Phases of a Book

I’d say I’m just about done with the brainstorming phase of my new book. To give you some perspective, when I write a novel, it usually goes down something like this.

Brainstorming Phase: This is usually about a month. Sometimes longer. I’m always jotting random ideas down and doing the occasional research about something, but this phase is the hardcore focus of all my mental energy on something new. This is also where I do my more targeted researching.

Structure Phase: Once I’ve got a pretty good idea of the world and what I want to say, I make a one page document for pacing. This is really the narrative framework in which the entire thing hangs. I identify the plot points, the hook, changes in narrative phases, etc. It’s not super robust, but I need to know how the story unfolds and where I need to fill getting from A to B. This takes maybe a week or a week and a half. Often times, I go back and do some final fiddling with brainstorming and concurrent research as I build it out.

Outlining Phase: I then turn that one page document into a 16-20 page outline depending on the scope of the novel. I try and break it down into what I think will be the chapters with bullet points telling me what’s going to happen in each one. I also include notes to myself, lines of dialog I’ve already written, and all the must haves and put them where they need to go. It’ll take me maybe two to three weeks to get this whole thing together.

I try not to leave anything blank. I’ll be vague at times in a bullet like “hero gets in a fight and the villain gets away” and when I get there in the manuscript, I’ll have a better idea of what that fight will be, but I don’t like to have an entire protochapter look like:

  • They storm the base
  • big fight ensues
  • they’re about to catch the bad guy, but the tables are turned.

And that’s it. No further details. No reminder of what’s at stake or notes about development. I’ve found that I ALWAYS run into trouble when it’s that vague. Looking at you cough Partners in Crime cough. So I need to iron that out which is why it takes me extra time to get all of that in order.

Writing Phase: The meat and potatoes. It takes me anywhere from 4-5 months to write a first draft. I go through the ole outline and get my words in for the day. Rinse and Repeat. You know how this part works.

Waiting Phase: Another couple months where I distract myself with something else to let the dust settle and the ideas gel from the first draft.

Editing Phase: Another 4+ months of grueling fine tuning and rewriting to make that pile of words into something that someone would actually want to read.

So there you have it. I’m just about finished brainstorming so it’ll be soon onto the structure phase. I’ve written eight novels by now and this is the process I’ve developed for myself. I would like to do more works concurrently: edit one work while brainstorming another, etc. and I’ve done that to some extent, but seeing as I’m not a full time writer, I only have so much time to devote to a project so I’m going laser focused again. Onward to novel number nine!

What I’m Reading: (see, told you I’d bring these back …) Just finished Martha Wells’ novella All Systems Red about a, I suppose its technically a cyborg, who calls itself Murderbot and loves serialized media. It was just the right length for the writing style. A strong voice but also sparse on the details which makes sense since its in first person or first bot or whatever … which I imagine would get old for an entire novel. That said, I’m definitely going to read a followup in the near future.

As that was so short, I started John Connolly’s The White Road. For those of you who’ve been reading my blog, I’ve really come around on Connolly. I didn’t care for his first novel, but that last two were pretty great. And you want to talk about voice? They tell you as writer that you should read wide and look for lessons about craft in other peoples’ work. Whether its a duck flying over a salt marsh or the description of a crime scene, imagery in Connolly’s books is just awesome. I don’t mean super cool, I mean awe-inspiring. I’m definitely taking notes.

What I’m Watching: The Imagineering Story on Disney +. Love or loathe Disney, this documentary series is still incredible. To see how they pulled off some engineering marvels is just fascinating. It also serves as a great lesson for anyone interested in customer service and really the value of a product. You can see where they’ve designed a complete user experience and where they were just phoning it in. Each episode is only an hour, but my wife and I keep pausing it to comment and marvel so it takes us twice as long to get through them.

Like Me. Really Like Me.

I was listening to a podcast about authorial brand the other day and it got me thinking about myself and my own work. I suppose there’s a throughline of themes and ideas in a lot of my fiction — actually that’s what’s sparked the new and shiny novel I’m almost about ready to start outlining — but more than that, it got me thinking about myself and this blog.

