I’ve decided to move this blog over to my new site, JDH Creates! That way, I don’t have to split efforts between multiple blogs. Totality news will still be front and center for a while to come, though. Thanks again!
Well, it’s finally here! The first novel in the Totality series is coming out in ebook form on Saturday, October 6.
You can also order a physical copy–those are already available.
Orders can be placed on Amazon: http://a.co/d/9vmdZFL
If you order the book on or before October 6, please use this site’s contact form or message me on Facebook with your Amazon order number for a special gift.
The journey is not yet over. It’s only beginning!
I haven’t posted lately but I thought it would be worthwhile to share some good news!
Totality: The Militiaman will be published soon! It’s in the hands of a publisher now and should be coming out in the next few months.
I also finished the first draft of the fourth book, Zero Avalon, for which I’ve continued updating the book progress tracker.
Not much else to report right now, but that’s where things are!
Today is November 1st, which means it’s National Novel Writing Month. It’s not like I have to start writing a new book in November, but it feels good to do it out of habit at this point.
So, let’s take a status check, since I’ve not updated this blog in a while:
- Totality: The Militiaman — I had another beta reader finish reading, who gave some excellent feedback. I have a few things to change. I also put together an automated process for turning my manuscripts into ebooks, and used this book as a testbed for a print-ready PDF. The results were less than perfect, but the next version should be much improved. Currently, I am going through the printed copy and marking it up with intended changes–mostly very minor ones. After that, I would need to finalize a cover design and then it should be ready to go!
- Totality: The Star Mother — This one has been handed off to a second beta reader. The first beta reader is about halfway through, but progress is slow. Hopefully I will have a completed beta read soon! This is another one I will have to print and mark up by hand. It is much longer than the first book, so it will be significantly more work in that regard.
- Totality: Fortress Ghosts — No beta readers on this one yet, but that should change once one of them has completed reading The Star Mother.
- Totality: Zero Avalon — I will start writing this one today. I’ve done a lot of prep work which I am pretty happy with. I first did an outline, briefly summarizing each chapter. I then embroidered scene breakdowns into the chapter outline, which gives me a better sense of what will be happening in each chapter at the scene level. I also came up with chapter titles (always tentative, just something to start with so I don’t struggle to reach for something), and wrote up descriptions for the new characters in this book. There are quite a few! But I officially start writing tonight, and will continue on a daily basis through November, then slowing down to five days a week. If I keep up a decent pace, I should be done with the first draft by late April.
And that’s where things stand now. I may check in occasionally throughout the month. If nothing else, I’ll try to keep the book progress widget updated.
If you’re writing, too, I wish you the best of luck!
Some people recently expressed to me an interest in learning how I write these novels (and how I write novels in general, I suppose). Having gotten through outlining the next book (Zero Avalon), I now have some time to elaborate on my process.
I don’t think anything I say here will be particularly novel (pun intended), but I hope I can demystify the novel-building process for people who still find it intimidating, as I once did.
Every novel starts with an idea. It could be one or two sentences. You just need one. For the Totality series, I actually began with a very simple idea: what if, in the future, humanity is besieged by demon-like entities which can overtake and control human bodies?
But an idea, in and of itself, does not make a novel. So, the next step is to start building elements that will enable you to flesh out a novel. What I will not do here is explain the extremely simple basics of a story. You should know what a premise is, that most stories have structure in which events build to a climax, followed by a resolution and conclusion. I don’t think I need to cover that here.
I also want to take a moment to express that this is my process. This is what works for me. If you are not a meticulous planner, if you prefer to write without a net (so to speak), that is completely fine and valid. This advice is for people who find themselves stymied by a lack of planning, who find the whole idea of writing a novel too imposing and don’t know where to begin.
Some might tell you that, to start with, you should focus on character, or plot, or theme–that one of these is supreme and must be the foundation for your book. In my experience, what’s important is to pick one as an initial angle of attack and run with it. You will ultimately need all three, but it helps a lot to pick one and build from there.
