Four months ago, I made the difficult decision of putting my much beloved story the Gideon Plan in suspended animation.
I felt like I was doing the story an injustice by trying to do something so large in scope when I was not ready. I decided to start out small, write some short stories and then work on something a little bigger—novella sized maybe.
Over the last four months, I wrote five short stories, which I am pleased with. Then I got stuck. I didn’t want to write short stories anymore. I wanted something larger. I thought about going back to Sphinx, which was scoped for about 40-50,000 words, but I couldn’t get into it. The result: I’ve written very little over the last 45 days and I am frustrating myself.
All this while, my mind has kept wandering back to the Gideon Plan. I kept telling myself the same thing—it’s too big! It’s too over scoped! It has no chance of getting published because you won’t do it right! It’s going to take you years to complete!
But, you know what? It’s the only thing I really want to write about right now.
So, maybe it’s stupid of me, but I’m going back to it . . . and you know what? I’m pretty damned excited about it.
Defrosting time . . .
Well, the bottom line is two fold: I don’t have the time to write a 300k+ story. Also, my craft is not strong enough to do it justice.
Lots of thoughts are going through my head right now. The foremost thing is, “Goddammit, I’ve been working on this f’n thing for ten goddamn months. That’s a lot of f’n time to waste.”
True. True. But you know, its better to stop at ten months then at three years. And you know what, its not like I’m deleting it from my computer. Its still there, in really good shape actually. I can come back later when my craft is stronger.
Bottom line—regrets, yes. Right decision, yes.
Over the next week, I’m going to give myself some time to just mull things over, recoop my losses, and form a new strategy. When I come back, I’ll be stronger.
In the mean time, here are some things I’ve learned from this wonderful ten month adventure.
High Level Items:
- Scope well. Know your limitations–particularly if you are a new writer. When I was in video game school, we made a lot of 2 week mini-games. They were short and played in only a few minutes, but they helped hone our craft. I need to take a cue here and start small and work up.
- Adding more POV characters only increases the size of the story, but also increases the work itself (plot, characters, description, etc.). I think every time I added a new character, I may have added on another 50-100K words. I had six POV characters.
- Look at the amount of time your story spans. Mine spanned five years. This was a good indication for length.
- My rough draft is really just a skeleton for the first draft and equaled approximately 10-20% of the story (not 60% as I had thought).
- Thinking time is invaluable. I drove a lot in a former job and it gave me time to come up with ideas for the story. Continue to use my phone’s voice recorder for recording these. That worked great.
- Weigh how long it takes to write a story vs. how much time you actually have in your life to give to it. How often do you work? Do you have a family? Do you have other obligations or responsibilities? Do you have other interests or hobbies? Be realistic.
- Don’t listen to your heart. Don’t listen to your head. Listen to your gut. My heart wanted to continue because I loved it, my head just told me the reasons why I should and the reasons why I shouldn’t and just confused me more, but my gut told me it was time to stop.
Things I do well
- The story concept was a really good idea—steam punk special ops team. That’s just really cool. Plus, I was putting my own spin on the whole Victorian Sci-Fi genre to make it unique.
- I have a strong writing process—the burst technique works really well for me. I can use this with other stories I write.
- I write a lot and am disciplined. I’m focused. I’m not easily distracted and rarely have writer’s block. This all goes back to having a good writing process.
- I was good at turning the editor off and writing.
- I was getting really good at tracking the amount of time I devoted to the novel. This will help me with scoping and planning in the future. I’ll do this a couple of times and I’ll have a pretty good gauge on just how long it takes me to write a story.
- I am a good writer. I had a good plot, good characters, dialogue, pace, rhythm, and setting.
- I’m not afraid of killing the baby. If it doesn’t go, I take it out.
- I have a strong understanding of why I write—because I love doing it. This is my primary motivation. Everything else (i.e. publishing, is secondary) and that helps me focus and not worry about success.
- I’m patient and kind with myself. If I mess up, I don’t beat myself up about it.
Things to improve
- Get a better grip on scope.
- Bringing the story to its climax is difficult for me. I want it to be satisfying. I think a lot of authors have this issue, though, even professional ones. A lot of stories do not have satisfying endings in my opinion.
- I have a hard time with plot. I’m instinctive and eventually I wade my way through it, but I need to have some tried and true techniques that serve me well. For me, its the most difficult part of the writing process. Always has been.
- Need to be stronger on description and transitions.
- I need to figure out a good balance between how much I spend on my writing and how much I spend on other obligations. Quite frankly, I was tiring myself out trying to do both.
A million doubts ran through my head: its too long (500 pages at least)! Its got too many POV characters (six!)! I have to research the five years of the Civil War in detail! Its plot is much more complicated than anything I’ve ever done before!
I told myself, its not too unlike creating a video game. What would I say to someone who had little to no experience making games and they came up and told me they wanted to make the next Call of Duty? I’d just pat them on the head and try not to laugh. It just isn’t done.
After feeling a little sorry for myself, I took a deep breath and asked myself—why are you writing this story in the first place? Really?
The God’s honest truth: its because I love it. I’m having a blast. Despite the occasional valleys, most of the time I am on a peak. My motivation isn’t money. It isn’t fame. I have no intention of being the next George R. R. Martin. For me, the adventure is in the writing itself. I just like to do it. So, I’m now going to go back to this impossibly huge story where I am way over my head and continue to enjoy myself.
How about you? What’s your motivation for writing? Ever get down in the dumps and feel like you just can’t do it?
This week’s story sample from the Gideon Plan: Fort McHenry.
