Post Script Process Analysis: “Story of K Final Draft”

Editing by David Silver

Time to slash and burn…

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been working on another short story project.  I started on it roughly near the beginning of August when I ran across an F&SF market listing (which specific market I will not presently disclose) that immediately sparked my imagination.  The code-named “Story of K” wasn’t a story I’d intended to write.  But here we are: I’ve written the thing, it’s done, and it’s been submitted (barely by the market’s deadline).  So that means it’s time for me to do another Post Script Process Analysis.

This time, I’ll be looking at the whole process of writing this one, from start to final draft – which is something I can do since that process was completely contained within a single month.  As with “Story of V”, whose final draft I still need to get to, this story was based on a flash-length piece of fiction that I’d posted on this site back a couple years ago when I was participating in a weekly flash fiction writing exercise.  When I encountered the aforementioned market and read the theme and requirements, this particular flash piece immediately leapt to my mind: I felt it resonated strongly with the desired theme of the market.  Of course, however, said flash piece was really more of a vignette than a full-fledged story, and if I was going to try to submit this to an actual, paying market, I was going to need to delve into it more deeply.

Going in, I was concerned that the fact this was based on a “published” story on my own blog would render the heavily revised story inadmissible.  I decided to go ahead with the new story, even knowing that this possibility was out there.  If the story were rejected because it’s based on an existing, previously-published story, what’s the worst that could happen?  It gets rejected.  That’s the most probable fate, anyway, statistically speaking.  Time will now tell whether the story’s ultimate fate is acceptance or rejection – and if the latter, there’s little chance I’ll ever actually know if the cause of rejection was the pre-existing version available here.  So, not gonna sweat it.

That decision made, here’s how the writing actually went down. Continue reading

Post Script Process Analysis: “Story of V Second Draft”

"I Tend to Scribble A Lot" by Nic McPhee

Someone’s been editing…

Previously, I alluded to the idea of taking a more in-depth look at my writing process vis-à-vis the latest draft of my current short story project, code-named “Story of V”.  And hey, you know what, this sounds like a good idea to do in general whenever I finish a draft or a major milestone of a writing project.  Take a more critical look at what I wrote and the process that achieved it, and see what I can learn from it to apply to future writing projects.  So here goes the first of my probably too infrequent series of Post Script Process Analysis posts.

In my prior post, I started talking about how significantly the wordcount on this story increased from the first draft to the second draft, and what comprised that wordcount.  Just so you don’t have to go back and read it, the leap in length was from a little over 5,600 words to just over the 10,000 word line – an increase of nearly 80%, or close enough to doubling in length as makes little difference. So, why the big increase?

So, MS Word has this handy “Compare Documents” feature that allows you to take two DOC files, presumably earlier and later drafts of the same  document, and see what changes were made between them.  Word creates a new document with the changes conveniently marked in red text.  Looking at the latest draft and the first draft of “Story of V” allows me to quickly (-ish) see what changes I made.  On page 1, for instance, I added some character description for the POV character, switched some of the descriptive details of the environment and setting around to put character details closer to the beginning, heightened the use of the character’s senses, and made some attempts to improve the flow and the writing style.  On page 2, I made the POV character’s immediate goals clearer, provided more details about the character and his state of mind, still more setting and environment description, clearer and fuller descriptions of two additional characters, and made more attempts to improve the style.  I could go on like this for the next 30+ pages, but I’ll spare you the minutiae.  What I’m really interested in is the bigger picture.

Continue reading

Where You Write, Where You Dream

A couple weekends ago, during the long Memorial Day holiday weekend, Dear Wife, Little B.T., Shasta Dog and I all packed in the family car and took a trip.  We went to place we’ve been often, a wondeful hideaway in the nearby Nantahala National Forest in the southeastern edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  It’s a frequent retreat of ours, and one we love deeply.

I didn’t do any writing while we were away.  Circumstances worked out that I wasn’t able to – although I did do plenty of reading.  Mostly this little family trip was about relaxing and enjoying our time together.  And for me, there is very little more relaxing, little more enjoyable, and little more soul-enriching than time in the mountain forests.  Up there, on top of the world, everything feels clean and fresh.  The sky is bluer.  The sun more friendly.  The trees breathe with a vibrant life, and you feel connected to everything.  The views and vistas are inspirational – the blue mountains rising all around you, the wildflowers in the forest clearings, the cultivated flowers in the gardens, the trees swaying gently in the breeze.

