To become a slave to the story

Sometimes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. My intentions are to write, to write well, to produce a story other people would find at least entertaining, inspiring at best.

Writing a story is hard work. It is more than simply sitting down and typing random letters and words. What storybuilding is is an impossible mesh of rigid planning and most chaotic improvization.

Hard work is all you need to make your ambitions into reality. Who hasn’t heard this one before? What they forgot to tell you is that it takes something else as well, something I’ve learned the hard way.

December 31st, 2015. The deadline I set for my current WIP novel, Tribes Asunder. It looked to be an easy goal in the middle of the year. It looked doable even in November. And by December 30th, it felt like I did it. Then all it would take was a month or two of proof-reading and that would be it.

The lies we tell ourselves and believe.

True, the writing part was done. That didn’t mean the process was finished or even close to completion. The story was finished but the manuscript was a mess. I understood what was written on it but others would not. Getting the story on paper was just the first part.

Not that I’ve never been here before. I’ve finished stories before. I’ve editted them before. But it feels as if for each project I learn the same rules anew. In a way, this is a good thing. It means I’m not wading into too familiar waters which would make it familiar and boring. and the process is always fresh. Each story is its own endeavour. Sometimes, having a gold-fish memory is a blessing. With each story, I felt like I’m writing my first and only piece.

So January 2016 came and I happily went into editting mode, ticking the editted scenes away.

Around April, the going became slow. I thought I was just getting lazy so I pushed myself harder. But this time, the cheerful abandon wasn’t working. My social life began to suffer as well. I found it harder to stand being in people’s company while at the same time yearning more for it.

I’ve been in this place before but I failed to recognize it. That bloody gold-fish memory again.

Short winter days, crapy weather, laborious day job and spending the last reserve of mental energy on editting, a wholly ungrateful process where progress can’t be measured in word count… All this led to full-fledged depression.

It took a friend to point out how tired I seemed and how uninterested I was in just about everything. He suggested a trip and the moment I heard him say the words, I knew it was something I had to do. So I went to Vienna and spent four days doing nothing but walking through a new city, speaking a language I barely knew. By the time I’d returned home, I realized how exhausted I truly was. It took another music concert and a dancing festival to begin to appreciate human company again.

I’ve overestimated myself. I believed hard work would be enough. But I’m not a machine, no matter how much I want it. Even the most dilligent people need time to recuperate.

When I look back, it seems perfectly clear. But it wasn’t clear at the time. It was as if the story had put me in a trance. It stopped being an inspirational project. Instead, it turned into an energy parasite and it had slowly drained the creative juice from every other part of my life.

The story should have been my project. Instead, I became its project.

I’d become a slave to the story.

Realizing this, my first reaction was anger. I felt like I’ve wasted precious time, wasted a portion of my life.

Well, not entirely wasted. Against the Tribe, a novella that serves as a companion to the already finished Tribes Asunder, is finished. There will be corrections, of course, adding bits, taking some away, the usual mop-up, but it’s there.

So no, it wasn’t a waste of time after all. Through it all, I’ve learned much about myself. I realized there are limits, that I’m not as perfect as I would like to be. This year, I’ve worked on developing a healthier social life. I lowered my expectations of people. I was too harsh with everyone, including myself. Finishing a story takes time, I shouldn’t be taking that personally.

What is the lesson in all of this? Don’t fall into the trap of believing your story is more important than your life. Always take time for family, friends and pursuits other than writing. As with everything, you must set up your boundaries and refuse to relent when temptation comes knocking. How can you hope to benefit from your story if you cracked your psychie like a glass of water in the process?

Finally…

No, I don’t write the blog as often as I used to. At least I have a good reason for it.

 

Tribal Wars: Episode 1

 

The wordcount will jump a notch when I inevitably add some words of description but the main text is finished.

Next step: finding beta readers.

How about a little experiment?

