Archive for Seven Wonders
What? Friday already? Say it ain’t so… apologies for the lack of postage this week, it’s been busy. I might as well see if I can get a whole set of seven posts with a day of the week as the title, so welcome to Friday.
There’s not actually much to report on my front this week – my superhero novel Seven Wonders hit 102,000 words this morning. Although I’m not done, it was still a buzz to cross the 100k mark. I can remember when I did it with my first novel, Dark Heart. The feeling was rather exhilirating, because if nothing else I at least proved to myself that I could write a novel-length work of fiction. Dark Heart ended at about 124,000 words. I think Seven Wonders will be about the same, and I’ve given myself until next Monday to finish it up. Then I’ll print up a trade paperback on Lulu as a personal edit copy and stick it on the shelf for a few months while I take down the ominous black tome that is Dark Heart and get cracking on the second draft. That’s September taken care of. Then once Dark Heart is edited/redrafted, I’ll be starting its sequel in October. I honestly can’t wait to get started, not only because it’s a story I’ve had outlined and plotted for literally years, but because the title popped into my head a few weeks ago, and every time I say it, I positively tingle with anticipation. That title is Dreamweapon. You heard it here first, folks. Tell your friends, tell your family. And yes, it is the name of an album by Spacemen 3. Talent borrows, genius frickn’ steals.
My personal week may have been unremarkable, but not so in the world of teh awesome writers and publishers. Our FDO Scott Sigler, whom I interviewed for a special Writing Habits podcast episode the other week, is now busy signing, numbering, and shipping the initial batch of The Rookie from his secret Warehouse of Doom in San Francisco. The book looks terrific – check out Scott’s own personal unboxing video here. Incidentally, my interview with Scott can still be found on iTunes, and for those who have been asking for it, you can download the original mp3 of the podcast here.
The Rookie also represents the first book from Dark Overlord Media, a new venture officially launched by Scott and business partner A Kovacs. The full press release can be found here, but suffice to say, publishing will never be the same again.
Two words. “Kick” and “Ass”.
It’s Thursday, that time of the week that (like Arthur Dent) I could never get the hang of, so I’ll keep it brief. I’ll even itemise things.
The Devil in Chains
Somebody added my 2008 novella to Good Reads (although apparently it doesn’t recognise the cover), and even reviewed it! I’m rather flattered, and quite frankly to have someone tell me that in one scene,
An ordinary exploration of an empty room suddenly becomes an exercise in exquisite grotesquerie.
… makes me all sorts of happy inside.
What also makes my head spin is a review in the form of a Shakespearean sonnet. This goes beyond flattery and into the surreal realms of honour. I think a w00t is called for. Thanks to Kate for her devotion to the cause!
Speaking of The Devil in Chains, I need to get cracking on reformatting the PDF properly for the Sony eBook reader. This website will also undergo a bit of a redesign when Seven Wonders is done, which will make it easier to keep track of projects and also easier for people to find stuff to read. For the moment, you can grab The Devil in Chains here as a PDF, or here as an eBook for the iPhone/iPod touch.
The book that never ends! Actually that sounds a bit harsh. The draft of this superhero novel is at about 95,000 words, and I’m slowly in-filling the middle bit. I’m giving myself to the end of August for this, and I think I’m on track. It’s actually a lot of fun writing about Tony and Jeannie and Sam and Joe and SMART, as not only do I know what happens to them at the end, I’ve already written it. Going back in time a few weeks and seeing what they were up to before everything went wrong is really interesting as a writer.
Master project list
Something else for the website is a proper tracker of projects, but I’ve yet to find the right funky progress bar widget. However, having discovered the wonder of VoodooPad (basically your own personal off-line wiki), I’ve started transferring dozens of separate documents of notes and ideas into one repository, which means I’ve also created a master index of novels, plotting out a sort of schedule well into 2010 and beyond. VoodooPad is a work of genius, and now joins Scrivener on my list of essential writing tools.
