Done again, for now

Yesterday afternoon I submitted my “final” manuscript. I should get the edits back in early October.

In my last week of editing I used ProWritingAid to focus on issues in the writing. Two reasons:

  1. I didn’t want to re-read every chapter. Not only would it take too long but I’d get bogged down.
  2. I wanted to focus on removing words w/o rewriting every other sentence.

Words removed!

Here are the results of that process:

  • Starting word count: 91,971
  • Ending word count: 88,000
  • Words removed: 3,972 (~4.3% of the book)

Got report?

I used three PWA reports on three passes per chapter:

  • First pass, Sticky sentences: Sentences overloaded with “glue” words (and, in, the, of, etc.). On average I had ten of these sentences per chapter. Sometimes these are fixed by removing words or, more often, by rewriting the sentence.
  • Second pass, Writing Style: This report highlights issues involving passive and hidden verbs, over-reliance on adverbs, repeated sentence starts.
  • Third pass, Real-time: My final (quick) pass thru the chapter just to catch anything the first two reports missed (very little).

PWA has many other reports: cliche, structure, readability, pacing, overused, echoes, etc. I’m sure some of those also would have been valuable. In my unscientific “tests” of those reports, the three I settled on seemed to provide the most bang for my time. YMMV.

Next steps

During the next 6 weeks or so, my plan is to:

  • Put some time & effort into learning how to advertise & market. More on that later. This is critical.
  • Revisit the 67K words I’ve written for Book 3. Ninety percent of them werds is trash — old ideas, bad ideas, crap writing, wrong POV characters, obsolete plot points, etc. My goal is to get BK3 thoroughly revamped and outlined by year end. After that, It’ll probably take two years to write. Which is depressing.
  • Keep writing by working on my Lit-RPG series. I want to figure out a way to work on BK3 while also writing ~1,500 words in Lit-RPG…with the goal of publishing ’em every month as a serial adventure. More planning needed.

And, finally, if all goes well, DGtS will publish in December 2019. So, yeah, done but not done.

Before and After

Here’s another short example of a first-round edit to a chapter hook — the bad before and mediocre after.

Here’s the before (128 words)

Frigg watched sparks fly from the hooves of the two goats—Toothgrinder and Toothgnasher—who hauled the cart through the sky. The skies rumbled like a rickety bridge beneath the wheels of Thor’s cart. At first, he was a speck in the sky no bigger than a distant bird. By the time she’d climbed down to the ground, Thor was overhead.

He circled the hilltop once, twice, leaning out over the rail as he peered down, and then guided the cart down to a bumpy landing. He stepped from the car, freed the goats from the traces so they could wander, and then in a booming voice said, “Why was the Gjallarhorn sounded? I see no army at the gates nor any trace of an enemy within miles.”

Matt Bishop, Dark Grows the Sun

What’s wrong with the above?

Nothing grabs you because:

  • Frigg is “watching” — inherently passive and boring.
  • The scene is about Frigg but the attention is on Thor.
  • Thor gets all the action, such as it is.

And here’s the after (107 words)

Frigg climbed down from Heimdall’s tower to greet the arriving Thor. The skies rumbled beneath the wheels of Thor’s cart as he circled above the hilltop, one hand raised in greeting. A pair of goats pulled his cart—Toothgrinder and Toothgnasher. Their shod hooves hammered sparks from the air.

Somber, Frigg raised her hand in reply. Thor wouldn’t know why he’d been summoned. He’d flown faster than the news had spread.

The hilltop boomed first beneath the cart as it landed and then again beneath Thor’s voice. “Why was the Gjallarhorn sounded? I see no army at the gates nor any trace of an enemy within miles.”

Matt Bishop, Dark Grows the Sun

What’s better about it?

  • Frigg is more active; she’s doing something
  • We’re more in her head — she’s somber, there’s an inkling as to why Thor is arriving…which the reader knows but Thor clearly doesn’t.
  • It’s a little shorter

What’s wrong with the revision?

  1. The second sentence is clunkier than Thor’s cart.
  2. It’s still more about Thor than it is about Frigg.
  3. I’ve basically just reorganized the existing text. The transitions from ‘graph to ‘graph feel stilted.
  4. I think I’m cramming too much into that first paragraph. The bit about the goats needs to go, maybe. Frigg knows their names, so that’s an infodump that could either wait till later or just never be provided. It’s not relevant to the scene.
  5. It’s still boring.

I suspect I’ll end up ditching the last two sentences of the first paragraph and/or rewriting the entire hook. Either way, I’ll let ye olde subconscious work on it for a bit.

