Fantasy Friday – New Novel Preparation

As I’ve mentioned in a couple previous posts, I’m in the process of starting a new novel. I’ve done considerably more pre-writing than I have in my previous work. To date, I’ve written four novels and started three others. The four complete books are those in The Lore of Efrathah, which is really just one story. The partials were for either a contest or a critique group and I never fully developed the characters or story.

Two of the partials are fantasy and one is contemporary. In none of those have I done as much preparation to write as I am with the one I’m working on now. In many ways I’m curious to see how this turns out — will the story be easier to get down or not?

So here’s what I’ve done so far. After going through (for the second time) two and a half writing books (the third one was getting into some redundancy) that each had writing exercises I could do with my new story in mind, I’ve created a character profile for the protagonist, developed a time line to connect this prequel to The Lore of Efrathah, drawn a map of the city which is the main location of the story, mapped out a subplot, and finally listed out some of the scenes I envision including — the most basic list of “what happens.”

I feel pretty ready to start, so today I tackled that first paragraph. I know by this time that what I put down today will be unrecognizable by the time I’ve written the entire story and revised the necessary times, but still I wanted to head in the right direction. It’s much easier to tell the story the way it should be told, I think, if I can start it in the right place.

Of course, I no sooner finished than I remembered I had considered setting this one in wintertime. Oh, so already I have some revision to make!

But here’s the cool thing. I don’t think I would have considered having this story take place during winter unless I’d done the pre-write work.

One of the key lessons I’ve learned about writing is to push beyond the obvious. So if it’s obvious for the main character to stop at a fast food joint and buy a burger and fries for dinner, then that’s what he should not do. Of course all the actions need to be properly motivated and logical. They just shouldn’t be obvious.

It’s a basic lesson, but I remember when I first started writing, I had some line about water. I don’t remember what it was exactly — maybe how someone leaped across a stream or how it gurgled between the rocks. At any rate, I asked a writer friend how he would say it, and to my dismay he used a completely different set of words. See, I thought then that I should be like everyone else. I should say what others were thinking. You can see, I had a lot to learn! In fact I had to change the way I approached writing.

The next hurdle for me was to be satisfying with suggesting scenes, painting with a light hand so readers had room to imagine rather than producing a detailed replica of what I was envisioning.

Honestly, I can’t begin to tell you how many different lessons I had to learn and how many old habits I had to break. In reality, I’m still learning and probably always will as long as I write. But what’s changed is that now I know a lot of what I need before I start writing.

Last point. Since I’m writing this post as part of the Fantasy Friday series, I should say a word about the fantasy elements in this book. There aren’t a lot yet! I decided to set this story in a period of time when a lot of the “magic” has become dormant. So one of the issues I have to deal with is how much do these people know about the special powers so central to The Lore of Efrathah. Writing a prequel, I’ve decided, isn’t as easy as it sounds! 😉

Published in: on February 10, 2012 at 5:49 pm  Comments (7)  
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I Started A New Book

One possible image of Jim Thompson, protagonist of The Lore Of Efrathah

I’m not reading a new book. I’m writing a new book. This may not be a big deal to lots of writers, but it is to me. I’ve been working on The Lore Of Efrathah, the four book epic fantasy story of Jim Thompson and his journey … well, hopefully some day you’ll get to read it. But suffice it to say, I’ve been working on that story for a very long time.

The book I’m starting now is my “Hobbit” book — the prequel of the four-book epic. I’m pretty excited about it, to be honest. At first I didn’t have a story, just an end point. I also knew I didn’t want it to be a journey quest, since that’s primarily what Lore is. I wanted this one to be different, but similar enough so that readers who like it wouldn’t be disappointed with the four-book epic.

So now I have the rudiments of a story, and I’m in the process of developing characters. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve had to flesh out main characters. Sure, I added minor characters from time to time, especially in Against Blood and Fire, the conclusion of Lore. But this is different. This is the main character and the necessary opponents. Who are these people, I keep asking. What do they want?

It’s slower than I’d like, but more fun, too. Slower because I’m taking a different approach this time. I’m really trying to get the scaffolding up before I start writing. I mean, I want the story structure to be in place. I want to know it’s right, that it works, that I have all the pieces.

Not that I think I’ll map out the story, then sit down and write. I don’t work that way. In John Truby’s book The Anatomy of Story which I’ve been going through, he has twenty-two steps in developing the story framework, one being to list all the scenes you’ll have in your book.

I balked. No way am I ready to list scenes. Even when I knew my characters inside and out and had the end of the series all lined up and in my sights would I have dared to write out a list of scenes. How can I know, when things change so easily?

I tried that in my first book. I carefully outlined the entire thing but as I wrote, the next logical step after I completed one scene was something different from my outline. So I inserted and changed and doubled back and skipped. And decided I’d never do the entire outline ahead of time again.

