Running Aground

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Normally I use Wednesdays to post a chapter of my current short story. But I’ve just wrapped up work on Covalent, and I want to take a moment to examine that story, what went well, and what could have been improved on. So next week will be the first chapter of my new short story: Secrets in the Mountain.

Where Are We Going?

Not for the first time, this short story got away from me! Covalent began with a very clear vision for how to begin and how to end, but all the in-between I would have to figure out along the way.

Many times this approach has worked for me. I get to roam freely, but having a clear destination in mind allows me to still end up where I want. Sometimes, though, I manage to thwart my plans the ending without even realizing it. I don’t recognize how the steps I am taking make the intended conclusion a poor fit until they’ve already been taken and published. At that point I have to let go of the ending and feel my way to a new sort of conclusion.

So what was the original intention for Covalent? Well, I always wanted it to be a story about three children in a strange and dangerous forest, where the youngest of them has a connection to a parallel world that he uses to help protect the others. That parallel world would provide them many advantages, but through it the boy would also inadvertently wake the most dangerous menace yet! Wielding powers he did not understand may have introduced their new foe, but gaining a true mastery of that power would be their only hope of surviving. The boy would have no choice but to delve still further into the parallel world.

Which is pretty much where the current story has brought us, so far all seems well. But the rest of the story was going to show how the boy had to surrender more and more of himself to the alternate world, which would result in his transformation, gradually changing him from human to machine. He would have to sacrifice his body and soul, giving up his own identity to protect the other two children.

And this arc has been compromised by some of the things that I recently wrote into the story. First and foremost, it is essential that the boy is sacrificing everything so that his friends can be spared the same fate. He is supposed to turn into the machine so that they don’t have to, just as young soldiers endure the horrors of war so that the “folks back home” don’t have to. But in my current iteration, I have already ruined both of the friends that the boy is supposed to be protecting. This completely undoes my central theme!

Tied in Knots)

I got into this conundrum through the best of intentions. First there was the matter of needing Cace to go back to the Ether after his last visit had nearly killed him. I realized that there needed to be a moment of desperate need, a situation that he would be willing to risk his life to resolve. So I had Rolar be attacked by a beast and left dying. Cace rushed into the Ether to save him, which was exactly where I wanted him to be.

But now, how was he to save him? I thought it would be cheap for him to just flip a few switches and bring Rolar back, right as rain. Things had been broken and I wanted there to be a real cost for saving Rolar. I went with the first idea that occurred to me: Cace had to swap parts of Rolar with those of another creature, which resulted in Rolar surviving, but also being transformed in the overworld.

But now Rolar was the one being ravaged from Cace’s expeditions to the Ether, not Cace. Rolar’s normal life is already ruined, which breaks half of that theme of Cace sacrificing himself to preserve normalcy for his friends.

But what about his other friend, Aylme? Well, I wanted to develop her while Cace was busy trying to save Rolar. I wanted to show how much grit and determination she had, trying to save the two boys while they were unconscious. Once again, though, I felt that there needed to be a cost here. I didn’t want the segment to be “oh no, something bad is happening, but Aylme works really hard and escapes the threat entirely, so it really didn’t have any impact.” Another major theme of this story is that the danger is real. It has teeth. So it only felt natural to have Aylme rescue the boys, but she ends up being taken by the threat instead. Which felt like a great story beat in the moment, but now the second half of my motivation for Cace’s ongoing sacrifice is gone.

At this point Cace is virtually alone. Aylme is completely unconscious and under the control of the enemy and Rolar has been reduced to a half-monster, almost entirely devoid of his original character and nuance. So now Cace wouldn’t be fighting for them at all, because they’re already pretty much lost.

At this point I could try and continue the story anyway, coming up with a new arc for Cace and a new conclusion. Maybe Cace doesn’t sacrifice himself to preserve them, but to retrieve them. But if I do that then it’s no longer the story that I was initially so excited to tell. I felt it would be better to fade to black instead, and then revisit it later.

Some Positives)

And I really would like to revisit it, because there actually is a lot of good that came out of this free-roaming process.

For one thing, I now know the exact nature of the Ether and of the water-beast that Cace inadvertently unleashed. In my previous notes I didn’t really understand the rules of these things, but through this exercise I’ve been able to clear that all up. The Ether is a large machine, with individual modules interconnected, which modules can be rearranged to invent new things in the overworld. That’s a great mechanic, and something I didn’t have before taking this journey. The water-beast is based off of resonance and rippling effects. It disrupts all living things to force them into harmonizing with itself. That is also a compelling idea.