8 Days Out

I have eight writing days until my deadline (the 19th). Yes, that math doesn’t work, but I typically don’t write on the days my wife works.

Eight days works out to roughly 30 hours of writing (assuming I hit my average hours writing per day). That’s not a lot (especially considering I dropped ~16 into one scene). I could probably scrape together another ~8 hours, but I can’t count on that.

The good news is that the work I’ve transitioned into is mostly “editing.” For me this means going through each chapter. Repeatedly. Here’s a short list of what I’m doing.

Revising chapter hooks

I make sure that the first sentence of each chapter begins with:

  • The POV character’s name
  • An active verb
  • A decent hook.

This can mean considerable rewriting…or not. Depends.

Tip: If your opening paragraph is passive / boring, skip down a couple paragraphs. That may be where the “action” starts. Put that bit at the beginning and either delete or splice in the original chapter beginning. Usually does the trick. But, it takes some work. In my case I often end up “killing my darlings” … which are almost always purple. Or just bad.

Revising chapter endings

Search “how to end chapters” and you’ll get a bunch of hits with advice on how to end chapters. Personally, I can’t keep all that advice in my head at once.

I just try to do two things:

  • Always end in the character’s POV
  • Have them doing/thinking/saying something cool (that relates to the plot, etc.).

Then I move on — which leaves me where I am now: going back and working out the kinks.

Tip: I also try to tie the closing words / concept / thought / action of one chapter into the opening of the chapter right after it. Doing so can help pull the reader through from one to the other. I’m pretty crap at this.

Multiple editing passes

DGtS happens over a nine day period & that’s how I’ve organized my Binder in Scrivener. Each day consists of multiple POV chapters.

In my first “editing” pass I stick to one POV per book-day. Example: Odin has 2 chapters during Day 5. I’ll edit his consecutively rather than go: Odin > Frigg > Loki > Odin. This helps me keep the POV voice consistent from chapter to chapter.

During my second pass, I will work consecutively through each chapter so I’d edit Odin > Frigg > Loki > Odin. In this pass I’m more focused on the chapters flowing smoothly from one to the other.

Throughout these passes I’m looking at words: Are these the best words? Which words can I remove? Can I use fewer words to say the same thing?

But I also try not to get too nit-picky b/c that’ll slow down the overall process. And my editor will do that. But the cleaner my copy, the better her edit.

Wait, what?

I’m also looking for inconsistencies, plot holes, opportunities to improve clarity, etc. .

Here’s an example. A bunch of rebels get captured in one of my early scenes…and are never referred to again. That makes no sense because in two later chapters Odin interrogates one rebel and then another.

So, I had to figure out a simple way of weaving in a reference to that first group of rebels. I can’t write a new scene b/c I don’t have time and it’d detract from what I’ve already written.

My solution: A two-ish line reference by Odin that essentially said “those bad guys were questioned but had no actionable info.”

Follow that thread

I’ve mentioned this in other posts, but there’s always a chance that when you change even a single line you have to fix everything else associated with that line. Just goes with the territory. I’ve chased quite a few already; hopefully won’t be too many more.

Overall, I’m confident I’ll hit my deadline. I’m at the point where more time won’t help…I’d just end up futzing with it. Gotta move forward!

Sixteen hours and counting

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been having trouble rewriting a scene with Frigg in Ifington. I’ve (mostly) figured out the geography & layout of the city and its environs — enough to write about it, at least.

Scene Goals

The bigger issue continues to be the scene’s goals. Frigg has two plot arcs in DGtS. The first deals with Hodr. The second deals with Baldr.

The goals of the scene, then are to:

  1. Transition smoothly to the 2nd arc.
  2. Make Frigg feel guilty about saving Baldr.
  3. Tie into what’s going on with Odin
  4. Worldbuild without forcing it and/or infodumping

So, pretty standard stuff. But in this case, for me, tough. So far, I’ve spent at least 16 hours working on this scene.

I’m working! No, really

That’s not all pure writing, of course. A lot of it is:

  1. Staring at the screen, thinking
  2. Jumping off on short research tangents — e.g., I had to give Frigg a matronymic that made sense. Another one is finding names for minor characters. Ordinarily I’d skip this step but I’m doing it now b/c I have to deliver the book to my editor in less than a month.
  3. Looking for new music to listen to
  4. Getting up & moving around
  5. Writing, rewriting, editing

Right now, the scene’s at ~2,400 words. Back in March 2019 this same scene was ~1,300 words long. None of those original words are in the current scene which is fine b/c the original scene was pretty craptastic. Here’s why:

  1. It was passive. Frigg was either listening to people give reports, or describing events from a distance. The original scene began with her literally flying over the city and describing what she saw. /yawn
  2. It didn’t advance/complicate the plot.

