Tag: the rescue

Writing update for 2/8/2011

I got scene 4 of “Rescue” completed tonight and it is not nearly as good as scene 3, but I’m not too worried about it at the moment, since I’m still in first draft, and the point is to get the story out and then go back and work the second-draft magic. There are two problems with the scene, as I see it: the setting isn’t great, and there has to be some way of improving that and raising the drama. Also, there is a lot of technical information that gets conveyed and I’m trying to avoid being info-dumpy, but it is tricky.

Incidentally, the story involves Pluto, but it takes place several centuries in the future, and I’ve been going back and forth as to whether Pluto would regain its planetary status in that time. But I’ve decided in favor of planetary status. Heck, I’m creating this universe and I can do what I want, right?

I’m not sure I’ll get a writing session in tomorrow night since it’s Wednesday and that means writer’s group night. As it stands, the first draft is just a hair over 5,000 words, maybe a third of the way done, and I’ve now written two consecutive days in a row, which is good. Evenings appears to be working out, so far.

I also have a notion for an actual title (as opposed to my working title, “Rescue”) but I’m not quite ready to share it until I’m sure that I’m going to use it. All in good time.

Writing update for 2/7/2011

As promised, I tried out my new schedule tonight. I started writing a little early, at 7pm and wrote for about a solid hour and a half, completing the third scene of “Rescue” and adding about 1,500 words to the story. It now stands at around 4,500, out of an estimated 15,000 or so. The plot took an interesting turn in this scene. I needed a reason for a team of explorers to be out exploring a distant planet and a friend provided a suggestion that got my mind going. I decided to take an idea that I’d been saving for another story and join it with this one, and it fit in very nicely with the plot.

This scene is now substantially changed from what it was in it’s novel form with the roles of the two characters in the scene almost reversed. It is still first draft quality, but I’m setting up the proper breadcrumbs, and in particular, establishing a good story arc.

Just before I started writing this evening, I felt a bit worn out, but with the toddler down to sleep and Kelly heading off to bed, I sat down at my desk with my noise-canceling headset canceling out the remaining noise and really got into focusing on the details of the scene. It felt pretty good. And now, of course, I can sleep in and not feel guilty about it, so long as I manage to get to the keyboard again tomorrow night. And I don’t foresee a problem there. The writing I did tonight has pulled me back into this story and I’m jazzed about it and eager to write scene 4.

Tonight’s writing was a literal breeze

I went through the usual routine when I put the toddler to bed. We read a book (Oh the Thinks You Can Think!) and then I sang to him, the usual fare, Bing Crosby stuff. For some reason, “Trade Winds” came to mind tonight and that turned out to be significant in helping me break through this week-long slump I’ve had in making progress on the novelette.

The second scene of the story was originally to take place in a stogy old office, rather boring as a setting and I wasn’t particularly looking forward to it, even though it is an important scene since it introduces the other viewpoint character. But sitting there, singing “Down where the trade winds play…” it occurred to me that there is absolutely no reason why the scene had to take place in an office. So I decided to move the scene to Lihue airport in Kaua’i (several centuries in the future, of course) and have the character sitting in the outdoor waiting area, awaiting a flight. It worked out perfectly. The setting was much better and I was better able to arrange the scene.

It needs work, of course, but I’m not worried about that at this point. I just want to get the whole draft done. But I learned a valuable lesson that might serve me well in the future. If a scene isn’t working for me, try a change of scenery.

I’m so glad I sing the Little Man Bing Crosby instead of lullabies. Who knows where the scene might have ended up if it was the reverse?

The new novelette is underway

After a month of reading the NaNoWriMo novel, tearing apart the first section, annotating it, and a lot of thinking, I finally got around to writing the first actually words of the new novelette, working title of “Rescue” yesterday afternoon. I managed just about 1,400 words, interrupted by the Little Man who was napped and suddenly needed someone to nap on. But once he had his nap, I was able to return to the story and spend about an hour and a half writing the first scene.

