Building the Big Time

This week I’ve shown all these different tools I use when I’m writing.  I’ve got modeling programs; I’ve got Scrapple; I’ve got Aeon Timeline; I’ve got Scrivener.  These are great tools to have, but they’re just that:  tools.  They help build the world and create the story, but there is nothing magical about them.  One won’t start plugging numbers into Aeon and suddenly find the plot to their novel.  They’ll act as a map, but just like Kerry in London, you gotta use that map to figure out where you want to go, and how you’re going to get there.

I’m constantly thinking about my stories when I’m starting to set them up, and they aren’t far from my mind when I’m writing.  I might be working over lines of dialog, or created back story, or mulling over things to come.  That’s how I work; that’s how my stories are built.  And I’ve thought about this story for going on almost two-and-a-half years now, so when it came time to plot it out, I had a great Foundation from which to work.  (Pardon the pun–naw, don’t.)

But there’s still things that need writing, and believe it or not playing with my plots isn’t always out of the question–particularly if they’ve had a couple of years to lay about and simmer.  With that said, I’m going to do something I’ve never done:  I’m going to show you a part of my upcoming story, one that has yet to be written, but is plotted, and show you some of the process I have used to get it what the story to the point where I can start writing.

Let’s go, let’s go!

Act Two, Part Seven, Chapters Nineteen through Twenty-Four:  The Big Time.  This is where, as the kids say, shit gets real.

Sure, it doesn't look like much now . . .

Sure, it doesn’t look like much now . . .

8 November, 2011, an attack is launched by known hostile forces against various educational centers run by The Foundation.  Though Salem isn’t targeted, Director of Security Isis Mossman–who went through The Scouring and lost friends to the bad guys–isn’t about to take chances.  She begins the process of locking the school down, preparing for the worse.  As you have probably guessed, worse does come knocking:  all communication channels go dark, Isis orders the school into full lock-down and activates all defenses, putting Salem into siege mode.  This means cranking up the magical defense screens in the outer wall to full power–which encases the entire school–and throwing up a similar defense screen around The Pentagram, protecting the students who’ve been sent to their towers.

Ramona Chai and Helena Lovecraft take selected instructors and students out to the grounds proper and ready themselves as a rapid response ground-attack force, while Vicky Salomon and Erywin Sladen take command of the best fliers–most of them from the Coven Race Teams–and uses them as a combination spotter unit and, when things get bad, air assault unit.  Coraline sets up triage outside her hospital with the help of her aides and student volunteers, Trevor seals up the library, and Headmistress Mathilde Laventure retreats to Sanctuary–the code name for her bunker–while Mathias Ellison and Deanna Arrakis are sent to their separate locations to act as her seconds in case something happens to her.

Over all of this Isis Mossman–code name Fortress, which is more or less what everyone calls the locked-down Pentagram as well–stands watch in her security center with Wednesday Douglas at her side as her second, and the person who pretty much helped Isis get all these new defenses into place.  None of this “bring the stone statues to life and protect the school” stuff:  Isis would have dragons with frickin’ laser cannons flying around the school if The Foundation would allow such a thing.  As it is, she’s got a few tricks up her sleeve, not to mention some bad-ass people with heavy attack magic, over-the-top sorcery, and super-science weaponry out in the field.

Here’s what that looks like on the time line:

That's it?  Doesn't seem like much . . .

That’s it? Doesn’t seem like much . . .

I pointed out in another post that you can actually use points in one time line to drill down to another time line.  This is one of those instances where there is a time line on the other side of this point–you can tell because there’s a little icon there under “08 November 2011”.  We click on that and . . .

Okay, then . . .

Okay, then:  this looks interesting.

This is a full-on view of the attack using all the functions of Aeon Timeline.  I have events posted, I’m showing arcs (the information on the left side of the screen, such as “Kerry’s Story”), and entity relationships, which are the names at the bottom of the screen that show if a person was involved in an event, and if so were they an observer (the open dots) or a participant (the colored dots).  It might seem a little complicated, but once you’ve plotted a few of these, it becomes a pretty simple matter of knowing what happens when and to whom.

