Stuctophis and the Calderan Problem

Hi everyone! If you’ve not seen it elsewhere, you should know that Structophis is available now

I’m pleased to see that people are enjoying the story (some really good reviews) and I’m relieved to know that the Kindle exclusive nature of the book hasn’t ruffled too many feathers. More to the point, though, at long last the time has come to formally announce (here, anyway) the first book in too long to not be Kindle Exclusive.

The Calderan Problem

Yes indeed. Written during last year’s NaNoWriMo, I’m happy to announce that the fourth book of the Free-Wrench series is available for pre-order on iBooks, Amazon, and a bunch of other places! The release date on most places is Sept. 20th, but iBooks will be getting it on Sept. 5th because they’ve been real friends of the series.

Because I’m a blithering buffoon, my website–ostensibly the key element of my promotional platform–is the last place I’ve announced this. But hey, save the best for last, right? Anyway, here’s the blurb:

The Calderan Problem is the fourth high-flying, swashbuckling adventure in the Free-Wrench series from Joseph R. Lallo, author of the Book of Deacon and Big Sigma series.

Several months have passed since Nita’s last adventure in the fug, and though she has spent them back in her native Caldera, she has never been busier. After countless debates and discussion, she has finally convinced her people to give the Wind Breaker and its crew safe harbor on the shores of her idyllic homeland. Now she is looking forward to introducing Captain Mack, Lil, Coop, and the rest of the crew to the land of her birth.

Back in the fug, Gunner has remained behind to help their friends in the Well Diggers deal with problems beneath the fug. Their old foe Lucius P. Alabaster has become even more unhinged and eccentric since their last clash. When his latest scheme seems to be having even greater success than his last, Gunner decides he needs to get to the bottom of it. Flamboyant and overconfident though he may be, Alabaster is not to be taken lightly.

As machinations unfold, worlds clash, and relationships develop, the Wind Breaker and its crew discover that this latest adventure may have greater consequences than they’d ever imagined.

A special note of the “relationships develop” part of that description. Some folks know exactly what that means. Others will be taken by surprise. Hopefully it’s a pleasant surprise, but I look forward to hearing what people think!

How I Write: Step 5 – The First Revision

It’s been a while since my last post, but that’s because several short stories and at least one whole book have wedged themselves into my calendar, and as a result, the specific book I was basing this series on was shuffled around more than I typically allow. That said, it’s time to get back to it. By now you’ve Done the Bird’s Eye View, possibly drawn up an Outline, sliced things up into Scenes, Written a Rough Draft, and maybe even done some On-The-Fly Rewrite. Now it’s time to do the first real revision.

The Hardware

Not too much new here. I like to keep a “tear out the pages” style pad around. Any of the memo pads I’ve described in earlier steps will do fine.

The Software

At this stage, I’m still in Scrivener, but you’ll be in your word processing program of choice.

The Content

If you’ve been following along, your story will be littered with little, easy-to-find notes regarding how you want the story to go. The first thing you’ll want to do is do a global search and put all those notes in one place, with some indication of what position they belong in the story. Sometimes I paraphrase or clarify as I go, but mostly I just copy them from where they are in the story and plunk them down in a universal “time to fix this” location. For Scrivener, this means I split the screen into two horizonal panes and keep the notes in the top one and the current chapter of the revision in the bottom. I also do not delete them from the body of the story until they’ve been addressed or I’ve changed my mind about them. That way you have a second indicator of precisely where you felt it should be place, or at least where you thought of it.

A few words on specifics here. If you’re using Scrivener, there are a ton of ways to keep notes. If you open “Inspector” (accessible via the little blue “I” in the top right corner), you’ll have a section for Document notes (for only this section) and Project Notes (For Everything). I used to plop all my notes in there, dividing them up into global and specific changes respectively. Lately I’ve abandoned that to the single, universal notes document. Basically, I kept losing specific changes I wanted to make, missing that I’d not fixed a specific one because I happened to have the Project version of the notes pane open and vice versa. Your experience may vary, but I prefer a separate document that I can keep open.

When you’ve collected all the changes you had in mind, it’s a good idea to read through them to see which ones you’ll need to be mindful of early on. “Go back and make sure this happened” is the sort of note that comes long after you were supposed to have addressed it, so maybe move it up in the order. You can also take this time to delete notes that either conflict or that were bad ideas. This is also the best stage to make a list of the scenes you think need to be added and maybe trace some ideas out for them, if you haven’t already.

After prioritizing and pruning the collection of notes, there are two ways you can choose to progress. One way is simply to step through the notes one by one and make the changes. This works well for specific, one or two sentence changes. It’s less suited for notes that require subtle adjustments across the whole story. The alternate method is to read through the whole story, checking back frequently to cross off changes as they are made. I prefer the latter method because, as you’ll soon see, you’ll have to go through and read the whole thing anyway.

Let’s assume you’ve chosen to go with the “read and apply changes as you go” approach. This is a combined proofread and revision. As you go, there are a few things you’ll want to watch out for.

Typos:

You don’t have to be comprehensive in catching your typos here. That’s what the final pass and editor are for. However, since this is the last step before someone else will be reading your story, it’s a good idea to get it to something approaching an intelligible state. You’ll also want to rework sentences that don’t hit the ear right and try to filter out the usual dings and dents that show up in a rough draft.

Pace:

Now that the story is a complete unit, you finally get to see if the pacing you set up in your scene and outline steps was well done. In my case, there is always some disconnect between how long I intended certain sections to go and how long they actually went. This could mean that what you intended to be a short information scene as become a huge exposition scene. Or it could mean that the sprawling fight scene you expected turned out to be just a few sentences. Either way, you might end up with a story with too many lapses in the action for your taste, or too much action and not enough time to breathe and let the characters be characters.

I am not the sort of author who deletes whole scenes or trims huge chunks. Maybe someday, when I’m better at writing, I will be. Right now, it always feels like I wrote that for a reason, and thus can’t lose it without making dozens of adjustments everywhere else to accommodate the edit. Thus, my solution is normally to split scenes that run too long into multiple parts. I can then either write a new scene from a different story thread in between the two halves (most frequent solution) or shift a later or earlier scene into the split (much rarer).

If you determine the only thing you can do is cut a scene, I suggest making a folder or document for deleted scenes rather than outright deleting them. You can borrow good lines or at least keep track of plot developments that way.

Timeline:

This one is a huge problem for me, and one that only becomes more problematic if you’re doing a lot of scene splitting and scene shifting. You need to keep track of the passage of time. What I do is, at the bottom of my notes document, keep a running tally of how much time has passed since the inciting event in the story. Every time you get to a passage of time phrase, tack it onto the tally. You might also want to include with that where each of your characters physically are and what they are doing, if you’ve bot multiple threads that will need lining up. If nothing else, this will make it more difficult for you to entirely forget a plot thread or character… which may or may not have happened to me many times in the past.

