Month: March 2017

Fixing Timelines

I’ve written a couple of posts about the timelining process that I have been going through with Songmaking timelines, and particularly documentary timelines. This post is about fixing the timeline once the information has been gathered.

The first thing I should say is that this is one component of the manuscript-fixing process. I started making the timeline after collecting first read comments in the revision plan for this draft. Some of those comments were about timing and sequencing issues, and as I have gone through the timeline creation process I have been collecting more of those things which are broken. These timing issues are their own category of comments.

Fixing timeline issues is about walking through the timing comments and correcting the inconsistencies.

Each comment is addressed with two sets of changes:

  1. fix the timeline
  2. fix the text

In this part of the process, the timeline is king – if the text disagrees with the timeline, it is the text that should change. Longer term, the priority of the text will be reasserted* but in this moment, the timeline is correct.

What surprised me a little as I worked through the timing remarks was that the text itself didn’t need to change as often as I had thought. In preparing the timeline, I found that some of the timing issues I observed were not inherent in the text. If my characters are working at their jobs on a Sunday or on the Fourth of July**, then that was an artifact of the timeline that is not reflected in the text. In those cases, shifting the timeline alone is often sufficient – the text doesn’t really need to be updated, because there was no explicit anchoring of the events to the day I’m trying to avoid.

There were a few text fixes, though, mostly around the order of events. If a character is acting in response to something which, now, hasn’t happened yet then I Need ot find an alternative trigger to instigate that action.

A larger output from this timeline fix were notes in my directed reading list, however. I will write about that next.

[*] one of the issues that pops up in software a lot is how and whether design documentation should be kept up to date, and this seems particularly problematic when it comes to diagrams. I spent the best part of a decade in my software career concerned with keeping design-level representations of a system consistent with the implementation of that system. It’s a hard problem.

[**] which is a significant holiday in the USA, for those who might not know***.

[***] did you know that the UK has no national day? I suppose this is because most national days seem to be celebrating the dawn of independence for the country, and mostly that independence was earned from the UK…

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The War of Art

I am not a religious person, nor am I a duallist: I don’t believe in souls, or afterlives, or creators, or ghosts. I am an empiricist and a scientist: I value data, and I value observation, and I value replicability.

This doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally find value in religious writing or spiritualism. I don’t take either literally, but the language can be useful to talk about concepts that are hard to quantify; I don’t take the practices as forging a connection to the divine, but they can be useful in calming the mind or quieting the body. The feeling of calm and connection I feel on a hike might as well be called a spiritual experience as anything else. My sense of well-being after a yoga session is valuable whether I believe in the mystical roots of the poses or not.

I say all of this to explain that The War of Art by Steven Pressfield is an important book, but not a book I can take literally. It personifies the distraction and neophobia that sabotages our creative endeavours as Resistance, and the creative urge as Angels or Muses: the eponymous War is between the inertia of the Ego and the dynamism of the Self, personified as these malign and benign spirits.

There’s a lot in this book that is valuable, and I would recommend it for the section on turning pro above all else. The attitude of mental toughness described is powerful, and if you are going to continue your work it is essential.

But the spritualism? The invocation of higher powers? Maybe that will work for you, but I found it off-putting. I’m not going to personify Resistance or the Muse because that doesn’t help me in my writing.

What’s important is turning up and doing the work. The War of Art is completely correct there.

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April Things, 2017

I suppose technically there are still a couple of days of March left, but I am at a good spot to take a short break from grinding through the text of Song looking for problems so I will write this post now.

Three Things for March

March was a matter of consistent work on the things I needed to get done, so I am calling this month a win. I didn’t particularly lose time to anything I didn’t expect to (eg, I had planned to work on the tax return so not writing in that time doesn’t count), although I did spend more time televisioning and building Magic decks than perhaps I ought to have.

Here are the goal-by-goal notes, though.

