Giving It Away

Character knowledge versus reader knowledge, what is the proper balance?

The title of this post references the idea of giving away your “catch” in a story.  How does the author do this?  When is the right time for the author to drop knowledge?  When one character is in possession of more information than others, how long can the author strike a balance between giving away the major plot points and keeping a reader interested?

Complicating the matter further, at the beginning of a complex narrative, how does the author establish a basic understanding with the reader for the book to move forward?

These were all easy questions for me to answer when writing Master of the House.  That book being heavily character based allowed me to pair up the reader with Julian from the beginning.  As the reader developed questions, so did Julian.  There was parity there.  To keep things interesting for the reader, to keep them feeling intelligent and as if they were in a superior position, Dori would reveal other information in scenes apart from the main cast.  Turnbill also served this purpose but in a contrasting way and after the crux of the conflict was revealed, Envy participates in this dialog with the reader as well.  From a writing standpoint, the questions at the beginning of this post were never an issue.

Now, my follow up work, tentatively titled Children of the New Potential, faces a far more challenging method for delivering information and foreshadowing.

In this new book, I have the challenge of informing the reader of a vast and sweeping plot/concept and at the same time, I have characters who are learning the same things as the characters.  The difficulty comes in how to deliver plot information and still have it be believable.  This applies both to the reader and characters as well.

I am working within a fantasy realm here and the crux of any issue has to be…well, fantastic.  Trying to preserve character motivation and rationality in this environment is difficult.  If one character reveals critical information but does it such that it is presented flatly as an explanation, it sounds crazy.  I don’t mean “crazy” to the reader, they are reading a fantasy novel and have already suspended their disbelief.  I mean that a character is just as likely to say, “Right, right, end of the world…dragons, wizards, threat to all mankind… Piss off you crazy kook” as they are to say, “Let me go get my sword”.

So, to move a complicated plot forward, information has to be presented in a sane manner to the characters so that the reader can understand their motivation in context of the situation.  Think about Star Wars.  Even with Luke’s desire to leave his home planet, Obi Wan’s initial offer to travel away for adventure is rejected as “impossible”.  Only when it is shown that Luke has nothing to stay around for because his family has been killed does he make the decision to leave.  That example carries through this whole discussion despite Luke’s final choice being so obvious.  (Removing ALL other choices is a somewhat blunt way to show motivation but it works)

For plot driven stories, the author must strike a balance between showing and telling.  Too much telling and you give away not only the plot but all the suspense that builds up to the conclusion.  Too much showing robs your characters of an ability to mold the events in their own perception.  Go back to the above example of Star Wars.  Obi Wan tells Luke a whole lot in the scene after rescuing Luke but he tells the events from his perspective.  There’s clearly more to what’s going on than the viewer knows and there’s more going on than Luke knows but the plot has moved more into focus.  We know that this character Darth Vader is not only bad but is tied to Luke’s history from what we have seen and now heard.

Children of the New Potential has a character named Laylani in it.  She is an Elf of Deep Shadow much the same as Rozalin and LeShaitan from Master of the House.  Her role in the story is that of messenger.  She knows far more than any of the other core characters in the book.  The adventure that Laylani will lead them on is based on this knowledge.  To advance the plot, Laylani has to act on what she knows.

Laylani becomes my voice as the author amongst the group where plot is concerned.  She understands the threats they are facing and knows enough to explain the immediate problems that they are facing.  Just like Obi Wan from earlier, the information she reveals is colored by her own perception of things.  In her case, she thinks that she knows more than she really does.

This becomes for me, what I started to question at the beginning of this post, how to strike a balance.  Laylani reveals what she knows to the other characters and to the reader.  However, the reality of the world and the threats they face become the “showing” that keeps the plot from being revealed too early or too easily.  The “showing” also reveals that Laylani may not have as tight a grip on things as she first thought.

A far reaching and plot-centered as Children of the New Potential is, my main method for delivering information to the reader and other characters is preserved from merely being a plot device by her own vulnerability of not having the story as correct as she thinks she does.  Slowly, she will come to find that the clear lines she has established in her head to go about her tasks, are not so clear.  The understanding of it all that she shares with the readers becomes a point of sympathy for her when the reality of the situation is shown to differ from the reality in her mind.

