suicide, and I did, but I honestly couldn't tell you how I managed to besides blindly guessing.  But it was fun.

    The only thing I had trouble finding was a new war game.  I played a few things that I thought would have some war-like attributes, like Black Fleet and Hyperboria, but they were really just disguised resource management games.  It could be argued that a war game is the same, but when you can win without conflict, I don't really feel like it's very warlike.  I hadn't played Axis & Allies in about two decades, and it was less complicated than I remembered it being, but I still wasn't a fan of the predetermined starts.

    Overall, at least from the bigger publishers, games felt like the base price was definitely creeping up.  More games closer to $100 than not.  Maybe it was always this way.  It's only bothersome, because while I don't mind buying locally for a $40 or $50 dollar game i might save ten bucks on online, When the savings get closer to thirty and fourty dollars, I have a hard time buying locally.  Maybe when World of Grey takes off.

    All in all, looking forward to next year already, and I wish the con was a few days longer.  Hope everyone's been having a great summer.

  • Character Study: Ripalst Mansion Females

    August 18, 2014

    Today I’ll talk about the head of the household, Madeline Fensworth, and the three girls under her tutelage, Jamie Follet, Melanie Cooks, and Rachel Dulce.

    Madeline is the voice of reason in Jenner’s life. She does her best to make sure he stays a responsible and thoughtful man, though it doesn’t always take. Originally she was going to be Alfred to Jenner’s Batman, but I realized i wanted a much more robust and lively manor, and since Jenner has no secret identity to keep from the world, it was very easy to make his mansion a warm, active place, with Madeline at the forefront.

    She’s been with Jenner all his life, serving with his parents before he was born. She is a prim and proper lady who keeps her greying hair in a tight knit bun at all times, with no strand ever out of place. Her appearance is impeccable and demands nothing less from those around her. She has seen Jenner grow up, patched him up when he gets hurt, and hands out lectures and advice when he needs it. The manor would probably fall apart if she ever left.

    I originally had much grander plans for the three maids. Love interests, back stories and general humor and entertainment to lighten the story. But I found when going back that I gave the maids a bit too much life, and the story at the Ripalst manor slammed to a screeching halt as it became the daily lives of maids.

    There were some interesting story arcs there, but in the end, it needed to be cut so Khristian and Aerika could get back on track. They each retained some of their character, but only Jamie retained much of her original arc. The other two lost most of their side stories. I do plan to have them visited again further down the line.

    While Fatima is in Jenner’s employ, and she has but a brief time in the story, I feel she deserves her own entry.

  • Character Study: Colette

    August 15, 2014

    Ah, my favorite shapeshifting, no-nonsense assassin. Colette first formed in my mind back when I heard of something called a clone war in Star Wars. The name instantly formed an epic war in my head. It was only later where I would find out what I pictured a clone war to be was nothing like what happened in that galaxy far far away. Clone war to me summoned up some world at war with beings who could mimic the looks of others, so you never knew if someone was friend or enemy. I liked my idea so much I decided it should be in my book.

    And so Colette was born. The war between Ramza and the shapeshifting Oblin was decades ago, and the Oblin haven't been seen since. Colette is the lone survivor as far as anyone knows. And Colette has been around far longer than the war. She didn't even participate. Colette is hundreds of years old. She has seen everything life has to offer. She tried being good, bad, polite, sadistic. She's runt he gamut of emotions. She cares about people a little less than she used to. She's known loss more often that not. All her friends have died. She also has no real need for money. She does a job or activity as long as it interests her, and then once it bores her, she moves on.

    Colette is probably the deadliest woman in Grey as far as Fallen Throne is concerned. Both Jenner and Gregor consider themselves competent men with blades, but they are both put back on their heels whilst fighting Colette. Between her collection of knowledge over the years and her unnatural healing, she can go all in on every fight she's a part of. I don't foresee her taking a big role in the next book, but she'll be back for the finale.

  • Building Grey: Pacing

    August 13, 2014

    Pacing sets the speed at which things happen. It also can be a slightly more literal movement of events in the form of chapters. I want to talk a little about both.

