Wednesday, September 30, 2015

What Now?

I've heard of some writers being asked if they worry about running out of ideas.  I hope no one ever asks me that question, because I'll start laughing and may never stop, which would probably make the person asking it kind of upset.

However, this comes with its own set of issues, which I shall now attempt to sort through.

After spending most of September putting The Book of Lost Runes through massive revisions, I'm more than ready to set it aside for a bit.  The book's in the hands of three beta readers - okay, two beta readers and one beta listener, which was new to me.  While I do need to work on the query letter, I'm not going to sit around and make tiny edits to a story I've already gone through five times while I wait for people to get back to me.

So clearly, I need something else to work on.  And the problem with asking "What's next?" is that I don't exactly have a clear to-do list.  Writing is not a science (at least, not the way I do it), so it's not always easy to know what to do.

The first option is the interplanar race book.  The plot's mostly together, one of the three I prepared for this year back when my goal was to plot three books and write two.  I didn't write this one because I was never quite 100% on it.  I think I've got it, though, now that I realized a character I was never sure about does in fact need to be in the book.

However, I don't want to write another book right now.  That's a massive commitment of time, and I don't think I could get it done before my beta readers get back to me and it's time to work on BoLR again.  I write books by working on only that book every day without taking a break, so I don't want to get started on one when I know I'll be interrupted.

Next, I have option two: start editing the crazy dream book.  Yes, it has a real title; no, I'm not saying what it is because I have to do a ton of editing on the thing for the title to actually make sense.  I finished that back in June, so it's had a good long time to sit and sort of congeal in my head.  I well and truly hope that, when I get back to it, I can make it into the sort of story it's meant to be.  Because I have this strange feeling that it's not quite weird enough.

But I don't know if I want to get started on that now.  Editing one book while waiting for people to read a different one so I can edit that... this is a completely new situation for me.  And considering the story's inspirations, there's something else coming in November that might give me new ideas.

Then again, it's not like the crazy dream book will somehow be etched in stone if I spend most of October editing it.

My third option is the metal fantasy dragon book, which is currently in its... sixth incarnation of plotting?  Maybe seventh?  I've had so many troubles with this one, most of which leave me emotionally drained, I'm not even sure if I shouldn't just bury it for a year or so.  But I had some ideas today that might finally solve that problem.  I'd like to develop that plot more and see what comes of it.

So now that I've hashed all this out, my intent with doing this journal entry was to figure out what I would do next.  I think I've arrived at the best idea: all of them.  I'll polish the interplanar plot, I'll edit the crazy dream book, and I'll do all I can to finally get the dragon book into a workable story.  Because right now, there's really no point in limiting myself.  Any of these things could turn out to be what eventually gets published.  Or, in a perfect world, all of them.

Time to get back to work.  Not that I ever really stopped...

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

On Rules and Breaking Them

Not long ago, I read this article over on io9, appropriately titled "10 Writing 'Rules' We Wish More Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors Would Break".  If you haven't read it, you probably should, else this entry won't mean a great deal.

Back?  Good.  Not a bad article, eh?

I've never been much of a stickler for writing 'rules', aside from basics like "use proper grammar and appropriate formatting unless otherwise necessary" and "words should generally mean what people expect them to mean".  I think the story is what's most important, and while some claim there are rules for how you have to tell a story, a lot of that is bunk.

So, since story rewrites have eaten much of my time and spare brain cells this past week, I thought I'd offer my thoughts on the article.  Feel free to share your own in the comments.

1. No third-person omniscient.
I don't think this should be a rule, though I'd be hard-pressed to use it again.  The first book I wrote was written like this, which led to me developing the horrible habit of dropping into everyone's head and giving them a paragraph's worth of reaction thoughts whenever something major happened.  There's a reason it took me three years to write that thing.  And it was still bad!  But I think if you rule out a storytelling perspective completely, you're just limiting yourself.

2. No prologues.
I go back and forth on this.  I understand why people are hesitant about prologues, and a lot of the complaints I hear are that they're not where the story really starts.  In BoLR, I had a prologue short story written up (even posted it here back in February), but I held off on adding it until I wrote the book, to see if I could fit all the backstory in without it.  As it turned out, I could.  That won't stop me from putting a prologue in another book if I think it's necessary.

3. Avoid infodumps.
I generally agree with this one, but I think it's possible to do it right.  So long as no one says "as you know" or starts lecturing without reason.  Unless the person they're talking to cuts them off and asks why they're telling them something they already know.  I think I'd forgive an infodump in the form of an actual lecture, though, especially if the characters are bored to tears since they already know it and start offering their own commentary.

4. Fantasy novels have to be series instead of standalones.
I think this depends on the story you want to tell.  BoLR is meant to be the first of a trilogy, because that's how it's worked out in my head.  But the crazy dream book is a standalone.  Other stuff I'm plotting could lead into more books, but I haven't thought ahead that far.  I think all that matters is that the individual books stand on their own, whether they have books that come after them or not.

5. No portal fantasy.
Oog.  This is a stupid one.  I understand it's cliched and hard to sell these days, but if your story has to be a portal fantasy, go ahead and make it a portal fantasy.  I agree with what the article says about them being appealing to new readers, that's a really good point.

