Tag: The Project (page 2 of 3)

Let’s Face It, I Suck At Titles

I still need a title for the Project. That means I need to talk about The Project. In detail. Seriously, I’ll be talking about when things happen in the plot and possibly even how bits of the story will end. So if you want to avoid even minor spoilers for this EPIC MAGNUM OPUS in progress, or just find yourself unwilling to wade through the following wall o’ text, put your metaphorical fingers in your ears and close your eyes, dreaming about some variation of Trade Wars in your browser courtesy of Yours Truly.

Spoiler Alert! (courtesy XKCD)

All clear?


Chuck over at Terribleminds discusses the ins and outs of titles over yonder. Rather than completely rehash what he wrote, I’m going to tell you to go read it, because that’s the kind of friend I am. And also because he’s brilliant. Not because I fear his beard. Although I kinda do. Seriously, I’m starting to think every manly beard on a friend is concealing another fist or an extra noise-tube full of explatives.

This little exercise is based on his section “Where do I ‘Find’ the title” and deals mostly with the second point he brings up. If any of the half-dozen of you that actually read this drivel want to chime in, it’ll bleed into the first and fourth points as well, like a wordy pool of blood under the corpse of the incredibly generic working title.

Are you sitting comfortably?

Then I’ll begin.

Let’s Talk About Theme, Baby

So this is a fantasy novel.

No, that’s the setting.* It’s the where and the how of crap happening. It can’t be the what or why. Theme is less about “what sort of bells & whistles will make people drop $15US on a book with my name on it” and more about “what the hell am I trying to SAY in the next hundred thousand words?” When people ask me what this thing is about, I don’t want to go right into a plot description, I want to actually answer their question. So let’s answer it right now.

This story’s about change. The magocracy** from which our hero hails is about to undergo a pretty big onCONTENT REDACTED The catch is, for hundreds of years the ruling class have suppressed facts about those other societies to better focus their subjects on the development of new and more powerful magical spells. Now, magic here is one of the things that makes this a fantasy novel. I could easily replace magic with mass acceleration technology or rubber band slingshot techniques or guns or taming tigers to serve as mounts in battle. Magic, here, takes the place of technology, and so serves the people in providing mass transit, protection, improvments on quality of life and weaponry.

The way magic is set up in Acradea (that’s the world’s name in case you didn’t know), at least for humans, is that from an early age a given person discovers what school of magic they have a knack for and get trained on that until they’re an adult. Not a lot of dual-classing in the floating Cities of Light, so to speak. Anyway, this means that not everyone can hurl bolts of lightning or turn lead into gold or make you think you’re a dancing pomegranate. However, one of the things that’ll come up over the course of this novel is that several Citizens have collaborated to create a device that allows pretty much anybody to defend themselves at range. The device conjures a small metallic ball at the back of a long metal tube, which is etched with several alchemical sigils called Gravity Wards. They’re what make the flying transit systems work and keep the Cities afloat and they’ve been miniaturized for this. Anyway, each Ward in sequence along the length of the tube makes the ball move, adding a little acceleration each time it passes into the circle of the next Ward. So, by the time the ball leaves the muzzle of the weapon it’s moving faster than the speed of sound.

Yeah, they’re magical mass acceleration rifles. Chocolate, peanut butter, we’re walking…

The novel is less about any potential cool factor of these weapons and more about questions like these: How will these weapons chance the society of the Cities? What was the intention of those designing it, especially considering our hero was instrumental in their implementation? And what happens when an expansionist who controls not only the weapons’ deployment but also the flow of information to the people decides it’s time to get a little payback for the centuries-old incident that drove them into exile from the cradle of their civilization?

That’s the big overarching theme and, I guess, part of the plot as well. There’s also the fact that our hero is dumped in the world outside the Cities’ protective Wall into the big untamed forest/jungle area called the Wilds from the start of the story. So his personal plotline has a fish-out-of-water, coming-of-age theme to it. His brother has something of a quest for vengeance going on, and the girl in the power trio has some prejudices to overcome. Again, I think I’m getting some of my theme & plot elements mixed together, but I hope you can see where I’m going with this yarn.

I’m In The Mood For A Title

Mood ties in with theme pretty importantly as well. And the mood of this is… well, I know the words ‘standard fantasy setting’ have slipped into the common parlance, becoming an indicator of how prevalant escapism has become in modern society (thanks, Yahtzee), but this really is a standard fantasy setting only with more grimdark elements. What elves there are exist either in the Wilds just to avoid getting wiped out entirely (they didn’t begin life communing with the trees or anything) or down in the deepest parts of the world that are habitable. The dwarves live in a police state, ever watchful for signs of Corruption. The dragons are all but unheard of, the giants haven’t been seen in millenia and the humans to the north that exiled the people living in the Cities would rather not have anything to do with anybody south of the mountains.

