Tag Archives: Madison

New Year, New Novel

As promised, today I’m going to give you an update on how the planning for my new novel is going. I have to warn you though. I have been busy, so this post is going to be a long one.

The working title is The Reluctant Hero, as you can see by my new Word Meter on the right. I’ll probably leave the Dirty Little Freaks meter there for a while just because I am proud of having finished it. I did get that last story done before the end of the year, and it wasn’t too terrible. It was about a woman who was lost and stumbled across a secret laboratory. She was taken prisoner and injected with a serum that turned her into a superhero. That’s about it. There are a lot of unanswered questions in the story, like how did she get lost in the first place, who was running the secret lab, and where they all went while the serum was doing its work. If I ever figure out the answers to those questions I might revisit that story, but meanwhile at least it served its purpose as a writing exercise.

Now, back to what you are all waiting for. The new novel!

All right, so the first thing I had to do was decide what I wanted to write about. As I told you last week, my only real idea was to write a story using the old theme of the reluctant hero. Someone who was pulled into a dangerous situation and forced to step up in order to save not only himself, but the whole world. Or at least more of it than would normally fit in his pajamas. So the first thing I needed to do was figure out who this guy was.

I started with a character sketch. I don’t mean a picture, although that will probably come in at some point. No, I mean a description of the character, including name, age, general appearance, and most importantly, his history and personality.

My main character is named Alexander Lunde. I chose the first name because it actually means “defender of mankind” in some languages. Or, at least, that’s what my Scrivener name generator told me. The last name is pretty much just random, except that I thought he should be of Norwegian descent. Just because.

I won’t get into his height and weight, eye and hair color. The important details are that he is a widower. His wife died in “the disaster” and he blames himself, so he lives alone, cutting himself off as much as possible from everyone else. If you want to get into the psychobabble, I suppose that he has low self-esteem and doesn’t feel like he deserves to live among other people. Another reason for his life as a hermit could be that he can’t stand the thought of losing someone else close to him. So he pushes people away, and generally comes across as a grumpy old man.

So that’s where I started. Now, you might have noticed a couple words in quotes in the description above. That was my next step in figuring out where I was going with this story. What, exactly, is “the disaster”?

Well, I decided that I wanted to write a post-apocalyptic tale. That meant that there should be at least the remains of technology available in the ruins of civilization that were still left standing. However, I also like the ideas of magic and monsters. Urban fantasy and paranormal romance are high on my reading lists. So what kind of disaster could I come up with that had both science AND magic?

And, if at all possible, dragons.

My brain struggled over this for a while, and finally, out of the storm came this little gem. A comet passed extremely close to Earth, and billions of people went outside to watch as it neared the closest point. Unfortunately, those were the people who died. The comet gave off a strange form of radiation that killed everyone that saw it. The radiation also triggered a reaction deep in the Earth’s core that rekindled a magical force that had been largely depleted over the centuries of humanity’s history. After all, the legends of gods and fairy tales had to come from somewhere, right?

So now I’ve got a man with a past. What about the world of the present?

My next step was to figure out what was going on right now. I had to determine what the world was like in order to figure out how my story would fit in to it. After all, if my reluctant hero was going to have to save humanity, I had to at least find out what he was saving them from.

I already knew it was going to be post-apocalyptic, so that gave me a start. Few people, primarily gathered into small communities, largely either living off the land or scavenging through the ruins. With the magic influence, I decided that along with the bandits that would undoubtedly threaten any travelers, as well as established communities, there would also be fantastical monsters. Goblins, ogres, creatures of both dreams and nightmares, and, most importantly, dragons.

Another thing I had to decide was where it was going to be set. Of course, like most of my books, I decided to set it close to home. Personally, I think that Madison, Wisconsin, would be a fine place to live if most of the people were gone. Especially the idiots in that fancy domed building downtown. There are also plenty of farms and wooded areas around the city that would be excellent places for the survivors to use to start over and support themselves. There are even a few state parks where my hero could live without being bothered.

