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I have come up with a "what the hell's going on" for the Mars novel that is just evil, evil, eeeevil. I probably won't use it -- it's not quite the kind of story I thought I was writing, and it's got its own "what's going on" that would need to be solved -- but it is so far the only idea I've come up with that connects all the dots.

There are things I want to do with this novel that I can't do if I do that (probably... hmm.), but it does put a happy evil writer grin on my face. My main character is staring at me in appalled disbelief.

Next Thing

Thursday, February 18th, 2016 05:45 pm
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Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention the revisions are done.

Well, "done", of course. I spent an entire day on the last bit to be wedged in and decided it just wouldn't fit, so have set it aside. When the housemate & I both have some time free in our reading schedules (i.e., after book club), I'll print out two copies, see how it reads all-together for both of us, and then discuss the various bits that didn't fit and whether they're worth what it would variously take to fit them in. And then revise more as needed, though ghu knows I hope that's not very much.

And then I'll have a newly-revised manuscript and a new query, and I'll just need a new email provider so I can be confident of actually getting any replies. I cannot express how much I don't want to do the work to make that last happen.
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Revision generally comes to me in one of two ways. There's the reading-through of the text, when I come across something that just doesn't ring right or could be better. Those usually aren't too hard to work the new text in (though if something was wrong the first time, there's no guarantee that I can come up with the right thing now). And then there's the snippets of words that come to me when I'm not looking at the existing manuscript, in fact often nowhere near it; sometimes just a line or a phrase, sometimes half a scene of new content. These typically get scribbled down by hand on whatever paper I can reach at the time, and then fitted in later. Sometimes they actually do fit where I'd envisioned them, but more often I've misremembered the existing text just enough that the new stuff has nowhere to go, or crashes into the existing with that horrible crunching sound and shrapnel everywhere. And that's if the new stuff came with a specific spot in mind; just as often it's a bit that I like or that adds something important, and it needs to go somewhere, but I have to canvass the existing text to figure out where. And then comes the roadblock or the shrapnel....

This current revision pass of Highway of Mirrors has had plenty of both kinds. I'm now down to the last few handwritten bits that need to be fitted in, and of course these are the hard ones; the easy ones got done already. There's at least one bit that I really like that I don't think I'm going to be able to use; it would add a lovely oomph to the figuring-out-the-spy-plot part, but there's no way my characters could acquire the information in question -- and making a way would probably require another 20k words, all of which would be a distraction from what the novel's really about. So, no.

One bit is a two-parter; I came up with the perfect way to work in the set-up reference a couple days ago (when I needed to be getting ready for work, of course), and now I need to scan through the later chapters to figure out where the follow-up goes.

Another bit is adding some needed depth to the antagonist's characterization, and that too requires writing a new chunk to fit it into. But in this case, the point in the story where it really needs to go happens to coincide with one of the weaker scenes in the novel. So, as is often the case, put two problems together to create a solution. I'm having to effectively write a whole new scene to slip this into the background of, but I'll have less summarizing and more actual story when I'm done.

Doesn't mean I'm enjoying the process, though. ;-P

January Word Count

Thursday, February 4th, 2016 08:02 pm
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
Highway of Mirrors revisions: 2489
original short fiction: 16
Total new words in January: 2505

I'd have liked more, but wordcount is not the point of revision. And the revisions are going well, all things considered. I've gotten stuck into the plotty bits in the later chapters that I was afraid were a disaster; in fact, they're just... not quite there. With surprisingly small changes of actual text, I'm taking what were strands running parallel to each other and knitting them together so they converge on more or less the same point, which I think may be the difference between a handful of events and a "plot". I'd like to claim that this is what I meant all along -- I mean, the bits are all there, seemingly waiting for this -- but I can't say it with a straight face.

I've also changed one thing from being data that my characters are given, to data that they find out. It's not a big thing (just the code name of an operation), but I think it's having an impact beyond its size, making them seem much more investigate-y and clever.

The characterization tweaks I added to the earlier chapters were things I meant from the start, but now they're actually on the page for the readers to share. ;-)

I'm laughably over my mental deadline, but my deadline was laughably unrealistic -- or rather, I'd figured on a week to do the logic-fix I turned out not to need, and maybe a couple of the easier character-tweaks, and then print it out to review for plot issues and give it to the alpha-reader simultaneously. That's somehow turned into a full chapter-by-chapter review (the chapters out of order, which is an interesting focusing technique) and everything-I-can-catch overhaul, which turns out to be a lot more than I thought I could do without hard copy. Once I've got the last of the currently-handwritten bits wedged in (which have come to me variously over time), and the last of the newly-introduced brackets removed, and the knock-on changes from the above followed through, then I'll print it out for both the housemate and myself to do a full read-through. And then we'll see what we shall see.


