Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Weekly Writing Update 2: The Brakes of Life

This Week's Word Count: 1,563
Total Current Word Count: 31,815

It's time for another weekly update, and it's a rough one. I didn't make a blog post during the weekend solely because I had nothing to talk about. I am still recovering from a very bad viral cold, and I'm a lazy bastard.

Another issue is all the work I have to do this semester. It's different from my usual workload, as it isn't computations and coding. This semester is mostly reading (History-related) and writing papers. I dedicate my time to homework over hobby right now, which means my writing falls to the wayside sometimes.

The biggest problem I'm having is a lack of motivation. After plotting out the novel, things have definitely slowed down. The semester has started and I've grown bored of the story. I will not let this stop me from finishing, as that's the most important part. I've also had an idea for another novel, but I need to prove that I can finish one before I start another.

My goal this coming week is to beat the previous week, getting to at least 2,000 words. I have two different, consecutive chapters I am bouncing between writing. I want them to be completely finished, which will probably exceed 2,000 words by a lot. This weekend I want to get ahead on my homework and my writing.

I will not give up! If anything, I'll re-outline the novel and continue from the point I'm at. The beginning is getting massively edited anyway. See you guys again next week!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Weekly Writing Update 1

This Week's Word Count: 4,519
Total Current Word Count: 30,252

I've done a lot of things for my book in the past week, except for writing! I'm back in college, and it cost me some productivity. I am also incredibly sick right now, can't even get out of bed.

However, I've completed 1 of my 3 quarterly goals. I fully outlined my novel! Thank the lord I did, I found that many things between where I'm currently writing and the resolution needed to be thought of at once. Right now my concern is that the plot is too convoluted. I feel like the true arc of the novel starts too late, but that's for revisions!

Another thing I've done this week is watched all of Brandon Sanderson's lectures at BYU! Here is a link. They are incredibly informative and helpful, and I've written a lot of editing notes based off of his advice. Anyone interested in writing fantasy or science fiction should watch all the lectures, including Brandon Mull's and the Q&A. Watch it all!

My goal for the next week is to write a total of at least 3,000 words. College is definitely going to slow me down, this is a paper-heavy semester. I will not stop writing, though. I have a spreadsheet tracking my word count per day and week, and my cumulative average daily word count.

See you guys on Saturday!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

How To Start Your First Novel

The task of writing a first novel is very daunting for most writers. You've likely written short stories, or small ideas and blurbs, but to embark on a 50k+ word novel is unheard of. You know you have to have likable characters, captivating plot, interesting setting, believable dialogue, good pacing, a strong ending, excellent prose, blah blah blah blah blah.

Forget all of that, because you will be overwhelmed. You won't nail all of those things in your first novel. You could spend 10 years learning about all of them, but if you don't write, it's meaningless. Don't let yourself obsess over every little detail. Most people don't start their novel because they don't know where to start. I'm here to tell you that in my experience, it's way simpler than all of the above. I will tell you how to start writing your first novel in 5 easy steps.

1. Decide your genre

If you want to write a novel, you first need to know what genre it could fall in. Is it a thriller, with more focus on the action and plot? Is it a horror, where every sentence brings you closer to the next scare? Is it fantasy, where you can add whimsical and mystical elements? Now is when you decide on the genre, and even subgenre.

In fantasy, there are more subgenres than you could count. Epic fantasy, high fantasy, steampunk, cyberpunk, and way more. If you know that you want steam-powered mechs that enslave all the people in your book, you can know from the start that you are working with steampunk elements. This will allow you to throw in things that you weren't initially planning on adding, and still have your reader believe you.

Picking the subgenre is not necessary, though. You can also cross over the genres, experiment with it! That is what your first novel is for!

2. Establish your Setting

Where will it take place? When? And most importantly, why? These are important things to know, because characters are based on the setting they exist in. You won't normally have a computer engineer in the Roman era, or a commercial airline pilot in a world of elves. You need to know the place and time period of your novel before you get started.

Why should you ask why? Your setting needs to make sense to you. The setting should also have enough for a worthwhile plot. If the setting is the white-walled room of an insane asylum, there better be a good reason for it!

If you're making up your own world, be careful. J.R.R. Tolkien spent a huge portion of his life (I'm talking decades) building Middle Earth before he created a narrative from it. You are not Tolkien, I'm sorry to break it to you. If you spend years building your world, you will never get to the meat of your story, and you will end up dumping piles of info on the reader that they don't need. Build small parts, then fill more in as you need in the plot. Give the illusion that there is an entire world.