Frequently doing this timeline audit will reveal to you that things don’t flow right. A character didn’t have time to travel, or something of that sort. The fix is the same as problems with pace. Find a way to insert an even elsewhere. Either to speed things up or to slow things down, such that the story falls back into alignment. This is also where “for a few days” and other non-specific passages of time can be your friend, though many stories don’t have the flexibility for that sort of fudge factor.

Gaps:

You’ll need to write the scenes you feel need writing. Probably the best way to do this is to wait until you’ve completed the readthrough and thus identified every scene that needs writing, so you can write them all at once. What I do is write the scenes as I get up to them, which means I may have multiple mini writing sessions, but I’ll also still have the same brain context from the preceding scene. Do what you feel works best.

Once you’ve gotten all the way to the end you may want to go back and read it a second time. Feel free if you like, but in my experience, you’ll be better served with waiting a bit, during which your beta readers can get their crack at it. We’ll cover that in the next section.

Structophis Pre-Order!

Hey folks! One of the many things I have obliquely hinted about over the past year or so has been a project called Pizza Dragon. It languished in the background for a while because, as you may agree when you read the description, it’s sort of an experiment. Well, having already experimented once this year with Rogue Derelict (available now as a part of Kindle Worlds), I figured, why not try another experiment? Thus, I offer you, StructophisIt is available for pre-order now and releases on July 12th.

Structophis V2a

Cover art is by the antidarkheart

This is sort of a young adult-flavored story (according to my early readers), following a young man named Markus who finds himself the defacto mama to a rare and exotic creature called a Structophis Gastrignae. As if taking care of it would not be difficult enough on its own, it turns out this particular creature wasn’t being very well cared for prior to his discovery. If the police were to discover he even had one of these, let alone that it was potentially neglected, he’d be in hot water. Not only that, but there are greedy, very well connected people out there who have their own far less nurturing plans for the beast he’s dubbed Blodgette. Can he and his animal expert-buddy Gale keep Blodgette safe and themselves out of jail? Let’s find out!

While I’m proud of the story itself, the story of the story is pretty interesting too. You see, I’m not the person who came up with Structophis Gastrignae. The species is the brainchild of an artist named ProjectENDO. He’s a skilled artist who has created some of the more memorable images of my characters, including one of the rare moving images:

animated_commission__lain_the_assassin_by_projectendo-d8atn95

I read his reference on the species and was impressed by its specificity. It inspired me to write a couple of chapters as a gift to him. Many months later, after getting a little burnt out on writing the stuff that would pad out The Big Sigma Collection, I decided to take a few weeks to write this story, and once it was done, why not release it. After all, the artist himself even drew Blodgette in all of her pudgy glory.

commission__blodgette_the_pizza_dragon_by_projectendo-d9fmzcp

Since this is based largely on his brains, naturally I would be splitting the money with him. This, however, has a consequence.

I am rare among my peers in that I have got a VERY diverse income. On an average month I get at least some money (often only a few dollars) from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBooks, Google, Kobo, Audible, CreateSpace, and many others. Separating the income from a single book from each of those storefronts and doing proper accounting for it would be VERY time consuming. Thus, to simplify matters, I’m going to be limiting this book to Amazon. It is the largest single earner for me, and going exclusive there provides some benefits which I’ve been itching to try. If you are a non-Amazon customer, my apologies. Depending on how things go, I may go wide eventually, but in the mean time, I’m hoping to get the paperback up quickly for this one, to give another option.

Anyway, I hope you’ll enjoy the story! Once again, you can pre-order at Amazon, and the book releases on July 12th.

Paperback Cheat Sheet

This is more of a service to my fellow author-types than something that might be of value to readers, so if you’re interested in book doings… well, unless you’re reading this at a very specific point in history, you’ve already read about the Structophis announcement directly above this.

I do my own paperback formatting, and as such, I do it very rarely. Below is my semi-organized paperback formatting list. I hope you find it helpful. This is specifically for setting up for a 6×9 paperback at CreateSpace, but it should be fairly obvious where changes should be made for other sizes.

  1. Select the whole document.
  2. Go to Page Layout Ribbon
  3. Click the “Page Setup” dropdown button thing.
  4. Margins Tab
    1. Under Pages, make it Multiple Pages: Mirror Margins
    2. Under Margins: Top, Bottom and Outside are all 0.5″
      1. Inside varies by word count, but I usually do 0.75″
      2. Page Count Inside Margin Outside Margins
        24 to 150 pages .375″ at least .25″
        151 to 300 pages .5″ at least .25″
        301 to 500 pages .625″ at least .25″
        501 to 700 pages .75″ at least .25″
        701 to 828 pages .875″ at least .25″
    3. Gutter 0″
    4. This applies to the whole document.
  5. Paper Tab
    1. Change width to 6″, height to 9″
  6. Hit Okay
  7. After the title and Author name, insert a section break
    1. This is on the Page Layout Tab under “Breaks”
    2. In this case, chose “Next Page”
  8. Go Back to the title page and click on the name, then click the page setup dropdown again.
    1. Section Start: Odd Page
    2. Headers and Footers: Different Odd and Even, Different First page.
    3. Page: Vertical Alignment: Center
    4. Apply to This section.
  9. Hit okay.
  10. Remove bold and make Title size 36 font.
  11. Make Name size 18 font.
  12. Put 4 “name” sized new lines between Title and Name.
  13. Go to the next page, where your Copyright should be.
    1. We’ll be using a size 10 font, centered.
  14. Copyright ©[year] [Author Name]
  15. Blank line, then: All rights reserved.
  16. Blank line, then: ISBN: [the isbn-10 for the paperback]
  17. On the next line: ISBN-13: [the isbn-13 for the paperback]
  18. After the ISBN-13 line, insert section break, specifically “Odd page”
  19. Go back to the Copyright page and click the page layout dropdown.
    1. Should start on even page.
    2. Should be alligned vertically with the bottom.
    3. This section only.
  20. Next page will be the Dedication.
    1. “Dedication” in size 14, Centered, All Caps
    2. One blank line
    3. The text of the dedication in normal body text size. (12, right now).
  21. After Dedication text, make a new section that starts on the Odd page.
  22. Go back to the dedication page and set the page layout
    1. Should be vertically centered.
  23. Next Page will be your table of contents.
    1. Go to “References Ribbon”
    2. Click “Table of contents”
    3. I choose automatic table 2 (the one that says table of contents.)
    4. Optionally, fix the header to look like the rest.
  24. After the table of contents start a new section on odd page.
  25. This will be your Acknowledgment Page.
    1. “Acknowledgments” in size 14
    2. One blank line
    3. The text of the dedication in normal body text size. (12, right now).
  26. After Acknowledgment Text, new section, odd page.
  27. Back to acknowledgment page and center it vertically.
  28. Double click the footer area:
    1. Unclick Link to Previous at the top.
    2. On the left of the ribbon, click page number, then format page numbers.
    3. For this page, it’ll be “i”, and click for it to start counting at i
    4. Ok.
    5. Click Page number again, and click Bottom of page, then plain number 2.
    6. Make sure you have done the same for Odd and Even Numbered pages.
  29. Close Header and Footer by clicking that button or double clicking elsewhere.
  30. Now fix your headers:
    1. Modify the style to be size 16, bold, centered.
    2. Don’t automatically page break.
    3. Add 72 pts before line.
  31. Make sure that you put page break after the last line of each chapter. This will automatically space the next chapter (which starts with a heading) by 72pts (plus one line).
  32. Be sure to update the table of contents for the new page numbers.
  33. On page 2 (which should be the second page of Chapter 1, double click the header.
  34. Type the author name in the header, centered, without indent
  35. On page 3, type the title, centered, without indent.
  36. With Header and Footers still open
    1. Click on each page upto and including the first page of the first chapter.
    2. Click the Different First Page box on the top of the screen.
  37. Save the result.
  38. Export as a PDF.

