How much insight do readers have into an authors mind? Not much I imagine. I wonder what readers picture when they consider what editing a novel feels like. From what I hear, it goes a little something like so:
A common conception of editing
The writer drafts in fits and flurries until one day those final words strike the page and the work is done. The final sentence written thoughtful and poignant. They print out a stack of paper and hand it off to an editor who attacks the page with red ink until it’s awash of circles and strikethroughs. The manuscript is returned, the writer fixes each mistake then hands it off to publishers.
For me, it’s rarely this simplistic. It’s a disparate and multifaceted process not easy to picture in a scene. My editing state of might is a stormy place fraught with internal struggles and achievements, sometimes thrilling, sometimes horribly boring, sometimes frustrating to no end, yet often rewarding as line by line the work is massaged into close to what it needs to be.
In the trenches
Editing is freeing, daunting, difficult, and when a piece finally feels like it’s coming together, it’s even gleeful. As I edit my current work, a science fiction novel with the working title Grim Curio, I find myself acting as my own therapist as I continually push forward. It’s a dark, supernatural, multi-dimensional, post-apocalyptic story of the last city on a dying earth and how it’s residence deal with the existential crises of being left behind when the rest of humanity escaped to another planet.
I’ve been actively editing Grim Curio for six months. When I look at the early chapters, it’s finally doing the difficult things. The tone feels right. The writing style has the rhythm I want, terse at times and sometimes flowy, sometimes both. It feels punchy in moments as if chewing on the world’s grit. It’s provocative, doesn’t shy away from anything, but balances that with lingering moments of humanity and introspection. There are layers to this shit, man. And in those edited chapters, I feel like its all come together.
To me, that’s glee. I’m hyped on my own cool-aid. But there’s still a long way to go. When you’re writing your heart out, these things take a hellova long time. And I see the mountain of text ahead of me and I keep asking myself, how am I going to get the rest where it needs to be?
The daunting task
That’s daunting as hell, seeing hundreds of pages left to fix up, expand, contract, and otherwise make good. But I have plans, testing strategies. I’m returning to old standby methods when words get dicey and I need to make it right. Part of me is always stressed that I’m taking too much time. Pacing through a single chapter over and over just getting everything flowing can take weeks, can become monotony.
But every pass, I get to ask myself more questions as the work get’s closer too intent. What am I trying to say? What is that character thinking? Who wants what right now? How are they trying to get it? Did this really come from my messed up mind? Sometimes things get darker than even I’m comfortable with, but that’s ok because that’s the story I’m trying to tell.
My wierd existential angst
Then there’s this other weird layer of thought on top of all this, something I try not to think about often, but it comes up. It’s selfish and it’s dark. The most stressful thing about editing is time. It takes a lot of time. And somewhere in the back of my mind, I wonder, what if the world doesn’t have enough time for me to publish my book? What if we’re on a downward trajectory, whether that’s environmental or political, that escalates to the point where another published book doesn’t matter anymore. It’s the most selfish way to think about our current situation. What if we break down as a society and I took too long to get the book to market? Everything I worked for disappears.
Meh. Hopefully, that doesn’t happen. I’ll keep planting trees in my yard, try to make choices that positively affect the world, and keep on editing cause that’s just what I do.
All wrapped up into a singular process
That’s what goes through my mind while editing. The joys and difficulties and angst. You know what? You have to enjoy the process because in the end, all you’re left with is a bunch of words on some pages that hopefully some people will read and turn into something more. But all you can control is the process, so you enjoy the hard times, turn the stress into a game, and hopefully create something you can be proud of. Soon this process will end and I’ll start over again with another book. It’ll be worth it no matter what because the process is worth it.
It’s been a while since I stepped away from all things blog and social media related. December 2018 came around and I felt like I needed to avert my gaze from the internet for a time. But I’ve remained busy, so today I’ll take a moment to share with you what’s been going on.
Grim Curio is my current major work in progress, a novel about the refugees in the last city on left earth after three calamities ravaged the planet. Last year I sent it out to 15 beta readers, received excellent feedback, then set the novel aside for a while to get some perspective.
In that off time, I wrote Peculiar Case, but when that work finished, I returned to edit Grim Curio and have been hard at work ever since. The edits are going slow but well. After editing and reading the first quarter of the novel several times, I feel like it’s almost in a finished state.
So that leaves three quarters of the novel left to go. Here’s the kind of changes I’m making:
More explicit communication of themes
I’m being more explicit about my themes. There are lots of themes that touch on the current state of the world, but turn them on their head. I didn’t shy away from controversial topics in the earlier drafts, but now I’m making everything explicit.
