Failed Story

This is the fervent work of two months, 42 pages, 28,451 words. It fits into the grandiose plan I had for basically an epic. This is 1/16 of my total plan. Get the plan here as pdf. This is way too much like a documentary. It details almost everything that happens in Inslee’s life for a period of two weeks with too many flashbacks. The writing seems almost horrible to me now. Writing it felt great at the time. TL:DR Inslee wanders through life dreaming of something more but never really getting there in any true sense. If you guys get through to the end, please tell me what worked. That would really help.

 

Later guys.

 

 

Inslee

 

I was trapped in a state between dreaming and awake. Everything felt like I was conscious, but I couldn’t exactly remember much after the fact. I woke with bits and pieces, feeling there was so much missing. He appeared in it, holding one of my near frozen hands. I pictured a bench by a duck pond, then walking around. I was so tired after, but sleep refused its company. I threw off my bed sheet and crossed my arms.

Closing my eyes for at least a few minutes changed nothing, except making me more awake. I looked up at one of the ribs surrounding the ship inside the inner hull.  High tension cabling joined almost every structural element to them. Everything above — as with every other surface was coated in some impact-resistant material. The overhead skylight showed a multitude of stars appearing overhead as if still on Earth but in a configuration suited to a nearly two-thousand-year journey from home.

I pulled the covers back over, hugged them to my chest, and arose from bed, wrapping myself with the cover. A tripped over to the only window by the foot of the bed. The hunched back of the ship truncated by the med bay wall and punctured by massive windows, crossed with invisible ribs. Spare pods barnacled the ceiling. On the deck below, eighteen flesh colored pods held the next three gens.

I moved over to the door as it opened and out onto the grated walkway. This followed with the usual unpleasantness of bare feet on grated floor. I reached a space in the rail and stepped off. I floated weightless while the ship gradually lowered me down. The blanket stayed with me, unaffected by grav through everything. I landed beside the first row of illuminating pods and proceeded over to the corner most pod, the home of DB. Pressing a spot on my left shoulder, generated a set of bedding in my hand, which I laid down besides the pod. I lay down beside DB.

He looked peaceful in the pink glow of the pod with one arm under his head and the other hand at his chin. All of us on ship now pod or otherwise would’ve spent a minimum of twenty-five years dreaming life away before consciousness with a saved neural scan. Dreaming without any outside experience ended up a jumble of user generated stimuli. They were almost empty vessels awaiting a consciousness or experience. DB dreamed with his brilliantly green eyes running around behind closed lids. I remembered him best as the moody lyricist of thirty, wandering from quarters to job with notes hanging around and the occasional rendition. His hair was growing in nicely in the month it had.

I couldn’t help but think about one of my kids, Trish as she liked to be called most of her life. She inadvertently exposed herself and half the crew to radiation, myself included in one of the labs. At the time, the hands-on three-year-old required almost two weeks in pod. The consensus was consciousness in pod helped avoid developmental issues. Two weeks exceeded all known cases. We deployed a pod into the shared three cabin space for the family. Removing the pod’s outer covering allowed interaction through the confines of treatment. When everything righted, Trish couldn’t experience the biological imperative of sleep without the pod. We reintroduced the pink pod lighting, gel mattress, and soothing white noise with the plans of future dependence removal. In about ten years, everything returned to normal and pod consciousness hereby regulated to ten days max.

Looking at DB, sleeping, and thinking about Trish delivered me safely into slumber. A few sc later, the ship lights came on. The black and white clarity of darkness replaced with the multicolor coherence of day. I rewrapped myself in sheet and returned to cabin just as the Captain came around for pre-day checks with the night flight crew.

 

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Story Engineering: Getting Down to the Story Mechanics

Larry Brooks is a published author that has writing classes/workshops. In Story Engineering, he shows us what he teaches his students about writing fiction. Apparently, writing a screenplay is very easy in comparison. Books out there detail the rules required in an acceptable screenplay. Larry Brooks has brought that over to fiction writing. If you ignore the condescension of organic writes, the book brings a needed insight to novel writing.

