And Now, The Editing Phase

I finished the first draft of The Chronicles of Talam - Book 1 at the end of July. I had set an aggressive 15-day goal to write and finish a 40,000-word novella before leaving on a family vacation as I wrote about before. During the month of August, as I took a hiatus from writing and let my first draft marinate for a while, I took up drawing. It was something I've always loved to do but never quite continued with it long enough to get proficient at it (sounds familiar to any number of my life's pursuits). I had to stop, though, as I developed Trigger Thumb from overuse (think carpal tunnel for the thumb).

At the beginning of September, I printed out my first draft, grabbed a yellow notepad, and sat down and read through my first draft. I found myself not editing much in terms of large-scale plot or character points and that worried me. This was the first draft, after all. It's supposed to be messy and need lots of cleanup. What's wrong with me? Do I think too highly of myself and my writing? I don't think so. For one thing, this is the fourth attempt at this particular story so I think I have the characters and the plot down rather solidly. It's as if I had outlined the entire thing multiple times. I also tend to like what I write and that's a problem. This is why I recently just finished reading the rest of the first draft and I am now in the editing stage. So far, it seems to be going rather swiftly. I think the fact that its a novella has something to do with that as well. 40K words is not a long book and it seems quite manageable from an editing perspective. Of course, the real test will be the feedback I receive from Beta Readers and a few trusted friends and family to see just how close or far I am to a completed story. If anyone is interested in being a Beta Reader, contact me and I will add you to the list.


Outline Your Novel Using a Floating Outline


As I've written a few times before, I'm a pantser who struggles with outlining. I've tried using beats from the famous screenwriting novel "Save the Cat." I tried Libbie Hawker's method from her book "Take Off Your Pants." I've written a detailed synopsis and tried to extract a story from it with no luck. Why, if I'm a pantser, don't I just write like a pantser?

In the ebook self-publishing world, volume of output matters and is a great harbinger on your chance of success. To be as prolific as I plan to be–put out a new book every 3-4 months–I'm going to need to write a shit ton of books in a short amount of time, and when you write pantser style, the rewriting process can take up to three times as long as the original first draft. I have no time for that. So what have I settled upon as my outlining method of choice? It's something I stumbled upon while watching one of Brandon Sanderson's lecture videos and it's called a Floating Outline. I'm not sure if I understood his process one hundred percent correctly, but the takeaway was more than enough to get me started and put my own little twist on things. Who knows, maybe I got it exactly right and am doing it just like Brandon?

In the larger view of things, I adopted Brandon's approach: he outlines his plot and story but he discovers his characters as he writes. So he's kind of a mix between a plotter and a pantser. He plans out his story in detail and then he goes to work outlining using the Floating Outline approach. Basically, he has a notebook full of "awesome" scenarios or scenes that he wants to happen in his book. I have come to call them "Plot Awesomes" (as I think about it, I think Story Awesomes would be better). The idea is to write out an awesome scene you want to happen in your book, say, the two lovers finally share a kiss. So that would be the header of that particular Plot Awesome. Underneath that, you start adding bullet points in backward order that would lead to your awesome scene. Let's take a look at an example:

A & B Finally Kiss

A saves B's life

B tells A to get out of B's life

A and B end up in same location

A ...

Those are just some quick and dirty examples off the top of my head. I would finish that list and then move onto the next Plot Awesome. Usually I'll have a minimum of 4 Awesomes I want to happen. One is usually romantic in nature, the other serves the over arching plot, and then the rest are things that round out the story. I will then go back and edit them to make them a bit less general and more specific. So at the end, the idea is you have an awesome climax scene and the pieces it will take to get there. As Brandon says, he outlines backward but writes forward.

Using Scrivener, I then start creating Chapter folders and inserting at least one bullet point (starting from the bottom up), sometimes more, in each chapter. What's cool is that they can be combined so that you are advancing two or more different Awesome plot points in the same chapter without it feeling forced. I then cross out the bullet points as I use them and create another Chapter folder and use one or more bullet points, cross it off, repeat. By the end of the outlining process, I have my entire book outlined and the several different plot points/story lines meshed together naturally.

This was the process I used for creating the first draft of The Chronicles of Talam #1. I would say I followed my outline pretty rigidly until I got 25% into the book then I started to deviate as the story took off on ideas of its own. I still had the outline to use as a foundation but I would say that by the end of my first draft, I would say I stuck with 50% of my outline and the rest came about as I wrote. This process seemed comfortable to me and it allowed more of my creativity to come out during the writing process than if I just started out in full pantser mode.

Anyone else use a similar method to outlining their novels?


Using Tiddlywiki for World Building


Scrivener is fantastic for outlining, planning and writing your novel or short story. However, I did discover while writing the first draft of my fantasy novella that all the names of places and characters got overwhelming. I needed something to tie it all together better, something interactive even, like a wiki.

