Thursday, August 29, 2013

On The Importance Of Ongoing Research

Status Update:  Saved from lack of coffee just at the nick of time. From the bitter failure of no-coffee-dom, a heroic venture to the grocery store last night restores my kitchen to full bean-hood. If life were a videogame, I'd have made a power-up noise. Instead, I'm just wired.

I've got notes for this weeks' story. It's going to be one thing unless it becomes another. Sometimes I make extensive plans and then surprise myself with something else at the last minute, partly because sometimes I'm a little bored by what I'm prepared to write, partly because I think of something better/more amusing and partly it's because my plans are overly ambitious vis a vis the amount of energy I'm currently bringing to bear on the project. I plan for Cecil B. DeMille, but wind up with Tommy Wiseau instead.

I've always been amused by people who think that writing is something that comes purely from within, like an author (any author, really, not even "pro's") is some kind of oracle sitting above a crack in the ground, channeling Greek deities from subterranean vapors. You sit down to write, a heavenly choir begins to sing, and then words appear on the page. Then you get a fat check from out of nowhere and you retire to a cafe somewhere with a heart-breakingly beautiful French girlfriend and a cardigan. I think single malt Scotch, clove cigarettes and a sailboat also factor in somewhere. Maybe a cool-looking hat. Fuck, I don't know. What was I talking about?

Right, preparation. Back on track.

Writing, of any sort, thrives on preparation. The more of it you do, the more authentic--the more interesting--the output. I don't mean you should compile a history of Scottish claymores or Hungarian wood-working techniques. I don't think it's necessary to have a degree in physics to write a book about space pirates. But it's nice to back off, realize that the segment you're writing is going to take you through a mental space you know very little about.

So, you wander off to the library and spend some time moseying through the stacks. Surf the internet for weird/cool pages. Your book might not need a four page treatise on the digestive habits of lemurs, but throwing in the odd authentic detail or two midway through an action sequence goes a long way towards immersing the reader.

And that's great. But you never know the sorts of strangeness you'll be writing about, the paths you'll wind up following. And that's why I think that, for writers, preparation is an ongoing process. If you're going to write a lot, you should be interested in everything.

Read everything that's not nailed down.

All genres, nonfiction or fiction. You never know when that "a-ha" moment will hit you. And having a huge bank of random crap sifting through your subconscious at all times will help your writing, let you draw on odd comparisons at will. Perhaps the image of the Tacoma Narrows bridge disaster will help lend authenticity to that bit in the horror novel you're writing when the zombie-chinchillas from Niflheim are swarming over the suspension bridge the heroes built to escape Robo-Hitler's prison. Maybe you'll find that knowing a bit about how the guts of a NASA space suit works will lend a bit of tension to the scene when your space pirate is about to be hoovered up by a giant space aardvark.

I tend to alternate books in my free time. I read everything, fiction, nonfiction, young adult, classic mysteries, plays, even the occasional bit of poetry. New science fiction, horror, historical fiction. Crap, I'll even read Harlequin romance if I find a book lying around and nobody's around to make fun of me. But never the same thing back to back.

My strategy for choosing nonfiction tends to revolve around "Hey, this looks like a boring topic. There has to be something interesting here." And there usually is. Hell, I once read a book called "Salt", which was about...salt. It was actually pretty cool.

The key thing is that you always have to be pushing past your comfort zones. Even if you think you're only going to write in one genre. Hell, especially if you think you're only going to write in one genre. There's always some kind of takeaway in something new. Ways to drive action and character development, a narrative focus you don't see often in your normal reading territories. Even something as small as the realization you hate/are extremely uncomfortable with what you're reading. You ask yourself why, and the answer might be interesting/illuminating/useful. If not, you'll at least have something new to think about and four or five years down the line, something might bubble up from your subconscious and push a story in an interesting direction.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Putting Fortinbras In The Ground

I was definitely In A Mood over the weekend. One of those stretches of days that Melville wrote about when you want to go about town, tipping hats and picking fights. Of course I did neither, because people don't wear hats these days, unless they're hipsters and screw those guys. And getting into fights is ill-advised because people who get into fights regularly suck. Unless it's over important things, like coffee and beer.

