More Dragons to Give Away (4/7/2012)

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The Book of the New Sun didn’t go down nearly as well as I thought it would but now I have more books to give away, this time another pair of The King of the Crags and The Order of the Scales as one lot (again). That’s the UK editions and I will sign and line them if you want. Perfect for anyone who got The Adamantine Palace[1] but never got around to the others, and yes, I have several more lots to give away because I need to clear space for when the new covers come out. You haven’t seen the new covers? Go see the new covers.

As a reminder, by the way, here are the old ones. Usual story – leave a comment on this posts if you’re interested in two free books and the gods of random will make their choice come the weekend. Also, tell me whether you like the new covers better than the old ones or the other way round or neither. Also also, have I mentioned the new covers?

ORDER OF THE SCALES draft coverKing of the Crags - Draft cover

If anyone was following my MOPNOWRIMO projects earlier in the year, the one I did in February is going through what might be its last rewrite and the one I did in May, which I distinctly remember thinking sucked like a Dyson[2], is pushing two thirds through its first re-drafting and turns out not to be so bad at all, once you get rid of certain obstacles like one major secondary character doing too much vacillating, too much descriptive waffle and the pointless and unnecessary addition of a primary non-human antagonist when there was a perfectly good human one just sitting there waiting to be used. Once he didn’t have NO HANDS any more. Never give your villain no hands. Really. Just don’t.[3]

[1] To be clear: The books I’m giving away this time are parts two and three of a trilogy. The Adamantine Palace is part one.

[2] I am getting spam from purveyors of Tutus again. This is a test to see if I can get some more technically oriented spam, because as a purveyor of FIRE-BREATHING MONSTERS I find that tutus, even in spam-form, seem remarkably… well, wrong.

[3] See previous post on no-handed heroes if you really really want to know.

MOPNOWRIMO Day 33 (1/6/2012)

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Target Wordcount: Done

Actual words: Not done (OK, 95500 with probably about 10000 to go).

Sometimes my editor randomly tweets something that makes a lightbulb ping on in my head. I was about to give up on this and come back to it in a month or so after rewriting the first two books of the series, but I can see a little better what’s not working in this one now. First problem are the new characters. Not that they don’t serve a strong purpose, but they don’t get enough airtime to have the strength of the new characters that came into the second book (and took it over) and so they come over as a bit bland and dilute and fade into the background a little too readily. I think maybe this can be dealt with by introducing them earlier in the series, even if they are little more than named spear-carriers at that point. Second thing that’s not right is the antagonist. Not selling himself. And for a while I was going with a Mysterious Dark Force In The Background which is, in hindsight, weak. And not foreshadowed in previous volumes enough. And not necessary when there’s been a perfectly good antagonist waiting in the wings all along.

So a bit meh, but all is not lost, and here’s the great thing about doing three books at once – I can go back and change things in the first book to first the third. Even for us “seasoned professionals” it’s far from a smooth wride. I’m going to stop posting updates now. Maybe once the rewrite is underway. The mental consolation I take is that the book that’s with my editor now had serious problems at the first draft, grew by 60000 words at the second draft and I reckon it to be the best thing I’ve done yet. Ho hum.

Other news: The Alchemist of Souls has been my most popular book give away yet, which is cool for a début novel by a writer I’ve known for a very long time on and off. Winners have been mailed. Not sure what’s going to come up next but I still have that copy of The Witcher II for the Xbox.

Favourite spam this week: A link to a weight loss website (or so I assume from the site name) in a comment on The Order of the Scales congratulating me on “some great advice here.” Not sure what particular advice they meant, but yeah, I guess being chased by dragons across half a kingdom would do some good for the old waistline. I shall begin work on my next book at one: The Dragon Book of Dieting.

MOPNOWRIMO Day 29; Sniper in a Diaper[1] (28/5/2012)

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Target wordcount: 80000, actual words 74000

The big multi-strand climax is kicking off nicely enough and the Unassailable Fortress of Utter Impregnability in which our heroic heroes are heroically . . . well . . . barring the doors and muttering pleasegoaway pleasegoaway a lot is turning out to be quite a challenge but my antagonists appear to be up to it. Two unexpected strategies for bashing their way in already and I appear to have foreshadowed another and . . . and . . . Well, it’s working out as a denouement, which is a relief given how the rest of this has gone.

There is an inciting incident behind this series of books that was originally written as the prologue to the first one and then met the Devourer of Prologues and ended in the Big Prologue Bin In The Sky. It involved three people trying to steal a glimpse of something that had been snatched away by the Thing That Isn’t Quite Human because of it being a Secret With Which Man Was Not Supposed To Meddle. This trio has supplied my protagonist and my principle antagonists and here I am at the end of three books and the protagonist is in the right place (albeit currently imprisoned by the heroic defenders for being the Wrong Sort Of Person) and so is the antagonist and all is set up for the inevitable showdown. If this were a movie, we’d be heading into the final twenty minutes or half an hour or so where a bunch of CGI creations fight with another bunch of CGI creations and lots of CGI stuff gets smashed up and I frequently start to get a bit bored.