Recently, I saw the trailer for the continuation of the movie “300” called “300, Rise of an empire”. The first movie was good (not great, since I am a history nut) and after seeing the trailer for the upcoming sequel, I thought it would be a nice experiment to try to guess its plot. I haven’t read any of the comics so what follows is technically not a spoiler, even if I guess right.
I think this movie will turn into a battle between two women. The first one is obviously Queen Gorgo (played by our favourite queen Lena Headey), defending home and hearth and all that is good and pure in this world. The second is Artemisia (played by Eva Green whose immense green eyes have persuaded me to base a character in a story of mine after her). In the trailer, Artemisia shows an interestingly intense hatred towards the Greeks. A shot of a little girl watching a city in flames suggests that that is a young Artemisia, watching the destruction of her home. The grown Artemisia is seemingly out for revenge. Since Artemisia was originally a queen from Karia?, it would make sense that the Greeks burned her home in the beginning of the war (for example, Sardis was burned by Eretrians and Athenians which provoked Xerxes’ predecessor Darius to respond with an invasion of Greece).
As for the plot of the new movie, it is my opinion that Artemisia seduced Xerxes and then talked him into attacking Greece since she herself was not strong enough to attack it on her own. In the trailer, you can see that Xerxes returned to Babylon. It would make sense that he softened the target for his mistress. He also granted her command of the Persian navy so she could exact her vengeance. My guess is that the primary target of her revenge is Athens. In the first movie, Athenians are harly mentioned but it is peculiar that Xerxes offers Leonidas dominion over Greece and especially over the Athenians. So Leonidas and the Spartans were nothing more than an obstacle to the main target. Also, historically, after winning at Thermopylae, Xerxes marched on Athens and burned it. This could very well be used in the movie as the revenge of Artemisia. As for the Athenians, they ran to Salamis which is where they fought the naval battle against the Persian fleet. From the trailer, it looks like Artemisia will come herself to finish the job.
So suddenly this movie is not about manly men fighting in hand to hand combat, it is about one woman that manipulates a man in the name of revenge, and another woman that inspires other men in the name of defense (and possibly revenge since she is a widow). I’m not sure why this sounds like I’m a woman-hater. It seems to make a sensible plot for a movie where physical strength of male characters is the primary trait. Unless they throw Xena in there, female characters can’t fight physical confrontations. What’s left is the psychological battle. And it would make a nice twist that in the heart of both war engines sits a woman.

That would be my guess, anyway. Now let’s wait and see the movie.

Tribal Wars: Act 1 finished

16,140 words for the first act. A bloody start to a rather large story that is the historical foundation for the upcoming series A New Kind of Warfare (three of the nine books are already written but editting proves to be a real bitch; there are some that might be familiar with the Warfare stories though I suspect they do not visit this blog).

Damn but I have to find a faster way to write this. I may be a veteran when it comes to writing but I’m a complete noob about finishing and publishing this stuff.

NaNoWriMo report #1

Yes, I was wrong. 50,000 words do not come easy. I’ve been getting emails from the NaNoWriMo team, saying things like “Skip to the scenes with meat on them, and laugh in the face of linearity.” Ah, but this is exactly what I’m trying to avoid with this story. If I did what they wanted me to, I would have another Arena on my hands. Arena was written precisely in this way, writing just the interesting bits. And you know what? The boring parts that you eventually stick in between are so boring that you lose your readers. I’ve been patching and repatching Arena for four years now and still I’m not done. I’m not making the same mistake with Tribal Wars.
One chapter is done. 30 pages in 10 days? I’m calling that a success. Now it’s time to get my bearings for the coming chapters. I’m not doing this blind and disorganized again. In the meantime, let’s see what Prison World will turn into.


“Let the games begin!” *in Bane’s voice*

NaNoWriMo 2013 has officially begun and this time I’m a part of it. I’ve been trying to decide which story I will be writing; I feel as if I’ve been surveying a batch of eggs, trying to to decide which one I will take through gestation. The competition has been fierce. One choice was to go back to Vira, an old story of mine that has the most native supporters, the first of my monster plots. It’s gone through much change and development in the past few years which is why I’m not quite certain it’s ready. Enniorhon is another story I’ve been itching to put down but I’m not sure the time is just right. Also, Enniorhon needs propper introduction, most likely by short stories.
Finally I realized that not one but two eggs showed signs of hatching and why would I try to go aganist the natural order of things?

