My Life In Neon

Sci Fi / Fantasy writer Autumn Nicole Bradley – Dream in digital, live in neon

Archive for the tag “Delmyria”

Site Changes

One thing I would like to do is build a community around the Delmyria setting. I’d like fans to be able to do more than just read and comment. Disclaimer: Nothing I say here should be construed as giving license or ceding control or ownership. But I’d like to set up a license structure (not necessarily Creative Commons but definitely inspired by the openness) that allows fans to build on what I create.

I’m experimenting with BuddyPress plugin that adds many social networking functions to a blog. I’m not satisfied with the forum features it includes, however. I prefer any number of other purpose-built forum software packages to this. It reminds me too much of the Facebook discussion boards which are woefully lacking in both user and moderator control.

I also plan to have a wiki. I had one hosted here once before, but it was for personal use and removed.

In terms of actual news, “Mercy Killing the Dragon” has been revised and is now being submitted. I’ve added a yet untitled short story to the list. The new one focuses on a Kroh’chuk warrior and their traditions.

Series Branding, Pt 1

With shameless transparency, I’m going to lay out the plan for the future of the Delmyria brand. To answer the obvious, yes, I do view the setting as a brand rather than just a setting for a novel.

The goal has always been to expand to all forms of media from video games to graphic novels and from board games to movies. (And no, tabletop roleplayers, I haven’t forgotten you, either) Perhaps it’s just part of growing up immersed in multiple forms of media, but it’s difficult for me to think of the setting in terms of just one artifact, whether that is a book, or a film, or a game. I’ve always envisioned all of them as part of a whole, inseparable from the rest. The choice to begin with the novel was deliberate: it was always the one for which I could do the most work alone and with limited resources, while at the same time giving me complete control to solidify the setting before juggling things like game balance, or shot composition, or casting.

Part of maintaining that control is establishing the brand before finding a publisher for the novel, or a designer for the game, or a producer for the film. That means designing the logo, and establishing a fan base. Is this a matter of putting the cart before the horse? Not at all. The plan is certainly greatly advanced by finding a publisher in the short term, but that is not a fatal blow to the overall strategy. After all, the book is just one part of the whole.

But the real reason I’m doing it in this order is that I want to maximize my bargaining power down the road. The only way to gain bargaining power is money, and while I selfishly desire that my work sparks readers’ imaginations, the publishers and producers of the world see fans as dollar signs. He who controls the spice, controls the universe. (Side note: Go to Arrakis and befriend Fremen) And by that I mean that the more readers I have going in, the more clout I will have later.

Why I am saying this so candidly? Mainly because if you’re taking the time to read this and understand the method of my madness, I’m betting you can understand the difference between: A) my dream that someday someone will pick up a book I’ve written and say “Wow, this would be really cool as a . . . ” and let their imagination run wild, and B) my need for bargaining power to make that happen the right way, and not have to settle for a crappy SyFy channel miniseries that I hate more than the fans.

Tomorrow, it’s my birthday. Part 2 of Series Branding will come on Friday, and outline the specific steps I’m taking now as part of my overall branding strategy.

eBooks Publishing

Just over a month into the query letter battle, and I’ve successfully been rejected from half of the agents so far. (How’s that for a positive spin?) What’s been most amazing so far haven’t been the rejections, but the speed of the rejections. Most advice, even from the agents themselves, states that a response shouldn’t be expected in less than 6 week’s time. Twice now, I have had responses within 24 hours, and one of those was within 45 minutes! Say what you will of the outcome, but you can’t complain about the service with some of these.

I’ve recently come across Smashwords, an indie eBooks publisher. To address the immediate question: No. I am not considering independent self-publishing for Root of the First at this stage. It’s been way too short of a submission process to “give up” now and go it alone. Instead, I am eyeing Smashwords for a different reason. Instead of publishing the novel through Smashwords, I plan to publish a series of short stories set in the same world as eBooks. Here’s a preview of the first two:

Shade and Shadow

Mada y’Rin has nearly died seven times in just the last two years. When Duloy does his job well, the boy remains blissfully unaware of how hard it is to keep him alive, and of the debt of guilt the old priest must pay before leaving the child to Adura’s Will.