Which means nothing until I actually show you guys something, but it did surprise me (pleasantly, I should add), that I’ve got no fewer than 11 novels planned so far. Which is good, because to make it as a writer you need, firstly, to keep writing and writing and writing, and then when hopefully something is picked up, if you want to make a living out of it you have to be working on the next book, and then the next, and then the next.
So a list of 11 books is easy. It’s just a list and a few notes for each. Ideas are cheap and the imagination is limitless. Sitting down and writing is hard, but at least I know where I am aiming.
Seven Wonders is finished.
Oh yes. The bad guy got what was coming, the good guys got what was coming. There was a meeting on the moon, there was an attack on the city. There was one mother of a finale, with the superheroes of the world uniting in high orbit to defend the planet against an alien attack. Exciting and action-packed, I hope.
Except it’s not finished. The final chapter has been written, the last sentence typed. The story is complete and plot threads resolved.
Except for the middle bit of the book, which I skipped.
Now, I had my reasons. Seven Wonders was pretty difficult to get started. Although I’m a fan of and familiar with the superhero genre, it’s a new one to write in for me, and getting it right is tricky. It has to be serious but not po-faced, with all the capes and spandex and X-ray vision of comics, but without descending into parody or silliness. I cracked it in the end, and the second half of Seven Wonders really took off.
But in order to make the jump and get things rolling, I had to call it quits on the earlier part of the book. I’ve called it “Act II” on Twitter, but really it’s the second half of Act I. There is a big transition to make between all of my characters making their independent discoveries at the beginning of the book, to the giant battles at the end. This bit is really integral, the whole reason for writing the book in the first place, the whole high concept thing. I stopped writing it because I didn’t know the characters well enough, and wasn’t happy with what they were doing. What I had written turned into a series of independent events with no apparent arc or theme. So I stopped, knowing that I would return at the end and add all this in. Now that I know what becomes of the characters in the story – sometimes diverging from my original outline by quite a margin – I can go back, plant the seeds, build the arc, and push everyone where they need to go. Aceness. Currently the manuscript is at 89,284 words, which gives me just over 10k to fill in.
And then I sat down to do some outlining of this Act I.5, and it’s so long I think I’m going to need, oh, 50k to fit it all on. Well, hot dang.
As with my first novel, Dark Heart, the target wordcount is 100,000, for various reasons I have mentioned in the past, but mainly because for a first novel from an unpublished author, 99.99%-recurring agents won’t touch anything longer. While this doesn’t influence my writing to a significant extent – a story is as long as it needs to be – it is something I try and keep track of. Dark Heart ended up as 126,000-something, which means it’ll need trimming in the second draft. The second draft that I’m supposed to be working on now, in August, while the completed vomit draft of Seven Wonders sits on the shelf in as fancy Lulu POD’ed trade paperback editing copy.
But it looks – maybe – that Seven Wonders is going to be longer, possibly much longer. Well, fine. The first draft is the first draft is the first draft. As Scott Sigler said (more on my interview with him later!), you’ve gotta get that clay on the wheel. So Seven Wonders is going to be a long one, and will need maybe another month to finish up.
What does that mean? Absolutely nothing, really, except I’m a list-maker and a box-checker, and had the rest of 2009 mapped out, writing-wise. Now that schedule is out by a month, which considering the glacial pace of writing and publishing in general, is nothing major. But one frustration is seeing steampunk increase in popularity almost daily, and I’ve got a cracking steampunk series that begins with Dark Heart, a novel that is in need of rewriting before I can even begin to think of shopping it around.
But that’s just me. Steampunk won’t go away. If anything, it’ll be even more popular in 2010, looking at forthcoming books, films and TV shows.
So what do I do? I write, and keep writing, and do my damnedest to make Seven Wonders completely awesome, even if it is 150,000 words long.
Time to put some new dates on the wall planner.
And in the nick of time too! Seven Wonders has crossed the magic 50,000 word mark (in fact it’s about 51,000-and-something even), and with a month to go, I can basically give myself a little personal NaNoWriMo challenge – 50,000 words in a month, or 1667 words a day. Right on target. And 50,000 words – half a novel – is nothing to be sneezed at. Seven Wonders is also about proving that Dark Heart wasn’t a fluke. It’s a milestone, no mistake. Sure, in ten years time I’ll look back and laugh at how wonderful I thought it was, but novels are big, long, scary, frequently heavy items. I’ve got 1.5 under my belt now. Top show.
