One tiny step closer…

I’ve hired an editor to perform a “manuscript evaluation.” She’ll provide a written report which will critique my manuscript’s plot, character motivation, conflict, etc., narrative techniques (POV, scene structure, characterization, dialogue, etc.), and language (style, mechanics, word choice, etc.).

As a first-time novelist, I felt that this type of critique was crucial to:

  • Figuring out if my book sucks
  • Improving my craft (writing, not witch)

To be clear, I don’t think the book sucks. The beta readers would’ve told me (indirectly). But, I know it can be better. I’m just not sure where. And I don’t want to spin my wheels for a year figuring it out on my own. Hence the evaluation.

On October 31st I deliver my manuscript to my editor. So I’ve a good bit of time for another rewrite with a particular eye on character motivation and characterization/POV. If my handling of the characters suck, then no one will slog past the sample chapters.

She’ll have my manuscript for all of November. I’ll get her report back in early December. If I like what I see in that report (the good, bad and the ugly), then I’ll use her for the line edit. Which I’ll schedule quickly to make sure there’s minimal lag time between me finishing a revision based on the eval & her availability to start that line edit.

Ideally, the line edit will start by March 2017. Figure at least a month for her to finish (April 2017) then another for me to revise (May 2017). With a month’s leeway for the unexpected, I should be able to publish by June 2017.

Should being the operative word.

Of course somewhere in there I also need to: get awesome cover art, ISBNs, a proofreader, write my blurbs, etc., figure out my launch strategy (and tactics), and probably a few other things I’m forgetting. And once all that’s done?

Start back on “Book Two,” which I’ve already decided to break apart into multiple shorter novels (80-90K).

I’m pretty excited.

 

Why these characters? Part 3

The last couple characters in my books are probably among the least well-known figures in Norse myth.

Let’s start with Hyrrokin. She’s a female Jotunn who rides a wolf that has vipers for reins. In my book she rides a wolf named Viper, because…ow…bitey.

She has two references that I recall. In the first, she shoves Baldr’s boat into the sea setting the rollers aflame and causing the land to rumble and quake. All of which angers Thor. He takes up his hammer (Mjolnir) to smite! her, but is prevented by the other Aesir. The second reference I’m not going to mention. Hyrrokin may also be depicted on this runestone. And yes, I use one “k” in spelling her name.

If I had some elbow room in developing Frigg, Vidar and Hodir, I had a warehouse full of elbows for Hyrrokin (and Vafthrudnir). Which probably puts me on a list somewhere.

For Hyrrokin I had to figure everything out — fun, but tough, especially since the reference above was a weird situation. Why would Odin call for a Jotunn to help float Baldr’s ship? Her death was also problematic because it was just a mention — no circumstances, no sense of time between the Baldr event and her death, etc.

Eventually, I tied Hyrrokin’s backstory directly into the main motivations for the Jotunn themselves. (I use “Jotunn” for singular & plural; not accurate, but simpler.) And I made her a warrior. I know where she’s headed through Book Two, but it still feels a titch flat.

Vafthrudnir (in Old Norse, the accent is always on the first syllable) has his own ballad. It’s cool — a battle of wits between Odin and Vafthrudnir. Think Gollum & Bilbo in The Hobbit and you’re not far off.

Two things (among others) made Vafthrudnir compelling:

  1. Odin pitted his wisdom against the Jotunn’s.
  2. Frigg cautioned Odin, saying that among all the Jotunn* she doesn’t know one mightier.

To me, then, it seemed that Vafthrudnir was at least Odin’s equal — and that’s how I’m writing him. My Vafthrudnir is a shaman, a shapeshifter, older than he appears, and has a really big axe to grind against Aesir skulls.

 

*In a future post, I’ll go into the differences between Jotunn, Aesir and Vanir.

Why these characters? Part 2

In my personal category of lesser-known Norse deities, I included: Frigg, Hodir and Vidar.

Frigg (sometimes Frigga) and Hodir (sometimes Hodr) are likely better known than Vidar. All three are pretty cool cats. Well, not cats. That’s Freyja. She’s got a cart pulled by ’em. It’s also possible, according to some, that Frigg and Freyja are different aspects of the same deity. But not in my book! (Literally, not figuratively.)

