blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

Just a few days ago, I had the pleasure of spending an evening with Cat Rambo, marvelous writer and president of SFWA (who also has a Patreon you can find here).

She is an absolute delight!  The kind of writer who knows her craft and her business, and is excited about sharing her knowledge and connections with others.  The sort of person who is genuinely interested in others, and damned interesting in her own right.  Our time together, chatting about everything from family dynamics to SFWA projects, was immensely enjoyable.

I drove home from our meeting buoyed both by her encouragement and her expressions of creativity.  And I’m looking forward to jumping back into SFWA matters the moment I complete Breath of Stone.

(And really, I so need to be jumping back in. Everything got sidetracked right before the holidays, and must needs be sorted out by spring.)

But nothing is being done before I complete Breath of Stone, darlings. Nothing.  (Erm, expect a way, way overdue beta-read for a friend...) I’m down to one new chapter that needs composing and a couple that need some extensive revisions.  Then it goes out to beta readers who have been so damned patient and supportive, I feel unworthy.  Hopefully, those betas will enjoy the novel more than they feel the need to rip it apart.  Once I hear their feedback, I’ll have a good idea on the upcoming release date.

The last year has made a few things abundantly clear: I cannot write a massive novel in the same twelve months I must shepherd my homeschooled son through the last year of high school, train a replacement to take over one business, move cross-country, and set the foundation to launch a new business in a new location.  I don’t believe I’ll be willingly taking on that level of insanity again!

A few additional quick notes:

–A new Patreon article will go up next week!  In this one, we’ll look at the key principles that’ll strengthen any fight scene, regardless of how simple or complex you want it to be.  And the Patreon is only $35 away from adding author/fighter interviews and fight scene breakdowns as regular, monthly features, and about $115 away from adding a monthly video.  (Yes, a video.  I’m insane.)

–Remember that podcast on fight scenes I recorded for Beyond the Trope?  It’ll be available for listening in a little more than two weeks!  I’m hoping it sounds half as good as it was fun to record.  As soon as I have the link, I’ll send it out to y’all.  Okay, as soon as I have the link, and have listened to it myself, and have decided I don’t sound like an idiot…  then I’ll let you know. :)

–I am registered for 4th Street Fantasy!  I had a marvelous time last year, and can’t wait to not only connect with the cool folks I know through Viable Paradise and the awesome people I met last year, but to meet new people as well.

And now… back to the chapters!


blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

uSince I’ve just gutted the middle of Stone because the plot was moving with all the grace of a square-wheeled locomotive chugging over the Rockies, you get a Sunday blog post so I can clear my head before I resume stitching the innards back together.*

So here it is: As I mentioned on Twitter, discussion forums for MMA and other fighting sports are a goldmine of writerly information.

There are bunches of little guides out there on how fantasy writers can realistically and vibrantly portray combat.  Information on everything from edged weapons and individual duels to archery and battle formations is fairly easy to find.  But not as much hoopla surrounds the aftermath of those fights—the small injuries, the crippling injuries, and the physical/emotional life-long consequences.  It’s simple to Google for “broken leg” and come up with a pile of guidance from modern medical sites.  But that’s only part of the story.

From a storytelling perspective, it’s a mere sliver of the story.

The fun part—the part that makes plot and character development real—is what happens after the injury is sustained.

Modern medical sites will give you extensive information on trauma, treatments, and expected outcomes.  But they are based on modern interventions coupled with assumed accessibility to food, water, shelter, cleanliness, temperature control, and rest.  In my stories, it isn’t unusual for some, most, or all of those things to be missing.  And that, my darlings, changes everything.

These days, most folks head to the doctor when they or their kids are injured.  Bumps on the head, twisted ankles, sprained wrists, possibly broken bones, blistering burns, busted noses—all prompt immediate doctor visits, extensive testing, and scheduled follow-ups with specialists.

But for a number of present-day fighters—especially those who love it but aren’t making a circuit/tournament career out of it— the doctor’s office isn’t the immediate stop.  Unless the pain from an injury is debilitating—and sometimes, not even that is enough—some fighters take a ton of convincing and failed self-care before they’ll show up in an emergency room or urgent care center.  I’ve gone days with a dislocated elbow and partially torn ligaments.  A friend ended up with stress fractures in both feet.  A training partner waited out the pain of a dislocated shoulder.  And I’ve seen folks finish belt tests with a blown-out knee, or a broken hand, or busted ribs, or a swollen-shut eye.

For a few, it’s a matter of ego, certainly.  But in my personal experience fighting and being around fighters for more than a decade, ego is secondary to expectation and experience.

Y’see, fighters expect to get hurt in a fight, they expect to hurt for awhile after the fight, and they’d really rather not be treated as fragile or stupid or both.  Experience tells them they can work through most hurts, and many of those hurts can be treated without professional medical intervention.

Why go to the doctor for bruised ribs?  Wrap ’em up, take it easy, deal with the pain, watch out for secondary infections, and move on.  They’ll be better in a couple months either way.  Why rush out to have a sprained wrist checked when you know the answer will be, “Rest it, ice it, elevate it, come see me in a week if it isn’t better?”  Yes, there will be times more serious injuries are missed.  But most fighters learn to tell the difference between something that hurts badly and something that’s badly hurt.

