Tag: song

Song Punch List

I’ve been working on the third draft revision of Song for a while now*, and it was wallowing a bit. My thematic revision pass had stalled, basically because I was doing a micro-edit about macro things, so a few weeks ago I decided to do a punch list read to see what was actually broken in the story.

punch list (n.): a document prepared near the end of a project listing work which must be completed to fulfill the contract.

“Punch list” is originally a term from construction, but I’m using it here as a marker for “things I need to fix before I can call the book done”.

One of the consistent problems I found with the thematic revision pass was that I had too many things to consider as I went through the text. I had 25 touchstones over 73 chapters; even with percentages and conditional format to turn things green when complete it was too overwhelming.

This punch list read used a much more tightly-focussed set of question that were much easier to keep in mind:

  1. is this a situation where an under-used character can be brought forward?
  2. why did the character say that?
  3. what does the character want?

These questions fit on the back of a business card I could keep in my wallet to review at will. I was also watching for pacing red flags, poor turns of phrase, and the kind of grammar nits that always jump up and stop me reading smoothly.

I just finished the read, and I’m pretty pleased with the state of the book. There are pacing issues (and there is a separate process I want to got through to address those specifically) but there are far fewer enormous plot holes than I had feared.

On to collating and addressing the comments.

[*] oh no, it’s been exactly a year… good job this isn’t all I’ve been doing!

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They’re Playing My Tune

The last time I touched Song was the beginning of November.

I have had to do this before: picking up a manuscript after a break of some kind is an occupational hazard of the recreational writer. For me it’s usually either a cold or another task that gets in the way of work on a draft — pausing between drafts to refresh is not what I am talking about here, but putting down a work when it is still actively being worked on.

So, I have a half-revised manuscript. How do I get back in touch with it?

Historically, I would reread the manuscript as it stands. I’ve done this with Bluehammer and Shapes, but those breaks were longer and the decay of the story in my brain more complete than here. So rereading the entire thing doesn’t seem valuable.

Another distinct thing about Song is that I have a thorough revision plan. A bit too thorough, if you know what I mean — based on my lists there is still a lot of work. The revisions in the plan are thematic, ensuring that the elements of the story and the characters that I want to express are all dealt with. This plan (as I mentioned in passing in August) consists of a set of touchstones and an enumeration of scenes.

I was working through that plan scene by scene. For chapter-by-chapter sharing (which is what we were doing in the crit group) that is the best approach; for thematic consistency I don’t think it’s very good. I also worry that I am just going too slowly because I have to keep on switching context while revising.

These factors combine to make me want to work on the plan in a different way. I have grouped the touchstones by type (relationships, POV consistency, specific character) and then I am going to drive through the whole novel working on a particular set of touchstones — driving a spike, to use software terminology. This way I get to reload my map of the whole story while still getting some work done.

But this bit is going to take time. According to my spreadsheet, I have addressed only 11.83% of the touchstones by scene.

After that I will worry about pacing.

I hope your writing is going well.

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Song Stress

This plan looks an awful lot like last year’s plan… I’m looking forward to reading the second draft that is maturing in its drawer right now.

  1. Read second draft – read for readability and typoes.
  2. Apply corrections from draft read.
  3. Give it to my wife to read – if she is interested, anyway, since this is a rewrite of an existing story which she read only three years ago.
  4. Revise that second draft – figure out breakages in the plot, improve characterisation. This may involve making a detailed outline as I am for Shapes at the moment, but we’ll see how broken the current structure is.
  5. Polish the draft to improve word choice and so on.
  6. Make submission materials – synopsis, pitch, hook, and all of that.

Just keeping on keeping on, here.

I will be clear to read the manuscript this weekend, on 10th or 11th January.

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On the Unwisdom of Continuing A Manuscript for NaNoWriMo

I decided a few weeks ago that I needed to try to complete the second draft of Song for this November’s effort. But then yesterday…

So what are these sins? Why is this such a bad idea and why am I doing it anyway?

The Sins of Continuation

NaNoWriMo works best when the energy is focussed, and that is the basic sin I have committed: trying to do two things at once. I am both working to finish the draft, and to update the existing text to match the updated outline. That means I am writing both new chapters and in-fill fragments.