So, getting down to the grit and writing a story almost didn't happen, because I had a near-terminal case of don't-give-a-shit. But I rallied at the end. Realized the planned story, the one which would be a strange take on an Edgar Allen Poe tale was probably too ambitious for the time allotted and the energy levels I'd bring to the typewriter. Also, I'd helped three separate friends move heavy stuff around over the week and just needed a break. This sort of thing seems to happen a lot in August. If March comes in like a lion and leaves like a lamb, August stumbles around like a tired pack mule.

I considered a few separate ideas for a shorter flash piece, including the aforementioned cryonics story, or doing something fantastical because, hell, why not. Then I went to the source and did another Wendig piece instead because it's the right amount of accountability for my mood. Some days you can count on your inner headmaster to stroll down the row of desks and thwack you on the knuckles, get you sorted out. Sometimes, not so much.

The challenge was to incorporate a short list of ten words, with the story length limited to a Grover Cleveland's bill worth of words: funeral, captivate, deceit, brimstone, canyon, balloon, clay, disfigured, willow and atomic.

The end result felt vaguely Heinleinian for reasons I can't quite put my finger on. Probably that sense of people scheming and tap-dancing, using science and brainstorming to overcome problems. It would probably be much better blown up into a full story, but would run the risk of becoming too much like Big Shot's Funeral.

Just one of those pieces which never quite came together for me. On one hand, it's fun and I like all the small little details, like Ytterby or the garden badger. I had a few amusing bits in there which I really liked, some fun description and hints about the old man's circle of acquaintances, for example, but there's not much in the way of story or progression. I finally just gave up, slapped a bow on it and called it good.

Short stories always have to do a bit of fancy balancing to avoid becoming a vignette; flash fiction doubly so with the limited word count. This one's pretty close. Probably too close, actually.

BUT, I'm now over 250,000 words for the year. And my 100th blog post was Thursday. It's a pity I wasted it bitching about mainstream fantasy. I'll just have to try harder for my 1000th.

The Onion posted this article a few days back, probably one of my favorites in a long while. Every writer I've seen post it has pretty much the same reaction: a wince and a guilty look. We all have our own Skyzones, I'm guessing.

There are things on my hard drive which I fervently hope will never get discovered by other human beings but I can't really quite make myself give them the mercy killing they so richly deserve. Creative guilty pleasures, castle in the sky things that the eight year old hiding in the back of my skull still thinks completely awesome. The absolute nadir of the creative heap, the back forty, the ninth and bottom-most layer.

There should be some kind of pact which writers can make with each other, similar to the ones that porn buddies make where if one person kicks off early, the other has their passwords. They sneak over, delete all of that person's Skyzones, their fan fiction about My Little Pony, their epic Dungeons and Dragons modules involving transforming robots and an elaborate Harry Potter-style universe, the half-formed abandoned horror stories about crime-fighting teens, all of the fantasy heartbreakers and terrible poems about unicorns and wizards and the righteous fire of youth--kill it all with flames before family and friends can wander by and find out just what in the hell you've been doing with your spare time over the years. Wipe out the bottom 20% of your oeuvre before any horrified bystanders can see your ass hanging out for posterity.

I'd call it Operation Skyzone. Maybe it would make a good Kickstarter. Have it be a tray app, similar to cloud-based backups. It would be set up like a dead man's switch. If the trigger popped, it would delete all the embarrassing crap from your computer at the next boot.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Story The Thirty-fourth: Fortinbras Clay's Atomic Funeral

Fighting through a massive attack of don't-give-a-fucks this week. So! When in doubt, do a flash fiction challenge.

The challenge this time around was to use ten random words, make a story of roughly a thousand words. Any story in which I get to mention ytterbium is a win in my book.

Download EpubFortinbras Clay's Atomic Funeral (full text)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Bitching About Fantasy

Status Update: plentiful coffee, of an unrivaled darkness. This is coffee that stains your soul black as you drink it. Your first piss of the morning will smoke as it leaves your body because your bodily fluids have been alchemically transformed into acid, like the blood of something Sigourney Weaver would fight. If I could make it blacker, I would.

Nothing written yet; haven't really settled on any ideas. It's probably going to be something fairly short, of the flash variety, but who knows.

I've been torn fifty-fifty between writing some mainstream-ish fantasy, but with some subversive undermining of expectations, or maybe something involving cryonics. Yes, that's how my brain works. Don't judge me.

