Friday, July 31, 2009

An Unfocused Mind

I am at a quandary on what to write about today. The problem is not that I lack interesting subjects, I have many to choose from. Nor is it that I don't feel like writing a post, because the motivation is certainly there. The problem is deeper and hard to explain in quantitative terms. Basically my thoughts are unfocused and my attention drifts from subject to subject. Each word I write is dragged, kicking and screaming, from me.

There are reasons why I am unable to bring clarity to the concepts in my mind, some of which I will not discuss today. Suffice to say, this time of the year always makes me a little numb and disorganized.

Of the reasons I will talk of, some are physical, like the facts that I haven't been sleeping well and am quite tired, or that I have a headache at the moment. Certainly these factors will make one a wee bit bleary.

Then there are issues that have more to do my personality. As a rule I dabble in too many subjects at once, flitting from one to the other in a haphazard way. So far, while writing this post alone, I have visited and explored the the following sites:,,,,,,, in addition to my custom Google homepage, where I read my morning comics. I have also been reading my e-mails and wandering away from the computer to take care of whatever leaps into my brain at the moment.

Writing when you are as incoherent as I feel at the moment is difficult. Every sentence is a struggle. I keep rereading what I have written over and over, looking for a theme that can tie this mishmash together. That theme appears to be trying to write when you really can't, which may be another way of describing writer's block.

I have been here before, when writing upon my story. Staring at a screen, flipping from section to section, chapter to chapter. Reading a little, editing a little, then being distracted by something and forgetting what you were doing. Fighting to concentrate, and being unable to.

It is incredibly frustrating to write in this condition. There were times when I stopped writing for months and even years at a time because I felt this way. Not all the time, mind you, but enough to drain the joy and desire of writing out of me. In the past I simply couldn't summon the will to stare at the screen knowing that the best I could hope for was random drivel. Now I know that it is worth producing the drivel anyway, just so long as I keep producing something. Writing that is dreck can be improved and corrected, but there is nothing to fix if you write nothing at all.

So despite my being tired, distracted, and befuddled, I have cobbled together something for today's post that I hope is somewhat on topic and perhaps useful to someone. For me it has mainly been an effort to not yield to the seductive ease of not writing at all.

Monday, July 27, 2009

When Last We Met...

Yesterday we had another rollicking meeting of the Magic City Writers Group. I had submitted my first chapter, The Wizard's Spells..., again for what I hoped would be a final editing pass. I had mentioned before that I had asked the group if they thought it needed another pass, and I summarized their response then as:
The consensus was that while chapter one was much improved it still required one more editing effort by the group. But just one more. A final review to clean up the flotsam and jetsam still floating around in the text. We didn't discuss the details of what was wrong, just that it still has issues. I want to avoid infinitely editing this chapter, but I cannot ignore warnings from the group. I shall resubmit chapter one when my turn rolls around again.
I had believed when the meeting began that the session would be short, a couple of hours at most. After all, this was the third time we had gone over this chapter. How much more was left to be said?

Four-and-a-half hours later I staggered away from the table bloody, bruised, and beaten; a broken man, a shell of my former self. I exaggerate, but the point remains that the session was longer and more grueling than I had been prepared for.

I expected people to point out awkward sentences, poor word choices, and other syntactic fluff. By "syntactic fluff" I do not mean these problems are not important to address, merely that they are correctable by a better choice of single words or altering a sentence or two. I.e. The solution is relatively easy to discover and can be quickly implemented.

In addition to points about syntactic fluff, however, there were also protracted debates about some of the underlying structure. Problems that cannot be solved by changing a word or sentence or even a paragraph, but could require another rewrite of whole scenes. Worse yet, embedded in the areas that have structural issues are elements I either really want to retain, or feel must be there for reasons not obvious to the reader at this moment. Elements that setup important plot points.

This leaves me with a quandary. Do I make major changes that make it hard to keep the elements I feel are important? Or do I ignore the group's warnings about the problem areas? Is there an acceptable alternative that lets me address their concerns while keeping intact what I want/need for later?

