Spooky Month: Spooky Goals

Well, it’s October. Tis the season to be spooky, and I aim to do just that via a nice keyboard waltz.

The script for the werewolf themed thriller Manhunters has been at somewhat of a standstill, and by somewhat I mean not a single word was completed last week. My job hunt took precedent and for the first time I had so many resources, it took a full day just to organize everything into a cohesive game plan. Now that the game plan is laid out, the craft of writing will be getting more of its due attention.

My goal for this month is to complete my fifth draft of Manhunters. It is a doable thing. I’ve got only some fifty or so pages to knock out before the end. I recently got a nice boost in confidence when some colleagues of mine offered some thoughts on the latest draft of another horror script I’d been working on, Abyssus. Their thoughts were constructive and encouraging, giving me a clear list of issues to tackle when the time comes for a sixth draft.

Above all, they complimented the horror elements of the script, so apparently it’s something I can do decent. That I’m still working on the script this month is somewhat perfect, for as the festive decorations of this beloved holiday fill windows and store isles, I can’t help but get into that Halloween spirit.

That’s just the kind of spirit I need to get through my tale of flesh eating Lycanthropes. Cheers everybody and stay spooky.

News and a Decision with Book Two

Well, I have reached 26 pages on the first draft of the second book in my series. I seem to write much better in the mornings whereas I have a more editing mindset in the evenings, so that’s how I’ll be spreading myself out for now.

The ideas are coming in, the dialogue is right, and the characters I love are back to speaking. It honestly feels pretty great and I’m a bit sad I haven’t been able to devote more time to them since my weekday work shifts start pretty early at 8 am, but I arrive at the office at 6: 40 so that gives me an hour and twenty minutes, usually enough time to crank out a thousand or so words.

A few days ago I mentioned my issues with prose in the second book. Though the first book is told in first person from the point of view of one character, the later books require the narrative to shift to different perspectives. I had tried writing these sequences in a third person narration in order to make my leading character, a dragon, speak in a more unique voice.

Something just didn’t feel right though. I had thought the story wasn’t resonating with me yet, but that’s not the case. What made the first book so much fun to write was the lead character’s voice, a very snide, proper and condescending tone that threw the occasional jab at the reader and regularly berated and insulted all those around him, but his actions proved he was hiding a side of himself that was legitimately compassionate and caring.

I struggled finding my footing with the first book, but once I started writing in that voice, the story came out.

You all sent in some great comments when I discussed my dilemma a few days ago, and they gave me a lot to think about apart from that the sequence didn’t seem to quite work in spite of the characters and the actions being correct. The voice was wrong.

Upon finishing chapter 1, I will be re-writing my prologue in the character’s voice, and will be doing the same henceforth. That should make this manuscript a much more enjoyable write as well as read.

In other news, I’ve been picked up by a website called PolyMedium. This is a fine platform for talent, dealing with original fiction, as well as editorials on popular culture such as film, video games and books. Be sure to check out the other work by these fine people should you have the time.

PolyMedium

Thanks for reading, and happy writing.

 

Starting the Second Book

Last night another long journey began. There’s no telling just how long it will last, or how successful it will be, but the journey has started nonetheless.

2,142 words and six pages, I began writing the second book in the Never Heroes fantasy/adventure saga. It tells of the continuing adventures of a massive red dragon named Zhyx, nicknamed Red by his companions, as he tries to prevent an ancient evil entity from bringing his world to apocalyptic ruin. Largely inspired by the Indiana Jones series, the rough and tumble adventure remains my pride and joy, and I have great difficulty seeing just how it will be surpassed in my own body of work at any time in the future.

I have three more books to finish in this series before I can call it completed. Funny I should start writing the second book now before the first one has even been published or even fully edited, but though writing is a difficult task, it has proven a very enjoyable experience for me. I can never stay away from it for too long.

Getting back into it, I was surprised at just how easy it was to dive right back into the Tygan universe. This is my first time writing a sequel. I had heard the stories of people jumping right back into the swing of old roles and projects after a long hiatus. Granted, my hiatus has not been nearly as long, but I have been working on much different projects in the meantime. Since completing the first full draft of Never Heroes, I have been focusing mainly on horror and thriller projects such as City of Wolves and Abyssus. Working on such tonally different stories, it did worry me that I wouldn’t get back into the swashbuckling fun of the original book. Reading through the material I completed last night, those fears were put to rest.

There were a few problems I was worried about with this sequel. One was how to get critical information and sequences to the audience due to the format of the first book. The entire first book is narrated from a first person perspective from our dragon’s protagonist without any breaks. It was this style that made the story so fun for me to write, as writing something in any character’s voice does add a lot of spice to it. The later books in the series have much more complicated narratives where crucial parts of the story occur in Zhyx’s absence.