Fixin’ stuff

Here’s how I’m trying to fix these issues.

  1. Make Frigg active from the get go. In DGtS I’ve done a much better job of starting scenes in medias res but it’s still not second nature.
  2. Getting her active in the scene’s events. My next pass will focus on making this better. I’m trying to believably make her start feeling guilty about Baldr b/c it helps make what comes in later scenes more impactful. That’s my working theory, at least.
  3. Advance the plot: Still weak here. Maybe by working on the prior point I can make the scene more effective.

Over the next week or so I’ll probably spend another four hours (at least) reworking this scene. Lotta effort that I hope pays off. All told I have roughly 42-ish hours of writing time before I send the book off. Many other things to work through in that time besides this one scene.

ATM, DGts is ~92K words. Kinsmen Die clocked in around 175K words. Which is nuts. Having written that huge book this second one feels a whole lot shorter (cause it is) and as a result, a whole lot more manageable.

From down in the weeds…

In the editorial report my editor sent me, one of her comments was this:

Inelegant variation and absolute phrases are no longer overwhelming the writing—where did the overwriting go?

I bolded the last part because I wanted to show an example of my own overwriting.

In working on DGtS I’ve been going back into Kinsmen Die to make sure I’m getting my continuity right — events, description, etc. As I do that I’m having to re-read my own writing…which is sometimes a little cringe-inducing.

Here’s an example of the old:

…as if they were caught amid a school of silvery fish. Below them, a river of frozen stars coursed outward, flowing like molten rock and singing with the voice of an avalanche.
The river stretched like a sea monster’s tentacle back into the Hvergelmir, which lay spread below them like an open-petaled flower. At this remove, the cauldron’s voice was the merest susurration, but the way it swirled and spun like fast-moving storm clouds entranced his eye just as it always had. It had thrown eleven giant arms out across the face of the Ginnungagap. The roaring cauldron was fed from above by a never-ending cascade of white fire and from below by red roiling fire.

Kinsmen Die, Matt Bishop

And here’s the new. I wrote it without first going back to see what how I’d originally described the Ginnungagap.

He stared down into a familiar place—the Ginnungagap. Red roiling fire blasted into the Gap from below; flowing ice plummeted from above. And where the two torrents met, the Roaring Cauldron churned, stretching out eleven mighty arms across the Gap. And still the Gap was unfilled.

Dark Grows the Sun, forthcoming, Matt Bishop

So I’m not saying the newer version is good per se, but I do think it’s better than what I wrote 2+ years ago.

And that’s some of the fun of writing — looking back and seeing the progress.

I bent my Wookie…

And then I broke my book. Here’s how.

My editor had said that my manuscript was pretty solid overall. Scattered throughout the chapters, though, were comments like “how does this advance the plot?” or “how does this complicate things for XYZ?”

Oh my darling…

For example, I have an encounter between Odin and a woman who’ll be important in Book 3. I like that scene for several different reasons, but it doesn’t really move Odin’s plot forward in the second book. I’m still wrestling with how to fix it (if it’s even possible).

Oh my darling…

Here’s another example. Toward the end of the book while Odin is spiraling downward into his “black moment of despair” he has a somewhat light-hearted conversation with a giant squirrel named Ratatoskr. There’s a lot of worldbuilding in the scene, good dialogue and some humor.

But the tone puts the brakes on Odin’s downward spiral. It relieves reader tension rather than intensifying it.

When I started trying to fix that scene I attempted to bend it to my will. Odin must speak to Ratatoskr! (Because I like the scene.) He must! It’s IMPORTANT! (Because I like the scene!)

Okay, fine, bending doesn’t work. It might be a good scene, but it’s in the wrong place.

The ripple effect

So I moved it. But that caused more problems: It had to be tweaked to reflect its new place in the book, and then I had to shift other scenes and tweak those, etc.

And then I had to solve time & place issues. These are particularly thorny because several events can only happen at certain times because, in part, it takes an established amount of time to get from Gladsheim to Helheim at a normal pace (three nights). I fudged it slightly b/c it could plausibly be done faster if you’re in a rush — but not twice as fast.

And when Hel and Hermod converse, Odin needs to be with or near Heimdall so that he can find out about it. And then they need to get word to Frigg which only Odin can do.

Yep, busted.

So, that’s how it gets complicated…and that’s how I broke my book.

