Progess, and the thoughts it brings.

So for those that haven’t been following me for long, I don’t just write short stories. I am currently up to my eyeballs in a manuscript – or two, technically – for my first novel. Given a Work-In-Progress title of “The Veil”, this work has been my most ambitious project to date.

Why is it my “most ambitious project”?

Unlike my works in Fantasy or Science Fiction, The Veil is a Modern Paranormal Thriller. The two words in there that bring the pressure are “modern” and “paranormal”. Those two words are the ones that make this project much more difficult to work with than even the entire Science Fiction universe I designed.

“Modern” brings things to the table that we see if every day life. In particular: Police, the FBI, hospitals, churches, ect. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had to interact with the FBI before, nor have I had any extended stays in a hospital. It’s the research and proper implementation of these things we at least know of in our own modern world that makes this difficult. Get too many of these details wrong, and it’ll look less like artistic liberties and more like artistic dip-shittery.

“Paranormal” is easier to work with, but has the most potential for backfire. The reason is that what I mean by “Paranormal” isn’t ghosts or vampires, but angels and demons. Things that a massive segment of mankind believe in, in various forms, but that we have no physical facts on.

In order to work with this material, I told myself I’d use elements however I desired in order to make the best story I could; that I wouldn’t pull punches in order to to save face. Needless to say, I believe that this concept will either attract people or have them howling for my head on a pike.

So yea, powder keg? Meet the lighter.

For those that want a little bit of an idea what it’s about; “The Veil” is about a guy, named Alec, who has an incident occur when he’s out hiking. He wakes up two days later in a hospital, where he finds out that his eyes have been changed from brown to an almost luminescent silver, and a symbol has been scarred onto his shoulder. From there, he starts seeing his “guardian angel”, and is hunted by demons, the police, and a couple FBI agents. There’s more to it, obviously, but I can’t go spoiling everything.

The difficulties of working with this material aside, this is actually the second time I’ve worked on a manuscript for this story. I had started the first manuscript back in August of 2011, and then finished it in December.

After I wrote it, I went and wrote some short stories (you might know a couple of them: Synthetic Reality and Dawnstar ring any bells?) before I stepped back to edit The Veil. By the time I’d gone through the workshop at eFiction, failed to place in Bioware’s writing contest, ect., I had changed in my style.

When I went back to the original manuscript, I couldn’t even bear to read the damn thing. The grammar was bad, the punctuation was even worse, ect. The manuscript didn’t need editing; it needed a merciful bullet to the head, followed by a new start.

So, last week, I started writing the scenes for the second manuscript; The Veil 2.0, if you will. After the initial hurdle that the first chapter represented (read: my nemesis), I’ve managed to start working on chapter 2. The ball is rolling on its own now, and writing for it is becoming more of a flowing exercise, rather than a mental obstacle course.

That said, I can’t quite let my guard down.

The Veil will have excitement, thrills, and so on. To achieve those scenes, with the material I am using, will require some interesting maneuvering. Trying to get the real world details and the paranormal theories to collide and not wreck the book is a bit of a challenge, but one that I truly do intend to welcome with open arms.

A writer’s nemesis: Chapter 1.

I am sitting here at my computer, starting work again on The Veil. I had written an earlier nightmare sequence, but have just started in on Chapter 1’s meat.

It feels as though some asshole decided to lay down a brick wall in my way.

This isn’t an uncommon feeling to myself or other writers I’ve spoken with. Chapter 1 is always our greatest foe; the ending can be a tough thing to work on, but the beginning is where the largest source of frustration comes from.

Why is Chapter 1 so difficult? A number of reasons. Let me break it down on what is expected of a good first chapter.