Unless you are writing an unusual, experimental novel, you will need at least one character. Since you should have a basic idea for your novel in mind, start developing characters that will help you explore that idea. Think of characters who might have interesting or unexpected reactions to your premise. Think of characters who might be profoundly changed by such a premise. Build characters that suit your initial idea, and then build some more that you aren’t sure what to do with yet–you can think of these as “alternates” that you can throw in when you want to mix things up a bit. This obviously raises the question of how you build characters. Well, take from what’s around you: your own experiences, your friends, your family, and other people you may know about. Don’t make carbon copies of people you know, of course, but it’s fine to develop characters after real people. Just make sure to put your own creative stamp on them!
Again, unless you are doing something highly unconventional, a novel has to go somewhere. Circumstances at the end of the book should not be the same as circumstances at the beginning.
If you have not developed your characters yet, that’s OK. Think of a narrative suitable to your novel idea. Where could this premise go? How would it begin, how would it end, and what would happen in the middle to move it from A to B? Interesting stories don’t follow obvious paths, but it’s fine to take the obvious route when initially developing your plot. You can fix this later. But what you should end up with at this stage is a brief–perhaps paragraph length–description of where the story begins, where it goes, and where it ends.
One of the things that makes a story powerful and memorable is theme. A lot of people seem confused or intimidated by theme, but there is no need to be. For one thing, theme often develops organically from the basic elements of your story. Theme is just whatever your story is about over and above what the text explicitly communicates–it is subtext. It’s a broader message that can be intimated from the story as a whole. It is commentary on the human condition, or whatever topic the novel focuses on. For instance, the Totality series develops multiple themes:
- The human impacts of civilization-wide disruption
- The nature of self and identity
- The alienating nature of leadership
- The difficulties of impactful choices where there are no good options
And that’s just a sampling. These are likely to emerge as you work on the story, so don’t worry if you don’t think of any right away. Or they may crop up easily from your original idea!
Once you are armed with at least basic versions of your characters, plot, and themes, you can start outlining the novel itself. I recommend keeping documents for each of these elements, by the way, so you can keep track of all your notes.
Story Treatment vs. Outline
At this point, you have a decision to make. Depending on how confident you feel in what you’ve developed, you can move straight on to a chapter-by-chapter outline, or you can pause and work up a story treatment instead.
A story treatment is a notion I have essentially stolen from the world of screenwriting. Often times, before a screenplay is written, a writer will come up with a scene-by-scene prose description of the entire film. This is used to sell the idea of a script to a studio without having to actually write the entire screenplay up front. When it comes to writing a novel, this can be a useful method to flesh out your story beat-by-beat, one step at a time, but without worrying about where your chapter breaks will be. A film treatment is usually a bit long–thirty to eighty pages. Personally, I have benefited from writing treatments that range ten to twenty pages.
As a practical matter, the treatment does little more than describe the story one event at a time, describing situations, scenes, character actions and reactions, and so on, from beginning to end. Mingled within may be notes about why a specific action or event is significant, or what it may be foreshadowing about future events. Since the treatment is for your own use, it’s entirely up to you what information you put in it. But its purpose is to make you think logically through your story from one end to the other.
Outlining can be one of the most challenging parts of planning a novel, but once you do it, you will never be at a loss for where your story should go next. Whether you’ve already written a story treatment or just want to dive right into the outline, the process is essentially the same. Create a new document where you will store your outline, then start a numbered list. For #1, describe how you introduce your novel and what happens in the first chapter. Then move on to #2, describing your second chapter. Do this until you have reached the end of your story.
This brings up obvious questions. How much should happen in a single chapter? As a rule of thumb, my approach to each chapter (apart from the first and last) is to a) pick up with whatever crisis or important event concluded the last chapter, b) respond to and/or develop that event, then c) lead into or introduce a new, complicating event on which the chapter concludes. Now, one could easily see that this is essentially a “thriller” model of narrative construction–that each chapter basically picks up from a previous cliffhanger, allows events to unfold, then ends on another cliffhanger. You don’t have to do things this way, and ending chapters on quiet notes can be highly effective and even essential. But this model allows you to pace your novel in terms of action transpiring on a consistent chapter-by-chapter basis. And that is the key word: pacing. Your novel should unfold at a clear and consistent pace, so readers feel momentum and sense that the story is going somewhere.
