RIP Spawn

Well, it is official.  After many weeks of considering the pros and cons, and breaking my way into my next project, I have finally decided the fate of Spawn.

I always knew going into this project that it would be primarily a learning experience, and maybe also something publishable.  I am busy revising the last 8 chapters from draft 1 to draft 2.5, and I have finally come to accept that I am fully comfortable with Spawn becoming a testament to my maiden voyage into writing, and never giving it to the light of day.  It is hard to explain how much the process taught me, but the truth is it is only one of many stories I want to tell, and not even a particularly well organized one.

I will continue my revisions to version 2.5 through the ending, and I will continue workshopping until chapter 32, then I am putting it on the shelf as a commemoration of the work that got me started.  Maybe, in a few months, I’ll come back and incorporate all the beta feedback, but most likely I’ll just let it die quietly, and steal any bits I liked for other works.

The primary factor in the decision has been my explosive excitement around the new project, the Lunhina Trilogy. Worldbuilding, character development, and outlining for this project went from 0% to 100% in a matter of days, and I have already planted the first 5700 bricks towards the project. I have no doubt alpha readers will bring me off cloud 9, but if I do say so myself, this is going fantastically compared to Spawn. It feels more alive, the characters feel more real, and the story is more organic.  I am not fully surprised by the different, considering how much I learned in the first round, but I am surprised by the momentum.  In a matter of days, I fell fully behind Lunhina and lost almost all interest in Spawn.  Some of that is just excitement at a new project, but it is deeper than that.  Spawn has served its purpose, and done so admirably, paving the way for a much better project.

Once I get all chapters to d2.5 and workshopped to 32 (of 41), I’m turning it in, and calling it a day.  Lunhina is a different kind of story. This one I would like to sell and publish… that is the point. Last time that would have been an added benefit, but the point was to learn. The stakes are higher now, and I’m aiming for the outfield.

Lunhina Tranist
Phase:Writing
Due:5 hours ago
5.7%

My Worse Rookie Mistakes

d3/111,018, 33/41

I am at an interesting point in my writing development, and one that merits some documentation.  I’ve mentioned before how my feelings about Spawn wax and wane, giving me days where I feel like I have a good story that just needs the right coaxing, and days I feel like I have a big pile of learning experiences that nobody else should ever have to read.

My new project

Today is one of the latter days.  I’ve finished revising draft 3 [a.k.a. 2.5] through chapter 33, which means I just have 8 chapters left.  I’ve received feedback from my writing group as far as chapter 26, and my pile of “to-do” changes for the final draft (d4) is quite large.  But that is not what is most discouraging.

A few weeks ago I was feeling a little blocked, and I started browsing my “cool ideas” document to get a sense of what my next project might be.  What is on the horizon for me, as I continue to explore this potential career as a writer?  A couple jumped out at once that I liked at the time, and that still resonate well. In the weeks since then, the ideas have started to codify into the beginnings of a new story, a new world, and some really engaging plots.  I am missing one or two sparks, I think, before I can really start looking at the different arcs and building an outline.

The rookie mistakes that might kill Spawn

The amount of excitement around my new project is quite intoxicating.  Not just because I enjoy the earlier stages more than the revision stages, but because I just have a better sense of how to build a story now, my confidence is much higher that I can do it well.  This is all in contrast to Spawn.

hair-pulling_3261885b

Spawn continues to be anchored by a number of really rudimentary and n00b problems.  I’ll write them out.

1. Role-casted Characters

I didn’t know my characters well enough before I set out on this project.  I have a document outlining their personality quirks and their attitudes, and yet I rarely follow it.  Why?  Because I can’t.  The characters were forced into roles that I needed for the plot, and the plot was strung together in advance without appealing to the characters.  I just expected them to play along, but they aren’t.  They will be much less interesting if I force them to, which leaves me with two bad options: a) force them into their planned role anyway, and they will be non-believable and single dimensional, or b) give them the life they deserve, but the plot breaks apart and suffers.

Could this be fixed in revision? Yeah, probably.  But I do have to ask myself if it is worth that much effort to save.  In my new project, I am being very careful to plot things out differently.  I am not designing everything around the specific sequence of events I want to tell, instead I am just planning out some major conflicts, and getting to know some characters.  I will let the two develop independently to an extent, and then create my scenes based on the characters themselves.

