Short Stories

The other day I was approached by Chris Rosser, amazing author of ‘The Weaver’s Boy’, Book One in the Lords of Skeinhold, about the possibility of contributing a short story to an anthology project* he was considering.

*N.B. This is all hypothetical with a very specific theme, don’t go bombarding Chris with your short stories!

Now, why would he approach me, an unpublished writer, you might wonder? Well, he is currently beta-reading my WIP, so hopefully that means he thinks my work is good enough that a short story of mine would be enjoyable reading. It is a huge compliment, but alas, I have been focusing exclusively on novel writing – and having been ‘working on’ ‘The Blood of the Spear’ for ten-ish years (and world building t for even longer), I’ve never written a short story in my life.

I haven’t even read many. My reading habits, again, tend to focus on novels – big epic tomes at that – because I like to sink into a story, a world, and really get to know characters and I just somehow assumed that short stories couldn’t get me there. That being sad I have read shorts by GRRM set in Westeros, and shorts by Janny Wurts set in the wider universe of Paravia.

However, more recently I have been branching out reading, being (forced) by both Chris Rosser and Deck Matthews, to read their novellas and short stories. As I said, I haven’t read many previous, and I have never looked into the art of writing a short story or novella.

Now, I have some discarded prologues from ‘The Blood of the Spear‘ that I have put into a folder called ‘Shorts’, with the idea that I might revisit these and expand them some. Or at the very least, turn them into character sketches that might get released one day. But I really don’t have anything ready now, or that I could even work on at the moment as I continue to think about BotS and the greater series.

But Chris’ question got me thinking. What could I write a short story about? Or even a novella? The answer came to me fairly quickly as the muse would have it. I have two characters in BotS who turn up approximately halfway into the story. They are important characters, and as they join my main cohort their back story is left as rather mysterious. Not in the ‘what’s the secret’ kind of way, but more along the lines of ‘there is a story here’. Yesterday they, the characters, gave me the bare bones of that story and I have started a new document in the ‘Shorts’ folder with the notes on how they met and why they travel together.

Now, all I have to do is look into the art of short stories (and given I take after GRRM with the whole ‘ten thousand words is me clearing my throat’ thing, it will likely be a novella) flesh out the bare bones into an actual plot and get some writing done.

It always reassures me when the idea for a new story comes to me. Often time writing BotS I will become so immersed that I wonder what is next and panic, thinking I have no other story in my mind. But then I remember my ‘Shorts’ folder, and my ‘Future Projects’ folder, and my head is again filled with ideas. It’s exciting!

First Drafting

As I wait for the final beta-readers to get back to me before I send the manuscript off to Bothersome Words, I have begun work on book two.

Image by qian

And wow, am I rusty!

I completed the first draft of The Blood of the Spear back in 2010.

If you are wondering what in the world have I been doing between then and now, well, you aren’t the only one.

A standard piece of advice that new writers receive, is to put their finished work away for a length of time (that length varies depending on who is offering the advice). Well, I did this. I did this a number of times.

Of course, not having done any writing courses, or even read any ‘how to’ books, I only had a vague idea of what happens next. I knew that some writers had a number of drafts, so I embarked on ‘rewriting’ – this ended up just being a number of re-reads and pushing words around.

I did send it out to beta-readers, and I received feedback – luckily none of it was horrible, although it would have been justified back then I am sure. Still, I didn’t really know what I needed to do next, so the manuscript was put away again as I continued to think and reading and day dream about being an author.

Gah!

Then, approximately fifteen months ago, I had an idea that changed a quite a bit of the back story, and required a significant amount of re-writing so I set to it. As it turns out I had learnt something over the years of rewriting because I changed a great many things in the manuscript as I went.

You see, over this period of time I had become friends with a number of other writers and editors, and through conversations with them and the reviewing of other writers works, I have now developed a better understanding of the steps I need to go through with a manuscript once I type ‘the end’.

But while I have been writing over the last five-odd years (years that I was actually working on the manuscript) it has mostly been about ‘editing’ and tweaking, not first draft writing. When I was doing the first draft, I was writing approximately two thousand words a day, seven days a week. I had managed to turn off the inner critic – who wanted every word to be perfect – and just got the words onto the page. It’s been eight years since I wrote like that, and now heading back into a first draft I am finding it a struggle.

I understand the work I have been doing is, in fact, writing, and it has been beneficial. I have learnt a lot and – in my humble opinion – my writing has improved. It’s just been a different type of writing, and first draft writing – at least for me – uses a different part of the brain.

But I’ll get there!

