30 Days of Balance #21: Starting in the Storm + Passive Voice

Fantasy authors often plan important events – wars, battles, murders, usurpations, the finding of powerful artifices, ascension – and then backtrack to explain all the preparatory details that bring a reader to this place. In my opinion, as best as one can, an author should endeavour to begin the story within the storm of the event itself and let the backstory play out when the opportunity arises. Again, this is likely due to my love of Malazan Book of the Fallen, even if Steven Erikson himself would likely augment the first half of Gardens of the Moon if given the chance. And he loves forcing his readers to dig deep.

My point is more about the importance of immediacy in action. I don’t mean that the book has to start with action – many books feel they need to ‘hook’ a reader and that is fine, but an excellent book will draw readers in regardless (For example, the plodding start of The Name of the Wind has done little to tarnish Patrick Rothfuss’s reputation as a writer of excellence.) Fantasy is a slow burn genre. It takes time. If it did not, all the best books in its canon would not be Bible-weight tomes. Learning about an entirely new world takes time. If the reader does not want to take that time, then by all means they can read something set in the present. In the present all you need to learn about are the characters themselves. It is not about physical, Saturday morning cartoon type action – it’s about placing your writer’s eye at the most critical moment, or building up to it very fast.

Purge of Ashes accelerates very quickly after some groundwork is laid out. It follows the general pattern of a movie – which, if you’ve been paying attention, is not surprising. Being a larger work that is meant to span many books, however, time lines get spread until an eight-page prologue is not the beginning, it is just the tip of the beginning. The more to be constructed, the more leeway had to take your time. Story arcs tend not to function if completed in 3/5s of a book only to spend the final 2/5s in exposition.

One of the key things I learned about editing came when considering this notion of being active as often as possible. Somewhere part way through an early edit I became a passive voice policeman, always watching for any sign of trouble and eliminating as much passive voice as I could find. I found numerous instances. Hads and haves died by the hundreds. Past tenses cowered in hovels. It was a dire time for the word population, the hovering cursor spelling menace for the expendable.

This started any given point of view right in the middle of the storm, instead of backtracking to recount the storm before moving on. My natural tendencies were creating stories about things happening moments prior before reaching the point of the section – but why? I brought the story back a few tics, rewrote active tense in the present, and always pushed the narrative forwards instead of explaining what had just happened. Readers don’t want their character recounting recent events. They want them living current events. It seems so simple until you actually read things over and realize not every point of view needs to be the mental dance of the movie Memento.

JM

30 Days of Balance #20: The Roddening

Last we checked the 6-year challenge was a success…

So I finished my novel. I set out to do it in six years and I did it in six years, more or less. It’s done. Finito. Ready for the presses.

Well, besides the editing. Then the further editing. Then waiting a month and then editing again. I edited the book through myself about seven times over the few years following completion. Each time I was astounded at the stuff I would find. Sentences that fit before, unglued. Story lines unvarnished. Parts I loved in the end barely hammered together. Any author knows writing is re-writing. It just is. My three confidants also read it and fed me on a diet of compliment sandwiches.

When happy with the edits (about halfway through those seven edits), I tried to hook 17 agents on Purge of Ashes. One day I sent out a flurry of query letters tailored to suit the submissions process etched out by their 17 separate companies. Over the next few months I got about 8 rejections and 9 non-replies. There were more names on my list, but some daunting aspects of the process were grating on me and I was more life-busy. Somewhere in there I got married and bought a house and had a real job teaching middle school English for a private school. I left off my attempts and instead tried to hook notably excellent editor Barbara Berson who had been recommended to me by Jane Bow, author of Cally’s Way. Barbara was interested and busy, giving me the first positive feedback I ever heard for Purge: “It’s ambitious and ably-written.” Unfortunately, right when I was planning to hire Barbara my contract was not renewed and I was let go from my teaching position, possibly for inspiring the students too well. Only explanation that made any sense to me.

So the novel sat while life took over.

One day I was in the Facebook group for the Malazan Empire discussing quality fantasy releases when it was mentioned that this fellow member Sean Roddenhad published an epic fantasy novel. Reviews (and I count reviews from Malazan fans as worth double that of a normal human) were very positive. I asked him a bunch of self-publishing questions and he answered. Turned out he lived just down the street in Hamilton, Ontario. Realizing I had read a slew of famous fantasy series with only rare forays into lesser known works – and that this would be exactly what I was expecting from the fans I hoped to garner for Imbalance – I decided to buy and read his novel Whispers of War.

