After roughly a year and a four months, I’ve finished drafting Grim Curio! I climbed the largest mountain on the road to publishing my next work, and I feel thrilled. This is easily my most ambitious project yet, and I’m really proud of it so far.
There’s still a lot of work ahead, but you’ve got to take time to celebrate every accomplishment or you’ll get burned out in this game. I’m celebrating by taking a couple of weeks off writing and playing God of War or something. I’ll probably get antsy before the break is up and start writing again, but that’s the plan anyway.
In its current state, Grim Curio clocks in at 112,000 words. It has 3 parts consisting of 29 chapters. If I were to print it, double spaced sized 12 font, it would be 436 pages.
The first and last 5 chapters easily took up the bulk of the writing time. Beginnings and endings are hard, but beginnings have the advantage of fresh enthusiasm. There were several rewrites of the first 10 chapters before I got the feeling right, and one major revision midway through.
Now I’m going to put Grim Curio aside for a couple of months to let it rest. Then I’ll come back to it with fresh eyes and tons of notes from my beta readers. In the meantime, I’m already starting work on my next few projects. I’ll talk a bit more about them later, but they involve a t-shirt, another book, and possibly Patreon.
When will Grim Curio be published?
That’s a big question I get asked often. Unlike Discovering Aberration and The Gin Thief, I don’t plan on publishing Grim Curio myself. Instead I’ll query agents, get representation, find a publisher, then go through the traditional process. This process may take a year or two to complete. We’ll see.
In short, I don’t know when it’ll be published.
In the mean time…
I’ve got a lot of work on other projects ahead of me. I’ll continue to keep you posted on all of the comings and goings here, so stop by often. And sign up for my mailing list if you want to be notified when Grim Curio get’s published.
You’ve come up with the perfect idea for a novel. Now it’s time to sit down and write. You open your word processor, type in your working title and name (can’t start without that), go to page one and…. freeze. What now? Do I just write? Where do I start? How do I know where I’m going? I’m using Word, do other writers use Word? And…. and… and…
Who knows, maybe when you started your first novel it was a breeze. You just started typing and it felt right. But if you’re anything like many new writers out there, you might not be aware of the many ways novels get written. And even if you do know, you probably don’t know what works best for you until you discover them and give each a shot.
Over the last fifteen years, I’ve given several writing methodologies a shot. My process is ever evolving as I try to find the balance of several aspects, which we’re about to dive into.
In this blog post we’ll answer the following questions
How can I plan my novel without getting too bogged down in the details?
How can I plan it and still maintain the freedom of free-writing?
How can I create a basic elevator pitch before I’ve even started writing?
How can I plot my novel and ensure my characters have a compelling arc?
How do I make sure each scene feels complete?
What word processor should I use to organize all of this?
This is a medium-depth overview. I’ll expand on each point in future blog posts, but for now this’ll be a great jumping off point if you’re wanting a crash corse in novel-writing.
Last note before we get started: this is my method, and my method is constantly changing as I hone it to suite my needs. Your method may turn out quite different from this. Use this as a jumping off point, and then change it to match your style.
Planning your novel
Gasp! I said ‘plan’. If you’re among those who fear or despise this word, worry not! Read on and you’ll find a most satisfactory compromise. You see, I used to hate planning as much as anyone, I still don’t love it. But I’ve discovered a hybrid method that will work for even the most hardened hater.
Planning vs. Pantsing
For those of you who said, “huh?” to the paragraph above, let’s touch on case of plan v pants for a second.
Planning refers to preparation before writing, often in the form of an outline, sometimes in the form of lore or backstory, etc. You might also see it called plotting or outlining.
Pantsing refers to “writing from the seat of your pants”. It’s also called discovery writing — but really, who uses two words when they could use one. In essence, it’s writing without preparation H… I mean a preparation stage (stupid autocorrect ).
I’m not going to spend too much time exploring planning vs pantsing since it’s already been discussed ad nauseam on every writers blog on the planet. And, frankly, it doesn’t interest me. If you want more a more in-depth study on the subject, google it.
What is interesting to me is why, after years of being a staunch pantser, I’ve become something of a hybrid. So let’s talk about that.
The early years, or writing without a plan
The first three novels I wrote were 100% done without preparation — 2 unpublished, the other is Discovering Aberration which you can get for free in the doobly doo below. It felt great. When others talked about planning, I scoffed. I couldn’t understand how anyone could cage themselves with an outline.
Then came revisions… I found my plots meandered. It lingered on some plot threads long past there due, lacked proper foreshadowing, and the pacing was all over the place. In the end I was forced to do several major rewrites. I mean major. It was a bummer and added at least six months to the writing process.