But I have to know what’s going to happen in the present scene and maybe in the one after that. I can’t write when I’m facing blankness. I don’t know how to start.

I stumbled on a system that works well for me, and later learned that Jim Bell had a name for it in his Plot & Structure book. I use the headlights method. I need to shine the light far enough ahead so I can see where to go, and I need to know what my destination is, but I don’t need to have the entire map laid out in front of me as I head down the road.

I’ve got lots to do still. I don’t have names for my characters yet. They are still Hero, Opponent 1, Opponent 2 and so on. I don’t know the subplots for sure and I don’t know who the allies will be, though I have some rough idea.

The main thing I’m trying to do now is get to know this new protagonist, and not make him a Jim Thompson clone!

Anyway, if any of you think of it, you can pray for me as I venture out into this new story. It’s exciting, as I said, and at times a little daunting. I fluctuate from thinking the plot is too convoluted to thinking it’s too simple and boring. I think I’ll never know the characters well enough, that I won’t be able to make someone with the set of needs and desires Hero has, likable enough for readers to take to him.

So yes, I would appreciate many prayers. Only by God’s grace will I be able to make this story what I would like it to be.

Learning From Agents

This post contains both advice and an announcement. Some while ago a writer friend mentioned a particular agent who blogged. After reading a few posts, I subscribed to his blog because I realized I was getting insider information.

Over time I began to follow a half dozen or more agents, some representing clients only to the general market and some to the Christian. At least one represents to both.

Reading what these agents have to say has been one of the most helpful things I’ve done recently. Writers are always longing to have an industry professional give them some feedback over their writing. The information in these blogs is the next best thing.

Here are the agents whose blogs I read more often than not: Kristin Nelson of the Nelson Literary Agency, Janet Reid and Query Shark of FinePrint Literary Management, Rachelle Gardner of WordServe Literary Agency, Steve Laube and company of the Steve Laube Agency, Jessica Faust and company of BookEnds, LLC; Janet Grant and company of Books and Such.

If you haven’t hung out on agent blogs, I encourage you to pick one or two and give it a try. See if you don’t glean some pointers fairly soon.

From one of those I read, I took a piece of advice recently which brings me to the announcement portion of this post. The advice was for writers to post more than an excerpt of their novel on their web site.

The thinking is that an agent who might be looking at your site and who might read your excerpt needs a context in which to put the writing sample. To have any clear sense if this is something they might be interested in, there are some basic things that would be helpful, like the genre and premise (I’d give you the link to the article, but I’ve forgotten who wrote it! 🙄 ).

I stopped reading right then and came here to A Christian Worldview of Fiction, to the page where I have my novel excerpt — the first chapter of HUNTED, Book One of The Lore of Efrathah, and I immediately updated it to include the things the agent suggested. Please feel free to take a look if you’re interested, then come back here if you’d like to leave a comment (I have comments off for that page).

Finally, don’t forget to vote in the CSFF Top Tour Blogger Award poll.

Published in: on September 27, 2011 at 1:58 pm  Comments (9)  
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A couple interesting blog posts today have me thinking about endings. First Stuart Stockton over at Speculative Faith wrote “Can you find victory in defeat?” an article pondering whether or not a story needs to end with either complete triumph or complete failure. Might there not be some sort of mixed bag for our protagonist?

The second post was by Jonathan Rogers (author of The Charlatan’s Boy, the upcoming CSFF Blog Tour feature) about sad books—favorite sad books, no less.

As I am coming down the home stretch in my own writing, and work to pull things together in The Lore of Efrathah, I can’t help but take these thoughts into consideration.

Do we remember, even treasure, happy-ending books more so than sad, or is the reverse true? Perhaps, as Stuart suggests, we prefer endings that are some combination of mission accomplished and mission doomed. After all, isn’t that closer to real life?

But do we want our art to reflect our culture as is or our dreams of what we hope to become?

Perhaps readers are all different. Or readers on some days want a certain ending and on other days a different kind all together.

So I’m wondering. Is there a perfect ending? And if so, is it one that makes you cry, cringe, laugh, grimace, or hug the book to you and sigh.

Does the perfect end make you want to race to the book store, the library, or an on-line store to find another story by the same author? Or does the perfect end make you want to savor the book, turn to the author bio or the acknowledgments, or even the back cover copy—anything just to keep you in the book for a few moments longer.

Does the perfect ending make you want to hear from the main character again, or are you content to remember him/her as is? Does the perfect end haunt your dreams or suggest alternatives to your mind? Or is the perfect end perfect because it’s exactly how you would bring the story to its conclusion?

Is an ending perfect because it surprises? Or because it fulfills expectations?