So everybody’s a little surly towards one another, even moreso than the usual racial tension of the standard fantasy setting. Add to that the mood of the Cities, with a population that is generally happy but a ruling class that is pushing them towards open warfare but couching it in such a way that the people will want a war. It’s totally not a metaphor for modern expansionist thinking, really. It does contribute to the overall mood that this world is a pretty dark place, despite the sunshine and growing green things and sparkly magic and stuff.

Add to that the mostly-serpentine creatures in the Wilds that eat Citizens because magical marrow is tasty and addictive to them, a giant centipede-type thing down under the dwarven mines, necromancy, murder, and just a touch of eldrich abomination from beyond the stars, and I think you can suss out what sort of mood I’m going for.

He’s Gotta Be Strong and He’s Gotta Be Fast…

So this theme and mood are what will propel our hero, Asherian, along the plotlines. He’s an apprentice alchemist, pretty intelligent and willing to get along with people he doesn’t know but somewhat naive and a little too confident in his skills with magic. He was a contributing factor to the Cities’ new weaponry, the son of one of its ruling council members, and pretty much the personification of everything the other socities hate about magic-using humans, at least at first glance. So everybody’s going to be trying to kill him. Part of the drama will come from him just trying to survive, and part will come from the darkening of his otherwise sunny disposition.

The thing that made me want to write more about Ash is that he’s not your generic “Let’s go out and save the world!!1!!” sort of young fantasy hero. For the first third or so of this tale he’s just going to want to find a way home. As things go on and he learns more about what his dad and the other rulers are up to, his goal doesn’t change but his motivations do. It becomes less “I want to go home because it’s dangerous out here and I miss my mom & dad and that’s where all my stuff is” and more “I need to get home because this shit is fucked up and it needs to be fixed.” It’s not that he won’t care about the elves or dwarves or anything, it’s more that he thinks the Cities aren’t living up to what they could really be for the people around them and somebody needs to step up and demonstrate why the rather nasty folk on the ruling council are wrong about wanting to murder anybody who looks at them funny.

And The Title Is…

…Fuck. I still don’t have the foggiest of ideas.

“Cities of Light”? No, the story doesn’t really take place there. It’s sort of about them, but Ash starts out in the Wilds and doesn’t physically get back to the CitiesCONTENT REDACTED.

“Beyond the Wall”? Closer, but it feels so generic fantasy to me. I want this to be about more than just being a fantasy novel, dammit.

“Asherian, His Brother and A Snarky Brunette Travel Across A Continent To Stop The Council of Elders From Being Warmongering Douchebags”?

I think that’s a bit long for most book covers.

Also, ‘douchebags’ might not trend well.

I’m floundering, folks. Send help.

* If you think fantasy is a theme and not a setting, go over here and get that idea out of your brainpan. Seriously. Chuck will chase it out with bullets or flying jets of jism or rabid attack monkeys or something.

** Magocracy is a legitimate word. No, seriously. Gygax coined it first. And you’re not going to question Gygax, are you? ARE YOU?!?

What’s In A Title?


So. The Project. Nice and enigmatic, but I doubt people will be flocking to Amazon to download it to their Kindles. Mrs. Alchemist keeps asking me why I haven’t given it a real title.

Honestly, it’s because I can’t pick one.

What we have here is a story with a fantasy setting. The protagonist, Asherian, comes from a magocracy of floating cities that exist behind a protective wall that is part stone, part magical whoseewhatsis. He’s an apprentice and his class takes a field trip out into the ‘Wilds’ on the other side of that wall. Let’s just say that doesn’t end well.

The idea is that his life has been somewhat cloistered up until this point, and he’s stranded and alone out in a world he’s unfamiliar with, where his use of magic might end up killing him for one reason or another. So it’s something of a hero’s-journey/fish-out-of-water deal. So what am I gonna call this thing? I’ve had a few ideas, but none of them really seem to be sticking.

Arrow of Fate

Ash’s instructor gets arrow’d which dooms the field trip. Now, this was what I originally called it back when this was a short story instead of a novel, and Ash was a chick with a different name. However, it has a few problems. Ash isn’t an archer so the title isn’t about him, arrows don’t play a huge role in the overall story, and the title in general feels kind of Harlequinesque. So I’m inclined to scrap that one.

