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.

So, it worked…

My plan of reverse engineering my timeline worked out pretty well.

I went old school first, printed my outline from Scrivener, taped it together, and figured it all out. Moved a dozen scenes around and identified a dozen new scenes I have to write.

Next step was to organize the Binder (in Scrivener) by days. I made still more changes during that process. Mostly for pacing and continuity.

The novel spans 15 days. Part One (~38K words) is one day. A lot happens. The pace picks up considerably after that.

Having (mostly) solved this time issue, my next problem is with “backstory time.” I’m constantly referencing where Odin’s been for X years, and a war that happened Y years prior, along with other events that happen still farther back.

Right now I just have placeholder timespans in there, but I need to figure it out. In time.

 

Time!

Time is the single biggest problem I’m dealing with in my novel. At this time 😉

As a fledgling author, most of the advice I received (from podcasts) said: stick with smaller stories, with one or two point of view (POV) characters, maybe three, at the most.

I have eight POV characters.

The story I’m telling calls for it and I love all eight of the characters, but dang…that advice makes sense now.

It wasn’t a big deal when I was writing all the character arcs individually, or even skipping around, as I sometimes did (and do). But, it’s become a problem now that I’m weaving the stories together. Throw pacing into the mix and, ugh, it’s complicated. For example, I have to:

  1. Make sure the different scenes/POVs line up correctly.
  2. Allow enough time for the characters to get where they need to be
  3. Not have the characters spend days traveling only to arrive, do what they need to in 5 minutes, and then leave again.
  4. Signal the passage of time to the reader in a clear, but relatively subtle way.
  5. Keep the reader interested in what’s coming next.

In Book One, I’m dealing with a roughly two-week period. I had originally called the first event “Day 1” and then counted down to the end day.

But, that’s not working for me. It gets confusing. And if I’m confused, the reader will be hopelessly lost.

What I’m going to do now is count backward from the final event, factoring in travel time & when events need to happen. Then I can re-organize the chapters & scenes and write new ones if needed.

Seems like a plan.

 

 

 

Norse myth…here I come

Since early 2013, I’ve been writing a novel that interprets and adapts Norse myth into an epic fantasy setting.

So if you like the old stories of Odin and Frigg, Thor and Sif, Baldr and Nanna, Loki and Sigyn, Hel, Vidar, Heimdall, Freyr and Freyja, Hyrrokin and Vafthrudnir, as well as the fantasy genre, you’ll like my books.

And if you don’t know the Norse myths, then, after enjoying my books :), maybe they’ll launch you into reading the source materials — primarily the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda, but there are others (e.g., Saxo Grammaticus, multiple Icelandic sagas, the account of Ibn Fadlan).

In writing my books, I have meticulously researched Norse myths through a multitude of secondary sources — Simek, Crossley-Holland, Davidson, etc. This blog is as much a recounting of that research as it is a glimpse into my creative process.

In 2017, I will publish the first book in my series. So, if you read this, thanks! And, stay tuned!

Copyright (c) 2016 by Matt Bishop. All rights reserved.