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Finished my first draft – with the help of Fool’s Quest

So it’s been a long time coming, but I’m finally there. I finished writing the first draft of my first book.

Yattaaaaa!

Yattaaaaa!

Feels sooo good to say that. That last stretch was tough. Especially because… just because.

For the past few months, I finally knuckled down, didn’t allow myself any distractions, and just wrote. I didn’t blog, I didn’t read others’ blogs (sorry!), I didn’t allow myself to sit down to read another book (more on that below), I hardly did any of my other various favourite time-wasting things. I got into the zone and wrote and wrote. Sometimes, at the start of a writing session, I went back to earlier bits and changed things I’d made notes on, but while I was in the zone and writing, it felt fantastic and I didn’t dare break myself out of it.

Want to know one of my main factors of motivation? (Apart from the wonderful support of my family, and the pure joy of writing that is its own reward, that is.)

Well, I’ve been looking forward to the release of Robin Hobb’s second book in the Fitz and the Fool trilogy, Fool’s Quest. So have my wife and my daughter, who are also hooked on Robin’s books (have I mentioned that I met her?!?). The book was due to come out on the 13th of August 2015. Well, I promised myself that I wasn’t allowed to read it until I’d finished writing my last chapter. Today is the 18th, and let me tell you, the last few days have been… excruciating. That was a mean, mean thing to do to myself. But you know what? It worked. I wrote more and better than ever before. (At least, the “better” part is what I’m telling myself. Shh! Don’t ruin it. I’m still riding that high.)

I know there’s still a lot of work to be done before my work is submittable, even to beta readers. I still have a few “[TODO]” markers in my draft that need attending. I’m pretty good (why am I being humble, I’m awesome! Like I said, shush!) with spelling and grammar even while I’m writing, but I’m sure there are occasional typos, and I’ll need to check for inconsistencies of PoVs, use of pronouns in my paragraphs, do cross-reference checks to make sure I’m not getting any names of minor characters muddled up, and so on.

But… I’m over that hump. Plus, I’m allowed to read Fool’s Quest now! Yay! My wife has already read it (finished about an hour after I got done writing, in fact), so now she’s in the position that I’m usually in after I’ve finished reading a book and have to wait for her to catch up so we can talk about it. I hope the book will have fewer errors than the last one, but other questions are much more important. Will Fitz finally Wit-bond again? Will the Fool pull through? (He has to, or the trilogy wouldn’t be named well… right?) What happened to Bee? Will we see more chapters from her perspective? Grrr.

Getting started on it as soon as I finish this blog post, which should be right about… now.

The challenges of ending a “Book One”

Nearly two months without a blog post (which was just a rant about something that seemed important at the time)… I’ve really been dragging my knuckles. Slacking off. Procrastinating. Sorry.

I’ve come to realise that the ending, which had seemed so good initially, was missing a certain something. Not that it wasn’t exciting the way I’d planned it, but, the closer I got, the more obvious it became that I needed more connections between characters, more things that I could hook into in later books. I don’t just need to end a story; I need to wrap up the first part of that story while setting the stage for bigger things down the line and weaving in hints and threads to be tied in later. I love reading the conclusion to a trilogy or series, and thinking, “Ah! So that‘s why she put in that morsel of information in the first book!” I want my readers to experience some of that as well.

Because of this uncertainty about how I could manage such a thing, I’ve been having a really hard time sitting down and writing the ending that I intended. Whenever I tried, I got that nagging feeling that I’d forgotten something, that I should improve something before I wrote the ending. And I just couldn’t bear to compromise on the quality of my story.

For weeks, it escaped me what that something was, and I was less productive with my writing than I’ve been for a long time. A bit of editing, a few pages of new stuff, working on background notes and the like. Just not really writing, dammit! Sure, I’ve had plenty of times where I hadn’t written much for a longer stretch, but that was always because of external influences, like work, family, or other projects (yeah, let’s call it “projects” – sounds better than “passing fancies”, doesn’t it?), not because I was stuck. I’ve never really suffered from writer’s block (maybe I just haven’t been at it long enough to experience that?), but I guess this is the closest I’ve come to date.

I found myself putting off writing during the few precious hours each week that I’m able to dedicate to writing. As a result, I wasn’t inclined to write up a new blog post, either. It just didn’t feel right; I’d just done a few non-writing-related posts in a row and wanted to be able to report on some sort of tangible progress.

A few days ago, it finally clicked in the deep, dark recesses of my head.

And you know what? It even helped me with one of the other things I’ve had a really hard time with: writing a blurb. I’m not sure how the two things are connected, but connecting Book One to the larger story helped me to see more clearly what the essence of the first part of my story is, and helped me to make the choice of which bits I could leave out in my blurb – something that always seemed wrong to me before. (“But that‘s an important component of the story, and so is that part, and I can’t leave out that bit!”)

Now I know what I need to do. It won’t be easy, and I need to make some changes that will ripple through other parts of the story, but at least I’m out of the doldrums.

Better get to it. Better get back on that horse.