Attempting to outline
Eventually I attempted a full outline for another project, The Gin Thief, but as I wrote the mid to late sections, everything felt like a guess. It’s hard to account for character reactions before your characters are even written.
When it came to drafting, I found I deviated far from my plan and all that work planning seemed wasted. Furthermore, I felt confined by my own preparation. Turns out, plot ideas may sound great in the outline phase but in practice feel forced. There’s too many unaccounted for variables early on.
So I abandoned the hardline planning approach, and today follow a hybrid method that’s working extremely well for me.
The hybrid approach to planning
Today I’m somewhere in the middle. I plan just enough to give me direction, but not enough to box me in. Let’s dive in to what this process looks like.
Acts in bullet point form
First, I break down my novel into three simple lists of arcs organized by Act. Three’s just a number, you can do five or seven or whatever the hell you want. The three act structure is common and it’s what I find myself gravitating to recently, but Shakespeare wrote in five acts and he’s pretty good.
Below is an example. It’s the three acts of my novel Grim Curio, which I’ve nearly completed writing. Spoilers below, but it wont ruin the book even if you know the vague details.
James and Simon save a village from a strange, alien disease which came from another reality. It doesn’t go well.
Nat joins nihilist cult.
Scientists experiment with the nature of reality.
James and Simon struggle to return home. When they arrive their home is drastically changed.
Scientists open a hole in reality.
Cult attacks scientists.
Revolution has broken out. Simon is caught up in it.
Reality is torn, leaking. James tries to fix it.
All hell breaks loose.
Notice how simple it all is. Just the major beats of the story in a loose arrangement. Best of all, before I’ve even written my novel I can give an elevator pitch. It’s not as refined as it will be later in the process, but having these bullet points gives you ammunition when anyone asks you, “so what’s your book about?”
Here’s an elevator pitch built from the bullet point list above: “Grim Curio is about these guys who save a village from an otherworldly disease and get punished for it. When they return home, everything has changed. Reality is torn, and a revolution is on. And that’s not mentioning the nihilist cult in the middle of it all.”
Fleshing out characters
Now we know the basic arc of our novel. You have a lot of options at this point. If you were a hardcore planner, you might start a flowchart of every scene. If you’re a lore geek, you might start nailing down all of the back story. If you’re a pantser at heart, you might just start writing.
As for me, I’m obsessed with character. I believe characters are why we read books. Everything else is just sugar on top, plot included. So my next step is spending some time getting to know them.
A characters beginning and end
First thing I like to do for all major characters is determine their starting and ending state of mind. This doesn’t need to be overly complicated. Could be, “Jill starts out bad, becomes good,” or “Sam hates dogs, learns dogs are man’s best friend”. That kind of thing.
And then there are characters who don’t change, static characters. There’s nothing wrong with a static character, but you should know before hand if your character is going to be unchanging, and why.
In the case of Simon, from Grim Curio, he starts as a man who believes he understands the world but has little affect on it, and ends as a man who realizes he knows nothing but the masses follow him regardless.
As for James, he’s more static. There are changes, but its much more subtle and internal. James is a man who always needs to be working, being stagnant leads him into depression. He begins believing in himself but even as his successes are marred with terrible consequences. Because of this, he stops believing in himself, continues trying anyway, and finally gets things right.
Creating character arc through sign posts
We now have our major characters beginning and ending state of mind. Time to fill in the rest with sign posts. These are plot points you can aim towards while you’re writing your scenes. If you know that Jaclyn is an asshole who becomes a saint, then each of these sign posts are the moments where small amounts of change occur. By the end of the novel, all of these small moments of change will build up to a big revelation.
If you want more information on this, I recommend reading Creating Character Arcs by K.M. Weiland and watching these two Brandon Sanderson lectures. These resources changed my outlook on crafting character, and I consider them required reading/viewing.
Do I really need to do all this work before I start writing?
HELL NO! You don’t need to do anything you don’t feel like. Jack Kerouac famously wrote On The Road in a single drugged out session, and that’s considered a masterpiece. So go do that if you feel like it. Doesn’t matter how you write it as long as it gets written.
There are zero rules to writing other than you need to put words on paper — or e ink. Don’t let anyone push you around with their rules. Your weird unheard of method may result in a best seller or critical darling. I don’t know, and neither does anybody else.
I don’t even always stick to my own rules. They are there to service me, not the other way around. So I deviate when I feel like it. But I’ve found having these methods in mind greatly helps me, even when I don’t follow them.
Post continues below.
The drafting process
If you’re following along, you’ll have bullet pointed your major arcs, you’ll have created you’re major characters with beginnings and endings in mind, and you’ll have some scenes you can aim towards via character sign posts. Now it’s time to actually write.
