Manuscripts vs. Entropy

Lightning StrikeI’m prepping a manuscript (Last Run) for shopping, after a HUGE number of great changes suggested by the White Gold Wielders writers group here in Austin. Having one’s novel read and commented on in group format is a blessing I would hope for all my novels.

I fired up Scrivener, started making changes, moved from my laptop to my desktop, and Uncle Murphy struck. The result: A few dozen “recovered” files, blank scenes where once text resided. What’s been updated? What’s had changes? Between a Word copy used for the group discussion, a text comparison tool, and a lot of careful scrutiny of the recovered files, I was able to bring the manuscript back to wholeness, with only one scene flagged as “deleted right before the crash–” and therefore not an issue.

Save. Save again. Save yet more. One of the first things a writer learns is “keep a backup.” I have Dropbox, exports to Word, saved zip files of scrivener folder structures for major edits. And still, Murphy manages to get a word in edgewise. Or at least cost me three hours of quality time repairing, because things went splat at exactly the wrong time.

Baby Novelist Issues: Writing Myself Into a Knot

I’m 116,000 words into a SF novel. It’s got great tech, interesting characters, action and thrills… and no motivation for bad guy actions. Well, it did, when I started. But the pitfall of pantsing is getting pulled off course, one degree at at time. (And when writing about matters aeronautical, there’s three dimensions to those degrees. But I diverge from the point.)

Part of how I got here is because of the aforementioned fun aspects. It takes time to tell those complicated battle scenes, the points where relationships change, key threads weave a novel together. And writing little notes to myself on the virtual margins on what to change on the first draft edits kept up my velocity. I just needed to remember all the facts and events changing in their later retelling from their initial description earlier in the book.

For instance, I realize in scene thirty that Maura’s got to have combat experience. She’s already written in with anger issues, but when her background was discussed in scene five, that big deal didn’t come up. No problem: write a note to rewrite history.

However, when “change requests” for the manuscript get past a certain point, the rewrite gets uglier and uglier. Which brings me to a pile of actions and plot twists now blowing in the breeze of a torn zeppelin at forty thousand feet, as the gore of two shootouts and two bombings dry in the thin air. What was worth their conflict, their deaths? What drives them to continue, at so high a human cost?

Oh, you don’t know either? Some fourth wall you all are!

I need to bite the bullet, put in all the noted changes (84, from trivial word or location replacements to “why’d they do it” types of changes), and then take a look at character motivations and see how it all fits together. {picks up chainsaw, chisel, flamethrower, and flyswatter and heads back in…}

Amid, Among, Between, Betwixt

H/t to Ashwin Mudigonda for non-commercial use

Just signed up for the 2018 Agents & Editors Conference here in Austin. Last minute. Second year going. Wasn’t going to, but after working on a single query letter for the better part of the day, I might as well see if I can’t catch an agent’s eye. Researching each participating agent and editor took a few hours, but that’ll come in handy as I stalk the Wild Agent at the conference. I’m also gonna do a toss-at-the-buzzer pitch of my larger novel, Last Run, to one or two victims agents that might have an appetite for it. Of course, that means cleaning that puppy up too, before June’s end.

This interrupted writing madly a piece to submit for the ArmadilloCon Writers’ Workshop. I think this is my last year that I’ll submit. I’ve gotten quite a lot out of it but the panel sessions were where I got the most bang for my conference buck. And hopefully I can assist next year.

All this while getting the first “Angels” book cleaned up enough to send to agents. Meeting tonight with one of my writing groups for dinner and last revisions before last cleanup. And find a title. It’d be great if I had something to call it aside from a word unrelated to the story.

Book two in the series is done, at least in first draft. And #3 is already starting to come into focus in my head, so I’m getting character journeys and the larger arc or three sketched out.

And all the above is while my fascination with a paying, full-time day job increases. Doing an application right can take an hour or two for each one.

Life. Gotta love it.

When the plot goes out of control

Writing this article is a way for me to procrastinate yet another major revision to my current manuscript. But it’s a learning moment for me, that’s worth sharing.

Being able to write without editing is hard for most folks to do, and pushing through that barrier makes writing… not effortless, but at least doable. There’s more creative energy available to move the plot forward.

The downside to writing first and editing later (there are many upsides) is that one can veer off the intended path. sometimes it’s a character tugging at my hand saying “check this out; I can do this, too!” Or it’s a place with gravitas sufficient to move more action to it, or from it, or because of it.

My first tear-down in this manuscript was after creating a mass casualty event. A natural progression of the actions of some characters, actually. But this is a murder-mystery, not a Bruce Willis flick. And I ended up with the chaos that typically happens after a disaster of the “dozens dead, hundreds injured” variety. And while I got about eleven thousand possibly reusable words from it, ultimately I pulled it, and the six or seven new characters introduced at about the 60k mark, out of the manuscript.

I’m now past the 70k mark. this is where things should be coming together. The number of threads decreasing, the tension focusing on who did it, and what’s the protagonist going to do about it.

Now’s also the time I’m realizing I’ve got an extra suspect. He’s threaded throughout the story, Hinted at, a cause of trauma, of mystery… I’d already edited him out of the beginning, because even I couldn’t figure out what his motives were for his actions, cool as they looked when the protagonist came across them. To me he felt like Richard Kiel in Moonraker. Interesting, glitterly, but almost a one trick pony in terms of evil. I could have made him more evil, more important. But I kept butting into the fact that he wasn’t fitting in with a smooth narrative. Other detectives kept tripping over him. He added a complexity to the search for the murderers that I had to divert time and words to explaining.

So goodbye, Evan Stone. May you appear in another novel, in a different guise. And perhaps in a nicer role; I really didn’t like this version of you.

On Span of Memory and Tools

Last week a fellow writer was discussing the trouble with editing a document that had been laid down for a while. Keeping the entire novel in one’s head, the writer said, was important when making edits with large blocks of text (e.g., changing scenes and chapters around). This was said in the context of using Microsoft Word vs. something like Scrivener, which I’m currently test-driving.

Word maintains a single document. And while one may use heading levels to delineate parts, chapters, and scenes, a large manuscript can get unwieldy. Scrivener and other scene-compartmentalized software tools make it relatively easy to shuffle around the various scenes or chapters, but if a writer wants, for example, to move parts of three scenes into two other scenes elsewhere, there’s a lot of cutting and pasting and remembering what scene is where that’s involved. Add to the text being edited ‘cold,’ it seems to me that the specialized tools would almost require quite a bit of cold reading and flipping around to scenes.

I’m still making my mind up about the Scrivener software, but I’ve got two strategies for writing large texts using word: multiple documents, and headings. I’ve written 130k+ word documents with no more than having a Heading 1 reserved for manuscript, characters, locations, objects, kipple, and research. Then chapters are at the Heading 2-level and Heading is for scenes. Having an automatically generated table of contents at the beginning makes hopping around easy. Outline mode views and automatic outlining can also help, but I don’t use the latter two.

A variant is to put each novel component into its own file (e.g., a folder with the novel, characters, research, and locations).

The important thing isn’t the tool, is comfort with it. Every new keystroke combination that requires learning is time not spent writing. And that means writers will usually be most comfortable with the general document editor (e.g., MS Word) rather than a specialty software package. My $0.02, so far.