It was potent. I wrote a lengthy review of the book for Amazon and I recommend it to everyone, especially if you like your fantasy old school – Tolkien style – or find other books don’t stretch your vocabulary enough. The day I wrote to point him towards my review, he told me of his three-book deal with Realmwalker Publishing Group.

He told me I should submit to them once I finished my book.

I said my book had been done for over a year.

He said to submit then, and I did.

I then praised the ground he walked upon and made the horrid mistake of promising to buy him a beer when next we met. A beer I still owe. A beer I shirk away from as if intrusive morning daylight.

One night I turned my laptop off at 12:30am and was stumble-walking towards the stairs to head up to bed. My phone was flashing. I absently checked my gmail to see what was the matter. It was James Drake, president of Realmwalker Publishing Group, informing me he had selected my novel for publication. I was damned speechless. I made my way to bed and lay next to my already-sleeping wife debating waking her to tell her. Then I just lay there and grinned at the black ceiling, thinking less of the seven plus years of work it took to reach the moment and more about the years ahead – of what it could mean for the series. When we awoke the next morning I looked at my wife and babbled “It’s funny, you know? It’s funny. It feels like just any other morning, doesn’t it? It feels like just any other morning.” She did not know what to make of this, so I showed her the email.

It has been a long journey from being in university dreaming up characters from the steerage of a dragon boat to waking up next to my wife with a publishing deal. I am super excited to share it with the world on April 5th. I suppose Sean’s really earned that beer.

JM

30 Days of Balance #19: Fantasy vs. Horrible Fantasy Covers

Yes, a post about fantasy covers without actually showing any covers. There are plenty of ways to take a gander at some horrible (and excellent) fantasy covers without me spending my night collecting them for you. For the readily mockable, this place.

It is also well documented how vital a quality cover is to sales, and how vital a brand is to advertising. The cover is a form of brand for an author. It adds to a novel’s ‘collectable’ nature. Weaving themes through the covers of a series is very attractive. It implies to the reader that there is consistency within the novels as well. It shows planning and foresight. It can also be exceptionally cool or clever.

Of course, the covers can also be duds.

The ones that stick out to me are the ones with lizard men on them. Every time I want to mock a fantasy / sci-fi cover, I think lizard men. Usually either a) holding a screaming woman overhead, or b) being shot at by a woman in a silver space suit that ignores the shoulders. I also despise covers that are trying to sell fantasy using sex, because it rings of the ’80s and ’90s stereotype of fantasy lovers as basement nerds who require titillating covers to feel connected to a woman’s curvature. It rings of pulp. I want my fantasy to defy pulp. One of my favourite things about Game of Thrones on HBO is that it opened the world’s eyes to the very idea that fantasy is more than cliches and cheese. That the political machinations in Westeros can be as interesting and rich as ones in the White House.

The fantasy covers I prefer are more minimalist, have symbolism, and are connected to the story itself. They are never of massive battles, dangerous duels or nasty monsters – just a symbol and a correlated theme. The best example of this difference is between covers for Malazan Book of the Fallen:

The Bantam cover is everything I like. A backlit throne held by an imposing warrior? All in. Especially when the next few novels follow this pattern of black + coloured smoke + ominous central figure.

The TOR cover is everything I dislike, although this one is better than most of the others. Carriages just aren’t that interesting. The action scenes rarely capture any of the energy of battle, but instead tend to showcase characters like action figures. Plus every time I see a character in full light I immediately think “That’s not how I picture them.” Especially our good friend Silchas Ruin here as TOR’s covers came later than the original Bantam run.

By this time in my 30 Days of Balance schedule I was supposed to have a cover ready. It would not be a stretch considering Purge of Ashes is being released in less than two weeks to say it is late. What matters is that it is finished and ready for press time. Alas, this may not be the case. Here’s hoping this crisis yields opportunity, because I can’t imagine looking at my first novel, finally done, finally fit for print, finally ready for the world – and be repulsed by the face it wears.

