Archive for January, 2012

Who Needs a Map?

Monday, January 30th, 2012

I believe the first time I encountered a map accompanying a novel was in The Hobbit. While Tolkien's writing provided wonderfully vivid descriptions of Bilbo's adventures with Gandalf and the Dwarves, there's really nothing like a map to give you an extra thousand words at no additional cost:

A map gives you a solid idea of what's going on that no amount of prose can equal. Which begs the question: is the map a crutch? Certainly a really good book wouldn't need one. After all, isn't it considered literary cheating if you have to literally draw a picture for your readers to help understand your story?

I don't think so. The lack of a map takes away nothing from the story. The addition of the map only adds to the enjoyment of the reader, offering an extra dimension of exploration for those so inclined.

The Map as a Tool

What's easy to forget though, is that the map isn't so much there for the reader's benefit as it is for the author's. When writing a story, a clear view of what's really going on (and where!) is essential for the author. Without that solid image the story might wander or become inconsistent. And what better way to create a solid image than by drawing a map.

As I slogged through the latest draft of Winter's Gate, I began to realize that a particular vagueness to my surroundings was beginning to hurt me. I decided I needed to nail down the layout once and for all.

Maps aren't just for large, sprawling continents like Middle-earth. A large percentage of Winter's Gate takes place in a single building and I simply couldn't go on without a clear vision of this building. So last week, after exploring various tools, I settled on PowerPoint (for 2D) and Google Sketchup (for 3D). I then set about realizing my world. Here are the results.

First, the building exterior:

After kicking around some ideas, it felt like a three story building with a lower level (shown here below the ground line) made sense. Prior to this exercise, I really had no idea how many levels it had. And though I'm showing you the exterior first, this didn't come about until after I'd done extensive work on the 2D floor plans:

Lower Level: where the Generator resides.

Ground Floor: clearly still a work in progress.

First Floor: not much happens here, but I designed it anyway.

Second Floor: a lot happens here (ironically I designed this last).

And the Results?

My single greatest surprise is that many story elements and scenes which I had already worked out no longer fit the new landscape. This is odd, of course. I mean, this is a novel. By definition, it's fiction. I can make whatever kind of building I want and force it to fit the story.

But as it turns out, good fiction really CAN'T be whatever I want. The reader still requires plausibility and consistency. And drawing a clear map of one of my most important settings suddenly pointed out that I had plausibility and consistency issues. It didn't matter how much I liked some of the earlier scenes. It was clear I had darlings to kill.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Rewrite

As I left the wake for my recently killed darlings, something hit me. The story was about to get better. I re-opened chapter one, with my protagonist Quin's first encounter with that orange ball you see pictured above. I began rewriting the entire scene with this new, clear picture in mind, and wow. Everything got better.

My renewed excitement from a few weeks ago was renewed once again. The story that felt dead in the water last August has had new life breathed into it twice now.

Let's just hope it isn't all for naught.

Posted in Progress |

Reboot Underway

Monday, January 9th, 2012

I seem to be pretty good at stories but absolutely dismal at storytelling. There's a huge difference between the two, and no good novel has just one or the other. You need a good, solid story told well to succeed. One or the other just isn't enough.

And that's been my struggle over:

  • The last year
  • The last three years
  • The last twenty years

Lots of ideas. No idea how to present them. My drafts are nothing more than plot tent poles but without the tent. What this means to the layman is: they're boring, they're wordy, and they're nothing no reasonable reader would want to spend five minutes on.

Not exactly the recipe for success, no?

So last week I picked one manuscript, Winter's Gate, and decided it needed a reboot. I hadn't touched it for five months and of all the works in progress, this still seemed like it had the most potential.

So I spent some time this weekend trying to pick it apart, save the good stuff, throw out the bad, and figure out how to best get from Point A to Point B. But after two days, I once again was left with nothing. This is the kind of thing that will drive me back to Cheez-Its.

But then, about two hours ago, something happened. Have you ever spent days and days and days working on a puzzle but simply cannot see the solution even though you know it's right under your nose? Miraculously, that's exactly where I was. And then it hit me. Why is it the hardest puzzles can suddenly look so mind-numbingly stupid once you have the answer?

So I'm fairly fired up about this. If I don't screw this up again, I may have a shot at a decent plot. This reboot is now officially underway.

Posted in Progress |

Clean Slate

Monday, January 2nd, 2012

There's something supremely magical about that single clock tick with the ability to wipe clean the slate and give us our annual opportunity to at last Do Things Right.

My last post happened four months ago when I was (hoping to) kick off a writing binge and finally have something to show for it. It failed miserably.

But then the clock ticked over from 2011-12-31 23:59:59 to 2012-01-01 00:00:00 and I realized, with great hope (and a slight measure of anxiety) that I had just 355 days left to: write my book, get it published, and make an appearance on Ellen before the world ends.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's begin by dusting off the last two or three manuscripts and see if there's anything worth salvaging. I'll call Ellen tomorrow.

Comments Off on Clean Slate
Posted in Musings |