I'm going to get something out on the table right now: I hate mainstream fantasy. Haaaaaate it. It burns me, yes it does. It all seems to be the same thing over, and over, and over: white people with British accents traipsing about a half-baked fantasy version of King Arthur's Europe looking for the big whatsit that'll defeat the Evil-Foozle-What's-Making-Things-Suck. There will be a hastily-thought-out magic system and something like elves and dwarves. They will have Tolkien-style elf and dwarf cultures and their languages will be letter soup. Lots of letter soup in mainstream fantasy. "Tally-ho, Not-Aragorn! Where goest thou?!" "I'm off to the castle of Bl'ourg'ragh'ackt to find the Chalice of Blagh-blech."

It's the general laziness that gets me. It's not really a medieval world these books tend to be set in--it's a Medieval Times world. You always get the feeling that once the camera is off the characters, they pull out an iPad, switch on the lights and then surf Facebook. They never seem to have to deal with problems like finding fresh water, preserving food, getting sufficient lighting at night (it was DARK at night before the invention of power), communicating with neighbors, or what have you. The characters usually feel like modern people who have been teleported in from the future with selective amnesia and/or brain damage, rather than products of their environment. The cultures they live in seem like close analogues of modern stereotypes and not something that arises organically from a historical time-line or their geography.

You could pretty much turn it into a drinking game:

Take a shot when you see a...

-- Main character who rises from a lowly status to become a king. Bonus points if he has a weapon which lights on fire when he's about to be all righteous and bad-ass. Extra bonus points if he's a farmer or a blacksmith.
-- Main character's mentor who is a wizard.
-- Main character's sidekick who is a dodgy lowlife.
-- Two drinks if the enemies are Ice People From The North
-- A mountain range which references a spine or the word "doom".
-- Elves, fucking elves. Bonus points if they're called something transparently close: aelves, fae, sidhe or something like that.
-- Dwarves. Bonus points if they are Scottish.
-- Every time you see a wolf as a positive image. Bonus points if it's framed in such a way that it would make an awesome t-shirt.

There have been some excellent novels over the years to shake things up. I occasionally bash George R R Martin, but his books were a breath of fresh air. Court intrigue can be more interesting than thinly-disguised Tolkien pastiche?! Inconceivable! And I've read some newer authors that I thought were doing some interesting things with the genre. Alan Campbell brings back some interesting Moorcockian elements to the table. Roberto Calas takes a gritty/realistic historical perspective and then adds an amusing dash of zombies (you'd think it'd have been played out by the time I read this, but I was wrong). Brent Weeks' books have a great Thieves' World feel which takes me back to the 80's (in a good way). I'm forgetting quite a few, I think, but they are out there.

But we're definitely feeling the 90% rule here. Mainstream fantasy is where ideas go to get fat and die a wheezing asthmatic death. Other genres have a similar problem with lazy writing (q.v. modern fantasy vis a vis vampires and zombies), but for some reason it seems more galling in this case, probably because modern fantasy has been a thing for longer.

Generally speaking, if your fantasy story has any elements of what I've complained about above, you have to step back. It's okay to have elves. I'm fine with flat/generic cultures. No problem with macho dude characters who know how to hammer shit into cool weapons. Mountain range called "The Spine of Doom"? Bring it on! But in moderation. If your story has ALL of those elements, maybe you should mix things up a bit. Just sayin'.

So, my next story is either going to be that or about frozen heads or Prohibition or time-Nazis or whatever flash fiction idea seems shiny and new to me at the moment when I actually sit down and write the little beastie. I'm kind of in a random mood lately.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Post Angelo Breakdown

As previously mentioned, the challenge this time around was to go to this website, choose one of the random and barely-grammatical titles, write around a thousand words and post to Chuck's blog.

"Angelo For Corrupt Time" was the most intriguing. As I recall, the other four were pretty straightforward and this is the one that hurt my brain most to read, so naturally I went for it.

I wound up latching on to the "corrupt time" aspect of the title. It reminded me of the punchline of the classic time travel story where the inventor pushes the button on his time machine and then the room immediately fills with tourists, the key takeaway being that if time travel were really feasible and convenient, then everything would immediately fall apart.

