I’ve been incommunicado for an extended period here and at my political blog. I’ve been regrouping regarding my work and writing life and have mostly been offline since the fall. This was not in keeping with my plan for regular posting (bad Teramis, no award for prolific blogging), but was a necessary hiatus vis-a-vis Life & Everything.
Now that I am in hour 18 of a low level scan-and-repair process for my ailing hard drive on my main ‘puter, I thought I’d turn to my laptop to spend a little catch-up time with readers here at the Lizard Lair. This will prevent me from staring at the slowly remapping sectors on my other monitor (watched pots refusing to boil and all that), and will also let me share some info regarding my book Splintegrate, and a few other things.
Splintegrate has been a perverse fascination of mine for over a decade now. It was conceived of a few years after Mainline saw print. My work with it has gone through cycles where I have been on fire with the storytelling of it, and other phases where the well has been completely dry, such as during the multi-year decline and then death of my mother from congestive heart failure. A series of life episodes of that “major life change” nature derailed my creative process for longer than I care to think about; there was a period between 2000 and 2005, for instance, when I read not so much as a single fiction book. I could write it (fitfully) but I couldn’t absorb it.
The point of this is to say, writing Splintegrate has been a challenge on more levels than simply the craft-related ones of telling a good story.
The craft challenges, however, are also there as in any novel-length work. After being 95% finished with this book last year, I realized I was not telling the best story possible. I was in a bind between the story I had originally envisioned, where the characters where actually taking it, and some breakdowns in plot/motivation that this disconnect had created along the way. Something fundamental was not clicking with the story. After bashing my head against walls and keyboards numerous times while analyzing plot issues, I finally had to put the work aside for a time and approach it later with a fresh eye.
“Later” has come around during the last month or so. In particular, I am taking some new approaches to reworking the plot that seem to (finally) be bearing some fruit. One of the most helpful insights came from revisiting character motivations and conflicts, and identifying specific plot points where motivations were not clearly enough defined for subsequent actions to be as riveting as they should be. Right now I’m wrapping up this plot analysis and next will be rewriting earlier scenes to better explore those motivational issues that drive later events. Then following some of those motivations down new storylines to a different set of consequences than are presently written.
This is a normal rewrite process for any book, but in this case I have been unable to see the trees for the forest. My plotting breakthoughs come on the heels of two specific things, which I want to mention here in case they are helpful to other writers.
One of the tools I use is a nifty program called yWriter, coded by programmer and novelist Simon Haynes. It is available for free (go figure!) here. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Especially if you write complex plots like I do, with many characters and many subplots busy at the same time, this is a very useful program for managing writing in easily rearrangeable scenes and chapters, including plot points and timeline mapping if you fill in sufficient information.
On the heels of my recent computer problems, I was re-downloading some other utilities from that site, and while doing so surfed around and for the first time read some of Simon’s essays on the craft of writing and the business of book selling. He is the author of the Hal Spacejock series of comedy sf novels distributed by Penguin Australia. On the one hand I want to say “he didn’t say anything I don’t already know”, and also, “I don’t agree with everything I read there.” However: he also said some things that were that kind of cosmic timely reminder where I could feel a light bulb go on . “Ah ha,” I thought to myself, “this is something I need to pay more attention to in my own writing…” And this spurred the process that took me on to re-evaluate my plot problems from a useful perspective.
I recommend his products, and also his essays, especially for newer writers, or for jaded older ones like myself who might need some pointed reminders from time to time.
A link from Haynes’ site points to Randy Ingermanson’s site, another author who was/is a computer geek (as, I note, am I. It must be in the water…) Ingermanson explains how he logicked his way through book treatments and plotting, likening it to the design process he was familiar with as a software engineer. Now this may sound terminally geeky, but he has coded a program to walk you through what he calls the “snowflake” method (a reference to iterative design cycles) and produced a slick, very on-point plot and book design tool.
I found the first two or three steps of his snowflake process so simplistic yet enlightening (and yielding immediate insights for my own work) that I not only was able to solve a major plot dilemma in Splintegrate in the first half-hour of reading about his paradigm: I also got a handle on a whole new book I want to write as a result of altering how I was thinking about some plot issues.
That sold me. I bought his program. I’m very much into open source/freeware/shareware products so it is rare that I actually pay actual cashola for a program. This one was worth it to me, and I give it two thumbs up. If you want to put together a full blown book proposal, or simply work on plot details, Ingermanson’s Snowflake program walks you through the process including instructional content on the what/why/how of what you’re doing.
You can read more about his Snowflake paradigm and order the program here.
Last but not least, I mentioned I’ve identified a whole new book I want to write. This is a departure from my past work and may in fact occupy a unique genre niche. For that reason I’m not getting into many details here in blog-land; my shorthand for it now and in the future will be “Victorian paranormal,” which doesn’t give too much away.
That said, while I’m continuing to revamp Splintegrate, this new story possibility nibbles at the edges of my imagination. I can’t give it too much attention with a work-in-progress on my plate, but I do want to feed the concept a little and let my hind brain mull things over while my forebrain is in science fiction land. To that end, I’ve been doing some specialty book buying and want to recommend to my fellow bibliophiles a cool independent bookseller I’ve recently discovered: Monkey House Books, run by a nice lady named Sara in Mineola, NY (on Long Island). This is a small venture listed with the association of independent bookseller’s online site, abebooks, specializing in fiction, history and a few other things.
Two things stand out about Monkey House: she has a very nice assortment of vintage books (published around one side or the other of 1900) as well as eclectic other items, and has both very reasonable pricing and perfectly modest shipping charges (which, if you’ve seen my earlier rant on the subject, you know is an important buying criteria for me). Or make that three things: unusually for abe listings, where possible Sara also writes a little blurb about the book contents in the listing, not merely its condition. Very helpful for purchase decisions. Monkey House has provided me a delightful assortment of some Victorian novels that will be great background reading for the period paranormal I have brewing. Her excellent customer service ethic guarantees I’ll buy from her again in the future. If you want to support a worthwhile indie book seller, I encourage you to check out her bookstore at Monkey House Books.
So, that’s it for lizardly updates for now. I hope to return to regular blogging imminently. Talk to you again soon.