Where I have most especially gone wrong is in giving too little attention to where in-fill material needs to go, whether that is the fragment describing how a minor character is related to the plot or an entire chapter about the influence of Japan. The result is that I feel like I am editing rather than writing.

This came to a head this morning when I had lots of time to write and I was focussed on the work, but because I was looking for places to add words rather than actually adding words I ended up writing 500 words only. I recovered to meet goal only by switching to write a new chapter.

Three sins in one morning. Not a lot for the truly dissolute, I suppose.

The Best Bad Ideas Only Sound Bad In Retrospect

This is the first year that the powers that be at NaNoWriMo have officially supported the idea of continuing an existing manuscript. Prior to this, t was a recognised choice, but you were considered a Rebel.

The main reason this was historically discouraged was that it makes people less free in their writing: they are attached to the concepts and structures of the existing text and so the freeness of literary abandon is compromised.

Another major factor is that people who have been working on the same piece for a long time can get precious about it, preserving things which should be cut because that’s how it has always been rather than because it serves the story. Brandon Sanderson has mentioned this in the past on Writing Excuses too: the writing student who always brings the same book to be workshopped, even though it’s been ten years and all the freshness evaporated seemingly before light bathed the skies.

If It Must Be Done…

I had two main reasons to work on an existing manuscript:

  1. the original work I was outlining didn’t engage me as much as I wanted
  2. my best chance for finishing a book in anything less than geological time was Song

But also I had done it before and it had worked.

Now I just have to keep the energy engaged, because these things are best done quickly.

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NaNoWriMo 2014: Day the First

I am not planning on doing daily updates of my word count here, but it seems worth noting that the first day is done and I have made quota.

Actually, it’s a little better than that: I have 2,083 new words on the draft, including a new prologue chapter that I never thought I would need or write and an extra fragment inserted into an existing chapter breadcrumbing something for later.

I am reminded, however, that this is a five weekend November, and I don’t like those for NaNoWriMo. Where many people celebrate the extra weekend as more novelling time, I fear a fifth weekend as being two more days where I’ll be off kilter and not in my usual routine, ie where I run the real risk of not having enough time to make my words.

Today was pretty typical in that. I rose a little later than planned and ended up making but 500 words first thing, and then it was onto the Errand Train followed by the Inevitable Project Procession. I finally sat down to finish my quota about half past eight.

Still, I did make my quota, so that’s all right.

We will see what the rest of the month brings.

Also, yesterday’s post should have been a goals update. I will probably write that tomorrow also. It’s time to go to sleep now.

Write thee well, oh NaNos.

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NaNoPreMo 2014: Filling and Tracking Holes

I have made lots of notes on the manuscript, but now I need to turn those notes into scene descriptions and things I can actually write against.

Classes of Note

There are two kinds of notes that I have:

  1. new or replacement scenes – these can obviously be turned into new chunks of writing.
  2. observations on tone and breadcrumbing – these are fiddlier because they require new words to be inter-meshed with existing text.

… and of course I have the remainder of the outline for the second half of the draft.

What I usually do to know what to write next* is to have scene summaries in Scrivener – which is fine, as long as it’s all new scenes. For this effort, I will have a list in Evernote for completing tasks rather than scenes, so the words are all still in Scrivener, but the planning for them is elsewhere.

Obviously, all of these things live in the cloud so they can easily be shared between the systems I use.

When To Work On Things

I’m going to do new scenes first in the day, and then write fragments later as in-fill once the daily word goal has been met. This is because I need momentum, and that is a lot easier to get from sustained writing on complete scenes. So, the fragments still need to be written, but I will write once the flow is already established.

Tracking Progress

For staying on pace, I track word count in my wordcount goals sheet as well as on the NaNoWriMo site.

For publishing my progress, I use a maze as a fill-in tracker. I have a little Lisp program which makes mazes however, for reasons I do not currently have time to explore, my CLISP install is broken. So, I’m reusing the tracker from 2013. I have added some text to it in Inkscape for the purposes of posting on the wall**.

Blogging in November

Last year I had to drop the blogging a few weeks into November because my word count goal was 100k and I just couldn’t stay on top of everything.

My goal this year is rather less ambitious – the standard 50k, in fact. On those grounds I expect that I’ll be able to keep the blogging going, but if I have to spend three hours a day to stay on target then that could change.

