Pat Flewelling, on alternative plotting

It’s quid pro quo time.. over a year ago I posted on Pat’s blog (here‘s a link to the blog), now she’s returning the favor.

With me writing for Camp NaNoWriMo right now, this is an appropriate post.

I’m not as prolific, but few people are!

At last count, I’ve written 59 novel-length manuscripts since 1993, and I’ve just come back from a weekend-long novel writing marathon with the better half of # 60. Some have been completely pre-planned. Some were written off the cuff. Most haven’t been published, because they just haven’t been solid enough.

When I thoroughly plotted the story in advance, one of two things would always

The Marathon

The Marathon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

happen: either I would deviate wildly off course, or I would get so bored that I’d just stop writing altogether. I often mistook a tangent as some kind of award-winning plot-twist, and having to delete 10-15% of the manuscript was a real killer to my motivation. And sometimes, I was just bored, because there was no sense of discovery left over, no room to play around. I was choking my own creativity.

At the other extreme, stories that had no predestination took longer to finish. I’d often spend hours staring slightly cross-eyed at the ceiling, trying to remember where I was taking that last thought. I’d also ended up spending countless hours editing after the fact, removing tens of pages of verbal dross.

But for this year’s novel writing marathon, I decided to try something new. I planned only so much, but I also left major plot points blank.

I thought of it like a vacation itinerary. Let’s say that I knew I was leaving Montreal on a Monday at 7:00 a.m., and that I had to be in Toronto by Saturday at noon. Let’s say, furthermore, that I also wanted to visit Ottawa, Brockville, Kingston, and Oshawa, before finally heading into the Big Smoke. As long as I got to Ottawa by 4:00 p.m., I could take any route I wanted. I could take the back roads and enjoy a longer drive through the country, or I could stick to the highways and get there sooner, then park the car and stroll around on foot before leaving at 4:00. I wouldn’t decide which route to take to Ottawa until I was in the car with the radio on and a coffee in hand.

During the marathon, I discovered not only that I actually stuck to the plan, but I wrote in an unforeseen major character, who made the plot more engaging and resolved a lot of plot holes. I finally had a planner that would direct my story toward a fun and logical conclusion, but one that left plenty of opportunities to make stuff up as I went along. Most surprisingly of all, because I had a known destination and unknown roads, I found my narrative pacing became the strongest it’s ever been.

But, after this many novels, I know that what works for one project doesn’t necessarily work for another. Likewise, what works for me may not work for you. All I can suggest is that you keep experimenting until you find what works best, and have fun with it along the way.

Pantsers vs. Plotters

With me starting at Camp NaNoWriMo on July 1st I thought that I should explain the difference between these two story methods, and what I do or don’t.

“Pantsers”

This is an expression, short for “writing by the seat of your pants”. A writer goes into a project with nothing planned and just writes what comes to them. They have no characters planned, no scenes either. They just make everything up as they go along writing.

For some people this is the best way to work on a project. They are always surprised by what appears on their screen (or on their typewriter / paper), and as a result don’t have many predictable turns in their stories.

Me? I ‘ve tried it for many years — and won the first 4 — but it proved to be too open for me. I needed more structure to guide me.

Outliner

The opposite alternative is to work from a detailed outline of your story. Even the characters are defined — in name, personality is sketched, their character File:Plotextraktor.pngarcs are mapped  out, the works.

Some people like that level of planning. They can come to finish novels often that way.

Personally, I find that much structure too much. I like to have some measure of surprise in my writing, so control to that level I find stifling.

That led me to an alternative:

not snowflake

File:Snowflake11 2.png
Here‘s a description of how it’s done.

I find this method still tends to be too stifling. It still doesn’t leave room for surprises and twists.

Instead I use a hybrid method that incorporates story beats.

the beat goes on…

I create character sketches, and I outline some scenes (like the end) but I leave the rest open, so that I can still come up with other scenes that will surprise me.

