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June 07, 2006

Writing Catchup

Writing stuff:

tadcsmall.jpg* Editing news: The last few days had me busy doing proofs of both The Android's Dream and the Subterranean Magazine cliche issue. The latter is off to press after this, I'm pretty sure, so if there are any additional copyediting errors, please don't blame the authors, they're all my fault. During the reading I was reminded of how fun this issue is; it's a good mix of stories. It makes me pretty damn excited that soon you'll be able to read these stories for yourself and see what I mean.

As for The Android's Dream, rereading that particular book reminds me how much I like it. As I've noted before, TAD is meant to be a fast and breezy read; it's smart but it doesn't dwell on the deep questions of the universe. But structurally I think it's probably the best plotted and paced book I've written so far -- everything fits together really well and the story just sucks you along. That and I'm much more of a smartass in Android than I am in either OMW or TGB (or am likely to be in The Last Colony, although it's got some fun moments in it so far). I think people are going to like it.

* Speaking of The Last Colony, some of you are asking, how is it going? It's going fine, thanks. My beta readers have gotten back with initial reports that are largely positive, which is nice, although I suspect at least one of the chapters needs a little massaging -- one of the things of writing a chapter that is literally all dialogue is that it's all about information management and characterization, and you need to make sure one doesn't overwhelm the other. But this is a "tweak" issue rather than a "massive rewrite" issue, and that's the sort of issue I want, given the choice between the two.

I will say this: You like spaceships? Because we've got 'em in this book. Got 'em by the score.

The writing is progressing along nicely, I think, But I think I'm going to have to boost up production speed a bit if I don't want to be a frazzled panicbunny by the end, or have to have my editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden fly out and stand over me with a whip, which, sure, sounds like a fun time, but, you know. He's a busy man. As am I. Boosting my writing output for the book also possibly/probably means a little less writing here, although I'm sure you all understand that one of these writing endeavors pays my mortgage and the other doesn't.

* As I'm writing TLC, other projects are beginning to fall into place in the near future. As most of you know, after TLC I have that two-book project for Tor, the specifics of which I'm not talking about, which is the next thing on the agenda, along with an update of The Rough Guide to the Universe. Beyond those projects I have one other project I can tell you about: I'll be writing a novella for Subterranean Press. And, get this: It's a fantasy novella. Why fantasy? Well, because it's something I haven't tried before, and I have an idea that I think would be interesting, and a novella seems like a good place to play with that idea. I have no more details for you than that, because I'm still fiddling with the details in my head. However, I think it should be interesting.

Beyond that: I got nothing. Not that any of you will notice, since between now and the end of 2007 we'll see the release of Android, Last Colony, Book #1 of the project I 'm being all secret about, Coffee Shop (the writing book), Hate Mail (the Whatever book), the second edition of Universe and the novella. That's not a bad release schedule over 18 months. And it gives me some time to think about what I'm going to write next. I do have some interesting ideas for fiction and for non-fiction (at least they're interesting to me), so I don't expect my dance card will be unoccupied for long. At the moment, however, I will say it's kind of fun to look past the current projects to the wide open spaces beyond them and think of the possibilities there.

That's where I am with the writing thing, right now.

Posted by john at June 7, 2006 10:43 AM

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Comments

Brian Greenberg | June 7, 2006 11:57 AM

OK, I'm probably not the first to ask this, but at the movies this weekend, one of those Movie Trivia things before the movie starts mentioned that the movie Blade Runner was based on a book by Philip K. Dick called "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?"

This made me think of you. The cover of The Android's Dream suggests the two are related (or at least refer to the same themes).

Thoughts?

John Scalzi | June 7, 2006 12:01 PM

It's indeed a reference to PKD, although I'll be the first to say my novel is not in any way, shape or form inspired by Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? save for an in-joke in the book involving sheep.

Kero aka Kevin | June 7, 2006 12:36 PM

So these Beta readers of which you speak, is this a position which abject groveling would put within one's reach?