Tough subject matter to be sure and writing about it without the source material being available for review at this point is even more difficult.  I apologize for that.  Much of what appears here and what will appear in this blog is a way for me to organize thoughts as I write and look back on it to explain my thought process as it moves forward.

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Weekend Edition Part 7: Something Entirely Different

I mentioned previously (I think) that I collect a variety of toys.  Just for a little something different and a bit of spring time color, this is a review of Lorna Murasame from Shining Hearts.

I haven’t played Shining Hearts and I was not familiar with Lorna prior to seeing this figure up for pre-order. Lorna’s dynamic pose and mix of class/tease really caught my attention. Now, I really try to limit my fixed-pose figure purchases to franchises I love. So, to purchase a figure of something I am not invested in, it had better be really well done to get my money. How does Lorna hold up in-hand? Let’s take a look…

A full look at Lorna here shows what we’re working with: fox girl, in a maid costume, brandishing knives. Excellent. Lorna is 1/8th scale and is set atop a simple (but sturdy) white base. She’s screwed into the base, which is something I am coming to favor. One thing you see here is that Lorna is presented in someone simple colors in large patches. Don’t worry, I’ll show the surprising extent of detail that this figure contains as we go forward…

…but not just yet. Her hair is done simply and does not have significant flaws to comment on nor is there anything outstanding to look for. The back of Lorna’s costume shows her full length skirt. It’s simple and flowing. One thing I’d comment on is that this part of the figure is sturdy. When I pick her up, it’s by this portion of the figure (or the base). The material is firm and is anything but fragile. Kotobukiya should get a nod for this. Lastly, what you see here is a nice large uniform color part of the figure, but you don’t see any flaws, right? No smudges, swirls or anything of the sort are present. Stuff like that goes a long way towards a good review from me.

Rotate around 90 degrees and wow…things get busy. Lorna has a fist full of knives and is pulling her skirt aside to access more. You can see that the hem of her skirt carries detail all the way around and her boots have small ribbon details on them. Am I ignoring those amazing fishnet stockings? Not at all.

This took me by surprise. I thought these stockings were molded detail but this figure is actually done in mixed media and the stockings are lace. A perfect seam runs up the back of the stockings and the fishnet material was implemented properly. Now, the knives on her thigh and in her hand are simple and perhaps a little boring. There is sculpted detail but the paint choice for these seems a little heavy and I think they suffer for that.

Still talking about the defining characteristic of this figure, we can see here how the movement Lorna makes to wield her weapons affects her skirt. Her right hand pulls the skirt aside for her left hand to grab a fist full of knives.

You can really see here how the concept translated to reality. The material bunches with her hand and shows the weight of her costume

I’m not posting this picture to get a laugh or to throw out a shot of her cleavage. Lorna is actually pretty well covered up. I show this picture here because the same lace material used on her stockings is used here across her chest. I think that’s amazing. Kotobukiya could have easily used molded material here but they went the distance to match material and accurately reflect her costume. I suppose I’m surprised because the area is so small and difficult to access.

Lastly, let’s take a look at her face. As you can see, she’s lovely. In contrast to her very stark costume, Lorna’s hair and face use soft muted tones, especially where her hair is concerned. In fact, it almost bothered me that the color was not more saturated. I did not know the character well and having her hair the same color as her tail fur bothered me a little. Seeing the game art changed my opinion and after a little time with the figure, I came to appreciate the way it looks in person.

For her price at Amiami of 7940Y, is she worth it? I…don’t know. I like this figure immensely. She hits all the right points for me but at this scale, that price before shipping seems too high. Happily, I purchased her from BBTS for $77 and at that price, I would recommend her without a second thought. Funny how that works, isn’t it? On merits alone, this is a great figure, well done from head to toe. Lorna is amazing in that she can look so different depending on what angle you observer her from.

Packed with fetish, well sculpted, and very well presented, I think anyone with a slight urge to pick this piece up will not be disappointed.

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The Point of No Return

The point at which it is further to go back than it is to continue forward.  ^_^

My “second” book, such as it is for the moment (dependent on whether or not Master of the House is broken into two books at some point) is now over 50% complete.

I’d be lying if I said that this was easier or even as easy as Master of the House was to draft.  Working within the confines of a planned length and moving through knowing that a full revision would be required have been very trying on my creative style.

