Tag Archives: novel

Diffraction Chapter Two: The Light of Life

In darkness when the night surrounds, I bear the Light in me. 
“Quick,” Nyalesee shouted. “Lay her on a bench.”

Camden raced across the room and lowered Eledra’s body to the wood.

Nyalesee rushed to his side. Light sprang out of her palms and formed small, radiant spheres. Shadows danced on the edges of the sanctuary as Nyalesee moved..

Harra stood frozen, eyes wide, mouth agape. “Her light’s so dim…”

“Camden, what happened?” Nyalesee asked, her gaze fixed on the injured woman. “What sort of wounds are we dealing with?”

“Bandits on the road from Aulivar, Devoted.”

Lyllithe ran to Camden and grabbed his arm. “Where is my father? Is he—“

“Marten is coming,” Camden replied. He laid his hand over hers. “Wounded, but he will recover. They struck him hard, knocked him out. We drove them off, killed two. I left Josephine with Marten when we were in sight of the Woodwall. She will help him get here.”

At least Father is safe. Jo can handle herself.

The thought gave little comfort while Lyllithe looked down at her mother’s body.

Nyalesee examined Eledra’s wounds. The Devoted grimaced, and she glanced up at Lyllithe. “Harra, go see to Marten,” Nyalesee said over her shoulder.

The order jarred Harra into motion, but she moved instead to Nyalesee’s side. “Perhaps you need my help to heal Eledra’s—”

“I need you to obey,” Nyalesee cut in. “See to the Eldest. This woman is beyond our aid.”

Harra opened her mouth to speak, then snapped it shut at a withering glare from the senior Devoted. Her head dipped slightly. “As you wish.”

Camden hung back, hands folded, eyes cast down. Lyllithe thought she heard him praying. What can a Soulforged do in times like this, she wondered.

Nyalesee grabbed Lyllithe’s arm and pulled her close. “Child, I cannot heal her unassisted.”

Lyllithe choked. Hope and confusion swirled in her chest. “But you just sent Harra to—”

“She and I together could not treat these wounds,” Nyalesee said. “Not with the noonday sun shining down on us.”

“Then why do you need me? I’m not even Marked, I’m hardly—”

“Forget all that.” Nyalesee’s grip tightened on Lyllithe’s sleeve. “Forget the Test, the script—forget the rules. You are able. You’ve healed wounds before.”

Lyllithe shook her head, and Nyalesee continued. “Maybe it’s your elemental heritage, or maybe just the grace of Aulis. But you are stronger than any of the Devoted here, stronger I deem than any two combined.” Nyalesee’s eyes held Lyllithe’s gaze. “When properly moved.”

Lyllithe fumbled for words, but none seemed right.

The Devoted reached out. “Take my hand. Perhaps I can spark your ability to minister.”

Nyalesee guided Lyllithe’s hand toward Eledra. Her palm rested on her mother’s chest. The fabric felt damp and cold like mud in winter. So much blood. She’s not breathing.

“Close your eyes,” Nyalesee said.

Lyllithe obeyed. There’s no heartbeat.

“The Light is life, and your light is pure,” the Devoted whispered. “There is strength in purity. There is brilliance. See it, draw it in and release it. Like breathing.”

Part of Lyllithe’s mind followed the calming instructions. But her fears conjured up an image of the dim sanctuary during the Test, and Harra’s smug sneer. Lyllithe saw her father’s downcast face last year when she failed. She heard the laughter of younger girls who were Marked on their first attempt.

“There’s a faint ember left,” Nyalesee said. Lyllithe opened her eyes.

“Do you feel that, child? I can breathe on it, and keep Eledra alive. But I haven’t the strength to restore her.”

A soft orange light appeared underneath Eledra’s skin. It flickered and waned.

“Now, girl! Heal her.”

Her mind fought doubts and despair. But Lyllithe grasped for the Light and took hold. Her hands glowed white on Eledra’s robes. Breathe. Live. Be healed.

Nyalesee gasped. “That’s it, dear,” she said, then whispered, “so much power.”

 Unreliable potential is useless, the doubting voice insisted.