This is where those discussion forums come in.

Sure, I can look up all sorts of technical information on tissue damage done when a person is strangled, or the recovery prospects for a person with torn quads, or the lasting effects of a concussion, and all of that is useful to me. But understand those medical sources exist to provide information on how best to care for and heal an injury. That's not always the most pressing goal in the story, though. That's... not always what the writer wants, either.

It’s the discussion forums that’ll tell me the experience and consequences of those injuries when limited (or no) medical attention is gained, and what it feels like to keep training and fighting despite those injuries.  I learn how different people describe the sensation of being choked out, how the throat felt while eating and drinking over the next few days, how it felt and sounded to speak after the injury, and at what point those symptoms shifted from getting better to better see a doctor.

If you’re not a fighter, or have limited martial arts experience, you’ll also gain a glimpse into a different mindset.  Spend a little time, you’ll be able to tell the difference between the “indestructible” youths and the more wise and experienced by the way an injury is described.  Dig a bit more, you’ll read a few journeys undertaken by fantastic and powerful fighters who come to terms with injuries that forever change how—and sometimes if—they can continue doing what they love.

For some things, I can call on my personal experience: broken nose, torn tendons, dislocations, foot fractures, bruised ribs… even the experience of giving up a large part of my training due to ongoing physical challenges that can’t be mended.  The forums, though, expand knowledge and understanding, and give insight into injuries I’d rather not experience myself.  I’ve been choked to gray-out, but I don’t want to discover first-hand what it feels like to have my throat punched, thank you.  And I really don’t want to find out how long it takes for one’s ability to breathe and swallow without pain, or what my voice would sound like once scar tissue hardens.

But the knowledge is good for stories we want to stick in the mind and heart of a reader.

So.  There’s your writerly tip for the day.  I suppose I’ll now resume the revisions that simply shouldn’t be this difficult, yet are somehow even more difficult than difficult.  Alas, I’ve vented my frustration on as many characters as I can without killing them off.

I promise I won’t kill them all.

But no one is reaching the end without scars.

*Next time I mention squishing two very long novels into one long-ish novel under the assumption it’ll be easier, just smack me, mmkay?  I mean, it had to be done, and the story will be better for it, but there has been nothing “easy” about the squishing process.


blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

Sand of Bone heads off to its editor and final reader tonight, so I'm taking a little break in order to let me brain think about something else for a bit.

I am not a structured worldbuilder. Before writing, I do not sit down to answer a hundred questions about culture, religion, navigation, textiles, government, livestock, gender relations, history, trade, exploration, child-rearing, and economics. That's not my process. (For that, check out this post, wherein I discuss altering my worldbuilding to fit the plot rather than the other way around.)

That doesn't mean I don't care. I deeply care. I don't expect to get everything right, but I want it to be right enough to keep the reader with me.

There's a great deal of writerly talk about educating ourselves on history, government, economics, and culture. That's absolutely necessary. But what hangs me up more often than not is geology and botany. Certainly I could just make everything up, but constructing properly integrated flora and fauna and climate and geography from the ground up is beyond my ken. So I do what most of us do: attempt to match my world and plot needs to a Real World equivalent, and adapt within parameters broad enough to be flexible yet narrow enough to avoid (as much as possible) Flying Snowmen.

Read more... )
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
So I am now, officially, an active member of SFWA, which feels totally weird and unreal and unexpected in so many ways.

Revisions for Sand of Bone are still progressing merrily. Really, I feel merry about them. I've reached my favorite stage--the place where I can hold the entire novel in my head, when I can see it as a whole rather than individual chapters and characters and plot points. If I make a change to Chapter 32, I know I have to tweak something in Chapter 3 and Chapter 25. When I reach the last few chapters, I know the words or phrases that'll discreetly connect with earlier scenes. It's the stage where everything in the novel becomes a remembered experience rather than a created story. It's when everything feels more than real.

Should my plan hold true, I can come within a handshake of finishing revisions this weekend. Then it'll need a last straight read-through to make sure I actually accomplished what I think I accomplished. And then it'll be off for a proofread and cover creation.

The nice thing is I've already started the sequel -- it was my project while awaiting beta feedback -- so I can dive right in the moment I hit the "Publish" button. (I'll also be pushing through the last of the StoryBundle selections with the intention of finalizing the bundle by the time August opens.) August and September will be time-rich months. This makes me happy beyond measure!

I'd love to do a little revising tonight, but I'm feeling just icky enough to make that a non-option. I think I'll continue cuddling with the bull-boxer-rotty instead. I've three days of writing time ahead!
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
I was tagged bt the smart, talented, and generous writer Janice Smith to answer questions about my projects and process. If you haven't already, go read her answers first!