The story has written itself such that I have two minor characters stranded in the middle of enemy territory. Right now they almost literally don’t dare to move. Sooner or later, however, the principle antagonist has to pass by where they’re hiding. They know this. That’s why they’re there. And right now it’s so incredibly tempting to let it work. Let the hidden snipers take out the antagonist. Don’t have them fail with a near miss but let it work. Deny the story its great showdown, because in the real world it almost never happens.

I probably won’t. And if I do, I suspect my editor will object. But it IS tempting.

[1] Actually they’re not, but they wish they were because they’re stuck with not being able to move for days.

MOPNOWRIMO Day 27 (26/5/2012)

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Target wordcount: 75000, actual words 69000

Is it just me or was this more fun last time round? The final battle has started at last. That’s something. Not sure how long it’s going to go on. A while.

At this stage in writing a book, it usually feels like being on the home straight. I’m Red Five and I’m going in, and one way or the other there’s going to be a bang at the end. It’s not usually difficult to fly these last 20-30k words. This time…

See, a part of me knows I’ve got the right characters and I’ve got the right relationships between them and it does all come together in the right place at the right time, and everything that needs to be foreshadowed or at least mentioned before someone turned up and uses it has either been written in to one of the volumes or noted for inclusion (and there are several of those). The overall timeline is finally in order, the geography well enough set, the history finally all lined up. The next week of working on this isn’t going to change any of that, and now it feels like a wasted week. I want to go right back to the start of the first book and sweep through all of them and start putting all the details right. There are a couple of reasons for this – first it’s much much easier to do those rewrites, and secondly because I want to run from the start, now I finally finally can, and put it all together properly. Oh and also I want to submit some manuscripts.

However, I won’t be pandering to that urge. In part because it’s bad practice and poor discipline and the ending will always look like it had one rewrite fewer than everything else. But also because there’s always the chance that I’ll write the final page and some character will show clutching an antimatter bomb and it will be entirely right and proper and fit with absolute perfection into the narrative and the ending, and the only trouble will be that at no point ever in the three volumes up to that point has anyone ever mentioned that the viking-esque savages happened to also have an antimatter bomb.

So no, Stick it through right to the end with that first draft.

MOPNOWRIMO again day 23 (22/5/2012)

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Wordcount target: 59000. Actual words 57000.

I have completely lost sight of whether what I’m writing is any good or whether it’s rubbish. There are now half a dozen tweeks and twiddles that need to be engineered back into various scenes in the first half of the book, some of which I continue to forget when I should be remembering them and others are now being written in as though they were there all along. The result is what we, in the writing world refer to through our uniquely obscure jargon as A Write Mess(TM).

At this point I’m into the last half of the story and since that;s also the last sixth of the trilogy, the pace will be ramping up and the action will be building all the way to an end in which all the threads will spectacularly come together in a grande finale that is as inevitable as it is rewarding, or else they won’t. And in writing that section of this first draft, I will completely forget the rambling nonsense or insightful and swift yet precise character portraits of the first half. And by the end, I will have just as little idea as I do now as to whether what I’ve done is any good and will have completely forgotten all the fiddles that need to be done until I start the rewrite and look at the notes I’ve left for myself[1]

To some extent this happens every time. With the last one, it felt distinctly uneven throughout the first half too, and then settled later, and with the first half recast into that shape, it worked. At least, I think it did. The rewrite seemed easy enough anyway.

So I cross my fingers and my toes and prepare to send all my small attack craft on their final all-or-nothing mission to destroy the death star and come back covered in glory, and all the while, it’s never quite certain that Han Solo and the Millennium Falcon are actually in the story at all…

Nine days left. This isn’t going to be finished in a month this time.

[1] Things like A is going to have sex with B later. So they should act like they might at least secretly be interested in each other. Which I then forget in once scene, remember in another, and then forget again afterwards and it’s all like it never happened except for two chapters somewhere in the middle. Or the whole bit about the stuff that one group of characters are supposed to be carrying around with them that I keep forgetting they have. Sort of like the Wages of Fear where they not only keep forgetting that the nitro is there but it really does keep vanishing .

MOPNOWRIMO day 19: Spam (18/5/2012)

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MOPNOWRIMO update: Target: 45000 (mumble mumble) Actual Words: 45000, and no, after mid-afternoon Wednesday there was some , er, playing Dungeons and Dragons instead. Now I have to work weekends. Meh.
I continue to know exactly where this book is going. I have no idea how it’s going to get there or why it’s doing what it’s doing. I think I’ve largely given up trying to have any say in this one at all. It seems like its aiming for roughly the right conclusion. Maybe. People will have angst. People will manage their angst by a) exchanging angsty stories, b) having sex and c) hitting things. Not necessarily in that order. At the end, a lot of angst will be resolved, hopefully by hitting things rather than having a massive group therapy session.

