Wo is mein Handlung?! and Novel News

I have some novel news about The Curse of Silent Mountain, which involves a bit of writing theory.

I announced earlier that the current story would be released in a trilogy form over the next twelve months.  That announcement was about seven weeks ago, and except for a black belt test in Haidong Gumdo I’ve basically worked, written, and slept for a month and a half.

The same day that I announced the trilogy publishing schedule, I had passed the “final” version of The Curse of Silent Mountain to my Beta readers, and I was convinced that I had a month to edit.

Talking things over with the Betas, two things became abundantly clear.  First, the story was at an excellent stopping point.  Second, the excellent stopping point didn’t come after a good emotionally rewarding plot climax.  Don’t get me wrong, at least three minor plots took place, and the end of The Curse of Silent Mountain (version 1.1) did come at a large shift in the story dynamic that set the next book up.  The problem was pacing and plot.

Stories are an interaction of imagination and emotion.  They’re a discourse, a dialogue.  About twenty years ago I learned plotting along the classical Shakespearean 5-act structure.  I know that Common Core has completely butchered this theory, so here’s how it was taught back in the 1980’s:

Random Meta note: I just got asked by a reader on Twitter how the story was coming, as I was writing this blog post.  I’m working on it!  Honest! [Spoilers]

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Act 1: Introduce the Status Quo and break it with a conflict.  Example: Hamlet investigates rumors of his father’s ghost and discovers a murder to investigate.

Act 2: Developing Conflict: Show how the new problem has impacted the status quo, and reveal character through investigative challenges.  Hamlet’s stress and strange behavior through the investigation makes people think he’s nuts.

Act 3: TECHNICAL CLIMAX: The first conflict is resolved, and the way it gets resolved sets up a whole new problem.  Hamlet discovers his uncle’s guilt (success), chooses not to kill him (mistake), warns his mother off (success), and kills Polonius (bonus points/mistake… hard to say).

Act 4: FALLOUT REDUX: A ton of bigger, more interesting problems crop up from our first climax, building more tension.  Hamlet’s dad sends him to England to get killed, Ophelia goes nuts and dies when he isn’t there to save him, and Hamlet returns.

Act 5: DRAMATIC CLIMAX: The first and second problems jump your protagonist at once.  He stands alone against them, and triumphs (or not).  King Murderer and Wronged Brother plan a poisonous gang-bang vs. Hamlet, but Hamlet is secretly a Ninja, and destroys them both (but dies in the end).


 

So, as you may have noticed, like a really great date (between married people), there are at least two climaxes involved, with some stress and tension before hand.  Hey, folks, I didn’t invent the terminology, but the terms are what they are for a reason.

I plotted the series as a whole before I wrote the first book, and I had planned out a 19-book series of episodes plus a trilogy ending.  The first book went off pretty well, at my target size.  When my Beta readers were like, “um, Bruce, you’ve advanced the plot, but I missed my climax.” I realized that those books represent about 1-2 story acts each.

Additionally, one thing that I’ve learned this year as I continue to study story craft is the dao of Lois McMaster Bujold.  Her wildly popular Vorkosigan series are made up of books that function perfectly well in a stand-alone mode.

So, obviously my December 1st release date has gone the way of the coelacanth, but when the book does get released as soon as I get it done, back from the Betas, and edited, you will get the entire story that you would have had to wait until next Christmas (2016) to achieve.  Together, The Rogue of An Dinas and The Curse of Silent Mountain form a complete story, which you will hopefully be able to read and enjoy in and of themselves if sales don’t justify the other 4-5 novels I have planned out for the series.


That being said, I simply can’t maintain the writing pace I’ve had for the past six weeks.  It isn’t fair to my day job, or my martial arts students.

I am going to try and put in at least two hours a day to the story, and ten hours every weekend.  I’ll keep updating you all as the story progresses.  Right now I’m about 20,000 into Act 3 of the stand-alone misadventure.


