Yes, my new project is called Werewolves On A Train. Yes, I know it’s a silly name.
It was originally supposed to be a novel but after some deliberation it’s now a series of short stories. This is probably a good thing. The current plan has the series as consisting of nineteen parts, and I’m thinking it would have been a bit of a chore fitting all of that into a single novel.
Work on the project is progressing pretty well, and while it’s still early I’m feeling good about it. Good enough I decided to start sharing my project notes. The series’ outline is available as well as the outline for the first seven parts. I’ve also included the template I’m using for the shorts as well as some comments about the thoughts behind it.
It’s not super exciting, but it’s a good way for me to keep accountable. I’ll be updating the page as new content becomes available, and I may or may not post about it here too when I do.
The page itself can be found through the silly little site menu in the upper right. You can also just click here.
I’ve been spending time hanging out with an old friend lately. Her name’s Toini, and she’s a paladin.
It’s probably more correct to say she’s an imaginary friend.
Toini is the main character of the story I’m working on – or that I was working on earlier this year and that I’m now kicking back to life. It’s been over three months since I last wrote on this story. Three months until just the other day that is.
I finished a new scene yesterday, and I put it up here on the blog today. You can find the full story so far here.
What’s more: when uploading the scene I’d just written, I realised I’d never uploaded the previous one. It gave me a good reason to re-read that bit and reconnect with the story a bit more.
There are flaws in it, certainly. It’s far from perfect and it probably won’t ever be. The story itself isn’t strong enough that I want to spend more time on it once I’ve written the last scene. I’ll finish it, put it up here on the blog, and then move on to other projects.
I’m not going to ditch Toini though. The story I’m writing may not be all that, but I love the character. She’s complex in a way that no character I’ve created before is. None of them even comes close.
Roy and Alene have the potential to reach similar levels of complexity, but I’ve not written enough about them yet to do more than scratch the surface. With Toini, I’ve gotten to know her well enough that I’ve caught glimpses of what she’s hiding.
It’s almost a little scary. Can I make her justice?
Time will tell. At least I’m back to writing again. Other stories are waiting for their attention. I hope to have Emma’s Story ready for publishing (self-published e-book) by the end of the year, and then I’ll start on the second draft of Enar’s Vacation. That one’s going to need a lot of work.
And no, I’ve not forgotten that I’m going to write a story about Elsie, but I think I may be able to do that on the side. We’ll see…
A while back, just over a year ago actually, I posted about making a soundtrack for my character Alene – here. It’s been a while since I posted anything at all now, and I figured it was time to post a soundtrack for Toini.
Toini is a paladin, which is a type of holy warrior, and these are the songs I associate most with her at the moment.
This is very much the essence of Toini in her role as a paladin, the way she appears on the surface: strong, unstoppable, and full of power and will. She keeps on going, and she does whatever it takes to reach her goals.
It’s possible she may come off as more than a little bit fanatical, going way beyond the borders of sanity, but that’s who she is. Her god chose her as his hand in the world for a reason.
This song gets to represent the other side of Toini – the one her crew sees when she’s not on duty. She’s still a fighter and a crusader, but it’s not always an easy burden to carry, and her duties take their toll on her.
Hers is not an easy life, and it can sometimes be difficult to keep on going.
Like with all people, there’s more to Toini than meets the eye, even for those who know her well, and I picked this song to show that. It’s about travelling, seeing the world, and looking for something that isn’t really there, and which perhaps can’t be found at all.
It’s about the riddles of life and how the answers are sometimes far away and sometimes nearly within grasp, but never quite there.
With this song I want to show the internal version of Toini in her paladin role. It’s how she feels when she’s carrying out the will of her god. There’s an exhilaration to it that doesn’t come through to the outside.
She’s charging ahead at full speed without hesitation, and without the ability to stop or change direction even if she wanted to – which she doesn’t.
Another slow, melancholic piece. This is a part of Toini that no one ever sees, and that even she herself shies away from. It’s about the memories of her past and about the people she left behind there. They’re no longer a part of her life, and they can never be, but sometimes she still remembers them.
Five songs. Some of these picks were easy, and some were less obvious. I feel like they’re a good representation of the character though. There’s a bit of variety, but there’s an overarching theme that ties them together, even if it may be hard to spot at a glance.
Yesterday, I finished the first draft of Toni Comes Home. You can, if you want to, read it here.
You’re more than welcome to give it a shot, and if you do, I’d very much appreciate your thoughts on it. However, you can probably find better ways to use your time. The story has some good bits, and I’m happy I wrote it, but it also has some serious flaws.
That’s why I’m happy I wrote it. I feel like I learned some important things and that I gained some useful experiences. I’ll try and sum that up here in this post.
Things I learned:
It’s good if the reader understands the character’s motivations.
Not everyone will know the words I’m using.
I’m not yet good enough at conversations to make one last the entire second two thirds of the story.
There is a reason for Toini to return to Kul Viller – her hometown. That reason is explained in the seventh scene of the story. The story itself has nine scenes. I don’t feel that waiting that long to reveal Toini’s motivation for coming home is very nice. I should have put that in a lot earlier.
