Wake Forest author Michael Jasper has been writing and publishing stories and novels for quite a while now. A graduate of the 1996 Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Workshop and 1997 graduate of the North Carolina State Masters Program in Creative Writing, with his professional sf/f career beginning with “Mud and Salt” in L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume XVI in 2000. A collection (Gunning for the Buddha) and two novels (The Wannoshay Cycle and A Gathering of Doorways) followed later, after a turn as editor for the chapbook anthology Intracities, in which he published such writers as Jay Caselberg, Jay Lake, Claude Lalumière, Jason Erik Lundberg, Tim Pratt, and Melissa Yuan-Innes. Mike was very welcoming and supporting of the launch of Bull Spec, contributing an excerpt of A Gathering of Doorways in issue #1 and reading from another chapter at the magazine launch party. Here, he takes a look at writing yourself into a corner in the latest installment of The Hardest Part. –Sam
By Michael Jasper:
The trouble with painting yourself into a corner is that you don’t realize what you’ve done until you bump into the walls surrounding you.
Luckily, in most cases, you can catch yourself before it’s too late.
I did the literary version of this with the third book in my Contagious Magic trilogy, A Lasting Cure for Magic. The hardest part of writing that book was determining a way out of that corner, where I’d been stuck for a week or three, trying to move on without messing up the wet paint of my already-written chapters.
All painting analogies aside, what I finally realized was that I had to regain control of all my various characters and their needs, along with organizing the various plotlines from books one and two, and tying them all together in a satisfactory way in the third book.
But I’d never written a trilogy before, and the thought of reining in all those characters and their destinies made my head hurt.
Yes, I have one of those fantasy novels that requires a “Cast of Characters” section. For book two of the series, that list had thirty named characters in it. (Funny how giving a character a name gives them a certain significance, doesn’t it? So much more so than “Guy in the street” or “Lady with an angry dog”.)
I vowed for book three to Not Create More Characters. Instead, I wanted to focus on my main two characters, teenagers Kelley and Jeroan — they were the ones who discovered magic in Dubuque, Iowa, of all places. They needed the character development and the most compelling character arcs.
Also, I had all those other fun characters, and all these nifty magical events that I wanted to take place right here in the real world, during a few wintry days in January… And I wanted to add this… And then add that… (paint paint paint…)
So, the solution? I took a step back and made what I call chapter breakdowns.
I created a brand-new file and started a numbered list of all the chapters. Then, on the first line, I added the setting and the time, along with which character’s point-of-view we were in. I also added the page numbers in brackets on that first line, just to keep track of how long each chapter is, for pacing purposes.
The next lines under each chapter header were simply bullets that described — as succinctly as possible! — what happened in that chapter. I made myself write at least five bullet points per chapter. Some chapters had closer to ten. I did this for all 24 chapters (most of which I hadn’t written yet).
And then I added each chapter’s bulleted list to the chapter file, so I had my mini-outline right there, and I could write my way through each bullet.
It wasn’t rocket science, but it helped me get my focus back, and made the hard task of banging out a first draft much easier.
And really, that’s the secret of writing fiction — you find the best way to tell your current story as efficiently as possible. Hopefully, you won’t run into the same sort of thing on your next novel or story, but if you do, you’ll find the best way to get that one done, too. It’s all a learning process.
Now… where did I leave my paintbrush?
NOTE: Sam had originally asked me to write a Hardest Part entry about using the Audible Creation Exchange (ACX) to make an audiobook of the first novel in my Contagious Magic series, A Sudden Outbreak of Magic.
But try as I could come up with hard parts, I really couldn’t find any hard parts with the whole ACX process. It’s amazingly easy to use. Also, I got lucky and found a fantastic narrator, Alyson Grauer, right off the bat, and she was able to not only narrate the novel perfectly, but she nailed all the various characters’ voices. I found a whole new appreciation for my book as well as audiobooks in general after listening to her narration.
And now I’m happy to report that the audio version of A Sudden Outbreak of Magic is now available at Audible, Amazon, and iTunes. Hope you take a listen!
After a turn writing the well-received digital comic In Maps & Legends, Mike put together the first edition of a since-updated and soon-to-be-updated-again guide to Formatting Comics for the Kindle and Nook; his experience in formats and self-publishing only begin there, with 73 stories available (quite a few sent up free in his Free Fiction Friday series of blog posts). He turned the experience of Formatting and Selling Ebooks into another guide for writers.