Well. That was a learning experience. I think that’s the best way to put it.
It’s impossible to say anything about Pact without inevitable comparisons to Worm, so I’ll bite that bullet right here and right now. I suppose what I can say is that where Worm was a triumph, in many respects, Pact was a means for me to grow as a writer.
I should start off by saying that I’m immensely grateful to my readers for reading through Pact and offering their feedback and support. Pact came to 948,800 words. We can round that up to 950k words, for the sake of brevity. It took almost half the time to write that Worm did, and came to about half the word count. You guys stuck it out with me, you shared your comments, and I was able to make a living as a writer in the meantime. I appreciate that more than you know.
On its own, to be making a living as a writer, maintaining a wage and a readership, that’s a triumph of sorts. That may be hard to recognize when compared to where I stood when Worm was done, but just about anything is going to pale in comparison to Worm, so maybe that’s unfair.
Why was Pact a learning experience? In part, it was something I needed to do to test waters and see what I was capable of. I know a lot of criticism that gets leveled at the series is because of how nebulous or vague the underlying system is. Magic in Pact is a vague thing, one that can be interpreted, bent, or otherwise misappropriated. There’s a logic behind it all, but it remains what it is. The characters are different, and the story itself takes on a different form, a struggle to catch one’s footing and find a place in the world, which can seem like our protagonist is mired in a situation with no way up or forward.
But being able to write that and see the audience reactions, see my own comfort level, it’s a valuable thing, and something I can carry with me to future writings. I don’t think I want to write something quite so loose in the future. I also got more comfortable with humor and lighter characters, and that’s something I had almost no confidence with at the start of Worm. I felt like I stumbled on certain elements, and exploring simple and juvenile forms of humor in Evan and the goblins was a good thing. I’ve collected a repertoire of things I now know that I want to do or not to do.
Pact taught me some other things, though. See, I want to be a career writer. I’d like to think I have the chops, but the fact of the matter is that I’ve only been doing this for three years and three months. The things I need to learn aren’t all about sentence or narrative construction or characterization. Some are about life.
Where Worm left me feeling like publishing (probably self publishing) was something I eventually had or have to do, I don’t feel that way with Pact. Pact isn’t bad, but it isn’t great, and I feel like the road to making Pact great enough to publish is long and awkward enough that it may not be worth it. It’s hard to say for sure.
Part of the reason for this is that Pact had a shaky start, and that made for a shaky foundation to build the rest on. Just off the end of Worm, I was distracted by real life. It was fairly happy as distractions went, my brother got married. It just so happened to be a marriage that took place a two hour trip from my place into the woods of Quebec. The married couple lived a five hour flight away, and I was close, so stuff fell on my shoulders (and on my mom’s, though she had recently been hospitalized for back problems; another distraction). There was a lot of peripheral stuff to do or get involved with, I was stressed in typical wedding-involved ways and I was interacting with people who were stressed in typical wedding-involved ways, and it made writing hard when it would have been really nice to focus on the story and make it more what I wanted it to be.
The wedding wasn’t the only thing going on, and I maintained my schedule while I moved out of Ottawa and found myself a little bit more elbow room in a smaller town with lower rent. Moving is a bit of a hassle, as it turns out, and moving to a nearby town when you don’t drive is even more so.
I was also trying to figure out a way forward with the editing of Worm, which proves tricky when it is the easiest thing to drop when real life gets hard or irritating. I know from experience that the way I operate best is to work hard one day, rest the next. It was the same when I studied and went to school, it was the same when I worked in the produce depot of grocery stores, and when I did some reno work or house painting. Wedging the editing in there is a tricky thing, and I’ve gradually adopted it, halting as it may be. It’s been a lot easier since I’ve moved, I can say that much.
In the midst of all of the above, I fell back on some old standbys and patterns and didn’t move the story forward, leading one storyline in particular to drag on. I didn’t sell the story as it should’ve been, and as much as my audience might have become frustrated at points, I felt that same frustration myself. In dragging everything to Toronto and sending Blake to the Abyss, there might have been a little bit of a desire on my end to change things up and get some fresh air.