JM

30 Days of Balance #18: Naming Conventions

Ever since I was little, naming things was one of my favourite things to do. Video games for the Nintendo or Sega systems that did not include naming your hero, or *gasp* had only THREE spaces for your handle, were judged accordingly. Names like EYE, ORB, MrT, and POO were only entertaining for so long. The longer the allowed spaces for a name, the happier I was. For example, I LOVED Nintendo’s unicycle racing game Uniracers principally because it allowed me 12 characters with which to concoct epic names. Friends who were less creatively inclined would get me to name their heroes, too. It was a big deal to me.

I think it stemmed from loving maps as per this post from earlier in the Days of Balance. When you create lots of fantastical worlds from maps, you have to name things – and you eventually get a grip on what you like in an original name and what you dislike. Practice makes perfect, as teachers like myself sometimes say.

Many of the names in Imbalance are drawn from names that came before. I named a friend’s Diablo hero ‘Csarvenvoroth’ once and we laughed at its length while still thinking it sounded cool. Later I would shorten this down to ‘Csarvent’ the capital of the Thynlands. The longer form is even tucked in there in Orenzo’s grandmother’s book, as ‘Csarventhyl’. Yet more names had their origins in the Warcraft III book I wrote in high school – including the capital of Banor, Axhold, from the name ‘Axhind’; Gilche’s crony ‘Kharagon’ in Grip of Dust; and even ‘Rafien’ came before, although adopted to a much different purpose than being an Orc. Greatly transformed, that one.

I take great pride in my names. I think an excellent name can draw a character out of the blue. For example, starting to write Grip of Dust over a year ago I had to construct the sceptre of Csarvent and his family. I composed the following names:

  • (Sceptre) Cedgar Tolman
  • Erie Tolman (Chentry)
  • Hoskar (Hoss) Tolman
  • Lia Tolman
  • Kryloak Tolman

Okay, cool, so we’ve got the sceptre and heart-of-the-sceptre, plus her maiden name. Sound like monarchs, sure. Then Cedgar’s brother Hoskar, called ‘Hoss’, I can totally picture this gruff fellow. Gotcha. Lia Tolman… probably a younger girl, and… Kryloak.

What a damn cool name. Kryloak. Kryloak Tolman. I could not let this beautiful name be a footnote in the family lineage of the Csaventi sceptre. There is a story to be told for this Kryloak. No space in Grip of Dust besides the anticipated use of the royal family. I am currently adopting her character to Book Three for a story arc requiring a young heroine and feel entirely justified in the process.

As a final note, I’ll say this. Keep your names handy. Use them. Reuse them. Recycle them if they spark excitement. Just never make them illustrate something about the person themselves – unless a nickname. I remember a discussion in Writer’s Craft class in university wherein a fellow student suggested a girl rename her hero from (something like) ‘Samantha McNeil’ to ‘Samantha Lions’ to help illustrate how she was a strong, courageous, lion-ly person. Puh-lease.

I named my next character ‘Jon Martyr.’

JM

30 Days of Balance #17: Self-promotion vs. The Internet

A day late, but I just had to leave that sample up 48 hours…

One of the most immediately awkward things of getting a publishing deal is you go from pimping yourself to publishers to pimping yourself to the public. Instead of focusing exclusively on mastering the impossible craft of query letters and the dreaded synopsis, you now have to wade into a sea of screaming writers all trying to sell each other debut novels while scanning for people who just like to read. It can be a little daunting. As soon as it was suddenly my job to promote Imbalance to the internet, it felt like I was flicking the myriad switches and toggles essential to busting the Millennium Falcon into hyperspace.

Twitter especially. The vast majority of people who have added me are wishing to promote their novels while I accept them with the plan of promoting my novels. I, meanwhile, add most anyone who has the word fantasy in their bio, which is principally fantasy authors who are keen to promote their novels. See the challenge?

Self-promotion is a sticky thing. It is uncomfortable in real life, a contest only conquered by the most grandiose egos. Yet by the same token, it is essential to the life blood of any fandom you wish to accrue. It is an interesting question to ask whether heavy hitters like Martin and Sanderson could have ever found popularity without some form of promotion. Had they published with no fanfare would someone have taken a chance on the novels and shouted loudly enough?