Lyllithe gritted her teeth with the effort. More of the Light. Mother, you have to live.

The doors of the sanctuary opened. A slender blonde woman in armor slipped in with Marten, his arm draped over her shoulder. She helped him to a bench, then stood beside her father Camden.

 Father is well, Lyllithe thought. Josephine, my friend, I owe you once again.

Harra entered last and stormed toward the healers. Her voice bellowed in the dim chamber. “What is the meaning of this, Nyalesee?”

Lyllithe ignored the stares between the two Devoted. Eledra lay still. No pulse. No movement. No breathing. Nyalesee’s words repeated in Lyllithe’s mind: She is beyond our aid.

The Devoted’s hand squeezed Lyllithe’s arm once more. “Do not doubt. Light shines brightest in darkest night.”

At that, Lyllithe cast down fear and focused her complete attention on healing.

 Mother, you have to breathe. She strained as she pulled on more Light. I’ll help you breathe. Lyllithe pushed air into Eledra’s lungs with the Light’s power. She drew the air out through the mouth, then forced fresh air back in.

Marten cried out, “She’s breathing!”

 The heart has to beat. Lyllithe redirected some of her power and reached with it into Eledra’s chest. The energy wrapped around Eledra’s heart and squeezed every few seconds. Lyllithe sensed blood flow throughout the body. You’re going to have to take over from me here, Mother. Live.

Nyalesee said something, but Lyllithe paid no heed. Open your eyes, get up, be whole once more. Eledra remained still, though her chest rose and fell as Lyllithe pushed in breaths.

 Open your eyes, Mother. Lyllithe directed two wisps of power toward Eledra’s eyelids. They snapped open, but the eyes stared blank at the ceiling.

Muscles strained in Lyllithe’s neck and arms. In her eyes, a web of rainbow strands connected her outstretched hands to Eledra’s body. Lyllithe drew even more on the source of power. Get up. You can’t die. With the Light at her disposal, she tugged at muscles and tendons in Eledra’s arms and legs, commanding motion.

Eledra’s body jerked. Rough movements brought her upright. No light shone in her eyes. The orange glow behind her skin vanished.

Marten stood and collapsed. Lyllithe heard him weeping.

Nyalesee yelled for Lyllithe to stop.

 This is not the end, Aulis grant me grace. Blinding light burst from her hands. Purple spots filled her vision. There’s more power out there. I can almost reach it.

 Child, let me go.

Not Nyalesee’s voice. Not Lyllithe’s own thought.

 Mother?

The faint voice answered. You cannot heal an empty shell. Let me pass.

Lyllithe looked again at the body before her. Eledra’s corpse shook and shuddered. Air hissed in and out of cold lungs, forced by Lyllithe’s efforts. Eledra’s disheveled brown hair hung limp, matted with blood that oozed from wounds whenever Lyllithe squeezed the heart with her power. The body turned so that the faded green eyes faced her.

 Oh Light, I’m going to be sick. What have I done?

The brilliance Lyllithe summoned vanished, and darkness conquered the sanctuary in a snap. Lyllithe fell to the ground and retched beside the body of her mother.

Marten sobbed in the shadows.

Nyalesee knelt and put a hand on Lyllithe’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, child, so very sorry. I hoped, I dared to believe that maybe—”

She snatched the loose sleeve of Lyllithe’s robe and yanked her right arm from the ground. A soft blue light pierced the shadows around the dais.

Lyllithe looked at the back of her hand. A symbol shone like a rune etched in the skin: a sunrise above a vertical line with two branches holding up the horizon. The churning sea of shock and turmoil in her mind threatened to drown her. A Gracemark? Now? With both Light and Strength?

Lyllithe’s hands grasped Nyalesee’s shoulders in desperation.

Nyalesee only stared at the Mark.

Harra watched, brow furrowed.

“What is this,” Lyllithe demanded. “What does this mean?”

Diffraction Chapter One: Markday

Over the next few weeks, I will be posting the first ten chapters of my fantasy novel, Diffraction, here on WordPress and on WattPad. The goal is to have the book available on Amazon and CreateSpace by Christmas.