Here’ a little punk for your steam. The Gideon team infiltrates Fort McHenry to rescue some members of a blockade runner. This is the first chapter in the book that really features the story’s tech side. You’ll see this is not your ordinary gears and goggles type of steampunk. I think it has more of a realistic feel to it, personally. Thoughts are welcome.
A few weeks ago, I was lamenting about how I may have over scoped my story and possibly did not have the ability to write what I had imagined for the Gideon Plan. I sited a particular portion of the story I had been working on and how I just couldn’t manage to pull the scene off convincingly.
On Thursday, I went back to this scene, just curious as to how terrible it was. I was actually stunned to find out it was actually pretty good and not too far from being finished. So, I finished it. The scene is 15 and a half pages long (or 9,858 words). Wow. That’s a lot of scene.
So I began to wonder to myself, how long should a story scene be? In Bronze Raiders, my scenes were pretty short—about 4 or 5 pages (around 2500-3000 words). I personally like this length. For me, its easier for the reader to digest and the book seems to move more rapidly. It was my goal to have the Gideon Plan scenes about the same length.
The thing is, I wasn’t sure how the heck to shorten this sucker. I had a couple of ideas: I could shorten it (maybe—MAYBE– I can condense it to 10 pages) or I could cut it up into smaller scenes and alternate them with others scenes. Or, I could just leave it as is, and this part of the story could be the exception to scene length. My feeling is that the Gideon Plan just calls for longer scenes. About half of the scenes I have written so far are over 8 pages long. Its just the type of story it is.
So, what is my writer friends’ opinions? How long should a story scene be? Do you have a preference in your own writing or perhaps a tendency to a certain length?
This was one of those weeks where life got in the way of the writing. In some ways I welcomed it. It was the 4th of July. Family was in town. Saw St. Augustine’s firework show. Grilled out. Went to the beach. Visited some sites in the old town. All in all, a pleasurable six days.
Still, that need to get back to my writing was gnawing at the back of my head the entire time. Finally, yesterday, I was back at it, without missing a beat. Thank God. I was a little worried I’d be rusty.
I’m posting a scene I wrote over the last couple of days. Its from the POV of Locke Bowens, former Texas Ranger and Gideon’s right hand man and closest friend. Gideon is assembling the best soldiers from the Confederate armies to form new teams of ‘special operatives’ in this chapter. There is also some foreshadowing in here of future problems between Bowens and his friend.
You may notice my notes about adding transitions. I typically have brain farts when it comes to these. They eventually work themselves out, but I often struggle with them. How about my writer friends out there. Do any of you have areas in your narrative that you have difficulty writing?
And here it is. I’m throwing a chapter of the Gideon Plan out there for folks to gander at. I’d be happy to know what you guys think of it so far. I wouldn’t call it first draft ready, but one can get an idea of what I’m going for here and see my writing style. The only thing you need to know to understand this chapter is that it takes place at the start of the Civil War. The Battle of Manassas was about two chapters before it.
In regards to how far along this chapter is to being completed– I call this a first pass on my first draft. My first draft will have three passes. Here’s the definition of each:
- First Pass- All major content is present. May be missing a few minor details such as research, transitions, and description. Notes for missing details are highlighted. A reader can read the chapter from start to finish and understand it. Grammar and prose may be choppy.
- Second Pass- All content is present. Grammar and prose has been improved.
- Third Pass- Chapter has been reviewed by author, prose has been smoothed, and is ready for outside review and comment. Chapter is now considered a First Draft.
A few more details about this chapter . . .
This was a bit of a doozy to write and it had me befuddled for a little while. I had a pretty solid rough draft to work off of, but as I began to write, I began to realize that my rough draft was actually two chapters and the chapter I thought would be Rose’s first chapter ended up being second. I wrote most of the second before turning my attention to the first. All and all, it took me about ten hours to write this particular chapter–give or take.
As a word of warning to the steampunkers out there– there’s not much in the way of what one would describe as steampunk in this chapter. For a few of my characters, they are living typical lives for people of their time period before things begin to change for them. So, as the story progresses things will become much more punky and certainly more . . . er . . . steamy for Rose.
William Porcher Miles was a real person. He makes a few appearances throughout the story (as do a lot of other historical characters).
For my writer friends out there, do you have a criteria for your first draft? Do you have any processes that you go through to get it there?
Back when I made video games, we had this thing called over scoping. Our teams always had such grand plans for our games and it was my job to bring them back down to earth. It wasn’t the team’s ability that was in question, it was the amount of time and resources available for the project. It was morale squashing, but in the end, the team benefited from it.
As I continue to write this story, scope has been an issue. However, its not time or resources that I worry about. Its ability.
For the last week and a half I have been working feverishly on when things go bad in the book. As stated, this takes place at Gettysburg. I’ve been doing my research and taking tons of notes. All the while, I’ve been itching to put it all in narrative form. Yesterday, I was ready to go. I wrote like a mad mother fucker. For six hours.
But there was something wrong. . .
It wasn’t very good.
Now, these types of things have happened to me in the past. I’ve written stuff that is garbage. That’s always aggravating, but this time something was different. I began to realize what I needed to put in the story was something that could be beyond my natural ability and experience: streamlined exposition, strong description, a ton of minor characters, and lots and lots of narrative. I started thinking: My God, I can’t do this.
I’m not giving up. But it certainly put a scare in me. I’m going back and working on easier chapters and see if I can build up some momentum and confidence then tackle Gettysburg later.
How about my writer friends—you ever feel like you have bitten off more than your stomach can handle? How do you go about solving the problem?