Friday, June 29, 2012

Nose Off the Grindstone

My wife and children come back tomorrow from a week's holiday interstate (thank goodness, I've missed them horribly). While they've been gone, as per my previous post, I've been beavering away trying to get 20,000 words written of the latest draft of Book 3. I'm happy to report that I ended up writing 19236 words, just over 4200 of which I did today which brought me to the end of the draft with a day to spare. Loud cries of 'woot' all around, I say! And this afternoon I went to the local copy store and got them to print it out and put a nice little comb bounder around it, so it almost looks like a real book. It's very satisfying to hold it in my hand and feel like I have something tangible after so much hard graft.

Next I get to read through it and make lots of lines in green, and that's when I get some sort of idea of the quality of the many words I wrote. It's something that's hard to guess at the time. Sometimes I can write a thousand or so words and think it's flowing really well, only to look at it later and realise I'll have to completely bin the lot. Other times it's the other way around. Hopefully things will balance themselves out enough that I won't have to completely rewrite too much, because that November deadline is starting to look awfully close.

And now, let the editing begin, although tonight I'm taking time off to just chill, though I'm sure I won't be able to resist thumbing through the shiny new manuscript at some points in the evening. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Nose to the Grindstone

This weekend my wife and sons are heading off for a week's holiday with the in-laws, sans me as we decided it was better for me to save some leave for the end of the year. This means that, in between eating pizza and throwing my dirty underwear all over the floor, I'll be aiming to get some serious word-count happening on the latest draft of Tales of the Blue Jade book 3.

I've set myself a target of 20,000 words, a quarter of the book. It seems a heck of a lot, but I've broken it down to around 3000 words on each of the weekend days I have and 2000 words on the weeknights. That should be pretty achievable, particularly as I'll be able to get straight into it as soon as I've dumped the empty pizza boxes in the recycling. I'll miss the family dreadfully, but at least I can set myself a positive goal for the time. I'll even air my progress here on the blog as an extra encouragement to get it done.  

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Short Stories (Again)

I have a continuing love-hate relationship with short stories. Whenever I read a great short story, or an anthology of great short stories (such as Magic Dirt, by Sean Williams, which I recently finished) I get all fired up and motivated and I sit down and try and write my own. And even though I've been lucky enough to have a few published, writing them is still hard, even harder than writing novels (and that's truly saying something).

The main battle I have with short stories it not coming up with an idea, or characters, or a catchy opening line (although these are difficult too). What I struggle with most is how to actually end them. There's been a few times now when I've let other people review something I've written and they've commented on how much they've enjoyed it right up to the last paragraph when the whole thing has gone to hell in a hand basket. The usual comment is that it has wrapped up too quickly, without tying up loose ends, and in a way that has left the reader completely unsatisfied, even a bit cheated. And the worst bit is these comments never come as a surprise to me, because most times when I wrote the stories I was painfully aware that the ending was sub-par, but I just couldn't think of anything better.

Having said that, I think with practice I'm getting a little better. One of the main things I've learned as I've gone along is that when you strip it down to its bare bones a short story, like any story, is a journey. A character starts at A and ends up at B, and this isn't necessarily a geographical thing, more a change of state from beginning to end. It isn't even always a positive thing: the character or characters can end up in a much worse place by the end of a story than they were at the beginning. The important thing is meaningful movement, and it's this meaningful movement that gives the reader satisfaction in reading the story.

But putting this journey on the page is not always easy. Sometimes it's straight forward -- a character starts the story as a poor beggar and ends as a king, for example. But most times the journey is more subtle, more internal. What happens to a character inwardly is just as important as what changes might occur in their circumstances, even more so in some cases. A character might learn to face some deeply hidden fear, or see some long hidden truth, or understand something much better than they've ever done before. And that's just as satisfying to a reader, because as readers we're joining the protagonist on the journey.

And if the author has made us care about the character enough, in some sense their journey is our journey, and we end up in the same place they do. For me, when I read the best short-stories out there, the ones that have won awards and been reprinted many times, that's exactly what they do for me. And that's what I'm aiming for in my own stories -- not just the short ones, mind you. The long ones too.