 

Bright enough light will bend around what it cannot shine through.
 
—————-

From daybreak ‘til the sun goes down, Devoted shall I be.

Celebration filled the central street of Northridge. A bonfire sprang to life, and cheers rang out under clouds streaked orange and red in the setting sun. The sweet aroma of smoked meats and sugary cakes filled the air. Men and women danced barefoot in circles on the packed earth to the trilling of a flute. Many sang. All smiled.

 All but one.

 A slim figure darted between clusters and pockets of revelers. Her gold-trimmed white hood concealed most of her features, though wisps of black hair slipped out with each hurried step. She dodged offers to join a dance and ducked under extended pints of ale.

 Someone recognized her robe and called out with a grin, “Are you new-Marked this day, Devoted?” Two men beside him raised hands ready to praise her.

 She glared at them, revealing a face white as her garment. The men blanched, and she continued on her way. Lyllithe, the Ghostskin. The Eldest’s so-called daughter. She could not make out their whispers, but she knew the words they spoke. Lyllithe had heard them all her life.

 Laughter from the crowd echoed. Only the Markday festival, she reasoned. But a doubtful voice spoke in her mind. They laugh because they saw your face. 

Past conversations replayed in her memory unbidden:

 “Still no Mark on her? What a shame for the Eldest. His own daughter cannot pass the Test. Is this her fourth year trying?”

 “Well she’s not really his daughter. She’s got elemental blood in her. So…”

 “Of course, yes, that probably has something to do with it. Who knows what the Divine thinks about ghostskins and duns and such…”

 “I know what I think of them.”

 Lyllithe reached the end of the street, and she pushed away her fears. The Abbey tower rose high over her head. The tallest building in Northridge looked peach in the setting sun. The smaller moon twinkled and the larger shone full in the twilight sky.

She rushed up the steps and flung open the door. Two Devoted in white stood when Lyllithe entered.

 “Am I too late?” she asked, half hoping the Testing had ended.

 Mistress Nyalesee, the older of the two, smiled wide and beckoned. “No, dear, of course not. Light yet shines, so it is still Markday.” Cheeks brushed by auburn curls, she pulled back her hood, then gestured for Lyllithe to follow into the sanctuary.

 Their footsteps echoed on the hardwood floor as they walked between simple benches to the dais at the center of the circular room. The last touches of sunlight peeked through the windows near the ceiling. A serving girl started lighting rows of candles for the Night Watch. Fragrant incense filled Lyllithe’s nose.

 Lyllithe pulled back her hood and ran fingers through her hair. The collar-length black strands covered the pointed tips of her ears to hide the physical proof of her mixed blood. She caught herself hiding her features and stopped. It doesn’t matter. Everyone here knows what I am already.

 Nyalesee took one of the two stools and turned to her companion, a stately woman with a perpetual scowl. “Harra, do you require Lyllithe to complete the interview, or will her demonstration suffice?”

 Harra pursed her lips. “She does it correctly or she doesn’t Test at all.”

 Nyalesee rolled her eyes. “We have the past four results on record. Exceptional marks, every year.”

 “And yet she struggles to manifest the Light each time,” Harra replied. She cocked her head and smiled. “Complete failure, every year.”

 “Sister, we waste time. Outside of Testing, she has potential we’ve not seen in decades.”

 Harra shrugged. “Unreliable potential is useless in a crisis. Do you think the Eldest would have us show favoritism toward his adopted daughter or treat her any different than the normal supplicants? I think not.”

 Lyllithe bristled and fought to maintain a serene expression. Do I think you phrased that just to comment on my heritage? Yes.

 Nyalesee grimaced. “Marten would have us exercise sound judgment.”

 “Marten’s not here to ask,” Harra countered. “So I say we do things right.”

 Nyalesee gave in, and began reciting questions in a monotone voice.

 “To what are you Devoted, supplicant?”

 Lyllithe replied in the same bored tone. “To purity in the Light, which gives me the grace to heal. To the path of peace with all men, which keeps me pure. To the truth, which guards my steps on the path of peace.”

