Month: May 2019

Spoiler Season

Do you skip to the end? Of a book? Of a short story? Of a film?

Or do you luxuriate in the journey, not knowing the story’s destination as a delicious treat in itself?

WAR! Huh!

The latest standard Magic The Gathering set, War of the Spark, was released a few weeks ago. There is always a certain amount of hullaballoo leading up to these sets, usually consisting of a fortnight of card reveals. This latest set’s reveal was more extended with a three week preview season, justified by the significance of the story depicted in this set. It was the culmination of a narrative arc that goes back years, and so the cards were revealed in story order.

Magic cards are announced by content creators, for the most part: Wizards of the Coast will give previews to community members who have a platform, and then the community members will talk about the card on that platform. It’s a good way for Wizards to support their community of content creators. Usually with these sets people are concerned that early card leaks (spoilers) will rob content creators of their preview, but for this set there was at least as much concern that the story would be revealed out of sequence.

Endgame of Thrones

Coincidentally enough, two other mighty franchises have lately been going through the final throes of significant storylines, and both Avengers: Endgame and Game of Thrones are stories that I care about. For various reasons, we didn’t go to see Endgame until three weeks after release while we only just started watching the final season of GoT.

It was a lot easier to avoid spoilers for Endgame.

The difference, of course, is that GoT is a series released over a period of several weeks, whereas Endgame is a single point release. The tone around Endgame was set pretty clearly too with the Spiderman: Far From Home trailer, which (at least when we saw it) had a “spoilers!” warning before Endgame while showing the trailer proper afterwards.

For a TV series, people talk about episodes as they come out. While I’m not on Facebook any more, Twitter has been very hard to navigate without gleaning bits of GoT plot*.

Unspoiled

I prefer to enjoy my media unspoiled, although this preference sometimes bites me. When I read Binti I had to stop reading at one point because I was too worried that something in the story wasn’t really happening and was actually just an elaborate and cruel prank. I probably would have been less anxious about the story if I had known something more about it before reading.

But if the story is spoiled then we won’t enjoy the media as much!

I don’t think that’s true, necessarily. We want to know about the film we are about to see, the TV show we are about to watch, or the book we are about to read because we want to confirm our interest in it. We want to hear speculation about the story, the characters and the setting before we consume the actual content. We want to know how exciting and cool the content is going to be so we can be suitably excited about seeing it, so we can concentrate on enjoying the ride without being distracted by the vehicle.

There are also many forms of media which encourage the audience to research and learn about the story and characters before seeing the performance: opera, for example, is often seen when the story is entirely known; or communal experiences like The Rocky Horror Picture Show practically require the audience to know everything about the film before it is viewed in a group.

Twist and Shout

My sense about the culture of spoiler avoidance is that it is an outgrowth of two trends: firstly, that with streaming and catch-up video, event television is almost dead (absent live competitive events); and secondly, that blockbusters rely on surprises to be worth watching. There is a feeling that if you already know the twist there is no value in watching the film.

This is not always the case. Films based on other published works have, by definition, their plots already known to a large segment of the audience**. How can these adaptations still be successful when they come essentially pre-spoiled?

The answer is going to be different for each adaptation and for each consumer, but for me I would say that I am looking to be immersed in a world I enjoy, like returning to a favourite holiday spot. Spoilers for these productions are, largely, irrelevant (with the obvious Iron Throne-shaped exception, where the TV narrative has run off the end of the book story).

So maybe if we trusted the film and TV producers to be true to their own world then we would not mind so much if details about the mere story were revealed early.

In other words, if media productions were written better, then maybe we wouldn’t care so much about spoilers.

[*] not to mention anger about that plot!

[**] exceptions being films based on non-narrative properties, such as Pirates of the Caribbean or Tetris.

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Tracking Nonlinear Work

Writing a novel is something with many phases to it. Some of those phases are short and atomic and don’t need to be broken down into smaller pieces…

Ha ha ha ha! That’s a good one.

No parts of a novel are like that.

It’s All About the Words

Writing is an activity that is most often measured in words or pages: “I wrote 500 words today.”

I use this metric myself during National Novel Writing Month, an approach which is largely required by the goals of the challenge: write 50,000 draft words in a month. Indeed, whenever I am making a rough draft I will use the raw word count as a measure of my progress.

Word count is simple, objective, and linear. It’s very clear how many words you have made at the end of the writing session.

… Except When It Isn’t

How good are those words, though? Are you going to use all of them?

One of the most common objections to the NaNoWriMo process is that the words written are the roughest of the rough. I accept that in my work: a NaNovel is a zeroth draft. It will be filled with inconsistency and bad writing.

Many authors, when they talk about their 500 words for the day, are talking about 500 finished words. My NaNoWriMo word count is raw.

Another metric that I use during NaNoWriMo is chapter count. This also acts as a proxy for plot consumption rate. The way I develop outlines makes this a practical measure for how quickly I am moving through the story I have planned out, and it’s a helpful indicator of how likely I am to finish the narrative arc during the month.

Nonlinear Processes Need Metrics Too

Word generation is, at least for me, a linear process. I don’t delete anything during drafting (my Rule #2 of NaNoWriMo) and so the word count for the book is monotonic.

Revision is much slipperier. Some parts of it are straightforward (copy edits, consistency checks, etc) whereas other parts are iterative processes that require going over the same text multiple times.

