Carving the Ice

The alpha reader responses have come trickling in and I’ve been lapping them up like a thirst-starved desert dweller. Although, I supposed I should really be calling them beta readers as the book had already gone through a couple of drafts before they got their eyes on it. Technically, the only alpha reader was yours truly.

Semantics. Gotta love ’em.

Or don’t.

The responses have been overwhelmingly good which has definitely calmed my blood pressure some. Sending this out was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done. No. That’s probably a lie. I have twin babies at home. I’m sure they’re up there too, those adorable monsters.

They’ve all liked the story a great deal, but the readers have pointed out some important but glass-shattering issues that have to be dealt with before I can take Fairfax Cleaners to the next level. It’s always intimidating seeing how much work needs to be done on a project I’d previously assumed to be “almost finished,” but while yes, I’m collecting opinions, it’s important to remember that the readers aren’t wrong. I don’t need to go back and fix every little thing they had issue with, but a few of the more common and glaring examples tend to stand out.

I’m of the mind that it doesn’t matter my intention while writing the work. If I ever have to explain myself for clarity about why something is the way it is, it means I’ve failed as a writer. I’m not going to write to thousands of individuals and answer all of their questions about how I dropped the ball in making something clear. This is a humbling experience. Critique by nature is uncomfortable. No one likes to be judged. But it’s not me, personally, on the pedestal, it’s the story. And even then, no one is saying they don’t like that story. But when someone points out that I had a character say “you can’t go to the police because they bad guys own the police” and then the police NEVER play a role in the story whatsoever … that my friends is a problem.

It’s always interesting to me too what people pick up on. One of my male readers, a close personal friend, found two side characters to be redundant and brought nothing to the story. But when I asked one of my female readers about them, she said, please don’t cut them. They’re definitely needed because they help explain/progress the relationships between many of the other characters. If you ever wanted proof that male and female readers can want different things, there you have it. One was only looking at it from an action perspective, the other was focused on the character growth. Both were right in their way as the scene in question does need work, but I already know how to better integrate it into the overall story that doesn’t involve cutting anyone out. The problem was in my failure to make it abundantly clear in the first place.

This process is also helping me carve the iceberg. You’ve probably heard that backstory and worldbuilding are like an iceberg where only 10% of it ends up in the story, but the author needs to know the other 90% to make the characters believable. While I’ve certainly tried to input what was needed, I probably only ended up putting 7% in and some things that were crystal clear in my mind came out opaque to others.

All that said, I’m invigorated like a shot of adrenaline to keep going forward. My writer sleeves are already rolled up and I’m prepping the surgical gloves to go in elbows deep. I’m waiting to hear back from two more readers – one of which I know is taking incredibly detailed notes – and then its open heart surgery on this beast.

Oiling the Machine

I’m probably preaching to the already well-educated choir here, but having children is exhausting! Rewarding, sure. But my god am I tired. All. The. Time!

We’ve settled into a good enough routine where I get some sleep to function. As to the to actual level of functionality(?) functionability(?) see I have no idea … well I’ll leave that up to you. I can get to work now with clothes fit for a human being of my profession. I’ve also been able to shave my “dad beard” on occasion. The gym has been long gone. Running’s been pretty much out too even though it kills me. We’ve been having some gorgeous fall mornings lately. When I let the dog out, I can hear the autumnal whisper egging me to come join its crisp embrace.

The only thing from my life before that I’ve been able to dredge up without feeling like I’m shoving a round block into a square-shaped hole, and perhaps the most important thing from life BB (before babies), is that I’ve gotten back to writing. I was about 3/4 of the way through my latest novel before the little dragons were born and I was worried that my enthusiasm for the project would die out during my month away. I’m happy to report that not only have I started writing again, but I’ve been making some serious headway into the project, picking up pretty easily from where I left off.

What really helped during the break was that I never really stopped thinking about the book. I literally made myself think about the book at least once a day to keep my thoughts fresh and to remember where and how I left things. It kind of helped that the chapter I left on was one I had the least amount of notes for. My time away served as a hella long brainstorming session.

But it worked! Getting back into the saddle took some effort and personal forgiveness, so I didn’t chastise myself for only making 500 words every now and again, but things are back to being in full swing.

If anything, the added bonus is that I took care of that refresh/re-calibrate time I typically use after every book. Once I finish a novel, I force myself to shelve it for 4-6 weeks and let the dust settle. I come back with a fresh set of eyes and a list three pages long of all the stuff I feel the need to fix. Even though I hadn’t finished my book, that’s basically what I did while I was off learning how to be a parent.

I can’t wait to finish now so I can start tearing it apart. My middle is sluggish and dull. I see that so clearly now. I want to rework how I introduce the main protagonist too. And there’s a named side character I use in the beginning who never gets comeuppance. I demand comeuppance!

