Friday, May 19, 2017

The Importance of Persevering

I write this on the last day of finals.
Yesterday, I had two exams, today I have one. It will bring my total up to six for this semester. Of those six, I’ve only really worried about three of them.

Two of those were yesterday. Needless to say, I had a stress headache the night before. I needed to do well on my physics exam, and I basically needed to ace my calculus three final to get the grade I wanted. I was stressed. I poured over my textbooks and problem sets and past exams and projects to learn the material.

I knew I did well on my western civ exam, my other core exam, and my chem exam. The final exam was an improv performance, and I knew I’d do well on that one, too.
I was confident in these subjects. Still am.

But physics and calculus three?
I studied. I spent hours and hours making sure I understood the material and could do problems presented to me by the textbooks and the online homework and the in-class notes and assignments.
I’ve never put so much work into two things that took less than an hour and a half each.

That was yesterday.
I feel good about physics. I’m confident I got the grade I wanted on that exam and in the class as a whole. Perfectly confident.
The calculus?

I know I didn’t get a perfect score (the score I wanted). I know I didn’t end up with the grade I was hoping for.
It will be the first math class I’ll get a grade lower than an A- in. It is also my last math class. Beyond the math in my engineering classes, I’m done. The math department won’t be seeing me again.

But this calculus class?
Part of me is disappointed. My last class, my last one. I could have kept the streak, could’ve kept that perfect record. If differential equations hadn’t stopped me last semester, why would this class do it? Most of me, however, is content. Here's why:

Green’s Theorem

There’s this thing in calculus called Green’s Theorem. From it are derived most of the other theorems involved in vector calculus. Without Green’s Theorem, line integrals are way too burdensome to deal with, and without it we wouldn’t have Stokes’ Theorem or the Divergence Theorem.

Now, to the layman all those names mean nothing. What’s vector calculus? What’s a line integral? What’s an integral to begin with? Who were Green and Stokes, and what’s Divergence?

Let’s be perfectly honest: it doesn’t matter. I will say this: it’s the hardest part of calculus. This is where all the calculus students struggle.
Well, most of them.
My professor stopped us one day, mid-class and handed out a piece of paper. It was a short article titled “Everyone has a Personal Green’s Theorem”. We all thought he was introducing the theorem, since it was what came next in the book.

As it turns out, we weren’t doing calculus that class period.
We were doing philosophy and work ethics.
The writer of the essay was a math professor talking about his education. When this professor took calculus three, he was good at it. The math came easy (this is similar to me in many ways). Then they reached Green’s Theorem and this man, this professor-to-be struggled. He struggled with math in a way he’d never struggled before.

The article went on to talk about how every single subject, no matter what it is, will always get hard someday. Whether it’s math or science or art or music or writing, it will become difficult for every single person at some point.
Doesn’t matter who they are, or how good they are at it.
Things become too complex or difficult for them to come easy.
The level at which this is true is different for each person in each subject. Many people find math becomes difficult as soon as algebra one, some people don’t find it difficult until they do real analysis and have to prove calculus.

The point of the article? Everyone has their own personal Green’s Theorem. Everyone eventually reaches a point in every subject where they actually have to try.
For me, my Green’s Theorem in math actually was Green’s Theorem.

The article didn’t end there. It wasn’t just prepping us for when math would become hard.

This article talked about how most people give up when they reach this point. As it turns out, however, this is the point where the real work is done. The moment you reach your personal Green’s Theorem in anything, you have to try. When you try, you have to put forth all effort to learn master and overcome and persevere.

The Importance of Perseverance

If all of us gave up as soon as things got tough, we wouldn’t be here. We’d have given up on everything a long time ago.

We aren’t meant to give up when the going get rough. When we push on, when we persevere, we find art. We find the art of math, the art of science, of music, of painting, of writing, of living.
The moment we give up is the moment we stop making art.

When it gets hard: when writing gets hard, when math gets hard, when life gets hard, don’t give in. Giving up on it means giving up on art.
Don’t give up.
Push on. Persevere.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Updates and Introductions

It’s been a while since I’ve shared about my own writing, so I thought today I’d take the time to share what I’ve been writing lately, and what I plan to write in the near future.