The Scrivener part was created first, with the Aeon time line produced later as a way of checking my work.  At the beginning of this event things are happening slowly because not much is going down.  Vicky tells her fliers when they start out that she hopes they have a very boring day, because that means there aren’t any attacks.  Vicky’s only saying that because she’s not seen Chapter Twenty-Two . . .

Vicky really shouldn't read ahead.

Vicky really shouldn’t read ahead.

Chapter Twenty-Two, Attack.  Pretty much sums up what’s going down.  The bad guys finally play their hand in a big way, and while Isis has done everything possible to protect the school, nothing is one hundred percent effective.  There are minor incursions and things get . . . interesting.  This is where I needed to get my times sorted out in a big way because things are happening quickly and in various parts of the school, and though it might not be important to the reader to know that stuff is occurring in the correct order at the right moments, I needed to know this.  This is why, in Scrivener I have the times laid out, and I ported those times over to Aeon when I began checking this work.

It was also possible to drill down even further in Aeon to get the scenes right.

Even when things go bad, Isis is on top of the situation.

Even when things go bad, Isis is on top of the situation.

Like Scrivener Aeon Timeline has an inspector, and the inspector allows one to see all the functions for an event, and even add notes for what’s happening.  As we can see in the scene Fortress, Isis sees an attack occurring against the outer defense screens, sees a breach, and ordered all non-essential fliers out of the air before losing the school-wide detection grid and communications, rendering everything outside The Pentagram dark.  Not a good time to be out there between The Blue and the Black (a term the fliers use to describe the defense screens of The Pentagram and the main school walls).

Believe it or not, there is a scene I’ve thought about that happens during the attack, and it’s not there.  Why?  Because it’s something that I came up with while writing Act One.  I know where it goes in the chain of events that is the attack, but I’ve yet to place it where it should go.  Some might say it’s not needed, but I’m not some.  The scene will also keep things flowing, and show how Isis is keeping the Headmistress in the loop, even when things aren’t going one hundred percent.

There you have it:  bad times come to Salem.  Will the attack be beaten back?  Will there be blood?  Will the good guys win?

There’s an Act Three, isn’t there?

The Characterization Dilemma

Last night was an interesting one.  Not because I was writing–I was, I wrote a new scene, and finished the chapter, so another five hundred fifty words in the pot, as well as few other changes to make the story have more sense.  No, this had to do with one of my beta readers.

I saw them on line last night, and they told me about the reading so far.  And it was not . . . good.  Basically, they got through the first three chapters and they couldn’t read any further.  Not because it was bad, mind you, oh no.  But it was slow, there was too much time being taken with the characters doing, you know, talking.  It didn’t make her want to go on and read more, which she said would mean that no one was going to read it because–boring!

She’s used this argument on me with the last novel of mine that I asked her to read.  You have to get a hook right away and pull the reader in.  I’ve read that before as well.  I asked her to start with Part Three and read that, and she read the hook from the first chapter and said, “That’s what you need, so get rid of Parts One and Two and start with Three.”  Sure, no problem:  that’s only eighteen thousand words, I’ll cut it right out.

I knew what she was getting at, however, because I’ve heard other writers talk about the same thing.  I explained that the first two parts are set up for what happens in Part Three, that you see things being set into place before the trigger is pulled and there’s some massive shit going down.  I explained that if you don’t have this, then when you start seeing things happening, they won’t make much sense.  Her position was, as a reader, she didn’t care, she wanted to get into the story, and if she couldn’t get past the first ten thousand words, she wasn’t going to read the other forty-three thousand.

It’s a characterization thing.  I’ve read about it before, particularly in television writing.  Most of those writers will tell you that if something running long, the first thing that goes are character building moments, because you need the car chase, because that’s what the viewer wants.  This was the same thing I was hearing last night:  please removed this boring set up stuff and get the reader into the action.  I even told her that she was saying this, not that it really mattered.