I guess you would call it planned chaos.

chose your own way

Note that this is how I do it.  You may chose to do things differently; say how in the comments.

 

Wil Wheaton and Not Writing for Free

I won’t commit idea theft myself, so Wil Wheaton‘s original post is here. Here’s an opinion on Slate.

English: Wil Wheaton at a San Diego Comic-Con ...

English: Wil Wheaton at a San Diego Comic-Con panel for The Guild in July 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I agree with both views. I offer what I write free on this blog; what I’m writing for Exploits of a Midnight Traveler is also free — but no one is being paid for it.

In the case of Huffington Post, however, the site is valued at 53 million dollars. It makes money off the advertising that it sells on every post it puts.

Telling people that it can’t pay them is silly. Saying that it is free publicity and exposure… that’s offensive. Will it offer beads and rags  too?

When someone is making profit from your work, you should be paid for it too. PERIOD. A restaurant doesn’t give away food in return for word of mouth (unless you’re a published food critic); a  non-Olympic athlete won’t play for a team solely out of love for their sport; why, then, is it OK for an artist to work for free?

I write RPG products to make money. My novels will sell on Amazon. I’ll give away a story to help to build up my email list… I don’t write these things without a purpose to benefit to myself.

Free exposure is not it.

Why I’m an indie author

If I was under a contract to a big company, I could only write the books that  I was under contract for. I could write other things, but I’d likely have to sit on them for a different deal,  or have to publish them under another publisher, under a pseudonym.

As an indy, I can publish whatever I want whenever I choose to.

Advantage: indie pub

Independent Truck Company logo

Independent Truck Company logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If I was under a contract to a big company, I  would be hampered to writing in just one genre, and just one style. If I was signed for one series, I would be forced to write for that series alone. If it was for novels (it often is) I could only write novels and not short stories or non-fiction (the exception being if they help to drive interest to your contracted novels, and if they don’t affect your contract time).

[Of course Steven King, James Patterson, and J.K. Rawlings are exceptions to this rule.]

Indy pub authors, on the other hand, can write and publish whatever  I want and when I want to. I can  start one series, then another, then  put out an unrelated short story or a non-fiction work. I have that freedom.

ADVANTAGE: INDIE PUB

People under contract to a big publisher have no control over how their work is presented.

Indy pub authors control every aspect. The cover art is what they chose, as are the fonts (for a hardcopy book; for eBooks it’s still not under your control) and even illustrations inside the book .

You can print on demand and/or e-publish on Kindle/Nook/epub/Smashwords/whatever you choose.

[If you pick the  Kindle KDP program you can’t try another for 90 days..]

ADVANTAGE: INDIE PUB

Audiobook? Indy Pub authors can do this at will, and profit from it. Authors on contract can too — if they’re on the contact to get paid for it. Otherwise the publisher might produce one, but all profits go to them.

ADVANTAGE: INDIE PUB

To play Devil’s Advocate, there is a big negative: all the costs (art, editing, advertising, etc.) come to you. After your first work sells, you can set money aside for the next one, but that first one may cost a lot.

advantage: traditional pub

Novels in a Polish bookstore

Novels in a Polish bookstore (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The one minus doesn’t outweigh the positives though.

 

I’m back (finally)!

I’m still editing the settings on everything here (including the Theme and sidebar, plus my BlogRoll) but I now have most of  the basics installed, and  I can start posting again.

I missed posting the past month. It’s been too quiet in my head.

This site moving

I haven’t updated this blog in a month. The reason for that is the limits that the WordPress hosting system puts on me. For a free blog they’re okay but not for my personal brand.

Update soon.

Writing Multiple Novels at One Time

I read this written about elsewhere, and it’s a concept that makes sense for me:

When you’re writing a trilogy, you want there to be sub-plots that match up from one book to the next one. Also, you don’t want to make your readers wait a year or more for the next book. To solve this problem, you should write at least the first drafts of other books in a series at the same time.