Recently, life has been letting up on my average load. As I write this, I’m prepping for finals, which means stress is rather high but homework and busywork are at an all-time low for the semester. I’ve been writing more (which has helped immensely with stress) and concerning myself less with repetitive math and more with creative writing.

While I’ve pulled back a bit from this place, I’ve also invest myself more into caring about it. Posting less means I’m spending more time investing in each post. I’m thoroughly enjoying each one, which I feel is much healthier for both myself and you guys.
It also means that my writing time has focused more on my projects and less on blog posts, which means my overall word count has a higher percentage focused into novels, short stories, and so forth.

An Update: The Winner

Early last month, I entered a short story into the Purple Martin Writing Contest at my college. This story, Broken Snapshots was written for an online contest sometime last year, and I posted it on this blog a few months ago. I ended up winning the online contest, which was more for bragging rights than anything else.
This story, for those who haven’t read it, is told from the view of a camera, and details its days photographing a variety of people

I entered the story at the encouragement of my girlfriend, not really expecting to win anything. After all, many more-talented people than I enter this contest and it’s judged by the English department faculty. My little story wasn’t going to win.

Or I guess it was.
I ended up placing first in the fiction category, which I’m both surprised and pleased by. I was actually doing physics homework in the library when they announced it at this poetry reading thing that was also taking place in the library so there was this awkward quiet followed by me shuffling over from my table full of physics numbers to acknowledge that I did a thing.
That was fun.
At some point, I’ll make a page like I did for Eyes, and post the story there.

An Update: The Schedule

I’ve got a lot of things planned when it comes to writing, and my plan usually changes before I can complete anything on my list. Timing, creative blocks, and desires to write other things all distract and redirect my attention.
However, here’s the basic layout of what I hope to accomplish with my writing before the next school year starts:
First, I’m planning on editing Agram Awakens and entering it into a contest (this will happy from June til August on and off).
Secondly, I’d like to start developing the worlds, characters, and plots for The Biography of a Very Bad Man, The Confessions of a Grelgin Priest, and a few other minor stories as well as continuing to map out the sequels to Agram Awakens.
Speaking of which, the third thing I’d like to continue to work on this summer is the sequel to Agram Awakens, which I’ve been slowly working on for about two months now. This project has been wrapped in a shroud of mystery and only like seven people know it’s actually happening right now.

Today, however, I’m actually going to let it out into the fresh air for a few breaths before I pull it back under its shroud.

Introducing: Slaves to Prophecy

I mean I feel like I would normally draw this out in some dramatic way, but the heading kind of spoils it and I’m feeling rather lazy today, so I’ll just say it: I’m writing book two of my series following Agram Awakens (which really needs a freaking title already so I can stop calling it that goodness) and it’s under the working title Slaves to Prophecy. It’s currently sitting in chapter seven at a cozy 17,300 words, out of a projected ninety-three chapters and 230,000 words. For reference, Agram Awakens is sixty-one chapters and just over 202,000 words. They’ll be approximately the same length, but this one has shorter chapters.

What is this about, exactly?
I’ve talked quite a bit about Agram Awakens, but I haven’t spent a ton of time actually describing it. This is due to the fact that I’m real bad and synopsis and no synopsis I write actually does a good job of summarizing the book in a way that doesn’t sound lame.
The logline for the whole series is this: “six people set off the end of the world and have to try to fix it”. Which sounds awfully cliché so I’m working to refine it. Not to mention the fact that this isn’t really about the end of the world so much as the people who have to deal with the fact that it is, in fact, ending. Therefore, I have two synopses: one for the plot, and one for what actually happens. I’ll provide them both:

“It’s been decades since the Eglive overran Agram, plunging the world into chaos. Centuries. Even now, after they’ve been pushed back, they plague any traveler attempting to traverse Agram. The Raids into Agram are futile, despite their continuation.
The ancient religions spoke of a time when Agram would go dormant.
They spoke of the Eglive.
They spoke of the loss of power.
They spoke of a time of peace.
They spoke of the Truil Goic coming back.
For the sake of the world, let all men pray they do not.
For the sake of the world, let the Holders never come forth.
Agram Awakens.”

