Nov 11

Blades

Posted: under Background, Horngard, Life beyond writing, Research, the writing life.
Tags: , , , ,  November 11th, 2023

Writing about sword-wearing, sword-using characters, and then handling some antiques owned by others, pushed me to indulge my own long-term interest in blades.   Some of mine are blades I used in fencing lessons (with SCA instructors) and those have been more or less permanently blunted.    I bought a bated (blunted from birth, so to speak) longsword when I needed to see what it felt like to carry, how hard it was to handle in indoor spaces and in the woods, etc.   It was very helpful to get that physical feel of it, especially walking around and through ordinary obstacles.  I have a few sharps, on which I practiced slicing things and poking things to see what it felt like (and also because it’s fun to slice the bottom lumps off  2 liter plastic bottle hanging from a tree limb when it’s full of water and the water squirts out and…yeah.  Juvenile fun with swords.)  But all of it (including the spear, the bill, and some other more period bits I have) have contributed a lot to scenes in which someone is doing something with a sword, spear, bill, etc. When I borrowed a scythe and scythed some tall grass, that was another experience that enhanced my writing about Gird.  Same with the crossbow.  No amount of just reading or watching movies or videos can provide the body-feel of handling things yourself, whether it’s kneading a loaf of bread, digging a ditch, riding a horse, knitting a sock, or…using a weapon.

I was gifted a gorgeous USMC Mameluke officer’s sword by friends who knew I hadn’t been able to get one at the time, but I don’t “play” with it…it needs sharpening (barely sharp now) by someone more expert than I am.  It has a curve, and it’s definitely a weapon, not just a display item.

But as the Paksworld books have progressed, and I’ve studied more about swords, I’ve wanted to add a lighter-armed cavalry type to the mix in some areas.  And I’ve long wanted a curved blade that I didn’t feel as protective of, as I do my dress sword.    I have a character now, in Horngard I and II, Nasimir Clart, owner/commander of Clart Cavalry, who is a quintessential cavalry man, familiar since Xenophon wrote about horse training and cavalry operations in ancient Greece, and described vividly (for the 19th century) in the excellent series of books by Allan Mallinson, about a young officer’s career through the Napoleonic wars  and beyond.   And I could not envisage Clart without seeing someone with lance and saber.

So when Matt Easton of Schola Gladiatoria, one of my online sources of info on antique weapons and fighting styles, had a review of a reproduction of the 1796 pattern British Light Cavalry saber that he thought got all the details right, right down to the distal taper of the blade…I was hooked.  It is a substantially “beefier” blade than the Mameluke,  much wider and heavier, with a deeper curve, trading grace, speed, and ease of maneuver for power.  So here it is, side by side with its scabbard.

I’m reasonably sure Nasimir Clart chose a different hilt…something he would find more stylish that also gave more hand protection than the simple knuckle-bow here.   But for me, this will do just fine.  It was getting dark by the time I got back from feeding the horses this evening…discovered it on the porch on the way out…so I didn’t have time after unboxing it to change into something more appropriate to take a picture of the first swings with it, but yes…I took it outside (it’s WAY too big to swing around inside) and found the balance strange in one way but quite nice once I started swinging it from the position to cover the back to various cuts in front.  This is a saber for serious cavalry combat in the lightly-or-no-armored style.   I will be doing things with it, for the same reason I used the others…it’s research.  That it’s also fun and good exercise is beside the point.  I absolutely did not buy a saber for the fun of it.   (Stop laughing, you there in the back.)

 

 

Comments (6)

Oct 25

Sketch-Snippet

Posted: under artwork, Craft, Horngard, the writing life.
Tags: , ,  October 25th, 2023

Instead of a snippet in words, a sketch–the kind of thing I often scribble on the back of an envelope or letter or any paper handy…this time the back of a 4×6 card, first with the gel pen and then colored in with colored pencils.   I made it Tuesday evening to clarify the terrain and situation for members of the Discord writing group I’m in–most of them not familiar with my work so not at all with Paksworld.    I don’t submit something every week, because they like shorter chunks of things, and that means fragments.  But what I often want most from a first reader is not detailed comment, but whether or not the flow of action makes sense or is jumbled.  In the first draft, I don’t worry about stuff that may not even be there in second draft.  (in fact, in this case I was editing right up to it being my turn because I knew they might have a problem visualizing the terrain without a lot more words than I wanted to spend…this area was described when the allied forced came in several days ago.