Mercy Killing the Dragon

The people of Ranamaha’i did it to prove that they were the masters of their fate, not some elusive fae. But when Maharta, an urchin and a mute, discovers he cannot put the wings back on a fly, he learns that mastery is not found in destroying.

How to beat writer’s block: Headline Plotting and Setting Development

Headline plotting is a technique I’ve developed for my own writing that has helped me connect setting to plot, and is something of a Swiss Army knife of plot. The technique has its roots in tabletop roleplaying games and creating “plot hooks” for quests and events, which I’ve adapted to the sphere of novel writing.

I created it out of necessity (like all great inventions, muahahaha!) when I reached a roadblock in Root of the First that sent me back to replot the book from the start after writing 300 pages of it. Part of the problem was that the setting felt very flat, and some of the events felt very “generic.” Background actors were faceless, stock characters and events felt very arbitrary. I needed a way to flesh it out based on the setting I’d created.

Setting Details

Setting is often described as being the backdrop against which the story takes place, like a text skene that only exists to prevent the real world from cluttering up the story. After all, say what you will of outdoor theatre (Shameless plug for the American Player’s Theatre here), who would want to see King Lear being performed if there was nothing to block out the view of the highway in the background? A tightly controlled setting keeps the unnecessary “stuff” in the world from getting in the way.

But without enough world detail, the events take place in a vacuum. Which setting details are worth keeping and which can be cut generally boils down to: does the protagonist or their main opposition interact with it, or does it have any consequence on the way events play out? If not, realize that it exists solely by author whimsy and not plot necessity. Some whimsical color is essential. But note the word “some” in that sentence.

So how do you create setting elements that intersect with the plot and justify their existence while making your world unique, vibrant, and lifelike? Headline plotting.

Headline Plotting

Put simply, headline plotting is where you brainstorm all the events going on in the world in which your story takes place. Whether it’s a headline in a local news story or a world shaking event, it doesn’t matter. It’s important. Here are some of the examples I came up with for Root of the First:

  • A woman claiming to be a scion of the Raven Clan has staked a claim to the Raven Throne
  • Labor disputes in Laes have sparked a rebellion
  • Rumors that the Duke of Deyledd is terminally ill has led to a succession squabble
  • Piracy in the waters off of Ca’grw has all but shut down trade with Veniea
  • A show of wonders has arrived in New Ca’grw and is open for business

Canny readers might recognize the first of these as a major point of contention in book 2. I knew I wanted book 2 to be about Calis’s struggle to gain the throne, but creating a true rival for her (rather than just generic opposition) makes that struggle far more interesting. The rumors about Deyledd’s illness allowed me to put a face on some border raiders. Instead of just attacking travelers indiscriminately, they are now intentionally destabilizing Deyledd to aggravate the succession struggle enough that its neighbors can take over a contested piece of territory.

The advantage to creating setting like this is that it ties together both the where and the what happened. If I were to describe Deyledd as a duchy, and indulge in flowery narrative about its pastoral landscapes, it would get dull very quickly. Deyledd is now a place where things happen. The succession struggle in Deyledd becomes the problem of the characters in the novel when those border raids catch them in the middle.

“Random” Problems – Applying Headline Plotting

Consider the following story: Steve is driving to work and can’t be late. We have two connected plot/setting elements here: Steve has a route to his destination, and a deadline. Presumably, to keep the tension high, he has just enough time to travel the route and get to work on time. If we say he is just starting a new job after having been fired from the last two for being late, we’ve added pathos but we haven’t added tension. The problem is still the same, and the difficulty is still the same. All that’s changed is we’ve added intensity to the motive. Raising the stakes is important, but it has precisely nothing to do with actually challenging the character.

So let’s add a challenge. But what? Let’s brainstorm some headlines.

  • Now that the rain has let up, the 18th Street bridge is being shut down to begin seasonal repairs
  • A person was shot on the corner of Lexington and High Ave and police have blocked the street while dealing with the situation
  • The depressed economy has led to the city implementing a massive budget cut for all police officers, firefighters, and teachers. As an act of civil disobedience, the police have used their squad cars to escort a massive protest march through the street Steve takes to work

Any one of these both explains more about the world Steve finds himself in, shows that the unpredictable events of the world can and do affect Steve’s life, and they do so in a way that does not make them “feel” arbitrary.

