Status Report 2022-05-16
Hey, hope you're doing well there. I'm much more me now, thankfully.
Here’s a photo from today’s walk in the rain:
Quiet week. Got the copy editing done for Guilt Trip, which should go out to ARC readers today, unless I forget. Nudge me if I forget.
I updated the series bible for NEW THING, which I need to do a bit of thinking on.
I do feel much better, more normal and able to tackle stuff. Big, long walks are back on the menu. Spent all of yesterday afternoon in the garden, mowing the back lawn and pressure washing the patio (which is still a bloody nightmare!). Feels good to be knackered in a good way, if that makes sense.
So now I'm back, I'm getting on with things. I was tempted to start writing NEW THING today, but I've got some edits back from Al to think on, which I'll look at today. Also, he suggested writing book 3 first so book 1 reads better, if that makes sense? I'll know the characters a bit more from writing a later book, then that important first book will be stronger.
Some NEWER THING has grabbed hold of me today so I've been thinking it through now. It's something completely different to anything I've ever done and has potential to be massive. So I'll see if I can tease it out.
This morning, I was discussing with Neil Broadfoot about how to outline. He's a pantser (which means writing by the seat of your pants) whereas I'm a plotter (it's all structured), and his agent (also mine too) asked him to do an outline for his next book. Neil don’t like outlining.
The main advantage of outlining is you do all your big thinking upfront, so you know where the story's going and it's a case of executing the story to the best of your ability. (Opponents say you've already written the book so what's the point and it loses the magic of discovery, but you still get that just a lot earlier in the process.) Also, you've got the story laid out in a few thousand words, so someone can review & edit the book before it's written.
With pantsing, unless you're naturally putting things in a dramatic order, you would tend to have quite onerous editing to do. And you've no guarantee that your idea is a full book (assuming that's what you want to write, of course), or one that anyone wants to read or publish. Going back to my IT days, the basic principle is change is more expensive the closer you are to the final project.
You think up a book idea. If you write and edit the book, then someone at your publisher says it's a mess and should be this book instead, then it's a lot of work to rework, then edit again. But if it's 3,000 words of outline, then it's much easier to change.
Anyway, here's the bit I wrote for Neil to see if my process works for him:
Break down the book like you're eating an elephant.
First, a book is a certain number of words. You'll have a target, say 80,000 words.
Second, a book is a number of chapters. There's no golden rule to how many chapters is in a book. Some have five (sci-fi doorstops), some have 200 (James Patterson, for instance).
This is about you, so look at your last book.
You know the total number of words, it's there in Word.
You know the number of chapters (the last chapter number, plus a prologue and epilogue).
Take the word count and divide it by the number of chapters. This gives you the average chapter length you tend to write to. You can do this a few times and see if they vary wildly.
Now, take the target word count for the new book to be outlined and divide it by the average. Say your target is 80k and the average was 2k per chapter. That gives you 40 chapters. I tend to round things.
When you're writing the outline, my advice for pantsers is to just write the story in 2,000-5,000 words, very summarised. A sentence per chapter.
If you don't just hammer through it and you want to structure the outline, split the chapter number into 1/4s (acts) and 1/8ths (sequences). So say you've got 40 chapters (using my formula above), you get 10 chapters and 5 sequences. Then it fits the Save The Cat formula.
Either way, your objective is to have an outline that does that, so you'll need to edit your pantsed one so it matches that kind of flow.
Now, each chapter should have an objective for the POV character with an obstacle to achieving it, and the actual outcome.
So, say John Hero wants a glass of water because he's thirsty, but the tap is broken so he's got to go out into the street to get a bottle from a shop, but the shop's being robbed by someone, and the outcome is he gets shot in the leg by a robber. Extreme, yes, but it's got tension and obstacles, as well as a clear want.
Alternatively, you could have a cop trying to interrogate a suspect. He wants a confession for murder, the obstacle is the suspect's lawyer and the suspect's silence, but he eventually cuts through it and learns that the suspect couldn't have done the crime because he was with a prostitute at the time. Cue pissed-off lawyer as he's fessed up to another crime, but the cop can move on to another suspect, after a bit of reaction.
Keep every chapter synopsis punchy and active. So instead of "something cool with a helicopter", you want "John tries to interrogate Jim for the rape of Jenny, but he won't speak and eventually John smacks Jim's head off the table and forces Jim to admit he was with a prostitute at the time of the rape".
That way anyone editing your outline can understand it pretty clearly. They might hate it, they might love it. They might want him to be a bit less punchy and more talky. Whatever. They know who is central to the scene – John and Jim – and we know it's John's scene, with Jim in opposition. If you don't have the tension, your scene is doing nothing so it shouldn't be in the book.
Each scene should move the story along and either show the world or reveal character.
Hope that was interesting. Let me know if you'd like more of that kind of thing.