Paul Welch

On Fantasy, Writing & the Journey to Publication

Monthly Archives: April 2012

The Importance of Space

I have taken a 3-month break from working on my manuscript. It wasn’t that my life got too busy, as I certainly had a fair amount of “free time” that I could have invested into my manuscript, and it wasn’t because I lost interest in the work. My love of the story hadn’t changed, nor had my passion to become a published writer.

I had burned out.

The expression “burning the candle at both ends” exists for a reason. Sometimes we get carried away and try to do too much. That’s what happened to me.

I was cast in a wonderful piece of children’s theatre that took me to Edmonton for almost six weeks. It was a wonderful two-person play that was high energy and fast-moving and it demanded a lot of commitment and focus. I made a lot of physical and vocal choices, and I did my best to give it my all.

In the professional theatre, you typically work 6 days a week rehearsing to put a show up. Add to that my decision to walk 10 km a day to and from the theatre and we’re talking about a 55 hour/week time commitment. Seems like more than enough, doesn’t it?

But what did I do?

I decided to also continue to aggressively work on my book and learn about the publishing industry. I learned about platform, and the importance and impact it apparently has in the modern publishing world (and I promise I’ll write a blog post on platform at some point.) I learned about writing and editing. I tried to stay abreast of the changing world of publishing – and boy, is it ever changing fast. I read e-books on the craft and the business, and bought a number of fantasy novels to understand what others were doing and how.

It was too much.

Some nights, I didn’t even sleep. I tried to, but my brain kept going and it kept me awake. I’d lie in bed and feel like I was wasting time, so the lights would go back on and I’d get back to work.

I probably spent another 35 hours / week working on the book. On top of my 55 hours / week, the candle faded fast.

So I needed time to recover, and I did my best not to feel guilty about that.

Fast-forward three months to today.

I have just come back from a week-long Artist in Residency contract in Lethbridge where I worked with Pre-Kindergarten, Kindergarten, and Grade 1 students on the topic of diversity. Together, we created a play that was 100% developed from their imaginations. And boy, do they ever have wonderful imaginations!

I feel rested and recharged (even though the week was exhausting) and last night I sent an e-mail out to the literary agent who has been reading the partial of IN THE SHADOWS OF THE DAWN inquiring about the status of my book.

All this to say: I finally feel ready to get back to work on taking the manuscript to the next level.

It needs some more editing and I have some ideas of scenes that I think should be cut. There are a couple of thematic moments that I think need to be highlighted a little bit more. And I’m certainly curious to see what 3 months of rest does to my reading of the story. I am certain I am going to see it with fresh eyes and find a number of things that I missed in my previous edits.

So stay tuned! I think I’ve found a new candle to burn.. but this time I’m going to be careful not to burn it on both ends.

Have you ever burned yourself out? How did it happen, and what steps did you take to recover? What lessons have you learned? Please share your stories in the comments below. I’m sure we could all benefit from hearing each other’s experiences!

An Injection of Conflict

I currently live in Calgary, Alberta (that’s in Canada, for those who aren’t in the know), and we’re knee-deep in provincial elections right now. There are numerous political parties vying for the win, each with their own mandate as to how they wish to represent Albertans, and how they wish to shape our province and move forward.

There have been a lot of contentious debates surrounding key issues of abortion, gay marriage, equality, the rights of women, health care, arts and culture, and economic survival. Some of these issues hit pretty close to home for a number of people – and (particularly if you’re involved in social media websites and follow the news) the debate is getting pretty heated.

I try to stay abreast of current events, and I have been paying attention to what’s going on south of the border. It looks like the same key issues are surfacing in the States.

One thing that stands out is the level of conflict. There have been debates about personal beliefs vs. public beliefs, personal (religious) beliefs vs. political beliefs. It is challenging to watch or participate without your heart rate rising and getting all worked up. And that’s because it’s personal, no matter what side of the fence you fall on.

A group feels attacked and discriminated against – targeted, even – and they feel that their rights, welfare, and safety could very well be compromised if the election results show up as predicted. Other groups (even those in the majority) feel that any criticism of the political platform set forth, or the personal/public/religious beliefs of the politicians involved, is also an attack and a discrimination.

It’s a big ole hot mess, and it’s difficult to reconcile.