So, this was a riff on that, a business memo from a post-time-travel singularity civilization where reality and causality are both highly negotiable.

This was another breezy science fiction story, chatty with a lot of gonzo throwaway gags--pretty much one of my favorite things to write.

Favorite details: cannibal JFK, the Howard Dean joke, the futuristic phone number and date numbering systems. Pretty much the whole thing. For a throwaway piece I did in a half hour, it was great fun.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Story The Thirty-third: Angelo For Corrupt Time

Yet another awesome Chuck Wendig flash challenge. This one's a few days early on account of the incredible busyness of the weekend. It's going to be the sort of weekend where bodies will be buried and/or unearthed. Cats and llamas living together, stars going nova, unnecessary surgical procedures and probably a quick drive to Wellston. Madness, I tell you, madness.

The challenge this time around was to go to this website, which will give you five random and barely-grammatical titles, write around a thousand words. 601 sexy words about nonlinear politics.

Download EpubAngelo For Corrupt Time (full text)

Thursday, August 15, 2013

On Randomness

Status Update: almost done with the current bag of beans, about ready to pop open the next. Signs you're probably getting old: you're looking forward to the next bag of coffee more than, say, a six-pack of beer or even the weekend. Signs you're not getting old: you recognize that coffee is way better than beer or whatever lame things the weekend's going to beat you with. The story, while not precisely in a state which one would call "written" or even "outlined" or even "looked at", is still in the gestation phase. When writing happens, it will happen quickly, because I have a promising direction and an odd idea for a protagonist. Will have it posted tomorrow morning, because that's when the Wendig challenge pops.

Wendig's challenges are odd little things. I'm a big fan of randomness, something which goes back to my not-so-hidden life as a gamer. Randomness is my secret weapon to break out of ruts, reconfigure my imagination in new and strange ways. And nothing's more random than grabbing a fistful of platonic ideals and tossing them on a nearby convenient horizontal surface.*

* Unless you ask a mathematician but WHY IN THE WORLD WOULD YOU DO THAT? If one's nearby, back away slowly, avoiding eye contact. They are tricksy creatures.

Anyhow, everyone has touchstones, mental templates, other things they re-use when they reach into the well for ideas. Stephen King, for example, has any number of familiar tropes he pulls on when he creates a story. For example, having a dog die early on to make an emotional connection in his story, or the various parts of small-town life. There's nothing wrong with that at all. As you write, you build up an arsenal of these things and having a variety of good ones at hand is like a carpenter with a set of well-worn tools at their disposal.

The problem is that it all becomes familiar and there are points where you get so close to the creative process you miss the proverbial forest for the proverbial trees. You sit down to come up with an idea and your subconscious goes through its own sorting process, hems and haws for a bit and then spits something out. If you're not familiar with the pattern of your ruts, it's easy to just run with it and then later on you realize you've written twelve stories about magical pony firefighters. What? I'm not the only one here. Come on.

And why? Because your subconscious SUCKS at coming up with new things, that's why. Creation is a matter of habit, just like everything else you do. If you drive to the store the same damn way every afternoon, then why on earth is your brainstorming any different? It might superficially be the same, but if you pull things apart and look at them more closely, you're going to find patterns.

And that's what I like about random tables. A good one is just random enough to pull you out of your own brain, but directed enough to keep you in the right ballpark. For example, a few years back, I wrote a role-playing game based on the original Star Trek series. It's right here, as a matter of fact, assuming my other, flakier website is up (it usually is).

One of my favorite parts about writing it was the appendix, where I came up with a random plot generator. Now, the whole point of it was NOT to create a series of tables and charts which would spit out an entire Star Trek script. In fact, at the end of the process, you might wind up with a jumble of random crap which doesn't make any sense and doesn't even read coherently.

Instead, what I set out to do was to give you a story seed which was sufficiently Trek-like to get you on the right path and then give you a pile of details to support that seed, which you could draw on as you liked as you set up the week's game.

It's random, yes, but I stacked the deck to keep things in genre. When I wrote the main plot seeds, I tried to be fairly specific, not only drawing from actual episodes, but also coming up with more in the same vein and on the right level of gonzo.

I also gave it the capability to drill down a bit. If it wasn't entirely obvious, for example, why someone was involved with the adventure, you could roll for motivations. Some of the entries had their own tables in other parts of the book, as with the cloud monster.

