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January 14, 2006

Click

Ahhhh. That's helpful. Yesterday, while driving to pick up Athena from school, the last three lines of The Last Colony dropped into my brain. This is excellent news because now that I know how the story begins and how it ends, and know a couple of the big scenes that have to happen in the middle, I can start writing. This is how I tend to write fiction: Know the beginning, know the ending, know a few scenes in the middle, and everything else a huge yawning gap of "how do I connect the dots?" This allows me some chance of free-form exploration and the opportunity to capitalize on interesting stuff I'm making up as I go along, while at the same time keeping me on track (i.e., if I can't see how I'm getting from where I am in my writing to the next big scene I know I have to hit, I'm on the wrong path).

I don't necessarily recommend this approach for every writer. It plays to my organizational and writing strengths (or lack thereof) which include an ability to improvise plot on the fly and indeed a need to do so to keep myself from getting bored during the writing process (which would likely mean you would get bored in the reading process). Other writers, on the other hand, need an outline to feel organized and relaxed in the writing process, which will mean a better book for you in the end. I think on of them trying my approach might be as unproductive for them as me trying their approach would be for me (this is for fiction, incidentally; I can and do quite happily work from outlines in non-fiction writing). The point here being that no one way works for every writer, save the final reductive step that your process has to end with you in front of some sort of writing medium, banging out words. What's important is that you find a process that works for you and then once you find it, you use it. This is my process. Your mileage may vary.

What's happy about having that last scene drop into my head now is that I'm not planning to start writing The Last Colony for at least a couple more weeks -- January is given over to finishing the editing of the Subterranean Magazine material (largely done, just a few tweaks) and working on Hate Mail and Utterly Useless -- so it allows me some more time just to think about what's going to happen in TLC and how I need to make it happen. I call this part "gestating": Not writing or even thinking about writing, just thinking about story and letting casual connections happen in my brain and seeing where they lead. It's difficult to explain to people sometimes that staring off into space and rarely blinking is indeed actually part of the work process, but isn't that like being a writer for you. The reward is when, as with the TLC ending, something drops in with a big, obvious click, and then suddenly the inevitable task of writing suddenly becomes a lot easier.

Anyway, off to gestate some more. And to edit. And to, uh, spend time in the real world, too. Have a good rest of your weekend. I'll see you on Monday.

Posted by john at January 14, 2006 12:27 PM

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Comments

Mari | January 14, 2006 02:35 PM

When I wrote Midnight, I knew where it was going. I had the ending before I had anything else; I just had to get there. Writing the sequel was rough; I knew what I wanted to say throughout, but I didn't know how it was going to end until it did. Ugh. That's a hard way to go.

Dane | January 14, 2006 04:37 PM

I just read OMW for the third time. I will be buying Ghost Brigades with one of the gift cards I got for christmas.

Do you already know about an error on page 89 (Chpt. 5) in OMW?
"Suddenly, a deep, rich, soothing voice out of nowhere".

Maybe I am just not reading it right. Are there supposed to be more words in the sentence? I'm not complaining, I mean- I've read the book three times. I just wanted to know if it has been fixed.

Occula | January 14, 2006 07:10 PM

That's very much how I write too. When I'm lucky enough to know the ending, that is. It was lovely to recognize your description - it's a solitary enough job that there's no template, you know?

Primate | January 14, 2006 09:38 PM

Include me in the known beginning, known end, and a vague middle club. Although my vague middle usually comes with many unorganized one-line notes.

Tamar | January 14, 2006 11:02 PM

So if this is your process (which I entirely support and respect), how do you handle selling your work to publishers? Don't they want to see a synopsis before they hand you a contract, complete with advance? Or does Tor trust you enough to accept a short paragraph, a logline-plus-cool-bits, in lieu of pages and pages of story beats all laid out? I'd love to know, since I work somewhat similarly; my outline is For My Eyes Only and exceedingly squishy.

John Scalzi | January 15, 2006 12:56 AM

Tamar:

I send Tor what I call "Back Cover" synopses, which are a couple of paragraphs. Why I can get away with this, I think, is that Patrick Nielsen Hayden has both a good idea how my process works and also trusts me not to abuse the trust he has in me. I'm not at all confident I could get away with it with another editor.

