Getting into the groove…

Small illustration scanned from the book Rodwell, G. F.: “South by East: Notes of Travel in Southern Europe” (1877). Public Domain via Wikipedia
Small illustration scanned from the book Rodwell, G. F.: “South by East: Notes of Travel in Southern Europe” (1877). Public Domain via Wikipedia

In spite of the fact that Jonathan and I are writing on totally different schedules, we’re going at approximately the same pace. It’s interesting because we both ended up writing gargantuan first chapters. We haven’t really figured out where things are going next in terms of revision, and at a point our POVs are going to intersect, but we decided during a brief chat this afternoon that we’d go ahead and do a cursory read-through/edit of each other’s chapters.

At first I wasn’t sure that it was a good idea. But then I jumped into editing Jonathan’s first chapter (he’s writing the princess, because of course) and immediately started getting ideas for my part of the book. Details. We’ve sketched out the big stuff, the 7 point plot goodness, but for me, what makes a book really satisfying, what makes the experience worth the time to read it, is when the details click and come together.

I’m good at characters. Jonathan is good at pacing and action scenes. But collaboration is not about just writing to your strengths. Sure, we’ll be able to help each other out when we’re feeling low. That’s not learning, though. I want to share that collaborative brain space and glean from it. When this is all said and done, I want to be able to look at my own scenes and not just see what’s wrong (let me tell you I am SO GOOD at doing that) but understand how to fix it.

Once we’ve written in our respective word processing applications of choice (I use Scrivener, and have for years; I’m pretty sure Jonathan uses Word Perfect or something) we then upload to our collective Google Drive. There we can edit and mull about and start to tease the best parts out for good–and we don’t have to worry about the gorram track changes bugs so common in Word — plus we can live edit if we so desire.

The next step in the process looks a little like this:

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I wouldn’t call it a brutal edit, since that’s not really the point. We’re writing super fast and furious. Sometimes we, uh, forget the names of our protagonists, ahem. But as a collaboration, we’re able to give fresh eyes right away — instant feedback — and the final product will be that more BOTH of our voices.

Neither of us has ever really written something at length with another writer (we’re nearly at the 20K mark if you add up both of our totals), and certainly not at this fever pace, so we’re definitely figuring it out as we go along. But so far this recipe seems to be working rather well.

I honestly don’t know how writers managed to collaborate over snail mail!

Experiments in cranking out words like a cracked up monkey

So 4 days in and… holy shit, I’m on track.  In fact, if it hadn’t been for a few bits of excess real life, I’d be ahead.  I wrote 1800 words in a hour today which is about twice my usual speed.  And I’ve been pretty consistent with that speed over the past 4 days.

Rather than this simply me bragging about how fast I’ve been slamming my palms against the keyboard, I thought I’d try and post something useful about why I thought this was happening.

  1. Excitement.  OK, this one might seem a little like low hanging fruit, but I think it’s important.  I am really excited about this project.  I’m excited to put down what happens next.  I’ve written things I’ve been less excited about, and it slows me down.  It becomes more of a chore.  If you’re not loving your project, work out why and change it.  If you need to throw something out, it’s still early days, and excitement might help you make up the difference
  2. Planning. This one, I admit, is very subjective.  But having everything planned out gives me one less thing to worry about when I’m writing. I know what I’ve got to do in the scene, now I just need to do it. I’m not having to stop and think things through, I’m just plowing ahead.  If you’re going is slow, maybe take a break and plan things out. Again, any time you lose could be made up with increased output.
  3. SO MUCH PLOT. Honestly, I think this may be the main one. The way this book has ended up, Natania and I have to cram a ton of stuff into each chapter.  And that keeps it fresh, it keeps me excited about how to transition to the next beat, the next revelation. I am always writing towards something.  There’s an urgency to the narrative that translates into an urgency in the act of writing itself. So is enough going on in your story?  Enough to keep you hungry and writing for more.

Anybody else got suggestions on how to keep the word count up?

Day One – Destroyed!

In a good way. Both Jonathan and I hit our word counts, and today promises to be good for me.

It’s going to be particularly interesting as the weekdays progress since we’ll be writing on opposite schedules. Jonathan writes primarily during his commute and is done putting in the word count by 8pm–which is precisely when I start.

Collaboration is new to me as a whole, but I think Jonathan is reaping more benefits than I…


Seven steps towards plot…

So last post I mentioned that this week Natania and I would be working on 7-point plots for the characters in our story.

What the hell was I talking about?

Seven-point plot is my favorite way to plot out the major narrative arc for a character over the course of a story.  It’s a refinement of the traditional 3 acts (beginning, middle, end) that helps the plot from sagging too much in the middle.  It consists, shockingly, of 7 points:

  1. Hook
  2. Turning Point 1
  3. Pinch 1
  4. Midpoint
  5. Pinch 2
  6. Turning Point 2
  7. Conclusion

However, when working out a characters arc you don’t work out the plot in that order.  Instead I do it this way:

  1. I work out what the character wants.  What are they struggling to achieve throughout the story (sometimes I give them 2 wants if it changes at some point)
  2. I fill out the conclusion – the character either getting or failing to get their want (though not always in the way they expected)
  3. I fill out the hook – I define the characters starting point (basically them in the opposite state to the one I just put in the conclusion) and then add why/how they get involved in the plot
  4. Then I go to the midpoint – what gets the character from the Hook to the Conclusion.  What’s the big midpoint thing that has to happen to them?  This also may change their want
  5. Then I do Plot Turn 1 – it’s the same sort of thing as the Midpoint, but now it’s asking what needs to happen to get the character from the Hook to the Midpoint?
  6. Next is Plot Turn 2 – same question again, but now it’s how do the characters get from the Midpoint to the
  7. Conclusion (Of note, the Plot Turns are usually what give me the most trouble)
  8. Then I fill out the Pinches if I haven’t done it out of order at some point because I got too excited.  These are basically ways to add pressure/urgency, antagonistic forces to drive the characters on