  1. revise Song – revision on this book continues to make progress, I’m glad to say. Indeed, I have pretty much exactly hit the mark on the March goals.
    1. complete descriptive timeline – done.
    2. fix timeline – also done. I have fixed less of the text than perhaps I should have on this pass, but I have fixed the major events to no longer have intrinsic dependencies on scenes which have moved later, which is all I was really needing. Finding the other bad refs will be for the directed read.
    3. second read – I mis-labelled this goal: it should be the directed read. I have not quite started this, but I will be working on it for the remaining two days in March so when I said I would likely only just get to start this I was dead on. The main thing is that the text is ready to be worked on, but I still need to compile it into an e-book for review.
  2. tax return – almost there. I have one more thing to add and then I can pull the trigger. Calling this done.
  3. summer holiday planning – mostly there. It is amazing how quickly the summer weekends fill up.

I also had informal goals of continuing to blog and getting back to some kind of regular exercise. I wrote a couple of blog posts and did a bit of exercise, but these are still elements in recovery.

Three Things for 2017

A quarter of the year has gone. Where am I on my annual goals?

  1. finish A Turquoise Song – solid progress, fixing some of the worst problems in the text.
  2. talk to some agents, aiming to obtain representation – technically in abeyance until Song is done, but I am planning on going to the Willamette Writers Conference this year which I expect will be helpful. Obviously not expecting to come out with a deal or anything hyper-ambitious like that, but helpful.
  3. investigate publishing A New Dawn – no work, nothing on the horizon. This may just be a dead goal at this point.

I’m actually pretty happy with progress on Song. I think there’s a decent chance I will have a readable draft by the end of May.

Three Things for April

  1. revise Song – start to turn this into a readable second draft.
    1. second read – finish this. The Livia directed read took two weeks, so this could easily occupy the whole month. I will try to be done in three weeks.
    2. second pass revision plan – this was prepared alongside the directed read for Livia, but I may have to groom it further.
    3. start second pass revision – this took a month for Livia, so I am hoping it doesn’t take two for Song… This is the long pole for getting the draft done by the end of May.
  2. blog posts – more process posts. I also want to do a digest of the revision talk I presented at the day job to justify some of my timings above.
  3. Coppersmith – really, I don’t want this story to die!

Onward!

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Documentary Timelines

I’m not a full-time writer of fiction, which means that I basically have an hour a day to work on my stories, two if my early morning routine functions as it is intended to*. With Livia, I noticed that any task which required me to review the text for a specific thing or set of features took about a week. Song is nearly twice as long as Livia so it’s about a two week journey to finish any text-scraping task.

And I have just finished the two week odyssey to document the timeline of Song
s discussed in Making Timelines.

I will be writing more about how to fix a timeline as I go through that process but I wanted to discuss a little more about the purpose of the timeline and its relationship to how Song has developed over the years.

Song started, of course, as a NaNoWriMo project based on a dream I had years ago. It was little more than a title for a long time, then I had all the ideas at once and wrote a book which was actually two stories mashed together. The second draft I am working on now takes the first of those two and expands it out to a full length novel.

In that process I carried forward a lot of text from the earlier draft, and there are several spots where forward references are made: the characters talk about things that have moved to later in the story before they have now happened. So, this timeline for Song was focussed on being a documentary effort: I want to be sure of what I have before I change it.

This timelining work has also highlighted some places where things happen improbably quickly, or where the characters are at work on Sunday. This is what I originally started using Aeon Timeline for: making the relationships between events clearer so I could adjust when they happened to be credible.

But I have my document of what Song is like now, and from that I am going to collect more notes on what has to be corrected. On to the fixing up!

[*] which, right now, it’s not. Between the clocks going forward recently and binge-watching superhero TV shows I have been doing a woeful job of writing first thing in the morning. That’s an April thing to work on!

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March Things, 2017

February was supposed to be the month I started blogging again, and I have written several posts but almost all in the last week. I still can’t really get my head around just how epochally bad Trump is at his job, regardless of whether I agree with him or not – which of course I do not.

Anyway, Let’s get on with this before I really start ranting.