For the most part, I write about my work and writing life, but what about me? What do I think is cool? I was always a little hesitant to just throw stuff out there because what if you, dear reader, are a movie buff but then I go off the deep end gushing about a video game and you decide, nah, video games are dumb. Shame on you! Or maybe you’re a gamer who doesn’t like my taste in television shows. I don’t know. So rather than keep all that out, I realized I can only be me.

Unless, it’s a critical deep dive into a work, I don’t like writing about entertainment pieces I don’t like. I don’t mind admitting when I didn’t care for something, but I don’t like bashing on stuff because I know how long and how hard it is to make said stuff! With all this in mind, I’ve updated my About Me page with my top favorite books and movies. I’ll put them below too …

Favorite Books:

(In no particular order …)

  • Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien … (see below …)
  • Embassytown by China Mieville
  • Shogun by James Clavell
  • The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  • The Sandman comics by Neil Gaiman
  • The Stormlight Archive series by Brandon Sanderson

 

Favorite Movies:

  1. Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, Return of the King (all extended editions of course) – Let’s be honest, they’re all really one movie right …
  2. Jurassic Park
  3. Spirited Away
  4. Ghostbusters
  5. The Last Samurai and Little Shop of Horrors (1986) – two way tie

Maybe we’re a fan of the same things. Oh come on, of course we are!

I also thought I’d update you on what I’m reading and what I’m watching.

What I’m reading:

The Jennifer Morgue by Charles Stross. This book is awesome. Book 2 of The Laundry Files. While the government bureaucracy is so real its painful, it still doesn’t overshadow the eldritch horror crammed into these books. Anyone looking for a modern take on Lovecraft, this series is for you. I enjoy the plots and occult techno-babble as much as the next guy, but speaking of crammed, the amount of references (Lovecraftian, historical, and real world technology) stuffed into each book is amazing. You honestly don’t need to know what any of them mean, because anything important is always explained for the plot, but for someone like myself, it’s riddled with Easter eggs so I feel like each one is some inside joke only I’m privy to. When they say write what you know, this is totally what they mean. It just goes to show you that you don’t need one thing. If you’ve got a couple of passions, smush them all together and the beautiful mess you’ve made is going to be one great, original story.

What I’m watching:

I just wrapped up watching Altered Carbon on Netflix. I’m a little late to the party on this one, but oh man was that good! I thought they did a great job with the jargon. It felt like a real place and wasn’t just replacing current words with future words. Also the setup and payoff was really well done. You know it’s good when you have multiple actors playing the same character and I don’t even bat an eye. I’m looking at you episode 7. It’s mainly flashback, so it’s not the primary actor, but the guy I’m watching still always feels like Tak to me. It’s great and so well done.

From a production design, I can marvel at the nuts and bolts too. They clearly had money to build sets and render things in CGI, but they were super careful with their locations. The places feel big, but when I stop and think about it, there really aren’t that many places the characters go to. Even when they’re outside, it’s a section of a street or a storefront of something. There are plenty of extras and things in the background, but the show doesn’t blow its budget on needless filler.

I’m definitely excited for season 2.

So there you have it. A little bit more about me and what I like. Writing up the what I’m reading and watching was pretty fun. I don’t get a chance to gush about stuff so much anymore, but I think that’s going to be changing. I’ve a feeling that feature is definitely coming back.

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

My posts have been pretty inconsistent lately. There’s been some illness in the family – I’m actually writing this sick in bed at the moment, lots of editing work that needed doing, and pressures from the day job all vying for attention so this ole blog is just getting the short end of the stick time after time. What that’s telling me is that I need to write these things in advance. I suppose that’s the smart thing to do, but now why would anybody do something responsible like that?

On to writing … I’ve been battling a mini internal crisis lately. See, I poured a lot of myself into Land of Sky and Blood. I learned new techniques, even took a class, and really tried to make that book as rich as I could make it. Then I went ahead and wrote Partners in Crime (well got about three quarters of the way through anyway) and I discovered that … let’s say LoSaB is hearty stew … it’s got a bunch of complementary flavors, some fresh ingredients, a few old favorites, and it’s all balanced so you’re getting the combined effect of the entire recipe. Well, if LoSaB is a stew, then Partners in Crime is just broth. It’s simple and felt like after everything I’d learned, I was actually taking a step backward in writing it.

