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…}

“Last Run” Topped Out

By Leif Ørnelund – Oslo Museum: image no. OB.Ø59/2680 (Byhistorisk samling), via, CC BY-SA 3.0,

When a building’s top floor is in place, especially for tall buiildings, they’re “topped out.” Usually a tree, sometimes a flag.

Authors should have something analogous for a novel. Even if we’re not trying to appease the tree gods.

Sunday I pitched two projects to an agent at the Writers League of Texas Agents & Editors conference. A win for me, at my first pitching, would be “sure, I’d like to see the first ten pages and a query letter via email.” The agent with whom I chatted wanted to hear about two of my projects: my current novel, Last Run, a post-apocalyptic tale, and my Induction series, a “hot” SF set of novels. She wanted the first three chapters and a synopsis of the first, and then maybe the second. Yoiks.

Yesterday I “topped out” the novel, tearing up at the last scene. Last Run currently stands at around 173k words, and the sweet spot for novels in that category is closer to 85k words.

So… behold the mighty editor’s pen, out and primed in red.