I like to think that there are certain constants in every world. Because writers are people too, and we all have to draw from our own experiences at some point in order to make what we write believable. That is not to say that my personal experience includes hand-to-hand combat with alien soldiers. Or aliens in any situation, combative or otherwise. It does mean, however, that there are certain truths that I think transcend genre. A good mystery novel may set the detective in a scene with the worlds slowest moving government paper pusher – maybe even the DMV – and that puts the reader firmly in the correct mindset. Because we have all been there, right? A romance novel might have that awkward moment where one person announces their feelings only to be met with strained silence, or that horribly apologetic, “Thank you?”. Ugh, a reader can’t help but feel for that character. And a sci-fi political action, or whatever the appropriate genre is for Barghest, has high school.
It doesn’t matter if it is a century and a half into the future and humanity has figured out faster-than-light travel, achieved world peace through interspecies war and oppressive government oversight, and figured out a way to make tofu into something that tastes like food instead of mushy cardboard. High school is a constant. It is a weird, uncomfortable, and at least 60% of the time is trying to figure out who you are and how to move your body without looking like a muppet that lost out on a Dark Crystal casting call. Even genetically superior beautiful people of the future still have bullies, nerds, and regrets. At that age, events that will be looked back on as insignificant, or the starting point of something great, seem to be the END OF ALL THINGS. Clara Maker wasn’t always Sargent Maker of the Sol Coalition: saver of allies, infiltrator of enemy lines, and terrible poker player. She went to high school too. Some of those experiences shaped her future. Some of it made for funny stories that she could laugh about when she got older and wiser and gained a little perspective. Some of it just sucked.
That sounds familiar.
Read Barghest, Part II, Chapter 4: Unexpected Results and let me know what you think, I’d love to hear from you. Also, if high school was awkward for you too, imagine me giving you a fist bump. If not, then me neither. I was totally cool. Really.
Last week was a very long week, followed by a long weekend. Three day holiday should translate to plenty of time to write and relax, but alas, that was not the case. I was down to the wire to get my #tuesdayserial post for Barghest out, but I did it. Part II, Chapter 3: Fish in a Barrel is up. I hope you enjoy it. If you do, please let me know. If not, I would love to know what you would have liked to see different.
I also had another two non-fiction articles published this week, one about home construction the other my hobby for ballroom dancing. (FYI – I do not practice both at the same time.) I had hoped that articles would help bridge that financial gap between a day job and writing full-time, but although I feel proud of the little snippets I have written, I don’t think they are going to me any more monetizable than my fiction. At least not in the near future. Perhaps even less so. And I didn’t like writing them so much that I want to take time away from Barghest or Nordic Diner to work on them.
It was a nice experiment, however, and I should make the effort to try at least a few other publications and mediums before I give up on that as a revenue stream. Still, fiction is my passion, so I don’t think I’ll be giving it up any time soon. Thank you for reading!
Readers love a rich universe that feels expansive. Creators that have been successful with that task have a nearly endless supply of material available to them to craft more stories. There is always something new to explore in a world that is as complex and interesting as our own. This is why fan fiction, movies, and other creations are so rampant – particularly for excellent fictional worlds; the backdrop of the story is deep enough that it always feels that there is another tale just around the corner, waiting to be told.
There is a fine edge to walk when developing such extensive frameworks, particularly in the sci-fi and fantasy genres. Balancing enough information for the reader to understand and be interested in a new world – with different social customs, cultures, technology, even physics – against overloading them with facts is tricky. Too much and the reader is left lost and confused, having to reread paragraphs or whole pages, constantly refer to tables, charts, or maps, or *gasp* put down a book all together. Too little and the world doesn’t feel real enough. Belief can be suspended for almost anything. A ring that gives ultimate power, and invisibility? I’m with you. Swords made out of light? No problem. A planet supported on the back of a huge space turtle? I’d buy that. However, every reader needs a reason that these things should make sense. Rules for why and how magic works. Probability for the unknown in the vast reaches of space (and a bit of humor). Without framework and a semi-logical constraint system, even the most interesting world can fall apart. Poorly executed world-building ruins the most important task of a fantasy or sci-fi work: transporting the reader to another place.
