Rescue In Progress

Only wrote 800 words yesterday, which still put me 500 words over my 5-day goal. Most of those words went into the continuation of Vence’s subversive mission to bring down the castle. After poisoning the well, his next goal is to rescue Hayden and three Metherel cousins from the prison. (Except when he gets to the prison, only the three cousins are there. Mila took Hayden upstairs the day before.) The two guards at the prison are easily dispatched, so now he’s ready to open the cell doors. Not much to say about it, really, except I thought the guards were a little too easily dispatched (but really, they deserved it, since they were not paying attention). I might go back and make it a little harder in a revision.

Poison and Pain

In the continuing adventures of authoring The Sovereign of Tel:

First I wrote about Vence, who had infiltrated the castle, starting his plan to weaken it from the inside. First he had Ali (the cook) add some poison to the food supplies going to the castle soldiers, then, after dark, he dumped a bunch of poison into the castle’s well.

When I’m writing about medieval life, I worry a lot about "getting things right." So when I put an indoor well into this castle, I wasn’t sure if actual castles had indoor wells, even though, to me, it seems like a pretty logical thing to do. If you’re building a castle to withstand sieges for months on end, you would need to have some supply of water inside the castle walls, right? So why not build it inside the keep so it would be super convenient? I couldn’t think of any reason this couldn’t be done with 14th century technology. I found a few references to castle wells in my primary research sources (Google), so I feel pretty good about that bit.

What I’m not confident about is the poison that Vence is using. I made up something for the text with a note to come back and review it later. He gave Ali one "bottle" to put in the food, and he dumped about a gallon of "stuff" into the well. Is that enough to make everyone sick? Is it too much? Is it even possible to make people sick without killing them? Would anyone in the 14th century know how to do that? I have no idea. Somehow I don’t think I’m going to find a lot of references to "how medieval poisons worked" on Google, either. (Boy, was I wrong.)

After that scene, I worked on a revision/continuation of a scene fragment that occurs at about the same time. Hayden Metherel (Elenora’s brother) is held prisoner in the castle. Mila Collato, in her continuing efforts to degrade, humiliate, and generally cause pain to Hayden, has him chained to a wall. Mila gets too close to him and he lashes out and tries to choke her to death. Mila has a bit of a meltdown (somewhat understandably under the circumstances) and ends up whipping him senseless.

Hayden and Mila are tough characters to write. They are both messed up in different ways. This scene was Hayden’s POV, but we get to see just how close to the brink of sanity Mila treads. It’s definitely one of the most emotionally turbulent scenes in the book so far. (It’s not clear to me why Mila is so close to the brink of sanity, or why she has such a grudge against Hayden, but I feel like that will come out soon.)

The biggest challenge writing this scene was avoiding clichés. I try to notice when I’m using a cliché phrase in my writing, and come up with alternate phrasing. For example, in describing the pain of being flogged, the cliché phrase would be something like: "Pain exploded in his back" or "the world erupted in pain" or something like that. I sooo wanted to write that, but I forced myself to think of something else. What I came up with was, "When the lashes of the whip landed on his back, pain overloaded all of his nerves." Not terribly dramatic, but at least it’s different.

The other cliché thing I tried to avoid was where the character thinks to himself, "I won’t scream," and then they do scream. (Usually in a paragraph by itself.) That’s been done way too much. So Hayden did in fact tell himself not to scream, but I left it sort of ambiguous as to whether he did or not. He thinks he didn’t scream, but things were pretty fuzzy. "Time became something he couldn’t perceive."

You can probably tell by now that I skip around a lot when I’m writing. It was a revolutionary moment for me as a creative writer when it sunk into my head that you don’t have to write everything in the exact order it happens. I highly recommend it.

I started my writing evening early, and I pushed myself until I passed 70,000 words total, so I ended up with 2,500 for the day, finishing about 9:15. So it was pretty good writing day. I only have to write a handful of words Friday to make my 8,000 word weekday goal.