Does the perfect end wrap up all the loose ends, or are a few danglers better?

I have LOTS of questions, my friends. Tell me what you think about the ending of books. This inquiring mind wants to know. 😉

Titles – Which Captures Your Attention?

Yep, I’m at it again. This time, nothing to read. No prep. One vote—indicate which, if any, of these titles captures your attention.

Then for those of you who find you have time galore ( 🙄 ), tell me what you think makes a title eye-catching.

Thanks for your input.

Published in: on March 20, 2010 at 11:10 am  Comments (7)  
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Fantasy Friday–I Need Your Help Again

Last fall, I asked for input on a title for the first book of my fantasy quatrain, The Lore of Efrathah. The winning title in the poll was Against Blood and Fire. I’ve had favorable responses to it, though I knew it didn’t apply to this book as much as to the series. Still, I had nothing better.

Today I finished a soft revision of the final book and started thinking about a new title for it. The old one had been Battle for the Throne. Well “battle” is much like “sword” when it comes to fantasy. There’s nothing in that title to set it apart from all the rest.

As I started listing key words and phrases that fit the book, it dawned on me that THIS is Against Blood and Fire. That title fits perfectly!

So yea! 😀 I have my fourth book titled, and it’s a good one, I think. Except … that means book one, the all important first of the quatrain, is again title-less.


Maybe potential back-cover copy will spark some ideas or guide your choices (because I’m going to put up another poll and beg you to give me your feedback again):

Professional basketball did not prepare Jim Thompson for the parallel world he’s fallen into—a land ruptured by rebellion, with enemies targeting him for death and friends trusting him for deliverance, all because he uncovered a sword of uncontrollable power. His one goal is to find the way home, and yet he owes his life to the people who befriended him. Can he take the first step toward home and still help his companions free their land from an evil usurper? Or will Jim’s own weaknesses undermine his efforts and theirs?

You can also read the redone first chapter, if you’d like.

Some of these titles are the same as first time, some are new. Anyway, here are the choices so far. Please vote and feel free to leave your comments and suggestions. I really appreciate your input!

Published in: on February 12, 2010 at 2:39 pm  Comments (10)  
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Fantasy Friday – I Need Your Help

I’ve been thinking about this for some time and today, I made the decision. I need to change the title of my first book. Currently it goes by The Sword of Secrets. I thought that worked, but the thing is, soooooo many fantasies employ “sword” in the title.

I was aware of this but had it confirmed today. Two blogs – Ink & Paper and A Bibliophile’s Bookshelf – are hosting a fan vote for the favorite all time fantasy. Out of 800 nominated books, they compiled a list of 101 to choose from. Of those, 18 contain some form of the word “sword” in the title.

Uh, nearly 20 percent! As I see it, a newbie trying to stand apart from the crowded field of fantasy writers would do well to chose a title that isn’t so much like 20 percent of the books already out there.

So here’s where I can use your help. I’ve come up with a list of titles that I think work with the story. Would you please participate in the following poll to let me know if any of these catch your attention? If none do, please mark the “other” category.

Also, tell your friends to come and vote. These don’t need to be fantasy fans. Just readers. The more feedback, the more help it is. 😀

And thanks for taking time to voice your opinion!

*Note: I just posted the latest version of Chapter I, but I don’t know if that will help with your title choice. Mostly I want to know which title would cause you to look at the book more closely.

Published in: on September 11, 2009 at 9:49 am  Comments (20)  
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Having Something More to Say Continued

Yesterday I said I had two things in mind, then elaborated on only one—the mistaken views of those who claim theme-less fiction glorifies God simply because it is artistic.

The second part of having something more to say deals with content. But let me back up.

When I first started writing full time, I joined the Christian Writer’s Guild. At that time, part of the membership package included a free critique of ten or so pages of a manuscript. Among the many things that critique showed me was how easily I’d slipped into using cliches.

Later I learned that not only words and phrases could be cliches, but so could characters and story premises. In other words, what I needed to develop as a writer was first a resistance to use the first thing that came to mind. I needed to spend a little more time and think—about words and characters and story ideas—so that my choices would move beyond just-what-you’d-expect.

Ultimately, I’ve come to believe the same is true about that something we writers want to say in our stories.

What is my vision of the world? The easy answer is, God is in control. Or Man stands in need of a Savior. But can I think more deeply on either subject or on my vision of the world?

Scripture calls this meditation. And the great thing about meditating on God and His word, besides the fact that He becomes more precious and changes my life inside out, is that He may refuel my what-I-want-to-say tank.

I know I started writing The Lore of Efrathah years ago thinking I wanted to say one particular truth. But as the project morphed from a stand-alone novel to an epic trilogy, then to a quatrain, what I wanted to say also changed or deepened. Undoubtedly redirecting the major theme in the work is a result of the things God has taught me about Himself through these ensuing years.

