Tuesday, April 25, 2017

You Don't Have to Save the World.

I tend to think big in my writing.  A glance at last week's entry can confirm that - my first genuine attempt at a novel resulted in nearly 302,000 words of what can charitably be called epic fantasy.  I like to create stories in worlds that have real history, tales that go to interesting places and have big things happening and end with something major going on.

But it's easy to go too far.

Looking back at last week's list, I can count which books revolved around saving the entire world.  Hell, book #7 happened because the world had been destroyed, and the entire story was about the gods' failsafe making her way to where she needed to be (which meant traveling through the internal layers of a moon until she reached the surface; long story) so she could put the world back together.  And it was only after I finished it that I realized, holy shit, how am I supposed to follow that?

Part of my problem with this comes up in world-building.  I tend to make worlds where seriously bad things have happened in the past, so having those things rear their collective ugly heads makes for a good story.  In theory.  It leads to the problem of facing down a major threat again and, of course, saving the world.

It's an exciting thing, to be sure.  But it's also limiting.  When the world's at stake, there's only so much room for personal issues, so it's easy for characterization and development to get swept aside.  There's also the need to show why it's a world worth saving.  I mean, if the reader decides that the world would be better off burnt to a cinder or erupting into tentacles, it'll be hard to get them to cheer for your characters.  And as I said above, there's always the question of what to do next, for the inevitable sequel.  :P

I'm not sure when I realized this was an issue, but it's something I still deal with when I'm in the plotting phase.  My ideas tend to start with a character doing a thing, so I've had to learn to focus on who the person is and why that leads to them doing that thing, instead of immediately jumping to what the thing is and why it needs to be done.  Because what's more interesting - the reasons behind a character dropping a bomb on a city, or why this character is riding on the bomb as it falls?

(Yes, that's what I'm working on now, and yes, I know the answer.  It's the result of a decision that's going to piss off a lot of people.)

It is comforting to know that I'm getting better about this.  For all the times I tried to make an interplanar story work, it wasn't until I got the first ideas for STARWIND and came up with the race that it actually came together.  And for all the tales I've told about Shiloh and Alexi, the better ones have come from their personal issues, not the world's problems.  So for all the plotting problems I've been having lately, it feels good to say I've largely fixed one of my issues.

Until I get another idea, and I have to make sure not to do this all over again.  >_<

Next week: IWSG.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Word Count

I'm probably going to regret this, but I don't know how it will end.

There are a bunch of different quotes and variants on sayings about how writers need to write a million words before they're any good.  I don't think this is any sort of absolute; there are some writers who seem to have picked it up easily and have good work even from their early days, and some whom I think might need a few million more under their belts.  But for all that I talk about how much I've written and now long I've been at this, I've never actually figured out what my total novel word count is.

Hence the "I'm probably going to regret this."  But I'm short on blog ideas for this week, so why not see where this goes?

So.  Here are the final word counts on the last versions of these books, as well as the last date I worked on them.  Let's see. . . .

1: The Blessed.  June 29, 2001.  301,998 words.  (holy shit)
2: Of Rune and Shadow.  May 5, 2004.  149,163 words.
3: The Captured Gods.  October 18, 2006.  177,621 words.
4. Shattering the Firmament.  January 8, 2010.  201,958 words.
5: The Winds of Limbo, v1.  May 31, 2010.  183,249 words.
6: The Winds of Limbo, v2.  October 10, 2010.  187,550 words.
7: Skyborne.  April 19, 2012.  133,219 words.
8: AMU.  August 21, 2012.  103,761 words.
9: The Winds of Limbo, v3.  January 31, 2013.  100,227 words.
10: Untitled interplanar book .  May 11, 2014.  70,990 words.  (Vague precursor to Starwind, hated upon completion.)
11: The Accidental Warlock.  August 16, 2014.  95,693 words.  (Written in 2013, tried to get published for about a year, trunked.)
12: TGM Untitled.  November 2, 2014.  94,312 words.
13: The crazy dream book.  June 24, 2015.  68,631 words.  (Written after BOLR, but dismissed after first draft for not being weird enough.)
14: The Book of Lost Runes.  November 17, 2015.  83,981 words.
15: Starwind.  April 12, 2017 (most recent draft).  109,975 words.

Word count total: 2,062,328 words.

And that's only counting what I could call finished!  Looking through my old files, I see more than a few drafts, reworkings, files full of cut text, so on and so forth.  To say nothing of books I started and dropped after who knows how long.  I've done at least another 100K in things that aren't showing up on this list.  This also shows me patterns - the time between my third and fourth books I largely spent trying to write short stories and hating every page of it.  The idea for the fourth book came to me as a sudden flash of inspiration on the drive home from work, and I knew it was time to start writing novels again.  And the second two TWOL books are also based on interplanar stuff, an idea I clearly couldn't figure out for quite some time.

