The Danger of The Not Quite Complete Outline

As I’ve mentioned in these pages before, when it comes to the ‘plotting vs. pantsing‘ debate I fall firmly into the former camp. I wouldn’t dream of starting the first draft of a book without having a well-defined outline of the high level plot, chapters to get from A to Z, and even the scenes that make up those chapters. I just don’t know where I’m going otherwise.

So when it came to starting work on my current WIP–Causal Nexus, which will be the third book in the Unity Sequence–the first thing I did was build that outline. Start to finish, all the characters, all the arcs, all done and ready to draft.

Or so I thought.

I started writing, and the first few chapters came with ease. Then, as I neared the end of part one (of three) I started to slow down. The words weren’t coming so easily, and I found I just wasn’t sitting down to write as much as I should be. For a while I assumed it was just life getting in the way; work being busy, too much other ‘stuff’ that needed doing, etc.

But then a couple of weeks ago I went to a work conference, where several colleagues who have read my first two books accosted me–in a friendly way–and demanded to know when the third one was coming out, because they were tired of waiting for it. Which is obviously a very nice thing to hear, and gave me a kick up the backside.

The day after I got home I fired up Scrivener and spent an hour poring over what I’d written so far, the character bios, the outline, the– wait, the outline. I realised that what I’d thought was a very well-defined incident at the start of act two, which kicks off the sequence of events that drives the story through to the end of the book, was in fact not very well-defined at all. Was damn near woolly, in fact. Vague.

I’m not sure how that happened; I can only assume I was in a rush to get down all the other exciting stuff that happens after that point. But regardless, I rolled up my sleeves and fixed it. Nailed those few scenes down so they made sense, flowed, and tied into other plot points both earlier and later in the story.

And what do you know? Now I’m back to full speed again. Seems that my being sub- or unconsciously aware that I didn’t-quite-100-per-cent-totally know where I was going next was making me tentative about getting to that point. Once I did–boom. Away I went.

The moral of the story here, my plotter friends, is that if you ever find your writing trundling along at less than your normal place, or worse, stalling entirely, take a good hard look at your outline. It might be a bit more… ‘pantsy’, shall we say, than you thought.

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He’s Only Gone and Actually Written Something

Yup. Much like Hercules still finding time to stay in shape and have great hair whilst completing his twelve labours, yours truly has found time in his busy schedule of working, sleeping, playing Red Dead Redemption, watching Sherlock, thinking about the Sherlock I just watched, and wishing there were more than three episodes of Sherlock in a season, to actually write some more of my soon-to-be-nearly-upcoming novella – the very science-fictionally titled Causal Nexus.

Entirely gratuitous picture of BC to attract clicks. Hi there, people who were expecting a post about Sherlock!

Chapter six is in the bag, and that’s six of my seven characters introduced. One more chapter will complete the cast, and also act one of the book, which with a gentle, not-quite-literary-but-getting-there pace quite unlike that of the first two books in the series, sets the scene.

Then in act two everything starts going to shit for everybody, which is much more my usual speed. Fun!

If I can get some momentum going I should be able to knock out the rest of the draft in fairly short order. It is, after all, a novella, not a novel, so isn’t likely to run much more than about 50,000 words. I’ve got a third of that done already, so another couple of months at a decent clip should get a draft done. Then it’ll be time to bring in the editor, rustle up a cover, try to remember how to compile ebooks and do paperback layouts, and all that jazz.

Onward! Also: upward!

China on the Moon, Doctor on TV, X-Men at the Movies

Chang’e 3 sticks the landing, and takes home the gold medal in the individual lunar lander parallel bars. That gives China its seventeenth gold in these Olympics.

Wonderful footage from Chang’e 3 as it touches down. This makes China only the third nation in history to land a craft on the Moon, decades after the United Kingdom and Italy both achieved the feat in the 1950s*, their years-long rivalry having driven a technological renaissance that made the European Union the world-leading scientific powerhouse it remains today**.

Continue reading “China on the Moon, Doctor on TV, X-Men at the Movies”

So I’m Not Writing Much at the Moment

In case you were wondering. I do have a complete outline of my next book, the third in The Unity Sequence, and I’ve drafted the first four chapters. But a combination of the tendinitis in my left wrist flaring up a few weeks back, and the fact that Mrs. Dan and I preparing to relocate from Brazil to the US at the start of July–with all of the visa getting, flight planning, and shipping organising that this entails–has meant I haven’t put any words to digital paper in the last few weeks.

Not pictured: Me grimacing.

But never fear. I’m still confident I can get a first draft done by about October, and edits complete ready for publication before the end of the year. That’ll keep me on the two-books-a-year plan which should make me rich and famous by about 2024.

It’s good to have attainable goals.

On To The Next One

With Venus Rising successfully wrapped up and shipped out, I’ve turned my attention to the next book in The Unity Sequence. It’s actually been outlined for a couple of months, but on hold while I finished the edits to Venus Rising. Today I… I want to say ‘broke ground’ on the first draft, but that only applies to buildings. (Note to self: Coin a phrase for starting first drafts. Spread it around. Become famous…. Profit?) Anyway, I had a few hours free while Mrs. Dan was out, so I banged out the first 2,800 words of what’s eventually going to be Causal Nexus. 

In structure it’s going to be a little bit different to the other two books. Ascension Point and Venus Rising are both made up of chapters four to five thousand words long, each with four to six scenes. This works well for a fast-paced story, with quick POV shifts between scenes and lots of action. But Causal Nexus is going to be a slower-paced, more character driven book, so those 2,800 words are just the first scene… and also the first chapter.

