Planning complicated action

It’s tough managing just three people in one place in a novel. When you have four, five, or a dozen, and there is action, I find it impossible to make the resulting prose plausible if I just plan it in my head. It’s too many things for me to hold and consider at once, without forgetting about characters, conditions, etc.

So what do I do?

It’s time to get out the action figures and plush. I set them up, assign parts and act the whole thing out. It becomes way easier to develop a plausible through-line for the action, keep everything in mind, and make sure that things “work.”

I just finished writing a huge action sequence in Chapter 7 that included 9-10 major players, and a bunch of other people too. Here’s a pic of the planning process!

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Transformative Paraphysics update

I’m about halfway through Chapter 7 of Transformation Paraphysics, and it’s sitting at around 39,000 words. I got some feedback that the chapters felt a bit long. I checked against chapter lengths of some popular novels (good popular, not shit popular), and indeed that was the case. TPOAP chapters are hanging around 6k words a piece, while the mean for the references is in the 4,500 word range. That’s not a lot, but it was enough for one beta reader to notice.

While I’m not going to cut words, I’m going to see if I can move the chapter breaks a bit. I have them set pretty deliberately for certain parts of the story, so it’s going to have to work as a net positive for the reader’s experience.

If you’re interested in being a beta reader for TPOAP, hit the link in the About Me page to send me email.

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Rewriting while your novel is in progress

One of the strengths of the detailed synopsis method of novel writing is that it makes rewrites much easier. I had written up to about midway through chapter 5 of TPOAP when I realized that I didn’t care for the structure of the first third of the story. The structure made sense in the synopsis, but having written it, I could tell that it was lacking a thread to tie it together. Characters were doing reasonable things — things that needed to be done. If this had been real life, these were all things that the characters would do and no one would bat an eye.

But it lacked narrative impetus, and at one crucial juncture, it lacked action. It needed something more.

Having an outline won’t help you to generate the spark you need to fix an issue like this. I solved it using the same technique that I used to arrive at a title. I walked the dog, and talked about the issue out loud, to myself. Within a few minutes, I’d landed on a solution.

I made a minor change to the first chapter. Narratively, it was a simple change. But the change allowed Lincoln to find something that solved a lot of structural problems. It provided a mystery that actually drives Lincoln throughout the early chapters. As Lincoln solves the mystery incrementally, it illuminates things that happen later so they feel more earned and less like a surprise. It also suggested an opportunity for more directed action.

That’s all nice, but how does having a synopsis help?

First, it lets you make sure that the changes you’re going to make actually work with the rest of your story’s structure. How will it affect the way the themes come through? Will it affect the ending itself? It’s way better to figure this stuff out now in the synopsis than to do your rewrites, then just keep cruising toward where you thought you were headed before and finding out that everything had changed.

From a purely practical standpoint, because I had each chapter summarized, I was able to go back and roll these new ideas into the summary to see how they fit. For old material that was no longer needed, I kept it there but used the strikethrough font. I entered new synopsis material in red so it would stand out.

Once I had that squared away, I went back to the manuscript, starting with Chapter 1. I read the chapter, and used the strikethrough on anything that had to go, with the synopsis changes as a guide. Portions that would be moved to other chapters were removed entirely and placed in a new document that I called “Parking Lot”. Then, I performed another pass on the strikethrough doc, writing the new text.

Working that way, I retained probably 90% of the material I’d written, and ended up adding to the overall word count. I scrapped what I had of Chapter 5 entirely, which amounted to around 7,000 words. Oh well.

In the end, it’s on you and your storytelling instincts to determine that your book has a problem, and what the narrative solution is. But, if you keep yourself organized and have a detailed synopsis, you can make the actual rewriting be the least painful part of the process.

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Lincoln, Fox and the Bad Dog is now available on Google Play Books

For a long time, Google Play Books didn’t work with independent authors because… and here I should shut my mouth because I work for Google and I’m friends with people on the Play Books team, which makes it really hard for me to sort out what is public information and what isn’t. Short story is that you can probably go find out for yourself, so I’ll leave it at that.

Regardless, they are now working with independents again.

Lincoln, Fox and the Bad Dog is now available on Google Play Books!

Personally, I prefer the Play Books Android app reading experience to the Kindle app experience. Still wish there was some way to get Play Books onto an e-ink device though, but alas.

Congrats to the Google Play Books team for putting in the work to make it possible for Indies to once again have access to this great platform!

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Side Project: IQ and the Human Population

http://projects.lincolnfoxandthebaddog.com/iq/iq.html

I work on side projects in addition to, you know, work-work and writing. This is one of them. It’s a single-page website that shows some fun stats about IQ as it relates to the overall human population. The fact that there are 7.5ish billion people in the world right now has some unexpected implications. For example, “superior intelligence” is rated as something like and IQ of 110-119. Want to know how many people in the world have an IQ of 115 or above (i.e. termed “superior” or higher)? Over a billion.

Yes. More than a billion people.

Pretty cool.

The site also shows the uniform odds that any given person would have someone at a certain IQ level or higher within their social circles: family, close friends, colleagues acquaintances, etc.

