Saturday, September 28, 2013

A Short Sample, Continuing Balfrith's Journey Toward Illithëon

This is just a quick scene that I wrote this morning. I'm getting ready to do a whole lot of globe-trotting for the next couple of months (departing for Europe today, in fact, and will be gone for a week), courtesy of the new role I've taken at my job. Hard to say if I'll have much time for writing - given past performance, I would guess probably not. But being the optimist that I am, I'll hope for better this time around.

* * *

A few hours later, or so it seemed, Balfrith climbed out of the muddy fields and onto the stony ground at the base of the hill. Up close, it was a much larger rise than he had thought from a distance. He hoped that at the top, it might give a clear view into the distance, and help him to set a longer goal for the next day’s walk. For the moment, though, he wanted only to find a sheltered place to rest, start a small fire, and try to dry off and warm up. Though the rain persisted, he had some slim hope of finding fallen wood that was dry enough to burn.

Of course, that assumes I can find a sheltered spot. This hill does not appear to promise such.

Balfrith looked around, frowning as his hope dwindled. Then he shrugged, and started climbing the hill. First things first: he would get his bearings as best he could, then see about finding shelter.

Fortune was with him, for at the top of the rise, looking over and past it, he saw the clustered buildings of a freedman’s farm. “Well,” Balfrith said to himself, “I did not think to find such a thing within only two day’s walk of the mansion, but I shan’t complain of it. Now, if only I can prevail upon the farmer for a bit of space in his straw-barn, I shall have a warm and dry place to sleep for a few hours. And hopefully by tomorrow, the ground will have dried somewhat so that the walking is easier.”

So saying, Balfrith began the walk down the far side of the rocky hill, and across yet another muddy field to the farm house and its outbuildings.

He was fortunate, indeed, for the farmer was a kindly sort who took pity on his wet and bedraggled appearance, and allowed him to make a bed in the straw barn without even asking for compensation. And so, Balfrith snuggled into a warm and dry bed of straw that evening, with the hope that he and his clothes, most of which now hung from rafters in the barn, would be dry by morning. He wistfully thought that it would have been better if he had been able to travel by night and sleep during the day, but the rain made that impossible, and it was simply something he would have to accept. As sleep overcame him, Balfrith thought of forests, and Elves, and wondered if it ever rained in Illithëon.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Labor of Love Resumes - A New Sample!

As discussed yesterday, I'm starting the first round of revisions by going back and filling in missing scenes, of which there are several. Today's sample is the first of these, in which we see Balfrith on his first day away from home, having run away. In the original story, I summarized the journey from his home to the river Asca (where he first met Eldamir) in a single paragraph, but after going back over it, I decided that I really wanted to write this out. It will end up being about three scenes in total, I think, so this is just the first of several to fill in that part of the story.

* * *

Balfrith walked all night and into the next day, hoping to put many leagues between himself and his father - hoping to outrun or evade any pursuit. The clear sky and bright half-moon made it easy enough to see where he was walking, as long as he stayed in open areas, which he did. In previous attempts at running away, he had always been caught within a day or two. Well, except for the one time that he’d returned home of his own volition, sick with fever and nearly starved. But this time, Balfrith did not intend to allow any such thing to happen.

He walked cross-country, avoiding the road, thinking that would make him more difficult to track. It also allowed him to go in a relatively straight line, which he did by tracking the north star through the night. He reasoned that if the north star did, in fact, point north, and Illithëon was in the north, then it would lead him there. And if it did not bring him directly to the Elvish homeland, it would at least get him in the general area, and he could ask directions then.

Around mid-morning the next day, his eyelids began growing heavy, and he found himself stumbling as he walked. Guess it’s time to find a place to rest, he told himself, stopping to take stock of his surroundings.

