Omissions

While a story needs the sequence of events clearly expressed (as a whole; keeping things hidden from the reader is fine if they’re to be revealed at some point), it can sometimes be tricky working out what you can leave out or skimp over.

There’s a difference in large stories like George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire – where entire important battles happen off screen, but where there’s a lot happening and including everything could pose a health hazard to anyone carrying one of the hardbacks around – and a short story where a scene accounts for far more of the story.

(Or maybe it’s more a matter of how the scene relates to the overall story, or character arcs. Maybe moving away from the viewpoint of those caught up in the scene allows it to be only heard about.)

It’s a challenge when faced with scenes that just don’t work whether or not to omit it. Ideally you find either what it is about the scene that requires its inclusion, or what makes you want to write it, and focus on that, or you find what isn’t working and determine why not.

 

Necessary Scenes

In Games of Shadow, part 5 of Shadows of the Heavens, the dinner party at the end was almost painful to write, and the first draft was far more sparse, with blocks left to fill in later. I could have ended the main strands of the story differently, but it wouldn’t then have introduced characters who’d play greater roles in the rest of the series. And it said more about the main characters, and the setting. So the scene served multiple purposes, some of which would be lost without it.

It was therefore necessary to keep it, so on the later draft I went back to it and outlined that scene in more detail than I had. I didn’t rewrite it until happy with the way it worked, and interested in it.

 

Unnecessary Scenes

In the recently released Dreams of the Dead there’s an omitted chase scene that I’m worried readers might find slightly jarring. The story skips from trouble about to happen, to the characters having evaded their pursuers, without giving the chase scene.

This was never written. It was in the rough outline, but many action scenes I never break down that much, preferring to maintain spontaneity and energy when writing them. I couldn’t find any interesting thing to do with the chase scene, and it wasn’t doing anything else (no character work or world-building for which it could be utilised). It had only a single purpose, and held little interest for me, so I left it out. Its omission doesn’t feel like it affects the overall story. Possibly the increased pace of the action could have been useful, and the brief build-up without the payoff may trip readers, but the series overall tends to have sharp, brief action scenes, so the scene could have felt incongruous as part of the overall narrative movement.

Possibly (okay probably) I’m overly neurotic, and readers won’t particularly care about the omission. It’s a danger when writing that you study the structure in more detail than you might otherwise. (I find when reading I notice ‘said’ far more than I’m sure I used to, when it’s supposed to become invisible to readers.)

Ultimately I can only write what feels right. If a scene feels like it’ll be a slog to write then maybe my unconscious is telling me there’s something wrong with it. And if the scene can be dropped without affecting the story in any way, maybe it should be.

Dreams of the Dead

I’ve just released the fifth story in the Tales of the Thief-City series, Dreams of the Dead.

Dreams of the Dead small When a friend goes missing, Rax Darkthorn must disturb the ghosts of his past in search of an answer. The trail leads to the second-to-last place he’d want to revisit, forcing him to deal with the dead, the undying, the neverborn, and the never should have been born.

Fifth in the Tales of the Thief-City series. A 20000 word fantasy novella.

 

Amazon.com

Amazon.co.uk

Smashwords

It’ll be free until the end of July (apart from on Amazon – unless price matching is working again).

 

Unlike the previous parts it’s a novella. It was an attempt to do a longer story based in the setting, since a few reviews had said they’d like that.

Unfortunately the style of the series doesn’t seem to lend itself to that, and what was initially hoped to be a novel ended up a short novella.

The series was conceived as pulpy short stories that maintain a fast pace and have a fairly compressed story. I find first person narratives tend to work out shorter than third persons for me anyway. (The sequel series, assuming I finish this one, would probably be third person since the viewpoint character is different, and probably wouldn’t work as well in first person – or would be far more work for me, and probably still work better in third person).

Dreams of the Dead wasn’t going to be part of the series. It was more of a stand alone that looked at the character’s history. It’s still not tied strongly into the overall narrative of the series (which is a single long story), but some of the information will come into play later in the series so it’s easier to include than reintroduce them from scratch elsewhere. And given events to come it has a definite position in the series, so it might as well be numbered as such.

For those wishing for a longer story, I can only hope they stay till the end of the series (currently planned to be around twelve stories) and find the whole things satisfies as the longer piece they’re looking for.

Guest Post by Nikolas Baron of Grammarly

**Please welcome our guest poster for today, Nikolas Baron of Grammarly.**

A Day in the Life of a Freelance Writer

Glasses on, he was Superman. Glasses off, he was an ordinary journalist. As part of my job at Grammarly, I research what people write and which tools they use. I rub shoulders with a lot of freelance writers … a lot of freelance writers who wear glasses. What is a day in their lives like? How do they accomplish the heroic articles that I read every day? After all, we walk past these people all the time on the street. We laugh at the jokes that they print. We cry when they bring some sad account to our porch by means of the daily journal. However, we rarely look into the process that brought the writing to life. Let us take that moment today.

The Morning Routine

Almost every writer has a set of habitual behaviors that he performs at the start of each day. I do not think that I will surprise you by saying that, for the majority, it involves a caffeinated beverage. Besides that, here are the top three activities to get authors on their way!

• The Important Stuff

For the worrywarts, it is better to first run errands to get them out of the way. They clear the slate, physically and mentally to focus on writing. Slow cookers are hidden secrets of the trade. As one of my author friends cooks breakfast, she throws in a roast and some veggies into the crockpot. No concerns will distract her from writing, except the delicious smells of dinner being ready.