I wrote before about avoiding the infinite edit, in which I talked about this particular chapter. As I said then:
It is possible to edit a chapter over and over and never "finish" it. I could reword sentences and rewrite the same scene over and over. Infinitely editing the same chapter, never moving on to the bigger story. At some point you have to draw a hard line and say, "Yes it could be better, but it is good enough as it is right now."
With regards to this chapter, I feel I am close to that hard line where you just fix the most glaring or easily solvable problems and ignore the rest.

I will think on this some more, review the notes from the meeting and listen to the audio recording I made. I will reread the problem areas with a harsh, unbiased eye. I hope to find away to address the bigger problems that does not require a major overhaul. Failing that I may settle for simply reducing the problems so they don't intrude into the story to the same extent they do now. That may be the best solution I can manage.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Hero, Part 3: A Closer Look At Tara Rihtwis

This is part of my continuing exploration on the nature of heroism in literature, and of the role of the hero in my epic fantasy, Gods Among Men. Here are links to parts one and two, and a link to the post that started this overall series about the various roles characters play in literature.

Today I am going into more detail on Tara Rihtwis, daughter of More Rihtwis. Tara's history is unique in my story in that She is the one major character who did not exist in my mind even as a concept when I first started writing Gods Among Men.

In the beginning I knew I wanted a wizard, who rather quickly became my protagonist Damon Roth; a knight/prince, who became one of my heroes, Morel; an archer/tracker/ranger, who became the antihero, Artemis Arrowsmith; an undead wizard, who became my antagonist, Demiurge; the evil warrior, who became my villain, Maelgar; and so on. I had defined roles that needed to be filled, and developed characters that met that need.

Tara was developed in a series of fits and starts. First I realized I needed someone innocent and inexperienced, someone who needed things explained to them. All of my initial major characters were worldly with many experiences involving dangerous and magical situations. As I wrote their scenes I often had times when something happened that would be obvious to them, but not to the reader. I needed someone the experienced characters had to explain things to so I, the writer, would have a reason to explain what was happening to the reader.

With that thought in mind, I created Morel's son, Tomas, and began developing his character. This brought my story to a screeching halt. Try as I might, I could not make Tomas into a character that worked as Morel's son. He was pedantic, two-dimensional, and wholly unbelievable. Worse yet, his interactions with Morel and others was boring to write and worse to read.

As I was struggling with this, and many other issues, I asked my girlfriend at the time to read over what I had written. After doing so, she had various good comments including, "You don't have any female characters."

This is an example of the blindness that can afflict a writer. I had thought of the characters before then just as what role they filled in the plot, not as to how their gender might affect their development. I had made all the characters male because I was a man and it made them easier for me to relate to.

Armed now with the knowledge that I was being stupid and sexist, I began looking for which major characters I could change from male to female.

I first changed Artemis Arrowsmith, my archer/tracker/ranger character, into a woman. She immediately became much more interesting and a slew of story lines opened up for her. I will detail those changes in a later post.

Casting about for another character to change, I spied dull, boring Tomas. I tried switching his sex like I had on Artemis. This did not work. The personal qualities I had given him were too deeply flawed for a gender change alone to salvage the situation. Tomas had to go.

Feeling sorry for Tomas, as writers will do for characters they have put a fair amount of time and effort into, I gave him some minor ability with magic and shuttled him off to become one of Damon's assistants. There, much to my surprise, surrounded by magic and books and all things arcana, he blossomed. The poor kid was never cut out to be a hero, he was a nerd. Who'd have thunk.

I was still stuck with needing an inexperienced character, and having one as a child of Morel still made sense, so I began crafting a daughter for him from scratch. I called her Tara as a shorthand note to myself.

Tara was the name of Scarlett O'Hara's plantation in Gone With The Wind. Scarlett was a willful, spoiled, debutante. The daughter of a rich, powerful, landowner who will do anything to keep her land and get what she wants. Whenever I read the name Tara I thought of Scarlett, which kept reminding me of some of the characteristics I wanted my new character to have when the reader first meets her.

