So, there’s today’s peek into my psyche. Maybe there are some clues there into why I often write about alienation and deprivation and internal turmoil. I don’t know, it’s so subtle… O.O
This is the fourth of six or seven installments depending on how things go while I’m writing the conclusion — one consequence of my outline-and-planning-free writing style is that I’m not often good at predicting final wordcounts. After it’s done I’ll release an omnibus and a print edition. At a projected 30-35,000 words, it will be the longest thing I’ve written. Right now it’s right around 20,000 words, equal to my previous record in Isolation, the title story in the Isolation and Other Stories collection.
So, why the heck am I writing a serial? And why was there a long pause between installments three and four?
Because I’ve been hit or miss in terms of finishing my work on longer stories. I have several projects that have been waiting at 10,000 or 20,000 words for me to finish them. I’ve let myself be derailed into turning to shorter projects and finishing those instead. But that’s not a good pattern for a writer to be in.
Writers need to finish their writing, dammit!
So a serial seemed like a good way to make a public commitment to finishing a story. I started this project to light a fire under my butt. By following through here, I demonstrate to myself that this unfortunate pattern of leaving long stories lie fallow for months or years before finishing them is unnecessary. I show myself that I can finish what I started. And I force myself to figure how how to motivate myself to do it.
Sometimes we realize that something is wrong, and it needs fixing.
It won’t get fixed unless we work on it with a seriousness.
So here I am, working with a seriousness. And I get a finished story out of it, and I hope you’ll find you got a good read out of it.
Back in the days when I read more superhero comix, and today when I watch a movie with a flying superhero — especially one with some kind of ranged attack, IRON MAN I’M LOOKING AT YOU — I’m super annoyed when they just happen to fly low enough for an opponent with no ranged attack to grab or hit them.
JUST FLY HIGHER, DUMMY.
“But the plot requires me to get close enough to let my opponent start a thrilling grapple…”
SHUT UP THAT’S LAZY-ASS WRITING.
Same goes for every drama that features a standoff with a gun and the hero stands there holding the gun on the villain as the villain creeps closer and closer until they can just grab the gun. It rarely makes sense. If there’s something about the character holding the gun that makes it make sense, fine. Maybe they’ve just realized that they can’t bring themselves to shoot another human being. Or there’s some overriding reason that shooting and maybe killing the villain would be a terrible idea.
But that’s so seldom the case. More often than not, it’s a contrived situation to up the tension.
Don’t be lazy and write things that don’t make sense. If you want more tension or whatever, and it doesn’t make sense, GO BACK AND WRITE IT DIFFERENTLY SO IT MAKES SENSE.
If the tiger catches the drone, make sure there’s some internal logic to it.
The internet is crawling with magic bullets. I’m going to make some up, but they’ll probably replicate or be damn close to real ones: “5 Easy Tips To Unleash Your Creativity” “10 Great Writers Tell You How To Be A Success” “3 Simple Principles To Unlock Viral Fame”.
You know the stuff. You’ve seen it. Maybe you’ve clicked on a few. Lean in close, I’ll tell you a secret.
I’ve clicked on a few.
Yeah, sometimes I read those things. Maybe you have never, but the odds say you have. They’re tempting. We all want to do the stuff we do better. Sometimes we’re pretty sure we’re doing it wrong. Sometimes we’re pretty sure that what we’re missing is simple, a little thing, something so obvious that we’re not seeing it like (we presume, because AFAIK nobody’s ever talked to a fish) fish don’t realize they’re swimming in water.
Also, there’s great advice out there. Granted, it’s usually not behind a headline like “7 Pathetically Simple Things Your Dumb Ass Can Learn In 30 Seconds By Reading This Article What The Hell Is Wrong With You”. Which is how all those headlines read when I’m feeling down. THANKS INTERNET YOU JERK.
The great advice, though, really is in little online articles sometimes. Or in tweets from some of the more entertaining and personable writers out there. Or in books like the ever-so-frequently-mentioned On Writing by Stephen King — his isn’t the only one, look for some in your home genre if you write and you’re looking for tips.
Y0u just never know where it’s going to show up.
But the “magic bullet” articles are generally 1 part obvious stuff and 9 parts crap. There’s not a magic bullet to make you an enormously selling writer (I mean, I don’t think so. I’m not enormously selling, so I could be totally wrong I suppose) or anything else. No magic listicle to unlock huge webcomic popularity or world champion marathoner prowess or being a better friend-spouse-whoever-you-are-to-someone-else, no magic bullet to jack your B average up to an A, no magic bullet to unlock the best lyrics ever from your songwriting pen.
If you’re really looking for magic bullets to success, you’re in for a sad surprise. They’re basically spells. Modern-day incantations and rituals. Do X,Y, and Z while saying A and writing B, and you’ll be the next Rowling.