1

Story Engineering starts with an argument against the formulaic nature of planning out a story using his components. The difference between art and putting matching things into a formula is the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant while reading it. That’s one of the few things not explained in Story Engineering. I figured out a possible explanation. The various story elements, concept, story structure, character, theme, writer’s voice, and scene construction have a synergy between them. Each element builds on another. For example, first person, solitary confinement, weak mental state, and being alone is inhumane. With first person, we are with the inmate at all times. There’s minimal interaction with other people. Add the weak mental state and there’s a compelling story. Add examples of what other inmates in solitary confinement come out as. That makes a pretty good story right?

2

Concept is the central question of the story. Story structure is the pacing of the story. The author does a really good job of getting this point across through the book. What plot event should happen at certain points throughout the story? Several movies and books are discussed as examples. Every book and movie I remember follows the plot events. I’m not sure about the timing yet.

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Character is presented as a personality selector you would use in The Sims. Different characteristics that can be tweaked to show the universality of humanity. Figuring out how each characteristic affects the others is where the art part comes in. Then the character arc. That was completely new to me.

 

I use a few lines of research to understand how characters operate. First, observing people and imagining what goes through their heads. Talking to people and looking for the motivations. Deeply analyzing my psyche through meditative practice. And method acting in my head. What would this character do if that happened?

 

Theme is the meaning behind the story. The story can give an opinion or explore a question. Figuring out what to say helps put it into the novel.

 

Writer’s voice is something that needs to be discovered through writing and trying different things. Scene construction states each scene has a mission. The scene needs to be short enough to accomplish its mission.

 

Reading Story Engineering will forever change my novel writing. I was already close, and now I get it for the first time. Larry Brooks knows his stuff. Great book Mr. Brooks.

Instant Feedback

This is a guest post from my friend, Cori Nelson. She’s a writer of children’s books and middle-grade novels. Right now, Cori is writing her thesis. She traveled halfway around the globe to continue her writing career. Check out her WordPress blog and scroll through her tweets if you’re so inclined.

 


 

Writing is a lonely business. That seems like a pretty generic statement, but it’s true! As a writer, you sit alone with your computer or notebook and argue with yourself over and over and over about plot and grammar and spelling. Being trapped in your own head all the time is not only lonely, but it can hinder your ability to make good decisions (not to mention drive you completely crazy). This is why I think every writer should join a writing group.

 

This year, I’ve been studying Writing for Children at the University of Winchester. Through the course, I’ve had to share my work in progress with others and then receive instant critiques on my writing. As an introverted, I’m-fine-sitting-in-the-corner-by-myself kind of person, I was very nervous about this concept. I remember reading my first piece out, my voice and hands shaky, my brain forcing me to read at top speed to get it over with. But afterwards! After my voice faded away from the room, after the short awkward silence that follows any reading, after everyone stopped writing down their thoughts on the excerpt in front of them and looked at me, was amazing. My classmates, people I had just met for the first time a week ago, went around the room and told me all of their thoughts, good and bad.

 

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It was incredible. And it felt so good to share my writing with others and have them not only like and understand it, but give me feedback that was helpful, too.

 

Receiving the feedback immediately after reading my writing out was great, too, and something that I think makes in-person writing groups better than remote. It’s nerve-racking enough to read your work in progress out in person and getting feedback right away. I can’t imagine the agony you would feel sending your work in progress to someone and having to wait weeks for their thoughts. Plus, as a children’s writer, I like to write funny. There is simply nothing better than reading something you wrote out loud and listening to your group members laugh at the moments you were hoping were actually funny. That’s something you cannot get with a remote writing group.

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It can definitely be very scary to share your writing with others, as writing is a very personal thing, but there are so many things you just do not catch when reading through your own work. Your eyes glaze over a missing ‘the’ just assuming it’s there, your brain tells you that a sentence makes complete sense, when really it’s just a jumble of nonsense. Someone unfamiliar with your work, though, will catch all of those things. She’ll notice when you’ve used the same word twice within two sentences and when one character sounds the exact same as another and will ask the all-important “but why?” to a scene that actually, now that you’re thinking about it, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Having someone else read your work is so helpful, I can’t say it enough!

