Thoughts on Getting Things Done

As a discovery writer, I’m never entirely sure how I manage to turn chaos into order. “Instinct” is my go-to explanation, but I can’t be certain about a cause whose operation I can’t describe. All I know is that, nine times out of ten, connections will be made if I just keep writing. It takes some amount of skill to recognize and capitalize on those connections, yes, but I couldn’t have foreseen them before they appeared on the page. Maybe I’m just such an editor at heart that I can’t get truly creative until there’s some preexistent material to mold and finesse.

Things don’t play out according to some grand master plan I dreamt up beforehand. Instead I simply put in the work, never quite sure where it’ll lead, and things always seem to work out okay despite my uncertainty.

I feel like there’s a life lesson here.

Exposition Position

Excitement is afoot in Arlam!

First off, some big names are currently reading A Sea Sought in Song. Saying more would be imprudent at this point, but hopefully I’ll have positive news to report soon. Anything could happen.

Secondly, Book Three passed 55K words this past week, and continues to climb. A few months ago I realized that an encounter I’d begun describing carried more ramifications than I’d anticipated, and required additional setup. So I skipped back several chapters to insert several thousand words’ worth of character development, and have been working my way toward my last point of departure ever since. It’s going great. This section of the book involves a ton of exposition (at last, the answers you seek!), and it’s required my full attention to keep it from degenerating into a perfunctory data dump. But fear not: some of the revelations in Part One of Book Three count as the most thrilling stuff I’ve written to date, at least to me.

And yet I can’t wait for the upcoming scenes in Part Two. As characters begin to converge and subplots to commingle, this tale’s gonna blow wide open—slowing my progress with exponentially-expanding complexity.

But I did go ahead and write its epilogue already. That’s the second one of those I’ve tapped out on my phone whilst wedged into a seat on a crosscountry flight, so I guess that makes for a tradition. The strange, freefloating mental state engendered by being alone in a crowd at 30,000 feet has leant itself to the task of epilogue-writing, since the last two have been set so completely outside the normal parameters of the narrative.

I do feel similarly about my publication prospects at the moment. Things are happening, quite swiftly in some cases, but I can’t see out the windshield to anticipate what’s next. Instead I must content myself with awkward glances over a stranger’s shoulder at the unfamiliar terrain flowing past me far below. But such is life.

Milestones and Setbacks #342b

Time for an update!

First off, Book Three passed the 50K-word milestone a few weeks ago. It continues to expand and coalesce into something that not only excites, but also moves me in unexpectedly deep ways. I’m juggling more locations, interwoven subplots, and POV characters than ever before. I’d expected this book to run to roughly the same length as its predecessors, but now I think it may have to go longer. It definitely hasn’t reached the halfway point yet.

Secondly, it is with great ambivalence that I report Ilina’s failure to woo David Farland. That’s right—my follow-up entry to Writers of the Future didn’t so much as place. Which is perplexing to me, as I consider it a much stronger story than the one which netted me an honorable mention earlier this year. But be that as it may: neither entry was written to win a contest. They were merely the most self-contained excerpts I was able to extract from the much larger “Seed of Glory Sown in Sorrow” narrative.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any other such excerpts up my sleeve. The rewriting that’d be necessary to detach another chapter from its contextual matrix would require more time and effort than I’m willing to invest in something that wouldn’t directly serve the story I’m telling. So I hereby abandon my pursuit of WOTF glamour. FutileFistShakeAtSky.gif

Onward!

Pretty Paper

My WOTF certificate from the first quarter of 2019 arrived by mail today. It certainly looks legit. Though L. Ron’s ginormous gilt endorsement has been posthumously appended, the signature of David Farland appears real enough.

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So now that Hugh has been honorably mentioned, we’ll see how Ilina fares. An episode from her backstory is currently charging the Great Farland Wall. For those of you interested, it appears—with minor adjustments—among the first four chapters of A Sea Sought in Song. And if you’d like to see what it was that convinced David Farland to sign such a pretty paper, The Pull is available here.

