Tag Archives: creative

Choosing Projects

I want to take a moment and write about the projects I’m working on. Specifically, about how I decide what projects to focus on and which ones to put on hold.

In preparation for this article, I sat down and worked out every project that I’ve done some work on. This does not include passing ideas that I’ve thought about, only things where I have put something on paper or saved to the cloud. The question was ‘How many books am I trying to write?’

I came up with 29 distinct projects, some organized into larger fictional worlds, while others are standalone books. And while I was coming up with this list, I found that I might be able to condense a number of the fantasy and science fiction projects into fewer projects. But for the purposes of this article, I’m going to continue with the original 29 projects.

12 of those projects I hadn’t done enough work to figure out how many books they might turn into, and two of them are strings of short stories that would probably just be anthologized. So, of the remaining 15 projects, how many books are planned?

38 books.

That’s quite a lot. That’s more books than years I’ve lived. So I better get writing.

Seriously, though, looking at this list of projects, I’m already sure a lot of them aren’t going to get written. Not because I don’t want to write them, but because I probably just don’t have the time. It’s one of the reasons I try to set a lot of my fantasy and science fiction stories in the same universe; so I can re-use the same geography, politics and mythologies in different stories.

Just for fun, the numbers of projects by genre:

  • Speculative fiction (3 projects)
  • Fantasy (10 projects))
  • Science fiction (9 projects)
  • Historical Fiction (5 projects)
  • Other (2 projects)

Main Focus

My main focus right now is on the Renaissance Army series, which counts for three of the projects and ten books (seven main-line books, two short-story anthologies and a prequel). Even then, it wouldn’t surprise me if I find other stories to tell in the world. In fact, I’m almost certain I do, I just haven’t gotten to them yet.

My goal with the seven main-line books is to publish one a year. Now that I’ve got Renaissance Calling under my belt, I feel pretty confident I can get those seven books out. I don’t know that it’ll be one a year, but I mean to give it a go. I’ve been paying attention to my process, figuring out how I can outline better, paying attention to what trips me up or disrupts my process. Basically becoming more proficient.

The Great Fantasy Series

My secondary focus is what I’m calling the Orc-kin series, a set of seven trilogies that follow half-orc characters through the centuries of a fantasy world. I’ve written the first book, and I’m writing the second, with others being aggressively outlined as I go. At the very least I’d like to publish the first trilogy. I might not go so far as to publish all seven trilogies, but outline them all and then only publish the best ones. I don’t know yet.

Write me! Write me!

How do I decide what else to do?

That is the question, ultimately, of this post. I have so many ideas, things I honestly believe are good stories. How do I decide which ones to write?

When I look at the other projects, I imagine all the work I need to do to bring them to fruition, and it can get a little daunting. Though depending on the genre, maybe for different reasons.

With the Fantasy projects, I can get all but one of the projects into the same world, but one of them is going to be stand alone. That certainly makes world-building easier. It’s more likely I’ll publish a fantasy story next.

Science Fiction can be difficult because so much of the science fiction I’ve been reading has been particularly heavy on the science (see David Weber’s Honorverse or Andy Weir’s The Martian). I imagine my own science fiction will have less math in it, and more fiction. Although I have been using the Kerbal Space Program to learn orbital mechanics.

Historical Fiction is one area I know I want to write more on. But it requires so much research to feel comfortable writing a historical book. I know I want to try to get one out, but there’s a lot of research to be done.

You didn’t answer the question: how do I decide what to do?

Oh, you noticed that, did you?

The fact is, I’m not sure which project (other than the Renaissance Army series) I will focus on next. Yes, I’m one book into the first fantasy trilogy, but I want to write the whole thing out before I revise, so I’m two books away from advancing that series. I have a lot of resources for the historical fiction books, but I haven’t gone through them and organized them. And I keep getting worried about the science in my science fiction stories.

So, the answer is, honestly, whatever I end up working on. Other than the Renaissance Army series, I end up jumping from project to project pretty quickly, working when inspiration strikes me. For all I know, I’ll have a burst of insight and speed write a science fiction book for NANOWRIMO. We’ll see.

In the mean time, I’m making progress on Book 2.

Thanks for reading!

-Michael

A Writing Vacation

As a vacation this year, I spent a week at a cabin in the woods.

