Inspiration is important. Inspiration tells a story. How did we get here? What sparked the idea? Why did we let it grow? Who encouraged us? Where are we going?
How I am here, right now, at this moment. That includes writing this blog. Because invariably everything comes from somewhere. That’s a little important, right? In understanding my point of view and passion? To see where it’s all headed? Maybe a little egotistical, but I’ve never really sat down and recalled where this all started. Not at once. Hopefully, we aren’t up for a poor trip.
The Inception: Where did this start? This being my story, my novel. Unlike JK Rowling and Harry Potter, the Dark Masters didn’t exactly spring into my mind fully formed. In fact, the genesis could probably be placed somewhere between first grade, where I was dreaming of placing my friends on the bridge of the Enterprise-D, some watching of the Santa Clause, Robert Heinlein’s Citizen of the Galaxy, and discovering Elfquest. Admittedly, my exact memories are a bit jumbled, but that roughly places it between 1992-1995. Oddly enough, that’s around the same time I started reading.
Was there any real progress between the inception and now? Well, the answer is kind of.
- Star Trek
- Robert Heinlein
- Santa Clause (movie)
The Process: By which I literally mean the process by which the idea took form from self-gratification to full fledged voices in my head A lot of my creations can be traced to self-insertion and fanfiction, though the concepts have readily evolved and had become their own story of sorts by the time I started middle school.
There was a gap, as I mentioned. Between 1995 and high school, nothing really actively changed. I read, sure. Actually, when discussing reading, I didn’t start reading everything I could get my hands on until some time in middle school, when my parents offered me what seemed a reasonable trade: I read three books, they buy me a comic book. Mostly, I’m sure, to shut me up during the summer trips.
So, nothing happened until high school, at which point, three major shifts occurred. The first was my freshmen English teacher. He made me want to understand reading on a whole new level. The second was my introduction to fanfiction. Not that I hadn’t experienced the concept before, but this was riding the wave of anime invading the east coast of the United States. So, now I knew it had a name and I knew that anyone could write. Lastly, I read the Count of Monte Cristo. Perhaps the most singularly inspiring book I have ever read. 450,000 words and over 1300 pages long; I read it in five nights, staying up each night until my eyes burned and more than once falling asleep with the book still open.
All of this happened within, I think, 6 months. (Digimon might have helped.) So, with absolutely no idea what I was doing, I sat down, mimicked the format I’d read online and wrote my first story. I’m not sure if it qualified as fanfiction because it simply borrowed characters from desperate universes (Green Lantern, Elfquest, Star Trek) and combined them with my associates to form a rough story.
- Star Trek
- Green Lantern
- Issac Asimov
- The Count of Monte Cristo
- Star of Shadowbrook Farm
Moving Forward: Now I had an idea. Not the best idea, absolutely no, but an idea. What followed was a realization that this story, as much as I like the character beats was nothing. Instead I set it aside, complete, at the end of my freshmen year and focused on short story ideas.
By time my senior year of high school had rolled around, something new was forming: an original idea. The limitations of fanfiction were slowly being realized. I could only take the universe so far, bound by the rules of others. I started to create one of my own. The shortest way to put this is: everything I know about fantasy.
So I started writing. I thought I knew, from Lord of the Rings, that I wanted to write a story too big for one book. Starting with the idea of a webcomic, I began developing my own world. For various reasons I won’t bother to get into (they spoil future book plans and my worlds history) I dropped the first concept. There were other noticeable problems, like outrageous comic book tendencies and relying too heavily on a skill I didn’t have. Drawing. That and no one was inspired enough to come on board as an artist.
That lead to another development, consciously developed during my senior year of high school while I visited colleges. This time, my story (set in the same universe) took place 11 thousand years in the future. Oh, more world building. Most of this, no one was ever going to see but me and my brother.
But I still wanted something larger than a single novel. I’d never heard of (and wouldn’t for another 9 years) A Song of Ice and Fire. I liked a trilogy. No particular reason, the number just sounded good. Certainly, there weren’t any story reasons. Speaking of story, this had to be vast and epic, with smart characters who liked to show how smart they were. Yeah, I had no idea what I really wanted.
So, the idea sat there. I loved the universe, I enjoyed the characters (fleshing out the world behind them) and, I thought, saw the potential behind them. Yet, almost a year into my college carrier, I had a problem. Namely, not being able to get past the first chapter. Somewhere along the way, I’d created a newer set of characters, some entirely new, others cultivated from previous story ideas.
Unlike the first expedition into story writing, this was different. The cast was smaller. Initially 3, then 4 core members, with a world of support around them. This was down from the massive cast of nine main characters I had originally imagined. Having a lot of core characters was fine, but I couldn’t manage them all. Few can.
Most importantly, I had “it”. The idea that would fuel me and drive the story for the last eight years.