There’s magic in the world — and if you’re allergic to schmaltz, skip ahead a bit. There’s the magic of hugs and love and empathy and giving a damn about your fellow human being and babies and kittens and freshly baked cookies and waterfalls and walks on foggy beaches and blooming flowers and fat bumblebees and…
You get the point.
But there’s no magic zip-zappity-poof now you’re at the top of your chosen field.
The truth is boring.
Always work to improve. Always be ready to hear constructive criticism. Always be ready to ignore trolls. Keep working. Keep looking for new opportunities. Keep on keeping on. And do read things that you think might contain helpful things for you. Sometimes you can find a bit of perspective or a tidbit that points you at a personal shortcoming or strength so you can improve or capitalize. Sometimes it will even be in one of those silly listicles. But mostly not.
Just don’t give up.
And maybe write something like this if you’re having one of those days when you, personally, feel like giving up.
It helps. Take my word for it.
The more I write, the more I find that I prefer to write longhand instead of using the computer. (It’s worth noting that the computer RULES for editing, rewriting, rearranging, and otherwise molding a story into the right shape.)
I always start a story by hand. I scribble notes and write a page or two. Then, up until the last two it three months, I have always switched over to the word processor to type the following 90% of the story.
It’s fast as long as I know where the story is heading. And maybe you see where this is going if you happen to know that I hardly ever write a story outline, and even when I do it’s less than skeletal. More like a stick figure missing a stick or two.
The words are more likely to dry up after I switch to typing the story. I find myself stalling not just on what to type for the next sentence or paragraph, but on what the next scene is and where the plot is going.
Maybe it’s because when typing my fingers can travel as fast as I’m thinking. But writing by hand forces me to fix what’s coming next in my mind as I hurry to write down the words that bridge the gap.
Or maybe that’s not it at all and there’s a different reason baked into my brain.
Either way, lately I’ve been writing by hand more than I’ve been typing as I compose a story. The biggest challenge is deciphering my own handwriting and making sense of all the notes and additions I cram into the left hand column of the evidence pads I love to use. (Think steno pad, but full 8 1/2″ x 11″ size and with the vertical rule one-third of the way from the left instead of down the middle)
(Edit, an hour or so later: composed this with the voice-writing function on my mobile — it didn’t do too bad, but left me a couple of things to clean up. Technology: the solution to and cause of all of our problems, right? Anything that’s still wrong, I blame on my lovable but very loud and distracting little ones. Oh, and I also clarified a couple of things in the third and last paragraphs.)
A month ago, I posted a word cloud for a work in progress, Broken Rice. It was around 8,000 words long then.
Since then, I reached a “I don’t know what to do with this next” point, then let the story sit for a while and worked on other things, then picked it back up recently for a major rework.
I liked a lot of things about the story and basic premise. Other things weren’t working for me at all. That’s why I took a break on writing it. I do that quite a bit. I start stories, then set them aside and come back days or weeks later. Sometimes I accumulate quite a few half-finished stories. When my pattern of working works well, it forms sort of a natural cycle with periods of drought and periods of plenty. I’ll finish nothing for a couple of months, then knock out a spate of finishes all of a sudden.
Broken Rice needed major work. When I picked it back up I overhauled it completely. I radically changed the setting, the personality of the main character, some major plot elements. I had to rewrite from stem to stern, making everything make sense again, then rewrite a second time so everything felt and sounded right, so everything fit in again, had the right new tone and the right new mood.
I really didn’t want to change the story so radically. But I had to. It’s hard to explain — you have to be invested in what you’re writing enough to kill it or alter it beyond recognition, sometimes. Get too attached to finishing exactly what you’ve started and you can find yourself writing a lot of meh. I don’t like writing meh.
Times like this, I’m so happy not to have hard deadlines. That’s an aspect of being self-published that is a great advantage… unless you let it turn into procrastination. Which I’m sorry to say has happened before and it won’t happen again please don’t be mad I’m probably not as much of a stereotypical GenX slacker as you think.
But, back to the story.
I’m not sure it will be finished soon. I have a general idea for an ending and some general ideas of what may happen along the way. From 8,000 words I’m now at 14,000. Maybe there are 5,000 more words in this one. Maybe 10,000. But the words keep coming in little chunks of 500 or so in stolen moments deep into the wee hours when everyone else is asleep or when I wake up early. So I keep writing them.
The more of them I write, the better I like the story now. That’s a good sign.
The word cloud changed quite a bit. Compare and contrast!
It’s about writing hard science fiction when you’re not a scientist, which is a lot of what I do, so I speak from experience. If you write or read science fiction I think you’ll like it. 🙂
I know what I’m trying to do here — but I’d rather have your unbiased comments, if you’d be so kind as to give them. I’m interested in your thoughts as a reader. This excerpt is just short of 400 words out of around 12,500 so far and maybe 20,000 or more by the time I finish.