I’m facing this situation: I’ve been writing the first book of a trilogy (within an overall series) for over two years. If I’m fortunate, I’ll have it finished this year (revisions, beta readers, cover art and editing). With this current pace, I’ll have this first trilogy finished before I’m sixty. That’s not acceptable to me.

That passage of time is another problem for me. I’m 49 in less than two months. I want to be known for a lot of books by the end of my life. I already have 11 RPG credits so far, but most of them are very small press, and that’s a small interest pool. Novels are in a much larger one. I hope to follow of game writers who also became novelists, like Mike Stackpole, the late John Ford, and an also-late friend Aaron Alston.

I won’t achieve that goal at my current output rate. Writing multiple books at once might, depending on my writing output speed.

A caveat, though: I won’t attempt this until after I’ve finished book 1. Friends bought into my attempt to crowdsource that book on Indiegogo. Even though it didn’t make the funding target I want to finish it for them (I used the platform’s Flexible Funding plan, and the rules for that are that I have to finish, but I planned to anyway). Starting other books before I finish this one wouldn’t be fair. Besides, I follow one of Robert Heinlein’s Writing Rules: always finish what you start.

Robert A. Heinlein

Robert A. Heinlein (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After I finish Book 1, 2 and 3 I’ll work on together, and I’ll hope this makes them more consistent and my output grows.

Space Opera Examples Part 2

The Perry Rhodan issue that went into space. C...

The Perry Rhodan issue that went into space. Credit: ESA/André Kuipers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2. Perry Rhodan

This is seen as the best-known science fiction series of all time, accounting for more than 2 billion (not a typo) copies sold since its premiere in the 1960s, first creating a buzz in Germany, then being translated worldwide, but not ultimately succeeding in America in English.

It was originally published in German alone, but was translated into other languages over time. This is where the incredible publication and sales numbers come from. In Germany it’s a weekly novella in a magazine.

On the surface, this series has science fiction concepts: hyperspatial

English: This image is a reproduction of an or...

English: This image is a reproduction of an original painting by renowned science-fiction and fantasy illustrator Rowena http://www.rowenaart.com/. It depicts Dr. Isaac Asimov enthroned with symbols of his life’s work. Français : Peinture de Rowena Morill réprésentant Isaac Asimov sur un trône décoré des symboles de son œuvre littéraire. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

translation and positronic brains — concepts that Isaac Asimov created in his stories. The M13 cluster also exists. Everything else about this series (functional immortality — never aging, but violent death possible, multiple time-lines/realities, the psionic web, moralic code, many other fanciful ideas) is a made-up concept.

Part of why the series has gone on for so long is that, like many pulp series like The Shadow, The Spider, and even Doc Savage (and modern day series like Mack Bolan) many authors have written it.

Sci-Fi legend Forrest J. Ackerman championed English translation of this series. He said that serious German SF fandom said how it hated this series, yet it was still a top seller in the country. It proved the same case with the English translations by Ace Books, which ceased publication with 117-118 in the early 1980s (it’s over 2400 stories-long). Then-head of Ace Tom Doherty found them to be too juvenile in quality.

Good or bad, these books (and spin-off series) inspired music, film (George Lucas cites it as one of his influences), and is even an inspiration to other science fiction series. Would that other series could go so long!

Space Opera Examples, Part 1

These will all be long, so I’ll cut the post up.

Flash Gordon (soundtrack)

Flash Gordon (soundtrack) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1. Flash Gordon

Originally a comic strip in newspapers then made into movie serials, a campy movie in the 80s, as well as a disappointing TV show a few years ago (many pundits have spoken of that already, so I won’t go into that here. Anyway it’s not a feature of this piece). Most of it was centered on the planet Mongo. For that, the space opera feeling came from the fact that Mongo had many climates and zones, but they had little in the way of scientific rationale; they just existed — and differing races… so there are barbarian birdmen and men with the heads of big cats, and so on.