The story has two view point characters and the scenes alternate between those viewpoints. I am trying to end each scene in a cliffhanger. There are basically, therefore, two story lines, interwoven, and gradually coming together at the climax of the story.

I’m pretty pleased with what I wrote yesterday. The first scene, of course, has to grab the reader’s attention right away, but also needs to provide some back story without losing the reader. While I still think what I have is first-draft quality, I think I did a pretty good job at managing these two tasks. Hopefully, by the time you are reading this, I’ve already written the second scene and things are well underway. I’d like to be able to keep this up, and get back to regular writing every day.

Here I am writing:


A brief writing update

I think I’m getting back on track in terms of my writing schedule (thanks again to Brad Torgersen’s inspiring post). For the second day in a row I was up before 5am and spent my two hours on two writing-related tasks.

First, I organized the scenes in “Rescue” in the order I think they should go, based on the work I’d done paring down the novel section to a novelette. At this point, the novelette is just a set of scene index cards in Scrivener. However, the novel section is now fully annotated with what should get cut, what should get emphasized, what should stay in and what should go out. Furthermore, I decided this morning to simplify the plot somewhat by taking out a subplot that, while interesting, is probably too much to handle in a novelette. All of that took an hour and so I didn’t start the actual writing. However: we have a free-writing session at the Arlington Writers Group tonight and if the weather permits, and I can get to the meeting, I’ll start the writing this evening.

Second, I took feedback I got from an editor on a story he turned down–very good, detailed feedback–and made some minor changes to address those issues and then got the story sent out to another market. I’m still hopeful.

Overnight I received my third rejection of 2011, but I also made my second submission this morning. Pretty good for the month of January.

That ate up the rest of my time this morning, and I trudged wearily out into the slush (a different kind of slush) to head into the day job.

Small progress on “Rescue”

I was up at 5am to work on “Rescue” and begin the actual writing but I didn’t get very far. I didn’t sleep too well last night, but I also had to read a few manuscripts for the Arlington Writers Group meeting tonight and that had to take precedent this morning, since I have no other time during the day today to read them. Typically, I don’t wait until the last minute, but I’ve had my hands full. Once piece is now done and I’m about to start the next. I did manage to move my notes for “Rescue” into Scrivener and begin setting up the scene structure. I have to go through the notes and figure out which scenes to cut, which to leave in, which to alter, where to plant various seeds. That will likely be tomorrow. And then I can start writing and it will be (hopefully) smooth sailing from there.

I feel like I am procrastinating but really I am trying to take a complex narrative out of a novel and crush it down into something half it’s length. That isn’t proving to be an easy task, despite the fact that I think I have a good story to tell.

It doesn’t help that I’ve had the July 1939 issue of Astounding staring me in the face all morning. I desperately want to read more of it, but it looks like I might not have any time for it today. Even lunch is booked up.

On the plus side, I managed to acquire the September 1941 Astounding last night, for a very good price at that. I thought that would be the most difficult issue of all to acquire since it contains Asimov’s “Nightfall” and Bester’s “Adam and No Eve”. Can’t wait to get that one in the mail.

Anatomy of a story read-through

This afternoon I finished my read through of Part 1 of my NaNoWriMo novel. The piece was 35,500 words long. I read through it on my Kindle and made more than 165 notes as I worked through it.

One of the most valuable things I’ve got from the writers groups to which I belong is to learn how to critique my own work. Critique other people’s work enough time and you really do start to learn what to look for in your own. When I wrote Part 1, I thought I had something pretty good. When I started reading, I tried reading with a critical eye, one in which I was looking to cut form 35,000 words down to 15-to-20,000 and to make it a self-contained story, and add an element of mystery at that.

What follows is a list of some of the comments I made as read through Part 1. They will obviously be out of context, since you won’t see the original passages, but I think some of them provide a useful insight into how to take a critical look at a draft of a story, and the kinds of questions I ask myself. To some of these I have added some additional comments to provide a better context for what I mean.

