Tim Frankovich

Writer's Blog & Home of Warpsteel Press

Author: Tim Frankovich Page 3 of 4

Harvey & Writing

trackingmap.jpgThis picture shows a magnetic hurricane tracking chart. One exactly like this used to hang in my grandparents’ home. Almost every time we were there, one or more of us would mess around with the little magnets on it. And invariably, we would make a dotted line leading directly to the Galveston/Houston area.
(In my parents’ home, we used the paper tracking charts that the news stations printed every year. No magnets to play with.)
If you didn’t grow up on the Gulf Coast, this is probably completely foreign to you. But tracking hurricanes was something that happened every year. Sometimes, those little magnets were vitally important. Sometimes, there were many of them, showing multiple hurricanes and storms moving throughout the Atlantic basin.
It was normal. It was the way we lived.
Today, with the internet, we can pull up the charts and tracks from the National Hurricane Center at any moment. We can see it on our weather apps. We’ve upgraded a little bit.
But the hurricanes are the same. They show up and cause devastation.
Harvey derailed most of our plans around here. We were extremely fortunate to be one of the homes in our town that did not flood (7,700 did!). But it’s played havoc with everything else in our lives. My business has taken a huge hit and may not recover. Hundreds of our friends lost part or all of their homes. We’ve all become experts at tearing out sheet rock and insulation.
I had a goal on my current novel writing to reach 50,000 words by September 9th. That didn’t happen. It still hasn’t happened. Harvey arrived two weeks before that day and everything changed. We lost tons of sleep, from which we haven’t fully recovered. We hurried out in the aftermath to help our family, our friends, our neighbors. Our church ran a shelter, organized work crews, and a distribution center. We have/had dozens of people from other states show up to help out. Writing, and many other things, got pushed to the background.
Normalcy, such as it is, is slowly peeking over the edge of reality, asking if it can come back. I don’t know. It might, but I think it’ll be changed. You don’t go through something like this without changing.
I’ve written a few hundred words in the past week or so. Starting to get back into my story. I thought I knew what was happening.
And then my protagonist did something totally stupid and almost got himself killed. That wasn’t in the outline.
Neither was Harvey. Huh. Art imitates life.

Connect and share:

"You have a star in your eye"

The writing has continued to be slow over the past couple of weeks. But I’ve now set myself a specific goal for hitting the halfway mark of the book. I’ll let you know if I reach it. In the meantime, here’s another glimpse into the writing process:
A couple days ago, I was driving home from the grocery store. As is sometimes common, I was going through an upcoming scene in my head. In it, my female protagonist is introduced to a significant minor character. He bows to her, and as he comes back up, he says something that only she can hear. But what does he say? As I turned the last corner leading to my house, the line came to me: “You have a star in your eye.”
NGC7129_schedler_c70.jpgI had no intention of taking things in that direction. The line just popped into my head. And immediately, I knew the significance of it.
That one line changed everything. I won’t go into too much detail, so as not to spoil the book’s storyline, but here are some generalities:
I had thought I understood the character arc for this particular protagonist. I thought it was a decent arc and storyline. But this one line changed all of it. I suddenly understood how she connected to an entire fantasy race in the story. I suddenly understood her connection to the magic system of this world. And I immediately realized the potential of where this could lead by the time of the book’s climax.
One line of dialogue. One comment from a minor character. And it changed that much.
That’s the way writing goes sometimes. It doesn’t matter how much I plan things out, how much I outline, or how much I map character arcs. Sometimes, something just pops into my head, I write it down, and everything changes.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s not a bad thing. It doesn’t frustrate me. On the contrary, it excites me. Writing sometimes seems just as much a process of discovery as it is creativity. When I stumble into one of those discoveries, like this one, I feel a surge of enthusiasm for the story. I want to get this scene down and see where it leads. I want to discover what comes next. Ideally, future readers will hit this point in the story and feel the same way: What comes next?