If you’re into personality testing and/or IQ stuff, give it a look!

http://projects.lincolnfoxandthebaddog.com/iq/iq.html

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Who is writing this thing anyway?

For several days, I’ve been stuck on a section of the book. I found myself mentally whining “But it’s just exposition and everyone is going to think it’s boring…” and thus avoiding writing it.

Which… that’s just stupid. Who is writing this book anyway? I am.

So last night, I was like “Then don’t make it boring. Make it interesting and intersperse it with relevant physical action.” Done. Back on track.

Yeah. Not sure why my brain gets stuck like that from time to time, but it does.

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The annoyingness of verisimilitude

In the face of fantastic elements, it’s crucial that your narrative remains consistent both from a physical and a character standpoint. While working on TPOAP* yesterday afternoon, I ran into a perfect example of both. These are the kinds of things that if you just let them slide as a writer, maybe your reader won’t notice on a conscious level, but in the part of their brain that re-assembles what they read into memories, the little cognitive bits will notice that things don’t quite add up. The story won’t stick with the reader, because it breaks the subtle rules that their brain has come to expect from reality.

Here’s what happened.

There is a fight (shocker), and at one point, Lincoln’s gun (Fox) ends up on the ground several yards away from him. Action proceeds in such a way that there is no chance for him to pick it up. Several pages later, he has to run away, carrying a rather precious piece of cargo. This is how the physical reality kicks in. This could just be hand waved. I’ve seen books where this sort of thing is just ignored, and in the next chapter, Lincoln simply has his gun again. Most readers won’t consciously notice that.

However.

This doesn’t build a world in their heads. Too many of these kinds of little misses, and their brain no longer respects your Universe.

You have to address it. Not only does it fix the problem of “but wait, his gun was on the ground,” it’s another opportunity to develop your characters. Life is full of little annoyances like this, and how we deal with them says things about us. Does the character get the gun before taking car of the important matter at hand? Do they try to do both at once? Do they ask someone else to grab it for them? It’s a great chance to let your reader learn about how your character handles life.

You have to do the same thing on the character side too. If you’ve read my series on “How to write a novel,” you’ll know that you’re going into each chapter with a fairly detailed synopsis of what’s going to happen there. When you go to actually write the words though, sometimes it exposes glitches in your synopsis. The key to maintaining a real sense of character is in being able to recognize when that happens and to adapt accordingly, instead of blindly sticking to the synopsis.

Take a look at this sentence:

Shar calls for cleanup and orders Lincoln to take the body back to the safe house.

Once you’re writing, you can maybe get a page or two out of that one beat. There are two problems with it though. We’ve already indicated that Shar’s character really has little interest in anything to deal with the aftermath of one of her missions. Zilch. The point of structuring the plot as above was to generate some conflict between her and Lincoln because he needed to do something else. But the character as constructed would not actually care enough to order Lincoln to help with cleanup and transportation. Once I realized this, I also realized that I didn’t the additional mini-conflict it would generate.

It was out of character for her, but at the synopsis level I couldn’t feel that. Once the words started coming, I understood that it was as mistake.

Maintaining consistently, both from a physical and character standpoint, is crucial for getting your reader to believe in the world you’re creating, and ultimately to enjoying and retaining your story. It’s tough to watch out for, and sometimes requires extra willpower to fix, but it will be worth it!

* Transformative Paraphysics and Other Alchemical Phenomena

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Dog pic: Australian Cattle Dog

Look at this magnificent thing. It’s an Australian cattle dog. They’re super smart, and the cool thing about them is that while they are descended from English herders, but the couldn’t take the Australian climate. So they bred them with dingoes. That’s right. When you see an Australian cattle dog, you’re seeing part dingo.

Image result for australian cattle dog

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Weapon Pic: Taurus DT .357 Magnum Revolver

Taurus DT .357 Magnum Revolver

 

Taurus makes some good handguns. This one at first appears to be kind of an amalgam — what is it? Four different finishes (matte, blued steel, rubber, brass). But somehow, it all holds together for me. It’s like “Here is a thing that’s meant to do a job, and we’ve been a little crazy with it, but after all of that, don’t you just LIKE it?”

I do, Taurus. I do.

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TPOAP Chapter 1 is in the can

“In the can” sounds kind of gross, now that we don’t generally put things on film and then into film cans now. So, sorry?

It was kind of a rocky start, but I’ve written the first chapter of Transformative Paraphysics, the next installment in the series. It feels like it’s on the right track. I think some of the stuff is funny. It’s also actiony.

Picking this up for a second book was a little strange and intimidating. I was really happy with the outcome of LFBD, and there was a certain amount of pressure to start this one correctly.

In addition to just making things interesting and compelling from the get-go (moreso than LFBD), you have to make sure that you really establish everything that’s going to be thematic with the entire book in the details you lay down. How do the characters act? What do they say? How does that lay the groundwork for everything that’s going to happen later? It all has to be just right.

Some people do that “just write whatever and edit later” thing. I know that’s the standard advice. But it’s not for me. Even when I try to do that, I’m not really doing that. I edit on the fly, and that’s me, and it works, so I’ll keep doing it.

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