Another thing I discovered was the importance of characters flinging themselves into danger for one another. I still want to change things so that Cace is the one primarily making sacrifices for his friends, but I don’t want to lose the bit of Rolar and Aylme throwing themselves into the fire for their friends, too. There was a great segment in the middle of the story where Rolar rushed to battle to save Cace, then Aylme rushed to save Rolar, then Cace dove into the Ether to bring Rolar’s consciousness back, then Aylme hauled the boys to safety while they were trapped in the Ether. This was very endearing, and I absolutely want to hold onto that and have it as a central theme.

How I Would Move Forward)

If I had more of this blog written ahead of time, I probably would have tried to revise things before they were already published. I believe the simplest shift would be to keep the story beats mostly the same, but to cut down on the costs that Rolar and Aylme had to pay for their heroics.

First I would have had Cace fill the broken pieces in Rolar with his own submodules, resulting in a mostly-normal Rolar, but a drastically shifted Cace. And I still would have wanted Aylme to be attacked by the dark water entity, but instead of being entirely lost, perhaps she could have just had her consciousness split. Part of her would still be with Cace and Rolar, but it would be tormented by the other half of her consciousness, which now served the enemy and was trying to bring about their demise.

For what it’s worth, I do think I will end up making these changes to the story, just not yet. I’ll see how I’m feeling at the time, but right now my intention is to make Covalent the next story that I revise in The Editor’s Bench. I’ll wait until I’ve finished with The Storm before making the decision final, but one way or another I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of this story!

Three Years In

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I looked at the things I wrote for my second anniversary and was shocked to realize how recent it all felt. I remember writing those things as if it had been yesterday!

Three years of consistent writing feels pretty good. More and more I have the sense that this really is my work. Not the work that I do for pay and not the work that I do for duty. The work that I freely choose for myself because I love it.

Statistics)

116 new posts were added to my tally this year, divided across 12 updates to my novel, 7 short stories, 50 essays, and a review of my first 50 short stories. The main trend that stands out to me is how much longer these “short” stories have been becoming! In my first year my writing produced 27 short stories and in the second it produced 19. This year it produced only 7?! That is an incredibly small number, but is it any wonder when three of them were Raise the Black Sun and the two variations on The Favored Son?

Altogether I added 203,000 words to my blog, bringing my three-year total to 619,407. Obviously not all of those words are in the form of a story, but more than half of them are.

The first draft for my novel With the Beast is at 74,000 total words, up from 42,500 a year ago. Clearly the progress there has slowed considerably, though I am still faithfully plugging away at it.

Years 1 and 2 had around 88 new followers each, but this year I was able to add 117, bringing my total to 293! Also 8 new countries read my blog for the first time, bringing the total there to 72.

Looking Forward)

It’s become something of a tradition for me to revise my approach to this blog at the beginning of each new year and I will be doing so again this time around. I’m not changing things just for the sake of changing things, though, this is all meant to help me in my growth as a writer.

The change that I am going to make is to introduce a new series for this blog, one where I take my previous work and revise it to its most ideal form. The intention is that at the end of this process my work would be worthy of professional publishing. Here are the reasons why I am making this change:

First and foremost is to help me achieve a higher level of quality as a writer. I am now two-thirds of the way through the first draft of my novel and I want to be well-rehearsed when it comes time to start its refining process. I’ve had plenty of practice at coming up with new ideas and hashing out a rough first draft, but I’m still lacking skills in the revision process and I don’t want to wait until the last second to begin developing those.

The second reason is because it just feels wrong to away from my short stories that show high potential. I can almost hear them begging me to take them up to the next level, but I’ve always been divided between that and a desire to keep seeding new ideas. At long last I think I’ve figured out a way that I can continue to cultivate my ideas to see which ones show the most promise, and then start polishing those promising ones until they reach their full potential. To be clear, not every one of my short stories will be getting this refinement process, only the ones that I feel are my absolute best work.

And lastly I get so sick of looking back at my old work and seeing all manner of typos and awkward phrases. I mean I churn these stories out on a pretty tight deadline, so I understand how all those errors get in there, but I don’t want to leave you all thinking that that is the best work I am capable of! I know I can do better and I intend to show it.

