Coming up with ideas really isn’t all that hard. It’s the latching onto one, getting it to germinate, that’s the hard part. I’ve got to have some connection to it, otherwise it’s just a single scene that doesn’t belong anywhere. And I’ve got an old trunk full of those already.
Sometimes those ideas take a hell of a long time to germinate, and that can either be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how you look at it. Meet the Lidwells! came to me nearly two years ago, and I’m only working on it now. That was primarily due to the trilogy project taking precedence, but I also wanted to give it a good planning-in-my-head before moving forward with it.
I’ve got a few backburner projects as well, ones that have been simmering for quite a few years. Those are ideas with merit but I wasn’t ready to work on them just yet for one reason or another. I’ve got a few new and fresh ideas as well, ones that I may play around with via 750 Words (like I did with Lidwells) until something concrete comes about.
Is it frustrating, having these stories in various points of stasis? Well, yeah, of course it is! But I’d like to think I’ve gotten to the point where I no longer feel like I MUST WRITE ALL THE BOOKS RIGHT NOW. Once I cleared the table of the Trilogy Project, I found it…actually pretty empty. I’d trunked numerous story ideas over the past fifteen years; ideas that didn’t work, that I’d lost interest in, or just led nowhere. Others I’d turned into blog series. I had maybe three or four Possible Next Projects, tops.
Which also meant that I could afford to come up with a few new possible seeds of ideas that I could nurture down the road. I could let myself play around with the tiniest inklings that passed by. I have to relish when that happens now, because I haven’t had that feeling in a long time. Writers love coming up with scraps and seeing where they go.
It feels great to be fully creating again after years of editing and revision work. It feels even better to let my brain come up with these seeds of ideas and know that I won’t have to wait for ages to get to them.
I’ve complained about outlining before, both here and elsewhere…even in high school I disliked outlining, if only because I knew even then that I was a pantser writer and that whatever outline I created would be thrown out within the first couple of pages. It always felt like a waste of time. So previously here, I talked about swallowing my pride and stubbornness (and working against my long-ingrained pantsing style) and giving Meet the Lidwells! a solid outline. It’s working out well so far, I think.
Especially since I came to the conclusion that in order for me to have a solid story, I needed to give it a solid backbone. And considering this story is about a band, what would be more solid a backbone than said band’s discography?
If you think about it, a band’s discography does tell an interesting story. Take the Beatles, for instance. From the prologue-worthy “Love Me Do” to the first peak point at “She Loves You” to the end of Act I with A Hard Day’s Night; the conflict of fame versus creative evolution in Act II (with plot peaks of Rubber Soul and Revolver) and climaxing at Sgt Pepper; the conflict of creative outlet versus personal evolution with The Beatles and the recording of Let It Be, climaxing with the creative peak of Abbey Road. And finishing the story with a bittersweet denouement; the band breaking up but their legacy lasting far into the future. [Hell, they even have a song called “The End” that works as a closing epigraph.] It’s no wonder they have so many books written about them.
Read any music biography and you’ll see similar backbones. Each band or performer has their own life story with climaxes and low points, successes and failures. These are actually great books to read if you want to learn this sort of storytelling. [Off the top of my head and looking at my nearby bookshelf, I would definitely suggest reading Johnny Marr’s Set the Boy Free, Bob Mould’s See a Little Light, or Carter Alan’s Radio Free Boston: The Rise and Fall of WBCN for a taste of a rock bio with a lot of plot peaks and valleys. Those are but three of the numerous books out there; next time you’re at the local bookstore, take a peek at their music section and take your pick.]
These are also good books for how to tell a story in a format other than straight prose. The current popular style of rock bio seems to be in the form of an ‘in their own words’ text; most if not all the dialogue is from recorded interviews, but without the interviewer’s words or point of view. The flow of the story is usually chronological, from the band’s creation to their demise (or alternately to their present iteration); it behaves almost exactly like fiction does. The only difference is how the story is presented.
This was in response to Gulf War I, which kicked off during the Christmas break of my sophomore year at Emerson College. Everyone my age had grown up during the Cold War, and even though that seemed to be in the past tense now (the Berlin Wall having come down months earlier), we were all nervous. Was this going to be a big war? Was this going to be our Vietnam? What was going to happen?
What if they reinstated a draft?
In retrospect, it was a small enough war that that wasn’t going to happen, but we really had no idea if that was true at the time.
I remember I was with my dad and my sisters at McDonald’s in Gardner when we got to talking about the Gulf War, and it was at that time that I’d made my decision to follow the principle of ahimsa: no harm. I absolutely refuse to take another person’s life.
Oh, my college friends and I had those conversations when we got back to our dorms. By then Gulf War I was in full swing and would end within a few weeks. Some were for it, some were against it, some didn’t know, some didn’t give a shit.
