MOPNoWriMo Day 26: Done (24/2/2012)

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Day twenty six: Target wordcount: 100000 (finished). Words written: 98750 (finished)

And as expected, a few little bombs go off in the last couple of chapters where two characters I had further plans for have written themselves out of the story by going and getting themselves killed. All very noble but not what I had in mind when I was planning the third book, thanks. One of them dies so well that I don’t think any amount of rewriting is going to resurrect him. The other one might yet get written back to life. It’s a bit of a convenient resolution to a love-triangle that’s likely to get re-written out in the first place. My chief antagonist has also completely stolen this story from my Chief Protagonist. I can see him in his little actor’s chair just off the set at the end, sharing a spliff with the Chief Sidekick who’s also been out steal every scene he’s in, arguing over which one of them will get best award for the Best Supporting Character.

This story is very different in almost every detail to the one I set out to write. It has the same general setting, but a good chunk of it occurs in a place I didn’t even know existed when I started. Characters I thought would be significant have faded into not very much and might yet get written out entirely. Other characters who were supposed to be supporting cast have jumped out of the page. My Chief Protagonist may be the sun around which the other characters orbit like planets, but as with the real world, it turns out that provided that the sun is there, the planets are much more interesting.

Now I’m done, it’s obvious that three things nearly tripped me up. Over-ambitious (and unnecessarily ambitious) planning – I cannot write meaningful chapters while wedged into a small hotel room with talkative small children and CBBC, nor was there any need to try. A day blown by a hangover (but I had a contingency day at the end, so that was OK). And then there’s the “love triangle” (which isn’t quite what it is, but is as good a way as any of trying to describe. You’ll recognise it’s essence: Hero has been missing presumed dead for several years. Best friend falls in love with wife and vice versa. Hero appears all unexpectedly. Which way does everyone jump? No entire movies have been dedicated to this as their entire plot, to stuffing something like that in as a minor sub-plot doesn’t fly. During this draft, I didn’t know which way each character would jump. I wanted to see what they did when they were put on the spot, but unfortunately what they mostly did was dither and wring their hands, and that dithering fed onto the page. It doesn’t work with the rest of this story. There are in fact two instances of something very roughly like this, the first being the falling out I had with the muse around 35000 words. In hindsight, all dithering has to go. I know how those relationships are going to work now and the principle job of the first rewrite will be to sort that out. It would have been an easier ride if I’d done that before I started.

MOPNoWriMo Day 25: What’s In A Name (again) (23/2/2012)

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Day twenty five: Target wordcount: 100000. Words written: 94900

Damn characters keep talking to each other instead of getting on with it and fighting. However, all is now set for the climax of the endgame. Will it be finished by the end of tomorrow, as it is supposed to be? Touch and go. It helps that the four-chapter end sequence has now reduced itself to a half-page epilogue around an entirely different character, the planned end sequence having been aborted due to the necessary character managing to be in completely the wrong place by now. In a way it was a sort of post-credits sequence designed to put a character from the climax in peril again for a cliff-hanger ending, and since I’ve already got a character in quite a lot of peril away from the final climax, I think I’ll stick with that.

This is the third time I’ve set out to say something about naming characters and so this time I’m going to do it right before some distracts – oooh! Squirrel!

Names matter a lot to me. Not that I claim to be at all good at them, but names shape the characters that wear them. If there’s one thing I have to get right in the very first draft, it’s the names for all the main characters. I’ve tried all sorts of ways around this, and none of them work. Names are part of what defines a character for me, and one of the very most importantest things of the first draft is to get the characters sorted out so they can all be very clear with me about what they will and won’t do. I’ve tried placeholder names. I’ve called characters Billious Bob and Fractious Frank and maybe it’s not surprise that didn’t work out too well. Other things have come closer to the mark. In one story (still a work in progress), the lead character was called Ezio for a while. Names do get changed in the first draft sometimes as I think of something that works better for a character who’s not yet fully defined. Generally, though, by the end of the first act, the names are what they will be forever. When I’ve thought of a name I like better for a character and tried to change it late in the rewrites, the character’s behaviour starts to change to. Weird but there it is.

MOPNoWriMo Day 24: Something That Looks Like A Light At The End Of Some Tunnel But Might Be Ice Cream (22/2/2012)

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Day twenty four: Target wordcount: 95000. Words written: 88400

Fight scenes fought, big revelation about the Chief Antagonist revealed, characters all properly re-united, damsel-in-distress held captive (sort of, except this she’s a he). Calm before storm calmed, navel’s contemplated, loins girded and here it comes. The endgame is here and everything from here on in is a straight ride to the final showdown and the little twist of lemon that comes after. No more bucking and turning the plot now. Final word length is expected to be bang on the nail, and all is fine and good with the world apart from the fact that I was supposed to finish tomorrow and now I’m not at all sure that I’ll even get to the end this week. Oh, I suppose maybe, if I spend the next two days not playing Skyrim at all. I was good today. A half-hour break and then back to work. I do like it how I keep getting in trouble with the town guard for, well, for shouting in a built up area after dark, basically.

