I’ve written over a million words in the last few years about stories within this exotic world that I’ve been building. I’ve learned about a thousand lessons, many brutal. Some lessons seem impossible to learn, like not leaving words out. So much has been learned that is far more valuable than my seemingly inborn weaknesses and sins of the past, like not learning grammar better in school. Will I ever stop typing “where” when I mean “were”?
Blunt realizations ignite my desire to learn. Pains are felt at that moment but extend through the corrections of an epic saga. In the world of story-telling that pain is agonizing when you realize you have made a huge bungle.
I crossed the finish line of my first epic fantasy Creed of Kings in 2010. As I started my first editing process ever, I was clueless. I had written a wilderness and every insignificant weed was known by a pretty sentence. Despite this, and to my pleasant surprise, some friends enjoyed part one of that epic. But this “finished” thing was huge with parts two and three. I had an epic inner conflict. I felt it was too big and complicated to appeal to the masses from an unknown author. I felt lost and a bit depressed. Then I found Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. It changed everything. He became my wilderness guide, my Gandalf. I dove into his book and fully embraced his approach.
Brooks helped me discover why the portrait I wanted to paint looked more like Jack, of Jack in the Box instead of the Mona Lisa I had imagined. Though this was a brutal realization, I also renewed my confidence. Reading that book helped me grasp the talent I felt I had. It’s like I had a strong but dull blade of steel before Story Engineering helped me put grips and guards in the write place (pun intended) and sharpen the edge of my sword pen. It felt like I had cheat notes. I started afresh on editing the book I had “finished.” Then the next hard lesson came.
I had ignored the impact of Kindle and Nook on the publishing world in those early days of the e-book revolution. After previously swearing to never self-publish, I thought it was vain and egotistical, I decided to give it a second thought. After lots of reading and inner debate, I decided on self-publishing. I swore I would not compromise quality. I would not just fling it up on the wall and see what sticks. Along with that decision a lot of additional concerns surfaced, writer’s platform, hiring an editor, serious website, paying for a pro book cover etc. One virtually becomes the only employee of a mini publishing company. I can’t just fling that up on the wall either.
I restarted with the intent of self-publishing a massive ongoing saga over a period of years. My new goal is to write shorter books. I reexamined the book I had “finished,” Creed of Kings. Opportunities were there for more books. It was 160,000 words. Too big! I swore to write a less complicated better story. With Larry’s book to guide me, renewed confidence and updated knowledge of self-publishing, I outlined Blood & Soul and two other follow-up books that preceded Creed of Kings (I’ve also outlined two books beyond Creed of Kings). In the spring of 2011 I began the initial writings of Blood & Soul and finished the seventh draft on September 15, 2013. It’s 159,493 words long!
I’m agonizing over that word count. I didn’t know it was that long. The average word count on a novel is around 80K to 100K. Fantasy can be 100K to 120k. George R. R. Martin’s book Game of Thrones dwarfs mine. It’s a door stopper at 284K. But on many levels, I ain’t George!
I don’t know what I can cut. I may take another quick read through it and slash and burn sentences in an effort to shorten the book without compromising the story.
In my defense, there are a lot of characters but not near as many as in Martin’s. Mine is an epic quest and return. It is the set-up for an epic saga. I don’t need to slash and burn sentences. I could probably just slice away more fat. Martin’s Game of Thrones on Kindle downloads for $9.99. Blood & Soul will download for $4.99. So, I only need to prove I’m half as good as Martin!
Are you as concerned about word count as I am?
I’ve been on a 5 year journey of writing and conceptualizing a heroic fantasy saga. For a couple of years I got lost in the confusing world of “no rules” style of how-to writing books (Can you say oxymoron?). Unfortunately, many areas of our postmodern world are full of new age “wisdom” such as “listen to the wind” or “stream of consciousness writing.” Granted, many writers find their story doing just that, but, in my opinion, it is a colossal waste of precious time when one has a fulltime job. Those writers, who write like that, are simply looking for the ah-ha moment that often obsoleted thousands of words and weeks of work. I know, I did it. What these types of writers are looking, and what I was looking for, was structure, that ah-ha moment. This book helps you find those moments, those milestones in story structure, those “Luke, I am your father,” moments.
Bernhardt’s book, and others like him, such as Larry Brooks, gave me a steering wheel, accelerator, brakes, a clutch and gear shift; a vehicle for the journey. They also helped me map out the road before I started the journey. Bernhardt’s book is appealing to me because it is succinct. If you are on the run, you can zip through it pretty quick on your smart phone e-reader app.
If you want to spend weeks, months, or even years pantsing, that’s your business. Good luck to you. But, you’re taking the long and laborious approach to finding story structure. Put some handles on it with books/teachers like Bernhardt, Brooks and James Scott Bell, too.
The movie was full of cheesy teenager moments, but I loved it. The world creation had a bit of the Star Trek (The James T. Kirk Generation) papier-mâché look, too clean, too slick in some places. I think they tried to create the look of an authentic world, but the attire looked like something the people stepped into just before the camera rolled.
Even so, I did enjoy the movie. The female lead was a realistic protagonist. She wasn’t some bimbo hottie chick that stuns muscle bound men with a single karate chop of her petite hand (i.e. Angelina Jolie in SALT).
There was, however, a small dose of political correctness. I can usually tell you right away, who the bad guy is going to be in teenager movies. He will be tall, blond, and handsome…the ideal member of the Hitler youth. Remember, Hollywooders exchanged the Muslim terrorist for Neo-Nazis in Clancy’s Sum of All Fears? Hollywood and artsy fartsy types just can’t seem to rid themselves of this worn out stereotypical antagonist. It’s as common as the evil catholic priest. This is a cookie cutter bad guy that I’ve seen since Biff , in Back to the Future. This antagonist has a rival cliché; it’s the tough hottie chick. So, I got one cliché character.
I try to look beyond all this. I go to movies first to enjoy. A close second is to analyze and see what I can learn. As a storyteller, I like to get under the hood of a movie and see why it runs so well. This movie ran well, which makes its clichés and cheese somewhat bearable.
The structure is perfect. Understanding story structure was the game-changer for me as a writer. At my core, I am an outliner – plan ahead, but I started my first book as a panster – just type by the seat of your pants and see what happens. Pantsing was out of character for me but I had believed all my life that stories were pure inspiration and a little perspiration. Imagine how I felt after two years of writing. Finally, I watched an interview with Larry Brooks . He wrote a book called, Story Engineering. He asserted that there are four distinct parts to a good story: Setup (25% of the story), Response (25%), Attack (25%), and Resolution (25%). If a movie doesn’t succeed at the box office, it’s usually because it lacks a pole that’s supposed to uphold the tent of story structure. The first tent pole comes between Setup up and Response – 1st Plot Point (A life altering decision). The second tent pole comes between Response and Attack – Mid Point / Context Shift (the bigger picture and commitment). The third tent pole is found between Attack and Resolution – The 2nd Plot Point (After the “all hope is lost moment” the protagonist is willing to die to achieve the goal).
I bought Story Engineering and studied it. It has made all the difference. Now I have six books outlined. The first is nearing completion. It’s not quite like coloring by numbers, but akin to it.
Structure provides focus, to not only the writer but also the audience, even if the audience has no idea about structure. The Hunger Games has this core requirement. If you see the movie take note, what I say here will prove to be true. Look for it.