He was in a farmer’s field, recently plowed and in the process of being sown with seed, though no one was out working yet that day, which surprised him. And then he realized it was Sonnday, so of course everyone would be at temple. Except father, he thought bitterly. He would be working at his desk, even on Sonnday, while Leofred took me and Aingeall and Aldfrid and Wilfrid to worship. That thought brought a pang of home-sickness to his heart, and he choked back a quick sob, taking a deep breath to steady himself.

While looking around, Balfrith noted a copse of trees just east of north, and struck out in that direction. A bit of tree cover would make it easier to sleep in the day-time, as well as shield him from detection. He crossed the field toward the trees, and saw as he approached that they bordered a pond on the left side, rimmed round about with cat-tails. Walking wide around that area to avoid the water, he made his way into the wood and found a dry spot that was sheltered by a fallen tree and some thick brush. The green of spring was taking hold already, leaves and buds coming forth on the branches of trees and shrubs, and grasses springing up from the earth. Settling into a fern bed beneath the tree, he removed the rucksack and set it on the ground nearby, then pulled his cloak about him as a blanket. Finally, Balfrith laid himself down, closed his eyes and fell asleep.

Some hours later, Balfrith awoke to the sun shining through a break in the branches and leaves, directly on his face. He blinked and raised a hand to shade his eyes, looking around to see if there were any signs of movement or disturbance in the area. But no, the wood was quiet, with only the occasional squirrel’s chatter or birdsong to disturb the silence. Through the trees, out in the nearby field, he could see people scattering seed in the long furrows, but they were far enough away that he couldn’t hear any voices.

Extricating himself out from under the fallen tree, Balfrith stood and brushed down his cloak, then ran his hands through his hair and scratched his head. The fern still glistened with morning dew, and he ran his hands over it until they were wet, then scrubbed at his face, enjoying the refreshing coolness of the moisture.  Finally he took up the rucksack once again and settled it on his shoulders, shifting Branulf in its blanket covering so that the blade wouldn’t jab him in the leg as he walked.

Looking up through the branches, Balfrith could see the sun high in the sky, and he judged the hour to be yet early in the afternoon. Smiling, he set himself in a generally northward direction, making his best guess, and started walking once again. The woods in which he’d sheltered were deeper than he had guessed, but that gave him plenty of cover to keep walking in the daylight hours, and so onward he walked, keeping an eye on the sun above and watching to be sure that it consistently tracked toward the left behind him.

About an hour later, Balfrith came to the far edge of the wood, and could see ahead that there were more farm fields to cross, with people out there working. Sitting down to rest and think for a bit, he decided that it wouldn’t be wise to be seen walking in daylight, for strangers would want to question what he was doing in their fields, and those searching for him might take note of a young man walking alone through open fields. So, he looked around until he found another shady spot to rest, and lay down there to try and get some more sleep.

Some time later, Balfrith was awakened by water dripping on his face, and the patter of a light rain on the leaves. His cloak was soaked through to his clothes, and the shiver of a deep chill ran through his body. “Rain - lovely. And here I was hoping for an easy journey in the sun. But I suppose the farmers will be happy,” he sighed at the last, standing up and stretching cold muscles, trying to warm up. Looking up, Balfrith could no longer see the sun. “Which way is north?” he asked aloud, not realizing that he had begun talking aloud to himself.

He looked about at the trees, and noted that a few of them seemed to have a mossy side facing toward him - presumably that would be south, toward the sun. So orienting himself, he looked far out beyond the woods to find a landmark that he could use as a guide. Somewhere ahead, perhaps half a mile, he could see a low rise that seemed to be about as close to north as anything, so he chose that hill as his destination. It wasn't any time near sunset, but the sky was leaden gray with clouds, and the workers had apparently all quit due to the rain.

It didn't take long for Balfrith to understand why they had quit working, for his feet were quickly caked in thick muddy clay as he began walking across the field, and the weight of it made each step an effort. Soon, he was warm even in his wet clothes and the cooler air that had come with the rain. But that was little comfort as he struggled along, step after slow step, trying to keep from falling down in the muck, struggling to move ahead and make it to that hill in the distance.

