A Brief History of Stories, Part Two

Continuing the journey from last week through my older writing projects!

Stone Man

Now this was a weird one. Every other project I’ve done / attempted started as a seed of an idea that tumbled around my head for weeks and months and sometimes years. But when I finished Tinarel, I was sitting down, staring at a blank screen, trying to decide what my next project would be, an image came into my head of a stone golem gaining sentience at the very moment that he’s been thrown off a high cliff. So began the saga of Kraden, the stone man.

I took the image and ran with it. Kraden, with only spotty memories of his past and his former life,  ends up being hired by a powerful mage called Raphos to accompany him to the gang-ruled city of Drearshead. Travelling with them is Abrien, a newer mage who manages to convince Raphos to take him on as his apprentice in exchange for Abrien’s knowledge of the city.

In Drearshead, Kraden and Abrien discover that Raphos is out on a mission to ruin the reputations of the Quartet, the four greatest heroes of the current age. Raphos believes their reputation is based on a terrible lie, and is willing to risk everything, even Abrien and Kraden’s lives, to prove it.

So, I’d like to think that each of my stories was an improvement on the last one. But honestly, though Stone Man helped develop my writing, as a story it’s a total train wreck. I did absolutely zero planning, had no idea what the plot threads were, or what the ending was. As a result, there are at least four different sub-plots that got completely dropped, as I had no idea where to go with them.

The ending was actually  pretty cool – too bad it wasn’t based on anything that had happened previously 🙂

The issue here was I came up with a number of sweet ideas, and then just crushed them together. What I learned here, more than anything else, is that I need to do some world building and at least have a very rough outline before I get started – I just can’t wing it 100% like some people do and end up with something worthwhile.

The Sons of Oryx

Man, I really wanted this one to work out better than it did.

Coren and Malyx, a human and dragon raised from birth by a human mother, get sent to accompany a diplomat representing the country of Weseran on a mission to the foreign country of Rald. There, Coren is framed for the murder of a local noble and soon wanted by guard in town. Malyx flies to a supposedly friendly island outpost to get help, but finds that it’s been overrun by sadistic mercenaries.

While Malyx battles the mercenaries, trying to save the lives of the innocent Weserians on the island, Coren seeks out the help of a Raldian smuggler family. The two brothers soon realize their problems are two arms of a single scheme headed by the heir to the Raldian throne, and together they must race to stop him.

I liked Coren and Malyx quite a bit. I think taking a brotherly dynamic between two beings of completely different species is kind of fun, and I liked the rapport that developed between the two. You get some nice tension, like Coren obviously being very jealous of Malyx being able to fly and breath fire and such, while Malyx was envious of Coren’s ability to talk to people without having them run away screaming.

What was the problem here?

Well, after 100k words, I still didn’t have a damn clue how to end it. Parts of the story seemed to work pretty well, but other parts were boring and disjointed. Not one to give up on a premise I really liked, I decided to rewrite it from scratch…

Dragon’s Heart

…and here was attempt number two. Same characters, same rough premise, different execution. I didn’t use any of the scenes from before, and the diplomat character, Gart Gasper, who died in chapter 1 of the first attempt, stayed alive and became a major secondary character accompanying Malyx in this one.

This was a substantial improvement on the previous attempt. My writing was showing clear signs of improvement and the story was coming along nicely. I’d correctly identified a number of big flaws in the first attempt and corrected them. I even started to think, hey, maybe this is something worth polishing and trying to submit somewhere.

And then came the ending.

Or, to be fair, the entire last third of the book. It sucked. I couldn’t make it work at all. It was a total mess, and though I “finished” it,  the satisfaction of typing “THE END” was muted by the fact that I knew the plot still had major issues, and I wasn’t even sure what they were.

My friend Sean (featured in this blog post), was kind enough to do a lengthy post-mortem on this story. We talked about it for something like six hours straight. We figured out that one major issue I was having is that my characters didn’t have clearly defined goals for many stretches of the novel, and that this vagueness was bleeding into the plot and eventually resulting in a mess.

Looking back, the biggest issue here was a deep one – the plot wasn’t serving the interests of the story. At the time, I was confusing the two as the same thing, when they aren’t at all. I had a well-developed plot, I had an idea of what the heart of the story was, and the two weren’t cooperating at all.