What am I working on?
Right this moment, I'm finishing revisions for Sand of Bone. It's the first in a desert fantasy series centered around a woman seeking to escape her wasteland prison, destroy her brother's conspiracies, and reclaim the elemental mastery the gods took from her bloodkin three generations ago. It's also about civil unrest, savage rivalries, and a dynasty clutching after the power of their ancestors. Some characters fight because honor won't permit them to ignore wrongdoing; others pitch in because they're bored with everything else. And there are caverns with lava tubes, people with eyes that glow and shimmer in the dark, and souls wandering the sands in search of redemption.

How does my work differ from others in the genre?
Umm... Actually, I think the search for novelty within the genre is highly overrated. I've never put down a book I loved reading with the thought of finding something completely different. I've never loved a story because of its niftiness alone. Novelty of technique or topic is a one-off, and the genre now too wide and deep for anyone to even know if what they're doing is totally unique. So rather than seek ways to be different for the sake of being different, I'd rather develop skills that – when used over and over again – make readers want more of what I do.

(Consistency is all I ask. Immortality is all I seek.)

So what do I strive to do well? Characters – strong, weak, whatever – who have presence on the page regardless of the size of their part or their role in the story. Dialog readers can hear as they read. Pacing that moves rather than dallies, that holds tension behind even the quietest of moments, punctuated with a touch of humor. Prose that flows rather than clunks. Fight scenes compelling enough I can include the details I want. Worlds in which a person's competence and integrity – not gender – determine how the person is viewed.

Why do I write what I do?
I write the stories I'd like read.
I write to explore ideas that trouble me. My stories are, in a way, conversations with my own conflicting views.
I write to entertain myself, and love it when I'm also able to entertain others.

How does my writing process work?
Every project is different, but most incorporate plotting and pantsing. A huge amount of writing takes place in my imagination long before words arrive on the page, and I tend to envision them as if I'm a director rather than a writer. I'll run key scenes through my mind – adjusting dialog and tone, blocking, backdrops, and so forth – then remember I need to remove some of those details when committing the scene to paper.

Most of my process has evolved to include Magic Index Cards. I make one card for each scene (NOT chapter). Each card includes the following: POV character, setting, date scene occurs, the number of days since the story started*, primary events, primary character interactions, dialog, realizations or discoveries (if any), key symbolism and/or foreshadowing, and anything else I want to make sure appears in that chapter. Eventually I'll set all the cards in their proper order and number them. When it's revision time, I use the backs of the cards for notes. Yes, it's messy and manual, and I'm sure folks do indeed find the Scrivener option to be awesome, but I get something intangible out of the kinetic process so I'll stick with it.

I rarely go back to revise before finishing a project, though I will toss notes onto the index cards at any time. I'd rather remodel a finished project than rebuild. It's a preference requires me to really think through my choices before putting them down. (That, and the fact I once killed off a character early in a story that could have really used him later on.)

When I'm pretty happy with the novel, I'll send it off to beta readers. I have the most awesome of beta readers, truly. They're smart, talented, creative, open to possibilities, and damn fine writers. And I never forget how lucky I am that they share those things with me. That's not to say I use every piece of their feedback (for one thing, they rarely agree on everything!). But they always give me things to think about and consider. It makes for a novel written with awareness of choices rather than plain "instinct" or whatever.

Once revisions are done, off it goes to a copyeditor. I strive to submit as clean a copy as possible to my editor who is, for the duration of the project, my contract employee. And making life easier for my employees is, in my opinion, a matter of good ethics. (Now that I think about it, I'd likely put greater effort into keeping my house tidy all the time if I'd hire a housekeeper. Hmm.) Besides, producing a clean manuscript is just as much a skill as storytelling. It's worth doing well.

And there you have it – my answers to the questions.

I've tagged three marvelous women to pick it up from here: Casey Blair, Tam MacNeil, and Alena McNamara.

*Remember when I mentioned wanting to do pacing well? Tracking the number of story-days is critical to my ability to do that as I tend to write multiple viewpoint, multiple location, multiple storyline novels, and I tend to cram a great deal into a small amount of time. Sand of Bone covers a long time, by my usual habits (four entire months!). Sword and Chant, on the other hand, all took place in less than a single month's time.

(Finally! LJ let me post something that wasn't a total mess!)
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
Just a quick update of dubious interest to most.

I've been growing more and more pleased with the beta-feedback I received for Sand of Bone, increasingly appreciating the notes and directions as time lets them sink in. There are, alas, two places where beta-readers seemed to quite disagree. I'll have to make a judgment call and hope readers -- including my beta readers! -- are happy with the final results.

I've not touched the manuscript yet. Like the last round, these revisions are less about tearing out whole sections and more about placing a line or two here and there. By making chapter-by-chapter notes, I'm able to see the overall picture. To start making those changes as I go along would pretty much ensure I lost track of everything somewhere along the line. :)

So the plan is to finish up my detailed notes by tonight, then spend next week and weekend putting all the pieces in the right places.

And then... we shall see. :)
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

Now that Serpent Heart is up, my attention turns back to final revisions for Sand of Bone.

Celebrations—when, how, and why—are fantastic worldbuilding tools that can give depth to a culture, move the plot, and reveal character.  The longevity of the celebrations, and how the celebrations have evolved over the years, inform us of the culture's values.  Whether characters partake in, shun, or are indifferent to the festivals tells us how well characters are integrated into the larger culture.

