Tag Archives: writing

Notes Of A Storyteller: This Is Why Writing Fiction Takes Forever

I’ve never been well-acquainted with Oscar Wilde, but there’s a quote attributed to him that floats around the Internet that says, “I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.”

I’d like to find where he said that, because it matches my own experience with The Kingdom Trilogy to a “t”. Just look at a few phrases I obsessed over during the last few weeks of writing The Stand. My writing is in quotes; my thoughts while writing them are in italics. The sentences don’t come from the same passage, FYI, so don’t try to link them together.

“The thought had come to him before.”

Hmmm… there’s something about “come to him” that just doesn’t work with the sentence. It doesn’t sound right. I want it to sound different. How can I make it sound different? What exactly should it sound like, instead of this? I’m not sure, but I know I want a change.

What about “occurred to him”? No way! I see that everywhere! I want to make it sound more original than that! No, brain, this is not an insignificant details! If I want to write good prose, I’ve got to focus on the details!

Wait a minute… how did an hour just pass by? It was 10 AM just a minute ago… oh, forget this. I have a chapter to finish.

“50,000 armored men stood in endless iron rows.”

Hold it! I need to spend some time with this sentence. Do I absolutely need the adjective “armored”? The readers already know that this is an army. Wouldn’t “armored” be redundant, then?

Maybe I should get rid of “endless iron rows”. I mean, now that I’m running that through my head, it doesn’t sound quite right. It sounds great, but it might sound better elsewhere. What do I think of when I see the phrase “endless iron rows”? Not a medieval army so much as a robot army. Heck, I could even see a steampunk politican using this to rile his audience against some authority- hey, that might be a story worth writing…

Ack! No! Don’t brainstorm! Make a note and move on! But wait- we gonna keep “armored” or not? Ummm… let’s scratch it. And we’ll circle “endless iron rows”. If I can think of something more fitting during editing, I’ll use that. Wait, what was my problem with that phrase in the first place?

“Eyes were locked forward.”

That doesn’t look grammatically correct. I know, I know; it will be clear I’m referring to the soldiers Arman’s looking at. But still. Maybe I should play by the rules and say, “Their eyes were locked forward.” That doesn’t take anything away from the sentence, though having a word that starts with “e” at the start of the sentence looks kind of cool.

I wonder if I should just get rid of the whole sentence? I’m trying to show that the soldiers look tense. But it’s hard for Arman to notice that from a difference. Maybe instead of this sentence (how is he gonna see their eyes from where he is, anyway!) I should have a sentence emphasizing why he thinks they look tense.

Come to think of it, maybe the fact that he’s noticing emotion on the faces of soldiers at attention is a stretch. I might not even keep this passage. Well, let’s think about that…

… and there goes another hour. Okay. Decision-time. We’ll add a different sentence, and save the rest of the passage for edits. Let’s move, Sean! You have got to get this chapter done!

And that’s only three sentences. Remind me why I’m doing this again?

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Another 100W Sprint Entry: Jennifer

Welp, turns out I’m still in the running in that fun little flash-fiction contest I told you about last week. For the second round, we got the following prompt, “The water barely rippled as she entered…” Once again, I couldn’t resist whipping something up. I called it “Jennifer”. What do you think?

The water barely rippled as she entered. Jennifer stood in a cold, dank sewer hole, facing a pitch-black tunnel. Somewhere in that tunnel, there was a drug dealer she’d been asked to bust.

The light from the opened manhole shone on her scarred cheek. Her brown hair was thin and short after years of crime-fighting. She wondered sometimes if anybody thought she was pretty. As always, she laughed, and whipped out her pistol and flashlight.

“There’s more to beauty than a smooth face, you silly!” she said to herself, wading into the darkness. “And there’s more to life than beauty.”

Voting starts this Saturday. Check out the other entries right here.

Notes Of A Storyteller: My Unexpected Detour Into Handwriting

Last week my laptop stopped charging. No matter how many times I jammed the power cord into it, the machine refused to acknowledge any connection to the power outlet below the table. Rage began to build. I was trying to write the latest chapter in The Stand (Part Two of The Kingdom Trilogy). Already that day I had met some frustrations; this was the last straw. Quietly and unexpectedly, an idea came to me.

