Writing Exercise: Memorial Day tribute

I planned to delve into writing this weekend, mixing those responsibilities with other chores around the house. I needed to regain momentum on Project Two, which had stalled during the pandemic; ironically, I was also fighting the lingering effects of my own bout with Covid. I knew I would have plenty of optimism when I finally sat at the keyboard, even if I had no idea where to begin.

That’s when Serendipity paid a visit.

Goodnight, Saigon by Billy Joel came up on my playlist, and his lyrics drew me in like I was watching a movie. I don’t know if you’ve experienced this, but your mind’s eye takes over, even as your body goes through the motions of dressing and pouring coffee. I’m not even sure of the sequence of events: my mind connected the song to Memorial Day and a scene where Samor rejoins his companions after they’ve lost someone. There was nothing; then there was something.

I grabbed the computer, put the song on repeat, and 30 minutes later, I had this.

Samor greeted his companions as they gathered to him. Their welcome was genuine, their words warm. But he read something else on their faces that he hadn’t seen before. Or rather, he realized he hadn’t had the skills to interpret the tragedies that lay there. The worry that creased Hochness’s brow; the crow’s feet that used to merrily step away from the corners of Oafsson’s eyes. Even the betrayer Chork, addled as his mind remained, seemed more sedate against the bonds that held him to the litter. A weight drug at them all, anchoring them to the battle where they’d lost their friend and compatriot. The look of survivors, a mix of gratitude and guilt, made worse by each condemning beat of their living hearts.

His past naiveté angered him, but mostly it saddened him. No words seemed important enough, nor considerate or meaningful enough to break the silence of the moment. And so, he took his cue from his friends, yes, that is what they were now, and he embraced them silently and exchanged knowing looks that would have been inscrutable to the person he used to be. In the strength he gave, he felt more returned. They knew he knew. They accepted him and were grateful that he offered to share the burden.

Samor recognized this understanding wouldn’t have come from a lifetime of study. Simple words upon the page were shallow, going no deeper than the ink that sank into the paper – practically lies for their misinterpretation of the awful reality. The knowledge was horrible, and he wished he’d never acquired it. A small voice between his ears reminded him it was a necessary experience for the future leader of Empyrelia, a land destined for war, but he could derive no comfort from that. He hoped he never would.

I’ve never been in a war, nor lost someone in combat. I will never be able to fully replicate those experiences on the written page, but that is not my intent. Long ago, I realized there were things expressed by my father’s face that I would never be able to read; there was context in his words I would never comprehend. One of my jobs as a writer is to help others understand that they cannot understand, and that is the goal of a piece like this, with Samor being the conduit. On this Memorial Day weekend, it seemed an important thing to share.

Thanks for indulging me and for remembering those who have fallen in defense of America. If you’re interested in the writing stuff, read on.

Alright, let’s pause a second to breathe and let go of some of that weight. Warm up your coffee and we’ll take a look at the other purpose of this post: what are my observations or comments as a writer?

It’s a first pass, lightly edited after a rewritten sentence or two. The organization is largely unchanged, though what I expected to be a simple paragraph grew into three. I’m pretty happy with the language and variety of words. I’m going to review this for overuse of know/understand/comprehend, which is a habit I recognized during the editing of Project One. Additionally, I would argue that “important enough” and “meaningful enough” in the same sentence is redundant, though I’m keeping it for now because I like the rhythm and flow of the sentence and its place in the paragraph.

It’s heavy, yeah, one of the heaviest things I’ve written. I wonder about its inclusion in a YA fantasy novel that includes lighter fare, such as dragons, threadwolves, and ice demons. It’s too fresh for me to be objective, but I don’t think I’ll tone it down. One of my writing principles is to be truthful to my characters’ situations. In books and movies, I feel that the weight of the grief and survivor’s guilt is often glossed over so we can get to the celebration of life, the raising of goblets, if you will. This pain is important for Samor and The Reader to recognize on this journey together. There will be time later to toast to their companion’s memory, and that’s a fun scene I also look forward to sharing.

As I mentioned above, it took about 30 minutes to write those three paragraphs. The writing is tighter and more polished than it often is after that short a time, so I’m pleased. I’m also grateful to have written something with personal meeting; it’s been a few years since Only Some Came Back, which I wrote for Veterans’ Day.

Some writing days are like that – everything just comes together. You sit back and go, “Huh. I like how that came out, even if it’s different than I anticipated.” It’s funny, as easy as that was, this post took about two additional hours to write. That’s just how it goes. Good luck with your writing!

–Mike


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© Michael Wallevand, May 2022

Writing Update: August 7, 2021

I started working on Samor’s new story in December 2019. It’s been a journey of considerable challenges and delights. Some things have gone very well. Others, hmm, not so much.

Part of my writing process is reflection. I regularly look back at what I’ve accomplished. I think it’s a critical step because writing a book is a difficult journey filled with self-doubt. When your energy is low or your mental defenses are down, abandoning a draft can feel like the only viable option. But take heart! Energy always returns. Defenses are rebuilt! Reminding yourself of your good work will replenish your creative tank.