 

All of my classes here in Winchester were designed to have a lecture for the first half and a workshop for the second half. Eventually, I began to yearn for the workshop half of class, especially when it was my turn to read and there was something I was stuck on with my piece and needed to discuss.

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Along with helping you find grammar and spelling errors, and helping you to better understand your own story by asking questions and giving suggestions, a writing group is a great support system. The group I’m in now (that I sadly have to leave in less than a month!) is amazing, to say the very least. It is made up of some of the most talented children’s writers I have ever met. Each and every one of us is devoted to each other’s writing as if it’s our own. When one member of the group has a victory (like hitting a word count goal), the entire group celebrates. When a member has a setback or is doubting themselves and their work, the entire group comes together to reassure them that they’re not a terrible writer, to offer suggestions to help stimulate new ideas, to offer the sympathetic and always appreciated “it’s going to be okay”. And when a member is having irrational thoughts about their work in progress, the entire group is there to help talk them off the ledge, to remind them that an idea had mid-dream is not always the best idea, and that “no, rewriting your entire dissertation two weeks before hand-in probably isn’t the best idea.” talking from experience, here. I honestly had a thought about rewriting my entire book even though it’s due at the end of the month. Thankfully, my writing group members stepped in with some rational thinking to save the day.

 

It’s important for everyone to have people like this in your life, true. But as a writer, I think it’s even more important because they’ll help you to keep going. As I said earlier, writing is a very lonely business. It is so easy to get lost in your own thoughts, especially the bad thoughts that tell you you’re not good, that your writing is awful, that you should just give up.

 

JK Rowling got hundreds of rejection letters when she started querying Harry Potter. As did Stephen King before he made it. As did Kate DiCamillo. As did every single author who’s ever been published. And I can guarantee you that all of them had a support system of some kind to help them get through the many rejections. If not an entire writing group, then at least someone who believed in them and their writing. At the end of the day, what more can you ask for?

The Forest for the Trees: A Way through the Mess of Being a Fiction Writer

Betsy Learner is a writer, editor, and agent. In The Forest for the Trees, she offers a collection of sage advice for any writer, especially when you’re questioning your ability as a writer. Reading this book helped a lot. I’m on the right path and need to wo4k more before I get there.

 

The first half of the book identifies several different types of writers. There’s something in there for everyone. I identified with several things that matched. When I’m the most truthful and unafraid, my writing is at its best. Very few writers are naturally successful. The vast majority need to work really hard to get in and become something. The process of writing and getting good is a long process. Write, get feedback, make improvements, write, and repeat until you arrive. Throughout there are many examples from a ton of successful writers and how they got started.

 

The second half of the book is about the publishing side of things. Betsy tells us how she started and moved through the publishing world. These are my biggest takeaways. Sometimes you find a person that can voice your inklings about something you wrote. A good editor should also alight on those things. Query letters are replied in several ways. The first stage is a form rejection letter. Then a form letter with a little personalization. Third a personalized response and finally an acceptance letter. Seeing the process of traditional publication was like witnessing someone else living your dream. One day, that’ll be me. I’ll get there.

 

Later guys.

Book 2: The Characters that Make the Tapestry

The Trouble with Dreams requires really strong characters to pull off the story I have in mind. Six characters that allow us into their lives to see it for what it is. Then we need to peer deeper to understand their inner dreams. Also what factors are preventing them from what they truly, deeply want in life? That’s a lot of weight placed on small human shoulders. Let’s make them mighty.

 

What prevents people from getting addicted to prescription drugs? A support network. I wanted this place addiction to be stronger than reality. Showing people at various levels of success would do that. I wanted average people for their lot in life. And what’s the best way to reframe addiction in a way that’s new, visceral, and real? Make the addiction instead an experience that’s their dream life incarnate. And there we have the concept.