  • Be more specific here. First drafts, for me, are often like sketches. In this case, I had a line that simply read, “It seemed like forever since she smiled.” My note is basically telling me to add color, to illustrate this better. Instead of saying it, so something to make it seem unusual. Maybe she will smile for the first time in a while and notice the color of her teeth–which will get her to thinking that she hadn’t smiled in a while. Bottom line is to take this out of draft form and give it life.
  • Need to make sure this is consistent. This was a continuity issue, and the note is telling me to make sure that this is consistent with the state of the scene a few minutes earlier.
  • This should show up later…. One of the many ways I indicate the placement of breadcrumbs that tie various story elements together. In this case it refers to a bottle of wine which I think needs to be more symbolic after a major event in the story has taken place. Now that I more or less know the whole story, I know that this will fit well if it came back into play later on.
  • This is good because it is a nice segue into a complication. Okay, not all of my comments are critical. I find it nice to occasionally call out the stuff that works, too.
  • Another theme and challenge to overcome. Just identifying themes. The note tells me this should play a bigger part in the overall story arc.
  • Not sure this is a necessary complication in a novelette. Sometimes you have to pick your battles, especially when cutting.
  • Too info-dumpy? I think this is self-explanatory. This shows up on a number of occasions. I take it as a challenge to rewrite the scene in a way to convey the important information without dumping. In second draft, doing this can be a lot of fun.
  • This is probably a better way of handling the info-dump. But really: how does it tie into the story? Sometimes I ask myself stuff like this as a way of deciding if a particular story element is worth it.
  • This is where the action in the scene really begins. Useful in cutting and getting to the point.
  • Why go to this planet? This is one question for which I’m going to need a good answer. Here I’m trying to anticipate criticisms that editors will have, based on my past experience. This is a hole in the story that needs to be closed up neatly.
  • Great line. I do have them once in a while.
  • If I do cut this scene, at least this part is useful. The difference between radical cutting and surgical cutting. This story has both so the note helps me distinguish.
  • I don’t think this character can assume this yet. Novice writers (myself included) often make the mistake of assuming their character has all of the information just because they (the author) has all of the information. I still do this from time to time and this note is a reminder of that. The character is question is making an assumption based on information that s/he can’t have yet.
  • Might be a better place to end the scene. More tension that way. A read-through can also give me a better indication on how well my scene breaks and transitions are working and a note like this is a marker for making it better.
  • I think I’m going to have to cut her as a viewpoint character in the novelette. I have limited space and I’m worried that too many POVs in a novelette will be confusing, so this note is a reminder of which viewpoints to cut out.
  • I like this a lot but I don’t think it has a place in the novelette. Me being brutally honest with myself, which you have to be when reading your own stuff.
  • Sounds a little too much like, “Well, you know, Bob…” Another way of indicating an info-dump.
  • I’m ultimately going to need more technical details here to satisfy the particular audience I’m targeting. Another marker indicating where to ratchet up info as opposed to get rid of it. Sometimes, you need it. It depends on the audience.
  • There isn’t much to his character that comes across. Need to think about ways of changing that. Okay here I have a character who is necessary but simply too bland and the note is a reminder to make him more interesting in the story version.

Like I said, there are about 165 notes like these scattered throughout the story. Now, I have to read through all the notes, move them into Scrivener in a way that they will be useful, and then I can start writing “Rescue”.  Actually, I can cheat a little, because I already know exactly how the story is going to open and I don’t need the notes for that.

Using the Kindle to read story drafts

My evolution of story draft reading has come a long way in the last year. A year ago, I’d print out my first drafts, mark them up in red ink and then head into my second draft. Then I tried reading the draft within Scrivener and that worked pretty well, too, but it was a little less portable than a paper manuscript, since I didn’t always have my laptop with me. Reading a draft is a convenient thing to do in those small scraps of time that one finds during the day, waiting for an elevator, sitting in a doctor office lobby, waiting for a meeting to start. So when I started my work on “Rescue”, I decided to try reading the draft on the Kindle and see how it felt.

