In The Midst of a Lesson Learned

I mentioned in my previous blog post that my novel-in-progress, The Wildfire Crown, ran into some problems during the holiday. I was on my second draft, nearing the three quarters mark or so, and things were feeling pretty good. The first half was in solid shape, I knew approximately how my climactic sequence worked,, so all I had to link the two. I even had that section outlined, having run into problems with it before.

Except, I had trouble with a scene. It started out small – the scene didn’t “quite” work. I had trouble putting my finger on why. I started to investigate, and decided it was because an important secondary character’s motivations weren’t properly defined. I set to work on that – and discovered they weren’t defined, because they didn’t quite make sense.

No problem – I just had to adjust them. I found an adjustment. But then when checked to see how that change affected the rest of the story, it turned out my adjustment made another characters previously-reasonable motivation turn bad. Okay fine – change that, only that screwed up a third thing.

It was a lot like watching dominoes tip over and fall on one another.

Essentially, I had seven or eight important elements to the story that all made sense on their own, and generally all made sense when considered as pairs, but the intersection of al of them together was not quite working.

I had no idea what to do. I searched for the “minimal changes” necessary to fix everything, but then I started thinking, maybe there was no minimal change. Maybe it was flawed from the start.

Maybe I had to start over from scratch.

It was like watching this carefully built house of cards, each piece painstakingly placed over a period of many months, slowly but inexorably collapse under it’s own weight.

These things happen – just because you spend a lot of time working on a story, doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to work out. And frankly, it’s way better to find these things out at this stage then, say, after putting it out on Amazon. But that doesn’t make it any less depressing.

The good news is – after 3 weeks of agonizing, I did find hope. I didn’t need to start over. The key was to realize that some parts of the story I’d declared as “working”, in fact, needed work. Specifically in the “first half” that I thought was solid. It didn’t need a complete overhaul – I think I can fix it by adding a couple chapters at the very start. Even better, I found the key part of my solution in the rules of the world I’d already built – I’d simply overlooked it before. That was a cool moment, and gave me confidence that even if the novel isn’t done, the structure is still there.

I did have to dump everything I’d written in the second half and start again, but It’s going well. I realize, the more I do this, that I need to spend more time being an architect. Sometimes I try to improv a few to many scenes and I end up stringing things together that don’t quite work. What I’m going to do, going forward, is make sure that for each scene, I know how it starts, how it ends, what the main characters goal is, and what the conflicts are. I think if I have those well established, then I’ll know if the scene “works” without having to know all the details of the implementation. That will  also make it easier for me to skip writing scenes I’m not totally sure how to implement.

Anyway – this is all still happening, hence the somewhat vague language. Once the story is complete, I plan on doing a more detailed analysis on what went wrong, why it went wrong, and how I fixed it.

As painful as this whole episode was, I think it ended up being immensely educational, and served as a good reminder how hard writing is and how much I have yet to learn. What I tried to keep in mind every day was this – the only way you really fail at writing, is if you stop.

And I’ll be damned if I’m going to let a mere plot-cataclysm stop me 🙂

 

 

I’m off to Paris with my friend Sean tomorrow – I’m hoping to get a lot of writing done, and will be sure to blog about the trip when I get back. Until then, please enjoy this (surprisingly) touching piece by Macklemore x Ryan Lewis:

 

 

 

 

 

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Transitions

2012 was an incredible year for me.

I went to writing seminars and workshops for the first time. I started to produce the first writing I’d consider in the neighborhood of publishable. I did an awesome webshow with my friend Sean. I switched from QA to tech writing at work. Internally, I improved my self-confidence and tried to push myself to new heights. All things I hope to continue in the coming year.

2013’s shaping up to be pretty awesome as well. I’ve been searching for a new apartment for the past few months, in hopes of finding a place that will let me get an awesome big dog. Thanks to Palo Alto realty prices, that’s been rather depressing. I found one place last month that would have been perfect. Turned out, around thirty other people thought it’d be perfect as well, and I didn’t get it.

