Sir Namington of Somewhereshire: My struggles with coming up with Fantasy Names

Sir Namington of Somewhereshire: My struggles with coming up with Fantasy Names

After years of toiling on two drafts of Ghets, my latest novel, I proudly declared on Facebook that I was looking for beta-readers. Friends and family immediately requested copies, showering me with support. I felt loved and ready to share…but then had to stall. There was just one little problem with the latest draft of Ghets, about half the things in it were missing names.

I love worldbuilding: creating towns and creatures, different legends and cultures, but I absolutely hate naming them. It’s not that I can’t think of names, it’s more that I want to get the name absolutely right and nothing will gum up your writing flow quicker than trying to come up with a name on the fly.

My practice for name generation is to brute force it. Open a fresh word doc and start writing down ever name, sound and spelling that comes to mind. I start with existing names and words to build my new name out of, like Elisette, Odvid and the Uldritch Pit Lords. Maelator, my chief antagonist, I got from chopping a bunch of different words up and mashing them together. I was going for a name that sounded like the big bad from a Saturday morning cartoon and I think I nailed it.

Once I created one new name, it led to others. It make sense that people from the same group would sound have similar sounding names. The chief god of my orcs is named ‘Kor’ so there’s a lot of ‘kors’ and ‘or’s in their naming scheme (maybe too many) there’s the fortress of Korragorra, and Kaikor Reez and her brother Kalighor.

My biggest stumbling block to name creation turned out to be Google. I would come up with the perfect name only to google it and find out it was already the name of a small village in India or the last name of some guy in Uruguay or was in use on the World of Warcraft forums (or all three).

It got to the point where I would spend my writing time for that day playing with different names or tweaking the spelling to create something un-google-able. Finally, I had enough. When I came to a person, place or thing that needed a proper name I just wrote ‘BLANK’ in all caps. It was a revolution.

I was back to writing, back to creating. My writing flow was coursing again uninterrupted. The Angular fish people of the Dark Sea were the BLANK, as were the lizard-like citizens of the Underraod who they fought and raided with the help of the BLANK pit lords. Markus’s magic sword BLANK clashed against Maelator’s magic sword the Jaws of BLANK. And then there was the time BLANK grabbed BLANK’s BLANK and bashed BLANK into the walls of BLANK cathedral.

After I finished Draft II I reread the novel and realized that it was unreadable to anyone, but myself. By some miracle I had remembered what all the BLANKs referred too, but it was a mess. I spent several days creating random fantasy names and waded back into the novel replacing BLANKS with names from my list or giving them more generic ones. I’m still at it even now. I have a hundred pages still to go, hunting down the BLANKs.

But I don’t regret the decision to BLANK myself. When creating drafts, especially rough ones, nothing is more important than just writing. What I do regret is not going with a name more often, no matter how bad or just using one that’s already taken. Everything is already a name, it’s not like Jose Duomarco from Uruguay is every going to read my novel and realize that I used his last name for a port city.

Readers will forgive a good character with a bad name. Besides, it’s only draft II, names can change! And speaking off, anyone have ideas on how to make really good fantasy names? I still have more BLANKS to fill.

Ghets Chapter 1

Ghets Chapter 1

A wall.

A month-long job, involving a journey of close to eight hundred miles, (most of which they had to walk, the closest gate was gucking Valenbrook), bribes, forged documents, trips through secret passages, a fight with bandits in the Raskul woods, raiders when they tried to cross the Moutcur river, numerous close calls, and one of the most twisted supply networks Reez ever had to fashion and it was all going to end up a big fat failure because of a wall.

Reez the Orc, Ghets captain, and sore loser, was standing on a hill next to the get-a-way wagons. She was staring at a ridiculously long wall that encircled a manor house and its accompanying farm and pasture lands. The manor house, by the way, had a far more appropriate sized gate around it too.

Elise the elf, one of Reez’s Ghets, and a friend, was leaning on her spear sighing. “See the wall? Guess, we’re like not getting that return bonus, or whatever.”