This doesn’t cover the entire area of the ambush sequence but the most relevant bits.  The card was white, but messing with the white balance enough to make it look white wiped out the other colors.  I need better light in the study.   Anyway.  North is up.  The Pliuni Road leads west and up to the citadel, or east  about 10 days’ travel through rows of hills (think the rumples of a kicked rug) to the walled city of Pliuni, about 5-7 days south of Valdaire.  That steep cliff on the left (contour lines close together) is the base of one of the “horns” of Horngard.  That lower hill on the right (contour lines farther apart) is the first hill east of the big cliff.   A waterfall comes down the cliff into a pool (out of scale)  with a bar at the east end that makes an easy ford for horses or people.  The stream flows east (and is also out of scale).  The red-brown seed-shaped ovals represent the horses of Clart cavalry exiting the citadel valley right before the ambush attack from across the stream.   Halveric Company (2 cohorts) is camped on the left, and Fox Company on the right.  Those triangular pointy bits are tents.  Green with squiggles inside is thick vegetation.  Ambushments include across the stream, from head-high bushes and young trees, and down from the end of that hill.  On the far side of the creek, there’s a hill like the one on this side; the attackers are armed with bows (blackwood longbows, a few crossbows, a few recurved bows) and the brush has been “sculpted'” by careful pruning to allow clear shots with maximum cover.   The distance across the creek is only 10-15 yards.  The vertical distance from the hilltop is somewhat more, but gravity adds punch.

In version 1 of this sequence, Nasimir Clart and his horse were wounded; in trying to dismount from his horse, an archer on the hill got a lucky hit into the back of his thigh.  However, that contradicted the sequence in “Bank Transfer” when he comes cantering across a ford some distance from here (not this ford) and is feeling great.  A deep wound in the back of the thigh would not let him ride again that soon, so the first major change in the story was changing out where he was and giving the injury to someone else.  (Sorry, Reassigned-Victim.)   Clart has not been a POV character before, and once turned loose he proved a superb one, producing good plot faster than I could write it.

Comments (6)

Oct 23

Setbacks Lead to Progress (sometimes…)

Posted: under Characters, Craft, Horngard, Life beyond writing, the writing life.
Tags: , ,  October 23rd, 2023

Leaving aside the concussion problems (and I would LOVE to leave them aside forever but apparently…that’s not on my Bingo card),  the times I’ve run headlong into a serious problem with a book–a book-stopping problem–it’s been because I didn’t think things through enough.  A lot of writing happens internally (for me, anyway)  and sometimes–just like missing your turn when you’re driving somewhere because you were thinking about something else–I’m writing merrily along talking on the mental device and fail to notice when I’ve missed the exit and need to look at the map.  What map? you ask, knowing that there is no actual map for a discovery writer like me.    Ah…but there is a sekrit, sekrit, unknowable map you have to take on trust, I say, when you set out to sail the perilous seas of fiction writing.

Going wrong gives you a chance to rethink, add thinking to a period of distracted un-thinking, and think better.  The tangle I found between “Bank Transfer” and Horngard II included multiple opportunities, and I’m glad sit here on a rainy morning, with chili being reduced on the stove to the correct thickness (the big kitchen spoon stands upright in it), the horses munching hay in their stalls, and a feeling of deep satisfaction because I went out at midnight, sniffed the wind, and shut the barn door off of the stall that has one.  (The wind smelled wet and tropical.  The rain source is that dying tropical storm of the Pacific coast of Mexico.  The wind had been humid, as if there was water up there somewhere, but smelling local–undertone of dry and autumnal.  The shift was very noticeable at midnight and so were the big fat wet clouds blowing across the moon.)  The smell of warm oceanic “wet” air masses is something you learn from many sniffs.

Day before yesterday, conferring with Rancherfriend E-, I decided that one change to grease the knotted ropes of the two stories would be a change in character.  Tried it out Sunday night, and yeah, it worked, in theory.  Then I went from blocking (jotting ideas down) to first drafting a new version.  Suddenly this character I’d never used as  a POV before took off down the trail like a rocket, trailing clouds of spent plot  and many words behind him.  VERY different from the guy he replaced or the guy who replaced him.   Didn’t need a nudge, or for the writer to suggest what he should do…he just tore off and did his thing and it was RIGHT.  There’s one tiger who’s not going to return to being “minor” again, I’ll bet.   Getting into the right person’s head–letting that person carry the story–really works.  Sometimes you have to step out, but it slows the story, makes it less immediate.

Comments (5)

Oct 20

Lost In the (E) Mail…

Posted: under Horngard, the writing life.
Tags: , ,  October 20th, 2023

Back on October 5, I emailed my agent Horngard I.   Heard nothing.  Finally called and asked (in the intervening days had a wonderful house-guest and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, talking, listening, reading, writing  (me, then reading her bits of it),  giving horses treats, enjoying the good weather, etc., etc.   And cooking.  She made chocolate pudding and brownies-from-scratch.  I made chili from scratch.  We had chili more than once (I just ate the last bowlful in the pot for supper and have two “short” quarts in the freezer.   My mouth feels very tingly.)