No, this was not some Unabomber shack with a hamster-wheel for generating electricity.  It was a nice cabin in the north woods of Wisconsin, complete with running water, electricity, and better cell reception than my apartment just outside of Saint Paul (thank you, Verizon).  It is the family cabin of a man who has been my friend since kindergarten, and they were kind enough to let me use it.

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Now, it may not be as exciting as traveling Civil War Battlefields or foreign countries, but it was just what I needed.  Time to read, write, and just reset.

FOOD

I was excited to grill out.  I’ve never done it by myself, having lived in apartments for all of my adult life.  I grilled out the first three nights, trying corn (did not turn out well), brats, salmon, chicken, and pork chops.   I even mixed vegetables, coated in oil and season, wrapped in aluminum foil, and grilled those.  Turned out pretty decent.

Non-grilling was mostly sandwiches, eggs for breakfast, toast with jam or various fruits for snacks.

Meal soundtracks provided by ‘Welcome to Night Vale.’

READING

I was halfway through Mockingjay when I got there, finished it by day two.  Lovely reading on a porch, though some areas better than others depending on the location of the sun.

Go through two graphic novels: The Dark Knights Returns, which I’d realized I had read before when I was much younger, and the White Donkey, a serious story about a Marine who goes to Iraq and back.  Both were good reads.

I also read through Atlas Shrugged for the second time.  No, I’m not a philosophical follower of Ayn Rand, but I think she is a terrific writer, and I wanted to see if I could understand a few things that did not make as much sense the first time.  And, truth be told, I did understand a bit more.  But not greatly.  I still spent some time researching specific questions afterwards.  Also, still couldn’t make it through the 75 page speech.

DRAWING

The reason I don’t draw much at home is lack of a drawing space, which is why I’m making a concerted effort to keep my dining room table clear.

I brought up a couple of drawing books I own (including one that thinks Delta Force uses giant swords).  Did a couple of practice drawings that turned out better than I thought they would, but by no means am I going to start hiring out my skills.  But I did get some drawings done, and that counts for something.

Need to work on faces.  And arms.  And….yeah.

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WRITING

This was the main reason I went out there.

I wanted to finish a second book.  Not the sequel to the book I’m trying to publish, but the first in a fantasy trilogy.  I was about a third of the way through with it, but I hadn’t taken the time to sit down and get it done.  This was my chance.

I spent some time outlining, readjusting this or that, trying to get through three or four chapters a day.  I wasn’t sure I could actually finish it, but I thought I could come within striking distance.  The only annoyance was that I was using a laptop keyboard, and I’m use to ergonomics for most of my typing.

Tuesday night was the big change.  It was the only night where I had problems sleeping because of heat and humidity, so I spent the night writing.  I think I finished six chapters before I crawled into bed at three in the morning.

Wednesday I managed to slam home the rest of the book, even with a forced break when my laptop overheated.  Typed so much my hand cramped up for a few days.  But I got it finished. 50,000 word rough draft, but it counts.

THURSDAY

Yes, this day gets its own entry, because it was a very informative day.

When I was preparing for the week, my friend mentioned the cabin had a TV and Blu-ray player.  Now, I’m a technophile, but I was looking forward to getting away from the videos games and computers and distractions, which is why I spent a week in the woods instead of sitting on my couch playing video games.

Anyway, with the book wrapped up, I decided to watch something.  I had brought my Blu-ray collection of HBO’s Rome, and started watching it.

Immediately I felt like I had gone back into some cocoon.  Watched Wednesday, and continued Thursday.   All Thursday I didn’t read or write, didn’t try drawing, just zoned out.

I’d known for a while how much more I get done when the TV is not on at home, but going from five days of ‘got this done’ and ‘got that done’, to ‘I should do something after this episode’ was like jumping from a sauna into a snow bank, only the end result was less ‘exhilarating’ and more ‘frustrating’.

It made me realize just how toxic my apartment atmosphere is, and not because the building sucks or anything, but because I get too distracted by the giant TV to write, or draw, or clean, or host.  Yes, I enjoy the TV when I’m watching a movie or playing a video game, but I don’t need to turn it on every day, especially not when I’m going to watch something I’ve seen a dozen times before.  It’s been something I’ve been working on since I got back.

AND I’M BACK

I returned with a second book roughly written and a desire to keep moving on my writing career.  And all the work that leads up to that.