I always just feel more alive when I’m up in the mountains.  I’m lucky that my Dear Wife feels much the same way. Continue reading

Writing Process: The Project Bible – Building the Frame of the Story

Earlier this week I started talking about my writing process, and about the “Project Bible” in particular.  I thought there might be some interest in learning a little more about what, exactly, my Project Bible is.  One thing’s for sure: it’s a mixed metaphor.  It’s Holy Writ; it’s an Encyclopedia; it’s the Blueprint; it’s the Framework of the story.  It’s something I can check myself against, but it’s also a living document that I can change and modify over time.  It’s electronic, which makes it easily searchable.  It’s a personal Wikipedia for my book, which makes it easy to interlink.

Here’s what my Project Home Page looks like in the “Book of M” Project Bible:

I’ve got a short preamble about what is contained in the Project Bible, followed by a bulleted list.  Each bullet is a link to a main topic-area page, followed by a short description of what may be found on that page.  Each page in the Project Bible includes a link back to the project’s Home Page.  The bulleted list for “Book of M” includes:

  • Idea Journal, where I’ve transcribed handwritten notes from my writing journal that relate specifically to “The Book of M”.
  • Story, which is where I put notes about the plot of the book. 
  • Dramatis Personae, which has a list of characters that appear in “The Book of M”.
  • History, which has notes about the history and background of the world.
  • Mythology, which has notes about the myths and legends of the world.
  • Magic, which is where all the notes about how the magic system work will go.
  • Religions, where I write about the belief-systems of the different people.
  • Nations, Organizations, and Peoples, which tells about the different groups of people that inhabit this world, and how they’ve divided their society.
  • Languages, where I have notes about the languages these people speak.
  • Geography, which tells about the physical world and where things are located in relation to each other.
  • Glossary, where will go a list of terms unique to this world and their meanings.
  • Calendars & Time, where I’ll have notes about how time is reckoned on this world.
  • Philosophy & Theme, where I’ll write about “what it all means”, and the themes I’m trying to touch upon in this book.
  • Research, which is where any notes on sources of inspiration and research details go. Continue reading

Writing Process: The Project Bible – Discovering My Process

Last week I mentioned that I was planning to write about “background notes and research and my ‘Project Bible'”.  This is the post to which I was referring.

I’ve been writing a lot lately (although, this week is looking a little slim on the wordcount front) – but when it comes to my current novel project, “The Book of M” I haven’t been writing quite so much of the actual book itself.  Actually, I haven’t yet written a word of readable draft.  So far, everything has been background notes, all of which ends up in my “Project Bible”.  I thought, then, that there might be a little interest in what goes into my Project Bible, and what it looks like.

I wanted to start this discussion by pointing out – as is likely already known by most writers – that there’s no right or wrong way to go about writing a book.  The classical and accepted wisdom is that writers fall somewhere on a spectrum between “Planners” and “Pantsers”, or between “Architects” and “Gardeners”.  (It is my goal, one day, to add a second dimension to that schema, allowing future writers to peg themselves somewhere into one of four quadrants; first I’ll have to figure out what that second dimension might be.  But that’s neither here nor there, is it?) 

It’s taken me a long time to figure out what kind of writer I am, exactly.  When I was younger, I didn’t even know there was more than one way to write.  I just figured you start at the beginning and you write until you reach the end.  And, you had to have some idea of what the ending would be or you wouldn’t know when you were done.  As I grew older – and especially when I started college – my writing process began to change.  That’s when I first started keeping an “Idea Journal”, which even then was filled almost exclusively with notes and ideas I’d come up with for my ever-unfinished writing project.  After a few years, I started looking for ways to turn my handwritten notes into a searchable electronic format. Continue reading

Tidbits of Inspiration: Culture & Kisses

For most speculative fiction writers Worldbuilding is an important part of writing – whether you do it up-front before you dive into your narrative or more on the back-end as an organic outgrowth of the writing process.  And  if you’re worldbuilding, you’ll probably have to think, at least a little, about culture.