“How can anyone not see that gucking wall?” Reez grumbled, “Who puts a wall like that all around their place? It must of cost more than their gucking house! Those gatehouses are huge!”

Elise shrug, “Yeah, sucks”

Reez tapped her foot. She felt her sword, Kiki, warm on her back. Reez was getting anxious and thinking about doing gunk she knew she shouldn’t. Reez was a Ghets, her job was to guide Fellowships from either side of the border where they wanted to go. But what they did once they got there was supposed to be their own business. It was important that Ghets remained neutral, that’s what allowed them to function and prevented Reez’s home, Ghetshaven, from being obliterated by some angry Dairkkul Pit Lord or Elven Emperor or bring the Okkore down on them.

There was no doubt that the Dairkkul which Reez had guided on this journey were up to some shady doings. The Dairkkul came with three big pit fiends, each close to seven feet tall with all black skin, padded feet and big sharp claws. The fiends were designed with piercing yellow eyes that granted them excellent night vision, but no mouths. It was a look that screamed assassin.

Their Dairkkul handlers had been modified too, they’re legs bent back and twisted to give them more power to leap and scale walls. Their leader was old with white hair twirling around her long antelope like horns. She went by ‘Crow’ an obvious code name, but it suited her. She had a crow’s cackle and sense of humor. When Reez pointed out that Crow was a funny name for Dairkkul since there weren’t any crows in the Dairkkul’s home of Neradoom, the old woman laughed and said that’s why they had chartered Reez and her Ghets to lead them into Aphetrria, to go bird spotting.

Crow’s two other Dairkkul companions were a lot younger. Apprentices, if Reez had to guess, based on the way they shadowed Crow and followed her orders. One was named ‘Nightingale’ and the other ‘Hummingbird’. ‘Hummingbird’ was kinda a guck up, (not that it was any of Reez’s business, but the orc was a horrible gossip). Hummingbird got spooked easy, and let information slip, like how they were working for a big time Pit Lord named Maelator. Crow had a fit when she heard him say that.

Whatever this group of spies and assassins were up to it was bad, but not too bad. The Ghets had strict codes and contracts which had to be signed before any job could start. Crow had personally assured Reez that they weren’t going to kill anyone…well, unless they had to, which was only fair.

The shadowy bunch where probably going to steal something. Both sides made a big deal out of these Fellowships: fancy quests, dire language about the fate of the world, all that gunk. But Reez knew it was just a big game. Stuff like this had been happening forever.

Some Aphetrrian Fellowship might be sent across the border to destroy a Dairkkul magic ring, to boost morale back home. The Pit Lords would then retaliate by sending their own sacred fellowship across and steal a magic sword some gunk pulled from a stone. This gave the Aphetrrians an excuse to send another Fellowship over to get the sword back. And on and on it would go until the stupid war between both lands was over. And that was never going to happen ‘cause the whole mess was started by the Goddess in the first place.

As long as neither Neradoom or Aphetrria sent an army over the border and restarted the Deinomachy or ‘Gods’ War’ everyone was happy with the game. Powers in Aphetrria and Neradoom got to do symbolic quests to distract the masses and appease their respective churches and the Ghets got to make some decent coin. Fellowships paid more than your standard merchants or pilgrims. It was good work, when there weren’t gucking walls ruining everything.

Reez left Elise to watch the wagons and headed down from the hill. Reez’s second in command, Odvid, was sitting by the road reading. Odvid had hung a lantern by a signpost as a signal to the Dairkkul when, or if, they made it back from the manor house. Odvid’s cover was supposed to be that of a beggar, the type you didn’t want anything to do with. His gray skin, hunched back and odd proportions, made it easy to believe he had some sort of incurable disease, like super leprosy or inverted gigantism. He closed his book when he heard Reez.

“I take it this is about the wall?” He asked.

“Yes! Did you see that gucking wall?!” Reez said.

“I did. It’s hard to miss. I read that it was installed by the third Earl, Gregory of Lunderbik. He raced horses and wanted the wall to incorporate his training track.”