So once I finish – I’m down to the final confrontation – I can go back and restructure some stuff. I’m pretty surprised by the length. I’m already hitting 117k and it’ll most likely be closer to 130k by the time I’m done. Granted, this is the rough draft and I just told you about how there will be restructuring involved, but its shaping up a little bit larger than I originally imagined. Hopefully, that’ll work in my favor to create a tight story once I trim all the fat like a T-bone. I’m hoping to have something ready for alpha readers in a month.

How cool would it be if I had human babies and a literary one at the same time?

Blocking Fight Scenes

I always seem to run into the problem where I lead a protagonist into a situation against a giant monster/beast/enemy thing and then have to figure out what to do about it. Seriously, out of the 4 books I’ve written (counting the one I’m currently working on), it’s happened in 3 of them. I like fight scenes. I like watching fight scenes. But when it comes to writing them down, I hit something of a wall. I want a rampaging beast, but my mental space is totally blank.

There’s your backstory for what happened today. I’ve known for months now, that this particular fight was going to happen but all my notes say is something like:

– Abe shows up and ambushes Gus

– This is Abe’s last chance to redeem himself. He’s desperate

– They argue like brothers. Fight breaks out

That’s it. My next note is for what happens after the fact. Oh, and Abe is a werewolf. I should probably have mentioned that. In order for this scene to be interesting, something needs to happen. There needs to be danger and conflict. I realized yesterday that I couldn’t accurately visualize the fight because I didn’t know what was going to happen. Just like outlining the story itself, I needed to outline the fight. And that meant blocking.

I’ve heard of blocking fight scenes before. I meant to create a bullet point list of events, but I soon ran into the issue where I wanted to expand on things. Then I’d get lost and end up trying to figure out what was coming up next same as I would if I just winged the fight scene like usual. So I had a better idea. My experience with theater and role playing led me to this:

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I drew the layout of the room. Luckily, I had these two vinylmation guys at my desk to help out. And my wife said they were useless! We have Captain America there as my protagonist, Gus, and Oogie Boogie as the werewolf, Abe. I still kind of made the fight up as I went along, but I kept this little playset right by my computer. I just acted it out. I’d jump from the figures to discover the next action/reaction and then back to the keyboard to write about it and describe all of the emotional stuff.

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It helped so much! Not only did I get a clearer picture of what was happening, but by drawing in the background, it showed (if only to me) that this wasn’t happening in a white room. I had props and obstacles and just stuff that could help and hinder my characters. I’m really happy with the outcome and it’s definitely something I’ll be doing with fight scenes from now on. I have a big one coming up at the climax that’s going to take a map D&D style! I can’t wait to set it up and play – er, I mean, manipulate my models – to see what happens.

On a side note, I really hope this book gets published. That way, when you read the scene I’m talking about, you can picture these vinylmation figures duking it out instead 🙂

The Boy Blunder

I got caught up on word count. See, I told you I would.

I also need the weather to hold out so I can mow the grass tonight. Otherwise, it’ll put a damper on the epicness of tomorrow. Here’s the deal:

I have the day off for the 4th. I plan on running when I wake up. Then I’m meeting the inlaws out for breakfast. Come back, get some writing done. Play some video games – probably Final Fantasy XIV so I can catch up to Heavensward – and maybe see a movie that afternoon. What’s that you say? The most perfect day ever? It’s pretty damn close. I’m really excited about it and hope that cutting the grass won’t somehow sneak into my dream day.

I did the math and I’m just over 3/4 of the way through my novel. That was farther than I expected, but I’m getting to that point where I’m ready to put this sucker to bed. Instead of the fatigue like last book, this time I’m getting excited to finish. There are still plenty of things that need fixing and tweaking, but I want to get the bulk of the story finished this month. I’m using Pitch to Publication to help my pacing.

Although, in an ironic – some might say, unfortunate – turn of events, my entry email got all messed up. Why haven’t Microsoft Word and Gmail learned to communicate with each other correctly, yet? It’s not like each of them is a popular choice for their chosen medium or anything …

The ending portion of the entry email is to include the first 10 pages of your manuscript, double spaced. Well of course it didn’t copy over correctly and while I was busy fiddling with the paragraph and line spacing, I must have hit the plain text function and then hitting backspace somehow sent the email. Wonderful. Thanks Google. Hopefully a contest in which the reward is editing service will overlook an editing blunder in the application. Fingers crossed.

All of this attention to my work is having me second guess my protagonist. Don’t get me wrong, it needs to be him for the story to function, but I can probably make him more relatable. At least include some better flaws or something. I’ll think on it and get back to you.

I’m an Idiot

I did a dumb thing …

I was so brain dead this morning, I put off writing until this afternoon. Just got back from running home at lunch to let my dog out and I forgot my damn work glasses at home. There’s no way I’m not going to get some serious eye strain from looking at a computer screen without them for the next four hours. Headache city, here I come.

That also means, I most likely won’t get any writing done either. Even staring at the little bit I’ve written here is already making me wince.

Just goes to show you … don’t slack off ’cause second chances aren’t guaranteed.