How Do You Choose?

Random writing, today.

I’m working on the fantasy series I want to write.  Unfortunately, the series I have in my mind is…well…it’s at least two different series.  Two different ones, but both do I want to write.  Both have characters I like, and stories I believe in.

How do you choose?

The worst torture the Romans could ever dish out was simple: line up the entire the family, then ask the father which child lived and which died.  The father always gave the Romans whatever they wanted.

So, for me, which story lives, and which dies?  Into which story do I plunge the dagger?

Okay, so no story every really dies…but putting one off for a couple of years (at the minimum) feels a whole lot like killing it…

Like that father, how do you choose?

No, really, how do you choose?

The story not of the young kid who wields a magic sword to become king, but rather the story of the sword so dedicated that he seeks out the last survivor of “his” family…

Or the story of the bitter immortal — the “angel” exiled for his part in the lost war in heaven — who wants nothing more than the grey numbness of oblivion…

I love Connor and Oz.  Err…well…Connor is a great character, and a great narrator, but it is Oz who I actually love.  It is Oz who is my favorite character.  But their time is coming to a close.  Once their third story is written, that’s it.

Hell, if I’m honest, there never should have been more than one.  Somewhere Peaceful to Die was written to have no sequel…but I couldn’t let those characters go.  The Silence That Never Comes and The Flicker of Ghosts came (are coming) because I couldn’t let go of those two characters.  But the time has come to finally let go…

So what fills the blank?  The stories of devotion and innocence that drove my youth?  My take on the Belgariad and the Chronicles of Amber and the Lord of the Rings?  Or…


Or, a more deeply personal tale?  A tale built on experience and reality?  A tale of a weary life lived among those far younger?  A tale of bitterness and loss amidst the joys and innocence of youth…?

It would help, of course, if one had a character that stood out more for me than the other…but both call to me:

Finntan’s hope, the innocence of his life, and the dedication of the magic items that dedicate themselves to him…

Versus the world weary insouciance of Runae…versus the concept of the once-great wanting nothing more than the forgetfulness of death…

How do you pick which child lives and which dies?

How do you choose between the hope and love that you wish the world was, and the bitter pain that you know the world actually is?

I tried conflating them, I really did.

Yeah, it was worse than you think it was.

Those two cannot be combined.  Not in any way.  I tell either Finntan’s story, or I tell Runae’s.  I can’t combine the two…not any more than I can plan out to a third series!


This is why, of course, writers get paid the…ahem…small bucks.

If I had wanted to get rich, I would’ve been a plumber.

Musical Note — the song below is one I love. It is a song that has not specifically been a part of anything I’ve conceived or written, but rather has elements that touch on everything I’ve written (not to mention having the best song line ever: “If you’ve never stared off into the distance / Then your life Is a shame”)…

Musical Addendum

A friend of mine just got on me to expand the repertoire of songs I use on these posts.

Oh, she understands the soundtrack I use when I’m writing, but she also knows my library is a whole hell of a lot larger than the videos I link here…

Fine. I’m still going to keep with the writing theme, however. In fact, the two additional songs I’m throwing on this post both come from the “soundtrack” for Connor and Oz.

One friendly reminder, by the way: I love dissonance. I love finding the parallels and truths in things that seemingly have nothing to do with each other. The two songs I am linking here are firmly in that dissonant camp of having nothing to do with each other. When you look deeper, however…

A song about being on the biggest stage of your life, about stepping up and putting everything into that one chance. {Edit — a friend once told me that when he stepped on the ice for the first shift of his NHL career, this song was going through his head}:

And, to be as dissonant as possible, the alternative soundtrack to the final scene of Somewhere Peaceful to Die (because, well, what could be more dissonant than innocent kids singing Oz into death?):

Snippeting: The Fork in the Plot…

So…I threw out about fifteen thousand words of work.  Even for a wordy bastard like me, that’s an awful lot of words and work to sacrifice on the altar of the delete key.

That is one of the hardest lessons to learn, by the way: honest self-criticism.  Oh, it’s easy to be critical about word-choice and phrasing and all the normal style crap that gets hit in the later editing/revision passes…but to be self-critical about the entire direction of a story?

Yeah, that’s freaking hard.

My strong belief is that it is worlds better that I find the flaws and dead-ends in a story before any reader or editor.  The results of that self-criticism, however…

The results of that kinda suck.  There’s nothing like realizing that the plan for the entire second half of a hundred thousand word story has to be replanned and replotted.  Even worse, there’s nothing like staring again at a blank page where once you thought there was a plan and a direction.


Still, some of those old, “bad” notes and dynamics can hold true.  More importantly, the direction and focus of a character can still hold true.  Years and years ago, I read a great piece on writing from a favorite writer of mine.  One of the things he advocated was getting inside your characters’ heads. What I translate as making your characters real.  An extension of that, he went on to add, was that from time to time, when the characters complained about the direction you were taking the story, you had to give up on your own plans and go with what they wanted.

Below is a random scene I wrote a year or so ago.  I never finished it.  There is an entire second half — another thousand words or so — that determines which way the scene, and the story itself, actually goes.  I’m still working on that second half…

Warm days on Redux were a rarity.  It was a planet cold and unforgiving for its new human settlers.  A planet that seemingly wanted to punish the temerity of those daring to build and live on its half-frozen surface.  When the brief weeks of warmth came, then, it was cause for celebration; for weeks spent outdoors, soaking up that most treasured of commodities: warm sunshine.

The small field outside of Peebers was packed.  Filled with far more than just the bar’s regulars, there were families and individuals from all over the Camp.  A handful, even, from the neighborhoods on the city’s posh west side.  All were outside, seated at small tables, or simply sprawled on the sparse grass, savoring the entertainment and the sun’s warmth in equal measure.

