Tearing down one of your primary set pieces

This post is approximately 550 words.

I’ve been coming to a realization the last few weeks, which is a poorly-written way of saying, I need to pull another large component from my story. In this instance, it’s about not writing enough words, as opposed to having too many.

This image is a printout of Devils Tower in Wyoming, on which I’ve drawn an encircling wall and shattered pinnacle. The rising smoke resulted from the serendipitous smudge of an eraser that I expanded to add dramatic flair (and hide my error). What started as a concept ended with a new story about the aftermath of a vengeful dragon attack.

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I loved the concept of a massive castle carved from the interior of a mysterious rock formation, isolated amongst desolate hills. When the image came to life, it sparked so many new story ideas, it became the primary location for the final third of the novel. I’ve spent months creating a backstory that guides me as I write scenes for Tildy and her companions.

This brings me back to my realization. If I’m being honest with myself, I haven’t done the location justice. The Last Shard is as large as a city blog and eighty stories tall, which requires far more description than I’ve given it. On top of that, I only have a dozen different rooms that they visit, which feels like far too few in a structure that immense. Consequently, instead of feeling like a fully realized place, my descriptions feel more like set pieces on a stage: they’re superficial and only painted on one side.

Could I flesh it out? Absolutely. I still have unwritten ideas floating about my skull. But I don’t think I will. Adding the necessary description to the last third of the book will unbalance the entire story, not to mention slowing down the reader’s arrival at the book’s climax.

And so, I am contemplating the removal of the Last Shard. Writers dread this kind of decision. Whether it’s remembering the amount of work you’ve spent, understanding that such an interwoven component will be difficult to eliminate, or whether you’re in love with a concept, you always have to make the right decision for your readers (i.e. murder your darlings). In this book I’ve already removed two key characters and another major location, and I’m still happy with those decisions. It helps to remember that deleted scenes can return to life in another book.

If I remove the Last Shard, I still need a location, so it will likely be reduced to a stereotypical castle: familiar in exterior, though the unique elements I’ve created for the interior will likely remain. The Last Shard needs to be a primary character in a story, but this book needs the final setting to play a supporting role. I don’t think I’ll be terribly unhappy with this choice since the mythos of the Last Shard doesn’t add anything to this book. Besides, it’s kind of like putting a Death Star in your first movie: How do you ever top that?

While it might sound like I’ve already made up my mind, I’m going to sleep on this another day or two. The Last Shard and its history are so interwoven into the book, it will take careful review to fully remove it. Precision takes time and work, and I have some larger editing priorities before me right now.

–Mike


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© Michael Wallevand, October 2017

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Writing Update: Oct 15, 2017

This post is approximately 450 words, and I originally just wanted to share the clever t-shirt I’m wearing.

Choosing a t-shirt to wear is a bit of a ritual for me, and while that might sound like hyperbole, I do put a ridiculous amount of thought into it (‘ridiculous’ being a relative term, used to compare myself to regular people, who might be making sartorial decisions, whereas societal fashion plays almost no role for me).

Today’s selection is Call of Snoophulhu, a mash-up of two writers: H. P. Lovecraft (The Call of Cthulhu) and Charles M. Schulz (Peanuts). It tickles me, although most people don’t get it.

Call of Snoophulhu

This morning I realized I have a number of literary-themed t-shirts and it surprised me. It shouldn’t have, considering that friends and family enjoy buying things like that for the writer in their lives. Additionally, I like to organize things and should have made the connection. But I’d missed the fact that I have at least five shirts in this category.

In that vein (did you see this segue coming?), I realized I have two connected scenes in my story, but I’d forgotten to help the reader see how they’re related. When it comes to writing, I’m sometimes inconsistent with that. On one day, I can’t see anything but the interconnectedness of things, some of which span chapters or books. Other days, I’m so close to the writing that I can’t see the forest for the trees. That idiom is particularly appropriate today as I realized I missed a key opportunity to connect one scene to the climax of my book.

An important person in Tildy’s life comes to help her, seemingly out of nowhere. It felt a bit deus ex machina, and that annoyed me (ever since I’d learned about that theatrical device in a Greek history class, I’ve been hyper-aware to its use in any story, mine or someone else’s). I’d already established that the character was hiding in a tree near her, waiting for an opportunity to help. Tildy even passed by the place, but I never actually wrote any indication of this or gave any clue to the reader. Alas, for the brain of a writer. This morning’s task is rectifying that oversight (i.e. connecting one scene to another for the reader).

Sometimes, connections like this are part of the writing plan in your head (architect); you’ve grouped things together and you’re presenting them in a logical fashion. Other times, they come naturally (gardener). Editing and re-writing is a great way to find those opportunities you’ve missed.

Good luck with your writing!

–Mike


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© Michael Wallevand, October 2017

Get back to writing, you!

This post is approximately 550 words. Most of them from more than a year ago.

Not a week passes where I don’t see a meme or social post chastising writers who aren’t writing. Sometimes I think, “Yes, thanks!” and others, “I can’t look at that damned manuscript for more minute.”