The hardest part of it all is separating your work. Yes, only the work itself can do that, but there is a certain critical mass necessary for people to rally around your banner. Given the choice between being a fan alongside 100,000 people or 10 people, which would you choose if the books were of equal import? The 100,000 for your own personal joy of discussion, debate, etc. The 10 for your own support for a black horse. While supporting David is all cool, clearly the majority prefer to hang with Goliath.

JM

Final note today – the cover release will be dropping back to March 31st at the latest, as will pre-orders. Also, a big sorry to everyone who can’t make the upcoming Release Party in Toronto. It’s going to be cosmic.

30 Days of Balance #16: EARLY SAMPLE from Purge of Ashes

With my cover reveal just a day around the corner (hopefully), this 16th day of Balance will be given over to a preview of Purge of Ashes. Hope it scintillates!

JM


The illumination provided by the lantern cast a flickering mosaic along the stone sides of the spiral staircase; each crack a horizon distant, each protrusion amass with nooks and crannies so precise they appeared as a tapestry of faces. Faces lost ages past, perhaps even yet to come. Scenes played out again and again, or perhaps events that never transpired at all. No man-made thread and needle were required for the banners of history woven all along the descent – they were wrapped around and around in the features of the masonry, overseen by a mere three sconces spans since last offering light. When memories pervade my waking consciousness, such salient visions are indeed commonplace.

A thin smile parted the lips of a tall, speculative man. Quietly shutting the door behind him, he kept his light source aloft – and were the stone walls a living history in truth they may have gleaned insight into the extant history of a great man through his eyes. Alas, the cold stone of the mosaic was witness merely to a lord whose shoulders hefted curious accouterments in opposition: a sweeping, off-shoulder cloak on the right and an overly-large, reinforced manica of dirty iron on the left.

Underground he went, deeper and deeper into the heart of this inexplicable hunk of earth lost in a sea of rot. It was cold up above and even colder as he approached the base of the stairs, warmth of all kinds distant from such an unreasonable location. He was unperturbed by the icy chill across his forearms and neck. Indeed, he welcomed it. Most gaols he had found himself in, as warden or dead man walking, had been musty, hot, sand-filled urinals rife with scorpions and cyclopean thorizar. More unbidden memories, but they were of no consequence and easily cast aside. What was more, he had arrived.

The last hidden recluse in the capital. Oh, he had spent many spans in the castle, searched out every cellar, every roost. He had traveled the corridors of the servants and stood in the throne room more times than he could count. That an excavation this expansive could remain so hidden from his probing senses was a mystery – but it was also an answer. There was nowhere else to look. And at this distance, now but paces from what the lantern was revealing to be a sizable, half-rotten wooden door raked by iron bars, he could feel the soft droning of reticent chakka burgeoning after decadaes of elusion.

With a final jangling of his undercoat, he stood in silence before the door, the lantern’s perforation revealing little through the dull, slime-covered splinters. With a gentle palm he pushed on the handle. The fulcrums groaned, but it fell open nonetheless, a metallic wheeze reverberating up the stairwell behind him. Not the amount of resistance one would normally expect from a door untroubled for a great many spans. Flaked chips of rust within a reach of the threshold confirmed his assumption.

Fingers darted out, snuffing the lantern. His quarry was most certainly within the pitch black room. He took one step forward. His eyes would not adjust, he knew. Matchsticks waited on the inside of his cloak for the return trip. Extinguishing the lantern was but a courtesy.

“Ah,” Rafien Jorgamund said simply, a noise more than a word. A rusty creak answered him, followed immediately by the onset of a shiver and the sensation of a most perceptive regard steeling into him from somewhere within the chamber – which was, of course, impossible. Oh, he might try, but Chakka’Ghar were, without exception, blind. The gesture was for his benefit so he could locate the particular direction of black to address. Long ears would have picked up his bootfalls tics prior, descending the stairs with no attempt at the clandestine.

“You could not have thought to evade me here forever.”

No reply was forthcoming. Some things never changed.

“However, being here I must assume that utter evasion was never your desire, else you would have left Sventium altogether and made your way back home. Or maybe north to Brace Cartia. Or west and across the Rockswell. But you are here and I don’t know whether I find that telling or worrisome… because I do not know why.”

They had been friends long ago. They were friends now, truth be told, although the veracity of that statement depended upon the manner upon which one gauges friendship and, indeed, the passage of time.