Readers of the latest edits have really responded to this, and it seems the direct nature of the themes makes them take a second to think not only about the state of the world of Grim Curio but about the state of the real world as well, which is what I want. It’s entertaining but hopefully will shift something in your brain if I do my job right.
Seamless transition between narration and character thought
One goal of mine was to make the reader feel like they intimately understand the main characters. I want you to feel like you’re in their heads, but I also hate italics as thought markers in other novels, and I feel like jumping from narration to internal thought is jarring in most novels.
So I came up with a stylistic solution that I’ve never seen done before and I’m really proud of. In the current edit, I’m spreading this style of internal thought through seamless narration shifts throughout. It takes a lot of thought to make it work but it’ll be worth it in the end.
Adding scenes where there seems to be a gap in the story or logic
This is an obvious one, but occasionally the jump from one scene to the next is jarring. In the previous draft, the reader would need to piece together what might have happened to get from one scene to the next. This issue wasn’t prevalent throughout but there were definitely a few times where it pops up.
In most cases, a paragraph or two seems to solve the issue, but in one major case I’m adding an entire new chapter. As you might imagine, this is the most time consuming part of the edit as new scenes take several pass throughs and edits themselves in order to be brought up to snuff with the rest of the novel.
Removing some experimental narration
In the earlier drafts, I had many cases where I was trying something new. I wanted to create an atmosphere where the narrator could occasionally address the characters as if a character itself. While I enjoyed it, it was clear my readers we very split on these bits.
It was an experiment after all and it looks as if the experiment failed. So I’m rewriting these scenes to follow a more traditional style of narration. Perhaps another day in another novel I’ll be able to perfect this, but for now I’m cutting my losses and moving on without this element to the novel.
So that’s what’s been going on with Grim Curio. But there’s another novel I have up in the air, and I’ve been getting a lot of questions about it, so let’s take a sec to talk about Peculiar Case.
The Peculiar Case of the Luminous Eye
I had planned on documenting the publication process of this one and I dropped the ball when I stepped away from the internet. So here’s what’s happening with that.
Last year I published Peculiar Case on Patreon before I sending it out to publications. I learned something through that process. Apparently, publications consider having something published on Patreon as “previously published” and most won’t accept it at that point.
Currently, it’s still readable to patrons on my Patreon page. For now, I’ve stopped sending it out to magazines. I have two options with it, self publish or keep it in my back pocket until after Grim Curio is published so I have a nice follow-up novel. I’m leaning towards the latter.
So Peculiar Case is out there for you to read if you want to be a patron, but for publishing purposes, I’m holding off for the time being while I strategize my publishing career. It’s a bummer, but I think to wait, in the long run, will work out to my benefit.
Lately, I’ve been contemplating my goals and the steps I need to take to accomplish them. I’ve been reading lots of books on psychology, success, and becoming a thriving artist. One thing I’ve learned is, if you don’t define your goals, put them out there, and define the steps that will lead you to success, then it likely won’t in the way you imagine happen.
So I’ve once again updated and redefined my goals, and now I’m putting them out into the universe to see what happens. My goals are lofty, but I know they’re achievable if I work deliberately.
In the coming year, I have one major goal and several sub-goals that will help me achieve it. Let’s start with the big one.
What I’m listening to while I write this post:
6,000 dedicated fans
When I say dedicated fans, I mean the people who eagerly await my next release and jump on the opportunity to buy my next book. That’s a high number and will be difficult to accomplish. But it’s also a deliberate number.
I’ve read that an artist with a following of 6,000 fans should generate enough income to survive off their art. While I likely wouldn’t quit my job at this point, it would set me up financially to invest in polishing my writing, marketing, and packaging far more than I can now.
Originally, I was thinking of setting my goal lower. 6,000 dedicated fans is a lot, after all. But I’m taking some of the advice from 10X Rule by James Clear which argues that you should set goals 10 time higher than your initial estimates.
I think that’s a smart plan, so I’m setting my primary goal for 2019 high and taking deliberate actions to accomplish it.
What follows are my sub-goals that will support my primary goal of 6,000 dedicated fans in order of priority.
Regular release schedule
The past two years I’ve been working hard on preparing for regular releases. I have several projects in the works that are starting to see the light of day in one form or another.
To keep this sustainable, I plan on alternating release from full-length novels to short stories or novellas then back again. The end game is to maintain a cadence of releasing something every six months or so.
This will take a lot of work, but I think with the alternating formats, it will be possible. In fact, I’m currently set up to release 3 books in 2019: The Peculiar Case of the Luminous Eye, Grim Curio, and The Gin Thief: Episode 2.
Build a robust creative team
Of course, publishing content is my top priority. You’re not a novelist unless you publish novels. But building a “creative team” is just as important. Art isn’t created in a vacuum, and I don’t intend to be a solitary author who rarely emerges from the shadows.