 

I needed compelling characters that go through this experience. I started with a homeless veteran with PTSD and cancer. Uplifting, right? Jk. A large percentage of the homeless are veterans. I wanted to make it a choice superficially, but we all know there’s more to it than that. Chris manages his PTSD by limiting stimulus that triggers his symptoms, like sound and movement. He has a family ready to help, but everyday things trigger him. The potential for him to hurt a loved one is always there.

 

Then we have an ex-con. It started as a male character but later turned into a woman. Getting a job as an ex-con is really difficult. Most ex-felons are black and reoffend. Unable to get a legal job, she returns to the only thing she knows, car theft. I know very little about low-tech car theft. Mix in those wireless key fobs and then it gets interesting. Software defined radio, RFID, Bluetooth hacking, wifi hacking, deep packet inspection, copying packets and retransmitting. Computer stuff. Never actually done it. I know the general principles and the thought process. She’s trying to be reunited with her daughter.

 

Then we have Elise (Lotus Elise comes to mind). Elise is a high-end call girl. The company keeps employees under tight control by getting them hooked on prescription painkillers. I wanted Elise to have surrogate relationships with her clients. I also wanted the story of how she got there.

 

Then we have an author. Michael wants to publish a romance novel, but his first book is a tremendously well-selling pick-up artist guide. He’s hung up on a patient he had as a therapist and is nearly in love with his escort. I connected each character to every other to resemble the fact that everything’s connected. Michael stays sane by picking up women for fun. That should work out really well for him, right? Sarcastic.

 

Then we have a closeted lesbian lawyer. She has a partner that the firm doesn’t know about. Add a nice apartment and a few cats. Her struggle is getting pregnant through IVF. Some medical issues causing it to be very difficult.

 

Then a millionaire founder like Elon Musk. Supermodel wife and the works.

 

Finally, we have a psychologist that interacts with all the rest. Larissa Emery is the common thread through the story. I wasn’t clear on her storyline at the beginning. It grew into her suspicion that her husband was cheating on her. She finds the truth and deals with it. Her interaction with her patients (the other characters), help her decide what to do.

 

I wrote each point of view separately as if writing an independent story without worrying about fitting everything together. I started with Chris. To get the story under 50,000 words, each of the seven parts should be 7,000 words. Chris’s part took 10,000. My word counts would be higher for the other characters. My vision for the story was too big for my goals. I cut back the characters to four. Chris, Elise, Michael, and Larissa. That grew into The Trouble with Dreams. The entire first draft took ten months and now out to beta readers.

Book 2: The Law of Averages or The Trouble with Dreams

I tried getting Remember an Agent. That work was the best I could manage then. It was sheer audacity to believe Remember was the correct fit to be published. Since then, I’ve learned so much about writing. I needed something more relevant and approachable. More than that, it needed to be marketable. Would the work be appealing beyond the angle of dropping the reader into the character’s shoes?

 

That gave me a hit list. A list of things that the next book required. Some givens were already established so far in my writing career. A psychological thriller, futuristic optional, character driven, and involving love somewhere along the line. I also wanted something that’s set in reality, relatable, 50,000 words, and with average characters. Not all analytical scientists. I also wanted a few hangers-on from the Remember Sequel. That ended up as multiple points of view. I also wanted simple, easy to understand prose that allows the story to get across.

 

I came up with a few ideas/concepts.

1. the Earth is really one big machine that can teleport

2. a ghost sucks life force and vanishes after the people die

3. a cat turns into a human, helped to become a successful human designing cat toys

4. an alien world with varied population, mainly very thin humanoids that neatly float away without gear weighing them down, from high gravity home world chases down criminal just to allow escape

5. snake civilization of high intelligence makes heaters from fire to stay warm and hunt down larger animals  for food

 

And finally the idea I stuck with:

  1. place addiction

 