Sure, it’s probably natural for the topic to come up in the conversation at the time it does, but it could have been mentioned earlier on in the story. Perhaps Toini and Raoul could have talked about it at some point.
The way it is now, the reader just gets to tag along and see what Toini does, and they don’t have any context to put her actions into. Then when the purpose of Toini’s visit finally is revealed, it turns out it’s not really all that exciting.
Sure, it’s important to Toini, but the reader doesn’t know why it’s important to her. I feel like that’s the main flaw of the story, and it’s something I will be addressing in the next version of it.
I used the word paladin in the story without explaining what it is. I’m personally very familiar with the word and I have a clear understanding of what it means. It didn’t even occur to me that others might not know the word.
It turned out at least two of the people who read the story didn’t know it. One of them looked the word up and figured out the rest on their own. The other kept on reading, hoping for an explanation, and then stopped when no explanation came.
Being unfamiliar with the word, which is very defining for the main character, in combination with the lack of character motivation made the story confusing and lacking in purpose for the reader.
Imagine it yourself. You’re reading a story about someone and it turns out they are a <something> but you’re not sure what that something is, only that it’s kind of important. On top of that, you don’t know what the character wants to achieve or why they’re doing the things they do. It doesn’t sound like a very fun thing to read – unless off course that’s intentional, but that wasn’t the case here.
Too Much Talking
I really like writing conversations. I think it’s good fun, and I think it’s a great way to get to know a character. I enjoy it.
Unfortunately, I still need more practice. The bulk of Toini Comes Home is taken up by the conversation between Toini and her sister, and it goes on for quite a while.
I’ve written long conversations before, but I don’t think I’ve done one that’s quite this long. The further it went on, the more I felt like I was repeating myself. I felt like I kept using the same old tired beats over and over again.
There’s a lot of sighing. There’s a lot of raised eyebrows, grins, and eyes sparkling with mischief. I think that within a reasonable limit a bit of repetition can be good, but I feel like passed that limit by a pretty wide margin.
I need to break the conversations up and have something happen between them. Maybe move them to a different location, or add some new props for the characters to deal with.
I’ve often had my characters drink alcohol while chatting. It’s easy. They got a glass of some kind to play with and they get drunker and drunker, meaning the conversation changes and there’s a limit to how long you can keep going.
In this case, Toini and Paivi had a pint of beer each, and then Paivi went to get coffee instead. It kind of worked for a bit, but in the end I don’t feel like it was enough.
For now, the best course of action is probably to not add too much talking at once, an to try and break it up a little more in between.
I’ll soon start on the outline for the next version of this story. It will be about the same event, but it will be a very different story. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to address the concerns from this version without overcompensating too much in the other direction.
That sounds kind of saucy, but bear with me, it was the perfectly respectable kind of amazing. I’d had a bit of productivity related angst all day, and even though I had two good sessions, I still felt like I wasn’t writing enough whenever I wasn’t writing.
The scene is a long one, and it’s not yet done, and it’s more than half a week since I finished the previous scene. I want to try and stick to the One Scene A Week schedule. It worked really well with Emma’s Story and I’m hoping to do the same thing here.
So because there was still time left and more writing needed doing I sat down for a third session last evening. It turned out to be a bit of an experience out of the ordinary.
I write rather detailed outlines, for my stories (as you can see here) and when it comes to conversations, like in this scene I outline them too. I write our the exact words the characters will say and I make notes about what emotions they are feeling and expressing.
Before I start on the actual story I generally have a very good idea of what is going to happen and where the story is going.
Even then, last night I couldn’t stop writing because I had to see how it would end.
Somehow, between the last scratch of the outline, and the first draft of the story, the scene came alive. It stopped being a series of events and quotes and became something else. The characters become people, with memories and feelings and opinions I hadn’t even considered before, and that was amazing.
It doesn’t happen often, but once in a while it does, and I’m not sure I’ve experienced it this strongly before. It’s the magic of writing.
I’m sitting there, and I know what’s going to happen, and I know what’s going to be said, but I don’t know who my characters will be when they come out the other end, and that was what kept me at it until long after I should have stopped and gone to bed.
Hopefully at least something of the excitement I felt writing the scene will spill over to the reader.
Oh, also, when I’m saying scene, I really just mean that particular part of the scene – a section of conversation. I hope to take on the rest of the scene tonight.
I’ve got a story going again. Actually, it’s two stories, but one will be a part of the other.
It feels good to be on track with something new, and something that I believe in, that I want to do and that I think will be good.
The story I’m writing is the one that will finally introduce Roy and Toini to the world. I’ve written shorts about both of these characters before, but I don’t really feel like those count. They were short stories, pulled out of thin air when I just started out. I was proud of those stories back then, and perhaps I learned a bit from writing them – I definitely enjoyed it.
Now though, I feel like I’m ready. I’m a better writer, and I’m a better story teller, and I feel like I have a clue what I’m doing. Admittedly, I felt the same back then, and in a few years from now I’ll probably look back on this and laugh at my own naivety.