Maybe it’s because I haven’t figured out the ending yet either, so that ground me to a halt, but still, I knew something was wrong for a while but pressed on anyway. I hate not having it finished. “Always finish what you start” was rule number 10 in my Tae Kwon Do studio growing up and all these years later, I still hear Master Gladwell and Master Kim’s gruff disapproval in me for not finishing that damned book. I need to get around to finishing it. I mean, I even finished Ghost Hunting and that book is a train wreck!

I don’t think I’ve ever talked about Ghost Hunting before. All writers have trunk novels, right? Well GH deserves to live in the trunk in a secret compartment so cleverly disguised you’ll never find it again. That book was just awful! It’s the only novel I’ve ever written that I’ve never even tried to edit before. It did teach me a few things like balancing character voices and not to dive into a story before doing all your research, though. The novel had an emphasis on sailing and let me tell you, I don’t know the first thing about boats. I was nowhere near ready to write that book, but the takeaway was that I finished it. Knowing Partners in Crime remains unfinished is like sleeping with sand in my bed. I hate it.

But I can’t give it my full attention just yet. I’ve since moved on to the new shiny thing. After living and breathing LoSaB for a year and a half, I’m ready to move onto the next project. It’s still in the brainstorming phase right now, but I’m getting a handle on the story. There are a lot more component parts to this one and it’s definitely more stew than broth. Maybe when I finally sit down to start that first draft, I can allow myself to knock out Partners in Crime at the same time as a brain break. But right now, I only have so much time to write and if I don’t feel like it’s a constructive use of my time.

The Hustle

I’ve been a little lax on the ole blog here, so sorry about that. First I was busy and then got sick. Every time I wasn’t wrapped up with something, I was doing the final read through which turned out was followed by a second FINAL final read through of Land of Sky and Blood. So my eyes were pretty much spent every day and couldn’t stare at a computer screen anymore. I’ve poured so much time and attention into finishing the manuscript that I actually broke my own rule and abandoned Partners in Crime. I’m maybe 20K words away from finished that novel, but haven’t touched it since December. It’s weird. I’ve never just stopped a work like that before. I do plan to finish it. And soon. I hope. But hey, I’m done. Land of Sky and Blood is done!

Now comes the pitching …

I told myself that I was going to take my time with this one and I think I did for the most part. My usual schedule has been to both write a book and query a book within the same year. That’s just the way my pacing has seemed to be going. While I’m querying the last work, I’m simultaneously working on the new one. When the new one is query ready, the old one cycles out and I start the next manuscript. That’s what I’ve been doing for seven years more or less.

That all stopped in 2019. Land of Sky and Blood was too large and just wasn’t ready. So instead of rushing, I wanted to take my time and I like to think that it paid off. I ended up with the most ambitious thing I’ve ever written. But now its time to make the rounds.

Just like I’ve been more deliberate with my writing choices, I’m more deliberate with who I’m contacting in the publishing industry this time. I’m really only approaching those who I think would enjoy the work rather than throw spaghetti at the wall to see what’ll stick.

But it’s still nerve wracking, right? Rejection is never fun. Whether its from an agent or an editor or a bad review. As an author, you’ve poured your heart and soul into a project you believe in, so it hurts when someone else doesn’t share your same vision. It’s counter intuitive if you think about it. The best authors are probably sensitive, creative people. You’d have to be to dig into the art part of writing and really form a connection with your reader. Yet these are the same people who are also supposed to have thick skin and just shrug off rejection. It takes time and is definitely a learned skill.

Like I said, I’ve been writing now for over seven years. There were times when I’d see rejection in my inbox on a weekly basis. And rightly so, I might add. Some of those manuscripts weren’t actually all that good. So how do you handle something like that?