I’m often tempted at this point to jack in the first draft and go back to the start and get on with the rewrites. As noted throughout these posts, there’s a list as long as a spiral galaxy’s arm of things that aren’t right and need sorting out or changing or ditching or remoulding and I keep on saying rewrites, that’s what rewrites are for. And the reason I do that and don’t go back and make changes is that there’s a good chance that whatever I rewrite because of what’s happened by the end of act one I’ll have to rewrite again at the end of act 2, and I’m a lazy sod who doesn’t want to rework the same passages more times than he absolutely has to. At this point, though, this great long list of niggles is, indeed, niggling me. I can see the end now. It’s as clear as day. There are no more surprises waiting. There’s no need to finish before going back. Go back NOW and sort it all out while it’s as clear and fresh in my head as it can be and I remember everything!

It’s sorely tempting. A couple of characters and a couple of relationships have morphed between the start of the book and the end, and where they’ve ended up is fine and better than my original plan, but the morphing has to go. Things that should have been stable for a long time need to stably be the way they ended up right from the start. Things that are evolving need to, er… well evolve rather than appear out of nowhere. Bits of world history and culture that have shown up need to have been present from the start. I want to start on this now. NOWWW!!!
I’m not going to though and for two reasons. First one is a morbid fear of finishing that I think some writers have too. It feels much easier to go back and rewrite now than to finish, and it would feel like that on the rewrite too, and this way lies the road to a very polished 85% of a novel, which sod all use to anyone. I shall not allow myself this fear, but push on through it, possibly with the aid of much ice cream. It’ll get better again somewhere around 90-95% complete. Experience tells me this.

And the other reason is that, no matter how obviously clear the passage to the endgame and the end itself may seem, there’s always just a chance that some character or other will let off a bomb in the last few chapters. Experience tells me this one too, and I’d rather only clean up once.

Apparently the paperback of The Order of the Scales has been reprinted. It almost feels like a reward for good behaviour :-)

MOPNoWriMo Day 23: ——— (21/2/2012)

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Day twenty three: Target wordcount: 90000. Words written: 81000

Saga-grade migraine. Epic word-fail. Not going to be making this up by the end of the week.

MOPNoWriMo Day 22: Thistlefinger (20/2/2012)

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Day twenty two: Target wordcount: 85000. Words written: 80100

Also, why does the auto-complete function on my word-processor want to complete this as thistlefinger? I don’t think I have EVER written the word thistlefinger. Is it even a real word? OpenOffice seems to think so, but WTF, word-processor? W.T.F? Although as a name, Thistlefinger has a certain something? Thistlefinger McDark.

(For posterity, it’s just possible I may be writing this somewhat under the influence).

Right. Anyway. Sort of back on track after acceptance of the futility of trying to write useful words while stuck in a small hotel room with two small children and Scooby Doo. The fact that half of today’s words were written on the tube on the way to a party (and this is written on the way back, which will doubtless explain many, many things when I come back and read it sober) is a pleasing re-assurance that the last few days were a glitch, an asking-too-much. Today’s words were much, much better than the weekend. Another chapter and a half done, the ending is clearly going to change and the square-jawed hero’s nerdy sidekick has effectively completed his take-over of the story. Fighting his battles with brains instead of brawn and winning quite a lot of them. I think maybe he’s not going to win this one though. Ah well. My antagonist is showing some decent tortured depth too, trapped between what he once was and what he’s now supposed to be. I’m looking forward to writing more tomorrow so I guess the muse is properly back.

Why am I doing this? (Why am I doing thistlefinger? Dear god how do I make it stop)? Several reasons. I almost have to get this drafted in a month to meet the schedule I’ve put on myself, but that’s a bit of a cheat. It wouldn’t be the end of the world for it to overrun by a couple of weeks or even a month, as long as I used the rest of the time on something else. But it does need to be done. So that’s reason the first. Second reason: I want to see if I can. I want to see how hard it is. I want to know what it’s like for everyone who sits down at the start of November for NaNoWriMo with a blank sheet of computer screen and tried to write a novel. Here I am, supposedly a seasoned professional full-time writer with 5-6 hours every weekday. Can I actually do it? I want to know. Reason the third is closely related: sometimes there are reasons why a novel has to be written and edited and printed in an unusually short space of time (i.e. 4-5 months instead of the more usual couple of years). Movie and video-game tie-in novels spring to mind. I’ve been close to doing a video-game tie-in project once, and the time scales for that would have been murderous. From memory, I was going to have two months to come up with a story, write it, rewrite it and submit it for editing. That project fell through, but I want to know if I can do that. If I can, I want my agent to know I can do that and I want my publisher to know it too.

That’s why I’m doing this, but not why I’m writing about it. In part I want to come back and look at these records a few months from now and see if I can learn anything useful to make my own writing better – perhaps not the final words, but the process of getting there. Most of all, though, I guess I’m hoping that these notes might be useful for anyone else who embarks one the same. Maybe some of the thoughts on planning. Maybe the fact that I’ve hit a few rocks on the way, and why. I hope so. Be about 10,000 words gone into these posts by the time I’m done. You can figure out how many days of work that is for yourselves.