The bar’s servers were running at top speed to deliver drinks and food while the celebrants enjoyed the long hours of music from the small stage Dalton had set up at the heart of the field.

The crowd was still small, compared to what it would be later.  The headline acts — the ones folks were paying to see — wouldn’t start for several more hours.  And yet…

And yet, it was no small, timid roar when Connor stepped onto that stage and started to play.  The applause and the cheers — the raw energy of a crowd larger than any he’d ever before experienced — made the first notes out of his guitar something very special.  It was a new song that he started with.  A new song, but one well received by the enthusiastic revelers.  It was more than the crowd, though.  It was a great deal more.

It was the sun…and the music…and the energy…it was, when you got right down to it, something far more than the sum of its parts: it was the moment itself.  Connor was something, up on that stage, that he never was at any other time.  Something he had not been since that terrible day when he’d held the body of his dying brother; Connor was himself.  The many masks and false identities were gone.  The pretense was gone.  In their place instead was all the feeling, and all the intensity, that life had taught to Connor.

The regulars in the crowd reacted — wildly — to the first notes of those songs that had become much-requested favorites on his nights playing inside the bar.  To his surprise, however, the newcomers reacted to his music, and his personality, just as enthusiastically.  More than anything, it was the new songs, the songs that continued to explore and expand on his opinion of the entire miserable universe, that really drew the response he wanted.

Not for a day like that — not for a day in the warmth of the sun — were the semi-acoustic songs of pain and loss he had played in the past.  No, his brief time in front of that crowd called for energy, and for lyrics that confronted and judged, rather than for songs that spoke to the internal, personal pain of his past.

Ten songs, that was his allotted time.  Ten songs to sing his throat sore, and to play his fingers bloody on the strings.  And on the final song?  On the final song, everything came together: the sun, the music, the enthusiastic participation of the crowd.  It was a moment — a moment of stone-cold sobriety — that left far behind the best highs he could remember from the countless days of drugs and booze that had so-far defined his young life.

He was sweating and exhausted when the notes began to fade behind the cheers.  Unlike his first nights playing in the bar, however, he was very aware of the crowd.  Far more aware, in fact, than he was of his own state.

Most were faces he knew in passing, knew from those long nights playing for others.  Most, but not all.  At the corner of the stage, Matt’s face carried every bit of the speechlessness that Connor had known would afflict his friend.  Speechlessness, and more than a hint of the surprise and pleasure that Connor had hoped to create when he had offered the ticket.

To exit the wings of the stage was not what Connor wanted, not at that moment.  Instead, once his precious guitar was safely stored and his thanks given to Mattie and the others helping him to play, he hopped directly into the milling revelers.

It took several minutes to make his way the few feet to Matt, but the congratulations and enthusiasm of those who had enjoyed the music held a power he had never before experienced.  Sheepish and embarrassed his smile might be, but that moment meant…everything to him.

Random musical addition because…well…it’s a great song, so why the hell not?

Bit Off More Than I Can Chew

Talk about exercises in futility…

I decided to get all ambitious with a blog post the other night.  “Wouldn’t it be cool,” I thought, “to put together something about song lyrics?  To do a piece where I list the ‘best’ lyrics to build a story around?”

Of course, that meant I just had to go back and start listening to songs and artists to check my memory.  I just had to re-immerse myself in the feelings and moods that made the music memorable in the first place.

I have, I should add, well over 60 gigabytes of music on my iPhone…

I could listen for a week, and not get through it all!  I am also “that guy” when it comes to music.  You know who I’m talking about, the guy who starts with one song/artist and wanders down countless rabbit trails of music and memory.

Even when I nailed down a few songs to use, well…you can’t just type the lyrics.  No, to get the point across, you have to have the feelings and memories of the music, too (*Note – I’ve put an example of this at the end of the post*).

So much for my ambitious blog post.


Look, there’s a line from a song called “Solsbury Hill” by Peter Gabriel — a single vision, that became a few words in a larger scene I wrote — that inspired the entire freaking fantasy trilogy I’m planning and working up right now (when I want to take a break from my sci-fi stuff).  The line?  Oh, hell, why not:

My heart going boom-boom-boom

Son, he said, grab your things

I’ve come to take you home

And about that sci-fi stuff…

Well, Connor & Oz’s stories owe their existence to — of course — a song.  A song that inspired the final scene of the first book, which in turn inspired the characters, then the world and society, then the plot…and on and on.

What, you want that line, too?  Crikey…this one really is the whole song rather than just a line or two, but here goes:

You saw my pain

Washed out in the rain

And broken glass

Saw the blood run from my veins

You see why my original post idea was way too ambitious?  I could do this a hundred times, with a hundred different songs and stories and characters.  I could talk about Genesis’ “A Trick of the Tail”, The Alarm’s “One Step Closer to Home”, The Avett Brothers’ “The Carpenter”, Clapton’s “Motherless Children”, Steve Winwood, Erasure, The Gaslight Anthem, Chuck Ragan, Dave Hause, Sting, X Ambassadors, Derek And The Dominoes, Trampled By Turtles…

Crap, maybe I should just list my entire music library!


*Okay, so the example I want to use is a song I’ve mentioned before as one that is incredibly evocative.  It is a song of memory and emotion.  A song of — dare I say it — nostalgia and the past.  A few lines I will type here.  Read them and see if you can find those qualities.  Only then, only after trying the hard way, should you listen to the linked video and listen for those same qualities:

While the city bums

Are taken hard

For one more drop of blood

We work our fingers down to dust

And we wait for kingdom come

With the radio on

See what I mean?