Fireflies & Laserbeams

A small jump for joy!

Sunday June 3, 2012 | By Hieronymus Hawkes | Uncategorized | Leave Comments

The weight has lifted.  I am complete with Air War College as of yesterday.  I feel lighter and my mood is noticeably better. I have no excuses to stop me from writing.  I need to get back in the writing saddle again, but I've been absent for so long that I have to find the horse and put the saddle on it.  I was so looking forward to this moment, but once it arrived I felt of barely perceptible pang of fear... just enough that I was able to notice it, and it surprised me. I opened up my manuscript a few days ago when I had finished my last active part in the process (I had to wait for my mentor to approve and send in my self-assessment), and started to muddle through it.  I was on fire when I had last touched it and had made some really big strides in the revision, not only with correcting some syntax and tagging issues, but with a few concepts that I wanted to tweak.  I knew I was on my game, and it was thrilling to understand where I was at and where I needed to go to finish the last big revision.  I've been analyzing my feelings (always tricky) and I've come to the conclusion that it's rooted in a fear that I've lost some skill in the intervening months.  I'm hoping it's a little like flying.  I can go for weeks without flying and still see no degradation of skills, but if I do that repeatedly, over the course of a year with long breaks between events, I see rust creep in.  I'm hopeful that it will work the same way, in that I can just refresh my writing currency and the rust will get buffed off.  I haven't helped myself by keeping the blog up-to-date either.  I just haven't had anything to blog about, at least nothing compelling.  I also hope that changes.  I am starting to sound like Obama, with all this talk of hope and change. I'm excited about the future and I will be making a concerted effort to finish this next pass in a timely fashion.  I'm trying to get into a Master's program this fall that will require me to focus on a new writing project, so I really need to have this one wrapped up by fall. --end.

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Beginnings are Hard

Wednesday January 4, 2012 | By Hieronymus Hawkes | Uncategorized | Leave Comments

Getting the beginning of a story right is hard.  Oh, it’s not hard to start a story; it’s just hard to get it right when all the dust settles. 
When you finally get that idea that’s been percolating for weeks or months all ready to go you have no trouble putting words to page.   The first draft, especially the beginning, seems to flow.  Partly it’s because it was the kernel of an idea that got you started in the first place and so you know how it starts.  You might even know how it ends.  The middle part seems like the hard part initially because you need to stitch it all together and keep the story moving forward with meaningful drama to fill in the holes.  But you muddle your way through the middle and then hit the final stretch, which, by the way, seems to go on and on.  You think you’re almost at the finish line but it’s like someone keeps moving it away from you.  Finally you cross the finish line, and it’s a victory, although it’s short-lived and less spectacular than you thought it would feel.  You know you still have a mountain of work ahead.
Once you finish that first draft you can breathe a sigh of relief and maybe step away for a few weeks. But you have to go back to the beginning again for the revision and this is when you can start poking sharp sticks into your eyeballs trying to solve the issues with your beginning, which suddenly doesn’t look as good as it did when you started on this journey.
There is so much advice out there about how to start your story.  It should grab your attention right from the word go, but don’t use gimmicks and make sure you touch on all five senses in the first few pages or was that paragraphs?  But really, you should make sure you sink the hook by the end of the first chapter, but keep in mind that you need to lay out some normal in there also and set-up the “Big Problem”.  Don’t just go on and on with exposition, and make sure you show and not tell.  You have a whole lot of information that you’ve been working on, you know, all the time spent world building.  You have a compulsion to share that info with us even though it really doesn’t move the story forward.  A lot of that can go into your boneyard of lonely used sentences.  It’s kind of like the Island of Misfit Toys.  Those words still have a fading hope of being used again in some form, maybe in a sequel.  Anyway back to fixing the beginning… 
You knew where you wanted the story to start but your alpha readers are telling you there’s not enough action there, you need to start the story in the middle of the action.  But which action and which problem?  You are likely introducing multiple issues in the beginning so where do you start?  With the “Big Problem” or maybe a smaller conflict just to get the ball rolling?  Some writing columns will tell you that really there are four acts to a novel, and you should put in some foundation of how our protagonist lives before he slash she encounters the “Big Problem.”  Maybe you didn’t start far enough back.  But remember, every chapter should have a conflict and move the story forward.
Having alpha readers is essential to this task.   As the author you can often hear how your characters talk and you know what they know, but the reader has to discover all this by what you “show” them.  It’s really easy to miss things that you forgot as the author that the reader doesn’t know already.  The alpha reader can spot these from a mile away because they get confused.  You didn’t provide enough background material somewhere, so you have to go back and add that in.  Now you’re definitely not starting in the middle of the action. 
So how do you reconcile all this?  Well, you actually listen to your alpha and beta readers.  You don’t have to use every piece of advice, but when you see repeatedly the same comments about a particular section then you need to understand what they’re telling you and go and fix it.  Maybe not with their words, but it needs repaired somehow that answers the concerns they had.  You manage to fix all these issues but you need to make sure you don’t lose your “Author’s Voice” in the process.   I wish someone would tell me how to do that, but that’s a post for another day.   Now you’re nearly done, but you haven’t read it out loud to make sure it sounds right and flows properly, so you find someone to read it to you out loud.  You go back and iron out all those rough spots.  
I don’t want to even talk about how many iterations this may take.  I’ve rewritten and revised the first chapter at least a dozen times, maybe more, I’ve lost count.  And of course any changes you make have repercussions throughout the book and you have to make sure the continuity holds up.  YMMV.
Whew!  Okay done.  Now you start sending that one out and start the process all over again…
Who said this was easy?
Clear Ether!