During the low times, I try and remind myself why I’m passionate about the work in the first place. Often, I wrote the novel because an idea was just burning in my brain. It was something I wanted to read but it didn’t exist so in a way, I was the first fan. Just because somebody else didn’t connect with the material doesn’t mean that no one will. It’s already got a fan, remember? Me. So I tell myself not to lose heart. In a planet of seven billion people, I can’t be the only one who would like it either. That’s just simple probability. There’s got to be others out there who’d feel the same way. Maybe they won’t see it. Maybe the vehicle I chose was wrong. Who knows? Maybe the work will stall and get shuffled aside as I try and sell my next shiny obsession. It doesn’t mean the story isn’t worth reading.

Just remember, if something doesn’t sell, it doesn’t mean you have to throw it out. Yeah, we all have trunk novels, but there might be a couple of gems in there too. Maybe you can sell it later. Or maybe you can rewrite it or reuse an idea for a future project. Nobody knows you’re stealing from yourself. I’ve reused character names, plot points, and thematic elements.

At the end of the day, I see every novel as a learning experience at the very least. I’ve learned or practiced something new with each one. There was no way I could have written Land of Sky and Blood without writing all of those other novels before it. I hadn’t leveled up as a writer yet.

So I’m going to start querying and hustling and pitching and everything that entails, but the book already has a fan. I’m proud to have written it and thankful for the experience regardless of what happens. My sights are already set on the future.

Well, maybe after I go back and knock the abandoned Partners in Crime first …

Frozen Too

We saw Frozen II with our kids over the weekend so our house has been a little more “Into the Unknown” than usual. Don’t get me wrong, like most little girls, I imagine, my daughter loves Elsa. Adores her. You can joke about just about anything with my daughter but Elsa is off limits. So anyway, seeing the movie has sparked a conversation between my wife and myself about musicals, their purpose, and how awesome they are.

You can totally see which side of the fence I’m on here by the way. Don’t worry. My wife is over here with us too…

You can find plenty of articles praising Frozen II as a more “mature” movie and pointing Disney in a new direction. You can read that on your own time. All I wanted to bring up was that for this movie, to me, the music was not just more mature but it was also, well more musical. As in theatre musical. More than a few times throughout the film, as stuff was obviously happening on screen, I was watching a second stage show in my head and could clearly imagine what the cast and characters would be doing with each song in real life. So I agree to a maturity to the music as it’s about more mature themes, but I’d go even farther and say it’s just more complex than not just the last movie, but most Disney movies in general, putting it more in line with, well, a musical.

I bring all of this up because over the holidays, my wife and I got in a discussion with my brother about music in kids’ movies. He’s a big fan of Trolls. And I mean a BIG fan. My wife was trying to explain to him that regardless of the concept, when a studio takes recycled pop music as a soundtrack — even if the tracks are rearranged and the characters are singing them — it’s not the same as original numbers. I agree.

It took me some time to think about it and here’s what I’ve come up with. Musicals are about more than just the plot or the characters. When done right, a musical gives you both the broader, thematic picture, but also a more intimate one as well because it invites you into the headspace of the person(s) singing. It’s really hard not to empathize with someone really belting it out, wearing their heart on their sleeve. And if the song is good on its own, well then, it stays with you, and helps keep you in that same headspace making the movie even more personal.

And by original song, I mean a song written solely for the experience being portrayed on stage/film. Not something for the radio that just debuts in the movie. I like Can’t Stop the Feeling as much as the next person, but it doesn’t really have anything to do with Branch. Know what I mean?

So while my daughter is skipping and bouncing with new memories about her favorite character’s emotional adventure, my wife and I are pontificating about the nature of musicals in general. Complex, I guess.

The other thought I had when leaving the movie theater is that I know exactly what Frozen III is going to be. I don’t mean, oh wouldn’t it be cool if … No. The cynical movie goer in me knows exactly what Hollywood is going to do. Here’s my pitch …

Nothing will happen for like 20 years. I’m talking IRL here. Then, in the world of reboots, nostalgia, and franchises, we’ll get Froz3n or whatever. The same amount of time will have passed for them too, so Elsa and Anna are much older. Something has happened to Elsa — spirit corruption or she’s just mad — but she’s invaded the land as the true Snow Queen. A creature to be feared. Anna tries to reason with her and fails. Elsa can’t/won’t kill Anna so she imprisons her in ice or whatever like Carbonite.