This past Saturday, I had an appointment to see two apartments over in Menlo Park. It was a long walk to the first one. I was already tired from getting up at 6 am to meet an old college friend. The guy was ten minutes late to a 10:30 appointment, which was stressing me out because I also had an 11:00 appointment and I really hate being late. The guy finally pulls up and gets out. We shake hands and he and asks me if I liked the Michigan weather. I told him I’d just spent the holiday in Michigan and liked it just fine. He laughs and shows me the apartment, which takes about two minutes. It looks good to me – plus, he’s okay with cats and the big dog. I tell him I want it and ask him for a rental application.

He says he can tell I’m a trustworthy guy, and I can have it if I want.

Thirty minutes later, I have a signed lease, a new set of keys, and he’s driving me around Menlo Park, showing me the best places to eat, before stopping at his son’s restaurant and giving me a gift certificate. Sometimes, things just work out.

Writing wise, I’ve got a busy year planned already. I’ll be attending Superstars again in May. This time, it’s in Colorado Springs, and I’ve extended the trip to meet with my parents beforehand to do some sightseeing. In November, I’ll be doing the Writer’s Mastery workshop with David Farland. It’s hard to even describe how much I learned in those two last year, and I look forward to a reprisal this year.

My current project, The Wildfire Crown had a bit of a set-back this holiday, when I realized a number of key plot elements weren’t cooperating. Dealing with those issues has turned out to be a far more painful process than I would like, and puts me a few months behind schedule. Still, better to find out these problems now, than, say, after I’ve sent the manuscript to a dream agent. I’ll blog about the issues at some point – I think there are some good lessons to be learned.

I’m headed to Paris in a couple weeks with my friend Sean and some others. I’ve been once, for a brief stay, about six years ago. Looking forward to getting to know the city a bit better this time.

I hope to get back on track with blogging, I know I fell a bit behind. Thank you all for reading, commentating, encouraging, and critiquing – I appreciate it so much. It’s been a wonderful experience and I hope it continues through another year.

 

For 2013’s first video, I move away from music to bring you Simon’s Cat, a must-watch for cat-lovers of all kinds 🙂

 

 

 

An Update Concerning Magic and Dogs With Magic

Had another fantastic weekend with friends – Sean and another friend, Case, came up to form a three person team so we could compete in Grand Prix San Jose, Magic: the Gathering tournament.  571 teams made it out, so the convention center was absolutely swarming with magic players. The tournament was Swiss style but effectively ended when you lost your third match. We managed to stay in through round 9 before dropping our third. Sweet moments included playing the featured match against a team of Japanese pros including reigning player of the year (who Case beat!), and me winning the deciding game of a close match after getting a penalty game loss for improperly storing my cards.

In the midst of the tournament I even managed to write two blurbs to submit to the online workshop I’m taking.

***

Sean and Case left Sunday afternoon. After dinner, I opened The Wildfire Crown and started to write. Three hours and five thousand words later, I typed ‘The End’. I put poor Gare through a lot. The both of us could use a rest 🙂

Now, this isn’t the first time I’ve finished a rough draft, it’s the sixth. But this project’s different – I raised the bar a great deal, and as you know if you’ve read my previous posts, I have a ton of unfinished versions of this story sitting around. I’d estimate I’ve written close to 400,000 words for this project overall, less than a quarter of which made it to this draft.

A draft which is far from done. Finishing wasn’t quite the emotional high I’d hoped for, because the ending just isn’t very good. It’s not terrible, but it’s got too many ideas in it. Key themes are handled in a clunky manner. A secondary character got dropped. A planned denouement didn’t happen, though I still may add it in if I can get some other elements to work out.

But that shouldn’t be much of a surprise; I’ve spent hardly any time on the ending, compared to the rest of the story. Other portions have seen multiple full-rewrites. The last twenty thousand words are a true rough draft. The good news is, some of it works really well. In the mess I still managed to find some wonderful moments I want to keep, some unexpected developments I want to build around. The setting of the final sequence is really cool, but I didn’t decide on it until a couple weeks ago, so it’s not fleshed out as well as it should be.