I want to create a thriving community of like-minded people. People who actively participate in the creation, production, and distribution of art. And before I sound too snobby, I’m really talking about everyday readers like you.
There are several ways you can participate. To be a part of my creative team, you first need to sign up and make it official. There’s really no commitment, just a desire to read, review, share, or finance my art and in return receive special access and cool rewards.
Fix back catalog issues
I have a few wrinkles I need to iron out in my back catalog. The two big one have to do with Discovering Aberration and The Gin Thief.
Discovering Aberration is held back by an awkward intro and editing issues. I attempted to fix them a few months ago but went overboard on my edits. So starting in about two weeks, I’m going to tackle this problem once and for all! It’s driving me nuts.
Next, I have The Gin Thief: Ep 1 that’s been waiting for a second episode for years. I’m not happy that this has taken so long, but I’ve talked about reasons in the past. Now I’m talking about solutions. It’s time to get a move on, and in the early months of 2019 Episode 2 will be written.
Part of my new release strategy is to release Early Access content regularly on Patreon. Patrons help me finance things like editing and cover design. In return, they get ebooks, Early Access content, and more.
The Peculiar Case of the Luminous Eye is the first work to hit Early Access. It’ll have a proper announcement in the next week or two. As long as I keep the quality of my Early Access works high, I think I’ll be able to attract fresh blood.
Most authors focus their marketing efforts online, and as a result, it’s easy to drown in the noise. Of course I’ll use the web as best I can to get the word out about my work, but I believe offline experiences are more important now than ever.
In 2019 I plan on offering offline experiences whereever I can. These may come in the form of mailers, printed and signed Early Release chapters, etc. I want to create cool things that you can touch and interact with.
My first instinct was to write 100 patrons. Attracting patrons is hard as hell. But I need to aim higher than that and work smarter at it. If 1,000 of you offer your patronage at any level in return for free books, Early Access content, and even surprise gifts, I’ll be able to afford extra polish on my releases.
Next year, I really want to schedule a Sci-Fi / Fantasy convention tour so I can meet you in person. Conventions are where I’ve always been the most successful at selling books and attracting fans, so this would be massive. I don’t know if I can finance this on my own, but with enough patron support, I will definitely be able to.
What’s the end goal?
6,000 dedicated fans is a tall order, but it’s just a step on the road to my lifetime goal. By the time I die, I want to be considered one of the best writers of my generation. I want to be known for pushing genre conventions, embracing literary elements, and having created more than one masterpieces. I want my fiction to affect the world.
That’s lofty, I know. But other people have done it before me. Why not I? It’s always been a dream of mine to labeled among the best storytellers. So every year, I need to take steps toward making that happen.
2018 was all about improving my writing. 2019 will be about spreading the word. And 2020? Who knows. All I know is the struggle will continue, and every year I’m getting one step closer.
I’m juggling a lot of projects right now which is keeping me really busy. But from the perspective of an outsider, it may seem like I’ve been twiddling my thumbs.
Despite the void that is my recent releases, I’ve actually been progressing nicely on a number of projects. In the last year, I wrote a novel, edited another, began work an a novella, rebooted my newsletter, began a YouTube channel, and I even took some time to plan a surprise for you guys 🤫
In light of all this, today I’m taking a moment to share the status of nearly every single project I’m working on. So let’s get started.
Before diving into the specifics, let’s take a look at the current order of releases any dates attached—because I don’t do that anymore 🧐.
Super secret short story 😮
Discovering Aberration: Revised Edition
The Gin Thief: Ep 2
The rest of The Gin Thief episodes.
Grim Curio (perhaps released in the middle of Gin Thief episodes)
Half-price Hitman (we’re talking at least two years out)
My goal here is to hit a cadence of at least one major release every year from here on out. The one caveat is The Gin Thief episodes. I consider 2-3 episodes to equal one major release.
When you want to move a freight train, it takes a while to build up steam, but the momentum carries it forward. So I guess my books are a freight train or something.
Don’t be surprised if a short story or two get thrown into the mix. I’ve been contemplating starting a pattern of releasing a short story between each novel with a collection released every few years. Why not?
Ok, now on to the specifics.
Discovering Aberration: Revised Edtion
A few months ago I revealed I was fixing some issues that Discovering Aberration was facing. Technical errors and irregular pacing made it into the release, so I took it upon myself to clean it up and rerelease it before I strike out on this second stage of my publishing career.
I finished editing the book several weeks ago then passed it along to my editor. A few days later I heard back from her. “I’m so sorry,” she said, “But it lost a lot of the charm in the rewrite.” 😱
On the upside, she hardly found any errors. Sooooooo……. I guess that’s a win.
