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November 30, 2017

Super Novel Adventures of DOOM (AKA Hiatus Time)

All right, I’m just going to come out and say it: I like Infinite’s theme from Sonic Forces.

I’m an easy mark for songs with heavy guitars and/or metal vibes, so the instrumental aspect has its charms.  The techno stuff is fine, too, especially given the character we’re dealing with -- a masked menace that uses a perversion of science’s power to cast illusions and inspire fear in others.  In theory, that should mean I’d say “the lyrics are the weak link”, but I’m fine with them.  It comes off as someone with a HUGE ego boasting about how strong and cool and deadly they are.  Expected, but appreciable nonetheless.

I’m not 100% in love with the song, granted, but I’ll give it a listen without cringing.  Maybe that’s because I’m inclined to play the contrarian; I’ve seen comments decrying the song and the character as “LOL SO EDGY” and “THE EDGIEST CHARACTER EVER” -- and I don’t really see it.  Is it just because it sounds like a Linkin Park song?  Is it because of the context of the character?  I guess it begs the question of what it means to be edgy in the first place.  Unless we can all come to a consensus on the qualifications, I get the feeling that --

What?  Huh?  What do you mean this isn’t another post on a Sonic game?

*reads title*

Oh.  Okay, let’s shift gears then.

I’d say that the title of this post explains more -- and succinctly -- than what I could in a few dozen paragraphs.  But in case anyone’s eyes glazed over, I’ll say it plainly: I’m working on a novel.  I’ve been working on a novel since mid-January.  That’s not to say that it’s the only one I’ve ever worked on, and I’ll explain why in a bit (even though I have before), but I want to make it clear that that’s where a lot of my attention has gone over the past year.  The reason for that, at least partially, is because I’m in the home stretch.  With just a few more chapters, I’ll be finished.  Relatively speaking.

I mean, I should be honest.  When I say “finished”, that pretty much means “finished with the first draft”.  There’s still a crapload of editing to do, partly because when I read over the files I’ve got I can see all sorts of typos and redundancies.  (None of them will ever beat that time I typed in “shat a finger”, though.)  The big issue is that I need to put some serious effort into refining what I’ve got.  Or, alternatively, I’ve got to whittle the word count to something more manageable.  

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s familiar with my work; it’s just that, with the quest for publication drawing closer, I suspect that it’ll be crucial to shrink the word count and thus increase my prospects of acceptance.  That’s not to say that longer stories don’t have their place, but from what I’ve heard?  New writers + smaller word counts = higher prospects of scoring a literary agent = higher chance of getting published.

I guess technically I’m not a new writer; I’ve been trying to push novels years before I even thought about blogging.  Since I’m here and not, say, lounging in a throne, you can guess how that’s gone so far.  Not for lack of trying, though.  See, the thing I’ve never really talked about other than here on this blog is…well, technically everything related to me and novels outside of a passing mention.  So if I’m really coming up on the finish line, I guess now’s a good time to go into detail.

The absurdity of the situation is that I’ve been pushing the same story for years now -- to an extent.  Same characters, same general skeleton of a plot, same plot beats in a lot of cases.  But when I finished the first version of the story, I didn’t get any hits.  Rejection letters abound.  And sure, we could all work under the assumption that I just didn’t submit to the right people and tried to jam a square peg into a round hole.  Sure, you could argue that in a world where Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey can become cultural phenomena, the gates are so far open that they’ve been blown off their hinges with rocket launchers.  But the way I saw it, I wasn’t good enough to get published.  So eventually, I started over.

And I finished after starting over.  I won’t scare you off (or invite scorn) by telling you how much I wrote either time, but I’ll just say this: when I started, I planned to just make a simple one-shot.  Then that one-shot became a seven-shot, if only because the file I had got so big that merely loading it and scrolling too far at once would crash Microsoft Word.  So yeah, that was the first version of the story, and the one that failed the most.  Looking back, I could see why; not only was my technique not there yet, but I was also guilty of falling into the narrative traps reviewers, bloggers, gamers, and even I have spoken against.  So if nothing else, blogging has helped me become a slightly better writer.  Slightly.