As I’ve mentioned, “Rescue” is a novelette that I am writing by cannibalizing the first part of the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo. So in essence what I am doing is reading that first part, deciding what ideas and characters to keep and what to throw away, and then rewriting the whole thing from scratch as a self-contained story, cutting it from 35,000 words in it’s novel form down to 15-to-20,000 words in story form.

Scrivener makes it easy to export a story to Kindle format. Once the story was on the Kindle, I moved it to “My Fiction” collection and started reading. If I found something I wanted to cut, or change, I’d use the Kindle’s highlight feature to highlight the text, and then I’d use the Kindle’s notes/annotations feature to add a note. Since the keyboard on the Kindle is QWERTY, it’s easy to type and capture short notes like, “Cut this” or more extensive notes like, “I’m not sure if this character belongs in the story. Their viewpoint doesn’t add much and slows the pace down. It would also allow me to cut this scene…”

I’ve managed to get 63% through my reading and I’ve made well over 100 annotations and even more highlights. Here is a typical screenshot:


I’ve found that I can work as easily as if I had a paper manuscript in my hands, and since I almost always have my Kindle with me, I can work on this just about anywhere. And best of all, the notes and annotations that I am making are stored on the device and can be opened as a text file, which I can then pull into my Scrivener project to use as a reference when I write the new story.

There is one downside that I have found so far:

Because I copied the story to my Kindle directly from my computer, as opposed to using Amazon’s service (which would have cost a buck or two), the story is only available on the Kindle device. It does not sync up to Amazon and therefore, for instance, I can’t pull it up on my iPhone.

Nevertheless, I am pleased with the overall feel of reading a draft on the Kindle and making my notes there, and it is likely the way I will handle all future drafts of stories. A story like this one would easily have consumed 150 manuscript pages. Add to that another draft, to say nothing of ten more stories this year, and this method also goes a long way toward my goal of becoming paperless at home, too.

Points of view

My first story for 2011, “Rescue” is the second story to take place in this universe in which I am writing. (I haven’t sold the first story yet, but I am hopeful.) The story is only loosely connected to the first, in very much the way Heinlein’s “Future History” stories were loosely connected (and written out of order). After writing a number of short pieces, I am deliberately attempting to write “Rescue” as a novelette because I think that is the appropriate form and length for the story I have to tell. There are two issues I am struggling with as I go through my process both of which related to point of view.

First, as I did in the first story, I have the idea of telling these stories from the point of view of secondary characters as opposed to the major players. That sounds backwards. But you see, there are big events happening in these stories, and it seemed like an interesting idea to tell them from the point of view of characters who are on the periphery of these events, watching them happen. As an analogy, think of a story of an airplane crash as told from the point of view of an air traffic controller as opposed to the people actually on board the aircraft. I think this worked well in my first story in this universe, in part because that first story also worked out to be a murder mystery that was peripheral to the events taking place. In this story, the scope is larger, but ultimately, what we are dealing with is a rescue mission (as my working title suggests). And rather than tell the story from the point of view of the rescuers, I am telling it from the point of view of one of the characters in need of rescue, and from one of the people supporting the rescue mission. I think this adds an interesting level of tension (to say nothing of perspective) to the story, but only time will tell if it actually works.

This leads to my second issue: how well do multiple viewpoints work in short fiction. Certainly at the novel length, there are plenty of stories told from multiple points of view (and Stephen King is a master of this). In short fiction, I am hard pressed to think of stories with more than two view point characters. For “Rescue” to work I needed at least two view point characters, but the real question was whether a third was necessary (the third being one of the rescuers). I’m now leaning toward just two. But it does raise the question as to whether there is a reasonable limit to point of view in short fiction, outside of someone experimenting–which I am not doing here. I am simply trying to tell a good story in the most interesting and exciting way I can imagine.