Here’s the question, though, was it broken to begin with and I just didn’t realize it? My guess is “yes.” My editor spotted those flaws — maybe for a different reason entirely — pointed ’em out, and when I pushed on ’em…they crumbled.

With all that said, the book IS fundamentally good. I feel it in mah bones. But I need to set those bones and let ’em heal over.

And to put all of the above a different way: Kill your darlings.

It’s away!

This morning I finalized the “first” draft of the Dark Grows the Sun (DGtS) manuscript and emailed it to my editor. Wewt!

The book clocked in at 87,390 words which is right about where I want it. I expect the final version (which is a long ways away) to be roughly the same word count.

The edits will be…

I’ve hired my editor to provide two rounds of developmental editing and one round of line editing. Parlance can vary, so here’s an overview of what I’m getting:

  • Developmental edit: recommendations for the underlying structure of the story, including plot, character motivations, conflict, point of view, dialogue, and more.
  • Line edit: line ­by ­line recommendations on usage and style, including extensive edits and comments designed to polish the writing while respecting and preserving individual voice and style.

Gonna take some time…

This is going to be a lengthy process. I’ll get the first round comments back by the end of January. (I want them now!) From there, we’ll figure out how long it’ll take to do the first revision. All of the editing on her end will take about 3 months (2 rounds of developmental plus 1 round of line at one month each).

So best case, I’ll be able to publish DGtS by year-end 2019 or maybe early 2020. We shall see.

A 3rd book? I don’t think so…

My “And the Heavens Burn” series will have a third book. But not for a while. There are two main reasons:

  1. KD isn’t selling (yet). I’m assuming DGtS won’t sell, either, UNLESS I do something different. I’ll be researching what to do this month (Jan 2018).
  2. I want to write different stuff…change it up a bit. Keep it fun.

And by different I mean…

I want to write shorter books that are focused around a single main character. By shorter I mean about 40K words.

A few reasons for that:

  1. It’ll be fun to dive into a single POV and run with it whether it’s written in first person or third-person limited.
  2. I think I can learn more by writing more, shorter books than fewer, longer books. I’d like to get better at POVs for one thing.
  3. Shorter books should take less time to write and cost less to edit. That means more books written in the roughly the same amount of time for roughly the same cost. (1 book @ $1200 editing costs versus 3 books at $400 editing costs per book. Numbers are for example only).
  4. Cover art! Covers are cool. Sure I’d be spending more on covers but there are some great premades out there for not a lot of cha-ching.
  5. With more books out there, I have more to market and bundle and sell.

Genre jumping

A few weeks ago, I knocked out a ~1200 word “chapter one” that’s best described as Lit-RPG. I don’t remember why I wrote it except that I was having exceptional trouble working on DGtS, my mind wandered and out came that lit-rpg story.

I sent it to a few friends and they liked the concept. Incidentally, the story was written in first person POV and it flowed quite naturally. Fun.

I don’t know if I’ll pick that story back up again, but it might be fun to tinker with. And I can leverage my existing magic system & worldbuilding.

I envision my Norse-inspired world on a continuum that runs from fantasy to sci-fi / space opera to dystopia / post-apocalypse. Heck, I could even do a thriller set in the Norse world. Or a Holmesian mystery.

So rather than shackle myself to a third epic fantasy, why not explore other genres? The writing needs to be fun!

Other characters…

I also have a few characters that I’ve cut from KD and DGtS whose stories I really want to explore. Hyrrokin tops the list. And I think her tale is perfect for a 40K book.

Vafthrudnir is another example. I cut him from DGtS, but his backstory could be a prequel. And his future adventures could bridge into the whole Jotunn story that I’ve only hinted at yet.

And then there’s my Svartalvar characters about whom I’ve written at least ~150K words — they’re mostly crap words, but hey, I really want to get to them. Their stories tie directly into the events in “And the Heavens Burn” trilogy and then go beyond it.

If I proceed linearly, then it’ll be a decade before I get to them. But if I go short and hop around, then I could publish their stories in a couple years.

That sounds a whole lot more fun. And, I really don’t want to just impact on the surface. Ouch.

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.

🙂

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.

 

Just like the Spanish Inquisition…

…creativity strikes when you least expect it.

Last night I sat down to read and take notes from Myth and Religion of the North. I ended up getting distracted and spending about an hour knocking out 1,600 words of a story that’s apparently been rattling around in what passes for my brain.

Good distraction!

Why Odin takes warriors

The story began as a bit of dialogue between Odin and an unnamed warrior. I was trying to get into Odin’s head. As I’ve detailed in this blog, Odin favors strong warriors b/c he’s recruiting for the Einherjar–the army of undead men who will fight in Ragnarok against the Jotunn.