When is a project done?

I recently had a bit of a crisis of confidence in regards to my work.  While a large chunk of my 3rd draft is new and in need of extensive revisions, the first thirteen chapters have been written, revised, rewritten and revised again.  They’re pretty solid chapters.  But I still found things to change.

I’ve been working to publish for years, and I’m close enough I can almost taste it.  I would love to be able to finish this and move on to the next project, but I don’t want to wrap this up just for the sake of moving on.  This needs to be a good attempt, not just throwing it at the wall and hoping it sticks.

The question is: how will I know it’s ready?

I expect that every author has this crisis at some point, so I can’t believe I’m unique in this feeling.  But it’s hard to imagine Hemingway sitting at a typewriter and not knowing exactly what he was going to say.   That King or Clancy didn’t just write out a book and say ‘Done, what’s next,’ that they had to revise and consider and research.  I’m so used to the final product I have to remind myself each book starts with a simple idea.

In response to my own question, I don’t believe I will know it’s ready.  I could spend years revising and always find something wrong, something I want to work on, something to defer the next step again.  Maybe that’s why an editor is such an important part of the process, so that an author can take a step back and say ‘this is it.’

But for now, I still have a lot of work to do.

The Antagonist Story line

Villain Pic0001
Everyone has an antagonist

When I wrote the first draft of my book, I decided to include an antagonist’s story line, that is to say, a thread of the book from the perspective of an opponent, and not just people the main character has to deal with in her story.  The two characters never meet, never know each other’s names, or come within a hundred miles of each other.  I included the story line for two reasons.

First, it allowed me to explore more of the world.  The main character is fairly parochial in her view point, and does not travel far from home during the course of the story.  She learns a lot, but she can’t learn everything I want the reader to know.  The antagonist, being removed, well-traveled and experienced, could provide more of the framework the heroes are working against.

Second, his actions during the course of the book allowed me to toss a wrench into the main character’s story line, and to do so logically, without a feel of deus ex interruptus.

This worked for the 1st and 2nd drafts, though I must admit I was never quite happy with the actual wrench being thrown in.  When I started working on the 3rd draft, where I cut the book in half, I put the antagonist’s story line to the side.  I wasn’t sure (and I’m still not) that I would have room for it, and what kind of wrench he would throw into this one.  He would provide more of a world view, which in the long run may decide the issue.

Now that I’m nearing the end of this draft, I’m coming up on the point where I have to decide if I want to use his story line or not.  The first reason, world building, certainly still applies.  And I think the ending could use a wrench-toss to spice it up, make it more interesting for the character to overcome.  On the other hand, I’m not sure how long the book is going to be, and an extra story line could add too much.  And there is the aspect of writing a story where the reader learns alongside the character, reducing the chance of an information overload and surprising the reader along with the character.

I’ve got a tentative deadline of the 31st to finish writing this draft, so less than four weeks to decide if the antagonist stays or not.  Stay tuned!

Forgotten – A very short story

A very short story I wrote during a writing group exercise.  Not my normal type of writing, but it was well received.


‘Hi, honey!  Welcome home.’

What did I forget? I thought.  She’s smiling.  She hasn’t smiled in years.  I’ve forgotten something, and she KNOWS it!

Hi, dear.’ I hung up my jacket, meticulously putting everything back in its place the way she liked it.  It’s not February, so it can’t be Valentine’s Day.  Anniversary?  No, that’s in…shit, when WAS it?

‘Did you have a good day at work?’

A kid’s game.  I forgot to take time off for our kids…wait, we don’t have kids.  What did I forget?

‘Good enough. Yourself?’

‘Oh, I can’t complain.  I did make plans with my parents for dinner.’

I missed an email or text about dinner! I checked my phone.  ‘That’s good,’ I said, not seeing anything I hadn’t seen before.

‘It should be fun,’ she said.

I finally stopped and shrugged.  ‘Okay, I give up.  I know I forgot something.  Was it milk?  Dry cleaning?  Did I send flowers to the wrong somebody?  What did I forget?’

‘Well,’ she said, ‘you forgot that we got divorced.’

Planning an argument

The current section of my primary project is an argument between several characters.  This section brings two challenges for me.

