Previously, I alluded to the idea of taking a more in-depth look at my writing process vis-à-vis the latest draft of my current short story project, code-named “Story of V”. And hey, you know what, this sounds like a good idea to do in general whenever I finish a draft or a major milestone of a writing project. Take a more critical look at what I wrote and the process that achieved it, and see what I can learn from it to apply to future writing projects. So here goes the first of my probably too infrequent series of Post Script Process Analysis posts.
In my prior post, I started talking about how significantly the wordcount on this story increased from the first draft to the second draft, and what comprised that wordcount. Just so you don’t have to go back and read it, the leap in length was from a little over 5,600 words to just over the 10,000 word line – an increase of nearly 80%, or close enough to doubling in length as makes little difference. So, why the big increase?
So, MS Word has this handy “Compare Documents” feature that allows you to take two DOC files, presumably earlier and later drafts of the same document, and see what changes were made between them. Word creates a new document with the changes conveniently marked in red text. Looking at the latest draft and the first draft of “Story of V” allows me to quickly (-ish) see what changes I made. On page 1, for instance, I added some character description for the POV character, switched some of the descriptive details of the environment and setting around to put character details closer to the beginning, heightened the use of the character’s senses, and made some attempts to improve the flow and the writing style. On page 2, I made the POV character’s immediate goals clearer, provided more details about the character and his state of mind, still more setting and environment description, clearer and fuller descriptions of two additional characters, and made more attempts to improve the style. I could go on like this for the next 30+ pages, but I’ll spare you the minutiae. What I’m really interested in is the bigger picture.
The last few weeks have been pretty good, and in particular as it relates to writing time. I’ve found time to write on at least two or three days in each of the last several weeks, and it’s proven quite productive for me. I’ve gone from virtually no editing work done at all on “Story of V” to done, finished, complete with the latest draft.
Of course, my editing process being what it is, I’ve also gone from comfortably under 6,000 words to just past 10,000. Obviously that’s a big jump: way more than I’d either anticipated or planned. I knew it would go up some, but I figured probably around a thousand words, maybe two. A 75% increase in length must be some kind of record, even for me. But even under normal circumstances, I’m learning it’s not unusual for me to have an increase in length of something like 20 to 50%. (My first completed story which I consider to be of “professional” quality, “People for the Ethical Treatment of Dragons”, which earned an Honorable Mention in the Writer’s of the Future contest, increased in size by about 25% between the two main drafts, from about 9,500 words to about 12,100 words. My second, Resurrection Spell increased almost 50% from 7,800 words to 11,700 words.)
Which leaves one (i.e. me) to wonder: what’s up with my writing process that this large increase in wordcounts between drafts is normal for me? Don’t other writers go the other way?
Okay, so I’m not really the best person to say what other writers do, but I expect I’m the most qualified to talk about my own process (even if I’m still learning it, myself). A common thread I’ve noticed between these the stories is about what, precisely, goes into that extra wordcount. The largest part: increased depth of characterization. The second largest part: additional worldbuilding details. The third: some mix of clearing up needless obfuscation and attempts to wax a little more poetic.
You know… I think there’s a good post to be written on this topic. So, with this hopefully as a teaser, I’ll leave a further examination of what I’ve learned about my writing process until the next time.
For now… the second draft of “Story of V” is finished, and you know what? I think it’s pretty good. Much better, I believe, than I’d originally expected it to be. But while I’m happy enough with this draft, I don’t think I’ve reached the end of the writing process here.
And that’s where you, dear reader, may be able to help out. I always feel a little bit like a tool doing this, but I’m reaching out and looking for volunteer Beta Readers. What are the qualifications? An interest in reading a 10,000-word length story, to begin with. An appreciation for the Epic Fantasy genre would help. An ability to articulate what you liked and disliked is pretty crucial.
If and when I get any respondents offering their “services”, I do have a few specific requests for certain kinds of feedback, which I’ll detail to those who volunteer. Basically, at this stage I’m somewhat more interested in style over substance, since I think I’ve got the nuts-and-bolts part pretty well figured out. Of course… I’m close to the work, and there’s certainly a non-insubstantial chance that I’ve missed some obvious, glaring deficiencies in the work, and I appreciate having those pointed out to me as well.
For those who answer the call I can’t really offer anything but my appreciation: I can’t even make a promise of quid-pro-quo critiquing of something you’ve written. (I can entertain doing critiques on a case-by-case basis for those who have something they’d like me to critique if I find I have bandwidth, but I can make no solid predictions about what my bandwidth looks like over more than about a week at a time. Naturally, I would likewise expect no promised quid-pro-quo in return if I am able to take on a critique for anyone out there.)