 Harra fumed at the seeming irreverence, but said nothing.

 I don’t know what you expected, Sister. I’ve had this memorized since the first year, with three extra chances to practice it since.

 “And will you remain faithful to that truth?”

 “Until my light fades or the Final Dawn breaks.”

 “Tell me, supplicant, of Aulis and His light.”

 While questions and answers flowed without error, part of Lyllithe’s mind focused on the demonstration to follow. Her stomach fluttered and she felt queasy. The steps are clear, and I understand the doctrine. But every time I stand to be Tested, I fail to produce the Light of Life.

 Memories of past attempts filled her with dread. What’s the point? This year will be like the rest. If I don’t pass, I can’t be a Devoted, can’t get my Gracemark.

 She pictured her father and mother on the road returning from Aulivar. Couldn’t even stay here to support me, could you, Father? I’m such an embarrassment that you ran to the city on a “sudden errand” rather than see me fail again?

 “The Gracemark is the visible reminder of the presence of a particular Aspect of the Divine,” Lyllithe recited. “It is a sign of power bestowed upon the believer.”

 Nyalesee nodded and said, “By what two methods can one receive their Mark?”

 “Most adherents receive from their order what is properly called a Gracebrand, after passing the Test. But an Aspect may also bless the faithful with a spontaneous Gracemark instead.”

 And now we come to it. Lyllithe’s heart thumped in her chest like a hammer. Four attempts already. Four failures. Why should today be different?

 “Correct,” Nyalesee said. She rose to her feet. “Now are you prepared to demonstrate your faith, and receive the Gracebrand of Aulis, the Aspect of Light?”

 “As ready as ever,” Lyllithe muttered.

Harra raised an eyebrow.

 Nyalesee rose, and her demeanor softened. She took Lyllithe’s hand and squeezed. “Five is the number of Grace, dear. This should give you hope.”

 Harra chuckled and stood. “Show us, supplicant. Invoke the Light of life.”

 Lyllithe closed her eyes and drew a deep breath. Breath is life. Life, fill me. She raised her hands to chest height, palms out. Light reveals truth. Truth guards my steps. My path and past are pure. Light shines on the pure.

 She exhaled and pictured orbs of light cupped in her palms. Life and Light are in me. Let them flow forth. Her hands came together, combining the twin suns in her mind into one bright sphere.

 Harra snickered.

 Lyllithe’s eyes opened. Her empty fingers clasped together before her in the dim sanctuary. There was no Light.

Nyalesee’s hands covered her mouth and her brow furrowed, like a mother whose toddler falls while trying to walk.

 In the silence, Lyllithe could hear the commotion of the Markday festival. Muffled trumpet blasts and soft shouts disturbed the calm of the Abbey. Each one jabbed Lyllithe with pangs of defeat.

 Harra’s lips turned up at the edges. “Would you like to try again, child?” She chuckled. “There’s still time before sundown—if you’re certain it’s worth the attempt.”

 Lyllithe’s shoulders sagged. She raised the hood over her face to conceal the tears forming. “No, Devoted,” she whispered. “I’ll waste no more of your time.” She turned toward the entrance of the sanctuary. Her feet weighed a hundred stone as she took the first steps.

Nyalesee breathed out a sympathetic sigh. The clamor outside grew more obvious, impossible to ignore.

 How many Marks were given this day? Lyllithe’s emotions churned with the increasing noise. Scar the Markday and Gracemarks anyway!

 She felt a wave of guilt at once, and whispered a repentant prayer.

The door to the sanctuary burst open. “Help! Aid, now!” A man in armor filled the doorframe, a bloody cloaked mass cradled in his hands. Camden, the town’s lone Soulforged protector eased his burden into the sanctuary.

 He’s carrying a wounded woman. Lyllithe recognized the pattern and colors of the fabric. She sprinted to the door as Camden carried the body in. It can’t be.

 The man rushed past Lyllithe to the two Devoted at the dais. Metal clinked with each step.

 The emblem of Aulis woven into the cloak—now stained red—and the bloody brown hair could have belonged to several residents of Northridge.