The first winner is a plot I initially developed for a game of a friend of mine. As usual, I’ve gone way overboard with my worldbuilding and the whole plot has grown to the point where I knew there was no going back. It’s also missing some fine tunning which is perfect for me to try my hand at improvization that I love. It has no working title at the moment– working title will be Prison World (see? I’ve been looking for a title for weeks and it came to me while I was typing that crossed out sentence!). It’s a high-tech cyberpunk setting, a crossover between the Matrix (the good parts) and Orson Scott Card’s Treason.

The other one is my personal twist to a classic Tolkien-esque setting with a whiff of GRRM’s Game of Thrones (only the juicy bits). This is a high fantasy story with some of the stereotypes thrown out to make room for other nice things such as holocaust, infanticide and eugenics (no incest yet but I remain hopeful). I’m calling it Tribal Wars (sounds like a game, doesn’t it? Will definitely have a different title by the time I’m done).

Neither of these stories are for the squeamish kind. Both will contribute to the word count so I will very likely pass the 50k target. As some bits of these stories are already written, they will not contribute to the final word count. The idea is to shoot past 50k before the time is up with possible room for editting (I have to do something during the weekend).

Overall NaNoWriMo word count:

Here we go…

Post-British activity

My stay is Bristol has come to an end and once more I find myself in my homeland. I’m definitely not the same person. Wiser, stronger, more determined, more confident of my own choices and abilities. Which was the whole purpose of going so mission accomplished. I can feel more epiphanies will follow but right now, my thoughts turn to the future.

Now that the British campaign is over, writing is once more in my focus. I still feel that my writing style needs to be upgraded. The Arena could use some more work in that area and I intend to devote October to this. I’m planning to spend November writing something new, probably in the context of NaNoWriMo. Instead of one big story, I plan to write in the episodic form. Large chapters or smaller stories, we’ll see what works best.

After hearing how Dmitry Glukhovski used the comments by his readers to rewrite Metro 2033, I think I will emulate this approach. I intend to publish the chapters of the new story on this blog and I hope anyone who visits will be willing to leave suggestions. When it’s satisfactory, I intend to publish it on Smashwords as a series of short stories.

It’s in the letters

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about writing styles in the past few days. Foremost, I’m obsessing about my own style, trying to improve it and make it more literal, more pleasant to the eye and to the flow of thoughts.

This got me thinking of the connection between an individual’s personal writing style and the character of that individual. It’s happened several times that I’ve guessed a character of a person whose text I read and then met them in person. It’s about what kind of words people choose, how they put those words together into sentences, what kind of points they make or at least try to make. Do they grope around the point they are trying to make or are they straight and to the point? By now I know very quickly if I’m reading words of a rookie or a professional writer and even guess at their emotional maturity. A wonderful example of a master writer showing his strength in his style is Stephen King – the man’s words flow smooth as silk.

This has some similarities to seeing written words on paper. I don’t have to read the text, the handwriting itself is enough. There are those types of handwriting that haven’t changed since grammar school. You can recognize them instantly from the stiff curves that were supposed to look like a flourish but they look so trained it doesn’t really fool anyone. Then there’s the jagged handwriting types – those tend to belong to people who are constantly in a hurry, are not used of writing on paper and are not used of the feel when a point of a pen meets the surface of a paper.

Emotional maturity can be recognized in customized handwriting, one that shows that a lot of effort has been put into developing it to look good but also to help add atmosphere to the thoughts written down. In this way, the shape of the letters and words reflect the nature of the writer himself/herself.

I think it’s time I get some people together to write papery letters and send them to one another via snail mail so we can all enjoy our little flourishes. It’s time to buy some black ink, me thinks…