John Scalzi | June 7, 2006 12:54 PM

Not really. One of them is my wife and the other is my friend Regan, who has kindly beta-read all my books so far (this is why Old Man's War is dedicated to her). It's more accurate to say they are alpha readers, because they read the book as it's in progress.

After the book is completed, I will occasionally show the full work to a few people, but the last couple of books I've just sent on to Patrick.

CoolBlue | June 7, 2006 01:03 PM

John Scalzi

I'm still fiddling with the details in my head.

This is interesting to me. If you don't mind me asking, how do you do that?

I've written short stories and I've written poems. Then of course there's Star Chores (but that's not serious). I have been getting serious about writing something longer and more complex.

So being the good software engineer that I am, I decided that I needed to do things in the way I know how. Design first and don't go too deep too soon.

So I've been doing "design" work on my book. I've been using flowcharts, mindmaps, fishbone Cause/effect diagrams, and activity charts to plan my work and how things will flow.

When a scene becomes vivid in my mind, I write it but I've been continuing to deal with the design.

Is it typical for real writers to do a lot of preparation work, or is my obsession just because I don't know what I'm doing?

John Scalzi | June 7, 2006 01:20 PM

CoolBlue:

"This is interesting to me. If you don't mind me asking, how do you do that?"

I just think about it. I usually don't write things down, I just play with it in my head until things make sense to me.

As for whether it's typical for "real writers" to do a lot of prep work, it depends on the writer. Some do and some don't. So I don't think what you're describing is out of the realm of what pro writers do. I think what you want to avoid, however, is letting "preparation" take the place of writing. Sooner or later you have to get to the writing itself.

Kero aka Kevin | June 7, 2006 01:23 PM

I would imagine that there are 2 basic schools of thought on that Blue. From other posts I think John belongs to the "Make stuff up" school that doesn't do a lot of upfront design, but rather follow the story with their main characters. The other school would be your "Anal Planing" school where everything is plotted out in advance and then the story is written to that skeleton. I wouldn't think one school is better than the other but I would imagine that it is rather important to know which school you should be in.

Regan | June 7, 2006 01:30 PM

Dang! I didn't realize the field was so small. *beams* Is such good company to be in. Two opinionated chicks. ;)

CoolBlue | June 7, 2006 01:35 PM

John Scalzi

Sooner or later you have to get to the writing itself.

Yeah. I've done that before and so often if the piece isn't short, I get lost. And I'm figuring its because I have no idea where I'm going. So I'm trying this.

Kero aka Kevin

I wouldn't think one school is better than the other but I would imagine that it is rather important to know which school you should be in.

I'm working on that. The jury is still out and may never render a verdict until I get one done.

emeraldcite | June 7, 2006 01:52 PM

I still love that cover. It's one of the best I've seen in quite awhile.

John Scalzi | June 7, 2006 02:12 PM

Thanks. I like it too.

Jeff Zugale | June 7, 2006 02:22 PM

Hey John, let me know if you'd like some drawings or paintings of your spaceships. My portfolio desperately needs updating and expansion, as what's on my site is not even close to where I'm at now - I'm working on some ideas about new illustrations of scenes from Starman Jones and Between Planets - and I'd enjoy whipping up some of this stuff for you. I like spaceships a lot. :)

Dean | June 7, 2006 07:19 PM

CB:

I'm also trained/practiced as a software developer, and I have found that I need an outline for anything over, oh, 15,000 words. (The reason I don't need one for anything shorter than that is that I can keep an outline for a short work in my head, and I do.) I believe that this is because of the way I was trained to break a problem down into smaller and smaller pieces: if I just let the narrative run without an outline, I wander off into the most inane detail.

Here's what I've found works: think of the outline as a not-too-detailed requirements document. All of the maps and tools and charts are pre-requirements analysis. I use them to produce a coherent outline. Once I've got a coherent outline (as in 'A couldn't have done that because he didn't know B about C yet' and 'how am I going to get the spaceship from Mars to Saturn', etc), then I sit down and write.

