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

Here’s that encouragement you need

I’ve got a friend who’s been fighting depression, the kind of battle that needs all the encouragement we can muster. You can imagine my disappointment and anger when he posted that some people had sh** on his creative project, which was one of his outlets for dealing with his affliction.

I’m tired of reading awful comments that go unchallenged, so I’m going to stand up for others when I can. The creative process is hard enough without people trolling for the sake of trolling. Here’s what I wrote for him, which I’m sharing in the hope it helps others, too.

I’m going to take one sentence to call out people who would sh** on a person’s creative project: Do something better with your life and look at this person as an example of someone who is succeeding at that.

Now, on to more important things. I’ve spent years trying to create worthwhile content for people, and I know it’s hard to set aside a project. But take heart: all the creatives we love have unfinished projects, whether they’re musicians, writers, or painters.

I’m encouraging you to keep that creative door open a crack. Then walk away and take a break. Don’t look at it. Don’t try to force it open. Don’t dwell on it. Just let the door remain ajar. You’ll likely find that when you’re waiting for coffee, playing with a kid, or waiting for sleep’s embrace, that a light will shine through that narrow opening. That light is an idea. It could be a title, snippets of lyric, or simply a feeling you want to convey. Capture whatever it is. Even if it sucks. Then capture the next one. Occasionally, pull out that growing list and read through it. Maybe something will spark; often nothing will. When you’re ready, and it will probably be sooner than you think, you’ll realize you have something that forces you to pull that door handle to let a little more light into the room. Let me give you two personal examples:

1. I started my list in high school, well, a couple lists actually. One would eventually be named ‘Titles Without Stories’, which is exactly what it sounds like: catchy or intriguing names that might spark to life someday. Sixteen years later, I pitched ‘The Demon and Mrs. Chang’ to Marvel Comics. I received a very nice boilerplate rejection letter in response.

2. I’ve spent four years writing a novel, capturing ideas like I described above. Now, I’m pitching to agents and working on a follow-up. I’m currently 0-3-1 with agents, btw.

Will either of these make me money or see life in print? Dunno, but that’s not the point of this comment. As your friend wisely said, it’s a learning process. Every project teaches you something about your craft. Each one makes you better: artistically, spiritually, and mentally. And that’s what is really important.

Ars gratia artis

There’s enough darkness in the world that we shouldn’t be eager to snuff a struggling light. As a society, we have given too much power to trolls, and I want to take it back.

–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, June 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

Project Two Begins

Officially, on December 30, 2019, amidst busy holiday activities and the search for a lit agent, I began the second book, though it has two previous beginnings which I’ll cover below.

For those of you following the creation of Tildy’s story – and I thank you for that! – we now travel hundreds of miles north, to the borders of the Frozen Blight where lives Tildy’s brother in the ice fortress of Yrrengard.

Similar to his sister, Samor was also presumed dead but smuggled from the capital city of Evereign. Whereas she was lost in the wild, he escaped under a dead child’s name to be raised by new parents who will always see him as a reminder of the son they lost. To add to their bitterness, they are raising the heir to the throne, a weighty duty that overshadows any affection they might feel toward the baby.

Tentatively entitled: Continue reading

Author’s Journal – 12-20-19

It’s been a lazy writing week since my last post, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been working on the project.

1. I got kicked in the face by the flu. Knocked me out for two days, and it’s about the only thing that keeps me from putting any thought into my work. Through the fever and lethargy, I did manage one related thought, however: I wonder when my print order will be complete?

2. Turns out, it was done in a day. I work for Thomson Reuters, and our Copy Center gives us a nice deal on personal printing. I ordered six copies of the 373-page manuscript and had them spiral bound with plastic covers. They’re now taking up considerable space on our table as I prepare some mailings.

Wonder Woman pushes buttons

Continue reading

Eight Seconds To Sidewalk – Writing Exercise

As I prepared to write about hitting 100-post mark, I stumbled upon this other post from three years ago: Flash Fiction: An exercise in editing. If you’re unfamiliar with the style, the post will give you a quick understanding. Go ahead and read it. I’ll wait here.

In the post – which you may or may not have just read – I’d promised to share an example. Now, three years later, here it is. It’s about 550 words and a quick read.

Eight Seconds To Sidewalk – 2009

Tom opened his eyes. He saw the top of the skyscraper falling away from him as he plummeted backwards toward the street below.

He was falling. Falling! He only had a few seconds to figure out why. He wouldn’t have time to be angry. Or regret the things he hadn’t done. He wouldn’t even have time to panic, though somehow he didn’t feel like he could if he wanted to.

He was always logical, figuring things out. His brain told him to sort this out. He needed to know why this was happening. It mattered. For some reason, it mattered. And it was mattered that he knew who was responsible.

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

 

100 posts already?

That’s like, a hundred little stories, which feels like a nice way of restating it.

Congratulations on writing 100 posts on The Lost Royals!

This notice surprised me in my WordPress app the other day. I certainly don’t feel like I’ve written that many posts or sent some 50,000-words into the Internet ether.

That means I’m posting about every two weeks, which is more frequently than I expected (although when I look at the history, my schedule is more erratic than that). And I’m getting 30 views per post, which isn’t much if you’re a commercial website, but for a guy who’s just creating a little content to give people a peek behind the writer’s curtain, I’m happy with the results.

Data and metrics are fine and all (is this guy an English major?), but I went into this website project with different goals:

  1. Updating people on book’s writing progress
  2. Marketing the project
  3. Giving myself another creative outlet when the manuscript needed a break

To these ends, the website has succeeded. Beyond that, it’s been fun, which is often a better motivator than anything else.

However, it can be challenging, too. The writing style is different, and unlike the manuscript, it needs to be polished now. Well, polished-ish. None of that writing and rewriting for a year stuff I’m doing in the book. Similar to the book, some days it feels like work; on others, it’s a pure creative pleasure.

What’s he been writing about?

Continue reading

Let’s get kids to love stuff

man dangling noodles into his mouthWe got a text from our neighbor this morning. His daughter loves to cook (she gets it from him) and was enthused that we were enjoying the things she made. They both like to share, and my wife often makes something in return. Here’s what the text said:

Her response to you using her frosting: “Yay! That makes me happy! Let’s make big fat noodles next, everyone likes noodles.”

As you might expect, my response was encouraging, and not just because I really do like big fat noodles. I saw that she loved cooking and I never want her to lose that passion. Simple as that.

As a parent, it’s not that hard to recognize the importance of helping your child find something they like, and then foster a love of that within them. It’s not just about developing a relationship with them, but it’s about helping them find things that bring them joy and might guide them their entire lives. This morning, I was reminded of the important role that adults – not just parents – play here. Continue reading

The book is done

…well, the first one.

Fingertip sketch - greenIt’s been four years – almost to the day – since I sat at my keyboard and began bringing Tildy to life.

Four years since my finger drew this simple sketch on my phone to imagine what it would be like to see a girl with wings.

I had few goals, and some quantitative ones were unmet. I more than doubled my target word count and it’s taken twice as long to complete as I wanted. But these are less relevant to me than Continue reading