2. Worldbuilders Disease

I’ve also mentioned before how this novel is the great-grandchild of a big bunch or worldbuilding I did some six years ago with the intention of writing a screenplay and then a video game.  The key is, I had this extremely detailed world with specific properties, and then I build a plot that maneuvered around many of those specifics, to the point it can’t really be divorced from them.  I am again left with two bad options: a) Force-feed the readers with very heavy info chapters that fill in all these in-world specifics that explain the nuance difference between X and Y and explain Z, or b) Leave out these details and the plot seems to be full of holes and inconsistencies.  Not good.

Atlas_with_Wikified_Globe

Can this be fixed?  Again, yes I think so.  I would err towards option b, and then do some foreshadowing and dialogue to patch things up… but again, it feels like I am neutering the original creation past recognition.  That isn’t a bad thing in and of itself if the original creation was deeply buried gold that just needed sunlight to glint to its full potential… but that is not what this is.

In my new project, I am planning enough to be interesting, but hinging the plot on as few as possible.  The setting will impact the story because the characters live in that world — it is not necessary to tie each element of the world into the plot in order to showcase it.

3. Change for Change’s sake

All stories revolve around conflict and changes, and a story is the road characters take across those conflicts to reach those changes.  In my new story, I am beginning to lay out the plot around interesting conflicts.  For one character, I have a really great conflict that will hit at about the 90% mark of the story, and another at about the 20% mark.  I have one for the overall plot as well.  I need a bunch more, but the idea is, I am approaching the new story with the lens of “what conflicts do I want to see, and what events will lead up to those conflicts?”  My approach in Spawn was rather different.  I didn’t have any ending points established at all, and I only had a few conflict scenes.  I filled in the rest just to move things along, sometimes nearly randomly.

They are going from Silvius Center to Nerthia… I need something to happen… how about… Onadak Outpost?  That is how that scene got written.  I had no conflicts in mind, no character development in mind, I just needed something to happen.  I went back and shoehorned in some things, based on where I knew the characters were before and where they would be, but it was awkward and didn’t serve the purpose.

If I need Evaya to confront her past, I should set a scene that lets her do that.  Not try to squeeze it into dialogue while a scene that doesn’t matter at all is unfolding.

4. Poor Descriptions

This one might sound odd… surely descriptions and style can be changed in revision?  Well yes, sure, but this issue is a little deeper.  First of all, I wrote all of this without any idea about filtering or show vs tell, or any of that.  In my particular case, fixing the descriptions means a rewrite of 110K words.  But beyond that, issues from bullet 1, 2, and 3 are bleeding into the page, and in order to wrap a bandage around it, my prose is somewhat forced into the complex.  For example, my characters do not have well developed POV voices… which means I have to work extra hard to get things across that could be much easier.  My world has so many minor nuances that are plot-important, I have to dwell on them in inner monologue, or describe them as being noticed when they seem irrelevant.  This all weighs down the prose.  And in bullet 3, the sometimes artificial progress of my characters needs to be handled in narration because I did not create a scene to facilitate it, and that means more awkward thoughts or strangely fixated descriptions to try and pull things in a certain way for the character.  It all just feels like it has so much inertia.

So, what do I do?

Good question.  I don’t have the answer yet.  There are several main factors at play here.  First, I really am afraid that if I bail on Spawn now that the going is tough, it will set a precedent that stops me whenever a book isn’t going right.  When I’m thinking like that, I want to push through it just for the exercise.  Second, this has been well over a thousand hours of my life the last year, and there are parts of it that are very good and of which I am very proud. I would like to have more to show for it than just a learning exercise (which it certainly was on many levels no matter what).  Third, there are several other parts of this process (the publishing side) that I will not get to experiment with until I have something finished.  My new story is a year out at least, do I want to wait that long to have anything?

My overall plan at this point is, finish the draft-3 revisions, complete workshopping with my writers group through the ending, and then put the thing aside for a while.  I’ll get a first draft banged out on the new project in the meantime, then revisit Spawn with real distance and more experience, and decide where to go.

