Microfictions: Sentry & Shoes

I’ve been dealing with quite a few computer problems over the last couple of days and with my Camp NaNoWriMo participation this month I haven’t been able to post as often as I would like. So here’s a couple microfictions in the meantime.

Sentry

The hordes below the mountainside were as vast as a hill of ants. A cold sweat broke out on the sentry’s brow. His hand tightly held his sword for the comfort of its steel, as his fingers remained close to the trigger of the gun embedded in its hilt.  The enemy was moving directly toward his village.

Scurrying backwards he moved silently, a figure quickly obscured by trees as he raced through the night to make his report.

Shoes

He had found his lost show, along with the gold inside. The other guy hadn’t been so lucky.

Editing: A Process

Editing is a strange process.

This week I cut a story down from 9000 words to half its size.  It was almost as if I was smashing in a work of pottery still on the wheel in order to build a better vessel with the same clay.

Now the story is a skeleton of what it was and it’s still a difficult story.  I sense I will need a bit of feedback before I set about the difficulties of putting some of the flesh back onto it.

This week has been another key to my personal preparation for going through the novelette I wrote.  One more step in a series that began two years ago.

In late 2015 and early 2016 I wrote a full length novel, tried to edit it, and then realized I needed more experience in this craft before tackling the revisions on this book, the first in a planned epic fantasy trilogy.  So I went about trying out different ideas and tackling shorter length works in an effort to find my own voice and get a feel for what works as  a writer.

I’m in a stage where I feel like my writing is as fluid as ocean waves.  Some of my writing is razor focused and only needs a few edits on details while other pieces require a great deal more thought and change.

The trick has become learning how best to read those waves and channel the story through them.

I’m not writing this as someone who has figured it out yet.  But I am posting this as someone who is beginning to see a way through the maelstrom that is editing.

A Novella

“I’ve got a jar of dirt! I’ve got a jar of dirt, and guess what’s inside it!” –Captain Jack Sparrow, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

I started a fantasy novella last July as a means of giving myself a break from my first novel. It was meant to be completed in the month as part of Camp NaNoWriMo in conjunction with watching Brandon Sanderson’s BYU classes on writing. Unfortunately, I got busy and the plot was giving me a few issues, so it remained in stasis for a while.

Part of my reason for writing it was to get a microcosm of the writing process, like learning to bake a cookie so that I can eventually go on to creating a soufflé. Another reason for writing it was also because I’ve spent the last ten years putting the pieces of my high fantasy work together, I needed a break and proof that I was more than just a one idea and done author.

So there you have it, the main reasons I’ve been exploring short stories and this novella over the course of the last year is because I need the practice before I go back and work on my high fantasy trilogy.

So why am I going on and on about this?

I finished the novella yesterday! It doesn’t necessarily mean it will be released any time soon, but it is another step forward. And I’m looking forward to what the story can teach me about the editing process.

The reason I love the Pirates of the Caribbean quote above is because that’s exactly what I have in this draft.  It is what amounts to a jar of sand that I’ll use to build my sandcastles. (Writing as related to sandboxes is a popular metaphor shared by at least both Ted Dekker and Shannon Hale regarding writing.)

What should be coming sooner than a published novella however, is news about short stories: the rest of this month will be committed to the backlog I’ve created of short story and flash fiction drafts. I’ll be cleaning them up and sending them off for submission.

For tonight though, I’ll continue celebrating that another major rough draft is finished.

 

 

 

(Here’s the first in the Sanderson lectures if you’re interested:)

Getting Down to Business

A.K.A. Working through Procrastination.

Many times I fall into a couple forms of procrastination

  • Cleaning, texting, daydreaming, reading, etc… (these may be productive, but will not get my novels written).
  • Looking up clips from favorite shows, listening to some of my favorite music, and/or looking up quotes from favorite novels.  I do this to help me get my muse going, but more often than not it leads to rabbit trails of distraction.

Those two observations seem obvious right?  Well they are two of several traps I fall into when I should be taking time to write.  Most often what happens is I’m tired from work and want to relax a bit before working very hard on stories.  To be honest, more often than not the social media I rely on to get my name out there – as great as they are – often distract me as well.

Now, I have no idea if you have some of the same struggles or if yours manifest differently, but here are some of the things I’ve learned.