6. No FTL.
Someday, I'm going to write FTL Fantasy.  You can't stop me.  :P

7. Women can't write "hard" science fiction.
...what.  I think anyone who believes this is a rule is not only sexist, not only ignorant of some great sci-fi, but possibly a goddamn idiot as well.  Moving on.

8. Magic has to be just a minor part of a fantasy world.
Oh, screw that.  There are many ways to make a fantasy world unlike our own, but magic is easily the biggest one.  And while I have a great deal of respect for Mr. Martin and how well he's handled a very low-magic fantasy world, the idea that now everyone has to imitate that is ridiculous. What matters is that you tell the story as it's supposed to be told.  And you can't do that if you think magic - magic, of all things! - is required to be a certain way.

9. No present tense.
This is another one of those "you're just limiting yourself" things.  I haven't read much that's written in present tense, but The Hunger Games comes to mind.  The present tense gave a sense of immediacy to that series that simply could not have been there in past tense.  It's easy to believe that someone really could die at any moment when they're telling their story right now.  Present tense isn't for every story, but ruling it out is just foolish.

10. No "unsympathetic" characters.
In addition to what the article says - which I generally agree with - some of the greatest characters are the ones you're not supposed to sympathize with.  A good writer can make you want to see a character suffer, even die, and make you exult when they do.  (Hopefully it's not a character you're supposed to sympathize with.)  Done right, and done well, this can be the greatest thing about a story.

Next week: no idea!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Another Big Change.

No, I'm not moving across the country again.  :P

However, as that blog entry shows, I'm a big fan of making big changes when a story isn't going the way it should.  As a plotter, this is often how I figure out how things are supposed to go.  Granted, it still boggles my mind that stories tend to feel like I'm figuring them out rather than making them up, but I can't explain that and don't care to try.


As important as changes are, there are times when I don't expect to make them.  Like when I think a book is close to done and I'm moving toward trying to find an agent.  When I know the word count and I'm struggling with putting together a good query, when I'm waiting to hear back from betas and fix whatever needs fixing, that's not the time to consider huge changes to a book, right?

Oh ye of little faith.  Or rather, oh me of little faith.  As per usual, things have not gone quite as planned.

Here's the thing: I know I'm not great at writing antagonists.  It's a long-standing weakness of mine - hell, I dropped The Accidental Warlock in part because I felt the book pretty much didn't have an antagonist.  But I thought I'd conquered that issue with The Book of Lost Runes.  I was wrong.

One of my betas is one of my best friends; we've known each other since 2000 and have shared a ton over the years.  She's read more of my books than anyone else.  And one of her chief complaints about BoLR was that the bad guy was weak, didn't seem threatening, stuff like that.  So after my usual bout of "I am a horrible writer" that comes after most criticism (I only felt like that for an hour or so, so I'm clearly getting better), I started thinking, and I realized that she was right.

Frantic planning ensued.

It's a weird thing, sitting down to edit a story and knowing that chunks of it will remain mostly the same while other chunks need massive revisions.  Replacing a minotaur with a politician involves significant work.  Go figure.  :P  But I created a villain who has a much more personal stake in all that's happening and a more interesting reason for starting it, who's a lot more devious and has prepared multiple backup plans, and who interacts better with my main characters.  He's also more fun to write, which is always a plus.

The whole process has been more than a little nerve-wracking.  While I of course saved a version of the book so I wouldn't lose anything if Operation Antagonist Replacement failed, it's still a massive undertaking for a book I thought was nigh-ready for submission.  I plowed through the whole thing in eight days, and went back and added more tonight, in preparation for another run-through over this coming week.  I think everything works, but all praise to my beta readers, who will surely let me know if it doesn't.  ^_^

In the end, just about anything's worth it if it leads to a better book.  And I really do think I've made the story better now.  Which is all that matters in the end.

On another note, in regards to that other blog entry: I've been in Washington for a little over six months.  I've met new people and I get together with my friends regularly.  I'm close to family and see them pretty often.  And I'm nearly done with five weeks of training at my brand-new job, which is already the best place I've ever worked and pays me better than any job I've ever had.

Making that change was one of the best decisions I've ever made.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

What's in a Name?

Yes, I know; it's hardly a new question.  But with all the characters I've created, I seem to go one of two ways with names: either I know them right away, or I struggle to come up with one that fits.  So I thought it would be fun to talk about character names this week.

Let's start with the obvious: Shiloh means 'chosen one', which was a meaningful name back in Skyborne, less so in The Accidental Warlock, and not at all in The Book of Lost Runes.  I did consider changing her name because of the meaning, because I've talked here before about how much I don't like the concept of the chosen one, but I also just plain like the name.  I don't know what Alexi's name actually means, but I chose it because when I first wrote her (back in 2002), I worked with someone named Alexis and someone named Lexi, and decided to split the difference for someone who was supposed to be a bit part character.

I had no idea what I was getting into back then.

