Tag Archives: planning

The Curse

It hasn’t been a great couple of weeks for writing. I feel like I’ve gone through the microcosm of an entire career right here, in the second third of my very first novel. I’ve felt the curse of creativity, the dark side of talent, branded into my very flesh.

First, I was doing great. I had just figured out a pressing plot issue in Part III, and I was feeling awesome. Stoked. Thrilled, even. The words were flowing as easily as they ever had in the midst of the revision process, and even if it wasn’t quite pure genius flowing out of me into the novel, it was something very nearly okay.

Then I ran into a bit of a snag. It wasn’t that sort of existential crisis of writer’s block that forced me to make the plot changes in the first place, but I just wasn’t really feeling the new stuff I was writing. The character moments were okay, but it felt like they all happened in a vacuum, like they were in another book entirely.

Then I stalled out completely. When I’m not feeling confident (which is often), there’s a very real danger in taking any sort of break. I’ll become fascinated with some other story possibility or some other ideas and coming back to my novel, which doesn’t feel nearly so great in comparison, just feels like way too much work. Man, I’ve made all these changes, it’s still not working. Maybe I should just give up.

And then, last Sunday, I stared at my computer for almost an hour and a half and wrote maybe a dozen words. My mind was elsewhere, my muse was busy, I don’t know. It was horrible. Even my dreaded inner editor was just shrugging and saying, “Don’t ask me. Part III sucks.”

So skipped ahead.

Ironically, I’m going to back up a bit here and explain some of my thoughts regarding my “writing time.” I was lamenting that I wasn’t really able to find enough time to work, and that’s still an issue, but I think I’ve found a workable solution. Some schedule reconfiguring was called for, and it’s still hit-or-miss, but it’s a start

I’ve been getting up at six to write for months now, but I’ve noticed that “get up at six” has gradually turned into “get up at 6:15-6:20.” And then I would take a shower. And take the dog outside. And make coffee. So my 6:00-8:00 writing interval was more like a 6:50-8:00 interval, and that’s obviously no good.

So, now I shower in the evenings. Try it sometime! And if it’s my morning to see to the dog, I get up at 5:45 to take him out. And it goes without saying that there’s absolutely no internet, no videos, no games, not even any reading. I either write or I sit there staring into space. I even turn the wifi off.

I figured that if I had a solid two hours, 2,000 words would be a nice solid target. Not out of the question, but I’d have to stretch myself to get there. And if I don’t write 2,000 words, then I write the balance during lunch, or when I get home from work. So, on Monday, I wrote 2,000 words in Part IV, which had been so far untouched in this revision sequence. And today, I did another 2,000 (well, slightly less).

It’s too early to tell if it’s actually going to be successful, but I’m encouraged. I feel like I’ve come out of the trials of tribulation singed, but still strong. And I’m going to banish this thrice-damned writer’s curse if I have half an opportunity.

The Beat Sheet

Today I finished the first major step in my novel’s revision: the beat sheet. Based on an idea from Roz Morris’ entertaining book Nail Your Novel, the beat sheet does double duty as a novel snapshot and as a metronome.

A metronome, you say? Why yes, I say. Just like a musical composition, a story has to follow a certain pace, with highs and lows in the right places, to be effective. Of course, just like in music, if you try to follow that meter exactly, you’ll end up with something that sounds unoriginal, but failing to follow it altogether will just result in something completely chaotic. The middle ground is not obvious – hence, I made a map.

If I lost you with that metaphor, then what it boils down to is this: you have to have steadily rising action punctuated by brief periods of respite, where the characters (and the readers) catch their breath. Does Fugitives from Earth have that now? Not so much. Do I know how to make the tension flow like I need to? Hopefully. But there’s no way that I could keep the whole thing in my head – once again, the map.

Speaking of which, I find that writing out a scene list is invaluable as a means to keep the entire story in my head. There are just too many scenes, too many characters, and too many plots to weave them all together while I’m leaning back in my chair, fingers lightly crossed in my lap. I have to have it written out in list form and short sentences. It’s a good thing, because in many cases I found that I had forgotten what I had written, or why certain scenes were in a certain order.

Then, bringing the whole thing together, I’ve annotated each scene with its predominating emotion and its relative tension. Since the novel is in four parts, the tension peaks at the end of each part, with each peak elevated above the previous one. I don’t want to have long, boring lacunae, but neither do I want the story (even though it’s something of a thriller) to be one long adrenaline-filled stretch. Either way would have people putting the book down forever.

In the same way, I don’t want to have one emotion dominate for many pages. There are some sad scenes, some angry ones (a lot, actually – I love writing people arguing), and some romantic ones, and I’ve tried to flow from one to the next in a natural sort of way. Hopefully, it will show in the final draft.

So, the next steps: now that I have this beat sheet, my goal is to use it to prune the low-hanging fruit, as it were, of the story. The character arcs need better flow, they need better motivation, the ending must be reconstructed, and suchlike. Once that’s done, well, I’ve been using various forms of the word “hope” a lot in this post. There’s a reason for that, which is that I have no idea what comes next.

