Difficult Story Choices #2

I knew it was coming.

I didn’t want to admit it. I figured if I kept these parts in the book, eventually I’d find a way to make the passages work.

But the writer knows. You know when it’s not going to work long before you concede the reality.

And then about a week ago, I wrote this note which sealed their fate: “Repurposing these words to the Elf would move the Dragon to Samor Book 2; at which point all the other Dragon stuff could be moved out. I’ve been struggling with their purpose for a while.”

Even then, it took a few more days before I started yanking stuff from the manuscript. I once again followed the advice of Stephen King, who was borrowing from Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch:

Murder your darlings
Continue reading

Hey writer: What’s more important?

I wrote this just over a year ago, when many of us were still underestimating the impact of the pandemic upon our worlds. “Oh, my sweet summer child,” to borrow George R. R. Martin’s commentary on naiveite. I found the post waiting in my drafts folder, one of a number of writing projects that got shelved due to other priorities. I share it now because it touches on an important matter for writers. Please don’t mind the dust.

A friend (Trusted Reader #12), sent me this message:

So, I have a “what’s important about writing question” for you when you have a moment.

YES! There are two surefire ways to get my attention: 1) talk about Star Wars (my wife does this) and 2) ask a question about writing.

As you can imagine, I dropped what I was doing and emphatically replied. My brain raced. Was this philosophical? Perhaps this was related to me having a writing degree in the business world. Oooh, could it pertain to the importance of reading?

What’s more important, story or character?

Uh oh.

It’s a great question, and I’m glad he asked. I had an answer, of course, but part of me wondered if I was walking into something.

Continue reading

Editing Exercise – Help that stumbling sentence

My various lives (personal, work, writing) have been busy for the last couple months, so blogging took a back seat for a bit. However, while doing some writing over lunch, I was struck by an idea that led to this post.

Many writers will tell you not to stop for proofreading or editing while you’re writing. I generally agree. It interrupts the momentum, and in many cases, drives that wonderful idea right out of your head. Anyways, a little separation from the act of writing and the act of editing is a good thing, especially when you’re looking to be more objective.

But sometimes, a clumsy sentence keeps stumbling through your brain until you put it out of its misery fix it. Today, I wrote such an example.

Samor smirked, but he was unable to extricate himself as the jostling of people propelled them forward at greater speed to the dining hall.

If that sentence were a person, it would be trying to keep its balance while blundering down a hill. Let’s take a closer look. “Forward” is redundant since in the greater context of the passage it’s clear they were going to the dining hall.

Samor smirked, but he was unable to extricate himself as the jostling of people propelled them at greater speed to the dining hall.

“Propel” indicates a force to the motion, so “at greater speed” is unnecessary.

Samor smirked, but he was unable to extricate himself as the jostling of people propelled them to the dining hall.

“Of” is unnecessary in this context. It reads the same without it, though changing “people” to “crowd” is more evocative.

Samor smirked, but he was unable to extricate himself as the jostling crowd propelled them to the dining hall.

Much smoother. I only eliminated 5 words, but I believe my sentence-person is now surefooted in their descent of the hill. Are there other ways to tighten up that sentence? Of course! Spending a few more minutes, I could probably rework it completely. There’s also a case to be made for the addition of words to add flourish or pizzazz! Either way, that’s what the editing process is for: get the idea out now; refine it later.

For now, I’m happy with the change and I’ll let it simmer. You can do the same. With a few simple cuts, a tortured sentence is no longer a tongue-tangled torment for your Readers. Good 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, June 2021

Year Five

December 10, 2020 marks the five-year anniversary of this writing project, so I thought I’d take a few minutes to recount a year in a writer’s life. There’s probably a joke to make about celebrating the “wood” anniversary for a book, but I don’t have much in the creative tank tonight.

For many of us, 2020 friggin’ sucked. We’re living through trauma, and so many things made us sad, stressed, or depressed. I write because I want to bring joy to other people, and it was damn hard to summon that joy to the page this year. My emotions ran the gamut, from grief to anger to fear to outrage.

  • We lost some key figures from my childhood (David Prowse, Eddie Van Halen, Alex Trebek, Sean Connery) and my adulthood (RBG, Chadwick Boseman, Ian Holm)
  • Pandemic….well, everything, including anti-maskers who I just don’t understand
  • I started working from home (for what will end up being more than a year)
  • Watched my city, Minneapolis, descend into chaos after the murder of George Floyd
  • We had my wife’s teaching role and my younger son’s special education turned upside down by the pandemic
  • We watched two people younger than us succumb to cancer
  • My wife was in a car accident that sent her to the ER and totaled our older son’s car
  • And for crying out loud, so many Presidential shenanigans

Some of these inspired writing (Whatcha writing during isolation?, Privilege in a time of chaos and injustice, Squeezing in writing time), which is good because I really struggled to work on my novels in the first half of the year. I can’t recall whether I’ve had this much trouble writing before.