That idea came from a weird place. We all know about addiction to chemicals like cigarettes, alcohol, opioids, methamphetamine, benzodiazepines, marijuana, and various other things. The jargon abounds with these obviously. Let’s extend that to something more like love. Put on your nihilist hat, please. Love is basically an addiction to a person. Being around a particular person you love, triggers a highly complex, not well understood the neurochemical cascade of dopamine, oxytocin, and numerous others. Now, what about a place? Can people become chemically addicted to a place? Yes, if there’s an association or neural connection that links getting high with a specific place. The next obvious question is what happens if the place no longer works or the dosing ends? If a junkie can only get subpar dope, what happens? Well, we have a pretty good idea. What happens when a great relationship ends abruptly? Hate? Confusion? Betrayal? Inconsolable pain? Suicide? Take your pick. Initially, the idea just appeared as if from nowhere. Looking enough gave the root and stem of the idea/flower.

Editing as a Necessary Evil

Recently, I’ve been editing Remember. I don’t really like the editing process, but it’s a basic requirement of writing anything. It’s the antithesis of the writing. Editing is a nearly brainless activity in comparison. Editing something over and over still missing some errors is frustrating and motivation crushing. Typo blindness is troublesome. The writer knows the words they intended for the page. Not seeing a few typos each page isn’t really a hindrance for the person that wrote it. This WIRED article does a really good job explaining it. A novel is much more susceptible to typo blindness than say a 10-page research paper. A novel requires a lot of investment. Investment leads to seeing what you want to see, instead of what’s actually on the page.

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That’s exactly what happened with Remember. A beta-reader pointed out several typos throughout the book. Unfortunately, I’d already put the ebook and paperback on Amazon. Exactly how that worked out is in an upcoming blog post. I quickly took off those listing. It wasn’t until a few months ago, but I reposted the unedited versions. I’m working on the edits as you’re reading this.

amazon listing 1

After the discovery of numerous typos, I worked out an editing plan. I’d already edited through four drafts at that point. I read slowly through each page twice. Once through a page and then again. Finding typos was easy. The work was time-consuming. I hadn’t yet found a method to stay motivated through more than an hour or so. Two or four pages a day. In a month of doing this, I lost all the motivation I could muster.

 

The blog has already featured the fruits of my procrastination. I feel too much guilt procrastinating on something completely useless. I have to justify it somehow. That’s how procrastination always starts, as a tangent that can somehow be connected back to the goal. I thought learning Photoshop would help me create book covers that I needed. Then After Effects to make a book trailer. Then 3D modeling for the book trailer. Then game development to practice 3D modeling. This happened in phases between more flawed editing.

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Through all this, my unconscious was entering the second epoch of my writing style. For some reason I can’t remember, I start thinking along the lines of clarity (an old blog post talked about a writer that showed me the way, Ella Dawson.) I recently read, the biggest mistake of a novice writer is trying to overcompensate for a perceived lack. Usually in the form of over-involved writing. That’s the symptom of Remember. Over complicated prose for confusing and difficult to understand writing. I reasoned if no one can understand what I’m writing, what’s the point. If it isn’t clear, there is no point.

 

I needed to simplify Remember. I decided to linearize it. Remember started out as two parallel story lines. One was six months ahead of the other. I jumped back and forth. The reader was getting lost. I cut out the boring stuff. Conor court trial and hospital stay were gutted (I’ll post them sometime). I moved the hook later in the novel. I needed a new hook, Conor’s life before the memory loss. What was Conor trying to remember? That should be up on here when I’m putting up the new version of Remember on Amazon.

 

I wanted the story to be more approachable and familiar. I started switching verb tenses to the past. Earlier in the editing process, I’d already switched out all the verbs for active ones. Tense switching would be much easier. I tried Find and Replace in Word. It was too finicky and took about as much time as the manual way. This verb switching actually helped in the long run. It sufficiently motivated me to cut more of Remember. Cutting from a novel has always been very difficult for me. This extra work of verb switching got me there.

 

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Everything I cut from Remember.

 

Remember is almost finished. I’ve cut 14,000 words plus, and the novel is better because of it. Listening to music is the motivation I need for editing and typing at times.

 

Later, guys.