My reaction to all that was to draw the above strip. Originally I’d posted it up on the door of my dorm room, where it got a huge response from passersby. A few suggested I submit it to our school paper, The Berkeley Beacon, which I did soon after, to more positive response. In fact, the one negative response I got was to some conservative-minded student who took offense to it because they’d somehow thought ‘The Ignorant’ person was meant to be Republican. Hey, you’re the one who assumed that, chief, not me.
I’m quite proud of that strip. It’s not my best artwork, but it’s one of my best works scriptwise.
So yeah. Writing this post at 7pm PT on 6 April, just as the current administration has launched a missile attack on Syria in response to the terrorist attack there earlier this week. I don’t know the details, so I’m not going to hem and haw and pontificate and indignate or whatever. Not right now.
I’ll be brutally honest, I don’t feel too optimistic about this event at the moment. Not because I’m a pacifist, but because a) I don’t trust this current administration to sharpen a fucking pencil and b) I’m really not looking forward to the Orgasmic Patriotism we may get as a response from the hard right. I’m afraid that there will be much dick swinging and flagwaving and no responsibility for the aftershock it causes.
I shall carry on. I still have my work to do on this new project of mine. Nothing’s going to take that away from me.
Now that I have a new project to work on, I’ve been thinking seriously about revisiting and revising my writing habits. I’ve already talked about my writing regimen during the Belfry years, which was probably the most solid and consistent I’d ever had. [The Arkham West years, not so much. I spent most of those years just trying to adjust to married life and living on the opposite coast.] The Spare Oom years have been stable and evolving at a stable rate.
But I just feel that I’m not doing enough.
This is my current weekday schedule:
Eat breakfast, catch up on webcomics
Focus on Day Job stuff during Day Job hours (sneaking in a blog post or Daily Words if time permits during slow time)
Longhand personal journal entry during first break
Catching up on social media or writing magazines during lunch
Breather during second break
Dinner and maybe an episode of whatever A. happens to be streaming that night
An hour or so working in Spare Oom at the end of the night
Getting into bed and reading until lights-out
Weekends include e-mail catch-up, chatting with family on the phone, shopping and errands, outside activities, blog writing, and so on. End the day continuing work on whatever project I’m focusing on.
Mundane stuff, yeah, but I can’t help but think that I’m really not doing my best at time management here.
BUT! Since I no longer have a Giant Book Project weighing me down, I realize it’s time for me to give that all a rethink. It’s too scattered, too disjointed. I find myself wasting time when I shouldn’t be. Sure, maybe I’m already using these few hours whenever I can, and just like every other writer, I feel it isn’t enough. The question becomes: how to get the maximum work out of a limited time frame?
Or perhaps that’s the wrong question. Besides, that way lies madness. I’ll never have enough time, even if I decide to drop every other minor exercise to make it happen.
No, the better question is: how do I organize my time better?
Well, the problem is that I’m dithering. I’m in the very early stages of Meet the Lidwells! and I’m chomping at the bit to get writin’. I’m trying a new approach this time: preplanning by way of index cards and an outline instead of making it up as I go along. [Noted: the reason I’m doing this is that the trilogy project took so damn long and needed so much clean-up afterwards that I figured being more organized might save me a hell of a lot of time.] All this precision is driving me batty, because I’m so used to being a pantser writer. I still have this excess energy with nowhere to put it, so it ends up getting wasted on skimming social media or futzing around with my music collection.
And to be honest, I had the same problem in the Belfry years. I’ve talked about my time wasted playing multiple rounds of FreeCell (or worse, wasting twenty minutes pondering over my cd collection trying to decide what I was going to listen to that night). And I definitely had the same problem during the Arkham West years.
So what do I do?
Well, the best thing for me to do is to expand on that daily assignment regimen.
One of the steps I take is following my whiteboard schedule. As you may have noticed, I’ve been reasonably consistent with my blog schedule here and at Walk in Silence. I’ve also been good at writing the personal journal five days a week during Day Job hours. I can expand on that, then. I’ve already given myself a deadline of getting the indexing and outlining done for MtL! by the end of April, and to get the major writing started by the first of May. I can certainly add more assignments with other projects if need be.
Mind you, I’m not trying to Write All the Things. I’m just trying to be more productive. It’s also a long and evolving process, so I can’t expect a complete change right off. It takes time and practice. And dedication.
It’ll take time, but I’d like to think it’s worth it.
As promised, here’s what I call the “Director’s Cut” of the ending of A Division of Souls. This one’s been in my head for at least two years. And yes, this was written to fit Failure’s “Daylight”, as expected.
I actually thought about writing a prose version of this ending for the book, but it would have just been extraneous. It’s a completely visual segment anyway. So, using my dusty and woefully underused BA degree in film, I decided to instead write this in screenplay form.