“So, he could train horses while under siege!?” Reez said crossing her arms.

“It’s good to have hobbies.” Odvid offered.

Reez rolled her eyes. “Where’s Jaques? I want to talk to him.”

Odvid motioned towards the woods. “Up a tree keeping an eye on their progress.” Odvid said, before turning all serious “But Reez don’t do anything. We’re already more involved than we should be. The contract was just to lead them to Paluentok and meet them back there once the ‘quest’ was complete. Now we’re their get- away?”

“I know Odd, I know.” Reez said,

“Plausible deniability.” Odvid lectured.

‘Plausible Deniability’ was the creed every Ghets swore by. Ghetshaven was neutral in the Deinomachy, siding with neither the Dairkkul of Neradoom or the Elves of Aphetrria. It was the only place in the whole world were peoples of all species and lands where welcomed. Anyone could come to trade or hire Ghets for guides, extra muscle, or to lead your Fellowship to go pester the ancient enemy like Crow did.

Reez frowned. She knew she was making trouble again, going above and beyond for some fellowship. The Ghets would be paid if the fellowship’s quest succeeded or failed. It wasn’t supposed to matter to her.

“But they’re helpless Odd!” Reez pleaded, “Did you see Hummingbird this morning? He almost left his pack behind! And their original plan was to have a fiend watch the horses? Do fiends even know what horses are?” Reez said

“Not these ones, probably,” Odvid said thinking about it. “But—“

“But what? You know what’s going to happen if they get caught? Torture and execution. Odd you’re a healer, you wouldn’t leave them behind if they got sick, torture’s no different,” Reez said.

Odvid looked down. “I understand Reez. I don’t always like these jobs, but there is danger in helping them too much.”

Reez punched Odvid in the arm. “Promise I won’t go off and burn down the gatehouse or nothing.”

“Please don’t” Odvid pleaded.

Reez gave him her big orc grin, the one that showed off her neat rows of sharp teeth. And went to find Jaques.

Jaques was Reez’s scout and what she liked to call a ‘Fur’. A ‘Fur’ wasn’t any one type of thing, but rather a mixture of furry peoples all blended together. Jaques looked most like a weasel. He had a long neck, and slender body. But he also had pointed ears on the top of his head like a cat and a more pronounced snout than a weasel. Being a mixed blood mutt from a bunch of different fur covered people gave Jaques some keen senses. His hearing was sharper than any creature Reez had ever stumbled upon. And his eyesight and smell weren’t so bad neither.

“Why are you creating a racket in the woods mad orc? You’re supposed to be by the wagons.” Jaques hissed. Jaques had a bit of accent, a smooth growl that gave his voice a dark edge and made his ‘R’s rumble. It might have been attractive, if he wasn’t such a butt-spider. He had a stupid gucking nickname for everyone on the team. Reez’s was ‘mad orc’.

Reez squinted in the dark. Jaques had jet black fur which made him hard to spot at night. He rattled the tree he was sitting in and Reez came to its trunk.

“You see them? Did they make it in yet? Any alarms? Did you see that crazy gucking wall they got?”

“I don’t know why I agree to these gigs; you micromanage.” Jaques grumbled.

“Just tell me already you gunker” Reez said

“They’ve begun their robbery.” Jaques said, “Hummingbird slipped on the wall, but one of the fiends caught him. They made it to the gate of the manor. I didn’t see them go in yet. I think they are looking for an entrance. Doesn’t matter.” Jaquesed growled. “They won’t be coming out.”

“What do you mean?” Reez said hitting the tree.

“Hmph” Jaques snorted. “They picked a bad night. There’s some party going on; carriages, guests and more guards at the manor. Guards everywhere and if an alarm goes up they’ll be trapped by that wall.” Jaques gave a low groan. “We should leave soon. Once they catch the Dairkkul they’ll sweep the woods.”

“They’re not catching anyone, quit being a cynic.” Reez said, getting more anxious. Why did she bother talking to Jaques or Elise or Odvid for that matter, they were all a bunch of moody grumps. Reez was in dire need of an optimist on her team.