Anyway.

Frigg is a Jotunn who marries Odin, the Alfather. The top dog. Why does she do this? I answer that. Odin ditches her all the time to go a’wandering. What does she do? I answer that. She sees the doom of all men, but never speaks it. How does that work? I answer that.

Hodir is the blind brother of Baldr. Both are the sons of Frigg & Odin. Why is Hodir blind? I answer that. How does he get around? I answer that. What does he do in the story? Same as in the myths. Read ’em if you want spoilers. In my book, hopefully I deliver on it.

Vidar is the son of Odin and Grid, a Jotunn. He’s nearly as strong as Thor, rarely speaks and does…some other stuff. Eventually. 🙂 He’s one of the characters who hooked my imagination and dragged me into writing. Contrary to the myths, he talks quite a bit in my book. “Vidar stared at him” would get a bit boring, after all.

Because less is known about these Aesir, I felt like I had more elbow room in developing them. But, since one of my goals was (and is) to be as true to the myths as possible, I took each mention of these Aesir and extrapolated upon them. 

As an example, developing Frigg meant asking questions (as above) and researching women in Viking/Norse society. Not only did that help me visualize how she dressed — which was practically important for multiple scenes, but gave me an idea of gender roles and how Frigg could break them.

One such historical tidbit on roles helped me resolve a problem in Odin’s plot line (it’s a doozy). Since that happens at the end of Book Two, I had to foreshadow it — which meant writing several new scenes and making multiple references both in Book One & Two. Ideally, all of those look like worldbuilding so that resolution happens in the second book looks “surprising yet inevitable.”

 

A device…

In one of my early drafts, I made a throwaway reference to a mostly destroyed “device” captured from a Jotunn patrol. Vidar had been given the device and was trying to figure out what it was.

At the time, I had no idea what the device did. But, I needed something to show that Vidar was someone who was curious about things, who wanted to know why the world worked the way it did.

So, I made references — the device, instruments he built, etc. I thought they were just mentions, but they were actually tiny pebbles rolling down the mountain of my subconscious.

On my earliest draft, one of my beta readers mentioned those references. He liked them. Which kicked those pebbles into motion.

Well, shit.

So, I had a choice. Leave ’em as they were or double-down.

I decided to do the latter. With respect to the “device,” I described it as a black stick of ironwood and metal, with silver inside and a shattered gem on one end. It had been broken and scorched in a fire.

On the next draft he mentioned it again, saying something like: It’s a little thing, but it was driving me nuts that you didn’t provide a clear picture of what that device looked like.

Dammit. He called my bluff.

Truth is, I didn’t have a clue as to what it looked like or what it did. To me, it didn’t matter — it was a MacGuffin. A Maltese Falcon that people wanted and would do “stuff” to get.

But it seemed to matter to my reader. It had made an impression. It was interesting.

Again I had the choice: Leave it or double-down.

I thought, why not double-down again, and figure out the answers to these questions:

  • What was the device? What did it do? Check.
  • Why did the Jotunn have it? Check.
  • Why were the Jotunn using it where they were using it? Check.
  • Where else was it used? Check.
  • Why did the Jotunn want it back? Check.
  • Are there more of them? Check.
  • How did the Jotunn get them from the Svartalvar? Mostly check.
  • Are those other devices used now, within the timeline of the current story? Hmmm. Ya know, I am having this big problem with Hyrrokin’s story arc…what if I…yeah, that works. That works well.

In a totally unrelated scene written only Odin knows when, I put an Alvar device into Odin’s hands — a wooden wand that I called a shaper. Again, just a plot device, something to explain how he and Frigg got from point A to point B in a cool way that showed some depth to the world and allowed Odin to do something that he couldn’t do with his own abilities.

Then yesterday morning, I’m hacking away at a friggin awful, problematic scene late in Vidar’s plot line.

As I’m writing I have a revelation, which I express through Vidar’s POV. What if Vidar thinks that the “device” he was trying to figure out, the shaper Odin used, and other things that Vidar encountered are all related? (No, I haven’t mentioned those other things ;))

And since I’d already written several scenes showing the “Vidar device” in action, at this point in the book the reader would already know what the device does. And so the reader knows that Vidar’s conclusion is wrong.

