Straight Out of the 80s!

The big news of the week was that I finished the ‘Script Outline’ draft of my military sci-fi book. The working title is ‘Maelstrom 1: Valkyrie’, because who writes less than a trilogy nowadays? Seriously, though, there’s definitely more than one book in the idea behind it, and this first book only takes things up to a certain point.

The Script Outline (I’m using capitals there because capitals make it a ‘thing’) has taken a lot longer than it was supposed to, but I’m not yet completely distraught about that. I had hopes of publishing in November, but as long as it’s before the end of the year, I guess that’s okay. And, either way, having found a copy of my old novel, Promenade, to mercilessly edit down and put out there – well, it might be better to push that to market first and perhaps leave this until the New Year, when I might be most of the way through a second instalment. In fact, as I write, I’ve literally just talked myself into that.

Anyway, as I was saying, I’m not so worried about how long the Script Outline has taken, as the point of it was to hopefully do away with a draft while simultaneously completing a detailed (as it turns out, very detailed) outline. The idea is that my next (1st, I guess) draft will be a lot better than an ordinary first draft would be, that I will have already learned many of the things I need to learn about the story. Well, that’s what I’m sticking with.

My hope is that, after this, I’ll have an editing / proofing draft, and then a final draft via a proof reader, and BOOM… book.  This is not how I will ideally work on every book, as I’d at least like to have a proper ‘editors’ draft before proofreading, but that is simply going to be too expensive this time around.

As for Promenade, trust me when I say that book has already been mercilessly edited for many years before now, as it was originally completed in 2002. Although, like some poor, mistreated captive, it has barely seen the light of day, read by only a handful of people that weren’t its creator. No… no proof reading for Promenade, that one’s going to be the guinea pig, and the sooner I can shove it out onto the market, the better.

I’m actually quite daunted by putting my script version of the Maelstrom book into Scrivener, as I’m now starting to do. I know it’s going to reveal all those research / world building / background and character points that I’ve failed to adequately explore as I’ve gone along. The whole thing is going to look like a mess, and I’m going to have about three times as much work as I thought I would have, I know it! However, I also know that, somewhere on he other side of all that, is a book and a story world I can keep exploring. Plus, it might even be fun along the way. For one thing, as I wrote the last pages of the script, I was surprised by how many things just seemed to slot quite neatly into place, and it’s a great feeling on a book when that stuff starts to happen.

You wouldn’t think I’ve been writing books for years, would you? But when it’s your own, somehow it makes you feel more like a newbie. Not sure why, would have expected that to work the other way around, if anything. Plus… sci-fi. Somehow, military sci-fi is quite intimidating. I’ve never properly written sci-fi before, and, I don’t know… there’s definitely more fear of getting stuff wrong.

Couple of other things to finish of this slightly rambling post:

‘Constitution’ by Nick Webb. I was very critical about this in a previous post, mainly because the set-up stage of the book felt like Battlestar Galactica rehashed. I would just like to say that, although I haven’t changed my mind about that aspect of it, the book has nonetheless turned into a superb read. Am currently a little over three-quarters through, and have found myself really drawn to the characters and the situation, and the pace is just electric – not to mention some situations that are h-a-r-s-h on the characters. Always gotta love that.

And finally, Alpha Smart Neo 2. I’m writing this post on one of these wonderfully retro little beasts. They’re like eighties tech, but made in the zeros, or later. I’m currently just using it as a plug-in keyboard on my phone. I don’t know quite why I’m doing this, my laptop is just upstairs, except for the fact that I just like writing this way. It also has its own little LCD screen, and can – literally – ‘write’ it to MS Word – or anything else – when plugged into a PC later on.

Maybe I love using this rather outmoded technology because I grew up in the 80s. Speaking of which… can’t wait for season 2 of Stranger things later this month!

A Question of Balance

If I didn’t have to earn a living, I‘d probably have published my book by now. Not that I’m complaining. I got a real break last week when a client of mine arranged for me to do regular work for them every week – just enough to keep things ticking over while I concentrate on getting this book finished.