When I first started this short novel for Camp NaNo, I even considered including it in my current story.  I jettisoned that idea because, yes, the story is fifty-three thousand word, and should I add that to what I’m now writing, I’ll have a novel close to one hundred thousand words.  It wouldn’t be the whole fifty-three, either, because I’d likely kill ten thousand or more words to get it fitted in.  Still . . . that takes what I’m working now and pretty much guaranties I’d need to rewrite what I’m working on at the moment.

Maybe what I need are . . .

More Readers!


The Slow Grind of Fast Action

I completed the longest chapter in my story last night, and though it might not seem as much happened, there was quite a lot going on, with the most important being that one can be strangled with toilet bowl water.  It’s kind of hard to face the kids after that happens to you.

But the part, as a whole, has so many little sections–if you call fifteen hundred words little–so many characters that show up, so many things happening at different locations, that once you get into detailing it all, it takes more than a bit of time to write it all out.

Not counting the penultimate chapter I started last night, all the scenes of this third part total 22,540 words.  Checking against my log totals, that means I started working on this section on 7 July, almost two weeks ago.  The last four chapters total 9,247 words; I’ve been working on them since 14 July, almost a week.

And I still have a Part Four to put in the bank.

Action is, to put it bluntly, a pain to write.  Fight scenes, combat, battle between titanic fleets; none of it is easy to “show”.  It is easy to tell, though you might not want to type out all those words, because you’ll find yourself five thousand words into a scene and suddenly find you’re only about a fifth of the way through what you visualize, and you have a good novella of things to show ahead of you.

Some of this comes, I think, from the way action is portrayed in cinema form for a while.  Titanic battles between incredible monstrosities seem to go on for days; smaller battles for hours; even a gun battle between two people seems to drag on a lot longer than it would in real life–though I blame John Woo for that.  Well, not actually blame, though the actor he almost blew up just to get an action sequence might disagree . . .

I ran into a situation when writing the final battle between my main female character and her nemesis in Her Demonic Majesty.  I had originally thought of doing a battle with a lot of magical pyrotechnics flying about as my two witches began throwing down.  This was also NaNo 2011, and I was not only getting towards the end of the book, but the end of the month, and I didn’t want to stretch the sucker into December.

With a couple of self-imposed deadlines ahead, I looked at the scene and thought, “Okay, what would they really do?  Throw fireballs at each other?  Blow things up for the hell of it?”  Naw.  I figured someone would try a sucker punch, then go for the knockout blow.  If they failed, they’d probably get their ass handed to them.

That’s exactly what happened.  Short, sweet, and to the point.  Because what’s the one thing you have to remember when there’s combat and you start blowing up public locations?  Someone’s likely going to give you a bill for damages later.

As much as is happening on screen, there’s so much more being implied.  So much that isn’t seen, but imagined.  For every person who goes down in flame, there are two more who get whacked behind the literary camera.

I blow up a couple of building, so I’m at least keeping my pyro hand in the game . . .

Gathering in the Hall at Midnight

It wasn’t the bonanza of writing I expected, but I pushed my story up another twenty-one hundred word after my eyes returned to normal, and I found the time to make it to the computer between bouts of running here and there.

Finest kind, I’m tellin’ you.

Finally removed the last sub-folder, and all my text files are Attack 0714looking pretty in the light of a new day.  I’m more than half-way through this section, and I spy a scene that I may not need.  I also see a heading I might change by giving a particular character a different name, and thereby giving the scene the name of an episode of Doctor Who that would have had the same title.  See how my mind work?  So many “What if?”‘s that it’s not even funny.

I’m surprised by the length of each scene, though.  Two right around the two thousand word mark, four more in the low thousands, and the rest above the “Work in Progress” mark in the mid-hundreds.  The plotting for this section worked as I expected:  I kept things low where needed, and built up things when necessary.