 But the Gracemarked hand that Lyllithe had clung to for years as a child could belong to no one else.

 Lyllithe fell to her knees with a scream. “Mother!”

Christmas Present to Me

So NaNoWriMo is over, and I have another 50,000 words down on my future military / psychic reconnaissance novel. A few middle and ending scenes need to be filled in, and it’s all a disordered jumble in one document at the moment. But I’m happy to have completed my 2nd NaNoWriMo event.

  
I learned (or re-learned) a few things along the way, which I’ll post over the next month. 

But more importantly (to me), this frees me up to focus on revising and publishing my fantasy novel that I finished in late Spring. Thanks to several very helpful and thoughtful first readers, I have some solid suggestions on fixes and changes.

I’m going to start posting the first few chapters as a lead-up to the book being publically available online–which should happen by Christmas. It’s my present to me… and maybe to some of my friends who are already after me to work on book 2. 

If all goes well, this year’s group of Okinawa NaNo participants will also form a monthly writers’ group–something we wanted to do last year but couldn’t due to various military commitments and obligations. I’m ecstatic, since I maintain that’s the absolute best way to grow as a writer. I enjoy it so much I wrote a book about it, called Elements of Critique

And sadly, when I look at the news out of my hometown Chicago and other places around the States, I see very little has changed from the stories dominating the headlines last year. When I completed my first NaNoWriMo, racial tensions and community relations occupied my mind. More importantly, I could not ignore the wide gulf of animosity I saw on social media between people holding opposing viewpoints. And I wondered if anyone really considered the hurting families and broken lives in the aftermath of Ferguson and other flare-ups of racial tension. My book, Not to the Swift, is my effort to understand and empathize as a fellow father, husband, human. Seeing or considering what others go through reminded me how much I have to be thankful for. 

I hope Thanksgiving and the oncoming holiday season find you well and give you the chance to count your blessings. Maybe that can be another Christmas present we give ourselves. Gratitude and contentment seem truly counter-cultural in the West, so this is our chance to be ironic hipsters and go against the flow.

Grateful always for your time and attention,

Dave

NaNo Swag!

I’ve got mail!

 

Supplies are limited!
 
An exciting batch of “swag” arrived from the organizers of National Novel Writing Month, a.k.a. NaNoWriMo… a stack of postcard-sized explanations of the event, and a small batch of stickers to give to participants. 

 

This year’s T-shirt design.
 
If you didn’t know, NaNoWriMo is an annual writing challenge where participants attempt to write a novel of at least 50,000 words between November 1st and November 30th.

It was the driving force behind me finishing my first book, Not to the Swift.

I’m a Municipal Liaison this year, which means I get to help organize events and tell people what’s going on so that interested writers can get together to share in the joy and misery. 

Also I got a sweet T-shirt.

 

I always thought NaNoWriMo sounded like the old Batman theme…
 
It’s one month away, and it costs nothing but effort and commitment. Whether you outline and plan every detail in a story, or loose wild characters into a fun setting to see what happens, it’s an exciting time to hone your craft.

And especially if you think, “Well, I can’t do that,” know that plenty of us said the same thing for years. Then we sat down and did it. So you can too, and we’d love to cheer you on along the way. 

There’s plenty of time to sign up.

Your imagination is waiting.

Finding Myself on Amazon

So I searched for my name on Amazon and to my delight, I see my two books available.

Elements of Critique (Kindle) is a 30-chapter guide to performing constructive critique and giving thorough feedback for writers and critique groups. It’s a revised compilation of the A-Z blog series I did last year. The topics cover a range of aspects to look for when reviewing a piece of writing, whether someone else’s or your own. Three chapters at the end lay out how to set up a potential critique group if a healthy one isn’t already available to you. A paperback version is available here.
Not to the Swift (Kindle) is my NaNoWriMo novel, born from my response to the dominant news story at the time: the tensions and protests in Ferguson, Missouri following the death of Michael Brown. I spent a couple months researching and reading about experiences outside my norm, because I couldn’t get the story I envisioned out of my head. A paperback version is available here.
 