Oh, yeah; I also got one short story submitted.


For February: Finish this revision pass and get the print-out printed out.

I'd like to get another short story finished. The idea that spun off from a library presentation on screenwriting last summer recently acquired a half-page of handwritten fix, and the main character now has an actual reason for being where she is. (That one, I think was in the back of my brain all along; it just took a while to get to the front.) That might be a good candidate.

Everything that can be in a slush pile right now, should be.

The email issue remains. I wish I could switch gears better; maybe once I get to the print-out stage of revision, I'll stop feeling like every free day has to go to that, and can catch up on some admin work.

But mainly, the revisions.
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Oh, god, why did I think I could revise this thing? Someone, please, shoot me now.






No, no, it's okay, really. Breathe. Fix the logic inconsistency, then print out a nice, clean copy and give it a read from there.

lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
So, I've finally figured out why the latest bit of Falling From Ground is going so hard (as opposed to all the other bits that've been hard). I've worked more or less up to the last scene of the Post-It noted, franken-noveled, wouldn't-it-have-been-nice-if-I'd-done-this-right-the-first-time section, in which my character researches some old records. This lets me work in a nice bit of character backstory, which I have. And then....?

That's right; I have no idea where this is going next. (I know stuff farther down the road, but not next-scene next.) Which means I have no idea what this scene should do, other than make way for the backstory. And it does need to do something. Given the way I've built up to it, it feels like my MC needs to discover something new in his research. Probably something that'll pull the rug out from under him, because he's made the mistake of being in one of my novels.

So now I have to figure out what that is. Which means brainstorming. And planning, ugh. Or trying to coax my back-brain into telling me it's had this all along, which amounts to the same thing.
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
I came up with another new novel idea yesterday/night before. It's somewhere between litfic and romance, which is not my usual thing at all. But in the course of one evening's I-should-be-sleeping musing, I got the whole story line, including what feels like key scenes for all the major turning points; I even remembered most of it the next morning. You don't argue with that.

...I may need to learn Italian.

Or at least find a really good consultant who knows Italian. Aside from language skills I don't have, this one will involve lots of Italian architecture and culture and such. An interesting side-effect of being a writer: I've never been all that interested in Italian language or culture beyond the basic of foreign travel = neat, but now I find myself half in love with it, because these characters are. My housemate tells me that normal people don't do this.

This is the third new novel idea I've come up with in the past couple of weeks. And that's not counting the couple of short story ideas that have cropped up in the same period of time. If my brain were half as focused on the thing it's supposed to be working on as it is on creating shiny new distractions I can't work on for ages yet, I'd be done by now.
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I've come up with two new novel ideas in the past few days. Saturday, full of pierogi and sunburn, I got an idea for the early Department novel I've been wanting to write, with one of the tertiary characters from Highway of Mirrors. It's maybe not the most stunningly original plot-line ever, but it will allow me to do lots of stuff with the early formation of the Department and bring in lots of backstory on this character, which is what the book's actually about; the plot is just to hang all that on. ;-) Then a couple days ago, a song that I've been listening to rather a lot, thinking there's a story in there somewhere, suddenly clicked, and a whole new scenario+plot grabbed my neurons. It's a sort-of fairytale retelling, except it's several fairy tales thrown into a blender and by the time I'm done messing about with the results, I doubt the sources will be recognizable beyond a couple of scenes. And it's still trying to take over my brain, most reluctant to wait its turn.

Meanwhile, I feel like I'm getting some traction on Falling From Ground again. Frustrated with not being able to keep the flow of the chapters-so-far in my head, I sat down and did a paragraph-by-paragraph outline of what I'd written. It's incredibly tedious, but if anything'll get the details of a piece into one's head, that will. And it made clear that the reason the text felt like an incoherent mess was that it was flopping from one thing to another and back again; my character established that he had to know X to be able to figure out Y and Z, then proceeded to spend pages speculation about Y and Z without yet knowing X. Luckily, once the problem was identified and pinned down, it was easy to fix; I moved a chunk, tweaked a couple of sentences, and voila, relatively coherent flow. I also finally yielded and tried the post-it note method for organizing what happens next in what order and what needs to go along with it. It didn't really tell me anything I didn't already know, but somehow it made it all seem much more logical and coherent. So I'm still doing the same thing I planned on, but I feel a lot better about it now. ;-) I think the story is more focused now, both on paper and in my head, and that's something it badly needed.

