This current writing project of mine to build momentum seems off to a rough start, but I think that’s because I’m being a jerk about it.
The schedule seems straigtforward: Read Prompt. Write Story. Edit Story. Overlap and repeat.
I’ve finished three stories in 30 days, which I have to admit is slower than I’d like to go, averaging about 500 words of first draft a day.
I just finished the third piece, and it took 12 days to write it. In the wrap up I tried to think about why it was going so slowly, and part of the issue is the silliness of some of these prompts. That’s okay, of course. Prompts are there to start something. The real purpose of this is to re-teach myself how to construct a story, and break my habit of half-finished trunk stories.
In the wrap up, I typed the phrase “Space Worms and Psychic Mimes” and thought to myself if that isn’t the name of an anthology, it’s got to me the name of my next rock band.
This being the Year of the Novella, after all, I needed to build some writing momentum. There are lots of projects that get it my head and shove the writing out of the way, and to get to my Novellas I need to get through stories.
This is a clearinghouse year for me. Every writer who has made it has given me the same advice: Finish what you start. Well, I don’t. That is, I haven’t been and that’s changing this year.
I found a book of science fiction prompts. 100 prompts that look like they are organized to go through the history of science fiction. I am reading one prompt, writing a story, finishing the story, then moving on to the next prompt. I have already gone through the first edits of the first story, and finished the second story today. Tonight I read the third prompt, let it ruminate in my backbrain, and tomorrow I start.
With two stories finished, I have noticed something. The first story began with a freewrite until I had the first line, the goal, and the ending come to me in a sudden burst. I didn’t use that ending, but I used the shadow ending. The character didn’t get what they wanted, but hopefully they got what they needed. That story took me a week to write, which is longer than I had hoped. I managed to write every day but not at a pace that would finish a novel in a year.
The second story also started with the freewrite until the first line and world came to me. I didn’t have an ending. I wrote and wrote and wrote for eleven days and it hurt. I had no focus, no ending, no real idea of what the character wanted. After finishing the draft, I think I know what he needed. I’m not sure.
So momentum builds. I have one more flight before I get back to the Great Metropolitan Rain Forest. I look forward to seeing your Aunt Stephanie again.
I have been looking at ways to visualize, or even animate, my stories as part of the editing process. It helps that I just skimmed Chuck Wendig’s post on story shape, as it has given me an idea.
First, I want to consider the basic pacing of the story. This could be visualized by drawing a bar, say 500 pixels wide, and breaking it up into blocks for every scene. As I break up my scenes with a pound sign on its own line, that should be easy to write a script that tells me how many words are in each scene. Were I writing a book, I could break it up by chapters, first, and then by scene.
I then take those words counts in proportion and break up my bar with the proportional lengths.
Then each section can be broken down by paragraphs, proportionally. I think at this point having a master color scheme for the scenes, and then colorizing paragraph blocks by random hues in that range would work. I would randomize the colors at first, just for variety.
This would give me a line showing how fast the changes are happening. I could take it a level further into sentences. I probably wouldn’t try to break phrase, because that’s a lot of contextual computation.
This colored bar could show me the rhythm of the story. After all, what is writing other than an pre-programmed emotional journey on which you send a total stranger?
Another idea to gauge the pacing is to try a sparkline. A sparkline is a small linear graph, usually used to show recent data changes, like for a stock. If I could devise an algorithm to map the lengths of the sentences on a sparkline, that may give me an idea of the pacing, but may lose the flow of paragraphs.
It may even be helpful to map the changes in sentence length, so the acceleration and deceleration of the language could be mapped out.
The advantage of the sparkline and its derivative could be one sentence per pixel, so the length of a story could be felt, too.
It looks like I’ve got a lot of coding to do when I get back home.
Uncle Josh has dire news. You only have about 22 hours to get your tickets to Box, Part 3, on Monday February 9th.
Didn’t see parts 1 or 2? Don’t worry; there’s a synopsis.
You want good science fiction? Go see Box.
You want more good science fiction? Encourage The Pulp Stage to start a podcast.
I have a lot of unpacking to do, and a lot of real-world packing to do because I’m leaving for a business trip. I will post my final thoughts on Box later in the week.
I despise clickbait. I shun it from my Facebook feed, and I am hoping one day to find a Chrome extension that wipes all those “links you may like” boxes that take up valuable web page space.
Unfortunately, the damn stuff works.
So why not use the technique for some good:
Of course, without the picture of a babe in a bikini that has nothing to do with the article, the tactic may fail.