So when I reached my agent (who was out of the office when I first called), turns out that email never arrived.   Re-emailed, and it got there.  So we’re back to square one in terms of waiting to see what he thinks of  it.

House-guest will be working on a compilation of Paksworld stuff for me so I don’t have to search through all the books to maintain continuity and accuracy.   Just the books (eleven, counting Horngard I) are now totalling 1.6 to 1.76 million words, with lengths between 155,000 and 176,000 words each.   The Paksworld short fiction adds another 100,000+ words.

The eighteen non-Paksworld books — the 7 Serrano-Suiza books, the 7 Vatta books, the 2 McCaffrey collaborations,  the 2 standalone books — are all over 100,000 each, mostly in the 120-130,000 range.   So that’s another 2.25 million words, roughly and a grand total for the books alone of 3.8 to 4 million words.   Plus the short fiction scattered through various markets (over 20 anthologies and ?? magazine publications.)   I am a “wordy” woman.  By no means the most words published of anyone in the field, but also not the least.   Not the best, not the worst, either.

I sure hope Agent likes Horngard now, and we can get it to the market and into print sometime next year.  And that Horngard II progresses without a hitch and gets me to 30.   (No, that’s not an ultimate goal, just an interim.  Love those zeros flipping the next number over.)

Horngard II is now coming along, though it’s run headfirst into a short piece I wrote this past summer.  Headfirst as in–as they are now–they’re incompatible in who was where when.   Something has to give way in one of them: when something happened, where something happened,  who met whom at this other place.   Neither Horngard II nor “Bank Transfer” has gone public yet, fortunately, but…which “darling” is going to have to be killed for the whole narrative to work?  “Bank Transfer” was supposed to slot neatly between Horngard I and Horngard II,  and the ambush scene AND the arrival of someone else (Ferran Count Andressat) on the north road into Horngard are now occupying that space & time.   Usually the short Paksworld stuff is either remote in time or space from one of the books–so no problem with overlap.   However, “Bank Transfer” was going to connect to later Horngard books through some of its characters, but it’s essential that the connection doesn’t conflict with what’s in the books.  Right now, it’s…being tricky.

The best time for an ambush is when the people you’re planning to attack are off-guard for some reason, and in a place that makes it easier to pick them off than for your side to be picked off.   If you have a small force and the other side has a large force (which you want to reduce a lot, rather than just kill one of)   you want a way to  confine them to an area (like a hog trap for wild hogs) where you can kill them without coming into full contact…trap them where a tide’s coming in fast, in a gorge with a flash flood coming, in quicksand, in any treacherous ground where they don’t know the hazard (e.g. that you’ve pre-dug pits with stakes in them and a light cover of dirt on something very breakable) , in any narrow declivity, etc.  Minus modern technology,  people traveling together in a group are unlikely to see through thick vegetation, around corners, over hills, in a fog, in heavy rain, while it’s snowing.   For one thing, they’re paying most attention to the nearby people they’re moving with, so they don’t bump into them or get bumped into, or trip over minor obstacles on the road or trail.   Even if you have the larger force and are ambushing a smaller force, and intend assassination rather than wholesale destruction, you’ll try to make it easier, less dangerous to your side, by picking the right place at the right time.

The details differ with place, season, local weather, experience level of the ambush designer (and more) but in these stories the lack of gunpowder and ordinary (to us) explosives, and the lack of modern communications, is always a factor.  Here and now, light-speed communication can show a criminal’s face and the license plate of the car they’re border to border, sea to sea faster than the criminal can drive there–or fly.  Not foolproof…hundreds of notices are issued each day and the farther the source, the less attention someone’s likely to pay to it, but the criminal cannot *count* on being unrecognized.   The current GA trial involving (among other crimes) the invasion of the Cotton County, GA, elections office is a perfect example: surveillance tape caught the county employees who let unauthorized people into the building…actually doing so.  And then caught them in the room with the voting machines.   But in Paksworld–with no cameras, no phones, no electric lights, no internet, no way for a city official in one city to contact an official in another (“We chased a gang of robbers out of our city; we think they headed off east toward your city…they were all mounted and one of them had a spotted bay and white horse about 17 hands…”)–it’s much easier for a gang to get away, safely ahead of pursuit, and be unsuspected ordinary travelers in another city.

 

Comments (4)

Oct 06

And Now….

Posted: under Background, Crossposted Universes blog, snippet, the writing life, Uncategorized.
Tags: , ,  October 6th, 2023

Horngard I  went off yesterday to my agent, via Earthlink Webmail, since the handshake between Earthlink and Thunderbird is still, apparently shaky.  I’m receiving mail, but the sending has yet to have a confirmed arrival.  Earthink’s Webmail didn’t even hiccup when the full book file went in, and reported it in its “sent” file.  Agent has notified arrival but then he doesn’t if he’s doing something else.

