Breaking through the city walls

I am 200 words shy of 60,000, and I finally finished the last scene. I have been stuck for almost the entire month of March, mostly–I think–because I got derailed by my college class, and trying to get back on the track was just a pain. I am probably vastly oversensitive to such things, and all the bloggers I read would snort with derision that I am not so properly scheduled in my writing that I can’t organize myself into getting through it in less than a month, but it is what it is.

It was probably also difficult because it was kind of a filler section, showing how they got from point C to point D. I’ll probably do some thinking on such filler material at some point in the future, because while a lot of times it could be cut with no one the wiser–and maybe that is true in this case–sometimes I think it is called for.

But the upshot is this: we have finally reached the city, and now I get the fun of thinking about its history, planning out what it looks like, and picking out the little details that will make it unique. Most of what I come up with won’t make it into the text of the story, but I am so tempted to work on a map for this city. I hadn’t really given it much thought until now, but it’s suddenly burst into my head almost fully formed, and it looks so very cool in there. I want a map.

 

Great Read: Children of Time

Book_Children of TimeOne of the most consistent pieces of advice for writers is, read. So, let’s talk about reading. The book I most recently finished was the amazing and inspiring Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky. It’s a sci-fi novel that deftly handles enormous spans of time and very thought-provoking topics, from the evolution of a (non-human) sentient species to challenge humanity, to the near-extinction of humanity and the lengths it must go to to survive. The two species struggle in tandem, with one rising from hunter-gatherers to reaching the stars, while humanity races to keep its cobbled-together technological inheritance long enough for them to find a new home for the species.

There were a few times reading this that I actually put the book down for a second to savor the visual or the concept of what had just happened, and I will tell you no spoilers by saying the author that when Tchaikovsky decided to make his sentient species spiders, he almost couldn’t have come up with a less sympathetic creature. But he succeeds brilliantly, with a very distinct and believable evolutionary and civilizational path that will really make you think.

The book is not perfect. The ending seemed a little too convenient for me, and some more foreshadowing of the solution would have kept the ending from feeling too simple for all the build-up it got. I think some of the characterization, particularly among the humans, got short shrift and made most of the key humans a bit one dimensional, but given the span of time involved and number of generations of characters, it’s understandable, at least. But overall this book deserved the awards it got, and I can’t recommend it highly enough, even for people who generally aren’t sci-fi readers. Ever since I read it, I have been randomly sending my boyfriend pictures of spiders, because I am convinced there is some way they could be made cute.

He doesn’t necessarily agree.

Stars Align

57,767 words, and not much time to produce them in. Sometimes it seems like it almost takes an astronomical alignment to write, where you have a) the time, b) the energy, and c) the inspiration, all at once. One of the writing blogs I read noted, when discussing the infamous muse, that the more often you write, the easier it is to write. Which is true, in my experience. Let a week go by, or worse two, and it can feel like you’re trying to push a mill wheel uphill to get back into it.

So even though last week was a clusterfuck of hopelessness in which nothing bad happened but way too much other stuff happened, I did manage to keep my hand–or my mind–in the game. I think if you keep it in the back of your mind, keep thinking it over and pondering phrases and ideas, then it makes it a little easier when you finally do get back to the story. It doesn’t always work, but that’s my small piece of wisdom for others who, like me, had to wait a little bit for the cosmic alignment before they can write again.

Grimdark and Noblebright

Ever since George R. R. Martin exploded into public consciousness, there have been legions of imitators, and a whole new sub-genre of fantasy dedicated to grim “realism.” Grimdark fantasy is noted for anti-hero protagonists, good guys losing, and usually lots and lots of violence on the side. Originally, it was a reaction to the sometimes saccharine and repetitive fantasy that came before, where the good guys always won–sometimes literally by virtue of their goodness–and where Tolkien, father of the fantasy genre, set the tone for rather bloodless combat, chivalrous romance, and clear-cut lines of good and evil.

George R. R. Martin cites actual historical events as inspirations for his work, such as the Black Dinner for the Red Wedding, and there’s no doubt that there’s historical precedent for any amount of mayhem. It’s also true that in the real world, the good guys don’t always win, and an unscrupulous enemy can take advantage of their honor to destroy them. It makes Martin’s books unpredictable in a way fantasy has never been. It gives him room to play with characters’ motivations and allow them to shift from good to evil and lots of shades of gray, and also indulge in not just wildly-over-the-top evil, of which there is plenty, but also more low-key sneakery and backstabbing.

There’s a lot to be said for that nuance and complexity, and I used to greatly enjoy picking apart the books with fellow fans to try to guess where it was going, and how it might turn out in the end. But in spite of our awareness that Martin was perfectly willing to kill the good guys, I don’t think I have ever seen a group of fans operate under the assumption that the Lannisters would win, at the end of the day. Almost all fan speculation I’ve seen from the first book until now has always ultimately pointed the same way: how do the Starks get their revenge?

Read More

Phrase of the Week: Pushing Your Luck

I am delighted to report 54,459 words tonight, a finished myth, and the first draft of the next scene is complete.

I’m having to wrench myself away from an immediate rewrite, because when the writing is fun, it’s easy to overextend yourself and the spend the next week, or two, or six paying for it. I’ve learned over the years that sometimes when you come to a good stopping point, stop. I don’t believe I’ve ever had a rewrite go smoothly if I attempt it immediately after finishing the first draft, and sometimes it’s best to just be grateful you had a good writing session without pushing your luck.

But it was a great session, 3000 words, more or less, as well as some plotting time and updates to the map and my wiki. I got to write one of my Delightful Ideas, as well as writing another planned event that kind of rushed up on me. This is one of the challenges of the space between milestones, pacing these kind of smaller shifts and events so they’re not abrupt, so they’re not packed too close together around acres of traveling tedium. Sometimes it’s a little too obvious that even the author has realized their characters have been hiding in a forest for months, the pacing has slowed down to a crawl, and they had better have something exciting happen or the reader is going to put the book down.

Pacing is something that’s really hard to plan or even describe, at least for me. It’s like flow. I can tell when writing is flowing, or when it isn’t. It just has a sound to it. I don’t think I could describe what makes writing flow or not if my life depended on it. Pacing is nearly as hard to define. I’m sure there’s a dictionary definition somewhere, but in terms of applying it to an actual book, it’s much more difficult to say, x is what makes the pacing wrong. Or right.

So I’m hoping I got the pacing right today. It feels like I did. But I’m going to close the file and let it rest til tomorrow, because picking at it today would be pushing my luck.