His origins? Here’s the information from Wikipedia, with my additions:

“[…] the adventures of Flash Gordon, a handsome polo player and Yale University graduate, and his companions Dale Arden and Dr. Hans Zarkov.The story begins with Earth threatened with a collision with the planet Mongo. Dr. Zarkov invents a rocket ship to fly into space in an attempt to stop the disaster. Half mad, he kidnaps Flash and Dale and they travel to the planet. Landing on the planet, and halting the collision, they come into conflict with Ming the Merciless, Mongo’s evil ruler.

Flash Gordon (film)

Flash Gordon (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia) The character was often portrayed as an Oriental stereotype.

For many years, the three companions have adventures on Mongo, traveling to the forest kingdom of Arboria, ruled by Prince Barin Prince Barin and Flash; the ice kingdom of Frigia, ruled by Queen Fria; the jungle kingdom of Tropica, ruled by Queen Desira; the undersea kingdom of the Shark Men, ruled by King Kala; and the flying city of the Hawkmen, ruled by Prince Vultan Price Vultan. They are joined in several early adventures by Prince Thun of the Lion Men Prince Thun. Eventually, Ming is overthrown, and Mongo is ruled by a council of leaders led by Barin.
Flash and friends return to Earth and have some adventures before returning to Mongo and crashing in the kingdom of Tropica, then reuniting with Barin and others. Flash and his friends travel to other worlds and return to Mongo, where Prince Barin, married to Ming’s daughter Princess Aura  Princess-Aura,   has established a peaceful rule (except for frequent revolts led by Ming or by one of his many descendants) […]”
Flash has been redesigned over the years. He’s now a football player rather than a polo one.

Space Opera — What is It?

This is a genre that’s existed for decades, but it’s often misunderstood.
It was considered as Science Fiction in the 1950s, the Golden Age of Science Fiction, but it’s really a form of Science Fantasy. There are many worlds of aliens, in fact hundreds, which gave it the veneer of science fiction. How it no longer fits it:

There are myriad inhabited worlds, often within the same systems. Science shows us that’s not the case, without major terraforming. That is a concept that didn’t exist in those early days.
Entire worlds often have a single feature, such as a desert world or an ice planet. Just look at Earth… we have different climates based on different areas. Just winter alone is different here in Canada and in Northern Europe – and it’s non-existent in the equator zone.
A major example is the Lensman series by E.E. “Doc” Smith, and in film: the Star Wars saga.

E. E. "Doc" Smith

E. E. “Doc” Smith (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(Note that I’m not ragging on Star Wars. I’m a fan). Star Wars because there are so many worlds with life on them, and entire worlds just one climate.

Technically it isn’t entire worlds with a sole environment. A good writer could say that we just see part of a world, so the entire world isn’t just one environment type… but for the sake of this genre it’s considered to be.

Also, there are more intelligent versions of this genre. Lois McMaster-Bujold has her series of Vorkosigan novels set in a Space Opera universe, but she uses more science fiction ideas in it than others do.

Lois McMaster Bujold. Photo: David Dyer-Bennet...

Lois McMaster Bujold. Photo: David Dyer-Bennet 1996. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The main definition of space opera, according to its entry on Wikipedia, is that a space opera is like a ‘soap opera in space’. This is a bit simplistic, but they are often melodramatic stories involving ship combat, or romances and betrayals. We see them in standard SF, but far less melodramatic.
The Wikipedia article lists Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series as an example of Space Opera; I have trouble with that. First off, I’m a big Asimov fan. The Mule is an example of a large power escalation — cited as a characteristic of Space Opera — but Isaac didn’t write deep romance, and he was an actual scientist; his writing did have a more believable basis (I’m not saying that Psychohistory is real.
My 2nd NaNoWriMo novel (Into the Flock, a winner) was a Space Opera. I may try to redo it someday.