Much fighting planned for tomorrow. Fight scenes are good. I get excited and type faster. Seriously, that is true.

MOPNoWriMo Day 21: Note To Self (19/2/2012)

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Day twenty: Target wordcount: 80000. Words written: 77400

I thought I was quite good at writing in almost any environment, but I appear to have found my limit. Ladies and gentlemen, if I have one very specific piece of advice to offer, it is this; just don’t even try when sharing a small and cramped hotel room with two hyperactive young boys for a few days.

No, actually, a second piece of advice, which I shall write large on the wallpaper of my laptop for the next week: be ambitious, but don’t be a dumbass.

MOPNoWriMo Day 20: Not Epic (18/2/2012)

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Day twenty: Target wordcount: 78000. Words written: 76500

I broke my own rules today, wrote another thousand words and then threw them away and watched some of Epic Movie instead. Since it quickly became clear that nothing in the world and space that I could possibly ever write, even if I closed my eyes and mashed the keyboard with my face while being trepanned, could possibly be as bad as Epic Movie, I feel slightly better about the morning’s disaster.

MOPNoWriMo Day 19: What’s in a Name (17/2/2012)

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Day nineteen: Target wordcount: Still 76000. Words written: 76500

One chapter today and it’s a total shambles. My scattered characters are mangled into the same place at the same time by hitting them with a crowbar. Oh, they all have good reason to be in roughly the same place at the same time but at the moment it’s a bit like they’ve all got tickets to a U2 gig and miraculously they all have good signal on their mobiles and Twitter hasn’t borked and they actually find each other without resorting to signal flares. Not sure if this is really the worst chapter I’ve written yet in this book or whether it only feels that way after the way the middle act ran towards the end.

In case it seems like I simply don’t care when I write what I know to be a pile of steaming of poo, I’ve written about the “vomit” draft before.

Never stop. Never look back. Ever onward!

MOPNoWriMo Day 18: Trivial Pursuits (16/2/2012)

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Day eighteen: Target wordcount: Still 74000. Words written: 74100

Greetings from the Jorvik viking festival. Another chapter written, a long one this time that has suddenly pitched me to the end of the second act and left me staring at the third. The secondary protagonist has sprung a trap and now stares ashen-faced at the consequences. There’s some noodling about fate and destiny which at the moment feels like noodling and will thus not survive the rewrites.

When writing fantasy, I find that some research into the real history of a roughly equivalent period of real history is helpful even when it’s a period I think I know quite well. I don’t mean for the big sweep of events, the politics, the intrigues, the new technologies and how they changed the societies around them. Although that’s all interesting stuff too (if you’re me), I like to have done that before I even start. If I were to set something like the arrival of gunpowder or the printing press into the background of the story,  I can’t imagine not wanting to explore the consequences of this change as a major thread of the story, and so I ought to know as much as I need to before I even start. Not that every alternate world needs to reflect the real one in every step, but I’m not sure why I’d have something like gunpowder (say) show up without wanting to examine its consequences, and I’d feel I needed to understand what, for example, the real world consequences were and why the impact in China was quite different to that seen in Western Europe (and you could write a book about just that, I reckon).

What I mean are the little things. How did they light fires, what materials did they use to make clothes, how did they clean themselves. Trivia, really. The sort of thing that the knowing of would never have much impact on the plot, but make a world come alive, except finding out about them in this first draft give them the one chance to change my story after all.

Also, if nothing else, they give me something to write about for half a page if I get stuck. For the next few days, I’m going to be deluged by vikings. If you find the odd half-page of viking trivia in something of mine in the next couple of years, now you know why.

MOPNoWriMo Day 17: Back That Shit Up (15/2/2012)

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Day seventeen: Target wordcount: Still 72000. Words written: 72200

Another chapter done and my secondary characters continue to show off. Most books I write end up this way. The lunatics take over the asylum.

I’m at an easy time where I know exactly roughly what’s going to happen for at least the next chapter so tomorrow ought to be straightforward enough too. The rewrites will have to smooth out the way the spotlight of attention jumps too abruptly among the characters who weren’t supposed to get this much (I guess it’s their way of getting attention). I’m still worried about total wordcount too, but from where the story has reached, a lot of what I had planned for the last third of the book is looking like superfluous noodling about that can be easily cut. In the first draft, noodling deserves to die. Always. All of it. If some noodling aids the pacing or atmosphere, rewrite it in later, but it probably doesn’t otherwise it would feel like a significant development of the story and not like noodling. It looks very very likely that the ending is going to look something like the one I originally intended, and the characters on whom the next synopsis hangs will still be alive and with all the necessary physical and mental capacities. Not quite the home stretch yet, but I can see it in the distance.

Today is weekly backup day. In part that’s because I’m off for a few days to the Jorvik festival, which ought to put me in the right mood for writing about vikings hitting each other lots, should that happen to be in any way relevant. There will probably be a short pause in the daily mutterings while I spend three days in a hotel room with two small children. Any words that get done will be an unexpected bonus. As will any shreds of sanity that I still have when I return.

