Saturday, 30 November 2013

Old Chapter

Below the cut, you’ll find the entire text of Chapter Three from the previous draft. It’s thirteen pages, and it’s crazy bloated with all sorts of unnecessary shit. Too much exposition. Too much unneeded detail. Too much characterization that’s inconsistent with the rest of the novel. There’s some stuff here that I like—some jokes and details, and I’m fond of a lot of Sydney’s introspection on the first couple of pages—and some of it might end up showing up later in the current draft.

The point is that this is a great example of why I didn’t like what I was doing with the previous draft. Even from a pacing perspective…This is thirteen pages of tirelessly delivered exposition, plopped down thirty pages into a manuscript that goes equally frakking nowhere. And that’s another great indicator that this draft had gone wrong. This is Chapter Three. As in, following two chapters and a prologue. And my detective is just now getting to the city where the murder took place.

So…Take it how you will. As always with these posted bits of manuscript, it should be remembered that this is in an unedited state and should not be considered a final product. I’ll be back with the new Chapter One—which covers roughly the same ground—tomorrow.

 

-Sean

Friday, 22 November 2013

Patch Notes – Manuscript Version # 0.4.0

As promised, here is the list of proposed changes to the manuscript that will hopefully fix some/most of my problems. Some of these are easy enough to implement, and will be in the sample chapter that I'm working on. Others will require some more time and work. I'll keep you updated as much as I can, though some things must—of course—remain secret for plot reasons. As with last time, these are transcripts of my handwritten notes and they may be a little fractured and repetitive.

 

  • Move Dow up to the Dawes colony and remove Marisol from the picture, but try to keep him as a little bit of a social outsider. Remove external support structure and establish an internal one. He needs a sense of history with the colony and its status quo—a kind of possessiveness that allows him to have a personal stake in the plot. Put together a list of which characters he already know and how.
  • Up the hardboiled nature of the narration. Dow in 1st person = stronger voice. You partially cut the first person narration in Draft 0.1 because the British military voice was unnatural. He's neither of those things anymore. Keep his basic, standing background, but is he still with the UN? This is detective fiction, so try him as a kind of stealth PI...operating at the colony under a different pretense. "It says Conflict Mediation & Catch-All Services on my door, not Murder Investigations. That's a UNPol thing, Bessette. That's your thing." "You're right, Dow, but I also know that nobody ever comes to you for your mediation skills. You can do this and let me keep looking the other way on your snooping, or I can pull your license and ship you back to Earth."
  • Cut Seb & Sydney chapters. KEEP IT TIGHT. Syd still exists, and Seb might in some form, but I need to avoid all of the padding, overlap, and other problems that come with using them as viewpoint characters. There has to be more focus.
  • If you want to keep any of the stuff that happens on Earth, you had better find a way to move it to Dawes. Want Kinneman there as a foil? Better put him on a shuttle. Luna is the Los Angeles County to Dow's Philip Marlowe. It's a character. Don't leave until you absolutely HAVE TO.
  • Consider pairing Dow with Mobese Sero. Dow and Sydney work well together, but Syd has too much other stuff to do; she can't be out running around on a murder investigation all of the time. Sero is Syd's best detective, but he's an inexperienced, Puritanical ass. She can't well pull him from "his" case, but she can pair him with an outsider who knows what he's doing. Put the Puritan with the Devil and set them loose together.
  • Do what you can to keep dialogue snappy and scenes short. No more twenty page interview scenes, please. Working to adhere more fully to the hardboiled tradition should help with this.
  • Re-read The Simple Art of Murder.
  • A new outline should be your next focus Don't try to be a smart-ass and experiment with form and structure. It never works out well, and you sound pretentions when you talk about it. You're writing an adventure story, not a piece of literary masturbation.
  • Get back to work and STOP SCREWING THIS UP ALREADY, DUMMY!

 

There you have it. A sure-fire formula for starting this book over again. It probably isn't perfect, but it's what I have right now. Despite myself, I'm pretty excited to dig into this. It feels more like a book that I would write and less like one that I'm making myself write, you know what I mean?

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a novel to write.

 

-Sean

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Manuscript, Version # 0.3.159: Bug Report

I have been…reviewing the manuscript. It’s not pretty, but, in the interest of disclosure, I’ve compiled some of my notes on what exactly needs fixing so far. These are mostly coming from the technical side rather than addressing specific plot details, but there are some of those as well.