Two character viewpoints allows me to get pretty deep into the heads of those characters, where a third would start to strip away at this depth, I think. I’m certain there are writers out there, far more talented than I, that could (and have) pulled this off, but it is a struggle for me. With short fiction, I am used to a single point of view. Nevertheless, I have convinced myself that two points of view will work well for this story and that three would not. I am more interested in making the minor characters around which these events are unfolding the major characters of the story and putting the “heroes” into the background. Of course, this means that for the story, the minor characters become the major view point characters, even though their role in the arc that ties all the stories and background together is minuscule .I have no idea if it will work, but I think it worked well in the first story and I think it can work even better in “Rescue”.

Progress report on “Rescue” novelette

I haven’t been doing any actual writing on “Rescue”. Instead, I’ve been reading the first part of the NaNoWriMo novel from which I am cannibalizing the story. It turns out to be the first time I’ve read this straight through since I wrote it in the first 10 days of November. It is 35,000 words long so it’s taking a while, plus I am heavily annotating what I’m reading on the Kindle. (It is so wonderful to be able to do this, but it would require another post for me to describe that process.)

What I’m trying to do is take the story I told in Part 1 of the novel and make it into a stand-alone novelette. That means taking a 35,000 word story with a whole bunch of loose-ends left open and cutting it down to a 15,000-20,000 word story, all neatly tied together. It sounds like a tough job, but so far, it has been a lot of fun, even though I haven’t done any actual writing.

I’ve come to discover that one of my favorite parts of the writing process is the second draft. The first draft is fun, but for me, it is like an artist’s sketch. I get the story laid out roughly and don’t worry too much about smoothing it out until later. When I get to the second draft, I do a lot of cutting and rewriting and general tightening up. I see the whole story so I can add elements early in the story that better tie into things later in the story. In a way, the work I am doing on “Rescue” is kind of like second draft work. I am identifying themes, and I am figuring out which characters and view points are interesting and which ones don’t really work. I’ve already figured out how to add an element of mystery to the story, and how to tie that in with the overarching storyline.

One complication is that the novel, as written, is told from as many as five different major character view points. I am hard pressed to think of short fiction that does this well.  I’m looking at cutting it to 3 major characters, but the story still shifts between three viewpoints. While it is clear and obvious when this happens, I don’t know how well it works in short fiction. I think there were some stories in Asimov’s FOUNDATION series that did this. If there is anyone out there who can think of recent novellas or novelettes that used multiple view points, I’d be interested to know what they are.

I’m currently about 25% of the way through my read and I’ve got 36 notes that I’ve made on what I’ve read so far. But I have definitely gotten a vision for where the novelette version of the story will go. It was my intention to finish my read-through today and start the actual writing tomorrow morning, but I’m juggling so many tasks that I might not finish until Tuesday or Wednesday. I’ll report back again once the writing portion of the project is underway.

Back to work

Winter vacation is over and today I head back to work, both my day and night jobs. I was up just after 5am and headed into my office to begin work on the new story, “Rescue”. I didn’t do any actual writing this morning. Instead, I spent my time reading the preface and first few chapters of Part 1 of my NaNoWriMo novel, upon which the story will be based. Overall, I thought what I had was very good, although it needs to be tightened up somehow. That will be the tricky part, I think. The first chapter that introduces the problem of the story is more than 2,000 words and needs to be cut substantially if it is to work as the first part of a shorter piece. I should finish my reading of the story by the middle of the week, I suspect, and then I can start on the rewrite. What I’m looking for (besides places to tighten things up) is another element that will strengthen the story but also limit its scope. I’m hoping to come up with that as I read through what I wrote in November.

I also head back to the day job this morning. I’ve been off for nearly 2 weeks and it is amazing how quickly I can get used to not going into the office. I have a baker’s dozen worth of projects underway or starting up and need to figure out where I left off, figure out what needs to get done right away versus what can wait, to say nothing of 2 weeks worth of email to go through. Should make for an interesting day.