Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Tempus Forgetaboutit

Haven't updated in more than two months, so as an added incentive I decided to list at least every two weeks my progress on both (a) my first novel's rewrite progress and (b) word count for my new novel. Let's see how it goes from here.
Book One Rewrite Progress: 14%
Book Two Progress: 44 700 words (aprox)
But why this lag between updates? It comes down to having the time. Recently my work-load and pressure at work increased, meaning my time-table shifted and I come home exhausted. It took a month or so to adjust, though I did do some writing when I had the chance. Time-management can be tricky for a part-time writer like myself. Its (relatively) easy for Neil Gaiman, Stephen King and George RR Martin to sit around the house and work on their novels. And writers with a journalist background come with this built-in. But if, like the rest of us, you have a day job and need to get up at five in the morning to miss traffic then finding the time to work on one's magnum opus can become a challenge.
But fear not, for in truth we have the time, we just need the wisdom to see it and acknowledge our faults, or in this case distractions.
There are, as I see it, three big distractions that can sink a potential writing career. One is work, which is unavoidable in this day and age, but even if you sit at home you still have certain chores and responsibilities that can also drive away your attention. Too much work would work against your writing, especially if you're aiming for an epic like I do.
Secondly, there is something that is necessary in writing: other narratives. Television with good stories, good movies, video-games with good stories and books. Where are the carefree days where television was trash or disposable? Well, a lot of it is still trash, but I think the percentage of quality writing on most shows are a lot higher, so there's that.  Keeping tabs on all one's favourite shows is coming close to being a chore. And naturally books have to be read, absorbed and studied.
But  my biggest problem personally is probably the internet. Its easy to get distracted there, even when you're writing and you need to quickly confirm something, from the atomic number of Cobalt (27 - I Googled it) to the name of the river closest to Kleinmond in the Western Cape (Palmiet River). You say to yourself "Oh, I'll be there quickly" but before you can collect yourself two hours have passed and you're watching a video of random humour with ten other tabs open at the top while your writing project languishes in the corner of your screen alone, unloved, unfinished.
Not pictured: my novel. Technically blogging falls under problem #3. D'oh!
But I have found ways of making time, even if it means putting off finishing the third season of Game of Thrones or leaving that Akira Kurosawa box-set on the shelf half-watched far longer than I care to. I get annoyed when people get annoyed with me for not finishing these things (as they want to discuss it) but I can live with that. And in the mornings before work, when my mind is cold and clinical and I don't feel like writing new stuff, I devoted to re-writing or editing the original book. I'm eating an elephant two bites at a time, and I'm fine with that (though it takes a long time to digest).

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

"Confound you, Myth Arc!"

Useful Note: A 'myth arc' is a general term dating from the original run of The X-Files, which describes the over-arching plot / conspiracy that is behind much the main characters encounter, only through an entire series and not just a season, or two or three episodes. It can also be applied to a book series where it may be a plot behind the events. Now that we got that out of the way...

The more difficult thing about writing the sequel to my novel for me is that everything is now planned. My first novel was written 'Stephen King style', which is to say I sat down, began writing and things just fell in place. Although I had an idea where I was going after the first fifty pages I did not plan that well. Fixing some inconsistencies is not that hard and the structure felt natural to most of my test-readers. But with the story in the sequel growing more complex, partially because it was not simple to begin with, and with two different time lines, things are getting trickier. The most satisfying part of experimenting in writing is the 'fractured narrative' and how it reflects the narrator's mind. The more difficult parts have to do with the untangling of the mysteries central to the story's myth arc.

This is separate from open endings or unreliable narrators, where obfuscation is part of the flavour and the reader has to put things together themselves. My first novel ends with a small victory and many mysteries solved, but larger mysteries and driving questions remain for the characters. But its easy to set up a mystery in a grand narrative but choosing the right moment to unknot one has to be planned carefully. If the dialogue, discovery or the tone is slightly off then the reader will not find it satisfying.

Examples; I'm a big fan of LOST, but I think that the final season did a terrible job at unknotting what the authors bothered to explain (the things they chose not to explain is a different subject altogether). Compared to the rest of the series, a series that truly pushed the boundaries of serial story-telling, it was not really satisfying. It could be because of a stretched-out, padded production, or because they did not really know what they were building up to. Or perhaps nothing could satisfy. Either way, it could have been better. A more extreme example is the original series of the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion, where budget-cuts and an extremely troubled production meant the animators literally had to throw something together. When the company got around to making a movie that was supposed to wrap everything up they made something somewhat incomprehensible and morally horrifying, though many think it was out of spite to counter the death threats the director received for the series' ending. Congratulations. (I should add there is a tetralogy of movies that's supposed to remedy that, two of which are so far available on DVD). Most of the back story was eventually released through various other means, which is not useful if it has direct bearing on the events but is never relevant to the narrative. These days only think The Lord of the Rings can get away with appendixes. But I digress.
The danger I'm dealing with is ultimately to write like I'm connecting dots; like I've been given a list of plot points and must draw lines of prose to make sure they connect. The flow of narrative, information and twists have to feel natural, or else they wont feel like anything at all except arbitrary. A good instance I averted was in one chapter where the stakes of the second novel are laid bare. Despite being important I cut it from the chapter and decided to put the information in much further down. The relaying of the info was too sudden and too convenient, and I think the readers would sense this and object. This cosmetic cut taught made me realize that writers who write multi-layered stories must not be lazy and not just dump things on the reader because its convenient, otherwise you lose them. If you don't care about the plot, your characters wont really care either and neither would your audience.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

The Structure of an Idea

I would not advise anyone in brainstorming a story while driving to work on a dark autumn morning as it flirts unnecessarily with the possibility of author existence failure. In the least it would qualify as a bad writing career move. Yet, with traffic increasing, with sunrise an hour away,  keeping to the left, passing on the right and keeping my eyes fixed in front of me, I brainstormed against my better judgement. Could not be helped, and at least it does not happen often.