I hope I'm not jinxing it by saying all this. There's still plenty of work to do, and I'm still at the stage of cutting up salvage text and stitching it in where it'll be more use. (I've got a great scene of my character being followed that no longer makes any sense whatsoever in the early part of the book; I'll have to see if I can fit it in later.) I'm beginning to want a dedicated writing space just so I can pin things to the walls, though I suspect that wouldn't work out well long term.
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...or, the genesis of an idea.

One of the side-effects of deciding to finally send "Rising to the Occasion" out into slush-land was that I re-read it, and one of the effects of that was that the characters moved back in and took over my brain. I've even scribbled down a few snippets, though it's all been slice-of-life stuff that probably doesn't belong anywhere and certainly doesn't count toward word-quotas until/unless it acquires a plot.

Today I happened to glance over some of the ideas I'd brainstormed and rejected for the first story, one of which still catches my fancy... but it'd have to be set a couple of years after the first one, and I'd like to do some more stories in the series first, if series there is to be. (Which is probably something that should wait til I've at least sold the first one, but writer-brain will persist in these things.) There was one element of that idea, though, that just didn't fit, entertaining though an ice-imp potentially is. ("Imps are a myth." "Yes, I know, but....") But it might be enough to carry a story by itself... and then I went to take a shower, which I should have known was asking for trouble. (All the best ideas come in the shower.) Somewhere between the shampoo and the hot water running lukewarm, it acquired a setting, and I worked out how the main character would get involved. And then while I was getting dressed, it went and evolved a name.

So now I really had better finish up the Haley short-story, so I can make room for "A Cold Day in Spells". (Yes, I really did go there. Sorry.)

Yeah. Like that.

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014 10:06 pm
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My process is weird. I get that. (Okay, no, I don't; why wouldn't everybody write in this obviously superior way? ;-) But I acknowledge it.) Which means when I run across any other writer talking about their process, it's pretty well guaranteed to sound like a foreign language to me.

So I was all the more pleased to run across this post on Make Mine Mystery today. Which sounds so much like my process that I can just point and say "That! There! Like that!"

(Okay, not so much with the outlining. I don't outline, but that's not why.

And I don't usually have four projects on the burner at one time. Three, however, is not unheard of.)

But the bits where she's talking about characters, and about keeping the story straight -- yes, that. Exactly. How else would one do it?
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
Coming into Chapter 2 of Falling From Ground, I had the problem that I was looking at a giant unrelieved block of navel-gazing. Some of that's inevitable and even appropriate -- the MC's got quite a mess inside his head that he needs to sort out -- but there needs to be something actually happening, too, as leavening. And so when action starts happening that is related to the mess, in a few chapters, it won't be too much of a change of pace.

Went out to dinner with the housemate and tossed the problem around, and now someone's following him. Don't know who or why, yet, but that's okay. But the words still weren't happening. I'm coming up on end-of-month, and despite having sailed well over quota last month, I'm looking at a hell of a push to make word-count this time.

This is incredibly frustrating and more than a little scary. Beginnings are supposed to be the easy part! But then I got to thinking about the Haley novel, and how I had to re-research Zurich three times. And most of the messing-about-in-Zurich stuff is in the earlier parts.... So I checked my notes:

It took me five months to write Chapter 2 of Haley.

And something like nine months for the second chapter of Highway of Mirrors, though there's some first-novel learning-curve there. Which means this isn't a sign that this novel is going horribly off the rails, or that even the easy parts will be hard and nothing will ever be easy again. This is just part of my process.

It makes sense, when the enthusiasm for a new project meets the tedium of actually making it happen. And it's not necessarily a part of my process that I have to keep unaltered; I still want to make quota for this month, if I can. And I don't think the lull is due to any back-brain work that needs to be done: I can still generate world-building at the drop of a keystroke, for example. But it's useful to know that this is a thing I do, and right about at this point in a new novel, pretty consistently.

Now, get back to work.

Oh, thank ghod

Saturday, September 6th, 2014 05:13 pm
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
The alpha reader reports, on preliminary read, that Chapter 1 is not a horrible world-building info-dumped mess, but instead is very interesting, with a nicely-distributed measure of world-building that raises curiosity without overwhelming. Also, she felt quite bad for my poor messed-up main character, and flagged several of my favorite bits as especially good lines.