(Before I post the excerpt, this is simulposted on my Patreon page for maximum reactions — though if you were to head over and become a patron, even for a buck a month, you’d get free ebooks, see new ebooks a month before they come out, and see most of my posts here three days early. Plus you’d get the satisfaction of helping a self-published science fiction author write his, his wife’s, and his 3 sons’ way out of the trailer park. But who am I to be pushy? :-D)
So, the excerpt from Broken Rice:
And thunder boomed into the room and Caleb jerked in panic the needle falling from his fingers and a burst of shards of fine imported Brazilian rosewood (how do I know that?) hit the blinds and the window behind them like the first driving hail out of a Texas thunderhead, the kind of hail blown out of a cloud when there’s a tornado hot on its heels. Caleb saw splinters as long as his forearm, frozen in a moment of timestop clarity, protruding from where they’d impaled slats of the blinds, from where they’d driven their spikes into the thick bulletproof plastic of the window. Sawdust swam like a galaxy of fireflies flying far, far away through the shaft of light that speared the ragged hole one of the bodyguards – Caleb guessed – had blown through the doors of the office with some ungodly powerful weapon. The hole was too small and the light falling the wrong way for Caleb to see who and what and he didn’t try to see but threw himself sideways out of the chair and landed on Jewel who was scrabbling across the carpet on all fours crazy like a crab thrown onto a hot flattop grill (something hit the door again, not the weapon but still like thunder, this time farther away maybe, and the sound of splintering wood and a curse and someone shouted “AGAIN!”) and they tumbled apart Jewel scuttling under the desk and Caleb speedcrawling on hands and knees and he thought he might be screaming but it was hard to tell and where am I going Caleb’s head slammed into the base of the big old clock making the crystal inset of the door shiver and behind it the heavy gold pendulum swung back and forth unhurried like it had no worries in the world and another clap of thunder blew more splinter hail into the blinds and spearing into the back of the chair Caleb had been sitting in moments before and the white hulk of a huge bodyguard shouldered through the wreck of the rosewood doors that cost more than Caleb’s daddy had made in his whole life racking the slide on a shotgun which Caleb knew and didn’t know how he knew is this a dream was custom made to drop a rhinoceros in mid-charge.
So, there it is. Reactions? I’m looking forward to seeing any and all comments! Thank you.
This novelette is a story I’ve been tinkering with for quite a while, and I’ll be ready to let it go out into the world pretty soon — a week or so for my Patreon peeps who get to see my stories first as a thankyou for contributing to my financial wellbeing as a creator, and thirty days after that for everyone else.
It ties together a lot of my imagination in regard to the near future of life in the United States and elsewhere in the developed and developing world. The biggie is the future of the self-driving car. The protagonist of OMFTR, Angela, has never learned to drive, although she owns a car. She has never needed to, nor is it a useful skill for the average person in her world. Cars drive themselves, and there’s no more an option to drive them by hand than there is an option to control an elevator’s movement by hand — which, if you didn’t know, used to be how they worked. An attendant used to be paid to stand in each elevator and control which floors it moved to with a lever control, and to open and close the doors with a second lever.
Later, these functions were automated because it was possible and economical to do so, and nobody even thinks about controlling the elevator by hand. Which is how people will think of automobiles in 50 or maybe 100 years.
Angela’s worldview, however, is challenged when she discovers she and her boyfriend Buddy have inherited a real, honest-to-goodness manual-drive car. One which has not a single computer in it, not anywhere.
When she decides to learn to operate it on her own, the process will challenge her personally — but more than that, it will lead her to question the world she lives in, how it came to be the way it is, her relationship with Buddy, and even the most bedrock of assumptions for us all, how she lives her very own life.
I love this yarn, and I believe you will too.
I’ll get it into your hands soon.
…I start almost every story writing by hand, then type it into a LibreOffice doc and continue the story as a typist. If a story stalls really badly, I often end up going back to writing longhand to kickstart it.
Maybe it’s a weird way to do things, but it seems to work.
This is from a story stub with the working title “The Long Trajectory” about a small civilization of cultural refugees who have spent a thousand years hiding on a comet while the Solar System developed into a large and integrated society without them. It’s got potential as both story and political commentary.
It’s one of six or eight stories I’ve recently started and then gone on to start and/or finish other stories. It’s normal for me to start stories and leave them to sit for a while. I come back and complete a good three-quarters of them. Some of them are interesting concepts but I can’t think of a really good way to continue them, and they go in the trunk.
Even then, not all hope is lost. I think the longest a story has sat in the trunk was three or four years, and I ended up pulling it out, reworking it totally, and the end result was “Flower On The Moon,” a little flash vignette that I was happy with and which is out now as one of my freebies. I didn’t try to sell that one first — there’s pretty much no market for vignettes. But they’re fun to write and sometimes inspire larger stories or elements within larger stories, so I write one now and then.
So that’s what my story workshop looks like. I think they all look a bit different — what does yours look like?