 

Announcing Rogue Derelict

An original story set in Lindsay Buroker’s Fallen Empire setting

core-8

For quite a while I’ve been interested in collaborating with another author on a book. If you follow me at all, you know that my paths have crossed with Lindsay Buroker on many occassions, most notably her recruitment of me to pitch in on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Marketing Podcast. She’s basically the author I want to be when I grow up, with the dedication and prolific brain to pump out books three times faster than I could ever hope to.

Lindsay’s multiple series tend to make a pretty big splash once they build up a head of steam, and her Firefly-esque space opera known as the Fallen Empire series is so popular Amazon tapped it for their Kindle Worlds program, which allows other authors/fans/etc to write stories in a setting and split the earnings with the series creator. When she was looking for reliable authors to pen a novel for launch, I ignored the requirement that we be reliable and threw my hat in the ring. The result? Fallen Empire: Rogue Derelict. Here’s the Blurb:

Rogue Derelict is pulse-pounding side-story set in the universe of Lindsay Buroker’s Fallen Empire Series.

In the chaos following the fall of the empire, Benita Castor wants nothing more than to live a nice quiet life. She thought she made all the right decisions. What could be safer than becoming an accountant? Where could she be more secure than the industrial fringe of the empire’s most civilized planet? Yet somehow, she finds herself in the employ of a crime boss and is shipped off to audit a recent acquisition in a forgotten corner of the system.

Her new assignment is an old Kirian space station being developed by Nori Veshcha, an enterprising woman with big plans for the relic. Nori is overflowing with ambition, innovative ideas, and confidence—though her crew leaves something to be desired. Her chief technician, Blick Mathson, is a man more familiar with collecting debts than repairing ships. The only other crew member, her personal valet Lefty Hammermill, is a dim-witted but well-meaning grunt with secondhand cybernetics. Not much of a workforce to tackle the task of converting a centuries-old hunk of junk into a cutting-edge resort, but Nori is nothing if not determined.

At first, the assignment has the makings of an unpleasant but uneventful enterprise, even if Nori is somewhat overly cool, Blick is a bit overly warm, and Lefty is just overly Lefty. When a second relic of a bygone era makes an unscheduled arrival and its crew assumes Benita is their Kirian commander, she and the others realize the echoes of the past could have grave consequences for their future.

Can a mismatched skeleton crew on a malfunctioning space station rise to the challenge, or will a remnant of history remind the system that some threats aren’t gone, they’re simply forgotten?

If you’ve never read any of Lindsay’s Fallen Empire stories–first of all, you should–fear not. I chose to produce an original set of characters to play around in their setting. Though pre-existing knowledge of the setting might help you enjoy the story, I’ve endeavored to include enough context to make it enjoyable even from a complete newcomer’s perspective. (None of my beta readers have read Lindsay’s stuff, and they seemed to enjoy it.)

I hope you’ll give the story a chance. If you like it, remember there is a whole world of others, not to mention Lindsay’s original stories. Right now it is exclusive to Amazon, and also exclusive to the United States, so not all of you will have the opportunity to read it. For those aren’t chased away by those limitations, check it out along with the rest of the series. For the rest of you, I’ve got a little something to make it up to you…

All Hands Meeting

“Okay, okay. Can may I have your attention please!”

The man addressing the audience was a bit portly and unkempt. He was exceedingly hairy, though while his face and arms were visibly hirsute, the one place where hair was beginning to diminish was his head. Nonetheless, he seemed the jovial sort, and the crowd quickly fell silent in expectation of whatever reason he had for calling them all together.

His capacity to earn the respect and attention of the crowd was impressive, considering the extreme diversity of the audience. A large proportion were human beings of various races and ages, but the more notable members of the crowd included a small collection of dragons, a swarm of fairies, two or three dwarves, and quite a few beasts which defied simple classification.

“Before we get started, are there any questions?” he asked.

A white-furred hand rose from the crowd.

“Yes, Ivy.”

“Um… I hope I don’t seem too foolish for asking this,” asked the malthrope, “But who are you? You seem awfully familiar, but I’m not sure I’ve seen you before.”

“I’m your creator,” he said.

She tipped her head to the side. “Are you sure? Because I’m pretty sure Demont was my creator, and you seem an awful lot nicer than him already.”

“No, no. I mean the creator of all of you. Of all of this. I’m the author.”

“Oh,” she said with a nod. “So this is one of those… what do you call them…”

“Fourth-wall breaking, non-canon, post-modern literary experiments,” remarked a scientist among the crowd. “Figures.”

“That’s right, Karter,” the author said.

“I hate when people do that. They always think they’re being so cute, but they’re all just ripping off Chuck Jones and being self-indulgent.”

“Somehow I thought you’d be one of the more difficult ones to deal with in this process.”

“Do I have to be here for this?”

“Only if I decide you have something interesting to say.”

“Well please don’t.”

“Don’t hold your breath. People tend to get a kick out of your attitude.”

A piecemeal voice spoke up next. “I apologize for the breach in protocol, as I understand that it is typical to indicate one’s desire to issue an inquiry by raising an extremity, but I presently lack any appropriate pieces of anatomy.”

“That’s fine, Ma. What’s your question?”

“Am I correct in assuming this is not the first time I have been present at a moment that could be termed non-canon?”

“We did a character interview in which you more or less figured out your own fictional nature.”

“Such was my hypothesis. A reasonable extrapolation based upon these facts would be that, as Karter is my own creator, and you are his, I am at best two levels removed from a genuine, legitimate product of nature.”

“Pretty much.”

“That is moderately distressing, as it further reduces my already ill-defined but unenviable role in society.”

“I wouldn’t worry about it. You’re pretty much one of the most important people in your universe. Heck, people like you better than Lex.”

“Hey!” remarked a jumpsuit-clad space-jockey.

“Sorry, buddy. It’s well known, main characters in my stories are usually eclipsed by the more interesting supporting cast, what with them not having to shoulder the load of the plot.”

“And whose fault is that?”

“It’s my fault. Literally everything in all of your universes is my fault.”

A young woman dressed in an elegant cloak raised her hand.