Of course, I haven't finished a novel yet, so you might want to take my advice with a kilo or two of salt, but the current one is going very well. The first two... oy.

David Moles | June 8, 2006 03:34 AM

Spaceships! Woohoo!

David | June 8, 2006 04:49 AM

I guess the problem with the anal-planning school is that if you get successful, and publish a series, and make some silly continuity goof, the comments get snarkier. Or maybe they just seem that way. In either case there's no place to hide. So, you know, it's all very well, but you'll still probably goof eventually, and it'll probably feel like a bigger goof on account of all that. All of which has, pretty much, zilch to do with telling the story.

If it's a good story, you won't much need to worry about the kind of people who are not your editor but who worry about continuity goofs, much less make snarky comments about them. If it's not, you won't have to worry about them either, but I suspect you'd rather be in the first category.

I'm not saying that big, obvious ones don't put me off -- they do. But things like that are what editors are for, and they are not supposed to let huge obvious goofs slip the leash. Little ones, well, I have a stack of those I'm going to start complaining about the minute my application for sainthood is granted.

Write the story. Don't sweat the goofs. They'll get caught before you're published. I do firmly believe that you will not mind, even a little bit, if an editor says there's a small goof in your manuscript which they're about to publish as soon as you fix it.

On the other hand, they don't catch everything. Our host, for example, wrote "Ghost Brigades" without any robots in the book, and Tor published it anyway. Or cats. I'm not saying that makes it a bad book, I'm just saying there's no cats. Or robots.

I am guessing that if you write a book which Tor publishes, and I were to make the trenchant observation that there are no robots or cats in it either, you will be just as crushed by the slip-up as John must be feeling right now. Not to seem callous, but you will both eventually get over it. Somehow.

CoolBlue | June 8, 2006 08:49 AM

Dean

I'm also trained/practiced as a software developer, and I have found that I need an outline for anything over, oh, 15,000 words.

Now that's what I'm talking about.

Here's what I've found works: think of the outline as a not-too-detailed requirements document. All of the maps and tools and charts are pre-requirements analysis. I use them to produce a coherent outline. Once I've got a coherent outline (as in 'A couldn't have done that because he didn't know B about C yet' and 'how am I going to get the spaceship from Mars to Saturn', etc), then I sit down and write.

That's been my thought as well. I found it helping to clarify my thoughts and just what it is I want to write. It also, unfortunately, highlights the deficiencies, which tends to stymie me. But I'm thinking once I get the beginning middle and end in mind, I'll just proceed come what may. What the hell. As John says, at some point you gotta put pen to paper, so to speak.

Of course, I haven't finished a novel yet, so you might want to take my advice with a kilo or two of salt, but the current one is going very well.

Actually, that's pretty encouraging.

BTW, want to move to lovely Vermont? We have a few openings.

David

I guess the problem with the anal-planning school

I'm thinkin' I don't like that description. How 'bout the "disciplined approach to writing" school?

f you get successful, and publish a series, and make some silly continuity goof, the comments get snarkier.

Hey, you think I care about snarky? Have I, in my time in this forum ever given anyone the impression that I am snark averse? If such were the case, I probably wouldn't be hanging around here. There are few here who think I'm a snark pin-cusion.

Besides, all I want is to publish a novel. It's may last goal (for now). The list was

a) become and engineer in aerospace (check)
b) publish a short story (check)
c) perform guitar in a band in front of an audience (check)
d) publish a novel

(OK, so I had a few other goals before I became an adult that didn't work out so well, still....)

If it's a good story, you won't much need to worry about the kind of people who are not your editor but who worry about continuity goofs, much less make snarky comments about them.

You seem to downplay the "good story" part. Lame stories are easy. Good ones, not so much.

On the other hand, they don't catch everything. Our host, for example, wrote "Ghost Brigades" without any robots in the book, and Tor published it anyway. Or cats.

I also noticed a strange deficit of aliens with tentacles. Go figure.

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