In the book give-away, Eric was won by an Eric, which seems fitting, even if wasn’t chosen by something related to elephant seals in the end.

Spam. Spammers and spambots, you are rarely, but sometimes funny. Apparently I have killed 46,500-odd of your comments over the years this site’s been up, but your persistence, I feel, deserves some reward. So now and then I shall acknowledge you

“of course like your web-site but you need to take a look at the spelling on quite a few of your posts. Several of them are rife with spelling issues and I to find it very troublesome to inform the reality however I will surely come back again.”

I feel I should respond to what is, after all, a very fair criticism:

Dear Spambot,

It is true. There are many, many spelling mistakes on quite a few of my posts. There are grammatical faux pas. This is because I inform the reality a great deal and do so at high speed with little application of critical judgement or peer review[1].

There. Other spam of note:

I’m curious to find out what blog platform you have been working with? Apparently from a purveyor of tutus.
Thanks for another informative blog. On a post from years and years ago on the crapness of a local supermarket.

…your “Diamond Cascade” page was difficult to find as you were not on the first page of search results. Yes it was, muppetbot. No site EVER pips me to top spot on that search term. Who the hell searches for “Diamond Cascade?” anyway[2]. Fuck off.

watch game of thrones episode 8 season 1 I thank you for your wise advice, spambot.
I enjoy what you guys are up too. Such clever work and coverage! Keep up the wonderful works guys I’ve incorporated you guys to my own blogroll. No you haven’t. Fuck off.

Spam: A fine way to while away the minutes when you were supposed to be writing. Heh.

More books to be given away on Monday.

[1] I’m even worse at novels.

[2] people interested in jewellery apparently

Something Funny Comes This Way (another book giveaway) (16/5/2012)

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So, my sword-toting sass-talking thieves aren’t quite as popular as a certain Mr Lynch’s eh? I shall try to look surprised. Did you know we have the same editor at Gollancz? No? Do you remotely care? no? I’ll shut up about that then and get on with what matters…

The next book I’m giving away is Eric by Terry Pratchett, again in the yellow hardcover Gollancz 50th anniversary edition. Usual rules apply – post a comment here if you’re interested or else reply to me on Twitter and a winner will be randomly selected on Friday afternoon after 6pm. Which sort of makes that the cut-off for registering an interest except I might not get around to sorting it out until later that evening due to acts of gods, small children or cats. The last winner was randomly selected by the OpenOffice random number generator, for those who care about such things and I’m contemplating selecting the next one through some random process based on an as-yet undetermined behaviour of elephant seals. They must do something random, right?

One day the random number is going to be chosen to be equal to the number of typos I later see in the giveaway post. One day…

I haven’t read Eric so I can’t speak for its virtues, but it was selected for the Gollancz 50 so I assume it’s good. Don’t say too many nice things though or I might decide to randomly select myself and keep it :-)

MOPNOWRIMO update: Target by new-plan-that-should-still-see-me-finished-by-the-end-of-the-month-honest: 40000 (but we all really know it should be 65000) Actual Words: 39100ish, but given I’m writing this mid-afternoon, there might yet be more. And also curse you trip to Tescos because we ran out of toothpaste…

Started the day with a sex scene. The next scene waiting to be written is a sex scene. Is it spring or something? Sometimes when I look in the sky I see a strange hot yellow ball thing that I have a dim memory of seeing before in some previous life. I think it must be an omen.

I’ve noticed a thing (trying to help the rest of you writers here): I’ve taken to going and doing some exercise some days first thing in the morning before I write, a little bit more than the usual re-arranging the DVD shelves or the old D&D miniatures. It’s becoming a consistent enough observation to convert into a theory – after a decent spree of physical exertion, I write more and faster for the next few hours. Is it better? I have no idea but I DON’T CARE!! Really not. That’s what the rewrites are for.

Look about those random numbers (you know who you are) – STOP IT! I was a mathematician once and I’m halfway to building a random number generator in my head to generate the method for generating a random number differently each time. It’s going to be dice now, OK. After the elephant seal thing.

MOPNOWRIMO Day 16: Helter Skelter (15/5/2012)

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Wordcount target: Sod this not-having-a-plan lark. Strictly 60000 by now but I used to work in an industry where no deadline was ever met if we could possibly help it and re-planning consumed 90% of the available resources (more if we were doing particularly badly). So it is and always was 35000, right.

Words written: 35000 (which tells you I re-baselined my plan today, doesn’t it).