I have to admit it’s also a relief to get Seven Wonders to this point. As I’ve alluded to in previous posts, I’ve found this novel to suffer from the “difficult second album” syndrome, but I’m starting to see this as a good thing. My next book is number two in the Dark Heart series, which is plotted, outlined, and sitting at the starting line with steam-powered engine revving. It’s going to be a good story, and I’m looking forward to writing it, and I’m glad that I hit the hump in Seven Wonders and not that one.
But that’s not to say Seven Wonders is suffering as a consequence, or is that annoying, must-get-it-done second novel that I’ll fling into a draw and forget about. Not at all. I knew from the beginning that it would be a challenge, and I deliberately made it so – the modern-day setting, the third-person narrative, these were conscious decisions made to ensure that Seven Wonders would be completely different in every way to Dark Heart - style, tone, setting, language, the works. Although I didn’t set out to construct an unclimeable mountain, or set impassable traps and roadblocks, I did begin with the intention that it was going to be a learning experience.
Like anything, writing requires practice. Having completed a novel in pseudo-Victorian first-person, I needed to write one in modern-day third-person, just to see what it was like, and whether or not this suited my personality. As it happens, I don’t think it does that much, but I’m making a damned good hash of it. Perservering out of my comfort zone is teaching me an awful lot about long-form fiction, which – given that I’m just a beginniner – is essential for me to improve my craft.
Which brings me to an important concept for all writers to remember: you are allowed to suck. The first draft is the vomit draft – it’s you typing out the story, transferring it from your head to the screen/paper before you forget it. Some bits will be great, some bits will be terrible. But the important thing is to get one word down after another until you reach the end. Then you can go back and fix it. Later. At the end. When you’re finished.
I’m trying to remind myself of this rule this week because while I’m hitting my daily target of 1667 words, for the past few days they’ve not been terribly good words. The story has reached a very crucial section where
Several Big and Important Things need to happen that change each and every one of the individual characters, effectively finishing Act II (most of which I haven’t really written yet) and leading into the final third.
It’s almost because the Several Big and Important Things are big and important that it has been very, very difficult to actually integrate them naturally into the story. First there was a big fight out on the streets of San Ventura between the superheroes and the supervillain. Then everyone went to the moon, and a couple of shocking secrets were revealed. There’s another fight (on the moon this time), and now the superheroes are retrospectively figuring out what went wrong, allowing them to return to the Earth and start Act III.
Which sounds great in the outline. And actually the outline is quite detailed at this point – this happens, that happens, X says that, Y realises this. But writing a story around it was surprisingly difficult. What has happened is that apart from the two big fights, the superheroes have basically sat around a table and discussed things very seriously for about a million pages, which is not only not particularly interesting, but at first glance seems to be the classic trap of plot exposition and info-dump. Take your protagonists, sit them down, and they’ll chinwag about the story for chapters without actually being involved in it.
Except – and here’s the problem – this is pretty much what the Seven Wonders would do anyway. They’re a committee of seven, they have big shiny conference rooms with 3D computer displays. Sitting down and talking about stuff while pretty graphics fly around is exactly their idea of fighting crime.
So what am I doing wrong? I’m worrying about the first draft, that’s what!
Yep, the last 3000 or so words will need reworking, probably significantly. But so what. All I need to do now is move everyone off the moon as quickly as possible (less chin-stroking around a conference table I think), and then on with the exciting Act III.
Panic averted. Carry on.
Last week I did a bit of a mid-year assessment of my writing, comparing where I want to be with where I actually am, having a look at word counts and targets (daily, weekly, yearly), and sketching out not only writing work for the next six months, but looking ahead a little to see what projects I will have coming up well into 2010. It’s important for all writers – seasoned pros or enthusiastic amatuers – to set writing goals that are measurable and attainable, and it’s equally important to take stock at regular intervals to see what needs improving, and how the long-term writing plan needs adjusting. I even got a wall planner, wrote some dates and timelines on it, and stuck it to the wall next to my computer. It’s a good reference, and with a glance I can remind myself what I need to achieve this month, next month, before Christmas, etc.