And so it was that I was fascinated to listen to this story, today, on NPR: “Of War and Kisses: How Adversity Shapes Culture“.  The article is about a study that draws a link between national adversity (war and contention with neighbors and other problems and disasters) and population density with the relative strictness or tightness of a culture.  There seems to be, based on this study, some correlation between nations that are constantly embattled or face regular hardship and a very strict culture, and likewise between very dense populations and a very strict culture, whereas the reverse also seems to be true: nations that are not constantly embattled or which have very diffuse populations tend to be less strict or tight, and more accepting of cultural faux pas.  Although, there are, of course, exceptions.

Still, it’s an interesting thing to think about, when you get to the part of your worldbuilding where you’re thinking about the cultures you are portraying in your story.  Go take a look at the story on NPR and let it muddle around in your mind a bit…

A Map of History

For some time, now, I’ve had a link to the Cartographer’s Guild website here on my blog.  In light of my recent telling of the story of my novel, and how the CG plays into that story (a part which I haven’t related, as yet), I thought I’d call out that link to the Guild.  And, I’ll tell a little more of my story – the part in which the Guild comes to play a role.

I mentioned on Wednesday that I had suffered a one-two punch that left me with a big gaping hole where my novel-in-progress used to be.  But big gaping holes demand to be filled, and ultimately the writer’s spirit cannot be quelled but by writing.  So, I had decided to start, from scratch, a complete rethinking of that novel before starting a rewrite.

As I considered the process that rethinking the story meant, what going back to the very beginning meant, I started to form a plan.  My idea was this: the story of the novel takes place in a world that has already seen much history come to pass.  Without some of the context of that history, the story of the novel is a little out-of-place.  The story gains meaning and momentum where it touches on the history of this imagined world.  So I needed to rethink that history.  But history is made what it is by the actions of people.  Therefore, I must know more about the people who made that history.  People are profoundly influenced by the cultures in which they live.  So, I must explore those cultures in greater depth.  Cultures grow and develop in ways that accord with the environment in which they evolve.  Thus, I must know more about these environments.  Environments, insofar as I am interested, consist primarily of two factors: the laws governing the universe in which this story takes place, and the geography and natural environment of the world in which the story is set.  The former implies careful development of the physical and metaphysical laws governing this world: gods (be there any in this world), magic, physics, etc.  The latter implies having a map.

Maps have always been one of my favorite parts of fantasy novels.  When provided, I refer to them frequently throughout reading a novel.  Maps give the world a sense of place, a sense of being real in a way that words alone cannot.  The words and the map together make the world what it is, making the characters who interact it in all the more real.  So it was a natural progression for me to realize that, if I was to start writing from scratch, I needed first to start mapping from scratch. 

The next problem, I reasoned, was that all my prior maps, besides being crappy in execution (lacking, as they did, any consideration of geological soundness or believable reasonability) were limited by existing only in hand-drawn hard copy.  I couldn’t search them or zoom in or do anything else cool with them, to help me as I write.  So I decided I wanted to execute this new map on the computer (after I got a new computer, that is).  Therefore, I needed a software program that would help.  Famous art editing tool Adobe Photoshop was about a thousand times more expensive than I could afford.  But, lucky for me, the Open Source movement had answered my conundrum already, by creating the GIMP.  GIMP was the right price point, and though not as bells-and-whistley as Photoshop, it had the power I would need.

So, using GIMP, I started to map.  But these early attempts were not quite reaching what I was looking for.  So, I searched for help.  And lo, the internet doth provide, for there is a Guild, already, on the Internet devoted solely to the topic of creating maps, with tutorials in abundance even on how to use GIMP.  So, I started using some of the things I used there, and after spending some time learning the techniques, I started new maps for my imagined world.

Ultimately, my efforts were stalled by a factor over which I had little control.  I wanted the size to be such that I had a really good, detailed view of the world as a whole.  I wanted it to look half-decent.  But these two factors, combined with the resource-intensive processing of GIMP, meant that, as far I had gotten, each added element to the map brought my computer to its knees.  Still, I was satisfied with how far I had managed to get.  Though it is not complete enough, yet, for my ultimate purposes, the map I ended with will serve well for my current needs.

That, combined with a precipitous drop in actually having free time has meant that I’ve needed to turn my focus to other aspects of the project, only to return to the map at some imagined future date when time and computing resources both will allow me to finish the job.

Hope this little journey down into the world of maps has inspired you, as well.

Happy writing.