But any day I can write one word is a good day, and there were plenty of days that exceeded that. I did make some good progress. During the research for this post, I discovered that I accomplished more than I suspected. Here’s a few highlights:

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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

Squeezing in writing time

As I mentioned in Whatcha writing during isolation?, I hadn’t been doing much writing. Thinking, yes; time at the keyboard, no. I also stated that I was taking a break.

I think that means different things to writers than many other people. You see, much like the famous Ross and Rachel argument on Friends, whether I was on a break could be debated.

We. Were. On. A. Break!

Since it’s Fathers’ Day, and I’m writing, I think you know the winner in my particular debate.

I was putting a lot of thought into the future of the series, and I don’t mean whether I’d get published or whether I should shelve the project. I was contemplating the ongoing storyline and the eventual intersection of Tildy and her lost brother, Samor (for a little preliminary info on him, go here: the Prince).

Much needs to happen to create the dynamic between them when they meet. Without being too spoiler-y, they are both heirs to the throne. Due to the patriarchy of their society, many will favor him; however, as the first-born, Tildy will also have a legitimate claim, as far a many are concerned.

Before I digress too far, there are beats in the story that must be hit and I need to determine the best books for them to occur. When does Tildy realize this? Book 2. When does Samor achieve that? Book 3. And so on.

So, I’ve been taking notes. Lots of ’em.

Yesterday, I found myself with a little free time. I pulled up Evernote and started popping notes into the appropriate manuscripts. After an hour or two, I’d added maybe 30 total notes into nine manuscripts. You can verify that here: Progress Tracker.

That’s….an ambitious project.

Yeah, which is why I need to understand where the overall story is headed. Otherwise, the – let’s call it writing math – isn’t going to add up at the end.

Equally important, it was a telling thing because I wasn’t “in the writing mood” and the house was hardly free of distractions. The perfect writing environment isn’t sustainable for a married guy working through a pandemic as Summer arrives with two dogs and two kids. I’ve changed my approach to ensure I’m spending my time working, not waiting. Fortunately, I started that transformation years ago.

For me, writing has never been limited to words appearing on a page. Having a similar philosophy will help you spend more time working and less time waiting. Good luck!

–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

Whatcha writing during isolation?

Nothing.

I should be writing something. I always should be. But I’m not.

At least, I hadn’t been.

When Covid-19 started to get serious back in March, but before a pandemic was declared, I’d been working on agent submissions. That carried me into early April.

I don’t know whether this is the worst time or the best to query. I guess we’ll see. At the very least, maybe it will provide some interesting insight into the industry. If you’re wondering, I’m 0-2-1 right now. When the agent just stopped repping my genre, I’m counting that as a tie. Glass half-full, people!

But the stresses of two parents working from home with a special needs child began to mount. Additionally, I no longer had those simple moments where I just worked on the story in my head: the daily commute, waiting in line for lunch, boxing class, pumping gas, and so on.

I tend to be a creature of habit. I’ve created a number of different ways to get my brain ready for writing. I’ve described them here:

Unfortunately, stress, frustration, and exhaustion have been deadly foes these last eight weeks. Something had to give – or break – and it certainly wasn’t going to be me. As Clint Eastwood said in Magnum Force:

“A man’s got to know his limitations.”

So, I created a new tip. I took a break. In hindsight, it was 50% conscious and 50% deliberate in the way that a person stumbles down the stairs but stays on their feet.

Physically and mentally, some pressure was relieved. I didn’t attempt to write. I didn’t blog. I even paused my agent submissions. I’ve written through some tough situations – insomnia, unemployment, hangovers, work stress, death – but I knew this situation was different.

However, that small voice between my ears kept reminding me that something was missing. I listened, but knew I’d get back to it once we’d sorted out life in isolation.

And so, here and there, I’ve started working in my head again. Rolling over in bed, half asleep, to jot something down (note: that’s how the reptilian slither-withers came to life). Giving myself permission to chase a character down an unfamiliar path. Write this post. It feels good – natural. I’m not surprised, but the reassurance that your skills haven’t dulled, well, that’s a nice feeling.

A loss of momentum for writers is inevitable. Some call it writer’s block. Others, the vengeance of an angry muse. Regaining your momentum is no guarantee of success; however, giving up is certainly a guarantee of failure.

