More Structural Thoughts

Another issue I’m running into with my Nano is my structural beats, or acts, or whatever you want to call them.

You see, when I plotted Nano this year I tried a new technique. In the past I have phase outlined, which consists of basically making a bullet point list of what happens in order. This generally works well for me, and is especially useful when I have multiple viewpoint characters that directly affect one another, because it helps me keep track of what’s happening overall and also what’s happening in relation to the other character.

But I find it hard to phase outline an entire novel (it is an excellent technique for short stories and I highly recommend it) if I don’t already have a draft of said novel under my belt. It’s an excellent tool for sharpening things up. But a whole novel is a lot of work to phase outline otherwise.

So, for this book I decided to outline by tentpoles. In story structure terminology, a tentpole or a milestone is a major event, typically that divides your acts if you’re using a 3-Act Structure (or a 4-Act, or I suppose any number of acts). Depending on who you talk to, there can be a variety of numbers of tentpoles, but normally you have one 10-25% through your novel (sometimes called the Inciting Incident) and another one 75%-90% through the denotes the start of the climax. (That one probably has a fancy name too, but I’m blanking on it.)

Aside from those two, I’ve also got a midpoint tentpole, and I’ve got all three set up for both of my main plots.

So, for the first time ever, I’ve gotten somewhere, thought to myself, “Oh, I should hit such and such plot point, that would be fun,” and then had to back up and realize that it’s not time for that yet.

So it should be interesting, at the end of this draft, to see if my story is more sound structurally because I had my tentpoles in places before I stuck them in during editing.

Anything interesting happening on your ends, Squiders?

Playing with Structure

I’ve always thought that Nano is a great time to try something new–new structure, new genre, new chronology, whatever–because I feel the format of Nano forces you to keep going where, at other times of year, you might turn back from something new because it’s too different, or because you feel like you aren’t doing it justice.

A lot of the Nano options I was considering for the year would have been “new” in some way, but the ones I narrowed it down to the end had differences in structure that were new to me. And maybe some of them would have been too complex to try during Nano. Or maybe everything would have been fine. Who knows? It’s all moot because I’m not writing those stories at the moment.

The new structure my space dinosaur story has going for it is that it’s composite cast. Most things I’ve written in the past either had a small cast of characters, or a larger cast of characters, of which only a few are truly important. This is the first time where I have a large cast where everyone is of equal importance.

So how do you write a book where you’ve got eight main characters?

Well, in this case, since this is the first book of a series, not everyone has to be equal in this case. So I picked the three characters most affected by the plot to use as viewpoint characters, and, for the first time ever, I’m not numbering my chapters.

(Well, I mean, Hidden Worlds doesn’t have chapters, it has parts, but that’s kind of its own beast in general.)

So I’m 27K in and have no idea how many chapters I have. Some of them are really short, 1000 words or so. They’re just labeled by character. In some ways, it’s kind of freeing, like I’ve loosened the bonds of the dreaded chapters and can do whatever I want.

And sometimes I feel kind of adrift.

But I do think it’s good to try new things, and I can always go back and change structure later if necessary.

How about you, Squiders? If you’re a writer, do you have something you’d like to try, structurally or otherwise, that you are currently doing or have thought about doing? As a reader, have you noticed any really interesting structures in books that you have read recently?

Winter Has Come

Do you ever have those days–or weeks in this case–where your ability to adult just kind of falls apart?

Yeeeeeaaaahhh.

I’m going to at least partially blame it on the weather. We dropped below freezing mid-morning on Monday and have yet to climb back out, and it’s been lazily snowing ever since. It’s hard to be super productive when the precipitation can’t even be bothered to fall out of the sky at a reasonable rate.

(Our high today was 8 degrees. Fahrenheit. Tomorrow we might make double digits.)

This isn’t technically the first snow of the year but it’s definitely our first real cold blast, and my reaction to early season snows and cold is almost invariably to plant myself on or near the couch, binge watch whatever, read books, drink cocoa, and curl up in a blanket.

Not the best for productivity.

Luckily I eventually adapt to the season and the snow doesn’t make me want to hibernate quite as much.

The other part of it is probably a combination of a bunch of editing work and Nano. More work than usual + hibernating = decrease in nonessential adult activities.

Anyway, I apologize for the latest of this post, and the fact that it doesn’t include any real content. It’s supposed to get into the 40s by the end of the week, so hopefully my motivation will wander back this way before then.

Musical Interlude

Sorry, Squiders–the whole lot of us are sick, and it’s hard to motivate brain thinking in this state. So, instead, have a music video for a song that has been stuck in my head for days.