Rafien could remember the exact sixtieth he saw his friend last, a centoraspan prior, standing on a desolate road south of the site. They had stood together facing the Landbridge, an isthmus runs to the west across wind-swept plains and prairie grasses, the carved bays of its edges disrupting the seamless circumference of the horizon and framing the path soon to be undertaken. Beyond it the battered sun set in vivid display.

The weight of the impending moment had already brought tears to Rafien’s eyes, freezing to his skin as they rode the wind across his cheeks and down his face. They had left him a sleek mask, humorously reflective of his inner turmoil and exposing, for the uncaring flats of Aneoma to see, his self. A petty facade, but one he had clung to nonetheless, unable to come to grips with an emotion he had not felt deeply in so many spans. And so he had wept.

He had stood alone in the gale winds and then they had stood side-by-side when the time had come. A gloved hand had settled on his shoulder, stirring awake the husk he had become: a frigid overseer beset by bandages and bruises staring ruthlessly down at the expanse before him. The action cracked his streaked exterior, spawning new tears and crumbling the remnants of his resolve. He had then whispered the last true prayer of his life.

Ronun Thel had stepped past him and never looked back.

Poetic, then, that his vigil began on the West Plain, where the once-holy could walk half a dozen runs of flat road before becoming a smudge in the distance. Telling, then, that in traveling by night his friend’s progression was all but untraceable in a matter of tics. Maybe he had not wanted me to watch him go, but by Aneom’s robes I stood and watched the darkness. Aneom’s dirty robes, I stood.

Stood as he did now, in utter darkness, with only his measured breaths to act as the wind and break the silence. Somewhere beyond his senses, Ronun.

“What is the… root of this self-pity?” he asked, the plea of his pursuit once more entering his voice unbidden. “What have you not already faced?”

Rafien let the questions linger, the air hanging thick with the unmentionable. He hoped to use their past history to draw the man out, but – as the tics grew longer and Rafien burgeoned on spending a half-tora underground between the bells – he was unsure his friend was ready for the conversation. He had waited a long time to meet Thel again. He could wait a little longer.

“I will return.”

With a respectful bow, he stepped back into the stairwell, his right hand pulling the rotted door shut behind him. It had to be handled carefully. Thel’s scars would weep in time, but, as usual, Rafien himself would have to be prepared for the burden of their bleeding, and that challenge would require a substantial amount of patience.

His hand rummaged in a pocket, finding a long match which he struck against a stone protrusion on the wall. It caught, once more doing the work of the tired sconces. One step at a time, Rafien Jorgamund trudged his way back towards the top of the stairs. Once more in the corridors of the castle, and long out of earshot of the new denizen at the root of the hidden staircase, his lips let slip a ragged sigh – winds of the past once more lashing like flails against his cheeks.

*Courtesy of Chapter Six of Purge of Ashes, Book One of the Imbalance – coming April 5th, 2016, through Realmwalker Publishing Group.

 

30 Days of Balance #15: Writing Women

I wanted to watch Robin Hood: Men in Tights while on a field trip in middle school. We were on a bus from Toronto to Montreal and had plenty of hours to fill. Those of us clever enough to have hauled out our VHS stash would get a chance to see their favourite movies played for a whole bus load of Vesuvian hormones. I was first in line, Mel Brooks clutched safely to my chest.

The teacher responsible for adjudicating over the choice was the school’s noted feminist (more rare in its overt form back in the mid-90s) Mrs. V. She was the homeroom teacher for about half my friends but not I, and had recently shaved her head for cancer research. She glared down at the clunky rectangle I offered her and asked, “What are the women’s roles?”

I was forced to eventually answer: a princess, a matron, and a witch.

Not long after I was watching Dave Chappelle and co. get silly to the many hearty guffaws of my peers, but I did not forget her snort of disgust – nor the brief internal struggle writ across her face. As a teacher she had no real recourse but to let us watch the movie – it was PG and light-hearted and contained nothing objectionable from a censors point of view – but as someone fighting to educate us on gender roles, she knew the three labels above were rudimentary stereotypes.

Now, writing women, I try not to think of any of it. I don’t want outside influences affecting my choices with what they do, what role they play, or their place within my world. I want the only difference to be a care that I am not. See, as a man it can be dicey – to write a woman exactly as I would write a man is to drift over that which makes her female, but to write a woman as a man sees women can undo accuracy the same way I don’t believe I am at all like how a woman views a typical man. As such, it is a craft to write the opposite sex. One that succeeds or fails on its realism (forced ‘strong women’ are every bit as two-dimensional as a ’60s Disney damsel, for example).

