02/17/16
DontWakeTheReader

Lessons Learned: The Reader’s Lullabye

I want to start putting up little snippets of the things I’ve learned while writing. Stuff that will probably only appeal to new writers. I’d also like to play beach volleyball on Mars. Hopefully these “Lessons Learned” will come more often than my volleyball matches.

Writing should be efficient and quick. The reader needs to slip through your story as if she or he were on a waterslide. The problem, of course, is that sometimes you have approximately fifty seven things to present to the reader in each paragraph. (Well, fifty eight if you weave subliminal manifestos in your sentences like I do). These fifty seven or so things are complex thoughts. Things that could really be spread over an entire page. Two pages. Dammit, I need an entire novel to talk about these fifty seven damn things that I’m trying to tell you. Can we just Skype instead of you reading my book? Because I really don’t think I can get these ideas across in a tiny little novel.

But, as novelists, we must. We must. That is the job of a novelist.

Our job is not to tell a story. Anyone can tell a story.

Our job is not to dazzle with prose–that is the job of a poet. Or a politician.

Our job is to present the reader with an experience. Our job is the simple task of carrying a 200 pound reader on our back and flying them to a distant place. Our job is to put them into a dream state on that journey, except the dream is our dream, one that we have crafted with meticulous care. And the trick… the trick is to keep them from finding out they are dreaming.

How do we do this? Simple. By not letting them know we are there. There are a thousand ways a writer can intrude on his story, but the one I’m talking about today is boredom. We cannot bore the reader awake. We need to keep our readers so absorbed in the dream that they don’t have time to worry about that uncomfortable shoulder blade pressing against their butt-cheek.

But sometimes, especially in fantasy stories, we have to describe something. Setting is important in fantasy, and without it, you just have weird historical fiction.So how do we provide a description without waking up our little dreamer? With butchery, friends. With hard, pipe-hitting butchery and dismemberment.

Here’s a passage I wrote just now, in its original form (apologies for any grammar mistakes or typos):

The sun, dimmed by the ring shadows and reddened by smoke from a farmer’s distant field, seethed like a madman’s glare. To the east, the dark smudge of the Vruga mountains rose in the smoldering daylight. The Tiburcian hoof beats rang on the stony Northern Trail, leaving ghosts that seemed to bounce and tumble behind. And, up ahead, a stony mound rose from the plains.
Alturia.
The walled city rested on a hill within a loop of the Ballestra. A clutter of tightly-packed daub structures huddled within the winding curtain walls, climbing the sides of the hill. The muted sun washed rose across the white walls, the roof tiles a dull, burnt crimson.
At the center of the city—rising like a shard of glass from an ant hill—was the Cathedral of the Guardian. Five circles of shining towers and chapels, each soaring higher than the one enclosing it. And, mounted upon the highest of the towers, five silver rings facing north and south. From this distance, they looked like a single circle, glinting in the shadow of the true rings of Cerule.
“I thought we were going to ride in the foothills,” Ermenguille peered around the side of the carriage, as if armed men might appear behind them at any time.
“We will,” Tercero replied. “But there are few villages and no food in those hills. We need to buy enough to last us until we can cross into Corsyn.”

So, at the start of that section, I have three paragraphs of description, and this set off all sorts of sirens and a woman’s computerized voice saying, “Warning. Warning. Warning. Warning…”

Muted sun. Pale walls. *yawn*  Hill. Towers. *snort. Smack lips*  Five rings. More sun. “What… what am I doing up here? Who the hell’s back am I on?”

Yeah, mission not accomplished. I don’t think the passages were horribly unwieldy, but I am paranoid about waking the reader. So, I made a subtle change to keep the dream unbroken:

The sun, dimmed by the ring shadows and reddened by smoke from a farmer’s distant field, seethed like a madman’s glare. To the east, the dark smudge of the Vruga mountains rose in the smoldering daylight. The Tiburcian hoof beats rang on the stony Northern Trail, leaving ghosts that seemed to bounce and tumble behind. And, up ahead, a stony mound rose from the plains.
Alturia.
The walled city rested on a hill within a loop of the Ballestra. A clutter of tightly-packed daub structures huddled within the winding curtain walls, climbing the sides of the hill. The muted sun washed rose across the white walls, the roof tiles a dull, burnt crimson.
“I thought we were going to ride in the foorhills,” Ermenguille peered around the side of the carriage, as if armed men might appear behind them at any time.
“We will,” Tercero replied. “But there are few villages and no food in those hills. We need to buy enough to last us until we can cross into Corsyn.”
At the center of the city—rising like a shard of glass from an ant hill—was the Cathedral of the Guardian. Five circles of shining towers and chapels, each soaring higher than the one enclosing it. And, mounted upon the highest of the towers, were five silver rings facing north and south. From this distance, they looked like a single circle, glinting in the shadow of the true rings of Cerule.