In contrast to the previous post, where you got to see all the paperwork and whatnot that I accumulated during the writing of the trilogy, the above is pretty much everything I have for my new project, Meet the Lidwells! A print out of the very rough draft I wrote two years ago using 750 Words, and a pile of index cards that I’ll be using to outline the next draft.
That’s it. Well, okay, there’s a few MS Word files of an incomplete outline and a rewrite I wasn’t happy with, and an mp3 playlist I’m slowly building, but other than that…that’s all I have.
I’ve got a nifty idea for a cover in my head (which I’m hoping I can pull off, as I’m not sure if I’m able to do it in Photoshop). I already know what the format’s going to be. And if all works out, this will be one of my fastest project turnarounds ever.
Sorry it’s a little out of focus, but there you go: twenty-plus years’ worth of work, all in one place. Pretty sure I’m missing a few things here and there due to misfiling, but what you see there is the beginning and the end — and the future — of the Mendaihu Universe.
–That pile of folders in the top left corner is all pre-TPE work, including a print out of True Faith and all its notes, character notes, and so on.
–That tattered green notebook is the one I used for writing The Phoenix Effect. The second notebook with the latter half is underneath it, as well as outtakes, notes, and other things.
–Top row, third over, under the ‘more outtakes’ folders: the three binders holding the print-out of the trilogy, circa 2005.
–Top row, far right: the sketch book that contains my map of Bridgetown. Underneath it is a very large binder carrying all the work from the Infamous War Novel (whose only relation to all of this is that I’d originally written Vigil as a sci-fi IWN rewrite).
–Bottom row, far left: extraneous notes from the Belfry years, as well as various pocket calendars marking my daily word counts.
–Next to it, the 3″ disks where I backed up my work during the Belfry years, including outtakes, notes, outlines, and other related things.
–Bottom row, middle: two attempts at sequels to The Phoenix Effect, circa 1999-2000, before I decided to start over with A Division of Souls
—Bottom row, yellow notebook: A VERY rough draft of the possible next story in the Mendaihu Universe, set once more in Bridgetown, but 70 years later.
–And finally, the end result: galley copies of Books 1 and 2!
In comparison, I’d show you the stuff I have for Meet the Lidwells!, but it would be a picture consisting of a printout of the original rough draft and a pile of index cards. 😉
I know I’ve shared a few of these over on Live Journal (and a few in earlier WtBt posts) in the past, though I figured it would be fun to create a bit of a visual scrapbook of places related to the Mendaihu Universe over the years. I made it a point to write whenever and wherever, so I quickly got used to finding a nook in whatever apartment or house I lived in. All I need is a few plugs, a PC, my music collection, and I’m golden.
One of my many ideas for the Bridgetown Trilogy, if I wasn’t going to turn it into a wacky multiproduct entity (No, there won’t be any Saisshalé-O’s breakfast cereal, sorry) was to give the books a visual approach.
Part of this was inspired by the frequent comment that my style of writing is very visual. I went to the Miami Vice School of Writing Cool Scenes Using Music back in the day, and having a degree in film studies from Emerson College, so I’d say that comment is spot on. It’s just the way I read and write: I see the scene visually and try to describe it that way.
A year or so ago I thought I’d try my hand at laying out the first scene of A Division of Souls, just for the fun of it, just to see if I could pull it off. In retrospect I could probably rein it in a bit in terms of pacing, but I like how it ended up. There’s a distinct hint of Dave Sim’s Cerebus in there (specifically latter half of the Church & State storyline), which heavily influenced me back in my college days.
I’ve mentioned this before: I’ve been fascinated by maps since I was a kid. My dad had put up nine US Geodetic Survey maps of the local North Quabbin area on the wall of his downtown office (he used it as reference, as he was a local reporter), and I would stare at the things for ages. The topography lines helped me imagine what the areas I’ve never visited looked like. When I did eventually visit those areas, my visual guesses were rarely far off the mark. My fascination soon expanded to the roads I carved into the dirt in my side yard for my Hot Wheels, and by 9 or 10 I was drawing maps just for the fun of it. They weren’t of anywhere in particular; I’d just make them up as I went along. It became a relaxing way to pass the time for me. And once I went to college, you’d see map doodling all over the margins. I still do it to this day; if you see me in the audience at a con, leaning over and doodling, chances are I’m drawing a map while I’m listening to the panelists.
When I started the Vigil project in the winter of 1993, I knew map drawing would have to be part of the world building. If not for the publication, at least for my own reference. I had certain areas of Bridgetown laid out in my head, but I wanted to have a physical layout I could use.
I hadn’t quite gotten the hang of size and perspective in these early maps, but they at least gave me an idea of what the Sprawl looked like.