“Yes, Myranda.”

“So it is by your will that my world was plunged into more than a century of war? That some of the finest beings I have ever known lost their lives, and my own existence has been an endless string of trials?”

“Yep.”

“All of this time I’d believed the D’Karon were the greatest evil in creation, but you are the true source of our woes.”

“Yeah. Sorry about that. See, the only way you can exist is if your world continues to be dramatically interesting to the people reading about your adventures, so I more or less have to play the ‘vile and pitiless whims of fate’ most of the time. If it’s any consolation, I’m also the source of everything good in your world. And at least your world has to make sense. Reality can be completely nonsensical, and that’s where I live. Any more questions?”

A few more hands rose.

“Uh, yes. Deacon, Philo, Lex, Non-Sequitur, what’ve you got for me?”

“Are we all the same person?” Philo asked.

“Uh… I mean… you’re the same type of person. Sort of a Lallo Archetype.”

“Uh-huh. And I’ve noticed that Garotte, Desmeres, Gunner, and—“

“Yeah, yeah. Let’s not draw too much attention to that. We’ll just say that the differences between certain groups of you are more nuanced than overt. What about you, Deacon?”

“Forgive my presumption, but was there some purpose for this meeting beyond plunging your various creations into a profound existential crisis?”

“Good question. Yes! I called you all here to discuss something very important. Something that potentially affects the future of all of your worlds.”

“What force could be so potent as to alter the path of so many worlds?” asked a dark-skinned woman in a complex leather and canvas outfit.

“I’m glad you asked, Nita. The answer is simple. Merchandising.”

The crowd collectively groaned.

“Not this again,” grumbled Karter.

“Now, now, hear me out,” the author said. “The people want merch.”

“No, they don’t!” barked a white-haired fellow with a fancy weapon.

“Come on, Dezmer, I—“

“It’s pronounced Dez-mer-ess! You created me. How can you fail to properly pronounce my name?”

“Look, my buddy came up with your name, and I misheard him. Can we please stay on topic? Now, I think the time has come to get some fun new doodads out there for the people.”

“The people don’t want doodads, my boy,” said a debonair sci-fi type. “They want books.”

“Yeah, honey,” added the soccer-mom-type by his side. “Pretty much the only thing folks really want out of an indie author is the next book. Now if you are looking to make some more money, I’ve always wanted to see what you could do with romance.”

The author shook his head. “No. No you don’t, Silo. But I admit, Desmeres and Garotte have a point. Despite some initial enthusiasm for some of my ideas, broadly speaking the only thing the readers have really wanted to do is read, and I think that’s understandable. But this time, I think it’ll be different.”

“What is different this time?” Deacon asked.

“This time I’m going to go straight to the source to come up with ideas. I’m going to ask you, the characters to pitch merch ideas.”

“But… since you created us… ain’t that just you askin’ yourself?” asked a tall deckhand.

“Yeah, this whole thing is coming off as kind of masturbatory,” added a red-skinned demon.

“Whoa, hey, let’s keep it PG, Trixie.”

“I’m a succubus. You don’t put a succubus in something you want kept PG.”

“Yeah… Yeah, I didn’t really think that through. But then, I didn’t think any of your stuff through. Between was sort of an afterthought.”

“DID SOMEBODY CALL AFTERTHOUGHT?” proclaimed a costumed crime-fighter.

“Heh. I kind of forgot about you.”

He shrugged. “You and everyone else.”

“Anyway, how about you folks get together in groups, brainstorm some stuff, and then we’ll see what you come up with.”

*** Several minutes later ***

“Everybody just about ready?” the author said.

The audience settled down again, and lined up, several of them clustered together into a series of like-minded groups.

“Okay, Ivy, Rill, something told me the two-to-four of you would pair up.”

“We think it’d be lots of fun if you released an album!” Right-Rill said.

“I agree. It’d be lovely. These three have wonderful voices. And the music from these different worlds is so different and lively,” Ivy said. “There are new instruments for me to learn.”

The author sucked his teeth. “You have no idea how much I’d like to do that sort of thing. But the price would be astronomical. As Rill found out, I’m not even technically allowed to directly quote the lyrics of the songs she sings.”

“Wait… you mean people can’t actually hear us singing?” Left-Rill snapped.

“It’s text, Rill. They only read descriptions.”

“Why do you have so many musical characters if you don’t actually have music?” Rill asked.

“I like music,” the author said.

“Well this should be a natural idea then,” Ivy said. “Maybe we could write the songs. That’d be fun.”

“It’s more complicated than that. All I have to do is say you’ve got angelic voices and a natural talent for music and you do. In order for me actually make an album, I’d have to actually have those skills, or find those who do, and that costs money too.”

“Oh. … Reality sounds difficult,” Ivy said.

“It’s surprisingly tricky.”

“Well, good luck then,” she said hopping up and giving him a hug. “And thanks for creating me.”

“Aw…” the author said. “I really should create more characters as affectionate as you.”

“Creator’s pet…” muttered Trixie.

“Hey, be nice. Ma, what did you come up with?”

“There seems to be a considerable amount of interest and success in the world of digital gaming. It is, if my assessment is accurate, one of the few areas of modern entertainment that is a match for literature in terms of the potential for success for small, independent creators.”

“Well, Ma. You’re not wrong. But again, this is a matter of finances. I don’t have any friends in the indie game biz, despite my many years of attending conventions with them. And a game isn’t something you commission.”

“It was my understanding that the focus of your education was the creation of computer hardware and software.”

“Sure, but if I was any good at that, I’d probably be doing that instead and none of you people would be here. Except for Myranda and the crew. They predate my professional author endeavors. Next!”

A young woman in a red and white latex uniform stepped up.

“What’s up, Nonsensica?”

“Two words: Action. Figures,” she said. “Imagine it, the whole ‘The Other Eight’ cast, in a big collectible play set with props and stuff. You can get the Sideshow Collectibles-style high quality things for Halfax back there, and Lain, and any of the fancy types, but for me and the gang, I want eleven points of articulation, minimum.”

“I like the idea. I really do. But…”

“Money…” Nonsensica said flatly.

“Yeah. I tried my hand at engineering that sort of thing over the holidays, and proved to myself I do not have chops for it. Considering how much I spent just getting the figurines made, and those have zero points of articulation, I hesitate to imagine how much I’d be spending for the full G.I. Joe treatment. And I’ll remind you, I didn’t sell that many of those.”

“Okay, fine. Next up, movies. Sell the rights to Hollywood. That Andy Weir guy got a movie made, and what’s-his-face with the 80s pop-culture mashup. The market is still scrambling for more superhero movies, and the Other Eight are ready to deliver.”

The author sighed. “The traditional literary world didn’t want anything to do with me. Hollywood isn’t likely to be more welcoming.”

“… Fine… I’ve got another one. Comic books.”

“Again, the literary world didn’t want me. Comics are pretty much the same level of utterly unforgiving to new talent.”

