Take Three: On Rewriting (Again)


RIGHT.  Let’s try this one more time.

I’m committed to getting this novel down correctly before I venture too far and end up frustrated again.  I know exactly what’s been wrong with the Apartment Complex story: not enough action.  I do have future scenes with action in them, sure, but I’m just not nailing the landing at all yet.  I’m screwing up on the pacing; it’s far too slow.  I’m focusing too much on the mood and not enough on the plot.  So instead of deleting it all and throwing the outtakes into the compost bin, I gave it a good long think-over during vacation.

Specifically, I thought about what I needed to do during the five-hour flights to Honolulu and back.  And during the return flight, I pulled out my index cards and proceeded to do some heavy-duty additional outlining.  I added at least six more scenes to the start of Act I (to be interspersed between the scenes I already have) that will help me get back to where I need to be.  I realized this was the same outlining style I used for the trilogy, where I focused primarily on the handful of scenes I’d be working on in the immediate future.  It worked then, so I see no reason why it wouldn’t work again now.

I’m usually never this stubborn about nailing the beginning, I’ll admit.  But sometimes it’s gotta be done, especially if I already believe in the story as a whole.  It might take me a few tries to get it right, but once I do, the rest of it should flow just as I want it.

On the Run

anime music listening

Oops!  I seem to have forgotten to prepare a post for today!  Sorry about that, and thanks for waiting!

We’ll be on vacation next week, and I’ve been hemming and hawing over whether I should write posts or fly-bys.  I could easily write them tomorrow if need be, but at the same time I shouldn’t feel guilty if I post a fly-by instead.  Except that I do.  Writing can be like that.

As always, I spend a bit of vacation prep debating what writing-related things to bring with me.  Sometimes, like our recent Disney trip, I won’t touch it at all.  Other times, like our previous London trip, I’ll actually get work done.  So it’s a toss-up.  I’ve learned not to overpack like I used to.  I never bring my laptop anymore, though I might bring my tablet, especially when I want to do a bit of revision or reading of what I have so far.  For this trip, that’ll most likely be it, aside from the notebook and a few printouts for the Apartment Complex story.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to this break.  It’s been an unexpectedly busy first quarter so far at the Day Job, which means continual and very annoying interruptions from my work by the client reps, asking when my work will be done.  Eesh.  I just want a week to not think about much of anything at all except the next time we head over to Rainbow for more loco moco or kalua pork.

Is it 4pm yet?


On writing the magnum opus

twin peaks

There’s an interesting conversation on Twitter going on, mainly between webcomic artists, about working on a magnum opus right out of the gate.  Many of the comments don’t necessarily dismiss the idea of writing an Epic Epic of Epicness, but they don’t recommend it if you’re just starting out.  And if you do want to write it, then you’d better be aware of what you’re getting yourself into.

Me, I blame being a kid of 80s tv and movie culture, when ridiculous bombast was de rigeur.  I also blame my mid-90s stretch of reading multiple Stephen King books (the ones like The Stand and others that can also be used as doorstops and paperweights).  I didn’t just want to write an exciting novel, I wanted it to be EPIC.  Something big and exciting.  Because it was what I knew, thanks to Red Dawn and Die Hard and Rambo and Schwarzenegger and wrestling and pretty much anything Russell Mulcahy ever directed (including those Duran Duran videos).  I refer to my first completed novel as the Infamous War Novel deliberately because it’s over the top epic in idea, if not scope or length.

When I started writing True Faith in 1994, it was very much the same.  My ex-gf and I had even come up with a detailed timeline that would encompass multiple novels.  This was going to be a multi-book, multi-year project.  Then in 1997 when I started The Phoenix Effect, it too was to be a big story in a big universe.

Which brings me to the Bridgetown trilogy…

See where I’m going with this?

It seemed that with every project I started, it would end up being a Magnum Opus.  I even used that as an excuse to say that I was incapable of writing a short story or coming up with a one-book novel idea, because I had no idea how to think small.  It took a good twenty years of my life from origin to finish for the Bridgetown trilogy to see the light of day.  And that is precisely why, by 2016, I was already committed to writing smaller projects.  I knew I could write solo stories; I just needed to learn how to do it.

Writing a magnum opus is very tempting to a lot of writers.  It’s the lure of rich world building.  It’s the lure of stretching your creative muscles.  It’s the lure of creating something huge that will blow away the competition (or at least the minds of your dedicated readers).  We often try to convince ourselves that it’ll be a blast, that the long years of toil will be worth it at the end.  Even if it gets released and falls flat, it’ll have been worth it.

I don’t regret spending all those years working on the Bridgetown trilogy, because I learned a hell of a lot from it.  I don’t mind the fact that it took significantly longer than expected for me to get where I wanted in my career.  But sometimes I wonder where my writing career would have been, had I dialed it back a bit (okay, A LOT) and worked on less epic projects over the years.  If I’d written standalone stories, maybe even honed my short-story writing chops back in the 90s instead of that one-and-done half-assed attempt.  Would I have made it professionally?  Would I have had more books out at this point?  Would I have gained a significant readership? Maybe, maybe not, who knows.

But at this point, that’s all conjecture.  Right now I’m doing what I want to do, and that’s writing, and that’s all that matters.

I’d say my own response to whether or not one should start their career on a magnum opus is the same as many others:  if you think you can pull it off, and you’re willing to dedicate all that time to it, then go for it.  It’s a worthy goal and it is fun, if time-consuming, and a lot of its success really does rely on luck.  But be aware that it’s not an easy-in to the field.  It may be a bestseller, or it may fall flat.  I won’t say avoid it at all costs…just know what you’re getting into!

