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.

Earlier in the book, I’ve established that a character close to Samor – his primary teacher – has seen the paintings before. Their artistry moved him profoundly. If you’re like me, and you experience such a thing, you want other people to share in it. And so does this teacher. He thinks, perhaps over-optimistically so, that this would be a welcome present for Samor’s birthday. Yeah, yeah, I know. But I also recognize that gifts are often as much about the person giving them as the recipient.

Anyway, the teacher is vaguely aware of this, too, and knows he must make another connection for his young charge. He’s a teacher, so this will be a learning experience. His true purpose for showing Samor the portraits of the Queen and King has suddenly become to help the boy understand the weight of his responsibility. He is the heir of the Steward. When his father dies, he will be entrusted with the future of the kingdom.

Well, how does this teacher know where the hidden paintings are, I asked myself. To which I responded: Someone with secret knowledge, of course, has confided in an untrustworthy friend of the teacher. Whether the details of this are more salacious….well, we’ll see.

Alright, I’ve got the destination, some of the motivation, but I need to set the scene rolling. Portraiture often hangs in a gallery, which – POOF! – this fortress suddenly has. I won’t bore the Reader with fifty descriptions of other rulers and dignitaries as they pass through the gallery, but I need to convey that this fortress does have a rich history. (It occurs to me as I write this post that it’s a perfect set-up for the teacher’s plan of showing Samor his place in the world! Ah, serendipity.)

Our two characters travel the gallery and pass the important people. They come to a spot where two portraits have been removed – the King’s and Queen’s. The teacher has made the journey to this spot instructional and he has created a segue to his true purpose.

So far, that’s a lot of stuff about the teacher’s motivation. But what about our hero, who might be forgiven for not enjoying this particular aspect of his birthday. I mean, come on, we’ve got a long journey with a humdrum destination. But wait, what if this is exactly something Samor needs? He’s an overprotected child who cannot leave the castle. He’s also living a life of privilege where things go his way. These are the motivations that lead him to run away in the book, which sets up the primary story. Et voila! We now have a way to convey this need, and perhaps, this allows us to strengthen his desire to the point where he will feel compelled to go!

Therefore, this trip to the room – no, secret room – no, secret hidden room with a magic lock – NO, secret hidden room with a magic lock at the heart of a spiral pathway beneath a fortress of ice – must be a trek that scratches Samor’s need for adventure. Samor enjoys this, despite himself, and the teacher accidentally spurs him toward running away.

Whoops. Best laid plans and all that.

Wrapped within this instruction by the teacher, and all the way to the portraits in the secret room, is some helpful exposition and backstory. Every book needs some of this. Sometimes it’s well disguised; other times, it’s simply a chapter that should be entitled “How the bad guy did it”. So, I’m grateful for what appears to be an unobtrusive way to handle it.

So, where were we? Gallery, strange journey to secret destination to a door with a magic lock. The more impressive the security, the more valuable the treasure, right? BTW, this suddenly became a similar lock to one that will play an important role near the climax of the book (forcing the author to jump to later chapters to create this connection).

In a way that I will rewrite to make it less deus ex machina-y, the teacher happens to have a special key. In fact, it’s the key he’s used to unlock every door on their journey (the author writes, going back to those scenes to ensure congruence). The door is open! Now Samor must cross the threshold into a darker place, much like his journey into adulthood, the teacher explains.

Using a wisdom and words that convey to the Reader that this teacher cares deeply for Samor’s learning (as most teachers do), the teacher helps Samor understand the importance of what he is seeing, even if neither of them knows that Samor is the lost prince that everyone thinks dead. Sweet Moses, that was a gross sentence, but such is the chaos that first drafts invoke!

But…this teacher is pretty damn smart. He’s a collector of information. He connects seemingly unrelated dots. As he and Samor are looking at the infant with the sugar-blonde hair, who would be Samor’s age if he had lived…the teacher is nearly knocked over by the idea that Samor is the lost prince. Now, it will take him a lot of time to confirm this, and we’ve got a few books to do that, but the first crack has appeared in the wall that guards Samor’s true identity.

I swear, sometimes the way this stuff comes together, it’s like my fingers are being guided by someone who wants to use me to tell a story.