“I say!” I thought. “Why not grab a notebook and handwrite this chapter?”

Why not, indeed? Dozens of classics were written this way before the typewriter. Shakespeare his plays and sonnets longhand. Unless I am mistaken, Dante made it through the whole Divine Comedy with a standard medieval quill pen. Monks in monasteries used pens and pigments to produce prettier books than several modern tomes I have opened. Even after the typewriter, handwriting has stuck around. Truman Capote told The Paris Review that he wrote whole drafts of stories with a pencil, and then revised them in pencil. Vladimir Nabokov even wrote on index cards!

So when I fetched a couple of notebooks out of my room, and made my way to the nearest table, I felt that I was in good company. Three hours later, I decided that I liked it. In fact, I didn’t use my laptop much over the weekend. I have two chapters with pens and pencils so far, and I started a third yesterday. Could this be an addiction?

Time will tell, but there’s one big thing I like about it so far. It reduces distraction. Do you have any idea how many things I can be doing on my laptop other than writing? With a few mouse clicks, I could be chatting on Facebook with my college friends, scrolling through Philosoraptor memes, or watching live videos of House of Heroes concerts on YouTube. Knowing that while I am trying to write literature is not a good thing.

Handwriting eliminated that mental vacuum. I can’t log on to Tumblr with a piece of paper. It’s just me, my thoughts, and my will to bring them into reality. That simplicity is refreshing.

It showed in my writing, too. This morning I transcribed one of the chapters I wrote longhand. As always, I could see things I wanted to fix, but there was a lot that I liked. There was a new spark in the prose that I hadn’t seen in the last few chapters I had typed on my laptop.

For now, I am deeply satisfied with writing longhand. I wonder if I should keep this up for the rest of my novel. I might even experiment with college papers this fall. You should give it a try, if you haven’t already!

Notes Of A Storyteller: I’m Not Scared Of Query Letters

Usually this post appears on Friday, but the claws of chaos reached into my life once again, leaving me off-schedule and very disoriented.

So let’s not waste any time. This afternoon, I peeked into my e-mail, with more interest than usual. You see, a week ago or so I decide to shoot some queries out to literary agencies about The Quest (Part One of The Kingdom Trilogy). I’m still writing The Stand (Part Two) and I mean to self-publish it, but I figure that there’s no harm in shooting a few e-mails and seeing if I get a response. I’m still open to traditional publishing, and if that door opens, I’m inclined to take it (after taking a careful look at who I’m throwing in with, of course).

After what happened today, I know for sure I want to send more query letters. I got my first rejection today, and it felt amazing.

It was very nicely-written- about as nicely written as a rejection letter can be. Basically, they told me the project wasn’t right for them. I got a big grin on my face. I wasn’t angry at all; I was ecstatic. This is no rejection. This is a challenge. This is a competition. I’m thrilled to have the chance to play.

I was so enthused, in fact, that I posted the following on Twitter…

I love getting my query letters rejected by agencies. Makes me feel nice and defiant. #query #writing #inlikealion #outlikealion #roar

I’m going to spend even more time on that next query letter. I’m not intimidated at all. Neither should you, if you’re making queries yourself. This is fun! We get to show off our writing talent, pack it into a one-page explosion of goodness, and send off into the unknown. I feel like I’m the Rebel commander from Star Wars, watching his X-wings fly off against the Death Star. It gets my adrenaline going.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to plan my plan of attack for the next agency on my list. And play some motivational hard rock war music.

Fall, Goliath, fall.

Writing A New Chapter, Flannery O’Connor Style

You haven’t heard from me in a while about The Stand (Part Two of The Kingdom Trilogy). For those new to the blog, I’m writing a fantasy trilogy, and this summer I’m writing the second volume.