And there is also the UW campus. Let’s face it, if magic came back into the world, can you think of anywhere better to set up a school of wizardry than the research facilities of a major metropolitan university? It was a perfect place for people to gather together to start researching how to use the new forces of magic that were now available to all.

And that gave me the idea for the plot. These new wizards, just figuring out the “science” of magic, could easily cross one of those lines that are better left uncrossed. In the fantasy books I have read, one of the biggest dangers of using magic is summoning a demon. When dealing with evil creatures from another plane, not only does your spell have to be perfect, but you also have to have an iron will in order to keep body and soul together. Otherwise, what you end up with as a monster terrorizing the neighborhood while bloody chunks drip down the walls of the summoning chamber. Not good.

So I have a hero, a setting, and a climax. Now, how was I going to get Alexander from being a hermit to saving the world from a demonic invasion? And where were the dragons going to come in?

The answer, of course, is to bring in other people. I had to force him to spend time with others in order to be in a position where he had no choice but to be a hero. And who better to transform a grumpy old man into a loving “grandfather” than a little boy (or girl)?

Here’s the rough outline of the plot that I came up with:

Alexander is out hunting and finds a small family en route to the campus that is being attacked by bandits. He saves the family, but the father is injured and the bandits got away with most of their supplies. He reluctantly takes them in while the father recovers, which gives them time to bond with him, despite his efforts to push them away.

After the father recovers, the two of them go into the local town to restock the family’s supplies so they can continue their journey. On the way, they find a dragon’s egg, which they pick up and bring into town. Unfortunately, the dragon tracks them there and attacks the town, killing the young father before it, too is killed.

Alexander goes back to his house and breaks the news to the young wife. She is upset, and Alexander feels really bad. After she calms down, she tells him that she still wants to continue her journey, and she makes him promise to take her. He still has the dragon egg, and decides to take it with them so the people there can study it.

This part needs a bit of work. They get to campus and he sticks around while the girl gets settled with her family. At some point he discovers that the wizards are experimenting with summoning spells. He goes to watch and that’s when all hell breaks loose. Demons start flooding through the portal, and Alexander is hurt badly while trying to fight them off.

The ghost of Alexander’s dead wife then appears to him and tells him that it isn’t his time to die and that he needs to keep fighting or the young mother and her children will die. Her spirit then takes over the unborn dragon egg, which then hatches and helps Alexander fight off the demons and close the portal.

In the end, Alexander, the baby dragon, and the little family go back to his cabin in the woods and live happily ever after.

It’s pretty rough, and as I mentioned, I know there are some problems with the plot, but at least it is a starting point. I welcome any comments, criticism, or suggestions that will help me make it better.

That’s it for today (whew!). I’ll see you next week with another update on my planning. I hope to be able to work out some of the weak spots in this outline and fill in some gaps with a list of the scenes I’ll need to use in order to make this a decent novel. Later!

Leave a comment

Filed under The Writing Experience

Socializing for an Anti-Social Profession

Let’s face it, writers spend a lot of their time alone, lost in the worlds inside their heads. Some of them have even been known to bite when provoked. Getting those words on the page is the only way to get the voices to stop.

But stories are about people, and it’s kind of hard to understand how people work without spending any time with them. So every writer needs to get away from the manuscript once in a while and get out there where the stories are. If they’re lucky they can also find other people who share their interests and might be able to help refine their work into something they can print.

“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.”

– Stephen King

Today I’m going to tell you about two of the things in my life that help me get my writing done. Writer’s groups and conventions.

I have been with a writing group for a few years now. We meet on a weekly basis and discuss our work. In the past, we would read our pieces out loud and get critiques from the others. That worked, but there were times when nobody had anything to read, or when only one person had anything prepared, so there was sometimes a bit of guilt or tension in the group.

We are shaking things up a bit now. We’re still going to meet weekly, but we’re only going to offer critiques once a month. The other weeks we will use as a scheduled writing time, with the opportunity to discuss any story problems we are stuck on with the rest of the group. We will also take some time each month to discuss a book that we have read.