P.S. Of course there is that other piece of advice that first time writers are given also, and that is to trunk (put away and don’t take back out) their first novel. The idea being that this is the novel you are learning on and the things you will need to fix are just too numerous. Yeah, while I ma not actually get this book published first in the gran scheme of things, it will see the light of day.

Eventually.

The Blood of the Spear – WiP Report 4

or The Long and Winding Road

More time has passed then I care to think about since my last update.

Work during this time has been intermittent, the Black Dog is a heartless master but you do what you can. I am currently working through the FINAL rewrites of The Blood of the Spear. The goal is to have these complete by the end of summer (that’s summer in Australia, for any of you who happen to be in the Northern Hemisphere that’s the end of winter).

I am cautiously optimistic that I will reach this goal although the progress bar in the top right corner of the site has not updated because it’s kinda hard to gage just where I am at with all the cutting and adding of words.

When we last spoke I was lamenting the need to change the name of my series, well presently I am calling it ‘The Eye of the Eternity’. That is perhaps not a hugely original title given it has been the title of at least one novel and is a place in the universe of the World of Warcraft, but it is also a place in my universe and I first heard the phrase/name in the mid 80’s when reading Sorcerer’s Legacy by Janny Wurts. So there.

There is another title I am mulling over. We will see.

In the meantime, the actual back story of the novel has… shifted. So while the actual tale itself has not changed some shifting in the narrative and world building needs to be done to bring it into line. That will happen once I have completed the final re-writes of the middle section (which have been driving me crazy!).

Moving forward with this book, and the rest of the series, I am working from this document as placeholder/mission statement/keystone. It’s not a synopsis or a blurb, but the underpinning of everything to follow:

The Legacy of the Sahrin

For three millennia the Sahrin, men and women marked by the Eye of Eternity and gifted with the ability to summon beings of elemental power, led humanity to heights undreamed of by their star-faring forefathers. But in their pursuit of power and immortality, ten of the Sahrin opened a gateway to the Void and fell to the possession of daemons. The war that followed destroyed the civilization that the Sahrin had built and the cataclysm, known as the Sundering, changed the face of the world.

At the war’s end a High Seer of the Shaluay foresaw that with the tear in the veil between worlds, daemons would forever more hunt those branded with the Mark of the Summoner. Since that time, though records held in the shrines of the elder gods venerate the Sahrin as saviours, the people have feared them as destroyers. Any child born with the Mark of the Sahrin, or any man or woman upon whom it appears, is now executed without exception before they might fall to possession and unleash forces that cannot be controlled.  

But in the chaotic years after the Sundering, other Seers who survived the collapse of civilisation were plagued with conflicting visions and prophecies. They saw that the Sahrin would return and that the daemons hordes would come again. And that the Phoenix Lord – warlord and leader of the Sahrin – would be reborn, and in his hands would he hold the world’s salvation, or its destruction.

The Importance of an Editor – and a Manuscript Assessment

I have been reading for years (and years), have beta-read for other authors and review books frequently, but when it comes to writing itself, I am very much still learning my craft for a reader does not a writer make – at least, not entirely. 

Being asked to beta-read has taught me how read critically, to recognise ‘good’ writing from ‘poor’ and to be able to identify plot structure and characterisation rather than just enjoy the read (or not) without thinking any more about it. But identifying issues within your own work is a challenge, especially when you know story, because sometimes what is in your head is not on the page but you can’t see that it’s missing. 

Like any aspiring writer I want to give myself the best possible chance of getting my work published. Working in the bookselling industry I am lucky enough to have a number of contacts who will look at my work – but that is no guarantee of an offer.  So I decided that when my manuscript was ready for beta-reader feedback it would also be ready for an assessment by a freelance editor.

Some writers bulk at the expense of hiring an editor to assess their manuscript. After all, isn’t it the job of an editor at a publishing house to go through your work and make it better? Well sure, in a perfect world. But few editors in a publishing house have the time to give a manuscript from a new author that sort of a love and attention. If you want your work to stand out – and to be considered publishable at all – then you need to go the hard yards, and invest in yourself, to polish it within an inch of its life.

I sent my precious manuscript to Abigail at Bothersome Words and the entire experience has been fantastic. I now have an assessment that is making me look at my work through ‘new’ eyes – and furthered my education in the art of prose which I will take with me when I begin the first draft of my next book. I have a detailed and unbiased analysis of the plot and of each character, as well as notes on pacing, questions on world building, examples of showing and telling (and overwriting) in my prose as well as points on its overall cohesion.

Getting an assessment of my work has helped me craft a plan of attack for my 5th (and final – I hope) draft and pointed things out to me that I was just too close to the work to see. Seeking assistance from someone who works with the written word for a living has benefited me in ways that have already changed how I approach each stage of working on a novel – not to mention in ways I have not even noticed yet – and I highly recommend it. I will definitely be working with Abigail Nathan at Bothersome Words again.

