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Nov. 11th, 2011

11-11-11

Originally published at Echoes of Madness. You can comment here or there.

In honor of this auspicious day, I'm creating all the documentation I can with today's date. This blog being no exception.

To add actual content to this abuse, here's my eleven-word story posted on Twitter using the #11Words hashtag:

He needed two shots to end his life. Whisky, then lead.

Are you on Twitter? Let me know so I can follow your 140-word diatribes too. :) My Twitter handle is @SA_Etter.

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Sep. 8th, 2011

Blog Changes

Given the sporadic and uneven way I've been using this blog, I've decided to reboot it.

I started the blog more as a place to share personal writing progress, network with fellow writers, and talk shop. As time went on, I started feeling like the blog should be more, I don't know, meaningful. Like every post should be an essay of note.

But there are tons of writing blogs out there with better platforms, and with more frequency. So, I've decided to stop my half-assed attempt to write essays and just go back to posting what's on my mind and being informal. There may come a day where I chose a platform to promote, whether it's a personal position, theoretical novels, or what have you, but until then, this (quiet) blog is going back to its roots.

To reflect this reboot, I've retitled my blog Note to Self: I should be writing.

Because, well, I should be writing. ;)
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Aug. 4th, 2011

Awesome Idea in Publishing

Tobias Bucknell has assembled what I'd term the Justice League of SF Writers over at SFNovelists.com. In browsing around, I discovered a masterful marketing plan: twenty-five of their members have offered up their first chapters in a single free e-book. That's twenty-five free samples of books you may or may not have discovered. I see many familiar names, like Jim Hines, Carol Berg, and C.E. Murphy, but also some new names too.

Head over here to download your copy and see what new talent you can discover. I am.

Originally published at Echoes of Madness. You can comment here or there.

Jul. 27th, 2011

Genre Mash-up

Ok, I confess. This post is about a movie that I absolute love, warts and all. It’s uneven at times, and has elements that stretch credibility, and gives characters sudden abilities not previously established or even hinted. For all of that, Brotherhood of the Wolf is a story that I wish I had written. It’s the ultimate mash-up of genres.

For those of you who’ve never seen it, the movie tells the story of the Beast of Gévaudan --an actual historical event in France during the 1760’s-- and adds a sudo-magical and conspiracy backdrop that I find fascinating. If the fantasy/horror thriller aspect wasn’t enough, the director threw in martial arts as well, in the form of an American Indian returning with a Frenchman from the wars in New France. The result is a complete mash-up of genres that feels so right together, it should almost be its own genre.

So, What Have I Learned?

So after all of that gushing about how I wish I had written this, what’s my response? To write my own genre mash-up, of course. Once I get albatross off my neck (i.e. my epic fantasy), I’ll start writing the first novel in my The Condotierre series. Hopefully, my historical-fantasy-spy-thriller stories will capture a different sort of lightning in a bottle.

If nothing else, I’m having fun researching and dreaming up the “real” story behind the historical events of the 15th Century.

This weekend, another genre mash-up is opening in theaters around the country. Cowboys & Aliens looks like a lot of fun. Let’s hope it’s as good as the trailers tease. Because trailers never lie, right?

What's your favorite genre mash-up out there?

Originally published at Echoes of Madness. You can comment here or there.

Jun. 20th, 2011

Journey Versus Destination

Some books I read for the story, or to put it differenty, for the destination. Others I read for the rich characters and the interpersonal drama. Once in a while, I find a book where I simply enjoy the prose, so the journey of reading becomes the highlight. Patrick Rothfuss' novels are perfect examples of the later, so much so that his blog is nearly as enjoyable as his books.

I'm going to avoid spoilers, so if you haven't read his books, you don't need to turn away. But I've just finished his second novel, Wise Man's Fear, so the whole notion of enjoying a book for the journey more than the destination is pretty strong in my head.

For those of you who haven't read WMF or Name of the Wind, I highly recommend them. Rothfuss' prose is effortless*, smooth, and above all else witty in a way that makes me shake my fist at the heavens from envy. He's that good.

Essentially, the novels are the grown hero recounting his younger days to a historian, to tell his own story without the flourish of the myths that have grown up around him. This isn't to say that he doesn’t embellish his own accomplishments or that he is a completely reliable narrator, but that's the fun of the tale. The telling.

