Wrestling with theme

I am plotting for the Extreme Planets short story, and it’s all going well, except for the theme.

You know when you are trying to remember something, and you just can’t?   That “tip-of-the-tongue” feeling?  That’s what I have with my theme.

Luckily I can still write without having my theme in words.  But still.  The sooner my brain lands on the theme, the better.  I feel incomplete without it.

Musing

It occurs to me that I haven’t really written a post in a while that doesn’t serve a purpose.  No random ramblings.  No thoughts on the state of rockmelon ripeness or the change in the weather.

Truth is, I feel all out of conversation.  When I sit down at the computer these days it’s usually to bash out a couple of hundred words while I have the peace and quiet to do it.  I spend a lot of time chatting to my writing buddy, often while writing.  And now I have nothing left to say.

So what did I do today?  I went to the paying job and had a great day.  My mind also had a great day thinking about writing something for the Extreme Planets Anthology (thanks, Anna!).  I wasn’t planning on writing short stories this year, but this anthology just tickled my fancy.  Actually, Anna is also responsible for me writing a novella for the Winter Well anthology.  Damn you, Anna, you temptress!

Today at work I spent a good deal of time reading the Australian Standard on The Control of Undesirable Static Electricity.  83 pages of time.  And as I was reading I got a spark, and then bam!  An idea for the Extreme Planets anthology bobbed to the surface and stuck around.  I jotted down some quick notes, amused that reading something so boring could stimulate my creative side.  It just goes to show, you never know where ideas will come from.

Other than that, I am still working on The Vessel.  I had to rewrite 10k from the middle, and that’s almost done – 2k to go.  Then I can get back to revising the end.

Unfortunately, Diablo 3 looms on the horizon and I am desperately excited.  I’ve been tinkering with the beta for a couple of weeks now and I am hooked.  This does not bode well for my already limited time.

Oh, and I started reading Graceling by Kristen Cashore.  I love it.  So pleased to have found another author I really enjoy.

That’s about it for me.  How about you?  How are things going?

Christopher Ruz talks about his revision process

I’ve known Chris for quite some years now – I think we met when we were both looking for critique partners.  Chris has been writing Century of Sand for years, so when he finally put it up for publication, I thought it would be good to hear from Chris about how the revision process works for him.

***

When Merrilee asked me to write an article about my editing process, I didn’t think I’d get caught up in a month-long struggle with my own wordiness. You see, I’m a pretty brutal editor. I cut a lot. I’m not happy unless I’m cutting to the bone. As a result, my projects take a stupidly long time to finish. I’m my own worst enemy. But I can, at the very least, explain how I spent three years bringing my latest novel Century of Sand from a flabby, unfocused first draft to a finished product.

Century of Sand is a fantasy novel about a father and daughter – Richard and Ana – running away from their homeland, trying to escape from a vicious and bloody-minded Magician. It differs from many fantasy works in that the hero is not young, dashing and chosen by prophecy – he’s old, bitter, and full of doubt at the decisions that led to his escape. Ana is a warrior with the mind of an infant, trained to kill but not to speak. The landscape they’re crossing is not traditional European woodland, with tall grey castles and knights riding lovely white horses. It’s an unending desert, harsh and bright and bone-dry, where local warlords battle over water and demons walk around in stolen skins.

But when I began writing Century of Sand back in 2008, I didn’t even have that previous paragraph to work from. All I had was a premise – a demon living in a termite mound in the centre of a vast desert – and a single character – Richard, an old man fleeing from the Magician-turned-King. As such, I didn’t really know how to construct the novel. I had no plan and basis of comparison. All I could do was jump in at the deep end and hope something worked out along the way.

I operate in two very distinct modes: writing and editing. I can’t write and then edit a project in the same day, or even the same month. The processes require different areas of my brain, and it takes a long time to switch gears. So instead of sitting down and carefully plotting my way through, I wrote blindly, without consideration for character development or narrative structure. The result was a mess that Merrilee probably remembers as nigh-unreadable. I put the draft away in a drawer for six months, came back and read it as if I were reading somebody else’s story. Then, I began to plan.

My revision plan was constructed around what I personally feel most important in a story. For me, characters are always number one. With the rough draft in place, I could see the approximate arcs that my characters were supposed to take on their personal journeys, so I mapped out each arc and the changes that each character would need to undergo throughout the story. With those in place, I found the locations and events scattered throughout the Century of Sand trilogy that would best serve those evolutions in character. I twisted the plot where it needed to be twisted in order for these character revelations to fit – for me, plot is always secondary to a good character arc. Then, once I had the story mapped out in terms of character developments and interactions, I start cutting.