Not fancy. Not glamorous. But something that breaks up the infodump with dialog. I might still cut a little more of the description. But if I don’t, I think I can still save the dream. If the reader starts snorting and waking, then hopefully the dialog will server as a lullabye.

Okay. That’s the snippet for tonight. Sleep well, my readers. And pleasant dreams.

12/3/15
MapThumb_sm

Peers out from under the covers…

Yeah, no updates for a bit. My apologies. Life’s been a bit of storm these last couple of months, so I’ve been clinging to driftwood and trying to stay afloat. Just wanted to give a quick update on a few things…

Emaculum Audio Book

First and foremost, I wanted to announce that, after a year of false starts, Emaculum (book three of The Scourge) will be getting an audio version (finally!). Those who follow me are probably aware that I had some problems with deadlines with the first voice actor. It became so frustrating that I was actually thinking of doing it myself, but I have no recording equipment and I don’t have the time right now to learn how to do it properly (30 hours at the very least to record and edit it). I was despairing about the situation when the captain of my Street Team (The Knights of Calas) stepped up in an *epic* way and told me he would do it. And so, I present to you, Lynn Roberts, knight of Calas and hero of the Emaculum audio book! I’ll have a separate post about Lynn and his journey into audiobook recording soon. He’s great with accents, but he will be reading the book without an English accent. It might be a bit surprising when you first start listening, but I’m sure his powerful voice will get you into the story right away.

The Madness of Valatriste

I have 30 pages left to write in my current work in progress. Tentatively titled The Madness of Valatriste. It’s a fantasy with Spanish and French flavorings, lots of dueling, and a main character that is sanity-challenged. I’m having a great time writing it, but it has become a bit epic. I’ll have this one sorted soon and hopefully have my agent sell it to someone early next year.

Tristan Novella

The promised Tristan novella will be the next thing I work on, barring contractual obligations. Sorry for the delay on this one!

Viral Marketing?

So, someone put together a few graphics for The Scourge trilogy–just images with quotes from the books on them. If you are so inclined, feel free to paste them around on the internet for some viral type marketing. Just click through for the full-size version if you need it. If people pin them to Pinterest/Instagram/Facebook and such, they might gain some traction and help with the books. I appreciate any sharing of these!

As always, if you have any comments or questions, feel free to leave them in the comments or drop me an email. I’ll be back soon with some more updates and interviews. Thanks again for your support!

 

07/16/15
Artwork by Rhys Griffiths. The Madness of Valatriste (Working title) follows chracters traveling from a Spanish-style society to a French-style society.

Where Am I? (And an Excerpt to Prove it)

Artwork by Rhys Griffiths. The Madness of Valatriste (working title) follows characters traveling from a Spanish-style society to a French-style society.

Yeah, my deepest apologies for not blogging consistently for the last … oh… lifetime. But it’s particularly bad lately because I’m working on a completely new book. And that new book is (likely) the first in a series. I thought I would post a microblog about what I’m writing, and paste an excerpt to prove that I’m writing it.

The book has a working title of “The Madness of Valatriste.” I don’t want to talk too much about the plot because I’m still writing it, but it takes place on a planet far far away, and that sort of thing. Our main character is named Tercero, and he lives on the continent of Lucerie, in the kingdom of Leoncio. He’s a bit conflicted, a great swordsman, a robber, and quite humorous. Oh, and he’s mad. Yeah, the crazy kind, not the angry sort.

There are other characters. A woman who believes she can see the future. A despondent soldier tracking down a demon. An autistic swordsman. A greedy (but kind) noblewoman. A ruthless duke with a Napoleon complex. There’s action and humor and love and scheming. There’s war and tragedy and lust and feats of genius. It’s quite a lot to pack into one book, and it’s taking me a long time to write. Hopefully it will be one of my best works. Just to tease you guys a little, there’s a quick (and unedited) excerpt below. As always, I truly appreciate your support and encouragement. You have been my strength while I type away in the dusty corners of the night.

Unedited Excerpt from The Madness of Valatriste (working title)
This is one of the more lighthearted scenes in the book. The protaganist, Tercero, is sitting on the driver’s box of a carriage. An older man is sitting beside him, and the rest of his crew in inside the carriage.

***

The riders were moving slowly through the darkened landscape, a leisurely lope along the Alturian grasslands.

“Perhaps our problems with money have been alleviated ,” Tercero said. “They are bound to have coin. Might be enough to get us to Valatriste.”

Ermenguille cocked his head to one side. “But…they won’t just give us their coins.”