Well, this has been sobering.  Now I know what I've been doing with my life for the past sixteen years, eh?  Not much else to say, except that I hope I've gotten better after all this time.

Next week: you don't always have to save the world.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017


Music for today's entry is brought to you by Depeche Mode.

I've talked a lot about having many different versions of an idea, all of which hit some sort of wall and stopped working.  Now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure I've started at least one previous blog entry talking about this very thing.

I'd pride myself on my consistency, but y'know, this is something I'd really like to stop.

When I reach a point when something stops working and set it aside, I'll often come back to the same planning document, salvage what I can, and shove all the broken parts to the bottom with the label 'deleted'.  Which, as you might have noticed, means I don't actually delete that stuff.  In theory, I keep it around so I don't lose any good ideas.

But in practice, those things become a giant weight on the planning process, a reminder of everything I tried that didn't work.  I have planning documents where there's more text in the 'deleted' section than anywhere else, because I changed so much as I tried to figure it all out.  And it's far too easy to scroll into that section and remember how much time I've spent chasing a story and not finding it.

As I'm sure you can imagine, this is incredibly discouraging and doesn't help me get anything done.  And a major side effect is a loss of interest in the project.  It's hard to find what got me excited about the idea when that's buried under pages and pages of things I built up around it only to watch them come crashing down.

So, I decided to try something new when one of my projects started getting tangled up in its own previous incarnations.  I stripped the whole thing down to its basic concept, to the idea that made me want to write it in the first place, and started working up again from there.  It's not so much "forget everything you think you know" but more "you told me to go back to the beginning".

Fact: any writing advice you can sum up with a quote from "The Princess Bride" is bound to be helpful.

Better than that, though, is that it's actually working.  For one story, I realized a few weeks ago that I was telling it backwards (long story), but I had to strip it down to its basic idea (Robert E. Howard's "Tangled") and go from there for the new order to work.  For another, I determined that the best way to get a crazy magic-user to the final conflict I saw for her was to make her much more of an anti-authority anti-hero from the start, and reworking things with her has been incredibly fun so far.  Both stories are turning out a lot darker than I thought, and I'm eager to see where they go.

The most important part, though, is that I get to keep working on stuff I worried was either dead or heading that way.  I feel like I've lost so much over the years.  I have three plots-in-progress to work on now, and I'm still feeling a lot of things out, but it's great to have a new start.

Here's hoping I don't end up referencing this post in another few months talking about how nothing ever works.  :P

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

IWSG: The Confidence Rollercoaster

"The writer who loses his self-doubt, who gives way as he grows old to a sudden euphoria, to prolixity, should stop writing immediately: the time has come for him to lay aside his pen."
--Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette

Two weeks ago, my therapist started off our weekly session as she always does, by asking me how I'm doing.  I said, "Mercurial," and she gave me a funny look and said I'd responded like that before.

For the record, funny looks from my therapist are nothing new.  But still.  It's started to hit me recently, with everything that's going on in my life and with my work, that this incredible back-and-forth in how I'm feeling about my writing might actually be the natural state for a writer.  Sometimes I can handle everything I need to, and when the work isn't going well, I can step away and figure it out later.  Sometimes a single thing doesn't work and it ruins me for the night, and I hate myself and everything I've ever done and hiding inside an enormous book fort for the rest of my life sounds like a great idea.

Looking back, I don't know if there's ever been a time when I wasn't all kinds of back-and-forth about how good of a writer I was, or if I was... going to....

Wait.  I just realized.  There was a time when I was always confident in my writing, certain that everyone would love my work and I'd get published right away and my first epic fantasy trilogy would be on every bestseller list ever.  It was when I was writing my first three books.  And you know what?  Every single one of those books was bad.

It took those three tries to make me realize this was going to be harder than I thought.  And as appropriate for IWSG, I've been insecure and questioning about this whole thing ever since.  Spending way too long trying to write short stories only made it worse, as I did well with those maybe once.  Going back to novels only made the rollercoaster's ups and downs more dramatic, as it was (and still is) a lot of investing in one big story with no way to know if it's going to work out or not.

All of my books so far have been in the "or not" category, which is what leads me to posts like last month's IWSG, where I talked about quitting it all.  It's easy to think the ups and downs aren't worth it.  But this is the way this particular ride goes, and I'm still on it.
And if it leads to a writer whose work I enjoy and whom I personally respect using me as an example of how you win?  I must be doing something right.