So, there’s a lot of work to be done. The good news is it’s work I’m excited to do. I’ve come to realize I like revising more than writing a new scene for the first time. The second version’s always better than the first, and with enough polish, a rough misshapen mess turns into something elegant, beautiful.

I’ve learned more than I could have imagined with this project, but I’m not done yet. I’ve met my bar for the first draft; the bar for the second draft is much higher. I’m going to have to push very hard to hit it.  I honestly have no idea how long it will take – I’m hoping only a couple months (or less), but it’s hard to say. It’d be nice if I could get the story out for beta readers before the holidays, though that may be a tad optimistic.

***

I’ll be taking a break from novel-writing this week, to try my hand a couple short stories, with plans to submit them to the Writers of the Future contest if they turn out well. The first is about two outlaw brothers who concoct a risky scheme to trick the kingdom’s most dangerous thief, only to find out that the thief’s been playing them the whole time. The second is about a were-wolf named Simon trapped in a truck with another were-wolf, intent on turning Simon into a killer, with two humans trapped in back the perfect test to see just how much control Simon has.

Can’t wait to see how they turn out. I think that’s half the joy to all this, each story is it’s own discovery, and no matter how well or poorly they turn out on the page, they always live on in my head.

I’ve decided I like ending these posts with a video. Today this song came on my Pandora stream, and it was perfect for the mood I was in. Hope the same is true for one of you, wonderful readers. Till next time!

Workshop Trip Report, Part Two

(Check out Part One here)

Tuesday,  8/28

Tuesday started with a lengthier discussion on editing and storytelling, before diving into another critique. The comments Dave made here mirrored the ones he gave me –more setting, more characterization. The need for a more developed setting ended up being a common theme throughout pretty much all the critiques.

That afternoon we critiqued an extremely well written YA urban fantasy with a fun main character and a type of magic I hadn’t seen before. I thought the writing was smooth and the story solid. One way the group suggested to help strengthen the main character’s conflict was to kill his mother – or, more precisely, to make it so his mother’s dead. That added an extra layer to the character’s tension with his father, which is what the first chapter centered on.

In the evening I sent Dave the scene I’d written the previous night where I’d try to apply some of his comments, and got back a thumbs up from him. I also worked on a dilemma scene (our assignment for the night), realizing that I had a couple good dilemma’s early on and hadn’t really fleshed either of them out.

Wednesday, 8/29

In the morning we read our Dilemma scenes, before moving into a discussion on storytelling. This was probably the most enlightening session of the entire workshop. It exposed another mental ‘mistake’ I was making, in imagining that the storytelling aspect of things was artistic magic. Apparently I just don’t learn – storytelling can be analyzed, broken down, and studied, just liked anything else. The main difference with storytelling and other things is so few people, even published authors, have tried to do so. Fortunately for us, Dave is an expert at doing exactly that. I’ll cover more about this topic in a future blog post.

Today’s critiques included an intricately plotted historical thriller / time-travel story and a very unique sci-fi novel. After class sessions I ended up chatting with people all afternoon till dinner. After dinner we came back to watch the Hunger Games as a group, with Dave offering analysis of the film both during and after.

One of the topics that we had discussed in the morning was the idea of resonance in stories. Things can resonate with you personally, or with other things in the genre. For example, in the Hunger Games, the capital city’s soldiers are dressed to remind the viewer of storm troopers; Katniss, with her bow and warrior-woman like persona reminds us of the Greek goddess Artemis; President Snow, with a snow white beard, conspiring with the Games director Seneca, with a red suit and sharp black goatee, remind us of God and the Devil.

Dave argues that resonance is one of the keys to making your novel or film blockbusters. It’s something I’d never thought of before, and will be considering both in my current story and future projects.

