Update on Chapter 8

We’re half-way into the month of April, and the eighth chapter of Gray Metal Faces is progressing well. The goal was to draft 20K words, over ten scenes, and on Thursday I both finished the fifth scene and passed 10K words, putting me a couple days ahead of schedule. Not bad, especially considering that it’s only been about a month since I’ve given serious thought to the chapter.

As I mentioned previously, I’m drafting my remaining work on the novel on a private site (and yes, I will at some point explain why I’m doing this), but am inviting all followers of this blog the opportunity to read that work. Just like this post, or leave a comment, and if you haven’t already been added as a reader, I’ll give you access.

An Invitation

“Helping Hands” has been one of the stories that’s been kicking around in my imagination for years, and it feels good to have a draft completed. Much work will be needed for the revision, but at least now I have something to work with.

Time to move on to my next project, a return to Gray Metal Faces, but with a twist. I’ve created a new blog, which unlike the one you’re currently reading is private, meaning you should get a big ol’ error when you click this link. There’s a reason for making it private that I’ll explain at some point, but for now I want to extend an invitation: if you click Like on this post, or leave a comment, I will add you as a Follower to the new private blog — no questions or favors to ask — which will allow you to read the final two chapters (my plan is to draft chapter eight this month, the ninth and final chapter in July, and then revise both for NaNoWriMo this November). If you’ve followed my novel so far, you deserve the opportunity to see it continue evolving and at some point reach its conclusion.

Since I’ll be writing daily on the new blog this month, new posts here will be sporadic for a while. I’ll try not to be a stranger, but this man’s got some work to do.

Grinding

The revision of The Land Without Mosquitos is not going as well as I’d hoped. In the fall, I submitted the first three chapters for review by the local writers group I’ve joined, yet after nearly three months of work on chapter four I don’t feel I’m any closer to being finished. I’d hoped to submit for this month’s meeting (we meet the second Saturday of each month), but by the end of January I knew I wasn’t ready.

Part of the problem is that I’m introducing a character who didn’t appear in any of the earlier drafts, and that character will be the catalyst for a subplot that’s also new to the narrative. For those reasons, I don’t want to give in and submit what I have in its current state; this character and his story are important, and demand a proper introduction. No sense in creating a mess that I’ll have to salvage later.

I’ll play the role of reviewer this Saturday (there’s some good work done by this group), then push on with chapter four. Submissions are due two weeks before the meeting, so that gives me three weekends, with one being extended for the Presidents Day holiday. Think I should get out of the house, escape from domestic distractions; go to a coffeehouse, perhaps, or a library. Spend three, four hours just writing; repeat if necessary. Whatever it takes to grind out that chapter, craft something I’m proud to have critiqued by my peers.

Explore, Seek, Go

One last self-indulgent post about “The Chosen,” then I promise to move on.

When a story bounces around in your imagination for over three decades, you’re bound to develop several ideas about that story. And if you’re smart, you’ll write down at least some of those ideas. Somewhere in the dusty bins of my memorabilia, I have extensive material about “The Chosen” — character sketches, political and religious histories, plot summaries, even some maps and crude caricatures — that I considered digging up last month when I became inspired to start the project at last. But at the time, I was a few days from beginning a long journey, and I knew finding all that material could be a frustrating task. Made the decision to just go with my instincts, and find my notes later; I’m entirely satisfied with that decision.

Yet as I look ahead to that unspecified time when I pick up the story again, I realize I need that material. While I like what I did with the first two chapters, I fully realized while writing that I was leaving out a great amount of detail. Countries and cities are named and there’s an allusion to a budding colonial revolution, but there’s little backstory; there’s a reference to a religious schism, without any context; all the characters conveniently speak the same language. I decided not to address these problems when drafting the first two chapters, but going forward I realize these issues need to be resolved.

Part of the appeal of the high fantasy genre is the creation of fascinating new worlds — similar to ours, but engagingly different as well. When I read good fantasy, I feel like an explorer, discovering an alien land that I don’t want want to leave. It’s an experience evoked by the introduction to “Star Trek,” a classic of space fantasy:

To explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no one has gone before!

I want the reader to have that same experience when reading “The Chosen,” but that experience can only come through a meticulous attention to detail. Consider two classics of medieval fantasy, “Lord of the Rings” and “A Song of Ice and Fire” — the historical backstory in both epics is staggering. And the languages! Tolkein’s Elvish, Martin’s Dothraki, and yes, the Klingon of “Star Trek” — if authors can create an entire new language, how can their readers not think they’ve entered a new world?

So before I start chapter three, I need to dig up those old notes, and have a good deal of additional work to accomplish. There are lands to create! History to craft! Maps to draw! Languages to birth! And most important of all, characters to bring to life!

Yeah, I need to get busy before coming back to “The Chosen.” But I’m going to enjoy the work. And I’ve got a feeling that when I do get back to that story, what comes out is going to be pretty cool.

