Crisis of Confidence

Lately I’ve been suffering from a lack of confidence in my story, and thus in myself as a writer, and it came about not because of any criticism or anything similar that came my way. It came about because of a writing contest, a contest I did not even enter!

How can not entering a contest cause me to lose confidence, you may ask? After all, this was (still is, in fact) a contest that specifically does allow unfinished works, so it would seem like a perfect fit for me, yes?

Alas, as with most contests of this nature, the entry requires a synopsis. Nothing particularly unusual about that, and every writer eventually needs to come to grips with producing the scary synopsis. However, typically for contests, this synopsis is limited to a single page, double-spaced, in 12-point type, with 1″ margins all around. Oh, and the first line really should be a heading stating “Synopsis,” so that’s one less line to work with. That means the synopsis is pretty much limited to somewhere between two-hundred and two-hundred-fity words, which is not a lot.

The typical five-page synopsis written for an agent or editor’s consideration has an opening statement about theme and genre, a closing statement about character arcs, and in between summarizes all the major plot points that impact and influence the main characters.

That’s impossible to do for a novel-length work in two-hundred-fifty words.

So, a one-page contest synopsis should instead focus on theme and how the character’s growth and conclusion illustrate that theme, and that’s about it.

Trust me, while it might be just one-fifth as many words, it is five times harder to write! And to give you an idea of what two-hundred-fifty words looks like, we’re at about three-hundred right here.

Still, this is a very good exercise for any writer to go through, and it should not be impossible. Indeed, it should be mandatory!

But describing how a character’s growth and plot arc illustrates the novel’s theme is difficult to do when you don’t actually yet know how the story ends, or even perhaps what theme you are illustrating, because you’re making the story up as you go, by the seat of your pants, in an episodic nature because you publish each scene online as you write it.

After spending an entire day struggling mightily, and ultimately in vain, with this one-page synopsis, I came to the conclusion that my story has deep structural flaws, because I’m currently unable to figure out how the main character’s plot progression drives, or is driven by, the theme! I’m not even sure if the story has a theme. Surely a contest loser.

I brooded on this for most of this past week, and a couple days ago came very close to stopping all further development of The Silence of Ancient Light and starting over on an entirely new story, one that would not be pantsed, but instead properly and traditionally plotted. Which, interestingly, is what I was trying to do two years ago when I started SoAL as an exercise to distract me from my analysis paralysis of developing a plot.

The good news? After two years of this distraction, I still really do want to go back to that original project. I still think it has fantastic potential, and I now have some better ideas for how to work out the plot roadblocks I had encountered. That project, by the way, was tentatively titled A Drive of Light and Shadow, but I will probably change that (but I love the title, so I’m keeping it, even if it ends up stuck on a different story).

The other good news? After two years, I still think The Silence of Ancient Light has promise, and I still like the story — even if it is devoid of any theme and the main character is flat and without growth. I know some of you are enjoying it, because you have told me so and I trust you when you do, but I also know that not very many people have read it, so the sample size is not large.

So no, I am not discontinuing SoAL, I will continue to churn out (or drizzle out, more likely) episodes for you, and I will try to figure out my own angst along the way. Perhaps I can pass some of that to Anna in the story to amp up the tension, although it’s not as if she doesn’t have enough on her plate to keep her angsty already!

Crisis averted. Though I have decided, for the health of my own stress levels, to pass on the contest this time around.

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For SoAL readers curious about that original story from two years ago, there’s an oblique reference in a casual comment Anna makes to Laxmi in the 2nd scene. Yes, that’s right, these stories take place in the same universe. Can you spot it?

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And for those curious about the contest I almost entered, it’s the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Unpublished contest. The deadline for entries is in about a week, so technically it’s still not too late! But no, I’m not ready, so you go right ahead.


header image credit: user:Free-Photos / Pixabay under Pixabay License

Land of a Thousand Hills

Le Pays des Mille Collines is how Rwandans refer to their own country, and it’s an apt description. There are eleven hills in the capitol city of Kigali alone.

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And as you leave the city behind, that hilliness only continues.

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Rwanda is also mostly a very green country, due to a healthy rainy season, and that leads to a veritable bounty, but those hills can either help or hinder when it’s time to get to market.

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Of course, it’s not all green hills.

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And it’s not all domesticated animals, either.

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Sometimes the animals can be a bit difficult to see, especially in the long grass.

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Do you see him there? Let’s take a closer look.

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You see him now, yes? One must remain vigilant! Of course, when he finally stands up, it’s a bit easier.

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At the end of the day, back in camp, it’s time to stop worrying about the lions and just enjoy the scenery.

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Meanwhile, other parts of Rwanda are higher, steeper…

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… wetter, and definitively more lush with rainforest growth.

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But this is what you must tackle if you want to meet this fellow.

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Thank you for coming along with me on my recent trip to Rwanda. My wife and I traveled there at the end of December 2019 and beginning of January 2020, and while in-country, besides the city of Kigali, we visited two of four big national parks, Akagera (where the savanna wildlife photos are from) and Volcanoes (where we met a family of six (out of twelve) gorillas). Akagera is in the eastern part of the country, bordering Tanzania, while Volcanoes is in the Virunga Massif highlands in the northwest, bordering Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.


All photos used in this post are either my own or used with permission from Carole Bianquis, copyright 2019, with all rights reserved. However, please feel free to reblog or share the post and the photos, as long as you include attribution and a link back to this original.

