Tag Archives: writing process

World Building, or How I Always Seem To Fail at NaNoWriMo.

Like thousands of writers across the country, I participated in this year’s NaNoWriMo, also known as National Novel Writing Month. It’s an event that happens every November where writers dedicate themselves to beginning and finishing an entire novel. The general target is 50,000 words or more.

Also like thousands of writers across the country, I came nowhere near finishing the novel I started.

That’s life. But that doesn’t mean I’m stopping.

I’ve had this particular story in my head for several years now. It originally began as an outlet to write about a few of my roleplaying characters and get back into their heads when I lived two and a half hours from the nearest game. But it evolved into something much bigger as I outlined it, scrapped it, outlined it again, trashed it, completely revisited its story, outlined it again, pushed it to the back burner, dusted it off, changed the characters, and outlined it one more time.

Starting this past November, I picked it up again. The past year has mostly been spent writing and submitting short stories (five of them are still circulating out there, just waiting to be picked up), so I figured it was a good time to work on something a little bit longer.

I finished the outline within the first few days of November. This book, the first part of my fantasy series, was going to be a 33-chapter story, including prologue. Figuring an average of around 2,000 words per chapter, that would put this book at around 66,000 words. Certainly not the longest, but it seemed like a decent target for a first try.

Yeah, I didn’t finish the manuscript. Honestly, I barely even started it.

I started writing the prologue for the story on the first or second day of the month; I can’t remember exactly. I even marked the occasion with a rare Instagram post:

So it begins. #NaNoWriMo #amwriting #prologue #writersofinstagram #fantasywriter

A post shared by Ryan L. Haddock (@wordsbyryan) on

 

That image is no longer accurate, unfortunately. Within a few days of starting the prologue, I had an idea for a completely different start to the book — one that I liked much better than the one I was writing. So I did what I always do: completely scrap it and start over from the beginning.

So typical.

I’m a few pages into Chapter One now, and things are going much better. I adjusted the outline to accommodate the new prologue, and everything kind of fell into place from there. I have more confidence in the story I’m trying to tell. My cast of characters is larger and more diverse, and individual characters are more well-rounded than they were in my previous effort. There is more symmetry to the story, and it feels a little more complete on its own. Though it is the first part in a series, I want it to also be its own self-contained story. It may be asking a lot, but I envision the same thing for every entry in this series. It will continue the story that came before it while still telling one all in its own. Theoretically, a new reader could pick up the second or third book and still enjoy it without feeling like they were missing anything.

Chapter One of this story is mostly spent establishing the protagonist’s “ordinary world” — the daily life he experiences before I absolutely destroy it in Chapter Two and really get the story going. Since the first chapter is mostly setup for the rest of the story, it’s a great opportunity for world-building. This is where I get to weave in all those little details that make the world of this story seem more… real. It’s the background of the movie that’s playing in my head as I write it. No worries, I don’t go crazy with description. I keep it fairly simple. What I see when I’m writing it is probably slightly different than what someone else will see when they’re reading it, and I want to allow for that. It’s why I’ll never describe exactly what characters look like or what clothes they’re wearing unless it is distinct and unique or somehow integral to the plot. Maybe one or two vague adjectives, but that will be it. I love learning how other people interpret things.

As I was writing the other night, an image appeared in my mind. I was describing where the protagonist and his father live, a small hovel outside of a large, walled city, when I began to see shipwrecks. Dozens of shipwrecks. Airships a thousand feet long once crewed by hundreds of men, crashed and partially buried in the sand dunes of the desert outside this great city. The image stayed with me, and it became a part of the story. The first of the crashed ships were remnants of a war that occurred hundreds of years before the main story. Latter additions were castoffs from a more recent war, one referenced in the story itself that took place just a decade before. The empire at the heart of the story began to use that land for an airship graveyard, and even the wall of the city behind it was constructed partially from materials recovered from the shipwrecks, giving it a distinct look that makes it instantly recognizable to seasoned travelers. It also served as a wonderful base of operations for my protagonist and his father, a retired engineer and shipwright who loves to tinker.

