Revisiting older work

With Wine Bottles and Broomsticks entering the long and epic end-game of writing a book, my extreme sense of procrastination is starting to kick in. Aside from mocking up fake magic cards and poking about with a program I’ve been working on, I’ve started thinking seriously about other stories. While I want to, want to work on the sequel to Wine Bottles and Broomsticks, I just can’t seem to stay focused. Part of that probably has to do with a healthy dose of self-doubt about Wine Bottles. I mean, just because I think it’s a good book and that everyone should read it doesn’t mean anyone ever will. One of those avenues of procrastination happens to be my last attempt at a novel.

The War of Shadows was the first book I’d actually completed. I even proudly sent it out to beta readers. As these things tend to go with first books, my friends mostly finished it and had encouraging things to say. However, the truth of the matter is that the book sucked, something my wife tried to say in constructive terms. The idea that it was broken finally started sinking in last summer. I don’t know that it’s broken beyond repair, but it was pretty clearly beyond my skill to correct. The core (not the entire) problem was the two main characters and especially the main character. They were bland, weak, and had no chemistry. Some of the other characters are a bit better, but in general they’re bad. My conclusion? I’m awful with characters and character arcs.

With that failure solidly under my belt back in August, I decided to take a short break from revising my broken book and work on a concept that came to me after a flippant remark. The phrase ‘The problem with witch hunts is that sometimes you find one’ actually comes from something I told someone. I’m not sure how a sentence can become a book, but there it is. This story quickly became my main writing focus, almost to the exclusion of everything else in life. What’s the main strength of Wine Bottles? Ironically, it’s the characters. This has made me revisit the conclusion that I can’t write good characters. In fact I can do it, furthermore, I knew what was necessary to fix it, but I couldn’t seem to make it work. This was, of course, because much of the action surrounding the main character was built according to his reactions, which meant a full and complete re-write of the book, something I didn’t want to do. Now I’ve finished a second book, I actually WANT to to rewrite it. I want to make that character the way he should be. Having concluded a character arc, I can see how it’s supposed to work and I’m ready to tackle it again.

In fact, I’ve already started. On Thursday night I crawled into bed, exhausted and ready for the day to be over only to be drawn to my iPad, where I clacked out the new start to the book. I only made it five-hundred words in before calling it a night, but the gauntlets were off. I’m going to completely gut and re-write the book. So far, I can say that this is much, much easier than the first time. I’m about half-way through the new first chapter and while it’s still rough (it is a draft), it’s a million times better and the characters are already more interesting and likable.

What’s interesting to me about this is that I didn’t stop writing or take a ton of classes, and I didn’t pick up dozens of books to carefully study them for techniques on how to bring out a strong character. No, I kept writing. I wrote something different, something that was supposed to be a throw-away, not a serious effort. You know what? I learned something. Not only did I learn more about how to put a story together, but I also learned about my own writing style. Just playing to my strengths has made the process of writing much more enjoyable and move along much faster. I may still have a lot to learn, but I’m now much, much further along than I was last year at this time.

Now I’m off to work on that first chapter again. Hopefully, it’ll make for a readable book this time.


How dragons came to be

The following is an excerpt from chapter 10 of the War of Shadows. This is what I would call the ‘flavor text’ that occurs at the beginning of each chapter. It gives history of the world as relevant to the chapter. The voice and style are different than that of the main text of the chapter.

The number of stories concerning the coming of dragons into the world are as many and varied as the people telling them. Before their fall, the Narrím had collected the most comprehensive and compelling records regarding their appearance and history. These have, in large part, been preserved by the Jai. They tell of a volcanic explosion so powerful, it rang the world like a bell. The land was covered in toxic, choking ash, and the skies filled with clouds so black, a proper summer did not come for some years. In the first year after that explosion, many violent, rain-less storms blew up in all corners of the world. With every crack of thunder a dragon came to be. Some of these storms spawned the proud, civilized dragons calling themselves true dragons, and who came to regard themselves as superior to humans. Others brought forth those dragons preferring the life like to that of any other beast of the world, with little interest in language, trade, or culture.

  Being volatile creatures, prone to easy provocation, the first dragon clans fought among themselves. Thus their numbers remained low and confined to the most remote patches of the world. For ages, this was the lot of the dragons, and it suited them in that time. It was not until people arrived and colonized the world that this changed. From the start, humans sought out dragons and slayed them. The dragons condemned these attacks as unjust and cruel, being for the sole purpose of glory. In the face of this onslaught, Rauk Trofocks, gathered as many of the fractured remnants of the original clans as he could into a single clan. As a united group, they were able to take control of wide swaths of land, claiming them for their own, and enslaving whatever people were there and calling it recompense for the unjust treatment at the hands of humans.

  Eventually, the Jai and Narrím people came together and beat the dragons back to a single corner of the northern world, pushing dragons to the very edge of extinction. Once again Rauk Trofocks, came to the rescue of the dragons. A treaty was signed demarking the edges of dragon territory and restricting the taking of any new people as slaves. This treaty held until the end of the Great War of Chaos. When the Narrím attacked the Jai, the dragons openly fought alongside the Narrím. At the end of that war, the dragons, greatly diminished, retreated to their own country.

  People, having forgotten the existence of a treaty, re-colonized lands having been promised to the dragons. Weakened as they were, the dragons had little choice but to cede the encroachment in those times. As the dragons grew in number and strength once again, however, they pushed outward of their core strongholds into those lands designated by the old treaty as belonging to them.