Naturally there are several David Williamsons, so if you’re looking for ME, use the links in the text above.
 
Seeing these online is a surreal experience. I don’t know why it should feel strange; publishing–even self-publishing–is usually the point. Otherwise, why am I wasting my time? 

Yet it feels awkward to have my “babies” available to purchase at a click.

Needless to say, this is a small step by a fledgling writer. Anyone can self-publish anything and get it on Amazon, so I understand how much this does and doesn’t really mean.

But to me, it’s the end result of several months of effort and a milestone towards what I hope to accomplish in the future. With my fantasy novel in the hands of alpha readers, a couple Chicken Soup for the Soul of Military Families submissions in the works, and a sci-fi project currently a few chapters into the first draft, I’m excited about what lies ahead.

Thanks for encouraging and supporting me on the journey, wherever it leads. 

Best Indentions

I should be posting a link to a published novel on CreateSpace right now…

Instead, I’m uploading a revised copy of the manuscript, after which I’ll have to wait (again) for the review process to complete.

Warning signs are usually placed for good reasons...
Warning signs are usually placed for good reasons…

Being this close to putting a novel on the market is exciting and a little nerve-wracking. Like a cold pool on a hot summer day, I just want to dive in and get the initial discomfort over with.

But the very first lesson in my Elements of Critique e-book is about proper format and appearance.

And when I saw a missing paragraph indent on the very first page of the novel, despite a couple thorough reviews, I knew I needed to take another look for more issues.

I fixed three: the original offending indent, a quotation mark all by its lonesome, and an overlooked * * * * * I often use between scenes in my manuscripts.

None of those would have been the end of the world. But I know how easily I become critical of self-published but poorly edited works. I know how distracting a missing punctuation mark or misspelled word can be.

If you’re going to do something, they say, take the time to do it right. No one will care that I had the best intentions to release a proper draft. All they’ll see is the result of my effort. So I need to make sure that the final product is correct.

Plus, when I pause to consider how different this process would be a decade or two ago, I have no reason to complain. Within a day, I’ll have a corrected proof copy ready for me to approve, and the book will be available. I don’t have to wait weeks for a letter from a publishing house, then wait a few more to send back the updated draft, then wait still more for a rough copy…

Yep, I have nothing to complain about.

The book is titled “Not to the Swift,” from a verse in Ecclesiastes that reminds us the victory in a race is not always to the fastest, nor is triumph in battle always to the strongest.

The “race” to publish quality work takes time too, which is frustrating.

But I’ll be happier with the end result, and more importantly, so will the readers.

So… deep breath, sip of coffee, back into the cover selection process…

Back Where I Started

On a deployment six and a half years ago, to a “secret” undisclosed location in Southwest Asia (that everyone knew all about), I picked up some D&D rulebooks to keep boredom at bay.

I read through the rules of the game, and noted some of the authors’ suggestions for ideas players could use for their characters–or Dungeon Masters could use to write stories those characters could star in, like a Choose Your Own Adventure.

And it struck me that no matter how well I planned a story, real live people would make decisions I didn’t anticipate, causing the Adventure to go in any of several exciting ways–but not the way I first envisioned.

So why not write the story the way I wanted to?

I sat under the Memorial Plaza’s massive double-tent (affectionately referred to by most as “the bra” for how it appears from a distance) or at the Coffee Beanery shop across the street, and I began to write.

I’ve written things before, of course. But during my two trips here several years ago, I decided to take writing seriously. Within a couple years of studying novel writing and elements of style, over the course of six plus months deployed (and time writing at home), I’d typed out over 100,000 words of a massive fantasy tale.

But the material borrowed too heavily from genre tropes. It sounded too much like World of Warcraft or Dungeons and Dragons in novel form. It had no unique element to separate it from the rest of the books on any fantasy shelf, along with too many elements I discovered had been done before and better than anything I’d write.

I decided to shelve the thing until I could devise some fixes to all the problems I saw. And I worked on other projects until I found the solutions to those glaring issues.

I regret that decision. It took me six and a half years to develop the discipline to finish a full novel manuscript–not of this fantasy project, just a novel–because I’d learned to give up part way whenever I felt a project had too many flaws.