Last minute update. I couldn’t leave well enough alone:
Let me summarize, succintly, how I feel after watching Box Part 2 from The Pulp Stage:
YOU MEAN I HAVE TO WAIT A WEEK TO FIND OUT HOW THIS ENDS?!?!?!!???
I haven’t felt this worked up over a new play since Equivocation. Almost everything I said last week still holds true: The acting is superb. The hero moments draw applause. The tension grows into a cliffhanger that — well, see the above exclamation on that.
The one thing I got wrong was expecting Jane (Kaia Maarja Hillier) to play the system. If she stil is, she’s really damn subtle about it, which makes perfect sense given how clever she is.
I accept that this is written for the Readers Theater, so it seems unfair to discuss the appearance of the actors, but Leslie Spitznagel and Bryce Earhart look like Portia and Ethan should look. Were this a blocked stage production, these two could fit right in. If this were a radio play, these actors–even if I had not seen them–would be close to the mental models.
Brian Burger and Jacquelle Davis bounce between the extra characters, and that’s got to be fun. When they stand, you know you’re in for a small treat.
I know people may worry that you can’t see part 2 unless you’ve seen part 1, and to solve this, not only is there a synopses provided, but part 2 opens with a brief summary that sets the stage and kicks the story off again that would be fine even with a fifteen-minute intermission rather than a week. I expect part 3 is written with the same problem in mind.
And boy, will this be good. The tension in part two ramps up considerably. The system is viscious. The system is cruel. The system is, parodoxically, trying to enforce morality by dehumanization (but then again don’t all dystopias work that way?).
The end of part two had me shaking my fist and crying out “CONNOLLY!” in much the same way Sherlock fans shake their fists and cry “MOFFAT!” (You can’t really shake your fist screaming “CONNOLLY AND HAYNES” and I know Tina better.)
Luckily for me (and you), they are doing part 3 twice, once on Sunday February 8, and once on Monday February 9th. As I’m scheduled to fly to Omaha on the 9th, I’m really frikkin’ happy they scheduled it this way.
Go. Buy tickets. You won’t be disappointed.
I have called 2015 the Year of the Novella, as I plan on cranking out my stories that I feel are novella length. Actually, they may be novelette length but I’m being optimistic. The second project has to do with reading more, and actually tracking what I read.
I subscribe to Analog, Asimov’s, F&SF, and Clarkesworld through my Kindle. I get Daily Science Fiction in my email, and of course Strange Horizons is out every week with something worth reading. Tor.com is constantly publishing things. I am drowning in new fiction to read, and yet I don’t. So I’m being intentional about it. My goal is one story a day, but I fell short of that goal, because programming appeals to me and can suck up my time. Plus, the library finally got me a copy of Grimm season 3, so there was week of mainlining television shows. (Yeah, it’s a poor excuse. I have lunch breaks.)
Novels read in January 2015: The Serpent of Venice (Christopher Moore), Ship Breaker (Paolo Bacigalupi), Lock In (John Scalzi), The Galton Case (Ross Macdonald), and Lone Wolf and Cub Omnibus 7 (Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima).
I won’t enumerate the short fiction, but I will cover highlights. I read 12 storise by men, 10 by women, and 1 I’m not sure about. My goal is to balance the gender distribution. My goal was also to read a story a day, but I only managed 23 in January. These included 7 novelettes, 15 short stories, and 1 flash. I read 21 different authors.
Short fiction highlights:
Forgiveness, by Leah Cypress (Asimov’s)
This story challenged me on many levels. I tend not to read emotionally, but I really did not know how to feel after reading this. Thinking back on it still gets me worked up. Damn good story.
Blue Ribbon, by Marissa Lingen (Analog)
Another story that got me involved. I loved the idea that 4-H would be applied to colonies in the Oort cloud. I had nothing but sympathy for the kids in the story, and I cheered them on.
Tasha’s Fail-Safe, by Adam-Troy Castro (Analog)
Great spy stuff. I had forgotten that I had read other Andrea Cort stories, so this was a re-introduction to her world. I have always struggled with trying to make each character smarter than all the other characters, and end up stuck in heads as potential plans unfurl. This is a good example of how to write smarter-than-thou characters and deal with them.
I score each story on a scale from 1-5, and after the first week or so, my scores were all 4s and 5s but things settled down to a bunch of 3s and a 2. Reading this much is bound to get a higher noise to signal ratio. There are some stories I just don’t like, but I have to read them anyway on this diet. I suspect I’ll find myself landing on a bell curve, slightly skewed to the higher numbers.
The final numbers were a 3.24 average.
Hopefully I’ll be more active in February, but I have started a new writing project, which will eat into my reading time.