In the desert and delta of SheyKhala, where the upcoming novel Sand of Bone takes place, festivals mark the turning of seasons primarily through focus on close kin, neighbors, and the greater community.

The year ends and begins with the Feast of Kin -- the midwinter festival of family. Though jokes are often made about the different ways one could serve one's family members at a feast, the festival is critical for maintaining good will among kinship groups as they head into that time of year when close quarters and limited food supplies can raise tensions. For the days leading up to the feast, family members do favors for one another, and the most secret favors are considered to be the ones performed with the deepest love and respect. The feast itself, though, is geared toward indulging the children in all possible ways. Grandparents say the focus on children ensures young adults consider carefully what their nighttime cold-weather activities might engender.

Promise Days happen in the spring, when the seasonal rains provide the low desert just enough moisture to coax short and spiky grass to cover the sands between brush that blooms but once a year. The notion of promise-keeping is incorporated into the river levels as well, since the season's rains promise to flood the delta once the water rushes down from the high desert. It's also the time of year consorts decide to make new vows, renew their existing ones, or part ways. It's one of two festivals that include the ceremony to brand women and men as full Blades in service to the ruling Velshaan. (The other branding takes place during Shades.)

In midsummer, everyone takes part in Givings, which the cold-hearted and tight-fisted call the Mis-givings. Able-bodied folk provide service and work for the neighbors, preferably those less fortunate. (As you can imagine, there can be a snark-fest in determining who among one's competing 'friends' is more or less fortunate.) In larger settlements, Givings is the day set aside for civic duties such as field maintenance, road and wall repair, and sewage care. Moreover, every person must pass their evening meal to someone less fortunate, and will not eat unless someone more fortunate takes pity on them. The two groups most likely to go without an evening meal are the middling poor and the ruling Velshaan bloodkin. In fact, the Velshaan absolutely refuse to eat on Givings Day because they have only the gods above them.  Why the gods don't provide the Velshaan with their own meals is a subject of speculation only among those who wish to live a life of hard labor in Salt Hold.

Lastly, the welcome cooling of autumn leads up to Shades -- three days and nights of honoring and remembering the dead, and (supposedly) spiritual visits from dead ancestors or notable figures. It's understood ghosts don't really show up every year to everybody, just like we understand Santa Claus doesn't really visit every child's home on Christmas Eve. Shades is instead a time to reflect on past losses. It's considered wise to think of what you'd say to loved ones if you were a mere ghost able to communicate but once a year, and wiser still to say those things while living. But, as with our Christmas traditions, parents take advantage of the festival to instill behaviors and beliefs in their children. Parents will sometimes leave small notes or symbolic gifts from "ghosts" for children to find, and the final night of Shades is marked by costumed folk going door-to-door masquerading as prominent figures from SheyKhala's history dispensing advice and warnings.

In addition to the large festivals, smaller celebrations are more often either observed within families or smaller groups, or confined to certain occupations and such. There are feasts on the Dark Moon, when the nightsighted folk see the undimmed beauty of the stars. (It's a favorite among young people looking for excuses to spend the night away from family.) More ritualistic celebrations occur around the first pressing of olives for oil, the training of horses, the welcoming of new Blades into the ranks, and thanksgivings for salt and iron.

In more recent years, remembrances for the Woes have been added to the festival calendar. Officially, they are held to acknowledge the losses and destruction caused when the Velshaan warred among themselves. But they are really intended to both remind the people of what power the Velshaan can (or, more accurately, could once) wield, and remind the Velshaan bloodkin of what fate they could meet if they stand against the wishes of their family.

How much of this will make it into the final version of Sand of Bone? Only bits and pieces mentioned mostly in passing. Half the story takes place in settings removed from the usual cultural constructs. The sequel, Breath of Stone, more tightly entwines the cycle of celebration and remembrance, and the third (yet unnamed) novel downright depends upon them to trigger... well, to trigger happenings. (Shh, can't tell!)

But I know the festivals are there -- why some people choose to ignore them, why others anticipate them, and why still others will seek ways to use them. It's another valuable tool in this writer's Swiss Army Knife.

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
100_2469 nnmnm

Once upon a time, I wrote two to three thousand (sometimes four thousand!) words a day, in four to five hours, routinely. I thought nothing of it. I wanted to write. Stories poured through my thoughts. And my time was severely limited by caring for my infant son, managing the family business, and teaching the occasional class. So when I had a sitter for the afternoon, or an evening free of responsibilities, I wrote like mad.

Somewhere along the way, those thousands of daily words began to sound immense. Part of it was the paralysis of acquired knowledge—that second guessing of every phrase because you're thinking of what the story ought to look like after it's been edited and polished rather than thinking of just writing the damned story. Part of it was the internalization of the "appropriate" writing schedule as slow and measured. And part of it was the increasingly complicated life and schedule before me. A thousand words a day? Damn, that became a stretch.