I overdid it, plain and simple. Now I need to go back through it with a lighter touch, so a second round of edits is in order. sigh.
Together, we’ve come up with a strategy to address this nightmare. I’ll go into what we’re doing in another post, but we think we can keep the improvements and not lose any of the charm along the way.
It’s going to take some work. I suspect this pushes back the release a couple months. But I think we’ll still hit a 2018 release date. I mean, please let me hit this dateoccasionally one. Please? Fingers crossed.
The Gin Thief: Episodes
The delay of DA: REis sadly going to affect the release of The Gin Thief: Ep. 2.
Delays have this cascading effect that isn’t much fun. I really don’t know if Episode 2 is going to squeeze in 2018 anymore (didn’t I once promise it out by February 2018? See why I gave up on release dates), though I remain pessimistically hopeful.
I’m trying hard to make 2018 happen, but it may turn out to be an early 2019 release. Sorry. For real, sorry. But it’s coming.
After Episode 2 is released, I’m going to soldier on and draft all of the remaining episodes in one go. Then I’ll set them aside much like I did for Grim Curio, focus on finishing Grim Curio, then return to the episodes for a final round of edits.
Grim Curiois currently in a state of hibernation. The draft is done, beta reads are done, editing round 1 is done. Now I have some rewrites to do before it goes through the editing process again, but I won’t start rewrites until after the release of The Gin Thief Episodes are all drafted.
I think this strategy will lead to a stronger novel while also keeping me on track to push out those episodes. It’s not easy to write this way, but I think it’ll be worth it in the long run.
Get it? Green Day? I’m taking the long view. Like the Green Day song. Wow that’s a stretch.
And at last, we come to Half-price Hitman. This one is just a small side project which isn’t actively being written. I’m using it as a way to demonstrate my writing process to patrons.
So occasionally I’ll document myself in one stage of the writing process or another using this as an example. It’ll eventually turn into a full-fledged project, but it has no release date in sight. If you become a patron you can see it evolve as I share everything behind the scenes.
As for the super secret short story…
Delay’s aren’t fun, and I need to get something new out there.
I thought I’d have Discovering Aberration: Revised Edition out within a couple of weeks, but since that’s no longer the case, I wracked my brain for a way to deliver something to you without a substantial time commitment on my part. It had to be something I’d already written, something good enough to see the light of day, something I could put out there and be proud of in less than 2 weeks.
Tall order. But I found it!!! Get this, it’s still super secret. I’ll tell you this, it’s a short story that has an indirect relation to both Discovering Aberration and Grim Curio but isn’t directly set in either universe. And it’ll be free to newsletter subscribers and patrons.
That’s all from me today. Hopefully there’s something in this list that you’re excited about. And if so, why not subscribe to my newsletter. There are some cool benefits nobody even knows about yet (plus you get a free copy of Discovering Aberration).
Before we dive into the results of my PNWA novel contest entry, I’ve got a bit of an announcement. I’m making video content now! That’s one more way for you to get to know me. I may not be great at it yet, but I’m learning as I go. More videos to come.
So, the contest.
About five or six months ago I submitted my manuscript for Grim Curioto the Pacific Northwest Writers Association novel contest. Recently I received the results of my entry, and unfortunately I didn’t win.
But I feel really great about it anyway. Why?
As part of the contest, I received two detailed critiques from literary agents who were judging the competition. These were rave critiques. In fact, they lead me to believe that I didn’t advance in the competition due to a technical error on my part. I was supposed to submit a synopsis of my novel, but I submitting something closer to a query letter.
In the video above I share a bit more about the process, some of the feedback I received, and talk about why this rejection has actually boosted my confidence. There’s always next year.
After roughly a year and a four months, I’ve finished drafting Grim Curio! I climbed the largest mountain on the road to publishing my next work, and I feel thrilled. This is easily my most ambitious project yet, and I’m really proud of it so far.
There’s still a lot of work ahead, but you’ve got to take time to celebrate every accomplishment or you’ll get burned out in this game. I’m celebrating by taking a couple of weeks off writing and playing God of War or something. I’ll probably get antsy before the break is up and start writing again, but that’s the plan anyway.
In its current state, Grim Curio clocks in at 112,000 words. It has 3 parts consisting of 29 chapters. If I were to print it, double spaced sized 12 font, it would be 436 pages.
The first and last 5 chapters easily took up the bulk of the writing time. Beginnings and endings are hard, but beginnings have the advantage of fresh enthusiasm. There were several rewrites of the first 10 chapters before I got the feeling right, and one major revision midway through.