Connect and share:

Writing Update

I have nothing much to say here right now.
Things have picked up a little bit on the writing front. I’m over 22,000 words on the current novel. Continuing to get sidetracked by world building, especially names.
Funny things happen when you’re working on a huge book with lots of characters.
I had a couple of plot holes that needed filling. Then I realized that one minor character would fill those holes nicely. Then I realized that he would also provide a major turning point to the antagonist. Then I realized he wasn’t such a minor character any more.
I created another minor character just to have someone for one of the protagonists to talk with in a particular scene. Then I realized that I really, really liked this guy. And now he’s not so minor any more, either.
I have an outline of the big story, of course, but there is plenty of room for changes. Some writers follow a strict outline and some write from “the seat of their pants.” I’m somewhere in between. I like to know where the story is going, but I also enjoy being surprised.
I’m reminded of something J.R.R. Tolkien wrote in a letter, while he was hard at work on The Lord of the Rings:

“A new character has come on the scene (I am sure I did not invent him, I did not even want him, though I like him, but there he came walking into the woods of Ithilien): Faramir, the brother of Boromir…”

And we know where that part of the story went…

Connect and share:

Worldbuilding Woes

The new novel is coming along very slowly. I’m possibly around 11% through. This is proving to be far more difficult writing than the last one, and the main reason is worldbuilding.
For those unfamiliar with the concept, when crafting a fantasy or science fiction novel, a writer has to become, in J.R.R. Tolkien’s terminology, a sub-creator. It means making up everything about a world – culture, language, technology, development, religions, social classes, and so on. It means crafting enough of this new locale to be reasonably believable to the reader. (To be honest, many other genres do the same thing, such as novels set in an imaginary small town Americana, etc.)
Sometimes, a writer will skimp on some details while elaborating lengthily about others. For example, I was reading Patrick Rothfuss the other day and noticed that he almost never goes into any detail on describing clothing (Kvothe “put on his pants and shirt” is about it). Yet he goes into enormous detail describing the gesture-language of one group of people. Stephen Lawhead writes for great lengths about food.
The lengthy parts aren’t always necessary for a reader to enjoy the story. Sometimes, they’re an integral part of the story itself, but that’s actually kind of rare. More often, they simply add flavor, providing more “realism” to a location with which the reader is not familiar.
The problem is finding that balance. How elaborate do I get? How much can I skip over? Does the reader need to know the current clothing fashions in Arazu? What about the architecture of the city walls in Kuktarma? Or the details of language structure in Rasna? (These are all locations in my current work-in-progress.)
Screen Shot 2017-07-03 at 11.52.01 AM.png
(No, I’m not getting THIS detailed… but I am reading things like this to learn more…)
Some things have to be there, no matter what. Since I’ve made the choice of having six distinct countries within this story, they have to be different from one another in more than just the location on the map. Characters from different countries have to have names that work with that country’s language/naming style.
I’m letting this kind of thing slow me down way too much. Yesterday, I stopped writing because I realized it was time to introduce two new characters and I hadn’t decided on names for them yet. I then had to decide which country they came from and try to work out their names. By the time I finished all that, I didn’t really want to keep writing any more. It was too much work. I found myself asking things like “Do I really need two characters here? Can I get away with just one? What if his name is just Bob?”
In some instances, I’ve done something that I should be doing more often: thrown in a placeholder name and kept going. “Find and Replace” is such a beautiful thing.
I’m writing this blog post primarily to motivate myself in this way. I need to get back to letting the words flow freely without stopping to obsess over worldbuilding. I can always go back and add that later.
I’ve really fallen in love with these characters and can’t wait for readers to meet them. But those characters live in a specific world and that world needs shaping.

Connect and share:

Toys & Imagination

As a child, I loved action figures. I started out with Micronauts and Star Wars, but in 1982, something special came along that changed everything. That something was GI Joe: A Real American Hero. Using the 3 3/4” scale of Star Wars, GI Joe was restructured into a military line that included all sorts of accessories and vehicles, far more than the 12” line could boast.
Seriously, the shining example of this was the USS Flagg – an AIRCRAFT CARRIER. At 7.5 feet long, this was the greatest toy ever manufactured. Don’t argue with me about this.
IMG_0405.jpg
Most importantly, the toy line had characters – heroes and villains. From the first time I picked up one of the action figures in the store and read the “file card” on the back, my imagination was fired up. These weren’t just random “army men” like the little green soldiers. They were individuals with their own personalities and plans. As the line expanded and grew more diverse, those personalities were even reflected in their costumes.
The story possibilities were endless. The GI Joe comic book became the hottest comic of the 1980s. The cartoon was insanely popular. And while sharing the same characters, both comic and cartoon were completely different! There was that much room for variation.
Because of this, I could create my own stories. I didn’t have to copy the comic book or cartoon, though I could use them as a springboard. And that’s exactly what I did.
(It wasn’t until much later that I discovered that Larry Hama, the writer of the GI Joe comic books, had written the file cards. His writing of plots, conspiracies and action scenes continues to inspire me even today.)
With the exception of Lego, it’s hard to find toys like this on the shelf any more: toys that inspire and develop the imagination. I spent hours and hours with my GI Joes, setting up battles, crafting stories, and even making up my own characters to join in. I feel sorry for today’s kids that don’t have this kind of opportunity. Sure, they have video games I couldn’t have even imagined when I was little, but it’s not the same.
Wherever my writing career ends up going, it will always owe a debt to GI Joe, A Real American Hero.
Writing Update: I’m making progress on the opening chapters of the new book. Introducing main characters, themes and plots. Sort of like the first issue of a comic book…

Connect and share:

Writing Update

I’ve been busy with many things over the past couple of weeks, and it won’t be slowing down until next week sometime. That’s my target for the start of my next writing project.
At this point, I don’t know what to do with Viridia, my YA fantasy. I’ve been seeking representation for it for a few months now and getting nowhere. The only reactions I’m getting are form letter rejections. There’s clearly something wrong with it, but I just don’t know what. I hesitate to try any more revisions on my own, because I don’t have concrete feedback upon which to base those revisions. There are plenty of freelance editors I could consult, but I don’t have the money for that. So for now, I’m setting Viridia aside and waiting.
I have three sequels planned and outlined for Viridia, but I’m not moving on to those until I know what needs to be revised in the first book. It would be a big problem if book three were based on a major plot point in book one that ends up getting completely changed, for example.
I’m also not moving directly to self-publishing, at least not yet. Something does need to be revised; I just don’t know what it is.
That means it’s time to write something else. While the past few weeks have been occupied with non-fiction stuff, I’m ready to start a new novel.
I’ve been brainstorming for quite a while now, doing some research on a few topics and concepts, writing out cultural details, voice journaling the major characters, and so on. When I get back from a big trip this weekend, I’ll dive right into it.
With the working title of Heart of Fire, this is more of the epic fantasy I always wanted to write. It’s still not the world I’ve had in my head since junior high, but it’s a world with characters that have captured my attention and creativity. There is a huge amount that I don’t know about this story yet, including whether it works as a stand-alone novel, or if it needs to be split up into a series.
But the characters and the world… I love it all. If I do this right, your heart will break for the primary protagonist, almost from the first chapter. I hope I do it right.

Connect and share:

