Not quite used to this

Current Project A has been going in a very interesting direction as of late. For the most part it’s going exactly how I want it to, and I’m averaging around 800 to 1000 daily words on it — words that are coming fast and quick, just like they did with In My Blue World a while back. But that’s not what’s making me nervous…if the prose wants to slide out onto the screen with minimal fuss, who am I to complain or worry, right?

What’s making me nervous is that I am way out of my comfort zone with this one. I mean, I did that on purpose, but still…I really don’t want to eff this one up. It’s not really a space opera, considering I’m not going for the StarWarsy dogfight angle…it’s more like Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers series in that it’s about regular people living out there in the universe. It’s partly inspired by the need for process and compliance inherent within a few of my former day jobs as well as the times when those things can hinder more than help, but it’s more than that; it’s also a personal story about doing what’s right versus doing what’s necessary, and that part’s inspired by American politics of the last six years. And I didn’t want it to be about the upper management or the higher classes, either…I wanted to write this about the citizens that live in this story’s universe. But I don’t want this to be preachy, either. Nor do I want it to be cynical or nihilistic or paranoid, either. Those are the last things I ever want with my stories.

I’m not afraid to write this story, I just want to do it right. I’m taking each scene as it comes, and paying attention to how they unfold. I never make them overly dramatic, as that’s not the angle I’m going for. The main characters handle computer and communications issues like they would at their jobs; stressed out and annoyed, but never for a moment thinking that they’re trying to save the universe. One of the military pilots is defecting out of desperation and fear rather than for nefarious reasons. Another character constantly worries about getting caught. I’m not aiming for gritty realism, though…I’m just writing the story as if these characters were you or I; just your regular imperfect citizens trying to survive on a daily basis.

This is why I’ve yet to give up on it or feel that oh god this is all CRAP feeling just yet. It’s messy. There are a lot of trouble spots that will definitely need revision. But it’s going in the right direction, and right now, that’s all that matters.

When it sounds right

Image courtesy of Big Hero 6

I’ll be honest, even though I might have created an outline for whatever WIP I’m working on, there’s a pretty good chance that I’m not leaning hard on it, and still trusting myself with whatever sounds right. It’s not the same as pantsing it; that would basically mean I’m sort of making it up as I go along with only a mental map with the barest of details. It’s more like I’ve worked out several levels of what resonates with me.

Put it this way: the outlines/synopses I’ve drawn out for Current Projects A and B were created by thinking of how I want the book as a whole to play out. With Project A, for instance, the focus starts only on one character, Althea, but by the end of the story it focuses on a lot of people, and that’s for a reason: the theme of the story is “when personal events become so much bigger than ourselves”. Having laid that part out in the synopsis, then I start going micro: the events of each successive chapter/scene needs to become bigger somehow (this could be in scope, but also in conflict, or in action, or in how said conflict affects the characters at that point in time). And often I’ll go one or two levels deeper by the end of that scene or chapter: perhaps an event will affect a major character and drive them to action…and their action will in turn affect someone or something else.

It’s this sort of interplay that’s always in the back of my mind whenever I write a novel, and thus is why I often say I go with what sounds “right” to me. It’s how I know when the prose is strained, or that I’ve focused far too long on a small detail, or I’m using the wrong person’s POV, and so on.

And then, interestingly, I’ll do the exact opposite when I’m doing a reread or a revision: instead of focusing on the construction and the architecture that went into making the story, I’ll look at the finished (or in-progress) piece and see how it’s holding up. Am I making these levels of detail sturdy enough? Could this section be shored up and strengthened? Would an added scene work here, and would it make the story even stronger?

The weird thing, on top of all that, though…is that I don’t always know if I’m really pulling it off while I’m writing it. Project A feels a bit like that lately. It’s partly because I’m writing in a setting I’ve never written in before, but I think I’m pulling off to a decent degree because the story itself doesn’t need micro-details to make it work. All I can say is that the story itself seems to be working well so far in rough draft form. It sounds right to me.

And for a rough draft, that’s all I really ask for, to be honest.

Decisions

Luffy from One Piece

Sometimes the problem isn’t hiding somewhere deep in the background and avoiding detection, leaving you spending far too much time focusing on where you think it might be rather than where it lies. Why are my characters not doing anything? Is it because they’re boring? Or that I don’t know what I want them to do? Or that I’ve just jumped into this project with a hell of a lot less preparation than I thought?

No, the issue, I find as of late, is my own damn problem. Being afraid to let those characters do what they need to do. I need them to get into trouble. I need them to cause trouble. I need to strip away more of their worries and fears and make them face them all, whether they’re ready for it or not. It’s an issue I’ve had before, really, and it’s usually caused by going from one extreme to another. I’ve reread some of my older work (trunked, private and otherwise) and noticed I go in waves. At some point I’ll have decided my creative outlets will feature as few filters or barriers as possible and those works will have a bit of wildness to them. Then I’ll go the other way, and write characters that work from an area of personal and/or emotional safety.