If you absolutely cannot abide to wait that long for the story, consider becoming a beta reader!

What does that involve?  You get each chapter as I finish it, and in return you agree to
A] READ THE CHAPTER
B] RETURN A FORM with three questions on it.

The questions:
1] What did you enjoy about this chapter? (so that I can do more of that)
2] What did you not enjoy about this chapter? (so that I can do less of that, unless I’m deliberately torturing the readers, I mean… building tension)
3] Do you have any questions from this chapter? (so that I can make sure I patch all the continuity errors, or just check off a box marked “I’m not going to tell you…”, but that box should only be checked off because it fulfills one of my primary goals, which is to torture readers.)

If you do consider yourself Beta potential, please contact me here.

 

 

 

Closed Loop System

In machining, a closed loop system is a fancy way to describe a servo motor.  It doesn’t just move, but it tracks how it is moving.  It’s one of the things that allows us to create parts within .0005 inches or so of a desired dimension.  Without that sort of accuracy ballistics and the aerospace industry wouldn’t get very far.  Feedback is essential to accuracy and production.

I find that writing uses ideal readers and beta readers in much the same fashion, and I don’t think I would make nearly as much progress without them.  My current work in progress (WIP) is the second installment in the new semi-steampunk series St. Gavin’s Ghost.

Sure, there are the typical elements of a story that excites me: speculative science, faith, martial arts, dynamic relationships, lots of action, and plenty of questions about belief, relationships, sexuality, and society.  I am not fishing for an entirely new audience.  That will have to wait until I have a better pen name for a new style.

But for every core similarity I am trying something new with this series.  Instead of my typical immense epic I am shooting for shorter episodes put together for as large a saga as I have ever dreamed up.  Book two, The Pilgrim’s Path already has 150% of The Rogue of An Dinas‘ word count, and it will probably be three times as large when the manuscript’s done.  This is the first time I have written a non-Christian protagonist as the critical voice in the story. That’s saying nothing of the challenge of writing a compelling character-driven piece with an actively gay main character in a committed relationship at the start of the story, and then selling him and his subsequent struggles to an American Christian audience.  It probably isn’t an immense leap to guess he won’t be pagan all his life, but I have always left that role to antagonists who enjoy perhaps thirty percent of my narrative (Helen and Sven in Song of Lagrandil, Caith Moore in Darkblade) even when I really enjoy them.  There’s the challenge of writing a conversion story, when as a lifelong Lutheran I can’t remember a time when I didn’t believe in God.  The interactions between singleness and family life, sexuality versus relationships, the attempt to find honor when worldviews change, colonialism and post-colonial assumptions in fiction…  New format, new world-build, new characterization, new questions, the new series has a stretched me in almost every direction.

So I wanted to take a post to say how lost I would be without my faithful beta readers.  The Logic Monkey, my Ideal Reader, is an invaluable go-no-go check.  If something isn’t working for the person to whom I’m telling the story, then something needs to change.  He’s also invaluable asset because he’s willing to sit down and explore the logic and justification between choices, why things work and don’t.  Mrs. Keys is a super-charger.  She never fails to find something positive to reinforce or point out as the story goes.  Southern Simul, the latest edition to the beta readers, is a great canary in the mine shaft.  Young, passionate, and pure-hearted, I get a great sense of impact when he shares how the story reaches him.  My long-time Nerd Posse members Mr. and Mrs. Dolly have nearly a decade’s experience with my plot twists and turns, and they’re always ready to engage with my apologetics or plotting.  Though he isn’t on the regular beta mailing list, The Ninja provides encouragement when he e-mails me pictures of various hunting rifles attached to questions about how long before the next book comes out (cough cough hint hint).

I may never make a living JUST as an author, but without a back-up crew like my beta readers I wouldn’t be turning out half the stuff I have.

Sometimes you just have to take a moment and represent.

Thank you, Betas!