My Writing Credo

I’ve been reading The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell. It’s one of the best books on writing I’ve read so far, and is written in such an encouraging and easy-to-read format that I can easily see myself coming back to it again and again.
In chapter 24, Bell says “A writer with a credo will not be tempted to settle for mediocrity.” He uses the credo of John D. MacDonald as an example, giving three essentials for a successful novel. After some careful thought, I’ve come up with a rough concept of my own writing credo. Here it is:
I want to write stories that transport readers to another world, make them care deeply about characters in dire situations, and take them deeper into life itself.
Credo.jpg
This three-part statement mirrors MacDonald and Bell’s essentials somewhat, but worded in a way that is uniquely mine and addresses the essence of what I want to write.
First, transporting readers to another world – this is the suspension of disbelief that is necessary for readers to fully immerse themselves into a fantasy world of my creation. This includes the nitty-gritty details of world-building, but also the sense of awe and magic that are essential. Readers have to be fully convinced that this world I’ve imagined makes sense within the rules I’ve established, but that it is also an amazing place that they wouldn’t mind visiting again.
Second, making them care deeply about characters in dire situations – this is the story itself, with a focus on the characters themselves. The story has to make sense, there has to be a good plotline, but most importantly, the characters have to be real. They have to have their own existence that will draw readers into their lives. And when bad things happen to these characters (as they will, of course), it must be told in a way that makes the readers truly care about what happens next. They need to love the protagonist, cheer when the protagonist succeeds, and weep when the protagonist suffers. They need to hate the antagonist, cheer when the antagonist is defeated, and be horrified when the antagonist succeeds (with variations on these, of course).
Finally, taking them deeper into life itself – this is taken from a lecture by John Stonestreet about entertainment. He said that good entertainment takes us deeper into life, while bad entertainment takes us away from life. This applies to fantasy stories perhaps even more than other forms of fiction. (I could quote lengthy passages from J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous essay On Fairy Stories, but I suggest you go read it yourself. It supports this idea in many ways.)
Fantasy stories have, over the decades, been accused of being nothing more than escapism, while “real life” stories enrich our “real” lives. I find this to be nonsense. While I could, perhaps, enjoy a story set in modern times about a character who struggles with the temptation of absolute power, it would, by its very nature, tend toward sermonizing and tedium. However, place that same kind of story in a world filled with elves, dwarves, dragons and more, make the source of the absolute power a magic ring, and have all the characters within that story react to that ring and its temptation in different ways… now you’re talking. Now I’m caught up in this concept without even realizing it, and learning about the temptation of power.
Or take Lord Foul’s Bane, the epic (and somewhat controversial) fantasy by Stephen R. Donaldson. When a friend first suggested I read it, the concept (involving rape) repelled me at first. I don’t necessarily want to read a story about rape and its consequences. But… put that within the constraints of a fantasy novel with a deep character that you both pity and hate at the same time and… suddenly, it’s something different, something that eventually leads deeper into life.
Going deeper into life means that my stories have to have meaning. That doesn’t mean they have to have some easily-quotable theme or pithy lesson. But they do have to make one think and care. And maybe even consider changing something.
That’s my credo. Now comes the difficult part: living up to it.

Connect and share:

Board Games & Writing

My favorite hobby involves deep thinking and (usually) a number of dice. I love board games.
By board games, I mean real tabletop games, not the ones that are sold at Walmart and Toys R Us. Imagine if the major video game companies today were still trying to persuade people that Pac-Man and Donkey Kong (the originals) were the only video games worth buying and selling, and that’s all you could find in the major retailers. That’s basically what the major toy companies have done with board games, trying to convince everyone that Yahtzee, Sorry, and forty-seven thousand variations of Monopoly are the only board games. No wonder so many people have the wrong idea about board games! Any time my friends and I are playing games in a place where people can see us, we get the exact same questions: “So… is this like Monopoly?” “Oh, it’s like Risk?” (or if there’s anything fantasy-related) “So basically this is Dungeons & Dragons, right?”
Sigh.
If this is you, go visit boardgamegeek.com and educate yourself. If you’ve actually played something like Settlers of Catan, at the very least, then there are still hundreds more games you might enjoy.
Twilight-imperium-layout_12.jpg
I own over a hundred board games, and my collection pales in comparison to others I know. My absolute favorite games include Twilight Imperium, War of the Ring, Heroscape, and Twilight Struggle. All of them are huge, sprawling epic games that engage my mind and imagination.
And that’s the key. While I enjoy mental exercises, I don’t want to spend my free time solving algebra problems and calling it entertainment. My imagination has to be engaged as well. I want to fall into the theme of the game. Most of all, I want to see the game tell a story, and to be a part of shaping that story.
For example, Twilight Imperium is a sci-fi themed board game where each player takes on the role of a major alien race struggling to gain dominance in a galaxy where the previous empire has collapsed. You have to balance military tactics with diplomacy, economics and exploration. It’s one of the longest games I own, so it doesn’t get played very often, but every time it does… there’s a huge story.
War of the Ring is the closest you can come to actually playing the storyline of The Lord of the Rings… but with changes. What if Boromir doesn’t fall to the Ring’s temptation and goes with Frodo to Mount Doom? What if Gimli leaves the Fellowship and rallies the dwarves of the Lonely Mountain to march forth? What if the Balrog leaves Moria and lays siege to Rivendell itself? All these things can happen, and it’s all awesome.
war of the ring.jpg
All of my favorite activities involve stories and problem-solving. My board game hobby has definitely inspired my writing in numerous ways. A crazy round of Heroscape might be the source for a fantasy story. A tense session of Twilight Struggle might be the source of a Cold War spy story. Stories are everywhere.
As I write this, tomorrow is International Tabletop Day! Play some board games! I have some friends coming over and we’re introducing another friend to some new experiences, starting with the classic Axis & Allies. From there, we’ll try the X-Wing Miniatures game and the who knows? Like stories, the possibilities are endless.