I very much intend to go back to Coren and Malyx some day, but I’m going to tell a different story, one that takes place closer to home. The real story I wanted to tell was about two brothers who, despite being physically very different, were the only family each other had, and the plot elements I came up with here failed to serve that (for example, I split them up for most of the novel!)

So, that brings us up to last November, when I started a project that eventually morphed into the current story I’m writing. I’m going to save that for a separate post, as I have a lot to say there. Till then, I hope you enjoyed reading about these older projects. They were instrumental in my development as a writer, and even if they never see the light of day, they’ll always have a lot of meaning for me.

 

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13 thoughts on “A Brief History of Stories, Part Two

  1. Sabin says:

    Hey Tristan!
    I enjoy reading about your past efforts/projects in writing. You’re very clear and honest on the obstacles you have faced so far and I think that’s an important aspect of a great writer 🙂

    It’s educational stuff (for an amateur, like me) but also some of the stories (The Iron Circle, Tinarel, Dragon’s Heart) I wanna read right now! Seriously, where are they? Where are the drafts? Point me to the website where i can buy them (preferably in MOBI format)? 😛

    You do have the StarCraft strategical way of thinking – like you’ve mentioned – find the weakness and eliminate it/work hard to turn it into a strength; and your brutal honesty ensures that. What I wanna say with all this rant is: you’re on the right track! Keep on plowing through it!

    PS. At least you’ve past the 1,000 words ceiling I keep bumping into… I know; you should start by writing a page, not a book ^^

  2. peter says:

    I’m not a writer, but I am still really interested in your thoughts here. It’s sort of a look behind the scenes of a young writer’s life. Read the entire blog.

    Do you have any kind of writing ritual? Or do you free write whenever you can? How often do you write?

    • On weekdays I force myself to sit down and write at least once in the morning and once at night. Except for having a Pandora station playing, I don’t really have a ritual. I usually can get 2-3 hours of work done on work-days, 4-5 done on weekends.

  3. Jenny says:

    I just wanted to say thank you for sharing your past writing projects. It has encouraged me to see my past work, not as unfinished failures or flights of fancy, but as stepping stones.

    And, also, thank you for writing this blog. Your honesty and writing self-awareness is certainly something to be admired. Being so open is not always easy (especially for introverts), but I, for one, have been encouraged by the things you’ve taken the time to say.

    So, again, thank you. Keep writing, and best of luck in your endeavors. 😀

  4. Brett Kimsel says:

    Tristan, I just wanted to let you know you’re crazy. Going on and writing even though you have so many flaws in your writing is outstanding, and something that many people (myself included) have failed at. Your blog is inspirational and I look forward to your next post 🙂

  5. Edwin says:

    Hi Tristan, very interesting blog. You’re clearly very serious about learning the craft. I was wondering how much you revise your stories after the first draft is complete? I’m an amateur writer and I’m not alone in finding that the true story evolves during the 1st revision. A few authors I’ve heard at conventions (Jaine Fenn and Lavie Tidhar specifically) have stated that they don’t even fully know what their story is until the first draft is finished and that all the nuances are brought out properly in the revision. Of course, they mean that’s when the themes and characters are fully developed. Alistair Reynolds stated on his blog that he chuggs through the first draft as fast as possible, relishing instead the revising, where he considers the most interesting part of writing to be.

    As for my own amatuer writing (I drafted 3 sci-fi novels in a year, took a break for moving countries and starting a family, and have recently gone back to writing), I’ve found that the first revision is where I fix all the lame characters and relationships that ended up in the draft. Basically my drafts then effectively become very detailed outlines (in full prose) and the revision adds in the good stuff (while almost rewriting the story).

    While there are many ways for putting together a story, my point is that for many people the revision can be the most important stage and is often far more than just editing/polishing.

    Anyway, not sure what your process is, but I thought I’d mention my own discoveries along the learn curve.

    Insight and longevity.

    • Hi Edwin

      Thus far I’ve found the first draft to be as you describe. This year is the first time I’ve been really attempting to polish something, and it’s been slow and fraught with error. I’m hoping after a few more polished novels I’ll have refined the process so that I don’t essentially throw the first draft away, but we’ll see.

      Thanks for reading!

      -Tristan

  6. […] (This is a continuation from Part one and Part two) […]

  7. […] is a continuation. Previous installments here: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part […]

  8. […] is a continuation. Previous installments here: Part one, Part two, Part three, Part four, Part […]

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