Explaining the EPR Paradox

For anyone in their first year of quantum mechanics, the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen Paradox (EPR) is required study.  Its significance is underlined because it marked the final confrontation between the classical way of viewing the world, and the emerging quantum way.  At its heart, is the universe deterministic, predictable, and classical?  Or is it random, indeterministic, and quantum?  Models describing particles with wave functions had emerged and been tested, and there was no question QM worked (and worked well).  The question was, is QM fundamental?  Or are all these probabilities and uncertainties the result of our particular model, which covered up a misunderstanding of deeper principals with probability descriptions?

Einstein, father of the beautifully deterministic worldview given to us in general relativity, refused to believe the universe could operate, at its lowest levels, with uncertainty.  This is what he meant when he famously said, “God does not play dice with the universe”.  It is also misquoted rather vigorously to suggest Einstein meant a literal god, but the fact he often spoke pantheistically is well documented.  In any event, he felt strongly that a deeper understanding of quantum principals might some day remove the uncertainty and show us what was really going on under the surface.

Along with Podolsky and Rosen, he proposed a paradox which highlighted some concerns he had in the early formulations of quantum theory.  Without going into the specifics, which Wikipedia can cover better than I, here is the important assertion raised by the paradox:

If we produce two particles in a twin state (entangled) are fired them off towards detectors, their spin is described by QM as being in a superposition of states, and is thus effectively undefined until measured.  EPR suggested the particle might be random in-so-much as it was assigned randomly at the time of entanglement, but while in flight and prior to being detected both particles must have (the same) determined (x,y,z) spin.  It was not, fundamentally, uncertain.

Nobody could test this, so it was left to ponder, that is until Bell came along with an experiment (untestable at the time) which could set the record straight, known as the Bell Inequality.  Here is what Bell figured out:

Produce your entangled particles, then setup two detectors, one to measure each particle.  The detectors are setup to RANDOMLY measure only 1 axis each time, either X, Y, or Z.

If a particle has a determined spin, it can be described as (A, B, C), where A, B, and C are either U (up-spin) or D (down-spin) for the x, y, and z axis respectively.  (U,U,D) would be a particle spinning up on the x and y axis, and down on the z axis.

So in Bell’s setup, each time we run the experiment, each detector would report either “UP” or “DOWN” for whatever it measured on the axis it randomly chose that time.  The two detectors pick their axis at random and need not report which they used, thus each time we run this experiment there are 9 combinations of measurements we might see.

Detector 1 Detector 2
x x
x y
x z
y x
y y
y z
z x
z y
z z

In each of those 9 cases, we will just see UP or DOWN from each detector, not knowing which of those 9 specific combinations led to that result.

Quantum mechanics tells us that when the particle is measured, no matter what axis we choose, the result will be U 50% of the time, and D 50% of the time.  Therefore, half the time the two detectors will agree, half the time they will not, as you can see below:

D1: U, D2: U => Agree

D1: U, D2: D => Disagree

D1: D, D2: U => Disagree

D1: D, D2: D => Agree

The quantum case is easy.  If EPR were wrong, and we run Bell’s experiment, we should see the two detectors agree 50% of the time.

The classical case is a little longer, though not complicated.  Here is the point that will become the key: if we have 3-axis spin, such as (U,D,U), at least two of the axes will ALWAYS be the same.  Think about it.  You can only assign U or D to each axis, and you have 3 to fill, so no matter how you do it, at least 2 will match.  Keep this in mind because it is the foundation of Bell’s inequality and breakthrough.  Here are the 8 possible combinations for particle states, classically speaking:

(U,U,U), (D,D,D), (U,U,D), (U,D,U), (U,D,D), (D,U,U), (D,U,D), (D,D,U)

Let’s dig into this a bit.  The first two I listed above will cause our detectors to ALWAYS agree, no matter what axis they pick.  If the particle is in state (U,U,U), then it doesn’t matter if I look at x, y, or z… I am going to see a U, and so will the other detector (remember, for our simplified example entangled particles have the same state).  This means out of the 8 possible particle configurations, we can expect 100% agreement 2 times out of 8 (no matter which of the 9 axis-combinations chosen by our detectors).