“Then do a web comic.”

“Oh, I am doing that. That’s who those two are. Say hi, Ray and Louis!”

A chubby boy and his leaner friend waved.

I’m a celebrity!” remarked the chubby boy in utter ecstasy.

“Wait…” Nonsensica said. “You have a book about superheroes… But when the time came to make a comic, you went with little kids? What’re you trying to do? Rip off Stranger Things?”

The author crossed his arms. “I’ll have you know, I wrote that comic years ago.”

“Fine, then you were ripping off Gravity Falls.”

“I never saw Gravity Falls.”

“Well you must have known about it, because I know about it, and you created me.”

“I found out about it subsequently. Moving on,” the author said.

The pair of deckhands stepped up.

“Lil, Coop, what are you thinking about?”

“I think you should make buttons or patches or somethin’,” Lil said. “The sort of stuff a body could clip on or sew on to somethin’ they already got to make it look like somethin’ they bought from you.”

“Interesting… I’ll have to look into it. Coop, you got anything?”

“Under-britches.”

“… Underwear.”

“If that’s how you call ‘em. Everybody needs Under-britches. Most folk need two or three pair. You could sell a bunch, I reckon.”

“But how would they be merchandise? Would I put logos on them?”

“I was thinkin’, since most folk wear their under-britches under their britches, can’t nobody see ’em. So I reckon you ought to do something you can tell even without seeing them. Make ‘em smell.”

“… Scented underwear… I mostly write in fantasy and steampunk. I can’t imagine there are too many people looking for authentic medieval or Victorian smell from their underwear.”

“Which one of them’s the book I come from?”

“Steampunk.”

“… You sayin’ I smell?”

“I think we ought to leave ‘em be, Coop. We said our piece,” Lil said.

“Yep,” said the author. “Um… Who else? Oh… that many… Well, we’re up over 2,000 words, which is kind of a lot for an April Fools thing, so I think we’re through being meta for today. But we can think it over off-page. Any last requests before you all head back to your respective homes?”

“Would you please consider publishing the book I’m in?” said a young man in medieval garb.

“Edge, we’ve been through this.”

“People want another story with Halfax, and he’s in it…”

“…Edge…”

“Buka’s even got art commissioned of him, and no one even knows who he is!”

“Look, Edge, you’re half the reason it isn’t out yet.”

That was before the rewrite! I’m sitting in an EDITED book sitting there collecting DUST!

“The fans said they didn’t want your book until I was done with Myranda’s story. Take it up with them.”

“I would, if you let me out more than once a year. I’m pretty sure people would want to read my story if they knew I was teamed up with—“

“Hey! I’m not wearing the spoiler hat, so no spoilers! Thanks, everyone, for coming out and sharing your ideas. See you all next year. If you’re a member of ULCA, I guess you can stick around, since you’re probably going to have your meeting here in a few minutes. The rest of you, see you in the sequels!”

How I Write: Step 4.5 – The On-The-Fly Rewrite

I’d not anticipated doing another “How I Write” article until I was finished with the rough draft, but given the major shift this story just took in my head, it’s worth doing a little addendum to my Rough Draft Step concerning when a better idea asserts itself.

The Hardware

All the same hardware as before, except this time special emphasis on the “mobile” pad and pen. Since I don’t think I spoke about them yet, we might as well talk about the authorly elements of my Everyday Carry.

First up, the memo pad. All the same requirements here as in my “Bird’s Eye View” section, but scaled down for portability. I like those little 3×5 memo pads, because they fit nice into my back pocket. Since they tend to get pretty beat up over the course of a few months, I invested in a cheap leather cover for mine, which tends to extend their operational lifetime. Eventually they get ragged regardless, so be sure to go through and transcribe your ideas periodically.

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Try to ignore the specific contours on the one on the right. That lives in my back pocket, so it’s sort of… conformed.

Another thing that works well is one of those little bitty moleskine notebooks. They’re sturdier, the pages tend not to rub against each other as much so the writing doesn’t get smudged, and the pages don’t tear out so it’s better for saving for posterity. But it’s not top bound, so I find I have trouble writing in it sometimes. Also, I do like being able to tear out pages if needed. The ubiquitous “Field Notes” books have the same pros and cons, though I’ve never owned one, so they may be moderately improved over the vanilla moleskines.

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From left to right: Inka, Golf Pencil, Fisher Space Pen. I suspect you could have worked that out on your own.

You’ll also need something to write with. The standard is the marvelous Fisher Space Pen. While it doesn’t fit my usual “left-hand friendly” requirements, it’s convenient and high enough quality that I let it slide. Nice and small, writes on anything (within reason) starts easily even after not being used for a while. Another excellent option is the Inka pen. It fits on your key chain, basically writes the same as the fisher space pen (I think they take the same refills) but with a bit more time it can be converted into a full-size pen far more effectively than simply slapping the cap on the other end. I carry both at all times, and yes, I’ve had to use both of them on more than one occasion. You’d be surprised how often you find yourself in a situation where suddenly everyone has to write and there aren’t enough pens to go around. In a pinch, you can get a ton of golf pencils for super cheap, but then tend to rub off for me.

Special bonus to this section, since the rewrite usually comes to me while I’m taking a walk, something to play music/podcasts. Be it a cheap mp3 player or your phone, I can’t tell you how often I broke a stubborn bit of story while taking a long walk and letting my mind wander.

The Software

Again, all the same deal here, but you might want to pick an app on your phone for note taking. I’ve never had much luck doing decent writing on my phone while I’m on the go—hence all the pads—but google docs (or whatever they call it now) has ended up being the app of last resort for jotting down short stories more than once. I like that it backs up to the cloud automatically. Alternately, you can just do voice recordings.

The Content

Maybe you’re better at outlining than I am, but I find no matter how much time I spend working out the beats and whatever other phrases author-type people use to dress up the process of make-believe, I always find once it starts forming on paper I’m about a thread and a half short of making the story flow correctly. Normally, this takes the form of my first act being a very step-by-step “getting the good guys to the place where the bad things happen” without much to break it up and keep it interesting. Also, while things frequently work in my head, once the characters start laying out what’s going to happen and why, I start to question their motivations. Remember, “because that’s what needs to happen to make the plot work” is never a good enough reason for someone to do something. They need to act in a way that is consistent with their character and in a way that makes logical sense in the world. You can get around this if the character is insane, but take it from me, having an insane person driving the plot can get old in a hurry and write you into some weird corners.

So, what do you do when you realize the book is missing something? Add it! Ideally this would have happened in the planning stage, but at this point we’re into the meat of the story, so you’ll have to “do it live” so to speak. It’s not really a big problem, and frankly I often find doing it this way helps catch far more issues than doing it beforehand. The process is simple. Utilizing the methods in the last section, drop down some ***NOTE TO SELF*** entries—either in the text itself or in a separate note document—and lay out the proposed additions/changes. In my case this is usually a whole new thread in a different location, or a minor side thread happening between two supporting characters. This will help you fill in those ***Another scene?*** placeholders that may or may not pop up when other scenes are taking too long, and will either give you a nice breather to space out action, or provide a pop of action to spice up character/drama scenes. Hooray for contrast!