Thursday 8/30

Today we talked about editing passes and critiqued three novels; a fantasy about were-dragons, a science fiction piece about troops training to be admitted into an elite program; and a contemporary fantasy.  There was some discussion about character names in the first two pieces, which got me thinking what makes a good character name and not. One of the issues people had was with a main character named Del, cast as a young cadet. Del is considered an ‘old fashioned’ name by a lot of people, so a number of people argued it might be appropriate to find a ‘younger’ sounding name.

I admit to not thinking enough about my names, though when I asked the group they seemed okay with mine. Makes you wonder how much of a difference in reader enjoyment a name can make.

The evening’s assignment was to write an argument scene. I found one argument with Gare and Eonhar that I thought was kind of timid, and rewrote it so there ends up being a lot of unresolved tension in the end. The rewritten scene ends up being one of the favorite I’ve ever written – it really dug into the inner pain that both characters feel, in a way I hadn’t managed to reach before. My fingers were shaking while typing it, and my voice shook while reading it in class the next day. It’s pretty cool when you can manage an emotional response like that from yourself with your own writing.

Friday 8/31

The final day ended with some more talk of editing, the final two critiques (a fantasy inspired by the Cinderella tale and a really sweet urban fantasy that is kind of a lighter version of the Dresden files), and time for questions.  After that we gathered for a group photo, and that was that.

After the workshop ended a few of us gathered for dinner at a Hibachi grill. I’d never done one before, so that was a cool experience, and the food was very good.

Overall, I learned an enormous amount, not to mention made friendships and connections I hope will last a lifetime. I feel energized and ready to take my writing to the next level, and more certain than ever that one day I’ll be successful at it.

Workshop Trip Report, Part One

I got back home yesterday from David Farland’s Novel Revision workshop, where I spent a week with ten other writers in Saint George, Utah, critiquing each other’s stories and absorbing a truly gargantuan amount of knowledge.

For those unfamiliar, David Farland (real name David Wolverton) is the best-selling author of the Rune Lords series, plus a bunch of others. His recent YA novel Nightingale has won a bunch of awards. He’s been teaching writing and running workshops for over ten years, and taught authors like Brandon Sanderson and Stephanie Meyers when they were first starting out.

The focus of the workshop was to take our novels and improve them, even if they were already very good. Dave read and critiqued the first hundred pages and the outlines, while the entire class was given the first twenty pages and the outlines to do a group critique.

I received the other samples in early August. It was intimidating – they were all very good. Some seemed to me that they could pretty much be published as is. I started to ask myself if I was ready, if I was crazy to think I was at this level yet. That started a bit of a self-doubt cycle which hurt my writing this month.

It was nice to hear at the workshop that most other people had the same thing happen to them. It just serves as another reminder that most of the battles we fight when we’re doing stuff like this are internal. Self-doubt isn’t always a bad thing, but it should never interfere with your productivity.

Here’s the run-down:

Sunday, 8/26

I arrived at Saint George via a shuttle from the Las Vegas airport. The highway took us through the north-west corner of Arizona and wound through a beautiful canyon for about ten miles, before opening up as we hit Utah into red rocks and ridges, with just enough green to keep you from thinking you’re in the desert. It reminded me a lot of Flagstaff, though the hundred degree heat made enjoying the landscape a bit harder.

The shuttle deposited me at the Ramada Inn, where the workshop was to be held. After so many vacations to touristy places, it was nice to go somewhere more laid back. I grabbed dinner, then headed to my room to review the manuscripts and try to prepare myself – I was going to be the second person critiqued. I admit I didn’t sleep well that night.

Monday, 8/27

I grabbed breakfast at the hotel and met Nancy, a writer whom I’d previously met at SuperStars. It was nice to see a familiar face, so we chatted for a while before heading into the board room. The workshop started at 9. We spent the morning getting to know each other, then Dave talked briefly about the plan for the week. Right after that we headed into the first critique.

One of the reasons I was nervous about going second is I thought the person going first was the strongest writer in the group. Her urban fantasy story was wonderfully written, engaging, and did a nice job of putting a new twist on the standard Greek gods trope. The format of the group critique was each other attendee got three minutes to give their take, then Dave would give a longer critique. After the author was welcome to ask questions, which sometimes turned into discussions.