I’m not sure about the book discussion, as I already have a discussion group that I go to at my local library once a month. I have enough trouble getting through the books on my own to-read shelf without adding yet another one from someone else’s list. But I’ll give it a try anyway, because at least the books that my writing group discuss will be more closely aligned with the ones I normally read for pleasure. The library book group mostly discusses popular fiction and non-fiction, which I would probably never read on my own.

As for conventions, it is nice to be able to get out and meet new people every once in a while. Conventions give me a chance to get out there and participate in discussions about interesting topics led by interesting people. I also get the chance to meet famous people, like Larry Niven, who has been a favorite author of mine for decades.

This year my convention plans include Odyssey Con, April 12-14, and WisCon, May 24-27, both held in my home town of Madison, Wisconsin. I almost decided to skip Odyssey Con this year, but when they announced that the Guests of Honor included Alex Bledsoe and Kevin Hearne, I just had to go. Alex is also local to the Madison area, and I have met him several times and consider him to be a friend. He is a great guy and his writing is superb. Kevin is the author of the Iron Druid series, which I started reading a couple of years ago and have loved every bit of it, so I am looking forward to meeting this outstanding author.

While at the conventions, I will have a chance to sit in on discussion panels with these two greats, as well as many other writers and fans, and pick their brains about writing, news of the world, and our future on this planet (and possibly others). And there will be lots of other, like-minded people around as well, each with their own opinions and views to share.

I highly recommend that, whatever your situation, you should try to connect with other writers. Either with a writer’s group or a convention. Preferably both. And if you can afford to travel, come and join me in Madison at one of my conventions and introduce yourself. We’ll chat.

I’ve got to go lock myself in a room now and get some writing done. I’m going to write another Alchemist story this week, and I am hoping that I will be able to finish it ahead of schedule again. As usual, I will post another update on Wednesday.

1 Comment

Filed under Conventions, Networking, The Writing Experience

Slow Going

I haven’t been able to do much in the last few days. Part of it is because I am still trying to figure out what I am doing. But to be honest, most of it is because I got sucked into another Facebook game, and that is what is taking up most of my time right now.

I glanced over at the side of my Facebook stream the other day and I noticed an ad for Farmville 2. I played Farmville for a while last year, and the year before that, but I stopped because it was interfering with my writing time. I quit playing all the Facebook games so I could make better use of my time. But when I saw the ad for the new version I got curious. I wanted to know what they had changed, so I decided to take a look.

So, of course, now I am spending a lot of my time planting, watering, harvesting, feeding, and crafting. It’s a big time suck, but I promise that I will stop cold turkey on November 1 for NaNoWriMo. Nothing will keep me from attempting to win for my third year in a row!

However, I still need to do a lot of planning for November. I have ideas, and I think they are coming together in my head, but what I really need to do is put them down on paper. Or at least, in my Scrivener file. I’m also using yWriter, because it lets me plan individual scenes.

On a political note, I am going to go to the Obama rally here in Madison on Thursday. This is the most important election of my life so far, and I am really looking forward to seeing the President. I managed to get the day off and I will be leaving the house early to make sure I get a good seat. I’ll try to do some planning while I wait, but I won’t be able to bring my netbook because of security, but I might be able to manage bringing my Kindle Fire instead. I can do some work on that while I wait. The problem is that it may also be raining and umbrellas aren’t allowed, so I’ll have to be careful about that. If it is raining, the pen and paper option wouldn’t be much better. But I’ll give it a shot, and we’ll see what happens.

That’s all I’ve got for today. I’ll be back on Sunday with another post. Hopefully I’ll be able to report that I have figured out how to manage my time so that I can play a little bit and then work on my book. Or maybe what I should do is make a commitment to do my planning before I let myself play. That would probably be a better idea….

2 Comments

Filed under NaNoWriMo, Politics, The Writing Experience