  1. You need to explain who your protagonist is and what the setting is. Waiting till Chapter 4 to figure out that the setting is actually Steampunk and your protagonist is a peg-legged weremonkey is FAR too late; you need this locked down in Chapter 1.
  2. Your first paragraph (some say sentence, but I take a slight liberty here) needs to be a killer hook. Someone dies, the world ends, a bomb goes off, that fish your character ate last night decides to come back up for round 2, ect. You need your reader intrigued from the very first set of words you put on the page. Waiting till Chapter 2 to get the ball rolling is, again, too damn late. You can’t even do it half way through the first chapter; it must be done in the first paragraph at least.
  3. Explaining who your protagonist is (see point 1) is only part of the problem. You need to convey a reason to your reader about why they need to care enough for them that they’ll not only finish your chapter, but suffer through 70K-120K words to find out what happens to them. Think about those numbers for a second; 75,000 to 120,000 words is the average length of a fiction paperback. That is a lot of words that you’re asking – nay, begging – your reader to stick around for. If you don’t sell your character well enough in the first chapter, have fun with that.
  4. You need to start laying the groundwork for your story. This means showing what forces are working against your protagonist, what the world they inhabit is like (is it cruel and dark, sunny and joyful, ect), and even who some of the other characters are. Waiting till Chapter 7 to find out the nature of the world is, again, far too late; you’ve got to get this nailed down from the onset.
  5. You need to keep up the pace. If you want to do a massive info dump in Chapter 1, go right ahead; I just can’t guarantee I, as your reader, will be awake or having any care left to give by the end of it. You need to not only put the ball in play, but you also gotta keep that sucker rolling. If you don’t keep it rolling, your reader will stop caring and put your story down. Since that’s basically storytelling suicide, and I think we all understand that suicide is bad, you don’t want this to happen.
  6. This is the toughest part: you need to do all of those previous points (1-5) with absolutely no prior chapters or sequences to reference. Your reader is starting the novel from this very sequence, so you have nothing to say, “We’ve already covered who the protagonist is,” or so on. The reason being: you haven’t written that prior section, so Chapter 1 is the starting point for both the reader and the writer. You have to create a world, inform your reader about it, create an investment in the reader, and then keep the story moving forward, all within your first few thousand words. No pressure, right?

Quite the list, eh? That list is why Chapter 1 is the toughest mother you’ll ever find. Some might say that the last chapter is the toughest one, and they aren’t far off.

In your last chapter, you’ve got to tie up all those loose ends in the thread that is your story (or leave just a few dangling if you’re thinking for a series). The reason that Chapter 1 takes the cake, however, is that it’s the chapter where you have to make those threads in the first place.

By the end, hopefully, your readers are invested enough that they want to see what happens at the ending. In the beginning, however, they have no such investment or prior knowledge of your tale (because there was nothing before the beginning).

In the time spent writing this article, I have also deleted the first 800 post-nightmare words for my first chapter. The pacing wasn’t strong enough to keep myself, let alone the reader, engaged in the story. I’ve got another idea for how to spin the beginning so that it should get some vigor in it.

So yeah, can’t go wrong with both a discussion and some progress.

Update: Just a quick reminder folks, the June issue for eFiction is available. Inside, amongst the other great stories, is my latest release – Dawnstar. Be sure to check it out.

The emotional toll …

In writing, it’s commonly said that a writer invests a piece of his or herself in their work when they make it. It also is mentioned that you can tell a writer’s best works just by noticing which pages seem to be a window into the writer’s own soul.

It’s also said that writers are bat-shit-insane, so is it really all that good when the reader gets to peer into our souls?

When I hear about these things, I am reminded of a story I had written and then mothballed long before I ever got published for the first time. In it, I had a character – a woman, for those curious – that was the single most iconic punching bag I had ever conceptualized.

To say that I treated her poorly would be doing her a disservice. I took that character, from the age of 7, and made her life an inescapable, living hell all the way up till I put a bullet through her chest. Long, long time readers will know exactly what character I’m talking about.

Her background was the greatest of tragedies I have ever written. Her mother died from cancer when she was seven, her father became an abusive alcoholic, ect.

It all then culminated when it was showcased that she’d been sexually assaulted  on her 15th birthday by her father.

So daddy gets arrested and thrown in jail, and the girl gets sent to a foster home and gets free rounds of psychiatric care. Too late though, the damage had already been done. Her eggs, while not quite scrambled, were most certainly cracked.

A number of years passed, and our young woman had made some progress in getting her life back in order. Then she found out that her dad was slated to get out of prison early, so she intended to meet him when he walked out the doors. She also intended to have a knife in hand when she met him.

Only problem? Her dad got shanked in the showers a few days before his release. This leaves our young woman even further distraught, since she couldn’t get the revenge she wanted for what he did to her.

Now I won’t go into any further details for reasons I’ll talk about in a moment, but you get the point: this character suffered an incomparable nightmare of a life.

After I wrote her backstory, I sat back in my chair and just stared at my screen. My heart felt like it fell into my stomach.  I was looking at the screen in a sense of wonder; had someone else written this and it wound up on my screen, or was this really me?

I felt horror at what I had written in the name of storytelling, as if I myself had done the deed to this person. That they were no more real than a child’s make believe friend gave me little comfort, I had inflicted this pain and torment upon this person with my own hands.

Afterwards, when the story got away from me, I mothballed it. I told myself I would rewrite it when I got better at my craft, so that I could do it justice.

Years later, I’m eyeballing this story again with the intent to rewrite it. And this traumatized and victimized character? She gets to go through her hell all over again. Why? Not because I enjoy visiting that dark place in my mind again, of that I can assure you. No, it’s because I love to tell a story, and hers was one that stuck with most people that read it.

So yeah, are you really sure you want a glimpse inside my soul?