Monday, March 18, 2013

Cast A Deadly Post Mortem

When I sat down last week to start brainstorming ideas, I decided I was going to write a story about pirates. Oops.

My creative process is pretty random. My resolve lasted about as long as it took me to skim down the Big List Of Ideas and see an entry that simply read "Magic is terribly, terribly uncool and that's why nobody does it."

Fun story to write. This was one of those stories where I actually was pretty excited to get started. I was even a little annoyed at having to hang out with friends or go to a party instead of doing this.

"They Can Only Expel You Once" is the collision of my love of high school crime-fighting stuff like Veronica Mars with my love of gumshoe fiction and modern fantasy. And magic's always kinda fun to write about. It's entertaining to come up with rules and systems and see how they play against each other.

There's some rough bits that probably should be smoothed out in the next draft, particularly in the section on magic items (faerie lords and/or their agents get through the Conduit how, exactly?) but I am otherwise very happy with it and intend to come back later and either continue it or flesh it out into a full length novel. Cam's got some rough times ahead, I'll just say that.


Holy hell, writing in present tense is tough. I constantly had to go back and change the tense on my verbs. Past tense would sneak in in the most subversive of places. For something that is ever so slightly hard-boiled, however, I think it's important to stay in the now. The present tense lends a sense of immediacy to the proceedings.

I think the hardest part of writing this story, though, was the bit at the end. Not that it was physically slow or difficult, or I had difficulty coming up with awesome stuff to write about, it's just that by the time I got there, I was dragging. I'm all "God, I KNOW how this is going to turn out, I have it outlined and everything and it can only really develop in one way from here. Can't I just hit fast forward?"

This is actually why I spend a lot of time making sure each section of a story is outlined fully before I start.

The more detailed it is about where the story's going next, what each section should accomplish, the less I have to worry about broad things like plot and structure. When I don't have to worry about all that--in addition to description, characterization and action--I write a lot faster. Think three or four times faster or even more. It's literally the difference between 300 or 400 words per hour and 1500 to 2000 words per hour.

My outlines tend to be pretty informal. I get very specific about things that are boring to write, and I am equally vague about the fun stuff, because surprising myself with details is half the fun.

Sometimes I'll finish a section, then tweak the outline two or three sections ahead, or go back and rewrite a bit of an earlier section to make the current work better. Sometimes I won't even do anything on a given day but work on my outline.

Even using the word outline is kind of a misnomer, because it usually looks like something like this:

introduce hero
what is a seventh son/etc?
in the library, working on paper
cheerleaders aren't cool
something magical happens here
Madison and her crew walk in

And so on. Not exactly like those monstrosities you'd have to work through back in high school English, right?

There's this common perception that working off an outline kills creativity or locks you into a rut. I find that is about as far from the truth as you can get. It's an excellent tool to give you the two miles up view of the story. You don't get bogged down as much in details and once you do zoom in and start expanding your story from those bones, you don't waste time wandering about the wilderness, hacking out a path through the shrubbery.

I tend to write faster, and better. It minimizes the stuff that bores me and maximizes the fun stuff. I have more time to go off on fun tangents and develope setting and character, tell jokes and whatnot. I don't have to waste precious time splitting my attention between broad level matters and detail.

Even when I'm writing in present freaking tense.

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