Post Mayan Apocalypse, Year 4

njord

Plotting a sequel, a worthy sequel, is far from an easy thing. In my case, very little of the first book is being kept. Sure, three of the protagonists make a return, as does a valuable plot device and a few villains.

But everything else is vastly different. The setting has drastically changed, there’s less fighting and more survival and travel. Fewer bits of history and a larger share of myth and lore. The desire for vengeance is now overshadowed by the need to protect loved ones: familial, platonic and romantic. There’s no law to uphold and crime to condemn anymore, just the realpolitik of might makes mine.

The world is no small stage.

When you factor in all these changes, is it really a sequel anymore? I don’t know. My tale is but a gaiden, a side story, that happens on a beach before the storm of a greater epic. My characters are children squabbling over seashells, too preoccupied to notice the tsunami’s crescendo behind them.

Let others write of the work of gods. I deal mostly in men.

And men make many, many small things. The grand, sweeping myths of gods and creation are often strangely simple. But men are more prone to thousands of tiny dots that can be traced together and recognized as some grander shape, a design caused by our very lives. Some interconnected magnum opus that we cannot see until we’re old and cold.

Our own saga.

If this is a sequel, it is the last one. Not because there won’t be more story to tell afterwards, but because that which connected it to previously is fading away. Such is wyrd.

Happy New Years folks.

Parkour, Mass Effect and More Writing

Spoooooky...

Spoooooky...

While cruising IGN today, I was surprised by an article that some Mass Effect 3 fans were angry about the ending (no spoilers in the link). I have no idea what their issue is, because I’ve only just finished Mass Effect and have no plans to get the second until I’ve unlocked every achievement. But this news certainly makes me want to step on the gas.

But before I really go crazy on Mass Effect, I want to finish my anthology. The good news is that I’ve gotten positive feedback on my first two stories. One story seems about fine, might need perhaps a few hundred more words to expand the protagonist’s background. The other story could make do with another scene to further expand the antagonist.

But the good news is that both stories require expansion andnot rewriting and story “refactoring.” Writing a plot is like writing code. And like code, if there’s a fundamental flaw in the design, the entire program is doomed to failure. But the news is good and I am feeling confident that the story will turn some heads.

Inspired by Brink, I have added basic parkour to my morning workouts while jogging. I’ve actually been doing this for two months and it is a great way to expand the workout regime. But I’m careful not to do anything that would tick off pedestrians though, nothing crazy like leaping off the wall and pulling myself on the overhanging platform above the theater (despite how often I daydream about it). Just leaping over low fences, rolling in the grass of the park.

But you know that phrase, “Skateboarding is not a crime”? To my knowledge, I’m the only guy in my town who adds parkour to his jog. But if more people start, then accidents and damage can occur. Too many people start parkour and suddenly the local county government will ban it.

Origins, Origins…

So I just watched the first (and thus far only released) episode of Awake. The premise is simple if a bit strange; a detective, his wife and his son were involved in a car accident. The detective then isn’t sure if he’s awake or dreaming, when he goes to sleep, he visits two worlds. In one, his son survived but his wife didn’t. In the other, vice versa. And somehow, the details of his cases in one world reflect the other, despite the fact that (thus far) the crimes are different, but committed by the same person.

After finishing the episode, the sneak peek of the next episode immediately brings up hints about how and why this detective, played by Jason Isaacs, is experiencing these two alternate worlds. Desperate to keep their baby alive, the show’s producers put the detective’s son on the line in the next episode, hoping that a snap of drama and the possibility of finding out the origin of this psychological phenomenon will keep audiences hooked.

In the next episode, stuff might happen. But does it? Stay tuned...

In the next episode, stuff might happen. But does it? Stay tuned...

I have to say that this kind of bugs me. For some reason, it feels like American audiences (or at least our television and movie producers) have an obsessive need to clarify the origins of everything unusual. While the origins of a problem need to be clarified in order to diagnose the solution (as House would be quick to remind us), does every situation or every character need a completely fleshed out background story?

Why?

To understand the nature of my complaint, take a look at the past three Conan the Barbarian movies. In the first with Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the rebooted third with Jason Momoa, the developers felt they needed to explain Conan’s childhood and origins.

