Embracing Structure

Blue Light over Blue Water

Every novel has structure. Doesn’t matter if you want it to or not, it’s there. Building a novel without structure is very close to impossible (Will Self seems to have managed it once or twice, but he’s Will Self). You have two choices when it comes to structuring your story, either you decide what it is, or you discover what it is.

I used to reject the idea of planning it. My first novel was written without a plan at all, and it’s decent, but I mostly rewrote it once I finished it. I took the entire thing and changed the perspective on a bunch of chapters, removed whole sections, added new ones. It was a massive overhaul.

The sequel, Resource Economies was a tiny bit more structured, but not much. At least I had many of the elements of the series created, I knew for example that the viewpoint would be third person and that I would be using a limited number of viewpoint characters that would get their own chapters, and that to achieve that I would make the major viewpoint characters each get a full chapter right off the bat. I still have a lot of edits I need to do to make the structure work though because I didn’t plot it out very well. Just an overview.

Now, for A Long Walk, it didn’t hurt the story, I knew the story. For Resource Economies it did hurt the narrative, and I have things I have to fix now.

I plotted An Accusation a lot more. Now, I did discover a flaw in my plot about halfway through the book and had to adjust. It was a matter of characters acting out of character to make the original plot work, so it needed to be corrected because the characters behaving the way they should is too important to discard. It took a bunch of effort. I wrote myself into a corner Roseanne final season style. I figured out a way to fix it without it having been a dream or a story written by the MC (how do you make a character lose all of his money? Drugs. It was entirely in keeping with the established storyline too, since a lot of the story is in fact about addiction). So, plotting didn’t work against me, and in fact getting back on track made the story richer and more in-depth.

Right now I have plots for Jenny Dark books 1 and 2. The plots are written out in terms of chapters and scenes, as well as around how much space each one should take up. They are divided into acts.

All told writing the plot outline for book 1 took me a couple of days. It has been adjusted a couple of times during writing because it’s okay to adjust when you have a new idea, but overall it’s what I originally came up with.

The plot for book 2 took me fifteen minutes. Not really, but that’s how long I spent writing the outline. I have had the idea for months, and it’s been rolling around in my brain for all that time. The actual writing was quick.

Here’s the thing, I’m writing book 2 for NaNoWriMo. It’s my project. I’m not going to be finished book 1. I will be a long way in, but not quite at the end. If I didn’t have these outline I couldn’t do that, but I know where book 1 ends, and I know how it influences book 2. Making them connect isn’t hard, and I have enough written to make it work. By the time I do book 2 for NaNoWriMo, I will be a couple of chapters shy of finishing book 1, and I know exactly what’s in those chapters. It’s a matter of adding the prose.

So, that’s why I’m a plotter now, why I’ve gone from total freeform to a reasonably detailed structure and outline. If you are a pantser right now, try it. It might not work for you, but it might. It did for me.

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Journalism and Personal Issues

Rpcks on a beach

This weekend I’m more focused on my magazine job than on my novel writing job because I’m covering a music festival here in Halifax.  It’s taking up a fair bit of time.

At the same time, I’m dealing with some personal stuff that I won’t get into here. Anyway, the long and the short of it is I expect to not make my word count for a few days, at least not in the fiction area. I will probably at least match if not exceed my word count, but it will be my journalism stuff that I’m doing.

I’m giving myself permission to do this, if only for a very limited time.

By the time this goes live I should be back to my regularly scheduled writing.

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Improving my skills continues

Boat at Sunset

I’m trying out a few classes on skillshare right now. I was referred by Jenna Moreci, who has excellent info for authors. I am a big fan of her youtube stuff, so when I saw she had a class available I jumped on it.

Now, she uses skillshare for her class, which is a paid learning platform, but she does offer a two free month promo if you sign up with her. Turns out that anybody can offer the two free months, so click here if you want it (disclaimer: I get a free month if you sign up for two free months and then pay for one month – don’t feel obligated to pay, but why not give people the link right?)

Anyway, the platform is alright, but seems to have some latency issues (well, my internet connection has some latency issues, but youtube has solved them for me, these guys haven’t).

