Stoppable Force Meets (Hopefully) Moveable Object

Well I’ve written myself into a corner again. I tend to do that every now and then. This time around, my characters are sneaking into a facility to steal something. They’re posing as a repair crew. My outline says something like they “sneak in to fix the [Thing] but really, they’re going to sabotage the [Other Thing] to help with their escape”. I had no idea what either of those would be when I wrote up the outline and left that as a problem for Future Dan. Well, here I am, 50K words later. Future Dan has become Present Dan and I’m nowhere closer to solving this conundrum.

Anyone know anything about mining facilities or refineries? Asking for a friend …

But seriously, it couldn’t have come at a worse time. Okay, inopportune time. We’re in the beginning of National Novel Writing Month after all and like usual, I’m using the event as an excuse to take a huge bite out of my novel like one McGruff might have taken out of crime. I never seem to time my books right … or maybe I do … so I’m never starting a project when NaNoWriMo roles around. I’m always finishing one.

Thing is, I can’t move forward until I figure this out. I want to get to the caper but aside from what they’re stealing, I don’t even know the layout of the place. Perhaps Past Dan should have figured that out too. Thanks a lot, guy!

So instead of drawing with words, I think I’m going to be drawing with like an actual pencil as I sketch a map of the place. I’m big into maps. My brother? He’ll read a book based solely on the map inside the front cover. I have a harder time conceptualizing everything and spend more time trying to make what I’m reading conform to what I saw in the picture which just takes me out of the story. I trust the writer to give me the important details instead.

While I don’t rely on maps so much in my books, I still like to draw them when it comes to environments. It helps with my blocking. I have literally once sketched out a room and everything in it just so I could use a couple of action figures to act out a fight scene.

Way I see it, my tasks are as follows:

  • Figure out what my facility actually does
  • Name the key components and what could conceivably be wrong with them (I mean it could be the spanocrank has snapped its driveshaft … it doesn’t have to be legit, just sound it)
  • Figure out:
    • A. What my repair crew is actually sabotaging
    • B. Why this would be beneficial in an escape

I think once I get all the above covered I’d be comfortable moving on. Some people might just skip the whole scene and continue to push the burden onto Future Dan, but I can’t write that way. I can jump around in an outline as I build it, but I like to write sequentially. No. This is an obstacle in my way and the only way is through, not around.

Anyone else doing NaNoWriMo this year? If so, I’m always looking for more writing buddies. Hit me up and happy writing.

Outlines. Gotta Love ‘Em

Still plugging away at ye old outline. Outlines are funny things. Even us outliners have different definitions of what that term means. I know some people who use a single page and cram the whole thing on there in broad strokes. Another author has an eighty page document that he’ll keep expanding and basically rewrite until that thing is basically the novel itself. For me, mine are around 20 pages. I want those broad strokes, story beats, and memos of important set pieces and dialogue, but I can’t have any holes. I no longer trust myself to figure it out when I get there.

The current thing I’m struggling with is what my antagonist is doing the whole time. This is a heist novel. I’ve got my plucky crew stealing things to ultimately rip off the big bad. OK cool. So what’s Mr. BBEG up to while all that’s going on? He’s not just waiting to be stolen from. Well, I guess he could be, but I need more than that from him. This is another way to raise the stakes. He’s got to show the reader how much worse things are getting so we’re routing for him to get ripped off.

I think I’m cracking it. On the verge or a cusp at least. I’m examining and extrapolating some of the other conditions I’ve introduced in the book around civic unrest to tease out some natural responses that way it makes sense for both the character and the world.

In the mean time, I’ve finally gone back to finish a short story I started way back in August. So that’s pretty exciting.

Also, while getting sucked down a research rabbit hole on YouTube (I was going to hyperlink it but come on, it’s YouTube), I was recommended the following video by everyone’s favorite algorithm. I took one look at the speaker and immediately jumped to conclusions. He did not disappoint. His channel is pretty awesome and I just wanted to share this new gem with everyone. Enjoy!

