Should you skip to the last Wheel of Time book if you haven’t read the last 8 books?

I may have committed some kind of unpardonable sin. I’m listening to the last Wheel of Time book without having read books 6-13.

That’s right, I skipped more than half of the series, and am listening to the last book.

I’m sorry, I just couldn’t help it. Back it the early 90s I loved The Eye of the World, The Great Hunt, The Dragon Reborn, The Shadow Rising, and The Fires of Heaven so much that they really influenced me into start writing. Those, more than any books, lit a fire under me.

But life happened and I stopped reading for a few years. By the time I got back to the Wheel of Time, just considering the intimidating length of Lord of Chaos’s Prologue was enough to turn me off. I just didn’t have time. I suspect my reading interests changed.  And besides, many people said that a lot of those books just weren’t very good. (Just look at the reviews of Crossroads of Twilight, would you?) Nothing happened in the books, or they happened agonizingly slowly.

“I’ll read the entire series once the last book is out,” I told myself, believing in my heart of hearts that the last book would never come out.

So you can imagine the forceful tug on my braid that I gave myself when the last book came out, and I considered that stack of 13 books and thought, “I just can’t do it.”

So, how is it, skipping books 6-13? Am I lost in the plot? Do I know what’s going on? Do I even know any of these characters?

Actually, things are awesome. I’m not lost. I know most of the characters, and I’m surprised at just how little the plot has progressed in the 8 books I didn’t read. It’s almost as if the characters have been running in circles on little side quests for 8 books. (I would never presume to accuse TOR of milking the series, although I might listen to people who would.)

To be fair, I did spend about an hour reading plot summaries of books 6-13 (I think on this site: http://www.wotsummary.com/). And there were some interesting things that happened in those books, but really, in the end I feel pretty good about where I’m at.

So, if you’re in the same boat I was—you read some of the series but couldn’t bring yourself to read all those books that were coming out about once every 3 years—I say go for it. Read those plot summaries of books you haven’t read, then jump right in to the last book.

Will some things not make perfect sense? Sure. Will you miss some nuances? Of course. Will you wonder who this or that character is? Absolutely.

But you’ll have a grasp of a majority of plot points, and you’ll know who all the really important (and many of the minor) characters are.  If you’re willing to just recognize that you’ll miss a few things, or won’t know exactly who all the minor characters are, you’ll be just fine.

I am. I’m glad I jumped in.

So far I’m about 1/3 of the way through, and enjoying it—but also very happy I didn’t invest the time to read all those other books. Maybe someday I’ll go back and read the first 5 books again, for old time’s sake. And maybe I’ll read the other two books written by Sanderson (who I’m a big fan of). But there’s a high likelihood that I’ll never read The Path of Daggers and a few others.

For now, I’m just excited to be back in this world. With the end in sight. Of course, the big question from the early 90s remains: Will Rand survive the last battle?

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Van Bender prequel and trilogy available now!

Van Bender and the Burning EmblemsFinally! After about two years of work, the Van Bender Archives are available on Amazon. Strangely enough, the hardest part was getting Amazon to list the prequel for free.

The series is about Richie Van Bender, the hottest teenage rock star on the planet. All he really wants is a chance at a normal life. He’d like to use Facebook and interact with his friends online. Maybe even hold a concert or two and win an award here and there. His mother refuses, saying it’s for his own safety. She basically treats him like a criminal.

But with a little help from his friends, Richie seizes an opportunity to live his dream, and learns exactly what his mom is talking about when she says he has no idea what’s out there.

Here are links to all the books:

How I Won David Farland’s Writing Contest

Today my short story Forcible Powerdown is available for free as part of an Anthology published by David Farland. The story won his recent short story contest. I’d like to explain myself–how I won the contest. It wasn’t by accident.

About two weeks before the deadline for David’s writing contest, I told one of my writing group peers that I wasn’t going to enter the contest. I’d tried to write a story, and just didn’t have it in me. Anything I wrote ended up being too long.

And then, about a week prior to the deadline, I decided to give it one more shot. Forcible Powerdown resulted. When I finished, I knew I had a contender. Here’s how I knew: I know David Farland, and what kind of fiction he likes.