I’ve never had a total catastrophic system failure and I am absolutely sure that the moment I get slack about backing things up, it’s just waiting to catch me. I usually keep two copies of every working document which I save regularly while I’m working on them. Does that sound stupid? The last time I had a two hour session at the keyboard without doing that was April last year. It ended with the battery running out and the laptop dying – which should have been fine and hardly damaging at all thanks to Autosave, except that the power failed right in the middle of the Autosave and corrupted it and that was the end of that. Session gone. And that was unreasonably annoying. A couple of hours isn’t that big a deal, but it damn well felt like it at the time.

I’ve seen systems clap out and die in an unrecoverable mess. Or even a recoverable one if you don’t mind pulling out the hard drive and wiring it up to a different machine, but that’s a tedious enough thing to have to do. I’ve also seen backup devices that have seemed perfectly fine when sending files to them, only to discover that they’re somehow borked and can’t be read from (how does that work, world? HOW?) Looking at it now, even an external backup once a week seems pitiful. I could loose 25000 words. I would be hellish to be around until I’d written them back. If that had happened to me a dozen books ago, I would probably have lost the will to live.

Back Up Your Shit, People.

MOPNoWriMo Day 16: Valentine (14/2/2012)

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Day sixteen: Target wordcount: Still 70000. Words written: 70200

Two and a half chapters and the so-called secondary characters are running the whole story now. My tip for the day is not to choose to do this in February, which has fewer days than any other month and also has a week-long half-term in the middle of it.

Anyway, it’s Valentine’s day so go do something Valentiny. If that’s not good enough, there’s a rant piece for The Order of the Scales wot I did over on Whatever.

MOPNoWriMo Day 15: The Please Flame Me Post (13/2/2012)

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Day fifteen: Target wordcount: Still 65000. Words written: 64900

Two long chapters today. In the first chapter, the minor sidekick and the character whose existence I had never even foreseen get married, rather to my surprise. I don’t know what’s going on here or where this is going to end, but it certainly wasn’t ever in the script. Maybe I have a secret discomfort at how white and male and testosterone this whole story was panning out to be, maybe that’s why the unplanned female protagonist and the ethnic minority character are making such a bid to steal the limelight. And now I say it like that, it sounds awful (Token woman? Check. Token racial minority? Check). I fail on the token old person and I haven’t even thought about the sexuality of most of the characters. They’re just assumed to be straight. I went through a period of worrying about that sort of thing quite a lot. Less now. Shoot me if you must for that.

It’s not that I don’t give a shit. The views of my characters are not necessarily my own doesn’t cut it for me – it may be true but the views of my characters are far from the whole story I’m telling, and if every character in my story views wasps as vile pests to be exterminated and that viewpoint is repeatedly validated within the story while others are either absent or are only there to be mocked and shown to be obviously foolish, why then the wasps might have a point when they swarm out of their nest and sting me a lot. However, it is also extremely difficult to provide a narrative that explores all possible attitudes to wasps with equal fairness while allowing for the inherent social bias against wasps (evil bastards), and if you then additionally aim to be treat butterflies, spiders, ladybirds, slugs, mosquitoes, moths and grasshoppers with the same importance then I rather fear that, if I happened to be writing a story that was largely supposed to be about spaceships, no one would buy it. I write within my limits. Small steps are better than none, after all.

The changes these two characters have wrought to my story in the first of today’s chapters are pleasing. The second of the day’s chapters was, sadly, an even bigger shambles than this post. Ah rewrites, how I love your healing ways.

MOPNoWriMo Day 14: A “Day Off” part 2 (12/2/2012)

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Day fourteen: Target wordcount: Still 60000. Words written: 60150

Last weekend I was home alone with two boys. I wrote in the mornings when they thought I was still asleep and didn’t want to wake me up in case I found something more useful for them to do than play Skyrim. I wrote while one of them did his own thing and I was sitting with the other while he did a drawing for his homework. I did the day’s word count each day before bedtime and cooked proper meals with real ingredients and we went to swimming lessons and sledging and made snowmen and had snowball fights. I might say that sometimes, to be a writer, you have to be a Time Lord, but it has nothing to do with being a writer. To be a parent, you have to be a Time Lord, and how single parents who juggle all these things every single day manage to stay sane, I have no idea.

By comparison, catching up again this weekend was easy peasy lemon squeezy. Back to proper work again tomorrow.

MOPNoWriMo Day 13: A “Day Off” (11/2/2012)

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Day thirteen: Target wordcount: Still 60000. Words written: 59100

This is why we all have days off, right? So we can catch up with all the work we were supposed to do on our days on? Right? Right?

One easy chapter today, essentially the story of a character from the first book in the series who hasn’t shown up yet. I’ve know for a while (for a few days at any rate) that he was coming in and what he’d be doing for the rest of the story, but it wasn’t planned from the start so at the moment, it sort of happens out of nothing. When the rewrites are done, his appearance will be telegraphed from a mile away.