It may never be clearly apparent to readers, but I’ve learned some valuable lessons about time management and balancing different aspects of my life. I’m hopeful that this will be evidenced by my being more consistent, wiser, and mature as a writer, because I intend to write until I physically can’t write anymore, and those are really good things to give evidence to.
All that said, I’m thrilled that the audience came to be as fond of Green Eyes and Evan (or just Evan, in some cases) as I was. It’s gratifying that my readers seemed to voice support for many of the same individual elements of Pact that I enjoyed writing, be it incidents with the goblins, aspects of the Abyss, or some of the better scenes.
I’m rather happy to be here, writing this, and I admit I’m relieved to be putting Pact to rest. It was a good thing, but I’m excited to be moving on. I think, much like Worm, it’s a setting I’ll have to revisit in the future. I’ve left some elements still to be resolved, and both Vista and Alexandria referenced the Maggie Holt series in Worm, so… that’s a possibility. Maybe something shorter and tighter, and in the spirit of the learning experience that Pact proved to be, something where I hold on to only the better things.
As suggested above, Worm’s editing process is underway, though it’s proving about as slow as I anticipated it being. In the interest of giving myself more structure with the editing process, I’m suspicious I may start asking Reddit for arc-by-arc feedback, revisiting the story one arc at a time and raising some of the issues or questions I have in regard to the editing, so stay tuned for that.
Pact was defined by threes. Worm is the past, Pact is the present (for now) and that only leaves the future. Story three.
The site won’t be open to the public until Tuesday, at the usual time. I’m not doing the sample thing, because I’m fairly certain I know what I want to write, and the samples have a way of breaking hearts one way or another. On a similar note, I’d rather avoid dropping any hints about genre or anything else, because many will hear ‘sci-fi’ or ‘fantasy’ and they go in with preconceived notions and expectations.
To find out what niche it fits in, you’ll have to check it out. With that in mind, and on that note, I hope to see you guys for serial number three.
Thank you, and I really do mean that. You guys are great, and I wouldn’t be where I am without you.
Author’s Note: I’ve decided on the story I’m going ahead with, and need to take some time to set up the site and rewrite the first chapter. There isn’t much use in continuing with samples, so… something else!
I started to write ‘An Über and Leet Christmas’, and it wasn’t fun, funny or Christmassy. It wasn’t enjoyable, even.
So I was left to think about what other things might be of interest… and I consider this idea kind of a penance. It’s penance because it’s awful and it’s embarrassing to put it out there. A lot of it is really awful. But I think it’s interesting to see where things came from. I’m picking out the strongest or most noteworthy story from a given set of years.
Presenting: the (terrible) stuff I wrote in the superhero genre before settling on Worm. Be warned, these stories don’t have endings (Worm was the first thing that did), so they sort of cut off.
There’s actually a lot of words here. Don’t feel you have to read all of them in one sitting – you’ll hurt yourself. For a sense of what other stories were written, and my (off the top of my head) framing for many of them, see this comment and the follow-up comments on Worm, a while back.
A bit of history, and an insight into how things evolve over the course of building a world through multiple stories.
Runechild (2002) – The first superhero story I really wrote, back in 2002. After the bit I posted, it went onto a tangent with Faultline and never got back on track with a main story.
I personally find it interesting to note the elements that are present. Narwhal, contrary to what I remembered, was the first canon character who was introduced and who stayed with the setting. Runechild, the protagonist, was supposed to be a novice Doctor Strange, but wound up being a telekinetic with a few gimmicks. There was more at play with the ‘is it magic or something else?’ question. In the end, she was the only real character I wrote who didn’t really make it into Worm in one form or another. I would return to it once or twice (the second story featuring her helping Dragon vs. the Dragonslayers, to help circumvent the AI limitations) before deciding that magic didn’t work, and that Ottawa was a crappy place to set a superhero story.
TELUTT (2004) – AKA, ‘the events leading up to that Thursday’.