I have already, this morning, looked over my notes & text (from much earlier in the year) for Horngard II, and the truncated ending from Horngard I , some of which will go into II, but not all.   It’s much cooler, and bright with an almost cloudless sky, still in the mid-70sF at 11 am (wow!)  so I have doors open for fresh air.   I realized when I took my meds this morning that I had *skipped* a couple of days, probably due to having a house guest and being distracted, or that’s my excuse.

Y’all deserve a snippet.   Maybe two snippets.   Early, middle, and late, let’s say

…………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Aesil M’dierra, having lunch in The Golden Fish in Valdaire, remembering a childhood incident:

Rainclouds low over the citadel, hiding all but the bases of the two peaks that gave the place its name.  Cold rain, slippery rock, then the warmth of the great entrance chamber, a polished bronze dragon statue, gold leaf that had once covered it almost worn away.  A man in yellow robes lifting the statue’s tail, the mouth opening, emitting first a puff of smoke and then warm red tongue sliding out for her to touch with her own….

She pushed memory aside with an effort.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Juris Marrakai en route to Marrakai’s country estate, escorted by Royal Guard

“But–where do you turn for the house?”

“I’ll go; I can show them.  You go straight ahead.  Give me some men!”

“But we’re supposed to protect you!”

“My sisters!”  With that, Juris spurred back down the column for the crossroad, and Fandosson yelled for half the troop to follow Juris, then spurred ahead.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………

Meddthal Andressat, in Cha (south of Pliuni)  representing Count Andressat.  Andressat has claimed the South Marches since Siniava’s War.

The courier’s head fell forward like a puppet with cut strings.  Dead.  Meddthal felt he’d been dipped in ice water.  He was dragonkin, this was Dragon’s business, but Dragon–he touched his amulet and it lay cold on his chest.  He did not know where Dragon was.

“I will send word,” he said to his captain.  “Burn his clothes, just in case.  And bury him deep.”

He sent a courier north, that very hour, hoping it was not too late.

……………………………………………………………………………………………..

Enjoy!

Comments (6)

Oct 05

And It’s Done

Posted: under Craft, Life beyond writing, the writing life.
Tags: , , ,  October 5th, 2023

New beginning….substantial changes in the LONG middle that have improved the “pull-through”….and new ending that is WAY better.

It’s going in when I can get my otherwise argumentative email non-partners (Thunderbird and Earthlink) to handshake again.

The final bit was ripping 2000 words out of the ending (you will not miss them!)   (And some of them will be in Horngard II anyway, near the front, where they fit better.)   So what did I learn in the course of this particular round of revision?

Back to basics.  Character’s central.  Scenes go slack when they’re not from a character’s POV, when they’re not infused with that character’s motivation, emotions, sensations.   Several-many times the temptation to go with the easy narrative regained momentum when I recognized where I’d fallen out of POV and got back into it.   Strong secondary and minor characters are fine (good, even essential)  but keep the main set of characters in focus as much as possible.  But when giving a secondary/minor’s action/POV, give it full measure of intensity.   In revision, look for those places where POV is weakened by straight narration in a neutral or authorial voice.

When looking at the levels of tension (which will vary through any long story and that’s fine) look at *how* the tension is lowered as it drops and under what conditions.  Vary the duration, rate of change, duration of new level, characters’ perception of reasons for the change (not just the writer’s sense that “this needs to relax/tighten up here.’)  Do not end every scene with a drop in tension or intensity of the plot.  Especially watch chapter endings and even more the book ending for long, drawn-out relaxations that are actually the tired writer calming themselves down so they can sleep.

All the usual style things I learned way, WAY back apply.    Simplifying a sentence by changing a participle to simple past (“He was thinking” to “He thought”)  both saves words and adds action.

Real World Intrudes:  It’s raining and the north barn door is up (was hot and stuffy this afternoon) .  It’s raining hard.   There’s some thunder.  It’s  almost 2 am.  I am not going out to the barn NOW.   I’m going to bed.

Comments (3)

Aug 03

My Precioussss….

Posted: under Craft, Life beyond writing, the writing life.
Tags: , , ,  August 3rd, 2023

Arrived this week as two BIG, HEAVY  boxes was a used copy of a 45 year old  Oxford English Dictionary.   Our Compact OED, which I used heavily while writing the Deed of Paksenarrion, Surrender None, and Liar’s Oath, is beyond my eyesight now, even with reading glasses and a magnifying glass..  But it was invaluable.  At that time I still had my HS graduation thesaurus as well, but the Compact OED gave me enough of the history and alternate meanings of words to provide a precision the thesaurus was never meant to achieve.  But as I said, with succeeding years it became harder to use it once my eyes started giving me more and more difficulty.  That row of cream-colored volumes in the picture is  of the 13 volumes of the 1978 printing of the Oxford English Dictionary.  12 volumes + supplement volume.   The words sit over there, chattering quietly to one another, bumping elbows sometimes, from volume to volume.  And I’m renewing my acquaintance with this very senior member of the family of Engilsh dictionaries, first met in Fondren Library of Rice University.  It’s not the latest…but it contains things from before the first.  One of the words I looked at yesterday, when it arrived, is referenced to a Psalter in 885 CE with another reference to it in 1000 in Beowulf.  