Misery writing

I found this unfinished post and thought I’d share. It captures my thoughts from a time when I’d been struggling with the work of writing, yet I felt like I was climbing out of the rut. Since those times are safely in the rear-view, I thought this post would be a nice reassurance for writers in ruts of their own.


I’ve discovered that longer and longer breaks are occurring between writing attempts. The fear is that eventually, there will be no more attempts. For someone who enjoys writing as much as I do, this is, of course, unacceptable.

We all have personal responsibilities or weights that drag us down or roadblocks in our way. I started identifying a few of mine. I’ve had a diminishing community of writing people around me. My friend and one-time collaborator has given up writing to focus on a different enterprise. I’m no longer engaging with writers on Twitter. My blog has remained dormant. I seem to know fewer people making serious attempts to write on a regular basis. When weighty things force your head toward the ground, it’s difficult to see the sunrise ahead.

But things are changing. Finally. Though I say this feeling surprised at the amount of time that’s passed since I was serious about writing. I’m discovering the hidden talents of coworkers. My wife and son have written intriguing stories this last year. I’m doing more writing at work, allowing me to flex the important parts of my brain whilst shaking off the rust that’s collected on my fingers.

Certainly, you need to write to write. It’s a stupidly obvious statement. But it is true. The more you write, the more you can write (he says, making another stupidly obvious and trite statement). And to accompany that, you need to surround yourself with discussions about writing, about creation, about art. You need read and read and read. And read some more. You need to create an environment for yourself where, even when you’re not writing, you’re writing. When done correctly, I’ve found the ideas flowed like exhaled breath to the page, effortless and natural.

So, all of that said (he says, using a terrible segue and allowing for another parenthetical aside), I come to the inspiration of this post. I love to hear writers talking about writing. I consume every word as a morsel of inspiration. Last summer, I read a blog post by one of the writers of Community, in which he tells an expletive-laced story about going to write for the show. I can boil it down to “writing is re-writing”, but that’s not as much fun to read, if you like vulgarity.


It usually gets better. It sometimes gets worse. But you guarantee the latter when you’re not sitting down to write. Which result do you prefer?

Apologies for the distraction. Get back to writing, you!

Doctor Who writing

 

–Mike


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© Michael Wallevand, September 2017

A Stick and a Story

This post is approximately 450 words – my interpretation of a child’s imagination.

As we waited for the bus the other day, our son Benji picked up a stick and brandished it. He’s non-verbal, but I could tell by the look on his face that he was suddenly going on an adventure. Like millions of kids before him, this simple act transported him from our world to another, turning him into an explorer, a hunter, or a hero.

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Divine providence signified that Ben was to carry Excalibur. That is why he is your king.

The same was certainly true for me. Like many of my generation, I remember playing lightsabers as a kid. As soon as you picked up the perfect stick, you were transported to the hallway outside docking bay 327 on the Death Star: one of you was Obi-Wan; the other, Darth Vader. Good and evil didn’t matter because YOU WERE IN STAR WARS. (Sidebar: Once, I made the mistake of acting out Kenobi’s sacrifice, which resulted in a painful whack across the arm. I still enjoyed my time in a galaxy far, far away, even if I didn’t disappear amongst crumbling robes.)

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Like Lucy Pevensie passing through the wardrobe, Benji emerged from the bushes into a strange new world.

It’s times like these when you realize magic is real. Like a portkey, a simple catalyst was all it took to transport you to another place, introducing you to new people and new experiences. It could be wearing a cape like Superman, holding a flashlight like the Hardy Boys, or sliding into the open window of a car like one of the Dukes of Hazzard.

Writing a story is very much the same. You’re looking at the mundane or the unusual in your everyday life, trying to find ways to send readers to places strange and wonderful. Maybe it’s a twisted tree or a distant hill or a scent carried upon the breeze. The point of inspiration doesn’t matter in the end; it’s the resulting idea that counts. If you’ve done your job as a writer, it should be as effortless for the reader as picking up a stick.

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The school bus calls for an end to the adventure.

Being carried away by your imagination is an amazing power, and I think writers need to feel the magic contained within sticks more often. At the very least, we’re transported back to our fondest childhood memories; but at best, we’re inspired to get back to the writing.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going outside to pick up a lightsaber.

–Michael


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© Michael Wallevand, September 2017

Is This Blog Still On?

This quick post will take about a minute to read. It’s an attempt to return to a regular posting schedule.

There are, and will be, many recurring themes on this blog, among them: my love the English language, character development, human rights, and varying posts about writing, of course. These are all important to me and I love writing about them. But there’s another recurring theme that keeps turning up, like that pesky garbage-eating scrut that follows your caravan on a long journey to Evereign.

Neglecting the blog.

It’s a long recurring issue, going back ten years or so into other blogs I’ve managed. It’s not unique to me, either. Many blogs I’ve followed go through similar dry patches. Those who survive – and create large followings – always get back into it, devoting enough effort to assure subscribers they aren’t wasting their reading time.

My current neglect is two or three months.

The usual excuses abound: family, life, work, beautiful weather, the writing – all of these things take priority, as they do with most people. I think I also put too much effort into writing my posts, transforming the work into a chore. It appears I simply need to remove the ‘business writer’ hat to don the ‘social media writer’ one. Sigh.