So here I sit, where I began years ago, halfway through the almost-completely-rewritten manuscript of my long-planned fantasy novel. A lot has changed. Almost everything about the world, the magic systems, and the long-term plan for the story is different than when I first envisioned it. Also, I’m allowed to sit here in jeans and a Hawaiian shirt instead of wearing Air Force PT gear.

IMG_0941.JPG

Most important, I’ve proven to myself through NaNoWriMo that I can finish what I start, flawed or not.

So this time, I will have a completed draft before I depart for home. I may find my way out here again in the next few years, but I don’t want this novel to come with me for a fourth trip.

8000 words

Work is doing its best to get in the way of my NaNoWriMo effort, but so far I have been successful.

If you’re not aware, the goal of National Novel Writing Month is to create a 50,000 word (or more) novel within the 30 days of November. The site for the event encourages the mathematically reasonable daily word goal of 1,667 words, because if you do that every day, you will in fact hit 50K.

Of course, that assumes you never have a bad day, or take a day off. Thanksgiving? You will write. 15 hour work day? You still have to write.

It’s fairly unrealistic (or I make lots of excuses).

So my peers and I discussed aiming for an average of 2000 words per day, because this gives a little bit of buffer for those bad days when life says NO to your writing plan.

I’m happy to report that I’ve passed 8000 words after four days’ effort.

Maybe I’ll save up enough time that I can play around in the new World of Warcraft expansion when it hits on the 13th. Maybe I’ll even have enough time to enjoy Thanksgiving with the family. (“Go away! Writing! Turkey was supposed to make you all sleepy!”)

I’ll get a snippet or three posted here in the near future. For now, I left off in the middle of a scene…

Getting Pantsed

One of my least favorite terms used of late among writers is “pantser.”

When I was about 9 or 10, there was an annoying girl at the local swimming pool who – in the middle of a crowd of swimmers – would pull down my swim trunks while I was swimming in the deep end. “Pantser” sounds like a middle school term for such a person.

But it’s meant to capture one side of a debate about writing. “Are you a planner or a pantser? Do you outline the main points of your story before you write a scene, or do you start writing by the seat of your pants and see where it leads?”

Planning is like following directions off Google Maps. The key steps along the journey are listed, and it’s on the writer to fill in the details in between. Pantsing, to me, feels like “I know my destination is over there and I’ll get there somehow” or even “I’m going for a drive today, and I don’t care where I end up.”

Both have their merits, weaknesses, and uses. For me, outlining is the most successful method for two reasons:

First, as soon as I realize there’s a problem, I can pause my effort, brainstorm a solution, and get back on track. Going back to Google Maps, if I miss a step or take a wrong turn, I can stop and course-correct to prevent wasted effort. I don’t have to finish a full manuscript before addressing glaring errors or issues. The minute I see the “Wrong Way” sign on the side of the road, I can stop and turn around.

Second, laying out key decisions, actions, and events well in advance, which makes foreshadowing possible. I know how the external and internal conflicts are going to be resolved. As a result I can build toward a more dramatic climax in the story. I don’t have to be surprised with my characters when suddenly we reach the final battle.

The first drawback to those key qualities are a lack of spontaneity or creativity in the writing process. If suddenly an idea strikes me in writing scene A, I may not be able to include it, because of how it will impact scene B leading to scene C. At best, I would have to make some changes to the outline to incorporate this change. Pantsers get the liberty of doing whatever they want and fixing issues later.
The second drawback is that once the story is “told” in my head, it feels “written” to me. I already know how it’s all going to play out. As a result, I can lose motivation for the tedium of putting all those ideas down on paper (or word processor screen).

Still, the benefits outweigh the potential trouble. What I don’t want to do is find myself several thousand words into a story only to discover glaring flaws in the basic premise.

To me, that takes away the fun and joy, like getting lost on the way to the party, or getting pantsed in the swimming pool.

What’s your favorite method to organize your writing efforts? Are you a planner or pantser, and why do you like that approach? Maybe there’s an aspect to either side that I’m not considering. Let me know in a comment.