 

The advantage of such a research tool for writers?   Great is too narrow a word.    It’s historical, which means the etymology of the words goes back to the first recorded print source in England, and usage is recorded as “Obs” or “Archaic” but not ignored to give just the modern.   That’s how I learned today that “deploy” was originally cognate with “display” in the sense of “spread out to be more visible.”  Troops deployed meant a close formation opened out…not at all what it means in US usage today.  Any recorded use of the word from the first time it’s known to have shown up is included.  It’s that long because there’s information in there, most of it information useful to writers.   If you want every word to fit (“the right word in the right order”)  like a puzzle piece with the other words, it helps to know more, to grasp its entire history, the forces that shaped it.

The latest printing runs to 20 volumes, so of course has even more words, and takes up half again as much space, but this one is close to the one I used at Rice from time to time (actually, I mostly got into it for fun and relaxation and satisfying curiosity.)  I also played around in dictionaries of various sciences.  But I knew enough of the OED to know I wanted one.  We pounced on the Compact OED as soon as we heard about it; we used it for decades, including playing OED Scrabble with friends (any word that was in the OED was fine, but only in the main entry, not all the variant spellings….except in some sessions.)   Made for slow Scrabble, but two of the other players would run a game of chess concurrently, one would read a book, and I would play with the dictionary between needing to look things up.

Anyway, I’m already enjoying this moderate monster.  I’ve done only two directed searches so far; most of it’s been opening a volume randomly, looking on the two visible pages to see what looks interesting and writing down any unfamiliar words.  That got me “fife-rail, eadi, luddock, lue, maritage, marish, pun (not *that* pun), punatoo, starkle, stote, sumph, hopdog, hore, hoppet, and huik”, none of which I knew, and several pages of history and past usages of “stark,” some additional usages of “stot” …both words I thought I knew.   Today I looked up a word from Lee & Miller’s book Trade Secret….“replevin” as in “a writ of replevin” and got its complete etymology and expanded meaning.   Plus other words last night and today I didn’t actually write down (silly me; I don’t have an instant very sticky memory for words the way I did as a younger person, when absorbing vocabulary was easy.)  But I’m getting the kind of “deep awareness” of many of the words that made me confident in Paksworld when I started it and will restore some of that “feel” in Horngard.  For instance, there’s a scene in which Our Hero is talking to some displaced persons in hill country, who speak a variant dialect.   The OED has plenty of those–genuine  archaic terms and spellings linked to their usage in different counties in the UK, so…I can sprinkle them in where they go.

Comments (7)

Jul 26

Horngard I Progress: Fixing Beginnings

Posted: under Craft, Editing, Revisions, the writing life.
Tags: , ,  July 26th, 2023

Horngard I has a new first chapter, new first section of the first chapter, and everything is now “clean” through C-3.   One segment that was second in C-1 is now at the end of C-2, and other segments (aside from the very first, which is new) have been shifted around (often more than once, like quilt pieces) to find their best spot.  General tightening to make the new arrangement work better.   And so on.  Chapters will need to be re-numbered, at least (right now there are two C-3s, one helpfully saved as C-3+) and more splits and/0r joins may need to be done as this revision progresses.   Since re-numberiung this many chapters (34 now, will likely be 35 if I don’t find more largeish cuts to make) is tedious and it’s easy to make mistakes, relabeling the second “overlapping” chapter and leaving re-numbering to the end seems to work more smoothly.  For me, anyway.

This, and maybe some subsequent posts, is a “technical writing” post.   How do you fix the front end of a book–what decisions are involved, what actions need to be taken, and what natters most?  Though it’s a “how-to” and “how-not-to” post, it is not (except for Rule One–maybe)  a black-and-white prescription.  As always, my way is NOT the highway, but a crooked path through the wilderness.  If you find yourself in the wilderness with your book (first or thirtieth) it’s a reminder to look at that first chapter you were so happy with six months ago.  Maybe it could be where the problem with the book started.