Two weeks ago when I was writing the first chapter of this, I had an idea that this story was a straightforward action-adventure, the culmination of a battle for racial freedom and personal identity that was going to be resolved by lots of macho shouting and speech-making and hitting things with axes or plasma bombs or whatever else came to hand. With a nice satisfying resolution in which the Forces Of Bad(TM) are soundly beaten (despite it being touch-and-go right to the end) and the hero maybe gets the girl or maybe, for a slightly tragic twist, dies nobly in the Last Stand That Saves The Universe and gets to have his savaged body[1] wept over a little before all the Ewoks come out and the celebrations begin and there are fireworks everywhere for no apparent reason (did the Ewoks have firework technology? I think not. So what, some bright spark of a rebel logistics officer sat there and thought I know – assault on the new Death Star? Better bring some fireworks just in case?)

Apparently I was wrong. Apparently this is a story about two people who desperately want to be together but somehow neither can quite give the other what the other wants and needs without compromising what they believe in. With all the other stuff, too. If the Laser-toting Deathknights are absent for the next few chapters, that’s because they’re off getting basic training in relationship counseling and when they come back, it’s going to be with cups of tea and comfy chairs. Sheesh.

Sometimes, when the opportunity for a good run at this comes, I’m laying down 2000 words an hour. I dread to imagine the quality of it, but right now, I just need to get to the end of the damned first draft so I can find out what this story is actually about. Please?

[1] or the sub-atomic particles that used to be his body, in the case of plasma bombs

MOPNOWRIMO Day 11: Character Drives (10/5/2012)

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Wordcount target: Apparently writing an number down and then crossing it out and pretending that I’m pretending not to have one doesn’t count as just letting it happen at its natural pace.

Words written: 16500

I feel like this novel is roughly back on track. Taken a third of a month to get there but I might yet finish before the end of May. Meanwhile the fallout continues. I can see the characters who took over the previous volume fading right back into the background. This is maybe no bad thing, but so far they’ve shown no interest having any of the limelight whatsoever. Meanwhile the abandoned wife of my protagonist has snatched a chapter for herself and is greedily demanding more. This is a little awkward since her position has always been that going off adventurin’ is all irresponsible when you’ve got family to look after, and while there may be place in the genre for a domestic drama on the trials of single parenthood in the middle of a war, this novel isn’t it. Or at least it wasn’t supposed to be. Laser-toting Deathknights it is,then – don’t think I won’t!

Meanwhile my protagonist is drunk in a corner feeling sorry for himself because no one wants him and another secondary character has turned up who I suspect will make a similar bid for extended air-time. But this is all good.

The thing, I think, that went wrong, was this: I had my story arc all lined up. I didn’t give much thought to the characters because they were established characters from a previous volume. I reckoned they’d take care of themselves. And they did, and it wasn’t compatible with the story I’d set up for them and so the story was broken right from the start. Should have given some more thought to what I’d done to my characters and what that meant to them. This is what I mean when I say things like “my characters didn’t do what I wanted them to do.” Even though they’re basically my puppets. Mumph.

Other news: I’ve seen the draft covers for the re-issue of the Memory of Flames trilogy and if you’ve been following Gollancz on Twitter then they’ve given a glimpse of them too. I’ll wait until the final versions are ready but they’re going to be delicious.

I’ll put up the winner the winner of the Fenrir competition tomorrow, along with the next book up for grabs.

MOPNOWRIMO again day 9: Back to the Beginning (8/5/2012)

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Wordcount target: 35000; words written 10500

A case of going backwards to go forwards, having moved the resolution of the protagonist’s core dilemma back into the previous book; but that’s done now. Most of what I have now is an extensively rewritten version of the first four chapters I wrote last week. It still slightly bugs me that the first three chapters read like an extended prologue and lets-remind-ourselves-of-the-important-bits-of-what-has-gone-before but perhaps that can’t be helped. It bugs me slightly more that I’m already seeing warning signs that this book is going to be even less centered on its nominal protagonist than the last one. However, neither of these are necessarily bad things and it’s early days. What matters most right now is that the words are coming and the (a) story has started to flow.

I’ve been wondering over the last few days why I’ve had so much trouble with getting started on this month’s project and why the last one, by contrast, went so smoothly. I went back and read through the posts from those opening days, looking for any hint of fumbling for the story and that was how I remembered that last time I’d cheated by writing the opening three or four chapters quite slowly in odd pieces of spare time over the previous month. There’s a lesson there. Now I’m left wondering how important it is.

MOPNOWRIMO again day 7 (6/5/2012)

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Word count target: <sounds of tumbleweed> Words written: Look! A squirrel!