Yesterday I finished a chapter that I adore. It takes place in the middle of The Stand. Arman’s with Menemaeus, chasing an enemy into what could be considered the most dangerous place in Upper Nola. Of course, in classic Kingdom Trilogy fashion, nothing goes according to plan. In this case, that puts them in an even worse situation than ever.

I loved how it turned out. There’s a crucial passage towards the end of this chapter that I sincerely did not see coming. That’s reassuring. My favorite Flannery O’Connor short story, “Good Country People”, was written that way. Flannery wrote that she didn’t know that she was going to write the climax that she did until just before she wrote. It caught her off-guard, and it gave her writing special power. To this day, that short story hits me like a ton of bricks.

I, also, didn’t realize what I was going to write at the end of my chapter until I got there. It floated down unexpectedly, and I went with it on a hunch. For now, I’ll tell you that Arman finds a surprise that he could never have predicted.

Will I still have plenty of editing to do when I swing back around? Of course I will. I always hate what I write. However, I think I have a foundation here that I can work off of. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I want to go write me another chapter.

A Glass of Water Taught Me Something

A personal reflection from my Tumblr

“This morning, I discovered my little sister lying on the couch. Apparently, she had thrown up the night before, and wasn’t feeling that spiffy.

“You want a glass of water?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said.

I found one of the tallest glasses in the cupboard and turned on the faucet. It ran my finger through it, to make sure it was nice and cold. Then I filled the glass to the brim and added a straw. My sister thanked me and I walked away.

It took a while before I realized something. That glass of water is more important than anything I might write this week. I’m working on my second novel, but even if I win a Nobel Prize for it, it will never have the same impact as that act of kindness. It is not with the pen that I make meaning out of life, ultimately, but my heart.”

This is a message worth sharing with writers and readers alike. There are only so many words we can use before making ultimate sense of life. Books cannot be the whole of our discovery of existence. It must be acted out, each and every day. Take some time every day to withdraw from words, and find something nice to do for someone. We writers find that difficult sometimes, but I promise that it’s worth it.

Notes Of A Storyteller: Jumping Ahead

In winter 2006, my first attempt at the rough draft of The Quest (Part One of The Kingdom Trilogy) was met swiftly with writer’s block. Eventually, this forced to realize that I didn’t have to write The Quest all the way through. Whatever point in the story I felt like writing, I could write. If I was struggling with one chapter, I could start a new one with an entirely different focus, and still make progress. Delighted by the notion, I exercised it in the spring of 2007 and found myself clipping along very well.

Once I got Arman out of his hometown, it got easier to move forward. Establishing a canonical (pre-conflict existence) is fiendishly difficult. I wrote nine chapters, discarded five of them, and re-wrote significant portions of the rest before I was satisfied. I’m glad I took care of the big chapters before going back into that rock pile. Besides, the chapter I wrote after jumping ahead turned out great. In fact, it remains one of my favorite chapters from The Quest to this day.

Now that I look back on writing The Quest, I wish that I had jumped around even more. As a first-time novelist- worse yet, a teenage novelist who had jumped in head-first without doing his homework- I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. When I got Arman on the move, I spent weeks striving for interesting things for him to do in the cities he visited. If I had jumped around even more, writing about different scenes instead of stubbornly hitting my head against one scene, I might have gotten a better perspective on my story sooner.

It sure would have saved me a lot of re-writing.

That’s why I’m reprising this method for The Stand. I have a much clearer idea of what I’m trying to achieve with this story, but I think the jumping will still help. Yesterday I finished a chapter where Menemaeus reveals something to Arman that makes his life even more miserable than it already is. It’s several chapters ahead of the other ones that I’ve written thus far, but that’s exactly what I want.

Writing that chapter now will give me more confidence when I go back to the earlier chapters. I’ll have an even clearer idea of what mood I need to put on those scenes, to make them lead up to the big denouement that I’ve already written. It’s one thing to have the vision of the denouement in my head; it’s something else entirely to have it on paper already and set in stone.

I’m going to keep this up for the rest of the summer. I might even write all of the biggest chapters first. That denouement chapter came out well. I was so enthusiastic that I posted something yesterday to revel in my pride. That encourages me to keep jumping around.