This ‘realism’ stems from the root beliefs of the author. To build a unique and vibrant character of either gender requires the recognition that such people exist in either gender. Those unable to tap into such a base will no doubt create artificial copies. I have faith that I can ‘not think of any of it’ because I trust my inner self to naturally create women who might be strong or might be weak – but are always invested. It is my belief Avery Shim ta Salm, Asma Madrejingo, Minette Cullas-Kloss, Corporal Eunice and Emerlyse drive home this message.

Back in the day Mrs. V. was quite the character and she made me think. I aim for my daughter to read characters who do the very same.

JM

30 Days of Balance #14: Love + Art

My wife doesn’t do fantasy novels. Nor anything in the realm of unreality.

One time we left a theatre after spending three hours watching the Wachowski’s Cloud Atlas – a movie that jumped through about 8 different time lines spanning hundreds of years – and when prompted to give her opinion on the multi-layered, interwoven, cryptic feature, she said the infamous word: ‘sokay.’

Not even proper English, yet a beautiful portmanteau of “it’s” and “okay.” The merits of the movie are another debate, but the merits of this response are beyond dispute. If you can sum up that with a single, non-committal, slug of monosyllabic reply – this sort of stuff ain’t for you.

I have always felt that finding someone you want to be with forever, if that’s your thing, is a matter of the heart and not the head. You want your heads to be in the same space as far as important life goals go: so, say, the value of education, raising children, political angle, career ambition, and if it’s cool to record your own nerdcore in the basement. Beyond that, however, the rest belongs to the heart – and the idea that you value someone not for what they like, but who they are. You know, as a person. My geeky friends can like what I like. If my partner does, that’s a bonus, not a criterion.

So for the tenure of our relationship (nine years in July) my wife has had no friggin’ clue what I’ve been talking about whenever I bring up Imbalance, its characters, its story lines, etc. No clue. Once in an effort to keep me awake while driving she let me get into detail about Purge of Ashes, but only with the disclaimer that tired as she was she was certain to forget it all by morning and I could not hold it against her. She knows there’s a guy named Orenzo. She knows there are further characters named Aronan and Avery. She knows it’s about soldiers and refugees. After all this time, that is the level to which the transfer has occurred – the transfer between art and love.

Not such a bad thing, really. Like mixing personal and professional. Besides, now that Purge of Ashes is being released April 5th by Realmwalker Publishing Group, she will have to read it.

Please note that her distance from the project has not prevented her from frequently ‘correcting’ me on the pronunciation of ‘Asma’ Madrejingo.

JM

30 Days of Balance #13: A World Birthed From Documents

While much of Imbalance was born from ideas formed observing an initial map, the concepts behind the series were maintained by a series of documents designed to assist me in documenting the world. There are likely entire programs in existence now for just such documentation, designed with purpose to make a creator’s life easier, but I began the process so long ago I have simply continued to use what has worked for me rather than stopping to improve my systems. You know, similar to how George R. R. Martin still writes A Song of Ice and Fire on software from the 1980s.

1. The Almanac

The Almanac is the series bible. It contains every bit of information created for Purge of Ashes and beyond to ensure continuity across all pages, chapters, books, and formats. This spreadsheet has 16 tabs: Characters, Army, World, Peoples, Nations, Terms, Phrases, Unique Names, Religion, Chakka, Geo, Fauna, Basics, Weapons, Military and Medieval – with some of the headings shortened so they all fit on a single page without need of a scroll bar. A typical tab contains all the information on the subject cited – so, for example, ‘Geo’ breaks down terminology and details for various locations across the map, including a catch-all for ‘man-made’ structures and places. It keeps track of which areas feature what topography and the correlated types of trees and vegetation. A few other tabs are unique. The ‘Army’ tab features a grid of soldier names from the Loce Freelancers, third division, and is updated at particular intervals wherein the listings change. ‘Nations’ contains plenty of objective data about different parts of the world, some of which can be found in my ‘World’ section here online. Finally, the ‘Characters’ tab keeps track of every original name mentioned in the book, be they many-detailed principal characters like Orenzo Madleej or few-detailed throw-away characters like Masterchef D’al.