Here is the contradiction I face today: I don't have time to write slowly—not only because my writing time is slim and often broken, but because I can't build the career I want on one book every twelve to eighteen months. But unless I quit all other work, including parenting and homeschooling, I couldn't see how to make that happen. I just couldn't get any umph in my productivity.
Read more... )
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
The changes made to Sand of Bone were extensive enough I didn’t bother editing an existing digital version. I opened a new Word doc, set my handwritten scribbles of chapter overviews and notes and index cards on one side (more on those later) and a well-flayed printout covered in black Xs, arrows, and circles on the other. Then I started typing from word one.

To my great happiness, past feedback on the partially-revised chapters I’d sent to beta readers months ago was mostly positive, though some of the same going-forward questions were asked by more than one reader. First was the concern for the number of viewpoint characters. Second was my choice to open the novel with a certain viewpoint character.

Both are quite valid. I use seven viewpoints to tell this story. That’s plentiful indeed, and took much shuffling of Magic Index Cards to balance timing and interactions. But with a story that has five factions trying to meet different goals—and with those five factions rarely in the same place at the same time—five viewpoints would be the absolute minimum. A sixth viewpoint better defines what is at stake overall. And the seventh? Well, I could make an argument to cut it, but that’s the viewpoint bridging Big Plot with Internal Plot. And that character becomes very important in the next book, and the character is one of my favorites ever.

I think I made all seven work together. I think the story is better for each one. If I’m wrong, I’d rather work to find solutions than cut any one of those viewpoints.

That second concern… I struggled with it. I really did. Then decided to leave it as-is for this round of beta feedback. I’d like for it to work for readers because I like the way it works. But I’m probably the odd one out. We’ll see.

My real challenge in this round was integrated changes in world building. To me, some of those changes look as obvious as neon green patches stitched onto lavender calico. Is it because I’ve lived with previous versions so long that any change sticks out, or is it because my revisions skills are inadequate for the task?

And, of course, as I was falling asleep last night, I came up with a couple tweaks I could have made before sending for beta feedback. Notes have been written, but I’m determined to leave the danged thing alone until I hear from readers.

So… now what? Notes for the next book! Unlike Sword and Chant, which works as a stand-alone (though I’d like to write its sequel someday), Sand of Bone was always meant to be at least a trilogy, if not a five-book series. Plot and revision changes make it simple to edit and squish what was Book 2 and Book 3 into a single volume, but those same changes opened up the what-comes-next possibilities. Ideas I’d long ago set aside are now in play—not only for this set of characters, but other characters in the same world. I have my son to thank for that. He’s very good at listening to me lay out complicated plot and world building issues, then tossing out a simple, “What about this?” solution.

But first, I’m going to do the spring cleaning, and the spring seedlings, and the spring garden prep. After the winter we’ve had, I’m ready to air out the house and grow things.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
Today, I completed the deep revisions for Sand of Bone.

Pause for extended fanfare of trumpets...

I'll have to wait for beta-reader feedback to know how close the novel is to the proofread-for-publication stage, but I'm quite pleased with how it turned out.

Currently, the novel comes in around 128K words. Somehow -- despite the fact I completely altered and expanded the worldbuilding, and let myself play much more with dialog -- I cut nearly 30K from the previous draft. Thirty thousand words! I don't know where they went. I feel as if I'm actually telling more story than before those words disappeared.

I had all sorts of things I wanted to say about revisions, and writing, and writing as a form of reading, but I'm honestly just too danged tired. So off to bed with me, so the brain shall function tomorrow.

And I'll play that fanfare again. I earned it.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
By the time I head off to bed tonight, I’ll have completed upwards of a third of the revisions for Sand of Bone. Other than a thousand words or so of a new scene I’ve decided to add, the rest of revisions should move more quickly. Fewer alterations, fewer reorganizations, fewer new elements to entwine. That’s a symptom of how I wrote this novel: it took me fifty thousand words to figure out why certain pieces of the plot could and should happen the way I wanted them to, so I had to go back through to make the beginning a better set-up for the middle and end.

It’s a tedious process, incorporating all the little pieces I missed the first time around. Certainly I could just dump in a new scene to introduce and explain most of the pieces I want to slip into place. But taking plot points and worldbuilding from mere scaffolding to breathing story requires a more holistic approach. A shift in cultural expectations affects not only the plot, but what idioms characters toss into conversation. Historical references carry different weight and meaning. One assumption about another’s motivations will alter every subsequent interaction in ways large and small.

Despite the tediousness (and I’ll spare you the logistical process of making and tracking those changes!), I’m enjoying revisions immensely. The world and its characters have always felt real to me, but now I can see it gaining substance others can experience. And as much as I love being a storyteller, I get the biggest kick from knowing my readers are looking forward to turning the next page.

So. I’ll be wrapping up revisions by Friday, then sending it out to my fabulous beta readers. We shall see if my opinion of revisions translates into an enjoyable reader experience. Then I’ll make changes based upon beta feedback, and get the whole thing off to an editor. Based on the last year’s ups and downs, I’m hesitant to give a definitive publishing date, but I’m shooting for the first week of June.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
Wordle is fun. No doubt about it. Your text-chunk of choice, arranged and colored and sized by most-used words, in a format you can alter and edit and shape to make it most pleasing to your eye.