Barghest is set in our world, in the future. There is no magic, but there is a significant amount of technology that does not exist today. Some of that, like the armor suits Maker and her fellow soldiers use and gene therapy, is based on actual research being done today. Other things are a bit more far-fetched, like faster than light travel. Those concepts are based loosely on some theories about how physics might work beyond our understanding of it, and the vast amount of unknowns in the universe. I also rely heavily on fifty years of of sci-fi readers that have suspended disbelief for “warp speed”. Beyond the technology of Barghest are the cultural and social constructs, the politics of humanity more than a century in the future. I have attempted to insert that information gently into the story, using conversations between characters and inner monologues that are hopefully not too distracting. Even with those info-dumps, I still felt like I needed to give the reader a better sense of the world. I added in the headers for each chapter, either a “this day in history” or a dictionary entry that are designed to set the stage for Barghest.
The latest chapter for Barghest, Part II: Depredation has posted, and it features a flash back for Maker which I used to describe the social structure that I imagined evolved along with alien incursions and designer genes. Please read Chapter 2: Character Building and let me know what you think. Too much? Too little? Or just enough?
Barghest, Part II has begun. There has been some re-organization on the site to make room for it, but you can find Chapter 1: Portent here. It made me think about how I started writing longer, novel-esque works.
My first beta reader was my husband. The man is a good friend, an intelligent person, and an avid reader. He has suffered through more more opening chapters and half-finished novels than any one person should have to – mostly without complaint. After I had finished my first book, North Sea Dawn, I asked him what he thought of it and his response was that overall it was good, but he would have liked less internal emotional examinations and more fight scenes. I’m paraphrasing here, but apparently historical romance is not his thing.
As I started working on a new project, something that I felt excited and passionate about, I did consider my audience. All of the self-help for writers articles say you should consider your audience. (I think they meant people that buy the books, but I work with what I have.) Barghest definitely has more fight scenes. Fight scenes with aliens. Fight scenes versus nature. Fight scenes in zero gravity. Fight scenes with genetically modified child soldiers. And now, fight scenes with space ships.
You are welcome.
My first non-fiction article was published this month at Her View From Home. The entire thing was less than 900 words – a page and a half in total – and it only took an hour to write and rough edit. When it was done, even when I sent it in to the editor, I was still half-certain I hated it. Not because it was poorly written or full of grammatical flaws (although I am sure there were elements of that as well), but because it was real. I have never before shared a real experience of my own, and it left me feeling exposed. Not only is the article about my own life, but it has my name on it. No pseudonym, no persona of ‘author of books’. Just me. That is truly frightening.
After my June started out with the terror of reality, it was a bit of a relief to return to the terror of genetically engineered super soldiers and the sudden, lung-squeezing fear of a wet beak grinding in anticipation. Let’s all look forward to ending the month with Maker and Malak getting back to what they do best – making greasy smears out of space lobsters.
Until next week.
I posted Chapter 6 of Nordic Diner today, and while I was formatting it, the idea truck hit me on its way to rewrite town.
I need to scrap the next twelve chapters that I have already written. They are crap. Well, not actually. I like a lot of the stuff that happens in those chapters. There are some pretty funny one liners, a great character named Minotaur (who is neither horned nor lives in a maze), and Kurt being stealthy, cryptic, and deadly. It all flowed easily while I was writing it; it moved the story along. There was action, exposition, and character development. It all needs to go.
This is, perhaps, the worst part of writing. Here I have something that I liked writing, I enjoy reading, and it has all sorts of little tidbits of information that I can’t wait for the reader to know. Unfortunately, what I need is to cut the fat off this story. More action, fewer character introductions. More emotional connection with the main characters, less world building. Sometimes less is more, and that is true here. I have time later, in some other short story(ies), to show you all the fabulous world I have imagined down to the tiniest detail. This is not the time or place.
Usually, when I edit, it is with a scalpel. I carefully remove this, replace with that. This section is severed here and reattached there. Most of what goes onto a page in the first mad sprint of writing stays in one way or another. It has been the case, at least for me and maybe for other authors as well, that every story has one moment where precision editing isn’t enough. Removing a wart isn’t enough. I have to amputate to save the body. It is for the best, and it will make the end product better. I am sure of that.
It still sucks.