Shout out here in the comments if you’ve got the time, means, and wherewithal to take a crack at an epic fantasy novelette written by yours truly.
So… I wrote something last night. Actual words of fiction. And not just notes about actual words of fiction that I intend to write in the future (although I did that, too). I didn’t keep a wordcount on it – it wasn’t a whole heckuva lot of words, anyway, and the net might actually be a negative wordcount since I was editing on a prior draft of a short story, and I cut out a fair amount, too.
But it felt good.
The work in question is the story I’d code-named “Story of V”. This one’s been a long time in coming… I think I first started work on it sometime in early 2013. Now there’s a real chance I’ll finish it in 2014. Huzzah!
In what loook to be an ongoing annual feature here, I thought I’d look ahead at movies coming out in 2014 – especially of the SF&F variety – that have caught my interest… and, in a few cases, which I think I’ll actually see in theaters.
- The Hobbit: There And Back Again Because duh! Huge epic fantasy fan, here. Not going to miss this one. If I see only one movie released in 2014 in theaters, this will likely be it. (Even if, as with The Desolation of Smaug, I don’t actually get to see it in the year it is released…) Releases December 17, 2014
- The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 I liked the Hunger Games movie and, if anything, Catching Fire was even better, IMO. So I’m looking forward to the next installment in the film series, and I expect there’s a strong likelihood I’ll catch it in Theaters as well. But I can’t let this go without mentioning how sad I was to hear about the untimely passing of Philip Seymour Hoffman. Releases November 21, 2014
- The Lego Movie I am an unrepentant geek. I had reservations about this movie when I first saw the original trailer, but let’s be honest: this was never not going to win me over. I mean, it has Batman! (And not Ben Affleck as Batman!) And also Star Wars! I expect it to be a glorious medley and hash of everything I love about Legos, and to not make one whit of sense, and still to be oh-so-much fun. Plus, the reviews of this one are actually pretty fantastic. Something tells me B.T. would get pretty excited about this movie, too, if he knew about it. Already Released
- Robocop I loved the original (probably much more violent than I really needed at that age) Robocop as a kid. So I was naturally curious about this. On the general topic of reboots and remakes, I sit on the fence: some are good, and some are bad. And, you know what? I’ve been really impressed by the trailers for this particular remake. Plus, it looks like some actual thought went into how the themes of the original Robocop are, in some interesting ways, more relevant today than ever, and it looks like this movie is going to explore the implications of those themes in the post Predator-drone world. I was this close to catching a pre-release screening of this one (courtesy of some opportunities made available through my day job), but the various “winter storms” that have spread across the land like a shadow from Mordor had other plans. Releases February 12, 2014
- The Wind Rises Mainly because, as I’ve stated before, I adore the work of Hayao Miyazaki. This one seems to be grounded in actual history and reality, rather than the typical SF&Fnal themes Miyazaki often explores, but what the heck. One of these days, I’ll get myself all caught up on Miyazaki. Releases February 21, 2014
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier I still haven’t gotten caught up with The Avengers and it’s several tentacle-like offshoot movies, so it’s unlikely I’ll see the newest Captain America in Theaters. But would you look at that: this movie’s got flying aircraft carriers. How very deiselpunk. Anyway, I enjoyed the first Captain America, so this’ll go on my DVD-for-sure list. Releases April 4, 2014
- Godzilla Like Robocop above, this is a remake of a movie I loved as a kid. Given how iconic Godzilla is, you probably did, too. And, just like Robocop above, this is one where the trailer made me go “Wow, that looks really, really cool”. The same caveats about remakes apply, of course. But… well… this looks really cool. Releases May 16, 2014
- X-Men: Days of Future Past I loved the first two X-Men movies back in 2000 and 2003. I felt like they were great adaptations of the X-Men material, and they really helped to usher in the modern era of superhero flicks. But the third X-Men movie was kind of a disaster – a mostly incoherent mishmash of plots, any one of which likely would’ve made a fantastic movie by itself but together felt disjointed. I haven’t seen an X-Men movie since. (Okay, let’s be honest: that’s not for lack of interest; X-Men: The Last Stand wasn’t so bad that it soured me on X-Men movies. Rather, between that and the release of X-Men Origins: Wolverine I’d gotten married and started grad school and my go-and-see-a-movie-because-I-want-to-on-a-whim free time began evaporating into the black hole of adult responsibility. Hey, it happens.) Since then, though, I’ve really liked the look of what I’ve seen on trailers for First Class and The Wolverine. And Days of Future Past looks like it does a good job of picking up from there, based on some pretty impressive trailers. But I haven’t yet seen First Class or Wolverine (see aforementioned comment on free time versus black hole of adult responsibility). So I won’t be seeing this in theaters. But I do want to see it – right after I finish up catching the other X-Men movies I’ve missed on DVD… Releases May 23, 2014
