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It all started when... My Writing Journey


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I sat down at the computer one day in September, looked at my desktop, and thought, "Why are you wasting your time playing someone else's creation?"
I had recently become interested in Visual Novels and thought I should try making one. The idea/concept was sound so I started writing a script.

A couple of weeks later and my initial plan of a 10k word short story VN was out the window. One morning it was like a lighswitch was flipped. I saw and felt it happen. A question came into my mind. "What genre would you write? Fantasy? SciFi?" Almost immediately I answered Christan Fiction. So I continued with that in my mind but never intentionally added it into the script. The word count kept growing as I discovered the characters and the story while going from scene to scene. In the end, it was almost 36k words. Right now it's 38k.

 

Then I started setting up the lines and adding images into the VN program. Test runs were made, showed some to my wife, etc. But... I wasn't enjoying it. The process wasn't fun and my mind went back to just writing. So I changed the script to a book/novella. All of this happened in roughly a month and a half. I wasted 2 weeks after finishing the script on porting it to the VN program.

My wife, son, and mother-in-law all read it and enjoyed it in both script and book format. We're generally brutally honest about things. So I began to wonder and pray about it... a lot. Slight aside, I generally wake up at 3:30 or 4:30 in the morning after praying about writing. Almost every time it seems.

 

Around the end of November I was researching(as I do) and learned about reader magnets. Okay. So I wrote a prequel short story that takes place the year before and provides some background. This came out to be roughly 10k words. The wife didn't like it... 😞 I don't know why because she can't give specifics. Honestly, it was kind of disheartening. But I also stumbled across the Jerry Jenkins YouTube channel around this time. Good stuff and eye opening.

 

As a test, I wrote an article. It's a comparison between our Union and an onion via acronyms. The U.N.I.O.N. part was completed in December and I let it sit until the morning of January 7th when I finished by writing the O.N.I.O.N. part. My wife read it and said she was curious why I did it and what I was going to do with it. I said, "Me too. I'm going to submit it to the paper." I had never done this before and it seemed like a good first step. So I emailed it to the editor, two weeks ago as of this post, and explained that it was probably too long to print but I had to share it. I heard from him the next Monday because he had been out with an illness. He wanted to print it as a guest column. 😲 The article came in at 802 words without the bio that was requested. It came out this past Wednesday, 1/20/2021.

 

I am currently working on the second book in what has become a four part series that started life as an idea for a VN. This was mainly for me to prove to myself that I could do it again, but better. Some elements from the prequel short story have surfaced as well. Some Christian elements have appeared and I've come to realize that they were started in the first book.

That wasn't intended for this series. I wanted to get "better" at writing before doing that so I could do those elements justice. Maybe I need to get out of the way. It is just over 26k now and I'm somewhere around the midpoint.

 

This is long... I intend to update this thread as the journey continues. Maybe it will be useful for more than just posterity.

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2 hours ago, TD Todd said:

Around the end of November I was researching(as I do) and learned about reader magnets. Okay. So I wrote a prequel short story that takes place the year before and provides some background.

 

In 2018 I paid for a class from Tim Grahl called Launch A Bestseller. A week later, he sent me an email about the first class from The Story Grid called Level Up Your Craft, which teaches about story structure, the importance of knowing genre before writing, the Five Commandments of fiction, and how nailing your Conventions and Obligatory Moments will inform what you need to have in your novel. I thought all that sounded pretty good. I actually said "I should probably learn how to write my best novel before I spent too much time learning how to sell one." And so I set aside LAB and dove into the Story Grid. 

Fast forward to now in 2021. I've written ten drafts on my novel, a Fantasy / Noir about a golem detective built on the Content Genre of Thriller (the underlying Obligatory scenes and Conventions) which is different than the Marketing Genre of Thriller, where you'd see a book on a store shelf). Since 2018, I've attended two conferences in Nashville, another in Lake Tahoe, joined the Story Grid Guild, co-founded a SHEG (editing group vs. writing group), and gotten an extensive novel diagnostic from a Story Grid Certified Editor. It's a lot.

Throughout all this, the very first thing I did was give my novel up to God. My sense is to write a novel for the secular market which contains a Redemption aspect. As I look at the parables of Jesus, they contain a moral component but are light on actual preaching. His sermons were as direct as can be, but his parables focused on moments of truth and allowed the Holy Spirit room to convict. I leave the sermons for church—in my stories, I show normal people in a Fantasy setting wrestling with good and evil and the consequences of one's actions. 

