The mysteries of this author’s mind

I had a great question the other day from a guy at work. He knows I’m a writer, with my first novel coming out soon, and wanted to know if I’ve got any new writing in the works at the moment. My answer was, Yes, I’m in the middle of drafting three stories.

He gave me a surprised look and confirmed, Three?

That’s right, three separate books concurrently written. A prequel, a sequel, and something completely different to keep things exciting. To that, he wanted to know how I don’t get them all tangled up and confused with one another. Therein is the interesting quality of being me, and writing the things I do.

My explanation was something to the effect of, I spend most of my time thinking about these characters and their situations. They’re like friends. Just as a normal person probably wouldn’t mistake one friend’s life with another, I can keep track of the people in three different books at the same time.

I didn’t mention that I’m actively reading two novels and a bunch of short stories by other people as well.

From the perspective of someone who doesn’t write, this concept seemed especially amazing. I know a whole lot of authors would also agree. Myself, I just don’t struggle to identify each character, and even if I need a refresher, I have a lot of notes. I’m kind of obsessive with note taking these days. Even though I can follow the lives of half a dozen main characters and twice as many minor characters doesn’t mean my memory is any good. I’m in their worlds so often that there isn’t anything terribly confusing about it, not at the drafting stage.

I might disagree when it comes time to edit.

~A

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Oops

I guess it’s been a while since I updated. I have a perfectly valid excuse! No, I really do.

I spent the final four days of 2011 editing. Almost non-stop. Thursday and Sunday both came and went in a flurry of words. Reading, cutting, adding, cutting, changing, reading reading reading. For me, editing fiction is a very particular activity. I have come to terms with the fact that it will never be a tidy process.

On New Years Eve, I ran around outside with some sparklers at approximately 9pm, Perth time. I have more of a tradition of celebrating New Years with Sydney, who are three hours ahead of us at this time of year, than anything else. This is simply because I would normally be asleep for any celebration here! This year, I greeted the turn of midnight in my hometown still editing. Approximately twenty minutes later, I touched the last line and declared it a success! I’d reached my goal!

I woke to the first day of 2012 with my mind buzzing; I knew something I needed to go back and modify more. I often wake up with story ideas, since my subconscious is very well trained in making adjustments and working through problems in my writing. My sleeping mind was totally right, and I spent all of yesterday editing even more.

Last night, I provided my beta readers with their copy of the story. I hope to hear back from them pretty quickly about their initial impression, and just hope I haven’t overlooked some kind of atrocious error! But honestly, I am confident in the place my story has come to, and I am really looking forward to getting right back into drafting book two.

At the end of the second draft, traditional means of word count estimation puts TDM at 54,500 words. Yes, that breaks free of being a novella by 14,500 words. I knew when I began editing that this story would stretch to become a short novel, and I simply had to accept the fact. It changes what I will do with the series, slightly. I haven’t made any firm commitment to how I want to publish TDM, and won’t until the final edit is complete!

In the meantime, I have a sequel to write.

~A

When suddenly, it all makes sense

My writing has been on hold while I try to untangle the vast reserves of ideas I have. I needed to put everything in place for this story, because it’s been years since I worked on it, and despite knowing the general plot, I never came up with too many specifics. Ahh, the days of literally making it up as I went.

I have been sorting and compiling ideas for a couple of weeks now. It feels like forever, and I’m an impatient sort. I’d prefer to be writing than planning and plotting, but I can recognise that one must come before the other. Little ideas, big ideas, strange notions that don’t seem to fit into this story have all been running through my head. For a while there, I intentionally avoided even thinking of any of it, because I was getting so frustrated at how none of it was slotting together nicely.

Then yesterday, it clicked. The parts fell into place. Even the weird things that I didn’t think were relevant to this story had a specific and important role to play.

I don’t know how any of this works. It’s some kind of function my brain has had for as long as I can remember. I could attribute it to a wild imagination or half a lifetime of practice in writing, but that doesn’t encompass the fullness of how stories sometimes just “work”. After all that struggling with ideas, after all those days of just giving up trying to put the crazy jigsaw together myself, I can finally see the full picture and why those ideas were connected at all.

Does this mean I’m back into writing immediately? Not quite. I can see it all, but I still need a little time to percolate this as a whole. I’ll probably start by putting down a plot outline with all the major and minor events I’ve already decided on. From there, I think I will be able to fashion something like a story out of it. I have a pretty great feeling about this work. This is going to be fun.

~A

Series potential

My novella project is the first time I’ve put a lot of effort into planning a series. It’s alien and frightening, and every time I come up with some new perspective on the story, I’m afraid that half way through writing the whole set, I will understand something new and want to change something.

Usually an author will begin publishing a series before all the installments are complete. This is understandable, since a novel often takes a year or more to write, and no one wants to wait ten years to start publishing something they’ve completed. This means that the overall theme has to be well established before they send out book one, because once it’s printed, there isn’t any “fixing” the story.