- Maleficent I’m a sucker for Disney movies. I never quite grew out of them, and I’ve no shame in that (why should someone have to grow out of it, anyway). As mentioned here several times, in general I have mild reservations about remakes – but ultimately I reserve my judgment based on the final product itself. And so far, this one is looking like a very interesting retelling of the classic Disney version of Sleeping Beauty. And, wow, does Angelina Jolie really embody Maleficent so well. Maleficent really is, after all, probably the best animated Disney Villain. My biggest hope for this movie is that, before the end, she turns into a dragon. There aren’t enough dragons in movies, and the dragon from the original Sleeping Beauty was probably one of the top 5 or 6 movie dragons ever. Releases May 30, 2014
- Edge of Tomorrow So… it’s Groundhog’s Day but with an alien invasion and powered armor suits? Color me… intrigued at the very least. I know there weren’t a lot of positive reviews for Cruise’s most recent science-fictional outing, but I’m still interested enough to be watching this one very closely. I mean, what’s not to love about the formulation above? Releases June 6, 2014
- How To Train Your Dragon 2 Remember when I said there weren’t enough dragons in movies? I stand by that, but this movie helps to close the gap. I pretty much loved the first How To Train Your Dragon, and this looks like it’s going to take the world that was explored in that movie and really push its boundaries. I’d be delighted to return to that world, and to experience more dragony goodness. In all honesty, I expect this to be a fantastic movie. Releases June 14, 2014
- Dawn of the Planet of the Apes I haven’t seen Rise of the Planet of the Apes yet, though it’s on my to-rent-on-DVD-when-I-have-time-to-watch-movies list. I don’t expect that time to magically materialize between now and when this movie comes out, so I don’t expect to see this in theaters. But there were a lot of good reviews for Rise, and Dawn looks to be just as good. It looks like this new Planet of the Apes series is taking the basic premise of the original and really finding some interesting and compelling new stories to tell based on that premise. Releases July 11, 2014
- Into the Woods I know nothing about this except that it is, I believe, an adaptation of the Broadway musical of the same name. In which case, I’ve got to put this on my list. I’ve long wanted to see the Broadway show. Releases December 25, 2014
There are a few movies that have landed on my radar that I’m currently on-the-fence about. I’ve just no way of knowing how I’ll feel about these, yet, and for most of them I expect I’ll be plenty happy waiting for the reviews to come in before I decide if I want to see these at some point…
Noah This looks potentially epic. Hey, it’s about the end of the world… albeit one that occurred a long time ago. (It’s alright. The world got better…) And of course, there’s the little fact that this is based on one of the primary mythic narratives of several of the world’s major religions. All that said, I would not shun an opportunity to see this, were it to arise. Releases March 28, 2014
Transendence A movie about the Singularity, and of course this being Hollywood the Singularity is a bad thing. But it’s also got Johnny Depp not being a quirky pirate, or a quirky vampire, or a quirky denizen of nonsense-land, or a quirky Native American sidekick, or a quirky anything really. Actually… it looks like he’s basically the bad guy and it looks like he plays it pretty straight. That alone might be worth seeing. Releases April 18, 2014
Interstellar What is this about? The trailer says I’m a deep movie about pushing human frontiers, and also I’m emotionally complex, or something, but damned if I have a plot. IMBD says it’s about “explorers” using a “newly discovered wormhole” to make an “interstellar voyage”. To where? And why? So far mum’s the word. It’s directed by Christopher Nolan. That’s good. It stars Matthew McConaughy. Yawn. It’s an original story, not a remake, adaptation, or sequel. That’s interesting. So this is on the radar, but right now I know too little about it to judge how high my interest will be. Releases November 7, 2014
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 I’m still not ready for the too-soon Spider-Man reboot. Give it a couple years, and I’m sure Tobey Maguire’s turn as the web-slinger will be enough of a memory that I’ll be able to enjoy these movies. Releases May 2, 2014
Jupiter Ascending In theory this is all a super-cool Epic Fantasy Space Opera whiz-bang bonanza. It’s from the Wachowski Siblings, who previously brought us The Matrix (Yay!) and also Speed Racer (Boo!) and also Cloud Atlas (Bwuh?). This could go any way. My personal bet, though: this is going to be 2014’s box office boondoggle. So far there just doesn’t sound like there’s anything truly original in this story – it’s all generic “poor or orphaned young person is secretly destined to destroy the evil tyrannical dictator”. You know, like orphans do. I enjoy that basic storyline as much as the next Epic Fantasy fan, but I like to have something truly new added to that mix. And making the poor young destiny-laden hero a girl doesn’t exactly count as new. (It’s not a bad idea that the Chosen One is a she – that’s certainly a welcome addition to the oeuvre of the trope – but gender-swapping tropes is nothing particularly new.) Releases July 18, 2014