Not the first draft of TELUTT, the story switched between Faultline, the Triumvirate and Guts & Glory. It was an attempt at tying everything in together. I like that there’s one scene in there (At the end) that was pretty much copied exactly and inserted into Worm, even though I haven’t opened these documents in a long, long time. The nature of Faultline’s meeting with her ‘crew’ is essentially what happened in canon. That said, wow, are my protagonists a pain in the ass to read this early on (arrogant/annoying). At this juncture, I was still figuring out a way to make powers interesting. I was bored with many of them, and I was lapsing into some of the ‘standby’ powers, like tinkers without anything interesting to them.
Guts & Glory (2006ish) – Panacea and Glory Girl. This could count as canon, almost.
Some names have changed since. I recall that Amy would have been Annie if I hadn’t changed my mind a few minutes before Interlude 2 went live, in Worm. The nature of the story would have involved a stronger relationship between Amy/Annie and Brett/Gallant, her finding her way, and ultimately led up to her incarceration. It was too dark, though, and there wasn’t anything to salvage it. All those people who talked about what would happen if Amy had gone to the wrong prison? The other drafts (which are unfortunately handwritten) went into that, and it was ugly, with her basically going full-on Class-S threat.
The Travelers (2007ish) – See the Migration arc.
Basically any drafts I linked would be worse versions of Worm’s arc 17. I wrote them for a while after a friend suggested I was too fond of the ‘crummy powers being used well’ trope.
Circus vs. Elite (2008ish) – Circus was a character I wrote for a while, but she doesn’t feel like she has a lot of personality, looking back.
Hey, Bitch is there, in her first incarnation! And a variant on Bonesaw (who made it into every elite team before settling in the Slaughterhouse Nine)! Chuckles features in a fight as well. This was around the time that I started to conceptualize what I was looking for in a protagonist. I started to write Grue as a protagonist for a short bit before I finally stumbled on Taylor’s character.
Myriad (2010) – Worm, second or third draft.
Oh, man, did I ever write a lot of drafts of Worm, covering a lot of bases. Oh man, do they not feel right, rereading them. This is going to feel really redundant, but hey. I’ve alluded to this before, but I started off trying to emulate other serials, and I was writing too little (600-900 word entries), and it really hurts the flow. I was still finding a voice and an identity for characters at this point. Eight or nine drafts followed this over the months, as I searched for those voices, tried to figure out where to start my story, and struggled to find my stride. Then I started Worm.
Note: I went ahead and started Pact. Click the link to visit the next story.
Fade to black. Roll credits.
Alright, that sounds pretty damn pretentious. But Worm is over. It’s been in motion for two and a half years, two updates a week. Readers have joined, hopping on from forums, wiki-walking their way in from TV tropes, getting recommendations from other authors. For most, for many, reading Worm became something of a routine. As serials go, there’s been a lot of material released at a fast pace.
For me, well, I’m a little spooked at the idea of what happens when you’re at the helm of something like this and it stops.
This isn’t about me, though. There’s room for talking about that later. It’s about you, the reader, and the continuation of the reading experience, and it’s about Worm, and the continuation of that.
The Reading Experience
The Tuesday-Sat Schedule continues. I went into this in the FAQ, but not many read that, and the plan has changed just a smidge.
For the coming few weeks, I’ll be previewing the works I’m thinking about writing. I listed a wad in Worm’s FAQ, and I’ve pared down the list to the ones I feel most confident about. Keeping in mind these are placeholder titles, the stories are:
Body Boil (Biopunk)
Pact (Horror/Modern Supernatural)
With 1-3 chapters previewed of each (I’m aiming for 2, but will go for 3 if pacing demands it, and will stop at 1 if the reaction is negative enough), I can expect to wrap up around the New Year. If it’s required, I’ll take an update day to get the site for the new story set up. For the most part, however, I want to keep to my schedule (acknowledging the family difficulties that make writing hardest around Christmas). It’s just how I function best.
Stories will be previewed here, to keep Worm sacrosanct and unpolluted. The next story will be set up on a different site altogether, once it gets underway.
Pay attention to this blog to see the previews.