I thought I would have certain passages of the book told from a third person perspective, though these segments wouldn’t constitute full chapters, at least not in this book. Rather, they would be short segments that could fulfill any number of purposes, from act breaks to breathing periods for the reader to get critical exposition and character development that the leads would otherwise be unable to observe. One such scene is the opening of Never Heroes 2, which I started writing last night. This scene is told from the point of view of Celice Arietta, one of the supporting players of the first novel.

Major-Celice-Arietta

The final concept art for Major Celice Arietta, one of the supporting characters in Never Heroes.

Being inspired by Indiana Jones, one of my favorite sequences is the opening dance number at the night club in Temple of Doom. It took the character of Indiana Jones and put him in a tux and bowtie, exploring the character’s origins as a James Bond inspired hero. Watching the movie change from the high class champagne and wine bottle musical and back to the nitty gritty style of the first film was great fun, and it was all done in the space of a few seconds when Harrison Ford impales one of his enemies on a flaming shish kabab. That was how I wanted the second book to open. It starts off looking polished and clean, but quickly peels away to reveal itself to be more rough around the edges.

Temple-of-Doom-Night-Club

Never Heroes is an action based fantasy adventure, something not typically given a lot of focus on the genre. While there certainly are epic battles and duels of swords and magic, they rarely contain the kind of kinetic energy that I personally find appealing in adventure stories. That being said, it is still a love letter to more traditionally told fantasy stories. I thought it would be fun to begin the second book that way and then change it to what the reader was more familiar with in the space of a few paragraphs. It also gave some fun opportunities to show some interesting elements of this world, its people and their culture. It then devolves (or evolves, whichever way you look at it) into an exciting action sequence, and this is all before the main character even reenters the story.

Six pages in and the action hasn’t kicked off yet, but it will shortly. I can safely say this start did feel appropriate, and it is in line with where I’m hoping the series will go. It is an emotional journey for the lead and does contain some downright apocalyptic elements, but above all else I want this series to be a good time. If last night’s work is any indication, things appear to be on the right track.

I aim to get more of this sequence done today and complete my edit on chapter 7 of book 1 as well. Busy day ahead, but I’m excited. Thanks for reading everyone and I’ll keep you posted.

Downer Endings

Every once in a while you have that conversation with someone where you got into a book or a film you really enjoyed. One of the most significant parts of any story is the ending, as the third act is where the action of any story comes to a head. You will often find that story with the dreaded ‘downer’, one that doesn’t provide any sense of relief or satisfaction when the story is done, and just leaves you feeling on edge or depressed. As much as we dislike these endings, sometimes they are necessary.

In the endings discussed below, I’ll try to keep things spoiler free while still explaining how and why they work.

Some genres work well with the so called ‘downer ending.’Tragedies such as Romeo &  Juliet, Hamlet, Macbeth and so forth have incredibly bleak endings where the heroes are denied their happy endings, in spite of the stories constantly, sometimes cruelly, teasing us with the promise of them riding off into the sunset. It is this unattainability of the happy ending that makes these stories so frustrating, but at the same time so endearing. They would not have had their long lasting power had they contained more upbeat endings. Other genres such as horror and thrillers often set their characters up for less than sunny conclusions, as per the conventions of the genre. Sometimes a bleak ending is just appropriate for a story, and having your heroes escape it can betray what the narrative is all about.

Dystopian stories for example are about being stuck in a cruel oppressive world and the despair such a world can bring. 1984, Brave New World, The Giver and Harrison Bergeron have notoriously dark endings, but one must think of just how the protagonists could have gotten out of the scrapes they were in. Each having the happy revolutionary ending would have quickly turned the genre stale and repetitive. Like tragedies, having a happy ending in such stories would have done more harm than good, because it would have negated the purpose of the narrative. The purpose of dystopian fiction is about the dangers of losing individuality and freedom. The most effective way to convey that message is to not to show an individual the audience cares about rise up and save the day, but show them being destroyed.

There can be a compromise to this type of ending in dystopian fiction. Escape From New York is a good example, where the hero still triumphs and delivers one final insult to the system that used him. When all is said and done though, the oppressive system is still in power, ready to use someone who won’t be as resilient as our hero. Though our hero is safe at the end, the rest of the world is not.