It began as me simply describing the terrain. It ended with me creating a small bit of history for this boy and his family, as well as for the country and the world around them.

This is why I love writing so much. I might begin a story, but it often ends up telling itself. I just choose the words.

Carefully.

Probably a bit too carefully.

Which explains why it took me a month to finish a 2,500-word prologue. Oh well. Less time spent on editing, at least.

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Keeping Promises.

In my last blog, I promised that I was working on the second chapter of my online serial, and that it would be up by March 31st.

Yeah, I laughed a little bit as I was writing that. I knew it probably wouldn’t happen. And if you know me at all, you knew it probably wouldn’t happen either.

Oh, believe me, I had every intention of finishing it and publishing it by then. I always do. But then my muse got the better of me, and I was drawn away from it by another story that I began working on a little over a month ago. The good news is: that story is almost finished, and I believe it is one of my best to date. For anyone interested, I will post an email link in this blog once it is finished, and anyone who wishes to read it will be sent a PDF. Be warned though: at over 11,000 words long (so far), it is technically a novella. Not bad for something I originally envisioned as a short, theme-oriented story about taking control of your own life. As tends to happen, I started writing the story, but my characters are the ones who picked it up from there. But you’ll read about that one after it’s finished—which won’t be long now.

As for One Less Hero, I ended up doing exactly what I figured I would do if I sat on it long enough: I decided to rewrite it. I didn’t like the direction the second chapter was headed; it just didn’t have that “special” feel that I enjoyed so much about the first one. It was a straight continuation of the events of the first chapter instead of the standalone format that I originally set out to write for each installment. But that has all changed now. I found the direction it needed to go, and work will recommence on it shortly. I’m not going to lay out a date this time; there’s no sense in making promises that my creative side will not possibly allow me to keep. To paraphrase a wise, if fictional, old man: my work is never late, nor is it early; it arrives precisely when it means to. Just know that once it is published, it will be exactly what I want it to be—not something I rushed to meet a deadline.

I’m also working on a western manuscript I started a little over a year ago. Based in part on the Brother Eli persona I created for the 2011 season of Ruby Falls Haunted Cavern, it’s the story of a bounty hunter trailing a preacher wanted for the very public execution of a mayor in his own town square. An extremely charismatic man, the preacher attracts followers to his own twisted code, warping minds and leaving a trail of bodies in his wake. As always, I love creating complex and thought-provoking villains, and Eli is no different. When I last left off, I was maybe halfway through the story and already at around 9,000 words. I’ll be making some changes to it and editing it down quite a bit, but I still see it possibly going the short novel route.

Add to those my ongoing novel manuscript, plus developing two different fantasy series, and you have a man with a very busy mind. The trick, it seems, is getting my hands to do the work.


Serial.

For several years now, I have had an idea for a comic book rolling around in my mind. This idea combined my love of colorful, interesting villains with a question that has plagued my mind since childhood:

When one hero has an extensive rogues gallery — like, say, Batman or The Flash — why can’t they just put aside their differences for two seconds, team up, and finish him off?

In my comic book idea, that is exactly what happens. [Note: There’s much more to it than that; the team-up and subsequent elimination of the common hero is just the starting point of the story.] Or, well, that’s what would have happened, anyway. You see, there was a problem:

I can’t draw.

I mean, I can doodle. I used to draw superheroes all the time when I was in elementary school, creating entire teams (usually with the “X” prefix due to my obsession with X-Men at the time) that I would stash away in a black three-ring binder. If it still exists somewhere, I would probably be pretty embarrassed by its contents. I’ll still sketch out ideas here and there when I need to, like the time a couple years ago when I scribbled a couple of airship concepts for my fantasy project. But, in general, I can’t draw. Especially not on the scale I would have to for a project like a comic book. So I looked for help.