But I now understand, as I’ve worked on the premise for other stories, that meditating on God bears abundant fruit. The more I know of Him, the more I have to say about Him. And themes that say something more are born.

Published in: on September 10, 2009 at 9:39 am  Comments Off on Having Something More to Say Continued  
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Writing Distractions

First my protagonist was slogging in the swamp, and I along with him. But the two of us no sooner got out of that mess than real life stuff started putting up speed bumps. First it was car problems, then a couple friend favors, health issues, and a series of inconveniences.

One night the electricity went out for all of maybe five seconds—just long enough to set off the answering machine so I woke up (and stayed awake far longer than I wanted to) and to mess up the digital clocks so they needed to be reset the next morning.

Another night it was a bug in the bathroom (I HATE bugs! 😮 ) and more hours of missed sleep.

Then there are the things that aren’t working quite right and will soon need to be replaced. But until then, they are … inconvenient and a distraction.

Last night my Facebook account got hacked. More inconvenience and time wasted as I worked to right things there. Then today I spent another chunk of time changing passwords at various sites to avoid more of the same. Apparently at one of the writer groups I no longer am active in, someone posted account info including passwords.

Opps! 😳 I was guilty of the thing they always tell you not to do—use the same password all the time. Mine was foolproof, I thought, so no worry. Sure, foolproof unless someone posts it publicly, then not so much!

All that to say, as I am closing in on the last revisions of The Lore of Efrathah, Book Three, now titled The Stone of Surrender, I’m besieged with these distractions—from minor to considerably time-consuming.

It reminds me of a line currently in the opening of the first Lore of Efrathah book (title is being renovated):

But what had [Jim] expected? Ever since he hurt his knee, the governing rule of his life seemed to be, If it ain’t broke, it will be soon.

Mind you, I wrote that line before the problems with the recliner and the microwave. 🙄

It’s about now I start to wonder how much of these kinds of “coincidental” interruptions, distractions, snags are purposeful plants by the enemy of our souls.

I’m not one to see spiritual warfare under every rock or in every full parking lot, but honestly, there comes a point where I start to wonder.

Does it really matter, though, if these accumulations of problems are purposeful attacks? I suppose not, except to maybe help me pray and to seek prayer support from others, something I haven’t done enough of lately.

So here it is. If God brings me to mind, and you have the nudge from His Spirit, would you please pray that the distractions and delays and snags will not slow my writing progress. Honestly, I wouldn’t even mind if they sort of disappeared. 😉

Published in: on August 25, 2009 at 11:29 am  Comments (3)  
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Fantasy Friday – What’s a Quatrain?

Well, it’s official. I’ve restructured The Lore of Efrathah so that it is no longer a trilogy. It is also not a “series” in the usual sense of the word. This is one story, now told via four books (think, epic fantasy). I suppose the proper classification would be “quartet,” though I don’t have any examples to draw from. Instead, I’ve chosen the word quatrain—pretty much because I like the way it sounds.

I did ask the advice of another fantasy writer, wondering if it was “legal” to co-opt the word when it clearly has a restricted definition (“a stanza of four lines, esp. one having alternate rhymes,” according to the two sources I checked). The answer? You’re a fantasy writer—make the word do what you want.

Well, note, I didn’t use quotation marks there. That’s how I interpreted the advice, maybe because my heart was already set on quatrain. But why the great divide, you may wonder. Nearly a year ago, at a small writers’ conference here in Southern California, I met with a knowledgeable agent who looked at my proposal. At that time, I estimated the third book would be approximately 150,000 words. This agent categorically stated that editors would not want a book that long.

At the time, though I tried, I couldn’t see dividing the story. The numbers didn’t work, I thought, and I’d end up padding book four—the very book that should have the meaty climactic ending, not a puff-and-fluff fizzle. So I plunged on.

However, as I came within sight of having the entire rough draft transcribed onto the computer, I topped 150,000 words, with six or so chapters remaining. That’s another 20,000 words, at minimum. The decision seemed clear.

I already knew there was a natural break that could work as the end of a book three, so this week I tinkered with the chapter order and checked to see if the new ending would need any work (I don’t think it does). And with that, the birth of the quatrain.

The Lore of Efrathah now consists of The Sword of Secrets (90,000 words), Journey to Mithlimar (120,000 words), Escape from Moldark (100,000 words), and The Battle for the Throne (approximately 80,000 words). I say “now” because there’s an outside chance that I’ll move one section from Escape to Battle and that would change the word count of those two books. I’ll know more once I have some readers weigh in on this.

Any volunteers? 😉

Published in: on September 26, 2008 at 10:24 am  Comments (6)  
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