Tara's impact on the other characters was felt almost at once. Morel developed a sense of humor and loved to tease her. Artemis became Tara's surrogate big sister, protector, and trainer. Maelgar, when he discovers who she is, see her as a way to trap or hurt Morel. Damon sees her as the hope of the future and tries to guide her toward the knowledge and experience she will need to succeed.

Tara became a character unlike the others in that she is not prepared for what is about to happen, but thinks she is. She boldly charges into dangerous situations that are far above her abilities to handle. Situations where she should die, but somehow survives through luck and skill and the intervention of those more powerful than herself. She discovers what it means to feel fear, and how to control it. She suffers, but does not falter. She learns the difference between being foolhardy and courageous.

In short, Tara starts out as an innocent and becomes a hero, though of a different mold than her father. Morel is a classical hero, but Tara is a more modern style of hero. As such she represents the changes that are happening in the world around her better than Morel, or anyone else, does.

In a later post I will delve more into the differences between her heroic model and Morel's. Until then, have fun.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Discipline in writing

I've seen blogs and essays by several published authors that denounce the idea of "writer's block." It's a fallacy, they say, because if you can't write, you sit down and do it anyway. You'll write crap, but you keep doing it until suddenly you aren't writing crap anymore. It's discipline, and not ideas, that make a successful writer. And in my (admittedly unpublished) experience, that's certainly true. And I know not because I'm so disciplined, but rather because I'm not.

When I write on a daily basis, it's easier to do. The thoughts come out faster, the sentences will pop into my mind fully formed, and I won't have to spend thirty minutes browsing through the Word thesaurus function to find the word I'm looking for. But when I don't write on a daily basis, I open the document and stare at the screen. Then I re-read what I've already written, and stare some more. I'll try to write during this process, but I'll usually get about halfway through a sentence before I realize that it isn't what I want and erase it. Then, finally, usually after about 3 hours, the words finally start coming ... but they're rarely worth the wait.

Most of you know that Brant's been helping me on my discipline problem by accepting and editing a small selection of new writing every day. So far, it's working very well. Yes, there are days when I still get frustrated, and days when just opening the Word document for my first chapter depresses me. But there are also days now when I can't wait to get home and write, when the words seem to fly from my fingertips, and when I re-read my recently written words and think, "Wow, that's good." (That feeling rarely lasts past a second re-read, but it does keep me going through some of the harder days.)

So, if any aspiring writers happen to read this post, let my personal experience be a guide. I've tried both the disciplined and the undisciplined approach, and the disciplined approach is far more helpful. Daily writing keeps those mental muscles in good condition, and everything just comes easier. Find a system that works for you - I can't acheive the 1000 words/day limit that many professional writers set for themselves, but I can write 250 words/day. And I can write that most days even when I'm tired after work, after the gym, after having experiment after experiment fail .... Well, you get the point. Consistently writing 250 words/day is better for me than trying and failing to write 1000 words/day.

And on a random note - I do think the thesaurus is God's gift to writers. If you can't think of the right word, you find one that's close, and then browse around in Word thesaurus until it either jogs your memory or inspires a new phrasing that doesn't need the original word you were searching for. Thank you, Bill Gates.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Hero, Part 2: A Closer Look At Morel Rihtwis, Part 2

This is both a continuation of my last post, and of a series of posts about the roles of the protagonist, antagonist, hero, villain, antihero, and antivillain in a story, as well as my exploration on the nature of the hero. I have previously talked about the protagonist in Gods Among Men, Damon Roth, and the antagonist, Demiurge, and why both fail to be either a hero or villain. Today I will focus again upon Morel Rihtwis, an archetypal hero patterned upon classical mythological heroes.

When I started writing Gods Among Men I was heavily influenced by medieval imagery. This grew out of my love of the game Dungeons & Dragons, which itself was influences by medieval stories such as Le Morte d'Arthur, Beowulf, tales of Robin Hood, faerie tales, and even more modern works with a medieval flavor such as The Lord of The Rings.