Rule One  Don’t bore the reader.  Bored readers don’t finish the book unless they need it to pass a test.  If they’re bored on page one, they’re done with it.  This is why even bestsellers don’t sell to everyone…someone’s bored, they don’t buy the book.   If you leave the finished book alone for a few months to…um…ripen or rot…and then you start to read it, and you find yourself skipping the first chapter after the first page…be sure to have no fewer than five people read that first chapter alone (no reward visible) and listen to their comments.  “Starts kinda slow…” means “I was bored.  “I guess we’ll find out what it’s about later on, huh?” means “I was bored.”   And so on.   Reader boredom anywhere in a book damages it, but reader boredom at the start kills it.

The most common cause of boring starts is starting before the action.   The writer often needs to start writing before the book starts; the writer certainly can spend words and time on setting up when/where/who/how the start is going to happen, and ease into the story itself…but the reader, especially the modern reader, wants to feel, from the first page at least, that they’ve stepped into a strong narrative current and are being pulled along.  Doesn’t have to be a roaring flood, but does have to be a current.

A contribution to boring starts that will overwhelm even starting where the story itself starts is too much information too soon.   (And if that sentence was a boring, there’s your clue.)  If you have even a touch of “instructor” in you, you’ll be tempted to demonstrate your knowledge, as well as your storytelling.   I have a large bump of instructor, since I’ve tutored individuals and taught classes…and like many instructors, I’ve been sure my lessons were interesting and useful to my captive audiences of students.  But…the students didn’t have much choice.  As a writer, your readers have many choices of what to read, and as a fiction writer, they didn’t come to you to learn about the English civil war, the pastimes of medieval peasants, how a ‘tall ship” is rigged, or exactly how to grow food for your family on a quarter acre.  If you write fiction, your readers are fiction readers, and they want a good story.  Story needs to be there in that critical first few pages.  So don’t front-load your book with description, a history lesson, or the things that fascinate you about the story you’re telling…tell the story itself.

How does this relate to what was wrong with my earlier beginnings to Horngard I?   Here comes Rule Two:  Get important characters into the first scenes.  Characters make stories.  Introduce the characters readers will be following at the beginning.  Not–as the old Bobbsey Twins books used to do it, with a page of “Let’s get to know the Bobbsey twins” infodump–but instead with a name, an action, and a glimpse of their thoughts, feelings, selfhood from inside.  It can be in an immediate crisis (Paks and her father having a row, Brun climbing a cliff being shot at, Ky called out of class and forced to resign), or in a calmer but still active situation (Gird setting off with a basket of fruit for the required tax, Heris taking command of a civilian’s personal yacht, or–in the present case after fixing the problem–a young man riding out of the foothills toward a city, thinking what he’s been told to do.)  In the previous version of Horngard I’s beginning, I had Dragon flying around looking at the old citadel and remembering and thinking and planning and then going away again.  Followed by a long scene with some bad guys dealing with their own problems –neither bad guy likely to attract a reader’s interest on his own– and the co-protagonist, who is now up first, not showing up for pages and pages and pages.  Oops.  Stories are *about* someone as well as something.   Dragon is not a character.  Dragon is a Force, or Power…not a deity, but the personification of transformation, or change.    Yes, a dragon can fry you with its breath, but it’s more like plate tectonics than a character.

Rule Three:  Get someone doing something in the first scenes.  Stories are about someone doing something that matters to them (and hence to the still-imaginary and future reader.)  Character sitting on the bank fishing and nothing’s biting?  Quickly boring.  Character sitting anywhere and just musing…quickly boring.  Character riding toward a city still confused about what he’s supposed to do…most readers can think of branching lines of possibilities in that.    Another character on a fractious horse on a dangerous mountain path near a cliff…again, readers can imagine multiple possibilities there, too.  Both of those are a) doing something and b) doing something that has potential problems all over, leading reader to mild suspense.  Will this confused character be unable to function in the noise and confusion of a city?  Will he get robbed? Will he find someone who can clear things up for him?  Will the character on the fractious horse end up in pieces at the bottom of the cliff?   If one character (not of these two alone, any two) thinks of the other, wants to find the other, wants to avoid the other,  wants to kill, or save, or make love to the other, that adds another layer of possibility to the plot, and raises the reader’s interest.  If they’re both going to the same city, especially.  The reader will have several questions in mind that the reader wants answered.   Questions the reader wants answered count as “suspense.”   Suspense is good reader-glue.  The sooner in a book the reader wants to read the next page, the better.

Notice…I broke all three rules in that first chapter.  Boring instructional glop in the first section (OK, it had Dragon, who’s not intrinsically boring, but also not a character the reader will identify with at all.)  Minor characters loosely connected with a minor character in earlier books, unpleasant, doing not much besides talking & planning, in the second section.  They did at least mention they were planning to kill the person in the next section but they didn’t actually DO that, or even approach it more closely, until several chapters later.   Third section finally introduced a character, but not one of the major characters, and what was she *doing*?  Sitting (SIGH) and signing a contract and thinking about the general state of things.  Then she heads off for lunch.  That’s really riveting storytelling, right?  Er…um….no.  It’s not.