What makes this strange is that Robert E. Howard never actually clarified Conan’s origins. The only crucial detail* Howard ever gave was that his father was a blacksmith, and that Conan had a wandering foot. The two origin stories where Conan was taken by slavers and the other where his father was slain by a power hungry madman were never part of the original Conan tales.

I remember reading (though I can’t recall where, probably IGN) about the new and rebooted Spider Man movie coming out. The author suggested that Marvel skip the whole origins story. I couldn’t agree more. It’s been done, we get it, we don’t need to hear it again. Not only do I recall it from the first movie, I have seen it retold in no less than two animated series.

Do heroes and villains always need origin stories? Heather Ledger’s Joker didn’t in The Dark Knight. Look how unforgettable he was.

I guess I ask all this because of my own writing. I would say about two thirds of my tales have addressed origin tales for both heroes and villains. Yes, even villains who die off at the end of the story get origins and reasoning, an explanation for their dastardly deeds. They hurt people because it is worth their time too. And probably because they enjoy it.

I guess it worries me because one of the heroes of my stories does not get a background. There is a story of course, about all the other supporting characters and the villain but not for the hero himself. Or perhaps I’m going about this wrong. Maybe he isn’t the hero, but an element that just happened to be there to help the main characters. Man, am I glad the story is only in draft form.

* – There are details I missed/forgot in my first draft, but Howard did keep Conan’s origins fairly vague. Thanks to Al Harron for this tip and correction.

New Novel

Random scribblings.

Random scribblings.

So I’ve started working on the next Black Library submission with a brand new novel.

This year, I submitted three short stories and a novel. The stories were likely rejected because I forgot to add the summary paragraph, while the novel risked going against the direction of existing canon, as well as coming up a little short on content. All of this is without consideration for the Xaphan the Faceless submission window, which I still have some confidence in.

This time I’m getting a huge head start on crafting ideas. One of the things that sucks is that a lot of tiny details and ideas will never make it into the pitch because of the submission guidelines. Any smaller details that take place after chapter 3 will go unmentioned unless I get the thumbs up to write for round 2. So I feel my best chance is to run as follows.

For the chapter summary, I have a new focus. The characters, setting, plot and story are four separate entities and all four must move forward in some shape or form every single chapter. The difference between plot and story here being that story is what has already happened, while plot is the story that is being told now. While the plot can be winged and created on the fly, the story must be devised and laid out and told ahead of time.

I know from my writing that I am a better story teller than a plot creator. I feel confident that I can make interesting characters, amusing stories and occasionally devise intriguing settings. Plot has always been one of those things I’ve wanted to really get better at, and the only way I can do that is to keep developing new novels even if they don’t get published.

A quick chat with Shadowhawk has given me some ideas and a great focus for the story. Because the existing story is essential to crafting a sharp and smart plot, I want to avoid plot writing until I feel I have enough of the story in place. Hence my aim is very clear. There will be no real start of the novel until the background story is in place, because you must have the beginning before you know the end, right?

So when I’m done with developing the story, I want to create the break down in such a way that advances the story, plot, characters and setting in every chapter with an aim of about 20 chapters. With a six page limit on the chapter summary, I’ll need to keep my description of what happens limited to three and a third chapters on each page.

Now the second half of this revolves around the first three chapters. Last time, I was weak in this regard and barely squeaked passed the 10,000 word minimum. I have a hard time translating the correlation between the chapter summary to the actual chapters. Simply explained, the chapter summaries were too long and the chapters themselves were too short.

This tells me that far too much of the chapter descriptions were spent developing tiny, trivial details that should be coming about naturally from the story.

I write this in bold because it is, in retrospect and realization through writing this blog post, this is the greatest syntactical problem of my previous novel. This obviously says that the novel development fell short of the intended goal, that being the creation of a complete story. The  chapter summary is simply to assure the editors that I know where this story is going. But the editors will not be selling the chapter summary, they will be selling an extension of the first three chapters. So when I write the chapter summary, I should save the miniscule details for the story and get to the damn point.