Given this bias, I decided early that my hero would be a knight. I was young at the time, in college, and sought for a literary or historical figure I could pattern my knight upon. I considered Arthur, Lancelot, Gawain and other knights of the Round Table, but those thoughts led nowhere interesting. They worked against the emerging plot, and made the character hackneyed.

Then I thought of Charlemagne, Charles the Great, King of the Franks. He helped bring about the Carolingian Renaissance, a revival of art, religion, and culture. Through foreign conquests and internal reforms, Charlemagne helped define both Western Europe and the Middle Ages. He is counted as of the Nine Worthies; nine historical, scriptural, mythological or semi-legendary figures who came to personify the ideals of chivalry.

In Charlemagne I had a foundation for a character with a history as broad and deep as any of the Arthurian knights, and was as symbolically important as Arthur himself. In fact, Charlemagne formed a group of paladins who were analogous to the knights of the Round Table and form the basis for the French chansons de geste, "songs of heroic deeds". Charlemagne as a historical or literary character is directly associated with spiritual and cultural rebirth and renewal.

Charlemagne gave me a touchstone for the character that would eventually become Morel Rihtwis. Whenever I felt the need to give Morel more depth or expand his character, I could search though information about Charlemagne and find something useful.

Charlemagne had a brother, Carloman, who died, so I gave Morel a brother name Carloman who died.

Charlemagne had a group of loyal paladins, so Morel now had a group of loyal paladins. One of Charlemagne's paladins was Roland, who the Song of Roland is based upon. This inspired a subplot centered around Morel's battle with a dragon.

One of Charlemagne 's chief opponents was the Saxon leader Widukind, who Charlemagne converted to Christianity. This inspired a character of my own creation called Widukind, with whom Morel will argue morality and religion in order to convince Widukind to break his allegiance to the villain, Maelgar.

Morel is not Charlemagne. I made Morel into his own character with a unique history and story to tell. But Charlemagne is the point from which I began creating Morel; it is Charlemagne that I return to for inspiration on how I should further develop Morel's character. The history and legends surrounding Charlemagne helped me build Morel into a character that will be associated with spiritual and cultural rebirth and renewal.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Hero, Part 1: A Closer Look At Morel Rihtwis

This post is a continuation of my earlier posts about the roles of protagonist, antagonist, hero, villain, antihero, and antivillain, as well as my exploration on the nature of the hero. I have previously talked about the protagonist in Gods Among Men, Damon Roth, and the antagonist, Demiurge, and why both fail to be either a hero or villain. Today I will focus upon Morel Rihtwis, a man whose very name translates as moral, right, and wise.

Morel is an archetypal hero. Some of the characteristics that identify archetypal heroes are:
  1. Unusual circumstances of his birth
  2. Leaves family and lives with others.
  3. Traumatic event leads to quest.
  4. Special Weapon
  5. Supernatural help.
  6. Proves self on quest
  7. A journey that leads to an unhealable wound
  8. Atonement with father
  9. Spiritual apotheosis

Unusual circumstances of his birth
Morel is born into royalty, into one of the richest and most powerful families in the world. He begins life in the highest reaches of society with all of its advantages and disadvantages.

Leaves family and lives with others.
Morel's mother died before he was ten years old. His father was king of Zephyr and gone for most of Morel's childhood. Morel had a brother, Carloman, who was almost a decade his senior. Morel's earliest clear memory of Carloman is him leaving to join the military. Morel spent most of his childhood surrounded by tutors, trainers, and staff. When he was in his teens he joined the military as a prerequisite for one day inheriting Zephyr.

Traumatic event leads to quest.
Before Gods Among Men begins, Carloman, Morel's brother, dies in a senseless accident. Carloman was the heir apparent to the kingdom of Zephyr and the Rihtwis fortune. With his death, Morel becomes the heir apparent. Also, Morel arrives in the city of Guildtown, capital of the empire that Zephyr belongs to, shortly after the city has been attacked and its military defeated. These twin events, along with the responsibilities Morel feels as heir to a kingdom, forces him to follow Damon Roth. This sets Morel on a path to save his daughter, the kingdom of Zephyr, and the world as a whole.