Jaques gave a growly laugh, “You don’t know anything orc. There’s guards out now with lanterns. They’re searching for something. No alarm yet, but their movements are too random for patrols.”

Reez didn’t like that. She could see Hummingbird messing up, maybe dropping something that aroused suspicion. “Can you see the gatehouses? The farthest one from us? They got horses there?”

Jaques paused for a moment. “Yes. Inside the wall close to the gate, there’s a small stable.”

“Good” Reez said leaving.

Jaques shouted after her. “Mad Orc what are you doing?”

“You’ll see!” Reez shouted back. “Stay up there and get ready to move when you see my signal. You won’t miss it.” Reez grinned. She knew Jaques couldn’t see it in the night and that Odvid would murder her afterwards, but at least this would be fun.

Reez could hear bells ringing and shouts of alarm in both Loir’ve and Common by the time she made it to the gatehouse. She had to work fast. She wrapped her scarf around her mouth and forced her red dreadlocks into her hood. She couldn’t risk letting the guards see her face.

She checked to make sure she had enough ‘green stuff’ for a truly fantastic fire and then unsheathed Kiki. Reez could feel the sword’s excitement, little glowing embers spotted her blade.

“No killing tonight” She whispered to Kiki as she secured the sword to her back and started to climb. Reez felt Kiki sizzle in response. Reez shook her head; that was the problem with magic swords, so demanding. “Don’t worry girl we’re still getting into trouble. Gotta take some blood to get a nice fire going.”

Reez found her trouble quick. The gatehouse was packed with rushing and confused guards. Reez bumped into a squad the second she pulled herself onto the wall. There was some fighting, some cutting, mean words were exchanged. Reez’s bloodlust started to pump through her veins and threatened to turn her into a crazed orc, burning and slashing until the guards overwhelmed her. Luckily, she got it under control and escaped the squad with only scrapes and bruises.

She kicked open the door to the gatehouse’s second floor and dumped the green stuff. She then whispered to Kiki and a small fire ignited along the sword’s blade. Reez thrusted Kiki through the wooden floorboards making sure her fire caught before getting the guck out of there. Reez and Kiki rushed the stables stealing a horse and riding as hard as they could into the night. Reez didn’t want to be anywhere near the gatehouse when the fire reached the ‘green stuff.’

There was an explosion. Even on horseback thundering away from the wall Reez could feel the heat of it. Embers and smoke chased after Reez into the night. She looked back to see the south gatehouse blazing like a bonfire. Reez hoped it created enough of a distraction to keep Crow and her people from getting caught. At the very least Reez had ruined Earl Gregory’s stupid gucking wall, so that was something to smile about.

Odvid was not smiling when Reez road back up to the wagons on the hill.

“So not burning down the gatehouse?” Odvid said as he took the reins of Reez’s stolen horse.

“Did they make it back?” Reez said ignoring him. They were going to have plenty of time to fight about this on the journey home.

“They’re in the wagons. Jaques’s pulling the covers over them now. You’ll need to drive the big one.” Odvid said reverting to business, but not losing any ‘huff’ in his voice.

“I thought you were driving?”

“I was, but then you burned down the gatehouse you specifically told me you weren’t going to.” Odvid said heading to the lead wagon with Elise.

“Now you’re just being petty!” Reez shouted after him. She hated driving wagons. She wasn’t any good at steering animals and she didn’t like looking at horse butt all day. Plus, she was sorta hoping to take a nap in the back, starting fires took a lot out of her.

Crow was waiting for Reez. She was sitting on the driver’s bench and covered in a mess of rags. Reez frowned, if they got stopped and someone noticed Crow’s horns or purple skin then Reez was going to be in a mess of trouble.

“Get in the back” Reez said as she pulled herself onto the bench. “Whole point of this was to hide you in the wagons.”

“Not enough room.” Crow said.