The inspiration was not for a novel, but for a short story, or possibly a short-movie. It certainly can't be a novel. It started as an incredibly disturbing idea, but as I tinkered with it the shade of an idea it became something nominally reminiscent of Philip K Dick until I finally thought of making it a rather dark Christian allegory of some sort (allegories are a form of story-telling I'm admittedly not a fan of most of the time). As I began to close up the brainstorming session (already firmly planted behind my work PC) I realized that as an allegory it had been done. I decided to dial back my story-processing away from that avenue, which was an interesting experience.

It's not easy to chart, within my head, the development of a story. Imagine an idea, then connecting more ideas to that idea, then writing them on a tennis ball, and throwing them to the idea to see which stick. Or imagine a seed growing into a tropical forest. That's a brainstorming session for me. A lot of good ideas with no idea how to use them. This is why the brainstorming is partly impossible to control; it has a life of its own.

The bleak image that sparked this was the logical conclusion of something on my mind, but the story moved away from that for now. Several other themes began steeling their way into the story. The noir ascetic, which I'm admittedly a fan of, began crawling into the setting as well (at this stage it was still, in essence, a possible short film plot). I began imagining what would create such a world, and it went from fantasy (a genre I prefer) to science fiction within a few blocks of driving. I began imaging where, in this world, the main character stands, what his role is in the tale, and how he goes about his business. I also nailed down the structure and scenes and supporting characters.

As it stands now, it could work well as both a short story, or a novella, or a short film. The good thing is I'll have another short-story added to my roster. The bad is I'd have to put aside editing and writing the other stories. But I think I should at least write something, if only to make up for the fact that I brainstormed while driving, even if it was a 25 minute drive. In the end I can only gain by doing it.

Friday, 26 April 2013

My appreciation of First Person Narratives

"You've really made a lot of work for yourself," one test reader said when she began reading my book. She was referring to my use of a first-person narrative, and she wasn't kidding! Believing in taking on challenges I chose a particularly tricky one at that. A major influence in me writing directly from the character's point of view is because he's a detective, and though he's not particularly hardboiled, first person narration works best. But first-person narration has always appealed to me more easily than the usual third person works. Having spent much of last week compiling a 'recommended reading list' I realized that are several of my stand-out favourites that are first-person narratives. Digging deeper I into my reading past I managed to track down three books that I suspect influenced my current narrative subconsciously.

Thursday, 18 April 2013


I have compiled, as a separate page on this blog, a list of favourite novels and movies, in no particular order. Originally just a quick list, I decided to expand it into a comprehensive page with quick comments and / or reviews on the books.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013


Not all novels are published as one book. Most famous example would be Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, which is usually called a trilogy despite the fact that it was written as one book. You could argue that is a forced trilogy, as it was published in three books because, as I understand it, it was too expensive to publish it in one volume. More recent we got George RR Martin's A Dance with Dragons, which was also published in two parts. In the end the decision to divide a book is usually based in economics, and occasionally, a publisher's wish to cash in. Which is where my current rewrite comes in.

For about two years, between 2007 and 2009, I managed to write a 350 000 word book despite the fact that many of my up-and-coming author acquaintances saw it as a bad move. Most of them advised me to either shorten it to 150 000 words (which is usually some publishers' limits) or divide it into two books. On the surface this may not seem like a problem. There is a relatively comfortable place within my book where the story can be divided in two but I need not consult Solomon to know that this division would be a bad (if reasonable) decision.

I believe my novel would not be broken if divided into two like some might, but on the other hand I feel the reasons not to are more compelling. One reason is that the book's emotional climax would fall in its second half, thus the second book. Even though there is an emotional climax within the first half as well (a rather devastating one for the main character) it would just make more sense as a whole and thus be more satisfying. Second, the climax proper is in the second half where many of the loose ends are tied up and the mysteries explained. I can easily manufacture a climax for the first half without it seeming tacked on (in fact, I was going to ad it in any case) but again it would not be 100% satisfying to most readers. Most would no doubt shake their fists at me for not resolving much. I do believe that they will care enough for the characters and their problems to read further, and the plots and mysteries should intrigue them too, but on the whole I'd rather give them more than less.

In the end (unforeseeable and undetectable) unless I go for self-publishing, then the division will have to take place. I am rewriting the novel in such a way where it can be done, but I will submit it first to publishers who would be more likely to not ask for it to be divided. It is important to me that my first novel should come out as best as possible and a division would undermine that.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

New Writing Blog

In 2009 I finished a manuscript of 350k words for a dark fantasy, then placed it in the figurative drawer after posting (on a personal blog) this picture celebrating my victory:

Despite this dour prophecy I ended up spending the next three years I struggling to finish another book that basically went nowhere, despite my plan for it to be a shorter work, quicker work. In December 2012, my patience at an end, I decided that the struggling work wasn't worth the time I've put into it, and with that disappointment firmly in the drawer I set out to re-write both my book while writing its sequel.

Although I've been on Blogger for a while I never really started my own blog and felt the need to work on my novel. This blog exists basically as a way to chart my progress and to offer (and hopefully receive) advice regarding this process, as my ultimate goal is to have it published. The title of this blog is derived from the novel.

So, as the indirectly whimsical picture suggested, let the rewrites begin...