In fact, David had given to the entire world advice on how to win a contest, and his first piece of advice was this: write a story tailored to the judges.

From the start I set out to do exactly that. I wanted to write something that David Farland would like.

How did I know what he would like? I’ve spent a fair amount of time with David, at writing workshops, conventions, and dinners. I’ve worked with him at his seminars. I’ve read his Daily Kick since about its beginning. I think I’ve read six of his novels—which is saying something, because these days I don’t read more than one novel from any given author unless I really like the books.

For example, where some people complained about the ending of his fourth Runelords book, I found it brilliant. I understood what the role of the Earth King really was through those four books, and the equivalent in our world today. I totally got what he was doing. Dave’s books just speak to me unlike a lot of other writers’ books.

What I’ve concluded is that Dave and I have the same taste. And that made it easier to write a story he would like.

I’d most recently read Nightingale, his newest novel, and On My Way to Paradise, his very first novel. I noticed themes that resonated with each other, especially about what makes us human. And how do “special powers” and technology change us, make us less human? And how can we use those tools to make us more human?

Also, after reading Dave’s work, I knew that he likes stories with heart. That’s what he writes. His heroes almost always face challenges because they’re too nice for the situation they’ve been thrown into. (Coincidentally, that’s how Dave is. He’s a super nice guy, and I bet it’s gotten him into trouble a time or two.) Dave likes heart. My story had to have heart.

So I took that knowledge and crafted a story in which technology dehumanizes people. Then, with “magic” the people are able to become human again. Fortunately, it was easy because I’d been chewing on the themes in my own life for months, and been watching as augmented realities are beginning to be seen in our own world. I simply extended the existing technology out a hundred years, and built a simple world. I knew Dave would love it. He was messing with augmented reality in his first book.

Aside from that, I threw little details in there that I knew would speak to Dave. For example, at the opening of the story, a kid gets hit by a car. Dave once told a story about how someone got hit by a car while he was in China. I knew it would resonate with him. I tried to include as many details like that as possible—things I’d heard Dave talk about or write about. Even the name of my story “Forcible Powerdown” utilizes a word commonly found it Dave’s Runelord books: forcible.

So, there you have it. I won Dave’s contest by writing a story just for him. As a result, I’m not sure how many other people will like the story as much as he did. That’s okay. I wrote the story for an audience of one.

I’m pretty happy with the result.

Thanks, Dave, for everything you’ve taught me and done for me!

Trilogy about done

I originally planned to release the Van Bender trilogy before the end of 2011. I knew that was an aggressive deadline for myself, and so wasn’t too upset when the day went back a month. But then it slipped another month. Then another. Now I’m looking at the start of summer. Despite the problems, I’m glad that I’m writing all three and releasing them all at once.

Here is the biggest problem: I get along writing something and it’s awesome, but doesn’t necessarily fit with what’s been written in the past. So, I end up having to go back and change things in prior books in order to make it all gel.  This is not a problem you have when you write a book, then release it before writing the next book. In that scenario, you’re stuck with what you’ve already done, and your new stuff has to match it.

In this “write everything first then release” scenario, you end up having more work to do as you fix everything multiple times, but I think in the end the entire experience is more satisfying.

At least, I hope it is. Because, man, this is a lot of work.

A word in favor of content guides

Somehow, books have maintained their status as one of the few modern entertainment mediums that are not subject to some kind “objective” rating system that advises consumers regarding the content of the book.

I suppose this is fine, but as a result have found myself reading a fair number of books without a clue regarding some of the content in them, and subsequently stopping because I simply wasn’t interested in some of the content.

I would prefer it if I could learn beforehand the nature of the content I will read in a book. This desire is amplified as my children grow older and select their own books. How can we choose books that we will dislike due to content we aren’t interested in if we have no way of knowing what the content is? I don’t know of a way.

For example, these days the movie rating system is not detailed enough to tell me if the content of a movie is something I want to watch. So, before I go to a movie or rent a DVD, I use the IMDB app on the iPad to take a look at the parental guide. I’m interested in seeing what kind of content the movie contains. Not just for my children, but for me. On several occasions, I’ve decided not to watch or rent a particular movie because I’m not interested in some of the content.