There’s still going to be a lot of action, but the story takes place over just one day, and shows how the lives of seven characters–most of whom don’t know each other–can interact in shocking and dramatic ways. I really want to dig into the characters’ thoughts and feelings, and bring across how different they are and how each of their lives touch the others’.

It’s going to be interesting to write, and a bit of a change in style for me. I really enjoyed writing this first chunk, and I can’t wait to see how it turns out.

Edit The Second One, Sell The First One: Rinse, Repeat, Profit

Bit of a status update, this post. My wonderful editor–Misti from RedAdept–finished her initial edit of Venus Rising at the end of last week, and we had our edit kickoff call this Tuesday. Some of you might remember this post from the same point during the writing of Ascension Point. Highlights included an hour and a half on the phone to talk through all of the things that needed fixing, and a mammoth 619 comments from Misti on my first draft, as well as all of the inline edits she’d suggested. This time?

Twenty five minutes on the phone. 90 comments on the draft. (Fewer than on the first chapter alone of that draft of Ascension Point.)

So, yeah–it certainly seems like I’m improving as a writer. Hurrah! I’d thought so, but it’s nice to have something approaching quantitative evidence.

Anyway. Lovely wife is away at a conference this week, giving me a certain amount of spare time to fill. There are only so many back episodes of Chuck that I can watch in one evening, so I spent quite a lot of time on my edits, and sent Misti a new draft last night. It’s looking really good, and I’m confident the final draft of Venus Rising that I release in April is going to be great. Exciting times!

In other news (the ‘sell the first one’ part of the headline) today Ascension Point is Ereader News Today’s Book of the Day. This is far and away the biggest promo I’ve ever done. Greg at ENT gets thousands of applicants in January for the 240 BotD slots available for the coming year, so I was thrilled that he deemed Ascension Point worthy of one.

It’s $150 for the promo, and as you’ll have seen from my post a couple of days back I chopped the ebook price down to $2.99 to make it even more enticing to the ENT subscribers. 75 sales will see me break even, which would be a lovely goal to achieve; mainly I’m after some word of mouth and a few more reviews. After eleven hours–and with folks on the west coast of the U.S. just now getting home from work and checking their email–I’ve sold 49 copies and the book’s Amazon rank has gone from 673,000 to 11,000, so it’s looking pretty promising!

I’ll post final numbers in a few days once the bump is over, for the interest of the more writerly readers out there.

G’night!

Venus Rising: To The Editor!

I just sent the MS for Venus Rising to Lynn at Red Adept, and Misti–my editor–will be starting her edit this week. Very exciting. The process took about a month for Ascension Point, from Misti’s first look to the final proofread version, so if things go similarly well we’re looking at an early April release.

I’m a bit more organised for this release than I was the last time; namely, I already have the paperback cover and blurb ready, so I’ll be releasing all versions at the same time rather than over a few weeks. It’s a little more professional, and also gives all of my potential readers their choice of edition right from the off.

Then it’s on to book three! Rinse, repeat.

In The (SFF) News This Week…

A super-nerdy but awesome explanation of the Kardashev scale, which is ‘used to classify hypothetical alien civilizations according to the amount of energy at their disposal’.

‘This led him to speculate about a Type II civilization. For an [extraterrestrial intelligence] to reach K2, it would need to capture the entire energy output of its parent star. The best way to achieve this, of course, is to build a Dyson Sphere.

Conjured by Freeman Dyson in 1959, this hypothetical megastructure would envelope a star at a distance of 1 AU and cover an inconceivably large area of 2.72 x 1017 km2, which is around 600 million times the surface area of the Earth. The sun has an energy output of around 4 x 1026 Watts, of which most would be available to do useful work.’

As anyone who’s read Ascension Point knows, I’ve always been more of a Dyson Swarm kind of guy, but each to their own.

Next up, are you ready for season three of Game of Thrones? I know I am.

We should stop using nuclear weapons as a unit of measurement, says annoyed atomic historian.

“In general,” he added, “What I don’t like is … the idea that kiloton or a megaton is just an energy unit, that it’s equivalent to so many joules or something. Because you could do that. You could claim that your house runs so many tons of TNT worth of electricity per year, but it sort of trivializes the notion.”

Also at The Atlantic, a spectacular NASA video of three simultaneous solar phenomena.

…a solar flare, a coronal mass ejection (CME), and coronal rain, “complex moving structures in association with changes in magnetic field lines that loop up into the sun’s atmosphere,” NASA explains.’

Finally, in Dan-specific news, Venus Rising goes to my editor on March 8th, which means it should be out in just a couple of months!

Venus Rising Update: Beta Readers Are Go Go Go

Phew. Just in time for me and the missus to bugger off for a week’s holiday over New Year’s, I finished my initial edit of VENUS RISING, and sent the latest draft off to my beta readers.

For those of you who aren’t familiar, beta readers come into the editing process after the writer’s first edits, but before it goes to the professional editor–in my case, the lovely Misti (Level 80 Dual-Class Grammarian and Sci-Fi Expert).

Betas give feedback on high-level stuff like plot continuity, characterisation, and plain-old whether they enjoyed the story. Invaluable feedback, for which they are paid not at all. Mwahahaha.

Anyway. I was pretty happy with the first draft, and how clean it was. My initial edit was mainly running through and tightening up the writing. I’ll find out if there are any more fundamental changes that need to be made when I get my beta feedback in a few weeks. Nailbiting!

Finally, there won’t be any posts for the next week while I’m away, so I’ll catch up with you all in 2013. Happy New Year, everyone!

P.S. I considered using the holiday to outline the novella that’s next in the series after VENUS RISING, but I’ve decided to just read instead. I’ve got Old Man’s War and Zoo City waiting on my Kindle, among others. Can’t wait!