  • Self Discipline – The tricks I have learned won’t work unless I make myself do them.
  • Full Screen Mode – The writing software I use (Scrivener) has a mode where the only thing I can see on my computer screen is the part of the document I am working on.
  • Pen and Paper – This has been my favorite of late.  You can’t access Twitter from a piece of paper (at least not yet, I assume something crazy like this will one day be invented to our detriment).  And, as I discussed in a previous post, there are advantages to writing stories out in longhand.
  • Lyricless Music – Music without words coupled with sound proofing ear buds help me isolate myself from the world and the worries of it.  This gives me a clearer focus while writing, especially when I don’t have the lyrics to listen to as an added distraction.  Besides soundtracks, I really like listening to piano music.
  • A Plan – If I use a planner to write out what I want to get done in the course of the day, I am far more successful at it than when I am not writing it down.  (I personally use a bullet journal, an example of which can be found here).
  • A List – I learned a while ago that if you want to focus, write down your stray thoughts on a pad of paper next to you.  It releases your mind from worrying about it and helps you focus on the tasks at hand (other advantages can be found in this article).
  • Rewards – Though I do this less than I should.  Giving myself a reward for finishing my daily goals and larger rewards for larger projects has been useful.

Hope this is helpful!  Time for me to get back to work myself.

 

Finding a Niche

Last month, I had a conversation with an acquaintance discussing my future and how it is really hard to find a day job that fits well with me.

Anyway, to shorten this story a bit, I was told very few people ever find a niche that truly works for them.  The idea was that I should settle for something I was good at, but hated because very few people find their niche.

I walked away, wondering why anyone could justify quitting the search for something that gives you a sense of fulfillment, just because most people never find it.

I had already written Skipping Stones by this point, and this story was more a reaction to current world events, while thinking of the “Green Fields of France” by Eric Bogle.  And now, it’s my first published work. It’s obviously not perfect, but no writer is ever totally perfect* and I am very pleased that this story is the first.

And I am also very pleased with my decision soon after to make a career transition.

—–

*Not only do many authors face rejection after rejection, but I’ve found typos and a grammatical issue or two in even my favorite published first editions.  My point?  We’re all human and working on our craft.  It would be ridiculous to quit after a first draft isn’t a masterpiece so why do we do that in “real life”?

Character Building: Enneagram

This won’t be a very long post, but I think it will be helpful for those of you who are also writers.

I don’t believe that people can be strictly categorized into one type or personality or another, however, I do think there are overriding tendencies we each have.

When it comes to character-building though, one of the easiest methods is to use personality types as a tool to help grid out who they will become.  If used properly, it helps us to plan out what drives our cast, how they see the world, what their dreams and passions are, and so on and so forth.

This weekend I began work on a table for my story bibles that listed my characters, their enneagram and Myers-Brigg personality types with a brief description of why I decided that was their personality type.

So, if you aren’t familiar with the enneagram it is a way of understanding personality and motivations with nine overall types.  I like it because it includes a bit more about motivations and less about dividing people just on their actions and how they process the world.

So, for your reading pleasure, here are a couple of links to sites with an overview of the enneagram’s understanding of personalities:

Enneagram Institute

Wikipedia: Enneagram of Personality

Of Hobbits and Characters

You know those games we sometimes play?  The personality quizzes that match us up with some character from a tv show?  I suspect all of us geeks have done one of these at some point or another.  (And nearly as often, understand how to manipulate the test to get a more favorable result).

The appeal of these sorts of quizzes presents an interesting question in and of itself.  Does finding a character that is like us somehow validate our self in our own eyes?  Is there more behind the appeal than just picking an idealized version of ourselves we want to emulate?

I don’t know the answer.  I do know there have been studies out there where it is shown that reading fiction increases your level of empathy.  I assume in part because of just how deeply invested in these characters we become.

Speaking on a more personal note my own journey has often reflected Bilbo’s.  More than that, I am convinced I would be a quintessential hobbit in a fantasy world.  The elves were always majestic, the race of men synonymous with nobility (when they weren’t royally messing things up), and I am definitely not an orc or goblin.  Crossing genres, I was never the self confidant smug rogue type or the serene ascetic Jedi.

I like my armchair and my books.  I like my garden.  But in the midst of the mundane I have a rather Took-ish side as well.  And when I haven’t been off adventuring I have been putting pen to paper.  At work I maintain the peace, though mercifully, I’m not employed as a burglar.  More or less, I’m an oversized hobbit.

When this season of life transitions to whatever is next.  I will have my own token to carry with me, not unlike Bilbo’s acorn.  I’ll remember the good, the bad, and everyone in between.

It’s one reason I can’t wait for you all to meet my own characters.  I am hard at work pouring everything I have learned into them.  Their fears, desires, courage, resilience, deviousness, all creating a beautiful cacophony turning into a symphony that will reach into the heart of the reader and tear it apart only to rebuild it.

These are lofty goals I know, but that is the target.

And my aim is true.