    I once read that in scripts for action movies, they want an action beat about every 20 pages. Something big needs to happen every 20 pages. At a page per minute, page to film, that's about every 20 minutes in a movie. A fight, something blows up, a chase, etc. It helps to keep the audience engaged and it meets the expectation of what they came in for. There are of course, exceptions to these rules, but I find even drama and comedies have these beats, where every so often something dramatic or funny occurs, relatively speaking.

    When your pacing is off, things seem to slow down. I felt the second season of Walking Dead and the third season of Game of Thrones had some pacing issues, that were handled much better in their written counterparts. Too much time at the farm. Too much time with Theon. I think shows like Breaking Bad or 24 are some excellent examples of good pacing.

    For Fallen Throne, I feel it's an adventure book first, so there better be a lot of moving about and exploring new places. Originally Aerika and Khristian spent a lot more time in Jenner's mansion, and later, in Balthwell. Dozens of pages worth of extra time. But nothing was really happening. It was idle banter and sightseeing. Nothing was really happening. I realized the story was slowing to a crawl.

    I also tightened up some of Jenner's investigating arcs. At first I thought it was adding depth to Jenner, but I realized upon repeated readings that you get the gist of Jenner's acting chops within a few beats of that first fight in Caulmont. And each additional outing revealed a bit less. So those got toned down as well. Always be moving. The last arc of Fallen Throne where they are in Arcturus took a lot of refinement because I was trying to find the right amount of time for them to be spending in Krugeth's camp.

    The other bit of pacing I wanted to mention was where your chapters fall. I personally feel chapters that are roughly even in length are strongest. It can help you as a writer set the pace for the chapter when you know how many pages you have to setup the arc of events for that chapter, and I feel as a reader, if you read chapters at a time, you feel better when you know how long you're in for when you tell yourself, one more chapter.

    When I looked at Fallen Throne after the first run through, my chapters were all over the place. Some were 5 pages, while others were 40+. I spent a lot of time looking at the content and trying to find better break points, and I could also manipulate which bits of information I wanted grouped together. Most chapters ended up being in the high teens or mid twenties by the time I was done, which made for a much tighter story.

    After a little work, you'll find the right pace for your story, and it'll be better for it.

  • Building Grey: Getting it Done

    August 11, 2014

    More often than not, a story has three parts. A beginning, a middle, and an end. Sometimes they are told in that order, and sometimes not. What's important when writing, is that you don't need to stick to the same order.

    When I wrote Fallen Throne, I had some very solid visuals in my head. The fire at the R.A.T. The fight on the coach. The battle at Hallon's Hold. Umbrunzwe's daring escape from the castle. I had these set pieces cemented in my head. I didn't have every bit that connected these moments together planned out. And what I learned was that it was okay.

    I never had writer's block when I wrote Fallen Throne, and that's because I let myself jump around in the story. If I got to a moment where I wasn't positive what the characters should be doing next, I skipped ahead a few pages and told the next thing I knew they were doing for sure. Then a few days later, I'd come back to where I was stumped. Often times, the act of writing ahead helped clear up the earlier problem. I would make a decision I could use to help pave the way in the past.

    I'd say the single most important thing I took away from writing Fallen Throne was never stop writing. If ever I was confused, or frustrated, I would write about something easy. I'd write up descriptions of characters, or add to the encyclopedia, or maybe compose a poem or song for the world. I would always craft something.

    Another important step, and this will sound a tad cliché, but setting goals is important. If you're a bit intimidated by goals, it's okay to start small. When I first started writing Fallen Throne, I told myself, three pages a day. After a week I told myself five pages a day. By a month in, I was sailing steady at ten pages a day. On a good day, those ten pages came in an hour. Sometimes it took two. But you have to stick with it. Sometimes this means missing a TV show (I didn't have a cable box that recorded shows) or cutting out some video games, or not eating out for the Nth time that week.

    Writing is a commitment like any other. Even if you love your commitments, you still have to devote time to them when sometimes you might want to be doing something else. That doesn't mean you're not a good writer. Everyone likes to do different things, and only a few special individuals can do the same task day in and day out.

    Get committed to your writing craft, and you have the first major obstacle behind you.

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