I’ve been trying to get the time and energy to turn 2015 into the Year of the Novella. Clearly, making plans is a sure way for them not to come to fruition. So I turned to the 100 prompts program to build momentum. That hasn’t worked. One story got through the whole process and is on market. Stories two and three are sitting waiting for me to compile the critiques from April 7. Story Four needs serious re-writing. Story Five failed. Story Six failed. Story Seven Failed, and the reboot of Story Seven failed. I’m talking “what is the next word going to be” kind of failure for a couple of weeks.
I have lost my momentum.
Last night I ran my critique group through Jim Van Pelt’s Seven Sentence Story, which is always fun and I’ve done in several times and tried to expand it. So, to switch up the momentum, I’m going to start with prompt 8 and push forward, writing seven-sentence stories, one a day, hopefully two, maybe even three, until I get through the book.
I will admit that some seeds have been planted. Now I need to deepen the well and get back to work.
I have been working through a book of 100 Science Fiction prompts, and the progress was slow at first, but acceptable. I quite liked my first story, and the second and third stories were all right even if a bit silly. The fourth story ended completely broken but I have a strong idea how to fix it.
Then came number 5.
So far the rough drafts of each story has taken about 11 days to fiinsh
I have been working on story 5 for 20 days.
So far, the rough drafts have been over 5,200 words in length.
At about the 5,000 word mark I tried scrapping everything and “write the good stuff”.
It’s not working.
There is no good stuff.
I am back to “I cannot think of the very next word to put down”.
Oddly, I like the world. I like the characters. I love the laconic voice the narrator had over the first few days, but lost. I like the idea, but I’m not finding the story.
At this pace, I’ll never get to the novellas.
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.
So the other day I was thinking about this plot scenes at lunch and write in the evening plan I came up with, and it’s a good production plan that I think will work for me.
Except when a run of the mill fantasy story spurs me to crank out 700 words of flash while waiting to leave for dinner.
But hey, 700 words of flash done.
My writing has really slowed down, and I am finding my scatterbrain trying to work on several projects at once in the late hour at the end of my day when I finally manage to sit down to write, on the few days I manage to sit down and write. So I have decided to try a solid production schedule up, not by wordcount, but by scene management.
As I have several stories I want to write, and I kind of know how they go, but I am thinking this is my year of the novella, and the stories require heavy plotting. So the plan is to plot scenes.
The problem is defining a scene. I have an overdue library book about scenes and one of the ideas in the book is every scene has a focal point, that beat where the story moves, the point where the direction of the scene changes. This seems simple to say and harder to pull off. In practice, I don’t find a point where the scenes change. The focal point of the scenes I’m bashing out feel like they are falling at the end of the scene, which also feels like cliffhanger writing.
Maybe this is what it means to write a page turner.
My scenes tend to build to a point, hit the reader with some strong emotion, and then switch POVs.
Anyway, to pull this off I have spreadsheets for each story, and each scene on a row, with the pertinent information. Then, once I allow my self to write (and not write about writing) I can do a scene, and hopefully call it progress.
It also means that the full story needs to be plotted. That’s a trickier thing.
I’ve summarized the narrative arcs using the every-impressive 7-sentence story, but I have not mastered extending that to a fuller story, so each character ends up with four or five scenes, instead of four or five movements. Maybe I need a paradigm shift.
But the plan is to create a spacetime structure in which I can work on assignment, instead of trying to fake something every night.
I realized yesterday that I had the perfect ending for a short play I’m writing.
By “coincidence” it is the same suggestion I made to a writer in a critique group this week.
Clearly, I’m dealing with a meme.
In this case, the meme is two characters who cannot touch, do touch just once at the climax of the story to try to drive the emotion or reality of the piece.
I’m sure it will come up again, and if I dig far enough, I’ll find it in my older trunk stories, too.
One of the strange things about the current NaNoWriMo project is that it started in Present Tense Omniscient. This is not a natural way for me to write, even in summaries I tend to use Past Tense. I keep slipping into past tense as well. Ah, well. That’s life. It means I have a tendency to write “He sais” which is partly my fingers typing “said” (which, as Matt Hough pointed out at OryCon, is punctuation in fiction) and partly too-late remembering that this is present tense, so finishing up with the “s” instead of the “d”.
I’m also pantsing my way through this novel, which is not my favorite way to work. I’ve lost track of characters so I have Deputy Whatshername and Sheriff Whoeverhehis, a cooling corpse by the river named Victim and a not-so-pleasant character named Husband. His wife I named Qasey, which has all the conceipt of a cool sci-fi like name without being unpronounceable.
My search and replace feature is going to go into overdrive should I ever finish this.