A harsh reality. The cost of victory

This is it.  The final chapter of the teaser is now online!  This rounds out the Fortune Town arc, and sadly, the portion of The Golden Thread that I will be posting online.  I hope you enjoyed this brief teaser of what the final book has to offer.

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I had always planned to do the final piece of art, but I hadn’t settled on a style until just last week.  Rather than just go with a regular inline art though, I wanted to do something a little special – so I came up with this movie poster-ish idea.  Who is this mechanical monstrosity?  Well, that’s something you’ll find out when the final book is published…

Even though this is the end of the teaser, make no mistake there is still 2/3 of a finished book and an entire series in the works.  This was a great experiment for me, and so now I go back to do some edits and start sending it off to publishers again.  The final version may change a bit from the one that’s on here now, but now you can say you were a part of that process!

Wish me luck!

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Chapter 7 – The Power unleashed! Lightning Strikes Thrice

Well this is it – the big climax.  This is the moment the teaser has been building to.  What’s going to happen when Noal unleashes the full might of The Power?  Find out now!

I’d also like to give a special thanks to this week’s artist, Henry She.  His depiction of Cil and, well I won’t give anything away but suffice to say her “helper” for now, is beautiful.  This project was actually what gave me the opportunity to talk with Henry again, and I really urge you to check out his work.

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Sadly, there’s only one chapter left in the teaser.  That won’t be the end of the news though!  This experiment has gotten me some really great insight into what people like and don’t like, so expect changes coming soon.  I’m also working on some teaser art for the entire book itself, so stay tuned to Twitter and Facebook for those updates!

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Chapter 6 – Enter Uwei. The test of wills!

I can’t believe I almost totally spaced out on updating the blog post!  Well, for those who hadn’t noticed yet, chapter 6 is now up so why don’t you give it a read?  We’re only two chapters away from the end of the teaser!  So sad (at least until I find a publisher)!

Here’s my little art piece for this week.  I’m not the best artist, but I’m happy with how it turned out.  Notice the hands at the top of the Providence Eye, reaching for his upper arm.  Imagine what they’ll do when Noal releases the top portion of that brace.

Oops, I’ve said too much.  X D

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The story of story – According to Pixar

Well this is it; we’re nearing the end of the teaser!  Only three chapters left in the Fortune Town story arc, and it all begins next week!  Incidentally, the next two chapters were my absolute favorites to write of this entire arc.  I think you’ll find they’re full of twists and turns, and will really start to push the Fate concept in exciting new directions.  They’re just one short week away, so make sure you’re caught up!

I recently had the incredible fortune of attending a two-day class held by Pixar about story and animation.  The story presenter, Matthew Luhn, was especially interesting with regards to Threads of Fate.  Now unfortunately, both presenters asked that I not blog about the details of the class as a.) it contains much proprietary information and b.) they want to keep running the class and that won’t happen if the attendees essentially “pirate” the information out.  That being said, there were a couple of common knowledge concepts that he went over from a fresh perspective that I think would be okay to blog about.  Today, let’s take a look at the elements of a good story and in a couple of weeks we’ll look at story “beats.”

We all learned about the classic structure of a story in school.  You have the introduction/exposition, rising action, climax, and falling action/resolution.  But what do these really mean?  Is the exposition really as simple as establishing the story takes place in a school, or the main character’s hair is brown?  I think we can all agree that these details, while sometimes interesting, aren’t really the most important part of your setup.  What you really want to do is setup the character’s deeper details.  What does his everyday life consist of?  What is it that he longs for?  One of the most meaningful things I took away from the lecture was the notion that all our lives are made up of little routines and cycles.  There’s birth -> life -> death, morning -> afternoon -> night, work -> weekend, etc.  By establishing a character’s own “every day,” you immediately make them relatable to the reader.

This isn’t to say your character has to have a mundane “every day,” like working a job or going to school.  In fact, while I was trying to apply this template to Threads of Fate, I found myself in a sudden panic.  After all, there aren’t many cursed people who go from town to town as their very presence causes cities to crumble around them right?  But then I realized, that in itself is Noal’s routine, almost like the way certain kids have to jump from state-to-state as they follow their working parents around.  When I realized that, it was easy to figure out what Noal longed for.  Stability.  He wants the life everyone around him has – in short, to belong.  I think that’s something we can all relate to on some level.