I often have to accept the fact that my page count per day is around half of what it normally is due to this, but the grind continues.  The biggest challenge really has been the structuring of chapters.  Previously, I would write chapters under a theme that would run clearly through.  This time around, chapters are presented more in a scene format with shifting to another location or into another obstacle as the call for beginning or ending another chapter.

If I wasn’t in the middle of it all, I would think that smaller bites and more concise sections would make for easier writing.  Working towards creating something that is “market ready” has proven to be anything but.

That being said, sometime in June this work should be complete and I will be in the midst of editing (and more regular site updates).

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Villains

Most stories live and die by the worth of their villains.  They are in one way of looking, the reason for telling stories.  There are rare exceptions.  Stories of self exploration and mastery, biographies, etc can all circumvent the need for an outside actor to move the plot along.  When it comes to fantasy fiction the need for an evil, an obstacle, or person of ill intent is key to the genre.

I think it can be very easy to slip into the trope of the mustache twisting black hat villain in fantasy fiction.  To avoid this, I think that rooting your story in the antagonist motivation is critical.  When I began conceptualizing the Legacy of Shadow series, I honestly did not have a set direction for it.  The world came first and presented me with problems that really bothered me and somewhat ruined the rationale for such a place.

I knew that I wanted some omnipresent force to oppose the heroes.  I knew that I wanted this force to be something that did not have to confront them directly, but that could corrupt their very reasons for stepping into the field of conflict.  My first attempt at the character who would become my ultimate villain for this series was known only by title: “The White Witch”.  Please bear in mind that at the time, I had absolutely no knowledge of The Chronicals of Narnia.  Seriously.  I didn’t.

This character was aloof and distant and somehow responsible for the trials and tribulations of the world I created in the Legacy of Shadow series.  She was generic and…boring.

So, I began to ask myself questions about her.  What had she done to be responsible for the undead curse placed upon the land?  Stepping back, I had to ask, what is she to begin with?  ”Elf” was the answer.  More specifically, a “Light” elf when compared to the thus far heroic “Dark” elves that this world and its characters encountered.  Then came the inversion, the typically heroic by nature good-guy forest elves would somehow be responsible for…what?  Or should it even be all of them?  Why not just one?  What if one member of this otherwise pristine race of creatures did something so terrible, that…

That what?  What could one character do that would be so condemning to vilify that character for all time?  The answer was:  she is responsible for the death of her entire race.  Already there were no light elves in the story but there were uncountable undead creatures.  So, this character became responsible for the death of her entire race and that genocide resulted in a world ravaged by undead hordes of elves.

Now we were getting somewhere.  It wasn’t very far down the road but the wheels were spinning.

What would make a character commit genocide on their own race?  Would it be purposeful?  Or would it be accidental?  Well, one thing that was certain in my mind was that this villain would be something that a reader could understand however, sympathy was not something I wanted to extend to her.  Accidental was right out.  Purposeful?  This was a more difficult thing to accomplish.

I was stuck.  I needed something beyond petty vengeance, something grand something…that was eluding me.  That’s when Jimi Hendrix happened to me.  That’s when I turned up the music in my car and happened to turn my ear at the right moment to hear the lyrics that unlocked the remainder of my story.

“Anger he smiles, towering in shiny metallic purple armor. Queen jealousy, envy waits behind him. Her fiery green gown sneers at the grassy ground…”

It wasn’t much but the idea of sins personified struck me just the right way.  It’s been done countless times, sure.  This time though I felt I had found a unique hook.  This “White Witch” became Envy in my mind, the personification of a unique and deadly power.  (Her color happily changed in my mind as well.)

What would the personification of Envy possibly find herself jealous of?  What would a creature with immense power and a hatred of anything more powerful than it turn its attention towards?  God.  That personified sin would turn its rage towards the one thing that truly held dominion over it, in this case God.  Now the genocide of a entire race could make sense within the context of one powerful entity looking to dethrone another.

Thus my Deadly Sin Envy, the Queen of Jealousy was born.

The reasons that surround her actions and the way in which she achieves her goals are all details that play out in the book but the important thing here is that the villain’s motivations are genuine and even though a reader would not agree with her actions, they can understand those motivations never the less.