The last couple of days have been more about February’s project than this month’s one. Amazing how it had a perfectly good ending of its own and left such a bomb waiting to go off. And much thankfulness that it’s not too late to change. So the last project has a new chapter to deal with that and this month’s project can get on with it. Changes the tone of the last one a little but fits quite nicely, although it’s a fine balancing act to get one particular secondary character right. Final rewrites for that one in June and then July (hopefully). Work on May’s project restarts properly on Tuesday.

Sometimes a book is give a soundtrack, sometimes it acquires one all by itself. This and this. A touch overblown? Yet this is what it wants.

MOPNOWRIMO again: Day 5 (4/5/2012)

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Wordcount target: La-la-la- not listening, Achieved: Possibly none.

I realise at this point that in the denouement of the previous book (February’s effort), I’ve written myself into a head-on collision between the two driving motivations that have kept my protagonist going up to now. He’s spent years trying to get home. Having finally achieved that, does he stay or does he immediately walk out again to try and save a friend? Irritatingly it’s take a week of writing scenes and chapters and bits of chapters almost all of which have rung hollow to realise that I’ve put my protagonist in such a bind that I need to make a fundamental choice about who he is and it’s going to be a choice whose consequences ring through the whole of this story. The last time he abandoned his family to “do the right thing” he was gone for far too long. Does he do it again? Which is it that actually matters more?

I think I have my answer now. A curiosity in getting there has been how little the rest of the story has mattered to making this decision. It’s obvious (to me) that the two choices lead to very different stories but that’s as far as any thinking about it goes. I’ve written two books with this protagonist and the only thing that really matters is that he does what it feels that that character should do. I could make it easy for myself by rewriting his wife into a bit of a wet blanket across the series, but I don’t feel inclined to do that either. I also find that I’m not at all keen on starting a book with this dilemma and the choice he makes. It feels more like an end than a beginning.

So where I’m now at is this: The previous book needs an additional last chapter, probably a rewritten version of the second prologue I’d written for this one. May’s project pretty much has to start again from scratch. Some of it can be salvaged. A talk with the editor is also needed just to make sure that my new planned direction for the last book in this little series doesn’t make him run around screaming NOOOOOOOOooooooooo!

Lessons? A few. First thing is, maybe if you write a few opening chapters and your story is already feeling lacklustre, maybe that IS a time to stop and rethink instead of the usual advice I’d off to simply keep going no matter what. Plans don’t survive contact with the enemy, but the lack of any plan survives even worse. And the problem I’ve hit here isn’t a first-in-a-series problem, it comes from trying to write a story with established characters and an established world already locked into place by previous volumes. Maybe that needs a different approach. Maybe that DOES need more of a plan. You might have thought, on the whole that’s I’d have figured that out by now. Slow learner again, I guess.
Reset time. I’ll redo the ending to the previous book this weekend (fortunately I still can – I’ve tried throughout all my books never to completely lock one volume of a series down until at least the first draft of the next is done). On Monday we start again. From scratch.

Also Aaaarghswearswearswearswear.

MOPNOWRIMO again: Day 3 (2/5/2012)

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Wordcount Target: 15000 Apparently I don’t do these any more, Achieved 11400

I think I managed to pass a good half an hour renaming the prologue to be chapter 1 in order to spare it the Devourer of Prologues and then changing it back to being a prologue again, standing proud for the truth of what it is. Actually the real truth is more that the first four chapters (or three and the thing called prologue) are actually the prologue. I could call them an overture and set them to music. Yes, that would waste some more time and be quite a diversion from writing the rest of the book.

Also I have some copy-editing to do. See, that’s useful, that is. And important. And a really good excuse for not having met today’s wordcount target (that I don’t have any more because I’ve been told). Or would have been, if I’d done any of it.

Truth now though: Yesterday, is became unambiguously clear that the plot for which I had such a nice synopsis, was dismally failing to survive even the first skirmish with the characters I’m now left with from February’s effort. The protagonist and the embryonic rebellion that he was now supposed to lead have parted company. Neither want anything to do with the other, thanks very much. They haven’t even parted on good terms, although at least we’ve managed to avoid a custody battle over the secondary characters. Under the circumstances, I think I did rather well to write anything at all. Fortunately, this wilful running-away from the plot is something I’m completely used to from my D&D days and I have a many ways of hurling the plot at wilful parties, most of which involve wrapping it around a +4 exploding half-brink Of Doom and lobbing it.

Protagonist thinks he can just go home to the quiet life, does he? The elegant and sophisticated way to deal with this, of course, is to work with the character’s existing motivations and make adjustments to the rest of the world so that those motivations now seamlessly direct him to his or her intended place in the story such that it seems from the outside afterwards like that was what you always meant to happen anyway, duh! Protagonist just wants to go home? Fine. Let it happen and move the story so it unfolds on his or her doorstep. Protagonist just wants to be with his or her lover? Excellent! make the lover go to where the story happens.