So let me start out by saying I have no idea what happens in the coming few weeks. This is subject to change. This is a beast of a thing, really, considering Worm is ~22 conventional books in length and the degree of support/involvement from outside parties can really determine how this might go.
To put it succinctly, there are a few hurdles here.
Editing is the big one. I’ve never done anything like this, so I hesitate to make promises. This is all estimation.
I’m estimating that Worm will take two and a half years to edit. That’s perhaps a little conservative. I know how much free time I have, I know I want to keep writing instead of stopping to go back and fix stuff up (people who’ve read about why I started serializing in the first place may understand this), and I know from being in a writer’s circle roughly how long editing takes me. I did editing for the first third of a circle-member’s book, and it’s surprising just how difficult it can be. I’m a fast reader and a prolific writer, but editing is a different beast altogether.
Two years and six months, but that will change depending on the amount of free time I have. I don’t want this to sound manipulative or greedy, because I don’t think I am manipulative or greedy like that… I’m more interested in putting all of the cards on the table; the amount of donations I have received and will receive will affect how long it takes to get a published version of Worm out there, because it makes the difference in my being able to write and my having to go find/do work in another job (and consequently having less days to write).
The estimate presumes I can find roughly two days a week to go over old material, to read comments and refresh myself on what people thought, find typos I missed, restructure and rewrite. I would be aiming for roughly an arc a month. That’s on top of 2-3 days a week spent on the actual writing.
There are three major areas where I feel like I want to rewrite and restructure in a major way, and there are a few underlying problems I want to fix.
- The Timeskip – I’m thinking I’ll rewrite it wholesale. Events will remain the same, but Taylor’s story really demands more focus on this point in time. The fundamental problem with the story arc was that we jumped ahead 1.5 years and it was rushed. It was jarring due to the switch from a day-to-day focus to skipping months and weeks over the course of six or so chapters. I’m thinking I’ll break it up into two new arcs. One would likely consist of interludes (many of the same events of Taylor’s story, from the perspective of her teammates/superiors), to help the timeskip segue. More involvement with her new team, and more focus on her and her changes (or lack of change). This would mandate some time being set aside to put the new chapters together.
- The Beginning – I was a different author when I started Worm, with less experience and knowledge. Worm is widely seen as having an ‘ok’ start and a ‘great’ middle (and end? Feedback is mixed on that). I want to pick up the pace and address some of the issues people have had where they got turned off very early on.
- The Bumps – Writing a serial, you have good days and bad. A few bad days in a row, and you get a piece of the story that you look back on and you cringe. I won’t get too into this here, but there are chapters people have grumbled about, ones they didn’t think were as good as they could’ve been. I’m hoping to redo these things.
- Outside of the topic of individual chapters/arcs that didn’t ‘take’, I’m hoping to reconcile the tempo of the story. Too much happens in too short a span of time, and I’d like to make it so that the story covers a wider span of time without breaking up the events or the tension. If that makes the story a bit longer, maybe I can cut out redundant stuff to compensate. If it allows for just a bit more time focused on Taylor’s time in Brockton Bay, just before she leaves, then that isn’t bad either – I’d like to explore that just a little bit more.
There’s a lot to do. Worm is first-draft stuff, and thinking I can get away with only a second draft may be reckless. I’d rather do it right than do it fast.
If there’s interest, I’d be open to play-by-plays; using this blog, perhaps, to reopen discussion on a particular arc, revisit it with fans and discuss the weak points and strong points, so I don’t lose sight of the core of it. I can’t promise to show off the polished chapters as they go up, but if people want to get involved, I can show snippets to those individuals to get feedback on the rewrites.
Beyond the editing, there are other questions in terms of where to end books (which is sort of editing) and in terms of finances (which isn’t). On the former front, I have ideas, but that’s a tricky thing to hammer out. On the latter, it comes down to reader support, outside parties and possibly kickstarters to get stuff going.
There will, barring exceptional circumstance, be an ebook.
Print books are harder, in the order of tens of thousands of dollars to get stuff going. But I had ten thousand readers at Worm’s peak , roughly, so perhaps that’s doable.