There’s a reason for these things happening. In our plot, the reason they happen is that Steve needs to be late for work and lose his job to kick start the novel. In our setting, though, the reason for their happening is what makes them feel genuine.

Embracing Facebook

So, I did it. There’s an official Chronicles of Delmyria page on Facebook. Become a fan. Follow the agent hunt progress.

Chronicles of Delmyria


Proofreading is done. Yikes. There’s a lot that can go horribly wrong grammatically in six hundred pages.

I have to say, at least 80% of what I had to correct was the result of one thing, and one thing only: deleting a passage, and then not re-reading the entire paragraph before moving on. Again, it comes back to transitions and flow. What, to me, is a seamless transition is to the reader what a former stage acting colleague of mine referred to as a BAFT. A Big-Ass Fucking Transition. But for me, it’s more like a Broke-Ass Fucking Transition.

When Macbeth has to go from cordial to crazy in Act III, that’s a BAFT. When Homer Simpson says, “Screw Springfield, we’re going to Alaska,” that’s a BAFT. It’s a sudden, extreme, but also properly motivated change in a character’s attitudes and behavior, or the direction of a scene. Break the cause and effect chain and suddenly your audience is left asking, “WTF just happened?”

When Calis is trading sword swipes with a Dove swordsman in one sentence, and the next sentence presumes she is already prone and disarmed because the intervening space has been cut, that’s a Broke-Ass Fucking Transition.

Sometimes, I intentionally employ that as a matter of humorous juxtaposition, like when Calis punches her brother in the nose; it jumps right from the cause to the aftermath like an old Looney Toons gag. That kind of juxtaposition is great.

But when edit pass after edit pass leaves thought fragments dangling in the manuscript like so much vestigial appendix, the question becomes: “What is this even doing here?”

Typically, those make good candidates for plain old cuts. Just take the red pen to the whole paragraph, or the offending sentence, and leave it out completely. Obviously, it was unimportant enough that it was partially cut last pass, or else the fragment wouldn’t be all that’s left.

The trickier ones are the ones where the subsequent plot assumes that event to have occurred. Now, if you’re wrestling to keep your word count under control (like I was), simply re-adding whatever was cut (if you can’t remember what that was, that’s a good reason to keep daily or weekly draft backups!) may not be the best option. Then it’s time to get creative with the grammar and still try to get the point across. Sometimes, I fail miserably at that. Sometimes those fragments are the most recent attempt at doing precisely that.

But hey, it’s text on a screen, not cuneiform etchings.

Highlight. Delete. Try again.

Proofreading My Way Back To Sanity

So, I am still recovering from my Revolutionary Girl: Utena induced depression. Sometimes, as a creative artist, you encounter something so amazing you say: “Wow, I wanna do that.” Just ask the legions of people who entered film school thanks to Clerks or Pulp Fiction.  Then, sometimes you encounter something so amazing you say: “Well fuck. I can’t top that, so I think I’ll go become an accountant.”

I can’t say everyone will have this reaction, but that was how I reacted to Shojo Kakumei Utena. As I’ve written about before, gender roles in fiction are something of a professional interest of mine. So, when RG:U started, and thrust every obnoxious stereotype it could think of down my throat, I nearly stopped watching. But, what I was treated to was a brilliant, patient deconstruction and subversion of each. After the last episode came to a close, I was left with the disconcerting feeling that I wasn’t going to see anything quite that cool for a long time.

This was a stark contrast to my experience with Avatar. While I found it just as moving, I saw it more as a sign of things to come. More films will be trying to imitate it, and advance that technology. RG:U is 13 years old and it slipped under my radar for that long. Meanwhile, nothing similar to it is out there that isn’t too cute (I realize the irony in saying other things are too cute when RG:U’s principal image is a rose), or too obviously targeted at 12 year old boys. Even other works by the same writer, director, or artist are missing something.

It’s genuinely difficult for me to pin down what made it great when there was so much about it that could have gone so horribly wrong in other hands. After all, I thought I was going to hate it at first because of how over-the-top the visuals were, and how forceful the image of the rose was. But somehow the drama trumped all that.