I began this by commenting that a villain’s actions are the driving force for most plots.  While this is true for Envy’s actions as the story moves forward, she is still a somewhat distant, a force that can not be engaged for most of the tale.  Her motivations and the way by which she seeks to achieve those goals create a dread and even outright fear in other characters lending credence to their own actions.  This does not even speak to the ways when Envy does reach out into the moral realm, how characters who are directly touched by her actions take on a villainy all of their own.

Creating a complex villain on an epic scale has allowed me to tie characters, places, and most importantly a plot of epic scope into a story that has its roots in a concept that everyone can identify with “Too much is never enough”.

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Short Story Friday: Motivation

As I promised yesterday, today’s story piece is a portion of the current book I’m working on.  It’s the real introduction to the character Dempsey who is based both on an old friend and a hefty bit of the character he played in the game that brought much of this about.

Here we go…

Motivation

Vavian led them to the building that Dempsey and he had lived in for the past several months. From the outside of the building Eric and Laylani could see the large flying device known as a ‘Copter that sat perched on the roof. They made their way around to the rear entrance of the building and Vavian knocked on the door in a specific way, two heavy knocks, one lighter, and then three more heavy raps on the door.

The man that met them at the door was carrying a candle in one hand and a pipe in the other. He looked at the trio, heated his pipe on the candle, and shrugged his shoulders saying, “Oh well, what the hell…” before stepping aside and welcoming the group in.

Dempsey watched as Vavian walked past and then turned a curious eye to Eric, however it was Laylani that gave him real pause. “Vav…she’s a good deal older than I was expecting…and…not human. Vavian, why isn’t she human?” Despite his aloof nature, Dempsey had a very good eye for detail and the brief glance under her cloak had revealed Laylani’s elven heritage.

“Plans have changed Dempsey…I can’t even begin to explain it all right now but what you need to know is that we need to get to Keldj and we need to be out of Britania before first light.” Vavian just came out with their predicament rather than skirt the issue.

“That is…a much colder choice than the other pleasant options you proposed to me when we discussed this matter. Also Vavian, not to put too fine a point on it, but you have brought one of Britania’s esteemed Templars into our humble little hide out where we usually eschew the presence of the authorities.” Even while Dempsey was voicing his concerns on the matter, he was absent mindedly tapping his pipe against his hand. “And you have not exactly explained your pointy eared friend here either.”

Laylani pushed her hood back, finding no need to hide her appearance. “I am an Elf of Deep Shadow and I am tasked with summoning the twelve decedents of the fallen heroes from the War of Sin.”

Dempsey’s eyes widened at the claim and he merely nodded. “Fine. Fine. War of Sin, all well and good, I can believe that. Now, a Templar helping you Vavian? Coming aboard my ‘Copter? …and not turning us in to the State Authorities? That stuff the woman says requires a leap of faith, his story?” Dempsey point at Eric. “Well…”

Vavian quickly cut him off, “This Templar helped us to leave the State Prison in one piece and put a Guild Master flat on his ass to keep us from getting burned alive.”

Dempsey raised an eyebrow and replied, “No shit?” He took a long puff of his pipe, “That bastard Richter? You put him out?” He began to laugh a little. “Keldj it is my boy, Keldj it is. Now, you all ain’t never been up north…”

Laylani interrupted him, “I have.”

Dempsey waited to see if Laylani would say anything else before continuing, “I have some cold weather gear I got in trade last season. Should do us right for the snow and slush.”

“Ok…ok, good. We don’t have much time Dempsey. Even now they’re out looking for us.” Vavian was rushing. He was still on edge from what he had seen earlier in the night.

Dempsey was never in a hurry. He could be infuriatingly slow for Vavian’s taste at times and this was one of them. “Never did get your name Templar or you Miss…Terious.” He laughed at his own joke.

“There will be time for all of this once we are on our way Dempsey! Don’t make a game of this!” Vavian was actually getting angry now.

Eric could see a certain need to play along with their pilot. “I am Eric Sturgg…former Hero of Britania.” He frowned and offered his hand.

Dempsey chuckled slightly at this and shook his hand, “Former Hero? That’s the kind of title that makes for good story telling over strong drink. I like you already Templar.”

Laylani leered at Dempsey and then resigned herself to an introduction. “Do not call me Miss Terious ever again. Eric has given me the name Laylani and you may use that name for me when in his company.”