I wrote a lengthy post yesterday about how my favorite redemption moment in all of film occurs in the Tarantino film PULP FICTION. I don't need to use the language he does, but I love how he depicts two very believably real hitmen who see what can only be described as a miracle and then wrestle with the ramifications.

Which is to say, I think it's important to know why we're writing and what we want to accomplish. Sometimes I write to entertain or encourage or challenge the Saints. I use short stories for this. I've published a Baker's Dozen of short stories. My favorite is written in the style of Roger Zelazny, a Hugo and Nebula award-winning New Wave author from the 60s. I called it THE RECONSTRUCTED MAN in homage to Alfred Bester's novel THE DEMOLISHED MAN, the first novel to win the Best Novel Hugo Award in the 50s. I wrote it to demonstrate to fellow Christians that we could write rigorous Science Fiction which wrestles with thorny moral issues and is thoroughly Christian. 
https://silentvanitye.com/the-reconstructed-man

I write my novels for the mainstream. My current WIP is called THE BLUE GOLEM and features someone who awakens in the 7' shell of a golem in a Fantasy setting with no memory of who he used to be nor how he got there. It's a story about his search for his missing identity as he faces the evil Archmage. The global life value at stake for a story like this goes from Life > Unconsciousness > Death > threat of Damnation, which gives me a lot of grist for the story mill.

All of which is to say, I started this latest push by focusing on publishing something before I really knew how to write it, and that's ok. I quickly learned that I had my priorities a little shifted and made adjustments. This is part-and-parcel to a typical writing journey. 

Welcome. 😉

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@JohneThanks for everything you shared. A lot of what you said is similar to what I'm thinking. I need to read a few of the books you mentioned as well.

I agree 100% on not preaching but giving room for the Holy Spirit to work. I guess I am trying to let what is in the light shine through... I hope that's worded clearly enough.

 

It amazes me when I write a line(paragraph, whatever) that may say three different things all at the same time. It depends on the reader's interpretation I guess. But it's all unplanned. I read it and think,"Wow! That's awesome."

 

But being a pantser, I never know what's going to happen. 😉

 

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1 minute ago, TD Todd said:

But being a pantser, I never know what's going to happen. 😉

 

Well-met, fellow discovery writer! 🙂

I was a lifelong Pantser until I studied the Story Grid theory. I now consider myself a PLANtser, a discovery writer who has an appreciation for story structure.

How it works for me is this: 
I start by figuring out my Content Genre (how a story is constructed under-the-hood, as opposed to Marketing Genre, which is what most people think of when they hear 'genre,' where a book appears on a shelf). My novel is a Fantasy / Noir (Marketing genre) built on a Thriller Content Genre under-the-hood. For me, that means my story has Thriller Obligatory scenes (must-have scenes for paying off reader expectations as set up by conventions of the genre) and Conventions (elements in the story which must be there or the reader will be confused, unsettled, or bored). 

The Thriller Obligatory Scenes are:

  • There must be an Inciting Crime indicative of a master Villain. 
  • There must be a victim and a perpetrator 
  • The protagonist’s initial strategy to outmaneuver the antagonist fails. 
  • There is a clear “point of no return,” the moment when the protagonist knows they can never go back to the way things used to be. 
  • The Protagonist becomes the victim. A scene reveals that the antagonist makes their crimes personal to the protagonist and the protagonist becomes the primary victim. 
  • The core event of the Thriller, the All-is-Lost-Moment, is when the Hero is at the Mercy of the Villain in which the protagonist sees the antagonist as unbeatable, and then the protagonist unleashes their gift. 
  • There is a False Ending. After a scene that seems to mark the resolution, the antagonist rebounds to challenge the protagonist again.