I suppose I miss out on some good movies, but I can handle that. I don’t need to see everything that most people would probably deem worth seeing. Content guides have benefited me. I’m aware of friends and family members that use content guides in the same way.

As far as I know, we don’t have the same resource for books. I’d like to suggest that writers take the initiative to provide content guides for their own books as a courtesy to those who would prefer to filter certain types of content.

Note that I did not say “parental guide” but “content guide.” Sure there are types of content that are inappropriate for kids, but there are also types of content I don’t want to experience. It’s that simple.

I imagine some people (both authors and readers) will object to these content guides on various grounds, but I view the guides as a courtesy to readers interested in them. Nobody is going to make anyone read the content guide beforehand.

As an author, I see content guides as beneficial. If someone knows beforehand whether they won’t like some of the content of my book, there’s a better chance that they won’t read (and subsequently rate) a book they won’t like. This will probably lead to higher ratings for books.

So, from here on out, I’ll be providing content guides for my books, and will be looking for them before I read other books. Will it stop me from reading a book if I don’t find one? Probably not, but I’ll probably review a book poorly if I find content in there that I don’t like. After all, I didn’t like it, and that’s what a personal review represents.

Editing to greatness

From Monday to Friday of last week I spent my days down in St. George at a one of David Farland’s writing seminars.  The topic of this seminar was editing your novel. The seminar proved valuable on many fronts, but the main purpose–editing–benefited me a great deal.

Dave is a fantastic teacher, and I recommend that anyone who wants to write books take his seminars and learn as much from him as possible. Once you finish a book, Dave taught, you edit as follows:

  1. Add things
  2. Combine things
  3. Remove things
  4. Line edit

Of course, this is just one method. Some people don’t even edit. Some do it differently. I like this methodology. After all, what point is there in line editing if you’re just going to remove things or change it later on? So, take care of the big things up front–like missing scenes, plot lines, characters, and so forth. Then, you’ll notice, the next three edits all involve tightening the book up. The more experience I get writing a book, the more I learn the value of editing. I have 9 books of practice under my belt, now, and each time I write one the process is a little different. It evolves some, each time.

It used to be that I would write the book and then when editing simply go back through and line edit. Tweak the sentences and paragraphs. But the once I’d put the structure in place, I wouldn’t change it. These last four books, however, each book’s revision process has become more traumatic to the book. I’ve started taking drastic measure upon revision. Changing chapter sequences, deleting scenes, adding new scenes, combining characters, changing motivations, re-writing complete plot lines, removing entire swaths of book, adding others.

In the end, I’m certain that the more you write, the more willing you are to make big changes because the less sacred your writing becomes.

It’s a point that’s difficult to reach for many reasons. You hear stories about writers (such as Orson Scott Card) who write a first draft and then ship it off for publishing–and you want to be awesome like that. Or, you have very little time to write, and every page you remove counts as significant time lost. Possibly, you just can’t admit that something you wrote is poop, and needs to go.

But here’s the thing: when you reach the point that nothing is sacred as you edit, that you’ll throw anything out and sacrifice anything and spend any amount of time to fix something–that’s when you can gain true power as a writer. You can write things you never thought you could write, and when you can make your stories truly great.

Because chances are unless you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it up front, and quite a bit of time exploring a lot of the options, the book or story isn’t as fantastic as it could be with a little more work. Yes, it means sacrificing something–time, your pride, comfort–but in the end you come out on top.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers

My last post, I believe, I’d summarized another chapter of the excellent “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.” I stopped for several reasons. Three, really:

  1. The end of each chapter includes a summary of the points of the book. My summaries on the blog recreated much of that information.
  2. I suppose that my summarization might reduce the need for someone to buy the book. And I’m generally in favor of writers having people buy their books. So, it’s probably enough for me to say that the book is excellent, and if you edit any fiction, you should read it.
  3. It got downright tedious posting the summaries.
So, I stopped posting the summaries. The book, however, is excellent on many levels. If you write fiction, I recommend that you read it.

Chapter 5 of “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers”

Here in chapter 5 we get a nice lesson on dialogue mechanics. The basic lesson is that you want your mechanics to be as transparent as possible and not get in the way of the dialogue. “Show don’t tell” is once again the star of the chapter.