Special Weapon
Morel wears armor forged from the hide of a dragon. This armor grants him superhuman strength and renders him almost impervious to magic. He also carries a sword forged by Damon Roth and Morel's distant ancestor, Gideon Rihtwis. This sword is unbreakable, never requires care or sharpening, and is capable of cleaving a person in two. Later, Morel will come into possession of a lance specially made to kill dragons.

Supernatural help.
Both the wizard Damon Roth and the False God referred to as the Lady aid Morel. In addition he will receive help from Elves. Damon saves Morels life and gives him the magical satchel that Morel will need as the story progresses. The Lady advises and protects his daughter, Tara, when he cannot. I have not yet decided how the Elves will aid him.

Proves self on quest
Remember when I mentioned that Morel will come into a possession of a lance specially made to kill dragons? He doesn't use it against a Komodo dragon. He fights a very large, very deadly, dragon in the prime of its life. In addition, Morel must also show his commitment to honor and duty despite personal costs. He risks his life on many occasions and dies, twice.

A journey that leads to an unhealable wound
Speaking of dying, Morel dies in the first book of the series. Fortunately, this is an epic fantasy in which death is not a career-ending injury. Damon restores Morel to life, but the wound Morel receives gives him problems for the rest of his life. Later, he battles Artemis Arrowsmith, is struck in the same place, and dies again.

Atonement with father
Morel is not close with his father, though he isn't estranged from him either. His father was absent for most of Morel's life, so the two really know each other through what they have heard from other people. Unknown to Morel, his father was involved in a dark deed that gave rise to the villain, Maelgar Tregadie. At some point this fact will be revealed to Morel, and there will be a reckoning.

Spiritual apotheosis
During his life Morel reaches a mythic stature that makes him almost universally admired. Even his foes hate him primarily for his virtues. He becomes the example others aspire to emulate, including his daughter, Tara. After Morel's death he is revered and mourned and cited as the person who embodied the best qualities of mankind.

Most of these qualities are shared by Damon Roth. What Damon is missing is what I believe is key to labeling someone as a hero: the moral center that guides and limits them. The limits placed upon a hero by themselves are, to me, a crucial element in their heroism. It is that moment when when the hero thinks, "I need to kill/hurt/steal/etc..., but I won't because its wrong."

This is the crucial distinction between Damon and Morel. Damon will do anything he believes is required to accomplish his goal. Morel will not. Morel is willing to accept failure as a consequence of doing what is moral and right, which makes him wise.

This subject is too big for a single post. I will continue with Morel for at least one more post, detailing some of the inspirations for his character. Later I will delve into his daughter, Tara, and explore other types of heroes and how they are represented in Gods Among Men.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Nature of a Writer

As I read Brant's latest post, I couldn't help but think about my own writing. Brant's story has so many layers, it is like a big, tasty parfait. Knowing Brant as well as I do, I think that is a comment on him as well. He is a very complex but interesting person, and it shows clearly in his writing. The nature of the writer lends itself to the color of a story, no matter how hard that writer may try to keep it out. Think of the great satirical stories, like Gulliver's Travels. I highly doubt that could have been written by someone who loved the British. Or even V, which is a thinly veiled (at least to some people) look at Nationalist Socialism and how easily people are brainwashed by it.

I never thought my stories had that much subtext, but I did notice something about my own writing. Almost instictively, I like to attach some sort of moral to my stories. My first work in progress, Battle for Ondar, is a story about familial relationships, and how easily a country can collapse if its politicians don't keep it together. My current work-in-progress, Moonlit, shows how people with an infectious, incurable disease are still people, and what happens when society forgets that. I think these two examples say a lot about me as a writer and a person.