For the moment, I have three main things on my mind. So for today, first on the list, is my superhero novel Seven Wonders.
Seven Wonders has a target of 100,000 words. I’ve just today hit 46,454. My own, self-imposed deadline for this is Friday 31st July, so I need to crank out about 2,000 words a day to get this first draft done.
Seven Wonders has been an interesting learning experience. I chose this as my second novel quite deliberately, as the modern-day third person style is very different to the pseudo-Victorian first person of my steampunk series. Writing is a continuous learning process, and having completed my first 100,000-word novel in one style and genre (Dark Heart), I needed to tackle a different genre and style to learn about that.
And it was hard work. I didn’t do a comprehensive outline either. Instead I wrote a list of 45 key events or plot points that I wanted to occur – most of them flow from one to the other, so arranging these ideas into a story order is relatively straight forward. I have a beginning, a middle, and an end, so really it’s just filling in the gaps and cementing the plot threads together.
What I soon discovered was that without a proper outline, I initially floundered a little. I found myself picking and choosing exciting moments from that list of 45, and writing those almost as self-contained vignettes. While each was satisfying in its own right, because I was skipping story chronology, I couldn’t quite visualise a cohesive narrative for the novel as a whole. Cue hair-tearing and table-thumping and declarations that writing is not for me and I should really be doing something else with my time.
Which, of course, is what every single writer thinks at some point or another. Looking back at Dark Heart, I had exactly the same feeling at almost exactly the same wordcount – that this was too hard, too big, too stupid, and 25,000 words really was enough of this nonsensical slog.
And again, as with Dark Heart, a few thousand words later it all seemed to snap into place. With Seven Wonders, it was when I picked a pivotal scene from that master list and wrote it, then an idea came to me and I wrote the next scene. Then the next, and the next. From here onwards I seem to be moving linearlly through the story, and I expect to continue to do so until I reach the end. This means that I’ll have the second quarter of the book to go back and write, but knowing how the land lies from words 50,000 to 100,000, it should be quite satifying to tie it up with some backstory and earlier events.
What I have I learnt so far from Seven Wonders? That writing is hard work, but it I can do it, and that throwing the computer out of the window after a few weeks of work is just a natural instinct best ignored.
According to my schedule, Seven Wonders will take me to the end of July. Following this, I have all of August pencilled in to edit and revise Dark Heart before I send it to my beta readers. If I can time it right, I should be in a good position to start querying agents with this – steampunk seems to be gaining (quite coincidentally) in popularity. Just this weekend, the latest issue of SFX magazine arrived with a big feature article on the genre, and there seemed to be a lot of interest generated by my guest posts at Babbling About Books.
But first things first. I have superheroes to torment and Californian cities to destroy. Someone has just betrayed the Seven Wonders, and the villain has met an untimely early death!
This is weird.
Back when I was writing my first novel, Dark Heart, I got about a third of the way through and started to panic. I was finding it hard to write in the pseudo-Victorian style, and as I’d decided to make it first person from about six different points of view it seemed like I was deliberately making it as difficult as possible. I considered stopping, and switching to my superhero story (now called Seven Wonders), which I thought would be much easier as it’s a modern-day, third-person book. Standard fare, easy to write.
Fortunately I saw good sense and kept on with Dark Heart, and shortly after my angst I found the natural pace of it and the whole thing took off. I was done in a couple of months, with 120,000-ish words done. That book was put in the draw to be worried about later this year.
Seven Wonders has reached about 20,000 words, and is completely horrible to write. This is my first full-length third-person novel, and I’m finding the style very, very dull. Sure, I’ve read plenty of great third-person books, and most people prefer it to first (and nobody uses second, unless the book is deliberately strange). But it’s boring to write, and boring to read back. Maybe I’m destined to write steampunk and alternate Victorian histories. Maybe superheroes, as much as I love them, are not for me, at least in prose form.