A few things to watch out for. While this may technically be playing the role of “filler” (a very dirty word) in your story, don’t make it feel like filler. It’s easy to keep it from being filler, by the way. All you have to do is give it a reason for happening. Let’s say you want to have a side thread of a character investigating a robbery. If the people responsible are part of the main plot and this thread turns up some useful clues, congrats! Not filler! Or if the people responsible aren’t involved at all but the investigation reveals something useful for the main plot anyway, still not filler. Maybe the character, alone for once, has a few moments of introspection and decides to go help her friends after all, then shows up at a key moment, not filler. And perhaps most importantly, if the spare thread simply reveals aspects of the character we’ve never gotten to explore before because the plot didn’t allow it, that sure isn’t filler.

A mildly spoilery example from my own story, The Battle of Verril. People who have read my Book of Deacon trilogy (of which The Battle of Verril is the third part) know that books 2 and 3 are darn action-heavy. There’s a scene I lovingly refer to as “the farmhouse scene” in which some of our heroes take refuge at a farm and have a run-in with the woman in charge. It is a quiet moment, one that lets us see that even amid the global conflict they’ve been called upon to solve, our heroes care enough about each other and the people of the world to solve a small, personal problem. Buried in probably 100 pages of running and fighting, I think it’s possibly the most memorable part of the book besides the climax.

So, don’t be afraid to add an extra thread if the story needs it for contrast or pacing. Just make it count, and make sure to blend in the edges during the first revision to make sure it’s not glaringly obvious that was an afterthought.

How I Write: Step 4 – The Rough Draft

Now for the part of being an author that most authors thought was the only part of being an author before they got started: Writing. In an ideal world, this is what you would spend most of your time doing. In the real world, a high writing-to-other stuff ratio is best, but unless you’ve got “people” to handle all of the other stuff and you’re a pure pantser, then you’re probably going to have to slice out chunks of your schedule for the nuts and bolts of being an author. But those are the other chapters. Let’s get to the good stuff.

The Hardware

There’s not really anything new, hardware-wise, for this step. You’ve got your keyboard, you’ve got your monitor. You’ve got your comfy chair. That’s all you need. I like to keep a pad and pen around for keeping track of things that pop into my head, but you should already have that as well, so we’re all set.

The Software

Again, there’s nothing here that we haven’t covered elsewhere, but rather than leave this space blank, let me throw in a recommendation for an optional but very useful add-on.

If you’ve gotten this far, and particularly if you get much further than this, you should probably think about getting a decent backup option to make sure you don’t suffer a catastrophic hard drive failure and end up losing all of your hard work. You can pull this off in a number of ways, including regular backups to thumb drives or spare hard drives, a nice backup server, emailing things to yourself (don’t laugh, I’ve done it as a last ditch method of recovering older items). My personal favorite method is the cloud drive. There are a few options—Google Drive, OneDrive, Dropbox—but they are indispensable parts of my infrastructure now. If you have a cloud drive and an internet connection, your computer can burst into flames in the morning and by the afternoon you could be on a loaner laptop, back to work, with nary a single word lost. The free version of any of those I mentioned is more than enough to keep your most important files backed up. I coughed up the couple bucks a month for extra storage so I could keep all my art and other book-related stuff there as well.

The Content

The content of the rough draft is your entire story. If you’ve followed the previous steps, then you’ll have everything you need to be relatively certain what needs to be written in any given writing session, so from this point forward it’s all up to your imagination. That said, there are a few techniques I’ve found useful.

First, if you’re like me, keeping the flow going is the best way to get a heap of writing done in a day. The first step to doing this is keeping track of how much writing you’re actually doing. To this end, I like to hit Ctrl+, in Scrivener and set myself some project goals. The total word count is a nice thing to set, I guess. I’ve yet to come anywhere close to my estimates, routinely overshooting by a multiple and rarely undershooting by tens of thousands of words. But hey, it’s nice to keep track of your overall progress. More valuable to me is the session word count. This thing zeroes out every time you close the program and keeps track of every word you’ve typed since you re-opened it. When I talk about “hitting my word quota,” this is the harsh taskmaster that I’m talking about.

This screen will be calling the shots for the next few weeks

This screen will be calling the shots for the next few weeks

I’m a full-time author, so anything less than 3,000 words a day feels a little thin to me. Many of my peers are boasting averages in the 5,000 to 7,000 word range, and some routinely surpass the 10,000 word threshold. Those people fill me with a burning, vicious envy. One day, people. One day… But that’s just me. If you’re part time, getting any words in on a given day can be a triumph. So think of it this way. There are 365 days in 2017. Let’s say you average 300 words a day. At the end of the year, that’s over 100,000 words. More than enough for a novel. And how much is 300 words? Well, from the beginning of this section to the end of this paragraph is 375 words. That means writing three little paragraphs a day will get you 140,000+ words. That’s one healthy novel or two lean ones. If you play your cards right and have a little bit of luck, that’ll pay the bills for you. This is doable, trust me.

Once you’ve set your daily goal, work toward that goal. I like to wake up, clear out my email, burn a few minutes on social media, then dig into the writing and finish my quota before lunch. That’s what I like to do. What I usually do is wake up, clear out my email, burn a few hours on social media, watch a bunch of Youtube, eat lunch, then start writing. But however you do it, do it. Something that helps to keep me writing is to set a mini-milestone any time I get the urge to do something else. “I’d like a snack. … I’ve got 1,124 words written. No snack until I hit 1,500 words.” It’s a small thing, but it squeezes a few more paragraphs out of me before I goof off.

Once you start writing, try to avoid breaking your rhythm. And you’d be surprised at how easy it is to put the breaks on a writing groove under the auspices of a necessary activity. Forget checking your email or stopping to watch some cat videos. There are writerly things that could wreck your flow.

  • “Oh, I need to go check this from an earlier chapter.”
  • “I should really do some research and see if I’m writing this correctly.”
  • “Hey, this is a good idea, let me go back and fix it so it flows better.”

Every one of these thoughts is a good thought. And you should do every one of them. Later. Don’t interrupt a good writing session in the middle to indulge these thoughts. I’ve lost whole afternoons because I thought it was a good idea to stop mid-sentence to figure out what happens when you try to boil water in space. (It’s really cool, by the way.) Here’s what I’ve learned to do. When you have a thought that would otherwise derail you from the current scene, put an easily searchable sequence of text right where you are that details the thought you had, then keep writing. I use “***” on either end of just such a note. This works in any word processor, and makes it easy to go back at the end of the day or the end of the week or whenever and find your notes. Better yet, it’ll leave it right in context of when you thought it. Handy. I use this for things as complex as ***GO BACK AND REMOVE ALL REFERENCES TO THIS CHARACTER, FROM THIS POINT FORWARD WE’LL CONSIDER HIM TO BE PART OF THE OTHER THREAD. GO BACK AND ADD HIM TO IT*** to as simple as ***VILLAIN NAME*** or ***CITY NAME*** for person/place I’ve either neglected to name yet or can’t remember the name of. I plop it down, forget about it for now, and go blasting through to the next paragraph. If it’s a big change, act as though simply writing that line down implemented the change and move forward as though it’s been done. If it’s a small change or a little piece of information, treat the placeholder as the info until its replaced. It won’t take you any more time to fix that later instead of now, and you’ll end up with more words at the end of the session if you don’t interrupt yourself.

