To my Heirs and Executors

I know a lot of first drafts are bad. Some people, I hear, write quite decent first drafts to save time on rewrites later, or perhaps because they’re just that good.

My first drafts stink. I write in fits and bursts to get my thoughts down and I try and abandon different paths. I’ll leave an awful sentence if it gets the point across because I need to get all my thoughts down before they vanish.

Now that I’m working on a novel I’m moving forward with a general story arc but there are so very many things I still don’t know. And, since it’s science fiction, I have to create a whole new future, too! It’s a ton of fun, but I’m flying without a chart most of the time.

So, if I should die before a rewrite, please don’t think less of me and my stinky draft. It’s my process, people!

On Facing 100,000 Words and Not Getting Bored

I freaked out a couple of weeks ago. I had written a 2000 word scene for The Novel that I was reasonably happy with. Then I realized I had to do it 50 more times. Holy Crap.

I started thinking about how to break the novel down into three acts, and then roughly allocating the number of words per act. (That’s about 35,000 per act for those of you playing along at home.) Ken Scholes, who is an honest-to-god-published-sf-author, just finished a 34,000 word novella in four months. And he has a full-time job and twin babies. I have a part-time job and two cats. (I know he would also say that he’s been writing a lot longer. Good point, Ken.)

I realized that one of my science-fictional premises invokes a mystery, and I want to have that come home in the third act. The problem is I don’t know who-did-it so to speak. And that’s been hanging me up for a week.

Then today I meshed that hang-up with another one of my fears: that I can’t write a novel because I’ll honestly get bored before I’m done. I mean, I don’t finish a solitaire game once I know I’m going to win. So, as much as anything, my writing method needs to to keep me interested until the damn thing is finished.

I don’t need the answer to the mystery for the first act. So I’m going to write, and let my brain keep working on the puzzle of the upcoming mystery. I don’t know how it’s going to end. And that may be more fun. At least for 30,000 words.


What Would That Matter?

I’m writing a story that’s got a bit of darkness, and that darkness is based on a less than pleasant part of my life. I have been encouraging myself to keep going by remembering this scene between Lord Peter, and the mystery writer Harriet Vane, in Gaudy Night:

“You would have to abandon the jig-saw kind of story and write a book about human beings for a change.”

“I’m afraid to do that, Peter. It might get too near the bone.”

“It might be the wisest thing you could do.”

“Write it out and get rid of it?”


“I’ll think about it. It would hurt like hell.”

“What would that matter, if it made a good book?”

Submissions, Interviews and Connie Willis

First, welcome Stuart, my first commenter whom I don’t know, and almost the first to whom I’m not related. Yea!

I have a theory that submitting stories to markets is a lot like interviewing. For some interviews, it will be clear you are a very nice person, with lots of skills, and not right for the job. Editors, like hiring managers, have to make the cut based on what they need. As someone who’s hired a lot of people, I can tell you that I remember a lot of nice, skilled people I didn’t hire. Some were just barely beat out by a more suited candidate. Some were wrong for the job but I wished I’d had something for them because I knew they’d be a great addition to the team. Some were just fascinating and I wished I could give them my card and go have a beer with them.

The difference between writing and interviewing is that I believe almost every person being has many jobs they’re suited for. But many stories should never see the light of day. I have a decent track record hiring talented people. With writing, I’m still learning to tell the difference between a dud and a winner.

On a different topic, I found the article I referenced in my comment on my last post. Connie Willis and Persistence The Connie WIllis bit is the twelfth paragraph down.

Thank you, Blog

Writing really does help me think. Yesterday I realized what the problem is with a story I’ve had on hold. It’s “Law and Order in Space.” Whoops. Off to a rewrite session!

Freddy the Pig School of Plotting

It occurred to me today that there is a slippery slope in science fiction writing. It is easy to make up a premise by simply asking “What if we had X  . . . in Space?”  (Please insert dramatic pause for the ellipsis.)  Some examples, drawn from actual movies or books:

    “What if we had High Noon … in Space?”
    “What if we had fox hunting … in Space?”
    “What if we had Nazis … in Space?”*
    “What if we had Santa Claus … in Space?”**
    And of course the classic: “What if we had pigs … in Space!”
I am henceforth going to call this trap the Freddy the Pig school of plotting.   It was, after all, the Freddy the Pig series that early on posed the question “What if the detective … is a pig?” and eventually progressed to “What if we played baseball . . . with Martians?”
If you stay on the high side of the slope you can use this trick to find an interesting story. Maybe you can retell a classic in an interesting way. Or, in exploring the idea you find something about X that IS different when it takes place in a different environment – whether space or time, or some other fundamental shift.  But, if you start to slide, you just end up with pigs in space.
What other examples can you think of?

*I can think of at least 3 of these without really trying.
**This one is so bad it feels like cheating.