I don’t expect this post to garner much interest. It’s more of a ‘Dear Diary’ kind of thing for Future Me to read as a cautionary tale. It’s also something I could kick out quickly over morning coffee while a sales report generates.

Tl;dr: Keep writing. Shoo, scrut!

–Michael


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© Michael Wallevand, July 2017

Because You’re Still Asking Me

This post is approximately 450 words. Some of them are Joss Whedon’s.

When people hear I’m writing a book, they’re usually curious about the story. Of those who survive the tempest of enthusiasm that results from a writer describing his work, many are surprised that I’ve chosen a thirteen-year-old girl as my hero. A quick glance confirms that, yes, that answer came from a forty-something man.

skeptical hippo

And while people are intrigued, I can tell that some are searching for a way to politely comment on the oddity of a forty-something man writing about a teenage girl. Yep, I get it. Looking at many movies, video games, and comic books of the last few decades, they can be forgiven for expecting that a fantasy story will feature manly men and scantily clad women in impractical armor. And while I admit I’ve enjoyed some of those things, the world doesn’t need more of them.

Quite the opposite: we need more tales about strong girls and women to counter the unnatural misogyny that pervades our culture. I believe so strongly in this, I’ve spent the last 18 months hunched over a keyboard, trying to bring these types of characters to life.

It reminds me of a meme featuring writer/director Joss Whedon. I’ve seen variations over the years, but they all say this:

Because you're still asking me that question

I love this quote. It speaks to the ridiculousness of the question and the mentality behind it. It’s not that idiots are asking, rather it’s people who aren’t thinking critically. To Joss, it’s like someone asking him how he walks across the room: he simply walks across the room. And people marvel at the novelty.

They marvel at the novelty of a strong female character. In the 21st century. Sigh.

The quote is probably nearing ubiquity, so I doubt people are still asking him. But the mentality hasn’t gone away. I see it online daily, and sometimes it seems like we’re going backwards as a society. It feels like people are desperate to hold onto an unfair gender advantage.

To combat this, we need more strong female characters in every kind of storytelling. I’m putting my money where my mouth is by devoting my book series to this. I want to contribute because it’s the right thing to do. I want to hand my nieces the first book and tell them I wrote this with them in mind. And I want to say the same thing to my sons and nephew.

I want my readers to understand, as Joss so eloquently put it, that “recognizing somebody else’s power does not diminish your own.”

Take 8 minutes to watch his wonderful speech:

 

–Mike

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© Michael Wallevand, June 2017

Sanding down the rough spots

This post is approximately 500 words.

I speak regularly with others about writing, many of whom love the idea, but don’t have the desire. As such, it can be challenging to find common ground – common understanding, I should say – when we talk.

I’ve found that analogies are helpful and I’m always looking for a good one. Today, as I wrote and re-wrote a chapter-end that I lamented about nearly a month ago, it occurred to me that sanding wood might be a strong analogy.

If you had woodshop in school or you’ve done a home improvement project, you’ve likely done a bit of sanding. I’m not much of a craftsman, and I always have rough spots on cut wood. So I’d sand-sand-sand-sand-sand, and then feel the spot. Sand-sand-sand-sand-sand, feel the spot.

sanding

I learned early on that focusing only the one spot led to more uneven places on the wood. Perhaps I sanded too far down or accidentally used a different grit paper. To check my work, I would place my hand a few inches before the sanded spot and run my fingers over the entire surface, beginning to end, feeling for consistency. Sand-feel-repeat.

I do the same thing in my writing, though I’m unsure the two things are connected. Maybe unconsciously.

The aforementioned chapter-end was a single paragraph of about 120 words. Mechanically, that’s a rather simple thing to edit, but as I tweeted in May, it wasn’t a great end to the section, much less the chapter. It certainly didn’t make me want to immediately start reading the next chapter, and I’m the goram author.

Each time I touched it, I went back a few paragraphs and re-read the whole ending. Edit-read-repeat. It’s a technique I’ve used in all my writing for years, including the piece before you now. Here are three benefits I appreciate:

  1. Maintains consistent feel and tone: You don’t want heavy emotional passages accidentally transforming into happy scenes.
  2. Ensures word variety: If you used the word ‘bewildered’ in paragraph 7, you wouldn’t want it to repeat in paragraph 10.
  3. Prevents a surprise plot device: You probably don’t want your ending to include something that comes from nowhere or to have accidentally removed a key point for which your reader needed resolution

However, both sides of my analogy share a similar danger: that of removing so much, the piece is reduced to something unusable. While it might be easier to salvage a mangled paragraph than a block of over-sanded wood, in either case, I’m usually inclined to scrap the affected part to start over.

The current evaluation of my chapter-end is what led to this quick blog post. I’m finding myself close to the point of starting over. I have three little mysteries that don’t feel like they’re compelling enough together, and none are strong enough to stand alone.

Time to get back to some literary sandblasting.

sandblasting

For future you and me: it’s the end of Chapter 18. When you’ve eventually read that and this, let me know what you think.

–Mike

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© Michael Wallevand, June 2017