One step forward…

So this morning I was working on a scene and none of it went as planned.

First, we had a snowstorm Sunday into Monday so the kids were off school all day Monday. That ate into writing time. Second, the school lost power so the kids were also off today (Tuesday). So, lots of distractions.

Anyway, I had about an hour to write this morning and as is my wont, I skimmed over what I’d done yesterday, made some minor edits to ease into the flow and then let my subconscious guide me. I ended up at a scene in which Frigg flies back from one small town to the big town of Ifington.

An Odin scene precedes this one with Frigg. In his, he fought a coven of witches who’d attacked Gladsheim. I decided it’d make sense for witches to also have attacked Ifington (for reasons) and the timing worked out well b/c Frigg was heading back there.

So, the scene is meant to accomplish a few things:

  1. Show bad things happening in several places which leads to stuff
  2. Solve timeline issues which require Frigg to be in Ifington so that Odin can get a message to her
  3. Character building for Frigg — she’s directly involved in helping her people and taking charge
  4. Introduce some world building — what the city and countryside look & feel like.

As I was going thru the scene it was pretty “meh” — several people just reporting the bad news to Frigg. Very passive and boring. The scene also didn’t describe anything at all. Mostly just dialog and some tags.

So the scene sucked but the idea was ok.

I decided that I wanted to get Frigg seeing columns of black smoke rising above the city, fires raging, burned out husks of buildings, people hurt, cats and dogs living together, etc. And then she’d swoop down and help out. And then she’d get reports on what was happening as the scene progressed. Above all, I wanted it to be visceral.

So I started in on that … and then I screwed up.

As I was describing Frigg’s flight in, I had to decide which side of the river Ifington was on…and how the city had grown to incorporate another river. And, wait, did it make sense for rivers to branch like that down at the sea? And what did the coastline look like? And if the river branched, then what else was there? Farmland? And where did the river that did the branching come from?

If I’d stopped there, I might’ve been ok. But, I didn’t. I tabbed out and started searching rivers that branch (the Nile is a good example). And then I was worried that the topography didn’t make sense particularly based on what I’d already described so I started searching topographic maps. For the Pleistocene. Because reasons.

And then I went down additional world building rabbit holes, since I had to establish why the Aesir ended up at Gladsheim while the Jotunn ended up at Ifington. Which led to writing a short descriptive piece about how everybody got where they were.

Why did I do all that? Sometimes my brain won’t let me get past minor details until I have them figured out. Fair enough. The rest falls under the “I should’ve known better” category.

As in, never, ever tab out. Just keep writing.

Most of the times I don’t tab out. But this morning?

Sigh.

Got some good world building done, at least. Hopefully. I haven’t looked at it again.

Tomorrow morning, though, I have about an hour between getting home after dropping the kids at school and starting work. I haven’t been successful in using that time for writing…but tomorrow I will. I will!

Maybe.

🙂

Only 30ish years late…

I just finished listening to the Thrawn pentalogy by Timothy Zahn, voiced by Marc Thompson who did an amazing job.

WTF didn’t Lucas/Disney turn these books into movies? If done well, they’d be a thousand times better than the trash they’re making.

Apparently these books were made “not canon” when Disney crapped on the franchise. But with Star Wars: Rebels (which is actually pretty good), Admiral Thrawn is back in. And given the rebranding of the books (check Amazon), I wouldn’t be surprised to see more Thrawn in the future.

Here are the books in order because the titles are confusing:

Heir to the Empire trilogy = Thrawn Trilogy
  1. Heir to the Empire
  2. Dark Force Rising
  3. The Last Command
The Hand of Thrawn = Thrawn Duology
  1. Specter of the Past
  2. Vision of the Future

So, why are these books worth reading/listening to?

  1. The stories are enjoyable — space opera in the Star Wars universe. You can actually listen to ’em with your kids (if you have ’em and they like SW)
  2. Familiar characters — Han and Leia…and their kids, Luke, Lando, Chewy, etc.
  3. Cool new characters — Mara Jade, Talon Karrde, Thrawn
  4. The voice acting is excellent. (Minor annoyance: the “alien” sounds worked into the speech…animal grunts and groans and whinnies and FM enough already.)

Personally, I need to re-listen to the books because of Thrawn. He’s positioned as the infallible admiral…a grand strategist….totally amazeballs.

So, how?

But you go into the books knowing that the New Republic wins. Because…duh. If Thrawn is all that then….how?

So, as a writer I’m interested in how Zahn:

  1. Makes Thrawn awesome and compelling and brilliant
  2. Without stupid plot contrivances

I haven’t figured out quite how he did it. I have a few ideas but no specifics.

Lose!

In my books I have a somewhat similar situation in that I have powerful characters that need to lose — but do so in convincing ways. What I’ve done so far is try to:

  • Show them doing all they can, but it not being enough
  • Show them doing all they can but making mistakes b/c of bad info or not enough info or just b/c people make mistakes
  • Something legitimately new that they couldn’t have conceived of being introduced so that the tables are upended
  • Introduce malicious, hidden action/schemes by third parties

Pretty much all of the above I think you have to make sure the reader knows but the characters don’t–or, maybe better said, the readers figure/find it out first and then sh!t happens to the characters.