A special limited-edition run is, if enough interest is shown, very possible.
Worm, Follow-up Works
I’m hoping and planning to do a Worm sequel down the road. I can’t say much more than that. I want to take a break from it, so the original Worm can have an end, and so the sequel can have a beginning. Too close together, and they start to blend into one another.
That said, it’s very possible that I could offer bonus material, side stories and chapters, depending on what happens with the next book(s) I write. Feedback matters, here.
I can’t say much more than that at this point, because that’s about all I know.
Staying in Touch
With that, we’ve pretty much covered the bases. Maybe you won’t like the genre or focus of the next work. Maybe you were dissatisfied at the end, and you were just holding out until the last chapter to be able to say you finished it. Hopefully that isn’t the case.
I’m spooked at the idea that some of my readers are going to walk away, and my next story won’t have quite the same number. I accept it, though, and I can only do my best and hope that I keep getting support and recommendations. Thank you, to my critics and fans alike, for sticking with the story this far.
If you do want to keep following along, then that starts with checking out the sample chapters. Thank you, and I look forward to seeing you in the comment section.
If you don’t aim to keep following my work, but you remain interested in what happens with Worm, note the subject line below and email me at Wildbowpig [at] gmail [dot] com, filling in the symbol & punctuation mark appropriately. (I have to write it that way to help confuse the bots that trawl WordPress for emails to spam).
Include the subject line ‘WormSequelNews’ (all one word) if you want to be notified when things are underway with the sequel.
Include the subject line ‘WormPublishNews’ (all one word) if you want to be emailed when the ebook/print books are out, for kickstarters or anything of the sort.
Include the subject line ‘WormNews’ (again, one word) for both.
I’ll also have any news and updates on this blog and in the comments of my new stories.
End of an era, it feels like.
I can’t think of a graceful way to wrap this up, so let me say thank you. Thank you for your support. Thank you for reading. I never could’ve done this without you.
This chapter is also a milestone on a metafictional level. […] Wildbow, you mention that the average length of a chapter is around 1800-2800 words. Compare that to Interlude 24, which is many times the length. It’s also, I think, better quality. You also talk a lot less about your writing process now than you did here. It seems like putting out content is less of an ordeal now, or at least more mundane.
I don’t know how often you reflect on how far you’ve progressed as a writer, but, if I may be so bold, now might be a good time to take a moment.
The length of a Worm chapter, as of the time of this writing, ranges from 6k to 10k words. For comparison, a shortish (240 page) novel is about 60,000 words. At 2.6 chapters a week, I’m just about writing a book every month. A monthly NaNoWriMo, for those familiar with the event.
When I started, I was looking at the other web serials out there, I checked the average word count and then tried to fit myself to it. I was probably doing myself more harm than good. To fit those wordcounts, I had to force the cliffhangers, I had to twist my own arm to make the chapter end at the ‘appropriate’ times.
Having longer chapters takes time, but it also gives me elbow room for plot twists, characterization, themes and atmosphere. It’s less confining. Some of that stuff comes much more naturally to me now than it did. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easier to get chapters done now, but I’m a hell of a lot happier with what I’m producing, and a hell of a lot happier with where I’m at as a whole.
The key thing at the heart of that? The underlying paradigm has changed.
Here’s the thing – in December 2011, I was in school. Still in school, I should say. I was pretty miserable, to put it lightly. I had zero idea where I wanted to go in life, I hadn’t found the passion that my dad (founder of a small business), mom (speech and listening therapist) and brother (human rights advocate, now aspiring lawyer and a father/homeowner) have found. It’s a hard thing, to be surrounded by people who want me to have what they have, and I’d been looking fruitlessly for years, trying different courses for years in hopes of finding that one vocation that spoke to me. I’d found what interested me (Applied Language and Discourse Studies), but I couldn’t even conceive myself working a nine-to-five at any particular job, whether it was in that field or otherwise.
