Tuesday, January 24, 2006

What's in your wallet?

I used to write novel in one big file. Just keep adding on, doing daily editing etc. all within the same file. Sure, I'd make backup copies of the file at assorted points, but it was basically one file, say, "novel.doc" that kept growing and changing. Then I read somewhere on Holly Lisle's journal last year that she does a "save as" each day and so each day's work gets appended on the main work but in its own file. This gives you both a backup and a time line progression of where you were at the whole way. And the most recently dated file will always be the current file with the whole novel in it.

I went, hm, that's interesting. Let's give it a try. So, I then had files named "novel 08-30-05.doc" etc.

And what then completely surprised me was how fast I got used to this system. I can't think of working any other way now, and I even do longer short stories in this manner. Sure, I end up with a lot of files (I have 61 on my current novel, which is rather interesting in itself -- 91K, 61 days, average of nearly 1500 words per day), but then I hit a night like tonight, where I realize that two nights ago I screwed something up. I wrote a scene on Sunday, decided on Monday it went the wrong direction and promptly deleted it and wrote a new one. Now, here I am on Tuesday, realizing the first version was the correct one. Had I been working in just one file, that original scene would have been gone. I would have deleted it and overwritten it with the new scene. But tonight, all I had to do was just go back to Sunday's file, copy and paste the scene into today's file, and life was good. I lost nothing. I don't have to recreate the scene from memory.

Daily backups. Don't leave home without them.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Novel update

Passed 91K on current novel. I had been thinking I'd be wrapped up by now, but that's not the case. I'm revising the estimated completed word count to be around 110K total, giving me another 20K left to write. Sigh. That's about four chapters worth, and that's about right, I think. And that pushes the completion date to somewhere around the end of February, I'd guess, at my current slow writing rate, instead of the end of January as I was hoping.

And I remember back last October before I started writing this book that I feared it was only novella-length. That was back before I knew anything but that a murder started the story and a murder ended it. Back before the characters took charge and the plot took off. Silly me.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

10 signs a piece of fiction was written by me

This is an interesting meme from QueenoftheSkies on LJ. I'm going strictly with novels here, which, HAH! no one has read, cuz they ain't been published. Yet. Don't worry, I'm working on remedying that. In the meantime, this is what you have to look forward to:

1. It will be scifi, fantasy, or a combo of both.

2. It will explore to varying degrees several of the following: freedom, loyalty, friendship/love, integrity, honor, sacrifice, oppression, and redemption.

3. Someone will betray someone and usually not who you think it will be.

4. Someone will get backhanded and someone will probably get their throat slit.

5. You'll cry "Noooooo!" in your best Luke Skywalker imitation (pick Star Wars, Empire, or Jedi -- there's a "Noooooo! from Luke in all of 'em) because something will happen that you really REALLY don't want to happen to a character(s) I've made you care about.

6. The superstructure will fall off. Or, in non-Deb-nautical-plot talk, just when you think it can't get any worse for the main characters, it will.

7. People get hurt/die. Lots of them. Usually ones you care about. Sometimes this is linked to number 5, often not.

8. There's much more to the bad guy's plan than the main characters know about until the end of the story, and, yeah, there's usually a McGuffin.

9. It will be visually written and the plot will move fast

10. I use the British "towards" instead of the American "toward" though you won't probably see that because there's a handy feature called "find/replace" that neatly solves my Britishismist leanings, but, for those who beta my work, it's a dead giveaway that I wrote it.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Oh man, do his words about the "need" for security speak to me...

To be truly challenging, a voyage, like a life, must rest on a firm foundation of financial unrest. Otherwise you are doomed to a routine traverse, the kind known to yachtsmen, who play with their boats at sea -- "cruising." Voyaging belongs to seamen, and to the wanderers of the world who cannot, or will not, fit in. If you are contemplating a voyage and you have the means, abandon the venture until your fortunes change. Only then will you know what the sea is all about.

"I've always wanted to sail to the South Seas, but I can't afford it." What these men can't afford is not to go. They are enmeshed in the cancerous discipline of "security." And in the worship of security we fling our lives beneath the wheels of routine--and before we know it our lives are gone.

What does a man need--really need? A few pounds of food each day, heat and shelter, six feet to lie down in-- and some form of working activity that will yield a sense of accomplishment. That's all--in the material sense. And we know it. But we are brainwashed by our economic system until we end up in a tomb beneath a pyramid of time payments, mortgages, preposterous gadgetry, playthings that divert our attention from the sheer idiocy of the charade.