Vence hires a mercenary

Another meta writing post. Yesterday I finally finished a scene between Vence, Ril, and Ali inside the castle. I know you don’t know who those people are, but I’ll get back to them. Chronologically, it is the most recent part of the story, but I kept stopping in the middle and going back to write other scenes, because frankly I’m not precisely sure how all these pieces are going to fit together so that Elenora can retake the castle. (This despite having written a nice outline for the whole story, which has been utterly useless after I passed the halfway point.) Anyway that was about 500 words, which I wrote in bits and pieces during the day.

The rest of my writing time went into another scene fairly early in the story, which I’ve had on my todo list for a while. Remember I mentioned Elenora’s mercenaries last time? Very early in the story, Elenora went to her old friend Vence Rollo and asked him to hire a mercenary force for her (because Vence is a bit of a rogue-ish character who has the connections for that kind of things).

The scene was from Vence’s POV, where he found and hired a man named Benton to put together and lead Elenora’s mercenaries. Chronologically it’s Vence’s first POV scene, and the introduction to Captain Benton, who has a relatively major role later in the story. (He’s one of those unplanned characters that just pops up out of nowhere.)

So I was thinking about how I could possibly make this scene even remotely interesting, because let’s face it, two people talking in a tavern is just not exciting. Excitement comes from conflict, and the only conflict I could think of was some kind of past history between these two. And since Vence has sort of a womanizing reputation, it had to be a woman, whose name was Hilena (or maybe it was Helina, I can’t remember). I didn’t go into many details about what happened, because it doesn’t really matter for the purposes of this story. I just put in enough for the reader to know it was an awkward situation, and that it left enough of a scar on Benton that he still remembers it.

During the scene I also discovered more about the mercenaries, who have been sort of nameless, faceless bodies up until now. Most of them come from a company who calls themselves the Fireswarm, and they are skilled veterans who would be no match for any of the city guards, who Benton called "just kids." (Knowing that little detail means I will  need to revise a later scene where the mercenaries get roflstomped.)

Overall I wrote around 1,900 words, and even finished before 9:00, so it was a pretty good writing day.

Meta Writing

So I thought I would start writing a bit about what I’m writing. Get it? Meta-writing! It occurred to me that somebody out there might actually be curious about the process of writing, or the process of becoming a writer, and since I happen to be in the position of "aspiring writer," perhaps somebody else could benefit from my experiences. I know I would want to read something like that from another aspiring writer.

Also, I don’t know any other writers (especially genre fiction writers), so I don’t have anyone to "talk shop" with. So you’ll just have to suffer, because you can’t stop me!

The Story So Far

In these posts I thought I would just sort of write down my thoughts about what I wrote the previous day. But I guess I need to catch you up on what’s going on in the book first. So let’s see if I can summarize 60,000 words of story in a couple of paragraphs.

So my current WIP (work-in-progress for you non-authors) is a low fantasy story (no magic) basically about the aftermath of the death of a powerful ruler in a medieval-ish city called Tel. There is very little difference between the city of Tel and any other city from around the 14th century. The setting and really even the time period has little bearing on the story, as it turned out. (There are some cultural differences with the people living there, though, which will come up later.)

The story revolves around two families of powerful nobles in Tel: The Metherels and their rivals the Andalorans. Until recently, Ordicus Metherel was the Sovereign of Tel (like a king/mayor). Then the leadership fell to his son Hayden Metherel. Hayden was incompetent, so the leadership then passed to his sister Elenora Metherel. But then Garret Andaloran executed a coup and declared himself sovereign by force. So right now Elenora, after narrowly escaping with her life, is fighting to regain control of the sovereignty from Garret, who is holed up in the castle.

That’s the super-high-level view of the story so far. A large number of personal stories are mixed into that backdrop as well, which I won’t get into yet because I wasn’t writing about them last night.

The New Scene

The day after Garret took the castle, Elenora went to Commander Fers Hockley, the commander of the Tel Guard (basically the city’s police force), and asked him to surround the castle and not let anyone in or out. (Elenora lost most of her small mercenary force and doesn’t have enough men left to do so.) Hockley is a rather fickle, greedy commander who is known to follow whoever pays him the most gold. Elenora had to promise great sums of coins from her personal fortune to get Hockley to intervene and lay siege to the castle.

A few days later, it will be discovered that Hockley isn’t enforcing the siege and has been bribed by Garret to let the Andalorans in and out at will.