Maybe it’s just me, but I think that’s awesome. It’s also serendipity.

I just hope it works like I think it does. And if it does, I have my beta reader to thank.

Why these characters? Part 1…

I have seven POV characters in my first book. The second book introduces an 8th. What will probably be Book 3, introduces five new POVs — but I haven’t decided which of the original 8 will also have POVs in that future book. A total of 8 is probably all that I can handle, let alone a reader.

So, for Book One…here’s one way to somewhat arbitrarily categorize my POV characters:

  1. Well known (Odin, Loki)
  2. Not well known and/or not much known about them (Frigg, Vidar, Hodir)
  3. Really not well known (Hyrrokin, Vafthrudnir)

Odin and Loki pretty much have to be in the story b/c of the way I’m telling it. It’s tough writing them b/c:

  • They’re so well known in a particular, popular way (Marvel comics & movies, mostly)
  • I want them to be as much like their appearances in the Poetic Edda as possible. I don’t dislike the Prose Edda, but the Poetic is a titch more “original source”…and there are other sources, too.*

In Marvel comics, I got hooked on Odin, Loki, Thor, etc., via Walter Simonson’s Thor. I was reading ’em as they came out (yes, I’m that old) and they were awesome. Loved his art & stories. Then the Marvel Cinematic Universe came around 20+ years later and I was totally baffled, until a friend explained it to me.

Odin in the myths is NOT a kindly Anthony Hopkins stuffed into gold armor. In the myths, Odin is about as terrifying as it gets — and I’m trying hard for my Odin to be like that. Probably the best Odin I’ve read (outside of the Poetic Edda) is Neil Gaiman’s Mr. Wednesday. (Ian McShane is playing Mr. Wednesday in the TV version of American Gods; if you saw Deadwood, McShane played Al Swearengen…and was fan-effing-tastic.)

Loki, according to Rudolf Simek’s dictionary, is NOT the god of fire. Nor is he the adopted son of Odin as depicted in the comics & movies.

However, Loki is a shapeshifting Jotunn who, after becoming Odin’s blood brother, both gets the Aesir into a lot of trouble and then gets them out of it again. Usually. He’s often seen as a trickster figure — cutting off Sif’s hair is one example — but he’s more complex than that.

In my readings of both Eddas, I came to see a Loki who was mischievous in some stories and then flat-out “I’m coming for you” evil in others. Reconciling those two Lokis was tough, but I think I’ve a good handle on it. Reading the books by Crossley-Holland and Lindlow, along with Simek and a ton of other stuff, definitely helped. (In a future post I may detail some of the research I did.)

As with Odin, I’m going for a Loki who’s true to the myths first. Obviously there’s a large dose of my own creative license involved, but I’ve tried to ground my changes in scholarship not some wackadoo impulses. I also know where the shoals are (Marvel’s stuff), so I can steer clear of all that.

In my next posts, I’ll dive into the two other groupings of POV characters.

*A discussion of the source materials is fodder for dozens of blog posts, at the absolute least.

Flesh ’em out…

As I began revising, I realized that several of my POV characters had substantially fewer scenes than others. (POV = point of view)

In Book One, my POV characters are Vidar, Odin, Hodir, Frigg, Loki, Vafthrudnir and Hyrrokin. Up until the rewrite, the book was dominated by Vidar and Odin scenes (and words). They’re what brought me into the world, so I had the best handle on them.

Each of the other characters had anywhere from 3% to maybe 10% of the total scenes in their perspectives. It wasn’t enough. Why bother writing in their POV if the narrative didn’t lend them (roughly) equal weight?

After a long, dispassionate look at those “minor” characters (which included input from beta readers), I decided that, yes, they all brought something unique and cool to the story — i.e., I couldn’t tell the story in the way I wanted without including them.