So once you’ve established your character’s every day, the rising action begins with something that disrupts it.  But this too is misleadingly simple.  To simply have an incident that interrupts the main character’s routine and sweeps him off into adventure is too shallow.  There’s no sense of purpose to something like that.  What a good, memorable story really needs is some sort of incident that ruins what the protagonist longs for.  Why is this distinction so important?  It makes the character pro-active – to take action to get what he wants back, instead of just reacting to what happens around him.  In essence, it makes the story go deeper than just the plot.

Now as your rising action builds, the character experiences more and more complications.  The important takeaway from this is that as he deals with them his goals start to change.  Essentially, the “what he longs for” part of the equation begins to morph at a fundamental level.  This is what people mean when they talk about the elusive “character development.”  This continues until a crisis moment, which is a test of everything that character has learned.  Generally, in school we learn that the climax is the point of highest action and intrigue in the story, but in actuality this crisis moment is the most important moment in the entire story.  There could be no physical action at all, but it should be the tensest part of the story.  The climax that happens afterward is really just seeing the results of the decision that the character makes.  It is often at this time that he uses the newfound strength from dealing with the crisis moment to actually overcome the obstacles in his way.

The presenter brought up a great point that the reason so many sequels and trilogies feel lackluster after the first entry is that they’re missing the fundamental, character-driven portion of this arc.  A lot of the time, after the first entry, there is simply nowhere left to go with the character.  The first thing I thought of was actually the Matrix trilogy.  It really explains a lot, and even though these are a lot of the things authors balance subconsciously, I found it immensely helpful to see them written out in a clearly defined system.

Try thinking about where each of these moments is in Threads of Fate.  I can tell you that right now we’re racing towards Noal’s own crisis moment (at least for this arc).  Also, if you’d like to know more about the Pixar Masterclass I attended and about Matthew Luhn in general, check out his personal website.

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Chapter 5 – Making it up on the spot! How to improvise an escape.

Things start to ramp up again in chapter 5 and let me tell you, this was probably the trickiest chapter for me to write of this entire arc (I’m not going to go into the reasons otherwise the magic will be spoiled, but see if you can figure out why).  This train is only going to steam ahead faster and faster as we head for the big finale of our free teaser at the beginning of September!

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Also, let me introduce you to this week’s artist, Tim Wong.  Tim is a veteran 3D animator and runs a very interesting blog called 52Scribbles.  The idea is that he posts a random scribble a week.  It’s a great idea and really keeps the creative juice flowing.  Be sure to check it out!

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The reasons we write

Things were sizzling when we last left them in Chapter 4.  How will they crescendo in Chapter 5?  You’ll only have to wait one more week to find out!

I’ve done a lot of self-reflection lately, possibly a by-product of being trapped in the hospital for three days with no food or water (that’s right, I said hospital, not prison), on the reasons for writing.  As I wrote in the mission statement on the front page of this site, my own reason for writing is that I dream of a day when I can see Threads of Fate on bookshelves, in the hands of young adults, and maybe even on the big screen.

In the course of trying to get my book to as many readers’ eyes as possible, I have signed up for various writer social networks.  Think of these as Facebook for writers; places where you can share your work amongst like-minded people and get feedback from them.  Like the different social networks, each of these is subtly different.  The three main ones I work from are Writers Cafe, Author’s Den, and Book Country.

Of the three, I find myself most often on Writers Cafe (under TOF_Matt), which is the most active and most Facebook-ish of all.  Writers Cafe definitely skews to the younger side; the base user group appears to be mostly teenagers (good for me since Threads of Fate is positioned as a YA novel).  The community is immensely supportive, but I always found it so conspicuous the way so many of the users say things like “please ignore the grammar,” or give one sentence “reviews” that just say “great job” or “I loved this,” even in cases where they’re reviewing something that is obviously very raw (even by strictly objective standards – misplaced modifiers, high repetition, passive voice, etc).  At first I found it maddening the way many of the writers/reviewers seemed to completely ignore the fundamental “rules” of good writing.  Then it dawned on me that many of these writers are simply inexperienced.  Many of them probably haven’t even heard of these “rules” before, let alone put them into practice.  They haven’t had the education or experience necessary to build those skills yet.