The story then shifts to Anna and Kristof’s teenage children — I’m thinking a boy and a girl — who have to go on an adventure to rescue their mother, save the land, and talk some sense back into their aunt. It’s a soft reboot of everything Frozen stood for and completely undermines the growth and sacrifices of the original characters like any franchise milking reboot should. Looking at you Star Wars. Sure the original voice cast will be mad about it, but maybe we’ll get little cameos anyway.

That’s my prognostication for the future. You can tell me I’m right in 20 years. So what do you think?

The Finish Line

I’d say that my NaNoWriMothis year was a smashing success! I even finished a day early too. This is the fourth time I’ve taken part in the challenge and I think it was also the most diligent – therefore the easiest – it’s ever gone. Only a few days toward the end did I have to really worry about putting in the words and that’s only because I knew I wouldn’t be writing anything on Thanksgiving or the day after. Even then, it was only about three thousand day. The rest of time, I was chugging along nicely. So nicely in fact, that it’s been three days now that I haven’t written a single thing and I’m feeling restless.

The habit is established and now hard to break. There’s about a quarter of my current manuscript left so there are plenty of words left to write, though. I think I’ll dive back on in tomorrow at the pace I’d been going. Even record my progress via spreadsheet. I do so love to compare all of those numbers … If I can finish the thing before the end of the year then I’ll be able to brag that I’ve finished two books this year instead of my customary one.

I’m also feeling restless about getting Land of Sky and Blood out there. I’d told myself to take my time with it and I have been, but the excitement is getting to me. I’ve added some, probably, unnecessary pressure to my life to also get that finished by the first of the year. I don’t like to be bored, I guess.

In the little down time that I have, I’ve been watching some Great British Baking Show with my wife and reading The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I remember when that book came out and all the of the hullaballoo surrounding it. I’m about halfway through it now and I can honestly say I don’t get it. I like aspects of the book, but I’m feeling a familiar itch to also get that finished. Like the circus the book is about, the story is all flash and awe without any real substance. I feel kind of clever for coming up with that one, but I wonder if some reviewer beat me too it years ago when the novel first came out. That’s not to say I dislike the book. There’s plenty to like, I’m just in the mind for one that moves at a faster pace.

Anyone else do NaNoWriMo? How’d it go?

 

NaNoWriMo 3

Another short one. I had a couple of goose eggs, but made most of it up last week. As you can see from my current stats, I’m just about on track again.

Word Count Graph

To me, half the fun of NaNoWriMo is watching those little dots climb. I love the stats feature. The bottom graph makes my pace look a lot wigglier than it is. I’ve been shooting for around 2k words a day (hit 2.8k today) to make up for lost days and create a little cushion for future days when I don’t get anything else done.

In other news, I’m almost finished reading The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. I ended up loving The Thousand Autumns of Jacob DeZoet so much, I wanted another ride on the Mitchell train. If I thought Thousand Autumns broke what I conceived to be typical narrative structure, hew-boy was I not prepared for Bone Clocks. But I think I like it? 500 plus pages in I better like it. I don’t have time anymore to read books I don’t like. Mitchell’s grasp of character is definitely his strongest feature. I chose The Bone Clocks at random because it sounded cool and I didn’t want to read Cloud Atlas. Apparently, I chose correctly because it and Thousand Autumns are related?! I have so many questions for David Mitchell writer to writer.

I love when that happens, though. I’d read 14 by Peter Clines and absolutely loved it. Maybe a year later, I bought The Fold just to read something new. Even reading the description of the book I was pleasantly surprised to find out the two novels were sidequels.

So that’s twice this has happened to me. It’s like discovering a secret connection of the universe no one else can see. Know what I mean?

That’s enough for today. More writing and editing to do. Hope you’re all having a good event. If you’re still looking for writing buddies, I’m dmelnick.

Happy writing!

NaNoWriMo 2

Another short post this week. In fact, it’s going to be this way the whole way through NaNoWriMo and the month of November. These words don’t count 🙂 But seriously, it’s because I’m just swamped this month. I’m cranking out those 50k words while trying to edit a massive book at the same time.