If you’re brave, you can start by writing scene one all the way through and then move on to scene two. This is the most straight forward approach. But I’ve found simply drafting an entire scene from scratch is fraught with flaws. It takes too long, has too many uncertainties, requires too much mental gymnastics as I attempt to account for later scenes, and is prone to unexpected bouts of writers block.
But I made a brilliant discovery. Write descriptions of scenes before writing the scenes themselves. I’m pretty sure I didn’t come up with this. It’s been a long time since I read Write. Publish. Repeat. by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant, but as I recall they have a similar method.
Before we talk about that, let’s take a look at our most potent weapon, the word processor
Sorry. This bit sort of comes out of nowhere, but I want to make sure I include it because it’s such a fundamental part of my process these days. Let’s talk about Scrivener for a sec.
Scrivener is a word processor that’s built with novel-writing in mind. You can organize things by act, scene, character, tag, and so much more. Drag and drop whole chapters at a time. It’s well worth the $45, and is by far my tool of choice.
Above is an older version of Scrivener (I need to upgrade to version 3). What you see is Grim Curio broken up by act, and each act broken up by chapter, and each chapter broken up by scene. This is how I write, and I find it invaluable. You’ll see why next.
Creating scene descriptions
Let’s say today is the first day of drafting for my new project. I have my characters in mind with some sign posts to aim for. What I do now is create a new scene file, but rather than start writing a fully fleshed out scene, I write a very short description of the scene I’ll eventually write. My goal is a rough idea of the scene in a couple of paragraphs.
Here’s a contrived example:
James enters the village, and immediately is struck by their strange customs. Everyone is gathered around a great dead tree that’s scorched black. The people are coated in mud and dirt, and as they work they toss more dirt on their skin. Their homes are burrows in the ground.
As James approaches, they notice him and send someone to intercept/question him. He makes some basic mistakes, but recovers a little. They lead him to talk to the village elders, but their conversation is interrupted by screams.
I’m not trying to write well here. I’m just getting a basic idea of how the scene will progress. When that’s done, I create the next scene file and do it again. I’ll do this as far as I possibly can before it feels like I’m forcing it. Usually this is a few chapters worth of scene descriptions.
As I read through the descriptions, using Scrivener I can rearrange them easily if needed. Later I’ll come back, go back to scene 1, and start fleshing it out.
Writing the scene
From here, it’s pretty straight forward. Go through your description and expand. Don’t worry about writing perfect prose. Just get the scene done and feeling pretty good. Then move on to the next scene description and expand that. Do this over and over until you reach the end of your written scene descriptions.
Now that we have a series of drafted scenes, I go through several passthroughs to improve them.
Phases of rewriting
I tend to go through my scenes at least four times. Each time, I focus on a different element of storytelling.
First passthrough I focus on character. I make sure motivations feel legit, make sure dialog feels real, and generally just try to keep each character inline with their personalities.
Second passthrough I focus on descriptions. The best narration engages the senses, so I try to mimic what I consider the best. That means making sure every scene not only has a look, but a feel, a sound, a scent. If a character touches a wall, I want a line about the texture. If they enter a kitchen, I want a line about the scent.
Third passthrough I focus on prose. That’s the words themselves. I like books with good word economy, meaning never using two words where one will do. This doesn’t necessarily mean using big words all the time, but I also don’t shy away from big words if they feel right.
Forth passthrough I just refine and cut. If there’s anything extra that doesn’t service the characters or the plot, I cut it. Even if it’s really good on its own. Doesn’t matter. Cut mercilessly. After all this work, you’re gonna have paragraphs that you labored over that don’t fit right. Don’t be sentimental. Cut the shit out of them.
Bear in mind that four passthroughs is on the low end for me. That’s a straight forward scene without too many complications. The first and last chapters of Grim Curio both had at least 10-15 passthroughs, as well as some all out rewrites. Keep massaging it til it feels right.
Continue this cycle over an over again for about a year, and you’ll have a damn fine novel. When you’ve written up to the end of your scene descriptions, start writing descriptions again and write towards your sign posts. Then expand and refine. And again and again.
That’s it. That’s my process. If you want me to get more granular on any topic, let me know and I’ll make time to do so. If you like this post and want more like it, then please share through your favorite social network. If you want to support my work, buy a novel using a link to the right, or sign up for my mailing list in the doobly doo above. Until next time, I’ll see you around.
Lately I’ve had my heart set on designing a t-shirt. As all my friends in the office can attest, I’ve been bugging the hell out of them over t-shirt logo’s and designs. It’s a weird obsession, I get it, but one I’m gonna see through.
Why create a t-shirt?