My writing, at that point, was little more than an experiment. Worm was a way to break a bad habit in my writing, where I’d keep going back to revise something until I burned out on it. The idea was for the serial/blog format to keep me moving forward, my expectation was for a small audience, 15-20 comments on a chapter was a good day. At the time, I was only getting about 200 daily views on average, a far cry from where I am now:
My goal, then, was a simple one. I thought maybe I’d work a dead-end job I was miserable at, and maybe I’d have the time to do the things I enjoyed on the side. It meant I’d work full time at being a filing clerk or janitor or stockboy or housepainter, and then go home to play video games and write. Except I wasn’t even there, because finding a job was proving fruitless.
But I had a talk with my dad on New Years. A great talk. He’s often raised the idea of finding the kind of career in something you’d be doing for free anyways. That night, we talked about it from a different angle. What would I get paid for, if I could get paid to do something I enjoy?
“Writing,” I eventually answered.
My follow-up protest, then, was about the fact that the bar was set so high. Only 1% of people who write books really ‘make it’. It’s very similar for artists, for actors, for musicians.
He asked me, if I’m recalling correctly, “So?”
It was a good talk, covering that and a lot of other points, including school. It wasn’t the easiest talk, probably not for either of us, but it meant the world to me. Still does.
And the end result was that I threw myself into the writing. Once I got my feet under me, I steadily raised my expectations for myself, started paying more attention to the core of the story, reading about writing, and more.
I started to write as though I already had that full-time job as a writer.
A few months after that discussion with my dad, I set a minimum of 4k words for my chapters. I also set up the donation meter, which has been my primary source of income.
My fundamental beliefs haven’t changed, as far as writing. I still like being surprised by the work. To have that moment in the midst of writing a sentence where you get an idea you’d never have had if your fingers weren’t at the keyboard, pen on the page. A character concept, a turn of phrase, a brilliant maneuver. Approaching the end, I know what happens, but I don’t know how the protagonist will get out of it.
If anything’s changed, really, it’s my focus as a writer, my expectations of myself.
I note, in the comments of Hive 5.10, that I was considering a vanity publisher like Lulu.com. I realized vanity publishers were something of a rip-off. A little while after that, I thought about a small publisher like 1889 labs instead. Good guys, they did Jim Zoeteway’s Legion of Nothing book(s).
Except now I’m thinking more about going a harder road, with higher expectations. I’m aware that Captive Prince, another popular and well reviewed serial, was approached and acquired by Penguin Books, and have wondered if there are publishers lurking in the wings and waiting for Worm to conclude before they decide if they want to do the same. A reader (who has sponsored a short story anthology before) has talked about donating the money needed for a print run of the series.
Will I stake my hopes and dreams on those possibilities? No. Would I snap up those deals in a heartbeat? Even then, probably not. I’d have to give it some thought, and be very careful.
It’d be nice, though.
The thing is, I’m confident enough that I think I could manage on my own, that I might get something off the ground with the money I’ve earned from donations (even if it means postponing moving to a quieter, more comfortable spot), even try a kickstarter (or, more likely, a series of kickstarters) to make the print run happen. It’s expensive, even mind boggling, but the confidence is there.
That’s the big stuff. Spooky stuff in terms of scope and all that.
Setting expectations lower, maybe I just end up releasing an ebook and it barely sells, but I can continue writing and hopefully drawing in enough donations to keep writing.
On a simpler level, I’m clearing my schedule two or three times a week, sitting down for 12-14 hour days and plugging away at a keyboard to produce a series of chapters that are 6-10k words long. There’s ups and downs, I have good days and bad, some chapters need revising, but I’m slowly inching towards that end goal – to make a (very) modest living off the writing alone.
I think I’m already at a point above the average self-published author. The average earning for an author on a 60-130k word book is about $500. Yes. I’m writing about 50k words every month, and I’m making more than that. My readers make that possible, and I’m insanely, incredibly grateful. I hope I never lose that gratitude, lose sight of the fact that my readers make it possible. Just the other day, someone who’d posted in a forum to recommend Worm to people (drawing in 20+ people to check out the story) was thanking me for poking my head in to comment and answer questions.
It’s like, are you crazy? I owe you guys.
