Friday, September 3, 2010

Immersed in the stasis called: 3rd Draft

So, the story of where my...story is at is a bit complicated. I have a long and far-reaching epic series I want to tell from a central character. As we all know, I’m new to this and would like to start strong. But at some point I realized I was not yet prepared for the sweeping epic scope of my story.

I thought in a moment of sheer genius *ahem*,  “Why not do some short stories? Help build my story-telling craft. Focus on elements that scare me. They’ll be short, right? Easy, fast and to the point. Right? It’ll be a short break from the main story, a mere segue to grow my experience and expand my horizons.”

Problem is, it’s never that simple.

My diversion wasn’t short, though it started that way. I started on Hestea Hammerblood in late 2007, it was supposed to be about 10-20k words.

How naive I was.

One of my largest concerns in writing the main series was of writing convincingly epic and large battle scenes. I sought out a focal point for the short and decided on detailing a hero’s rise to mythical fame amidst an epic war. Thereby hitting two birds with one stone, while creating a hero in the past of my main series, which would (in combination with everything else) help build up the world-at-large.

I wanted to focus on the waging of battle; on wins and losses. Though the manuscript continued to grow, I realized at some point: how terribly shallow it was. It had cool battle scenes, but little else. Despite that being the initial focus, I didn’t want it to be the defining characteristic of the story. I had become enamored with the story and wanted it to be more. Like any typical Hollywood Blockbuster it lacked real depth amidst the thrills and chills. So I started fleshing it out. Before long, I saw the building story could no longer be paired down to the size of a short story. I realized it had become a novel. But I had much more work ahead of me to accomplish that.

I won’t even talk about the multiple months that I took to tell a further storyline that became the short story: Child of Iron (still seeking to be published). Related, though I won’t say how, to the Hammerblood stories.

I had already known that I had material for three Hammerblood novels written out in brief outlines. The surprise though, was that within the first there were actually two novels. I had always known there were two climactic scenes, but I had forced them together in a way that worked. Yes, it was overly contrived, and reading it again I knew I was sacrificing my story for expediency. I wanted to be done with the third draft and dutifully ignored a major change that I needed to make. Part of the reason that I put this off for so long was that I never realized that the second part had enough material to be its own book.

Funny how that changes as you develop your story and characters.

Despite frustration, the idea of having one book completed soon, with another that followed shortly was certainly appealing. However, I really just wish I could call my third draft done and get it out to some test readers. I’ve been flying blind for so long that I am desperate to see if what I think is a good story, is ACTUALLY a good story.

I will wait, but what was initially a due date of May, then July?, then August is now the next couple weeks. I just hope I can make it.

Which brings me to a lesson that I’ve learned. No matter how you write, you need a plan. But also, no matter how detailed you write that plan you have to keep yourself open to change. I know some people swear by free-writes, others by an outline. But I think you need to do both. The only difference is the order. I started with a bare-bones outline, but it was uneducated and sloppy. As my story evolved, the changes required far more time to implement than I had wanted to spend. I seek a better way, because I don’t want to do that again.

(Dan Wells does a great story structure breakdown on YouTube that I think will help me [and possibly you?] in the future. Highly recommended:

So that said, I’m still struggling to finish with the 3rd draft of Hammerblood. Though the big change will pull away some great elements from the first book, it will make a lot more sense, and after further tweaks it will be stronger for the change.

How are your projects going? On time? Or vastly out of your time frame? How do you keep on track? Or, how do you think you end up getting off track?


  1. Deadlines usually keep me on track. Whatever project is closest to the finish line is the one that takes top priority. All other projects, until they enter the submission/acceptance phase, are just fodder for downtime.

  2. All depends on the motivation. If you have your back against the wall, down to your last $2, fighting as Henry V at Agincourt, dangling over a pit of wild laser-augmented sharks of doom... then your deadline is suddenly important. Great work is achieved when you have few options.

    Another way is through self-discipline, which for most of us is nearly impossible given the large number of distractions.

    What seems to actually work best though, is reaching out to others to provide some level of push to keep you going.

  3. Annual, monthly and weekly goals keep me on track for the most part. As mentioned, deadlines tend to keep things in perspective.

    I was able to write 50K words in a November because of the deadline I'd put on myself, with the goal of winning NaNo. I also had a separate project which was an anthology submission for a publisher, with a deadline. 25K words wasn't easy, but I did get it done and edited in time for the deadline (about 4-5 months from the time I learned of it).

    Good luck with reaching the end of the project by the due date, and hope to hear of your success!

  4. Thanks for the feedback guys.

    @Jeffrey Beesler - And there lies a problem with having no monetary imposed deadline. I continue to revisit issues in the writing hoping to perfect it--delaying the finish.

    @Zardog - Definitely. Working in epic fantasy is also a detriment. Creating an entire world from scratch can be hard when it comes down to making a final decision on something and move on.

    @AstonWest - Good notes on the staggered goals. I am considering NaNoWriMo this year. Congrats on the anthology, what is the title and when does it come out?


Thanks for reading, now tell me what you think.