The less elegant and sophisticated way is to take your protagonist’s entire life, family, homeworld, ideology, religion, circle of friends and their families too, and crush them into fine dust under AN UNIMAGINABLY VAST ARMY OF LASER-WIELDING DEATH-KNIGHTS until the only possible motivation left is to go beat the living shit out of whoever did it. Like in Star Wars, maybe, or Gladiator except with more lasers.

Subtlty? Or Deathknights? Hmmm.

MOPNOWRIMO again: Day 2 (1/5/2012)

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Wordcount Target: 10000, Achieved 7400

That thing that I always tell anyone who asks never to do? Going over and over parts of the first draft again and again trying to get them just right instead of getting on with the rest of the story? That.

In my defence, maybe that rule doesn’t apply quite as strictly when we’re talking about the general subject matter of the opening chapters. As in totally throwing them away and doing something different. So that was what I did today. Prologue gone, new one written (and a much better one, I think). Chapter one survived unscathed, mostly because I couldn’t bring myself to look and just assumed it would still work. Chapter two substantially re-written but from a different viewpoint and incorporating parts of the old prologue. Better but still not great. Chapter three started.

Wordcount target seriously failed, but my therapist tells me I should take a couple of weeks off from having hard-and-fast targets and just write when the mood takes me.  HA HA HAHAHAHAAAAA!!!

What’s done feels as though it’s in much better shape than what came out yesterday, so I try not to let the wordcount bother. What DOES bother me is that the original synopsis for this book had my chief protagonist becoming a hero/leader of the rebellion, whereas the previous book largely failed to establish this and it’s clear from just the opening chapters that the rebellion doesn’t want him and he doesn’t want it. So, er… what was this book about then?


MOPNOWRIMO again Day 1 (again) (30/4/2012)

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Wordcount Target: 5000, Achieved 4120

Procrastineering[1]: v. The completion of many useful but previously uncompleted tasks (usually previous victims of various forms of procrastination) in order to avoid starting on The Thing That Really Needs To Be Started, Like, Today.

So my day went like this: I need to knuckle down and write. So, a good bit of exercise might me in the mood, right? So I set on cycling into town, quietly ignoring the fact that the cycles paths all follow the rivers around here and the rivers are, well, a little bit full at the moment. Well, not so much full as let’s go all Third Reich on all the surrounding land.


Yes, it really does just vanish into a watery horizon. So that took a bit longer than it was supposed to. And then I’m really, really fed up of that slow puncture that’s been bugging me for  ages but I’ve never got around to fixing, but today was clearly the day to sort that out.

Words written at this point: 24.

Also, of course, it was absolutely essential to post something about starting this project as opposed to actually doing the starting. Necessary. Oh yes.

And then there’s this other thing I’ve been meaning to do which is sign up with the local leisure centre, and then having done that, well, might as well get in a quick swim in the pool and a work-out in the gym, right, because I’ve been meaning to get fit for, oh, about ten years I think. Well my procrasinteering failed in the gym on account of not being able to get on a machine right then, but there was still the pool and a quick swim. A hundred lengths to knock some rust off those muscles, right?

I will not say how many lengths I achieved. A small number, so small that number is barely a deserving description. So my utter lack of fitness sort of saved me and some words were done after all.

They’re a bit rubbish. First draft I keep telling myself. First draft. It doesn’t matter. Also, the first thousand of them were a prologue, and since my editor is The Great Devourer of Prologues, they will certainly be cut, and in a way that’s actually helpful, since it’s much easier to accept the crapness when you’re writing crap that you KNOW is going to be cut anyway. Although I suppose I could have claimed a thousand words and done nothing and had a coffee instead.


Anyway, prologue and first chapter done, in which I attempt to recap on the most significant points of What Has Gone Before via the reflections of a man about to be hanged while all hell breaks loose around him. Action and recap seamlessly merged. Not a bad idea, actually. Shame about the execution.


I suppose I could have written another thousand words of chapter two and hit my target instead of doing this.

[1] There is also procrasturbation, it’s rather less useful cousin. But I shall primly not talk about that.

MOPNOWRIMO again: Day 1 (30/4/2012)

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Time to write another novel in a month. It’s been time for a while but I’ve been poutting it off. Starting is always the hardest part. It’s not made any easier by having a couple of kick-ass trailers around at the moment:

For Prometheus (and it’s the soundtrack more than anything that sends shivers down my spine). The link is in case you’re one of the three people in the world who hasn’t see it already.#

For The Witcher 2. Please, someone buy me a book-trailer that’s this good? Anyone?

This sort of thing makes it that much harder to sit down and write, knowing that whatever happens, it’s not going to be this. Meh.And even though I know the feeling goes as soon as the story starts to flow, and even though I know the story starts to flow almost as soon as I force out the first words, stil meh. And procrastinate procrastinate procrastinate. Hence I’m writing this instead of laying down the prologue chapter one.