I mean that’s pretty exciting I guess. Now for the part that makes me excited about these books:
Agram Awakens is about six people struggling with their own personal stories when their lives collide with something much bigger than all of them, something which requires them to sacrifice their own personal gain for the sake of those around them. 

Agram Awakens is about a man fighting a religious war, a woman kidnapped for political power, a fisherman stranded on a island, a boy fleeing from his gang-boss to and seeing the world, a merchant trying to provide for his family, and a slave who flees from those she has killed. 

Agram Awakens is personal gain, greed, and self-righteousness bowing out to compassion, justice, and the frail promise of a collectively better world through unconditional sacrifice.”

That is, in short, what the whole series is about as well. The first book is the springboard, and the rest are a following up on these stories as they play out in the greater narrative.

Slaves to Prophecy is the second book (out of ten, possibly more, possibly less) and, if I actually had a synopsis, could be described as something like this:

“Taynan [the boy] and Bea [the kidnapped woman] watch as their world crumbles. She is meant to end the world, he’s nothing more than a boy with control over nothing. Not even himself. They find their way together, hoping for a cure to her fate.
Gaream [the soldier] leads his men against a foe they cannot defeat: a foe he woke. All of Agram is awake, now, and he is the one to blame.
Deyu [the slave girl] soars through the heavens to a place she doesn’t expect, meets a man she finds she trusts, and discovers peace.
Deng-el [the merchant] struggles to survive the Vanc as nightmares and myths turn his life to ruins.
All around them, the world seems to crumble, crumble, crumble.
The Truil Goic have arrived.”

I… actually think I like that. Interesting. I came up with that on the spot, but I think I’ll keep it for now.


Both Slaves to Prophecy and Agram Awakens I've written in Scrivener (see images for my basic layout), Aeon Timeline, Scapple, Word, OneNote, and a few other programs as well (keeping all of this stuff straight takes too much work, but I guess it's worth it in the end).

I use Scrivener for all my rough drafts. This is the first chapter of StP

I use Aeon Timeline to keep track of where people are, and when.

I've just started using Scapple for brainstorming, and it's amazing.

That’s what I’m up to. I’m writing Slaves to Prophecy until near the end of May, when I’ll start editing Agram Awakens for that contest. And, of course, I’m going to keep blogging.

What about you? What’s your writing look like, of late? And if not writing, what about your Art?

Friday, May 5, 2017

Chapter Length: Beats and Scenes

A lot of writers who are new to the world of novels tend to be concerned about a few simple things: writing their character properly according to gender (which I addressed a few posts ago), writing an awesome villain (which I’ve addressed in the past… back in June I believe), and chapter length (which I’m going to address today).
Why is chapter length something to be concerned about?

Because if the chapters are too short, then the book won’t be long enough, right? And if they’re too long, they’ll be too short, right?

Let’s explore those two things, and then delve into what really makes a chapter strong.

Challenging Length

Most new writers worry about the number of pages or the number of words they have in a chapter. “This is only four pages, is it long enough?” “My chapter is over thirty pages, is that too long?”

The truth is expressed in a very simple answer: length is irrelevant as long as the reader is engaged. That’s the honest, simple truth. Think back to all the books you’ve enjoyed. How many chapters do you remember by length?
Probably zero, unless you have a weirdly specific memory.
The only books I remember having chapters that were too long are the books I got bored with halfway through a chapter. Books with chapters that are too long almost always present more of a problem than books with short chapters.
In fact, there are only three instances of short chapters I remember: The Raven Boys Cycle had a few chapters that were a page or less (including one that was half a sentence). I remember these short chapters because they were intriguing. They pulled me in, instead of pulling me out. Allegiant (by Veronica Roth) had a few short chapters near the end. I remember these because I disliked them. They didn’t fit with the style of the rest of the trilogy. They weren’t consistent with the feel and fit. So they stood out, and jerked me out of the story for a variety of reasons. And then the Tale of Despereaux also comes to mind. The chapters in this book are all very short (two to four pages). It works incredibly well for this book, because it’s consistent throughout, the chapters accomplish what they need, and they fit the book as a whole.

