Sunday
Jan012017

2017

They say you should start the New Year off the way you want the whole year to go so here I am, checking off my first to-do of the year.

Looking back at 2016 as a whole, it’s easy to see a year of ever increasing gloom. But progress was made. It always is, and always will be, especially in the face of grim prospects.

On a personal level, 2016 ranks as one of my most productive. A strange thing to write since it was the first year in almost a decade that I didn’t release anything. I worked on many things, but none of them were shared. So what about 2017?

I’ve been considering my 2017 schedule for the past few weeks and I’ve closed in on what I think is achievable within the next 365 days. It’s a lot of work. A lot of hard work. But I have some pretty ambitious goals.

West V5.

I planned on having this out in 2016, but clearly that never happened. It started the year as one of my priorities, but other projects came along and it ultimately fell by the wayside. In early October, I returned to V5 and read through what I’d written, fully intending to continue where I left off, but, well… it wasn’t any good.

V5 was always going to mark a departure in the series, but what I’d written wasn’t up to the quality I needed to pull it off well. And to be frank, it isn’t something I’d be proud to release—even if it doesn’t have a price tag attached to it.

Every year, every story that I write, I push myself to do better. I learn something new every time I complete a story. V5 felt like two steps backwards. West deserves my very best and this time I didn’t deliver, so I decided to step away.

My 2017 schedule is full with other projects, but completing and releasing V5 is paramount. Unfortunately it isn’t a job I can rush out in a few months, but it will be finished, and I’ll be proud of it when I do.

Wednesday
Aug102016

All about West

I love writing West. It’s where I get to push myself as a writer, experiment with new things and see what works. I love the characters, the story, and it’s tonnes of fun to write.

I’ve dabbled with writing multiple stories side-by-side throughout the years, but it doesn’t fit my writing style of today. I need to work on one project, see it through to completion, and then I can move on. And right now, the project I’m working on is, of course, the infamous Secret Project. So where does this leave West?

First of all, to give you an overview of where we are and where we’re heading, let me share this tidbit:

In total, there are seven volumes of West.

This goes way back to the early days of V1, when I first laid out my plan for the series. I planned out seven major arcs, which gives us the seven volumes. So right now we have three more volumes to go, but in terms of storytelling, I’d say we’re about half-way. There’s lots still to happen, but for now let’s talk specifics: Volume 5.

V5 is interesting to me for a multitude of reasons. Mostly it stems from the way it pushes the West series in a very different direction to what we’ve seen before. Some elements remain the same, but the way things play out are unique.

In many ways, V5 spins things around and switches the focus onto West himself. It shares a more introspective chapter of West’s life. We saw some of this in V4, but V5 takes that further by asking stronger questions and demanding honest answers. A lot has happened in West’s life, and all within a very short period (Volumes 1 to 4 take place within six months). There’s a lot he needs to come to terms with.

But the world stands still for no one.

Volume 5 introduces us to a new set of characters. Some of them are bad, some are worse, and one makes Jack look like a saint. So rest assured there’s going to be action. Lots of action. But staying true to the themes of V5, expect consequences to come from the action. Not all of them will have rosy outcomes.

I’ve mentioned before that much of the volume occurs away from West’s hometown and includes only one major character. Despite less than 10K words having been written of V5 right now, that’s largely true. We’ll see all of our favourites from the main cast, but they’re taking a back-seat this time around. It’s West + X for V5. (Who accompanies West out of town isn’t necessarily a huge surprise, but I’ll leave you to speculate. Hint: It’s the person you’d expect, but no, not him.) As you’d expect, we’ll be learning more about this character too—a lot more since 100% of West’s interaction will be with them and only them (aside from the new characters).

So the question now becomes: when?

When, when, when?

I’m going to play it safe and say early-to-mid 2017. Sooner would be better, of course, but I’m not going to rush it out. While it may not be the longest of the volumes (I’m expecting something around the length of Yates) V5 deserves a lot of care to give the plot justice. It’s not one I can hammer out in a month or two.

So by this time next year, V5 will most likely be available to read. I’d give it a better than 90% chance.