Beyond the Wall

Since 80-90% of the story will be happening, well, beyond the wall, this one makes more sense. There’s something about it that bugs me, though. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is. Maybe it just feels too much like other fantasy novel titles. Maybe I want to avoid the whole “blank the blank” formula of title creation. Maybe it said something nasty about my mom. I don’t know.

Asherian’s Journal

Ash happens across a book a classmate of his had just bought which is blank, and he starts keeping track of his adventures in it. It’s something of a device to help us get a view of things from his perspective between chapters, but it’s not a very big part of the story. Mrs. Alchemist also pointed out that it “tells [the reader] nothing.”

What am I missing, here? Why can’t I pick a title? Which title do you think I should pick? Let’s make some alchemy happen, folks. Bring your disparate elements into the mix and let’s see if we can’t transmute some of these random ideas into the handle for the next bigass fantasy epic of all time. Or at least a little yarn about magic, dragons and interesting people that doesn’t suck.

Ten Rules For Writing Fiction: My Turn


Well, everybody’s doing it, it seems. No, not that, that’s dirty. I’m talking about this whole “Ten Rules For Writing Fiction” thing. This article got writers thinking about it, and some others – most notably the Magic Talking Beardhead – have taken it upon themselves to write up their own. Which leaves me feeling compelled to put up my own.

See this bandwagon? I’m jumping on.

Well, why the hell not? I pretend to know what I’m doing half of the time, might as well go all the way. There’s no point in putting your hand up a girl’s shirt if you’re not going to try & unfasten her bra too. Wait, what was I talking about? Oh yeah, writing rules. Like all rules, they’re made to be broken, or even ignored. But, by and large, especially when it comes to The Project, here’s the few semi-strict guidelines I find myself following.

  1. The only way to write is to start, and once you start you need to finish.
  2. If something feels boring or dry for you to write, it’ll be boring or dry to read.
  3. Don’t be afraid to hurt your characters. It creates drama and helps them grow. They’ll thank you when they’re done cursing you out.
  4. Kill your characters only when absolutely necessary. Much more conflict is generated by mercy than by murder.
  5. Keep descriptions to a minimum. Painting with words is fine in poetry, not so much in prose. Set the scene and move on.
  6. Time is precious for both you and your reader. Don’t waste it.
  7. Your theme might grow from your characters or your characters from the theme, but either way, your story needs to be about something other than itself.
  8. A little subtlety goes a long way. Let conversations and narratives build towards greater things later in the tale.
  9. Have resources on which to fall back if you get stuck. Story & Character Bibles, friends, beloved novels, a bottle of whiskey, whatever.
  10. Don’t stop writing ’til the writing’s done. Or you pass out. Even then, when you come to, start writing again.

There you have it. Now you can have at it, if you so desire. That’s what the comments section is for, after all. Well, that, and helping me pretend people are interested in what I write.

Proof: Let Me Show You Some

Courtesy FatFreeVegan.com

The old saying “the proof is in the pudding” is actually a shortened version of the original axiom, telling us that “the proof of the pudding is in the eating.” As this isn’t a blog about food but rather about storytelling in various forms – the creation of something from nothing as all storytelling is, and thus a form of alchemy when applying my broad interpretation – the parallel of that old saying is that the proof of the story is in the reception. There’s a reason that the ‘acid test’ for storytelling in a written form is called ‘proofreading’ after all.

You may be wondering, if you’re some sort of author, how much proofreading you should do or have done, and how often it should happen. Let’s take a look at two extremes just to see where they have merit.

Proofreading During Writing: The Abby Method

Miss Abby Scuito

Abby Scuito’s a consummate multi-tasker. At any given time in her lab, any number of tests are running simultaneously to help Gibbs and the rest of the NCIS team track down the criminal of the week. All of her work, from bitching out her spectrometer to teasing Gibbs about the time it takes to run fingerprint analysis, contributes towards the overall solution of the case.

Proofreading is an integral part of the writing process, and an author should have no problems getting bits and pieces of their work out to proofreaders as they write. The author can do a little proofreading themselves, making editorial and content changes in previously completed sections of their work, but the best way to ensure that the writing’s on the right track is to have other people read it. Authors are artists and it’s entirely possible for one to be too close to a work to see a glaring flaw. Better to polish out the rough spots early on as the work is progressing than going back later to try and fix things up, right?

