Help me make my next novel better!

Wordle-based representation of TUT

Above is a Wordle interpretation of the TUT manuscript. The bigger the word, the more important.

[As of Dec 6, 2011, I’m going into the first stages of production, so the comment period is now closed. My many thanks for the comments received!]

As I’ve noted in other posts, I’m hard at work on a new fantasy epic action-adventure novel. The Unexpected Traveler is a big book—much more so than any of the broom books.

The story
The story is fairly simple. An elven prince is stranded in our world and Peter Wright helps him get back. So far so good. But the elf’s world has changed mightily in the five years he’s been gone. Only Prince Rainier, the elf, can fix it. Peter, like all humans, gains magic when transported into the new world, and his magic is crucial in the long adventure to put Rainier on the throne of the High King, to rule in peace over all seven sentient creatures: elves, sprites, gnomes, faeries, dwarves, eagles, and dragons. They gather many allies as they travel across Orgon, Felding, Dordon, and finally into Dakut. But the Conspirators are strong and many are loyal to them. The Tax Wars have decimated all the lands of Gindikila, the entire known world (Gë-heē’n-dhaï-h’kâi-h’laeh in Elvish). Rainier’s father, King Randinier, was murdered and Rainier’s older brother, Ranfolger, sits as a puppet on the throne. Read of conspiracies and treason, friendship and brotherhood, minor skirmishes and major battles, and see if you can spot the traitors.

Excerpt: “Oh, this is just fantastic!” I yelled. “We escaped the water, got out of the cave, and now we’re locked in a dungeon!”
     I stood and angrily brushed off dust and grit. The air was just as chilly as in the cave, but vastly less humid. I looked for my hardhat but it was nowhere to be seen. Tom stood at the door of the little cell and looked through a small barred window, pointing his flashlight everywhere.
    “Yes, my dear Peter, to use the form of address common in our world,” he replied calmly. “The door is indeed locked. And I see nothing up and down the hallway. But that’s to be expected. This level hasn’t been used in decades. Not since my grandfather Rainden pacified the land.”

Excerpt: “We’ve discovered that humans are particularly adept at politics. They seem to enjoy pitting themselves against each other.” He smirked at me. “So, we leave an elvish guard at each Library to keep the peace. And…”—more swallowing—“each Library also has a small dungeon, used as needed.”

Excerpt: Very slowly we ascended the stairs. At the top a heavy wood door hung on one hinge. We crept around it. The breeze told us we’d hit ground level—but instead of arching ceilings, night ruled the sky. All was still except for our footfalls, Rainier’s mail, and the slight rattle of my sword in its sheath.
    The more we walked, the more destruction we found. A room with several large windows held only rain-washed ashes, charred wood and bits of glass; the roof had been burned. Rainier told me it was the Document Room with the cadastral records, and its destruction meant none could defend title to their land—not human nor elf nor dwarf nor anyone else in all the land of Orgon.

Excerpt: “And so, King Dimnarin and honored Council, that is how I came to be here. Your brother, the fair Diminit, has been more than kind and has seen to our every need. I am glad to be here and offer what services I can. It appears I have a magical gift, and I lay it at your disposal.”
     I made this up as I went along. All the fantasy movies I’d seen included formal, pompous speech, so I figured I ought to give it a try.
     “What I do not understand,” growled an ancient, grizzled Council member, “is why you have so assiduously defended this elf. And until you entered this room, you wore an elven sword and carried an elven shield.”

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6 Responses to Help me make my next novel better!

  1. Joe in NC says:

    Not having read any of the story, I’ve only looked at the map.

    First impression is, it is hard to read, very rough. (And yes, I expanded it to very legible size.)

    No need to post this, just letting you know my initial thought.

  2. dave says:

    Joe, you’re right. The map’s a draft, and a rough one at that. Plus there are some issues—the map and the story line don’t quite match, so I need to fix the map. Getting the maps all tidied up will be one of the last things done before publication.

  3. Hank says:

    dave, I am impressed. The story line keeps me wanting to read more.I think after a few refinements you will have another winner.What I would like to know is how do you think of things to keep the story going? Could there be a trace of the Rocky Mountain high there? Just kidding but I could never think up something like this ,let alone write about it.Keep the pages coming. I think it’s a great read.

  4. dave says:

    Thanks for the kind words! I’m curious what refinements you had in mind—please pass them along. Sometimes I can look right at something and not see the problem because I’m so close to the story. Regarding writing, I’ve been asked that question many times. Yes, I outline, but only to get the ideas in order. I create character biographies. The most important is creating the conflict—without the conflict, there’s no story. Then I plunge in. It often seems to me that the story unfolds on the screen. The characters take on lives of their own. It just pours out on the screen. That’s not a very scientific explanation, is it? But that’s how it works for me. I have to be careful not to go too fast, because although I can see the scene in my mind, if I don’t put enough on paper, the reader can’t. So I need to examine all five senses to ensure the reader has enough information to visualize it.

  5. dave says:

    Jeff sent this to me as an e-mail, fearing it was too long for a comment. I like his thoughts so much, I’d like others to see them too. I also post a reply to his comment. Here are Jeff’s thoughts:

    I liked the review sample of TUT, a lot.

    I like the way you manage to add characters right and left while still making each one a realistic person. Although I don’t know this, it wouldn’t surprise me if each and every character had a full back story. Leaving the reader with this impression takes skill and talent in character development. (Or else it takes a whole lot of back stories!)