Until then, I’ll continue to share more details about the story as it nears completion. Updates will be minimal for the next few months since my attention will be focused elsewhere, but I’ll keep you in the loop for all things West.

Wednesday
Aug032016

Act Two

Early last month I brought my newest project to its first major milestone: a completed first draft.

Interestingly, it’s probably the roughest first draft I’ve ever written. Many scenes need to be reworked, the pacing needs to be fixed, and don’t get me started on the opening. (I’ll come back to this in a later post.) But on the whole, I’m pretty pleased with how it’s turned out—for a first draft.

I’ve never really had a set number of passes, or drafts that I put my work through before it’s ready to go. “Do it until it’s done” is an adage I’ve stuck to, and it’s worked well. That said, there is a pattern to how it generally goes:

Right now I’m in the re-read and re-consider stage, essentially preparing what needs to be done for a second draft. This is the first time I’m getting to read through the entire story, the first time I’m viewing the project as a reader. Naturally I’m focusing on the big issues here. What works and what doesn’t? If I need to scrap half a chapter or, gasp, half the book, now is the time to make that decision. So far I haven’t come across anything show-stopping. Yes, large parts need to be rewritten, but the foundations of any questionable scenes are pretty nice. They work. So I’m optimistic.

It’s also during this stage where I look to remove any crud. Weak sentences and superfluous paragraphs need to go. I’m going to be strict with their replacements too since I’m over my preferred word count. Not by a huge amount—my estimates were pretty good—but I’m over by enough. As a reader, it can sound pretty alarming when a writer says they want to cut words, but it really is for the best:

Fewer words = tighter prose = better pacing.

Not always, but almost always. Think about it. When was the last time you heard someone complain about a lack of description in a novel, compared to someone complaining about flowery prose? Almost always the latter, right? So this is something I very much need to be aware of during this stage.

Another issue that became glaringly obvious during my read-through was inconsistencies with the characters. Earlier scenes didn’t quite capture the characters in the same way as later scenes did. This is to be expected—I’d become much more familiar with writing them as the story progressed, and in turn, they felt more real later on.

So there’s a ton of work left to do. Many writers remark how this is where the real pain begins. I’m not sure if I agree with that. Getting the first draft done is the hardest part for me. Yes, drafts and redrafts can be tedious, but it’s not a task I despise. I kind of enjoy it, actually. Until I don’t.

So this is what I’m going to be doing over the next few months.

I’ll keep you posted.

Tuesday
Apr122016

The devil’s in the details

So I’m working on a new project.

That shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise since: 1) I’ve hinted at it before, and 2) the lack of updates to this blog this year. (Apologies for that.)

So now I’m making it official: I’m working on something new.

What’s it about?

It’s about X, who discovers that Y leads to Z, with the rest of the alphabet thrown in there for good measure.

Sorry, but I’m sure you know me well enough to know how close I keep my cards to my chest. I’m even more careful when it’s a completely new project, especially this project. So I’m not going to tease you with little leaks and tidbits of info. Instead I’m going to take a step back and look at things on a more macroscopic level.

Working on this new project has brought several interesting writing-related fundamentals to the surface. Some of these I’ve experienced in past projects, while others are first-timers.

When I start on a new story, or Volume, I make a conscious effort to improve upon the quality of my writing to raise the bar. Going from Kieran, to West, and most recently to Yates, I think the improvement is clear. Some jumps are bigger than others, and I still have a long, long way to go, but progress has been made.

I bring this up because for the new project I’ve pushed myself even further. And with that comes something worthy of discussion: my limits as a writer.

There’s no such thing as a perfect writer. In a world full of diverse tastes, it’s simply impossible to find ‘one voice to satiate all’. Some people will love writer A while others despise them. That’s to be expected. But there is a difference between something that’s considered to be a ‘good story’ and something that’s seen as ’well written’. Regardless of writing style, genre, or audience, there’s always room for improvement.

And that’s a good thing. As annoying (and sometimes infuriating) it can be to be stuck on an issue that I know I wouldn’t have if I were a ‘better writer’, it’s a good feeling. Let’s face it, I’d be in real trouble if thought I were some literary genius who only writes gold and has nothing to learn. Or perhaps worse, were too stubborn to realise my own limits. Or worse still, is aware of their limits and does nothing to overcome them.

So how do you become a better writer? How am I trying to become a better writer?

Reading and experimenting.

Reading is hugely important. If you’re at all interested in writing and have perused author websites with FAQ’s, what’s the most frequent question?

How do I become a writer?

The answer is always the same.

Read. Read a lot.

I went on a binge-reading session over Christmas and it’s incredible how much I learned in just a few weeks. Not everything is applicable to my new project, but a great deal has influenced it. It’s also worth a mention that the things I take away from reading are skewed heavily towards ‘this is a good idea but I’d change X and Y’, than, ‘this is a perfect idea as is’. It’s within those small changes that something completely different emerges, leaving you with an original piece that’s been influenced, rather than lazily carbon-copied.

What about experimenting?

I’ve been doing a ton of experimenting over the past few months: thousands and thousands of words written, edited, and sometimes deleted.

Since there’s no deadline with this project, I have the luxury to work on it for as long as I want. A year, or two, or ten, it’s up to me. When it’s done, it’s done, and when it’s done, I want it to be as close to perfect as it can be. So what if I spend this week working on a scene that’ll never see the light of day? If it doesn’t work, scrap it. Hit reset. But if it does work, I’ve just found something special; something I may not have discovered had I played it safe and not ventured out of the box.

This isn’t the first time that I’ve worked on a project for a long time before beginning the manuscript itself. West began life this way, as did Yates. Both had tens of thousands of words written before I’d even knew what I was writing. I started with a character, a handful of ideas, and wrote some scenes. It gave me a feel for the characters, the tone of the story, and the general direction I wanted to take things in. This was how I experimented.

It’s a fun, albeit disjointed, process. I get to push the boundaries of the story and explore the characters in different ways. I get to see what works, and equally as important, what needs to be changed. And all of this happens before I commit to an outline. This doesn’t mean I begin a manuscript with a concrete idea of where I’m heading, just that I have a better feel for things and not shooting in the dark.

As with everything writing-related, it’s a balancing act. Too much experimentation can quickly lead to procrastination and an unruly project, and too little can leave me scratching my head down the line. It’s a delicate balance, but at the same time, it’s so much fun.

Tuesday
Feb162016

The Little Screen '16

It feels like only yesterday when I wrote last year’s ‘Little Screen’ entry, but here we are for another year with a look at what has me excited for 2016!

Note: Will probably contain light spoilers.

Finished Airing

The Man in the High Castle
(Historical|Alternate History|Sci-fi?|Based on a book)

Although I came away very impressed with the first season, it took me a long time to get into this show. I came very close to abandoning it about 1/3 of the way through, but boy, am I glad I stuck with it.

So what was the problem? 1) Super slow build, and 2) the characters.

Without going into specifics, the first 1/3 of the show has the two main characters chilling in location A, while the rest of the story (i.e. the parts we’re interested in) are happening… well, not in location A.

It’s kinda like the early days of Danerys’ arc in Game of Thrones. She’s away from all the ‘fun stuff’ going on. Now imagine if 90% of season one of GOT focused only on her storyline while teasing you with brief snippets of the Starks and Lannisters… see the problem?

Fortunately for High Castle, the characters came back from location A and, for me, the show finally started. But that was only half of the problem. Let’s talk characters.

Specifically, let’s talk favourites. For me it’s Obergruppenführer John Smith (big baddie), Chief Inspector Kido (big baddie), and Trade Minister Tagomi (goodie).

My least favourites? Everyone else—especially the MAIN characters. Now, this wouldn’t matter so much if the above baddie characters were anti-heroes and we were supposed to be ‘rooting’ for them, but I don’t think this was the writers’ intentions.

The main goodie characters are completely unrelatable to me. I find myself having no sympathy for them, and instead enjoy the scenes with the baddies instead—Trade Minister Tagomi being the sole exception.

I honestly can’t tell whether this is bad writing, bad casting, or bad acting. I used to wonder a lot about that in the early days of the show. Now it simply doesn’t matter. I’ve latched onto the well-written characters of the show, and they happen to be baddies.

The story itself? It’s really, really good and not corny in the way you might expect an alternate history-set show to be. There’s a lot of unanswered questions running throughout the season, which I like, and you’re left desperate for a season two. At least I was.

So despite my earlier concerns (and my rambling about the show) The Man in the High Castle remains one of my favourite shows from last year. Definitely recommend. (And a second season is on the way!)

The Expanse
(Sci-fi|Adventure|Space|Based the books)

Unless you’re super new to all-things Kai Taylor (in which case, Hi!) you should know that I’m a big sci-fi fan. So when I first heard that Syfy was making a new space-based show, I got very excited. And when I heard that it was based on a series of books, my excitement went even higher. And when I started watching the show, my reaction was… meh.

Wait, what? My reaction was ‘meh’?

Yep.

For a show set in space?

Yep.

For a show with spaceships and space battles?

Yep.

Ouch. What went wrong?

First of all, it took me a long time to get into The Expanse. In fact, I kept on noting that it was just like The Man in the High Castle. Unfortunately, it ended up much worse.

For me, it wasn’t until the last three episodes did I feel like the show ‘clicked’ with me and I started to enjoy it. Why the long delay? This will sound familiar: 1) Super slow build, and 2) the characters. Even now I’m still so-so about many of the main characters. I find it really difficult to emphasise with any of them—not a good sign when they’re the primary devices used to pull you into the story.

So what do I think of Season 1? As a whole, I’m impressed by quite a lot of what I saw and enjoy the underlying story, but it took way too long to get there. Again, it isn’t until the final three episodes does the story start to come together. Sure, there’s some exciting moments leading up to then, but there’s also a lot of filler too.

Syfy have already commissioned a second season, but I have to wonder how long this show will continue beyond that—especially since it’s supposedly a very expensive show. Hopefully enough people waited it out until the end of season one and found some satisfaction in tuning in (like I did), but how many gave up halfway through?

I’m looking forward to season two. I just hope that the faster pace of the last few episodes were the beginnings of a trend, and not random flukes.

Coming soon…

Dark Matter: I wrote about this one separately in another post, but to briefly rehash things here, I’ll state that this is the show I’m most eagerly awaiting this year. If you haven’t watched the first season so far, I highly encourage you to do so.

Game of Thrones: I’m pushing this show into the binge-watch queue. I still enjoy watching it, but its mighty slow pacing leaves me wishing I could fast-forward through entire scenes. Saving the next season for a binge-watch sounds like a good idea.

Hell, maybe I’ll save the next two seasons. Spoilers be damned.

The Last Ship: Its second season was one of the more entertaining shows I watched last year, but it didn’t quite reach the high of season one. The story was still good, and I’m definitely tuning in for season three, but the plot felt weaker. Also, there was less Rhona Mitra this time around (which makes sense given the story) but her character was so good in S1 it was an unfortunate regression.

Side note: Those accents damn near killed me. Which accents? The English baddies. Naturally.

Stragglers

Here’s some shows that I mentioned in last year’s post but for one reason or another, never got around to finishing them:

Homeland (new season): Watched episode one, but didn’t go any further. Why? Decided to binge-watch months ago and simply forgot about it. This one’s in the to-be-watched queue.

Sense 8: Similar to Homeland, I watched only the first episode of this. The story didn’t resonate much with me and I wasn’t too concerned with any of the characters. The reviews say to keep watching and friends have said the same thing. I’m putting this one in the queue too.

Heroes Reborn: Haven’t started this one yet and I’m kinda reluctant to. I really, really loved Heroes when it was on (BIG emphasis on its 1st season), but I’ve heard not-so-great things about this reboot-that’s-not-a-reboot. I wouldn’t want Reborn to tarnish any of those good memories from the early days of the series. But hey, maybe it’s worth the risk…

Conclusion

Phew! That took a lot of words. More words than were probably needed but we got there in the end.

While I’m still lamenting the lack of Hannibal this year, 2016 looks pretty promising. Several new shows are getting a second season, and all the others on my radar have been renewed. And beyond the shows I’m looking forward to, I have a healthy to-be-watched queue as well.

2016 should be an entertaining year.