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

How Do You Honor A Life?

This post was the hardest thing I’ve ever written, and I apologize if your heart breaks like mine.

I’d nearly forgotten.

It’s been eight years since the traumatic birth of our son. Benjamin spent 14 weeks in the hospital and needed oxygen and other breathing assistance even longer. With that much time in and out of hospitals, a family sees regular examples of how precious the miracle of life is. And how fragile.

When you emerge on the other side of your ordeal, you are stronger in many ways. You are grateful that your loved one has survived. You consider yourselves lucky because many families have had it worse. Unimaginably worse. Over time, your heart and mind are healed, but permanently damaged by some piece of emotional shrapnel you can never remove. Forevermore, when you see children suffering, that splinter of old anguish is a twisting knife in your heart.

It’s not something that many people discuss, and the closer you are to it, the less you try. Whether it’s the pain, the sadness, or the desire to talk about happier things, many of us don’t seek to have those uncomfortable conversations with anyone we know. Eight years ago I tried so share some of what I was seeing, but it was too sad and too depressing:  Things I Heard In The Hospital That Broke My Heart. I wrote that piece so I could always remember, and because I knew I’d want to forget.

Recently, I learned about the four-year-old son of my wife’s high school friend, and all the memories came crashing back.

We didn’t see the family socially, so I’d never met James or his parents. We learned he’d been diagnosed with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG), a rare, inoperable tumor which is found on the pons region of the brain stem. This type of tumor occurs almost exclusively in children 5 to 9 and has no cure. It’s a blessing that only 300 children are diagnosed with DIPG each year.

That particular placement impacts gross motor skills and the ability to speak. If you’ve had children in your life, you’ve likely marveled as they rapidly developed in these key areas. It’s like watching life on fast-forward. If you’ve witnessed this experience, you begin to understand the tragedy when that progress slows, and then reverses. I cannot imagine watching your son transform from an athletic and articulate child, to a boy that has difficulty moving and can no longer talk. And if that wasn’t terrible enough, it’s a terminal condition.

In a world often filled with horrors, this disease seems impossibly cruel.

For the last few months, I’ve been watching this child slowly regress through my wife’s grief, as she read the family’s unbearable updates. On a Saturday a few weeks ago, came the day of James’s benefit. A chance to raise money and offer a modicum of comfort to a family that would be unable to find solace for years to come. As if in response to the weight and sadness of the day, heavy gray clouds hung descended, releasing dreary, cold rains that chilled spirits and bone alike.

And yet, inside the sun shone through James. He was still very much a little boy, eager to play and laugh and eat.

When I shook hands with James’s father, Pat, there was a connection that perhaps only fathers share, an understanding of the importance of protecting your family and the despair that comes when you fail in that duty. As I looked into his eyes, I saw the face of a man who, understandably, was barely keeping it together. In that situation, you try to take a portion of that paternal love and strength and pass it on to someone who needs it more. You pray that your empathy doesn’t overwhelm you, because if your walls crack, his most certainly will crumble. I’m not sure I’ve ever tried to convey so much meaning into a handshake.

After that, I spent time playing with James and donated some money – both of which felt inadequate compared to what I received in return: some precious time with a radiant life. My feeling of hopelessness remains, but it’s somewhat offset by the joy I saw in his eyes and the love shared by all who knew him better than I.

Upon returning home, I put my grief aside, for it felt like a selfish thing. It does no good for James or his family or the world. For my part, I can tell you about his smile, which still came regularly and could light up any room. I can talk about his sense of humor – how he delighted in sharing false mustaches with the other kids. I can share with you how he savored the food he ate, gratefully consuming everything his family brought to his mouth. And I can convey how he was loved, by a room full of people willing to give up anything in the world to make him better.

While there is very little hope for him, he has given hope to all of us. He has shown us how much power there is in a child’s smile, how much strength there is in a twinkling eye, how much life there is in silent laughter.

Yet still I cry for the unfairness of it all. For the child just beginning to understand how wondrous the world can be. For a family robbed of their most precious treasure.