My one criticism of the novels is that the destination isn't nearly as satisfying as the journey. We spend so much time going day by day with the younger hero that the story arch for each book is not nearly as compelling. In the case of the first novel, the ending feels tacked on after the fact and not in synch with the rest of the book. The story arch is better constructed for the second book, but even that took too long to get started and at the end didn’t resolve enough of the series' meta storyline as I would expect for book two.

And yet, I still recommend them because the books are so much fun to read, and the story of the struggling young man has a breath of honesty in it. We see his flaws and strengths, so Kvothe feels like a real person, not a cut-out hero.

Do any of you have favorite books where the journey is more enjoyable than the destination?


*I use the term "effortless" to describe the effect when reading his prose. From reading his blog, I know how hard he has worked to write, polish, and re-write his novels. His "effortless" prose took a great amount of effort and I thank him for it.

Originally published at Echoes of Madness. You can comment here or there.

May. 18th, 2011

Plan Your Big Mystery

Back in 2001, I tuned in on the first episode of Alias by accident. At the time, I didn’t really watch any television on a regular basis. But for some reason, I had the TV on that Sunday night and was introduced to student/spy Sidney Bristow and the mystery around the Renaissance scientist/prophet named Riambaldi. I was hooked.

By 2004, I was a devoted JJ Abrams fan, and so tuned in for the first episode of Lost just because he was involved. I was immediately sucked in by the characters and the mystery of the Island.

I came to Battlestar Galactica late, but quickly became engrossed in the compelling characters and the questions behind the Cylons, “Head Six,” and eventually the Final Five.

All three of these shows had solid characterizations to support the framework behind their Big Mysteries. How and why their characters succeeded is a different post. What these shows also had in common was the writers introduced Big Mysteries without having a clue they would be resolved.

Consequently, the shows progressed for some time before the writers settled down to determine the answers to their questions, introducing conflicting details and inconsistencies in the process. The head writers for Lost confessed that they had no idea what the island was during the whole first season. That’s a lot of random questions without any connecting tissue. By the last season, BSG was forced to do some revisionist work to make the eventual solution come into line with what was established. (Sorry, “Cylon,” but that’s not your baby.) Alias let the Big Mystery piddle along and lose momentum until the final resolution was rushed and underwhelming.

All three of these shows had strong followings and equally strong negative reactions to finales, partly because of the answers didn’t seem to fit the questions, or at least the perceived questions.

On the one hand, this was a product of the medium. Showrunners never know how long a show will last, and usually are more concerned with show longevity than how it will end. In Alias’ case, they got canceled and had to rush to get everything resolved by the finale. Lost and BSG at least had a few years with a set end date.

For those of us writing books, it’s a different scenario. We don’t sell a book based on chapter 1, or even chapters 1-10. We sell the entire book, so even if the ending isn’t "discovered" until after the first draft, we can still revise to make the mystery and the solution feel organic. However, when planning a multi-book series, these shows are good examples to study and learn from.

I once read that Robert Jordan knew the last scene of his Wheel of Time before he started the first book. This is a wise strategy to take.

Whether writing a single book or a multi-volume series, please know the compelling solution to your Big Mystery. And preferably, the scene in which it will be revealed.

Originally published at Echoes of Madness. You can comment here or there.

Apr. 26th, 2011

Things I’ve Learned in Storytelling

One thing I tend to avoid on this blog (besides actually posting regularly…) is critical reviews of books or TV shows/movies. I tend to avoid rocking the boat that I hope to someday ride. I’d hate to give an author a pass based on a story that I feel failed in some way only to have that author be given my theoretical book in the future to review. Caution has made me keep my thoughts to myself.

However, I do spend a lot of time thinking about storytelling, and why some stories succeed or fail. The reasons often vary depending on the medium, but there are still some rules that extend across all delivery methods. Books require a different pace than TV, which requires a different pace than movies, but all rely on character and structure.

My goal in these “Things I’ve Learned” essays would be focused on just that. It can be a positive of what I could emulate or a negative in analyzing what could’ve been done better. Or a combination of the two, which is where most things lie. The intent would not be to offer recommendations, though I guess that would be apparent anyway.

If I started a weekly series about these observations, would you be interested? I know that my long bouts of silence here has let most of my readers drift away, but I’d like to change my blogging habits. Seeing that my writing updates are few and far between (as are my novel writing sessions these days), I’m trying to find a niche that might be interesting to someone other than me. :)

Mar. 3rd, 2011

Breaking the Blog Silence

Hi all. Yes, I’m still alive and kicking. I’m now an official Floridian and the new job is going well.