Now I’m going to put Grim Curio aside for a couple of months to let it rest. Then I’ll come back to it with fresh eyes and tons of notes from my beta readers. In the meantime, I’m already starting work on my next few projects. I’ll talk a bit more about them later, but they involve a t-shirt, another book, and possibly Patreon.
When will Grim Curio be published?
That’s a big question I get asked often. Unlike Discovering Aberration and The Gin Thief, I don’t plan on publishing Grim Curio myself. Instead I’ll query agents, get representation, find a publisher, then go through the traditional process. This process may take a year or two to complete. We’ll see.
In short, I don’t know when it’ll be published.
In the mean time…
I’ve got a lot of work on other projects ahead of me. I’ll continue to keep you posted on all of the comings and goings here, so stop by often. And sign up for my mailing list if you want to be notified when Grim Curio get’s published.
You’ve come up with the perfect idea for a novel. Now it’s time to sit down and write. You open your word processor, type in your working title and name (can’t start without that), go to page one and…. freeze. What now? Do I just write? Where do I start? How do I know where I’m going? I’m using Word, do other writers use Word? And…. and… and…
Who knows, maybe when you started your first novel it was a breeze. You just started typing and it felt right. But if you’re anything like many new writers out there, you might not be aware of the many ways novels get written. And even if you do know, you probably don’t know what works best for you until you discover them and give each a shot.
Over the last fifteen years, I’ve given several writing methodologies a shot. My process is ever evolving as I try to find the balance of several aspects, which we’re about to dive into.
In this blog post we’ll answer the following questions
How can I plan my novel without getting too bogged down in the details?
How can I plan it and still maintain the freedom of free-writing?
How can I create a basic elevator pitch before I’ve even started writing?
How can I plot my novel and ensure my characters have a compelling arc?
How do I make sure each scene feels complete?
What word processor should I use to organize all of this?
This is a medium-depth overview. I’ll expand on each point in future blog posts, but for now this’ll be a great jumping off point if you’re wanting a crash corse in novel-writing.
Last note before we get started: this is my method, and my method is constantly changing as I hone it to suite my needs. Your method may turn out quite different from this. Use this as a jumping off point, and then change it to match your style.
Planning your novel
Gasp! I said ‘plan’. If you’re among those who fear or despise this word, worry not! Read on and you’ll find a most satisfactory compromise. You see, I used to hate planning as much as anyone, I still don’t love it. But I’ve discovered a hybrid method that will work for even the most hardened hater.
Planning vs. Pantsing
For those of you who said, “huh?” to the paragraph above, let’s touch on case of plan v pants for a second.
Planning refers to preparation before writing, often in the form of an outline, sometimes in the form of lore or backstory, etc. You might also see it called plotting or outlining.
Pantsing refers to “writing from the seat of your pants”. It’s also called discovery writing — but really, who uses two words when they could use one. In essence, it’s writing without preparation H… I mean a preparation stage (stupid autocorrect ).
I’m not going to spend too much time exploring planning vs pantsing since it’s already been discussed ad nauseam on every writers blog on the planet. And, frankly, it doesn’t interest me. If you want more a more in-depth study on the subject, google it.
What is interesting to me is why, after years of being a staunch pantser, I’ve become something of a hybrid. So let’s talk about that.
The early years, or writing without a plan
The first three novels I wrote were 100% done without preparation — 2 unpublished, the other is Discovering Aberration which you can get for free in the doobly doo below. It felt great. When others talked about planning, I scoffed. I couldn’t understand how anyone could cage themselves with an outline.
Then came revisions… I found my plots meandered. It lingered on some plot threads long past there due, lacked proper foreshadowing, and the pacing was all over the place. In the end I was forced to do several major rewrites. I mean major. It was a bummer and added at least six months to the writing process.
Attempting to outline
Eventually I attempted a full outline for another project, The Gin Thief, but as I wrote the mid to late sections, everything felt like a guess. It’s hard to account for character reactions before your characters are even written.
When it came to drafting, I found I deviated far from my plan and all that work planning seemed wasted. Furthermore, I felt confined by my own preparation. Turns out, plot ideas may sound great in the outline phase but in practice feel forced. There’s too many unaccounted for variables early on.
So I abandoned the hardline planning approach, and today follow a hybrid method that’s working extremely well for me.
The hybrid approach to planning
Today I’m somewhere in the middle. I plan just enough to give me direction, but not enough to box me in. Let’s dive in to what this process looks like.
Acts in bullet point form
First, I break down my novel into three simple lists of arcs organized by Act. Three’s just a number, you can do five or seven or whatever the hell you want. The three act structure is common and it’s what I find myself gravitating to recently, but Shakespeare wrote in five acts and he’s pretty good.