If you need a roadmap, here it is.  Version 1 of the story was finished, as it should have been -- even if “finished” put it on par with the collective length of the Harry Potter books times 0.5.  Once I bungled that in the “submit and pray” phase, a maelstrom of successive edits transformed the story so much that the skeleton of the plot took on a brand new body -- and thus became V2.  Guess what?  Didn’t work out.  Again, I could have succeeded -- possibly -- if I continued to submit, but A) I wasn’t making the progress I wanted at the pace I wanted, and B) those rejections cut deep.  If you ever wondered why I’ve got such an acute lean toward self-deprecation, that’s part of the reason.

Then again, there was also C) even the strongest and most numerous edits couldn’t overcome the fact that I worked with a story that was -- in my eyes -- unsalvageable.  Too many core problems needed addressing, and the only way to resolve them was to start from scratch.  And I did.  So that brought me to Version 3 -- technically the same characters and plot, but MASSIVELY overhauled in every respect.  Before you ask: yes, it basically hit the same length as the finished Version 2.  Granted it would’ve been a pack of six instead of seven, but whatever.  I have problems telling the difference between a good idea and a bad idea.

I think Version 3 is actually kind of good.  Well, good enough.  I’ve got backup copies stocked all over the place, including my phone -- and when I give them a read for old times’ sake, I’m actually entertained by what I find.  Maybe it’s because those files have been on the backburner for a while, but hey.  It’s something.  And it’s something I tried to push into the hands of willing agents.  It still didn’t work, but years of failure and dejection have helped me realize what the issues are.  See, first impressions are important.  Back then -- even with barely-edited copies of V3 -- I screwed up without even knowing it by using dumb gimmicks instead of offering a proper snapshot of the story.  And for those unaware, agents and publishers and the like have to deal with hundreds, if not thousands of submissions on a daily basis.  They don’t have time for any shit.  It’s an issue that’s exacerbated from the get-go; submission requirements vary from agency to agency, but in my experience you never, ever give them a full copy of your manuscript until they request it. 

They want a query letter that gives basic info, a sort of “elevator pitch” for your novel, and (naturally) your contact information.  More to the point, they only want a bite-sized sample of your manuscript.  The biggest amount I’ve seen calls for is a whopping three chapters.  Some ask for one chapter.  A couple of them have asked for fifty pages.  But more often than not, I see requests for ten pages (give or take).  If you can’t win them over in ten pages, then the hundreds that follow -- the thousands that follow -- might as well head straight to the trash.

It’s a good thing I’m over the hump.

I know it’s not my query letter (or query letter-writing skills, which I’ve leveled up over the years).  By extension, I’m pretty sure it’s not my writing ability; I still have concerns about my “voice” and my overall execution, but I don’t think I’m an unsalvageable mess.  The proof I have is that, believe it or not, there was actually an agent who was excited by what I had.  Unfortunately, she wasn’t available to work with me on the project, so she had to pass.  But she still gave me hope.  I could still be the writing hero I’ve always wanted to be.

So you would think that, after so much prior failure and after so much effort to redeem myself -- after three separate versions of the same story -- I would double down on my submission efforts since I had a potential winner on my hands.  You would think wrongly.  One glimmer of hope versus dozens of despair-inducing failures; which one do you think I took to heart?  So even if I could have changed nothing and maybe succeeded by throwing out the proverbial line, last December I came to a decision.  I needed to turn my line into a net.  And since by that point I had already started coming up with alternate scenarios -- what I would do differently, if given the chance -- I realized I had no choice but to go for it.

“I have problems telling the difference between a good idea and a bad idea.”

Now I’m on Version 4, but via methodology that gives me a much higher chance of success.  For one thing, it’s not as if it completely invalidates every last word in V3; it’s there to be a replacement intro, an Act 1 that supersedes the already-written Act 1.  BUT -- and this is the crucial part -- V4 acts as both the start of a larger story series and a standalone entry.  Even if novel series are in pretty solid demand, the first entry needs to be strong enough to justify interest and support in anything else that follows -- possibly to the point where you could stop the story there.  V3’s first entry, even if it was improved, couldn’t handle that.  V4 can.  And if I have my say, it will.