(I am glad I cut the two paragraphs of world-building that I did, however. That might well have tipped the balance, and one of them will work better later anyway.)

There's still the proper full-critique read to come, of course, but at least now I can stop worrying that I'm going to have to torch the whole thing and start entirely from scratch. Whew.
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
I'm still having trouble getting into the main character's head. Attempts at self-immersion are leaving me cold, and my brain seems to have an infinite resource of distractions to dangle before me. And I still don't wanna; all the personal stuff aside, all that emotional intensity just sounds exhausting.

The housemate suggests it's due to stress, and she may be right. In addition to all the usual (and some of it more so than usual), there's a couple of sizable house projects that need to be done this summer (or at least before winter, and fall is such an uncertain thing), and we're fast running out of summer.


The other problem is that this novel seems to be insisting on being written piecemeal. I've always jotted bits down in advance of where I'm working, though I try to keep it to a minimum; for this one, that's almost all I'm doing, and when I do manage to write a longer passage in order, I'm often not entirely happy with it.

This is a frustrating way to write: I'll push out a couple hundred words, then shut down the writing laptop and go do something else -- only to have the perfect phrase for that concept, or the right way to connect those three bits and in what order, pop into my head insistently. (I'm going through a lot of post-it notes.) And while I have jigsawed together scenes before, and they've worked well and readers couldn't see the seams, I don't fancy writing an entire novel that way.


And then there's the worldbuilding. I'm normally not much for in-advance worldbuilding -- what I need to know will come to me when I need it, and there's no sense fussing about with it before that -- but in this case, I've got worldbuilding coming out my ears. And every time I try to focus on the necessary character stuff, I get more of it -- Mars has got political backstory that says all kinds of things about the culture on Earth at that point, and political, social, and aesthetic characteristics keep turning up in nearly every paragraph. I honestly can't tell if I'm offering the reader interesting tidbits about a complex new world or info-dumping it to death.


I am tempted, deeply tempted, to jump ahead to one of the key scenes that I've got clear in my head, which feels like it's at least in chapter 4 and possibly chapter 8 or later -- which could mean anything, as I've never been good at predicting how long it'll take to get to something in a book. (And it could be that what this story really needs is to have the later thing shoved forward, and figure out more stuff to put in after; it wouldn't be the first time.) And just start writing from there, forwards and backwards as need be. This is not a thing I do; I'll jot bits of a future scene as they come to me, yes, but I've learned the hard way not to commit to them, lest the scene no longer fits when I write up to it. Not to mention the carrot effect. Better by far to write as close to chronologically as I can. And yet, that scene is the one I'm feeling; I can hear the character voices, feel the setting, all that stuff that says this scene is Right. It even has its own specific theme song. (Though the soundtrack is the one thing about the whole novel that's going easily, so what does that prove?)

And quite frankly, if I sit down to write that scene and even that runs aground, I'm going to be seriously tempted to bin the whole novel. Which, before anyone suggests it, is not the right answer here.

retro-posted 8-25-14

One scene and stuck....

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014 01:21 pm
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Oh. Maybe the problem with the Mars novel isn't that I don't know what happens after the character walks through that door. Maybe the problem is that what he sees on the other side of that door isn't what I've written.

Interesting thought. Is that it, brain? Is that why you've stopped me dead?
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I had planned to take the next couple of months off, or at least easy, writing-wise. Haley was by far the hardest thing I've written in a lot of ways, and I figured I'd be a lot better off with some recovery time before tackling another novel's complexities.

I started Falling From Ground on Wednesday.

Having figured out the name issue, words leapt into my head, and kept insisting on themselves in that "We're not leaving until you write us down" way. It's always a sign when that happens, so I scrambled about and started typing. I've jotted down other snippets and things, but this one went into an official file named CHAPTER.01, so the novel really is begun.

That snippet did bring other snippets with it, but they kept not quite fitting together and side-tracking and.... I've said before that I'm an intuitive writer, and having to stop every couple of sentences to Figure Something Out is not the way I write. Except when it is, which was far too much of the last novel. I don't like it. It's not fun. And one of the reasons I wanted some time off is that I really wanted to get some space between me and that way of working, in hopes that it would go away and not come back and I could return to just transcribing my back-brain's product. So even though I got a respectable chunk (for me) done, I was not entirely happy with it.

In fact, I was funking out a bit about how this might be the new normal. It didn't help that the short-story idea I've been letting percolate hasn't been coming together, and it seemed to need me to sit down and brainstorm, up in the front of the brain and deliberately, something about the MC. Which, I just, NO.