A couple of things to remember when doing this:

  • At every point except the Pinches, make sure the character is acting directly, not just reacting to some outside force
  • Make sure that you spread the events out evenly over the course of your novel, so that things don’t bunch towards one end of your novel
  • As you do these arcs for each character, events start to pile up.  If the same event shows up in multiple characters arc, then it starts to build up importance and resonance.  An event doesn’t have to play the same role for every character (eg, a death is a Conclusion for one character, a Midpoint for another, and a Pinch for a third) but as long as it affects all of them somehow it will seem “big”

And that’s pretty much it.  First draft starts tomorrow.  I’mnotscaredI’mnotscaredI’mnotscaredI’mnotscared.

I love it when a plan comes together

The world is full of dichotomies.  Introvert vs extrovert.  Sensible vs stupid.  Plotter vs pantser.

Of course this is a simplification. In reality we all exist on a sliding scale.  We are mixes of introversion and extroversion, we have moments of great wisdom and moments of equal idiocy.  So it goes with the plotters and the pantsers.  Some plot a little more, some a little less.

That said, there are those people who live at the extreme ends of any spectrum.  The oddities and the outliers.

That’s me with plotting.

I love to plot.  My process for plotting is long, convoluted, and clearly at this point, a little out of control.  But I love it.

“What do you mean, overly convoluted?”

Natania on the other hand tends towards the pantsing end of the spectrum.  However, once we decided that we wanted to write a collaborative novel, we also rapidly decided that a plan would be pretty important for keeping us both on the same page.

Welcome to my world, Natania.  Welcome to my dark, depraved world.

The process so far has been thus:

  • Have Natania set up a sweet, sweet pinterest board
  • Stare at all the pretty
  • Realize we have to do some work, so grab a few images we find inspiring and write down a scene fragment, just a few hundred words. These help us come up with story ideas, get a feel for tone, and explore characterization
  • Talk a lot about the setting, and Aztec mythology, and world trees – between these and the scene scraps a plot started to emerge
  • Eventually we had the rough workings of a plot.  At least a few sentences we could use to describe the shape of the whole
  • Then we stared sadly at all the gaping plot holes
  • So I started peppering Natania with questions.  How did this happen?  What does this place look like?  Why did so-and-so do that?  How can that be achieved?  And with each answer more questions arose, but also the plot came more and more into focus
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So much pretty

So far, the collaboration has been going really well.  Natania has had ideas that have challenged my assumptions about how the plot will work, and each time she’s done it we’ve ended up with something stronger. I think we’ve both forced the other a little out of our comfort zones and that’s a really great place to be.  This feels exciting and different.  After writing four books all set in the same series, it’s really nice to be stepping into the unknown once more.

And now, here we are, a week away, and we have a story that feels pretty solid.  There’s still more to be done, of course.  This week we’ll be trying to make sure that the overarching plot and all the subplots fit into a 7-point plot formula.*  Making sure we’re poised as best we can be for trying to write 100,000 words in a month.  And we both know the plot won’t be perfect.  It can’t be.  But we’re just trying to get as close as we can.  Right now, it feels a little bit like Icarus building wings, watching the sun slowly rise.  Both scary and exhilarating, and knowing it’s going to be a hell of a ride.

*More on 7-point plot, later in the week.


The Pinterest Connection

So Jonathan is cooler than I am, or at least he’s been collecting images for longer than I have over at Tumblr. I’m a Pinterest girl, however, and after a little cajoling I was able to get him over there.

If you want to know what Cry Blood in the Silent City looks like in our heads, before it hits the paper, you can head on over.

Probably not for the squeamish or spider haters. Just FYI.

In Begins… With Spiders and Dark Cities and Disembodied Voices

The image of the the writer toiling alone behind reams of research and bent over the keyboard, talking to herself, may be rather representative of the whole… but not in this case.

Jonathan Wood and I have been friends since early 2008, when the boom of Twitter brought us together across the digital expanse. In the ensuing years we’ve shared a common appreciation of action movies, weird fiction, Dragon Age, and roleplaying games.

Over the years we’ve done our share of publishing, and even shared a few TOCs.

I’ll be honest that our workday conversations have been some of the strangest, but most appreciated, during some really challenging times. When we finally met in person in 2012, it wasn’t weird. I mean, it was weird, because we basically had the same kinds of conversations we’d been having over chat for the previous four years. We talked at length about the impact of Bioware on our writing, and our hopes for immersive games. We swapped stories about our kids. We caffeinated.

In what’s common by now, I had an idea. I sat it on it for a couple of days, and then finally asked Jonathan. What if… what if we did NaNoWriMo… together. What if we took a break from everything else and worked on a collaborative novel. Something weird and dark and not at all to the market. Something… fun.

That’s where this project appeared. Cry Blood in the Silent City is our first collaborative adventure, a spiderpunk weird adventure that takes place far, far away. We’ll be updating periodically here at Two Brain Space, and sharing exclusives behind the scenes into our collective madness.

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