But I need to be careful.  I don’t know if I have enough life energy left to make it to V5; a different project, sure, but the sheer amount of time I’ve put into V4 (and its earlier iterations) can’t go to waste if I can help it.  That’s why I need to take into account everything I’ve learned through my years of research, reflection, and of course, failure.  I rushed in and went ham in the past, and it got me nothing but a broken heart.  Now I need to take things slowly.  Be careful.  Act, and write, in moderation.  Even if I’m lacking in talent, my effort will compensate for the disparity.  Or to put it in nerd terms: people think I’m a Neji or Shikamaru, but I’m actually a Rock Lee.

But enough of that “fighting for your dreams” shit.  What does this mean for Cross-Up?

It’s not as if I’m shutting it down forever, or even shutting it down entirely.  Right now, my plan is to scale back so I can focus on novel stuff; I’m making progress, but I realized months ago that I could make much more progress if I switched priorities.  There’s an argument to be made that I should’ve gone on hiatus a long time ago, but I wanted to hold out until the holiday season because presumably, people will be busy gearing up for that and being with their families.  Who wants to spend their Christmas Eve listening to me tear into Squeenix again?

So what are the details?  For starters: I’m not going to upload a post next week (12/3 to 12/9).  After that?  I’m scaling back the output from two posts a week to just one -- and that one post will likely, hopefully appear on Thursdays instead of Mondays and Thursdays.  How long will things stay that way?  I don’t know.  Certainly through the rest of December.  Possibly through January.  I haven’t decided yet, and it’s mostly going to depend on how much novel progress I can make.  I would assume -- or maybe hope -- I’ll be back in full swing by February, but even the best laid plans can go awry.  So we’ll see.  Also, I reserve the right to just not throw up a post one day, but that’s more of “break glass in case of emergency” event.

Now the question becomes “What will I upload during that hiatus?”  Hmmm.  I wonder what it’ll be.

It’s a mysteryyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy!

Don’t worry, though.  I’m not afraid to make a sudden substitution of posts if something attention-demanding pops up.  That’s what happened with the EA/Battlefront/quasi-legal gambling debacle from a couple of weeks ago.  Beyond that?  There are still a lot of things I want to talk about, if only to commit my thoughts to the virtual space.  More Danganronpa.  More Nier.  Stuff about Stranger Things.  Stuff about Xenoblade Chronicles 2.  Stuff about Sword Art Online *nervous twitch*.  And it would be irresponsible -- if not unforgivable -- of me to keep up this blog and not say more about Yu-Gi-Oh ARC-V.  But for the sake of maintaining credibility I’ll use this space to say YOU’LL COWARDS DON’T EVEN WATCH ARC-V.  (And you should.  For…assorted reasons.)

And besides, maybe I should take a break to do more than just write.  There’s admin stuff I’ve been putting off for a while now, and I get the feeling that the sooner I tackle it, the better off I’ll be -- least of all because it’ll increase the blog’s visibility.  Speaking of?  I’m seriously overdue for an update to the site’s aesthetic.  As much as I love the color green, I could do without this sickly shade of it -- though I suppose that in order to make the change more palpable, I need to redesign my avatar, too.  I think I can come up with some kind of new style.

But in all seriousness?  Going on hiatus for a side project a selfish request, I know.  And the alternative isn’t much better; this post is working under the assumption that any Cross-Up contributions are basically blessings from on high, which is probably as hubristic as it gets.  Still, I’m doing it because it’s something I want to do -- and maybe even have to do.  I want to do what I can to make a difference; I want to make the world a better place.  If there’s even the slightest chance to do that with solid storytelling, then I’ve got no choice but to give it a shot. 

That’s what it means to be a writing hero: it’s not just someone who made it to the big leagues, or made lots of cash with some fancy words.  It’s someone whose art -- whose mere presence -- elevates and inspires others to go beyond the limits around them.  Could I become a hero by whining about video games?  Possibly.  But I’ve got my eyes on something a little bit bigger. Tracer from Overwatch famously said that “the world could always use more heroes”.  And while I agree wholeheartedly with that -- note to self: do a post on Overwatch and/or Winston -- I want to take it a step further.  The world could always use more hope.  And a good story can provide exactly that.

We’ll see if I’ve got what it takes to be a hero.  Until then?  Thanks for reading.  I’ll do what I can to change the world.

And in exchange?  You guys out there be sure to do the same.

Also, play ARMS.  It’s pretty good.

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