Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Plea on the Behalf of Newbie Authors (Like Me)

I’ve lost count of how many times I have tried to write the blog post that is to follow. As I pull it together now, I recognize that I am taking a risk of looking like I am pointing a finger at individuals who have placed their confidence in my work and gotten it to market. But at this stage of the game, this post isn’t so much about my experience in particular, but the troubling recurrence of certain issues I have been hearing from many authors across multiple publishing houses.

To be clear, my own books are small-press published, and in that process, I have made some great friends with some excellent people. In most cases, the way my works got to market was the right fit for where I was at that moment in my publishing journey. But as I seek to grow my writing career, I’ve hit a few bumps in the road. Had I been the only one to hit these snags, I’d let them pass quietly. But since there seems to be something of a quiet sickness going around, I feel the time has come for someone to talk about the elephant(s) in the room. Am I a fool for being the one to open my mouth? Maybe, but here we go anyway.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Character Misery and Creative Momentum

For the first time since I discovered A Voice Within (the sequel to Curse Bearer) would require massive rewrites I am actually excited to plow into the new book. How long ago did I realize these rewrites were in my future? Sadly about 3 1/2 years ago.

What's changed? I've put my characters into better position to have problems.

It's funny, in life, we tend to try to orchestrate things to minimize problems, but when we do that in writing, it makes for books that are both boring to read and to write. In the original draft of Sword of the Patron, I covered the entire tale of Danae's departure from Dayleston, around the western half of the continent, and back home again, and the whole tale took about 150,000 words. The trouble was, the last 40,000 were rushed, summarized, and awful. It occurred to me I was going to have to make SotP into two books to give each section its due.

Sometimes I'd like to blame my computer for my
writing issues.
So I performed the second-half-ectomy and focused on the first 100,000 words to get them ready to sell to a publisher. That was in the summer of 2010. The story sold, went the the editorial process, got renamed Curse Bearer, and that was a wrap for that part.

Between 2010 and today, I've visited the amputated story segment enough to work it up to about 90,000 words of its own, but I always had this nagging feeling that the first third of A Voice Within had deep structural problems. (And for the record, it is REALLY hard to apply a standard three act story arc to a book that is a continuation. Just sayin'.)  I've been away from it for months, and when I pulled it out again at the end of August, it occurred to me. The story starts out like a travelogue. A boring travelogue, because I placed my characters on winged mounts (griffons) and took them completely out of harm's way. All I could assail them with was aerial combat (which would kill them all. They're just not equipped to handle that), internal bickering, or random encounters anytime they landed to make camp.

I steered away from the first and last of those options, since I didn't want to have them plummet to their deaths and end the story, and I didn't want the book to read like a gaming session. So that left me with internal bickering.

Yawn.

I fought it for the past three days and tried to rearrange the bicker/fly/bicker sequences. I got about 20,000 words into it even, but I still didn't feel like I was making progress across the map of "finish the book." I still had vignettes and isolated conversations. I felt like I was pacing a track into the ground like a leopard in a small cage at the zoo. There was no climax of act one in sight.

This morning, I committed to forgetting what I originally thought the characters would be doing in the first third of the book. The old draft of Sword of the Patron is irrelevant. I needed to be able to imperil my darlings so that my readers would be swept off on an adventure--not get stuck overhearing an awkward domestic spat.

And so I mentally threw out the whole journey from the Temple of Queldurik in Garash (where they ended Curse Bearer) to Bilearne (their first major destination in A Voice Within) and asked myself, "How else can they get to Bilearne that will be faster and more interesting than walking, but still sufficiently dangerous?"

Well, far be it from me to post spoilers I haven't even really written yet. But let's just say my first act now involves a subterranean culture of unpredictable merpeople.

That concept has put the wind back into my sails on the project, and I hope it will stoke your interest as well.

Off to wordsmith! See you in a few revisions.