I see I’m saying “but that’ll be sorted out in the rewrites” rather a lot. Truth is, a lot of it will. Truth is, the first draft isn’t quite the incoherent mess I might be making out to be either, but it usually has some quite jarring shifts in it – character relationships that suddenly change, revelations about the world or people or events that come out of nowhere. Rewrites make all that go away, and I rarely go back to change any earlier parts of a first draft because who’s to say that some still-unforseen shift won’t make me change them again. It’s wasteful. What I end up with are a page of notes that say things like ‘Maybe you should say something about the world being flat instead of round a little earlier than page 320″ and “If Square-Jawed Bob is going to make out with the Cthuloid alien later, maybe we should see some hint of his tentacle fetish beforehand, eh?”

Makes me think I should probably say something more about rewrites before the end of the month, but not today. Today I’m worrying about final word-length. See, Chromium is supposed to be around 100k words. I have a nasty feeling it might grow. There was a time when this didn’t matter too much, but these days it does. Another five thousand words doesn’t just mean another day writing the first draft, it means another day writing the second draft and the third and the fourth too. Another fifty thousand words ends up adding two months work to the whole process. In business terms, that’s like watching your own hourly pay-rate slowly dropping day by day thanks entirely to your own incompetence. OK, so I maybe don’t think of it like that except once a month when I do the accounts, but taking twice as long as an was intended to write one book means that another never gets to be born. There’s probably something to be said for keeping things as lean as possible in the first draft and fleshing them out a bit in the revisions, but I don’t seem to have mastered that.

Ho hum.

MOPNoWriMo Day 12: Oh Dear (10/2/2012)

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Day twelve: Target wordcount: 60000. Words written: 57200

Two difficult scenes with all four major characters making choices that very much define who they are today. I like the way it’s turned out, but I also spent four hours out of my available six finding all sorts of things to do that seemed like fine and worthy activities and conveniently meant I didn’t have to face these particular scenes for that little bit longer. Procrastination. It gets every one at some point or another. Still, they’re done now. Being behind on the word count doesn’t trouble me too much, since the weekend was nominally a couple of holiday days. Not any more.

Still no Skyrim. Did watch an amusing little lecture on shapeshifting dinosaurs though, and a chunk of the day was spent quite profitably fleshing out some ideas for a couple of other stories. I do find it useful to have more than one thing on the go at the same time. Up to a couple of days ago, I’ve also been doing copy-edits for The Black Mausoleum and I find something like that makes a good break. It’s quite a different discipline (I read the MS aloud to myself while being molested by cats and either accepting or rejecting all the copy-edit changes and perhaps making a few additional ones myself). It’s something of a sword with two edges – on the one hand I find it a good way to take a break without getting sucked away from the whole writing mojo. On the other hand, it’s another excuse for procrastination. I find it generally it works for me to have more then one thing on the go at once. For others, I have no doubt, it doesn’t work at all.

Anyway, some useful work on Michaela’s ravens occurred and then later we accidentally outlined a Victorian murder mystery with a paranormal undertow. I shall endeavour to catch up while on “holiday” over the next couple of days.

MOPNoWriMo Day 11: Under the Surface (9/2/2012)

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Day eleven: Target wordcount: 55000. Words written: 55000

Four . . . Days . . . Without . . . Skyrim . . . Must . . . Fight . . . More . . . Bandits . . . Must . . . Shout . . .

A brief aside: The Order of the Scales is just out in the UK in its small paperback form.This is my favourite cover from the UK editions. The Order of the Scales is also out in hardback in the US, and the King of the Crags is out in both France and the US in small paperback form. Nothing new here, but its a joy to have my name next to so many magnificent dragons :-)

ORDER OF THE SCALES draft coverOrder+of+the+Scales+USA Cover artLe_Roi_des_cimes cover

Back to the project: Facebook does not fit in when you have 5-6 working hours a day and are trying to write a novel in a  month. Sorry Facebook friends. I’ve just had a mail from my agent asking if I’m OK because I haven’t replied to a couple of mails, so it’s not just you.

Two more chapters done. Lots of fighting yesterday and this tomb business has sparked a whole pile of ideas about the world and its history that will mean yet more work in the revisions, and not only for this book (this being the second in a sequence). I always try to have the first draft of one book written before the one before come back from the editor, because this always happens – each story adds to the world and the characters as well as the storylines, and if at all possible, I like to put some of those ideas back into earlier books yo show hints of what will be coming later. Ideally I’d get a whole series drafted before submitting the first volume. That’s rarely practical, but at the very least I aim to have the first draft and first revision of the next book done before I get the previous MS back from my editor. I suppose I assume that most authors writing series aim for something similar, but it’s not something I’ve talked about much so I don’t know.

I didn’t quite finish a chapter last night, but left it hanging to finish today. I like to do this as noted before because it helps me to get back into the flow each day, but it has another advantage. Last night, one character was about to do something that I thought at the time was a no-brainer. This morning I’m not so sure. It makes them cross a line I’m not sure they’re ready to cross, and more particularly, I’m not sure that those around them are prepared for it either. So maybe instead they’ll walk up to that line and look at it long and hard and then walk away again. Not sure until I get to writing again, but sometimes it’s nice to pause before a character does something like this.

A day off is much in order soon.