Somewhere in the process of whining about all this to my housemate, it occurred to me that I might be trying to figure things out in advance not because that's what this story needs, but because I was so disconcerted about the surprise additional 15,000 words on the first book, and I so disliked the constant brick-walling on the third one as some new problem reared its head, that I've been over-compensating to try to avoid that. Maybe what I should do is just sit down and see what words happen.

As soon as I said that, the MC promptly named herself. And the snippet of words that had the seed of the story idea came back sounding like an opportunity and not a wall.

And I did sit down, and several hundred words flowed out of my fingers as if somebody's finally turned on the faucet. And when I thought I'd hit a good stopping point, and was on the verge of shutting down for the night, more words appeared. And more words, and more.... I think I did the final save-and-backup four or five times before my brain stopped giving me oh-just-one-bit-more. I've got an MC and a SC and a bunch of world-building and I didn't have to plan out one bit of it in advance.

So it's follow the short story and see where it leads. And for FFG, it's maybe get some sleep so you can keep the X in mind that Y is wending toward, but otherwise, stop stopping and trying to figure things out; you had an idea before, self, just roll with it. Your back-brain doesn't generally steer you wrong, so stop roadblocking it, already.

Sometimes you need to check the road map. But sometimes, you just need to get in the car and drive.

A rose by any other OMG

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014 04:23 pm
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I've been hesitating a bit on starting Falling From Ground (the Mars colony spy novel), and one of the reasons has been trying to settle on the main character's name. I've liked and discarded several, and finally figured on going with the one that came with words attached to it. I figured that, like naming a pet, it would come to feel inevitable with use. But it's never fully established itself in my brain, and some of the discards still called to me.

I just now (in the shower, of course) realized why. And it's not a bug, it's a feature.
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
Yesterday, I took the penultimate scene, previously written and naggingly unsatisfactory, and completely overhauled it, adding emotion and stage business and a practical reason for it to exist in the first place, cutting chunks and changing others and adding half again its length. I think it's better now; at the very least, there's certainly more of it.

This must be how the word-vomit crowd writes. My god, it's exhausting. I can't imagine why anyone would do this to themselves on a regular basis. I'd pushed out the original version of the scene on the grounds that I had to write something, if only so I could have something to fix. And it was the right approach for this scene, this time, but dear lord, I'm glad I don't do it that way all the time.

Also, I figured out what was wrong with the end of the scene. It wasn't any of the things I'd thought of before, and I can't believe I didn't see it sooner.

And today, I just have the last scene to tackle. It's coming incrementally, and slowly, but at least it's coming. So far, anyway. And much of it's coming jigsaw-style, which is a frustrating way to work, but is a damned sight better than nothing and seems to produce just as good results in the end. Onward.

April Word Count / Goals

Thursday, May 1st, 2014 11:47 am
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
Haley novel: 2569
Total new words in April: 2569

Yeah, totally blew my quota. There are excuses; Science Festival at the local university ate several evenings and an entire weekend, and of course there were taxes. But mostly it was because Chapter 14 kept kicking my ass. And 15 is being even more obstreperous.

I am an intuitive writer, and story comes to me as words, not as pictures or movie images or, ghod forbid, an intellectual decision to write something that works like [this]. Ideally, it comes as the first words, following naturally from the scene before. Sometimes it's a chunk from the middle of a scene, a sentence fragment or even a paragraph, but it generally comes attached to enough stuff in my head that I know what the surrounding words will be like. And this works great, about 95% of the time.

The end of this book is being the other 5%. I know what kind of scenes I need, to wrap up the various sub-plots, but for most of it I have NO WORDS. And the words I do have aren't coming with the necessary context attached to them, and what context they do have is... going to take some juggling to make it fit on a purely practical level in-story. So I'm having to sort out on a purely intellectual level what [this] scene will be, and what order it will come in, and what sort of emotional weight it will have, and how much screen time it merits... and that is not how I normally work! So it is coming slowly, and hard.

Having consciously bashed out the approximate shape of the end of the book, I did finally start getting some words yesterday, lines and even one or two paragraphs spread scattershot through the last half-dozen scenes. It's a very jigsaw-puzzle way of working, and it hazards things not fitting once I finally write up to them, but it seems to be what I've got to work with this time. So work I shall.


The query goal was to go through the AAR database, and that... didn't happen. It's still a good idea, and I still intend to do it, but it may have to wait for a little while.



May's goal: finish the book.

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