After a quick Google search, I came across a few articles talking about personal wikis and the one that appealed most to me was Tiddlywiki. It's super simple and the entire program is written in a single HTML document. After downloading the "software," the best browser to use with it is Firefox as there is a TiddlyFox plugin that works seamlessly with Tiddlywiki.

Once you load the file into your local browser, it's easy to start adding items to your wiki. However, I do recommend watching a few short tutorial videos on YouTube from Francis Meetze that will make starting out even easier. To start, I entered place and character names that I had already created before I began writing into the wiki. Then, while writing my first draft and new places and characters came up, I added those to the wiki and linked them to each other via common characteristics such as place, race, etc.

During my first draft, I left the descriptions in each wiki as short and quick as possible, almost more like a reference than a detailed description. As I edit my first draft, I plan on filling in the details in each wiki so that when all is said and done, I have a thorough and interactive personal wiki of my fantasy world (once the series is complete, I can put the entire thing on this website as a reference). I anticipate it will come in handy even more during the writing and editing of subsequent books in the planned series.

Anyone else out there using Tiddlywiki for their world building?


Anxiety and Writing

I think almost all writers experience writing anxiety as they face the blank page, but that's not the kind of anxiety I'm talking about. I'm talking about ANXIETY, the not-quite panic attack, but still immobilizing feeling that takes over both mind and body. Triggered by some personal issues a couple of years ago, I was diagnosed with Anxiety, which was a welcome diagnosis at the time, and I was able to cope with it through some lifestyle changes, therapy, and meditative techniques.

I have had a handle on it for a long time until the night before I was due to finish the first draft of my fantasy novella. I woke up in the middle of the night with the familiar panic attack symptoms. Fortunately, I was able to quell the attack before it became acute. But when I woke up in the morning, I had that undercurrent of nervousness that is hard to explain to anyone who has never experienced it before. It makes you want to just sit on the couch and drown out the world. When I got up to make breakfast, I even got the sour feeling in my cheeks like right before vomiting, but I didn't feel nauseous. Basically, I was a mess.

The only thing that could have triggered it, in my opinion, was the impending completion of my first draft of my novella. I would have thought finishing the draft would evoke feelings of euphoria and excitement, not nervousness and a sense of dread. But I think it's because I have been deriding myself for so long for starting and stopping so many things without finishing them that the fact that I was actually about to accomplish something I set out to do put my emotions in a spiritual clothing dryer.

It still doesn't make sense to me, but all I know is, that as I sat down to finish those last 2,500 words, my anxiety level declined. And when I finished the first draft later that day, I felt much better. I did celebrate somewhat, but then that was quickly replaced by all these ideas that came flooding in for the rewrite. Such is the writer's life. A work is never done until it's out the door.


Back After an Absence

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have the tendency to ebb and flow with my interests. Writing, photography, filmmaking, etc. The thing is, I know this about myself and it's something that I can't stand about myself. I guess the positives from it mean that I get to experience many different things at a pretty high level (as I always do a deep dive in my interests until I burn out). But all I've ever wanted to do was be an expert at something and spend years doing one thing really well–or at least strive to excel.

How many blogs in various genre's have I started and stopped? How many domain names have I registered only to let lapse a year later? The interest in writing faded and photography came back full force this past spring, now I'm back into writing again. I had even let this domain expire. Luckily, I saved a backup of this blog otherwise I would be starting all over again. I just have to find a way to stick with things even when my heart isn't in it. If I can just bridge the gaps between interest, and treat writing like a job, then all will be right with the world. At least my world.

That being said, I'm now part way through writing a fantasy novella. This is my fourth go around with this story and this world. This time, I just want to get the first draft done and then spend a good deal of time editing. Right now, the plan is to make it a five-part series, all Novellas. I have five POV characters in this first one, which is a lot for a Novella, but I'm looking at them more like serials or TV episodes. Not sure if it will work or not, but that's the grand plan at the moment.

Here's to writing!


Review: The Rift Uprising


The Rift Uprising by Amy S. FosterI think I had different expectations when I picked up this book. I wasn't expecting a YA novel. Once I got over that realization, however, I thought the story and plot were good, but the character development needed a little work. The best part of the novel was the idea of a rift that goes to multiple different Earths with varying points in evolution and the multiple paths taken by the different versions. The least interesting part of the story, or rather, the part of the story that needed a little more work was with the romance between Ryn and Ezra. There was just something too easy and simple about their instant attraction to each other. I guess I was looking for a little more drama. The setup of the conflict between ARC and the Citadels was very compelling and worth reading the book. I think Ms. Foster has left herself a wonderful opening for the next installment and I look forward to seeing where she takes the story from here. This was a light, easy read and I recommend it.View all my reviews

Short Story: Buffalo Run

Finally it is ready for release, my new short story titled "Buffalo Run." It's a story set in Yosemite Valley in a dystopian future (don't worry, no teenagers!). The idea came while going through stream of consciousness exercises for my screenwriting class earlier in the year. The exercise started off by finding a picture in Pinterest and then setting a timer for ten minutes. At the start of the clock we were instructed to write using the picture as a starting point without stopping and without editing. It's meant to develop the creative side of your brain. What flowed from a picture of half dome was a random story about two women running a marathon in Yosemite Valley amongst genetically modified buffalo that craved human flesh. It was not quite something I usually write about but the story stuck with me after the class was over and I decided to write it as a short story. I had it edited by Elisabeth Kaufman over at Writing Refinery and proofread by Jessica Nelson at Rare Bird Editing. I had my daughter illustrate the cover as I wanted a vector art type of look for it. I put it up at Amazon for $0.99. As a gift to my readers, I wanted to put up a complimentary pdf version here on the web site. I hope you enjoy it. If the mood strikes you, perhaps you could leave a review on Amazon?