Today’s wordcount target: 5000.

MOPNOWRIMO Revisited 3 (26/4/2012)

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Avalanches. My my, what a lot I know about avalanches now.

So there’s this scene, halfway through February’s opus, in which our hero and his friends are on the run from a band of lo-tech savages and have very little by way of gear with them. They cross a snowfield and descend to a ravine crossed by a narrow rope bridge, cross the bridge and cut the ropes and voila! They escape.

However . . .

At the time of writing, I had one of them linger to set up a trap that would in turn set off an avalanche that would sweep away half of the chasers. On in particular. This was one of those scenes that I wrote at the time thinking ah well, that’s a bit of a daft way to set off an avalanche and no one will ever believe it, me included. So I’ll change it into something more plausible in the rewrites. And moved on. Which is how first drafts are made, after all. Usually I get away with it.

I have found out that avalanches usually occur on slopes with a slopes angle in the range 25-45 degrees. From my long-past days of skiing, I could perhaps more usefully reclassify that as the range Ooof that’s steep to Oh my god that’s not a slope that’s a fucking cliff and I’m going to DIE. I’d imagine that those slopes look much the same to a man on foot. Seriously, who would try to walk through heavy deep snow on a 1:1 incline with a ravine at the bottom?

Cue some adjustment to the slope geometry. And the reactions of the characters to seeing it. And how the address it. And I have to go for the lower end of the range, I think, and that means making the slope more prone to avalanche for other reasons. Like generally facing away from both the sun and the prevailing wind. Cue some more adjustment to the geometry and a slight re-orientation of the world map. And a recent heavy snowstorm. Cue some rewriting of several previous scenes which previously thought they were having some relatively balmy weather up until now. And that’s just to set up some likely conditions.

And then there’s the triggering of it. What triggers an avalanche? Wind, snowfall, a prolonged rise in temperature, stuff like that, but what I need is a specific human trigger. A bunch of people tramping across it might do the trick, but what might set it off on cue when there are already a bunch of people tramping across it? A bomb. That’s pretty much all I can find. A bomb, and no character in this scene, quite categorically, is carrying a bomb.


It “just happens”? Plausible? Maybe. Looks like a bit of author divine intervention on the behalf of his characters? Definitely, even though the cutting of the bridge serves all the necessary plot progression.

And thinking about it, an avalanche dropping my chief antagonist down a ravine just gives me the problem of WHY HE ISN’T DEAD. In fact, the avalanche a) serves no purpose and b) actively causes plot problems that I then have to solve.

Half a chapter that was. A whole day and a half of rewrite effort. Stupid avalanche. And the lesson? That pretty, cool, cinematic scene you wanted to have just because? Maybe it just isn’t meant to be there, y’know…

I did find some pretty pictures though. This is pretty close to the location of the scene in question. Only maybe not quite as big and with a ravine at the bottom…


MOPNOWRIMO revisited 2 (21/4/2012)

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Day 6:

The first act is finished.

No it wasn’t.

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.

Yes. Well. Little did the author know how far his narrative would stray from his plan in the second act at this point . . .

It has a prologue, of course because all my stories have prologues, almost none of which survive the editor.

Both still true.

Just for fun I’ve given the second act a prologue too, and that probably won’t survive either.

Well yes, when we finally get to the second act, the prologue is still there.

This is a first draft, though, so some serious pruning during the rewrite is to be expected.

No, this lot survived largely unscathed. As opposed to . . .

Days 7 and 8

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 Chairhead from The Tick.


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.

Yeeesss . . . It’s nice to know that I saw how preposterout the whole avalanche scene was even back then.

I’ve written enough novels now to know that it takes, on average, about an hour to write one thousand words in the first draft and about half an hour in the first rewrite, maybe twenty minutes in the second and a little less for any that follow. What matters is the on average part of that statement. So, in theory, what happens now is that I’ve worked how many hours this rewrite will take (about fifty) and carved that up so that I’m working on it for ten days, five hours a day and then it’s all done. Thus is the plan. So the idea is that I work on the rewrite for five hours every day and never mind how many words I cover each day, since on average it should all work out fine in the end. I’m not supposed to be trying to cover tent thousand words every day, I’m supposed to be working for five hours. On some days I’ll cover fifteen thousand and on others I’ll cover five und so weiter etc. and so on. And because it’s all on average it’ll all balance in the end and when there’s a slow day, I won’t get hung up on it because I know that. Right? RIGHT?

And I’m sure it would work fine if I did it like that and didn’t stop every day bang on ten thousand words and go oooh! An hour early! Time for another couple of levels of Prey then!

Or alternatively it would work fine if I didn’t hit chapters I’ve left for myself like the one with the stupid avalanche. It’s possible that the next few updates may get a bit ranty on the subject of avalanches. Stupid avalanches.