This all seems like pretty standard stuff — which I’m only assuming b/c I thought of it (ie, nothing special about me). And by standard I mean that I’ve absorbed the above by reading / watching stuff. And I also guess that the above are somewhat similar to how try/fail cycles are pulled off.

All of the above is why I need to re-listen to the Thrawn books. I’ve been winging it, as you can tell.

Progress!

You’ve heard the “writing is a muscle” expression before, right? Well, my experience over the past couple months has definitely proved it true.

Another saying that’s been going through my head of late is this: “do you want to be a writer or someone who’s written a book?”

Believe it or not, answering that 2nd question was kinda tough. It was easier to go through the motions…to say “meh, writer’s block” and quit after an hour or so of staring at the keyboard. And after a few months of that, well, you start to wonder — is this effort worth it? I could be doing other stuff with my non-family, non-job time.

What are you prepared to do?

But I kept coming back to wanting to create something. And I’d only just started…and I don’t like quitting just because it was tougher than I thought it would be. And, I have enough regrets in my life.

So back at the beginning of September, I decided to be a writer.

Step one was to quit playing WoW. Just doing that reclaimed a ton of time and dumped lots of stress.

Step two was to throw myself back into my 4 day a week writing habit. And by throw I mean omg it sucked.

I didn’t look forward to writing. The words weren’t flowing. Those that did were junk. I couldn’t move past the first third of the book — just kept going over it and over it and over it.

And, gradually, I was over it.

I was able to think more clearly about the book — timeline, plot, scenes I needed, scenes I needed to excise. I got past the first third of the book.

I wouldn’t say that things are amazing now, but I can feel the “flow” … time drops away and good stuff’s produced. Or at least good bones to hang stuff on.

So here are a few examples of what my progress looks like.

Stable word count ish

The book’s still hovering around 80K words which is my minimum word count goal for this book. That’s progress b/c despite the stuff I’m removing, I’m replacing a roughly equal amount of content…which, to me, means that the book’s concept is ok. And nothing plot-wise has changed since I went through that outlining process with my editor a year ago.

Moving past the beginning

As I said, I was stuck on the first third of the book. Never felt right. Too choppy. I couldn’t figure out how Frigg, for example, moved through the city and got into a bad situation (thanks to Loki). Nor could I figure out how she got out of that and then met up with a returning Odin. Nor how Loki stirred up trouble and planned future trouble before presenting himself to Odin and Frigg toward the end of the first section.

Well, now I have. Here’s an outline of how the first section of the book goes:

  • The book opens with Odin riding up from “Hel.”
  • Heimdall sees and hears him coming and, in Frigg’s scene, tells her that he’s coming. And he tells her that Thor is nearly to Gladsheim.
  • Loki presents himself at the great hall expecting to encounter Frigg. But, she’s not there. So Loki says he’ll stop by later — which gives him time to start trouble.
  • Since Thor’s not there yet, Frigg has time to speak with Hodr…and sets up her next interaction (with Thor).
  • Loki’s off starting trouble…which doesn’t pay off till later.
  • Frigg’s asked Thor to check out what Vidar found waaay up north. He agrees. And then she takes him to Baldr’s body…which puts her back near the great hall. Thor splits b/c he doesn’t want to see his father (which reinforces the bad blood between them).
  • Frigg goes into the hall, is told that Loki stopped by and will do so again later. She’s relieved b/c she didn’t want to deal with him w/o Odin. And, she’s told there’s a crowd gathering outside. She goes out & confronts the crowd.
  • Loki followed a crowd of people leading back up to the great hall, sees the crowd causing trouble for Frigg and decides to make it worse. As you do. Toward the end, he sees Odin riding up the road. Time to jet! But not before making it worse for Odin.
  • Cut to Odin riding up the hill, and then dealing with the fresh mob violence Loki just instigated.
  • Cut to Loki heading back down to a meeting with a certain someone. This clarifies a few things for the reader and sets up some future events.
  • Then cut back to Frigg in the aftermath of Odin dispersing the mob and then a new sequence that alternates between her and him — with a couple Loki scenes thrown in to build tension.

There’s a bit more to the book’s first third, but even writing this outline out fresh for this blog post it feels like it flows pretty well. (If you disagree, lemme know!)

Fixing later sequences, etc.

As with the above list of fixes, I did similar things later in the book to smooth events out. Some of this involved (and will involve) writing new scenes to flesh out sub-plots that are primarily there to give more depth to Odin, in particular, and to set up events in Book 3.

And best yet!

My editor checked in with me yesterday to make sure I was on track for the first round of manuscript evaluation on Jan 2.

I wasn’t sure, so I updated her on where I was and asked: Does my progress thus far match what you were expecting?

Her answer: Yep. This first critique will focus on the bigger picture stuff (plot, scenes) rather than the nitty gritty.