I suck at balance and organising my time. I’m amazing at coming up with different ways to attempt to organise my time – new and inventive systems for ‘fitting it all in’ – but it never seems to work for more than a day or two before things fall apart. So, it should be no surprise that the first 2 or 3 days this week involved me trying and failing to amalgamate paid work and my own fiction efforts seamlessly into ‘a day’s work’. I might just about have managed it if my life existed in a hermetically sealed bubble, but my attempts at organisation are like those towers of pebbles that people make on the beach. Just one tiny little poke and…

Yet, it’s all okay. Because, although I had a poor week, and although I’m still on that script outline draft – which is now going on longer than I would ideally have liked, with each extra day becoming a little less justifiable – I didn’t have a terrible week. On Thursday and Friday, in particular, I got quite a bit done. I can see a ‘next week’, and a ‘week after that’, where the paid work takes up my morning and the fiction takes up my afternoon. And that’s not so bad, is it?

It’s almost like organisation.

On other news, I’m getting to that part in the draft where I’m discovering things. I’d forgotten about that, how joyous it can be, how it makes writing a story like creating a living thing. I’ve just realised that one of the crew members of my ‘privateer’-type space ship has crush on the Captain. Had no idea that was going to happen, although, looking back, it was kind of obvious. Also, I had the two main ships heading towards the planet where all the big end of book stuff happens, then realised that I only needed one ship, and that all the important characters could just be on that one ship. Have also scratched out a lot of unnecessary scenes and characters from the last part of the book before I even wrote it. Which might prove a time-saving bonus.

So perhaps this script outline stage that I’ve added into my writing process might yet prove a good idea. This draft is certainly bringing home the lack of world-building that I did before I started writing. There’ll be a lot to get down before I start the first draft proper. Many of the ideas are there though, in my head, or vaguely referred to in quickly-typed notes. Again, credit to the script outline draft – an extra stage in which to get this stuff right.

The one thing I did do before I started was a timeline. Something outlining how we got from (a little after) now to the stage we are at in my first Maelstrom book, spread across an area of space almost a hundred light years across, with upwards of fifty paraterraformed and terraformed planets under our control, plus almost countless other stations, mining operations and so on. Actually, this is making me think that I should explain something more about the book and what it’s going to be, but that’ll probably be another post, as this one has rambled on long enough.

Using Scriptwriting As An Outlining Tool

After years as a freelance copywriter, and quite a few years as a ghostwriter, I am now on the road to self-publishing my own fiction. I have made the observances, beginning with studying the market and deciding which genre was calling to me both creatively and financially. Military science-fiction, as it turned out.

I studied those tropes – after looking up what tropes were and, as with a reassuring number of things so far on this journey, discovered it was all mostly stuff I would have done naturally anyway. I read a superb book on novel plotting. I’ve always sucked at plotting, and have got away with a lack of it on more occasions than I’ve deserved. Not this time, though. Time to start writing like an adult.

Now I am learning about marketing while, at the same time, doing something rather odd, something that I wonder if anyone else does.

Like I said, I suck at plotting. I have a good idea, I flesh it out well, then my mind goes blank until I actually start writing. The plotting book really helped to make sure that I sat down and constructed a plot scene-by-scene. But when that was finished, I still looked at most of those scenes and just kind of felt that they were low on detail.

So I had an idea.

I used to write scripts, mostly short ones. About 10 years ago, I finished a film degree, and scriptwriting was the skill I developed most during that time. I don’t love writing scripts in the way that I love writing books, but I do like the how it’s a really efficient method of getting a story down. Scripts are all about dialogue and bare-bones description.

So, most of the scripts I’ve written have been for short films, but I did write a 60-page monster one time, something a little bit like an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where a demon gets into people’s phones and starts possessing the teens of a small seaside town. Some time later I was looking for a story to write, so I took this script and started to write it as a book.

Revelation.

Writing this way felt so easy. Everything that was going to happen in any given scene was already there, so the writing process became about enriching it, bringing it to life and, where necessary, re-directing it. It was like something between drafting and editing. I never finished the book – can’t really remember why – but the experience of writing this way stayed with me.

So this is what I am doing with my military sci-fi novel. It’s a big investment of time, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to be worth it. I’ve spent about two weeks (and generally about a third to a half of each working day) on it so far. I’m 90 pages in and hoping that another week will do it, but in all likelihood it will take another day or two beyond that.

What I’m writing isn’t a feature film script, not really. For one thing, I’m allowing it to run longer than a feature script should do considering the story I’m telling – putting in more detail, having scenes that describe characters’ internal thought processes, and so on. In other words, I’m not letting the format restrict me, that would be silly. Of course, conversely, there’s a balance to be struck, and I do occasionally have to remind myself that I’m only outlining here.

Would love to hear any thoughts about what I’m doing. Is this a waste of time? Is there a better way to overcome my outlining issues? Please comment below, I’d love to hear anyone’s thoughts.