On Calling It

cat throw away
Source: spoon-tamago.com

I’ve been frustrated with my work on the Apartment Complex story for the last few weeks.  Not the prose itself; that’s actually been pretty good.  What I am producing is stuff I can work with and revise.  I’m talking about the overall production.  It’s too scattershot.  There are too many gaping holes where I hung a cardboard sign saying ‘put something here later’.  I think I’ve proven to myself that I’m not good at writing out of order; I’m definitely more of a linear writer.

In short, I don’t think my longhand idea is quite panning out the way I wanted.  It feels like I’m wasting time.

I didn’t plan it out as well as I thought I did, and I’m paying the price for it.  I don’t necessarily think I need to revisit the outline; more that I need to be more immersed in the story.  It’s the writing style I’m used to and the style I’m good at.  By writing in a linear fashion and immersing myself into the story and the characters, I begin to understand what is needed and what I should avoid.  I’m also able to pay attention to minor details that I could use further down the line.

That’s not to say that I’ll never work this way again…I actually enjoy writing longhand.  It’s more relaxing, for starters.  I’m not focusing on a screen for hours at a time, for another.  Not to mention I get to write anytime and anywhere.  I just have to remember next time to start it when it needs starting, and not sooner.

That said… I’ve called it this past Wednesday.  I’m starting the Apartment Complex story over and trying again, this time straight to PC, as linearly as possible.  I haven’t gotten too far in the story, so I should probably be back up to speed by the end of the month if I keep up the same speed and dedication.

‘Calling it’ has to be one of the hardest things a writer has to do sometimes.  It’s definitely not a decision that comes lightly.  The biggest weight is the bitter truth that we’ve just wasted all that time on something that isn’t working for us.  Well, maybe not wasted per se, but it certainly feels that way.  There’s also the frustration of having to decide whether to continue or restart the project in what feels like the correct way, or to put it aside and start something else.  It causes us to take a good hard look at our project and make the decision whether it’s truly worth following through or trunking.

I’m already dedicated to the Apartment Complex story; I’ve been looking forward to writing it since I was in the middle of writing Lidwells. [I’m feeling the same exact way about In My Blue World, to be honest, and that one’s further down the road.]  I’ve decided I can salvage what I’ve done over the last month, and I can turn this around.

But it’s still one hell of a hard decision.

On Multi-Tasking

anime busy

One of the biggest changes to my writing schedule that I’d been looking forward to once I signed off on the trilogy was being able to multi-task.  I love working on a main project, but working on the same one for a long time (especially as long as that one) can definitely be detrimental.  I often find myself itching to work on something different now and again, and that certainly comes to the fore when I’m doing major revision work.

When I decided to write outtakes for Meet the Lidwells while working on the trilogy revision, it gave me a much-needed creative outlet to keep my Writer Brain going in a way that my blog entries and other outlets couldn’t.  If I hadn’t done that, it would have taken a lot longer for me to start a new project.  I’d have had to spend some time thinking about what to write, how to write it, and not really know if I have a viable story or a trunkable one until I’ve invested a lot of time on it.  Multi-tasking projects lets me cut out a lot of that possible wasted time.  The daily-words outtakes put the story idea to the test to see if I can graduate it to Main Project status.

This process worked so well for me that I’ve kept it going with the newer projects, and I’ll keep it going until it doesn’t work for me anymore.

Granted, it is a process that’s kind of tough to maintain if you’re juggling all this with a Day Job.  There are days when I’m amazed I can get anything done when the DJ kicks my ass.  The trick is to make it happen.  Find slow moments where you can write a few hundred quick words.  Use your work breaks and lunch if you can.  Worst case scenario, schedule out your writing days; one day for revision, another for new words, and so on.

It’s not a process you need to take if you don’t want to, but it works well if you have a lot of projects you’d like to work on, and you’d like a quick turnaround.  YMMV, of course!

On Character Development

polar bear cafe wolf tiger
Source: Polar Bear Café

Creating the backgrounds for characters can be both fun and excruciating when you’re starting out a new project.  You can come up with interesting, unique people to write about, give them all sorts of back stories — their background, their culture, their quirks, their powers and their weaknesses — but at the same time, they don’t exist in a vacuum.  You need to also remember that they’re also there to interact with your other characters and the story itself.  Otherwise they’re just placeholders, or worse, redshirts — the throwaway characters put there for the sole purpose of getting rid of them later on.

I’ve been dealing with this quite a bit for the last few weeks, with both the Apartment Complex story and In My Blue World.  A lot of the central characters are springing forth rather easily, and that’s because I already have fully-planned purposes for them.  A few of the other characters, on the other hand, are still a bit vague and need more research and planning.  I only have vague purposes for them.  By vague, I mean that they support some of the main characters, but other than that, they’re kind of inconsequential.

Granted, both projects are still in their rough draft iterations and haven’t gotten the MS Word transcription/revision yet.  I’m not giving up on them just yet.  They’ll shine on their own eventually, once I flesh out the story and get a clearer picture of who they are and why they’re there.  I just have to be a bit patient about it sometimes!

So how do I know if I can trust this character to blossom during a later draft?  Or will they end up being a redshirt that I’ll have to edit out later?  Good question.  Often times I don’t. The point here is to let them give the old college try.  I put there for a reason, so I just need to figure them out.  I’ll give them just that little bit more TLC when I’m revising; I’ll think a bit more about their relationship to the story and the others within it.

Eventually, they’ll become part of the main entourage instead of a throwaway.