And so I write. The least-worthy beneficiary being myself, a person needing to process the emotions felt toward a child I’ve met once. I write to help others understand and remember what tragedies our fellow humans are enduring. And I write to immortalize a four-year-old who made an indelible mark on the hearts of anyone who met him, even if only for a few hours on a rainy Saturday afternoon. It is that tremendous impact by a human being that gives me hope, and perhaps others, too.

This will be a recurring theme here: donate your time and money and talent. As with every disease we are going to conquer, we all take small steps, both financially and socially. We raise awareness; we raise money. We do what we can, knowing that right now, it’s not enough. Not for the life we desperately want to save.

I’ve added links at the bottom of this post for those who would like to donate to James’s family, or to other worthy organizations.

Hug that person you love and never forget to keep doing that. Sit on the floor and play or call them on the phone. We never want to regret that we didn’t have just one more day.

Mike

© Michael Wallevand, September 2017

Organizations I support:

Writing Your Goodbyes To A Colleague

This post is approximately 600 words.

In most of the jobs I’ve had, when someone leaves, we pass around a card to sign. Sometimes we chip in for a gift. Writing the perfect goodbye without getting sappy isn’t easy. At least, not for me.

DragonbardWhen I learned my manager was leaving, the wheels in my head started turning. We share a love of gaming, and it occurred to me that a custom mini from Hero Forge would be the perfect gift (I love their website and have designed figures based on my characters: Tildy and the Witch – and no, I’m not a spokesperson). My colleagues agreed and we all chipped in.

Unfortunately, he would be leaving before the figure arrived, and I didn’t want to give him an empty card. But as I stared at the rendering I’d created, my character began to breathe. With a little effort, I could bring him fully to life, borrowing some characteristics of my manager along the way. Being a fantasy writer, I easily whipped up 350 words in 30 minutes. Now I had something – and something special – to place into the envelope.


The Short Tale of Grashlor

Nine hundred ninety-nine years ago, a greyblight soulcaster stormed Dragonback’s shores, seeking vengeance on the firedrake wizard, Grashlor. During the previous Wintersfall, the dragon had killed the man’s thieving sister whilst defending his enchanted hoard. By the governance of Man and Dragon, the death was just, though laws matter little when viewed through the eyes of grief.

Knowing he could not slay the dragon, the soulcaster sought a greater revenge, imprisoning Grashlor within the shape of a man. If the great beast could not suffer death’s touch, then he would feel the torment of human sorrow, lamenting the loss of his true form for a thousand years.

Long has Grashlor walked these lands of Men, talking with their face and toiling with their hands, ever-fearing the discovery that he is not one of their own. Despite this, a fondness of their culture has flourished within him, as he discovered a love for the bard’s songs, dice games of chance, and thrilling tales of dungeon crawls by adventurers (in which they would all be mercilessly destroyed after considerable agony).

While his powers diminished within that human shell, still could Grashlor weave wondrous tales by lute or written word, crafting illusory life before the simple eyes of Men. As such, they named him the ‘magical minstrel’, though as usual, human words were too on-the-nose and too inadequate. He sought a better name, but since the Dragonroar language had faded in his mind, he condescended to use their words, naming himself the ‘dragonbard wizard’.

For nine hundred ninety-nine years, he has traveled the lands of Men, seeking to regain his true form, becoming despondent in his failure. But a Dragon’s essence, oh my friends, that cannot be forever confined within mortal bonds. The noble beast within strains against the human flesh of its prison, yearning once again to fly amongst the sentinel pines of his home. More beast he appears than human now, and his Dragon mind has reawakened. The appointed time of his return is not today, but it is soon.


Aside from being a fun bit of writing, this meets one of my writing rules, namely, work writing into everything you can. I find it helps keep me sharp, as well as being entertaining.

In this case, it also made a unique and memorable parting gift.

–Michael

PS: if The Lost Royals is ever published, this little tale is canon. It borrows aspects from my greater story.


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© Michael Wallevand, August 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