For the Beta Readers
Over the last few months, I’ve had tremendous support from my team of beta readers. They read an early copy of Grim Curio, enduring my own slow pace. I’d call them all out to thank them by name, but I know privacy is something a lot of them care about, so I won’t do that. But these guys are the best.
Do I need to clarify that by guys I mean men and women? I’m from the North West and that’s just what we call everybody.
As a way to show my thanks, I want to gift my beta readers something special. Not something that will be stored away and forgotten, or worse yet, thrown away. Something they can show off and be proud of. A symbol of their contribution to Grim Curio. So naturally, a t-shirt.
For fans and supporters
If you’ve been a writer in the trenches, you know how important it is to have swag. When you stand behind a table trying to sling books, it gets rough sometimes. But then comes someone who want’s to support you all the way to the bank. They like you, your work, and want you to keep creating, so they buy everything. These wonderful people fuel the arts, and the more you can offer them, the more they’ll give back to you.
Why a shirt?
To be fair, a shirt is probably just the beginning. But shirts are awesome for a few reasons. It’s a walking piece of art that I’ve created. That’s pretty cool. More than that, if someone wears it, they’re also spreading the word about my work without have to, you know, interact with people 👍. Not only are they supporting me with their hard-earned money, but by spreading the good word. We call these people saints.
Eventually there might be mugs and posters, but we’re getting way way WAY ahead of ourselves……
Here’s the status of where we are. I’ve been coming up with concepts for almost a month, and I think I’ve finally landed on one that’s pretty good. Here it is.
This design is representative of several themes from Grim Curio. At the top we have the planet Mars, the place where many people on Earth dream of going. Below that, an eye looks up, showing the only place where hope lies in this book. The eye is red, a side effect of not wearing a full face respirator outside. The eye also appears to be stabbed by the tower below, just as an eye is gouged in the novel — which comes with plot affecting benefits. Then there’s the tower itself, which is a massive part of the third act. Behind it is the red sun whose rays look like flames, representative of a specific even in the novel. Then there are the ruined buildings, which are the city, and the rolling earth before it which is inspired by the cover of Roadside Picnic and represents the rubble and the wastes.
So there’s a lot here that relates to the novel. Is the design good? I don’t know. I think it needs polish, but it’s maybe 80% of the way there. Some of the lines need to be cleaned up. Mars needs to be smaller, and maybe the eye too. Also, I need to figure out the color of the shirt.
If you are a beta reader, or if you have any thoughts, insight or suggestions, feel free to let me know in the comments. If are interested in buying a shirt, sign up for my mailing list in the link at the top of the site, and I’ll let you know when they go on sale.
Behind the scenes
I’d been trying to come up with a t-shirt design for a while. Here’s a concept I had midway through the process.
I liked this because it’s a minimalistic self-portrait and could be cool on a shirt. I don’t like it because, as one of my friends pointed out, no woman will wear that… Haha. So no go for the first shirt, but I might revisit it for later.
Then I came up with this.
I kind of like the idea of this… but in practice it looks pretty… phallic. Soooo…. it needed some refinement. But you can see how the design above was born from this.
I decided to draw several elements of the design on their own sheets of paper. So I started with the eye and mars. Then I layered on top of it the tower and the cityscape, cutting them up with an exacto-knife.
Finally, I added the sun in the background to come to where we are today. Here it is again for good measure.
That’s it. Sign up for the mailing list to get the opportunity to pre-order this shirt when all the details are ironed out. See you around.
Right now I’m working on so many projects, sometimes it’s hard for me to keep them straight. I imagine it might also be difficult for you to follow along. So to try to, eh, clarify, I created this flowchart.
The bar on the left measures a project’s level of completeness. The bar on the bottom signifies time. So the projects in the top right are nearly complete but way in the future. To be honest, I’m not sure how much it does clarify. Maybe I’ll take another crack at it sometime in the near future.
I’ve nearly finished writing Grim Curio. 92,000 words written, and when it’s done it’ll be just shy of 100,000. That’s pretty damn close.
I’m a little sad to be at this point. Grim Curio has been a very rewarding book to write. I’ve expanded my skills and pushed myself as far as I can.
Even so, I’m ready finish. Writing Grim Curio has been exhausting. So while I’m sad to see the experience drawing to an end, I’m also relieved.
To celebrate this milestone, here’s three takeaways from my writing process.
I found my own voice
It seems to me that a writers voice is always evolving. But for the first time I feel the voice I’m writing in is my own.
While I enjoy the narration of Discovering Aberration and The Gin Thief, I think it’s fairly obvious that I was emulating the style of the Victorian Era (drawing heavily from Jules Verne).
With Grim Curio, it was just me.