The Importance of Beta-Readers

When I began dreaming of writing an epic fantasy novel, a long time ago, I imagined that I would write a first draft, polish it up in a second draft and then send it on its merry way to publication and bookshops all over the world.

Time and experience can change many beliefs and ideas; that belief happens to be one of them for me.

As I moved into work as bookseller I became exposed on a personal level to the authors whose books I loved and sold. I got to talk to them about writing and their process and kept hearing about the importance of good beta-readers. I was not, at first, convinced. This wouldn’t apply to me surely. I knew what I was doing. I had a plan.

Hahaha!

Thankfully some part of me was open to the possibility that I was not perfect (?!?!?) and neither was my writing.

As I was procrastinating working on the first draft I was approached by an Aussie author who wanted a male POV on a new book they were working on. And thus did I look behind the Wizards curtain to see what was going on and what a beta-reader can do for a writer.

So as I meandered through various drafts of my own WiP I began asking people if they’d be willing to beta-read my work when it was ready. Of course that ‘ready’ took longer than I expected, however when it was I had a team of readers ready to go.

They are all people I know – I personally wouldn’t be comfortable giving my work to someone I didn’t know, although there are some schools of thought who believe that people who do not know you will be more honest in their feedback. Well, knowing my beta-readers beforehand did not help to soften their punches. I had to crawl away and have a cry in a dark room after some of the feedback…

Beta-readers can pick up dropped threads in the narrative that you haven’t noticed because it’s in your head. They can wince at and point out the turns of phrase that you thought were beautiful and poetic but don’t quite read the way you thought they did, or maybe they don’t make any sense at all. They can talk to you about scenes that might lack something or character motivation that just doesn’t work for them. Or they might talk about your characters in a way you never imagined, a way that brings a whole new angle or insight to the experience. Maybe. Maybe not, but hopefully they will give you feedback that will make you think.

(It is entirely possible that a beta-reader can do more than this and I am just not utilising them properly. I am certainly open to learning more. I’ve heard Brandon Sanderson has a whole google doc spreadsheet thingy happening for feedback here beta-readers can see each other comments and discuss ‘amongst themselves’ the feedback being provided, and that specific questions are asked for specific passes over. But he also has an assistant to help co-ordinate that and I am just not that organised… but I am looking into it for the next book!)

Of course, on occasion,  a beta-reader won’t give you any feedback at all. Either they weren’t able to read the manuscript because of time issues or just because they didn’t connect with the story. And this is okay. A beta-reader is doing you a favour and everyone experiences a book differently.  

Just remember that you can’t please everyone and you shouldn’t try. You have to write the book you are writing. Your beta-readers are a sample audience and can give you a glimpse at reader reaction – as well as an audience for the for work you have been slaving over for so long.

The feedback I have received – both good and confronting – has given me a map of what I need to do to make the book a better, more polished version of itself. It has highlighted (for me) my own strengths and weaknesses and has given me a check list that I will use in the self-editing of my next book BEFORE I send it out to readers…

And it’s not over yet. Once this re-write/tweak is done I have a few more people in line to read it (or as the case may be, to re-read it and comment on the text after changes) to give me more feedback before I look for an agent and/or submit.

Slow Going

This restructure I decided to undertake is playing havoc with my mojo in the rewrites.

That and the fact that I didn’t write anywhere near as much as I had planned over my holidays. Anyway I am now at 67% rewritten – and  good chunk of the ‘new’ chapters I have just worked on will need more going over when I am done – moving a head slowly.

Conflux 9 was amazing – and a little freaky in that as much as it is empowering for aspiring writers it can also be a little scary. The Inner Critic has gotten loader again and I doing my best to ignore him.

It also doesn’t help my writing cause to be given an ARC of the upcoming book by one of my favorite authors – I am not complaining, truly 😉

But I’ll get there. Still lots of work to go.

Art by Raphael Lacoste

Word by word

Word by word I am building a new scene. The ‘reworking’ of text that was already in place in the middle of the book just wasn’t working so…

Blah.

Shifting gears back into ‘first draft’ mode is shitty. Writing – at least the ‘first time’ around – is not something I enjoy. I enjoy having done it, not doing it. And reworking the 2nd and 3rd drafts etc is fun. The first draft creation.

Oh. My. God.

However I am getting there. I just wish I could get there a little faster.

Next year is submission year. So. Bum in chair, word doc open and words appearing.

Still a ways to go yet but I am closer than I have ever been and that is something.