But it's also a cool little pre-revision tool. Here's why I like it:

First, take a look at the Wordle for Sand of Bone.


Much of the Wordle looks as I'd suspect. Names of viewpoint characters are prominent: Syrina, Pyrius, Raskah, Shella. But I didn't expect secondary characters to show up as such large pieces. There isn't anything wrong with that, but it did surprise me.

And that word in the middle--Velshaan--should indeed be as large as it is. I like that.

So then I look at the other words, and it's there clues of my writing style--good and bad--expose themselves for interpretation.

The high occurrence of Blade and Blades--no problem. It's a title and an occupation at the heart of the story.

But what's up with one, back, hand and hands? Just how many ones does a single manuscript require? And is that back as in the body part, or returning to a former state/location? As for hand and hands... Let's lump that together with some slightly smaller words. Head, feet, eyes, fingers, chest, shoulder. Smaller still and you'll find lips, arms, mouth, chest and knees. Then you can add in words that refer to what all those body parts do: turned, looked, see, smile, nodded, stood, gaze, shook, held.

Am I obsessed with how the reader sees what my characters are doing? Maybe. As an actor and director, I learned to convey emotions and thoughts through visual cues. It's natural that carries over into my writing. Is that a bad thing for the reader to experience? I don't know. My readers will have to tell me. :)

Then there are words that look suspiciously like fillers: enough, now, around, another. Those show up with frequency enough (see that?) to merit a word search and replace consideration.

Some words surprise me by not showing up as often as I expected. Sand and sands are awfully small, considering the location, the beliefs, and the slang. I honestly thought the words showed up much more often. Ditto for blood, hopefuls, gods, and Katsa. I wonder if, out of concern for too obviously pushing an idea, I actually gave each appearance of those terms a weightiness out of proportion with its prevalence.

A few words surprise me by showing up at all. Really, help? I can't even think of where help would often show up a couple times, let alone enough times to be considered a top 200-odd words in a manuscript exceeding 135,000 words. That's a problem. And why is time so large? I don't recall considering time to be an element critical enough to merit as much "screen time" as the Wordle implies.

And I find it a tad amusing that Yes shows up often enough to make the Wordle. It makes me wonder if my characters are asking too many questions everyone else already knows the answer to. Yet one more thing to keep in mind as I head into revisions.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
I'm nearly finished with the rewrite of Sand of Bone. Hmm. Rewrite sounds to small. It's turned into more of a total remodeling--the kind that involves stripping off three layers of disgusting wallpaper so the walls can be patched, ripping up tattered carpet so the original wood floors can be restored, replacing the windows, putting on a new roof, and upgrading the plumbing and electrical. Then I'll set to revisions--new brass hardware, intricate moldings, so on and so forth. By the time it's done, about the only thing I won't have done is jack the novel from its foundations to put it in a new location. (Been there, done that, see Sword and Chant.)

That means I'm not really updating anything else online right now. Other than playing on Twitter--where I can drop in and out of chats when I have the time--I've gone a tad quiet.

What's quite wonderful is I have in hand a novel written by one of my Viable Paradise classmates. That means I have the perfect bridge between my own writing sprints!
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
So I'm waiting for my parents to arrive, and hoping they either beat the line of icky storms or choose to hang out at a coffee shop until it passes.

In the meantime, I'm tinkering with the NaNo project. I've decided to focus on the urban fantasy--Crossroads of America--because I (a) have the research at my fingertips, and (b) grew more excited the more I thought about it.

I love the characters. There's Jacqueline, who prefers to go by Jack--an early-thirties Californian geocaching her way across the country to escape the demons of her past. There's Luke--an early-thirties martial arts instructor who hangs out with an informal group of folks interested in and/or with an affinity for supernatural matters. There's Wyatt--a farmer and medium--and Carrie--an intuitive who works with the Indiana Geological Survey And there's Duncan--Jack's best friend, who knows the secrets she wants to forget.

On the other side, there's Mark--a young man who isn't entirely stable--and the Ditch Devil--who takes full advantage of Mark's ambition and ego-fueled gullibility.

And I throw all those people into museums, war memorials, old catacombs, and planetariums. And there might be wolves.

I've been in love with this concept for years. I want to make it happen!

Familial and work obligations will take the first few days of the month, but I have decided it won't matter if I "finish" NaNo with 50K words. The who idea of NaNoWriMo is what's driving me to finally--finally!--give this novel the time it deserves.

Oh yeah... I should probably finish the Sand revisions, too.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

I don’t talk about process as much as I think about process, mostly because I’m fairly certain everyone would respond with, “Well, duh, Blair.  We all know that.  Where have you been?”  But now and again, I find writing about process helps me better understand it.  And once it’s written, it seems silly to leave it sitting about with nothing to do.

So.  Here it be.

I’m working on a pivotal chapter near the end of the arc’s Act I.  It’s a point of decision that’s been set up by previous events, the turning point on which the rest of the novel depends, where secrets are revealed, lines drawn, and action chosen.

As is usual with these scenes of mine, it needs a great deal of work.

