As I near the midpoint of book five, I’m evaluating what I’ve learned about the craft of writing and about my story. I had written the majority of what is now book three before I decided the story had five phases that could each stand alone. Also, by splitting the story, I could keep the word count reasonable for each book instead of having a book the size only certain authors can get away with. One result of this decision was the need to rework each book to make their structures standalone.
Years of study and practice has increased my understanding and skill with story structure and character change arcs. Redesigning my story using that knowledge will improve the story, but the skill is not necessarily reflexive. To some extent, my innate story telling ability has served me, but to do better, I must think instead of relying on instincts.
I created a chart to help me visualize my goal of creating well structured standalone books yet have them progress in an overall series structure and to prompt me to envision how character change arcs apply to the books and the series. The chart isn’t spectacular, but I find it useful to stare at as my mind explores possibilities.
This is only a beginning, though. The next step is to document what my explorations reveal and plan how to pace the plot and change arcs across the terrain of each book and the series. How I handle the next step may become a blog post in the future.
Chart for visualizing story structure across a five book series.
C. J. Cherryh is a fascinating author. A while back, I read The Morgaine Stories (Gate of Ivrel, Well of Shiuan, Fires of Azeroth, and Exile’s Gate). Her use of tight third-person point-of-view impressed me. For me it was the tightest third-person I had ever read and felt as if it were first-person using third-person pronouns. Her skills at world building and creating characters also impressed me. Reading those stories, I learned techniques that helped me improve my writing.
Cherryh’s Cyteen also struck me as incredible in its world building and characters. The story left me thinking about nature versus nurture and what makes each of us what we are. I am still working on how to apply those insights to my own stories. I need to read Regenesis, the next book in the series.
Currently, I’m finishing up The Nighthorse Series a.k.a. The Finisterre Series, or The Rider Series (Rider at the Gate and Cloud’s Rider). Again I’m impressed, even awed. I see these stories as having a tight third-person voice, yet at moments, information is exposed in a tone that verges on omniscient. Those moments are so well integrated they flow flawlessly without knocking me out of the tight third-person perspective. Cherryh’s use of language and her sentence structures also impresses me.
While my voice is nothing like Cherryh’s, and I will never be able to write like her, or want to write like her since her style does not suit my voice, I am improving my craft skills by reading her work. More C. J. Cherryh books that will enhance my skills sit ready to read in my To Read pile.
C. J. Cherryh The Morgaine Stories, Cyteen, and The Nighthorse Series Covers
by Lester D. Crawford
“We’ll never escape that hungry dragon. It’s my nose. Hide Hermey. Hide Yukon. I’ll lead it away.”
He dashed across the snowy meadow away from his friends who hid in a snow bank.
He was a reindeer. He could fly. He could and would out fly the dragon. He leaped into the sky, but a snap of the dragon’s jaws caught him.
The reindeer quickly slid down the dragon’s throat, a red glow in the dragon’s neck showing his progress until it became a wiggling glow shining through the dragon’s belly.
Hermey said, “Let’s hope for good weather this year.”
This story is for the Advent Ghosts 2016 Flash Fiction challenge organized by Loren Eaton of the I Saw Lightning Fall blog.
Every story in Advent Ghosts must be exactly 100 words in length.
To see the stories others entered in the challenge, visit Advent Ghosts 2016: The Stories.
A while back, I read several short stories by Ted Chiang. The stories overwhelmed me with their magnitude, complexity, and depth of concepts making me feel inadequate as a writer. Surprisingly, that did not undermine my desire to be a writer. Chiang’s stories are the product of genius, and hard work. I may not have the genius, but I can work hard. I like what I write. I will never be a Chiang, but I am inspired to be the best me I can be.
The movie Arrival (2016) is based on Chiang’s story Story of Your Life, which was one of the stories that had wowed me. The movie, even with the changes made to turn it into a movie, was as intellectually thrilling as the short story.
I suggest seeing Arrival and if you want to read Chiang’s first eight short stories, check out Stories of Your Life and Others. You too will be inspired to be the best you you can be.
Stories of Your Life and Others book cover
Arrival movie poster
To write, I need uninterrupted time. Time to think. Time to imagine. Time for introspection to bring forth the thoughts and emotions that will fill the written page. My mind enters a state of flow and the story unfolds and streams into existence.
Interruptions intrude into my day and break the flow preventing the story from streaming forth. Frustration and anger at the interruptions and their sources are the result.