The fist basic idea is to stop telling how people said something. The actual dialogue or a beat should accomplish that. Don’t write:

“Stop eating that pie,” she said angrily.

Instead, something like this works better to show the emotion”

She slammed her fork on the table. “Stop eating that pie.”

We want reader to feel the emotion in our characters–not know about the emotion. If we tell readers exactly about the emotion, they cannot interpret it the way that best suits them. So, show them, instead..

Also watch out for description that tells about the content of dialogue–you show what someone is thinking and then they say what they are thinking. That’s twice your readers learn about it. One time too many.

A lot of the time, dialogue explanations come in the form of -ly adjectives, which is another reason to get rid of such words.

In the end, the only reason to use speaker attributes is to show readers who is speaking. No other reason. Not to convey emotion or to tell how someone said it. Because of that, we should use the word “said” almost without exception.

Other tips:
–Don’t open a paragraph with speaker attribution.
–Put the character’s pronoun before “said” (that is: “Dave said”, not “said Dave.”)
–Decide how you’re going to refer to a character for a scene and stick to it.
–If it’s clear who is speaking, get rid of character attributions completely.
–If you’re getting tired of the number of beats, insert a beat, instead. A beat is a piece of action. In my example above, it’s the slamming of the fork on the table.
–To show an interruption, use dashes.
–To show someone trailing off, use ellipses.
–Start a new paragraph with each speaker.

And, there you have it. Dialogue mechanics.

Chapter 4 of “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers”

In this chapter of the book we get a topic that I have never actually read about before, but that makes extremely good sense. The idea is that you should focus on what’s important to either advance the book’s plot or establish character. The book summarizes this with the word “proportion.”

This very simple idea is pretty easy to forget when you’re in the moment of writing and you find something great to add, or want to include a bit of research you’ve done. The book especially warns about focusing too much on unimportant actions and pet topics and hobbies.

Here are a few excerpts:
–“The time spent on a relatively minor point has thrown the scene out of proportion.”
–“When you fill in all the details and leave nothing to your reader’s imagination, you’re patronizing them.”

The solution to this problem, according to the authors, is to pay attention. Notice what you spend a great deal of time on. Anything that is focused on for very long will create an expectation in readers. If it doesn’t end up being important later on, readers will be disappointed.

Also, it doesn’t hurt to set the book aside for a little while and then come back to it. Approach it as a reader, not a writer. This will give you a fresh perspective on the content and will help you see what things are out of proportion. You may also discover that parts of the book that are small might be worth expanding on.

You can also use proportion to create tension or surprises. If you spend less time on something at the start, and then make it important later on, it can give a nice twist to the element and plot.

The authors also note that you don’t have to cut EVERYTHING that doesn’t relate directly to your story, but anything you add or leave in should somehow add to the story in a way that resonates with the rest of the story.

As far as description goes, and avoiding too much detail to throw something out of proportion, allow your viewpoint character’s interests to control the amount of description. Only devote the amount of attention to something that your character devotes to it.

So, there you have it. Proportion. It’s a tool. Use it wisely.

Next up: Dialogue Mechanics. Oooooh!

Chapter 3 of “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers”

In chapter 3 we get a lesson on point-of-view–but somewhat more advanced than simply outlining the three primary kinds of POV: first, omniscient, and third. In fact, the bulk of the chapter is spent talking about “narrative distance.”

Narrative distance describes the concept of closeness to character. How intimate with a character’s thoughts is the text? Typically, more intimate is better, since this builds believable and engaging characters.

The more intimate the POV, the more the character’s personality and mood can affect description. This keeps the flow going. The closeness to the character should affect word choice and syntax throughout the text.

No doubt, POV affects narrative distance, and typically a POV should be selected and stuck to for any given scene. First person is closest to the character. Omniscient the most distant. Third person ranges across a spectrum and can be close or far.

If you’re going to switch between two viewpoints a single scene, you’d better know what you’re doing.

Personally, I’ like to stick to one POV. I don’t feel expert enough to switch back and forth within a scene. If I need to switch POV, I do as the book suggests: break the scene, shift the POV with a linespace, and start a new scene from the new POV.