- Lord of the Rings
- Harry Potter
- Star Trek
- Web Comics (Applegeeks, MegaTokyo)
But these inspirations were different. Instead of taking character rules and universe defining tropes, I was unconsciously studying mechanics and universe building theory. Lord of the Rings showed me the foundation for an entire subculture of fantasy. Harry Potter showed me the popularity and potential of a universe created from scratch.
Writing: If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll have noticed that I’ve been revising this entire time. What happens next is something more specific. Oh, revision still happened, but now it had a goal, and a completed story. Let’s call this a draft.
I think I’m getting bogged down in the details a little, but I can’t help it. All of this is important as development. From the time I realized the real story I wanted to tell till now was almost nine years. Fall 2004-Summer 2013. I wrote, even got part of the way through my third book. But, a few things had changed. Now I knew the end goal. Not the details. That’s where writing came in. What did I know?
- I knew that the series was going to be five books. For now.
- I know characters needed to be created and destroyed. At least one main character was created to fill a story gap.
- I condensed the entire premise of my second book series into one book. A result of better understanding of pace and plot.
- Introductions are always the hardest.
- What I see in my minds eye, I almost always assume I’ve put on the page (hint: that’s not the case)
Revision: I think, sometime back in 2008, after a severe bout of insomnia, I finished what could passably be called a first draft. Not that I hadn’t written the story or revised before, but I had what I thought was a pretty reasonable story. Realism of publishing not withstanding. Still, I had other issues, from bipolar disorder to graduating college to deal with, so I set the book aside and began work on the second one, which I would eventually complete in early 2011.
The problem, essentially boiled down to time. I thought I had it. I’m young. I have time to settle down. And I had the well intentions of a family friend, who d0ubles as an English professor at a local college, asking what the rush was. So I got a part time job with the intent of continuing to work on my story. And it sat there.
In fall 2012, a friend indirectly told me to get off my ass. She wanted to know the story. But I knew it wasn’t in any shape for someone else to look at. So, I got myself in gear. A short story writing competition, held annually by Writer’s Digest, had gotten me sense of editing back in order. Sitting down, I set to work identifying why the opening of the book didn’t work.
Nothing was spared. I rewrote and edited over half of the book, keeping only scenes, plots, and story. Chapter by chapter, I gave my friend the draft. From Nov 2012-March 2013, I worked. The result was almost 40 hours a week, either sitting at a desk or thinking about how everything tied together. And a lot of cursing and complaining to my girlfriend and brother.
The white board came in July 2013. You’ll notice a snippet of it is my banner photo. Sick of all my thoughts strewn across random word documents, I got a white board to help me visualize. Word documents are still invaluable, but now I have a space to see them all together and find the redundancy and outline timelines. Everything that’s visual. Vastly improved.
Critical reading: The law few months have seen me recovering from hand surgery. The frustration of not being able to write was unbelievable Instead, I settled for reading 30 books over those 8 weeks. But now, I knew two things more.
- I knew how to read and understand the innate problems I perceived with the story, characters, and plot.
- I had my manuscript out to a select group of friends whose opinion and insight I valued.
I chose these people from my own experiences. I needed for them to see what I couldn’t. What passages I’d forgotten, the details in setting, transitions missed. It’s an extensive list. But it’s not editing. I’m not sure if I’ll do that myself before I find an editor.
What next? Strange question. The goal is another 45 days to get the comments from my critical readers into shape. Think about their comments and adjust if I think it’s needed. During that time, I’ll starting whittle down the agents and identifying my list, in order, of whom I’d like to try.
I tried a writers group. No offense to them, but I won’t be returning. They’re all at least 15 years older than me and resigned to self-publish. I’m simply not there yet.
That entire history may seem strange. Why list seemingly inconsequential year of childhood and high school? The answer is simple. The scale of development time is important. It’s important, critical, to know I didn’t develope my sensibilties over higth. There is a learning curve. Even now, it’s accelerating, geting sharper. The plan has never changed. Write and get published. When I started my revisions in 2012 I was convinced I could get the story in shape and nab an agent by the end of summer. I still think this year is achievable but now I’ll settle for fall.
The time table keeps changing, but that’s fine. The point isn’t to meet the goals (though that would be nice), the point is to try and reach them, with the realistic expectation that the story comes first. I could have shopped this months ago. Certainly some critical readers thought I should have. But that short changes the story. And I have no intention of doing that. After all, I have time. And, as long as I’m putting in the effort, that’s okay too.
A healthy dose of realism and pragmatism is required in general. I don’t want to think my dream of being published is impossible, but I also realize it isn’t easy. I can’t be fanciful and say my first draft deserves a contract. That’s a disservice, idealistically to the characters, and unrealistic. I’ll get hundreds of rejection letters. Unfortunately or not, I’m not there yet. I can only hope I’m at that point before 2014.
That’s the short version of the path. Not sure what comes next. But at least, I’ll learn something.
Next time: I want to discuss telling a complete story. Nothing drives me crazier than an incomplete story.