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Do we need a remake of the Turtles? Yeah, as a kid I thought they were awesome. I’m sure today’s kids will also think they’re awesome. I’ll just have to wait-and-see, I guess, how I’ll actually feel about this once I catch a couple trailers and maybe see some buzz and/or reviews… Releases August 8, 2014
The Maze Runner In an ideal world, I’d want to read the book, first. I’ve heard it’s actually a pretty good book. The basic plot outline certainly leaves me intrigued: a kid with amnesia finds himself awaking in the middle of a maze with no explanation, and must become part of a community of kids who have likewise been deposited in this maze. And, you know, maybe solve the maze and figure out what’s going on here? At least, I’d guess that’s where the story wants to go. (Like I said, I haven’t read this yet, and while it’s on my reading list, it was pretty far down on the list behind lots of other stuff I also want to read.) Releases September 19, 2014
The Boxtrolls The teasers I’ve seen for this make it look positively charming, and I love the stop-motion aesthetic. But this doesn’t have the look of “must-see on the big screen”. Still, I imagine it will be a wonderfully entertaining movie. Releases September 26, 2014
Movies from 2013
2013’s movie outings went pretty much as expected.
I saw 4 movies that were released in 2013, the first of which was Man of Steel. This was also my biggest disappointment of the year. I’d give the movie somewhere between a B+ and an A-. But it could have been, should have been, an A+. The pieces were almost all there – IMHO, a solid script and excellent casting and acting capability – but I think the directing by Zack Snyder left… something to be desired. It was frenetic and action-oriented and left too-little time for character building and spent way, way, way too much time on stuff blowing up. How his continued helmsmanship of the DC-Universe movies figures into things does not fill me with hope for the future of my two favorite superheroes. (I’m still unreservedly against Bat-fleck, and despite my love of this material, I’m convinced that Man of Steel II will be a disastrous box office bomb. When it happens… nobody can say WB wasn’t warned.)
The next three movies I saw from 2013 I didn’t actually see until this year, and include one surprise visit from last year’s Honorable Mention list. Of course, my other two top 2013 movies are on this list – Catching Fire and The Desolation of Smaug – both great and entertaining movies that, if anything topped the first of their respective series. And then there was Frozen. When I wrote up my movies list for 2013 I didn’t know much about Frozen. Turns out it was a great Disney movie in the classical Disney style. It was also B.T’s first bonafide going-to-the-movies experience. (His favorite part, he says, was when the princess turned to ice. Also the reindeer. And the snowman.)
I still want desperately to see Pacific Rim, which I heard described as either “the most awesome dumb movie, or the dumbest awesome movie” ever. Some inner-child in me fills with squee at the very thought of such a delightful concept. Other than that, though, 2013 went as well as can be expected in terms of movie watching for a family man with a newborn infant in the house.
On one hand, I’m not sure there’s much purpose, at this point, in setting “goals” for the year. I frankly have no idea what to expect in terms of time, sleeping of the baby, and energy levels in the year to come. How can I set goals if I don’t even know what I’m going to have to work with? However, I think there’s value in looking forward to the year and trying to assess what can be accomplished and what I want to accomplish. So I’m going to follow the model I’ve set for myself the past couple years and look at my year ahead, and how that fits into my longer-term goals and dreams. The one caveat: this year, I’m going to focus here primarily on the first half of the year, after which time passes I’ll assess where I am again and plan going forward from there.
Thinking About Long-term Goals
My thinking about my long-term goals hasn’t changed much over the past year. Here’s what I had to say about my long-term goals last year:
I haven’t made much of a secret about it my long-term goals and dreams… it’s implicit in my blog’s tagline: “A Day in the Life of an Aspiring Fantasy Author”. By “aspiring fantasy author” I mean not that I aspire to write… but that I aspire for my writing to be published. …Now we live in a day and age when the definition of the word “published” is in flux.
On my blog I’ve been critical, and thought critically about, both the new Digital Self-publishing paradigm and the old traditional publishing model. I’ve pointed out some of the systemic problems with each, and how those problems negatively impact authors. So, for me, it seems I could go either way. There are strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats with either road.
But when I say my long-term goal is to be a published author, I’m really talking about traditional publishing.