Proofreading After Writing: The Drill Sgt.Method

Gunny Hartmann

Wrong, that fine gentleman would say. He’s all about focus. Gunny Hartmann will teach you by the numbers, one after another, to make sure you put on your warwriting face when you sit down to write.

Going back to proofread while writing is detrimental to writing your draft. How can you continue to move forward if you’re constantly looking back? Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, does it? The best way to write a complete draft of your work is actually to complete it, then worry about getting the proofreading done. Hopefully you’ll have done yourself a favor and put down your plot points and other notes on paper to help guide your writing so you can spare yourself precious time and brainpower that should be spent writing new material instead of going back and rewriting old stuff. Write the draft first, start to finish, and then go back over it to smooth out the rough patches.

Something Completely Different

In actuality, most writers will end up doing a bit of both of the above. The temptation can be very great to have someone look over your work and tell you if it stinks or not. However, most of these opinions will be colored by individual taste, and a lot of the impetus for you distributing your work to other people can be chalked up to self-confidence. There are two things to keep in mind when making the decision to forge ahead or go back in the name of proofreading, neither of which deal directly with either extreme of the process.

Firstly, if you managed to get started at all, that’s a huge step. There are a lot of creative people in the world who never find the courage, time or true inspiration to embark upon a project. Keep that in mind, and remember that whether you decide to keep writing or to stop and get some feedback, it’s part of a process you’ve had the chutzpah to begin.

Secondly, you need to do your proofreading sooner or later. You don’t want to go to an agent or editor with a manuscript that’s a mess. It isn’t their job to clean up the little bits and rough patches in your story – it’s yours. You can do it on your own or you can call in reinforcements, but either way, do it before you even think of approaching a professional “knife-person.”

So ends my general thoughts on proofreading. As far as The Project is concerned, I have some minor doubts about what I’ve written so far, but I know how I can be and I feel that if I go back now to proof or edit what has already been put down, I might not stop, to the point of going back into the Plot Bible to rewrite things there. Since I don’t want that to happen, as it’d be nice to finish another novel manuscript in my lifetime, for now my choice will be to forge ahead.

Plowing Forward


  • Get plot points vetted.
  • Generate dramatis personae document.
  • Work out rules of languages & magic.
  • Write the damn thing (target word count:125k)
  • Find a publisher.

From all outward appearances, not much is happening around here.

Apparently the region has been ‘paralyzed’ by the recent snowstorm. It’s gone by many names – “Snowmageddon”, “Snopocalypse”, “Snotorious B.I.G.”, “The Reveblizzation of St. John”, “Snonarok” – but through the wonders of the Internet and due in no small part to the supply of tea in my cupboard, I’ve managed to stay at least somewhat productive.

Now, I’m as lazy and easily distracted as the next writer. I’m fully aware of my tendency to procrastinate. However, like snow that comes up to one’s knees, it’s not as complete and insurmountable an obstacle as it might seem. It’s just a matter of suiting up, taking up the right tool for the job, and heading out into the environment.

Sometimes it isn’t rejection or constraints of time that can blanket the landscape of your literary journey. Sometimes it’s the knowledge of previous attempts. This is the sixth or seventh time I’ve tried to get this particular work – “The Project” as I have enigmatically dubbed it – off the ground. Every time, I get a little bit further, and every time something comes up that makes me stop and rethink the entire endeavor. It could be any number of things: a contrived plot point, an expository conversation, a character who needs a rewrite to be less of a personal mouthpiece or an entire scene or group of characters the story can do without.

This is why, in choosing to focus on the Project, I essentially started over, and broke the story down to the barest essentials of its plot. I’m very thankful to everyone who chimed in on the Story Bible, as I now have a solid foundation that will help keep things going when I feel I might be writing in the wrong direction. Once the foundation was poured and dried, I began setting up the major and minor characters that would help shape the story. Not everybody needed a full dossier, but mention’s been made of most of the primary “speaking parts” that will come and go throughout the novel’s narrative.

Last night I took a look through some of my previous attempts at this, and it appears I already have a fair amount of material written on the world, its history and its inhabitants. The time may come when I need to stop and compile a new document to keep it all in one place, but an odd thing occurred to me last night while speaking to my wife. I gave her a bit of advice I realized I should be following myself:

“The only way to write is to start.”

So I’ve tracked down a decent, no-nonsense word meter to include somewhere on the site, and tonight after the conclusion of another day of working from home, I’m going to plow forward on the narrative of The Project itself.

I need to finish digging out my car, too. Poor Vera’s been under the snow for days.

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