So how am I going to make time for this new refining series? I’m going to pull back the reins on my story series a little bit.

Currently each of my weekly story posts weighs in at about 2,500 words while my essays are only 1,000 words. I am now going to make three posts a week, all of them at the same 1,000 word quota. So on Monday you’ll see my 1,000-word essay, on Wednesday you’ll get the 1,000-word story chapter, and on Friday I’ll finish the week with a 1,000-word refinement. These numbers might adjust as I find the right balance, but you’ll see this plan go into effect starting this next week.

And Thank You)

At the end of each year I’ve paused to ask myself “so do I want to go another year?” And as before the answer this year is a resounding yes! This is the most rewarding hobby I have ever had and I don’t see me quitting it anytime soon.

And once again I want to thank you for being a part of this adventure with me. I’ve gone to some pretty strange and exciting places in these stories and I’m grateful to have not made the trip alone. As I’ve said before, these aren’t just stories to me, they are the way I process and express my own self. They are the journal of my soul. I take very seriously the kindness you show when you listen to the thoughts of my heart.

Thank you for that.

Two Years In

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Wow! I’ll be honest, the first year of this blog dragged very slowly for me. By the time I hit my first anniversary I felt I had accomplished a herculean task.

This second year? It blew right by.

I don’t know. Maybe that means I wasn’t pushing myself and my work lacked sincere effort. I definitely sweat a whole lot less when I look at the blank page at the beginning of each new story! But on the other hand, a lot of the pieces I am proudest of came out in this second year.

Two years might not sound very short, but frankly I am amazed at how quickly writing has become just an ordinary part of my day-to-day. I write. It’s simply what I do.

 

Statistics)

And I’ve been doing a lot of it! This year I made 118 posts and added 19 short stories and 52 essays. Last year saw 27 short stories, so it would seem that I’ve started making them considerably longer! I hadn’t realized I was doing that, and don’t really have any opinions whether that is a good or a bad thing, I just thought it was an interesting observation.

I wrote 196,000 words this year, compared to 220,000 last year (so maybe the stories aren’t getting longer?), though this doesn’t tell the entire story. Because in addition to this story blog, I also added a second spiritually themed one, where I wrote an additional 124,000 words, though obviously those words are not in a story format. But again, this isn’t the complete picture, because I also started working on my novel With the Beast, and in total wrote 42,500 words of my first draft (we won’t even count the 36,000-word outline that preceded working on that draft!).

If you lump all of those together, I have 362,500 words to show for this year, 582,500 once combined with last year. One more year like this and I’ll be knocking at the door of that coveted one-million-words mark!

Followers rose up to 176, almost exactly doubling the 87 from last year. 17 new countries have discovered my blog, bringing that total up to 64. Once again, I’m amazed at those numbers. I do a big, fat nothing to try and grow my following, and that anyone reads this at all is mind-blowing to me.

 

Looking Forward)

Last anniversary I kicked things off by starting work on my novel and beginning an entirely new blog. This year is not going to be so dramatic. I’ll still be continuing with my three regular series (Show, Don’t Tell; Story of the Storyteller; Writer’s Toolkit), and I’ll still be continuing work on my novel.

I will do a couple little things to commemorate this new year, though. For starters, I am going to now include snippets of the latest work in my novel as part of my monthly reports on it. Starting tomorrow you can get a more direct feel for how its style and tone.

Secondly, I am going to extend a special invitation to all of my readers. Recently I started working with a “writing buddy” that I met here on WordPress. We’ve been reviewing one another’s work and its been a very positive experience, both for the constructive feedback provided and for the simple pleasure of getting to know a fellow human. For a while now I’ve wanted to get to know my readers better, and even to help them out with whatever I can. I’ll be extending an offer for just that tomorrow, and I hope you’ll be willing to give it a look.

 

And Thank You)

As I thought of how to express my thanks, I looked at what I wrote at this blog’s last anniversary and couldn’t think of a better way to say it. All these words still hold completely true for me.

So once again I want to thank you all for your support. Perhaps just coming and reading doesn’t seem like much, but really it is. These aren’t just stories to me, they are the way I process and express my own self. Everyone wants to be heard, and you have listened to me.

Thank you for that.