That confidence, as anyone who chats with me in the minutes before a chapter goes live knows, isn’t universal. I’ve lost objectivity, over time. It’s harder to gauge the quality of my own work or the audience expectation, now. The work is bigger, the range of opinions broader, the material is rooted in more previous stuff. Every arc, it seems, I get a small handful of readers who decide that that chapter with dialogue is the straw that broke the camel’s back in a story they view as having too much dialogue. That chapter is just too much action when the story should be moving forward. Most often, that chapter is the breaking point in terms of the story and the setting getting too dark. They announce their dissatisfaction and walk away.
Maybe the story got just a little too long for its own good. A smaller work, it ends before people reach their limit in any department. I like that Worm sprawls. But long works have their issues, like a protagonist that looks like she has plot armor, because the fact that she’s alive when she’s faced so many difficulties strains belief, just a little.
Logically? I know I’ve built something, and it would take something more dramatic to destroy it. But I spent a long, long time with very little confidence in myself, and I can’t help but feel that I’m sitting on a soap bubble. Is this chapter the one that has my audience realize I’m nothing special? Is this where my audience disappears on me?
So I sort of bite my nails, in a way, any time a chapter goes live. Every word of praise, every review and donation and mention on another site rebuilds that confidence I’ve so masterfully reduced to shreds in the 45 minutes between the point I finish proofreading and the point the readers first comment.
A running theme in Worm is that the sheer power that superpowers bring to the world has made the brights brighter and the darks darker. I kind of feel like that, now. Big scale or small, and it’s only going to get more dramatic: I’m on the precipice of entering the story’s conclusion, with chapters I’ve been nervous about releasing since 2011. There’s a billion loose ends to tie up, and it’s daunting, as I’m on the precipice of finishing Worm and seeing if the story passes muster. That’s without even touching on the subject of starting the next series and facing all of the doubts and concerns and more that come with releasing a new chapter, magnified a thousand times over.
The peaks are higher, the valleys lower, the lights are brighter, the shadows deeper. I’m terrified and excited and hopeful and pessimistic all at once. But I feel alive, and this little experiment/troubleshooting exercise has become something I’m definitely passionate about.
A post of mine from Reddit just got showcased on Shutupandwrite.net. Nothing too major.
I doubt there’s any new information for my followers in there – much of it’s fairly intuitive. It’s just me talking about the serial genre, introducing it to authors looking to get some motivation. Serial writing, as I say in the latter half of the post, was what broke me out of a ten year writer’s block (though I’ve since come to see it as an issue with my process than a true block).
Also, I submitted a tidbit to Epiguide, who’re doing a podcast on web serials. It’s not much (a recap), but there’s a bit of a preview for what’s coming down the road, depending on what they decide to use. They’re recording this weekend, editing over the following week, and expect to release something on the 10th or 11th.
Edit: Link here.
No idea where to begin, so I’m going to jump in the deep end here.
Cause and effect. Action, reaction. It’s something I’ve seen discussed in some depth in a number of visual mediums, but less so with prose.
An action prompts an equal and opposite reaction.
A dissonance in that simple, central dynamic can be either a powerful tool or a horrific flaw in the writing.
Let’s talk about the issues first. Without getting into too much detail (which would be a breach of implied confidentiality) something came up recently in a work I was critiquing. I went over a chapter, where a character was assaulted in the street, mugged, their possessions scattered on the ground. The character was hurt, abused and humiliated, but bystanders didn’t step forward to help them. In the wake of the event, the character argued with someone, collected their scattered belongings and made their way to the nearest phone, where they explained that they were mugged.
The cause and effect don’t line up. Being mugged, fearing for one’s life, being injured, there should be a degree of shock, but cogent arguments and an explanation of what happened hint at a fairly firm mental footing, where the character would be justified in being mentally and emotionally off-kilter. This was a character that had probably never been in a real fight, facing an assault that was unexpected and brutal.
Is that kind of reaction always a bad thing? No. Consider the same scenario, but add context. The character might be a veteran or a spy, unruffled by something that’s comparatively minor to the risks to their life they face every day. It could be a powerful device, or a framing for a chapter where the character is abused by bystanders, only to turn around and get revenge in a cold, calculating way.