In reality, I like to think of myself as an environmentalist. I love nature, especially water-related nature, and keeping wild things wild. I also have - as my Dad calls it - a bleeding heart. I don't do very well in debates because I can see the other person's point-of-view. I almost always prefer the underdog or the sidekick in movies and television, not the main character. And I stand up for anyone who isn't there in an arguement. I love bad movies, romantic comedies, and sarcastic comedians. I have an impressive collection of shark movies alone, and every Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode I could get my hands on. I also am intensely interested in how people cope with major stress. A great example of this is how peasants in Europe coped during the Great Schism, when people actually thought that no one could get into heaven because there was no clear Pope (Catholics should know what I am referring to).

These things make up my character, and whether I like it or not, are going to show up in my work. I want to flesh out the characters to represent a single thought or ideal, and watch it play out in the plot of the story. So in Moonlit, I put a little of myself in Lyka, the heroine. She is a wildlife biologist who has lived a pretty sheltered life among her books and labwork and animals that don't talk. At the very beginning of the story, her life is thrown into the unknown. How will she deal with that? We don't know how she will deal with that yet, as I have only written about two chapters. I daresay that she will manage much the same way I might if I were thrown into a similar situation. Hopefully, that doesn't spell doom for too many of the book's characters...

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Nature of the Hero

Over the last few months I have come to realize that my story, Gods Among Men, has a subtext I did not originally intend. Implicit in the characters and their interactions is the question of what it means to be a hero or a villain. Given the parts of the story I have focused upon so far, I have written mostly about the characters I think of as heroes in one way or another.

I have always thought that some of my characters where "more pure" in their heroism than others. I am familiar with various mythic traditions and did weave ideas that appealed to me into various characters. Before now, however, I never tried to formally define the various types of heroism and how they applied to specific characters.

The formal concept of the hero can be traced to Greek mythology. The word hero originally meant the person was a demigod; the offspring of a mortal and a deity. At this point the word does not imply any moral virtue, merely parentage.

Looking back, I realize now that this idea influenced the development of my protagonist, Damon Roth, and his relationship to my antagonist, Demiurge.

An important step in Damon's true quest is to become the God Among Men. To achieve this goal, Damon must form a bond with Demiurge, a god-like being. The relationship Damon seeks with Demiurge is not dissimilar to that of a grown child with an aged, ailing, parent. Symbolically, Damon becomes Demiurge's child and in so doing become a demigod and hence a hero; at least by the criteria of classic Greek mythology. By becoming a hero, Damon steps closer to his true goal: redemption for his past sins and the salvation of his soul.

In later mythology, the concept of the hero became associated with other characteristics. Courage, self-sacrifice for the greater good, the willingness the face danger and almost certain death, and various moral qualities. The moral qualities become especially important. A hero in later works is often defined by the lines they will not cross, the acts they will not commit, even when everyone else says the acts are necessary or even required. A hero in later mythology is the person who risks all, including the safety of those closest to them, because their moral center demands it of them.

By this standard for heroism, Damon fails to become a modern hero. Yes, he has courage and will face danger and certain death. But he is also the ultimate pragmatist. If the surest way for him to achieve a goal is a dark deed, then he will cross that line with little hesitation. And, while he will ultimately sacrifice himself, it is not so much for the greater good but to complete his redemption. Mankind as a whole will benefit, but Damon's reason is a selfish one designed to benefit himself. To be a modern hero the end result is not sufficient; the means you use and the reasons behind your actions matter.

Damon wants to be a hero, but never can be. He can become a demigod, he can be a protagonist that provides the story with a direction and a plot, but his own moral failings keep him from being more.

In Gods Among Men the role of classical hero falls upon Morel Rihtwis, a man willing to sacrifice the world rather than let innocents suffer. A man of destiny who wants power solely so he can help others. He actively pursues greatness and seizes his destiny. He regrets the personal sacrifices he must make, but never seriously considers not making those sacrifices.