Three Things for February

February was a month where I got a decent chunk of work done on things I want to advance, but I also lost time in slightly unexpected ways: I needed to fix a script for the Magic league, which took longer than expected but did turn out well; I was doing some work on planning our summer travel; and I came down with an obnoxious cold which I am still feeling the after-effects of even now.

Not being able to exercise properly for a couple of weeks always leaves me ruined.

  1. review Song
    1. figure out the holes – completed the typo review and correction pass, and realised that the timeline is more broken than I thought. This is purely a function of expanding the first half of the original 2011 draft into something close to a full book, but there are knowledge gaps and jumps in continuity that jar when reading. I am in the process of making a timeline [link].
    2. make a plan – I have an initial plan [link], but I will be adding to it on a fresh read after fixing the timeline issues.
  2. figure out what to do with Coppersmiht – I have not succeeded in making time to work on this. I feel like I need to focus on Song until that revision plan is in place, so this is probably on the back burner for now.
  3. write some blog posts – I wrote some blog posts, and I have more to come.

Overall, then, I did well at working on my projects, but I did not do well at working on all of them. I really don’t want Coppersmith to languish, but finding the mental space to work on it has proved harder than I thought.

Three Things for 2017

I’ve kept going on some important things, but how do those measure up to my annual goals, a sixth of the way through the year?

  1. finish Shapes of Chance A Turquoise Song – officially cutting across to work on Song instead, because that is the book I will be aiming to finish this year. And February was not bad for that: maybe not as much progress as I would have liked, but kept moving on it
  2. talk to some agents, aiming to obtain representation – in abeyance until Song is done.
  3. investigate publishing A New Dawn – no work. I’m also not feeling it for this project at all right now, but that is a separate discussion.

So, Song continues to move forward. Calling that a win.

Three Things for March

  1. revise Song – I’m done with the review phase and have established that Song is a book worth developing further. This is a revision goal, now. Woo!
    1. complete descriptive timeline – before I can fix the timeline, I need to have the current timeline fully captured.
    2. fix timeline – this means correcting the order of events and discovery, as well as updating the manuscript to match.
    3. second read – probably only get to start this, but need to go over the manuscript again to look for things to add to the revision plan.
  2. tax return – it’s not fun and it’s not something related to my writing, but it does stomp on my creative time so I have to plan it in. I’ve made a start, but there’s more to do.
  3. summer holiday planning – summer is only three months away. What are we doing?!

There is an unofficial fourth goal of getting back to exercising regularly, but that’s something I need to support everything I do – it’s almost too big to put in this list.

March looks busy, which is good because it stops me from thinking about politics which is not a profitable thing for me to think about right now.

Keep creating, people.

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Making Timelines

Timelines for stories are often very helpful, particularly in mystery or plot-driven stories where the order of events and who knows what when can be intensely important.

I wrote some time ago about testing Aeon Timeline. I should have followed that post up to say that I found it very useful despite the risk of double data entry: sometimes copying things from one place to another can be a good way of learning about the information being transferred. Even pretty linear stories often benefit from a bit of timelining, since there are often events with specific timescales that need to have other things fitted around them.

My work at the moment is on Song, and its timeline is broken. In rebuilding the story from its origins, I have had to reorder events and change the information visibility that some characters have. Changing the POV to first person has also required me to be very clear about what the MC sees and knows at all times. I am making a timeline for the current version of the manuscript so that I can be very clear about what, exactly, is broken and that will allow me to be clear about how to fix things.

The process I am following goes like this:

  1. create a new timeline – ensure that the zoom settings are down to the level of minutes.
  2. for each scene:
    1. capture the events that occur.
    2. make any new characters needed for the event.
      optional: include character timeline events, such as their birth.
    3. note which characters participate.
    4. note which characters observe or are immediately aware of the event.
    5. don’t fix things – just record what’s in the text.
  3. in later scenes, add events for when a character learns something they did not know before
  4. flag things that are obviously broken as you go but, to repeat, don’t fix it now.

Once I have a complete timeline image of the manuscript as it is now I will be go back to look at the obviously broken things, but also search for more subtly broken continuity errors. Then I will write something about how to fix a timeline.

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