Category Archives: Red

Red, Part IV — Completion of Draft One and Next Steps

First, an apology for the scarcity of updates recently; my semester was wrapping up, so everything was getting more than a little crazy, but I promise that it will only happen two more times, and not again until mid-December.

Completing project Red taught me a lot about writing.  The first thing was that I can write a substantial piece in a fairly small amount of time.  From start to finish, I spent about two-and-a-half weeks of writing at least a thousand words a day, and the first draft clocks in at almost 22,000 words.  A lot of this was possible because I was able to turn off my internal editor for the sake of making deadline.  In this case, my class demanded a finished draft by a certain date.  It didn’t have to be very polished; that wasn’t the goal.  The goal was to write a novella, and I did that ably.

There were things that happened while I was writing the story that I didn’t expect–I introduced a character I never originally planned on, for one thing–but now it’s done.  This was, in many ways, the hardest part.  Subsequent drafts are going to be focused on revising what exists and making it better.

Having to worry more about finishing a first draft than producing a great story on my first try helped take away a lot of the stress, though I still had to remind myself that it didn’t have to be perfect when I got locked up on one part of the story or another.

So what’s next for project Red?  Right now, I’m just sitting on the manuscript, waiting to hear back from some more alpha-readers.  I got a lot of good feedback from my workshop group already, but more feedback is always good, and I’ve asked several people with different backgrounds to look the story over so that I can make the second draft as good as I can.  I’m also just sitting on the piece because it’s still too fresh; I can’t look at it anymore right now, so I’m focusing on other projects, including two short urban fantasy stories, which have had time to settle in my mind a bit more.  There are deadlines for submissions at various magazines.  The important part, though, is that I’m keeping up with my writing.  When you finish one project, start another one.

The next steps for project Red, once I’ve gotten the aforementioned feedback, are revisions focusing on issues of pacing in the latter portion of the story and overall clarity and narrative structure.  The title also needs work.  “Red” was more of a placeholder than anything when I actually got down to writing the thing.  It worked in my mind when I originally conceived of the story, but the story has changed a lot in the particulars since that time.  The title is something I can work on anytime.  Titles are difficult for me (I generally borrow appropriate song titles), but they’re something I can think on without actually having to think too much about revisions.

Red, Part III – Structure

I realize that it has been far too long since I have posted an update on the status of work on project Red, but in some ways that’s good news.  The time that I could have been using to blog about writing the story, I’ve actually been using to write the damn thing.  As of this writing, I’ve passed the 8000-word mark of the first draft, and still have a long way to go.

I want to take some time to talk about structure in this post, in part because I think its’ quite important to Red.  Structure is one of the elements which I often think about a lot before I start writing a story.  For Red in particular, when ideas for the story began to gel in my head, using a three-act structure leaped to the forefront of my mind as the right decision for the piece.  Since Red is working out to be a novella, I wanted some way to divide it into more manageable chunks besides just having scene-breaks.  The plot, which I don’t want to give away too much of yet, lends itself nicely to being explicitly split up into three acts, I – The Lock, II – The Key, and III – Hodmimir, with each part encompassing one of the three acts, while still having its own small plot-arc.

Why do I think of structure during the planning-phase of my stories?  Largely, it helps me envision how the story as a whole will flow and lets me figure out the pacing of the piece.  Knowing the structure of a story also helps in post-production for figuring out which parts of a story need to be cut, changed, or rearranged.

Returning to Red, I want to say a few more words about using a three-act structure in a large piece like this one.  In a large piece, it can be hard to keep readers focused just on the overarching plot of the piece, especially when a single act enters the territory of novelette in terms of sheer length.  For act one of Red, the rising action, the full plot has not yet been revealed to readers or players, though it is hinted at.  This has the potential to drag if that’s all that’s happening, so it’s important to give the act its own subplots, which can then carry through the work as added enticement for readers to continue to the end.  In the case of act one of Red, this subplot comes in the form of a romantic interest for the main character, Erik.