Daruku | January 15, 2006 03:06 AM

When I write I try to identify the big pieces of information I want to get across at the beginning. I guess this is different from novel writing where you are trying to tell a story. But, the creation of writing is about the same process. Identify the big pieces and fill in the gaps.

Stuart MacBride | January 15, 2006 07:35 AM

I have to admit that even though I plan in advance, I tend to throw 90% of it away as soon as I start the actual writing. Which kinda begs the question - why bother planning at all.

I think it helps me get a feel for the people and the possibilities, so that when something unexpected happens (unexpected for me anyway) I can go with the flow and see where it takes me.

But I rarely ever know what the end is going to be like until I get there. With Dying Light I was on the last sentence before I knew what had happened. The start: yes, the end: no, the middle: sometimes...

HarperCollins must be off their heads.

Mikhail Capone | January 15, 2006 10:57 AM

The Last Colony? Is that a sequel to The Ghost Brigades?

John Scalzi | January 15, 2006 12:15 PM

Set in the same universe, yes, with many of the same characters.

Soni | January 16, 2006 12:30 AM

Let me just fansquee a bit here by saying a gigantic "THANK YOU" for being one of those "same universe but not a sequal" novelists. Although I love a good series as much as anyone, the logistics of writing dictate that, unless this is an older series, you will die a slow death of suspended suspense when reading a strictly sequalized series from a modern author, as it is often at least a year between books, if not more.

And then there is the dreaded "out of sequence" stocking tragedy that often haunts smaller libraries and bookstores. Nothing sucks worse than falling in love with a series only to find that you have to read them in order to make any sense of what's happening, and your source is missing several books.

But what is worse is the horrific sin of single-story-spread-out-over-several-sequals book. You know the kind - an epic novel of vast proportions in which the author ties you up into knots of subplots and intrigue and then doesn't even have the decency to wrap up the story at the end of the book - book one is actually 'part one' of a story that takes three books to tell. What's worse, you can't tell that this is a "part one" book until you get to the end and realize that there's no end there. And that this is the only book in the series your source has. Gahhhhhh!

This happened to me with Terry Goodkind's Chainfire. The story is interesting enough, but it literally drops off mid-adventure at the end of the book, with no closure or warning at all, like a "to be continued" tv series. IMHO, that is completely outside the realm of authorial fair play.

So kudos to you for not only creating such wonderful stories and amazing milieus to set them in, but for making it as easy as possible for someone to read them and enjoy them individually or as a series, depending on their mood or the whims of hardcover distribution. You da man.

Lee | January 16, 2006 12:36 AM

You might find this interesting as far as the target audience for your next book.

http://msnbc.msn.com/id/10826121/site/newsweek/

Laurie Mann | January 16, 2006 05:33 AM

Speaking as an "unfinished" novelist...

I'm kind of torn about coming up with endings before writing the rest of the book. I had a pretty good opening to a novel almost five years ago, and came up with the ending about three years ago. And I like the ending quite a lot. But, when I wrote most of the novel last year, I had a terrible time getting from about 2/3rds of the way into the novel to the ending. The other problem is, the ending shifts the story from being kind of a contemporary/chick-lit-ish novel to being a near future dystopia. I've been told that this is a "no-no."

Still...now that I've finally figured out how to get from point G to the end, I'm making some progress. But it took about six months longer than I expected!

John Scalzi | January 16, 2006 09:54 AM

Soni:

"IMHO, that is completely outside the realm of authorial fair play."

Heh. Well, bear in mind that sometimes it's not entirely the fault of the author; publishers will often take a single long novel and chop it in half two make two novels out of it, whether it's the author's preference or not.

But yeah. When at all possible, being a self-contained read is good.

Soni | January 16, 2006 10:46 PM

publishers will often take a single long novel and chop it in half two make two novels out of it, whether it's the author's preference or not.

I can see that happening in some cases, but IMHO with Chainfire this was blatant reader abuse. The single book itself was big enough to serve as ice-driving trunk ballast. If this was a split from a bigger manuscript, Goodkind would have had to have delivered the completed WIP in a dedicated UPS truck.

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