Xanth – A to Z: X

X is for Xanth, the land in which Piers Anthony’s series of fantasy novels is set. (And X is for Xanth because, well, X doesn’t give you that many options.) The books are mainly aimed at kids, but his fans include many adults who grew up reading and laughing at his puns. If there’s a pun in the English language that isn’t in one of Piers Anthony’s books, chances are, it’ll be in the next one. (No, seriously – people send Piers Anthony requests for puns to be included and he tries to fit them into his stories.)

The puns may be a bit excessive and far-fetched to some, but if you can put up with that, the books are full of humour and a lot of fun to read. I was recently very proud when my son, with whom we’ve been reading the first book, guessed the “big reveal” the first book, A Spell For Chameleon, was building up to.

Xanth, which looks suspiciously like Florida, is a land in which there are many species of (often pun-related) creatures as well as your typical fantasy creatures and, of course, humans. Humans in Xanth all have a unique magical talent – that is, if they don’t, they’re exiled from Xanth (into Mundania, which looks suspiciously like our normal world where magic doesn’t exist). These talents can range from the boring and mainly useless make-a-spot-on-a-wall variety to full-blown Magician-calibre talents, which are required for anyone serving as king or queen.

Books set in The Magic of Xanth usually follow the adventures of a member of the “royal family” or someone with a Magician-calibre talent, quite often being below the age of 18 and thus not yet having joined the Adult Conspiracy.

If you need something to cheer you up, or are looking for a fun introduction for kids into the fantasy genre, pick up a Piers Anthony book and enjoy.

Wheel of Time – A to Z: W

W is for the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan (or James Oliver Rigney, Jr., his real name). The release of the books spans 23 years, or nearly 30 years if you start from when Jordan began working on The Eye of the World in 1984 (published January 1990) until Book 14, A Memory of Light, concluded the series in January 2013.

Due to Robert Jordan’s death from cardiac amyloidosis in 2007 before the final volume could be released, Brandon Sanderson completed the series using notes and recordings Jordan had made, though Sanderson and Harriet McDougal (both Jordan’s editor and his wife) decided to do what Jordan had tried to avoid, namely to split Book 12 into three books.

The series is as long and as complex as no other (that I know of), with a cast of so many people it was sometimes hard to keep up with who was who without consulting a wiki. In fact, I found some of the “middle books” quite tedious to read, because, as interesting as the story was, the “main main characters” were getting about one or two chapters per book and the story got caught up in so many side-plots that it was getting a little annoying. However, it’s worth sticking with the story, as the plot threads come together nicely again in the later books.

As I mentioned in my post for “B-Day” in the A to Z Challenge, I love book series, and I love thick books with many pages and details galore (as long as it’s well-written and interesting, of course). I don’t think there’s much (any?) competition for Jordan’s series when it comes to length and page- or word-count. The total word-count for The Wheel of Time is over 4.4 million (yes… million), with a couple of books getting close to the 400k mark. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to keep track of all these characters and plot threads over such a long time.

Many references to mythology and legends from a number of cultures can be found throughout the series, including of course the reference to the concept of time being cyclical, with several ages repeating themselves over and over, from Hindu mythology. The attentive reader can find references such as tales of the great giants, “Mosk and Merc”, battling with spears of fire (Mosk being Moscow, and Merc being America). (There are many more such references if you’re interested.)

The world Jordan created is rich in detailed history and a variety of cultures. Although the epic storyline builds up to an inevitable Tolkien-style face-off between the forces of good and evil, Jordan’s sense of humour and his ability to make this rich fantasy world seem utterly believable pervade every chapter.

If you haven’t read this series, you’re missing the benchmark against which other fantasy works are measured.

Book One – A to Z: B

Book One – more than anything else, that is what I look for when I’m at the bookstore searching for the next great read to sink my teeth into. I’ll admit it – I’m a sucker for series. A book that ends after a few hundred pages without hope of ever encountering its characters again? Hmm, if it’s really well-written, great, I might read it. Personally, though, I’d be much more reluctant to invest my emotions in it than if I knew it’s just the start of a series.

There’s a reason that, these days, a larger and larger section of the Blu-ray and DVD shelves is dedicated to TV series. And even when it comes to films, many studios see the allure of producing sequels. In my genre of choice – fantasy – what are the great films people know, what are the best-selling books? Feel free to give counter-examples in the comments if you disagree, but to my mind, they mostly consist of multiple parts. From Lord of the Rings and The Wheel of Time to Robin Hobb’s series to George R. R. Martin to Patrick Rothfuss. Too many more to name.

Maybe it’s a bit too melodramatic if I say something like, “A truly great story doesn’t fit in one book.” Some really great ones are very short. Nevertheless, I enjoy intricate character development, following a character’s convoluted trains of thought without being rushed from action scene to action scene like a tourist on a bus tour. “Got a photo of that building? And that tower? Good, let’s go, we’re on a tight schedule, people!” Life moves pretty fast, but (thankfully) it isn’t like that.

What about you? Do you prefer epic series of doorstopper-sized books like me, or shorter, more succinct, more poignant, stories? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.