There’s a lot of decent content there, and it seems alright so far. Now, since I’m working on becoming a better writer, it seems like a good point for me to work with. The one I’m taking right now (Jenna Moreci’s one) is about how to grow an audience.  It’s shallow-ish, but Jenna is entertaining, and she’s done a great job marketing her stuff.

A lot of the other stuff I want to take a look at is in the realm of how to write better prose, because, well, that’s my mission right now.

I’m not saying this is the place to learn everything and that I’m a huge fan of the platform. Honestly, it’s not my favourite so far (I like futurelearn a lot), and I’m not only using it – it’s just one piece of my learning strategy.

My course on futurelearn was one of the best things I did, it improved my skillset by more than anything I have done since, but it was intensive and time-consuming. So far Jenna’s course is very quick. I will finish all the lessons in the class around the same time I finish this blog post (no really, I have 7 minutes left, I started less than a half hour ago). It’s bite-sized.

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Missed a Few Days

Beach with wharf and ruined dory

I was a bad writer. I missed two days of writing. I missed Saturday and Sunday this weekend. I’m going to try and up my word count for a little bit to make up for it.

It’s kind of a big deal because it represents a break in momentum, and if I’m honest with myself sometimes I let myself off the hook for things I should be doing and don’t get back to them. Exercise is one of those things. I was doing quite well for a little while and then I stopped one morning because I was feeling crappy. I never restarted. Now I keep telling myself I’m going to start running again, work through c25k and start doing resistance training in between. Problem is, I don’t actually do it. I just tell myself I will.

So, not letting myself off the hook this time. I need to hit 3k words every day for the next 10 days, or 3500 for five days. Either way, I owe myself 5k words that I have to make up. I give myself a maximum of two weeks to achieve this.

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Jenny Dark

A Fence with Wire

Normally I don’t talk a lot about my works until they are published, but I’ve decided to change that. How much am I changing that? I’m creating websites for three of my series. Should be up in the next few weeks. Jenny Dark is my current Work in Progress. Well, Jenny Dark book 1 at least.

I’m very proud of the concept work I’ve done for Jenny Dark, the world building, the creative direction. The execution? Well, I’m still in the middle of that. I think I’m proud of it, but we’ll see. It’s still under ten thousand words at this point. It’s the most heavily outlined I’ve ever written, with each scene in the entire novel sitting in my editing software, with a short synopsis saying why I have it there. Most scenes are of course still empty.

The novel should be between seventy-five and eighty thousand words.

The basic premise is a sort of Sherlock Holmes meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer deal. A couple of young women fight the forces of evil as the last line of defence the world has. The mythology is complex and detailed, the most complex and detailed I’ve created to date (there is technically more data on World of the Dead, but that’s because I ran a GURPS campaign based on it, much of it is more play related than story).

Anyway, coming soon jennydark.com (when I finish building it I will convert this to an actual link).

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Building Habits Gradually

A Waterfall

There is a saying, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Another saying is how do you eat a whole cow? One bite at a time.

They mean the same thing.

I have a bad habit when I start working on getting more productive of trying to do the whole thing at once, jumping in with both feet. Well, it’s a problem. When I do that I burn out quickly and the habit doesn’t stick. I make a thousand changes to my life and then drop them because they make me too tired, they require too much work.

With writing, I tried something different. I started writing a few words a day and built from there. Right now I’m writing around 2000 words of fiction, and it’s not a struggle. It’s not even slightly challenging. In fact, the 2000 words take me as long as it used to take me to write 1000. That’s not even all I write, I don’t count blog posts, work I do for HalifaxHRM magazine, or posts to Medium.

So, why could I do that when it was so much harder to do the same thing in other areas of my life? Well, that gradual buildup was the key. I developed the habit without becoming overwhelmed by it. Now I’m a pretty accomplished writer, at least in terms of volume, so it doesn’t take effort (although I will be missing a few days… at least in electronic format, who knows how much I will manage by pen and paper).