I will be doing some NaNoWriMo posts of course***, but those should be in addition to rather than instead of the normal bloggery.

[*] which I definitely need, because I don’t do well at coming up with ideas at 0500.

[**] and the fridge.

[***] although I probably won’t post constant updates. That is what Twitter (@DunxIsWriting) is for.

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NaNoPreMo 2014: Finding Holes

Since I’ve switched my November project to completing the second draft of Song, the prep for it has changed from when I was planning on writing a new story.

This time last year I was talking about character and setting, but for the most part those are settled for Song. What I am looking for right now are holes. I am working through the current manuscript on my Kindle and taking notes as follows:

  • where there are extra things that need to be written – one of the characters in particular has a larger role in the story now than before I reworked the outline, so I need to add scenes and character development.
  • alternate scenes that take the narrative in a different direction – I made some errors in revealing the story in the first stab at the early scenes. I am annotating those.
  • breadcrumbs that need to be dropped – parallel to rewriting scenes that are wrong is adding elements to scenes that do the right thing but are missing foreshadowing or clues that bolster events later in the story.
  • cool things – there are still cool ideas about this story to be captured!

When I run off the end of the current manuscript, I also want to look at the way I am telling the story in the second half, because it’s getting to be too static – lots of scenes of the protagonist and his team analysing network traffic. I need to find a way to give that more texture.

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NaNoPreMo 2014: Changing Tack

What with one thing and another, October has not been a successful month for writing so far. I’ve done some interesting work on prep for November, but I’ve done no work on Song.

And I want to get Song done. It’s still the book I have that is closest to completion.

I’m also not quite feeling it on Disconnected, the idea I settled on for November. Indeed, maybe that’s part of the problem here – I settled on it rather than really being excited by it. What I wrote last year was exciting and made my brain fizz; Song made my brain fizz at the time and still does whenever I immerse myself in it again; but Disconnected feels… not quite cooked yet, to be honest. There is something there, but even though I’ve had the skeleton of the idea kicking around for a long time it still feels unready. Indeed, it feels about where Song was when I first came up with that back in 2005.

So I think I am going to change tack on NaNoWriMo this year and keep going on Song rather than writing something new.

This is not actually a bad thing, because Song needs about 50k to make it a complete draft and I really only want to do 50k this year. On top of that, there is a substantial bit of new in-fill writing needed in the first half to make that match up to the new plot in the second half, so I don’t think I will have any trouble getting the words needed to win.

The focus of my prep needs to change, though – time to reacquaint myself with Song and its world rather than trying to figure out POV characters for the linked short stories.

You Hum It, I’ll Join In

To that end, I am going to compile the draft and reread it with an eye to what needs to be written to make it a complete book.

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Back to the Beginning

I feel like I have been blocked on Song for months.

I think it’s only been a few weeks really, but I’ve made pitiful progress on the third act. I keep thinking I know where the story is going, but then I sit down to write and I end up not knowing how to continue.

Part of this is being discoonnected from the story, part of it is not spending enough time in the seat on that story, but there is a large part of it that is frustration that the early chapters are just wrong now – I’ve made enough progress on understanding how the story fits together on the early parts that I feel I need to go back and fix things up.

Which is what I am going to actually do, since many of those early elements need to be laid down so that I can refer to them later in the narrative. I feel like making the story already written match the outline notes will help me to continue the story later. It might also help to get me into the more dynamic form of the protagonist.

So, back to the beginning.

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A Catchier Song

My work on Song at the moment is about outlining. I have a story and characters with interesting nooks and crannies but I am working both on figuring out how to layer the story so that it is sufficiently interesting, and how to render that story so that the reader will be as engaged and excited by the story as I am.

I often find that reading craft books helps me during these kinds of activities, not necessarily by telling me what to do or how to write, but by reminding me of the kinds of things I want to be looking for. Maybe one day “reading craft books” will no longer be part of my process, but right now it certainly is – particularly when my actual writing practice may not be as consistent as I would like.

The book I am reading at the moment is called Wired for Story. I will write up a proper review once I have finished and digested it, but it is interesting and constructive in its presentation of the components of story. It gives me a lot to think about, and at the very least reminds me of just how much there is to wire together when building a story of any complexity.

So, that’s what I am doing right now – layering and wiring and complexifying. Soon there will be writing.

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