What I’m Reading: I dropped Red Winter. Speaking of stakes, there weren’t any. To not become an embodiment of your god means your god has to wait another ten years to try again even though it’s been a hundred years since your god has walked the earth last time and we see no reason why this is either a good or a bad thing … OK. Do it. Don’t do it. I don’t care.

I ended up picking up The Sword of Kaigen by M.L. Wang instead. I liked the sample so much I had to enroll in a free trial for Kindle Unlimited to keep reading. I actually did that! If that’s not an indication of praise, I don’t know what is. So far, I really like the book. My only hangup is the jargon. Yes, SFF has jargon, but this feels … superfluous, I guess.

What I’m Watching: Well, hope to be watching Altered Carbon. Season 2 dropped a couple of weeks ago and I’m hoping to sink my teeth into that real soon.

Montage

I’m breaking ground on the new outline. This one is a little more structurally complex, because I’m writing a heist novel! I’m super excited about it, hence the exclamation mark in the previous sentence. So of course, I immediately ran into a problem.

In most heist movies, we have an early montage where the characters are planning and prepping. It’s fun, shows off the world, and let’s time pass to the good stuff. I was wasting reams of digital paper trying to figure out how to translate this into prose. See, I thought it would be fun to have this central conversation and then cut away to some of the other little stuff. Like a montage, but not.

Here’s the thing, though, montages don’t work in prose. A book is already kind of like a montage as it picks and chooses what to show you, but it’s also slower than a montage because for every scene you have to get the reader into it and out of it again. The closest a montage can look in prose would be something like this:

  • The characters talk about the job.
  • Character A is soldering circuit boards.
  • Character B is throwing axes at a target.
  • The villain is locking the door on his vault.
  • Character C is trying on a silly costume with Character D and says “This’ll never work.”
  • Character A can’t get two wires together so she uses gum as a connector.
  • Etc.

That’s awful. No one would ever want to read that. It’s a list and takes you completely out of the story. Montages are visual tricks. More than that, they’re editing tricks, to show just enough information to allow the passage of time. In a book, you can just skip to the next scene.

Once I understood that, it didn’t fully solve the problem for me. I still have to have my characters plan and prep for the big score, but it needs to be interesting so the pace isn’t bogged down.

I know, who worries about pace in an outline. I do! Well, I try to. It’s one less thing to fix in post.

So that’s where I’m at. I think I’ve got a better handle of how to present the information. Now, it’s a matter of figuring out the sequence of events. Don’t worry, there will be definite skipping ahead. We don’t need to see how my one character uncovers a secret to exploit for leverage, we just need to know that he has it. But I can’t remove all that prep stuff because in a heist, that’s half the fun.

Oh and obligatory …

What I’m Reading: I finished The White Road and had a couple of false starts. Both The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo and To Break the Demon Gate by Richard Parks, I just couldn’t get into them. I wasn’t pulled in and interested by TNT and TBtDG did a poor job of setting place and scene. It was too lean to the point where I wasn’t engaged at all because I could barely visualize what was going on. Reading time is precious these days, so I can’t devote time and energy to something I don’t enjoy – Gasp! I know what agents must feel like! I did find something, though, Red Winter by Annette Marie about a girl who’ll become a god? An avatar of a god? I’m not sure, I’m only on page 45. I don’t love it. I’d say I’m mildly interested which could be a result of my desperation winning out so I’m settling, so we’ll see.

What I’m Watching: Star Trek: Picard. I initially wasn’t on board for this show. I thought there was no way they could do justice to a character who’ll live better in my nostalgia. Picard is my captain. So I was pleasantly surprised that I liked the first episode. Five episodes later and I realized Past Dan, Wary Dan, was right. This show isn’t about Picard at all. How could it be? Sir Patrick Stewart is 79 years old! You could honestly remove him from the show and things would happen exactly as they are in the same, gruelingly boring pace. The big reveal last episode, by the way, is something we’ve known since episode one … so yeah. There is no reason for Picard to even be in this series other than for member berries. He can’t be the only optimist left in the universe.