Category Archives: writing

Sword and Chant on Storybundle!

I am so jazzed to be make this announcement:

Sword and Chant is included in the Storybundle’s new Indie Fantasy Bundle!

“Fantasy has been one of our most requested genres, and we’re thrilled to bring  you these wonderful and exciting titles that represent some of the best epic  adventures that you can find anywhere. Our authors have created expansive and  sophisticated worlds that any reader would love to explore, with magical  apocalypses and vast landscapes of history and legend. And whether you prefer  dragon companions or djinn, supernatural schisms or looming evils, secret  societies of thieves and spies or epic clashes between ancient rivals, this is  the bundle for you.”

So what is Storybundle?  It’s a showcase for independent writers AND it puts the pricing power in the hands of the reader.  You determine what you’d like to pay for the set of six titles.  (If you choose to purchase for $10 or more, you’ll get an additional two titles.)  You determine what percentage of your purchase price will go to the authors.  And you choose whether 10% of your purchase will go to one of the current charities.

All titles are DRM-free, and ready for Nook, Kindle, or Kindle-enabled device, and you have the chance to read an excerpt from each title before deciding on your purchase.  You can even purchase gift cards for others, or choose a specific date for when you’d like the bundle delivered.

So go forth to read, discover, and enjoy!

Kata-Story

A dear friend recently discussed the impact of knowing and wanting to follow “the rules” when writing first drafts, and how that knowledge and desire gets in the way.  Because I’m struggling to learn a new kata right now, I heard in this friend’s words the same emotions I’ve experienced at the dojo, and posted a comment about the “first draft” of a kata.

The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to expand on the idea.  However, other things yet to be disclosed ended up eating my “free” time this week, so I’m going to settle for merely tweaking the original comments.  It’s rough still, but hopefully clear:

The “first draft” of my kata always sucks. Of course it does! I don’t yet know the story-fight I’m telling with my movements. It isn’t until I’ve learned the entire kata that I know, physically, what the arc is: where the pacing needs to change, when my focus has to shift, which movements need to be hard or soft, where the transitions need to be measured or abrupt.  And, often, it’s by coming to understand the intention of the kata’s later movements that I am better able to see the intention of the very first movement.

Once I know the pattern (plot), I must “revise” my kata, one piece at a time.  It’s frustrating and bewildering and danged hard work until everything suddenly aligns.  Then what might look like a simple middle block becomes a whole-body movement of power.  It can feel like magic.  And truly, some of my katas will have crappy parts for a long time because I don’t have the skill to do what I know needs to be done.  I just keep plugging away at it, alas.

But if I had to follow all the kata rules the first time I learned a new one, I’d give up.  The only reason I didn’t give up in the beginning?  I didn’t know the rules. I knew only that I was learning and making progress.  I can’t yet deliver a perfect shuto (knife hand, a.k.a. “chop”) while also learning which stance I’m supposed to be in, the angle of my attack or defense and—most importantly—the movement that leads to the shuto and the movement that follows.

And you know what?  The “perfect” shuto in kata might not do me a spitwad of good in a self-defense situation.  So the next layer is knowing how to apply the rules, how to adapt them, and how to break them.

There did come a point when the words, “I will never get this right!” stopped being a cudgel with which to beat myself.  These days, it’s an acknowledgement of a truth.  I’m not supposed to get it right.  I’m supposed to always do it better.  (Why, yes, that point is sometimes lost in total frustration. 🙂

Don’t Leave the Cool Stuff For the End

I read a trilogy recently that had me so captured, so invested, that there were times I felt I couldn’t read quickly enough to find out what happened next.  I was frantic in a couple key scenes.  I can still hear the voices of the characters, still remember their expressions, still clearly picture the world in which they lived.  I’ve already purchased more books by the author, even though I think the writer made some missteps in the trilogy’s final chapters.

See, I had to force myself to pay attention to what was supposed to the big climactic scene of that trilogy—not because of the frantic can’t-wait-to-find-out feeling, or because it was a bore to read.  No, I felt adrift and disconnected during the climax because the writer had dumped so much “Cool Stuff” in at the end.

Cool Stuff is the unique collection of setting, culture, character and magic that make our fantasy stories fantasy.  Presentation of the Cool Stuff—aka worldbuilding—makes or breaks a novel within the first chapter or two.  Too much Cool Stuff at once, and the reader doesn’t have enough of the familiar to anchor her; she will spend too much time figuring out the world, and not enough time connecting to story and character.  And once the Cool Stuff is established, the reader trusts the writer to maintain it.  It must be as consistent as from which horizon the sun will rise.  Proper use and introduction of Cool Stuff enables the reader to accept the magical and spiritual, and invest the rest of her reading time connecting with characters.

If the Cool Stuff was the most important factor, everyone would buy Guide to the Ring’s Power rather than Lord of the Rings.

So there I was—happily reading along, thrilled with the world, loving the characters, feeling both thrilled and anxious as the trilogy’s characters prepared for the final confrontation.  Then all of a sudden, this non-industrial world gained a cool underwater city with elevators and cool bits of technology disguised as natural vegetation.  And the grand revelation of the Story’s Whole Point was pretty cool, too.

Even though the ideas were awesome, they were revealed at the worst possible time.  I wanted to know what the characters were thinking, feeling, hoping and fearing.  Instead, I got characters extrapolating about how this Cool Stuff must have come to be, what it might mean, and how it might work.  I got descriptions of all these new things punctuated with bits of action–action that was more difficult to envision because nothing about the setting was familiar.

Totally dissatisfying.  The characters—their fears, losses, challenges and victories—all took a backseat to integrating new Cool Stuff into an existing and stable (and fascinating!) world.

On the other hand, I recently beta-read a novel by one of my VPXV classmates.  It was filled with Cool Stuff from page one.  I had the same urgency to read it as I did with the trilogy mentioned above, and I approached the climax with the same anticipation and excitement.  The writer delivered a final confrontation that was engaging and satisfying and filled with Cool Stuff.  But no new or special or astounding Cool Stuff was introduced.  Instead, the characters confronted variations of existing Cool Stuff, and used their Cool Stuff skills in special and astounding ways.  That left me, the reader, free to engage with the character at his most critical moments.

And what do we really read fiction for?  Character.

I think there’s a writerly temptation to “save the best for last,” holding back what we think are the most awesome pieces of our imagination until the Big Special Moment when we will just blow the reader away.  But what really blows the reader’s mind isn’t the Cool Stuff.  It’s how the characters use/confront/transform the Cool Stuff.  Cool Stuff is a tool, and a true craftsman doesn’t admire tools for their tool-ness, but for what the tools can help create.