Below is an example. It’s the three acts of my novel Grim Curio, which I’ve nearly completed writing. Spoilers below, but it wont ruin the book even if you know the vague details.
James and Simon save a village from a strange, alien disease which came from another reality. It doesn’t go well.
Nat joins nihilist cult.
Scientists experiment with the nature of reality.
James and Simon struggle to return home. When they arrive their home is drastically changed.
Scientists open a hole in reality.
Cult attacks scientists.
Revolution has broken out. Simon is caught up in it.
Reality is torn, leaking. James tries to fix it.
All hell breaks loose.
Notice how simple it all is. Just the major beats of the story in a loose arrangement. Best of all, before I’ve even written my novel I can give an elevator pitch. It’s not as refined as it will be later in the process, but having these bullet points gives you ammunition when anyone asks you, “so what’s your book about?”
Here’s an elevator pitch built from the bullet point list above: “Grim Curio is about these guys who save a village from an otherworldly disease and get punished for it. When they return home, everything has changed. Reality is torn, and a revolution is on. And that’s not mentioning the nihilist cult in the middle of it all.”
Fleshing out characters
Now we know the basic arc of our novel. You have a lot of options at this point. If you were a hardcore planner, you might start a flowchart of every scene. If you’re a lore geek, you might start nailing down all of the back story. If you’re a pantser at heart, you might just start writing.
As for me, I’m obsessed with character. I believe characters are why we read books. Everything else is just sugar on top, plot included. So my next step is spending some time getting to know them.
A characters beginning and end
First thing I like to do for all major characters is determine their starting and ending state of mind. This doesn’t need to be overly complicated. Could be, “Jill starts out bad, becomes good,” or “Sam hates dogs, learns dogs are man’s best friend”. That kind of thing.
And then there are characters who don’t change, static characters. There’s nothing wrong with a static character, but you should know before hand if your character is going to be unchanging, and why.
In the case of Simon, from Grim Curio, he starts as a man who believes he understands the world but has little affect on it, and ends as a man who realizes he knows nothing but the masses follow him regardless.
As for James, he’s more static. There are changes, but its much more subtle and internal. James is a man who always needs to be working, being stagnant leads him into depression. He begins believing in himself but even as his successes are marred with terrible consequences. Because of this, he stops believing in himself, continues trying anyway, and finally gets things right.
Creating character arc through sign posts
We now have our major characters beginning and ending state of mind. Time to fill in the rest with sign posts. These are plot points you can aim towards while you’re writing your scenes. If you know that Jaclyn is an asshole who becomes a saint, then each of these sign posts are the moments where small amounts of change occur. By the end of the novel, all of these small moments of change will build up to a big revelation.
If you want more information on this, I recommend reading Creating Character Arcs by K.M. Weiland and watching these two Brandon Sanderson lectures. These resources changed my outlook on crafting character, and I consider them required reading/viewing.
Do I really need to do all this work before I start writing?
HELL NO! You don’t need to do anything you don’t feel like. Jack Kerouac famously wrote On The Road in a single drugged out session, and that’s considered a masterpiece. So go do that if you feel like it. Doesn’t matter how you write it as long as it gets written.
There are zero rules to writing other than you need to put words on paper — or e ink. Don’t let anyone push you around with their rules. Your weird unheard of method may result in a best seller or critical darling. I don’t know, and neither does anybody else.
I don’t even always stick to my own rules. They are there to service me, not the other way around. So I deviate when I feel like it. But I’ve found having these methods in mind greatly helps me, even when I don’t follow them.
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The drafting process
If you’re following along, you’ll have bullet pointed your major arcs, you’ll have created you’re major characters with beginnings and endings in mind, and you’ll have some scenes you can aim towards via character sign posts. Now it’s time to actually write.
If you’re brave, you can start by writing scene one all the way through and then move on to scene two. This is the most straight forward approach. But I’ve found simply drafting an entire scene from scratch is fraught with flaws. It takes too long, has too many uncertainties, requires too much mental gymnastics as I attempt to account for later scenes, and is prone to unexpected bouts of writers block.
But I made a brilliant discovery. Write descriptions of scenes before writing the scenes themselves. I’m pretty sure I didn’t come up with this. It’s been a long time since I read Write. Publish. Repeat. by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant, but as I recall they have a similar method.
Before we talk about that, let’s take a look at our most potent weapon, the word processor
Sorry. This bit sort of comes out of nowhere, but I want to make sure I include it because it’s such a fundamental part of my process these days. Let’s talk about Scrivener for a sec.
Scrivener is a word processor that’s built with novel-writing in mind. You can organize things by act, scene, character, tag, and so much more. Drag and drop whole chapters at a time. It’s well worth the $45, and is by far my tool of choice.