So, I retreated to my novel and wrapped up the final 60 pages.

That’s right. It’s done.

Now, I have a finished, complete work that is almost ready to submit. It just requires a proofreading pass. So now, I wallow in my post-RG:U proofreading and count the days until I encounter something just as awesome, bolstered by the silly hope that someday soon there will be a fan out there who thinks RG:U can’t hold a candle to the Chronicles of Delmyria.

Hey. I can hope.

The Last Leg

After a month of moderate progress and much distraction, I am officially in the final leg of Root of the First. The file size is under the goal of 600 pages, and there’s still more that’s pre-ordained for cutting. So not only will I reach my goal of getting it under 600 pages, I’ll beat it. Possibly by a fairly large margin.

It was a bit slower going than I had hoped. I was thinking I’d be at this point nearly a month ago. But on my most recent read-through, I realized just how much maudlin crap was weighing down the third quarter of the book. In some parts, it was clear that it took so long to write that I had just plain old forgot that I had just covered that same information 2 chapters earlier. Other parts, it seems like I didn’t think the audience got the point the first time I said something, and repeated it three more times in different chapters.

There’s an important lesson there, that related directly to the theme of the novel. When I was drafting it, I obviously didn’t think I had made the theme apparent by the actions of the characters, so I reinforced it with a lot of heavy, needless narrative and dialog. Part of me is glad it was there to be cut, since it helped remind me what the scenes were really about. And it also gave me plenty of room to cut without digging too deeply into the plot.

In this most recent revision, I decided to cut a character from the ending that used to be there. Originally, he reunited with the group. But now, I keep the group separated and end his story a little differently to set up for the sequel. I wrote the section in a fairly self-contained way, so that his entire “end plot” can be pushed off to book 2 if need be. It’s not exactly a cliffhanger either way, and it cleans up the plot a fair bit to keep it at the end of book 1, but exactly when it takes place chronologically is pretty negotiable. So if that gets cut, there’s at least another 60 pages.

The home stretch is going to be the hardest of all. While I have renewed enthusiasm, I also just got my hands on the Unity3D Iphone development license, so I need to focus a bit more time on that. I also need to almost completely rewrite the last hundred pages of the book from scratch. I rearranged the end plot so much that there’s not much salvageable text left. Sad but true, but I think the new stuff will be so much better that it’ll be more than worth it!

Transitions and Flow

So, in the book there’s a concept I refer to as the Amaya, and it’s a kind of “flow” that all things have as they change. Ironic, I think, since the biggest problem I encountered in the past week was that I had three sections of the book that no longer flowed.

It started when I checked out Write or on the recommendation of someone I met on a film shoot of all places. The premise of the site is simple: You set a timer, and a word goal, and in Kamikaze Mode, if you don’t keep up with the writing, the words unwrite themselves. Yeah, they just start disappearing off the page. It’s meant as a way to keep you focused on the task at hand, and it certainly does that. But at what cost?

Flow. Yes, the ideas that I churned out “worked,” you could say, in that most of them are more-or-less intact. But the time I saved blasting the words on the page cost me a lot of time in the back end as I spent much of the week and into the weekend mulling over how to fix it so it all made sense. In fact, even after my grand scheme replotting so that one scene flowed smoothly into the next, I overlooked a glaring error: At one point, a character has to stop to open the door toward themselves, putting their life in danger. Only to have that same character barricade the door from the other side. While comical (in fact, I may go back and re-add it at some point), the narrative demanded that they escape their pursuers at this point or else things just kind of break down.

Not to mention that the three problem scenes, taken together, are an info dump worthy of the Matrix their prior state. That was the biggest mess to clean up; the information vomit covering the pages. Too much in too short a span. It’s like I found myself channeling the spirit of Ayn Rand. (Ok, so it wasn’t a 90 page lecture on why charity is evil, but you get the picture.)

In short, I found that writing quickly may have gotten it onto the page faster, but I didn’t really care much for what I got. And that was with a plan going in. I can’t imagine how awful (or how much would have been unwritten while I considered) what came out would have been if I didn’t know what I wanted the scene to be about.

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