Horror is another example of a genre that can require a downer ending. Looking at classic horror stories like The Wolf Man, Halloween, Frankenstein, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and others, they have some very bleak, but also satisfying endings. This is because the primary focus of horror stories is to frighten their audience. Sometimes the most effective horror is that which continues after the story is finished, leaving the audience with that one final sentence or image that stays with them after the final page is turned or the end credits roll. You go to bed at night, find yourself unable to turn off the lights, and find yourself jumping at shadows. There’s something enjoyable about being scared in this way, and it’s something very hard to do if the story ends with the evil vanquished.

There are examples of successful horror stories that have happy endings. Jaws and Poltergeist are a few. In those cases though, it seems tonally appropriate for the stories to end on the notes they do. By contrast, take a look at a movie like The Thing. This story tells of a twelve man crew in Antarctica battling a shape shifting alien able to mimic any life form it touches perfectly, right down to their memories. An atmosphere of paranoia and dread permeates the entire film as the ever dwindling crew tries to find out who among them is the imposter. The film’s ending offers no guarantee the villain has been vanquished, leaving the audience with the same uncertainty the characters have. Anything else would have been a cheat.

Even a crowd pleaser story can have a somewhat bleak ending. Raiders of the Lost Ark for example is one of the best films ever made, as well as one of the most guaranteed good times anyone can ever have at the movies. In the end, our hero does triumph over evil, throwing many Nazis under trucks and in plane propellers in the process. But the Ark of the Covenant, the artifact he sought to keep it out of the wrong hands, is taken away from him by members of the government. As Indiana Jones leaves with Marion Ravenwood, he wonders whether he has done the right thing, or if the Ark should have been left buried. The Ark is wheeled away into a warehouse, perhaps set to be misused all over again. Even with a bleak ending like this, people still left the theater satisfied.

A dark ending can sometimes be necessary note on which a story can end, but sometimes not. As a happy ending can be forced, so can a ‘downer.’ I may stir the pot when saying this, but I didn’t much like the ending of Easy Rider because it seemed to go too dark. Prior to the ending, there’s a scene between Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper where Fonda laments that they may have all the money they will ever need, but their trip was a spiritual failure. That would have been a perfect ending for the movie. It was bleak, but also thought provoking, and showed how the characters had grown. Then it continues on, ending on a note that seemed to speak of the hardships the counterculture was facing at the time. I argue the movie already made that point before, so to me, the ending was overkill. I understand many will disagree as this is a beloved film, and rightfully so. Just remember that if you want to end your story on a downer, only do it if the story calls for it.

One of the primary purposes of fiction is to allow us an escape from mundanity and grant us a little excitement for a few hours. However, fiction does have another purpose, and that’s to examine the real world, the good and the bad of it. It is a sad fact that in the real world, not every life has a happy ending, so putting the dreaded ‘downer’ in a story may make it easier on someone when something doesn’t work out for real. Lets face it, you can’t cheat your way out of a sad ending in life. Also, these bleak endings can serve as warnings for us in the real world. They usually come from the characters in the story making mistakes. If we see those mistakes, and learn from them, maybe those sad endings don’t have to be ours.

More Never Heroes News

Never Heroes, my fantasy novel continues to near completion as the days go on, and as the days go on my excitement for this book grows more and more.

Yesterday I completed a tedious pre-final edit to send to my partner in crime, my book editor. I was concerned about chapters 18 and 19 since they amount to one giant fight scene between my hero and the main villain. My new edits were aimed at keeping the action fresh and filled with variety so it doesn’t get repetitive. I’m pretty happy with it so far, and my editor will only help it improve more.

Just as exciting is the progress made on our cover. Our talented illustrator, Joseph Buehrer, completed one of our prominent supporting characters, the elven wizard Hunter ‘Sparks’ Nightshadow. Though this character was of some concern to us when he first started the illustration, we’re both pretty well pleased with the result.

Cover_Hunter_03

The background on which the characters will be composited together was started today, a mountain range on sunset with our city of Ganbury and the five moons, visible in the upper left hand corner of the picture. Though the necessary details have not been added just yet, this does capture the general feel the final picture will have, from its rich colors to the spectacular landscape.

Cover_Background_01

This picture will not only take up the front cover, but also the back cover. The left side will remain untouched, while the right side will have the individual images of the characters added in for the final Drew Struzan style collage. In its own, it already promises to be spectacular enough. It will be a shame to cover up this image. We’ll try to keep plenty of it visible.

Now all we need is the image of our leading man, or rather our leading dragon. Creature creator David Spada sent in these sample doodles on which our hero could be modeled after. We decided to go with the highlighted one. He’s already looking pretty hansom in these early stages.

Zhyx Cover Tests

I have no doubt in my mind that this cover will be glorious when it’s finished. I’ll keep you posted as more work comes in.