Here’s a list of ten accomplishments and discoveries of the last twenty months.

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Writing Is Weird

It’s a Friday afternoon, and I’ve had the day off from work. Ahem, a day off from the office job. It’s allowed me to put in some writing work. I knocked out just over 2,000 words today, interspersed with some family responsibilities. As satisfying as the day has been, that’s not my purpose for this post.

I’ll just say it aloud: Writing is weird. It really is. You sit, you think, you write out thoughts. Some day, not today, they make sense. Hopefully, to others besides yourself.

I planned to write something of a scene today, and as I consider the labyrinthine journey I took as I worked, I’m surprised – and pleased – with the results. For those of you interested in the writing process, I whipped up a quick post to shed some light on my own methods and madness. Be advised, Dear Reader, this will be a strange walk through one writer’s mind and his storytelling process. Consider yourself well-warned.

* * * * *

In my second novel, my protagonist has been raised without any knowledge of his past life. Like his sister Tildy in the first book, the world thinks Samor dead. But as the children of a Queen and King, their worlds are filled with paintings, books, people, and other references that provide insight into their family and their early lives. The children do not realize this, but assuming I do a proper job, the Reader will.

As I was getting ready for the day, I started debating what I might write about. My mind followed Samor’s book journey and decided I would have him discover the painting of his parents. Tildy does a similar thing in her book, and neither of them recognize the experience for what it is: the first time either of them have beheld their parents – or the infant images of themselves.

Parallel scenes like this are one of the reasons I wanted to tell their stories in separate books. It also allows a fair amount of compare and contrast, which is a handy way to derive inspiration: Oh, Tildy handled the experience this way? How would her brother handle it differently? And what are their shared reactions?

OK, so I’ve set a goal, a destination, for my scene. How do I get there? (For spoiler-y reasons that I won’t explain here, the portraits have been hidden. The why isn’t important to the scene.) I now needed a beginning and a middle.

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Cast of Characters – Project One

I started Project Two in the last month, and I’ve begun defining a number of character traits. Including my protagonist, Samor, I’m starting to see some life in my soon-to-be colorful cast. Earlier this week, a blurb (i.e. snappy synopsis) for a new character popped into my head and it inspired me to think similarly about my other characters.

So while I’m not ready to share Samor’s cast (Project Two), Tildy’s book is complete (Project One), and I can easily whip up something to share. A bit spoiler-y to those who want to enter the book with no details whatsoever.

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an example of Tildy's approximate look

Tildy’s skin tone, though her hair is lighter and much shorter.

Tildy – Our heroine! A princess smuggled from Evereign as the kingdom fell and her parents died. She was lost in the wilderness, the sole survivor of the caravan taking her to safety. No one knows that she – or her fraternal twin – still live. She is whip-smart, well-read, and fearless, inspired in equal parts by Hermione Granger, Princess Leia Organa, and Jean Louise “Scout” Finch. She is a shapeshifter of a sort, which means she can be any kind of girl in the world, whether in skin tone or body shape. Unlike most girls, however, she gets to choose the form she is most comfortable in. Well, sometimes, which makes puberty more challenging. Marvelous as this talent is, her ability to grow wings is what she values most. She hasn’t quite accepted the witch as her adoptive mother, despite their twelve years together.

The witch

The witch describes herself as a butternut squash.

The witch – Long has she lived as a recluse of dangerous reputation in an equally perilous garden. She has a power hinted, but not seen even by Tildy, and a darkness that sometimes shadows her face. Wants nothing more than to hide her adopted daughter from a world that despises the unusual. Unnamed for now, for it is well-known that one does not use a witch’s true name, even in a book, lest terrible things befall you.

Fietha – A clever merchant of impeccable reputation…to the wary buyer. He is one of the few men the witch seems to trust, and his friendship with Tildy sets her adventure in motion. This is the character readers wanted more of – sorry, you’ll have to wait for Project Three!

Demensen – An old crofter from the witch’s past, lately returned with tales of monsters and death, and nowhere else to turn for help. Continue reading

Author’s Journal – 12-11-19

As I mentioned in my post The Book Is Done, I completed the final edits and locked the book. It’s as final as it will be until I connect with a literary agent.*

Here’s what’s happened in the last week.

Tildy Silverleaf and the Starfall Omen1. *OK, so when I said I “locked the book”, that doesn’t mean I can’t add the updated title treatment or move the page numbers to the side margins (this saved me six pages, which will add up when I pay to print it).**

2. Upon posting that the book was done, I received dozens of congratulatory messages from family and friends, which was fantastic. I also received one apologetic note from a Trusted Reader who was embarrassed for feeling like he wasn’t qualified to provide feedback. He didn’t hurt my feelings and I told him so, basically what I wrote in That Time I Shared My Writing #2.

3. Bought some supplies for a mailing. Tuesday night I did some testing of the materials. I’m going to be vague because it’s part of a surprise for a few Trusted Readers, but there’s a tease on Instagram.