Reez peeked back there. Nightingale was crammed in the wagon next to one of the fiends. The fiend was bent over with its knees pulled to its mouthless face. By the fiend’s feet was a large bundled rug. It was new, must have been what Crow was after. Reez was disappointed. The rug looked fancy, but hardly seemed like it was worth all the trouble of coming to Aphetrria for. But what did Reez know? Rugs could be magic, she’d heard of flying ones.

The rug moved.

Reez squinted and saw a mess of red hair wiggling at the end of the bundled rug. A head slowly emerged its mouth bound and eyes terrified. The wagon was moving. Crow had taken the reins. Reez shot around ready to act.

“Don’t” The old Dairkkul said, her eyes fixed on the road ahead. “Nightingale will puncture your lungs before you can reach your sword.” Reez felt something sharp poke her side. It was probably Nightingale’s knife. Reez didn’t bother to look.

“Kidnaping wasn’t part of the deal.” Reez said.

“No. It was. You just didn’t know about it.” Crow said, “Helping us with that fire, that wasn’t part of the deal and for that we’ll double the return bonus.”

“Who said we were bringing you back?” Reez asked. Kiki flashed hot ready for a fight. Reez could be quick, maybe quicker than some Dairkkul assassin.

Crow laughed, that cackle of hers was sharper than the knife pressed to Reez’s side. “Stop acting like you have principles. You knew we were going to steal something.”

“Something not some—“

“Don’t say it.” Crow smirked more vicious than amused. “Plausible deniability.”

“I’m not so great at that part, did you see the gatehouse?” Reez asked.

Another cackle, “Fine.” Crow said, “If it’ll help, know that ‘whatever’ we took, it will be well taken care of. It will be treated like a royal guest and it will be returned unharmed.”

Reez hated this. But fighting now was just going to create more trouble, maybe get her and the girl in back killed. Besides hadn’t she broken the contract enough? As Odvid said some parts of the job she didn’t have to like.

“Tell your girl to take her blade out of my ribs.” Reez said

Crow didn’t say anything but, the knife disappeared. Reez crossed her arms. “You really returning her?”

“It” Crow said less amused, “And yes, in a year or two after the Black Spire has a new owner.”

So, the girl was just another token for internal politics. “Why’d you go take ‘it’, if all you were going to do is return it?”

“Haven’t done much work for Pit Lords have you?” Crow said

“Done enough.” Reez said still annoyed.

“Then you know that they take political hostages all the time. There’s nothing better as a bargaining chip.” Crow said. “Besides ‘it’ might be royal and might be ‘holy’ too.”

Reez didn’t like how Crow said ‘holy’. She couldn’t see the Dairkkul treating someone sacred to the elves with much respect.

“In Aphetrria they usually exchange hostages or there’s a war and one’s taken, guck like that.” Reez said, “Stealing them out of their beds at night—“

“Isn’t any worse.” Crow said, “Now quiet. I lost good fiends and a decent man tonight. You want your coin you’ll stop with the moralizing.”

Reez frowned, she thought maybe Hummingbird and the other fiends had taken the second wagon, not died in the attack.

“Sorry,” Reez offered.

Crow’s face was hard to read. Old lines, skin like ripe grapes, yellow eyes the color of lantern oil. “It happens. We’re at war with the other pit lords, they died saving lives and bringing peace.”

Reez lent back and didn’t say anything. She didn’t know what Crow was talking about. It probably had to do with the Dairkkul succession cycle. Neradoom was going through a whole host of civil wars. Reez just hoped the old spy was right and that stealing the girl stopped a war, ‘cause to Reez it looked like they had just started a whole new one instead.

………..

Ghets Update

Ghets Update

I don’t update this blog as much as I should (my incomplete StarWars Trilogy is proof of that). But the reason I don’t blog as often as I’d like, is that I’m hard at work cranking out a new novel ‘Ghets’!

I already wrote about Ghets after I completed the rough draft last year. Well, now I’ve completed draft two. Ghets has ballooned to 210,169 words, plot holes have shrunk, characters that were previously named ‘BLANK’ have proper names, and the world of Ghets has further solidified.