Above is an older version of Scrivener (I need to upgrade to version 3). What you see is Grim Curio broken up by act, and each act broken up by chapter, and each chapter broken up by scene. This is how I write, and I find it invaluable. You’ll see why next.
Creating scene descriptions
Let’s say today is the first day of drafting for my new project. I have my characters in mind with some sign posts to aim for. What I do now is create a new scene file, but rather than start writing a fully fleshed out scene, I write a very short description of the scene I’ll eventually write. My goal is a rough idea of the scene in a couple of paragraphs.
Here’s a contrived example:
James enters the village, and immediately is struck by their strange customs. Everyone is gathered around a great dead tree that’s scorched black. The people are coated in mud and dirt, and as they work they toss more dirt on their skin. Their homes are burrows in the ground.
As James approaches, they notice him and send someone to intercept/question him. He makes some basic mistakes, but recovers a little. They lead him to talk to the village elders, but their conversation is interrupted by screams.
I’m not trying to write well here. I’m just getting a basic idea of how the scene will progress. When that’s done, I create the next scene file and do it again. I’ll do this as far as I possibly can before it feels like I’m forcing it. Usually this is a few chapters worth of scene descriptions.
As I read through the descriptions, using Scrivener I can rearrange them easily if needed. Later I’ll come back, go back to scene 1, and start fleshing it out.
Writing the scene
From here, it’s pretty straight forward. Go through your description and expand. Don’t worry about writing perfect prose. Just get the scene done and feeling pretty good. Then move on to the next scene description and expand that. Do this over and over until you reach the end of your written scene descriptions.
Now that we have a series of drafted scenes, I go through several passthroughs to improve them.
Phases of rewriting
I tend to go through my scenes at least four times. Each time, I focus on a different element of storytelling.
First passthrough I focus on character. I make sure motivations feel legit, make sure dialog feels real, and generally just try to keep each character inline with their personalities.
Second passthrough I focus on descriptions. The best narration engages the senses, so I try to mimic what I consider the best. That means making sure every scene not only has a look, but a feel, a sound, a scent. If a character touches a wall, I want a line about the texture. If they enter a kitchen, I want a line about the scent.
Third passthrough I focus on prose. That’s the words themselves. I like books with good word economy, meaning never using two words where one will do. This doesn’t necessarily mean using big words all the time, but I also don’t shy away from big words if they feel right.
Forth passthrough I just refine and cut. If there’s anything extra that doesn’t service the characters or the plot, I cut it. Even if it’s really good on its own. Doesn’t matter. Cut mercilessly. After all this work, you’re gonna have paragraphs that you labored over that don’t fit right. Don’t be sentimental. Cut the shit out of them.
Bear in mind that four passthroughs is on the low end for me. That’s a straight forward scene without too many complications. The first and last chapters of Grim Curio both had at least 10-15 passthroughs, as well as some all out rewrites. Keep massaging it til it feels right.
Continue this cycle over an over again for about a year, and you’ll have a damn fine novel. When you’ve written up to the end of your scene descriptions, start writing descriptions again and write towards your sign posts. Then expand and refine. And again and again.
That’s it. That’s my process. If you want me to get more granular on any topic, let me know and I’ll make time to do so. If you like this post and want more like it, then please share through your favorite social network. If you want to support my work, buy a novel using a link to the right, or sign up for my mailing list in the doobly doo above. Until next time, I’ll see you around.
Lately I’ve had my heart set on designing a t-shirt. As all my friends in the office can attest, I’ve been bugging the hell out of them over t-shirt logo’s and designs. It’s a weird obsession, I get it, but one I’m gonna see through.
Why create a t-shirt?
For the Beta Readers
Over the last few months, I’ve had tremendous support from my team of beta readers. They read an early copy of Grim Curio, enduring my own slow pace. I’d call them all out to thank them by name, but I know privacy is something a lot of them care about, so I won’t do that. But these guys are the best.
Do I need to clarify that by guys I mean men and women? I’m from the North West and that’s just what we call everybody.
As a way to show my thanks, I want to gift my beta readers something special. Not something that will be stored away and forgotten, or worse yet, thrown away. Something they can show off and be proud of. A symbol of their contribution to Grim Curio. So naturally, a t-shirt.
For fans and supporters
If you’ve been a writer in the trenches, you know how important it is to have swag. When you stand behind a table trying to sling books, it gets rough sometimes. But then comes someone who want’s to support you all the way to the bank. They like you, your work, and want you to keep creating, so they buy everything. These wonderful people fuel the arts, and the more you can offer them, the more they’ll give back to you.
Why a shirt?