Even with the distractions, I write. In these circumstances, I will write a paragraph, or sometimes only a sentence, but I will write. Thought out, planned, and outlined, I know where the story is going and what happens next at any particular point. This allows me to write the next few words even if I don’t have time to issue forth the next hundreds or thousands of words.
Another task I perform in these moments is editing. I return to words already written and tweak them striving to improve the writing and to enhance my skills so I will write better the next time.
One of my editing steps is to search for occurrences of words from my list of problem words. This leads me to places in the prose where I can improve sentence structure and conciseness. In the past, I searched the document by doing a find on each word one word at a time. That was slow and tedious. To enhance the process, I created a Word macro that highlights the words from my list and words ending with ly. Creating the macro was fun, but interrupted my writing time.
A future enhancement to my macro will highlight with different colors the words from my list, and the ly words, based on why the words are on the list. Doing that enhancement will again interrupt my writing time. It seems I cannot escape interruptions.
Words highlighted by editing macro.
I struggle at the beginning of every chapter. I review my outline and say, “This part is boring. Maybe I should cut it.” However, I had spent a great deal of time designing the story and the scenes in this chapter are important to the story’s progress. I tell myself it’s here for a reason. I must trust my design and write the chapter and its scenes. In revision, I will make adjustments, but not now.
I fight procrastination to force myself to slog through. Sometimes, great ideas emerge and I begin feeling better. Other times, I simply use craft skills to get the writing done.
Once finished, the same thing always happens. I sit back, read the chapter aloud, and say, “That’s good.” After applying a little editing, I feel even better about it. I like what I write regardless of the weight of my doubts when I first begin.
With every chapter and every scene, as I resist beginning, I tell myself, “When I finish, I will like it. The quicker I write it, the quicker that reward will come.”
Few things are harder than writing those first few words.
The first few words are hard.
The movie Pete’s Dragon (2016) had a few flaws and plot holes — I’m sure the Everything Wrong With <Movie Title> people on YouTube will have fun with it — regardless, the movie touched me more deeply than any movie I’ve seen. My emotional response was extreme even for someone who is touched by anything sappy.
Those emotions are what I want to capture in my writing.
I plan to see it again so I can have another good cry.
If you have a heart, I recommend you see the movie. Take a handkerchief.
Pete Hugging Elliot
I completed the 2016 Clarion West Write-a-thon. I changed chapter 1 to better setup chapter 8, enhanced chapter 6, and finished chapters 7, 8, and 9.
Chapters worked on during 2016 Clarion West Write-a-ton.
“There’s something wrong in not appreciating one’s own special abilities, my girl. Find your own limitations, yes, but don’t limit yourself with false modesty.”
— Sebell to Menolly in Dragonsinger by Anne McCaffrey
First Aladdin Paperbacks edition April 2003
Knocking the reader out of the story is something writing mentors warn writers to avoid. I think the concept is one of those nebulous notions that has no clear definition beyond causing the reader to think outside the parameters of the story. I don’t know how to know if something I write knocks the reader out of the story. When reading other stories, I sometimes experience moments of pause and ponder that might be considered knocking the reader out of the story, but those moments do not harm my experience of reading the story.
One such moment occurred when I read the above line of dialogue while reading Dragonsinger. It caused me to stop and think. I felt it was addressed to me. I am suffused with self-doubt. I shouldn’t be. I still have much to learn, but I am good at what I do. I must accept that and not let my doubts or modesty limit me.
Because I stopped reading and began contemplating, was I knocked out of the story? I don’t think so, but if that is knocking someone out of the story, I think it is something to strive for. I want occasionally to make the reader stop and think.
On the other hand, horrible sentence structures, bad grammar, spelling errors, typos, etc., also knocks the reader out of the story. Those kind are bad. Don’t do those.
Again this year, I am participating in the Clarion West Write-a-thon. My goal is to complete drafts of the next two chapters of The Dragon Universe Book 5.
The write-a-thon is a fundraiser for the Clarion West Writers Workshop, a nonprofit literary organization based in Seattle, Washington, USA, with a mission to improve speculative fiction by providing high quality education to writers at the start of their careers.
You may sponsor me by donating to Clarion West in my name on my profile page on the Clarion West web site by clicking on the “Sponsor Lester D. Crawford” button. As a reward for considering donating, my profile contains an excerpt from The Dragon Universe Book 5.