Monday, August 7, 2017

Weird process, this writing

A couple weeks back, I reported being in fast-and-furious writing mode. More recently, the work has continued fast and furious ... but I've been cranking away for more than a week without adding, or even changing, a word in the novel in progress. (The first draft is at about 70K words, so more than half complete. The book's working title is Déjà Doomed.) 

For anything beyond a short story -- and often for those -- I write from an outline. After dozens of novels, novellas, and novelettes, I've learned a thing or two. One lesson is: don't make the initial outline too detailed, because late story elements developed early on will often require rework. Hence, my original, full-story outlines tend to be no longer than a handful of pages. Section by section, as I come to it, I develop a more detailed partial outline. Often I do an outline for each chapter within a section as I come to it. And almost always there is a need to iterate, as the details of Chapter X or Section Y ripple forward or backward through the overall story.

So there's another lesson: The outline(s) works for me, and for the story, not the other way around.

Here there be battles
Case in point (and minor spoiler alert), from my 2012 novel Energized.(*) At the overview level, I knew all along there would be battle for control of the solar power satellite, aka Powersat-1. I knew better than to try to decide the details of the battle early on. When I got to writing that part of the novel, one side or another would want to exploit attributes of the satellite for tactical advantage.

(*) At the moment, Energized is out of print (and electrons). But the book is under contract for reissue; I expect Energized to be available once more before the year is out.

When I was finally ready to write the climactic battle scene, I had to revisit specific design features of the satellite. And then take into account the defenses any competent designer would have made to prevent abuse of his or her design. And then work through how wily adversaries might overcome those defenses .... After I'd iterated through all that, I had to go back through early parts of the manuscript to foreshadow the newly added or re-imagined design features. ("Hadn't I mentioned I'm from Krypton and have super powers?" should not pop up in Chapter 30, to resolve the main crisis of a novel!)

I now turn to the novel in progress. In a story entitled Déjà Doomed, of course you'd expect elements of back story to be crucial. Staying generic for the benefit of my future readers (you are one, right?), I came to where that which has remained deep background must come into the foreground. The back story is nothing any of the main characters would expect, and it has a number of twists, turns, and wrinkles. Not the least of the authorial complications is deciding how my main characters will come to know -- and then infer the dread implications of -- that back story. All to be done without said main characters having stupidly overlooked the foreshadowing I've done -- or am about to do -- for the reader.

I'm happy to report that after finding my way to sixteen new single-spaced pages of back story, the necessary details (or so, I optimistically tell myself!) are all decided. And as always when the urge to step back has interrupted the compulsion to continue writing -- this is another lesson from experience -- the story will have more depth and nuance as a result.  After a bit(!) of retrofit, I'll be back to continuing the story ...

Till I reach the next/last major section of the novel. It, surely, will have surprises of its own for the author.

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