It was fun to write. It's also one of the parts of the game I consistently get positive feedback about.

Anyway. Sometimes you need a nudge to get out of your own skull, try new things. There are worse ways to do it than the equivalent of flipping a coin. One of the things I love about these random story seeds is how you initially get that feeling of WTH, what am I supposed to do with that? And then you wake up a bit and you realize you're going to have to think sideways. That collision between what the dice tell you and the momentum of your subconscious is when magic happens. Will the result be good? Who knows, probably not, but you'll have learned something and tried something new.

Well, off to write my story about the adventures of my magical pony firefighters...

Monday, August 12, 2013

Post Partum

Gonzo science fiction is always fun to write, particularly this format. It's my equivalent of soul food, since over-the-top sci-fi is what I grew up reading. This particular format is even better, because I don't really have to worry about plotting so much as just seat-of-the-pants making-fun-things-up. Are those enough hyphens? I think I need more hyphens in this paragraph.

In any case, I tend to average around 1600-1900 words per hour when doing these and hardly ever bother plotting much in advance because the story structure is so defined:

Establish frame
Story 1
Advance frame
Story 2
Advance frame
Story 3
Finish frame.

Easy-peasy. Each story is told from a different viewpoint/narrative voice and tries to one-up/build off of the previous one. The format has a friendly/chatty feel to it so you can use interruptions from the other characters to help break up the exposition a bit. It's more defined than it looks at first. It's basically space haiku.

I don't think I'd write more than a few of these a year, but they're a nice change of pace. I may bundle them together at some point if I ever write enough of them.

The central conceit of these stories (The Multiplicity Of Xen and Down And Out In The Jungle Of Death) is that you never see all these great world-changing events the characters talk about. It's more about a small group of old friends getting together in dodgy bars and trying to one-up each others' stories. You can safely assume it's 90% lies and exaggeration.

The worst part of writing these is having to type "Mary" in quotes every. Damn. Time. It was a throwaway joke I made in the first one and now I'm stuck with it. Next time I write one of these, I'll probably just call her something bizarre in the rough draft and then do a find and replace on whatever word I use. Seriously, "Mary", you're a pain in the butt.

Probably going to be another flash fiction week from Chuck's blog--this coming weekend, which is usually primo writing time for me, is going to be a mess, schedule-wise. Flash fiction is fun and it's a good exercise, but I prefer writing things where I can blast out words at higher speed without having to worry about being concise or staying within an arbitrary limit.

Hm. The random title generator for this week's challenge gave me "Angelo For Corrupt Time". My first instinct is to make it a time travel story gone wrong, but I already did that with Xen's tale. I may have to get weird.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Story The Thirty-second: The Multiplicity Of Xen

This story's a sequel to Down And Out In The Jungle Of Death. It's gonzo, ridiculous science fiction, my take on Hitchhiker's Guide and Callahan's. These are always fun to write. 7k words of mostly nonsense, referencing a story I no longer have posted online.

Tentative plan is to write these as I'm in the mood, then bundle them together.

Redacted. :-)

Thursday, August 8, 2013

On Gestation

Status Update: Sitting on a hill of beans at the moment, trying not to think about the possibility that my trusty sidekick, the coffee machine, is suffering senile dementia. It's been a worthy companion lo these many years, I'd hate to have to replace it.

Important Update: turns out it was a faulty paper filter, which dumped a landfill's worth of grounds into the hopper, gumming up the works but eminently cleanable. Sparky's still got fight in him yet. This last cup of coffee is rather chewy. Black, with the texture of something hoisted from the depths of the Bog Of Eternal Stench. Surprisingly drinkable, although that might be my caffeine addiction talking. I'm the coffee equivalent of that weird uncle you had who'd drink mouthwash in the bathroom when he thought nobody was paying attention.

Next story is fully outlined and gestating in the hell-pits of my lower cerebrum. It's going to be a follow-up to "Down And Out In The Jungle Of Death", with the same characters. I'm having fun with it so far.

I've been thinking about ideas lately. Thinking about thinking, if you will.