That got me wondering about their reason for writing.  For me, writing has always been about the grandiose: aim big, write about sprawling lands, adventurous characters, twisting plot lines.  I always thought the greatest joy in writing came from how skillfully you can balance and interplay these things – how intricately you construct the work.  It’s been a long time since I stopped to consider that writing can just be raw ideas or emotion, spilled onto a page, with little heed nor care for the technical glue to hold it together.  I know this may seem like a back-handed compliment, but it’s not.  For those who are interested in the mechanics, they will naturally learn them in time, but just the ability… no not even the ability, but just the drive… to capture one’s raw thoughts into tangible form and make it public is already something worth respecting.

A month ago I’d put on a sour face upon seeing a one sentence review, or seeing my own “respectful but honest” reviews get down-voted or defensively lambasted by the author for being “too picky.”  Now I try to first consider the reason the author put the work up to begin with.  Maybe all those technical bits like flow and pace are beside the point.  Not everyone writes to sell a book; some people just write to share their thoughts.  In the end, is this any less valid a reason to write?

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Chapter 4 – Nin nin nin! A sneaking mission (appendix be damned!)

Well, my appendix did everything in its power (more on this later) to keep me from posting chapter 4, but it has failed miserably as I have now posted it anyway!  This chapter adds a flavor of espionage to our story, and will formally introduce you to someone you might’ve been wondering about up until now.

Our amazing guest artist for this week is Yukiko Otsu.  I’ve known Yukiko for over ten years now and it’s hard to say I’ve ever met anyone who personifies art the way she does, be it via illustration, arts and crafts, cooking, fashion, you name it.  She’s gone full fantasy in her rendition of chapter 4.  Be sure to check out her blog.

Noal creeps a peculiar individual...

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So yes, I had appendicitis.  It took a day to diagnose and 2 days of waiting to excise from my body.  I wasn’t able to eat or drink for over 80 hours!  Thankfully the operation went off without a hitch and I’m currently at home recuperating (and eating again!).  There’s definitely some pain, but I’m doing my best not to take the painkillers since they’re just not good for you in general.

Thanks for all the well wishes!

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Planning your story

Chapter 4 is only a week away, so I hope you’re all caught up!  We have another fantastic guest artist lending a hand with this chapter too, so be sure to check back on Tuesday!

One of the questions I get asked the most about writing a book is whether or not I have it all planned out ahead of time.  The answer is a very emphatic YES.  Now, just to make sure things are clear, The Golden Thread is a finished work, but even when it wasn’t I had it all outlined before I started writing.  I know there are some authors out there who fly by the seat of their pants (if memory serves, J.R.R. Tolkien is a pretty famous example), but I can’t imagine doing that.  Even thinking about writing a book that way makes my head spin.

Writing fiction is very much a trial in multitasking.  You have characters to flesh out, a plot to advance, events to unfold, and a theme or moral to tell.  Add to this the pragmatics of writing, such as flow and pacing and you have an absolute mess of things to keep track of.  An outline (mine takes the form of a bullet point list) will help you see problems before they pop up.

For example, you may have some amazing ideas for action scenes all over your book.  However, in an outline, you may realize they’re too close together, or that they’re too similar either in style or purpose.  The human brain is a funny thing; no matter how amazing and dynamic your action scenes may be, a story of nothing but action will STILL be boring for a reader.  So an outline can help you see your rises and falls at a macro level.  The same applies for characters and plot.  You always want to advance them just enough to keep the reader reading, sort of like breadcrumbs, rather than just waiting a long time and then dumping info on them.