I’m in the process of rereading this giant monstrosity so I can share it with Beta-readers. This is the first time I’ve read the novel as a novel and not a series of chapters since the rough draft. And the reread is breaking me.

Does that mean the novel is bad?

I don’t know.

Does that mean it’s a huge, unwieldy mess that only it’s author can understand?

I don’t know.

Does that mean that it’s a boring slog that most readers won’t put up with?

I. Don’t. Know.

Does that mean that it’s just okay?

You guessed it, I have no idea whatsoever.

I have read the first five chapters together a dozen times, and like an optical illusion, it’s always different. The novel goes from being the most hackney, amateurish pile of garbage sentences every dumped into word document, to an enjoyable, breezy fantasy novel to something else entirely. I have stayed up until two in the morning studying those chapters like arcane scripts, trying to divine their quality and still have no idea if it’s any good.

There are many parts of me that go into being a writer. There’s Matt the creator, Matt the editor, Matt the reader, Matt the critic, and they are all at war with each other. I start to see the repetitive patterns of my chapters, the limits of my skill to convey emotions or reactions, the scenes that are devoid of description to the point that they feel lifeless. And did I mention the repetitiveness? I did? Well, let me repeat myself, because I do that a lot in my novel work.

That’s not to say it’s all bad, there are moments when I get lost in the flow, like a magician fooled by his own tricks, the critical part of me pulls back and the reader takes over and I find nothing, but joy in it. It’s a fun story and it’s meant to be fun, it’s not the great American novel, it’s not going to win a Pulitzer or a Nebula or a teen choice award, but it’s something I enjoy.

The problem is that I’m not just seeking joy when I read, I’m seeking validation. Just as there are many Matts that go into being a writer, writing itself means a lot of very different, but mostly important, things to me. It’s not just a hobby, it’s a dream. During my drafts I can sit down for a couple of hours a day and write and edit without feeling that weight. Drafting is granular, piratical. But when I read it as whole, the enormity of what I made, and of what I want, hit me and it’s a difficult emotion to navigate.

Even so I’m making progress. I’ve finally made it past the first five chapters and I’m not looking back. I hope to have a shareable version of Ghets available soon. Unfortunately, I won’t have it ready before I go to Japan next week (a subject for another post, maybe). But by the end of the week I will post the first chapter, so you can finally read what I’m talking about.

A Novel Process

A Novel Process

I started this blog writing about being a failed novelist,( Here.) And I’m proud to say that I’m still very much one. I’m currently working on my next possibly failed project ‘Ghets’ and thought it might be insightful, or at least interesting, to talk a little bit about my novel writing process.

I just got done with my rough draft of Ghets. It took me almost fifteen months from February 15th 2016-April 8th 2017 and clocks in at 162,040 words. Fifteen months is a long time and novel drafts usually don’t take me so long. Dex’s four drafts were each about nine months, but Dex largely took place in the modern world and didn’t require much world building. Ghets takes place in its own world, so there were pauses to settle on cultures and creatures.

When I started writing, rough drafts like ‘Ghets’ were torture. I’d begin with energy and optimism. There’s a thrill in creating something new, like beginning a journey, you have no idea where you’re going. But that’s also its biggest challenge. I’d hit a stride and quickly make it through the first third of the story. But when it was time to shift from the first to the second act I would hit problems.

I would have forgotten to write a vital scene or would realize too late that the surprise I was setting up all first act wasn’t going to work. Like many creators, I suffered from perfectionism. I would go back and add those scenes or fix the surprise and that’s the exact opposite of what you should be doing.

Rough drafts are supposed to be rough. You’re there to throw down all your ideas about the story and keep going. You realize that you need an extra scene to explain something? Pretend you wrote it. You decide your villain should be someone else? He was never the villain, it was always the new guy. The subplot about opening a café isn’t working? Forget it, it didn’t happen, keep writing.

The idea is to run, to not let missed chapters or poor writing stop you. You’re going to be editing this thing for at least the next year you can worry about your mistakes then. Besides you might end up deleting half the story, or going in a completely new direction, don’t get attached. It’s hard a lesson to learn, but it’s vital one.