MOPNoWriMo Day 10: Half Way There. Maybe (8/2/2012)

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Day ten: Target wordcount: 50000. Words written: 49900

A tad annoying to have missed hitting 50k words today, since that’s supposed to be the halfway point. I have no idea whether it actually is. The various deviations from plan seem to have added a whole new chunk in the middle of the story, which may or may not make up for the chunk that got lost when Chief Antagonist decided to make up his own plot. I’m still going with the change of direction from a couple of days ago and that still seems to work, so there’s still a major rewrite of the first third of the book required. It’s tempting to go back and do it now, but I won’t, and the main reason for that is that I had no idea whether the story will later veer off in another unexpected direction. I’ve a few one-line notes on the major changes that need to be woven in just to catch my current thoughts, but no revisions, not yet. It’s been a bit of a hard lesson to learn over what’s now pushing twenty manuscripts if you include all the unpublished stuff, but that really is what works best for me these days. There was a time when the first draft was when all the wonder happened, exploring a whole new story without quite knowing how it was going to end, but that’s been changing over the years. Yes, the first draft still nails down the arc of the story and all its waypoints, but the revisions are now when the characters and the world spring into life and I’ve come to enjoy that part rather more. It didn’t used to be this way, but I’ve heard several other ’seasoned’ authors say the same. I wonder whether it’s a general truism. Not that it really matters.

Two chapters done today, possibly with too much of the action in the first happening off-screen, while the second one definitely has a section that smacks of Skyrim withdrawal symptoms. I haven’t played for THREE WHOLE DAYS dammit. And I was thinking – I’ve never had a sequence in a story with an ancient vault/tomb with stuff-that-is-best-left-alone inside it, and then afterwards I remembered that The Black Mausoleum is pretty much about an ancient vault/tomb with stuff-that-is-best-left-alone inside it. You’d think, having quietly copy-edited that over the last couple of weeks, I might have remembered a bit sooner.

Anyhoo…  Today’s lesson is this: if you want to hit your wordcount for the day, turn Facebook off. And particularly do not get caught up in a discussion of old goth music with Gavin Smith and MD Lachlan, especially when it’s one of those days when Mark doesn’t actually seem to have any work to do and peppers his comments with Youtube links. Tappity-tappity-tappity – oooh a Sisters of Mercy clip – tappity-tappity-tappity – oooh! Bauhaus! Ooooooooh The Hunger! – tappity-tappity-tappity – oooh some band that no one has ever heard of! And another! And another! – tappity-tappity-tappity. For half the afternoon.

MOPNoWriMo Day 9: The Morning After (7/2/2012)

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Day nine: Target wordcount: 45000. Words written: 45100

A day of things coming together rather nicely. It would appear that yesterday’s minor meltdown has taken the story in a much stronger direction. Three full chapters and the start of a fourth, and I still don’t have anything better for why my chief antagonist isn’t dead other than The Plot Says So, but I’ll leave that thorn for the rewrites. Everyone is now off doing their own thing but it’s also clear how they can’t possibly leave each other in peace for long. In this regard, they’re rather like a collection of small children.

It’s been a long day today with a pile of copy-editing as well, hence a short post. I might easily have stopped 500 words earlier and been happy about it, but that would have been the end of a chapter. When the words are flowing I much prefer to stop in the middle of a chapter than at the end of one. This generally means I know exactly what I’m writing as soon as I sit down on the next day and makes it much easier to find my rhythm. If I have to start at he beginning of a new chapter then I find it much harder to get going. I’m sure there are other people who find the exact opposite.

MOPNoWriMo Day 8: Birds Nest Soup (6/2/2012)

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Day eight: Target wordcount: 40000. Words written: 40100

Once upon a time, I built a gizmo with a couple of motors moving a mirror. A laser was supposed to shine at the mirror, which was inclined by forty-five degrees, so the laser came out orthogonal to the way it came in. The motors were partly to stabilise the mirror, but they were also supposed to put a couple of small sinusoids on the mirror so that the beam went in small circles and traced the path of a cone when it came out. In principle, when you turned the laser on at the top and held up a piece of paper to see what pattern the beam was tracing, what came out was supposed to be a circle.

What actually came out generally looked like a bird’s nest, and for a long time, this seemed like a Very Bad Thing, but in the end turned out to be so useful that several of us continue to claim to this day that we designed it that way On Purpose because we were That Clever, and it wasn’t a lucky accident at all, oh no.

So, anyway, the writing: Some days you tap on the door of the muse and out she comes, singing sweet songs and ready to dance all night. Other days you have to go in with a police battering ram and a couple of tear gas grenades, drag him out of a crack den and stick his head in a vice until he screams and then take those screams and use them, even if what you end up with makes Pirates of the Caribbean III look like a work of deep meaning with an intricately layered plot leading to a climax that is both spectacular and thoughtful. This has been one of those days. One major character has literally declared they’ve had enough and walked out. The scholarly sidekick now seems to think he’s Ozymandias from the Watchmen. And while it was quite fascinating how he disposed of the Chief Antagonist, I currently have no idea how he’s not actually y’know, totally dead and stuff and can’t come  back for, y’know, THE REST OF THE F***ING PLOT, MAYBE?

And yet.