New start: Start of plot, major character shows up in Significant Clothes (knight in shining armor on fancy horse) with definite immediate goal (get to city, get to banker…oh, so there’s MONEY involved?!) and confusion about how to accomplish future goal.  Dragon in his past (hmm), memory loss, and according to Dragon, important future.   Then another major character shows up, headed to the same city, from farther away, on a steep and dangerous mountain trail on a fractious young horse next to a cliff where the rocks below are decorated with bits of wrecked wagons and skeletons.  Both characters are named.  So  previous readers in that story-universe have an advantage and almost certainly put 2 and 2 together and get the right answer, but new readers are being handed information they need when they need it…and their minds will correctly decide that both these guys are important, and since they’re headed for the same city, might meet.    Another important minor character from previous books, tightly connected to Major Character 2 is also in that scene.  Next scene down, another important minor character is connected to Major Character 1.  Then Major Character 2 drops a final clue.  Even new readers are now oriented to two major characters’ relationships to  the most significant secondary characters and their potential relationship to each other, their ultimate goals as they see them, and some of the difficulties foreseen by characters and writer.

More coming another day.

 

Comments (6)

Jul 19

Mistakes & Errors & Writing

Posted: under Craft, Editing, Life beyond writing, the writing life.
Tags: , , , , ,  July 19th, 2023

I once bought my husband a book entitled “Mistakes and Errors in Surgery” written a long time ago but fascinating in its dissection of typical surgical errors.  And I love the title.  The sound of it, the rhythm and mouth-feel of the words.  Da-DUM, da-DUM-da, da-DUM-da-da.   (Yes, some writers hear/feel word sequences like this.)

So last night was an example of mistakes and errors in writing on a computer.  I had finished (probably) the last  edits on a story called “Final Honors” which is not a sequel to the previous story with a major character but a distant echo…seven years later, nothing in between written (yet.)   Still frustrated that MS Word does not include an e-acute-accent in its “special characters” you can insert, and also does not include a u-circumflex–both of which my previous Word had in its list–I wondered if those were available from the keyboard itself in some way.  A combination of Control with a vowel, or maybe one of the function keys with something, so I skipped several pages  and tried out a few things.  That was a huge mistake.    CTRL with lower case a deleted the story and the backup with the same name and a different time-stamp, and the other backup with the same name and a different time-stamp.  Gone.  I still had the drafts with a *different* filename  but the longest of those was about half the length of the final.  OOPS.  I retrieved the longest, and quickly wrote a precis of the missing part–I couldn’t hope to replace 3000 words word for word, and trying to do so will blue memory of the plot itself…even that took hours (and the help of Beethoven, because that second half of the story had been written to three Beethoven symphonies, each offering a mood-tone that worked for that part of the story.

Along about 2 in the morning, with my brain seizing up no matter how many times I played the 3rd (Eroica) from the funeral march on, I gave up and went to bed, telling myself firmly that I needed to treat this as an opportunity to write a *better* story, rather than grieve over the Truly Stupendous Powerful Story now gone forever, and went to bed.  Woke up tired, stiff as a board, and dabbled with it today, still not ready to tackle it again.  It’s not on deadline or anything, so letting it sit and marinate isn’t all that bad.

This afternoon, still tired and in need of sleep, I started to go down for a nap when the phone rang.  And lo! it was my agent.  And lo! he wanted to talk about Horngard!    And all the story-writing I’ve done since the latest head-bang has really cleared my brain’s plot-thingie (used to be my plot daemon and I really wish he’d come back because he was fun, but I now have a modernized version, smooth and metallic, not the Scots-accented engineer of the Inchcliffe Castle…this one, so far, just extrudes plot into prose without chatting me up or scolding me.)   In writing and editing these short stories, keeping them short-story length, I’ve become able to recognize the glop that sometimes extrudes along with the plot.  Sometimes it’s infodump.  Sometimes it’s story-stuff that’s not part of *that* story but another…like the side stories I wrote while writing Paks in the first place–things that happened, that I had to write, but that weren’t main-line-express-train plot for the book.

Today, I heard from my agent.  He’d had one of his people look at Horngard I since he’d led me through revisions several times and gotten–um–over-familiar with it, would be one way of saying it.  So today I got the other guy’s opinion.  Not familiar at all with the Paksworld books, and thus a really fresh viewpoint.  My problems with both the failed Vatta book and Horngard I once Joshua read it, was that I wasn’t yet able to completely understand what he was driving at…I could not see, when re-reading the book to try to work on it…what was wrong and what might fix it.  Horngard I understood more, but still not completely.   Now, looking at James’s comments, it’s clear and I can also see that the part Joshua really wanted me to cut, which I considered necessary, IS necessary but not in its present form, and in its present form, it practically is a nice side story…it sits *beside* the book, on a siding, not the main track.