2. The Chapter Breakdowns

This spreadsheet lists all point of view characters on the left and shows the division of their page count across all 25 chapters of the novel on the right. In other words, it is a rolling counter of who is getting the most ‘headspace’ time per chapter and gives you a sense of who is most central to your story. Since it is divided by chapter, it also demonstrates how long it has been since we last heard this character’s point of view. The results are tallied in a column on the far right, illustrating the final division of mental labour. It also keeps track of when characters have anything similar to a flashback for quick navigation later. I break things down by the quarter page.

3. The Divisions

A succession of milestones both intimidating and inspiring, whenever I finish a point of view, I hop over to the Divisions page to chalk up another completed section. This document divides into the various points of view that comprise each chapter, listing whose POV we are getting and giving it an arbitrary title and brief description so it is immediately identifiable. Since the section is done, I can also fill in how many pages this perspective ate. Before I start writing a new novel I also use this document to record every prospective point of view I plan to write, and then add, take away, or reorder based on my current considerations for the novel’s direction. I lay the entirety of a book out in this fashion before beginning. This document also serves as a place to leave reminders of stuff to double check before finalization.

4. The Timeline

A spreadsheet created to ensure flashbacks had accurate ages, the timeline is a blocky document that would be the first to go were I to afford fancy timeline software, which I’m sure exists. Covering the last 100 spans, it uses coloured boxes to denote character ages, with a top bar listing important events of any particular span. As such, I can keep age continuity for any moments new or old, and hopefully prevent the plethora of challenges that come with hopping about in the narrative as much as I do. I also track the two different understandings of the calendar that occur in the world as explained here. Only 58 characters merited a spot on this document, their histories and relevance too important to be left floating. I would greatly enjoy a better document, but the timeline will have to do for now as there is writing and promotion to do.

All of these documents add up to a system that keeps Imbalance on track and in check, ensuring consistency is maintained across the many pages of Purge of Ashes and beyond.

JM

30 Days of Balance #12: The Cracks of the Day vs. Money

On the Fantasy Faction group of Facebook the question recently went out: what do you find most difficult about writing? The answers ranged from not being able to express oneself properly, to not finding the time, to writing certain types of characters, to loneliness. I thought about it for a moment and answered thusly:

Dealing with the contrast between my proven track record of producing day in day out for weeks without hitting a snag and the current financial limitations that prevent this from becoming a day by day reality. Aka the one thing that takes precedence over the work: supporting a family simultaneously.

Writing in the cracks of the day sucks. But if authors have any form of life responsibilities they need to make money. Unless your books are selling like proverbial hot cakes, this eliminates the possibility of writing full time all day every day – and yet this type of time and attention press is exactly what young authors need to see whether they can actually do it. Dabblers write here and there. Authors can fill a day with no reservations. The problem then becomes overcoming that feeling.

For five straight weeks in 2013 I drove my wife to work by 8:20am, got to the local library by 8:30am, read a few chapters in the car (I think I was finishing up Wheel of Time upon Sanderson’s third release), and then at 9:00am found my own space inside. I would write until sometime near lunch, eat a bagged lunch while watching a Futurama episode, then write until 4:15pm. I would pick my wife up at 4:30pm and drive home. Every day except weekends.

Now, plenty of authors can brag this sort of devotion. Devotion by itself does not make for excellent writing. What these weeks did do was prove that I could be productive and happy while writing 40 hours a week while giving Imbalance the unprecedented rate of focus it demands. Achieving this was important. I also got about a quarter of the book done.

I was a full-time teacher. I was paid over those summer holidays. I was paid as if working full time and yet I could write the day away.

It’s a hard habit to kick.

Now the pressures of the day are many, I have no teaching contract that extends over the summer, and my daughter requires attention above and beyond all manner of previous duty. Whenever I work on Grip of Dust I get hit with this malaise of frustration that such boundless time and focus may never again be available to me – that such a blissful writing set-up may never again provide such design alacrity. It casts doubt that I can once again compile such a mass of details during the cracks of the day with so many distractions abound. I know other authors feel my pain – even ones halfway famous. The distance between designated writing time and forced writing time is enough to sink a war galley.

Yet up paddles.

JM