After they depart and this heavy scene ends, the teacher gives Samor a second present. In hindsight, this puzzle box might be too much for now. It could reveal something special or drive Samor toward something, but I’ve got a few other scenes of birthday presents. While Samor lives a privileged life, I can’t bore the Reader with scene after scene of marvelous presents.

* * * * *

It’s a first draft, of course, but it’s gotten the job done. As I mentioned in the introduction, I wanted to take you on a winding journey, give you a peek behind the curtains. Much like a stage production, there’s a lot of messy backstage stuff you never see: nails and braces, stitches in costumes, and so on. Similarly in this post, I’ve got italics, parentheticals, and asides; odd sentence structure; and it rambles at times. It’s a messy style and one I would not typically keep, but it’s reflective of the way my mind works when I’m moving full speed. This is what editors are for.

You might have also noticed that the pieces above were not recounted in linear fashion. I slipped forward and backwards through the scene, making changes to better set up the climax. A few things were planned. Many were not. Problems were solved as I went. New ones were created – gifts to my future self, and not unwelcome ones.

Most importantly, I accomplished some things. There’s some context, some history. Some new famous people to possibly explore later. A magic key for an unbreakable lock. Foreshadowing and other setups for future storylines. We explore another dimension for a character, the teacher whose description started as “inspired by Severus Snape, but not as tragic”. We start to understand what motivates Samor, or how others inspire him to change. All in all, not a bad bit of work for a few hours’ time. And for that, I am always grateful. I wish you similar luck with your writing.

–Mike


Enjoy what you just read? Leave a comment or like the post and we’ll ensure that you see more like this!

© Michael Wallevand, November 2020

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.

*     *     *     *     *

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)


Enjoy what you just read? Leave a comment or like the post and we’ll ensure that you see more like this!

© 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

Continue reading

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….

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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

Too Many Villains

This post is approximately 600 words.

In this post, you get to travel far down the rabbit hole. But instead of landing in Wonderland, you’ll land in the writer’s brain, a place as equally crazy and confusing.

rabbit hole.gif

As the title implies, I’ve got too many villains in my first book. At least, that’s the perception readers will have. If I’m careful enough – write well enough – I can prevent them from thinking that, but it’s complicated because I don’t want a simple black-and-white story.

In the mix, some win, lose, die, or are redeemed. Some characters might even be more than one of the following:

  • the antagonist of the entire series
  • the lieutenant – the character that does the bidding
  • the manipulator – the deceiver
  • the baron – the non-supernatural foil
  • the monster – in a traditional story, the dragon to be slayed
  • the foot soldiers – cannon fodder

For characters that come and go, interwoven amongst each other’s storylines within a twisty, turny story, it will be easy to lose my readers. In working through the second draft, I find I’m already there. Continue reading

Flash Fiction: An exercise in editing

This post is approximately 750 words, about as long as a typical flash fiction piece.

I discovered flash fiction a few summers ago. Seemed like the perfect way to churn out quick little stories that I didn’t want to flesh out further. I’m fan of O. Henry and fairy tales, both of which are often very short. For me, sometimes there wasn’t much story to tell, and that was fine. And with a word count of 500 to 1,000 words, it should be no problem cranking something out in less than an hour, especially for someone who’s been typing for more than half his life and finds himself bursting with ideas.

flash-fiction.jpg

So, oh yes, it was very easy to type quick stories: 1,200 words, 2,500 words, 5,000 words! How in the hashtag was I going to edit down stories of those lengths? Well, for the longer ones, I couldn’t. They would sit, untouched, until I had the time to flesh them out into longer short stories (the 5,000-word one has since doubled in length).

But the 1,200-worder posed a delightful challenge. I just needed to trim my story by 17% (yes, I’m an English major who likes math). That’s probably about what I should be looking to do with my writing anyways. In a story of this length, that was about two paragraphs. I reread the story, looking for a section to cut. And read it again. And again.

I was stuck.

Every paragraph seemed to drive the narrative forward. Every detail seemed critical. After all, why would I put in anything that wasn’t essential, especially when word count was a key consideration? I felt like I had laid a path with paving stones and was now trying to determine which ones to remove. At first glance, it seemed my smooth story would soon be filled with potholes.

All right. I’ll nickel and dime the heck out of it and see what that gets me. Continue reading