I improved my pacing
Pacing is critical. Bad pacing can cripple an otherwise great novel. I’ve struggled with pacing before, especially with Discovering Aberration‘s drawn out introduction and drastic shift in tone.
But with Grim Curio I feel like I nailed it. Beta readers seemed to agree. Now I’ve got to carry that structure to future works.
While my other novels are straight forward adventures without too much subtext to dive into, I feel like I’ve added a depth to Grim Curio I’ve never written before.
Grim Curio can be read as a straightforward post apocalyptic story, but there are layers and layers here that I weaved into the narrative. Some of my beta readers picked up on these deeper themes, others were content to read it at a surface level.
The fact that both were possible and both sets of readers reported high levels of enjoyment tell me I did something right there. Go me. Gotta pat myself on the back sometimes. God knows I pile on the criticism enough.
Anyway, that’s all for now. Lot’s more coming in the weeks ahead. I’m getting back into my regular blogging schedule again now that things are calming down. Keep an eye out, and if you want to be notified of any future releases, sign up for my mailing list.
Hello dear readers, it’s that time again. Beta readers, assemble! Who among you will rise to the challenge and beta read Grim Curio before it’s submitted to contests, agents, and publishers? To become a beta reader, follow the link below and fill out the short form.
The beta reading period is quickly approaching, with a targeted date of Tuesday Jan 2nd for the first three chapters to be handed out. If you want to be a part of the process, sign up now! Beta readers will receive a free copy of Grim Curio upon release, and I’m going to try to come up with another way to thank you, maybe a t-shirt or something — I’m open to ideas.
About Grim Curio
The story of how the world ends begins on a near barren planet within the last and only city on earth, along a narrow empty street, dusk sunlight casting the toxic air in rainbow streaks of red, purple and green. This story begins and ends with James.
James is rogue veil researcher. He seeks evidence that will prove parallel realities exist, hoping to save humanity from the caustic, dying waste the earth has become. In order to make this discovery, he will cross paths with violent teenage nihilists, scientists attempting to cut a hole in the fabric of reality, a researcher hell bent on following the rules, a politician struggling to maintain order and stability, and many more strange and dangerous people.
When the fate of Refuge is at stake, can these disparate people with conflicting goals band together to survive or will their discord be their downfall?
What does a Beta Reader do?
A beta reader is one of the greatest people living on the face of the earth. They receive chapters from the Grim Curio manuscript, read it, answer questions and leave feedback, then return their notes to me. We’ll talk about the novel, about your opinions, and laugh at my stupid grammar mistakes. In the end, you’ll get a signed copy and another gift yet to be determined.
Do I have to read all of Grim Curio?
Nope. If life gets in the way, or if you just don’t want to keep on beta reading, you can drop out at any time. Beta reading is purely optional, but in order to receive any of the beta reader gifts, you must read and offer feedback for at least 85% of Grim Curio.
What if I’ve never edited anything before?
That’s fine! All you need to be is a passionate reader. If you live for science fiction and fantasy novels, then you’re the perfect candidate to become a beta reader.
How much feedback should beta readers give?
As much or as little as you’re willing to share. If you want to write a full-page critiquing each chapter, that’s great. If you only want to share a few sentences on how you feel about the material, that’s great too.
What is the process, in detail?
The process is pretty straight forward.
Receive 3 chapters starting with chapter 1
Read through, comment, and answer a few specific questions within a timely manner (3-5 days)
Return chapters and notes back
Receive next 3 chapters, etc.
Enjoy an occasional Skype call where I thank you profusely and we chat about the novel
It’s quarter past eleven at night — quarter til midnight at the time of publishing — and I’m still writing. About to head to bed when I realized I haven’t posted in a while. Got to throw you guys something before you forget about Grim Curio. I feel so great about this novel, better than I’ve felt for anything I’ve ever written. I feel it, this one is going to make a splash.
Anyway, here’s a few snippets from the novel. I hope you enjoy them.
In the dark of this hole, their faces are cloaked in hoods, disrupted but shadow, lenses, cloth. Only a green glint in their goggles, the reflection of the abused computer monitor, betrays their eyes. Even so, James reads their emotion in the constance of their stair, the stiffness in their shoulders, the way they contemplate the first words that might tidy this strange situation. He bristles when he see’s the sidearms strapped to their thighs, see’s the military precision in the packing gear.
‘There’s got to be an easier way to make a buck.’ The phrase springs to his mind, and he almost smiles. It’s not the buck’s he’s after. Anxiety runs down his back in a skittering of pinpricks, and suddenly the world is hyperreal. It’s moments like these — when the only thing between him and consequence is his tenacity — when he finally feels in control of his destiny. No system brought him here, no misguided ideology. He walked upstream, against the current like a boss, and now he’s ready to see how close he come’s to oblivion.