One shouldn’t forget that the action can (or should!) prompt both a mental and physical reaction.
The flip side of the issue is something that came up in a piece of fanfiction that was sent my way for me to check over. Based on my ‘Worm’ web novel series, it included a famous, respected and feared character within the setting crossing paths with the protagonist. The protagonist runs, manages to slip away briefly, then gets cornered. My complaint was simple – for someone held to this degree of esteem, powerful in every sense of the word, it didn’t fit.
A ‘how to draw comics’ book I read as a teenager covered this issue in a very simple way. You depict one character punching another. Assuming they’re ordinary people, a simple punch generates an appropriate reaction; the person on the receiving end staggers, his face contorting in pain, arms spreading out for balance. If the one delivering the punch is particularly strong, the reaction is out of sync with the blow delivered: the puncher doesn’t even adopt a particular stance, they thrust out one fist, their back straight, eyes not even focused on their target, and the reaction is the same, with the stagger, a face contorted in pain, arms spreading out for balance. Scale up the strength of the attacker to an extreme, and you have someone flicking their finger at a subject, only to generate a geyser of blood, shattered bone and muscle.
The flip side is equally true. A punch, with the puncher in a typical fighting stance, their body drawn in such a way as to show the flow of the movement, the sheer force behind the swing, and the punchee flinches, but doesn’t show pain, doesn’t lose their balance. At the extreme end, you have the weapon hitting harder and the punchee not even blinking. An early scene in Superman Returns film employs this technique, with Superman taking a bullet to the ball of his eye and not even reacting.
In prose, the visual impact is lost, but there’s still room to employ the technique. Maybe more room, in a sense.
People with power can generate the same big effects with small actions, and it’s not limited to beating people up. As a flick of a finger from a person of incredible physical power might do devastating damage, a single word from a person with political power could crush a kingdom. A person with social power could ostracise or doom someone with a gesture or body language. A person with skill can achieve more with less effort. This applies on a number of levels.
Imagine the effect when a person entering a room is enough to quiet arguments, to cow the more bullheaded and stubborn people present, and take the fight out of his or her potential opponents. Simply by being there, they express their innate power.
The inherent power of the character can also be expressed through the medium of the work. For those who don’t know, I studied Applied Language and Discourse in university. I love the moments when I can talk about how the author interacts with the work (the process of writing) or the audience (the cues in the writing that communicate something to the audience without spelling it out in the text), and how the work interacts with the audience in indirect ways. I could go on about this for days, but I’ll throw out one example instead: imagine if, instead of the simple appearance of a character simply bringing conversation and interaction in a room to a screeching halt, their arrival end the chapter?
Or the entire story arc?
Action: making an appearance. Reaction: the entire story stops, for however long it takes the reader to turn the next (or next few) pages.
One has to keep in mind that this implication of power is a fragile thing. The moment the joke character Squirrel Girl gets the better of Thanos, the big bad of the setting, Thanos’ carefully constructed aura of power is shattered. The illusion is broken, the spell ended.
If this happens too often, you get what TV Tropes calls the Worf Effect. In Star Trek:TNG, Commander Worf was depicted as a big, strong Klingon, a crew member on board the Enterprise. But when the time comes for someone to show off their sheer strength, it’s invariably by beating up Worf (typically throwing him ten feet, whereupon he collapses to the ground, unconscious). The idea is an expression of what I described above. If you hit the toughest person in the room once and he’s out cold, you must be strong!
But poor Worf’s durability and toughness are simultaneously worn down by this repeated abuse.
And such was my problem with the fanfiction I mentioned above. Every little thing counts when you’re building that aura of power. The established powerhouse comes across as just a little less stoic if they’re wounded by the new character’s rapier wit, a little less durable if they reel from a blow, a little stupider if the new character successfully eludes them, if even for a while.
In brief: keep in mind that anything that can be used to build an atmosphere of power simultaneously does the opposite when reversed.