Connect and share:

The Specter of Death in Fantasy Writing

Over the weekend, my dad had a minor heart attack. Prefacing “heart attack” with the word “minor,” doesn’t negate all the feelings that the term naturally inspires. Thoughts of death immediately spring to mind, whether you want them to or not.
Dad’s doing okay now, so the scare has passed. But it also made me think about how this applies to writing fantasy stories.
The fear and uncertainty of death is a vital part of human existence. When creating a new fantasy world, this needs to be addressed or else it will never “feel” truly real. How do the characters in this world feel about death? Do they have a terror of it? Do they believe in an afterlife? What kind?
In one of his letters, J.R.R. Tolkien claimed that the real theme of The Lord of the Rings is Death and Immortality. When you pay close attention, you see this throughout. The elves, with their mysterious immortality, are fascinated by human mortality. The dwarves speak of the halls of waiting and the earth being renewed. Valinor, the realm of the Valar (angels/gods) is referenced numerous times, and is the subject of the final chapter, when Frodo and the others set sail to reach it.
far green country.jpg
In the movie version, Peter Jackson took the description of what Frodo saw at the end and gave the words to Gandalf. He describes it to Pippin when hope seems lost at Minas Tirith. (Video clip.)
In Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy, one of the characters spends much of his life researching dozens of religions and exploring their beliefs. The topic of death and the afterlife comes up repeatedly. At the end, he discovers the truth and references the major characters who died as being in a pleasant afterlife.
Fantasy stories are by nature full of danger and death. The protagonists will face at least the possibility of death likely multiple times. If they don’t at least contemplate this possibility and what it means, then the story is not as real or deep as it should be.
As a Christian, I have pretty firm beliefs on the topic. However, I’m not writing about Christian characters in our world; I’m writing about characters in other worlds. In my current work, Viridia, the protagonist has a near-death experience mid-way through the book. Since he’s rejected his society’s belief that the dragons are gods, he can’t help wonder about the existence of other gods or an afterlife. This is not an attempt to sneak Christianity into the story; it’s a natural exploration of what he would be wondering at a time like that. It also leads to specific development in his beliefs on killing others.
I’m brainstorming my next fantasy novel, and I’m just beginning to explore what the different people groups within it think on this topic.
Death is probably not the first thing you think of when considering worldbuilding, but without it, an invented world will not seem fully developed. If characters do not consider the reality of death, they’re never really alive.

Connect and share:

What do I do now?

Well, I’m not sure where I stand with my current novel manuscript.
Back in February, I began querying literary agents. So far, I’ve received nothing but form letter rejections. Over 30, in fact.
I’ve also entered several contests trying to win the attention of an agent or editor, and I’ve lost out on all of those.
The big problem is that I don’t know what I don’t know. That is, I’m struggling to understand why I’m getting nowhere. I’ve studied and studied. I’ve revised numerous times, both the manuscript and the query letter. Based on everything I read, I’m doing everything right. I’m not making any obvious mistakes. I would happily adjust/change/edit anything, if I only knew what to adjust/change/edit.
So the big question is: now what?
Many people have suggested hiring a professional editor. Unfortunately, I cannot afford even the cheapest one of those, and will not be able to do so for the foreseeable future.
Others suggest going to a writers’ conference. Again, the problem is money. It’s simply not feasible at this time.
Do I abandon Viridia and move on?
I’m not ready to do that. I’m waiting on some (hopefully) helpful feedback from a couple of people. After that, I have a list of a few more agents I will query. If I continue to receive nothing but form rejections, I may have no choice but to move on.
At that point, yes, I will probably consider self publishing. The problem is that I’ve never been very good at selling things. But it’s a consideration I will make, very carefully and thoughtfully.
But at the same time, I’ve been brainstorming my next project. While I have three sequels to Viridia loosely plotted, I won’t work on those for now. Instead, I’m toying with ideas for another fantasy novel that will be very different from Viridia. It’s more of an epic, high fantasy.
Regardless of which direction I go, I will continue to write. My head is too full of stories not to…

Connect and share:

Page 3 of 4

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén