Escapism

Escapism.  I used to hate the term. I felt that if things were so bad in real life that you needed to escape it, then maybe you should take a look at what was wrong and work to change it, instead of ignoring it. Nowadays … Continue reading Escapism

3rd Draft Madness

Hello humans.

I’m currently sitting in a one-bedroom apartment where I’ll be spending X amount of days getting started on the 3rd draft of my novel. I was very lucky to have this getaway opportunity because a change of scenery usually helps me focus on the task at hand (I did a similar trip last year for those who don’t know –  read about it here).

My novel was sent out to a total of seven beta-readers at the start of November but I lost two of them on the way (for various reasons). Four people have now read the whole book and given me their thoughts, and the last one will be done in the near future (no stress buddy if you’re reading this). Regardless, I now feel I have enough meat on the bone to get things underway. The general opinon seems to be I’ve written an exciting fantasy novel that hopefully brings something fresh to the table. The book is not without its faults, obviously, so now I’m sorting through all their comments so I can adress the most glaring issues the novel faces.

But let’s back up a bit first and see how we got here.

Writing the 1st draft was relatively easy compared to this stage of the process (which is kinda crazy because it was by far the most challenging thing I’ve ever done). You have this story you want to tell and you write it. It doesn’t matter how shitty it is, your sole focus is to get the words on the paper. There are no shortcuts or nothing. You write, sacrifice sleep/other hobbies/social life then you write some more.

The 2nd draft was a joyful experience, let me tell ya. You take that dirty 1st draft of yours and you force it into the shower, scrub off the dirt and then you dress it up in fancy clothes. Spray some perfume on it for the final touches and voilá! You have something that’s actually presentable to others.

Which brings us to the 3rd fucking draft…

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The challenge at this stage is to balance my own vision for the book versus the feedback from the betas. If more than one person adressed something as a problem it’s pretty clear that particular issue indeed is a problem. But then I have those cases where only one person mentioned something bothering them… do I attempt to fix that or should I leave it be? And then we have the avalanche effect of things… If I change something there it means I must also change that and so on. Yeah… there you have it.

Well, there’s only one way to go and that’s forward. Wish me luck!

Rob J. Hayes Guest Post!

Today we’re honored in having author Rob J. Hayes show up here on the blog 🙂

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The Art of Writing a Heist

My It Takes a Thief… series of books follows a couple of thieves as they blend into high society and perform complex heists to steal off with the loot, preferably without getting caught.

I’ve done some pretty extensive research to get ready for the task of writing heists. It was grueling. I had to sit through films like Ocean’s Eleven, the Italian Job, Heat, Fast and the Furious 5 (say what you want about the franchise but the fifth installment is definitely a heist film). I read a few books such as The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. I also did a bit of research into real life heists. The more deeply I delved, the more I realized that writing heists was gonna be hard work.

Structure

Now any good heist consists of two parts: you have the planning and you have the job. Sometimes the planning section will come first and sometimes the two run together. Both options have their ups and downs but most of it boils down to tension.

If the plan is explained from the beginning the audience already know the big drama moments, where the plan is likely to fail. The anticipation of whether it will or won’t during those moments is what keeps them on the edge of their seats.

If the plan is told concurrently with the execution of the plan it keeps the audience in the dark, splitting the heist up into sections. This keeps the audience guessing, wondering where the job is gonna go next.

I opted for the second approach, to tell the planning and the job at the same time. I did this because both It Takes a Thief… books open on a heist and I didn’t want them to open on twenty pages of planning with no action. Structure wise this means that the first chapter in each book is split into a planning stage that takes place in the past (denoted by italics), and an execution stage that takes place in the present.

The Reveals

You don’t want to give away all the details in the planning stage unless things are going to go monumentally wrong. If the execution is going to go to plan for the most part, it’s best to keep details light. As my major heists are located at the beginning of each book I use the time to give a few details of how the heist should go and then also give time to character building. There’s a lot of witty dialogue between the characters in those sections that sets up relationships and history, and gives a good bit of insight into who the characters are.

If the heist is going to go wrong at every turn, leaving the drama to how the characters recover from the mistakes, then it’s best to give a lot of time over to reveals in the planning stage so the audience can see just how badly the job is going.

The Crew

Every heist needs an interesting crew to perform it. Some crews can be massive like Ocean’s Eleven, or some can be relatively small like my own books. It’s important to have specialists. You don’t want every character able to perform every part of the heist. Why? Because it helps to add tension when things go wrong. For example let’s look at Shaobo Qin’s character, Yen, in Ocean’s Eleven (the 2001 version). When Yen is injured before the job, it adds tension because no one else is able to take his place and do his part of the job. It still all relies on him despite his injury so the audience is left knowing that there’s a good chance it could all fail.

Specializing your crew becomes a lot harder with fewer members. It Takes a Thief to Catch a Sunrise has a crew of just two for most of the book. This means that both members of the crew need to have a broad range of skills, many of which will be interchangeable. This doesn’t mean it’s impossible though. I gave my male protagonist, Jacques, a knowledge of alchemy and a much more acrobatic flair. I gave my female protagonist, Isabel, more of an acting background allowing her to blend in better. Isabel also happens to be the calm anchor to the duo while Jacques is more wild and given to panic when things go wrong.

The Loot

It’s strange to say it, but the loot is probably the least important bit of the heist. Whether it’s cold cash or an artifact of unspeakable value, the biggest part of the loot is that it gives the crew a reason to be where they are and performing the heist. The location of the loot is important, the logistics of how the crew will secure the loot is important, even how the crew is going to sell the loot is important. But the loot itself isn’t important. Writing a good heist really isn’t about the destination, it’s about the journey.

Are there any great heist books or films you like? Let us know in the comments.

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Bio: Hailing from all over England; north, south, and everything in between, Rob J. Hayes is the author of the dark fantasy series The Ties that Bind and also the steampunk caper series It Takes a Thief… He’s also an avid card gamer, reader of books, watcher of things, and player of video games.

The second book in the It Takes a Thief… series, It Takes a Thief to Start a Fire, is available October 25th from Amazon. You can find out more at www.robjhayes.co.uk.

Let’s Talk About Diversity

This post will be a bit all over the place but bear with me.

I have lived in Sweden for 27 years. I wasn’t born in this country and me and my family came here as immigrants – staying in a refugee accommodation for the first couple of years.

That was a long time ago now, and by all measures I am considered Swedish, but I have never *really* felt like it. The reason for that is quite simple: I don’t look Swedish. If I would stand next to a blonde and blue-eyed friend of mine and ask a stranger to point out the immigrant, it wouldn’t exactly be a challenge for them. There is nothing in my appearance that differentiate me from the thousands of new immigrants arriving in Sweden. I look like them and they look like me.

I have argued about this with friends over the years, with them saying I’m just as Swedish as them, but it doesn’t feel that way to me. It never has and it most likely never will. That’s fine. I love Sweden and that’s it. This is my home.

I want to talk about how important diversity is to myself as an immigrant living in the West. We can all agree that being Arab after 9/11 pretty much sucks. Even if you’ve never been taken to interrogation rooms at airports (I have) or been “randomly searched” (I have) you can understand where I’m coming from. Being Arab right now means you’re the villain in this narrative. Back in the day is was the communists and Russia, now it’s people from the Middle East.

Growing up, like most kids, I looked for role models. Nothing weird about that. But it kinda matters for someone like me, a minority, to find someone I can relate too, right? White people don’t have to think about this much because the majority of of western media has white actors/actresses. It’s a whole different story for someone like me.

Do you guys remember the movie “The Mummy” from 1999? The movie itself doesn’t matter that much, but what matters is this guy:

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This character is called Ardeth Bay and he was awesome. I was eleven when the movie came out and I remember telling my friends that Ardeth Bay was my people. We both had dark hair and brown eyes, and the symbols on his face reminded me of Arabic.
I felt proud seeing him being a badass along with the main protagonist, fighting to stop evil.

I loved wrestling growing up. Like, really loved it. It was something me and my brother shared as a hobby and we never missed it on TV.

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The Ultimate Warrior

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The Iron Sheik

The Ultimate Warrior was our favorite wrestler. Someone we hated was the Iron Sheik. We hated him because that’s what the WWF (world wrestling foundation) wanted us to do. The crowd always booed when he entered and he bashed America, making him the villain. His rivalry with Hulk Hogan is one of the most famous rivalries in wrestling history.

Good vs Bad.

East vs West.

I didn’t want to be associated with the Iron Sheik. I absolutely hated him. Watching an old VHS tape, a friend asked me if we came from the same country, and I remember getting really upset, saying I had nothing in common with him.

The reason I’m writing about all of this is that I shared a picture on Twitter a couple of days ago and here’s the deal: there’s a new Spiderman movie coming out next year. Peter Parker (Spiderman) has a girlfriend called Mary Jane. In the comics she’s white, but now it’s rumored that actress Zendaya Coleman will play the part.

The problem? Zendaya is of mixed heritage (African-American Father & white mother).

People are outraged over this – white people, to be exact. Look at this picture:

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What is the fucking problem? It drives me crazy. Mary Jane was introduced in 1965 (full appearance 1966). OF COURSE she was a white character. That was the standard. If Mary Jane would have been a colored character, that would have meant Marvel Comics taking a political stance. A character is not their skin color. It literally makes no difference whatsoever for the story. Mary Jane’s role was to be Peter Parker’s girlfriend, giving him a more substantial personal life and challenging him as an alpha female. By casting Zendaya as Mary Jane, people of color and mixed heritage might get a character they can look up to as well in this white-dominated Hollywood.

What’s Next & Editing Update #2

How’s it going crazy people?

Firstly, I want to say I’m sorry for not posting anything on the blog in a while. As some of you know, I have recently left my work at Starbreeze – the company where I’ve worked for the last two years. These last couple of months have been really hard. I’m not gonna lie and say otherwise. I’m also not gonna go into detail of what exactly happened. The only thing that matters is that it’s over and I’m happy. I learnt a lot about myself in the process and in the end justice prevailed.

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What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

I have a solid financial situation so I’m not in desperate need to find a new workplace. What I will do is to focus on my novel and treat it just as I have before – like a real profession, but this time I will work as many hours as I possibly can on it, instead of the 2,5 hours I was limited to on weekdays. In the meantime I will see what jobs are available in the gaming industry, but with the caveat that I’ll be looking for projects where the creativity comes first, not the politics. I’m not gonna waste any time working on something just for money (that might be selfish, but you know what? YOLO).

So what’s the status of my novel?

I’m deep in editing-mode. I have discovered that I enjoy doing a really thorough editing pass; which means going line-by-line. I scribbled down hundreds of notes of stuff I wanted to change while I wrote the 1st draft. That will be taken care of now. This method is slower than others, that’s for sure, but in the end I will have a MUCH better 2nd draft.

I have mentioned before that I’ve worked as a project manager, and I use the same mindset when working on the book. The way I completed the 1st draft was by giving myself deadlines and minimum word count I needed to achieve every day. I also had a 10K word document where I had outlined the whole story (a synopsis for each chapter).

So here’s the plan for the coming months:

  1. I will spend the rest of August and September to finish the 2nd draft. I can easily accomplish this if I sit my ass down and work 8 hours a day.
  2. When the 2nd draft is done I will send it out to my lovely beta-readers (seriously, thank you guys in advance). I will give them around one month to read the script and send me their feedback.
  3. With the collected feedback from the beta-readers, I will then start working on the 3rd draft and make the necessary changes needed.
  4. The 3rd draft will then be sent to my editor Tim Marquitz ((www.http://dominioneditorial.com) over in the states  who will basically rip me a new asshole and tell me everything about the book sucks. He will give the script a complete edit (language & grammar, story, pacing etc) and help me make it the best book it can be.
  5. Based on Tim’s feedback, I will then work on putting together a 4th draft. That might be a bit back and forth, but the goal is to have a version that is ready for submission (I’ll talk more about this another time) by the end of the year.
  6. Time to hunt me one of those legendary Poke… Agents that everyone is talking about. If you want to be traditionally published you’ll need an agent, so that comes next.

Phew. That’s a lot of steps, right? Did anyone think it’s easy to write a book? You’d think writing the thing would be the hard part, but nope, now the real works begin. Well, challenge accepted.

End note: I’ll make sure to update the blog on a more regular basis and talk about whatever random shit I feel like. That will most likely be books, video games, movies and so on. And of course, I will be updating you all on how the novel is coming along. If anyone has any questions just hit me up below in the comment section or use Twitter or Facebook.