To be fair, a shirt is probably just the beginning. But shirts are awesome for a few reasons. It’s a walking piece of art that I’ve created. That’s pretty cool. More than that, if someone wears it, they’re also spreading the word about my work without have to, you know, interact with people 👍. Not only are they supporting me with their hard-earned money, but by spreading the good word. We call these people saints.
Eventually there might be mugs and posters, but we’re getting way way WAY ahead of ourselves……
Here’s the status of where we are. I’ve been coming up with concepts for almost a month, and I think I’ve finally landed on one that’s pretty good. Here it is.
This design is representative of several themes from Grim Curio. At the top we have the planet Mars, the place where many people on Earth dream of going. Below that, an eye looks up, showing the only place where hope lies in this book. The eye is red, a side effect of not wearing a full face respirator outside. The eye also appears to be stabbed by the tower below, just as an eye is gouged in the novel — which comes with plot affecting benefits. Then there’s the tower itself, which is a massive part of the third act. Behind it is the red sun whose rays look like flames, representative of a specific even in the novel. Then there are the ruined buildings, which are the city, and the rolling earth before it which is inspired by the cover of Roadside Picnic and represents the rubble and the wastes.
So there’s a lot here that relates to the novel. Is the design good? I don’t know. I think it needs polish, but it’s maybe 80% of the way there. Some of the lines need to be cleaned up. Mars needs to be smaller, and maybe the eye too. Also, I need to figure out the color of the shirt.
If you are a beta reader, or if you have any thoughts, insight or suggestions, feel free to let me know in the comments. If are interested in buying a shirt, sign up for my mailing list in the link at the top of the site, and I’ll let you know when they go on sale.
Behind the scenes
I’d been trying to come up with a t-shirt design for a while. Here’s a concept I had midway through the process.
I liked this because it’s a minimalistic self-portrait and could be cool on a shirt. I don’t like it because, as one of my friends pointed out, no woman will wear that… Haha. So no go for the first shirt, but I might revisit it for later.
Then I came up with this.
I kind of like the idea of this… but in practice it looks pretty… phallic. Soooo…. it needed some refinement. But you can see how the design above was born from this.
I decided to draw several elements of the design on their own sheets of paper. So I started with the eye and mars. Then I layered on top of it the tower and the cityscape, cutting them up with an exacto-knife.
Finally, I added the sun in the background to come to where we are today. Here it is again for good measure.
That’s it. Sign up for the mailing list to get the opportunity to pre-order this shirt when all the details are ironed out. See you around.
Right now I’m working on so many projects, sometimes it’s hard for me to keep them straight. I imagine it might also be difficult for you to follow along. So to try to, eh, clarify, I created this flowchart.
The bar on the left measures a project’s level of completeness. The bar on the bottom signifies time. So the projects in the top right are nearly complete but way in the future. To be honest, I’m not sure how much it does clarify. Maybe I’ll take another crack at it sometime in the near future.
I’ve nearly finished writing Grim Curio. 92,000 words written, and when it’s done it’ll be just shy of 100,000. That’s pretty damn close.
I’m a little sad to be at this point. Grim Curio has been a very rewarding book to write. I’ve expanded my skills and pushed myself as far as I can.
Even so, I’m ready finish. Writing Grim Curio has been exhausting. So while I’m sad to see the experience drawing to an end, I’m also relieved.
To celebrate this milestone, here’s three takeaways from my writing process.
I found my own voice
It seems to me that a writers voice is always evolving. But for the first time I feel the voice I’m writing in is my own.
While I enjoy the narration of Discovering Aberration and The Gin Thief, I think it’s fairly obvious that I was emulating the style of the Victorian Era (drawing heavily from Jules Verne).
With Grim Curio, it was just me.
I improved my pacing
Pacing is critical. Bad pacing can cripple an otherwise great novel. I’ve struggled with pacing before, especially with Discovering Aberration‘s drawn out introduction and drastic shift in tone.
But with Grim Curio I feel like I nailed it. Beta readers seemed to agree. Now I’ve got to carry that structure to future works.
While my other novels are straight forward adventures without too much subtext to dive into, I feel like I’ve added a depth to Grim Curio I’ve never written before.
Grim Curio can be read as a straightforward post apocalyptic story, but there are layers and layers here that I weaved into the narrative. Some of my beta readers picked up on these deeper themes, others were content to read it at a surface level.
The fact that both were possible and both sets of readers reported high levels of enjoyment tell me I did something right there. Go me. Gotta pat myself on the back sometimes. God knows I pile on the criticism enough.
Anyway, that’s all for now. Lot’s more coming in the weeks ahead. I’m getting back into my regular blogging schedule again now that things are calming down. Keep an eye out, and if you want to be notified of any future releases, sign up for my mailing list.