“Of course they will.” Tercero reached through the open front quarter [of the carriage] and drew the powder pistol from Septymo’s bandolier. “We just have to be persuasive.”

“Oi!” Septymo shouted. “We have rules!”

Ermenguille rubbed at his neck, stared from the riders to the powder pistol. “You… you don’t mean to rob them? We don’t even know who they are!”

“I am not sure you have a thorough understanding of robbery.” Tercero cackled and whipped the reins. The thrill of the hunt was upon him. “If you know your victims, it is called borrowing. Yah! Septymo, may I borrow the powder-pistol?”

“Before!” Septymo bounced against the quarter-light on his left as the horses broke into a canter. He turned with a scowl. “You have to ask before you take it!”

“Not now brother!’ Tercero replied. “We have people not to meet!”

The two riders stopped and turned their horses so they could face the carriage. They were several hundred paces ahead. Large specks in the ring shadows. One of them glittered with steel. Armor.

“If that’s Corsaline plate, this will be the best robbery ever!” 

“Corsaline plate?” Septymo stared out the front window and donned the leather doctor’s mask. He handed one to Tercero.

“Slow down!” Duardo shouted. “The princess is bouncing around like a die in a cup!”

The armored man was clad in steel, from head to toe—breastplate, cuisses, greaves, spaulders. Everything. He held a spear in one hand and the reins of a towering grey charger in the other.

“A full suit of armor?” Tercero took off the ring-crown and slung the mask over his head. “I think that man robbed a museum.”

“Can I get into the carriage before you bring doom upon all of us?” Ermenguille asked. “That might be a partrol!”

“Not likely,” Tercero replied.

A staff was strapped to the other rider’s back. Five concentric rings had been mounted on the end, facing outward.

“That’s a priest!” Ermenguille said. “We can’t rob a priest!”

“Of course we can,” Tercero replied, his voice muffled in the leather mask. “Priests are the worst thieves of them all. Think of the mountains of silver they have stolen from their flocks.”

“They do not steal!” Ermenguille replied.

“Oh, but they do, old man.” Tercero said. “Guilt is their pistol and eternal damnation their gunstone. At least when I rob, I have the decency to call it robbery.” He looked back into the carriage. “Duardo, Estillete, put your masks on. We are hunting a priest! This will be the best robbery ever!”

“Why do we need the masks?” Duardo replied. “We’re hours from Belinthia, and we’re leaving Leoncio.”

Tercero slowed the Tiburcians when they were within twenty yards of the two men and sprang to the ground before the animals had stopped.

“Well met, travelers!” he called, the gun hidden behind his back.

The priest rode forward until he was a few paces away. He looked at the doctor’s mask and spoke with a thick Corsaline accent. “Is there plague nearby?”

“I always assume there is plague everywhere,” Tercero replied.

“A peculiar philosophy.” The priest replied.

“It helps. I have only died from plague twice.”

The priest laughed and walked forward to within point-blank pistol range. “The Gods hate Tremarians. And so do I. But I suppose I must pray for your souls anyway. I am Patris D’elan.”

Tercero raised the powder-pistol. “Keep your prayers, Patris. Our souls need gold.”

The priest let out a long breath. “You see? This is precisely why the gods hate Tremarians. Sir Dacion, send these poor souls to the Slave Ring.”

The man in armor flipped the visor down on his close-helm, lowered the spear. “I’ll send them to the Nether, instead, Patris.”

The priest shrugged. “Let the Gods decide. Now be a lad and make these men bleed.”

Tercero pirouetted, hands over his head, then snapped his arm forward again, scowling, trying desperately to think of something clever to say. “I killed ten men yesterday, before supper!” he shouted. “And I am about to eat lunch!”

The knight spun his horse and trotted a dozen paces away, then wheeled the animal around again, reins tight and high.

The carriage bounced as Septymo, Duardo and Estillette hopped out.

“You’re about to eat lunch?” Duardo shook his head, the long beak on the mask swaying from side to side. “That doesn’t even make sense”

“Why is that man wearing a full suit of armor?” Septymo asked.

“I think you are missing a more important question,” Tercero replied.

Duardo shrugged. “Why is that armored man charging us?”

Tercero shook his head. “No. What should my new strike cry be?” He aimed the pistol carefully at the knight, then pressed the firing bar with his middle finger. “Andeloo!”

The hammer sprung forward, flint struck steel with a click and a spark. But there was no explosion of sulfur and saltpeter. No cord of smoke tracing a line to the knight.

“Septymo?”

“I didn’t like it,” he replied. “Still awkward.”

“The gun, Septymo! The gun!”

“It’s not loaded.”

“Obviously it’s not…oh, for …” Tercero tossed the gun to the side and drew his sword, realized it was his master’s broken blade and sighed. “This is the worst robbery ever”