Wednesday, May 27, 2015

I Haven't Written a Sonnet since College.

Today's entry comes from the "Be Careful What You Wish For" department.  :P

In last week's entry, I started off lamenting that I'm not a songwriter, since I tried to do the entry in blues verse and it... didn't go well.  >_<  But some of the commenters (you know who you are) said that they did want to see an entry in verse.

Funny, I never would have thought I did requests.

I learned how to write a sonnet back in college, first in a writing class that covered a bunch of different kinds of writing; fortunately I never had to combine them and write a scientific paper in iambic pentameter.  I also took a Shakespeare class.  If you ever have the chance to learn Shakespeare from a professor who enjoys it so much that he'll play multiple parts at once from behind the lectern, I strongly recommend it.  But that class, of course, covered sonnets as well.

Without giving too much away, this poem covers the basic story of the book I finished this past Friday.  I'm pleased to say that I don't hate the book, as happens too often when I finish something.  I'm actually looking forward to going back and editing it.  That will likely not happen until July; I have June reserved for writing my next book, which is completely unlike the one I just wrote and might be unlike anything I've ever written.  I'll need beta readers for the new book eventually - I already have one volunteer, which fills me with glee, as she's never read anything I've written before so huzzah for fresh eyes - but I'm not asking until the thing's ready for people to see it.  And that could take a while.

So, without further ado, a poem of the book's tale:

I never thought I'd see your face again.
I thought I'd live my life without your touch.
You found me when the night was young, and then
We learned that ten years needn't matter much.

They call revenge a dish that's best served cold,
And you and I will make a wicked chance.
We'll find the things that others seek to hold;
With cunning words, we'll make their secrets dance.

But there is trouble hidden in the runes,
And those who seek to strike at both our homes.
An enemy has found beneath the dunes
The ancient spells in long-forgotten tomes.

There's danger to our homes we can't abide.
But we'll face it, forever side by side.

The new book is titled The Book of Lost Runes.

Next week, IWSG, wherein I say horrible things about comfort zones.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Word Count Blues.

I was going to do this entire entry in blues verse.  I got two verses in before realizing I'm not actually a songwriter.

As of this posting, the book I've been working on for three and a half weeks is up to a little over 70,000 words.  I'm not bragging, I swear - I know I write quickly, and oftentimes that bothers me, because when I try to write fast, I write crap.  I know I've talked about this before; I think I've done entire blog entries on this.

What's bugging me is that I'm nearly done with the first draft, almost to the end, and the book just doesn't feel long enough.  Yes, I know, that's kind of ridiculous.  I know that a book should be as long as the story takes to tell, no more and no less.  And I know a lot of books aren't even that long, depending on the genre and the target audience and dozens of other factors.

But dammit, I have a ton of books on my bookshelves that are these GIANT TOMES OF AWESOME STORY and I'd really like my books to be like that.  >_<

Yes, I'm aware of how ridiculous this is.  I know all fantasy stories don't have to be massive epics that could serve double duty as doorstops.  And I know that being able to tell a story without wasting a lot of words along the way is a sign of a skilled writer.  There's something to be said for an economy of words, for being able to communicate something with a sentence that once required an entire paragraph.  I've done a lot of condensing while editing previous works, and I know the story came out stronger for it.

But at the same time, having such a low word count when the story's nearly done makes me wonder if it's going too fast.  The first page of my plot document is, largely, the first chapter of the story.  Later on, a paragraph or two of the same document forms a chapter.  I know that's not a comparison I need to make, because first chapters are not supposed to be the same thing as fourth or ninth or seventeenth chapters, but still, something about this just doesn't feel right.

And my plot is fifteen pages!  I've written books well over a hundred thousand words with much shorter plots than this.  I don't get it.  I really don't.

I know I'll be able to add what I need to once I'm editing.  (I say that assuming I'll be editing this; I don't think I'll hate this one when I'm done but I can't make any guarantees either.)  I even know some of what I'll need to add.  The city that much of the story takes place in needs more description to really get across what it's supposed to look like, being attached to a university of magical teaching.  The wasteland where the rest of the story takes place also needs more description, as it's supposed to be this wrecked and glowing surreal landscape and I don't think I've quite nailed that yet.

There's emotional content to add as well.  As I've said before, I don't always write character emotions into my plot, as I figure those will show themselves in the story itself.  And when I'm just trying to get the story out, I know how the characters feel, but I don't always show it well enough.  So there are scenes that I'll definitely need to go through and make sure I get all the characters' feelings across.  I'm thankful to beta readers on previous books who helped me realize I don't always delve into this as much as I need to.

Yet, even after all this, I still feel like a fantasy story should be a good long tale.  I still feel like what I've done so far just isn't enough, but I know I'm not going to drag out the third act to artificially pad the word count.  So here I am, knowing that what's bothering me is foolish, and yet unable to shake the feeling that I'm doing something wrong.

I'll end this with my usual request for advice.  Advice in the form of pointing out that I'm being a doofus is perfectly acceptable.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

My Characters are Smarter than Me.

On Saturday, April 25th, I started writing a book.  It's going well, almost frighteningly so.  There's a small voice in the back of my head that says writing shouldn't be this easy - that if the past is any indication, because the book is going so well now, I'll hate it when it's done.

