My last Od-Blog was about revisiting my first attempt at writing an Odyssium novel back in the early 2000s, a book called Ocean Lord: The Tides that Brought Twilight. Going into it was a heady mix of dread and optimism. However, having just wrapped up all 19 hours and 25 minutes of it, I'm ready to give my review.
So, here's how it started:
...and here's how it's going:
Consider that gif of the great Debra Jo Rupp is the "tl;dr" review. Ocean Lord was...less than great. However, instead of just jumping on my old self from over 20 years ago, let's make this more instructional. I know I have readers out there who would like to write a book someday. They've told me as much, and I've tried to impart to them whatever writerly wisdom I've gained from over 30 years of writing. So, let's see what worked, and what didn't.
First off, as mentioned in previous Od-Blogs, the plot here in Ocean Lord is the embryonic stage of the plot for my upcoming Tides of Odyssium series. Almost all of it has changed, and it's for the better.
The story primarily follows two characters: Cyn and Jace. There's a thriving mercenary trade in the Odyssan Archipelago, and Cyn used to be of the grittier variety--the murder-for-hire variety. Since reconnecting with her childhood friend, Jace, she downgraded herself to doing regular merc work--hired muscle, theft, etc. Jace now works alongside her, but regularly gets them both into trouble by doing the right thing when bad things rear their ugly heads.
Long story short, she gets roped into a job by the Majdi, who are offering to pay her an exorbitant amount to find an outcast of the Order...an outcast that can change her appearance at will. In that search, we go through a number of action set pieces with little logic stringing them together and a lot of strange motivational choices.
Actual text between me and the wife.
As you can see, I couldn't entirely get through the summary without starting to hack it to pieces. But it does put a spotlight on the most glaring misstep I made. Yes, I had a framework of a plot, but I hadn't thought it through remotely enough. I don't remember whether I'd outlined Ocean Lord back then. If I had, that outline wasn't ready to come out of the oven. The characters were all half-baked (i.e. very one-dimensional), and didn't grow much from beginning to the end, as in...you know, character arcs. Also, I hadn't thought things through like, "hey, I want to get them down to this haunted sunken ship, because that would be cool, right? Buuuuut I don't really want to spend the time thinking of how to make the choice to go down there logical to the characters."
So, that would be my first piece of advice. If you're just starting out, outline. The ability to write on one's feet typically comes later, after a lot of practice (in my case, years of it). For instance, even now if I don't have a fully realized outline, I know what that means. It means I can write it, but I'm leaving the door open for writer's block to stomp its way in, and it means my revision process is going to be a lot more labor intensive.
The next thing I bring up might turn out to be a little more subjective. Much to my dismay, I found out early on through my listen of Ocean Lord that it was not my final draft. In fact, the book had been rewritten--not revised, I mean REWRITTEN word-by-word completely--after someone somewhere lobbed the idea at me that the omniscient perspective was an amateurish method of storytelling. So, right off the bat, I knew this was going to be an inferior version of the book. I'd been looking forward somewhat to the rewritten draft.
Let's back up, though, and explain what "omniscient" means to anyone who might not know. The omniscient perspective means the narrator can jump into whomever's head they want, whenever they want, and we see the world through their eyes. Second, let me also explain that that sentiment that omniscient is amateurish is not a one-size-fits-all declaration. Many successful books have been written using omniscient perspective, and it's probably more accepted now than it was back when I was told that. In fact, I read and reviewed a book a couple of years ago that handled the omniscient perspective faaaaar better than I had back when I was using it.
All that said, that piece of advice fit me, and it resulted in my writing taking a massive leap forward, I think. A lot of it had to do with the fact I had to write Ocean Lord all over again to employ fixed perspectives, which, at probably 150,000 words all over again, equals a LOT of practice. Since then, the style I've developed is one that uses a very tight third-person POV. The enclosed fight in the Mythillian Rail in SCRAPPER is a good example. We have the rail rolling, and Salla taking the reader on a very disorienting ride of tumbling about, bodies piling onto him, getting his bell rung by an errant boot, etc.
This leads us into our next bit of instructional criticism. I was doing a LOT of telling rather than showing. The way I described most events was based largely on authors I'd read growing up. It was thorough, but very detached. The reader is an observer, seeing their surroundings. The characters were wearing this and that, but I devoted very little space to learning more about those characters' views, idiosyncrasies, and so on that might more fully flesh them out. Yes, I developed relationships and had maybe a secondary layer to a character, but the takeaway was that I clearly hadn't thought my characters through enough either.
So, let's leave things at that for now. It was a good attempt at a book, but I will absolutely admit to struggling to get through it. I felt the urge to DNF it around the midway point, but soldiered on. It does make me wonder how I'll feel about my current work in 20 years. I mean, I revised my first four published books over the last few years, though that was more to bring them up to my current standard than there being anything terribly wrong with them. So, you never know. If anything, it just goes to show that you never stop learning so long as you never stop striving to craft a better story.
...and it doesn't have to be about crafting a better story. For you, it could be some other medium of art, or basketball playing, or raising your kids, or advancing your career. We've only got one life, and when you latch onto something you love--the way I do with writing--my last bit of advice would be to pour all of your love into that thing, and make it as beautiful as it can be.
Yeah, a little off brand for the sort of thing that goes into these Od-Blogs, but whatever. Till next time, take care.