Now that I think about it, having written Diwa & Kaffi, which is very much the latter, it’s taken me some time to readjust. [Certainly there are a few personal issues at stake too; I wrote that not long before those final extremely stressful months at the Former Day Job. It took me a lot longer than I thought to work my way out of that mental/emotional situation.]

Which I think is why I feel that both Current Projects have finally broken through those barriers. The only way I could do it is to make the decision for both: I shouldn’t give these characters nearly as much protection as I’d been giving them. They need to face more dangers, more uncertainty. Weird things, bad things will happen to them, or to those around them, and they’ll need to process them. It’s what these projects deserve.

That doesn’t mean I won’t write in the ‘safe’ style of Diwa & Kaffi, of course. I just need to remember that each story I write has a different style that needs specific levels of conflict to make them work.

Writing new characters

Meryl Stryfe and Milly Thompson from Trigun

One of my current projects has had quite the interesting evolution. It had started off in 2019 as a simple light-hearted litfic story that happened to take place on a space station, but after several failed attempts, cast changes, and three mixtapes, it’s turned into something altogether different. The two main characters, BFFs slightly inspired by Meryl and Milly from Trigun among other things, are the only two people that have survived to the current version. Two characters who are just doing their job and get involved in something WAAAAAAAY out of their league, yet it wouldn’t be the same without them. One character is boisterous, kind of silly, but she always has your back; the other is straitlaced and serious, but will often come up with the most unexpected and deeply unstable ideas. That’s Althea and Claudia, the two main characters in my story.

These two goofballs remind me just how often I love creating and writing new characters that just resonate and take on lives of their own. It’s rare, but sometimes I know exactly how these characters would act in any given moment, any given situation. They might be slightly based on or inspired by real people or someone else’s characters, but I’ve made them my own by giving them the exact personalities I expect them to have. I even know that they must have a pet Maine coon cat (I spoke about Grizelda a few weeks ago) and they’re both the biggest nerds ever. They’re not only BFFs from childhood, they love each other dearly and are everything except married at this current point of writing. Writing them together has always been a joy and rarely frustrating.

Mind you, the story itself is in its very rough draft form at the moment — let’s just say there’s an extremely frustrating chapter I stopped a while back and put a big [WRITE THIS LATER] on it — but I’m happy to say that thanks to these two women, I know where it’s all supposed to unfold and what their roles are within it all. They’re sort of Reluctant Heroes, I suppose, but I’m trying not to lean too heavily on any one trope for them. They’re the ones who’ll come up with That Insane Idea That Just Might Work, but they’re also the ones wondering why the hell they got involved in the first place.

So yeah…I could say that I feel like I’m still scrabbling, still trying to find my way and making some of it up as I go along, but with these two goobers as my leads, I think I’m in good hands!

“Welcome to Bridgetown…”

Surprisingly enough, I never actually used that phrase anywhere in the Mendaihu Universe books until just the other day when I had to have one character welcome another as they landed at the B-Town Nullport. It didn’t even occur to me until just then that I never used it previously! [For those playing along, it comes from a very early version of an MU-themed website back before I knew to how to actually create one…that was to be the first thing you see on the landing page.]

So what’s going on in the Mendaihu Universe, anyway? Yes, I am still working on the fourth book. After numerous false starts, trunked outtakes and varying versions, I think I’ve finally managed to get it under control. There are a few reasons for this: one, my recent visits to the 750Words.com archives are paying off in that I’ve found a few outtakes that work perfectly in this iteration. Another being that my ‘repeated reread’ process of revision/reconnection helped me further nail down the main plot as well as what drives each of the main characters. I’m not getting nearly as much word count on it all — yet — but I’m getting there, because I’ve become a lot more comfortable working on the project.

The trick this time out is that I’m not rewriting the original trilogy story but I am writing about events that are influenced or caused by it. Sure, I have a few literary parallels going on, but it’s not about spiritual evolution…at least not in the awakening sense. This one’s inspired by what happens after those defining events. How believers of a Chosen One choose to interpret their words and deeds, years on from the original defining events. Different interpretations will evolve, different levels of belief. Who’s doing it right? Who’s just borrowing all the best parts for their own version? Does it matter?

It’s taking a lot longer for me to process all of this, I admit. I had over a decade to process the original trilogy before I released the final version. Now, it’s only been six years since I dropped A Division of Souls and half-heartedly played with some longhand outtakes. Right now I’m at the same level as the 2001 iteration of ADoS: a lot of planning, a lot of borrowing from old versions, and doing my best to make it all work. Will I have it ready to go by next year? No idea. Chances are better that I’ll have Project A released (and/or Diwa & Kaffi, depending on how that pans out) by next year first.