One possible interruption you might consider, and only if you do it quickly, is to make a note of the minor characters you conjure up that you’d not included in your outline.

Naturally you can’t always do this. Sometimes failing to do the research now will mean that almost everything you write for the rest of the day will need to be rewritten. (Honestly, this isn’t the end of the world. I’ve done it.) So, what do you do if you can’t move forward without a major interruption? If you’re writing multiple threads, jump to another thread. This is also a decent way to get unstuck when you’re not sure how to finish/start a certain scene.  It isn’t perfect, in the best case it can make it difficult to line your threads back up. In the worst case, it can lead to you writing all of the easy/fun scenes first and getting stuck with the hard stuff at the end, which is a great way to never finish a book. But if it’s the difference between writing something in a day and writing nothing in a day, it’s an easy decision.

A few other things to watch out for. I don’t recommend editing as you go. It really slows things down. Instead, at the beginning of the writing session I prefer to re-read the last two or three paragraphs I wrote, to reset my context. If I find an error or fix a phrasing while doing that, so be it. Then I start writing. All the rest of the fixing can be done in the edit.

Sometimes, in writing a story, I’ll realize one of my blocked-out scenes is way too big, or requires a division that’s too jarring to be in a single scene. In scrivener, I hit Ctrl+K, which splits the scene at the current point, and start writing the next scene. Later this may or may not need to be slid around, but again, that’s for later. (I find when writing that most of the big decisions I have to make are deciding what exactly “Future Jo” is going to have to deal with.)

And that’s it. Do this for however many days, weeks, months are necessary and eventually you’ll have a rough draft! And once you get a story that far, finishing it is pretty simple!

How I Write: Step 3 – Setting the Scenes

By now, I’ve got the overall story roughly sketched out in outline form. If I was a more skillful writer, I’m sure at this point I’d have all that I needed to start writing. Indeed, it’s common for me to just start writing at this stage, but lately I’ve started doing one more step. I like to take the story I’ve sketched out and start creating individually summarized placeholder scenes. This gives me a good idea of how the story will flow. It helps me to visualize how much actual space an idea is going to take up, too, and lets me rearrange things to better position scene changes.

The Hardware

This is an optional execution which I personally have never done, but as you’ll see in the software screenshot, this there is a physical way to handle this that people have been doing for ages. All you need is a stack of index cards/post-its, and a big ol’ wall. Throw in a roll of tape/box of thumb tacks and a nice pen, and you can do everything down there in the content section in the real world. I’d do this, except for the fact that my handwriting is lousy and my walls are already covered with art.

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The Software

If there was a single selling point for Scrivener over a standard word processor like Word or LibreOffice, this would be it. Up at the top of the window when you’re working in Scrivener are three little view buttons. The one in the middle looks like a bulletin board. Click that and you’ll see… a bulletin board. This puts every item in the active outline level on a little index card.  So, it is exactly like the hardware version, but without the need for a big wall and good penmanship. Let’s put this stuff to use.

Capture

The Content

The goal here is to try to figure out every scene I’ll need to tell the story I outlined in the previous step. I do not get this right on the first try. Most of the time I underestimate how many scenes it’ll take to get a point across. Sometimes I create a whole scene for something that can easily be handled in a few lines of another scene. None of that matters, you can fix it later. Just start writing.

In Scrivener, every document has a name and a description, both of which are visible in this “index card” layout. What I do is click the “add item” button (a green plus sign in a circle at the top of the screen) to create a new card, give it a straightforward name (Introduction of the cat and John), and then write down a few sentences about that scene. Normally the location and cast of the scene are obvious, but if they bear special mention I’ll write them down. Then I write a few lines about what happens.

At this point, it’s a good idea to start thinking about some other things that Scrivener can do for you. If you right-click the index cards on this screen, you’ll see a “Label” section of the dropdown. This section starts out with some colored squares and stuff like “notes” and other potential classifications for text. I don’t use those, but I do use that little “Edit” option. From there, I make entries for all the different threads I planned back in the outline stage. Broadly speaking, you want to switch between threads often enough to keep the reader up to date on what’s going on. Switching threads is also a good idea when time needs to pass, travel needs to happen, etc., etc., etc. In any case, color coding them will help you see at a glance if too many of the same thread are bunched up, or one thread has been abandoned for a few chapters. If you’re not using threads, or keeping track of threads isn’t a problem for you, this color coding scheme is also useful for classifying action scenes and dramatic scenes, so you can unfocus your eyes and figure out if you’ve got big gaps between action sections. Handy!

The really useful part of this view is the ability to physically move scenes around. I do this a lot. Move this scene back to break up these two. Make this happen before that happens. Make this a flashback at the end. Stuff like that. It’s loads easier to do—and harder to screw up—than cutting a block of text, finding someplace else to put it, and pasting it in. And yes, you can slide these around just as easily once they’re full of story.

If you’re particularly energetic—I am not—you can plan the chapters at this point. In the program, they’re just folders that you drag things into. I’m sure most professional writer-type people make sure that every chapter has a strong, well-established theme and a clear beginning, end, and dividing point. I am not one of those writers. Until my fifth book, I didn’t even bother with chapters at all. These days I understand their value, but they tend to end up pretty arbitrary for me.  Good places to put chapter breaks are major shifts of POV, long periods of time passing, and other things of that nature. Picture scene transitions as commas and chapter transitions as periods. That’s the ideal usage, anyway. For the current story, I just grouped them into sets of three and moved them into numbered chapter folders. I can fix the whole mess later, if it doesn’t work out well in that way. It’s just some dragging and dropping.

It is also possible you’ll notice at this point that certain threads need to be broken up more than they are, and there aren’t enough other threads to break them up. I like to drop in blank “ANOTHER SCENE?” placeholders when one is really needed. During a typical story for me, I end up with four or five of them by the time I’m done. Most show up during the writing, rather than during this step.

But that’s about it for prep work! Next step, you start writing…

How I Write: Step 2 – The Outline

I don’t always do an outline, but lately I’ve found that having one makes for a faster writing process and shorter overall books. Shorter books, naturally, aren’t always my aim, but if I’m in a time crunch or if I want to write more than a book or two a year, keeping a book from wandering off and inflating to 200,000+ words is useful. Outlines also help to get the timeline of the book settled, and can identify plot holes and pacing problems early on. What I’m going to describe here is sort of the best case scenario of my version of outlining. I don’t always distill things down as well as I describe here. Once you’ve been writing for a while, you’ll start to know what the trouble areas will be and what will be easy to deal with as you go, so you’ll self-calibrate your outlining method. Also, if you’re a pantser, picture taking the individual elements of this step and the next one, throwing them in a blender, and using them to fill in the cracks in step 4 (which will be the actual writing) as you go along.