3. Pick your Characters

This can be the hardest part. If characters do not come to you naturally when you are creating the setting or thinking about what you want in your story, that is okay. What you can do is think of, or look up, typical character archetypes. You could even look up archetypes from your genre. Then, form these archetypes to your setting. The wise old wizard is a classic archetype, but if you change it slightly to a wise old wizard that is discovering a new branch of magic he has never seen, it can be compelling.

You should also add little quirks and traits that make them your own. Set them up to be real people, and then get in their mind when writing your story. It's amazing what happens when you establish your character, then let their choices flow from your fingertips.

4. Think of the Conflict

What is going to mess with your main protagonist the most? What would be the coolest thing to see in your setting, and how is your protagonist involved? Questions like these will help you feel out the conflict. Maybe you already know the protagonist and antagonist. Now, you just need to bring them together.

When you think of the conflict, the plot will come with it. You need to get into the actions, and get to the conflict, then resolve it. There are so many ways to do it, but first you need to start the story! Having the general idea of where you're going can help you discover where you're going.

5. WRITE!

This is the true step. This is how you learn your characters, feel out the setting, and get ready for the plot. You can always come back and delete or edit what your start with, the key is just to start. Get an idea of where you're going, get there, and come back and fix the start later.

Don't get stuck in an editing loop! Just write one chapter, then the next. Jump around if you want, just don't get stuck revising chapters. Finishing the draft is the biggest goal.

What helps me is setting goals. Some authors have goals to finish a chapter in a day, or finish a set amount of pages, or a set amount of words. I use word count goals. 1,000 words in a day is great, but I have been sticking to the lower end of word count goals. Writing anything is better than writing nothing.

In Summary:
Pick a genre, then a setting, then characters, then plot, and begin writing. A subgenre, deeper setting, more characters, and intricate plot/subplots will appear over time.

If you are more comfortable, you can also outline your novel before you begin. Just know that you can change the outline!

That is all for starting your first novel. If you have questions, send them either through email, or in the comments on this post! See you guys Wednesday!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Direction for the Blog

After letting ideas brew in my head for a couple days, I have decided on a direction for the blog.

Wednesdays will be the days I make a personal post on the progress of my manuscript, things going on in my life, and so on. Weekends will be the time that I post something useful to you guys about writing, reading, or narratives. I was thinking I could review television shows, movies, and books. I ca also write guides on the stuff that I have done so far, for those that have never written a lengthy story.

So yeah, I want to have some form of a schedule. Since today is Wednesday, I want to update you guys on my progress.

I am at 25,739 words. I have written over 10,000 words in the past 7 days, and am halfway to my quarterly word count goal. I wrote 3,300 words in one day yesterday, which was nuts. The story is coming along well.

Just today, I have posted my prologue on the subreddit /r/fantasywriters (link). It's already been torn up by one reader, who makes good points. I wanted more critique on it to know if I have any crtical flaws that could carry into the rest of the novel. So far, none of the problems are about the writing style. I just need to cut down on repetition, pull back on info dumping, and focus on getting into the action. These are prologue problems, not narrative issues.

The prologue and first ~3 chapters thereafter are the ones that need the most work, and I knew that posting this. I have been told the start is good, so at least there is that! I will not be sharing any more of the story until I either finish, or get considerably further. I don't want my hopes to be dashed by something that can be fixed in editing.

Keep an eye out this Saturday, because my next post will be "How to Start Your First Novel." It's something that I now have experience in!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Meaning Behind the Blog Title

"Alex Vary's Writing Axle" seems like a weird name. It is. It was a split second decision, but as of late I've been liking imagining writing as a wheel. You spin it and spin it until you've come up with ideas and put them in the right order, then you tie them together with the English language. All of this happens around the axle of the wheel, which in this case, is your brain.

So the blog is basically titled "Alex Vary's Writing Brain." How pretentious.

Another reason behind the name is that this very same idea is used in my book, in a minor way. There is a military project in Dandon called Project Axle, which Orin is briefed on in his third chapter (At least that's where it is now). This project is quite game changing, and that's where the word axle came into play here. The word just randomly popped into my head when I needed to name that project, and here we are. This is how things become things.

Anyways, this was just a short morning post. Figured I could explain the name, because some people might think I was just using the word wrong.

I'm also going to try limiting posts to once per week, giving a random collection of thoughts and progress. Keep an eye out for another post!

The New Dawn in a New Year

It's very late right now, probably too late. I've been trying to get domain names working, and so far it seems to have worked, except on my home connection. Odd, but so be it. Technology has a way of sorting itself out.