Outlines are also very helpful in avoiding something I like to call “narrative paradoxes.”  Imagine you need a character A, to perform an action B, with a motivation C.  A narrative paradox is when motivation C is directly related to some knowledge-gained or consequence of action B.  Basically, it’s like saying “I want to do this thing, but I won’t know why until I’ve already done it.”  It’s shocking just how often this can happen (I counted at least 8-9 times while writing The Golden Thread), and the real kicker is that a lot of the time you don’t even realize you’ve done it since there can be any number of events between B and C.  Maybe character A doesn’t get motivation C directly from event B, but instead from event D which in itself is derived from event B.  Already confusing, am I right?

Authors who don’t catch this problem as it develops suddenly end up with characters doing things for no reason, or weird logical paradoxes which they then have to fix with some sloppy logic, both of which really hurt the believability of your story.  With an outline, you can spot these problems before they happen.

So in short, I fully endorse the use of outlines to plan out your stories.  They’re invaluable not only for managing your flow, but also finding your trouble spots.

Until next time!

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Chapter 3 – The science of Fate. What the text books don’t know.

Well, after the blistering pace of chapters 1 and 2 we finally get a chance to breathe a bit as we shift gears in chapter 3.  Don’t take that to mean “boring” though, particularly for those of you who want to know more about the whole Fate concept.  This chapter is the first time you get a really clear, succinct explanation of just what the heck Fate is…

Ah yes, and unfortunately there’s no guest artist this week, so you’ll have to live with my own rendition of Captain Uwei Dalamasacus and his right-hand man, Lieutenant Bloc.  What role will they play in the story?  You’ll have to read to find out!

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And not to worry!  I’ve got a full slate of awesome guest artists lined up for the next three chapters!  Who will be lending a hand?  Stay tuned…

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The story of publishing

First thing’s first, let’s get a closer look at Ben’s beautiful chapter 2 artwork.

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How fantastic is that?  I particularly like how dynamic the poses are and the “unraveling” of Noal’s brace.  The characters are recognizable, but with Ben’s own twist and style oozing out of them.  A fantastic piece, and just the first of a number of chapter pieces to come!  For those who may have missed the last few posts, Ben is a professional artist who works for Bioware.  His professional history includes titles like Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age II.  As you can see, he’s been around.

Today I wanted to very briefly touch on the subject of publishing, which kind of explains the existence of this whole site.  There is a general belief around non-writers, and even among some writers as well, that publishing is a foregone conclusion.  You write a book, you show it to a publisher, and they publish it as easily as you would go into Staples and get a print made.

Unfortunately this is not the case.

Publishing is much more akin to an actor getting discovered.  You must audition for publishers.  Your book competes with thousands of other books vying for the publisher’s attention.  You spend sleepless nights refining your craft, writing your letters, and getting the word out.  In some cases you get lucky and just the right person at just the right publisher takes a chance on you.  More often than not, you languish in a pile of form letters that read “Dear <insert name here>.  We thank you for your interest in us, but we just feel your work isn’t right for our firm.  Sincerely, <insert publisher here>.” After enough of these, you may get discouraged and wonder what’s wrong with your writing.  Other times you get mad and decide “they just don’t get it,” or “my writing just isn’t commercial.”

As sour as I, or anyone else is about this state of affairs, the unfortunate truth is that publishing is a business.  Publishers are only human; they only have a limited staff with limited hours and limited budgets.  In most cases they simply don’t have the time to look at your actual book if your query letter (akin to a cover letter for a job application) doesn’t immediately grab their interest.

But make no mistake, these people are professionals.  They know what they’re doing, because in a lot of cases they’ve been through it themselves.  As upsetting as it can be to be brushed off, I learned that getting depressed or getting mad is not a useful response.  You can build a world of lies around yourself to protect your ego, or you can let your ego go and use that energy in the real world to make something happen for yourself.  This is what I did last year.  I sought some opinions, took criticism and used it to improve.  Writing is a craft and to know you are doing it right you should face some hard decisions.  Now I’m using that energy to build and maintain this site, to show the publishers that this is an idea worth supporting.

And if you’re reading this, that means you already are supporting Threads of Fate, and for that I’m eternally grateful.

Chapter 3 is just a week away!

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