A more modern version of the hero is embodied by his daughter, Tara. She wants to follow in her father's footsteps, until she sees the cost she must bear to do so. At this point she would turn aside, except she comes to realize how many would suffer if she did so. She accepts her personal sacrifices for the betterment of all. Greatness is thrust upon her, her destiny is set by forces out of her control.

I will revisit this exploration of the concepts surrounding heroes and heroism in later posts. I plan on focusing more upon Morel and Tara and delving deeper into my motivations for how I have developed their characters. After that I will look also at other variants of heroes including Byronic heroes and antiheroes. After that I will turn my attention to the villains and antivillains in Gods Among Men and the mythic roots behind their characters.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Oh boy....

So, I was watching some Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes today and realized something.
I think my first submission of Time makes about as much sense as the movie Space Mutiny; if you don't get this reference, just ask Katherine.
Thanks for all your comments on the first chapter. I think I forgot how hard it is to take criticism about my work. I used to be better at it. Also, I'm used to receiving it in an academic work shop setting and it's kind of a different experience. I decided to start over by getting a feel for the voice of my main character. I feel like she should be older, and per Brant's suggestion, not a massive dose of annoying clumsiness. It might be a while before I re-submit the chapter, I'm trying to be patient with myself. I've gotten farther by writing from the character instead of dictating the story line myself. Thanks again.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Into My Unknown

As I was writing chapter two of my story, Moonlit, I immediately encountered a scene that I literally knew nothing about. Lyka, the heroine of the story (so far) is awakening from a drug-enduced sleep into a room she doesn't recognize. I have written internal dialogue, where she makes herself remember as much as she could before finding herself in that room. I want to go back and try to insert a little reality into this scene. How exactly should I write this?

She is a smart woman - at least I hope she is - so I started with trying to figure out what would be the first thought in her head. Now I have hurt my head before. Anyone who has known me long enough will attest to how accident prone I am. But I have never even been knocked unconscious, let alone drugged unconscious after a painful injury. The closest I have ever come is when I had to be put to sleep for a nerve block in my back. The difference was that I knew I was being drugged; I even watched him put the morphine into the iv (looked like milk, by the way). I made it to the count of five before I remembered nothing else. I woke up later, perfectly conscious, being handed cheeze-its and a soda, feeling no pain in my back.

Would this work in the story, in any way? At the end of the first chapter, she was beginning to be treated for her shoulder wounds, which were bleeding pretty badly, as she watched them load her unconscious brother into another long car. I could have them shoot her up with morphine without her knowing, but I would think that when she wakes, she would be pretty conscious pretty quickly. The bulk of her confusion could come from her not knowing where she was, and not remembering how on earth she got there. Kind of like shock.

The less pressing question is what would catch her attention the most. She is lying flat on her back, her head turned to one side. I originally decided that she would slowly come into focus as she was staring at a portable piece of medicinal electronics by her bed. But, I know so little about that that I decided to reduce that to a sort of 'what is that? Wait, where am I?' kind of thing.

I want to keep this part of the chapter short, because she has way to many questions in her head to focus too much on the where am I question (and she will be returning to that question). Mainly, where is her brother, why is she stuck in the bed, what's with the large mirror, and where is her dog. I have a lot of explaining to do...

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Update on new resolutions

Okay, so it's only the second day, but I'm currently happy with my progress, so I thought I'd post an update.

Brant sent me back the first 250 words, complete with changes and suggestions. I kept some and discarded others, but the process of deciding which changes to keep got my creative juices flowing, and so now I have another 250 words, and I'm happier with this beginning today. (It may not last for long, but I'm going to enjoy the sensation while it lasts.) I'm even happier because I managed to write a relatively decent few paragraphs after being completely exhausted at the gym.

It's still too early to say for sure, but I think this really might help. Thanks, Brant. You and Kathryn have been fabulous since day one, but this is going above and beyond the call of duty, and I really appreciate it.

