Friday, November 18, 2016

NaNoWriMo 2016 Update: Over Halfway There!

Do you like this new graphic? I made it myself with a photo I took of one of my typewriters.
November 15th marked the halfway point for National Novel Writing Month, and so far I haven't been behind on my word count for a single day, and have in fact been ahead for most of the month. That alone is an improvement over last year's attempt, in which I was occasionally a few hundred words behind on the day's goal.

I like to try something new with everything I write, whether that means putting a greater effort into a particular aspect of the craft that I feel I need practice on or stepping out of my comfort zone to do something totally different. Last year's experiment was simply to see if I could actually churn out a 50,000 word story in a single month, which I'm glad to say was a success.

This novel's experiment (or to be more accurate, this draft's experiment) is to try writing a long-form story out of sequential order for the first time. You see, when I initially got into writing, I wrote nothing but short stories of which I either knew the entire plot from beginning to end or felt like I had a good enough grasp of the concept to just start writing from the beginning and see where it took me. I carried that method with me when I later decided to try my hand at writing novels, and so my first handful of attempts were all written as they were to be read, from beginning to end.

I rationalized this by saying that, like with short stories, the novel's second half was heavily reliant on what came out of actually sitting down and writing the first. If I had a good idea while writing that would affect the later parts of the story, I didn't want to feel confined by having already written the later section of the story. Sure, I had heard from most of my writer friends and strangers online that they always wrote out of order and couldn't fathom having to write anything sequentially, but I took pride in the feeling that I was unique and found something special that worked for me.

However, it turns out that writing in order makes the whole process incredibly difficult and often turns the hobby I love into a mind-splitting chore. The thing is that I didn't realize this before, after, or even as I was writing sequentially - it wasn't until someone online explained why they preferred writing out of order that I saw how difficult my way of writing had been.

The Advantage of Writing Out Of Order

So for NaNoWriMo this year, I decided to give out-of-order writing a shot, and so far it's been going wonderfully! The biggest advantage that I was initially looking forward to was the ability to write whatever scene I was most interested in rather than having to trudge through some earlier scenes I'm not as enthused about in order to eventually get to the more interesting stuff. Not only would this allow me to follow my muse wherever it took me and deal with the connecting or missing transitional scenes later, but it would prevent me from worrying about forgetting some cool idea I had before I had time to write it down.

However, what has so far turned out to be the actual biggest advantage of writing out of order isn't actually writing the big scenes, but the small ones. You see, when writing the first draft of my novel, I had to repeatedly go back to figure out what exactly it was "that one secondary character" said the last time we saw them because it had been so long since I actually wrote the damn scene and I totally forgot where that subplot was going. Writing out of order has allowed me to treat those subplots almost as if they're stories in and of themselves, meaning that I can spend a few days in a row only writing the scenes in which "secondary character X" shows up, getting their entire story/character arc out of the way while it's all fresh in my mind.

Overall, this method of writing has been like a breath of fresh air, and I think I will continue to write novels in this manner in the future.

As for how the novel itself is coming along? Pretty good, I'd say. I think it will easily go above 50,000 words when all is said and done, and I feel a lot more confident about the overall quality of this draft as compared to the first. My only real concern at this moment (aside from a few scenes I'm avoiding writing until the end because I'm not really sure how they should go) is that I may need to do some revisions for tone, as I've always wanted Nothing But The Boots to be a dramatic story with lighthearted narration, and so far it feels like it's been mostly a dramatic story with dramatic narration. It needs more levity. Otherwise, everything is going splendid!

I'll update you again once December rolls around!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Book Review: Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke

It's been over two years since I blogged a book review, which is odd, because I've actually been reading a lot more lately.
Book Review
Do you like the new graphic? I made it myself. Yes, that is my hand, foot, and Spider-Man Tervis tumbler.

How I Stumbled Upon this Book

For most of my life, I'd never been a "genre guy" when it came to books; by which I mean that I wasn't a huge fan of mystery, adventure, or horror in particular. Instead, I was a fan of authors. After being told at 13 years old that Stephen King was the best writer of our generation, I ended up reading a lot of his books but never felt drawn to horror itself. Similarly, many of the books I've read I'd only discovered after first seeing or hearing about the movie adaptation - which led to my love of Chuck Palahniuk and Stieg Larsson, but not to the genres of satire or mystery, respectively.