Journal-ism

I’ve kept a journal for close to four decades. Nothing fancy, just a series of spiral-bound notebooks, which I’ve used for a number of purposes over the years. While drafting the first two chapters of “The Chosen,” I used it to make notes, generate ideas, craft and revise outlines — 25 pages of pre-writing exercises. All that work helped make the last three weeks as productive as they were fun.

A couple journal pages with my notes on "The Chosen." Yes, my handwriting is that bad.

A couple journal pages with my notes on “The Chosen.” Yes, my handwriting is that bad.

When it comes to the craft of writing, I’m not a believer in rules. There’s very few things that I feel all writers must do; I keep a journal not to fulfill an obligation, but rather because the activity has demonstrably improved my writing. I’d certainly recommend experimenting with a journal to any writer, and see what happens. If it works for you, keep doing it, but if it proves to be an unproductive burden, then stop and try something else.

Journaling has done wonders for me, especially over the last few weeks. As I draft fiction on this blog, I’ll continue to rely on my spiral-bound notebooks to explore my ideas before clicking Publish.

The Chosen

As promised, later today I will start a new fiction project. This one’s different than anything I’ve attempted before on this blog — medieval high fantasy, a tale of sword and sorcery that also explores political and religious themes. The story is called The Chosen, and it’s been kicking around my imagination for over three decades, well before I’d heard of George R.R. Martin.

I had originally conceived this project as a comic book series — yeah, I’ve written some disparaging words lately about serialized fiction, but a taste hypocrisy keeps one’s soul hungry for authenticity — and I’ve decided to no longer wait for an artist collaborator. The time has come to begin my tale, and see where it leads.

Going Places

Finally made it to this land of abundant warmth and sunshine, and all that beautifully soft sand. Today is a time for taking in some deep breaths and allowing my body to sigh with relaxation. After a couple posts on the upcoming holidays, I’ll be starting a new fiction project on Monday, one very different than anything I’ve attempted before on this blog. When that project starts, I have no idea how long it will last; like just about all of my experiments, it may lead me to a place I hadn’t anticipated on visiting, and upon getting there I just may decide I like the view. The journey isn’t always better than the destination (travelling to this wonderful land yesterday was a giant bowl of suck), but some of the best trips end in places that aren’t on the map.

Revising to Build Relationships

Via Krista Stanley, I came across some interesting tips on ending scenes in a novel and creating links between those scenes. Feel like I’ve given insufficient attention to these concepts so far in Gray Metal Faces, as I’ve had a fairly narrow focus on each chapter during the drafting process. Will make these relationships a point of emphasis during the revision of The Land Without Mosquitos.

Resting, but Planning

I empathize with Austin L. Wiggins‘ struggle to pursue his writing ambitions, even though this break I’m on (fifteen days and counting) from new fiction projects is entirely self-imposed. The devotion is always there, but not so the energy, and sometimes you just gotta give it a rest.

I’m hoping to stretch out this period of rest another week and a half. I actually feel sufficiently recovered from NaNoWriMo to get back in the groove, but there’s a long flight ahead for my family next week, and my pre-trip anxiety is not conducive to creativity. Give me a few days to get over the jet lag and appreciate the abundant sunshine and warm sand — I really am a fortunate man — by the day after Christmas, I should have an idea for my next project, as well as the enthusiasm to give it my full attention. Might even be able to finish it before heading back to my home in the Frozen North.

Meetups and Mosquitos

Back in spring, I began attending the monthly meetings of a local writer’s Meetup, and since that time have submitted the first three chapters of The Land Without Mosquitos for review. The response so far has been, shall we say, interesting — my fellow writers find the story a bit bizarre (which they should), but they find the characters interesting, appreciate my style, and have stayed invested in the story. A few critiques will likely influence my next revision of the novel:

  • After reading the first chapter (where Jane “discovers” the mysterious object in her apartment), my readers didn’t know what to make of Jane’s confusion; they understood she was looking at an iPhone, but couldn’t understand her lack of recognition. In discussing this response, we agreed that identifying the novel’s genre could be helpful; if readers know the novel is about an alternate reality, they would be more likely to accept Jane’s confusion. Up to that point I hadn’t known how to classify my work — it had both science fiction and fantasy elements, but I didn’t feel it fit neatly into either category — but when I said it was “Alternate Reality Fiction” (is that really a genre?), my reviewers seemed a bit more at ease with Jane’s behavior.
  • Jane’s friends and co-workers respond far too calmly to her wild story. Her boss, Gary, is particularly far too conciliatory; in the words of one reviewer, “this guy needs a backbone.” Gary will play a central role in chapter four, and I’m eager to experiment with making him less patient with Jane.
  • There’s too many passages that describe Jane’s confusion over an object that is familiar to the reader. One suggestion that I’m eager to follow through with is to transform those passages into dialogue — have Jane point to an object, ask “What’s that?”, and then reply with amazement at the response.

That’s just a sample of the response I’ve received so far. I’m actually quite pleased with the feedback I’ve received, and plan to submit the entire novel for the group’s review.