Friday, December 31, 2010

Writing, at last!

Research books and Scrivener
A few months ago I had a story proposal accepted - a two page summary of the plot and character(s) in a universe with which I was not familiar. I read one story fromt he series to get the universe's concept and then wrote the proposal for the kind of story I like to do. The proposal was accepted and with a deadline.

In general, I set out to write a story with only a vague notion of where it might go, but in this case I had an actual sketch of the plot in the proposal. I broke my proposal into sentences and initially designated each sentence as a scene ( use Scrivener, but any outlining tool would work as well.) These scenes were then shifted around to see which could be combined, which might stand alone, and where additional detail was needed.

That done, I put the scenes aside and began reading a number of books in the series, making copious notes along the way, bookmarking explanatory passages I could -er- adopt to my own ends, getting familiar with the language and tropes, and selecting interesting events and characters I could reference for those who might be obscenely familiar with the series oeuvre.

The next step was to pour my newly aquired knowledge into the existing scenes, add new material that occurred while researching, and then rearrange the material into a more nuanced plot. Considerable cutting and pasting moved ideas between scenes, combined some scenes and divided others. At some point the number of scenes seemed to stabilize at twenty.

One of the theories of writing says that you should have no more than three key plot points and these should occur at significant changes in the protagonist's story. That they should have a high emotional content as well goes without saying. I examined the scenes, decided which scenes would best express this, and then placed the key scenes in their proper places.

Since this was to be a short story, the narrative's time line ideally has to start shortly before the epiphany, which we will see near the end. One of the consequences of the scenes' rearrangement was that what I first planned to be a straightforward narrative now had to contain flashbacks so we could read those actions and forces that brought the protagonist to the story's critical point. This decision lead to another round of rearrangement, scene cutting, and pasting. Further research entailed until finally, and more from impatience than design, I was able to actually start composing the story told in my notes to fulfilling the promise of the proposal.

After three weeks of preparation, research, and plotting I began. I am now in the writing phase of the project and joyfully laying down the words at a prodigious (for me, anyhow) rate, amassing nearly five thousand words without straining brain or fingertips. Instead of trying to write sequentially, I've been putting narrative and dialogue into the scenes where I felt more stylistically comfortable. At times, I cut a portion that I'd just written and put in another scene or set aside to be used elsewhere.

Thus far, putting in the research and plotting effort seems to be paying off, but I will withhold judgement on this approach until the tale is told.

Stand by for further reports. I intend to update this blog when I finish the first draft.

Friday, December 24, 2010


The other week I was interviewed by Patrick Hester and John DeNardo for an SF Signal podcast. They sent me a general list of items they wanted to cover before setting up the time and place, which, since we set this up on Skype, turned out to be my office, but minus the video.

I wanted to get decent sound quality so I deadened as many hard surfaces around the computer with towels and blankets to eliminate the bucket effect, closed the door so the cats couldn't crawl around and possibly knock something over ( yes, I do have a clumsy cat.) When we got connected Patrick did a sound check, during which I scraped a chair across the floor and ruined the take.

The half hour interview went well, from my point of view. I'd learned in the past that if you don't want to sound like a brainless idiot you prepare a checklist of items to cover and whatever notes you need in case memory fails. Nothing more embarrassing then to forget the title of some piece you wrote or the name of the character under discussion. Since my memory is like a steel trap (i.e. doesn't hold water) I made LOTS of notes.

John and Patrick made the conversation easy, hitting not only the points I'd prepared for, but bringing up material I hadn't thought of before. The feel of the interview was not unlike a bull session at a con. It was so comfortable that we chatted for at least a half hour afterwards about writing, the industry, cons, and other subjects. Nice guys.

The SF Signal podcast was released on December 22, 2010 at SF Signal #122. I was very satisfied with the result, especially that I didn't sound too egotistical or dumb.