I’d been planning to write a bit about why I’m actually doing this, but today’s little debacle strikes me as more informative. While the prose style of today’s writing is no different to that of the days before (that is to say, workmanlike and nothing to shout about – for me that’s fine and what rewrites are for), the narrative twists and turns, particularly relating to, well, basically all of my principle characters, are not. They are either much better and drive the story onto a much tighter track, or else I’ve completely disappeared up my own backside and at this point it’s quite difficult to tell which. One thing that is certain is that what I wrote today, in the context of what has gone before as it is currently written, is dire – a bunch of characters suddenly start start throwing their toys about without any particular warning or indeed, any particular indication that they had said toys to throw.

It’s tempting to throw the whole lot away. Certainly the bit where someone builds a snowman in order for someone else to shoot a it a few pages later and thus trigger an avalanche that wipes out a whole bunch of people needs a serious slap in the face with a haddock. However, it’s also possible that the agonised screams of today’s very reluctant muse have been telling me something important about the passions of the main characters in this story. That they have been a bit mute thus far. Possibly twisting various characters around to set up for today’s scenes will add a tension and a darkness that’s been missing. Instinct says go with it and take the rewrite effort on the chin.

Sometimes when the muse howls, it means more than when she sings.

MOPNoWriMo Day 7: Inspiration Comes From Everywhere (5/2/2012)

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Day seven: Target wordcount: 35000. Words written: 35000

In which chapters are set in a series of underground grottos and on a snow-covered mountainside, and if all of that has nothing to do with an  evening back on Skyrim and then getting six inches of snow overnight and spending most of the afternoon throwing snowballs at each other, then my secret identity is that of Chairhead from The Tick.

I am shagged. Worded out. Remember that thing where I said I scheduled in a few days off when I was planning my wordcount? Could. Have. Done. This. Better.

I often wondered how one could have a secret identity when one’s power was basically to have a chair for a head. A little help with that one?

MOPNoWriMo Day 6: Rinse and Repeat (4/2/2012)

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Day six: Target wordcount: 32000. Words written: 32000

(Counts switched to running totals, as I finally ‘fessed up to cheating a bit yesterday)

The first act is finished. About a third of the planned second act has vanished in a smoking hole of unexpected narrative decisions, but on the whole, it’s not too bad. It has a prologue, of course because all my stories have prologues, almost none of which survive the editor. Just for fun I’ve given the second act a prologue too, and that probably won’t survive either. This is a first draft, though, so some serious pruning during the rewrite is to be expected.

Speaking of which: It may be a problem particular to the books that are the sequels to something else, but I’ve noticed something about the “infodump.” In this case, the infodump in question is the recap of what happened in the previous book that is relevant and necessary to the events about to unfold, but I think I’d make the same comment about infodumps in general, especially ones about the workings of the world. It’s possible that in Chromium there are currently four different places in which some character explains to another character, or else muses internally, on certain previous events. Splitting it like that goes some way to avoid the “look, here’s a synopsis of the previous book” chapters which I personally don’t like while keeping each “mini-dump” feeling so natural and unobtrusive that the reader barely notices. Or so goes the plan. What I notice now looking back is that these overlap quite a lot. The same things are being repeated more than once. It’s not quite as bad as every protagonist having to introduce herself to every other by speaking out the litany of her deeds, but it’s definitely pretty grim. This, my friends, is what rewrites are for – rewrites will make it all better. Believe in the rewrites. For this first draft, the hand having writ moves ever on, never back, not if you want to be done in a month. I shall come back to rewrites a little later, but I’ve talked about first drafts before.

MOPNoWriMo Day 5: Beating the OCD dragon (3/2/2012)

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Day five: Target wordcount: 5000. Words written: 5500

Finished yesterday’s chapter and did two more. Thought I’d got rid of yesterday’s intruder, but like a bad penny, he shows up again. This is close to the end of the first act now and oddly, although much of the detail is now very unlike the original synopsis, it’s come round with all the pieces in roughly the right place, and even the second act looks it has some chance of running roughly according to outline, despite a conversation with the chief antagonist roughly along the lines of this:

Chief antagonist: Oi! Author! That plot token you wanted to have me spend the whole first half of the book chasing after – it’s right there in chapter 3.

Author: Yes I know, but. . .

Chief antagonist: Well I’m having it then.

Author: Er . . . actually I need you to . . .

Chief antagonist: (with menace) Yeeeess?

Author: Well you see in the synopsis . . .

Chief antagonist: Look, it’s right there. I can see it. Well sort of. I mean, I could if I just happened to torture a few people. And the thing is, I’m going to look like a right plonker if I walk past it.

Author: Weeeell . . .

Chief antagonist: And you wouldn’t want your Chief Antagonist to look a plonker. That’s pretty limp isn’t it? Doesn’t that undermine the whole square-jawed hero thing?

Author: I suppose.

Chief antagonist: Good, I’m glad that’s sorted then.

Author: But . . .

Chief antagonist: I know, I know.  Was supposed to spend half of act two chasing after it and then the other half chasing after Captain Square-Jaw. How about I spend the whole of act two chasing him instead?

Author: Well . . .