I then went on to dig into some of the “whys” behind my preference for “traditional” publishing to “digital self-publishing”, but I won’t rehash those here. The reasons remain, largely, the same, though perhaps the size of my dreams has moderated somewhat in the year past. (I’m basically in my mid-thirties, now. Older and wiser. Getting “rich” off of writing no longer seems even remotely achievable, even as a stretch-dream.) But the overarching long-term goal I stated before, and the reasons for pursuing it that I give, remain the guiding star by which I’m plotting my medium-term journeys.
In the last two years, I’ve given my goals as it relates across 4 categories: how much I plan to read during the year, how frequently I intend to write, completion of manuscripts and submission of manuscripts. This year I’d like to add some new categories, while I’ll be dialing back somewhat on several of the prior four.
1) Read at least 400,000 words worth of fiction in the first half of 2014: In 2013, I was able to put over a million words worth of fiction reading under my belt. I’d like to think I could do that again. But I’m not quite ready to publicly lay down a goal that ambitious for this year, and given the total state of flux that V.R. has left our life in, I can’t even say whether it’s realistic or feasible to do it again. Instead, I’ll focus on the first half of the year. I want to try to do at least 400,000 words of fiction by July 1st, 2014. Depending on how I do on that goal, I’ll adjust my 2014 expectations accordingly at that time.
2) Find a consistent writing schedule that I can realistically achieve, and then maintain it: In the past two years I’ve set ambitious goals for myself in terms of the frequency of my writing – at least, they were ambitious to me. In both years I failed utterly to achieve those goals. Right now, I simply don’t have a clear idea of whether or not I even can keep a consistent writing schedule. So my goal for the first half of 2014 is to try and find one. This is at least partially contingent on V.R. finding his own consistent sleeping schedule. While 2013 was marked by a complete lack of consistency on his part with regard to sleep, 2014 is so far shaping up to look like it might be different. I’m not sure what happened on January 1st, but things have been normalizing quite a bit since then in V.R.’s sleep department, though we’re by no means out of the woods.
If I can make it to the mid-year point on this goal successfully, then I’ll be in a better position to gauge how much writing I can achieve, and how frequently I can write in the second half of the year. If not, it’ll be a continued search for a predictable and consistent schedule.
3) Contingent on the success of Goal #2, focus on completing a final draft of one short story: This goal is entirely contingent. If I can succeed in finding some sort of consistent writing schedule in 2014, then my first effort will be to complete a final draft of a short story, namely the same short I’d been working on previously (i.e. Story of V). Since last I put words down on Story of V, the world of that story has blossomed in my head, and it now constitutes an out-of-chronological-order “chapter” in a longer epic fantasy series of short stories. In my head, these stories are each independent stories with their own characters (with a few recurring characters) and their own beginnings, middles, and ends. But a thread runs through them that ties them together into a larger, hopefully coherent narrative. That’s the idea, anyway. But first… if I can, I want to finish this story.
4) Contingent on the success of Goal #3, submit completed story to a professional market or content: More contingency goals. If I can find time to write, and if I can thereafter finish a draft of this story, then and only then will I have something to submit. Basically: I’ll cross this bridge when and if I come to it.
5) Develop a plan to revitalize the blog: The first of my new goal categories concerns this very blog. Simply put, the site is dated and clunky. For a long time I’ve been wanting to update the blog to make it better and cleaner and update the visual appeal. The blog also lagged a lot in 2013 for posts and content. A lot of this was due to lack of time for blogging, this is largely true. But some of it was for lack of something to blog about. I believe that I need to take a broader view on what sorts of things are of value to discuss on this blog, and what I want to talk about.
This goal isn’t to complete the revitalization. It’s to set up a plan to do so. That plan will need to balance competing desires for maximum blog-beautifulosity and interestingification with minimum time input.
6) Find a consistent blogging schedule that I can realistically achieve, and then maintain it: Similar to Goal #2 in almost all respects except instead of relating to fiction, it relates to blogging. I’ve long wanted a consistent posting schedule; maybe in 2014 I can figure out what a realistic schedule might be.
7) Personal Life Renewal: You know something else that dropped off a lot in 2013? My personal life. As in the whole Husband and Father thing. I was so overtaken by being father I had to be (for little V.R.’s sake) that I hadn’t taken time to focus on being the father I want to be (for both V.R. and B.T.) Not to mention, you know, romancing Dear Wife. Of this I’ll say no more, except that I want to be very clear that these three people are my highest priority, and I want to acknowledge that here in my blog.
There. That should be enough to keep me very busy for the next six months. How do you plan to spend all that time?