This romantic interest isn’t just there for filler, though she wasn’t anywhere in the outline and just popped onto the page as I worked through the first act.  In fact, though I hadn’t consciously considered her before she made the page, she looks to help support some of the rising action leading towards the end of the first act and eventually the climax (hur hur hur hur hur, laugh it up, this is an urban fantasy after all).

Now I know that I’ve been throwing around the phrase “three-act structure” a lot without fully explaining it.  Rather than try, after midnight on a Saturday/Sunday, to explain, drawing this post out past its original purpose, I will simply point you to this episode of Writing Excuses for a good working definition of what I’ve been talking about.

Red, Part II – Background

Usually, unless I’m writing strict realism, I need to know some things about the world which my story is going to inhabit before I can begin to write.  I don’t need to know everything about the world–I’ve tried writing pages and pages about a world before, and I’ve not gotten past page one on that project–just what aspects of the world will drive my characters.

When I conceived of the pillar of locks which has become the, er, pillar upon which this project stands, I knew that it contained some immense power which would be much sought after, but I didn’t for the longest time know what that power would be.  This was a major sticking-point for a while, until it came to me that I didn’t have to invent brand new mythology when there already existed perfectly good myths which I could borrow and twist to my own purposes.

I was raised with d’Aulaires’ Norse Gods and Giants, so Norse mythology seeped into my consciousness from an early age.  It was natural, therefore, for aspects of Norse mythology and cosmology to spring to my mind when thinking about where I might borrow from.

From there, it was just a short jump to Yggdrasil, the world tree.  At the foot of the world tree, the Norns spin the threads of all life, weaving the fates of men and gods.  What could be more sought after than control over the fate of all the world?

Warden trees were a physical manifestation of the world-tree belief.

Following my inclination towards Norse mythology also informed the current title of the project, Red, a reference to Lief Erikson’s father, Erik the Red.  That also led my mind down some paths which I have since abandoned, but at this point, the title has stuck in my mind quite firmly (a good title is hard to come by in my experience as a writer), and has in some ways become apt again, though in different ways.

With some firm background in mind, my next step is to work on characters, who are, after all, the driving force behind good stories.

Red, Part I — Intro

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m working on a novella for one of my classes this semester.  Now that it’s April, I have less than a month to finish, and there’s a lot to do.  In the past week, I’ve been scrawling notes wherever I can find space whenever I’ve had half a chance.

As with so many stories, this project began when I thought of a MacGuffin.  The object, in this case, is a key.  For the sake of full disclosure, the first idea popped into my head while I was watching a James Bond movie over my winter break, but the story has nothing at all to do with James Bond.  I promise.

What I thought was, what if there were a big pillar in the middle of a city?  What if this pillar had a number, seven’s a good number, of locks or doors in it?  What if those locks concealed some great power?  What if there were a character who possessed one of the keys?  If such things were true, many people would try to find the remaining keys to access that power.

My next thought was, I could throw in some airships and ornithopters and shit; those things are awesome.  Later, I decided that I couldn’t do that for reasons which will be revealed later, but I stuck with the airships idea for a long while.

For a few months, I sat on these initial ideas, not knowing quite what to do with them, but really wanting to do something awesome.  I thought about a collection of stories.  I thought about just doing one short story.  I thought a lot, but I couldn’t come up with anything I thought I could make amazing.  Then, I found out that I would be writing a novella, and things started to gel.

As things have started coming together in my head, I’ve been asking myself more questions, so that my notes sometimes resemble a conversation which I have with myself.  When brainstorming, I try to think of as many questions as possible which my readers might ask if I were to show them an early draft of a story.  In this way, I try to make my story as tight as possible in its first draft so that subsequent drafts get closer to a finished, publishable piece faster.  These questions are also one of the methods I use to try to combat slacking when I start actually writing the piece; the more questions I answer before “once upon a time,” the fewer places I’ll find that trip me up.

Please watch this space in the weeks leading up to the 26th for more updates on the status of the piece as I flesh out my ideas and begin to write in earnest.

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