What parts of the plot didn’t serve the characters? They got chopped. What parts existed only for filler? Chop. I went through the story line by line and cut everything that wasn’t necessary, and I left myself notes to indicate all the things I needed to put in their place – meaty things, things with weight, things with tangibility. Authorial intrusion got chopped. Infodumps got chopped. I found ways to replace them with action, with collision and conflict. I located passive moments and beat my head against a wall until I discovered a way to make them life-or-death situations.

Then, with my character arcs in place and my story honed to a fine edge, I thought about the world.

I’m not good at worldbuilding. It’s the part of fantasy I hate the most, because it so often leads to extended chapters discussing trade routes and the history of meaningless cities. My perfect form of worldbuilding is one where info is only revealed in a way that furthers the plot, or the development of a character.

But to find those good moments, you have to cut away from a big messy whole. So, with my entire trilogy already drafted, I drew a map for the first time and figured out exactly where my characters were headed. I filled in the gaps, all the places they didn’t visit, and I thought about how those places, their religions, their histories and tribal disputes, could have influenced my characters in the past. Only one of my main characters, the Kabbah – a local warlord drawn into the adventure by a need to pay a blood debt – has any real knowledge of the world through which they’re travelling, so he is the lens through which my other characters, Richard and Ana, see the desert. The way in which the Kabbah talks about the desert gods, the rock formations, the wars over territory, inform the reader of his character as much as they inform Richard and Ana about the landscape. By making him my walking encyclopaedia, I can worldbuild but also build his personality simultaneously.

So, my three main editing steps – character, plot, and world – were complete. What was left?

I put the draft away in a drawer for six months. I let it get mouldy. I took it out. I started again.

After four complete rounds of rewriting, hating my manuscript, hating myself, cutting, rewriting, having epiphanies, cutting again, crying, and rewriting again, I finished Century of Sand. It took four years, almost to the day – March 2008 to late February 2012. I knew I was done when I took the manuscript out of the drawer in December 2011, reread it, and found myself enjoying every word. It felt like somebody else’s book, and it was exciting from beginning to end. Instead of thinking, “I need to rip this apart and start from scratch,” I thought, “A bit of a proofread and this is ready to go.”

That actual process of uploading and self-publishing Century of Sand should have been terrifying. Instead, as I clicked UPLOAD on the Kindle website, I was calm. I knew that my novel was the best it could be, the best I could make it. I trusted my process. It worked.

All I had left to do was books two and three.

***

There’s more about Chris on his website, and you can find Century of Sand and more of Chris’s works on Amazon.

Whoops…distracted

I’ve been doing…stuff.  Writing is some of that stuff.  I got distracted, sorry.  But hey!  Here’s a snippet from the current WIP to amuse you.

Liz choked back a giggle, feeling oddly unbalanced. Here she was, standing next to a dingo in human form and talking about using cigarette smoke to protect herself from flying snakes while a dead man crawled around inside her head.

Real posts soon.  Possibly. Maybe when this goddamn second draft is done.

Pub Rants: Creating An Editorial Road Map

Even the pros do it:

Via the outline, I can clearly point out what works, what doesn’t work, where it should build tension or escalate the stakes, what could be deleted to tightened or even if the story has gone off the rails completely.

Pub Rants: Creating An Editorial Road Map.

On writing the first draft | Malinda Lo

Most recently, as I was writing the first draft of the sequel to Adaptation, I kept thinking about revision as this kind of shining oasis waiting for me in the future. All I had to do to get there was lay down this track of rough draft. It could have bad sentences and plot holes all over the place. It didn’t matter as long as I laid it down, because I knew that once I had those first draft words, then and only then would I have something to work with.

via On writing the first draft | Malinda Lo.

Lucky 7 Meme

Dana Mason tagged me for this meme, and since I haven’t done a meme in some time and I have never done a meme for Dana, I thought I’d pitch in.  Dana is about to release her debut novel Dangerous Embrace through Sapphire Star Publishing in October this year.  Congratulations, Dana!

Here are the rules of the game:

  1. Go to page 77 of your current manuscript or WIP.
  2. Go to line 7.
  3. Copy down the next 7 sentences and post them as written.
  4. Tag 7 authors.
  5. Let them know.
The following excerpt is from the urban fantasy novella I am currently revising, The Vessel.

Liz sighed. “Yeah, I can see that. But I’m in real trouble here. They want me dead, and I don’t even know why. If you could just give me a hint, or someone to talk to…please.”

Rinzen looked her over. “Catholic?”

“What? Oh no. Atheist.”

Rinzen chuckled. “Oh, one of those.”

“I wish you people would stop saying that.”

I’m only going to tag three people, all of them debut authors.

  1. Christopher Ruz, who has just self-published his fantasy novel Century of Sand
  2. Tama Wise, who has just published his coming of age novel Street Dreams through Bold Strokes Books
  3. Patty Jansen, who is releasing her science fiction novel Ambassador through Ticonderoga Publications in 2013.