I was impressed by how professional everyone was, at both giving and receiving critiques. Even when they didn’t like something, it was clear that the comments were meant to be constructive. In the case of the first manuscript, much of the discussion turned to the short prologue, and whether it needed to be there. At first the group thought it could be cut, but after some ideas were tossed around, it was clear the prologue could be strengthened and add a lot to the story.

I was up after lunch, and as usual, my nervousness was unfounded. The comments were useful and constructive, and mostly centered around areas I knew were weak, namely the setting. The good news was most people really enjoyed my story and were eager to know what else was in store for Gare. One guy didn’t like the non-human PoV, but I knew going in I was going to lose a certain percentage of readers, and that was a good reminder that you can’t please everyone.

Dave’s critique, on the other hand, was revelatory.

He pointed out a bunch of things I already knew, but he made one over-arcing comment which shocked me (in a good way): he said the second fifty pages were substantially stronger than the first fifty.

It shocked me, because going in, I would have bet you money on it being the opposite. I was wrong, and the reason I was wrong is interesting. The second fifty pages were part of a section I’d been struggling on for months. I’m not even sure how many times I did full and partial iterations on those pages – probably at least six. I’ve got reams of discarded scenes that didn’t work. I struggled with it so much, that I simply assumed the result still had issues. Whereas, the first fifty pages, I’d done only two versions of. Not that I thought it was perfect – but I’d thought it was solid enough that I should focus my attention elsewhere.

The problem with my first fifty pages was that it was underwritten. I’d neglected a number of conflicts that I shouldn’t have, which would give the story itself far more depth. There were a few scenes I sketched out, in attempt to show time passing until the next big story event. At one point, I had Gare observe that he was bored. Dave kindly pointed out that when your main character is saying he’s bored, you as the writer need to seriously consider whether the reader will be bored as well.

I’d also neglected the setting (a known problem), and got some suggestions as to how to fix that. Setting ended up being a weakness for pretty much all of us at the workshop, so it was nice to get feedback there.

He also pointed out a number of smaller issues, and marked up the manuscript itself, showing me where I can cut words and where I can make the writing stronger.

Even with those issues, Dave  said he very much enjoyed the story, and as an editor, would want to see the full manuscript. Talking with the other’s afterward, I got the same impression from most of them.

It feels good that I was able to put something out that could be publishable – it feels great to know that I can make it a heck of a lot better. Publishable isn’t the end-all of quality.

I had a one-on-one dinner with Dave that night, where we talked more about the critiques, as well as what my goals were and my general plan. He gave me some pointers and told some awesome stories about a crazy friend of his, who got caught up in one of the end-of-the-world UFO cults.

That night, I spent a few hours writing, putting together a new scene that focused on bringing my setting and descriptions to life. By the time I got to bed, I was exhausted, but I went to sleep happy.

I’ll finish this up next week. Thanks for reading, all, and enjoy the long weekend!

A Brief History of Stories, Part Five

(This is a continuation. Previous installments here: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four)

The Wildfire Crown

So, here’s the scene: Two months ago, and despite all my good intentions, my recent draft of Crown & Collar was failing. The schedule I’d been hoping to adhere to – having a polished, near-ready to send out manuscript by the time I went to David Farland’s seminar at the end of August – was clearly not going to happen.

Now, when reality’s come over and stomped all over your plans, realize you have a choice on how to take it.  When you’re doing anything as hard as trying to write a publishable novel (and lots of other things fall in this category), you’re going to have lots of moments where things aren’t going the way you want. Those moments are important; they’re where you have the opportunity to make an importance choice, and learn a lot. The choice is how devastating you allow the obstacle to become. If you see it as a failure, it’s easy to enter an internal- doom spiral of despondency.

Doom spirals have the nasty habit of making the perceptions of failure worse, and can conclude in the only way to actually fail at writing – giving up.