This first map to the left was drawn that winter, with a much smaller layout of the city (it’s more like a small city here than a big giant sprawl it ended up being), but certain parts of it remained to the end of the project: the gentle curve of Branden Hill Park (called Johnson Park here), Sachers River and its island (with Vigil’s island location laid out), and the major north-south highway splitting through the middle.
The Vigil project ended up more like a lot of world building than doing much actual prose writing (I think it had more to do with me trying to figure out what story I wanted to tell and how). By the summer of 1995 I expanded the above map by taping the original to my apartment window, covering it with blank newsprint paper, and building it up.
The layout was still a bit wonky, but I was getting there. The big circle in the lower right corner is the first visual suggestion of the Mirades Tower (called the Underwood Tower here — I think I originally wanted Jenn’s family to be tied do it but never expanded on that plot line). I’m kind of fascinated by this one, because by that time I’d watched a lot of anime and wanted something like the GENOM Tower from Bubblegum Crisis. I was well aware of security issues with major driving arteries going underneath this tower, but I thought it was kind of a neat idea anyway.
Come 1998, I was about halfway through writing The Phoenix Effect, and I had a much better idea of what Bridgetown looked like. At first I had an idea to draw certain visuals, such as the one to the left here: a view of the Mirades Tower, lording over the entirety of the Sprawl (the circle of buildings is a reference to the initial awakening process that takes place at the start of the book…ie, the Ring of Fire). I wasn’t too happy with the artwork though (mainly me being a perfectionist and being annoyed at how wonky the Tower looks here), but it did its job. I even got a better idea of how wide the Sachers River needed to be. In fact, looking at this now, I realize this is very similar to the view I have out Spare Oom window, looking across the mouth of the Golden Gate towards the Marin Headlands!
Probably within a month or so after that above drawing, I drew what would end up being one of the official reference maps for Bridgetown, complete with the district boundaries. I would refer to this one page constantly during the TPE revision and the major rewrite as the trilogy. Very little has changed in Bridgetown since then. A few street names have changed, and I still hadn’t quite gotten Sachers Island drawn correctly, but for the most part this can still be considered a semi-accurate reference map for all the stories that take place in this city.
Note: Also seen on this map are the rough points of the hrrah-sehdhyn attack that takes place in A Division of Souls. I’d added these a few years after the original map was drawn and just before I wrote that scene so I could get the layout correct.
But wait, there’s more!
During the years I wrote the trilogy, I would often flesh out ideas during the slow hours at my Day Job at the candle warehouse. My buddy Bruce would often make fun of me when I did this. I’d snag a piece of scrap paper (or more to the point, the blank forms we used for the pallets we built) and commence with that day’s outlining for whatever I’d be writing later that evening. Or I’d draw detailed maps, sometimes even working on certain sections of Bridgetown.
Here’s a great example of that: My favorite section of town Branden Hill Park, which had been a point of interest since the Vigil days (the original Vigil story starts at the northeast corner of the park). This is probably the best example of what Bridgetown truly looks like in my head. I even went so far as to draw subway lines, considering that subway kiosk in the park shows up multiple times in the trilogy.
Note: You can even see where I put Nehalé’s apartment (the HB in the top left corner, referring to his old name of Halley Brown).
I do like the idea that even though the trilogy takes place at least 300 years in the future, there really hasn’t been too much of a change in terms of street layout or architecture for that matter. I used the reasoning that Europe still has some of its original medieval roads, not to mention architecture that’s been around for a few centuries. Besides, I really wasn’t all that keen on using the SF trope of multi-level cities and mountains of detritus. The Meraladians helped us get past that economical and ecological snag sometime ago.
And lastly, I wanted a general layout of what Mirades Tower Park looked like — it would be used as a major setting throughout the trilogy, and numerous scenes take place there in The Balance of Light, so I had to make sure I got it right. I think this one definitely gets the dimensions correct, as the Tower really is that huge. I also deliberately left the surrounding neighborhood empty…since this is the financial and governmental center of the city, the entire area would be filled with skyscrapers and business towers, so the map would really end up looking like a bunch of large squares inside a square grid of streets.
I’m sure I have more maps and building drawings lying around. I know I’d made a rough sketch of what the Branden Hill ARU headquarters looked like (hint: one of those arty curvy buildings, but without all the bizarre useless angles). I’ll have to scan more of them when I have the time.
All these drawings definitely helped me visualize Bridgetown as I was writing the stories that take place there. Without them I’m sure I’d have gotten a lot of the directions and distances incorrect. It also helped me narrow down the images I wanted for my book covers; I knew that they would have to be busy metropolises, though not necessarily with the dark cyberpunk attitude of Bladerunner. Both A Division of Souls and The Balance of Light use Shutterstock pictures of Singapore, which is just about the right level of sprawling city I was looking for.