What this reveals is that revision is not one process but several. Some of those processes have very clear metrics that can be applied (chapters per day) but others are fractal discovery bug hunts that are as long as a piece of string and twice as knotty.

How should you track non-linear revision progress in a linearly-focussed world?

Track the Work, Not the Goal

My approach is to track the work done rather than progress towards an end point.

Such a tactic is not especially unusual. Events like NaNoEdMo use an hours-of-work goal for the editing you do, and in the past I’ve applied a conversion factor of a thousand words to the hour to make that time look like word counts. This way you’re mapping the time to the words you would have written in that time.

This requires time tracking though, and I am not always consistent enough with that. I like a more objective counter.

What I did for Camp NaNoWriMo this year was to track words using two different strategies:

  1. revision plan — I was finishing my revision plan before I started on the revision itself, so I counted the new words I wrote in that plan.
  2. revision — once I started the editing itself, I counted the words I had revised in a session. So when I finished a chapter I would count the words in that chapter.

    This method has risks, in particular inflation of the work and double-counting.

    • inflation — revising words is arguably not as hard as generating them in the first place, but in revising something you are immersing yourself in the text. Going through a chapter for a particular point, I find I end up reading every sentence, often multiple times. I think it’s fair to count all those reviewed words.
    • double-counting — my current revision plan consists of nine sections for different thematic and textual components: a particular character’s story, a certain plot element that needs to change. When I am working on a chapter, I can’t hold all of those in my head at once, so I work on one or two components at a time, trying to finish a particular section for all chapters.

      This means that I will come back to some chapters multiple times, and that I will count that chapter each time I revise it. Hence I am double-counting.

      I’m fine with this.

      Firstly, I think this accurately reflects the effort put into a revision pass. If I’m working for two or three months on something like this then I want my word count to reflect two or three months of output.

      Secondly, I don’t revise every chapter for every plan section. If a chapter doesn’t feature a particular character then I don’t need to revise it for the character’s back story, for example. In other words, there are critical chapters that will be touched several times, but there are others that might only get a single pass.

I like this approach because it represents pretty clearly the effort put into a revision effort. It didn’t produce outstanding results for Camp NaNoWriMo this April, but then April wasn’t an especially outstanding month so that’s alright.

I’m going to carry on doing this. I think it’s useful.

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May Things, 2019

I had high hopes for April, but I forgot that I still had to finish the tax return and that ate far more energy and time than I had hoped. Then I was planning for my UK family visit, and actually travelling…

So, let’s see how bad things really were.

Three Things for March

  1. Song fourth draft — revision plan and actual revision.
    Finished the revision plan and did a good chunk of revision. I had signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo in April, but managed about a third of what I had intended. Still, it’s moving along and I have a lot of good answers to questions so I am going to call this achieved.
  2. workshop application — this is going nowhere. I am abandoning the application for this year. Maybe in 2020?
  3. short stories — write another story for independent submission.
    No work.
    Well, that’s kind of true. During work on the revision plan I discovered a whole new setting I want to write in which will probably be a productive place to develop stories for, but it’s not a story or anything yet. Definitely doesn’t count as anything like done.

That’s 1/3.

However, I have made progress on the podcast format question, which I will talk about a bit more in the annual goals update.

Three Things for 2019

That’s a third of the year gone. Have I finished a third of my annual goals?

  1. query A Turquoise Song — a goal in three sequential parts:
    1. prepare a fourth draft — incorporate feedback, make it good. Target is to have this done by the middle of the year.
      I have a revision plan which I like, and I’ve started working through the points in the plan. I am unlikely to hit the end of second quarter with these changes, but it’s going to be a much better book.
    2. prepare query letter — obviously the initial targets are the agents I talked to at the conference in 2017, but I also want to prepare for querying other agents.
    3. query — get the book out there.
  2. short stories — I am finding my relationship to short stories becoming much less contentious, even fruitful!
    1. several stories to write for Boundary Shock Quarterly — nothing more this month, although I need to get the next one under way soon.
    2. write and submit four stories to other markets. So that’s one a quarter, and I will mark it as such — no new stories being written.
  3. engage with the writing community — this is a nebulous label for a group of related goals that don’t warrant a top level item to themselves.
    1. workshop application — I had intended to apply for an intensive workshop, but the application has not gone… anywhere, really, so I am abandoning this goal.
    2. podcast — one of the things that came out of the inconclusive work on producing Livia as an audiobook was a desire to launch a podcast of some kind.
      I think I have my format, though: an idea for a narrative fiction series set in Yorkshire and called “T’ Stars Are Reet”. More to come once it’s a bit closer to available.
    3. cons & confs — I need to be getting out there more. I just do.
      I’m planning on going to WilWrite again this year.

April was better than March in terms of energy, but wasn’t massively more productive in terms of output. Still, I feel better about it and while one goal is abandoned, I have made unexpected progress on a goal I hadn’t really thought about.

Three Things for May

There’s not a lot of steam in the boiler yet, but at least it’s heating up.

  1. Song fourth draft — continue revision. I have metrics for this, but I need to see how fast I move before setting a specific goal.
  2. podcast — figure out the elements of “T’ Stars Are Reet”, including such basic things as how many words I speak at when reading this kind of thing.
  3. short stories — write another story for independent submission.

To the word mines!

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