If you want to be good at anything, then you must first accept that you’re going to be bad at it. No one begins great and very few of us end up great. You must be willing to make mistakes and fail. Writing a rough draft is a great way to do that.

Think of rough drafts like a marathon, how quickly can you make it to the end, while still hitting all your story beats and getting out all the scenes you wanted? It takes grit, but with enough perseverance you’ll get it done. The real complicated stuff happens next.

After I complete the rough draft I reread it. It’s a painful process because now I’m being critical and looking for what doesn’t work. What characters are unnecessary, annoying or otherwise problematic? What scenes are confusing? Where do I lost the thread? I try to nail down themes, figure out with the story is about. I also do my first outline at this point.

When I start a rough draft I have an idea of where I’m starting and where I’m ending. (Always know your endings!) But the parts in between are murky. Once the rough draft is done and I have those parts fleshed out I start to rearrange and evaluate them. Some writers are more orderly, with outlines from the start. But I don’t like things to be too neat going in. I want to surprise myself.

After the reread and outline is done I start the real work and rewrite. This is my new obstacle, were my perfectionism now shows itself. I want to do too much, add too many scenes or do too much editing. The second draft isn’t supposed to be perfect either. It’s just supposed to make your novel workable.

If you were to read ‘Ghets’ right now large portions of it wouldn’t make any sense. There’s a ton of locations or characters with place holders for names. There’s scenes and character arcs that get completely abandoned and one of the villains changes his name mid book. My second draft is meant to clean that gunk up so that someone who isn’t me can actually read the story and give their input.

A second draft shouldn’t be polished, just have the main plot and characters largely formed with as little chaff as possible. The idea is to invite other people to read and have them give big picture critiques. Point out if your plot has too many holes or what they think of your main character. The second draft should have the form of the story, but still some of that nebulousness rough draft in it. Your story might need a major edit, one you can’t see. If enough readers come to you and tell you they love the end of the book but it was slog to get there. You’re going to have a lot you’ll need to cut or change.

After I gather all those critiques I try to digest them. I target the parts that most people hated or found confusing because if just one person hates a story then ‘that’s just like your opinion man’, but if most people do, you’ve got some sort of problem on your hands. I do another reread, or two, chopping off as much as I can and then start draft three.

Draft three is much closer to the finished story. You’ve hopefully fixed most of your plot holes (you’ll never get them all) and have characters that all work and who you understand. Your story should be ‘readable’ at this point. I don’t mean that every sentence is polished and perfect, but that people can read and comprehend what you’re looking to be comprehended.

At this point I hit my beta-readers up for more insights and more granular critiques. After I have that it’s on to draft four which will hopefully be the draft I seek an agent or a publisher for. Even draft four won’t be the end. I’ll still be rereading and editing, chipping away at this or that until I publish it. Or I never stop pecking at it, and leave it to wither out of exhaustion, because art is never finished it’s only abandon.

Either way this has been my process for my last couple of projects. I’ve heard every novel is different and they feel that way. Every writer is different too, some people publish two novels in about the span it takes me to eek out one rough draft (it’s impressive). Regardless, expect to see more posts about Ghets in the future as well as a call for beta-readers in the next 6-9 months!

Hi, I’m a Proud Failed Novelist

FullSizeRenderOn November 1st 2012 I started writing a novel: ‘Dex and the Broken Heart’. It was the story of Dex a redhead barista/bartender who dropped out of college over a bad break up and ended up working for Madame V the Goddess of the Broken Hearted. For three years and nearly three months I worked on Dex almost every day. He had three completed drafts, one of which was over 300 single spaced pages, the longest story I ever wrote. And his was the first novel I shared with anyone who asked in an attempt to get as much feedback as possible. Dex was going to be my novel, the one I finally finished and shared with the world. I didn’t even care if his story was good, or if anyone paid me for it, I just needed him to be done and know I could do it.

