Tag Archives: Writing

Writing Combat: Introduction

In my recently published book, Renaissance Calling, I have no less than ten fights. These range from one-on-one fisticuffs to small battles. Fighting of one sort or another is prominent in most of the stories I’m working on, so I’ve got some experience in planning and writing fighting and combat scenes.

I’ve been meaning to write an article on this for some time, but there’s so many thoughts and concepts floating around that it’s been hard to organize, so I’m switching playbooks.

Instead of one long article, I’m going to write several, with no expected number planned. I might write about something I’m currently working on, or something I’ve done. One post will be about planning battles from the eyes of the generals, another about what a character might be feeling during combat.

The idea is, instead of trying to shove everything into one article, to focus on one idea per post, and really get into it, allowing each idea to be entertained in depth.

Why Combat? – Because I know it

For a first article, I figured I would discuss the obvious first question: why so much fighting?

I’m a military historian by education, growing up with access to my dad’s Civil War books. I grew from looking at pictures to reading the stories, evolving into an interest in both personal accounts and primary sources on one hand, and the overall philosophy and culture of war on the other.

And of course, I consume a significant amount of fictional media on the subject. Books, movies and video games are plentiful, though I can find as much fault with a lot of them (both in terms of combat and in terms of story-telling) as I can enjoy them. Roleplaying games are also heavily combat oriented, which means on game night, we’re probably going to fight.

So for better or worse, fighting is something that features in almost all of my stories.

Also – Excitement

As a last minute addition to this article, I wanted to say one more thing about writing combat. As I’m working on book two, I’ve had to contend with worrying about keeping the book exciting. Yes, not all drama in a book has to come from battle, but it helps to have the option, if only to vary the source of the drama.

Being in a situation where fighting can happen for various reasons (as I had in Renaissance Calling) allowed me to use combat to control the excitement. A bandit here, a betrayal there, I could count on fighting to give me control over the story. In most of my planned projects this is possible, though I do not want to make it the soul source of excitement.

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Anyway, I know this is a short article, but I didn’t want to make it long just for the sake of making it long. This is only an introduction, after all.

 

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

Launch Party and May Check In

This last Saturday I had the launch party for Renaissance Calling.  It was not a huge shindig, with about thirty guests in attendance. There was food and drink, and good times. I gave a short speech about how I came up with the story (that I’m hoping to get online at some point), and read from the book. I sold a few more copies. It was a good time.

My display

Speaking in public is something I’ve had to work on. I’m part of a writing group that involves reading out loud, which has given me quite a bit of confidence in both what I write and what I sound like. The videos I recorded for the Kickstarter campaign were also helpful. But I thought it went well. I want to keep practicing, but I didn’t panic in front of the crowd.

Into the future

As of this posting, Renaissance Calling has four 5-star reviews on Amazon, and everyone I’ve spoken to has enjoyed the book. Work on Book 2 is already underway, as are several other writing projects.

Later on this month I’ll have a booth at Manti-Con, a sci-fi convention in Bloomington. It will be my first completely public outing as an author. I’m excited, and a bit nervous. If you know anything about having a booth at a similar event, please let me know.

And if you haven’t gotten Renaissance Calling yet, head on over to Amazon. It’s worth your read.

Closing up 2016 and into 2017

Hard to believe the year is almost over, and a new one about to christmas-iconbeing. As I’m closing up 2016, and looking forward into 2017, I take a moment to consider both.

From 2016

In terms of writing, I didn’t get a whole lot done.  Sure, I finished the rough draft of a fantasy novel, which is great, I’m glad to have another one under my belt, but I did little other writing.

I spent most of this year working towards publishing;  I went through a number of artists trying to get artwork done;  I worked with an editor to get Renaissance Calling finalized.

I spent a lot of time getting a plan in place for when the project is done and Renaissance Calling gets published.  Learning the who to go to for what seemed daunting, but you cut through enough advertising you can find what you’re looking for.