The conventions of a Thriller are:

  • The atmosphere is portrayed in considerable detail, becoming alive and immediately threatening. 
  • There is a MacGuffin. This is the antagonist’s object of desire, what they want. 
  • The inciting crime must contain a clue about the villain’s MacGuffin. 
  • The antagonist makes their actions personal to the protagonist: The antagonist must victimize the protagonist in order to get their MacGuffin. 
  • Derived from the Action Genre, there is a limited time for the protagonist to act (Clock). If the protagonist doesn’t conquer the antagonist, the antagonist will get what they want by default. The clock defines the limits of the story and whether the protagonist will succeed or fail. 
  • The protagonist actively investigates and chases clues (including false leads/red herrings) in order to find or trap the antagonist. In other words, the protagonist’s goal is to render the antagonist useless by solving a crime or a puzzle.
  • Lives depend on the protagonist defeating of the antagonist. 
  • The story contains elements of suspense. Suspense is a form of narrative drive where the audience and the character know the same amount at the same time. The audience is kept in perpetual discomfort because the antagonist seems to attack randomly and never rests. 
  • The antagonist can’t be reasoned with. They are intent on annihilation, devastation, or power at the expense of others. 
  • There is a speech in Praise of the Villain: The cunning or brilliance of the antagonist must be praised by one or more characters or shown in a revelation. “The speech, once the province of the evilly-laughing Bond villain praising himself, has morphed and become much more subtle in modern works.” It can be as small as a secondary character pointing out that the antagonist is far more powerful than the protagonist. Or it might be the protagonist themselves stating, during an all-is-lost moment, that they can’t beat the antagonist for a particular reason.
  • The protagonist is the final victim.
  • There is a clear threat of escalating danger, even if the danger is limited to the psyche of the protagonist, in a cause and effect chain of events. 
  • There is at least one shapeshifter or hypocrite character capable of directly impacting the protagonist. This is a secondary character who says one thing and does another. Usually, this character first appears as a helper and then becomes a hinderer, but this can be reversed. The shapeshifter’s levels of antagonism can vary greatly between characters and stories.
  • In a prescriptive Thriller, the antagonist must be brought to justice. In a cautionary Thriller, injustice prevails.

This seems like a lot of rules, but I discovered that instead of being binding, these rules are freeing. For example, I wrote nineteen different versions of my opening line and chapter until I realized I was writing in the wrong genre for the rest of the novel, so I killed a righteous man and we were off to the races. (My opening line started as a page of exposition which was eventually whittled down to this one statement: “I wasn’t always a golem, and I haven’t always been a detective, but you have to start somewhere.”)

I went to a plotting Boot Camp a year ago to plot out the sequel to the novel I'm finishing now. I figured that if the first book was a Thriller, the sequel would be as well, but I was wrong. While the first book is about Clay Golem learning to become a detective, the second book is about Clay going up against the mob bosses who run the city from the underworld. If the Global Life Value of a Thriller is Life > Death > threat of Damnation, the sequel is about something else, the desire for justice and by extension the very security of our social structure. That meant I'm writing a Crime novel for the sequel, and that gives me a related but distinct set of Obligatory Scenes and Conventions. That means I can look at the bones of a Crime story and see the things I know I'll need. Having this knowledge, I was able to hammer out thirty plot points and subplot elements in three days and have that novel waiting to be written when I finish editing this first one.
https://storygrid.com/crime-genre/

When I'm working on a new chapter, before I begin, I take a look at the Five Commandments of story for that chapter. I have a sheet in Notion which I use as a cheat sheet.

image.thumb.png.7f4c54abb3de2f61427c9a630deaf31d.png

 

Here's what that looks like in action:
image.png.53f3c93608d4f5280eeb900f469aee48.png

 

Once I know my genre and my Five C's, the actual writing goes pretty easily. I'm still discovery writing between the major beats which satisfies my urge to be free but I have some basic signposts to guide me along the way so I don't waste words unnecessarily. 

This is a super in-depth way of explaining how and why I'm now a happy Plantser and what that looks like. 🙂

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Thanks, Ky!

 

Nice, Johne. I don't know if I could do it that way though. May give it a shot after this series is over. It's too clear in my mind, mostly. But I will look into it and let it roll around in the old noggin. Thanks for the insight though.

 

Some statements you made directly relate to another post I have in mind. Not sure when I'll start it, I'm trying not to have too many going at one time.

 

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8 minutes ago, TD Todd said:

Nice, Johne. I don't know if I could do it that way though.

 

I totally understand. It's taken me two years of dedicated study to get to this place, and I still vacillate between starting with the 5 Cs or just diving right in. (I usually find out one of two things: if I don't plot it out at least a little I sometimes have to go back and fix things later, or I find out that my instincts are pretty well honed and the 5 Cs are represented organically by this point.) All the Story Grid stuff is designed more as an analysis tool after the first draft has been written to help highlight areas which need work, and I'm just taking those principles and pulling them up a little earlier in the process.