As frustrated as I was, the recognition of the draft’s weaknesses spurred an understanding of how I might fix them. All the work I’d done was not wasted. I felt that I’d started to finally understand the heart of the story I was trying to tell. The attitude I went into starting over once again with was not pessimistic, but optimistic, because I knew the next draft would be better.

That’s the key. Forward progress. Well, that’s the vague key. You also often need specific keys. In this case, the specific key came when I was reading one of David Farland’s daily kicks (daily writing tips) in preparation for the seminar. In it, he was talking about using your setting in interesting ways.

I realized I’d been neglecting setting almost completely. It only came up when it absolutely had to, in order to make the scene’s make sense. That’s a mistake – setting is crucial to making your world seem real, to drawing the readers into your story. You don’t have to spend long paragraphs describing everything, but if your reader has no sense of the space around your scenes, it’s going to weaken your story.

I began to flesh out my setting. That means more than just what it looks like – I needed to ask how it affected the story. The first section occurred in an old ruined castle in Siberia. How does that affect things? Does it change any actions? What’s special about the ruined castle, that I couldn’t do the exact same scenes in, say, an ice cream store?

A key early scene involves a wildfire. But the wildfire wasn’t real – it just sort of appeared for one specific scene, then was never mentioned again. I began to flesh out how a large fire near town would impact characters.

Then I realized I could use the fire as a key thematic point. It could serve both as a back-drop to give my world flavor, and as a key element in the plot. The story isn’t about the fire, but the way the fire is started (accidently, by Gare’s master, Roland), the way it progresses, and the way ends, all help tie together the story.

The fire didn’t fix my story. But it gave me a much stronger structure for my story to live in.

With that in mind, as well as a number of other more subtle changes, I started to work again. I rewrote my first section, weaving the setting of the ruined castle in (actually it was a soviet compound then, but same idea). I paid a little more attention to the space around Gare – snippets of overheard conversation, the way the guards acted and moved – that didn’t directly affect the plot, but greatly affected the ambience.

That section succeeded. It was a milestone for me. If that was a short story, I felt that, after editing, it was of publishable quality.

The next section was harder. The shape of what was happening was less obvious. It wasn’t as clear to me what Gare should be doing to drive the story where it needed to go.

But the structure work I’d done made me feel confident the idea was right, that if I just iterated enough I’d make the section work. It took probably 25,000 words of discarded scenes to make the 10,000 word section work, and even then, it wasn’t quite as strong as the previous section.

Still, it got me up to the 20,000 word mark I needed to be ready for the seminar, with two weeks to spare. I stopped writing new materiel and spent a week editing that segment, and then sent it off to family and friends.

The critiques I got were excellent. Some points I expected, others were a surprise. No matter how much I told myself that I’m not objective about my own writing, seeing proof it was still a bit of a shock. I made the changes I could, and then shipped it off to David Farland and the other workshop attendee’s.

Since then, I’ve been plowing ahead. The first third of my outline was in good shape. The middle third needed serious work, though the final third seemed strong as well. I’ve spent the last month working on that middle third, terrified that all my work would be for naught and I’d discover some unfixable hole.

I’m pleased to say, that though the middle third is far from done, I believe I’ve found the proper structure there as well, though it meant tinkering with an ending I’d thought was solid.

That brings us to….today! The manuscript currently stands at about 53,000 words of an estimated 85,000. Tomorrow, I’m flying off to David Farland’s novel revision seminar. He’s going to show me his edits of the first 10,000 words, as well as his critique of the first 20k. The entire class will be going over everyone’s first 2,000 words and outlines. I’m excited and terrified – there’s some very good authors in this group.

One thing’s for certain – I’m going to learn a lot. Next year I’ll no doubt have another five parts to add to this 🙂

This ended up being quite a bit longer than I intended, but it was a lot of fun to write. For those who stuck through it, hope you enjoyed it, and thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

A Brief History of Stories, Part Four

(Previous parts here: Part one, Part two, Part three)

Crown and Collar

The failure of the second draft of Old Dog taught me an important lesson – I didn’t fully understand my main character. That’s always a problem, maybe even more so when you’re trying to write a character-driven first-person narrative.