A lot of times, I'll get the seed of something and I'll have to sit on it, let it gestate. I'll jot down a note and then I'll go do something else. Organize my collection of severed Boy Scout heads, for example ("Petey on the left, Walter next in line..."). Sometimes the basic idea you get, that first glimmer of something you want to write about is pretty spartan. If you try to rush it, it won't become something awesome. It needs some time to find fertile soil, sprout into the delicate flower that I'm sure all of my ideas turn out to be. Okay, fine, 99% of my ideas are basically epic forty-page haiku collections about dicks, but bear with me for a while.

The thing is, I'm an inveterate procrastinator. My motto has always been don't do today what you can put off in (present moment + 24 hours). If I can find any excuse not to do something in favor of random screwing around, I'll do it, even if that thing is something I enjoy. If there was a big red button sitting on my desk which would give me one hour of complete bliss coupled with superpowers, a billion dollars, sex with every super model on the planet and omniscience...I would put off pressing it. I'd go for a walk. See what's happening on Bookface. Make little dinosaurs out of toothpicks and reenact the best parts of Jurassic Park (hint: the entire movie). I'm awful.

So I feel guilty every time I just let an idea hang out in my subconscious. Because there's some times when you should force an idea. Sometimes you can take the seed out, shake off the dust and then just bang on it until something interesting happens. And there's no telling when that's the best solution. You just have to have at it.

I think three quarters of my favorite writing is from the previous method. Some of my best Eureka moments have been when I put down the basic glimmerings of an idea, then went off and did other things. Took a shower, took a nap, went for a walk. About halfway through, I'll usually have a moment where I laugh and say "wouldn't it be great if..."

But there are also moments when I've had to force through writing difficulty. I've just sat down and had at it, blue-sky style, and then the next day sorted through the wreckage for diamonds. I suppose like all things in life, ideas aren't just one thing. Cats, skinning, file under "methods of".

Still, it's difficult sometimes to tell when I'm sitting on a story because I'm sneaking up on it sideways, waiting for my subconscious to brew something delicious, or I'm just screwing around.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Act I Breakdown

Damn, it feels good to get that out of the way. Not that I had much in the way of difficulty writing this story--I'm just a lousy, no-good, low-life, snake-licking procrastinator and have a deep-seated fear of finishing projects. Apparently. Seriously, I'm awful about it.

Anyhow,  I'm pretty excited about getting to redraft this story, just in case it's not abundantly clear from all the raving about it here on the blog. I have some definite ideas about where I want to go with the next draft and where the story needs to go over the next act.

Before I go on, though, I need to tighten down the first section and there's some preparation I need to make before it makes a whole lot of sense to continue on.

Redrafting is one of those ugly things that everybody needs to do. Very rarely do first drafts come out complete enough for public consumption, at least for me. I'm not one of those writers who can grind out fully-formed stories on first blush, dispensing wisdom like some kind of 1920's stock ticker.

I see a first draft as sort of a more formalized version of brainstorming. I'm just dumping words on the page. There's all sorts of rough bits. Some sections sound good when read aloud until you stop and realize none of it makes any sense within the plot. Other sections fit the plot but read like I was having a stroke when I wrote it.

There are beats within the rough draft which are placeholders just screaming to be fleshed out further. Perhaps a throwaway line hidden in the middle of some paragraph on the dusty trailing end of some side-exposition is begging to be blown up into a full chapter. Maybe there are places that go on far too long, or just flat out don't work at all.

You look through it on a cold clear morning when you're objective enough to hate the world and you throw out the stuff that doesn't work, build more stuff you hope does. You give it a few passes, then you put it aside again, come back to it sideways, trying to trick your brain. Then you release it into the world, let someone else give it a go.

Eventually, you decide it's good enough. At least for me, nothing's ever perfect. I just hit a line where it's 90% good and call it quits, with the nagging feeling in the back of my mind that I could still make it better.

I've got a whole lot of work to do on this. Part of my next step is to break it into actual chapters. Do some outlining. Set up a timeline for reasons which will be evident if you read the last installment all the way to the end. Make careful character/location notes. And then print the whole shebang out and then get brutal about ripping out things which don't need to be there.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Story The Thirty-first: Nightmare Town, Part Five

Holy shit on a horizontal slab of some sort of semi-edible substance: I've finished Act I of the Cameron Webb book.