The flip side of it is that it is very interesting (and some would argue scary.) So many people are engaged, and a lot of apathetic citizens are being moved to stand up and voice an opinion, take a stance, and get out and vote. Many are encouraging their friends and colleagues to vote in an effort to ensure a future for a province in which they’d like to live and thrive. It will be interesting to see the outcome – both of the provincial elections here in Alberta, and the federal elections south of the border in the USA.

I bring this up because it is on my mind a lot these days, and it reminds me of when I used to administer/run my online text-based roleplaying game, The Towers of Jadri (which, if you’ll recall, is the world in which my stories are set.)

The biggest challenge I faced in trying to create a dynamic, interesting game for my players to play had to do with conflict. People gravitated towards happy, peaceful times. Others tried to play conflict, but often failed – falling into stereotypes, archetypes, and unmotivated cruelty.

We would try to find interesting plot lines, clear-cut aggressors, threats from dangerous places, invasions, explosions, and even war. We’d do our best to create realistic motivations for the key players involved, and we tried to ensure the conflict suited the current climate of world politics, the players’ roleplay, and organizational interests, all the while keeping the big picture story in mind.

The problem? The conflict was usually resolved immediately.

People had fun during the times of conflict, because there was something to do. They could band together, unite, create strategies, and take steps towards a common goal. It was active, exciting, and uniting.

But when the conflict was resolved, things would inevitably slow down and people would get bored – and we’d struggled to find new ways of injecting conflict back into the mix.

I give all this preamble as a way to focus in on your stories.

Examine the story from a point of view of the conflict. Does each scene have conflict? Is the conflict strong? Is it external, or internal? How do the characters respond? What steps do they take? Is it something that can (or should) be resolved quickly? How does it fit into the bigger picture?

Conflict makes things interesting. It is something to which we can relate and respond. If your story is low on conflict, it might be worth revisiting to see if there are ways to inject a little more conflict into the mix. Give something for people to fight for, or fight against. Something to fear, and something to root for. Your story will likely be stronger as a result.

Have you ever read books that were painfully low on conflict? Did they manage to keep your interest in another way? If so, how did they succeed? What are some examples of your favorite books where the conflict is impeccably handled? Please comment below, as I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Quick Update

Hi friends,

I apologize for being a little MIA lately. I’ve been busy teaching at the college, seeing a ton of local theatre (I’ve pretty much caught all but a few professional shows playing in Calgary this season, and let me tell you – it’s a lot. I’ve seen over 50 productions since September), and trying to get a handle on work for next year. I’ve also been recovering from a couple of colds and a bout of salmonella poisoning. Very not fun.

I’ve also been watching a lot of television – Modern Family, Parks & Recreation, Secret Circle, and re-runs of old episodes of Charmed. It might seem like a lot of slacking off, but in a way it is also research – watching how stories are being put together, how the protagonists and antagonists are defined and developed, and how the conflict unfolds.

And lately, I started picking up books again, too. I don’t read books near as much as I would like to.. it seems like they’re reserved for when I go on holidays, and unfortunately when you’re a professional actor and writer, you can’t really afford to holiday very often. But I’ve been reading The Hunger Games, and I wish I had written this book. I certainly understand the mass appeal, and I am thrilled that it’s a part of the canon.

Regarding my manuscript:

I have received a couple of e-mails back from agents who are interested in my query, but are hesitant to request a partial read of the manuscript due to the size of the book. It is currently sitting at 140,000 words. If you take a gander at my last post, you’ll see that the book was originally 198,000 words long and received some massive cuts. The target for fantasy is 90-120,000 words, and this is what the agents are wanting to see. More of them are suggesting I cut it down to 120k – or preferably 110k – words before they’ll take a peek.

I am also still waiting to hear from the NY literary agent who received the first 110 pages of IN THE SHADOWS OF THE DAWN on January 6th. I am tempted to follow up, to see what he’s thinking, but I’m not ready to rush it just yet.

And I am starting to think about plays again, too. Perhaps it’s time I tackle one of the projects that has been on the back burner to experience a change of pace. To be determined, I guess.

In the meantime, it’s hot yoga and 10km (or 6 miles, for you non-metric types) runs as the city struggles to shed winter and embrace summer.

Have you read any good books (or plays) lately? What’s on your night stand? What are the top television shows that grab your eye? I’d love to hear what you’re up to these days, so please feel free to comment below.