The other 6 cases (U,U,D), (U,D,U), (U,D,D), (D,U,U), (D,U,D), (D,D,U) will always agree 5/9th of the time.  How did I figure this out?  We can see it visually.  Every particle in these 6 cases as a majority spin and a minority spin, represented by the solid and open dots respectively in the below diagram (the three on the left are the particle hitting detector 1, and the three on the right are the particle hitting detector 2).  I’ve drawn in the 5 combinations where the two detectors will agree, e.g., if detector 1 reads the first majority axis and detector 2 reads the first majority axis, they will agree, and I’ve drawn the top-most horizontal arrow to show this:

epr-match

Out of the 9 possible combinations of detector-axis-choice shown in the table further up, the 5 shown right here will match, and the 4 I didn’t draw will not.

So in total, we have 2 cases out of 8 where the detectors will agree 100% of the time, and 6 cases out of 8 where the detectors will agree 5/9ths of the time, or:

Screen Shot 2016-03-13 at 14.30.58

And there we have it.  If QM is right, our detectors will spit out matching reports of UP and DOWN exactly 50% of the time.  If EPR is right, our detectors will spit out matching reports of UP and DOWN 66% of the time.

Later, the experiment was conducted, and the results agreed spectacularly with the Quantum Expectation.  This means particles really don’t have hidden properties as they flit around, they exist in a true state of uncertainty.

Working on Showing vs Telling

d3/111,465 words. 26/41 chapters revised to d2.5

I’ve spent some time studying the age-old show vs. tell problem, specifically through this book recommended to me by a fellow FWO’er.

I rewrote my first chapter making a dedicated effort to purge all cases of non-immediate inner monologues, as well as every case of telling an emotion or reaction, when I could just show it. The result feels a little flowery, to be honest, but it also feels much cleaner and easier to read.  I think a big part of the writing game that I have to get my head around, is that reading a book is not about being told a story.  Not really.  It is about having circumstances described to you, and allowing your own mind to create the story.  I can’t fixate on spoon-feeding the exact inner thoughts my MC is having in a particular situation, instead I just need to show what he sees, and if my characterization has been consistent, the reader will be able to get the same experience, but in a more enjoyable way.

This will be one of the major components of my draft 4 pass, and I am confident it will improve my writing dramatically.  On the negative side, it slows my word-count from nearly 1000 words per hour to about 100.  They may be better words, but that is still tough to swallow.

The changes are not always obvious.  Consider this line from D2.4:

D2.4  

He shuffled slightly to keep the swelling blood from touching his boots, and stared at the empty face before him.

His vision suddenly flecked with hot tears as guilt prickled across his face. He got back to his feet, blinking away the unwanted emotions. What good would they do him?

He flicked his blade, then removed a pink handkerchief from the fold of his blue trench coat and ran it along the cold metal, clearing the bits of matter that still clung to it. As he did, he urged his mind to go blank and the sting of shame softened. He was well practiced in bathing himself in a mental darkness, a meditative numbness, voided of self reflection and emotion. It was the only way to stay sane after all. Otherwise, utter despondence would surely claim him, as he was forced to commit all flavors of malevolence by his Pledge Binding.

In cases like this, the showing and telling are so intertwined, the whole thing needs to be rewritten.  I did so, emphasizing descriptions of actions and sights and sounds, rather than statements of what he was thinking or feeling. Here is the same section in D2.5:

D2.5

He shuffled slightly to keep the welling blood from touching his boots.

Vincent’s final expression was carved by terror, his mouth wide in a scream that had never touched the air. Nyklas’s stomach clenched unexpectedly, and looked away, but the man’s wide beseeching eyes continued to sting him. Guilt? Hells, where was that coming from?

He stood and flicked his blade, then removed a stained handkerchief from the fold of his trenchcoat and wiped the cold metal. There was nothing I could’ve done to stop this. I didn’t mark him to die. That was quite true, yet his stomach still twisted and an unease spread through his chest.

This whole situation was bullshit, from the depravity of his master to the Binding that enslaved him. Now he was killing random merchants in the slums of town… why, exactly? Did Golithias need nothing more than a perceived slight to toss his assassin into action?

The difference is, in my submission, fairly striking… but again, it required a full rewrite.  It is not a matter of deleting the word “sad” and replacing it with descriptions of sadness.  In many cases, whole sections need to be reworked to revolve around description and immediate experiences, rather than commentary.

Then there are times when I am telling, and I really don’t have the option of showing.  In those cases, I am tending to just remove the block.  I won’t follow this strictly throughout the book, but in chapter 1 if it requires telling, it can probably wait.

D2.4

Beyond the sea of rooftops nearly lost in darkness, the huge structure of the ship loomed. The facade of the aged spacecraft, two miles wide and half a thousand feet high, was like some kind of metallic god that watched over the entire city through a grey washed eye.

He spared the ship only a passing glance. Far from inspiring awe, the sight only summoned disgust. The ship was nothing more than a fortress. Half destroyed from the crash that seeded this planet, it stood only as a monument of segregation between the civilians and the sinister characters that played plutocracy over them. Such as his master.

The solution here was just to leave a lot of details out so I could show the things I needed to, use analogies to fill in the emotional connotations, and call it a day.

D2.5

Beyond the sea of rooftops the ship loomed tall, like the face of a fallen metallic god. The grey-washed surface caught the light with the sinister matte of an opaque and blind eye. Restraining a scowl, he looked away…

The last thing I addressed is not strictly related to showing and telling, but I group it together anyway: micro pacing. During intense scenes, it is important to control your prose by making sentences more concrete and shorter.  No similes or metaphors, just short, quick, action.  I looked at this during this pass because I can easily show something small and let the reader interpret the rest, without breaking out of the moment.  If I stop to tell the same thing, the action comes to a crawl. It seems counter-intuitive, and may not apply globally, but at least in the examples in this chapter, the showing felt natural and quick, whereas telling felt intellectual and contemplative, and thus slow. The escape scene suffers from telling instead of showing, of doing so during high-tension moments, and of telling in an info-dumpy sort of way:

D2.4

He turned and ran across the bedroom, but at the top of the stairs he stopped. There was a bang from below as the front door was kicked open. Angry voices sounded from within the house.

He grimaced, and looked around. The colors around him intensified as his heightened senses came alive. Power flooded from that core of energy that kept him alive — his Adonis Heart — making his muscles quiver. The sounds on the air were suddenly more vivid, and time seemed to stretch as he scanned his surroundings for options. At least a dozen men were downstairs. As a Spawn, he could probably fight his way through all of them, but that was beside the point. He didn’t want to kill more than he had to. He needed a plan, fast. There was a second bedroom on the back side of the house. He ran across the landing and kicked open the door, registering two windows within. The first overlooked the main street where a crowd was quickly becoming a mob, but the back window faced a narrow alley between this house and the masonry shop next door. In moments he was out the window, landing roughly on the tile roof across the alley. It was an inhumanly long jump, and he was sure they could not follow. Ignoring the stinging in his shins, he scanned his surroundings. Torch lights played off the building towards the main street, but the alley led to a small street behind the shop, which was empty. He rolled off the roof and landed in the narrow road backing the house.

Here is what I came up with for D2.5:

D2.5

He turned and ran across the bedroom, but at the top of the stairs he stopped. There was a bang from below as the front door was kicked open. Angry voices sounded from within the house. He grimaced, and looked around. The colors of the dark hallway intensified as his heightened senses came alive. His muscles quivered with ready strength. At least a dozen men were downstairs. As a Spawn, he could probably cut his way through all of them if it came to it. His master might not care either way, but he cared. He ran to the second bedroom at the back side of the house as heavy footsteps banged up the stairs. There were two windows. He opened the window above the narrow alley where he’d started. As voices and boots pounded into the bedroom, he gave himself to the wind, and landed roughly on the tile roof across the way. Shouts and whistling echoed from the front street. Shins stinging, he rolled off the roof landing on the hard stones of the alley a dozen feet below. Colors popped as his Spawn strength flared, dispelling the pain in his ankles and knees. He threw himself into a sprint down the alley towards the back street.

Anyway, this will all get one final pass, but I do think this revision brings it within 1 pass of being “done.”