Thanks for reading.

Working with Writing Editors: Why and How

Getting an editor for your writing can seem like a waste of money. Such editors often go for around two to four thousand dollars if they have been working in the field for a number of years. Also, why should someone need an editor? What do you need to worry about other than typos?

The answer is a lot. A lot can go wrong when writing a book or a script, and if you find the right editor, you have an opportunity to fix those mistakes. I have been working with my editor for roughly a month now and can say that her input in my project has been most insightful. Working with an editor can help expose your shortcomings as an artist, and this can be a gut punch. But instead of taking it that way, you can accept those weaknesses and take it as a challenge to make your writing better.

First things first, don’t have someone you know be the editor unless you’re sure they can view it objectively. You can have such a person sweep for typos, but if they know you will it is hard for them to take a step back and provide an honest opinion. They know who you are, can pick up on little in jokes that a general audience probably won’t, and will often do their best to be encouraging. You won’t get an honest critical evaluation from your own mother. Think of your writing like a pool. Those you know have already waded in and are comfortable with it, but most people are going to be jumping in cold. If it’s uncomfortable, they’ll just leave and move on to warmer waters.

The best editors are ones you don’t have extensive connections to, because they can come into the story cold from the point of view of your audience, as someone who doesn’t know you, is meeting your characters for the first time, and just getting ready to explore the world you have made. This brings us to the problem of objectivity, not just for them, but for the writer.

Objectivity is a big one for writers, myself included. When delving into your story, you often feel a flood of emotions and are aware at any given moment what your characters’ innermost thoughts and secrets are. Nobody knows the story better than you. That is a big risk since you know the story so well, you may not communicate what you feel because you already know it.

Unless your audience is also aware of those things, a character’s actions will probably not have the same impact for them. Editors, like your audience, offer an objective point of view. If they are unable to get the ideas you are trying to put across, chances are your audience will be the same way.

Take me for example. I’m not terribly fond of depressed or angsty characters. I just have a difficult time connecting with someone who complains about the meaningless of life on a regular basis. While editing my book, my editor made the comment that my protagonist seemed angsty at times. When she revealed this to me, I was somewhat distressed. I was going for more a gruff and angry kind of character who complained, but did it in an intimidating or even funny fashion. Since my editor didn’t quite get that, it doesn’t mean she didn’t ‘get’ the story. It just means I didn’t communicate my character properly.

So my editor and I arranged a meeting where she addressed her feelings, and I told her what I was going for.

Her response was something to the effect of “Ah, yes. I can see that now.”

Then I said “Okay. So how can I communicate that better?”

The tips and examples she offered me after that meeting were most helpful, and helped me improve my manuscript greatly. Lines of dialogue and certain actions now stuck out as being against everything I wanted my character to be, so a few strokes of the keys and they were fixed. That’s what you should do. If something doesn’t work for your editor, talk to them, tell them what your goal is, and ask for tips on how to help that come across.

This brings us to another advantage of having an editor. They can be a good partner to work with, and even make the editing process very fun. A good editor will talk to you, try to understand who your characters are and ask you what you want your story to be. Once they know that, an editor can be a lot like a coach or personal trainer. They’ll be over your shoulder and offering input and criticism, but it’s all to help you build those writing muscles. Eventually, you will work those common mistakes out of your system, and you’ll be a better artist for it.

This doesn’t mean you should listen to everything an editor says. Sometimes you’ll have a strong idea in a story that means a lot to you and you want to keep. My editor has suggested the deletion of passages or lines that I find it difficult to part with. Sometimes they’ll suggest deleting something, only to go through the manuscript and see you were trying to set something up before, then tell you to go ahead and leave it in.

If something means a lot to you and not to the editor though, you can take that as another sign that it doesn’t quite work. That doesn’t mean you have to get rid of it. It just means that element needs some fixing.

Now, not every writer needs to work with an editor. Sometimes it is a more comfortably process to work on something alone to keep any distractions from clouding your thinking. Sometimes every word just means so much to you, it is impossible to part with any of them. If however you are insecure with your work or want to go through a test run with it, I would suggest seeking an editor out. I can say for my first time working with an editor, this has been an enjoyable experience that has helped my manuscript get re-energized. There are not many joys greater than seeing a manuscript you already love come to life as your ideas leave your head and become words on the page. You work with a good editor, that joy can be yours as well.

The Perks of Hearing Criticism

Since the hiring of a professional editor for my first book, the project has been moving in very interesting directions. I have always said on this blog that receiving criticism is one of the most important parts of the writing process, and that has certainly applied here.