    Although he came and went awfully quick, I love the dragon and look forward to his next appearance. Most fantasy writers describe dragons as if they could withstand 50 psf wing loading and generate 500 shp to maintain level flight. I’ll bet those poorly scaled dragons irritate you more than they bother me, since I’m not an aviator. Anyway, it’s nice to “see” a more reasonable dragon in a fantasy.

    I personally find the idea of a planet inhabited by several intelligent races stretches my credulity. Unfortunately, the success of the Narnia books and Lord of the Rings means I just have to put up with stretch marks on my credulity.

    I see an early comment about the map. In my opinion you shouldn’t worry much about a pretty map or USGS accuracy. Exact locations are seldom crucial to the story and when I read a book which contains a map, I seldom if ever refer back to the map. If it’s good enough for your own reference, so you can write clear directions into the story, then it’s good enough.

    There’s a silly omission when we first drive up to the mine site. When we get to the steep switchback road, we shift into “compound low”. When we reach the top of this steep stretch, we don’t shift the differential back to high. This gives the reader a jar when we reach the mine area turnoff and AGAIN shift into compound low, or “double low” as they say here in the midwest. At most, it will take one sentence to fix.

    I have a real problem with Prince Rainier. He seems to have way too much influence over us. Is this his magic; is something more sinister afoot? Is the author leading up to a denouement where we help the Prince onto the throne only to discover his dark side? His character is confusing, and the subtle hints are muddied. I’ll take my adventure fantasy clear cut! Thank you.

    Now comes the long part of this email. I hope you’re up right now. If you’re on a down cycle, please read the rest some time when you’re up. I’m really trying to pass along an insight which might help, but the implication could be a little distressing.

    I enjoyed the review piece of TUT. I like the books about Odd Thomas, by Dean Koontz. I also found myself rereading the first chapter of a novel I’d started writing some time ago, and loved it. What do these all have in common? They’re written in the first person, in a style which invites the reader to identify with the protagonist.

    Fine, good, great, so I liked them all. So why am I currently rewriting my novel? I’m changing the person and style from first person chronological, to third person omniscient. And what will seem odd at first is, I won’t enjoy reading it in the new style as much as I did the original.


    Because once I realized WHY I liked the first style so much, it became obvious why so many critics and writing mentors recommend avoiding that style. I don’t know why they don’t spell it out…

    When a characterization invites me to identify with the protagonist and experience the action well enough to /grab/ me, then it will serve equally well to /reject/ other readers. For example: the character in my novel is a highly intelligent man who has broken new ground in scholastic and theological philosophy. The story he’s immersed into doesn’t depend on those characteristics, and the story is compelling on its own. So I have a whole universe of readers who would like the story, but the protagonist is a strong character, and it’s narrated from his point of view. As a result, I’ve just rejected the following readers: all women; everyone with a bad attitude toward philosophy (at least 80% of those who had to take it in college); everyone with a poor regard for theology; anyone who considers themselves a non intellectual. Not only that, but it’s almost impossible to sell a first- person narrative to the moviemakers, and my novel could make a great movie.

    That’s why first person narratives don’t work. Obviously they actually do work, because the Odd Thomas novels mentioned earlier made it onto best seller lists. But how much wider an audience would they attract if they were written in another style? More important IMHO, how many more readers could have enjoyed the great stories?

    I loved your blog entry and picture about trying a long bow. As a kid I read some historical works regarding the English long bow and its use in battle. Then I read Heinlein’s “Glory Road”, in which the protagonist picks up an English long bow for the first time in his life and proceeds to drive two arrows into the bullseye. HA! What silliness… Except that shortly after reading that novel, I had the opportunity to actually shoot a bow for the first time, a cheap fiberglass long bow at summer camp. I reviewed what I’d read in the battle instructions: pull until your thumb touches your ear, then release; line up the arrow head on the target; recall where the arrow struck, relative to the arrow head; with the next shot move the arrow head to compensate. My first arrow hit the dirt to the side of the target (50 feet away). My second arrow hit the target. My third and last hit the bullseye. When the counselor yelled, “Lucky hit!” I demanded three more arrows. All three nearly scraped each other, in the bullseye. Suddenly Heinlein no longer seemed fantastic!

    And the inside of my left arm was bloody!!! :O

  6. dave says:

    Jeff, first, many thanks for your thoughtful comments. These are exactly the kinds of things I’m looking for. Regarding back stories for each character,I haven’t done them completely, but I feel as though I know each one personally. Regarding Drogo, my dragon, we will hear very much more from him. The dragons become crucial to the outcome. And, they are rather large creatures. Thanks for catching the “compound low” issue–I’ll fix that right away! Now, regarding Prince Rainier: He is the main character. The book largely revolves around his growth from a rather bookish “second son” to a reluctant participant in the hairy politics of the day, to becoming the hope of the rebellion and, well, you can guess the rest. The book is really his story, narrated through Peter’s eyes. I dithered over 1st person versus 3rd person and opted for 1st person for several reasons: 1) it’s easier to write, 2) ostensibly Peter is writing down his experiences to be included in the collection at the Orgon Library, and 3) I was put onto the Great Book of Amber by Roger Zelazny, which is relatively current (1990s) fantasy and is written in the first person. Item 3 gave me the permission I sought to take it from Peter’s point of view. (I might mention that Peter is the book’s other main character. Peter has some growing up to do himself.) I don’t think writing in the first person is a problem as long as the reader can view the story fully through the narrator’s eyes. We’ll see. So, bottom line, I truly appreciate your comments. They will influence the book. (And re your longbow experience, I’m pleased to see I’m not the only one with a big bruise!) –Dave

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