Review: The Crown Tower


The Crown Tower by Michael J. SullivanThis has been the fantasy series I've been looking for. The characters are fun and well drawn out, the plot is not convoluted, and the writing flows easily. Having read a lot of epic fantasies lately, I really enjoyed reading a book that I could finish within a couple of weeks (and that's mostly reading a chapter a night). But it's length by no means counts against it's quality or substance. Hadrian and Royce remind me of a middle-ages version of Redford and Newman. I understand that this is the first book in a prequel trilogy and the author explains the chronological order of his books in the forward. He basically said that you could read the original trilogy first and then come back to these books or just start in chronological order. I chose to start with the latter. I'm already almost halfway done with the second book in this series and I don't anticipate stopping until I've read all six books. I highly recommend this novel for some serious fantasy fun.View all my reviews

Writing Strong, Likable Female Characters is Tough

David Mullin

I have grown up around strong women my entire life. My mother is and always was a firecracker, never afraid to speak her mind to any and all who got in her way. My sister was also strong but in a quieter way. She is one of the sweetest persons I've ever known but she still has strong convictions and stands up when pushed too far. My wife is also an incredibly strong, independent woman and we have raised my two daughters to never shy away from being themselves. So why is it when I write strong female protagonists that I can't make them likable?

Earlier this year, I completed a screenplay with a strong female protagonist who lost her father and mother at birth and was raised by foster parents. It turned out her grandfather had declined to take custody of her and the story was about her journey to find her grandfather and the relationship that they then create. The universal feedback I received was that no one liked the main character. In the spring I wrote a short story about two women running for their lives from genetically modified killer buffalo (soon to be released on this site for free) and the feedback I received from beta readers was that they liked the story but didn't like the main female character. WTF?

The answer is somewhat obvious but also is found in societal perceptions, in my opinion. The obvious part of the answer is that I'm a man, and no matter how many women I've been around my entire life, I'm still a male with a male ego and male perceptions of what's strong and what's weak. Another answer, separate from my two main points, is in the writing itself. In writing these strong female protagonists, I jumped right into them being aggressive, both verbally and physically, without showing the reason for the reader to be rooting for them in the first place. The societal point revolves around the often heard argument that a strong willed woman in the work place is called a bitch while a man exhibiting the exact same behavior is called aggressive. Man or woman, I think that perception is strongly ingrained in all of us. No matter how much we want there to be the same standard, I don't think we're quite there yet internally.

While I wrote my female protagonists to be swashbuckler types, having them act physically and verbally aggressive seems to put people off. When a male character is shown acting aggressively without any other information, most people just say, "Oh, what a typical guy." But if I do the same with an aggressive female character, a lot of people would say, "Man, what a bitch."The problem with being male and writing a female is that we tend to think of strength in terms of fighting back in one way or another. We can overlook strength of fortitude or the greatest female strength, IMHO, of just pushing on through pain and sorrow without complaint. Those are types of strength stronger than any physical altercation and I need to remember that in my writing.

I'm not sure what the percentages are when it comes to which issue has the largest effect on the likability of my characters, be it the poor writing, the fact that I'm a man, or our society's built-in gender perceptions, but something is wrong and I need to work on fixing it. Obviously, there have been great female protagonists written by men (i.e. Ripley in Aliens, Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs, etc.), they just happen to be way better writer's than I am at the moment. It's been a frustrating but fascinating struggle and it will only serve to make me a better writer. Still, I hope that I can get across the characters that I see in my head. Characters with empathy and compassion toward others but who also don't take shit from anyone and can take care of themselves and those they love.


Review: The Summer Dragon


The Summer Dragon by Todd LockwoodI thoroughly enjoyed this book. The first thing that stood out for me was the writing. One would think that someone who has spent their professional life illustrating books rather than writing them would be lacking in the prose department. Any assumption along those lines proved highly inaccurate in regards to this book. Todd Lockwood engages the reader from the first page with this lovely story of dragons and those who breed and raise them. The villains in this tale are down right nasty and every time they appear in the book I found myself wondering how the hell anyone was going to survive. It was this combination of prose, well thought out characters, and gripping story that kept me up late several nights. This is the first in a planned trilogy and I can't wait for the next book to come out. I will be buying it the day of its release.View all my reviews