Review: The Cycle of Arawn

I just finished reading the trilogy, The Cycle of Arawn by Edward W. Robertson.

cycleofarawn

As a trilogy, this was a bit of a mixed bag. The first book was so slow I barely got through it. By the mid-point of the first book, I was quite sure I would never finish the series. Finally the time tested (and youth-approved) mantra “why the hell not” got the best of me, and I forged on. The second book gets better by leaps and bounds, and the third book I wasn’t able to put down almost at all. The TL;DR version would be this: If you have the patience to get through a slow (book-long) build-up, you will be quite satisfied by the end of the trilogy. Otherwise, don’t bother.

The very first thing I want to say is that Robertson’s prose is absolutely spectacular. It is the main thing that kept me going when the characters felt dull and the plot meandering. Seriously, it was such a delight to read, it sustained me. The humor and dialogue (especially in books 2 and 3) are endlessly brilliant.

Book 1: The White Tree
What bothered me the most here is that the characters are all photocopies of each other, and I mean all of them. They ALL have the same dry sarcasm and glib nonchalance, and it made reading the dialogue dull as anything. Sure it was clever sometimes, but doesn’t anyone think differently in the world?  Additionally they all seemed to have the exact same moral philosophy, which stole any depth from the various scenarios, or at least left it solely to the reader to consider on their own. Perhaps this is why it’s so easy for the secondary characters to come and go as they do without any sense of change in the plot, as they do more than once.  Ultimately, the book develops very little real tension or sense of forward progress, and many times I had to force myself to pick it back up and remember what was going on when I had put it down.  The final conflict in the book is the endpoint of a trek that never felt particularly justified or necessary, so I moved through it without a real sense of urgency or risk.

Book 2: The Great Rift
The characters come into their own here, and the dialogue gets much better.  Additionally, the moral distinctions between the characters not only appear, but begin to contribute to the overall dynamic and conflict in a way that is much more interesting.  Again, the prose is brilliant throughout.  If you are a writer, I’d recommend this series just to sample the writing.  Plot-wise, I don’t really see why this book has to happen at all, but if you just go with it, things get much more enjoyable. Worldbuilding and settings are more maturely presented, and on the whole its a slightly above-average experience.

Book 3: The Black Star
We get a new POV here, and frankly, a much more engaging one. The tension and character dynamics are worlds better than previous books, and the twists and turns are much more expertly done. The prose continues to be fantastic, and I really-truly laugh out loud multiple times in each chapter. The only thing holding back this book is the sense that the main character is more-or-less invincible, which does reduce the tension a bit.  However, the added POV and the far more interesting inter-character dynamics are very enjoyable and real, and the plot finally comes together in a way that builds tension and keeps pace.  This was an excellent book.

So on the whole, I am glad I read it, but I would hesitate slightly before recommending it to someone unless they have the patience to work into a story that can, at times, feel meandering and pointless.

Review: Violence A Writer’s Guide

Today I am reviewing Violence: A Writers Guide, Second Edition, by Rory Miller.

Rory Miller is an ex-military guy / detention officer, and gives writers tools and information about what real world violence really looks like, and why. It is very useful to adjust your character’s mentalities, reactions, and also descriptions.

The first part of the book describes the mentality of someone entering into a potentially lethal situation, and it is really not what you would think if you have never spent time in that world. The psychology that comes into play when you actually could be dead in the next minute is different than you might think. There is also discussion of how people react to such situations, how it actually feels to “freeze”, and what things become hard to do when adrenaline suddenly hits, how long it lasts, etc. There are also interesting gender differences between the adrenaline release profile.

Then he goes into some specifics of different kinds of weapons. There was a lot of treatment of guns.

Finally, he goes into a lot of detail about what injuries actually look like, what they feel like, what they smell like, sound like, etc. How people react to different injuries, how long they can keep consciousness… and how they die, and what that whole process looks like. Some of this was pretty disturbing, but it is all the stuff anyone who has actually fought to the death (hopefully our characters rather than ourselves) would know. And would never forget.

He links out to a dozen or so external articles and images. Maybe ~3 of the links no longer work, most of the rest were really disturbing (he warns you). One showed what a machete actually does if you swing it into someone’s face, for instance. That is an image I would rather not have seen, but then again, it is something some of my characters should have burned into his brains… and something others would be totally unprepared for.

There are a lot of useful tidbits for how an experienced fighter should think, what things should draw their attention, and what kinds of injuries and damage they can take and deliver…. and likewise, an inexperienced fighter.

On the whole, I would say a worth while read.