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Matt's Occasional Writing Blog

Quote of the Day:

"If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all."

 

 

- Oscar Wilde

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The Ongoing Work of Working on a Work in Progress

One of the joys (and challenges) of writing over time is how you change your approach. I started as a plotter. Actually, that's not true. Twenty years ago, I started as a pantser (that is, no outline, no script, just an idea and a keyboard). Five manuscripts that had each stalled out at chapter four led me to the not unreasonable conclusion that I needed to try something different. A sensible suggestion from a writing instructor ("Y'know, you might want to outline your book, so you know where you're going.") was all it took, and lo and behold, I was finally able to finish my first novel. 

 

In the heady joy of that initial success--by which I mean, the personal accomplishment, not financial--I was convinced, not unreasonably, that the only way I'd ever be able to complete any novel is to carefully plot out, chapter by chapter, scene by scene, what will happen ahead of time before I sit down to actually write. The Mountain was mostly written this way. Certainly the first half. But around year three of writing that doorstop, I noticed I was straying further and further from the original outline. And as I deviated course, instead of re-writing the outline, I'd just jot down a line or two of what needed to happen. The writing pace picked up. The closer to the end I got, the less I planned ahead. It's still 95% a "plotted" book, and given the length and the number of plot lines and subplots, I don't know if The Mountain could have been written any other way.

 

Still, when the idea for a new historical fantasy series set in 1798 Boston dropped into my noggin, I was ready to change methods. For Yonder & Far: The Lost Lock, I had two opening scenes, an ending, and a vague idea of what should happen in the middle. That's it. But with nothing more than that, I plowed in with "The offices at the end of Merchant's Row were odd." And the rest was history. That book was basically pantsed (about 85% so). The next book in the Yonder & Far series that I just signed with Ellysian (The Tarot Tale) was even more seat of the pants. With no idea what would happen next, I just kind of thought about each scene as I sat down to write, what would be cool, what might be a neat plot twist, and the ideas dutifully come up as needed (sometimes grudgingly, sometimes freely, often at inconvient hours). Pantsing entails a lot of post-writing edits, and there's often wasted effort with scenes or characters that end up on the chopping block. But I've found this method works best. And I've gotten to the point that I no longer second-guess its efficacy. "Trust the process," is a mantra I repeat to myself whenever I feel a little intimidated about plowing ahead. When asked, I describe myself by the more refined term, "discovery writer," but I'll answer to "pantser" without any shame or apology.

 

The last two works I finished--Look With Your Eyes, a novella that's under contract with Ellysian and God of the Godless (which I'm still tinkering with)--were products of pantsing. God of the Godless was a bit unique only insofar as it grew out of a short story I had previously published (Don't Call Me Godless) a while back. But I haven't really tinkered with "the process" for a couple of years now.

 

That is until the current work in progress came along... A Florida fantasy is what I've got in the works. A book within a book that combines magic and myth and follows a classic hero's quest. I'm still utilizing the discovery process, but in honor of an intuition I received quite out of the blue, I'm tweaking the process on this one. As the "book within the book" was handwritten by the protagonist, so, too, the book itself is being handwritten by its author. Starting loosely with scribbles and lines and floating words in a notebook, then, in the best handwriting I can manage, I finalize the writing into a nice blank book. As each chapter finishes, I input it into a computer for safekeeping. I'm about 9k words in and, though it's going slower than usual, I do like what's happening with this tweaked discovery writing process. It's still pantsing, but when it comes to the "scribing" aspect of writing, I'm forcing myself to slow down and really think through exactly how I want the words to sound in my head before I see how they look on the page. Which is actually an inversion of what usually happens when I write.

 

I doubt I'll ever do this again; but for this book, I mean to see it through all the way. This method is stretching me, and that's a good thing.

 

All the best,

 

Matt

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HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!

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Ellysian Press Halloween Sale

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Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

I have a soft spot for the Norse myths. They were the go-to stories my parents would read to me at bedtime. Odin, Thor, Loki, Frey, and all the rest of the Aesir, they're like old friends. 