After perhaps a quarter-hour, he turned back to look at the woods behind, marking his point of departure so that he would be able to trace a line from there to the hill. Talking to himself again, Balfrith muttered, “At the rate I’m going, it will take me the rest of the afternoon to reach that hill.” He sighed. “Then again, horses will have the same struggle. Perhaps my father’s men will turn back today, and I shall be beyond capture at last.” He smiled then, taking some encouragement in the thought as he began walking once again.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Organizing My Work

I'm getting back to Balfrith this weekend - Yay!

But the first thing I need to do is, organize my work. In a previous post, I had mentioned a feature of Scrivener where I could view the scenes in a chapter as note cards on a cork board. Since going through the story, I have now given each scene a label and a status.

Labels are generally used to indicate the type of document I am looking at. In most cases, the label I used is simply "Scene", since I have my chapters broken down into individual scenes and each scene is a separate file. The only other label I am currently using is "Scene Needed", which was a custom label that I added with its own color code. As you can probably guess, this label indicates where I have an empty or incomplete scene that needs to be written, presumably with some notes reminding me what it is that I need to write.

Status codes are used to tell me where in the process a particular bit of writing is. Most of my scenes are labeled as First Draft, But I do have two other status codes that I'm using as needed. "To Do" indicates that there is some note in the labeled scene that says I need to do something. Usually the to-do item is minor, like adding some bit of description to an item, or reminding myself to foreshadow an event earlier in the story, or something like that. But I have also marked any "Scene Needed" cards as to-do items, since that is what they are. "Rework" is a custom status that I added, indicating that I need to do significant rework to a scene. In those scenes, I will have a note telling me what needs to be done.

Between the Scene Needed label, and the To Do and Rework statuses, I have broken my remaining work into 3 simple categories.

When it comes to organizing the work, I will focus first on the missing scenes. Those are the hardest, but they will also have the most impact on the overall story, and might force me to go back and change other things if I suddenly get a flash of inspiration or realize that the story has a major plot hole. Not that I think this particularly likely, but it is possible. So I will start with the big items, the missing scenes, and write those.

After the missing scenes are written, I will move to the items marked Rework. Those are the next-biggest tasks to do, as they generally indicate a complete re-write of a scene and again might impact the story depending on how they are re-done.

Finally come the To Do items - the ones that are not missing scenes, that is. These are the minor items, which are tempting to do first because they are quick and easy. The potential problem is that if I write a new scene or re-write an existing scene and change some significant piece of the story, I might also have to re-do some of the work in these minor to-do items. And if I had already done the to-do items, then I will just need to go back and do them yet again. So rather than making myself do the same work twice or three times, I will let the to-do items wait until the end, when all the scenes are completed and/or reworked, and I am on more solid ground with respect to the overall story, plot, characterization, etc.

And that is how I will proceed with the work on the story, starting today. Let the writing of new and missing scenes begin!

Sunday, September 15, 2013


After a busy week at work, including a couple days of out-of-state travel, I'm taking the weekend off to recharge. The geekwif and I enjoyed a lovely day with my parents yesterday, and today we will be spending the day at our local Renaissance Festival. The weather is forecast to be cool and cloudy, which is just about perfect for our costumes, which are a bit heavy (and thus hot) to wear on sunny or warm days.

This year we're actually doing two Ren Fests - one in our local region, and another further south where we'll be going with friends who live in the area. I always enjoy such outings, as the costumes get my imagination going and give me fresh inspiration for working on whatever story I happen to have going at the time.