“That’s…a strange way of putting it, but alright.” Dempsey motioned for them to follow. He led them to his storage room where a variety of various goods were kept. Opening one of the chests up he confirmed the winter coats and various armaments against the cold they would encounter. “So…why are we going to Keldj?”

His question lingered in the air until it became obvious that not one of them had a specific answer to give him. Eric and Vavian resorted to looking towards Laylani for answers. The idea of explaining herself was foreign to her.

“There…there are three warriors there. It is my duty to awaken them to their responsibilities.” she said it angrily as if the others should have understood implicitly.

Dempsey only nodded as if it all made perfect sense. “Three warriors. Understood. Well, the Keldjian people are none too friendly. Asking questions is only going to get us in a heap of trouble. If you don’t know who these people are…we may be better off dealing with the authorities here rather than angry Keldjian Marauders.

“I will know them when I see them!” Laylani insisted.

Eric and Vavian looked at one another uncomfortably.

Dempsey laughed, “I thought as much. Don’t get your pointy ears bent out of shape. We just need to get the right kind of bribes. Why, with the right bribes, you can go just about anywhere. That there is a life lesson, try not to forget it.” Dempsey looked around and started pulling various crates out from their store places on the wall. “A little bit of planning goes a long way towards a happy voyage. What we have here are the right things to open doors of opportunity.”

Once he had three crates chosen, Dempsey asked Eric and Laylani to take them up to the roof in preparation for their flight. Laylani thought nothing of it and went about doing her part to speed them along the way. Eric understood that this was an opportunity to allow Vavian and Dempsey to talk alone. It put him on edge to know that their cooperation might already be at an end but there was little he could do beyond allowing it to play out. Reluctantly, he left the two alone and went about his task.

Once they were gone, Vavian turned immediately to Dempsey, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry…I should have taken them somewhere else. I should have given up on this whole thing. It was originally going to be Sarai. You hear me Dempsey? I was supposed to have the Governor’s daughter with me. We were going to go to Seaside and find that rogue water mage to fix the water sickness in South Wall.” He was falling over his words out of guilt. Dempsey sat watching him with a slightly bemused look on his face.

“Will you shut up? Seriously now Vav…you have no poker face. Are…are they what they say they are?” Dempsey seemed oddly interested now.

“What…do you mean? I am…I’m pretty sure they are. I’ve seen things tonight that I never, ever could have imagined and the vision that elf showed to the Templar…”

Dempsey clapped his hands, “She really is an elf! Hot damn, hot damn.” He was grinning like an idiot.

“You…you’re liking this?” Vavian asked with outright shock in his voice.

“You’re damn skippy I am! Vav…I fly a dangerous contraption powered by magic I do not even understand. I run illegal shipments of goods this way and that. I agreed to allow one of the most wanted criminals in all of Britania to live in my basement so that I don’t have to pay for official fuel sources for my otherwise illegal operations…”

Vavian had not even considered for a moment that like everything else in life, Dempsey would see this as a game to be played, a risk to be taken for the sheer thrill of it all. Vavian was now sure, without a doubt in his mind that Dempsey was insane.

“So, you bring me the opportunity of a lifetime, to see the kind of stuff they only tell you about in pillow fiction and religious sermons, up close and personal? I’m all in.” He shook his pipe again trying to remove the used product to no effect, “Plus, you’re the only friend I’ve got.” He pointed his pipe at Vavian, “Remember that. Now, we’ve got a flight to take.”

Once they were on the roof, Dempsey let them into the strange looking flying machine.

‘Copters were a bit of technology with an illustrious history. While Lux is the City State widely known for its steam technology and automated advances, it was the Britanian Guild that designed the first flying vehicles. These contraptions became a necessity for travel between cities as over-land travel was an exercise in suicide and waterways through the landscape were limited.

As he prepared the machine, Dempsey explained a bit of the technology. It was all second hand information though. Dempsey himself understood vary little of the lift concepts that kept the craft aloft or how the various gear ratios controlled speed and direction. He explained to them how the very first ‘Copters used a terribly inefficient means of creating steam to power the vehicle, but when the Guild perfected their vacuum containers that all changed. The ‘Copters could be pre-loaded with ready-to-go energy that could be used to power the system.