The scene you see that is labeled “Work in Progress”, that’s likely going to be a short one, but the two that follow–yeah, they’ll take up some wordage.  At least fifteen hundred, maybe a couple of thousand each.  Before I get to that third scene, though, I’ll have “won” Camp NaNo.

Yes, I’ll be over my thirty thousand word goal, and have won–if you want to think of writing thirty thousand words as some kind of victory.  To me, it’s just another day of writing:  bring up program, put words in, keep track of your count, give that little Fluttershy “yay” when you hit your goals for the day.

Looking at the scenes that remain in the story, I’m using my experience from putting stories together to give an estimate of hitting about thirty-five, thirty-six thousand words at the end of this part, and then maybe another four or five thousand words for the last section.  I’d originally charted for a twenty-five thousand word novella:  I may very well end up with a forty thousand word short, short, short novel.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

So, now:  I know, in my mind, what remains for the section, who lives and dies.  It’s all about finishing now, getting the story wrapped up before the end of the month, and then . . . I’m thinking it’s time to get another story edited and ready for the big upload, and getting some word done setting up my next work in progress for NaNo 2013.  I will edit, but I don’t feel like starting another original piece until November, because I have too damn many original pieces at the moment.  I’ve written one novel, one novella, published another novel, and I’m close to finishing what’s either going to be a long novella, or a short novel.

It’s somewhere around one hundred and twenty-five thousand words of new stories for this year, and that’s not doing me any good sitting on the computer.

The stories must flow, but if they aren’t seen by others, do they really exist?

Coralation Street

The weekend is over, and many things happened.  Oh, yes:  writing.  It was a lot of it, actually:  about seven thousand, four hundred words total.  NaNo Fever:  sometimes you catch it.

I won’t say I have it completely, because at this time last year I’d bested that total by quite a bit.  But never the mind:  I’m doing well, I’ll probably hit the NaNo total this coming weekend, and I’ll finish the novel before the end of the month.  Pat yourself on the back, honey, you did it again.

The funny thing is, I still have people who ask me, “What are you getting out of this?”  I was having a discussion with someone last night, and that was the question they asked–for the third time since November began.  Which is something that puzzles me, because are they just trying to make conversation, or is it they never listen to anything I say?

Yes, I’m spoken of this once already, but last night I just shook my head (which they couldn’t see, as this conversation was occurring over the Internet) and told them the same thing I’d already said twice before:  I’m getting the first draft of a novel, from which will come a couple of drafts, a final polish, and then submission–no, not that kind of submission.  I’m not writing erotica here, okay?

But that’s another tale for another time, and I’m off onto something more chapterlicious.  That is a word; I just made it up, so it must be real.

Someone else also asked me a question last night:  why is it that when it’s time for the blood to fly, then the writing comes quickly?  I think my answer made sense; it’s because you’re making it up, but you’re seeing it in your head as if it were something visual, like you have this movie playing in your mind, and you’re writing the novelization.

I’m very visual when I write.  It might not always show up when I write, because if you tried to put every insane detail in your mind onto the page, you’re no longer showing, you’re telling to the point where you don’t want to leave out a hangnail. I think that helped, because it allows your imagination to roam, and it help you decided what it is you need to tell within your tale.

I’ve said that I don’t like writing action scenes, because what you say is never going to match what’s playing in your mind.  But they can be fun, and if you want to get bloody, if you want to get violent–and you are getting into the story to the point where you make Micheal Bay look like an amateur, then the words fly from your fingers.

It’s happened with me–not in a while, because there are only a few instances where I’ve had to kicked major ass.  But when I have, it’s been fun.  Deep down a lot of writers like to bring the exciting, whether it be violence, or love, or action, or the sexy, and when we like it, we want to get it out as quickly as possible.  Because it doesn’t want to stay locked inside:  it’s like the Alien getting ready to burst out of your body, only not as messy.

So stand back, ’cause if you’re not careful, you’re going to catch a face-full when it come tearing out.

Which reminds me:  I’ve got a demon attack to write.

Get ready for the pain . . .