The years thunder by. The dreams of youth grow dim where they lie caked in dust on the shelves of patience. Before we know it, the tomb is sealed.

Where, then, lies the answer? In choice. Which shall it be: bankruptcy of purse or bankruptcy of life?

--Sterling Hayden

Friday, January 13, 2006

Reading Slush

When originally approached to read slush for Static Movement, I remember thinking, oh, that's going to be tedious. Boy, was I wrong. It's fascinating. It's frustrating. It's a huge learning lesson, because boy, oh boy, you see writers making the same mistakes over and over in their submissions. I'll start talking about those over the next few weeks, the recurring patterns I see -- the inability to spell, the unneeded exposition, the dialog that fails to move a story forward, the difference between what sounds like a nifty idea and a story (and they ain't the same thing, folks).

But the coolest thing about reading slush is that excitement I feel whenever I start reading a new story. Is this the one? I'll wonder. Is this the one that's going to knock my socks off? One I won't be able to put down, that'll give me great characters and a strong story and an ending that makes me sit back and go "woah!" It's worth wading through all the rest just to get to that one story that blows me away. I want more of those. I want every story to be a homerun. And when I find one that's so close, but it fails because of something simple, I want to cry. That's the worst part of this job. Rejecting the "almosts."

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Confluence, Fate, and there's no such thing as coincidence

The rest of my novel fell into place tonight and I have a new short story idea called "The Graveside Devil."

And this is why I continually have to remind myself not to stress over 1) perceived lack of new ideas, and 2) plotting issues. Now, mind you, it doesn't particularly help to remind myself that it will all work out eventually, that I can point to my own damned journal and show myself, time and time again, how it all works out in the end when the pieces are ready to come together. What can I say? I'm an impatient soul and I get frustrated when my creative world gets scrambled and stays that way. It doesn't matter that it will right itself at some future date, I want it set right NOW.

(And this is precisely why I recently wrote about refusing to ask my muses for assistance. I'd be getting that smug "I told you so" right about now instead of satisfied silence.)

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Book reading

Finished reading "The Florentine Dagger" by Ben Hecht, written in 1923. Interesting book. Starts out as a rather simple mystery and gets rather complex by the end. A strange obsessed narrator/hero who doubts his own sanity adds to the spice. The first murder had this guy knifed and a crucifix laid on his chest and a candle lit by his head. Now me, I'm a huge lover of Italian opera, and so I read that and exclaimed outloud, "Tosca!" Cuz after Tosca knifes Scarpia, that's what she does, sets a crucifix on his chest and a candle (or two) at his head. Then, as the novel progressed, a mysterious lady named Floria appears. Tosca's first name is Floria. I'm thinking, hm, what an odd coincidence, is there supposed to be a connection here? And as it turns out, yes, there was a deliberate connection and the ending has everything to do with Tosca. Which I dig to pieces, of course, Tosca being my favorite opera.

Which made me wonder how such a book works for someone who doesn't have this background? Does it work better or worse? Would it simply be a much more straight-forward mystery story to someone unfamiliar with Tosca? Would the end then catch them by surprise, since the foreshadowing would be meaningless? Since this book was written in 1923, the audience of that time had a much bigger chance of being familiar either with the opera or Sardou's play than anyone reading this book today. There's also a whole subplot regarding the Medici family and their violent history. None of it is explained, it's taken for granted that readers know who they were. So, does a book still satisfy when your readers are no longer conversant with things that were once more commonly known? Such questions fascinate me.

I liked this section:

"I've a lot of speeches I've always wanted to include as a part of my first and last proposal. We'll get into a cab and I'll propose."
He hailed a taxi and they entered.
"Drive," he smiled at the chauffeur, "slowly and carefully, anywhere you want."
The man nodded, grinned, and pocketed a bill.
They were silent as the cab moved away.
"Well," said Florence at last, "you may begin."
De Medici looked at her. "I love you," he whispered. "Will you marry me?"
"You promised speeches," she laughed.
"I've changed my mind," he said, staring at her. "I can't think of anything to say."

Monday, January 09, 2006

Moving ahead again

Well, the backplotting seems to have worked. Got a nice easy 2100 words yesterday evening and that was with revising two scenes, not even writing anything new. Tonight's the new stuff.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

And behind the curtain...