Then he’ll pull himself back out again. Cause that’s just how it goes.
Note: Each chapter begins with an excerpt from a piece of writing within the world of Grim Curio. These are emails, journal entries, propaganda, and in the following’s case, a poem.
Girlies an’ Boy’os, do not break a rule, Sit straight, listen, when ya go to school, Them cleary* bastards won’t stand none’ya fight, Mark ya in they ledger, ya stupid little fool.
Girlies an’ Boy’os, do not break a rule, Just ya wait’n listen, soon come the ghoul, Them cleary bastards’ll get’ya come the night, Dis’pear ya to nothin, ya stupid little fool.
Mind all ya manners ‘Member who they was When top ‘comes bottom and bottom the top Show ‘em then what we lil’ shit’s think of ‘em, Cut ‘em, gut ‘em, hang them from the rafters That is all.
– Untitled Poem from The Outlaw’s Book of Rhymes
*cleary is a derogatory term for people who live in the undercity. After hundreds of years below ground, their skin has gone opaque. The undercity residents tend to be the elites, politicians, artisans, scientists, teachers, students, and stability officers.
Note: Last bit. This is just a snippet of a conversation that is currently in chapter 6 between James and the student Gretchen. James is from the surface, Gretchen from the undercity. I’m trying to make their cultures very different and their confines tight. Ok, here it is:
Gretchen frowns thoughtfully. “There’s an empty hut up the hill, I’ll ask an elder if we can use it. If he says no, though, there’s nothing we can do. Fringes Protocol states we follow tribal rules.”
“Fine. Do what you can. Introduce me as a spiritual healer. Stress that I use natural methods to expel spirits and demons, lift curses, that sort of thing.”
“You mean lie?”
“I mean embellish. Just a bit.”
“I’m above protocol and I herby grant you permission to rise above the protocol with me and get shit done. Temporary leniency granted, congratulations. When you talk to whoever… who will you be talking to?”
Suddenly preoccupied, she says quietly, “Probably Elder Nevin.”
“Tell Elder Nevin that I’m not with associated with you. Call me weird or something, point to my skin, the way I talk and move, make sure he can see as clear as day that I’m an outsider here. That’s the only way I can build my own reputation at this point. Also, mention how strange it is that I don’t use tech.”
Gretchen studies the ground, contemplates the lies she’s been ordered to pass along.
“You alright?” asks James evenly.
“I know they’ve taught you’ to follow protocols your entire life, and what I’m asking you to do feels wrong, but you asked for me and now you’ve got me. Do you want to help this village? Their children?”
“Then what we’ve got to do is create a scenario with the greatest chance of success, and this is what I’ve got. If you’ve got a better idea, name it. How ‘bout you, at the computer. Any killer ideas?”
Ryan shakes his head.
Back to Gretchen, he says, “This is what I do every single day. Stick with me, and we’ll have you breaking protocol left and right, and trust me it’ll be the best you’ve ever felt. But if you don’t feel comfortable, I’ll manage.”
That’s all for now. Hope to be sharing more soon 🙂
It’s been a while since I shared anything from Grim Curio. There have been some significant updates since the last scene I shared a couple of months back. My dad is about to head out on a three-week business trip for Boeing and before he left he asked if there was anything ready to read yet. So I figure now’s a good time to share something. This one’s for you dad, the first scene from Grim Curio.
This is the story of how the world ends. It’s not pretty or even necessary, but it happens and so it will be told. It begins and ends with James, who walks along the narrow empty streets of Refuge, the last city on earth. He breaths through a filter on his mask, the sound rushing in his ears, mingling with his footfalls against the disintegrated road. Black lenses block out his eyes. On either side of him are patchworks of rusted steel walls welded together with thick seams like veins. On some walls, groaning air filtration systems struggle and cough. On others, the systems aren’t more than dead metal boxes, tombstones.
James marches a fixed path toward Grievances with a few ill earned dollars in his pocket. He never set out to con anyone, not originally. But things happen and a guy’s gotta make a buck. Guilt isn’t an emotion he feels anymore, or so he lies to himself, hurrying his pace.
At night, streets are usually empty, so when he passes three figures — each masked, carrying heavy duffel bags — he passes on the far side of the street. The black, emotionless masks follow him as he passes. Before rounding a corner he pauses, looks over his shoulder. They stare intently. What mischief are they up to? Doesn’t matter. Not tonight. Tonight he has only one goal, to drink and forget for a little while. He continues on.
He arrives. A hand drawn sign next to the entrance chamber reads “Grievances”. The last few letters are squished together as the artist ran out of space. Below a smudged charcoal sketch of a masked stability officer pointing a sting box at the viewer has been ineffectively erased.