I thought I had done most of the important planning aspects for TDM, laying out plots and important events, characters which won’t be involved until several books in, the list goes on. My notes are extensive and the outlines were poured over until a cohesive plot was made. I really believed I was in a good position to just write these and expect things to turn out the way I planned. But as I progress through the edit of book one, and drafting book two, I realise that little things can change, and indeed sometimes need to. I worry what this means to my series. Do I need to go back to the planning stage and make the outline even more detailed? Would that be so much different from just writing the drafts and working from there?

At the end of drafting book one, I realised some of the mistakes I’d already made. In some places, I had written the characters to behave in ways I had never intended, and some of the scenes were really unsuited to both the characters I was creating, and the story they needed to tell. Not only that, but it wasn’t until the full first draft had been completed that I understood some of the events I rushed to include too soon when I planned the stories. They shouldn’t happen in book one. They need time to get there organically. My enthusiasm for this series was driving me to cram too much in right away.

Maybe I deviated from my outline too much, even though I really didn’t change many events in the first draft. At the same time, one of the added ideas was so solid and brought together all these other elements, I start thinking I just need more time to get to know my characters and reassess how they will respond. Maybe I haven’t done nearly enough planning. This is an interesting learning curve. It’s hard not to worry about it.

~A

Surprise, this is what you’re writing now

I have been absolutely consumed by a new story.

I was doing so well! A strong start on book two of the novella series, getting through a quick edit on book one, then all of a sudden I’m just hit with this idea. It came to me almost fully-formed, ready to go. Characters popped out of nowhere, with flawless interaction, solid personalities and reason for being. I kept interrupting work to write parts of it, and as soon as I arrived home, I got right back into it.

At this stage, from what I can tell, it’s probably another short story. Horror, maybe a little more “typical” than my other horror works, which tend to be very psychological with minimal blood and gore. I don’t know an approximate word count yet, but I’m hoping it won’t take too long to write. I was genuinely enjoying the novellas. The characters in that series are really exciting to write about, and there is so much potential. This, though… this is just stuck in my head, and I’m certainly not going to let it go to waste by working around it, even if I am somewhat torn between my stories.

There’s a good chance that I’ll write part of the story and come to a point where I don’t need to continue right away; there are plenty of others in my project list that have taken that route. Of course, with it already started, I shouldn’t have any trouble coming back to it at a later date to finish it off. On the other hand, I might just be stuck with the idea until I’ve written it all out.

One of the funniest things about this story? The characters came to me with names already, all except the main character. I have no idea what his name is. Maybe it will never be revealed. Maybe he is to remain nameless. We will have to see as it all pans out.

~A

How late is too late?

We all have old, half-finished manuscripts lying around. Some of them are even a full first draft that we never finished editing. I’m currently sitting on two significantly aged stories, ones which I wrote quite a handful of years ago. Their levels of completion mean that I’m not totally open to abandoning them entirely, but time has been cruel to these two, and I can see just how damn young I was when I wrote them.

Growth as a person will give anyone a new perspective on life, and make us create new situations, new characters in our work. Expansion in knowledge means that years down the track, you start wondering, “How did I ever think this was a good idea?”, or, “How didn’t I see that plot hole when I wrote this?”. And the dreaded knowledge that the work isn’t marketable until it has had a total overhaul, potentially to the point of changing genre (you never were a sci-fi writer, after all).

When do we decide that a project has served its purpose and it is better to leave it in the fond depths of our memory? How much work is too much to revive an old story?

The way I see it, as long as you have ideas, there’s always something salvageable in a piece. Maybe not any of the words you wrote before. Maybe that entire draft has to be scrapped. But a draft isn’t the story; it’s just the things you scrabble at until you’ve carved something beautiful. If you still have passion for the story all this time later, then it’s worth it. It’s not really any more work than a new story. You already know where you went wrong the first time!

One day, I’d like to bring out the old works and make them into something amazing. With new knowledge, with greater understanding, with entirely new ideas and a whole reason to write. If you know where the story can go, and you know what the characters will do, you can remake the manuscript.

~A

A multimedia booklike experience

Ideally, I aim for some kind of cross-media experience to accompany my eventual book releases. I love the idea of artwork, music, and special edition items to go with my work. Pictures of the characters would be an absolute must, and maybe some action scenes or a couple of the more exciting locations drawn up, too. A website where people can download theme music for the different places and people in the stories. Pocket versions of my books where they are printed all small and super cute!

Ambitious, much?

Half of this, I could probably manage with a pile of help from my talented and creative husband (who is an illustrator and songwriter, among other things). Things like the pocket books, and including high quality art prints with sales would be a deal I would have to wrangle with my publisher. And we all know that publishers tend to have their “tried and true” method for making books, and it probably wouldn’t be seen as profitable enough to step outside the boundaries of normal publishing.

But a girl can dream. Goodness, half my profession is made of dreams and fantasy, so what’s another mad idea on top of the rest!

Since I am a big fan of videogames and cartoons/anime, as well as enjoying a good movie, I tend to think of my stories in a very visual mindset. If I had the opportunity to make a graphic novel, or an animated series from my books, I already have all the pictures in my head. To be totally honest, it would make me deliriously happy to animate some of my stories. Maybe one day I’ll put some of my other extensive hobbies on hold and get to work on that kind of project. In the meantime, I’ve still got new books to write, and they are eagerly demanding my attention. And I have nothing wrong with that!

~A