As for Shiloh's sister Bethany, there's no greater meaning there; I just needed something that sounded formal and humorless.  Bethany's sarcastic to a point, but she never smiles.  She's also a lot of fun to write.

Two other significant characters in BoLR are the Figaro brothers, Edwin and Gerald.  Their names are simply an extended reference to Final Fantasy VI.  Edgar Figaro is a king from that game, the dashing sort who's suited to life on an airship, and he goes by the name Gerad at one point, hence the brothers' names.  I was going to name Gerald 'Samson', for Edgar's brother Sabin, but didn't want to have two characters' names start with the same letter, and Gerald's really not a fighter of any sort.  I went with them both because of the importance of airships in BoLR, and because I wanted a good last name for a rich family.  Once I decided that 'Figaro' would work, the rest just fell into place.

For the crazy dream book, only two characters' names have any significance, and I'm not telling.  One is a spoiler, the other is something no one but me will get unless I get a whole lot of books published.

The next book I'm hoping to write is something I've been plotting for a while, and I generally describe it as "The Amazing Race" meets "Guardians of the Galaxy".  The two humans in that are Chris and Phoenix; Chris because I needed something ordinary and Chris Pratt starred in GotG, and Phoenix because of reasons I can't say here.  The others are Durgard, a biometallic dwarf-like being with four arms; Zin, the pilot, whom I decided today needs to be replaced with something small and fuzzy and lovable; CAL-KX-0314, a wargolem who will likely have a nickname for the rest of the crew to call her; and Sarai, who's only humanoid from the waist up.  The ship is called the Starwind, from an anime that was a major inspiration on this story.  Bonus points for whomever can name the anime.  No fair using Google.  :P

As for my other significant plot-in-progress, the one about dragons and all that, I can't really say anything about what the names actually mean.  But I can say I've had more fun naming these people than anyone else in a long time.  Without giving too much away, some of the current cast names include: Threnody Starhands, Rael Slitherscale, Zoila Cronin, Desdemona Skullwalker, Kya Cryoblade the Pure, Thresh Palewing, The Mimir, Haze Discord, Byron Stormhammer, and Tara Bulkhead the Immovable.

I really need to make this plot work, because damn, this one's going to be fun.

So!  Let's hear some names from the rest of y'all.  Do you actively give your characters names, or do the names show up in your head along with the characters themselves?  Do you worry about name meanings, or does that not matter?  And what's the worst, best, and/or oddest name you've ever used for a character?

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

IWSG: Moment of Surrender

Despite the title similarity, this has nothing to do with last month's IWSG entry.  This is about getting ready to delve into the submission process and why that scares me.

The title comes from a U2 song, one that I've heard dozens and dozens of times.  Why?  Because I wrote two different books while listening to the album it's on.  Those books, Skyborne and The Accidental Warlock, are the last two books I tried to query.  Hell, I started this blog a bit over three years ago for a contest, and Skyborne was my submission.

It kind of hurts to look at that entry now.  I thought that was such a good way to start a book, but I cringe when I re-read that.  Also, that book was 128,000 words?  Yeah, there was no way that was ever getting published.  And it was a rewrite of a book that, judging by the file size, was half again as long.  >_<

Anyway.  Since all of my non-IWSG entries last month were about queries, it's pretty obvious that I'm about to start that process again.  And it scares the hell out of me.

I know that I should try to look forward, not back.  I believe The Book of Lost Runes is a better and stronger book; there's a reason it makes me feel like I'm finally getting the hang of this writing thing.  (I'm crediting the move to Washington with that, whether it's warranted or not.)  But it's hard not to reach this point and consider the most likely conclusion: another long series of rejections and silence.

I know that isn't a guarantee.  I have more resources now, as I've been holding onto recommendations and websites and all kinds of things that will help me find an agent or publisher that's looking for the sort of stories I like to write.  I have a better way to keep track of things now, mostly because I remembered that I actually have a spreadsheet program.  (I only ever used it for D&D and RoleMaster character sheets, so using it to track submissions didn't occur to me.)  So it's possible that things might actually go the way I want them to.

However, I know not to count on that.  So I'm prepared (in theory) to find myself at that unfortunate place of hearing back "no" or nothing from everywhere I send the book.  From there, I'll face the same familiar question: now what?

I don't want to self-publish.  But I also don't want to give up on this story.  I could trunk it for a while, but that also feels like giving up, and I know it'll end up feeling like every other project I've set aside intending to go back to someday.  I'll look at it, think about picking it up again, and just shrug it off, figuring there's no point.

It's probably for the best that there's no way to know what will happen without trying.  Because despite all this, I am still going to try.  I'd rather not spend my whole life never actually doing what I want to do.  And there's only one way to prevent that.  No matter how much it scares me to go through it all again.

Besides, if things don't work with BoLR, if it goes the way of literally every other book I've written, then maybe I'll start this whole mad cycle again with the crazy dream book.  Who knows, it might actually sell.  That would figure, wouldn't it?  Pour my heart and soul into books that go nowhere, and something I write as a "must get it out of my head" fluke turns out to be what gets me started.

I think I'll stop now, I'm depressing myself.  >_<  Next week: names.