My pivotal chapters tend to get chatty.  Very chatty.  The characters discuss options and ideas and reasons in detail, debating the sticking points and questioning their predictions.  It took me awhile to realize the characters spent so much time talking things through because I, the writer, was still trying to figure out motives and consequences.  It took me awhile longer to properly edit out (most of) the extraneous conversations because I do love me my dialog.

I’ve also realized my pivotal chapter problems–which I try to solve with dialog–stem from a weak foundation, and that weakness is a byproduct of pantser style coupled with my penchant for writing to That Scene at all costs.  (That Scene being the seed the novel originally grew from.)  Now, in Sand of Bone, I have a better grasp of the story, and new worldbuilding pieces are properly in place.  The pivotal scene no longer needs all the words it currently holds.  What was once required to make the characters’ decisions understandable and acceptable can be set aside, with proper preparation.

Every few paragraphs or so, I find myself flipping back to previous chapters for a spot of editing.  Usually it’s a single line or a quick dialog exchange, defining a small piece of the world or establishing a minor character before I put either one to use in the pivotal chapter.  The purpose of those little tweaks and tightenings is to remove the need to explain reasons and motives during the pivotal scene.  In other words, if I know I’m going to need the rifles to set Act II in motion, I’d best make sure everyone knows where the mantles are and why the rifles are hanging there before we’re praising God and passing out ammunition.

A decision-process is an exchange of information—explanation, consideration, comparison, justification.  It’s tempting to include that in pivotal scenes because the decision is so important, right?  After all, I want the reader to accept the decision.  Not like it or agree with it, but see it as a realistic choice based on available information and character goals.  And no writer wants the reader to toss the book across the room because the character makes consistently inexplicable choices.

But you know what’s worse?  The reader who quietly sets the book aside and forgets about it because the pivotal scene was so filled with stray facts and character asides and tidbits of backstory that it bored them completely.

My revelation is this: the pivotal scene isn’t about the decision.  That’s the job of everything that comes before.  The pivotal scene is the emotion of having decided, the fear of the consequences ahead, the terror of being wrong, the desperation to have others agree.  When we make a big decision in real life, we certainly agonize over it.  But the moment of sharing and acting upon that decision is just as terrifying.  Sometimes, it’s more terrifying.  It’s what happens in those moments, hours, or days that makes or breaks the decision.

That’s the pivotal scene.

So my reminder to myself today is this: new information should rarely—and I do mean rarely—be given to the reader during a pivotal scene.  Characters in the scene can get some new information, but then the exchange is about the impact of the fact not its explanation.

This is not to be confused with climactic revelations of the I-am-your-father type.  But even then, if the temptation arises to explain–right after the revelation–just how that connection could possibly be so, some quite critical pieces of backstory and foreshadowing have been neglected.

blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
I’ve hit the obsessive stage of revisions. It’s my favorite stage of the process–more enjoyable, even, than that first flush of New Story. The stage of focused revisions is one of both control and discovery, when all the pieces at last fit together properly and flow with the right balance of surprise and inevitability.

Those worldbuilding changes thrill me. Everything that didn’t quite fit now snicks into place. Plot holes are filled. Motivations are clear. Stakes are raised. It works.

Knowing I’ve set myself up to rewrite the last third of the novel is a bit of a drag, but not too much. I’m excited about it for the same reasons as I’ve stated above. It all makes sense. It works.

I’ve been here before. I’ve learned how to switch the nothing-else-matters focus on and off to take care of life’s responsibilities, and I (mostly) keep the snarls of vexation on the inside when interrupted by mundane things like showing up for the classes I’m supposed to teach, grocery shopping, and answering the phone.

But I’d certainly be much happier if I could, right this minute, hide in a remote cabin until I finished. Until I finish the last lines while Fanfare for the Common Man plays in the background.

Yes, I do hear that when hit “Save” at the end of revisions. I hear it because I start singing it. Badly, but with great enthusiasm.

So… a few weeks from now, when I’m whining about how everything sucks and never works and is nothing but an embarrassment that ought to be burned and shows only how stupid I am, when feedback from beta readers proves beta readers are necessary because I have zero objectivity, when I’m grumping about proofreading and cover design and all that crap, do me a favor: remind me I love this book.

And tell me to play Fanfare for the Common Man. I promise to snarl only on the inside.

Also posted at Blair MacGregor Books
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
An added benefit of karate camp--wherein I spent hours coaching students on the strategy of defending against multiple attackers, other hours considering the best strategies to communicate with parents, and yet more hours determining what motivates kids to make good choices under tough circumstances--was the ability to see my plotting with a sharper eye.

So why doesn't Syrina tell her Big Secret to the exiles at the earliest opportunity?

Because I hadn't thought to do that in the first draft, then just let that choice ride through all subsequent revisions.

Why did I let it ride?

Because I couldn't figure out and manage the consequences of her revealing the Big Secret.

Then I began to wonder about that last answer. How many stories have a "Why didn't she just do X?" moment because the writer was unable to think through the consequences of X? Because the writer cannot--due to inexperience--see what would follow said revelation? (And I mention inexperience because I found those at the foundation of my own un-choices.) How much of it is a hesitation to reveal because, in real life, the writer would herself hesitate to face the changes such a revelation would cause?