The Hardware

You can write out your outline on paper—I’ve done so plenty of times—but typically this is the point at which I like to move over to the computer. As such, this seems like a good time to give you a rundown of my writing rig. This is the monster at which I spend 8-10 hours a day, at least. Ostensibly that time would be entirely spent writing, but a disproportionate amount of time is spent watching YouTube, browsing social media, and becoming increasingly despondent over current events. None of the following is necessary, my first five books were written with run of the mill stuff. But since this is the “How I write” series, why not tell you exactly how I write?

For a keyboard, any old keyboard will do, but like with the fancy pens I bought, once I started writing seriously, I splurged on a high-end piece of equipment. I like the DasKeyboard 4 with the Clicky keys. This is not a paid endorsement, I just like the keyboard. The keys have a nice, heavy feel and a rewarding snap with I press them. It sounds silly, but the machinegun rattle of the keyboard when I’m in the groove, and the fact I can feel the key actuation even when I have headphones on, is super satisfying. I got mine on sale.

I have a 24” Asus monitor. Again, not a paid endorsement, just letting you know what I have. This is less critical to me, but a nice big monitor with high brightness is good to have.

Possibly the most important part of the whole setup is the chair. No fooling, consider getting yourself an office chair with a mesh seat and back. I don’t know which model mine is, as it was a gift, but trust me, it was worth it whatever the price. The moment someone plops down in this thing to use my computer for even a few minutes, they’re struck by how comfortable it is. And it breathes, so no sweatiness in the summer. Mesh, it’s the best.

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That noble beast has supported my ponderous keister for many a year

The Software

As above, any word processor will do, once you get started. I wrote about half of my books on OpenOffice/LibreOffice and it was perfectly fine. But recently, I moved over to what seems as though it’s becoming an industry standard, Scrivener. At first glance it seems a bit unwieldy and excessive for something as simple as writing, but if you’re settling in for a long project, it can be very useful. We’ll go into the various features as we use them. For the outline, at least this stage of it, we’ll be using it just like any other word processor. A single file with bullet points. If your processor has that, you’re good to go.

The Content

The first thing I like to write down is a list of “things that must happen.” This is particularly useful if this is part of a series arc that will last more than one book. Once I’ve got those points down, I like to start with a big, meaty synopsis. Lots of it. Just keep writing. At least a page, but as long as you care to make it. It doesn’t have to be in order, and don’t bother wasting your time going back to find a good place to wedge in a new idea, just write it when you think of it. Rearranging comes later. If you’ve finished the synopsis and you haven’t hit all of the bullet points in your “things that must happen” list, either decide if they REALLY must happen, or synopsize some more.

Once I’ve got that written down, I pick through it and decide what new characters I need to make that story happen. If this is your first story, then you’ll need all new characters. Do yourself a favor, flush them out at least to a basic degree now. Far too many times I’ve created a character on the fly and then had trouble remembering basic details later on and had to sift through what I’d already written to see if they’d been established. So here are a few points you’ll want to hit:

  • Full name
  • Basic appearance
    • Height
    • Build
    • Age
    • Hair color
    • Eye color
    • Standard attire
  • Background
    • Birthplace
    • Occupation
    • Significant family members

If you’re using scrivener, you can throw this all into the “Character” section over on the left. They even give you a nice little template to follow. (Just click on Character, then press Ctrl+T,Ctrl+N. I’m a windows user. If you’re not, I’m sure the non-Ctrl-based shortcuts are similar.)

To the same degree, you’ll want to hammer down things like new locations. (A map isn’t a bad idea.) Any organizations, languages, technologies, foods, anything plot critical should be jotted down for future reference and consistency. At this level you might not need to know all of this, but if it comes up in the synopsis, jot it down with enough detail to jog your memory.

Once you’ve got that figured out, all of the characters, the synopsis, the locations, etc., it’s time to start the outline. I’ve done it two ways, and I’m not sure which is my favorite. One way, which is only necessary with multiple viewpoints, is to plot the different threads as essentially their own stories. The other is to just do it beat for beat and keep track of which beat is in which thread. Because plotting the threads separately can make it hard to align their timing for when they cross, this time around I’m going to do it beat for beat as one plot.

What I do here is start at a high level and subdivide.  I’ll throw down an entry for every major event, which could honestly be as basic as “Act 1,” “Act 2,” and “Act 3.”

  • Act 1 – The cat gets chased up the three.
  • Act 2 – The people throw rocks at the cat.
  • Act 3 – The cat gets out of the tree.

Then, I slice them up into key things I think will be necessary to set those events up and connect them to the next event.

  • Act 1 – The cat gets chased up the three.
    • The cat was sniffing around the milk on the table.
      • John placed it there, but had to leave suddenly because the baby was crying.
    • It knocks it down, angering Mean Aunt Maggie.
      • Mean Aunt Maggie has a drinking problem and has been spoiling for a fight since she was twelve.
    • Maggie chases the cat up a tree.
      • The tree is in front of the house and is notoriously difficult for people to climb.
  • Act 2 – The people throw rocks at the cat.
    • Maggie rounds up an anti-cat posse.
      • She’s got a group of friends who are pretty much all sociopaths, and she’s the alpha.
    • They get some rocks.
      • The landscaping uses rocks.
    • They try to knock the cat down.
      • They miss a lot, breaking the windows of Maggie’s own house and those of the neighbors.
  • Act 3 – The cat gets out of the tree.
    • The cat escapes via a roof nearby roof.
      • The thrown rocks chase it to the end of a branch overhanging the house.
    • The police come and arrest Maggie.
      • Property damage.
    • The cat drinks the milk.
      • John, while talking to the cops, didn’t have time to clean the milk up.

 

Then I slice those up into smaller pieces, if necessary, and keep going until you reach the point of simplicity. Read it through from beginning to end as you go. Does everything have a cause and effect? Those causes and effects don’t need to be explicitly written down, but they should be obvious to you. And not just obvious NOW, by the way, but still obvious in two weeks or two months. If it all links together nicely, then congratulations, you’re done. If there are gaps or points of confusion, either start slicing it up finer to add inciting incidents and connective tissue, or revisit the synopsis to see if the problem is with the main idea. The goal is to eventually have “everything that happens” figured out. This doesn’t mean more stuff won’t happen, or there won’t be gaps you missed at this point, but at the very least you won’t be at a loss as to what happens next. And don’t worry about being too exhaustive. You don’t have to get it down to the point that someone ELSE could write the book. (Though if you did, good job!) Mostly you just want to get it so that that the book you had in mind has a shot of hitting the page intact.