As with all such things, it's both more and less than I was expecting it to be. There were some twists to the Big Thing What Lies At The End Of Act I that I was not expecting. They just happened. There were other things that I wanted to happen which did not and will probably either get trimmed or will have to wait until the draft. Mostly I'm glad I finished it.

Five thousand-some words, bringing the book's total to about 42k, which is...way too high. I've got about ten thousand words to kill, combine, stomp into shape. This is going to be fun, but it's probably not going to show up on the blog, not directly, because rewrites don't really count as new stories.

Redacted. :-)

Thursday, August 1, 2013

On Revisions

Status Update: bean supply dwindling. Resupply is inevitable, much like the Borg and Christmas sales in July. Gums and teeth are still recovering, but as long as I avoid problematic food (which includes, surprisingly enough, Pop Tarts. Seriously, wtf?), I am fine.

I've got the rest of this section of Cameron Webb fully sketched out; I simply have to write it--there is surprisingly little left to do. I made a concerted effort last week, while on heavy painkillers, to get through the last of the transitional filler, which leaves only the fun and weird stuff to write.

And then the true work begins.

I'm planning on just printing it all out, single-spaced.  They tell you to never do that but in this case, I think it would be helpful. You can have more of the story in front of you at once. I pretty much intend to empty out my living room on the first sunny afternoon I have clear and spread it all out before me. My apartment will look like some kind of serial killer's shrine to words and it's going to be all covered in red (ink) before I'm done.

My goal is take it down from its current total of 34k (or so) words to 25k (or so). This is going to be brutal. Lambs will be slaughtered, infants will be left to cry in the cold snow. Dogs and cats will live together. And I love it.

There's nothing better than taking something that's bugging you and ripping it apart to find out why, then putting it back together better. It's awful, it's messy, you get that feeling of "this still isn't quite right" at the end of the process when you go to bed, but three days later you'll feel a billion times better about it.

But it isn't easy.

I have a hard time rewriting shit that I've already written for many reasons. First of all, I'm pretty lazy. I'm very happy, when I write, to just fountain words out of the screaming, uncivilized depths of my brain onto paper and then call it a day. Sometimes the resulting word-vomit is pretty good; often it isn't. It's never pleasant to go back and to find that something you pounded out last week was awful. It's like the first few minutes the morning after a bender when you wake up and have to do forensics on the night before: "Did I do that? Holy crap, not the curtains. Oh no, I texted somebody..."

There's always that level of fear that you wasted your time being not awesome, but them's the breaks. Awesome comes hand in hand with the not-awesome. People who are afraid to be lame in public (even if the public in question is just themselves, a few weeks later), tend to be lame in general. Nobody's 100% on their game all the time.

Mainly though, the reason I tend to have a bit of a hard time with rewrites is that it always feels like I'm changing the universe. I'm not going to pretend that anything I write is part of this immense creative world I've built in my imagination which I'm the blind prophet of (or something), but there is a sense that once I have everything banged out that it exists. There's a tiny voice in the back of my head that whispers at me, tells me that if I pulled out just one thread, the whole thing will dissolve into a pile of yarn, never to be reassembled into that fantabulous and beautiful sweater that your mom gave to you last Christmas.

This is complete bullshit, of course.

Even more so now. Instead of having to have a file cabinet to hold your rewrites, you have a computer which can hold a nigh-infinite number of version numbers of your story, sorted out to a degree commensurate with your level of patience. If something doesn't work out, you can always go back.

You can copy and paste paragraphs, move things around, delete, insert, bump and grind your stories into any number of configurations and then, if you don't like it...revert. It's awesome. I'd hate to be a writer back in the old days when it was nothing but you, a notebook and a typewriter. My fingers get sore just thinking about it, particularly since I'm a lefty and writing is, by the laws of biomechanics, twice as much work by hand as it is with normal folks.

This is going to be great. I get to go back, add more foreshadowing, combine/delete boring stuff. Cameron will get cockier, more overconfident, more full of that "I can fix the world" feeling that he has too much of. He might get his stupid ass killed a few more times. Claire will get tightened up. Punchier, more sarcastic, more practical. There will be more of the fun weird stuff that I enjoy writing. I will remove redundant locations, add more touchstones. Basically, this will be boot camp and I will run the story through the obstacle course until it's sick, wheezing and heaving its guts out all over the sand. In a good way, I mean.