Hope y'all are having a good weekend, and enjoying the change of seasons. I know I am!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Story Progress 7-Sept 2013, and a Cool Feature of Scrivener

For the first round of revisions to Balfrith's story, the plan is to review the story from a high level, looking at each scene as a whole, trying to determine if anything needs to be shifted around, merged, removed or added. In order to accomplish this task, I realized that I needed a simple way to view each scene as a brief description, just a few words or a phrase or two. That way, I could more quickly determine whether the scene contributed to the story as a whole, or was superfluous, and also try to find gaps in the story where a scene should be added.

Scrivener has a mode called "corkboard" that makes this really easy. In corkboard view, Scrivener lays out an image of each scene as a sort of 3"x5" note card stuck to a real cork board, like this:
Scrivener for Linux. Looks and works basically the same as the Windows version.

As you can see, each scene is labeled at the top based simply on the document name - for simplicity's sake, I just call them "scene 1", "scene 2", etc. If I move them around, I just rename them so they stay in numeric order. In addition, you can set a label and status on each document: I have consistently labeled them as a "scene" (thus the dark mauve tab in the upper right corner) and given them a status of First Draft, which is shown as watermark text.

I have spent the last week going through each chapter in corkboard view like this, and adding my little notes to each card. Scrivener does not add those notes by itself, you need to do that. But having added them, I can now view a single chapter as a series of cards like this, each one with a little note telling me what the scene is about. How cool is that? I've seen how movies are often laid out ahead of time just like this, with note cards stuck to a board, one for each scene, but I have never heard of a novelist writing their story in this way. In my case, I wrote the novel first, and have now gone back to lay it all out in notecard form. In retrospect, I probably would have benefited from laying out the Balfrith story ahead of time like this, defining each scene, before ever writing it. But hey, I'm new to Scrivener and new to some of the tools available to me that might make the job of writing a bit easier and more efficient.

Now, back to the story. As I mentioned, I spent the last week laying out each chapter in corkboard view and then adding notes to each scene. Of course, that required me to speed-read each scene in order to remind myself what it was about, and then summarize the scene in a few words. That alone provided great benefit in helping me to review the overall story.

And now, having done this ground-work, I can move to the next step, which is to review each chapter and scene at a high level and decide whether any scenes need to be shifted around, or added, or deleted, or whether anything else should be changed at a rough-draft level as I finalize the overall story and its structure.

The completion of this phase will probably take a while. I have already noted that the story is missing several scenes which will need to be written, as well as some existing scenes needing significant changes to make them "work". There are even a few I have tagged as possibly superfluous. I will wait until I've done some of the other revision work before I decide whether to actually delete them.

My goal is to finish this first round of revisions by the end of the year. Maybe I'll be able to get it done more quickly than that, but my work and travel schedule is going to be fairly busy for the next few months, so I'm anticipating not having a lot of time to work on the story. I think my year-end goal is reasonable, but only time will tell.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

5000 Page Views!

Since January of 2012, I have written 162 blog posts, for an average of 7.7 posts per month. Of course, in the past year it's been closer to one post per week, and I don't see that changing any time soon, as my work and life make posting more often than that impractical. I have watched with some satisfaction as daily traffic has begun trending higher. And today, some lucky person made the 5000th page view. Yay!

Welcome one and all, and I hope you're enjoying my little corner of cyberspace. If things continue trending upward, I would not be at all surprised to break past 10,000 page views in the first half of next year. Time will tell, and I suspect so will I.

Look for a more interesting post this weekend, when I have a little more time to think.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

New Story

I needed a break from the Balfrith story, so I decided to play around with a new story idea. Been spending the last couple of weeks on it. To be honest, I sort of fell into the thing, not really planning to put that much time into it, but I've been having fun, so I figured, why not just go wherever it takes me?

Of course, I still need to get back to Balfrith - that story isn't going to revise itself. And having ten unfinished and/or rough-draft novels sitting around on my hard drive isn't going to help me sell even one. So, I'll be getting my priorities straightened out in short order, and getting back to Balfrith immediately thereafter. The other story can wait a bit, and I might even continue playing around with it from time to time, but the main focus will be Balfrith - I promise.