But, I had to flesh ’em out. The way I did that was to give each “neglected” POV more impactful, meaningful “screen” time. Here’s a really short synopsis of what I changed and why (without spoilers! as River Song would say):

  • Hodir: In the current draft, he does all same stuff, but his motivations & interactions have completely changed — he went from being whiny & weak to having a defined desire. (BTW, “Hodor” and Hodir have nothing in common. Wewt.)
  • Vafthrudnir: Awesome figure in the myths and meant to counter both Odin and Vidar. By giving him more scenes, I’m able to better show the contrasts between Aesir & Jotunn. He went from shadowy figure to a bit more defined, but mostly in ways that show up in Book Two and beyond.
  • Loki: Dang, he’s tough. Such a pivotal figure and, thanks to the cool movies, really well known. Suffice it to say that my Loki is as true to the myths as my feeble talents permit while also making him the hero of his own story.
  • Frigg: She had too few scenes because I was having trouble with her story arc. That’s partly b/c I had cast her in a more passive role. Giving her more scenes meant making her more active — and now that I’ve figured out her arc through Book Two, she’s a blast to write.
  • Hyrrokin: Yes, in the myths her name is spelled with two k’s. Mine has one b/c two k’s looks weird, kk (ken who’s kkoming to kkill me)? Again, I was baffled by her story arc. I had a couple cool scenes, but that was it. After a long while, with my subconscious whirring & clicking, I now know her arc through Book Two, as well.

So, to bring it right round like a record baby, my current draft now has a roughly equal number of scenes across all the POV characters. Not only is the book stronger simply b/c those characters have more depth, but b/c I put time into making their POVs suck less I discovered new plot turns & ideas that also improved the book.

Example: There’s no way Frigg would do this. OK, what would she do? This. But, well, crap. Having her do that changes X number of scenes. *gnashing of teeth* … Oh well.  

Because of this kind of dialog (with myself), I made change after change to all of the above POVS that rippled backward and forward through the entire manuscript —  and into Book Two which may help fix some of the problems in it.

Word counts

As of today, my book is ~174,000 words long. Last year at this time, it was ~100K words. The scary/good thing is that maybe only 10K of last year’s words are still around in any meaningful way.

Take this morning as an example. I rewrote a scene of ~1500 words that I hadn’t touched in about 9 months. It’s now 2,031 words long, so that’s ~500 new words, but really, almost every word is new b/c I rewrote it to make the scene better fit other scenes I’ve been writing (and rewriting) and b/c it the original text wasn’t all that great. (Today’s version is better, but still needs work.)

I mention all this b/c it’s a glimpse into the process. And, when I started this project one of the podcasts I listen to (Writing Excuses), Harold Tayler (one of the hosts) mentioned something along the lines of “you have to write one million practice words before you get good.”

If you Google that phrase, you’ll find a bajillion hits of folks repeating variants of that phrase.

It stuck in my head because goals can be useful. But, I’ve lost count of how many total words I’ve written — because of the ambiguity I referenced above. Should I only count the 500 net new words? Or should I count them all (~2k)?

Does it even matter?

When I started fiction writing back in March 2013, it definitely mattered. As did the arbitrary goals of 50K total words written, then 100K then 150K, etc.  I used to track words per day and words per week; now it’s just net words per month.

Now, it’s more about putting the time in — butt in chair, hands on keyboard (another of Tayler’s lines that stuck with me).

With all that said, I do kinda wish I had kept tracking total words written. It’d be nice to have a “solid” number. But, I suspect I’m about halfway to the 1 million goal.

And not a single one of ’em is published. Yet! =D

 

 

 

Oars, shmoars

So I just finished ~3 hours of pantsing what I just outlined yesterday. Amazing how the subconscious works.

Instead of a choppy, awkward scene where I contorted characters to fit behind their oars, I let them find their own seats. Like a Southwest-run galley.

New words just flowed — maybe 1500 or so, in addition to whatever I edited to fit into the new vision for the scene. Makes up for the 2K-ish words I just threw out.

Backstory for Odin just leapt onto the page, used as a weapon against Baldr, but Baldr felt alive and genuine. He took the hit, reversed it, and convinced Odin to moderate his outlook. Believably, I think. And it’s totally different from the first few drafts…which means I have lots of things to amend in linking scenes.