Fortunately, there's a louder voice in my head that knows the past doesn't guarantee the future and can make the other voice shut up.

I do realize that by talking about this book now, I'm going against what I said last year about keeping a book secret while I'm working on it.  But I figure that as long as I don't talk about the actual plot, I won't run into the issues detailed in that blog entry.  For now, all I'll say about the plot is that it involves airships and blackmail.  ^_^  And either way, it's not the plot that has me scratching my head these days.

My friend Rena has a saying: "Foreshadowing: look for it in quality literature."  Part of why I plot (aside from the fact that I write absolute crap stories when I don't) is to know what happens so I can foreshadow what's to come.  What's been weird about this book is that the characters are foreshadowing things long before I planned for them to do so.

I've had beta readers point out that I needed to bring up a plot point or suggest a plot twist long before I actually did.  That's nothing new.  What's new is when one of the main characters feels the desire to mention something that's a crucial part of the second-to-third-act transition in the book's second chapter, all so that plot point has time to develop in the background and doesn't seem like it came out of nowhere.

If anyone later asks, yes, I will say I meant to do that.

I've seen other writers talk about how they know they're doing it right when the characters take on a life of their own, and seem to write their own dialogue and determine their own actions independent of what the author originally planned.  That's happened to me more than once.  I'm used to it - hell, I plan for it.  I leave enough breathing room in my plots for things to change without breaking the story.  But it's quite strange to feel like my characters are telling me that they know how the story should go better than I do.

Then again, they're probably right.  And now that I think on it, since I do my best not to think too much when I'm writing and just write, this is happening in more ways than just foreshadowing.

There are a lot of things happening in this book that I didn't plan for.  Most of them are in character reactions as events transpire; I don't always write reactions into my plots, as I figure that's something that will come up in the actual writing.  And that's happening a ton in this book.  It's been interesting to discover new aspects of characters I've had in my head since 2002, and at the same time, I feel like I'm just watching things transpire and scrambling to write them down quickly enough.  It feels like the sort of thing every writer might hope for, but it's very weird to have it actually happen.

I have only vague plans for what will happen after this book, but some of the things that have come up feel like they're hinting at that - foreshadowing for things I don't even know yet.  But I'm trusting my characters, as they seem to know better than me.

Next week: Word Count Blues.

As a side note, I want to thank everyone for the amazing comments on last week's entry.  ^_^  I was a little nervous about that one, as it seemed a bit melodramatic and too much like my typical "you can do it" IWSG content, but I'm glad y'all liked it so much.  Thank you.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

IWSG: Drowning in a Metaphor

There are times, when the work begins, when you're standing on the shore of an idea, fascinated by the glitter on the water.  And so you wade in.

The first few steps are sometimes the easiest, sometimes the hardest.  But once you've taken the first step, once you've got those early few words down, the next will follow, and the next, and the next, and you've finished the first chapter and you're up to your ankles in the story, and there's a way to the far shore, you know it.  And you know in your heart you'll make it there.

Sometimes there's a slope down into the tale, sometimes the ground drops out from under you.  Either way suddenly you're up past your knees, and you feel the current as the tale takes hold of you.  You could fight, you know that.  But the tale has a will and life of its own, a story that's set on telling itself even as you know it's yours.

And so you keep telling it, because you've come this far already, and it would be a shame to turn back when you've hardly started.

You press on, as the tale tugs at your feet, as the story winds its way through paths you chose and places you never thought to go.  It's getting deeper now, and you're up to your waist in the story, watching the people you've created struggle and dance and play their parts through the world in your head, the world that's no longer only in your head.  Their struggle is yours as well, whether you know it or not, whether you want to acknowledge it or not, because they came from you.

It's easy to lose track, the deeper you go.  The story leads you on, but it's a greater journey than you ever intended, and there are times when you feel like you're losing your way.  When you're up to your chest, arms high over your head to stay upright, doubts swirl around you and try their damnedest to pull you under.  Every one of the characters you thought you knew is in trouble, some of them the cause of that trouble, and that first idea that seemed so clear is lost in the depths and winding itself around your legs, a weight dragging you down.

It would be easy to stop.  To let yourself float away.  Why fight for the shore, when there's current enough to sweep you downriver, to let you close your eyes and drift, so that when you awaken you're back where you began, and that promising shore on the other side, you can't even see it anymore.  Like it was never there.

But that's not you.

So you'll dive in, plunge into the deepest part of your work, because no matter how much the characters fight it or what you find as you go, this story is yours, and you will make it work.  You'll get yourself tangled in the knot of the final act, thrashing through your own tale, because even if you've drowned yourself in your own metaphor you will see this through to the end.  One way or another, you'll find the strength, the breath, the will to see your work finished.

And in the end, you'll make it out.  Soaked and struggling, fighting for every last word with the ending clenched between your teeth, you'll pull yourself onto the distant shore.  And you'll know that what you've done is something nobody else could do.  Your story, your words, your way of seeing the world that's never quite the same as anyone else's, you've pulled it out of yourself and given it life.

It's not perfect.  But it's a part of you now, whole with its beginning, middle, and end, more than just the ideas you saw glimmering on the surface what seems like so long ago.  And you'll look back at how far you've come, and know that it was all worth it.