I’m about three thousand words under where I should be in the event right now. That’s all right. I’m starting to pick up the pace and write more per day.

I’ve never been much of a marathon writer. Even if I know where I’m going, my brain gets tired. I think the most I’ve ever written in one sitting is twenty-five hundred words? Some of you are probably scoffing at the number and rightly so. Usually, on days when I need to make up word count or I want to make a really big push, instead of writing in one long session, I break it up and write in spurts. That’s much more manageable for me.

I think it was Ray Bradbury who used to say write two sentences six times a day. If worse comes to worst, you’ve got twelve sentences out of the deal but as often happens, you won’t stop writing once you start. Now I can’t write six times a day — I just don’t have the time for that — but I can write through a couple of smaller sessions. I usually try to get around a thousand words out first thing in the morning. That’s when I’m most productive anyway. If I don’t switch gears to something else entirely, I’ll come back to the work and try and write about 500-600 word chunks throughout the day. Everyone is different, but that seems to work for me.

Okay, that’s all the break I get. Hit twenty-five hundred words today (in three sittings) and it’s time to get some editing done. Until next time!

Happy writing!

NaNoWriMo 1

Not going to be a long post this week. Now that NaNoWriMo is in full swing, every word counts and as per my rules, these posts do not.

So far so good. I’m a little behind, but that’s okay. I can make up a lot of extra words during the week. Chugging along on Partners in Crime and haven’t had to resort to additional content but with only 5k out of 50k completed, the night is still young as they say.

Inspiration actually struck pretty hard on Friday for a new story. Whether that’s a short story, novella, or full on novel, I don’t know yet. I have an idea whose grounds have been tread on before. I feel like I should do some “research” first, meaning read other books like it to see what’s already out there and how I’m going to say something different. But that’s a problem for Future Dan.

Now, it’s back to squeezing out another 500 words today and getting some editing in Land of Blood and Sky done.

Happy writing!

Soccer Practice

Coming at “this whole writing thing” with a more professional attitude means that I have more on my plate than ever. I’m working on the rough draft of Partners in Crime, I have edits yet to do on Land of Sky and Blood, and the brainstorming/prewriting/outlining phase for Altered Egos (Tentatively titled Basalt City Series) book 3. That’s a lot of back and forth. And while the idea of working on so many projects just gets me all twitterpated, its exhausting.

I was listening to a Creative Penn podcast a while ago — I don’t remember who the guest was, I know, what a great start to a story — but they were talking about juggling tasks. The guest had this great metaphor about how to handle that work load in your head. Think of everything you have to do like soccer balls. You ultimately want to get them in the goal. Yeah, you can give little taps to each of them but you’re not going to make a lot of progress any time soon. You can’t kick all of them either, there just isn’t the time. So with five soccer balls, say, you get only two kicks. Which ones are you going to kick? How are you going to spend your energy?

I want to work on more, but I find myself coming back to this analogy. Never one to give in and a stickler who’ll do anything for spite, I’m going to kick three soccer balls, darn it! But just like writing, I need to build up my multitasking muscles.

There isn’t a lot of time either. NaNoWriMo is a week and a half away. Already? I feel like I was just talking about using NaNo as an excuse to take a chunk out of Land of Sky and Blood. A year has passed already? But I can feel like lurking out there. Waiting. Ready to gobble me up like a hungry dragon.

Whenever I participate, I don’t ever write filler just for the sake of word count. I follow an outline with every book I write so I always know what comes next. Writing for NaNoWriMo just gives me an excuse to go hog wild for a month and crank out fifty thousand words at a go. I wouldn’t even say I write any faster either. At least I haven’t noticed a quality dip during those portions of the book. Instead, I just adjust my usual markers a couple thousand words higher up and when I feel like I’ve done enough for the day, remind myself to keep going.

I still hope to tackle edits and brainstorming for the other books, but man I’m gonna kick the crap out of Partners in Crime. I’m gonna drill it from my own half straight into the opposing net. Soccer metaphor! At least, that’s the plan. I’m hitting fifty thousand words regardless and I refuse to let the other books suffer in the mean time. I’m either going to get better at this or go crazy trying. Let’s find out.