Don’t give up on 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, May 2020

I Did That Thing I Hate #1

Yeah, this is likely be the first of several posts in this category because I keep falling into traps of my own devising.

movie poster

Before Christmas I did that thing I hate. I’ve heard from several unpublished authors who do the same thing, and they hate it, too.

A note of preface. I’m going to overuse air quotes throughout this piece so you can see how ridiculous one “writer’s” brain is.

So, at an event in December, someone introduced me as an “author”. Gasp!

Because many of us are hardwired to distinguish ourselves from authors who have been “actually” published, I said something self-deprecating to ensure these people knew I wasn’t a “real” author. I needed to forestall the inevitable questions about my “book”.

It didn’t work.

The awkwardness probably didn’t phase them and I’m certain neither of them is writing about the exchange two months later.

To many of us writing a book, “author” is a title of veneration which we cannot “earn” until our work appears on the shelf of a “real bookstore”.

Now, I’ll pause here for a moment so you can say something like, “Man, writers are weird/dumb/insecure gumble-goos.”

Yes! Thank you! Sigh.

While you’re SMDH’ing, I’ll mention that it took more than a decade before I’d even accept being called a writer. Seriously. I say this as a person who’s been paid for copywriting, editing, proofreading, and (lord, help me) straight up creative writing. I even had the title ‘Letter Correspondent’, but I wasn’t a writer because that wasn’t “real” writing.

Tired of the quotes yet? I am, and I fricking wrote this.

Ralphie from a Christmas story

Anyway, I knew I was doing that thing I hate exactly as I was saying it. Much like Ralphie in A Christmas Story as he drops the F-bomb, except things worked out a smidge better for me in December.

You see, I was secretly pleased that the subject had been broached, though I’d never say it aloud. I was pleased because there are a few days a year where writers do want to talk about their craft. As a result, we had a nice conversation during which I explained the plot, my protagonist, Tildy, and my motivations for writing a book with a thirteen-year-old heroine.

Not only did it help break me from my shell, it helped me practice my pitch, which for many writers is harder than completing an entire book.

And so, WRITERS (you see I abandoned the air quotes several paragraphs ago), be proud and unafraid, even if it requires you to rewire your brain a smidge.

Good luck with your non-air-quoted 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, February 2020

Organic growth in your story

I’m spending a quiet Saturday afternoon writing and playing around with some scenes in Project Two. I was struck by how one thought led to another, and before I knew it, I had connections to two different scenes and to Tildy’s book (Project One).

Stephen King's On WritingIt reminded me of a section in Stephen King’s On Writing, which I’m reading for the fifteen time. In the first part, entitled C.V. (section 28 for those of you who own it), he talks about the genesis of Carrie. He wasn’t actively writing a story; he wasn’t even working on an idea. A memory led to a thought, which led to the recollection of a magazine article. “Pow!” he writes, “Two unrelated ideas, adolescent cruelty and telekinesis, came together, and I had an idea.”

The following example isn’t the lightning that Mr. King caught in a bottle for Carrie, but I think it’s a nice look at how organically this stuff happens sometimes. You’re not steering toward something; you’re just holding on to see what happens. Suddenly, you discover that two unconnected scenes have a common thread. It’s new to you, but it’s the kind of revelation that makes you feel like it already existed, you just finally uncovered it.

  1. Tildy celebrates her birthday in The Starfall Omen, so I have a similar scene with Samor, her brother and the hero of Project Two. Contrary to her experience, his is a disappointing day. He receives three gifts from his father: the first is books, and to contrast with Tildy, he isn’t happy. The other two gifts are TBD.
  2. Tildy has a scene in which she prepares to sneak out, and I describe the items she’s wearing and packing. Samor goes through the same, buckling a traveling belt that he’d received as a gift. At the time, he grumbles because he was never allowed to leave the castle.
  3. Pow! A convergence of scenes that are several thousand words apart. Gift + birthday = now I have a second disappointing gift for my birthday scene. Expanding upon it, both Samor and his father, the Steward of Empyrelia, realize that it will be some time before he can travel with it – they must keep the Steward’s son safe, after all.
  4. Finally, I go back to Samor’s dressing scene in which he’s preparing to sneak out. Instead of recalling his disappointment in the gift, he’s smug about being able to use the traveling belt much sooner than his father intended.

Part of this change happened because I set myself a mystery. Not a whodunit, just an unanswered detail (Samor’s birthday gifts) that I knew I’d fill in later. It sat their, lurking, until I remembered its presence when I had good use for it. If you’re counting along, you know there’s one last gift to discover. I can’t wait to learn what it is.

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

–Mike


© Michael Wallevand, February 2020