Engaged in a hefty bit of backplotting. Well, that's what I call it, anyway. It's where you write down what happens in your story from the bad guy's perspective. What's going on behind the scenes while the heroes do their thing in front. I sort of always have what's going on off scene in the back of my head, but sometimes that's not clear enough. Particularly on mysteries, I'm finding. If you know where your bad guys are every step of the way, then it becomes much easier to see where you have to place your hero to thwart them. I did a ton of backplotting on my last story, "Blood Games," when I got stuck. I actually had the same problem on that story that I do on this novel: too many different ways the story could go. I had so many variants I couldn't keep them all straight. And each one had something going for it, something I really liked, so I couldn't rule them out off the top of my head. Until I looked at it from the bad guy's point of view. Then all the myriad endings dropped away and only one was left. That's the one I wrote.

So with all the problems I've been having on the novel, this was the only logical step left for me to take to work things out. And once again, it seems to have worked beautifully. All the myriad possibilities have dropped away just by knowing when one bad guy places a call to another, when one arrives from out of town, when an arrest order goes out. You'll never read those scenes in the novel, but they're happening nonetheless. You'll just see the results.

I know what happens now in the next two chapters. And I know how I have to revise the last two chapters first before I can move forward.

And this thrills me no end.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Novel maze

I've never had a novel come up on its finish with so many possible ways it could go. This is still amazing me. It's been pretty much straight-line the whole way, and then WHAM! I hit the delta and a hundred river branchings. And each of those has branches. It's a maze of possibilities. I've tried to stop thinking about it, but it still astounds me that I have so many different ways the story could go. Usually there's only one logical outcome. Everything leads up to that. Wild.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Too much thinking

Well, in the interest of preserving sanity, I've opted to stop asking questions about what happens next and am back to just writing. This whole book was written by the proverbial seat of my pants, why should I stop now and do some logical plotting? Screw it. I'll get back to letting the characters steer themselves. They've done a fine job up. Why should they let me down now? Gotta find me some faith, that's all.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Brick wall downgraded to roadblock

Okay, ask the question enough times in enough ways and... I got half the answer I needed. Half. The easier half. Not the part I really really need. This is normally the point where, in sheer frustration, I turn to my muses and ask for assistance. Except I've been here done that and know the response I would get. If he even bothered to respond at all, #2 would just tell me I already have all the info I need, so stop wasting his time and figure it out already. And so I don't ask because I'm as stubborn as he is, and I refuse to give him the satisfaction of saying I told you so later. Again.

I do have everything I need. I know that. I just can't seem to jam the puzzle pieces together in the correct order, and I don't see why a nudge in the right direction would be out of order. Hmph.

Time to find yet another way to phrase the burning question.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

But I like pickaxs

Breaking down the brick wall turns out require more construction, not deconstruction. Argh. This is what I get for diving into this novel last Nov 1st without doing the proper world building first. Oh, it's been there vaguely in my head the whole time: geography, political climate, etc. But that's not good enough. Now I need the details, the history, the whys and wherefores that I sort of relegated to the back burner in the rush of putting words to paper for Nano.

Not that I mind this kind of thing, quite the contrary. I love it. I could make up worlds and their histories forever. It's as exciting as coming up with an entertaining twisting plot. Same "wow" factor. What I do mind is that it's interfering with my need to finish the first draft.

Today, I drew maps, named the other city-states, started recording their histories, political, military, economical... Time-consuming, but necessary. Without a clear understanding of the city-state relationships, there's no conflict, without conflict, no motive, without motive -- no story. Understanding the motives on a visceral level is not the same thing as having them in black and white. Or white on blue, LOL!

Monday, January 02, 2006

Brick wall

Not a concrete one, just bricks with crumbling mortar. That's what I smacked into on novel. It's simply a matter of figuring out one last thing. One simple little thing is all that's between me and the end of the book. Three and a half pages of new notes and I'm no closer. These are the kind of notes that are open conversations, asking questions, seeking unexpected answers, free-writing, exploring the remaining plot hoping something will click and the solution will appear.

In other words, finding fifteen different ways of asking the same question and still getting no answer.

However, I did get one action sequence out of all that note-making that I hadn't anticipated. One of those satisfaction-guaranteed "I believe we have some unfinished business" scenes between two characters. Heh-heh. It's something, at least.