Chief antagonist: Good. Glad that’s settled. If it helps, I’ll eat or maim a few Significant Characters along the way.

Author: Not really.

Chief antagonist: I could start with that one that gatecrashed in chapter six and won’t go away. Shall we talk about the ending you had in mind now or later, by the way. Because to be frank there’s one or two changes I wish to discuss.

Author: (weakly) Later?

Chief antagonist: Don’t think I won’t remember.

So anyway, beating the OCD dragon: See, wordcounts work fairly well for me on account of being mildly obsessive-compulsive; thus if there’s a wordcount set for the day, I will try very hard to hit it.  However, there can be days when it’s really very necessary to simply let go and accept that it’s not going to happen. For those like me who find it a bit hard to let go, I have a couple of tricks I can recommend. First is to give yourself some days off. I you have a bad day, you can declare that to be your day off instead. Second is to cheat. If you’ve been keeping count, you’d have Chromium at 21,500 words by now, but it’s not, it’s at 29,500. I write a few thousand words of my opening chapters before I officially start. Then when I have a bad day, I already made up for it in advance. How cool is that?

MOPNoWriMo Day 4: Gatecrashers (2/2/2012)

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Day four: Target wordcount: 3000 (on the road). Words written: 2700 (slacking off because I have credit from yesterday, but about 2000 of those were written on the Central Line in and out of Tottenham Court Road so I refuse to feel bad about it)

A chapter and a half-chapter today, in which my erstwhile hero finally gets some decent page-time instead of being usurped by his supporting cast. Or that was what the plan said, but I seem to have a gatecrasher. Some refugee whose existence I’d never even imagined until about three chapters ago is now hanging out with my hero trying valiantly to be interesting enough to last. Give that he (gender TBC) has lasted a chapter and a half and shows no sign of going away, I suspect he’ll succeed.

This is a case of a character spontaneously to fill a hole. My hero was supposed to be travelling with someone else at the moment, with whom he was supposed to have a falling out later. Writing out their first scene together made it clear that any delay was only ever going to look like procrastination and they went and had their falling out right there and then, thus leaving him unexpectedly alone and in need of comapny; and so, like taking a new lover on the rebound, this newcomer jumps in to fill a vacant space and seems a delight of new possibilities. Continuing with the same analogy, I suspect he stands a fair chance of turning out to be a complete disaster who’s soon trying to tell me how to run my plot, demands I stop seeing all my minor characters so I can write more page-time for him, and finally blows everything up in my face about two-thirds of the way through when I’m just starting to steer a course towards the final act.

Still, he’s in. For now. Ever the optimist or ever desperate, I’m really not sure…

MOPNoWriMo Day 3: First Contact with the Enemy (1/2/2012)

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Day three: Target wordcount: 3000 (errands to run). Words written: 3300

A chapter and a half done today. All the major characters are now in play and it feels a bit like setting up a position on a chessboard. Like trying to reproduce a famous opening and not quite remembering how it goes and getting somewhere close but not being quite sure and now I’ve played it and it’s not quite how I remembered it, which might mean that it’s a brilliant and startling innovation or else that it has a critical flaw in its defence that’s going to make everything unravel later. And like a game of chess, the only way to know is to play it out and see what happens.

A first draft is not the beginning of a story. I’d hazard there are almost no authors at all who sit down in front of a blank script and start writing with absolutely no idea of genre, character, theme or plot, although it does now sound temptingly zen and also dangerously close to how I write blog posts. From what I’ve seen, we all have our own ways of preparing for the First Draft. Some plan with meticulous precision and copious notes. Some seem to come up with a single idea, and think, Oooh, a story about a Belgian parakeet who talks to the dead and off they go without any idea of anything more, making it up as they go along. Personally I need a little more, although sometimes not very much (Dragon Queen, for example: The Taiytakei steal dragons and, while they’re at it, a dragon-queen. Consequences ensue. Good enough for a novel twice as long as this one, that was, although the first rewrite was colossal). For Chromium, I’ve started from a four-page synopsis, one page with very brief character outlines and three pages that gives a sentence or two to each of the chapters I thought I was going to write. Generally speaking I find the more work I do up front, the better the first draft is, although though that neither always works out nor equates necessarily to a better final product. The idea this time was that a very brief synopsis for each chapter ought to make starting to write each one somewhat easier.

Anyhow, this is about the point in the first draft where all that planning starts to fray at the edges. Ideas that looked fine in a two-page synopsis now appear dull and contrived when put into proper prose. The characters are mostly as they were intended, but one of them is developing more, ah, personality than expected and the main threat has turned out a bit crunchier that intended. This is all to the good, but has mades one of the intended relationships quite different. However, my main no-plan-survives-contact-with-the-enemy thing right now is that the story I’ve written seems to have found a short-cut around the synopsis that eradicates the need for about four planned chapters. At the same time, the lead character finds himself in a situation that wasn’t quite as I’d intended it at this point and a character I didn’t even know existed when I started looks like they might be making a significant part for themselves. So far none of this seems to derail the main storylines and merely weaves them in a different way.

Not that this is at all unusual, but this is where it really hits home that I’m walking into the unknown.