Home Again From the Holidays

Hello friends!

I know you’ve been missing me — well, I don’t know that you have, actually — but I have a good excuse. I’ve been traveling for the holidays, and staying almost entirely offline the entire time. Where did I go?

To Rwanda.

My wife has a large extended family living in Kigali, so we spent 25 hours flying to spend a couple weeks with them. While there, we had the opportunity to tour the country a little bit, and when I’ve had a chance to sort out the many photos I took, I’ll post a few of the best ones here for you to enjoy.

And then I’ll get back to Silence, I promise.

How did you spend your holidays? What are your hopes for the new year?

Chapter 7 and ‘Cafeteria’ (WIP)

(The Silence of Ancient Light, continued)

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Li-Estl led the three humans back down darkened stairs to the crude lift, locking doors behind her as they went. Descending the vertical cliff face, Anna looked out across the dual-moon-lit ocean, the myriad of stars reflected below as shining above, and lifted her gaze skyward. She searched for that one faint moving star, the one she briefly saw from the observatory, but it had passed on from her view.

Once back at the main residential level of the cliff community, they passed through rocky corridors dimly lit by the occasional oil lantern, seeing few other Kwakitl along the way. Anna expected Li-Estl to lead them back to her schoolroom, but instead they followed a different path. More stairs and twisting hallways challenged Anna’s sense of direction, but she felt they were heading much deeper into the interior of the mountain. After about fifteen minutes of this, she noticed a gradual increase in ambient noise level, and ahead the corridor appeared more brightly lit. The noise, she came to understand, was the sound of many Kwakitl voices, all talking at once, and moments later they came to its source.

The corridor opened into the largest chamber they had seen yet, and it was filled with dozens, perhaps well over a hundred, Kwakitl, seated in circular clusters around low tables. Smoky lantern light lit the chamber, and the smell of frying fish and salty kelp pervaded the air. Anna’s stomach rumbled, and she realized in all the excitement she had conveniently ignored how hungry she had become. Even the cooking kelp smelled good to her now.

“We eat,” Li-Estl told them through Jaci’s translator, “then I show where you sleep. Tomorrow, much more talk, yes? Also, tomorrow big day. But now, eat.”

Read more at

Cafeteria

(2,057 words; 8 min 13 sec reading time)


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Some enterprising regular readers have already found this latest scene available online a full twenty-four hours earlier than this announcement post, so if there’s a lesson here, it’s… check back often! Ok, I might have placed a hint or two on Twitter.

More dropped hints in this scene, a bit of mounting mystery and tension. If you’re eager for what happens next, all I can say is, enjoy the slow burn!

Is it really another spacecraft, another starship, arriving in orbit over Kepler 62f? And if so, who is it? Could it be rescue for our marooned astronauts? Did Earth send a second mission only a few months after the first?

Or is it someone else?

Many questions to ponder over fried fish and stewed kelp.

This scene also marks the beginning of Chapter 7, as you will note from the website menu, or from the overview page for the novel. It also marks another 2,000-word scene in a string of them. Am I getting wordier? It’s still not the longest scene, and the overall average remains just above 1,500, so I think we’re good there.

Here’s a question for you to ponder. What is it that Anna could observe from the ground that makes her think the arriving object is on a path for orbital insertion? Think on that, and comment below. Otherwise, until next time!


header image credit: Michael L Hiraeth / pixabay.com via Pixabay License

Telescope (WIP)

(The Silence of Ancient Light, continued)

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The ship was not huge in the telescope view, but her shape stood out clearly. Anna could see the double ring structure of the Alcubierre drive, one ring forward and one aft, both tethered to the central fuselage much like the orbital ring was to the planet. She could almost, but not quite, make out the blister of the observatory on the nose of the ship, and the bay windows of the cockpit just above. She could see the hangar doors from which she had launched the shuttle, open wide in the belly of the larger ship, awaiting the return of the smaller craft, a return which now would never come. That shuttle lay smashed and abandoned in the lagoon of a forbidden island.

A sense of loss and of longing came over Anna, and her vision blurred a little. She wiped the moisture from her eyes, upset at her own emotional reaction when she knew she needed to remain laser-focused on survival, dedicated to the task of getting her crew and herself back to that starship, more than forty-one thousand kilometers away, no matter how close the telescope made her seem.

Read more at

Telescope

(2,000 words; 8 min reading time)


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Did I say last week that this chapter was a little slower? Well, it’s not slower anymore. We’re going to end the chapter on a cliffhanger, one that makes it obvious that the tension is about to ramp right back up again as we head into Chapter 7. Of course, you’ll have to go read the scene to see what I mean!

Seriously, it will take just 8 minutes of your Sunday afternoon. Go read it!

Are you done yet? Because I want to discuss what you just read! What do you think the ending of the scene signifies?

You may have noticed a few devices I’ve been using all along to ratchet up the narrative tension. Almost from the beginning, there has been a time lock, a deadline by which Anna and her crew need to figure out their own rescue, and in this scene I gently remind the reader that this deadline is approaching. Many stories use either a time lock or an option lock to introduce tension, but in SoAL I’ve opted to do both. As the scenes progress, our heroes have their choices gradually narrowed down to fewer and fewer options, and there are plenty of hints that later there will be fewer options still. Remember how many space suits they have with them? Hmm, yeah, future problem brewing there.

If you were Anna, what would you do next?


header image credit: user:Free-Photos / pixabay.com under Pixabay License