I ran a successful Kickstarter campaign.  That was a bit nerve wracking, but I got it done.

I commissioned and artist for cover artwork.  A few rounds of back and forth later, I’ve got a cover (which I will be releasing soon).

And now I’m close to being done with my first book.

For 2017

I have a number of goals for 2017.

For starters, I plan to finish the publishing process and get Renaissance Calling to print.

Second, I plan to finish the rough draft for Templar Scholar, Book 2 of the Renaissance Army Series.  A decent start is already underway, awaiting the arrival of characters created by the backers.

Third, I want to finish the rough draft of the fantasy trilogy.  Book one is done, and the other two are outlined.  I want to get the three books done so I can make sure all three line up before I get the first one ready for publication.

I don’t want to set too many goals for 2017, but I want to stay focused.  Ideally, I’ll publish two books in 2018.  Now, I know that’s a large amount of work (now more than ever) but I think I can do it.  I’m already writing more efficiently: now that I know how much changes between rough and final drafts, I’m not so focused on getting the rough draft ‘just right’.

So as I close up 2016 and look into 2017, I want to thank you for reading this and supporting me, and I hope you have a great new years.

Keep on writing!

-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.

Looking into 2016

2016 PictureAs 2016 begins, I look ahead and ask myself, as a writer and author, what do I expect to do?  What do I want to do?  I’ve wanted to publish for years and I constantly trip over myself.  I’ve got projects I revisit from time to time.  Lots of things I could do, I want to do, I should do.

So, realistically, what am I planning for 2016?

I’m planning to publish my first book.  

I’m so close, only if I give up completely will I fail to do so.  The third draft is a few chapters off from being done.  I had an editor lined up (and some options if it fell through), a company to help with publishing and promotion.  I’m researching Crowdfunding and Social Media.  And I’m staying focused.

I’m looking forward to holding a book in my hand and seeing my name on the cover.

I’m planning to finish writing a second book.

If I want to make a career as an author, I need to be able to write them faster than I have been.  Luckily I’ve learned a lot about myself as a writer, and I believe I can finish as least one more before next New Years.

The book I’m hoping to publish is the first half of a book I cut in half; so with so much work done on the second half, I write the second book pretty quickly.  I also have a fantasy book I’ve been working on that I might be able to finish.

Maybe I’ll finish a third book as well?

I’m planning on reducing the projects I’m working on.

A few weeks ago I counted myself as having 17 Projects in some stage or another.  Some of them were ‘hey, this could be a fun idea and I should think about it’, some of them were already underway.  This year I’ll figure out which ones I will focus on, and which ones I will put into storage.

Where do I want to be when 2017 starts?

I want to be a published author with at least one more book lined up and moving towards publication.

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!

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!

Writing a Prologue

I used to think that every book needed a prologue, basically a chapter which introduces the reader to the story.  I’m not sure why, just one of those things you never really question until it’s challenged.

I was sent this article by a friend of mine.  A lot of these I’d heard before, but the ‘Avoid Prologues’ one stuck with me.  I always started a project with a prologue; it was what I thought I was supposed to do.

This resulted in a number of conversations with friends and family, and I realized that a prologue, like any writing convention, isn’t always useful.  Most of my prologues were really just first chapters, with nothing but a POV shift into the book.

A prologue sets up the story, but is separated from the core of the book, either by time or distance.  The point can be world building, establishing the conflicts and challenges for the character, or just an awesome hook, but if it rolls directly into the meat of the book, it’s probably just a first chapter.

(On Basilisk Station is a good example: the prologue is a ground of politicians who appear only in the prologue, and make a decision that impacts the main character for the rest of the book.  )

Most of my books don’t have prologues anymore, they’ve all been renamed to Chapter 1.  It’s become something of a challenge with a project, to consider any prologues I might write for it that could be separated enough to work.  Most of the time, nothing comes of it.  Which is okay.  If anything, it’s a fun exercise in creative thinking.

Any examples of a nice prologue, let me know, and as always, keep on writing!

-Michael