Author Blog Hop

At the start of April, Angela D. Meyer posted my bio and picture on her blog as part of a “blog hop” where writers trade info to increase exposure.

Angela has been a core part of Omaha WordSowers since I joined two years ago. She’s part of the fantastic critique group (where I’m getting the ideas I’m using for this year’s A to Z blog challenge on Elements of Critique). My wife and I attended her book release party, when Where Hope Starts first went on sale. And I had the privilege of being one of her readers for her exciting second book’s manuscript. Though publishing her first book and working on the second have forced her to reduce involvement in the writer’s group, Angela still helps run some of the WordSowers social media.

20140409-163755.jpg

Here’s her information, in her own words.

Angela D. Meyer lives in Omaha, NE with her husband of more than 22 years. She homeschools their daughter and recently graduated their son who is now a Marine. She has taught Bible class for over 35 years and served for almost three years on the leadership team of her local Christian writers group. She loves God, her family, the ocean, good stories, connecting with friends, taking pictures, quiet evenings and a good laugh. Someday she wants to ride in a hot air balloon and vacation by the sea. Her first novel, Where Hope Starts, shares the story of God’s redemption in the middle of a crumbling marriage.

The blog hop also came with four questions. These are my answers, not Angela’s.

1. What am I working on?
A fantasy novel called Refraction. You can see chapter 1 here.

Lyllithe Aulistane is the adopted daughter of her town’s senior religious leader, the Eldest of the Abbey. She’s also a Ghostskin – a pale half-breed of human and air elemental. Her Gracemark and training with the Abbey call her toward a pacifistic life of ministry and healing as a Devoted. Her heritage and passion drive her toward adventure, using the power of the elements to prevent harm instead of mending the wounded. And her curiosity leads her toward an unknown source of power that beckons even as it repulses her.
While she struggles to choose her path, she meets resistance at every turn. The Abbey rejects those deemed impure, and the Arcanists demand intense discipline. Though Lyllithe finds allies along the way, there are many more who seek her life. From the lowest highwayman to the highest political levels in the capital city of Aulivar, Lyllithe and her friends become valuable pawns in a game they cannot see.
But when the stakes rise to include the lives of an entire city, Lyllithe can’t afford to make a wrong move.
“From daybreak ’til the sun goes down, Devoted shall I be.”
Devoted, yes… but to what?

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I’m writing for the mainstream audience, not the Christian market. However, I am employing Christian concepts behind the magic systems, political/cultural/religious organizations, and overall world theme. Essentially I’m aiming to write a fantasy novel that fits a Christian worldview without preaching to its audience.

3. Why do I write what I do?
I love communication. It’s my job in the Air Force, but it’s also a hobby. The idea that a writer can create a scene and somehow transfer that thought near-directly into the mind of a reader is powerful stuff. Being a Christian, I of course hope to communicate some measure of biblical truth in what I write. But saying that carries so much baggage in today’s Western society, where all sorts of cultural and political issues are too polarized for any meaningful dialogue. I have good friends “on both sides of the aisle” between Democrats and Republicans, Christians and atheists, heterosexuals and homosexuals, rationalists and idealists. I don’t want to add to that strife we see all around us. I’d rather explore some of the struggles and common experiences we can all relate to, with a heaping spoonful of grace mixed in.

4. How does my writing process work?
For a book, I need to outline. I have to map out the start, some milestones on the way, and a destination. I’ll plot out the various conflicts I see at the start, and jot down ideas for how to build on those. I write journals or practice scenes with characters until I get a good voice for them in my head.
Then I go chapter by chapter, scene by scene, until the work is done (or more likely until I see large-scale problems with the whole project, and start over, making corrections along the way).
This question is better for a writer known for finishing their projects, I think.

And now’s the part where I should have authors with whom I coordinated further hops. But I’m in the process of moving overseas, so I have not done my due diligence in getting other bloggers signed up. So unfortunately, my post is a blog flop, and this particular bit of hopping stops here.

Even so, I still wanted to give Angela’s work the attention it’s due.