When you’re anxious about chapter length, consider these things and nothing else: does the chapter accomplish what you need it to? Does it fit the average length of the rest of your chapters? Is it engaging to the very end?
Nothing else matters.

“But if all my chapters are short, then it won’t be a novel!”
Then consider these things:
-Is the scene vivid? Oftentimes, writers with short chapters have little to no description. The setting isn’t clear in the slightest, except for rarely. Emotions are usually l-acking. So, if your chapters are too short, then make sure that you’re creating vivid images of emotion and setting throughout.
-Is your story goal sufficient? If you feel like you don’t have enough material, then maybe it’s too easy to accomplish the end goal. Try making it harder. Don’t let the hero succeed as often as they probably do.
-Does it have to be a novel? Here’s the deal: not all stories are made to be novels. Some stories are only the length of a novella or a short story. And you know what? That’s okay. It’s okay to write short stories sometimes. It’s perfectly fine to write a novella. Your writing should be more about telling a good story than trying to reach a word count or a certain number of pages.

Rather than focusing on how long a chapter is, we should instead focus on what is in a chapter. There are two basic building blocks of chapters: beats and scenes. I think this is where new writers can find the most benefit in learning. Those who have chapters that people get bored with have too many of these building blocks in a chapter, and those who feel their chapters are too short may be missing a part or two.
So let’s explore these things a bit.

The Scene

The scene is the most basic building block of any chapter.
In short, every chapter needs a minimum of one scene and (in my opinion) a maximum of three. This is rather vague, of course, if we don’t define what a scene is. A scene is a collection of actions, dialogue, and emotional shifts that take place in one setting, all of which result in some net change.
In other words, something has to happen, and something has to change. You need both. If something happens, but for all intents and purposes your characters have not changed, then it’s not a scene. On the other hand, if something changes for no reason, with no intentional action, then it’s not a scene.

This something many writers forget, and it’s also the main reason why new writers can have very, very short chapters that don’t feel finished. They don’t have a full scene in their chapter. Instead, they have either action or change, but not both.

The action is the easy part. Anyone can create dialogue or movement. Anyone.
However, change is the hard part. It’s difficult to create a true change in a character’s arc. It takes work, especially to have a change in every scene. Rather, it’s much easier to set up the change in one “scene” and execute it in another.
That, however, is weak. It creates a useless scene of “set up” that the reader doesn’t care about. Writers try to make their work easier by creating something the reader doesn’t want to read. That’s dangerous. These “half-scenes” are necessary, but fail to make good chapters as a whole.
I like to call these half-scenes beats.

The Beat

Beats are the fundamental building block of a chapter. Simply put, a beat is a small collection of actions, thoughts, description, or dialogue. A scene is a collection of beats, and a chapter is a collection of one or two scenes.

Beats are commonly confused as scenes. We see a set of actions or a conversation as a scene, but beats do not necessarily have a change within them. A beat can be something as simple as a character pouring cereal into a bowl.
That’s not a scene. Nothing really changes. But it is a beat. When combined with other beats, the pouring of cereal can become a scene very quickly.

Our True Concern

We want our books to be the right length.
We want readers to pick up our book and go “yeah, I want to spend time reading this thing and it’s the length I like”.
Is there anything wrong with that?
It’s natural to want readers to read your book. In fact, you should want readers to read your book. There comes a time, however, where we have to stop worrying about the reader. Especially when we’re writing. If all we do is worry about the reader, we’ll never finishing writing something for them to read. It’s impossible to please every reader, so you have to make a choice: who do you please?
Please yourself.
Make yourself happy. Choose to write something well, something that is complete and contains everything you wanted and needed it to contain. Once you’ve done that, you can start looking around. Once you’ve actually made something with complete chapters, full scenes, total changes, and intensely promising beats, then you can take the time to make sure that your readers will want to read it.