Today I posted the last chapter of Barghest, Part I. This story is designed in a serial format, so although Chapter 20: Choice does leave some questions unanswered, it also brings to a close this portion of the story. Part I was centered around a four month period in Sergeant Clara Maker’s life. Other chapters were focused on Malak and what transpired to bring him into the same battle Maker is fighting. I also interspersed a few, brief, interludes that were intended to give you a glimpse into the universe outside of those two characters. I wanted to at least indicate that there is a much larger political and cultural background to this story than just what Maker and Malak experience first hand. Hopefully, these chapters that are written at various points in the timeline came together in a way that pulls this story to a close and still leaves you wanting more.
I have already started writing Part II, and I am excited to share it with you. There will be a brief wait of a week or two before the next chapter goes up, and I hope you take the opportunity to leave comments on how you felt about Part I – the good, the bad, and the confusing. Let me know what you want to see in Part II, and what you think might happen. I have loved writing Barghest, and I want to continue on this journey with you. Read Chapter 20, and don’t forget to comment!
Queen. David Bowie. Does it get any better? This has been the theme for my writing for the past two weeks. Comments on recent chapters of Barghest led me to make some changes. As I’ve said before, I write a few chapters ahead of where I post to allow for editing. In this case, that has worked out really well because it has allowed me to consider the questions posed by readers and decided if and how to address them. It required a complete rewrite of the final chapter, but I think the results are worth it. And Chapter 19 went up on time, despite my last minute changes.
However, that means I was rewriting the last chapter of Part I while working on Chapter 2 for Part II of Barghest. I also needed to edit the most recent Nordic Diner post before it could be released today. (“She said ‘news’ with reverent, breathy emphasis – placing it in the same category as front row tickets to the Rolling Stones, a spiritual experience in Tibet, and multiple orgasms.”) It felt for a few days like carpal tunnel might be in my future – as my day job writing grants got a little hectic as well.
Although I was sweating bullets for a while with deadlines looming, I would do it again. Oftentimes, I write better under pressure. I have to finish it. I can’t wait to find the perfect word or research exactly how large a knife a special forces soldier might carry. That is when the ideas really flow – when I have to get something down so that I can move on to another project. Or, even better, when I don’t want to work on one thing so I force myself to write on another. Of course, it all needs edited, and that is where the thesaurus and fact checking will come into play. Still, I feel good about what I have produced. And isn’t that the point?
Well, that, and to become independently wealthy. I’ll do that next week.
I have posted the next chapter of Barghest – Evening Constitutional. This one features Malak and his Legion team, and it is bringing us up to the close of this first part of Barghest.
I was about halfway through writing this storyline when I realized that Barghest needed to be split into parts. As is often the way when I write, I have to get into a story before I have a broad idea of where I am going with it. I know that many authors do not work this way; some of my favorites to read plan out their plot in exacting detail – even down to each scene and accompanying narrative section. I have tried that, and so far it hasn’t worked well for me. Perhaps if I dedicated more large blocks of time to planning, research, and writing – instead of doing them all at the same time in thirty minute increments…
What Barghest is shaping into is a serialized novel in 4-5 parts, each part being approximately 20 chapters. As long as I can continue the pace of posting one chapter per week, it looks like another 62-82 weeks before I am finished. That puts us at around September of 2017 to be done. Although it sounds like a long time for a reader, that is incredibly quick for me to write, edit, and post. I am looking forward to the challenge – and to hearing your comments on Barghest.
I am on vacation this week. I took it as an opportunity to write, do some website and social media housekeeping, and write. Notice I put “write” twice. That is a lot of writing. To prove to you that I haven’t just been sitting by the pool (although there has been some of that), I posted a new chapter of Barghest on Tuesday, #tuesdayserial. Things are heating up for Sergeant Maker, and the promise she made to her team that everyone will go home is turning out to be difficult to keep. I also posted the first three, revised, chapters of my NaNoWriMo project, Nordic Diner. That project is set in the present, and has strong elements of fantasy and magic. I have been working on it quite a bit during this little break, and I have high hopes to be able to keep up the pace. Of course, you know what they say about wishes and dreams. Share your thoughts about Barghest or Nordic Diner in the comments. I would love to hear from you, and a little encouragement goes a long way!