So now I’m behind. Meh. Yet another level of Prey then. Surely that will help . . .

MOPNOWRIMO revisited (21/4/2012)

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Back in February I set myself the goal of writing a hundred-thousand word novel within one month and then blogged about each day and how it went. Other projects have taken priority since then but over this last week and the next, I’m going over what I wrote back then and rewriting it. Hindsight and a refreshed pair of eyes combined, you see . . .

Anyhow, observations from the first week of rewriting:

There’s a prologue. I rather like it, but really, what was I thinking when my editor is acknowledged as the Devourer Of Prologues? Have decided to keep it in so he can ask for it to be cut and thus feel useful.

I have lost interest in Skyrim over the intervening couple of months. Main quest completed, tanking around in heavily enchanted dragon-plate armour, it’s become a bit of an exercise in finding enough shops where I can sell all the stuff I keep finding, and that’s a bit dull. So no Skyrim getting in the way this week. Apart from me talking about how it’s not getting in the way, obviously.

Day One:

This was a really dialogue heavy day and it’s all pretty bland stuff. Today’s scenes have a fair amount of recapping of the previous book in the series (this being the second of three), too much talking and about as much atmosphere as the inside of a synthetic duvet. In short, they’re a bit crap and if I read this aloud.

This section wasn’t nearly as grim as I thought it was at the time and was easily rewritten. The dialogue was too verbose and too stiff in places, but some simple cutting and straightforward editing appears to have sorted that out. One of the “difficulties” of the very first draft was that the relationships between some of the characters weren’t entirely clear to me at the start (in fact some relationships and indeed entire characters weren’t anticipated at all). Now I know how it’s all going to pan out at the end, sorting these relationships properly out at the start has been easier than I feared – more a case of cutting spurious dialogue and infodumps than anything else. Cutting is always easier :-)

Day Two:

Less talking, more fighting.

That day came easy and it didn’t need much work in the first rewrite either. I think It was mostly expanding the descriptive passages which were a bit terse in the fight and also changing the geography a little. One mistake I made when I wrote the first draft was not to make any kind of map either before or as I was going. That led to some slightly bizarre inconsistencies which are now being ironed out as I go. I’m also making a map this time. I still like the bit where I throw someone off a cliff.

Days Three, Four and Five:

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 made one of the intended relationships quite different. 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.

I seem to have a gatecrasher.

Thought I’d got rid of yesterday’s intruder, but like a bad penny, he shows up again.

And that all turned out to be about right and to the good. The relationship between the principle protagonist and antagonist is much more ambiguous throughout than originally conceived and I think that panned out well in the end (now I know what the end was). My “gatecrasher” – I’m not entirely sure whether I meant the protagonist’s intended sidekick or the character I had never even concieved of until I needed someone to help him escape the overly-comptent antatagonist. Either way, those two characters ended up largely stealing the story in my view (along with the antagonist), which only goes to show that if you’re me, at least, you should just shut up and roll with whatever the muse throws onto the page. Sod plans.

I don’t notice the chapters that were cut from the plan at all and the unexpected character did end up very significant indeed. Most of the rewriting from this section has been easy enough although quite extensive in the dialogue and  the reactions of characters to one another as the relationships I now want are quite different from those I originally expected. It’s maybe worth noting that even despite quite substantial changes to the story and the people, a lot of words remain unchanged. Places still look as they did before, journeys are still from the same A to the same B using the same means of transport and so on. So although the atmosphere is quite different, the level of change isn’t as much as you might think. One pair of chapters did have to be gutted and rebuilt from scratch where one character was behaving oddly. This involved changing the progress of the story (the protagonist now goes from A to B via C instead of directly and gets dumped by his companion en route – so there is now a brief scene at location C and then a lot cut from what happens at B).

There’s also a new short chapter to foreshadow events that come much later. I knew this was probably a good idea when I did the first draft, apparently, judging by the note I appear to have left for myself…

Heading towards the close of act one now, which from memory was where I had a major falling out with my muse about several characters. I think the way things have now been changed will find the end of act one running much more smoothly, but we shall see. I also remember I sequence in which a character starts an avalanche in a totally ridiculous fashion and there is some very confusing geography. One of those things that seemed totally cool at the time but has left me queasy every time I think about it. I anticipate some cutting…

To be continued.

Back at the Funny Farm (7/3/2012)

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The mental dust has finally cleared from last month’s effort, and one other little learning experience has cropped up: when driving yourself real hard, do take extra care to make sure you send the right version of your manuscripts to your editor.


Back to rewrites now and Dragon Queen is coming along very nicely. Very nicely indeed although it does seem to stray into rather a lot of “difficult” areas. Meanwhile I seem to have a lot of jiffy bags and a lot of copies of books lying about. I feel a “competition” coming on.

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.

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