  • There are too many voices here. Jumping between narrators is leading to endlessly inconsistent voices, tones, knowledge bases, and timelines. It’s playing hell on the continuity.
  • Inconsistent setting. This is to be expected. I overhauled the world more than a hundred pages in. It’s a standing problem, and one I expected to have to fix, but still bears a place on this list.
  • Too many time zones. Locations. Overlap. Jumping from Dow to Seb to Sydney feels mad. Information and whole scenes repeat. Probably best to relocate as much of the plot as possible to the Lunar colony.
  • Too much sprawl. Too much bloat. Everything about this plot and world is too bug and complicated for a baseline story that’s so simple. It kills the mood. Everything either needs to be liberally cut back or the main thread expanded to match the world.
  • Dow is too foreign. He needs a presence at the Lunar colony. A familiarity with it. I spend way too much time introducing setting concepts and characters, and not enough dealing with the plot…He needs a history with the place, and the personal stakes that come with that.
  • Dow’s position seems too formal for his behavior and general nature. His background is solid, I think, but he’s in too much of a position of immediate authority. I need to get him a way to be working the case, but also be as low-down and dirty as he wants to be.
  • Cut this thing down already! One-hundred & fifty pages in, and the only major point relevant to the case is a red herring? Come on, son!
  • Do I even know who killed Warren Cole anymore? Or why? I’ve been adding layers to this thing for so long, I don’t even know where the endpoint is. Figure this out and re-chart the plot for good this time! Jesus Christ.

So, that’s about the long and short of my problems with the novel as it stands. I’m working on some potential fixes now. Some of them are obvious, some of them are surprising me a little, but I’ll be sharing most of them with you tomorrow.

I’m also planning on taking those fixes to do a rewrite of an existing chapter. The plan is to make both of those available to you (in a very rough form, of course) for comparison, so keep an eye out for that later in the week.

 

-Sean


Also, for those of you who are kind of confused by the title of this post: An explanation. There are a lot of different versions of this manuscript floating around on my hard-drive, and there will be many more before the end. To keep them organized, I’ve taken to referring to them in a MacGyvered (how does spell check not know that word?) form of the version numbers that in-development pieces of software get. Let’s break this one down…

0. – The base version number, used to identify when a piece of software is an Alpha, Beta, or Release version. The “0.” usually refers to an Alpha build, meaning that the manuscript is not a complete draft and not fit for anyone’s eyes but mine. When I have a complete draft, this will change to “1.” representing that it is in Beta and ready for outside readership (testing).

3. – The first part of the build number. This tells me how many times I’ve restarted the manuscript from scratch. It will change to a “4.” when I start rewriting the existing chapter that I mentioned, though I’ll probably keep my standing word-count because I’ll be scavenging parts of build 3.

159 – The second part of the build number. Signifying how many days it has been since I started build 3. I previously restarted the novel on June 13th, and that was 159 days ago…So, that one’s pretty simple. This number will also restart when I begin rewriting that chapter.

That’s it. Anything that I do tomorrow will be saved as Version # 0.3.160, but come Thursday of Friday we’ll be switching to Version # 0.4.0. Because I’m a nerd.

Monday, 18 November 2013

On Doubt

Fun fact: The Pulitzer Prize winning play Doubt—upon which the film of the same name was based—was written by John Patrick Shanley, who was also responsible for the screenplay behind the dreadful Michael Crichton adaptation, Congo. He was also the writer on the children's’…film…We’re Back! A Dinosaurs Story. As a result, I’ve never known whether or not to respect the man or view him as an object lesson in not knowing when to get up and walk away from a project.

Today, I’ve reached the point where I would normally get up and walk away from this book. Despite any optimism that I’ve been expressing here…Despite any insistence that I’ve had that I’ll fix the book’s problems in the edit…I’ve got some serious goddamned reservations about this thing.

It doesn’t feel right. Somewhere along the line, I’ve added all of these different plot threads and narrators on different planets and across disparate time-zones, and I’ve ended up with this overcomplicated mess of a plot that’s so full of holes that nearly a third of my writing this month has been personal notations on what to fix or add later. And, upon review, I can’t help but notice that there are very few ideas there about how to fix the problems.

This happens sometimes. A book just gets bloated and overcomplicated. I sometimes wonder if I’m more familiar with it than some other writers because I started doing this young, and had a general philosophy of throwing every idea at the page and seeing what stuck. I thought I had outgrown that, or at least dodged it on account of all of the planning that I had done…But here I am again, sitting at a computer and looking at a manuscript that seems fit for little more than salvage. Doing mental calculations like a butcher: “What characters can I take to use later? What set-pieces can I chop off and slide into that other story that still needs something? Can I grind the plot for backstory sausage on some other book?”

The little voice at the back of my head that hates work and loves videogames keeps telling me to go for it. “Kill your darlings and all that,” it says. “Oh, are you going to cry over this book? Give up and replay The Last of Us instead. Cry over something that’s actually well written and has characters worth caring about, you bitch.”

And, for what it’s worth, I keep telling that voice that he’s a dick and that I’ll replay The Last of Us when I’m good and ready and not so emotionally compromised from last time.

Because—bottom line—I don’t want to give up on this book. I want to finish it and publish it, because I know that there’s a good book here somewhere. I just…Lost sight of it somewhere in the last few months. And I made a promise to all of you, and to myself, that I would put out the best book I could at the end of this thing. Also, if I’m not mistaken, I also promised you that I would get sloppy at some point and turn into a train wreck of self-loathing.

Welcome to that, by the way. Again.