From a mortal’s perspective, we can’t explain why anyone is taken before what we might perceive as their time — particularly valiant and heroic warriors. So, wesay a “god” is responsible for the death. (By “we” I mean my conception of what a pagan Norseman might think…which could be totally off base…but that’s the mindset I’m trying to get into)

And, in some cases, Odin’s given the hero a weapon (Sigmund) to use and then Odin causes that weapon to break. Then a valkyr scoops him up and it’s off to Valhol to prepare for Ragnarok. Mortals might call that “betrayed” by Odin.

From (my) Odin’s perspective, though, he doesn’t think of himself as “a liar.” He thinks of himself as a man who will lie if he has to — to get what he wants, protect his people, etc. Not that that’s better, necessarily. He’ll also do other things–whatever it takes–to protect his own.

A little help here?

In my proto-story, Odin lies by omission to the warrior. Odin sees potential in the warrior (but how does he see it? ;)) so he says: “Warrior, I will help you, but you agree to fight for me in my army when you die.”

I’m specifically thinking of Sigmund and the sword Gramr (which means Wrath in Old Norse and is an amazing name for a sword). Odin gave Gramr to Sigmund. And with that sword, Sigmund became a mighty king over the course of many years.

Then a great battle began (read the Volsunga Saga) in which Sigmund, though old, fought so well that none could stand against him…

the battle had dured a while, there came a man into the fight clad in a blue cloak, and with a slouched hat on his head, one-eyed he was,  and bare a bill in his hand; and he came against Sigmund the King, and have up his bill against him, and as Sigmund smote fiercely with the sword it fell upon the bill and burst asunder in the midst: thenceforth the slaughter and dismay turned to his side, for the good-hap of King Sigmund had departed from him, and his men fell fast about him; naught did the king spare himself, but the rather cheered on his men; but even as the saw says, “No might ‘gainst many”, so was it now proven; and in this fight fell Sigmund the King,

Source: http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/vlsng/vlsng13.htm

The man in the blue cloak is Odin; the bare bill is Gungnir. And if I remember correctly, in the Icelandic sagas if a man dons a “blue cloak” (or is seen wearing one) it signifies the intent to murder/kill. (And in the sagas there’s a legal difference between murdering and killing. It’s a murder if you don’t immediately go to the closest homestead and declare in front of witnesses what you did. Murder is despicable; a killing can be totally justified.)

Anyway.

That’s what I had in my head with respect to the help Odin would provide to my unnamed warrior.

My story then evolves from a scrap of dialog in which Odin and the warrior make their bargain to a scene in which the warrior, having died valiantly in battle b/c his sword turns in his hand, is caught up by a valkyr. He then awakens in another place, seemingly healed. He gets up and stumbles into a hall bigger than any he’d ever seen with gold-bright shields hanging from the ceiling.

Hundreds of warriors are in the hall and my unnamed warrior is pushed and shoved through the throng till he staggers out into the clear space before Odin’s throne.

My warrior is angry and confused. He feels betrayed. But one of the warriors around him (an Einherjar) presses a cup of Heidrun’s mead into his hand and whispers to him, “All here have stood where you are now. We all made fools of ourselves before the Valfather. But don’t worry, you’re among brothers.”

Or something along those lines. I forgot what I wrote exactly. There’s more to the story beyond this brief sketch. The POV is the unnamed warrior and he tells his backstory in flashbacks–which totally evolved as I was writing.

Enthusiasms

I’m not sure how “good” my story is or even where it’s headed. I’m just glad I WROTE.

Which then had me wondering about why I’m so blocked with respect to my 2nd book. I’m kinda thinking that I enjoyed, and was spurred on by, the act of making this new story up on the fly. Of discovering the story as I wrote.

With my 2nd book, I outlined the crap out of it. I’m not really able to discover–or I don’t think I’m able to discover–much about it. And when I do discover things I have to make sure they make sense relative to what I’ve already decided. And if the discoveries are better then I have to scrap the older stuff…which causes changes to ripple, etc etc.

Or maybe all of that’s in my head and I’m just making up excuses while shying away from some hard work. And in some ways it’s easier to write a story with nothing tied to it–it’s a lark. But the novel, oooh, that’s important. (Not really, but you know what I mean.) I’m so stressed about making it good that I’m robbing the joy from it.

Either way, the Einherjar story was — and will hopefully continue to be — a fun side project.

Now to re-find the fun in that other story.