In late March of this year after taking a break from Dex to work on other projects, I frantically reread what I had dubbed ‘draft four’. I read over scenes I had been working on for years and they were joyless to me, words on the page that barely made sense any more. I felt numb and halfway through work that day I locked myself in my car to cry. Dex was over. My latest failed novel.

My long career in failed novels began early. In third grade my teacher submitted a short story I wrote to an annual UConn literary magazine for writers K-12. I didn’t get in, but I received an honorable mention in the back of the book. And since then I’ve wanted nothing more than to be a published author.

My first failed novel started a year later in fourth grade. I wrote it in red spiral notebook in between classes. It was about a knight who got to pal around with dragons. I never gave it an ending, but after I was given computer privileges in fourth grade I started working on a new draft. I made it to 100 pages before quitting.

From middle school through high school I had a diverse literary career in failed novels. There was the retro sci-fi novel about knight looking mecha and sky cities fighting for control of their gas giant homeworld; each city styled after a different Italian Renaissance state; 1 draft, fifty pages. The supernatural horror story that took place in a rural town in Connecticut where monsters lived in the woods and there was a portal to a shadowy dimension in an abandoned church (went through a bit of an emo phase in high school); at least three drafts that I remember, and got to between 100-200 pages. ‘Vashkin’s Secret’, a fantasy story set in a world heavily based on Slavic myth with pre WWI technology, that one had between three and four attempts, none more than 100 pages.

Most of these projects ended with a whimper. I got bored and stopped or I lost the thread and didn’t know where to go, or it took them fifty pages just to get their butts out of the castle and start the stupid adventure. I started to view the failures as a defeat, some sort of character defect that I and others had. You didn’t finish your novel? You simply lacked resolve. I swore that wasn’t going to be me anymore. I was going to work on Dex every day until he was done. And in a way I did. I didn’t stop writing Dex because of a lack of resolve, but for something I was completely unprepared for; change.

Dex was a very intimate story, but one that ended up belonging to a very different me. As the years went on and I worked on Dex I changed, but he didn’t get to, not in the same way. His problems stayed the same: he was obsessed with an Ex and depressed and I wasn’t. I was moving my life forward in part by writing him. When I finally sat down to really start draft four I realized that there were a mess of themes and ideas in Dex that a dozen different Matts had contributed to. I had pulled him in different directions and sorting him out was going to take another three years, and in that moment I couldn’t go on.

When I stopped writing Dex I felt lost. I started to think back on all that time I spent on my failed novels. As a writer they’re pretty much all I have, so what is their value? Why did I keep trying? Why did I keep failing?

In truth I realized that every novel is a failure. A story is only perfect until it is written. The second we bring it out from the safety of our thoughts it starts to decay, the imperfections creep in and the possibility for ‘failure’ grows. You realize you have too many characters, or there’s a gaping plot hole, or just don’t believe in it anymore. It happens, it’s okay that it happens.

There are many layers of failure and I have far more complex and damning ways yet to fail. But failure is not necessarily the same as defeat. Each failure earned from trying is really just a different result than the one I intended, an opportunity in itself. With each failed novel I saw my knowledge of writing grow and improve. I realized I didn’t need to describe the intricate detail of every piece of armor, or that I had bad habit of repeating similar scenes or lines. Thanks to my failures I started to find my own writing style, the tricks and ticks that defined me.

And Dex in particular gave me gifts I never realized a novel could. Not only did I learn from him, I was able to let go thanks to him. Writing all the stuff about relationships and depression, helped me to confront it, to stare at it and analyze it and move beyond it. I didn’t know if Dex was ever going to be a good novel, but he was definitely going to be a novel that I needed to write.

In the end Dex is like all my failed novels; as complete as he is incomplete, works that never leave me. Their ideas and concepts morph into new questions and challenges, and their heroes and worlds shift and expand into new creations. They have led me forward to this point and will lead me again; each resting, waiting for me to return and change them as they have changed me.

So maybe one day you’ll read Dex’s story. But until then I promise I have a lot more beautiful failures to share with you.