Now, your first pass at the outline may be very simple. Each line might be one or two brief sentences about where the chapter opens, what happens, and where it leaves off. As you work through the outline, you may find yourself detecting holes in your story logic, or events which don’t flow well into each other. Or perhaps the story feels too linear, as if everything is simply happening too easily. This is the value of outlining! Make note of these, but don’t worry about them until you have a complete outline from start to finish. Then, go back and read each chapter description in your outline. If you don’t feel a consistent rhythm from one chapter to the next, if you don’t feel tension building up to a climax, your readers won’t, either. Change that outline! Hack it to pieces if you have to. If you get halfway through reading it and realize you don’t like the back half of the story, throw it out from that point and rebuild the rest of the outline.
You may end up making three, four, five, six passes at it–possibly even more. Just keep revising the outline until you are confident you know the flow of your story. You know the major events, you know why they are important, you have a structure that can be readily identified as an introduction, rising action, climax, resolution, and so forth. This outline will be the skeleton of your novel.
Here we come to something of an aside. An inherent risk to outlining is that you become entirely plot-focused, moving characters from event to event without consideration for the characters’ own motives, desires, and reactions. Ideally, you have been thinking through these as you’ve outlined, but perhaps you have inadvertently turned your beloved characters into mere chess pieces that you move around the board as your story demands. If you suspect this may be the case, I recommend a dedicated outline pass for character arcs. Bearing your major characters in mind, think about who they are and what they are like at the beginning of the story, and what they are like at the end. Have they changed at all? Have they had transformative experiences? Have they learned anything? Have they been damaged, traumatized, even killed? If they come out of the story pretty much the same as they entered it, is that really something anyone would care to read?
This character arc pass may disrupt your intricately-plotted outline, and that’s perfectly fine. Good characters should do that. They should mess up your plans and do things you don’t expect, but which are consistent with their personalities, histories, and motives. If you don’t know how a character would react to a particular situation, think on it until you do. Have conversations in your head with them until they have a clear and distinct voice and you feel that you understand them.
Character arcs are a bit like themes in that they often emerge organically from the underlying structure of your story, and may even develop unintentionally. This is fine, too. Real people often don’t know how they would react to a situation until they encounter it, and the same can hold for storytelling, as well.
My recommendation is that, after completing your outline and doing a character arc pass, if you still don’t understand your characters and how the events of the story affect them (and indeed, how they drive and affect the events of the story, themselves) then you should do more passes on the outline until you feel more confident in that understanding.
Writing the Book
Well, now there’s nothing left to do but write the book! You know your characters, you know your plot, you may have an idea of your themes. You have a strong outline, possibly a story treatment. Now comes the hard part: actually writing a book.
Truth be told, there is no secret to this. It is ultimately a matter of discipline. I have participated in National Novel Writing Month for a number of years, which has been good motivation for putting words down. You can use whatever best motivates you. My personal writing ritual is as follows:
- Set down a specific time each day for writing. Block out at least an hour.
- Throughout the day, give at least some thought to what I will be writing today, so I don’t feel completely lost once I’m sitting at the keyboard. (If you have a dull or monotonous job or no job at all, you can use that time to think about your story!)
- When the time comes, I pull out my laptop, put on some music (usually something ambient or at least without lyrics, as I find them distracting), and launch WriteMonkey. (I recommend using any distraction-eliminating full-screen text editor.)
- I set my goal for the day (usually the 1667 words called for by NaNoWriMo) and start writing until I reach the goal, and then continue until I feel I am at a stopping point. I hate leaving off in the middle of something really interesting!
It’s easy to get stuck and worry about the specific words you are using to tell your story. Remember: none of this is set in stone. You can always change it later. What matters most is getting words down–any words–to tell your story. Get it done, start to finish. Work on it every day, or at least set aside time on a very regular basis, such as several times a week. Personally, I try to stick to a weekday schedule, giving myself the weekends to recharge and think through what’s happening next.
If you have what amounts to a 100,000 word novel idea, write about 1800 words for it a day (that’s less than the length of this post!), and do this five days a week, you will have a rough draft completed in less than 12 weeks. That’s not even 3 months! Once you have a rough draft completed, you can work on editing and revising, although many people look for professional help with that (and there is certainly no shame in doing so). Everything beyond the first draft is outside the scope of this post, however, so I will have to end it here!
I hope this post has been informative and enlightening. I’ve done my best to describe my own approach to novel writing. Above all, the most important thing is discipline. You have to keep working on it, day after day, even when you don’t feel like it, or when you feel like it’s going nowhere, or it’s bad, or you’ll never get it published, or no one will like it, etc. etc. etc. Virtually all writers experience these intrusive thoughts of self-doubt. They don’t mean you suck or that your story is bad. Push past them and keep writing. You can do it!
It’s been almost two months since my last update. A lot has happened since then, actually.
First of all, I completed the first draft of Fortress Ghosts. All 56 chapters written and accounted for. I put out some feelers for beta readers and got a few takers. Waiting to hear back from them.
I also made a first pass at outlining the next book, Zero Avalon. Coincidentally, it also comes out to 56 chapters. But while Fortress Ghosts has 3 characters in POV rotation, Zero Avalon has four. This is another way of saying that each of the respective stories being told in Zero Avalon is shorter than the stories in Fortress Ghosts. I don’t think this should matter too much, though. One thing I’m trying to improve with with Zero Avalon is having all of the stories more connected in terms of both theme and major plot events.
The first book, The Militiaman, was pretty tight in terms of scope. It goes in one particular direction, building from one event to the next. The Star Mother complicated things and this is where the storylines began to diverge. All the characters didn’t end up going in the same direction, although most things came together at the end. Fortress Ghosts really spiraled outward. Each of the three POV storylines in it goes its own way, and they don’t really come together in the end, either–they remain fairly separate stories that happen to occur in the same universe. Zero Avalon starts to pull that back, converging major story events, filling in a lot of gaps, and so on. This is in anticipation of the final book, tentatively called Earthblade, in which all the storylines come together for a final resolution. All this probably makes the series sound excessively plot-heavy, but in the end these are stories about people and the decisions they make–the consequences of those decisions, and how the consequences affect each of them.
One thing I’ve been struggling with is cover art. I am not a visual artist. I am very bad at all forms of drawing, except maybe technical drawing. But I have a friend whose art is excellent and who I think would be a great fit for the cover style I am looking for. You can see more of his work here. I definitely recommend checking him out! I’ll certainly be sharing some cover art samples once I get my act together and he turns my absurd rambling into art.
On yet another note, I’ve gone to the trouble of setting up a build server, the ultimate goal of which is to automatically crank out ebooks. It won’t be writing them, of course, but it will take most of the work out of manually typesetting my books and performing format conversions. A service called Leanpub does (did?) things like this but was ultimately not flexible enough for me. I plan to use this to make production and distribution of my ebooks simpler and more streamlined, at least for me. I may let others use it, too, if I can develop enough confidence in how well it works to share it.
I’m also giving some thought to writing one-shot stories set in the Totality universe and giving those away to people as an “appetizer.” Not sure yet. There are so many stories I could tell. I’ll just have to pick one and do it–and keep it short, of course.
Thanks for stopping by!
It’s been a couple months since my last update, but that doesn’t mean there’s been no progress. As of now, I’ve written 44 out of 56 chapters for Fortress Ghosts. That’s more than 3/4 of the way through!
I had originally anticipated being through the first draft in late May, but since I went on vacation and a few other things stymied my progress, it’s now looking more like early June. That’s not so bad.
Once I have the Fortress Ghosts draft in the bag, I plan to put some work into deciding what to do with the series as a whole–give away the first book or some chapters to it, provide some more supporting material here (possibly standalone short stories?), and so forth. I haven’t decided yet.
I’m also coming to the end of an experiment with one of my other blogs at the end of this week, which will open me up to pursue different goals. It always seems to be my problem that I have so much more that I want to get done than I really have the time and energy to do. Picking and choosing sucks.
I’m pretty sure nobody reads this blog, but on the off chance you do, thanks for stopping by!
Nothing special to report except that I’m halfway through the first draft of Fortress Ghosts, having completed chapter 28 out of 56.
Things have been going well, apart from the relatively slow pace and having had to shuffle a few things around. But what’s important is that it’s going!
I anticipate that there may not be a lot in the way of updates until the first draft is finished, after which I’ll have more time to focus on improving this site.
I didn’t mean for it to be so long between updates!
I had a very busy December, and January wasn’t much better. That meant much less progress than I would’ve liked. But there is good news! As of last night, I have 26 chapters written for Fortress Ghosts. That is less than half of the total, so there’s still a long way to go, but progress is progress.
The time away gave me a chance to rethink some aspects of the book, and that’s definitely a good thing. I’m moving some story threads around, refining some things, and contemplating a different ending. One of the problems I’ve run up against is how to create the connective tissue that will link this book to the next without ending on a totally unsatisfactory note. This book has its own storylines, its own rise and fall, its own climax(es), and the book should conclude in a way that is satisfying enough for the storylines presented within, while offering sufficient hints as to the next volume to whet one’s appetite. Of course, this goes for any book with planned sequels, doesn’t it?
The broad strokes of the story haven’t changed, though. How characters and events get from A to B might move around somewhat, but the overall story is the same. It’s all about how we get there.
But I really need to pick up the pace. At my current clip, I won’t reach the end of this draft until around the end of August, and that’s just way too long. For one thing, I’d like to be ready for the next book, in November! I’ve been putting out about a chapter a week. If I can raise that to two, I’ll be done by May, and that’s a much more comfortable place to be.
For comparison, I finished the first draft of The Militiaman in mid-February of 2014, and The Star Mother in July of 2015. Both were started in November of their previous respective years. (I didn’t participate in NaNoWriMo in 2015.) If I can land somewhere between the two, I’ll be in good shape!
I’m contemplating making some more “teasing” posts in the meantime, maybe character profiles or something. Or it will be months between updates, again. I guess we’ll see.
The lack of updates doesn’t mean there’s a lack of work! As of this writing, I’m only a couple hundred words away from the 50,000 mark that will count as a “completed” NaNoWriMo. In that sense, I am almost across the finish line.
But in another, more accurate sense, I’ve only just started. Today, I completed chapter 16 out of 56. At my current pace, the first draft will have about 175,000 words in it. I always lose a good bit in editing, so it will probably end closer to 150,000.
The past week or so has been difficult, what with Thanksgiving approaching (and now passed), work, and having been sick. I have not missed a day of writing, though! One thing I have noticed is that I seem to write better first thing in the morning. It makes sense, of course: after a day at work, my brain is pretty fried and I just don’t have as much creative energy in me late in the evening.
I’m doing what I set out to do in each chapter, the main issue is writing quality. Those nights when I’m just low in energy, I can tell the work isn’t my best. But that’s what rewrites are for, eh?
In terms of pacing, some big events are coming up. Things get “interesting” for two of the storylines in chapters 17 and 18. Chapter 25 marks a huge turning point in the remaining storyline. A lot of things ramp up in chapters 30, 31, and 32, and these events set up the rest of the book. Each storyline has its own climax: chapter 46 for one them, 50 for another, and 54 for the last. I actually didn’t set out to have each of them climax exactly 4 chapters apart, it just ended up shaking out that way.
The most recent chapter (16) contains a ton of world-building. Those chapters can be a lot of fun to write, and hopefully their details make them interesting to read, as well. I’m not the type who likes to dwell on some small detail for a page and a half–usually, I’m more about sketching out enough of a place to let the reader fill in the blanks, so the story can keep moving. Too much exposition, of course, is like being stopped dead, trapped in an elevator with somebody you just wish would shut the hell up.
And on that simile, I will conclude this entry! Starting tomorrow, the book progress widget for Fortress Ghosts will likely change to reflect that I’m no longer on the NaNoWriMo model. Not sure if I’ll bring more frequent updates–as we get into the holiday season, that seems unlikely. But after the new year begins, I should have more time and be able to mine my old material for more interesting background to post up here.
Have a good weekend!