The main issue here was how I was exploring the animal-human dichotomy. This is the type of thing that naturally comes up when you deal with shape-shifters or anthropomorphized animals, and a theme I’ve always found fascinating. I needed to make a decision here: Was Gare a human in a dog’s body? Was he just a smart dog who could pretend he was human at times? Was he something in between? I was most interested in option three, but that’s vague. What does “something in between” even mean?

I decided that making Gare a centuries-old shape-shifter made dealing with this issue far too complicated. With a life that long, understanding Gare meant understanding his life, all two hundred years of it. But I didn’t want this story to be “Gare’s Biography”. I wanted to tell the story about Gare and Ben and the magic crown.

I also realized that the most important part about Gare’s background was his relationship with his master, Roland. Dogs are often defined by their loyalty to their masters. If Gare was dog-like at all, I had to consider this point. That created a second problem – in the story, Roland was long dead. Exploring their relationship would mean making heavy use of flash-backs. I was worried about what they would do, pacing-wise, to the story.

Fortunately, both the above problems had the same solution – Gare needed to be younger. I started again, under the working title Crown and Collar. Roland was now going to be part of the story. I decided to start off by having Gare and Roland steal Yaroslav’s magic crown together, as that was the event that really set things rolling. I also made my decision about how to treat Gare’s character; he was going to start off very dog-like, and gradually grow through the novel to something more. That nicely fit in with my decision to use loyalty as a theme. For a dog, loyalty to his master might be everything, but as the novel goes, Gare starts to think less like a dog and realizes that loyalty unearned is a hollow thing.

I wrote the initial section of Crown and Collar right before I attended the SuperStars writing seminar. I was excited – I finally had a novel that was going to work. I felt great about the themes, the premise, and the climax. At SuperStars I decided to attend David Farland’s novel rewriting workshop at the end of August, figuring I’d have a very polished complete manuscript by then. With a little help from a world-famous fantasy author, I’d put on the last touches, and be ready to submit for publication in the fall. All I had to do was figure out all the various little details to make the themes and story work.

I came back from SuperStars charged and feeling great. I tore into the first draft, ready for it to all come together.

At about the 30k mark, I realized I still had big problems. Gare as a character was working out better. The plot was not, nor were many of the secondary characters. A great deal of the story depends on Gare’s relationship with various secondary characters – Kalis, a local leader of a group called the Tyrlight Council and were-coyote; Ben, a young math professor and aspiring were-wolf; Eonhar, a mysterious being who claims to be working for the immortal Lochii. Just as I realized earlier I hadn’t fully understood Gare, I now realized I hadn’t fully understood how he would relate to these three characters.

So I tried again. I re-wrote most of my earlier scenes, refining my vision of these relationships and Gare himself. The second draft started hitting problems right about the same point the first draft did. I made myself push on, but at about 50k words, I stopped once again, rather frustrated. There were just too many things that didn’t feel right. Eonhar was crucial to the end of the story, but I felt like he was just being arbitrarily inserted everywhere else. Kalis and Ben’s motivations didn’t seem strong enough – I felt like I was forcing them to do things with authorial power, rather than letting the characters do what made sense to them. There was also the matter of Yaroslav’s magic crown creating plot holes wherever I put it.

It was mid-June. I had to submit the first 20,000 words of my manuscript to David Farland at the end of   July, and once again, I knew I needed to start over.

It wasn’t as bad as it seemed. As rough as the process had gone, I felt like I’d learned a great deal at each stage. The biggest pitfall you can run into when writing and re-writing is that you end up running in circles, but I knew I was progressing. I identified what I felt were the biggest flaws remaining in the story foundation, and decided I’d solve them and have an outline before I started the next draft.

During a wonderfully productive weekend a couple months ago, I managed just that.

I’ll tell you about that next week, when we’ll watch history catch up to the present.