The Plot-Paint Thickens

Now that the work of selling my series has passed out of my hands, I’ve been free to focus on finishing Book Three—a wild waltz through a kaleidoscope of espionage. It’s good to be back in the saddle and traversing new ground. As of now, I’ve completed 45% of my initial 100k-word goal for the novel.

But the thing about kaleidoscopes of espionage is that they demand plotting. Which is not my strong suit. Ugh. Fortunately, it’s actually quite simple to create a complex plot if you know the secret three-step formula: (1) create a simple plot, (2) identify all its holes, and then (3) explain them. Voila!

So if I’m being honest, my plotting process looks a lot like a four-year-old’s interrogation.

Me: “Why does W happen?”
Also me: “Well, I guess because X.”
Me: “But why does X happen?”
Also me: “Well, I guess because Y.”
Me: “But why does Y happen?”
Also me: “Well, I guess because Z.”
Me: “But why …”



In other news, the inimitable Hannah Gunderson, Painter of Arlam, has unveiled a gorgeously pensive new portrait of Ilina Lightkeeper.

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Once More Unto the Freytag, Dear Friends

So I gave in and submitted another entry to the Writers of the Future contest. I wasn’t planning on doing so, but the fact that my first entry made it up onto the scoreboard has given me what may be false confidence that I can top myself. But a single rangefinding strike, no matter how visible, is still only one data point. It’s impossible for me to know whether I’ve adjusted correctly for windage until I see further results.

Out of curiosity, I recently read an article that purports to delineate the characteristics of a strong WotF entry (after I entered in December, of course). I laughed at how badly I’d handicapped myself. First, because trace elements of fantasy don’t even appear in my story until right toward the end. Second, because the story is set in a very specific historical time and place—one which I know only through Internet research. Third, because the coordinating judge is partial to a “traditional Freytag triangle with three Try/Fail Cycles” … whatever the heck that is. Basically, I’m lucky the thing even got read.

So did I buckle down and do my due diligence and pick the brains of successful entrants and research plot structure and map out an optimally-calibrated story specimen on a grid? Of course not! That’s not how I write, and it’s not how I got where I am. Why on earth would I switch gears now?

What I have done this time is to create original content for inclusion in my second entry. I have neither the time nor the inclination to write original stories simply to enter them in contests, but in order to continue cannibalizing “Seed of Glory Sown in Sorrow” I had to do some retrofitting. Last year I tossed Book Two’s overture in the WotF hopper because it was the only chapter in my series that was entirely self-contained. This time, my selection made more of a ripping sound upon extraction from its surroundings. This time, I’d turned to the overture from A Sea Sought in Song.

If you’ve read it, you know it’s full of questions. I originally wrote it as an exercise back when I was first fleshing out the character of Ilina Lightkeeper, without ever intending it to see the light of day. It’s a petri dish of thematic ambiguity from which the whole novel burgeons. Yes, it has an arc. But it was never intended to stand alone.

So I went to work. First I had to figure out which threads could be left to dangle and which needed tying off. Turned out there were two that felt out-of-place sans closure: Forkbeard’s relationship with Ilina, and Ilina’s relationship with her father. A Sea Sought in Song explores both of those relationships in detail later on, and its overture—”To Face the Night”—concerns itself primarily with the Ilina/Rikard dynamic. Nonetheless, I had to bring those supplementary relationships to some kind of conclusion if I wanted to refashion the overture into a self-contained narrative. They needed little arcs of their own.

And hey, you can decide for yourself whether I succeeded, because I ended up liking my additions enough to include most of them in the story proper. So if you click through to the initial chapters available on my website, you can read a version of “To Face the Night” that’s nearly identical to my WotF entry. I think it’s a strong contender, but what do I know? After all, I’m not even familiar with the traditional Freytag triangle, lol.