 

Any author who would put together yet another book of Norse myths faces some daunting challenges. First, it's been done a lot of different ways already. Second, there's not much of a coherent story arc in the overall body of stories with which to work (the primary source material for most Norse mythology books, the Eddas, are a hodgepodge of collected stories, songs, and poems). Basically, there's the creation story, some origin stories for individual gods, some random adventures, and then everyone dies at Ragnarok. Being myths, there are also inconsistencies and "plot holes" throughout (e.g., if Loki can just up and change himself into a mare in one myth, why does he need to borrow a cloak of falcon feathers to turn into a bird in another?). Finally, fans of the Norse myths (myself included) are going to read any rendering closely, critically, the way fans tend to do. So an author who hopes to set these very old and very popular stories in a fresh light has their work cut out for them.

 

Neil Gaiman's Norse Mythology is excellent work. The book is a tight, delightful compilation of the most notable Norse myths. The prose is thoroughly Gaiman, through and through: droll, well-paced, and accessible to modern readers without coming across as trite. Gaiman also manages to weave some connective threads here and there to link the stories together somewhat. The final product is almost (but not quite) a re-imagining, rather than simply a re-telling, of the Norse tales. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

 

A little more polish on a few spots here and there could have made this charming book shine even brighter. The All-father, Odin, gets shortchanged with a somewhat flat characterization and relatively few lines (which is curious, because he's probably the most fascinating of all the Norse gods). And at times Gaiman's prose voice bleeds into the dialogue. I would have liked just one or two more stories. But these are small complaints and easily overlooked for a book of mythology that was both readily familiar and wonderfully new. 

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The Next Yonder & Far Adventure!

I'm pleased and thrilled to announce that John Yonder and Captain Far's next adventure will be published by the good folks at Ellysian Press. Book 2 of the Yonder & Far series, tentatively titled The Tarot Tale, has been accepted by my publisher. More strange fae, more deadly battles, more Custom, and the 1800 presidential election set the stage for Yonder, Far, and Mary Faulkner's next exciting tale. 

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The Mountain on Sale

So apparently Amazon has put my epic fantasy novel, The Mountain, on sale. Not something my publisher (or I) had planned, but it's appreciated nonetheless. I don't know how long it will last, but you can get a physical copy of The Mountain for $10.08--more than half off the initial list price of this 700+ page book. Click the book cover image for a link to the Amazon page.

Matt

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Who’s On First?

Most of the stuff I've written is in third person (non-omniscient) with multiple points of view (usually focused on 3-4 main characters and perhaps a couple of secondaries). It's a natural form for story-telling. And it's fun. It allows the author to craft scenes around the most effective perspective; it lets you change the "voice" of the writing from scene to scene; it gives you a chance to explore different characters more deeply. Maybe because it comes so naturally, and because it has so much utility, I've just gravitated toward 3rd person POV.

 

But twice I've ventured into first person POV for novels. The first one was based on a short story ("Don't Call Me Godless"), and I finished it about a year ago (I've been shopping it around for the past five months). The second one is my current work in progress. Here's what I've figured out about writing in 1st person.

 

It's a lot more organic. There's almost this sleight of hand you get to play with a first person POV, where you (hopefully) end up fooling the reader by pretending to be the narrator. The old saw, "show don't tell" just seems a little easier in the first person. I'll also say that for a discovery writer who constructs a good amount of plot structure during the writing process, 1st person POV is a much more straight-forward form. The story line has to be set around one set of eyes, from one experience, and, more or less, along one plot line. It's almost like you're putting together a recipe for a cookbook. So there's less wasted time on scenes, characters, etc. that end up getting cut later on.

 

But there's also a challenge that I've been struggling with. When you write a whole novel from one character's first person POV, you'd better like that character. A lot. Because you're going to be spending a lot of time with him or her. There's no taking a break from the main character in these kind of stories. If the main character's kind of flat, or dull, or annoying, or a trope, then it's going to be a long 12 months of writing. 

 

Like all the choices that get made during the writing process, there are pros and cons to writing in the first person. I'm not sure it's something I'll do on a regular basis, but I do like the exercise of trying something different.

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If You Want to Know How Choose Your Own Adventures Came to Be, turn to ….

For those who grew up in the 80's and remember fondly the fun of Choose Your Own Adventure books (those illustrated chap books told in the 2nd person where the reader is poised with a choice on each page and, depending on her or his choice, flips to a different page), there was a really good article in the New Yorker telling the "backstory" (so to speak) of how these books came to be...The Enduring Allure of Choose Your Own Adventure Books

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Rain, Rain, Go Away …

Hurricane Ian

Thoughts and prayers for all the folks on the southern Gulf Coast. 

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