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Slacking and Star Wars and Merry Christmas!

Saturday December 24, 2011 | By Hieronymus Hawkes | gaming | Leave Comments

I've been slack this week in doing a blog post but I've been enjoying the Christmas holidays and taking a little break.  I also got into the early beta and then early release of Star Wars: The Old Republic and have spent way too much time playing it.  It is absolutely what Star War Galaxies should have been.  The writing is fantastic, the voice acting is great and every quest has at least one cutscene.  The graphics are beautiful and the gameplay seems mostly balanced but the jury is still out on that one.  Overall I think Bioware hit a homerun with it.  The best part is my family is playing and we are doing battles together!  Five out of six of us are playing. I sent out copies of the manuscript to 4 alpha readers and have got one back with mostly good reviews.  I still need to work on Chapter One of all chapters.  I've worked and reworked that thing like an old upholstered chair.  I keep putting new material on the chair but somehow it doesn't work.  I've read in a few places to avoid a prologue but I think this story really needs one.  I've got critiques from multiple sources that the first chapter just doesn't provide enough background to understand what's going on at the beginning and without a lot of exposition I think a prologue will be the right answer.  I've plotted it out and I'm going to be working on it for the next couple of days.  I'll send it out and then make a few more hopefully minor revisions and it will be ready for Beta Readers! Christmas eve is tomorrow and I still need to get a few more little items for my wife, but everything else is ready to go.  We are going to do a turkey this year.  That will be a first for us, we normally do ham or Norwegian meatballs.  We also have company at the house and it really makes the holiday special.  I hope you all have a Merry Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or whatever holiday you prefer. Clear Ether!

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Reconstruction (Revision)

Tuesday November 15, 2011 | By Hieronymus Hawkes | Blogging | Leave Comments

This is a picture of the new intersection by my house. It really looks fantastic. I know, it’s hard to get excited about a road intersection but you have to keep in mind that this busy section of road has been undergoing construction for about a year and it has disrupted all our lives. They expanded the lanes -- completely resurfaced the entire stretch of road and then repainted all of it. It got me thinking how this is a good analogy of building a story. Originally this was a two lane road, with lots of pot holes and patches. Now it is a beautiful multilane road with smooth blacktop surfaces and fresh paint. It looks remarkably different and the traffic flow is substantially better. Think of your first draft as that narrow, gravel and tar covered, pot-hole filled road. It has spots that have been patched repeatedly. Places where the road forked to a dead end. It’s ugly and the traffic flow is horrible. You built this first draft hastily to get all those ideas out there and try to build a plot that makes sense as you go along, even though maybe all of it doesn’t quite fit exactly right. You had some starts and stops. You had to backtrack … you had to restart the beginning a dozen times. Whatever method you used to get that first draft down, by either plotting an outline or just winging it from the word go, it’s an ugly baby. On the revision you clean up all those dead ends and block them off like they were never there. You widen the road with enhanced tension and foreshadowing. You repave entire sections with new subplot and better dialogue. You overlay the entire thing with theme and proper structure. It takes a long time, and in the interim it can be like trying to cross a really bad section of road trying not to bottom out or smash the rims of your wheels from the pot holes. But when it’s done though, it’s a thing of beauty! (Hopefully) It’s not an easy process and it is time consuming, but it is the process that we must all go through to have a final product that is worth putting out there for all to see. It might take you months or even years to work through all the problems in your story. You sent it out to alpha and beta readers and maybe even a professional editor. But now it shines! It’s ready to send to an agent or publisher or to properly format it for self-publishing. Clear Ether!

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