Phew. Like srsly. Phew.

And I got an extra week b/c she’s on vaca. Even better.

So when I hand the book in on Jan 7, it will be in pretty good shape. Not as polished as the first book I sent her a couple years ago but unlike that book, this one — Book Two — won’t be seeing massive plot shifts. I squared all that away last year. And like I said, it hasn’t changed.

I still have a ton of work ahead of me. And will do again come February.

But for now, it feels good to be a writer again.

 

Random thoughts on: The Expanse

So I’ve just finished binge watching The Expanse, thanks to it being available on Amazon Prime. Damn it was good.

TLDR: Go watch it.

I watched it when it first came out and was pretty “meh” on S1. Watched a couple episodes of S2 and then kinda forgot about the show. Fast forward to about a month ago and I am SO glad I went back to it. I really enjoyed the books — but I’ve only read/listened through Cibola Burn (Bk 4). Which is apparently what Season 4 of the Expanse will cover when the shows airs on Amazon Prime (SyFy canceled it).

So, here are my random thoughts on the show/books…loosely organized.

Scene and Setting and Plot

The story’s a bit gritty and realistic, but not over the top brutal. The mystery is compelling. The science/physics/astrophysics is really good, as is the CGI and the sets.

I’m still not entirely sold on the actors picked to play Amos and Avasarala, mainly because they don’t look like I pictured them (or how they were described). That said, those two actors are doing a good job.

They made lots of changes to the plot, characters, etc., when translating the books to the screen. Some of it annoys me but only b/c I know the books. It probably looks/feels pretty seamless to someone who doesn’t.

The Characters

The Expanse has lots of great characters. Take Miller, the detective, played to a “t” by Thomas Jane. So tragic and lonely and sad and so well written.

Bobby Draper — the hard-chargin’ Martian marine. Great in the books and equally so in the show.  The actress playing her does a great job. Probably one of my favorite scenes in the show is when a few Martians who were saved by the crew of the Rocinante try to take over the ship.

An unsuspecting Bobby walks into the middle of it. Alex is being held at gunpoint. The entire scene is sold, imo, by the young male Marine and his immediate respect for Bobby as well as Bobby’s annoyed patience with the woman holding the gun to Alex’s head. Love it.

Crisjen Avasarala. She’s probably one of the best characters I’ve ever read. An Indian woman who’s probably in her 60s. Gray haired. Small. And holy shit she’s a force of nature.

One of my favorite scenes in the books that, imo, was not well translated to the screen was when Avasarala and Bobby narrowly escape gettin’ blowd up and are saved by the Rocinante. In the books, Avasarala runs roughshod over the crew and basically takes over the ship. Holden spends half his time bewildered by her and pulled along in her wake. Just great.

In the show, however, they reduce Avasarala to pleading with Holden to please oh please do something. She was too reactive. It felt like they sidelined her to focus on the assault on Io and saving Prax’s kid.

Again, this is maybe only bothersome b/c I’m familiar with the books.

Amos. He’s awesome. And again, well written and well acted. The actor chosen doesn’t quite fit the mold but I think he nails it. Also, the voice actor in the audiobooks does a wonderful job of putting a rough-edged nuance into his voice when he’s Amos. Super enjoyable.

And at this point I’m embarrassing myself with all this gushing about the series.

So, here’s a few things I didn’t care for.

The Less Good

Melba: I couldn’t stand that character and storyline in the books. Felt like filler…and bored the shit out of me. In the show, it’s not so bad b/c while she plays an important role there’s less time devoted to it.

Same goes for Anna Volovodov. The series kinda butchered much of her plot points which is fine b/c I skipped through them — the ones when she’s writing the speech for the UN dude.  Zero interest.

When I relistened to the book she’s in a few months ago I also skipped her scenes. Yawn. They also felt like filler.

I disliked how they made Captain Ashford more sympathetic while splitting the Bull character (from the books) into Naomi and Drummer. Mostly b/c I really liked Bull. But, I also liked Drummer, so it’s all good.

The Even Better

I’d basically stopped listening to The Expanse with Nemesis Games (Bk 5). And since I have no memory of it, I’ll be relistening to it once I’m done with the second book in Timothy Zahn’s Hand of Thrawn series. The Thrawn trilogy is good stuff. And if you read/listen to ’em you are then allowed to geek out when Thrawn appears in SW: Rebels — a show which I found enjoyable…to my amazement.

So…aside from all that…what’s even better is that there are a few more books in The Expanse for me to get through:

  • Nemesis Games, Bk 5 (soon to be in progress)
  • Babylon’s Ashes, Bk 6
  • Persepolis Rising, Bk 7
  • Tiamat’s Wrath, Bk 8 (March 2019)

I’m intrigued by the names of those last three books and they mythos/culture to which they are linked. And that ties into another book I’ve been reading — Magicians of the Gods by Graham Hancock. That book and the stuff related to it deserve a post of their own.

Looks like I have my work cut out for me!