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That makes perfect sense, Johne. Since I am just over four months in to this... whatever it is, I may not have my final process nailed down. There's plenty of time for me to grow, change, and adapt. I'm always learning something. Thanks again for the insight.

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1 minute ago, TD Todd said:

That makes perfect sense, Johne. Since I am just over four months in to this... whatever it is, I may not have my final process nailed down.


You are in a place of great emotion, equal parts terror, optimism, and self-confidence. You're in the right place. (I nearly wrote an unintentional pun there.)

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This sounds very similar to what happened to me. One night, it was very late, I had a story forming in my head and the first night I ignored it and it took me forever to get to sleep. The next night same thing happened, and I couldn't go to sleep because this story playing in my head wouldn't stop. So I decided the only way to stop it was to get up and write it down. Since I am fast at typing, I thought it wouldn't take long. 2 hours later I had 4 pages of text and my mind was quiet enough for me to go to sleep. Over the next several months I wrote 13 chapters and 130 pages. Due to circumstances and life, I took a break and the book sat there doing nothing on my computer for several years. Finally towards the end of last year I finally had the desire back to start writing again, however I couldn't pick up where I left off.

 

After reading the story I had written, it was good but not great and for Christian fiction it was way too churchy and used too much jargon and christianese. So with help from the people here I started rewriting the book with the first 4 chapters being brand new but pulling inspiration from the old story. The quality of the new book vs the old book is like black and white and so far everyone who has read what I have written so far has not only enjoyed the story, but wants to know what happens next. I never got that reaction to my original chapters I had written.

 

The story is being refined and it doesn't flow like it used to, but I still believe God is inspiring me to write this. I am a pantser and need to wait for the story to reveal itself, although I know the events that happen to the characters, I have to wait for the story that surrounds those events and with the help I am getting from here that is slowly happening. 

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That is helpful, accurate, and encouraging. Thank you for those words, Johne.

There's a healthy dose of self-doubt, fear, and trepidation as well. All things in equal measure I guess. ⚖️

 

Edited by TD Todd
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I think my writing journey started when I put down the 10th book that I bought for a plane trip.  Then I asked myself why I can't get through the first five chapters of any book I've purchased thus far.

 

"Maybe I should write my own?" I mused to myself...

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17 hours ago, Amosathar said:

I am a pantser and need to wait for the story to reveal itself, although I know the events that happen to the characters, I have to wait for the story that surrounds those events and with the help I am getting from here that is slowly happening. 

 

I fully understand. That's part of the fun to me. But at times I get stuck thinking my way through this option or that option and the implications and repercussions that come from either. I usually pick the right one, so far, but can't say for sure. 

 

9 hours ago, Jeff Potts said:

"Maybe I should write my own?"

 

I have thought the same about several things. Maybe I should do it myself. 

I started looking at books on the subject I'm writing about and found nothing but technical stuff really. What I'm doing doesn't exist, at least on Amazon. If it does, keywords were not picked very well. It may be somewhere I haven't looked, someone else may be writing it now, and/or it's not a marketable idea. But I feel confident in people wanting to buy it.

 

 

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On 1/26/2021 at 12:39 PM, Johne said:

 

Well-met, fellow discovery writer! 🙂

I was a lifelong Pantser until I studied the Story Grid theory. I now consider myself a PLANtser, a discovery writer who has an appreciation for story structure.

How it works for me is this: 
I start by figuring out my Content Genre (how a story is constructed under-the-hood, as opposed to Marketing Genre, which is what most people think of when they hear 'genre,' where a book appears on a shelf). My novel is a Fantasy / Noir (Marketing genre) built on a Thriller Content Genre under-the-hood. For me, that means my story has Thriller Obligatory scenes (must-have scenes for paying off reader expectations as set up by conventions of the genre) and Conventions (elements in the story which must be there or the reader will be confused, unsettled, or bored). 

The Thriller Obligatory Scenes are:

  • There must be an Inciting Crime indicative of a master Villain. 
  • There must be a victim and a perpetrator 
  • The protagonist’s initial strategy to outmaneuver the antagonist fails. 
  • There is a clear “point of no return,” the moment when the protagonist knows they can never go back to the way things used to be. 
  • The Protagonist becomes the victim. A scene reveals that the antagonist makes their crimes personal to the protagonist and the protagonist becomes the primary victim. 
  • The core event of the Thriller, the All-is-Lost-Moment, is when the Hero is at the Mercy of the Villain in which the protagonist sees the antagonist as unbeatable, and then the protagonist unleashes their gift. 
  • There is a False Ending. After a scene that seems to mark the resolution, the antagonist rebounds to challenge the protagonist again.