Still, I’m having a lot of fun writing in this universe again, and that’s always a good thing.

Transitional scenes

Image courtesy of Your Name

Lately I feel like all my stories have been stuck in transitional scenes. The main characters aren’t there yet, but they’re on their way….to wherever there is. They know what’s going on and what they need to do, but it feels like they’re spending far too much time planning and not enough time doing. [I am well aware that this somewhat mirrors my life at times, thank you very much. It’s a lifelong habit that’s harder to break than you think.] [ANYWAY.]

The other day it got so bad that I finally called it for the scene I was working on for Project A: it was just taking way too damn long for it all to unfold, so I just stopped the scene cold. And in a move I rarely take, I left bracketed ‘fix it later’ notes, including the exact points I needed to make…and left it as is. I’ve only done a “leave it and fix it later” once before, with Diwa & Kaffi, because I really didn’t want to spend far too much time in the same spot.

Ironically, the next scene I wrote was in fact transitional, but it was short and purposeful. A character needed to report to a higher-up while also pulling off some Furtive Spy-Type Stuff. It was concise, always moving forward, and cleared the way for future events. And it only lasted maybe about three pages. Win!

One reason I sometimes get stuck in these transitional scenes is lack of planning. Sometimes the focus is more on getting daily words done than it is getting the scene done, and that never bodes well, because then what I write is an overthought rambling mess. But it goes the other way, too: sometimes I want to take my time getting to the point I need to hit (for pacing’s sake) and end up taking too much time getting there. I think it was a bit of both this time out.

So, how to combat it? Well, the easiest way is to do what I’d done: [WRITE THIS BIT LATER.] It’ll save me time, brainspace, and avoid frustration later on. Most of the time I have a good idea of what needs to be there, but my brain hasn’t quite achieved how to make it work yet. That’s where my Repeated Reread Process also comes in: I know the problem scene is coming, plus I’ll be able to see what leads up to it, and therefore know how to handle it better.

Right now the beginning chapters of Project A are a terrible mess, but they’re not irredeemable. I just need to make a few fixes and updates is all. And I’ll rewrite all that later, too. Right now I’d rather continue with the path I’d finally corrected and go from there, because that is where my brain needs to be.

That Moment in Writing

Image courtesy of Ocean Waves

Don’t mind me…I’m just stuck in that moment in writing. You know the one I’m talking about. The one where you’ve got a decent amount of work done, and you kind of like the idea…but it all sounds like CRAP. That point where everything sounds so awful and stupid that you’re embarrassed to call yourself a writer.

How do I handle that? Well, I just let it pass, really. If it’s really, truly bad work, then I’ll decide whether or not to trunk it, revise it, or start over. And I don’t think I’m at that point (yet). What I have now is what I always have at the start of a novel project: a lot of flailing, a lot of guesswork, and a considerable absence of continuity. I remind myself that I’m still feeling my way, trying to find what anchors it all together. I’m still trying to find the right voice for it. And the only way to find all that is to keep going. I can fix the terrible parts later on.

So yeah, I’ll be a Grumpypants for a little bit, but it’ll pass. Eventually.

Thinking Big Again

‘Radiance’ by Mami Kawada — opening theme to Starship Operators

So it seems that one of my Current Projects is going to be another epic. I didn’t quite plan it that way, but I didn’t plan on The Bridgetown Trilogy to be the big ol’ books they became, either. I’m not complaining, though…I have a soft spot for writing big books! They give me a chance to really stretch out and have a lot of creative fun.

There’s of course the world building aspect. While I wouldn’t quite say this is a space opera, it does have some elements of it. Most of it takes place either on a waystation near a busy wormhole gate or at its nearby host planet. I’m borrowing some layout ideas from a lot of different anime movies and series I’ve watched over the years (no surprise there) to build up the infrastructure. This one won’t have any conlangs this time out, though, but that’s fine. I’ve got other major details that I need to keep in some semblance of order instead.

The cast might not be as huge as the Bridgetown Trilogy, but it’s close. There are four major characters so far, with many secondary characters already making important appearances, and they’ve all got their assignments via the synopsis I completed for it a few weeks ago. Big ensembles are a lot of fun to write for me, because I love the challenge of keeping them unique as well as ensuring they all have their own important roles to play in the overall story arc. The length ensures that I give them all breathing room to be themselves as well.

And quite importantly: it has not one but three mixtape playlists already made for this particular project. Possibly more in the future.

Does that mean I’m putting shorter length aside? Far from it — a few of the backburner projects are about the same length as In My Blue World. Knowing that I can do both means that I can definitely switch from one to the other without worry. Who knows, I may even have a few short/flash fiction ideas in mind as well…?