James knocks against the thick steel door. It clicks. He spins the hatch, pulls it open, and enters. Air is sucked out in a rush and his ears pop. A fine mist coats his clothing for a second, then the next door clicks open. Entering anywhere is always uncomfortable.
The room is dim, the air thick with fungal smoke rising off steel pipes. Sweet sounds of the beautiful Astira Lockhart’s crooning makes James smile. He removes his mask, takes in a deep breath and sighs. Graying stubble, wrinkles around his eyes. He’s not old, but he looks it. Sometimes he feels it. He takes an empty seat, places a couple bucks on the table, and watches Astira sing.
James nods. A cup of frothy brown wine is set before him. He drinks, savoring the mossy flavor. He listens and time melts. The mild hallucinations make his brown and gray surroundings shimmer at the corners of his eyes.
Mal takes a seat next to him. Light brown-red hair and skin off-white with freckles, and a hawkish nose. She’s cute if you don’t know better. But James knows her, so he tenses and ignores her. She looks at him, savors the discomfort for a second. “Haven’t seen you in a while, James,” she says in a matter of fact way. James nods. “Things must be good for you lately.”
“Yup,” he says humorlessly.
“I bet. Guy with your credibility, you’ll be doing well for yourself by now. Business treating you well?”
James lets the question hang, tries to focus on the way Astira swivels her hips and winks from time to time as she sings, but Mal lingers like a cancer so he turns to her and says, “Is there something you want?”
She smiles, leans back and puffs on her pipe. The smoke is thick, rising to mingle with the rest of the haze. “Solve any doozies lately?” Mal holds a straight face for a few seconds before she snorts. “I have a hot tip for you. I hear North Commune has ghosts. How much do you charge to take care of ghosts?”
“More than you can afford.”
“Ha, I bet.”
“Look, you need something or are you just here to be a nuisance?”
“Yes actually,” she replies. “You owe money to Silke Thomas.”
“So. What’s that got to do with you?”
“A lot actually. Hired me last week to settle his debts. Your name’s on his list. You might be a small fry compared to some of the communes, but you know me. Thorough. Lucky for you I’m off duty. I’ll give you another day before I collect.”
“If you buy me a drink.”
James laughs, looks at her sideways. “I’ve got two bucks and change.”
“Put it on the table, I’ll cover the rest.”
James shakes his head, unsure if she’s extorting him or coming on to him. Either way, he’s not in the mood for a fight. He puts the money up, she tosses a couple more dollars down. Wine comes and she raises the glass. Mal talks occasionally, and James answers when prompted, but the conversation is stilted. He can’t remove that barrier he’s built up over the years, that distrust. Eventually she quits and they both just listen to the music with tension between them.
She leaves and James grows agitated. Did he want her to stay? Not really, but he didn’t want her to go either. He downs the last of his wine, then rises, puts on his mask, and exits in a bad mood. Outside, the wind blows, the gusts cut through his jacket. He curses his rotten luck as he walks back in the direction of home. His eyes adjust to the night and soon he see’s them again, three masked figures with duffle bags hovering around the walls of Grievances. They pause, watch him, and this time a shiver runs up his spine. He ignores it, continues on till they’re out of sight.
Then it hits. From a quarter-mile away, James hears the boom! He spins around in time to see the glow, a plumb of smoke. Eyes wide behind his mask, he stumbles, breath caught in his throat. He rushes back to Grievances, see’s the twisted metal, the still standing hatch, rubble strewn about his feet. It’s eerily quiet, only the sound of flames.
He looks for anyone. Beyond the flames, a glint catches his eye, and there they are slinking away. He’s alone with the wreckage, the too afraid to see the bodies inside but he steps forward anyway. He stops short when he realizes what will happen if he’s found here by the officers. Stability must be preserved, the city survives on a knifes edge, and he’ll feel the edge of that knife if he’s implicated with this. He turns and hurries back towards home.
This week I reached a major writing milestone in Grim Curio. I wrote my 50,000th word. This is a big step in the process and to celebrate I’m going to share some of the works that have influenced me over the past few months.
What follows are GC’s three greatest influences, which is by no means a complete list. Each of these books feature specific elements in the area’s of tone, character arcs, and genre elements that I’ve taken, made my own, and tried to emulate. Let’s get started.
No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
Every Cormac McCarthy novel has blown me away. The guy is a master of prose, at genre subversion, and at non-conventional storytelling techniques. He has a voice all his own and manages to write genre fiction with deeply embedded literary flair.
Of his works, you might expect The Road to be the greatest source of inspiration. It shares the Post Apocalyptic genre with Grim Curio, and it’s probably his most well-known book at this point. And while The Road is certainly a book that makes me aspire to being a better writer, there are only really superficial similarities between that book and mine.