So I will start–not tonight because I’m still fighting a week’s sleep deficits–tomorrow, on Horngard I again, for what we all hope will be the final (until it sells or doesn’t and meets a real editor) cleanup.  Chapter whatsit will be gone, replaced with a stout coupling between the cars that were before and after it.   What was carried IN chapter whatsit will be compressed to the plot-relevant-only and put where it will do the most good.   I have (out of my agent’s hearing, more or less) pledged to myself to remember I’m not writing the epic fantasy equivalent of The Eustace Diamonds, in which vast amounts of wordage are expended on details of manner, dress, architecture, internal workings of this or that bar, this or that court, etc., all fascinating  to some readers (I’m one of them) , but in terms of my genre of fiction, could easily be handled in a novella.  The widow is a dishonest cheat who is illegally hanging on to her late husband’s family jewels, which jewels are part of the estate and thus entailed, she’s lied about everything.  In fact, the widow in The Eustace Diamonds has done what Trump has done with the classified documents…in her case using some unwitnessed comments of her late husband the way Trump has used the “Clinton Socks Case” (IOW, the reader is led to believe that the late husband did NOT tell her they were hers to do with as she pleased but lied about her justification, just as Trump has lied about the Presidential Records Act and the “Clinton Socks Case.”  At any rate, the train of Horngard needs to stay on the main track and plow ahead through snow and flood and dubious bridges and all that.   No detours.  No stops to admire the view, or the wildflowers, or wander off to discover the weirdities in Guild League regulations compared to the Code of Gird.  That’s what side stories and data on the site are for.  CHARGE!

Comments (8)

Jul 11

ANOTHER Another Story (unfinished)

Posted: under Editing, Story, the writing life.
Tags:  July 11th, 2023

The brain, though still not ready to get back into classical Greek or pick up the calculus text, seems to have made another connection.  Or else, it’s the lack of dire mess in my office (though I thrive in having *some* mess, esp multi-colored mess, around me when I work.  Plus complicated music.)

Last night I considered doing some more work on the bedroom’s “organization” (lack thereof)  and the brain said “I’m WriterBrain now, not OrganizerBrain.  Let me remind you that you have several unfinished stories.”   So I said “Did you have one in mind?” because, again from experience, starting the *wrong* unfinished story sends WriterBrain into a frenzy of infodump.  Best to let the lake settle and take whatever the hand offers (some of you will recognize that reference in an instance.  Not mine.)  What WriterBrain offered up was the unfinished story of Aesil M’dierra.  I started that some years back, pulled it out again when working on Horngard I,  and got kind of stuck.   Last night, looked at again, and messed with, I saw what was wrong.  In a very dark mood I had written a very dark section of it very VERY vividly and it was dominating the rest in a bad way.   But by the time of the Horngard book, it was decades in her past.  In fact, she’s five years past it by the conclusion of this story, which means, to write it at that depth and intensity, this would have to be at least a novella and possibly part of a novel.  Sorry, Aesil, I don’t want you stuck in my head for a whole year.  I like you; I liked you when I first made you up, but not enough to live with you in the intimacy that giving you protagonist space and time would require.

Yes, I talk to my characters and they talk back.  She’s not actually that interested in re-examining her life that much.  Unlike the ones who march in demanding their book (or trilogy) her focus has always been somewhere behind my left year and behind me, when she’s standing in front of me.  She’s *there*, and vivid, sharp as crystal shards, but she’s never invited me all the way in, and…here we are.  However, in this instance, once I discarded the first half of what I had (leaving home, being thrown in jail, the vivid description of Valdaire’s jail and how (as in many European jails in the middle ages and even up to the 18th c.) if you didn’t have a way to buy your own food, you got very little if any from the jailers…the rescue from that, her arrival in Margay.)  Sudenly the story came alive again and Aesil was ready to show me how she got OUT of Margay.

Readers who have read “Mercenary’s Honor” either in Operation Arcana or in my collection Deeds of Honor will understand some of the backstory of enmity between Ilanz Balentos and the rulers of Vonja.  Other connections barely mentioned in other Paksworld fiction show up again, in the story I’m writing this week (and for however long it takes.  Who can know? Not me.)  You’ll know, sort of, where Margay is (between Vonja and Sorellin on the branch of the Guild League Road that connects the main one to Sorellin and goes east to the coast just south of the Eastbight…the Guild League standard design of it, though, doesn’t go much beyond Sorellin.   Aesil is so full of agency today (both today in my week and today in her world) that she interrupted senior commanders.  Her mind’s racing full speed trying to figure out how to rescue everyone she knows.  She can’t, of course, but it’s better than giving up.

 

 

Comments (7)