“Of course…the Guild’s price for this service is so prohibitively expensive that flight to one place or another is only for the wealthy or by State sponsorship. Since Britania sits right about in the place every city needs to set down to refuel, they have what you might call a monopoly on inter-city travel. Unless of course, you have a friend who makes fuel with almost zero effort.” Dempsey motioned towards Vavian who was using his powers to charge the fuel canisters.

Dempsey hopped up into the small cockpit and engaged the gears. The heavy blades sitting atop the ‘Copter began to move. “Climb on in. Next stop, barren frozen wasteland!” He grinned as Vavian threw himself confidently into the cabin and prepared himself for the trying voyage by ‘Copter. Eric entered more cautiously and looked about uncomfortably. The machine looked as though it might fall apart at any minute. Laylani took her time boarding. Out of the group, the experience was certainly the most foreign to her.

“This is why…” Laylani stated quietly.

“Why what?” Eric asked pensively.

As the ‘Copter began to lift itself up from the roof and move them northward towards the frozen tundra of Keldj, Laylani was lost in amazement staring down from the ‘Copter and seeing the moonlight illuminate the passing landscape.

“This is why she hates your kind so very much. Unlimited potential. My people have existed since the beginning and we have never mastered the world in such ways.”

 

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Status Update

As of today, my second planned work has surpassed the 30% mark for completion.  I have a tentative title for this book:  Children of the New Potential.  That title may have to change because there’s a real chance it’s too long.  I don’t mind.  One thing that will not be too long is the actual length of this book.  After the initial difficulty I found in getting Master of the House to market, I have carefully plotted the length of my follow up work to ensure it is what those in the industry refer to as a “marketable length”.

I really only quote that because it seems to apply only to first time authors.

Soon enough I’m going to have to open up some new space on this site and begin outlining this new book in the same way that Master of the House is cross referenced.  Tomorrow will mark 21 days since I started working on this second book.  40,000 words in three weeks has left me very tired if I’m honest.  I did not even notice that my pace was moving along this quickly until my buddy told me not to burn myself out. (Hi Rob)

Gotta keep moving while I have the time to do so…

I will be posting a preview section of the new book tomorrow.

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120 Thousand Words or Bust

I never thought the problem facing me would be having too much content.

As I read more about the industry and what it takes to bring a book to market, I find that almost anything written over 120 thousand words is considered to be unmarketable.

With my first efforts coming in at twice that, I am left with some decisions to make.

The first option is to edit the book down, essentially cut it in half.  The second option is to split it into two different books.  The third and final option is to forgo the traditional publishing route and publish to the digital market.

If I’m honest about this and what I’ve written so far, the first option is right out.  The narrative works, the characters grow and are completely realized by the end of the work, and the story leaves nothing unfinished.  Gutting a considered work merely to bring it under an arbitrary standard will play out either by removing characterization or by requiring logic leaps on the part of the reader to get from one point to another.  I’ll have none of that.

Splitting the work down into two separate books is a viable option.  It’s not really the way I had planned for the story to unfold but it could be made to work.  Very close to the mid-point in Master of the House is a point of strong rising conflict and resolution that sets the stage for the final act.  With some reasonable editing and a slightly reworked ending to Chapter 9 of the book, I think this is a possibility.

Digital publishing is a topic I’ve discussed recently.  It’s an area of possibility that becomes more and more appealing the longer I look into these kinds of things.  Setting aside the “Is it good for your career” discussion, I feel that we’re on something of a digital frontier.  It seems that the time is right for embracing a new marketplace.  The way I look at it is like this…When was the last time you went to your home encyclopedias for information?  When was the last time you went to Wikipedia for the same information?  The digital realm  takes a lot of heat from older methods of doing things but when there’s a legitimate platform to work from, the field of possibility opens itself.  If I ever move towards digital publishing it will be to give myself more options, not as a means of retreat.

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Weekend Edition Part 6

Updates have been slow(ish) the past few days and into this weekend because I have been working on concepts for my new book.

I find the process of drafting and writing to be really easy and something that I can split my attention from.  When it comes down to planning, plotting, and creating concepts…I get mentally burned out.

I’ve made my way through the first 25% of my latest work and am now that the point that I really have to plan out the rising action, villains, and links to further work.  Like I told one of my buddies lately, I don’t think I’ve ever gone back and re-written so much material at once.  Having been through the process once now, I’m looking ahead to curtail future problems with a little planning.

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