I wrote a five-page script for the first sequence and passed it on to a couple of different illustrator friends I knew. Neither one really seemed interested. It was nothing personal; they just didn’t really seem that into the idea. After that, I kind of abandoned it. Well, maybe “abandoned” is a bit too dramatic. Like any good geek with his old toys, I put the idea up on a shelf, knowing that I’d probably want to dust it off and play with it again someday.

Today, it would seem, is that day. This morning, I was thinking about that supervillain team again, and I had a small epiphany:

I write short stories.

Okay, that’s not the epiphany. That’s just a fact. But it relates.

I write short stories. So why couldn’t I turn this idea into a short story serial? A comic book in prose? Serial novels were very common in the 19th century, with Charles Dickens being a leader in the movement. With the influx of media like radio, film, and television, the serial novel has fallen by the wayside. However, what is to stop it from coming back? Books like the Harry Potter series, the Hunger Games trilogy and, yes, even Twilight have rekindled a national interest in reading. Perhaps there is room for short story serials out there in the publishing world.

[Note: Please don’t misunderstand me — I know I am far from the first to have this idea. Many modern authors (including Stephen King and Orson Scott Card) have published novels and short stories in serial form in various publications or through the wondrous world of the Internet. But I have never seen a superhero story told this way, and that’s what I aim to do.]

I have begun working on the first chapter in the story, mostly to get it out of my head so I can focus on other things — like the western/horror/fantasy short story I am working on, the fantasy series I am still figuring out, and the novel I have been toiling on for years. Not to mention that whole higher education thing that seems to be taking up so much of my time. Oh, me and my distractions.

Anyway, my vision for these stories is pretty simple. Each one will focus on one member of the supervillain team (or a pair of members, depending on the situation). An overarching story will be told in (for the most part) chronological order, with points of view shifting from story to story. Each chapter will open with a noir-style voiceover from that particular person, and then jump right into the action.

Here is the noir voice-over that opens the first story:

Criminals, no matter how well we plan our crimes, always get caught. It is a fundamental understanding even among us, those whom you might consider the elite of the lowlife community. Some of us evade capture longer than others, but in the end, we all get caught. It’s just the way it works. It begs the question: why turn to crime in the first place?

Easy. Because it’s so damn fun, that’s why.

So, yeah . . . I got caught. But I’d be damned if I was going to let that stop me from having my fun.

After that, the story shifts into third-person narration. I experimented with writing the entire narrative from the criminal’s point of view, but, in the end, I decided that an outside perspective was best for this one. These are beings with superpowers — they aren’t like you and me. Their mystery and danger is better conveyed when you don’t know exactly what they’re thinking for every second of the story. In a sense, I wanted the reader to be right there with the other non-powered people of the story. I wanted to convey both a sense of awe when it comes to these people, as well as a sense of fear. After all, human beings tend to fear what they do not understand … so I couldn’t make my villains completely accessible right from the beginning. The reader will have to earn that. Ha.

This next part follows the opening. This first chapter begins in medias res, my preferred method of starting a story:

The room, like most rooms of its type, is bare. The walls are concrete brick, the table and its two chairs are some kind of dull, brushed metal, and an old-fashioned tape recorder sits on the table’s surface. One door serves as the only entrance and exit, and a two-way mirror takes up the majority of the longest wall. Inside the room, a man sits at the table in handcuffs. By most accounts, he would probably be described as unassuming — maybe even as handsome, depending who you asked. He wears a leather jacket, a plain white shirt, loose-fitting denim jeans — and a smile. His feet, clad in leather boots, are propped up on the table. His appearance is that of a man without a care in the world — not the typical demeanor of someone who finds himself in a room like this. When the door opens and two dark-suited men walk into the room, his smile stays firmly in place. Smiles can be stubborn in that way — particularly when on the right people.

Who knows? If my supervillain team works out, maybe I could even write a serial that stars my superhero character. It seems like he’s been waiting in the wings for ages, and I can think of all sorts of stories for him.

So what do you think? Is this a good idea? A mediocre one? A horrible one? Should I just stick with traveling to exotic places and then writing whimsical blog posts about how strange and foreign their customs seem to me?


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