Chapter 4 of my book is a brief vignette where the characters swing by a city in order to establish it. The city in question serves as the location for the climax of the story, so it seemed appropriate to set it up as well as several of the characters in it beforehand. As it was written, it served as a brief action scene where my main character, a dragon, intimidates the residents of the town.

Writing the scene, I couldn’t help but feel it was very tedious. True there was some colorful description, but the scene of fire and mayhem lasted two pages without a line of dialogue to break the action.

Upon completing her edit of Chapter 4, my editor and I held a meeting on Skype. We talked about some of our issues with the manuscript, with me talking about my concerns and ideas I wanted to get across. While discussing chapter 4, she made a very interesting point.

“I really enjoyed this city you set up, but was disappointed we didn’t get to explore it.”she said.

Hearing that small phrase created a flood of questions and ideas. Why does this have to be an action scene? Why can’t it be more based on exploration and dialogue? How does the action help establish the characters? And so forth.

The flood of creativity that came next was like a dam breaking. After applying her suggested edits to my work, I went back over the chapter, deleted the entire action scene out of the chapter and replaced it instead with a scene of quiet intimidation. There is much more to enjoy this this newer version, a fair bit of humor, seeing more of the town and its culture, and focusing more on character as opposed to spectacle.

It was longer, more detailed, and a lot more fun to write as well as read.

I honestly don’t know how I got an editor as good as this for as cheap as I got her, but she has been amazing, and her input on this project has been nothing but beneficial.

Re-Reading Your Work

My first book has been in my heart for the last eight years. Now the first book in this planned series is nearing its final stages. It is an exciting time to know that the project, at least in the way of writing, is almost completely finished. We have an editor, and around this time next month, the search for an agent will continue, and then comes the publisher, and hopefully a career.

My editor has been very good. I just received the note ridden document on the first chapter, and am absolutely thrilled with it. What I like about this editor is she really wants to help improve your story. You hand her silver, and she tells you how to make it gold. Poor analogy if you prefer silver to gold, but you get the point.

Sometimes getting editing tips can sting a bit, but you need to remember that an editor is coming at the story from an objective point of view, the same way your readers will. If something confuses them, it will likely confuse other readers as well. An editor’s tips can be most helpful to increase a manuscript’s readability and put your own worries to rest.

Though I trust her completely, there are a few things I myself still wish to correct before she gets to work, so I have been re-reading my manuscript and tweaking it in parts. Personally, this is one of my favorite parts of the writing process. Re-discovering your work after a break from it can be a real eye opener, allowing you to see the things that don’t quite work, and also see where the story got something right.

The edits were superficial for the most part, removing a few lines of dialogue and description here and there, changing things around, and giving her more to work with when she gets the chapters. Last night I blew through chapters 7 and 8, editing them as I went before they get their final evaluation. It had been many months since I read them, so I had actually forgotten a few of the things that happened in my own book.

This is one very important reason to re-read your work, but only after a break. If you go back over it moments after wrapping it up, your mind is still racing from what you just finished. Not a good state to look things over in. If you give yourself a break and then go through it, it helps you look at it with at least a little less bias. When you’re calmer, you can just relax and look through your work with much greater care. You may even get caught up in your own story.

Every once in a while, there would be something that made me cringe, wordy inner monologue, a strange exchange between two characters or any number of other small errors in a narrative. These things were not indestructible, and were vanquished after my fingers did a little waltz on the keyboard. It felt like cleaning a room or polishing a car. There was a nice sense of accomplishment knowing that the story became just a little bit better.

Occasionally, a few of my fears were calmed. My main character is a dragon, and one of my other characters had a bad experience with dragons in the past. We all know that archetype, from the angry police chief in every Dirty Harry film, to Val Kilmer in Top Gun. They’re that character that doesn’t trust the hero, calls them dangerous, reckless, and eventually they either come around, or get their teeth knocked in.

I like the angry police chief as much as the next guy, but if that’s all a character offers, you can’t help but roll your eyes. Fortunately, reading through the manuscript again has calmed my nerves. This character, named Blondie, is more than just paranoia. She cares about her companions, is passionate about her work in history and archeology, and her suspicions are purely based on worry for those closest to her. Her reasons are well founded, and you can actually understand and empathize with why she is not entirely trusting of the hero. I can’t begin to tell you the relief that brings when you fear something won’t work, only to discover it does.

In an earlier post, I compared reaching the ending to a book to climbing a mountain. You know where you’re headed, but the real question is getting there. Going back over a manuscript after a period of rest is similar. You know where to go, and how to get there. The only difference is you can avoid the rocks you tripped over last time.