I’m most pleased with how it felt right while writing. I’m sure it’s riddled with weak spots and too many words. But that stuff’s fixable so long as the scene lives and breathes.

I’m also happy with the approach on the scene — it’s the first one in this book that has in-scene PoV switches (everything else changes PoV when the scenes change). Should help keep it moving.

Ultimately, the proof will be when I re-read the scene later today or tomorrow. But, I’ve a good feeling about it. Clearly. 🙂

Pantsing…

Pantsing is the art (?) of writing by the seat of one’s pants. Winging it. Going where the story & characters take you. Or, just writing to see where you end up.

The other end of the spectrum is outlining, where you plan it all out in advance…and then stick to that outline.

It’s never either / or … not for me, at least. I do both. When I get into trouble or when I’m trying to figure out what the heck I’m doing, I outline.

I’m currently rewriting yet another scene, one that I mostly pants’d my way through probably 18 months ago. When I read my book in Sept ’15, this particular scene stopped me dead in my tracks b/c the pacing was off. It was too slow. Leaden.

There are two reasons:

  1. It’s unfocused (too much pantsing)
  2. It’s just people talking — about important things (major plot events, etc.) and there’s a lot of interpersonal dynamic stuff going on, along with backstory references and foreshadowing, but it’s still just folks talking.

Think Council of Elrond, but without  John Rhys Davies having an allergic reaction to his dwarf prosthetics and the “Elves extras” who were paid to sit still and act wooden. Or w/o Agent Smith’s overacting, Mr. Anderson er Underhill er Baggins.

My in-progress solution to reworking this leaden scene is:

  1. Rewrite it. Some of my writing is cringeworthy, even only 18 months out. Good sign, really (that I can see it & can therefore fix it).
  2. Totally re-organize it — Just started today and am doing it by falling back on a new outline.
    1. Figure out the absolutely key things
    2. Make sure they’re addressed appropriately and without redundancies or repetition 😉
    3. Obscure those important thingees with red herrings, tastefully placed
    4. Fill in backstory & foreshadowing
    5. Make sure the characters are acting and interacting as they should
  3. Revisit POV
    1. Is the POV with whoever has the most at stake?
    2. Is the scene written so that it shows who’s talking — ie Odin vs Frigg or Vidar?

The only way I can do all that is outline it, then (re)write by sticking to the outline, then rewriting it again (and again) so it sucks less.

One author quote that’s been resonating for me is from Nabokov: “My characters are galley slaves.”

So while my inclination is to use pantsing to get to know my characters,  I use outlining to chain them to their oars.

Flight, capture, punishment

I’ve started catching up on the most recent season of Vikings. I’m 4 episodes in. The next three paragraphs are a titch spoilery. The fourth and fifth, though, are completely safe 🙂

Overall, I’m finding it a bit disjointed and boring — I skip the scenes in Wessex and most of those in Paris. I skip Wessex b/c I don’t care about those characters. I skip Paris b/c, despite liking Rollo (and knowing what he’s the start of), the resolution between him and princess whoever (Gisla?) was both boring and inevitable.

Back in Ragnar-land, I enjoyed the nod to Loki’s myth. Floki fled up a river to a waterfall (Franangr, anyone?) and was then discovered and caught. Floki was then bound in a cave with water dripping on his head — another fun nod to the myths — as was Helga (in Sigyn’s role) standing there, exhausted, arms trembling from catching the water in a bowl. Floki begging her to wake up and save him from the incessant dripping was also neat. A nice focus on her role and her sacrifice.

In my epic fantasy novel, Loki’s flight, capture and punishment is every bit as pivotal as it is in the myths. I also haven’t pulled any punches in my retelling of Loki’s horrific punishment as portrayed in the Lokasenna. The hard part is making it work for a modern audience.

And, of course, the complexity of the Aesir — and Odin in particular — is one of the most compelling aspects of Norse myth. I’ve tried to focus on those grey areas, to put their actions (as told primarily in the Poetic Edda) into context. Why would they do such things, if they were real people? And I’m trying to do it w/o modern condemnation of those actions.

When I finally finish this third rewrite, and publish the dang thing, maybe you’ll let me know how I did.