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Things I Won’t Do for Success

A Lizard in a Hat

I have been reading a huge amount of productivity/success posts lately, mostly on medium.com (I also write some stuff on there – part of my attempt to market myself). There are a lot of interesting things on Medium and some that I have benefited from. I suspect that if you were to follow all of them you would quickly cease to be a human being and become some sort of terrible plastic person.

For example: Surround yourselves with people who hold you to a higher standard. Cool, but that means a: choosing friends based on how they benefit you, and b: choosing friends who are willing to surround themselves with people who hold themselves to a lower standard since you have already made sure you are that person for them.

I refuse to choose my friends based on what they do for me. Now, I will stop hanging out with someone who is bringing me down, eventually. I mean, it may take a few years while I try to hold onto that friendship, but in the end, I will distance myself. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about why I’m friends with someone in the first place. I often choose friends based on what I can give them, or even more often, just based on if I like them. If I became a person who chose my friends for what they could do for me I would be a person I couldn’t respect.

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Removed a Barrier

No Barriers

I managed to get my hands on a second-hand computer, thanks to my friend and colleague Barry. It is now my home entertainment system, so now I don’t have to unhook my laptop and set it up in the office after I’ve been watching a movie. That may seem like a minor change, but it’s actually huge. It means that I am able to far, far more easily maintain discipline and keep my work flow going.

It also means that if I so choose I could theoretically even throw on a movie and keep working (something I do every once in a while if I need the mental distraction). It’s a huge, huge benefit to me. The computer isn’t all that powerful, so I threw Linux Mint on it (okay, I would have done that no matter what, Mint is my first choice for an entertainment box). It’s also running both Kodi and Plex, for different purposes.

Anyway, the details don’t matter, all that really matters is that when I want to use a home entertainment system I have one, and when I want to work I can as well. Just taking that step away from my writing process has made me much more productive.

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Working on Goals

A Dog Stares at a Floating Stick

I took a bunch of paper and put it up on the wall next to my bed. Each piece of paper contains goals, some short term, some long term.

I have always been without goals, without a real sense of direction. I just kind of started working in IT and kept doing it. Then the tide swept me over to teaching, so I did that. Now, I have a goal, I have a direction I’m going in. This writing thing has actually been a goal for many, many years, but one I didn’t really work towards.

Now, my long term plans, even after I secure making a living, all of that, is to keep writing. It’s what I love to do, it’s the thing that brings joy to my heart (there are a few people who do so as well, but it’s the only work I have found that does).

I’m not a big believer in treasure mapping. I do however believe that by having your goals clear in your mind you can work towards them, recognize opportunities to achieve those goals that you would not have seen otherwise. This is what I’m hoping at least, that by focusing on goals more I can begin a process that will lead to those goals being realized.

I think action is the cure for depression, and goals are the path to correct action.

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Small barriers

Sometimes there are small barriers in life, just little tiny things. A good example is dishes. I have a goal of doing dishes every day before I go to bed. Now, I don’t have a dishwasher, so I have to hand wash dishes, and if I do them every day it’s not a big deal at all. If I put them off for a few days it becomes a big deal.

So, barrier 1 is number of dishes. Barrier 2 is are there dishes in the sink? If there are dishes in the sink I have to clear the sink before I can do dishes. I’m way, way less likely to do the dishes if I have to clear the sink before I do them. I know this about myself, so I should never put dishes in the sink.

Barrier 3 is have I put the last load of dishes away? If the dish drainer is full of dishes I have to put dishes away before I do dishes. I’m way less likely to do dishes if I have to put dishes away before I do them.

These are all small barriers. Putting the dishes away probably takes under five minutes, clearing the sink even less. Yet, they stop me… I go to do the dishes, I see these extra steps, and I walk away.

Writing is like that too. Right now I have a single computer, it serves as my home entertainment system and my work space, for all of the work I do. If my computer is hooked up to my TV it’s not well set up for writing or programming, so I put off the work I’m doing and watch TV instead. I know, it’s stupid, but there it is.

So, a personal goal: get a media PC and leave it hooked up to the TV full time. That way my laptop can revert to what it should be for. Another personal goal: start eliminating all of the small barriers to productivity, wherever I can.

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