So. Yeah. I’m going to keep going here. And I’m going to run a few experiments over the next couple of days to see if I can’t find something that works better for me. Something that will turn this mess back into the trim, cynical piece of hardboiled sci-fi that I wanted it to be. I’ll keep posting as I work, of course, and keep you up to date on any changes. And I’ll hopefully be able to pull of a massive train dodge and be able to strip the existing manuscript for parts rather than start from scratch.

Fun stuff, right?

 

-Sean

Saturday, 16 November 2013

November 16th

41,125 words. 142 pages. I start Chapter 16, which will be a very short Seb chapter, in the morning.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Out of the Past…

It’s been a few days, so let me update my word count real fast before I jump into what I want to talk about today: 40,059 words. 138 pages. I haven’t been able to keep up with my NaNoWriMo word count as much as I’d like, but I’m still moving along at a decent clip and I feel good about the work I’m doing.

So, moving on…An announcement!


You ever see the 1981 movie Outland? Sean Connery goes to a mining colony on Io and exposes a drug ring before kicking the shit out of everyone? No? That's too bad, but not so surprising. How about the first two Alien films, or 2001 and 2010? Blade Runner? Please tell me that you've at least seen Blade Runner...

Not that I'm going to judge you for not having seen any of these films. I'm not. Really! But having a little familiarity with the technology and visual language of these films—the very particular vision of the future that came from science-fiction films of this period—will make what I'm talking about here a little easier to understand.

So, this book that I'm writing here—this crazy, mixed up kid of a book—it takes place in 2046, right? It takes place in 2046, and it takes place on the moon, and it's full of crazy, impressive future-tech in the way that science-fiction often is, and it all looks and feels very slick and modern in the way that most post-Star Wars Prequel and Abrams-Trek science-fiction tends to be. And, you know, that's fine. It's fine that it's like that.

But, hey, guys? What if it wasn't like that?

What if this novel took place in a world where we kept moving forward in terms of social, political, and scientific advancements...But the tech level stagnated somewhere around 1990? A world where there are people living and working on the lunar surface, but nobody got around to inventing cell phones. A world full of primitive and bulky, but fully functional, versions of things that we take for granted in the modern world, but where the internet never went beyond functioning as a limited-access network for governments, military organizations, and major corporations. A world of computers that make clattering noises when their screens refresh, and can only display four or five colors. A world where things actually print on paper, and books aren't moribund. A world where nobody tweets, and my characters have to do actual detective work rather than spend all of their time reading reports and doing web searches on their frigging cell-phones (some of what I've been writing has been very frustrating and restrictive, guys).

That's the kind of world that I want to set this novel in. Someplace full of grit and noise and utility, that's a little more exciting than the slicked-back, all-in-one future that the tech companies try to sell us these days.

So that's where I'm going to set this. Kind of an alternate reality, retro-future thing. And that means going back during the edit and changing a lot of tech details, but I'm really okay with that. I welcome it. Because I've had a few days with this decision and I've played with it some, and I'm really having fun with it.

Which is mostly the why of my doing this. For all of the care that I put into developing this setting and story, there was nothing to it that really made it fun or unique. It didn't have a THING, if that doesn't sound to cynical and calculating. So, this is the novel's thing, I guess. The unusual thing that will hopefully set it apart from the other science-fiction procedurals out there, and, hopefully, make readers (that's you) make a purchase.

With that, you know where I'm coming from. This is something that I'm excited about. Something that I'm having fun with. Something that's letting me write this book the way that I want to while still having my characters rely on deduction, and interview, and good, old-fashioned detective footwork.

I feel better about this now than I have in a while. It's going to be great.

 

-Sean

Monday, 4 November 2013

NaNoWriMo–Day 4

Missed yesterday’s post, which I regret but also kind of don’t. I didn’t write at all yesterday, so what exactly would I have reported? It put me a little behind, which is annoying, but not so much that I can’t catch up.

Didn’t get too much done today, either. Between work and errands, I managed 1,049 words. Four pages. Brings us to 36,456 total. I also made a pretty major decision about some changes that I want to make to the manuscript as a whole…But that’s a post for a time when I’m not quite feeling so exhausted.

See you all tomorrow.

 

-Sean

Sunday, 3 November 2013

NaNoWriMo–Day 2

This is coming very late, which sucks but I had a prior social thing this evening and then we all traveled back in time a little bit. I’m here now, though.

Day Two netted me 2,092 new words, bringing out new total to 35,407 on 122 pages. About a page and a half of that is notes on integrating a new plot development into earlier scenes during editing—just a minor early twist that keeps things a little more interesting in the first half and gives Seb a little more focus for his early investigation—and then I finished up Chapter Fourteen.

Tomorrow: Chapter Fifteen begins. I hope. I have a lot of stuff to do tomorrow/today and not a whole lot of sleep hours between now and then.

 

-Sean

Friday, 1 November 2013

NaNoWriMo, Day One–Friday, November 1st

1,809 words on this, the first day of NaNo. This brings us to 33,315 words and 115 pages—about seven pages, and most of the way though, Chapter 14.

It’s not the best day, but it’s also not bad for one where I got up at six to go teach classes.

 

-Sean