So the new scene I needed was a brief explanation of how that came about. In other words, Garret’s reaction to the castle being surrounded, which was to bribe Hockley.

The Andaloran perspective of events is told from the point-of-view of Mila Collato, who was once the fiance of Hayden Metherel, but left him to marry Garret Andaloran. (She is a rather ambitious, cold-hearted person.) As the scene begins, she walks into the audience hall (coincidentally) just as a guard captain arrives to tell Garret that the castle is being surrounded. Garret, knowing that Hockley is easily persuadable, calls for him and bribes him to ensure Garret can still send men in and out of the castle for supplies, thus effectively breaking the siege before it even starts. Then he bribes Hockley again to turn the Tel Guard against Elenora if she ever decides to attack.

A secondary component of the scene was some conversation between Garret and his council about making plans for war with Morland*, which is a side plot. The scene came out to 1,700 words of dialog mainly from Garret and Hockley.

Commentary

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I’ll admit that last night I was not in the mood to write, and this scene did not fill me with enthusiasm for writing. It was pure exposition, with no real conflict. It took me about two hours to get down those 1,700 words. Maybe two and a half hours. Which, for me, is somewhere slightly below average. It was one of those times that I kept counting up the words hoping I’d made it to my goal so I could quit already.

There is a rule of thumb in writing that scenes that are dull to write will also be dull to read, so that was in my mind the whole time. But I do think this scene will serve a greater purpose of building tension because the reader might worry more about Elenora’s chances of regaining the sovereignty, knowing that her siege isn’t going to work. (Elenora is the good guy in this scenario, by the way, if it wasn’t clear above.)

* Garret believes that neighboring country Morland will soon invade Balir. He believes it so strongly that he usurped the Metherels in order to get the country on a war footing. (Elenora, however, believes that putting Balir on a war footing may cause Morland to attack.)

March Writing Update

At the end of this weekend, I should be around 50,000 words into The Sovereign of Tel. I hope to be finished with a decent first draft by the end of April. I am not completely happy with it right now, but I’m soldiering on anyway in the hope that I can patch it up in a rewrite.

My coolest achievement for the month is this nifty spreadsheet to keep track of my word totals. It does nifty gradients and everything. I set a 7,500 word goal for Monday through Friday, and originally I set a 5,000 word goal for the weekend, thinking I would obviously have more time to write. Well, perhaps counter-intuitively, it turns out, after a week of a day job and writing, I don’t seem to have the energy to write a lot on the weekend. So now I’ve shifted it back down to the regular 3,000 words. (I can’t remember where I read it, so I can’t give credit, but somewhere I read that setting a weekly word count goal might work better than a daily word count goal. So far it’s working for me.)

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I have also planned out my writing schedule for the rest of the year, and hopefully every subsequent year. I will write a novel from January-April, take May off, then write a novel from June through September, then take October off, then do NaNoWriMo in November, and take December off. The idea is to write as many novel drafts as I can.

With this Tel book, I tried to outline everything in the book from beginning to end, so I wouldn’t get to the end and find myself struggling to figure out how to tie everything together like I usually do. Well, it didn’t work. My outline wasn’t detailed enough, and I still don’t know how to tie everything together. So lesson learned: Either a) Spend more time outlining the ending, or b) Just plan on “discovering” the ending no matter what.

I did a more detailed outline because I wanted to find out if I work better as an “outliner” than as a “discovery writer.” Outline writers plan everything out beforehand and work from that. Discovery writers basically make it up as they go, and fix continuity problems in a rewrite. Thus far I’ve been more of a discovery writer, but I wanted to try outlining.

As it turned out, I still deviated from the outline. So I guess even with an outline, I still want to “discover” things. On the other hand, an outline is very useful for giving me at least a framework of what’s going on, and at least a fuzzy idea of where things are going. When you’re staring at a blank page, it’s really helpful to bring up the outline and re-remember what’s supposed to be happening.

So I guess I’m sort of a half-outline, half-discovery writer. It seems like I outline to the point in the story where things need to start getting resolved, and then I start discovering. It’s kind of a frustrating way to work, actually.