Regardless, I’m pleased to state that this particular project is coming along just fine. Sure, I might trip up here and there, but I think I’ve gotten past the rocky beginning I always seem to have when starting a new project, so it should be much smoother sailing from here.

On Writing Sequels

Image courtesy of Boruto

Sequels can be a tricky thing to write sometimes. Such projects can end up being a lesson in frustration when you realize that you haven’t really written a new story in the universe you’d created so much as you’ve just attempted to rewrite the original story again, and that can be a huge problem in itself.

I’ve been working off and on with a sequel to the Bridgetown Trilogy (which I’ve been referring to as MU4, as in ‘Mendaihu Universe Book 4’) and as tempting as it is for me to write another story about the dysfunctional shenanigans of Vigil or the PoeKaina and CarNando ships (heh) or whatever, that’s the last thing I should really be doing. That’s why one of the first rules I’d come up with when I first started playing with the idea was to have Book Four set seventy years after the events of The Balance of Light, ensuring the original cast was already in the past tense, at least in the physical sense. I had to come up with new characters, each with their own histories and drives, yet somehow tie it in with the Mendaihu Universe. That in itself wasn’t too hard, as I’d left myself wide open for all kinds of exploration in this particular world.

No, the hard part was how to tie it in with the original trilogy yet not write the trilogy again. So how do I do that?

With In My Blue World, I deliberately left the story open-ended to a degree that its main characters could go on further adventures with Zuzannah and the rest of the alternate universe gang. That kind of sequel is in a ‘continuing adventures of…’ format, such as Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, or Martha Wells’ Murderbot Diaries. Conversely, Diwa & Kaffi evolved out of a world I’d already created for a multi-short story project involving different species of beings on a college campus, so that one will end up sort of going in reverse when I get to writing those stories. That format is simply standalone stories in a shared world.

So with MU4, I had to give everyone a new directive: it had to relate to the supernatural/spiritual goings-on in that world, with many of the rules that Denni/The One of All Sacred laid down by Book 3…and then twist them somehow. Historical knowledge tends to warp and evolve over the years; what really happens and what we want to remember can often be two completely different things, especially when spirituality and religion is involved. That ends up being the main rule of the new version of this universe: Bridgetown (and the world) is filled with loyal Followers of the One…yet do they truly follow the tenets Denni laid down so many years ago? And then follow it up by imprinting these new characters onto that rule and see where it goes.

There are many ways to go about writing sequels, and of course how you decide to write them totally depends on how you want to approach them. My favorite way, as you’ve noticed, is to keep my original stories open for such possibilities! My only caveat then is to keep a finite number of ground rules…and the rest is fair game.

Shifting Gears

Image courtesy of Steins;Gate

So I was working on two different projects over the last moth or so, writing out a synopsis/outline for each with the future plan of starting the writing soon after I felt comfortable with what I had planned out. So what happened?

Well, two other projects kept nagging at me. Two that have been on my back burners even longer than the two I’d been working on. Two that I pretty much knew inside and out already, they just needed sprucing and leveling up to make them better. I kept them at arm’s length for the last couple of weeks of May, focusing on the ones I already had going but letting these two sit a bit and germinate a bit more. I figured, if by the start of June these two other projects refused to go away (or alternately, started hanging out rent-free in my head all day long), then maybe that was a sign that I should focus on these first.

I mean, it’s not as if any of these have a specific deadline other than a self-made one. I want to get something new done by the end of this year! But no, there’s no agent or publisher chasing me about any of these.

So. June arrived, and I figured, why the hell not? These are two projects that I’ve already done a lot of work on in the past, so it’s not as if I’m starting with a blank Word document here and scratching my head, trying to figure out where to begin. I fired up the 750Words site and did the same thing I’d done with the previous projects: worked out a synopsis, a cast of characters, and the style and mood for Project A. [I say “mood” here because several of the older versions leaned a bit too heavily on the pathos. Which, in retrospect, is precisely why they didn’t work. This version will hopefully avoid that pitfall.] For Project B, I’m going to need to do something a bit different and work out a major outline and piece it all together. Again, most of this has been done several times in the past so the turnaround should be quick and painless.

It’s been only one week, so far it’s been positive forward motion, which is a very good sign indeed. It means these are projects that I’m enjoying, that they cover subjects I’m confident speaking about. Even when I’m stumbling, I don’t (yet) feel like I’m in over my head. Do I feel that way about the former two projects? Well, not entirely. I feel like I’m still flailing a bit on them. Not nearly as much as previously, but my confidence is not as high with them just yet. So I don’t feel bad about shifting them to the rear burners for a bit while I focus on these.