So, what prompts me to click “post an entry” after all this time?

Well, Dance of Dragons is finally coming out this summer. Really. It seems GRRM mistakenly said “six months” during his last author tour, when he meant “six years.” Don’t get me wrong. I’m thrilled that the book is coming out and that this means the series is moving along with some of my favorite characters taking the stage again (after 10 years), but I’m finding that I’m more jaded than excited.

My first thought as a reader was, “Great! Dance is coming out! Should I read it this summer or in a couple years so there’s a shorter gap until Wolves of Winter comes out?”
Yeah, I’m both excited and indifferent it seems.

I really didn’t mean for this to be the reason to return to the blog. Last week, I started drafting a series of topics I wanted to write about, hoping to start to be a regular poster again. The topics are related to my reaction to Dance’s upcoming release since they cover reader preferences for book series and how we as writers should plan for that.

Dec. 10th, 2010

Pushy Characters

While I can usually keep my characters under control, occasionally I do have one or two who initially are only supposed to appear once, but instead keep walking back on stage like they belong. In the first incarnation of Echoes, I had one who tried to bend the entire story around him. When I rebooted the manuscript years ago and started over, he was tossed out. Too demanding.

With this incarnation, I have two characters who continue to nudge their way into the action. One is Nashlin, who I let take the spot light. She’s a spunky kid who is hopefully as fun to read as she is to write. Her tendency to jump first and think later gets her into all sorts of trouble. And sometimes it’s challenging to get her out.

The other is Aonghas. His first appearance was late in the book. I just needed someone to meet Connor on the road and get him to safety. A few chapters later, he decided to go on patrol and see for himself what was causing all the chaos in the countryside. Then he decided to show up at the end, and has now pushed himself into a position that guarantees him an appearance in the sequel. Sneaky.

In the process of revising the beginning of the novel, I decided to introduce Nashlin earlier, to fit her increased overall role and presence. Guess who decided to join her? Yep, Aonghas.

Now I need to find him a better name… Aonghas was just one I slapped on him because I thought he was a one off character.

I wonder how many other authors have pushy characters like this.

Originally published at Echoes of Madness. You can comment here or there.

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Nov. 12th, 2010

Back to the Drawing Board (Sort of)

Yes, I know I stated a few months ago that writing on the long gestating The Condottiere was commencing. But the thing is, in the back of my head, I felt that Echoes of Truth was not quite ready to be in the query circuit. It wasn’t quite there. Feedback from beta readers and even my query pitch paragraphs were hitting on the same problem.

Part one of Echoes set up a false promise to readers.

Some time ago, I blogged about staying faithful to the unspoken contract writers form with their readers at the beginning of a book. The story promise that hooks the reader in chapter one should pay off by the time the words The End appear on the last page. I worked hard to make sure the climax of the book matched that promise, and I think it does.

However, I hadn’t realized I made two promises, one intentional and one unintentional.

By giving a minor character more screen time, I elevated her personal journey from a background player who will have a larger role in future books to a main character. Unfortunately, she disappears at the end of Part One. This book is mostly about Connor, so the story follows him, not her. Nearly unanimously, my betas asked "What happened to Dorian?"

Now I’m back at the beginning of chapter one, kind of starting over. No! Not the whole thing. I’m just downplaying the focus on her, juggling scenes to better play to Connor’s personal journey, and also introducing a main character who is actually important to this book much sooner (chapter 3 instead of 22). I’ve completely re-outlined the beginning (now 10) chapters. Most of them are being written from scratch, but I’m able to keep a lot of the existing description.

A side benefit of reshuffling Part One is losing about 15k words from the overall manuscript. Two issues solved with one hard crank on the revision wrench.

So, I’m hip deep in revising Echoes again. The Condottiere is still tapping me on my shoulder, though, and I’ll be jumping back into 15th century Italy again soon.

In the year 1472, the mercenary armies of Federico Montefeltro lay siege to the Tuscan city of Volterra. One of his condottieri, one of his captains, is about to find something inside that could topple the fragile balance of power across all of Italy and beyond. Something not meant to be found...

Originally published at Echoes of Madness. You can comment here or there.

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