4. I’ve done some other blogging: Let’s get kids to love stuff talks about encouraging kids in the things they love, and in 100 posts already? I talk a little about my goals for the website and share links to some of the more popular topics.

Busy week; lots of good stuff happening.

–Mike

**NOTE: Writers promise they’ve locked the book all the time.

John Mulaney stand-up "New in Town" (2012)


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© Michael Wallevand, December 2019

 

Difficult Choices #1

This post is approximately 550 words. It had been longer, but…difficult choices were made.

Phew. It’s been more than four months since I posted Tighten Up Your Writing #6. The final draft editing continues apace, which is the primary reason I haven’t been blogging.

Well, that and the Gears 5 Tech Test over two weekends in July.

Anyway, today’s update is about a choice I’d been debating a few months. Jack, aka Trusted Reader 16 and one of my most enthusiastic contributors, had given me the same feedback each time I provided new chapters: Some were too long.

He was right every time and I followed his suggestions.

After his latest round of feedback, I literally tallied up the word counts of every chapter and put them in a spreadsheet (hey, I’m a data guy).  A few hit 6,000 and two were on their way to 8,000. In most cases, every scene within a chapter was connected and followed a theme. I did my job well enough that the chapter titles fit all the pieces within.

And yet, those were some long chapters. I’d recently set a target of 3,000 to 4,000 words to keep the reading effort light, while also making it feel like the story kept moving. I was missing the mark. It reminded me of reading when I just want to get to the end of a chapter so I can take a break. Fortunately, I’ve yet to receive that criticism from my Trusted Readers.

I had a difficult choice to make. Do I break up the big chapters?

Murder your darlings

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Celtic Christmas Poem

When I read ancient tales like Beowulf or the Odyssey, I like to consider the challenges faced by translators. It’s not simply replacing one word for another; in some cases, it’s also preserving the rhythm, often at the expense of what we’d consider ‘standard grammar’. Rhythm is a critical component of memorization, which was essential for stories that passed from mouth to ear, rather than by written page.

I kept that in mind when I wrote this poem in 2005. I put myself in the mindset of a translator struggling to capture the flow of some ancient chant. To me, it’s a combination of science and art, with the latter given preference. You’ll hear similar things in modern music, when the lyricist chooses rhythm over the rules taught in high school English.

Without further preface, my Celtic Christmas poem:


Come, my dear friends and do hearken
And sit by my fire for awhile.
For I am about to regale you
Of the Scourge of the Emerald Isle. Continue reading

Writing Update: December 4, 2016

This post is about 350 words. 

kermit writing.gif

It’s been about three weeks since my last writing update, where I mentioned that I’d uploaded the first two chapters to this website. Since then, I’ve finished up* the next three, though I’m not sharing them yet.

*As always, when I say, “finished up”, there’s a big disclaimer about reserving the right to go back and tweak them as needed. Or to change things based on revisions to later chapters. Or to fix things that have woken me in the middle of the night. Or when I realize I’m having the same delusion as Ralphie in A Christmas Story.

OK, so rambling aside, I’m satisfied that FIVE chapters are ready for reading. They have cohesion and flow, and each considers the length of the ones before (i.e. I don’t have a 3,000-word chapter followed by one that’s 10,000 words). They have transition and connection to each other, so they are no longer five separate pieces. They feel like the first act of a three-act story. And that’s about 20% of the book completed, which feels pretty good. But….

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Writing Update: November 13, 2016

This post is about 250 words. 

It’s been a few months since I published an update like this, but with back-to-school, Boy Scouts, the election, and the release of Gears of War 4, it’s been a busy Autumn.

Oh yeah, and I’ve been doing  massive amounts of editing.

typing 5.gif

I haven’t been idle, even if this blog has been a bit quiet. To remedy that, I’ve uploaded excerpts to the site.

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Writing Exercise #3: Halloween Rhymes

This post is approximately 500 words. 

The following verse represents about an hour’s worth of work, which means it’s not highly polished, yet I still managed to work in rhyme and rhythm with minimal effort.

However, if you’ve ever written a verse in rhyme, you know that sometimes it requires a ridiculous commitment to the style. For me, I usually get about three-fourths done before I start to question my decision. It comes around the time I think, “I need a rhyme for itch: ditch, Fitch, hitch, kitsch, liche, Mitch, niche…” Then comes the expectation that the audience will find the verse absurd because stylistic compromises were made just to get a rhyming word in.

Well yeah….sometimes.

But that’s fine. In a writing exercise, you’re not seeking art or permanence. You’re chasing the muse, curious about where she leads. It’s almost disposable writing, which is not to say it’s worthless. To the contrary, it very well could end up in a finished work. But again, that’s not the point. The goal, the real objective, is to keep your writing tools honed. This makes your daily manuscript work easier because you’ve kept your mind sharp.

In the spirit of the Halloween season, I hope you can enjoy this little cautionary tale, written in the style of old nursery rhymes. Continue reading