Incidentally, I ran a mile in 10min 20s at the gym today - my best time ever! (Yeah, I'm a wimp-in-rehab.) Another thing to be happy about!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

New resolution

When I was first getting serious about writing, I looked at many of the writer's help sites floating around on the internet. During one of these forays, I ran across a quote that I thought was particularly applicable to me. I can't remember the exact wording or who said it, but the gist was that any writer who wants to be successful must first overcome his hatred of his own work.

That message still resonates with me. My problem (as almost everyone here knows) is that I am a perpetual editor, which essentially keeps me trapped in the words I've already written rather than free to explore the plot elements that are still running around in my head. It means I can't move forward, and it makes me obsess over every flaw, which doesn't do much for my confidence in my own abilities. I've gotten to the point now where I have an almost visceral aversive reaction to sitting down and trying to write, and so I avoid it. I still love my story, but I feel as if I'm failing it - I'm not a good enough writer yet to tell it the way it needs to be told.

Intellectually I know that everyone is bad at first, and that practice is the only way to overcome that. You can't get that practice if you're continually stuck in the same place. I try to move on, but I find myself obsessing about the flaws in the earlier points of the story so much that it's impossible - I just can't focus on the current chapter without going back to the first. So the first has been re-written about thirty times, the second chapter a few times, and the third chapter is still in its infancy.

I'm finally at the point that I must do something different, because what I've been doing hasn't been working. Brant volunteered to let me send him a set number of words each day, and he'd provide some quick editing and shoot it back to me. That way I could see if I was on target with what I was writing, and use that feedback to help guide my next day's writing. I sent off my first email today, with my new beginning to the first chapter (this, incidentally, is the sixth different opening I've tried, and I haven't liked any of them). I guess we'll see how this works. Maybe being accountable to someone else will help me - it certainly worked with the gym!

So here's my new resolution(s): I will write 250 words each day. I will not obsess over getting every detail perfect yet. I will allow myself to edit only for general content and clarity's sake. I will not allow myself to obsess over word choice, pacing, timing, missing or incomplete transitions, vague feelings of dislike, or anything else that will hamper my ability to get the story down in its entirety. I will write, and I will do so until the book is complete.

So there they are, my new resolutions. Maybe I'll even keep them this time.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Blogging on Blogging

I have noticed a strange, positive, effect blogging has had upon me. When I began I wondered what I could write about once or twice a week. I decided to focus upon my epic, Gods Among Men, and the issues I deal with in trying to write, edit, and eventually publish it.

I discovered there was only so much I could say about editing before I began repeating myself. And since I haven't tried to publish Gods Among Men yet there is nothing to say on that subject.

This left writing itself for me to blog about. Yes, I did post tidbits about the group meetings and such, but most of my posts became about my story. My ideas, goals, characters, plot, how Gods Among Men fits into literary genres and so forth.

Writing the blog forced me to put concrete words to amorphous ideas. To take ill-formed concepts and express them in a clear, concise fashion. At least, as clear and concise as my talent and verbose tendencies will allow.

As one of many possible examples, consider my protagonist and antagonist. I knew in my head, more or less, what I wanted from them as characters, but I had never clearly expressed those ideas aloud even to myself. In my story I had to write about them in an indirect, literary, fashion. When I wrote about them in the blog, however, I was required to state directly who they are, what they want, how they fit into the plot, and so forth.

As I blogged about these important characters I would write a sentence, reread it, and say, "No that's not right." So I would re-write it and say, "closer, but still not right." And so on until I discovered the phrase that captured, for me, what I was doing and why. In this process the general, often non-specific, thoughts in my head gelled into strong central themes.

These themes were always in my work, but in an ad hoc, sometimes unintentional, fashion. Now I see them with better eyes and can craft the scenes to support and enhance those themes in a more rigorous way. Blogging about my writing made me a better writer.

I plan to continue this trend in future posts. To lay out more details about the characters, culture, and world in my story. It could be considered a huge writing exercise of sorts. The result may well be of interest to me alone, but since I am doing this primarily for my own benefit I can live with that. In any event, for those interested in improving their own writing I can recommend blogging about your writing. It certainly has helped me.