Science Fiction is Hard

So, I’ve started my space dinosaur story, and in general things are going well, but I’ve discovered I was underprepared in some aspects.

Yes, I had the history of the world between now and the start of the book, had thought through cultural changes, set up a military-run organization, populated my ship with officers, gave them stuff to do, but I forgot a key aspect of science fiction.

The technology.

Don’t get me wrong, I did plan out some of it. I did research on possible interstellar forms of travel and designed an engine that could, theoretically at least, allow a ship to travel faster than the speed of light. I figured out the purpose of my ship, which inspired its overall design.

What I didn’t think about was day to day technology. And that became an issue almost immediately. How did the officers receive messages from home? How did the doors work? If someone wanted to search the computer for something, what was the process?

A lot of space adventure scifi gets away with a lower form of technology–computer screens, metal doors, projectile weapons–but it feels weird to go that way, when we have voice-activated computer controls and pocket computers and doors that open automatically at every single supermarket ever now. And yes, I have a traumatic event between now and then, something that more or less destroyed much of human civilization, but it still feels weird to think that that we wouldn’t have any progress between now and then, even with a major disruption.

So this is my hangup. I can tell you how the ship works overall, but I’m a little unsure about the rest of it. Are things digital, virtual? Or have we gone back to analog? Is there any conceivable reason to go back to analog?

It’s always the little things that get you in the end.

Obligatory Nanowrimo Post

Alas, October draws to an end. And Nanowrimo looms. It’s interesting–I learned about Nano in 2002, started doing it back in 2003–and back then it was the weird indie thing, and maybe there were a couple thousand of us doing it.

Now it’s massive. And everyone’s gotten in on it. They have best-selling authors writing their pep talks. Writer’s Digest keeps emailing me about their Nanowrimo specials. Everyone who is remotely related to writing or book selling is capitalizing on it somehow.

It’s a very bizarre thing, to have watched it grow all these years into the massive event it is these days.

But since I am remotely related to writing and/or book selling, I think I’m obligated to post about it. (Haven’t quite figured out how to capitalize on it yet myself. Ah, well, maybe next year.) I’m sorry. I’m sure half you guys are sick of the topic already.

As for me, I can’t remember if I told you guys or not that I’d decided on the space dinosaur scifi adventure series. I’ve had the world planned out for a while, and I sat down a week ago and figured out viewpoint characters, story arcs (internal, external, series-length), major plot points for all arcs, and interpersonal conflicts. Which is actually a lot more planning than I have put into any NaNovel in the past, with the exceptions of ones that were rewrites of previous ones. (I figure, on a rewrite, you’d better know where the hell you’re going and how you’re getting there.)

I figure the change in the level of planning comes down to the fact that I’ve become a lot more professional in my writing since I last started a first draft (…almost five years ago). I know more about story structure and character arcs, and so I know more about what a story needs and how to incorporate it so I don’t have to flail around for a first draft and do a massive rewrite later after I finally get my act together. So hopefully this will all go smoothly.

I haven’t done Nano since 2011 (I gave a half-hearted attempt in 2012 and made it about 14K), so I’m both excited and a little anxious. I used to think nothing could stop me from getting to my 50K after the year that I finished early while working full time and working toward a graduate aerospace engineering degree, but it turns out that kids make things really hard. But I am cautiously optimistic.

What about you, squiders? Nano yes or no? If yes, tell me a little about your story. Y’all are welcome to friend me on the website as well–my Nano handle is Kandybar. (I have an icon of Geordi loving a turbolift.)

Survived!

It turns out that it’s rather exhausting to watch a table all weekend. When I got home Sunday night (and also for most of yesterday) I felt like this:

face to ground(Coincidentally, I drew that at the con. You end up kind of chained to your table–unless you have help, I suppose–and there are periods of boredom, when everyone else is in panels, where you can’t leave and yet you have nothing to do. Aside from random landsquid drawing, I drew a cover for my space dinosaurs adventure, outlined a short story, and edited an extremely problematic chapter of the YA paranormal story I have been working on forever now.)

But, anyway, MileHiCon was interesting. I haven’t been to a smaller convention in, oh, years. And it was neat to talk to the other people in the Authors Row, to see how they thought this con was going versus other cons they’ve had tables with, to hear about their books, and to see how people had their tables set up and what was working for them. MileHiCon is specifically for scifi/fantasy literature, so everyone tended to be my sort of people.

I learned a ton and had a pretty good time, all things considered. And I sold a fair amount of books too. I’m hoping for an email from one of the other authors soon, who is going to send me info on some of the other local cons he thought I might like, so I might give some more a try, both as myself and for Turtleduck Press, depending on what seems like a better fit.

So long story short: con fun, exhausting, would probably do again, woo!

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