• Meditation

Another colleague assured me that, by meditation, he does not mean thinking about the famous handclapping question. Instead, he takes a little “me” time. He sits out on the deck to watch the squirrels and birds bustling about in their affairs. He may read a chapter of the Bible or a few pages of a self-improvement book. He chooses a positive thought and meditates on how he can introduce it into his own life. He forcibly removes any thoughts of writing or what he has to do for the day. It is his time of peace.

• Brainstorm session

In one interview, the author of Drop Dead Healthy encourages writers to “generate dozens of ideas”. This exercise has to be free of fear. Expert authors do not waste one second fretting over quality brainstormed ideas. Most will be garbage, destined for nothing. Nonetheless, the great ones are grand! Like artists with a sketchbook, some writers keep a notebook of ideas to use when they need inspiration.

The Grind

Stay-at-home professionals often schedule working hours. This ensures productivity. As writing is a creative profession, one may plan fewer hours than those typically allotted for manual labor. Breaks are also an important part of the process. Failure to do so can cause writer’s block, the dreaded nemesis of any wordsmith. The following section will discuss what some smart writing professionals do during downtime.

The Procrastination Destination

There are the obvious break activities- eating, bathroom breaks, and a quick nap. However, a number of authors do not like to feel as if they are wasting time. They chose productive ways to procrastinate! While waiting for writer’s block to subside, they proofread for grammar and clarity. They cut and paste their documents into online proofreading websites. By the time the revisions are made, they are ready to start creating again. What a guilt-free mental break that is!

“Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep”

By the day’s end, an author sighs… with relief if the day has been productive or with grief if the output disappoints. By the bed, quite a few writers keep a pad of paper. These authors also assure me that the notepad is essential. They never regret anything as much as the great idea that got away.

The next time you devour an article in five minutes, take a few moments to consider the author. He may have taken days to write that article. He may have sat in front of his computer screen for hours, praying for a flash of insight. Smile at those bespectacled faces in the street. You may be smiling at a superhero.

By Nikolas Baron


Bio:

Nikolas discovered his love for the written word in Elementary School, where he started spending his afternoons sprawled across the living room floor devouring one Marc Brown children’s novel after the other and writing short stories about daring pirate adventures. After acquiring some experience in various marketing, business development, and hiring roles at internet startups in a few different countries, he decided to re-unite his professional life with his childhood passions by joining Grammarly’s marketing team in San Francisco. He has the pleasure of being tasked with talking to writers, bloggers, teachers, and others about how they use Grammarly’s online proofreading application to improve their writing. His free time is spent biking, traveling, and reading.

The Wastefulness of Character Death

Do you ever get the feeling you’ve killed off a character too early? That maybe you could have done more with them if they were still around.

Maybe it’s not a bad thing. If you feel that way, maybe it’s due to a connection to the character, and hopefully readers will feel similarly. It doesn’t remove the nagging doubt it could have been wasteful, even if it was what the story required of you.

[There will be SPOILERS below, vague where I can make them, for Glyphpunk, Blade Sworn, and Grey Engines]

 

Planning Murders

Since I outline most of my stories, I usually know from early on whether a character is going to die. This makes the death part of their story, becoming fixed enough that it doesn’t necessarily feel the same way to me as to a reader who wasn’t expecting it. It’s the role they play in the story, a part of how I see them.

Not that the death is always planned. In Blade Sworn there’s a character who would’ve continued to play a set role later in the series (if I ever continue it). During the writing I decided he should die at the end, his later role going to one of the other characters (for whom it would work well in where I saw them ending up). As I got closer still I realised he should die earlier than the final confrontation where I’d envisaged it, and differently than I’d imagined.

Literally as I was writing the scene I decided that was where he should die. I feel the story works fine with it, and even if I hadn’t originally planned it for him, I’m happy with it. Maybe he could have done more, but I don’t consider his death wasteful.

 

Outside Influences

Then there’s Glyphpunk (and here I’m getting more spoilery). I kill off one of the major characters, Augni, shortly before the end. It was considered in the outlining, but I was undecided on whether or not to bring him back at a suitably dramatic point during the climax.

The ultimate decision to leave him dead could well have been influenced by other factors. As I got close to finishing the outlining we had to have the dog put down. That was the day after my father went into hospital for the last time (he had prostate cancer for around fifteen years). With nothing else constructive I could do, I started the writing at that point. I was probably a good way through when he died a fortnight later, so my state of mind probably influenced my decision.

While I feel the death works for the story, I felt the loss more in the sequel, Glyphwar. As did Thjorn. They’d been designed to work together, and much of Glyphwar had Thjorn trying to find a replacement for him. It was during this I missed the character, and how much I enjoyed their partnership. The story would likely have gone differently were Augni still around, and a part of me still wishes I could bring him back. But the story has to come first.

 

That is not dead, Which can eternal lie

Of course, writing fantasy and science fiction one always has the option of reusing dead characters in a myriad of ways. It risks cheapening the death, and is best done when planned from the start, else it reeks of hackery or sentimentalism.

In Grey Engines I have a built in out for this: the Ghost Bank. Barring nefarious intervention, a telepathic individual’s mind is usually backed up to the Ghost Bank at death. While they don’t often directly interact with the living, they can, and so even dead characters can return.

The main thing, as always, is to ensure it serves the story.

Static

The silence of the last weeks has been less due to lack of stuff to write (although there has been that) as back problems preventing me writing anything. Initially I was barely able to sit at the computer (or stay in any one position) for longer than quarter of an hour without it getting painful. It’s receded into a dull ache (not quite the background back pains I’ve had for years yet), so hopefully I can get back to work, if not posting here, soon.

This has just been to confirm I am actually still alive.