So now it occurs to me I’ve hit exactly the same point as I did in Dark Heart, where I have convinced myself it’s all worthless and that I’m better off switching to something else.
It feels worse this time, but then I’m probably just saying that. I’m sure the Dark Heart roadblock was just as bad. And the thing is I need to get my writing habits down pat, which means finishing this 100,000 word novel so I can get on to the next one. If I allow myself to stop a book mid-flow once, I’ll let myself do it twice, three times, etc. By the year’s end I’ll have written half a million words and have four abandoned novels.
The problem, I suppose, is that I’m worrying about what I write. There are two things I need to remind myself of.
One, the first draft is going to be cack. This is the vomit draft, the type anything draft, the get the story down on paper so you don’t forget the plot draft. This is about typing 100,000 words, one after another, until I reach the end. Nobody will ever read this draft. Which brings me to:
Two, any and all problems in the first draft will be fixed in the rewrite. So I write a page of the worst prose ever produced by a human being. So what? When it comes to draft two, I’ll spot it a mile off and will rewrite it until it’s good. Easy.
At least that’s how it’s supposed to work. If I can fool my conscious mind into believing those two facts, perhaps my subconscious will do the work for me and will get the remaining 80,000 words down. And the quicker I get those words down, the quicker I can file this away as novel number 2, and get on with the third. Novel 1 was an achievement; novel 2 will show me that it wasn’t a fluke.
Ok, problem solved. Thanks for listening!
No sooner had I posted my little lecture on making writing the ONLY thing you do, I went and got a gig reporting on the Bristol Comic Expo last weekend. I knew as soon as it was arranged that this was going to put a serious dent in my writing schedule, and I was dead right. Quite apart from the 6-hour round trip to Bristol and back, and two nights away from home, taking notes from three 1-hour audio recordings, then turning them into three 3000-word articles, is one metric buttload of work – this, and the fact that I bizzarely decided to write a short story at the same time (more on that later). But as a DC fan through-and-through, the chance to hear Dan DiDio in person was just too good an opportunity to miss, and despite it taking a big bite out of my novel time, it was a fantastic weekend. My first report is up on CBR, and you can enjoy it here. My hat is off to CBR editor Jonah Weiland for making my articles look so good with lots of tasty comic art to accompany them!
However, although my wordcount suffered, it was a very worthwhile experience for one important reason. Getting a peek into the inner workings of a comics company as large as DC was an incredible inspiration – there are dozens of creators, writers and artists working very hard to keep an entire universe of characters and storylines going. The planning and management of such a vast mythos as the DCU requires, according to Dan, rooms full of whiteboards and blackboards and story charts, all kept under tight security.
And then it occurred to me. It was all about the story. Hearing it from Dan himself, and the host of DC creators who were at the expo, it was patently clear that the number one priority was telling good stories.
That, to me, is a wonderful inspiration, that people are striving so hard to entertain others with works of fiction. And really, fiction, the written word – be it book, novel, short story, comic, screenplay, theatre script, even the scripting in a computer game – is what most of us spend most of our leisure time seeking. Human culture derives most of its entertainment – and let’s face it, the persuit of happiness is mainly what life is about – from storytelling.
This is perhaps not news to a lot of people. But sometimes you come to these kind of realisations, even though it was staring you right in the face. This is a good thing.
So after a weekend and a week buried deep in the DC universe, I’ve emerged recharged and re-inspired. And of course, I happen to actually be writing a superhero novel anyway, caught somewhere between the brightly coloured spandex of the Justice League of America and the muted adult tones of Watchmen.
Seven Wonders then has hit 14,377 words, which leaves 85,663 to go. I’ll need to rejig my timetable as I’m about two weeks off schedule, but with a bit of luck this new-found creative energy will let me build up a bit of momentum, and I’ll be able to get some extra words down to catch up. And in fact the 6,800 word short story I wrote in the three days immediately following from Bristol was a really good exercise in getting the imagination back in gear.
But more on that later!