No, the McCarthy book that had the greatest impact on GC is easily No Country for Old Men. From the tightly paced narrative and the interesting moral dilemmas to absolutely stunning prose and fantastic character arcs, there’s so much to draw on.
Is No Country for Old Men an action novel? You could argue that it’s an action subversion, taking the guise of an action narrative while flipping all the tropes on their heads. Or perhaps it’d be better classified as post-action, especially in the way the book ends. Whatever it is, it’s a damn fine novel, and one that inspires me continually as I write.
Switching genres, the next major influence is the Mistborn trilogy which consists of The Final Empire, The Well of Ascension, and The Hero of Ages. These books feature an epic fantasy plot with a unique magic system and massive twists all along the way. But it’s not really these elements that inspire any element of Grim Curio.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved every aspect above, but what really caught my eye was the near perfect character arcs. While reading I kept picking up on these often subtle character changes. Almost none of the major characters are static, they all end up as drastically different people than they started as, but the progression feels so subtle and natural.
Taken by the character progression, I ended up watching a series of novel-writing lectures from Brandon Sanderson on YouTube hoping that his secret would be revealed. Turns out it totally was, and it changed the way I write.
He has a unique approach to novel planning which I’ll dive deep into in a future post. It involves listing out all the major moments in a characters arc, then figuring out how that a character will earn that plot point. Each of these will turn into a scene. The end result, when done well, is subtle character growth leading to major changes over time.
While Grim Curio isn’t going to be anywhere near as long as Mistborn, I hope it still carries elements of this kind of character progression with all the major characters.
Long time followers may have guessed Mushishi would appear on this list. Mushishi is a quiet, contemplative and amazing piece of entertainment. Some may criticize it for being slow, but to them I say “no one asked you!”
Mushishi follows Ginko, a sort of traveling medicine man in feudal Japan. He wanders the rural villages to cure the ailments brought on by Mushi, creatures that exists in a different plane, yet affect our world in sometimes subtle and sometimes drastic ways.
While this one isn’t at all an edge of the seat thriller, it does instill the viewer with a sense of awe rarely felt while watching TV or movies. While technically Grim Curio will likely be categorized as Post Apocalyptic Science Fiction, it’s really Fantasy masquerading as Sci-Fi. The fantasy elements are all written through a Sci-Fi lens, but really it’s closer to Mushishi than any sort of hard science fiction.
GC attempts to take these small moments of wonder, and then build and build upon them until the scale is massive and the stakes are higher than ever. But it also seeks to capture periodic quiet moments of contemplation.
“And doing what we do, it makes us big. Just like you said, alone you can’t do anything. Nobody listens, nobody cares, everyone is dying and everyone knows it. I’ve seen people dying everywhere in slow and ugly ways. Nothing I can do about it. What I do now makes a difference. Makes a big difference. People all over are scared of me. They don’t know it’s me they’re scared of, but they’re all frightened of my shadow, of my influence, of the threat that my existence brings. Not just the surface dwellers, not just the undercity, all of ‘em. You, the girls, everyone. And if you don’t think so, it’s because I haven’t had a reason to show you yet.”
Above is a snippet from a recent scene written in Grim Curio. It’s been a while since I shared a properupdate, so let’s dive in.
Threads are Coming Together
Grim Curio has a decently complex narrative. There are three separate threads that affect each other both directly and indirectly as the story progresses, eventually all merging into a single thread. At times it gets difficult to write in a way that everything makes logical sense and is fun to read, so the further I get, the slower progress is coming. Right not I’m in the thick of it as all three narratives are coming together, but once that’s complete I expect my progress to pick up again.
I’ve also shared the first four chapters on /r/DestructiveReaders, a subreddit I frequent in order to improve my writing and get feedback from readers while the book is still in progress. Feedback has been great!
Three or four months ago I shared these same chapters in an earlier form, and the critiques prompted me to overhaul the style (you can read about the decision to rewrite everything I’d written here). I’m glad I did because readers are responding much more favorably to GC now, with feedback focusing on specific elements rather than the broad strokes.
Some readers have approached me with a desire to become part of my writing process. There are actually lots of ways to do this, so I thought I’d share them with you.
Become an alpha reader
You may have heard of beta readers, but with my GC I’ve been taking it one step further with alpha readers. While beta reading is a structured process with a predefined set of readers giving regular feedback, alpha reading more free form. You can learn the differences here.
I share chapters on /r/DestructiveReaders, and you read and either leave comments in the Google Doc, and/or write a short summary of your thoughts. If you want to be notified whenever a new chapter is released, go to the contact page and send me a message. I’ll email you whenever a I share a new chapter.