As I've grown as a writer, however, genres have intrigued me, partially because of my desire to write some genre fiction myself. As such, I began reading through Michael Connelly's excellent Detective Bosch series, of which I'm currently five books into the now 21 book series.

But a strange thing happened a few months ago. I got really, really interested in science fiction.

I blame this on the hype over the video game No Man's Sky, having watched 2001: A Space Odyssey, and downloading the soundtrack to Interstellar all within a few weeks of each other. During the height of my obsession, I downloaded wallpapers of the cosmos for my phone and computer, I looked up and added several science-fiction movies to my Netflix queue, and started looking online for suggestions for the best hard science-fiction books around.

While Childhood's End wasn't one of the particular books that I was suggested, author Arthur C. Clarke was. I went to the library, found the science-fiction section (which is frustratingly combined with the fantasy section), and decided to try out Childhood's End after concluding that going straight for 2001: A Space Odyssey would be like having ice cream before dinner. I had never heard of this book, so I was going in completely blind.

My Review of Childhood's End

It should be noted that Childhood's End was not the first hard sci-fi book I read during this time, and that I actually read it immediately after first reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick, and so my review will contain comparisons between the two.

Childhood's End Book Cover
Childhood's End
Arthur C. Clarke
Published 1953
2016 Paperback Syfy TV Tie-In Edition


Childhood's End begins with the United States and Soviet Union competing to launch the first space ship into orbit when several gigantic space ships quietly position themselves above every major city in the world, putting a sudden and immediate end to the space race. The ships do nothing but hover in place, until a week passes and the aliens announce in perfect English via audio transmission that they have been sent to supervise and guide the human race through its next several generations of progress. This is met with resistance at first, as many people feel threatened by these new visitors, but resistance proves totally and literally pointless, as the aliens don't even flinch at even the boldest attempts to overpower them; to such an advanced alien race, we are merely ants.

After a generation has passed, with the quality of life slowly improving, but the aliens, now known as the Overlords, not yet revealing their end goal or even their appearance, humans have gotten accustomed to the Overlords' presence as just another facet of everyday life. The last human resistors and all those who remember the world before the Overlords' arrival have died of old age, and with them, humanity's sense of freedom, religion, and drive to explore new worlds has died as well. We have become totally complacent. It is only then that the Overlords decide to reveal their appearance and allow us to glean what their true intentions may be, and it just may be too good to be true.


Childhood's End is a short but brilliantly-told story of mankind's slow but willing assimilation to a bold universal truth. Whereas I found Philip K. Dick's writing to contain many big ideas sloppily supported by meandering and often awkward language, Arthur C. Clarke effortlessly tells a simple but compelling story with sharp and to-the-point language while fluidly presenting the reader with intriguing philosophical conundrums.

The story is told in three parts, each one drastically different than the others and connected by decades of time in-between, shifting perspectives from generation to generation as life on Earth changes drastically with the Overlords' help. What was especially surprising for me as a reader and writer was not only how gripping, realistic, and intelligently each part was written, but how the relatively slow pace of the book did absolutely nothing to cripple my desire to turn to each next page. The Overlords don't actually do much, and each human character serves only as a subject through whom to see the state of the slowly-changing planet, yet the simple curiosity of what the Overlords' end goal is drives the entire experience from beginning to end.

Momentum is something I struggle to understand when writing, and Arthur C. Clarke keeps it going in full force with minimal effort. Aside from the big mystery that lies on the last pages, the momentum is helped by a cast of realistic, well-rounded characters - despite them being replaced at the outset of each new part - as well as beautifully-detailed descriptions of each new location and change to the status of the planet. Clarke's description of the book's utopian golden age had me absolutely yearning for such a world to exist within my lifetime.

The Final Verdict

Childhood's End is a must-read for any fan of science-fiction and/or mystery. Despite being written and published during the Cold War, its style holds up to modern standards, its themes are just as relevant today as they were in 1953, and it is a rare story that remains creative and unique within its premise even decades after it was first published. This is one of my new favorite books.

For those who want to be further engrossed in the world of Childhood's End, there is a 2016 SyFy miniseries based on the book which I have not yet seen but I've heard is quite good. There are also a few songs based on the book by the likes of Genesis and Pink Floyd, titled "Watcher of the Skies" and "Childhood's End," respectively.