How Do you Keep On Going?

That’s not a rhetorical question. I only have a few readers, but I’m honestly curious what they think about this question: how do you keep working, keep writing, keep not surfing the internet, when the tough times come? If I have a great deadline in NaNoWriMo, then that usually does the trick for me, but usually that’s not the case and it’s up to me to keep me interested.

I’m not having any huge difficulties right now, although I feel like I might be on the borderline. I’m doing my story outlining, as I mentioned previously, and it’s pretty much as boring as I expected. I keep running into the problem of balancing story elements, and I’m starting to get a bit concerned that I don’t have enough subplots (of all things). Sometimes this entire project just seems incredibly difficult.

Of course, it is incredibly difficult. Most people would never finish it. For that matter, I may never finish it (although I plan to!). So here’s how I’m coping: I admit to myself that what I’m doing is difficult and a little boring. But I make myself sit in front of this laptop for at least two 30-minute intervals, not browsing the internet, not playing Minesweeper, just staring at my Word documents. Eventually, doing nothing becomes more boring than writing, and I’ll start typing again.

I also turn the internet off.

Anyway, short post today. I’m honestly curious about what you think, so please sound off in the comments! This will be the last post until next Monday; I’ll be out of town and away from internet until then. Bon voyage!

A Few New Things

Outlining is going apace. I’m really glad I’m doing it because it’s revealed a lot of weak points in my story that I would’ve steamrolled me over in the middle of the drafting process. It’s also revealed the tremendously detailed balancing act that writing a novel actually is – you need to balance characters, plot,  and scenes, you need to have a developed backstory, and show that backstory to the reader (but not too directly!), you need to make sure that there is always conflict brewing, and you need to keep tabs on a thousand different things that all have to come together in the end.

It’s a wonder that I ever wrote anything before without planning it to this extent. Even if this experiment is a failure, it will at least be a useful one, and when it all comes down it, maybe that’s what matters.

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Mars Gets All the Love

Mars gets all the love. When you hear somebody, whether a scientist or a civilian, talking about another planet in the Solar System, invariably they’re talking about Mars. Mars used to have water. Mars might have life. Mars Mars Mars. Enough, I say!

That probably needs some qualification. Obviously Mars is nearby, it has a 24-hour day, and it’s thoroughly habitable by the standards of, say, Mercury. It should hardly come as a surprise, then, that there have been a lot of scientific missions to Mars, and additional ones are being planned. It’ll be the first planet in the Solar System other than Earth to have a human presence.

However, that doesn’t excuse the favoritism that it gets in fiction. In fact, Mars has a lot of disadvantages for certain activities: it’s farther from the Earth than Venus (on average), it gets about a fifth of the solar energy that Venus does, and it would very likely require more energy to terraform, since it has no atmosphere or active geology. So really, where’ the love for Venus?

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A Few Words on Structure

At the heart of my novel (still untitled, by the way) is a solar-system-wide conspiracy involving local crime bosses, interplanetary hypercorps, and even the government. Obviously, if you have a conspiracy, you’re going to want to get to the bottom of it, and you’re going to want regular updates to the effect of “this goes deeper than we thought!”

So, keeping the ABCs in mind (“always be conspiring”), here’s my thoughts: the novel will be divided into approximately four sections, with each section taking place on one body in the Solar System. Each section will end with a revelation about the conspiracy, and with the characters running farther away from Earth.

I’m worried that this will end up being too mechanical, but I kind of like its metaphorical qualities. Throughout the story, the characters get further from Earth both in terms of physical distance and emotional distance. Not to mention legal distance; you don’t unearth chunks of conspiracy and stay buddy-buddy with everyone.

If anyone has thoughts about this, please don’t hesitate to sound off in the comments. In fact, don’t be afraid to leave comments at all: somebody has to be the first one and I know that at least a couple of people have seen my posts. I hereby promise a cookie to the first person (other than my wife!) to post a comment.

Crime and Mental Illness, Offworld

As I’m trying to construct a future world for my novel to take place in, I’ve stumbled across some interesting problem areas that aren’t often dealt with in science fiction. My story takes place in a future where people have colonized the Solar System to a certain extent, but when the story takes place, the offworld population is pretty sparse – think the American West circa 1840 or so.

On the other hand, that’s still a fair number of people. My thinking is that the population on the Moon, Mars, and low Earth orbit altogether is probably around 15,000, with another 10,000 or so scattered around the rest of the solar system (most of these in the asteroid belt). Compared to the 10 billions on Earth, that’s not very many.

And even though it’s commonplace, even economical in this setting, it’s still dangerous and expensive. So, what do you do when you’ve got a madman on your habitat? Suppose that he’s just mentally ill, or even temporarily disturbed. You can’t just deal with him as you would on Earth (which is to say, force him to deal with this own issues) because there’s a very real chance that he indirectly threatens the lives on everyone he lives with. Continue reading