The conventions of a Thriller are:

  • The atmosphere is portrayed in considerable detail, becoming alive and immediately threatening. 
  • There is a MacGuffin. This is the antagonist’s object of desire, what they want. 
  • The inciting crime must contain a clue about the villain’s MacGuffin. 
  • The antagonist makes their actions personal to the protagonist: The antagonist must victimize the protagonist in order to get their MacGuffin. 
  • Derived from the Action Genre, there is a limited time for the protagonist to act (Clock). If the protagonist doesn’t conquer the antagonist, the antagonist will get what they want by default. The clock defines the limits of the story and whether the protagonist will succeed or fail. 
  • The protagonist actively investigates and chases clues (including false leads/red herrings) in order to find or trap the antagonist. In other words, the protagonist’s goal is to render the antagonist useless by solving a crime or a puzzle.
  • Lives depend on the protagonist defeating of the antagonist. 
  • The story contains elements of suspense. Suspense is a form of narrative drive where the audience and the character know the same amount at the same time. The audience is kept in perpetual discomfort because the antagonist seems to attack randomly and never rests. 
  • The antagonist can’t be reasoned with. They are intent on annihilation, devastation, or power at the expense of others. 
  • There is a speech in Praise of the Villain: The cunning or brilliance of the antagonist must be praised by one or more characters or shown in a revelation. “The speech, once the province of the evilly-laughing Bond villain praising himself, has morphed and become much more subtle in modern works.” It can be as small as a secondary character pointing out that the antagonist is far more powerful than the protagonist. Or it might be the protagonist themselves stating, during an all-is-lost moment, that they can’t beat the antagonist for a particular reason.
  • The protagonist is the final victim.
  • There is a clear threat of escalating danger, even if the danger is limited to the psyche of the protagonist, in a cause and effect chain of events. 
  • There is at least one shapeshifter or hypocrite character capable of directly impacting the protagonist. This is a secondary character who says one thing and does another. Usually, this character first appears as a helper and then becomes a hinderer, but this can be reversed. The shapeshifter’s levels of antagonism can vary greatly between characters and stories.
  • In a prescriptive Thriller, the antagonist must be brought to justice. In a cautionary Thriller, injustice prevails.

This seems like a lot of rules, but I discovered that instead of being binding, these rules are freeing. For example, I wrote nineteen different versions of my opening line and chapter until I realized I was writing in the wrong genre for the rest of the novel, so I killed a righteous man and we were off to the races. (My opening line started as a page of exposition which was eventually whittled down to this one statement: “I wasn’t always a golem, and I haven’t always been a detective, but you have to start somewhere.”)

I went to a plotting Boot Camp a year ago to plot out the sequel to the novel I'm finishing now. I figured that if the first book was a Thriller, the sequel would be as well, but I was wrong. While the first book is about Clay Golem learning to become a detective, the second book is about Clay going up against the mob bosses who run the city from the underworld. If the Global Life Value of a Thriller is Life > Death > threat of Damnation, the sequel is about something else, the desire for justice and by extension the very security of our social structure. That meant I'm writing a Crime novel for the sequel, and that gives me a related but distinct set of Obligatory Scenes and Conventions. That means I can look at the bones of a Crime story and see the things I know I'll need. Having this knowledge, I was able to hammer out thirty plot points and subplot elements in three days and have that novel waiting to be written when I finish editing this first one.
https://storygrid.com/crime-genre/

When I'm working on a new chapter, before I begin, I take a look at the Five Commandments of story for that chapter. I have a sheet in Notion which I use as a cheat sheet.

image.thumb.png.7f4c54abb3de2f61427c9a630deaf31d.png

 

Here's what that looks like in action:
image.png.53f3c93608d4f5280eeb900f469aee48.png

 

Once I know my genre and my Five C's, the actual writing goes pretty easily. I'm still discovery writing between the major beats which satisfies my urge to be free but I have some basic signposts to guide me along the way so I don't waste words unnecessarily. 

This is a super in-depth way of explaining how and why I'm now a happy Plantser and what that looks like. 🙂

I'm a plantser too! I explore different ideas here and there while still developing a sure structure. 

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