Still, it’s good to get going and these characters are people I’ve been wanting to write about for a long time. One is a werewolf, one is a paladin. They both have their issues, and they have a past together.
Four Acts, Not Three
I’ve been reading about kishotenketsu again. Japanese (Asian), four act structure. I wrote about it a while back, in this post (a year ago even), and I’m going to give it a go again.
The standard three act structure is something along the lines of:
We see that in most modern western stories in one way or another. In kishotenketsu, the acts are as follows:
Technically, I think the above terms aren’t correct as far as translation goes, but I like them better than the actual correct translations – which would be twist instead of complication, and resolution instead of reconciliation. I feel my versions better reflect my understanding of what the acts are about.
My understanding could of course be wrong, but at least I have some kind of understanding of something, and even if it’s not correct it’s at least comforting.
So how am I going to fit my two stories into this kind of story structure?
At first I only really planned on doing one of the stories – Story A – and then it struck me that I could have Story B be the third act of Story A. I’ve never tried that before. I don’t know if it will work, but I’m really excited to give it a go and see how it turns out.
The way I see it, the worst thing that could happen is that it doesn’t work, in which case I only have to write a proper third act for Story A. I’ll also already have Story B written, so it shouldn’t take all that much by way of modification to get it to work as a standalone project.
Basically, there will be the Introduction and Development acts of Story A. Then there will be the entire Story B, and then there will be the Reconciliation act of Story A. Makes sense?
I’ve also been musing a bit on how to set this up, but I think I’ve got that covered. When I wrote Emma’s Story, the entire thing fell kind of neatly into the four act structure on its own, but this time around I’m having to think a little more about it.
The stories as such aren’t read. They need to be planned, detailed, and discovered. I’m not able to just go in swinging wildly and hope it works out – because then it probably won’t.
I need to plan.
When planning, I’ve tried to keep the structure of the acts in mind, as I believe learning to stick with the structure will be beneficial in the long term.
You’ve got to know the rules before you can break them.
One thing I’m trying is to boil down the purpose of each act into just one word, and then use the word to describe what the act needs to achieve. I then make a list for each act based on what the act needs to achieve.
As an example, here are the Act-Achievement lists for Story B (aka: Toini Comes Home):
Act 1 – Introduce
Here is where I introduce things to the reader. Things like characters and locations that are important to the story.
Introduce Toini as a paladin
Introduce Raoul as a paladin’s chronicler
Introduce Kul Viller as Toini’s hometown
Introduce Paivi’s Pub
Introduce Ali’ast as waiter at Paivi’s Pub
Introduce Paivi as owner of the pub and as Toini’s sister
In this act I establish facts relating to the things introduced in act one. The purpose is for the reader to get a better understanding of the situation, to get them more involved, and to make them care.
Establish that Toini has been assumed dead for a decade
Establish that as a paladin Toini has a good reason for staying out of touch
Establish that for the time being Toini’s presence is no threat to anyone’s safety and that safety is guaranteed by Toini’s god Ek
Establish that Toini is only here for a short time in order to pick up a new member for her crew
Establish that the other members of Toini’s crew are on the way in her airship the Orange Cream and that they will be there in a few days
Establish the nature of divine quests, such as this one, and how Toini isn’t here on a mere hunch, but on a holy mission
Establish that person Toini needs for he crew is Roy (Roy is the main character of the other story)
In the third act I reveal previously unknown information to the reader (and to the characters). These are things that complicate the situation in some way. If I’ve set things up right in Act 2, the reader will themselves understand the implications of the information revealed in this act. Hopefully this will make the situation all the more interesting to them.
Reveal that Roy isn’t around
Reveal that Roy hasn’t been around for over a decade
Reveal that Roy is in Tin Jian (other side of the world)
Reveal that there may be other people in Kul Viller who may be interested in joining Toini’s crew
Reveal that Paivi has a way of getting a message to Roy
In the fourth and final act I conclude a few different things based on the information I established in the second act and the information I revealed in the third act. This should tie up the loose ends of the story.
Conclude that Toini will have to go to Tin Jian
Conclude that Toini’s going to have to help out at the pub, because Paivi is short on staff AND would like to spend some time with her long lost sister.
Is That It?
This is pretty much the story as I see it for the time being. I mentioned it earlier on, but it’s really just an introductory story. Toini is a character that’s spent a whole lot of time in my head, waiting to take her place in her own stories. The same goes for Roy.
I also like to leave the story hanging with an open end like that. I don’t feel it’s really a cliffhanger, it’s just not a definite end. There’s plenty of room for a reader to wonder about what will happen next, and I like that. For me, it kind of gives me the feeling that the world goes on after the story ends.
I hope I’ll be able to reproduce that feeling to others.
I finished the story (as in, the first public draft of the story) on time, and well ahead of schedule. I’ve had time to read it through. I’ve written up an afterword and a list of things I want to change for the next draft.
I’ve also converted the entire story into eBook format (and PDF as well, for good measure).
If you’ve already read the previous chapters, you can find the last one here.
If you’ve missed some chapters, or if you’d rather download the eBook version, you’ll find it all on the Stories page, here.