Or is it just me?

So now I'm on a kick of analyzing my "revelation" choices all over the place--determining if keeping a secret enhances the plot or manipulates it.  Looking at the reasons behind the choices.  Forcing myself to consider if the choices were made for convenience.

In this case, revealing the Big Secret creates a massive ground shift in the motivation and outlook of several characters, and greatly alters the reasons later choices are made. But--as with the worldbuilding changes I made earlier--it doesn't change the story I wanted to tell.

Oddly enough, I chose to work on Sand of Bone because I thought it would be a relatively simple task to edit. Instead, I've opened the Pandora's Box of revisions.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
The deeper I sink into Sand of Bone revisions, the more trouble I'm having maintaining voice.  It's fairly easy in large sections where revisions require a simple rework and rearrangement of what's there.  But the places that require a bridge of new material--or an entire new chapter--I am struggling against the omni voice of Chant.

Writing in omni isn't something I expected to so fall in love with.  Chant was an experiment, my chance to try out what [ profile] sartorias spoke of with such excitement.  But as I settled into the flow--developed a better feel for narrative shifts, grew comfortable with choosing whose eyes and ears and mind would be shared with the reader--I indeed fell in love with its dual nature.  Omni is at once direct and removed, simple and complicated, rich and streamlined.  It's the broad focus of a panorama lens combined with the encompassing intimacy of a gentle kiss.

Now, with Sand, I feel as if I'm learning third all over again, which in some ways I am.  There is such a temptation to slip into omni, to re-write the entire thing in omni.  But shifting from third to omni isn't a simple thing.  The switch would require a complete overhaul of its structure, timing, character revelations, important plot notes...  And I don't have a storyteller--the behind-the-prose character telling the story.  Based on my experience with Chant, that lack is enough to kill the chances of omni working well.

So, no, Sand will remain third--at least until I reach the end of the rewrite, I suppose.  Then I'll beg some beta feedback to see if it works.  If not, I shall shelve it, work it on Chant's sequel, and Drunkard, and any other thing I can until I figure out what the heck I want to do with it.  Why not do that now?  Because I want beyond all wants to have the rewrite finished rather than aborted.  (And I'm so glad I get to make that choice.  Were I on an external deadline, Sand would never be what I want it to be.)

But the no-omni thing is indeed bugging the crap out of me.  I never thought third-person would feel so constricting and clunky!
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)
To say I'm revising Sand isn't quite accurate.  I'm rewriting the novel, word by word.  Some sections will survive pretty much as they were in the earlier version, but that's the exception.  Major plot points remain intact.  Major motivations are different.  I altered pieces of worldbuilding just enough that the ripples were difficult to predict, or formed roadblocks to previously smooth parts.

I've reached the midpoint.  Finally, I feel settled in the new configuration.  The upside is the rewriting should be smoother from this point forward.  The downside is I can more clearly see what needs to be changed in the first half, and seeing it makes me want to fix it.  That would be a time-sink because I'm fairly certain I'll end up with yet another pile of needed changes once I hit the end of this revision round.  I won't know what those are until I hit the end.

It's like working from a detailed outline--with surprises along the way.

And it does make me wish I could write 80K novels.
blairmacg: (FeatherFlow)

Maybe it's the fleeting touch of spring in the air. Maybe it's the pressure to Get Things Done. Maybe it's a response to finally—for months, and without non-fiction distractions—focusing on stories. Or maybe it's a delayed rebound from the multiple years I chose to ignore all the ideas. Whatever the cause, I find myself beset night and day by the internal demand I get everything written NOW.

I'm blasting through the rest of Sand of Bone now, making swifter progress now that I feel more immersed in the world. Suddenly, this idea trotted in this morning that I should completely cut the middle book from the trilogy. I could do it, with the creation of a new set-up for what's now the third book, and I'm liking the ideas more and more.

The second book wouldn't be just lost words, though. On the heels of the above thought came the inkling of a different story that could be told of the characters and culture that fill much of the second book.

Grumpy Neb from The Drunkard keeps tossing me his observations about his young charge, smart and sexy Lin from The Slaughterer is forever just sitting down to dinner with his huge family because that's the scene from which the entire plot flows, and the narrator of the final book in the Chant series is whispering angry tidbits at me.

Three key scenes from Surrender run through my thoughts over and over. I drove home from Asheville with another novel idea rattling around, and had a rough plot sketched by the time I got home—one that will connect with the Indy book I still plan to finish, and the Charleston book I decided to write when I visited That Man.

Because I really, really needed another project. Because having ten novels in various stages ranging from "nearing final draft" to "collection of ideas and plot points" simply wasn't enough.

Sweet New Idea Muse, surely there must be a writer out there staring at a blank page who could use a touch of your inspiration. Truly, I will be just fine if you move along to the next gal. But if you're worried about how I'll do without you, you could leave your kind cousins Word Count and Revision to watch over me.

(Aside: That Man continues to be awesome and fascinating and kind and fun and someone I'm happy to have in my life. Hee.)


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