First, keeping the antagonist as a challenger.  It always bugs me when the author gives the antagonists the worst arguments.  Like any conflict I’ve written, it has to be  a real threat.  The other side HAS to try to win, otherwise it’s just a poor read.  As I’ve been planning, I’ve paid attention to both sides to keep it an argument.

Second is the strength of the arguments.  The topic is ‘When is it okay to rebel against tyranny’.  Now I have plenty of thoughts on this topic, but I don’t consider myself an expert on it.  And neither are most of the debaters, which makes their interactions relatively easy to write.  But one of the characters is much smarter than I am.  Planning his section is difficult because I want him to win, but I don’t want him to win because the other guy rolled over.

My answer to both challenges is research.  Not every character will be able to quote philosophers, but experience can be used to make similar points.  And the intelligent character, who probably can quote philosophers, probably should.

Only time will tell if my answer was correct.

Until then, write on!

Five things I want to avoid when writing

A simple list of five things I want to avoid in my stories.

1) The Mary/Gary Sue Protagonist

The character who is always right and always wins.  Every likes her.  No one can defeat her.  She never does anything but always comes out on top.

2) The Cartoon Antagonist

He’s evil because he is.  No depth.  No personality beyond opposing the Protagonist.  You can’t really hate him, because there isn’t enough of him to hate.

3) Consequence Free World

Buildings are destroyed, vehicles crash, banks robbed, people hurt or killed, but in the end everything turns out okay.  Sometimes with music.

4) Static Characters

The character wakes up, goes on an adventure, experiences pain, fear, joy, and victory, and wakes up the next day the same character.

5) Repetitive Challenges

The Antagonist only interacts with the Protagonist in one or two different ways.  No real variation in their stories, and the Protagonist is never really challenged to grow.

Ending a Project

I’ve been researching serialization, the idea of taking a story and cutting it into episodes released in sequence instead of one giant book.  This idea appeals to me, at least for my large project that may be too big to be a first book.  While I haven’t decided on a course of action, the research has gotten me thinking about how my stories should end.

This is a rather new concentration for me, as I can start a story at the drop of a hat, but I have only finished one, and that one is the start of a series.  For only one of my projects, a fantasy trilogy, have I outlined the story from beginning to end, and that one is proceeding at a nice pace.  The rest I haven’t figured out an ending to.

So, I have spent some time thinking about my projects and how they might end.

For many projects, the answer is ‘I don’t know’.  I have an idea or a start, but no real story.  But for a couple of the projects, this exercise has paid great rewards.

For example, take the large book I mentioned earlier.  I have many stories I want to tell in that world, but not all of them revolve around the main character.  So I asked myself ‘What if I limited myself to five or six books centering on her?’  I always had an idea of how I would remover her from the story if I had to, so I made that the ending to her story.

The result on the story is favorable.  By having an end in mind, I can plan out the events and their consequences, and begin building towards the decisions that end her saga.  (Spoiler: she doesn’t die, and will still be a character in other stories set in that world).  The ending also acts as a goal: instead of feeling pressured to write as many stories as I can, I have a finish line I need to get to.  The difference is surprisingly important.

Another example is a Sci-Fi story I recently started.  The main character has been asked to go and stop a war from starting, a task made so difficult by the forces arrayed against him that it would take at least two books, if not more, to tell.  In addition, the goal of stopping a war means that the conditions currently exist for a war to occur, and that the character must keep a war from starting long enough for the situation to change.  As I contemplated the ending, I had to decide how to finish the story, and chose to give the story a Five-year arc.  However many books it’ll take, the character now has a deadline.

The lesson I’ve learned from this?  Knowing how to end your story is as important as how you start it, especially for projects that are expected to run over several books.  It provides a goal, some guidelines for how the story can and should progress.  Something I really need to think about when working on my projects.

Have a nice day, and write on!

Orphan Folder

Nothing sucks more than remembering that you had a great idea, but not remembering the idea.

Several years ago, I started to combat that problem by opening an Orphan file. It’s nothing more complex than a folder where I store flashes of inspiration. A line of dialogue, a scene, the basic concept for a story, it goes in the folder. An outline that I’m slowly working out? Saved.

It’s nice to know that I have all these ideas saved, and I have raided it a few times to get ideas enough to get around Writer’s Block. I doubt I will actually get to use all of them, but I’m okay with being more creative than productive. It means I’ll never run out of things to work on.

Happy writing! 🙂