Saturday, December 17, 2011

Write What You Know: Death

Death is a part of life[1]. It is an ending, and with it a new beginning[2]. Oaths, of course, only hold until death. They are considered fulfilled with the death of the oathmaker. My narrator says:
Oaths that bind us. Oaths to serve. Oaths to protect. We swear and swear and at the end we find ourselves bound in a web of promises with no way out. But in their mercy the gods give us death, that there may be an end to oaths, an end to dishonour and failure. Death, the final answer to every promise.
Later though his opinion is threatened. There is a suggestion that death is not the end. But let's not go down that route. Instead, let's consider; if we live long enough we can't keep all our promises. Eventually circumstances will force us to break one or more. In a feudal society, this is a threat. To a feudal society with immortals this is a major problem. Oaths will be broken. Then you must live forever with the consequences.

[1] Wittgenstein disagreed in Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, but he's dead, and also changed his mind.
[2] "Transformation" Tarot readers interpret the card as. To which I misquote Ragged Robin, and ask exactly what kind of transformation is symbolised by a scary skeleton with a scythe on it.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Man Who Cheated Death

A self-contained story from my novel, provisionally named An End To Oaths. It has a rude word in it so it can be found below the fold.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Novel: Brain Frazzled Lessons

So 45 days and 83,000 odd words later it's finished. Working title is An End To Oaths. It's supposed to be a gritty low fantasy swords-and-a-bit-of-sorcery thing. It sort of is! There are seven dragons in it though.

This means the first draft exists to be read. HOWEVER:

1. I'm not making it generally available, especially to random strangers off the internet.
2. It is inelegant and in some cases broken. An early section doesn't work at all. The manuscript changes tense all the time. Characters appear, change name, and wander off, then new characters who fill the exact same role appear. A city changed name a couple of times. I've redrawn the map three times and I'm not sure anything that happens is geographically possible. When I couldn't find the name I'd previously given someone or something they just became "the scarred man" "the frightened woman" "the envoy". (I actually like that quite a lot, but it ought to be consistent). Things that happen at the end don't tie in to the beginning, and things that happen at the beginning don't pay off properly at the end.
3. That said, all the coolest stuff I hoped for is there, but in many cases improperly set up. So they will be, to coin a phrase, spoiled if read in their current state.
4. Anyone who gets a draft will be requested to spot errors, problems, mistakes, inconsistencies etc.
5. Stephen King suggests leaving it for six weeks before going over it again. Well, in your face King, I'm going to print out the first section tomorrow and go over it with a red pen and a notebook to spot what needs fixing. In other words I hope to have a second draft within a reasonable timescale, And that draft should be an actual novel rather than just a bunch of related chapters.

All that said, if anyone wants a copy of the first draft, let me know when I'm feeling self-confident and I'll e-mail it over. Also, probably tomorrow I'll stick another excerpt out on the blog.

So what lessons have I learned, and can remember sitting here two hours after typing the last line[1]? Firstly it's not all that hard. Just come up with the outline for a story, visualise the scene, and force it out the brain and down to the fingertips and it appears on the screen. Easy!

Secondly - this is hard work! Starting scenes isn't too bad - a character arrives, a fight starts, someone wakes up. Finishing them is a bitch. The first five hundred words a day are not too bad. Unless I'm really caught up in what's happening, each section after that is harder.

Thirdly, I either need a better plan, or I need to be better prepared for when things go off track. Extra chapters appeared between me and the end several times. Stories I expected to appear in a couple of days and so had plenty of time to think about started to spill half-formed from characters lips. I found myself looking up swordsmithing, galleys, PTSD and pregnancy amongst other things at various times when the story made me realise I didn't know enough about those topics to make up convenient details.

I'm pretty sure there are other lessons. I'm a bit too frazzled to figure out what they are though. More post mortem later as I process what happened.

[1] "Promise me you'll kill the son of a bitch who did this to me."

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Write What You Know: Feudalism

In a feudal setting the greatest crime is to betray your lord[1]. Failure is nearly as bad. So what happens when you're the sworn guard to your lord, and he dies? When you get home and face his widow and family, what then? Even if they forgive you, you've still failed. Your oath has been broken. How do you pick yourself after that?

If I need an excuse for a broken, fanatic killing machine of a protagonist, suffering from PTSD, determined that he will not fail again, or at least he won't outlive failure this time, here it is. Of course this links to some other themes - death and family. Which by some coincidence come next on my list of Write What You Know.

[1] Unfairly treating your vassal is equally bad. However as the rights and privileges increase as you move up the ziggurat, and the responsibilities increase as you move down, plus judging it happens at the top, for some reason it rarely happens that way. Who would have thought?