But that is not what I am here to talk about. I have decided to make a blog, as I am writing my own book. This might be a whim or it might be a calculated and dedicated move, find out next time. It's January 1st, 2017, and arbitrary dates give us the impetus to make big sweeping changes in our lives!

So, a little about me. I'm Alex, I'm currently a sophomore in college, and I am majoring in Computer Science. I have recited this so many times in my life that I may as well tattoo it on my forehead. This isn't what is interesting about me.

I have been writing for most of my life, and it never was much of a thing to notice. I'd write a short story here or there, make a very bad and almost plagiarized screenplay for an "alien invasion movie where the aliens are already on Earth." Sound familiar? I was 8. That thing is long gone now, and rightfully so.

That being said, I am taking a large step now. I started writing a novel in July of 2016, but it was more of a pastime. It wasn't until this winter break that my passion for writing fully blossomed. I was at 11,000 words going into my third semester this year, and I came out on the other side with 11,300 words. Pitiful. Then, this break started, and immediately following Christmas, I made a goal for myself. I wanted 20,000 words before the end of a year, less than a week of time. When the clock struck midnight, and the year changed, I had succeeded. 20,979 words. This is the longest continuous piece of writing I have ever created.

There was a huge difference, though. There were times where I had to write a story, for school or a competition or just a fun adventure. When I was writing these, it was a strain, almost a pain in the ass. I didn't enjoy it. Writing this novel, though? I've enjoyed it. Crafting the plot, collecting ideas, weaving a narrative out of nothing but my own mind. It's something I've always wanted to do, but never had the dedication to.

So what is the book about, you rambler? It is a fantasy, I refrain from adding the word "epic" or "steampunk." The book, which has no title yet (I will refer to it merely as "Boma and Dandon" for now), is about two countries locked in a petty struggle with one another, while sinister things brew below the surface. The countries are Boma and Dandon (Cue dramatic music). Dandon is the larger, more developed country, while Boma has rampant crime issues. They are led by kings, and have advanced militaries. The world is modeled based on 19th century Great Britain (Very loosely). In the heart of these two countries are the Cryptlands. They are a desolate spot, with gray grass and skies to match. Here, something or someone is waiting.

The novel follows 4 main characters. There is Orin, the 62 year old Lieutenant Colonel of the infantry for the Dandonese military. He's jaded and is fighting because duty calls. Then there is Harrison, the 19 year old former-rifleman for the Dandonese infantry. He is a bit lost after just being released from the military due to a terrible arm injury. After that is Magdeline, the brash 16 year old girl working in a flower shop in Dandon. She is an orphan that never knew her parents, and she's discovering something about herself. Something powerful. The final character is Somondro, the Chief Cleric at the Holy Tower in Boma. He has a mysterious past and is discovering omens for bad things to come in his newfound position.

What will happen when the world starts changing and these characters are there to see it? At this point, I'm not 100% sure, haha.

What next? I am going to lay out goals for myself. I've seen some authors I follow, such as Jenna Moreci or Vivien Reis, construct a system of quarterly goals. They set huge goals for the next 3 months, then come back and evaluate them. They set many goals, and achieving a high percentage of them leads to a successful quarter. So, let me try this. By April 1st, 2017, I plan to do the following:

  • Reach 50,000 words in my manuscript.
  • Fully outline the entire novel.
  • Come up with a title.
That's it for goals. Start small! I know it's odd to not have the novel outlined. I have a good portion of it outlined, but much like George RR Martin, I find that when my story has a set path and I know every step along the way, writing it becomes a hassle. I want to get knee deep in the narrative before I fully know the climax and resolution. I have at least another 20,000 words outlined. Reaching 50,000 words would be insane!

Anyway, that's about it for me. Don't know who will be reading this blog, if anyone. If anyone does and wants to read the unedited Prologue (By unedited I mean, I wrote it and haven't looked back), post a comment here. I may post it as a blog entry! I would love honest feedback on it. I most likely have issues with passive voice, among other things.

My dream right now is to get this novel published. I will write it, edit the hell out of it, edit it just a little more, find some Beta Readers, get solid feedback, edit it some more, then begin the query letter process. Self publishing has become a lucrative and viable option in this day and age, but I do not have the fanbase, marketing skills, or knowledge to make it work. I also don't know how well a new fantasy book would do on that market. I would prefer to go the traditional route. I also want to have that gatekeeper that can rip my book to shreds. I want to have that validation, and dare I say, extra challenge.

Meeting that challenge with my first book is near-impossible, so it might just be a dream. I can always write another book.

So, let's hope I can write this book and stick the landing!