This looks good.
And yes, I'm back. Time for some gratuitous sex and violence.
This looks good.
And yes, I'm back. Time for some gratuitous sex and violence.
Lord Bob of the Nowhere System requested a spoileriffic discusion thread for either Zero Day Code or The Cruel Stars. I guess we'll work backwards into the future and go with Stars first.
Some of you got in on the beta read and so you saw the first draft, but there were a couple of significant structural changes in the final version. Most significant was the compression of Lucinda's arc. I always imagined TCS as being her story, and with this in mind the first run at the manuscript alternated chapters on HMAS Defiant (see what I did there?) with the introductions to each of the other 'supporting' characters.
My editor, Sarah, suggested this slowed things down too much and so instead we got a long first look at the Armadalen stealth destroyer, before cutting away to McLennan et al. I think she was right, but there were a few reviewers who struggled to tie together the larger narative from the five individual threads. I'll bear that in mind next time.
The next book, The Shattered Skies, is due Jan 24. That's a self selected deadline, to make sure I hit the British/Aust pre-order date of 20 August, 2020. I want the books to be stand alone stories, as much as possible, with closure at the end of each. There's a prequel sitting part-done in a folder on my hard drive too, a joint effort with Jason Lambright called The Javan War. Be nice to drop that into the channel some time in the next six months.
But before then, I'm open to questions, discussion, whatevs. I'll see if I can dig up the pitch document and post it here in the next few days.
I'm being crushed by deadline. The sequel to Zero Day Code. So naturally in the middle of this, I lost my mind and decided it was time to have a look at my productivity. I bought a book about voice recognition software. 15 Minute Dictation by Sean Platt and Neeve Silver. Although I've been using Dragon’s dictation software for more than a decade now, it was still useful.
Honest! I didn’t waste my time! There were a couple of tricks to using dictation software, weird little origami-like folds of understanding exactly how you hold a story in your head, I suppose, that I hadn't really thought about before. And they were interacting with the way I use the pomodoro method to fuck me up, just a little bit. So I tweaked my method.
I normally work in half-hour bursts if I'm doing something I really don't want to do. That is the beating heart of the pomodoro method. Even if some writing task is completely fucking loathsome, you should be able to gut it out for twenty-five minutes. And by focusing for that small window of time you normally get past your resistance to doing The Bad Thing and the job starts to move.
When I'm working on something that I actually do want to do, I can stretch the pomodoro timer out to nearly an hour. Either 50 or 55 minutes is best. But it's not easy to talk to yourself for just under an hour. Not if you want to maintain steady progress on a narrative. It's always tempting to go back and fix up every phrase or sentence or scrap of dialogue you’ve just written. This is a completely natural process when you're typing. You don't even think about it. The words come out, they could be a little bit better, you tweak them and move on. A simple, intuitive, almost thoughtless process when typing. But not when you are using dictation software.
Oh my fucking God no.
So one of the tips for young players that this book recommended was knowing what you're going to write before you write it. This is an old hack’s trick. It is why so many of us plot out rather than just plunge into the story. You are at your most glacial when you’re trying to figure out what you are writing while you write. But you're even slower if you’re also correcting the grammar and the aesthetics of the language as you go. So slow in fact, that you can lose all of the benefits of dictation, which can be three or five or even ten times faster than composing something by hand.
So what I tried to do was reorganise the way I move through those 55-minute blocks of writing time. Rather than trying to just talk to the software for nearly an hour without a break, I wrote out the entire chapter, paragraph by paragraph, in the form of a one line summary for each par.
I then had a blueprint to refer to while I was ‘writing’ (ie, dictating).
But—and here’s the money shot—I wouldn't just look at the blueprint and try and talk my way through it, expanding each one line summary as I went. Instead I looked at the synopsis of the first par and asked myself “What is going to happen in this?”
I spent about a minute figuring it out, imagining the scene in my head, and all of the dialogue to be spoken in it. I wasn't looking for a perfect word-by-word facsimile in my head of what would soon appear on screen. I simply wanted to know what was going to happen. The story beats of the paragraph, if you will. The narrative waypoints. There’s not many of them in a single par.
This meant I was dictating about two- to three hundred words in the space of 5 to 10 minutes. Repeat the process over an hour and you get about five or six slabs of wordage, totalling 1200 or 1300 words in all.
Fuckin' romantic, innit, eh?
I didn’t edit or second guess myself as I went, I just tried to move as quickly through those short bursts of ‘writing’ as I could - after roughly figuring out where they would go, narratively. A short break followed, five minutes or so, and then I moved onto half an hours editing of the just transcribed copy.
It’s always best to edit dictated sections on the same day. The software is much better than it used to be, but there will still be errors and you’re more likely to clean them up accurately when the composition is fresh in your mind.
A developer who (I think) also writes video game storylines asked me on Twitter how I changed gears between creation and the ‘analysis’ of editing. She found it difficult to switch. It might be as simple a trick as thinking of those short, immediate bursts of editing, not as editing, but simply as more writing. You’re expanding and sculpting and refining the copy you just threw at the screen. I normally add another 25% in volume at this point. Structural and copy editing are different and can wait until later.
Great profile of Linda Hamilton, aka Sarah Connor from the best of the Terminator movies. She’s back with James Cameron and Arnie for the new one. There's some fascinating stuff about how she turned some pretty shitty moments of her personal life into the completely remade Sarah of the second movie:
What she hadn’t dreamed of was a sequel. Years later, when Cameron contacted her out of the blue to see if she’d commit to “Terminator 2,” Hamilton had only one request: Instead of playing the damsel in distress again, she wanted Sarah to go crazy. “I wrote it to the hilt based on her directive,” Cameron told me.
This version of Sarah Connor, locked away in a psychiatric institution, had war in her eyes and a body trained like a weapon. In order to play her, Hamilton would have to get into staggeringly good shape, since Sarah’s robo-apocalypse training included pull-ups and, eventually, bicep-straining shotgun pumps. There was just one thing: “I was six months pregnant when Jim came to me,” Hamilton said, “and I carry my babies big...
Her then husband left her shortly after the birth of their child. She channeled the rage and fear from that into her role.
I’m at the festival tomorrow, doing sessions at lunch time and in the evening. The night time one is a bummer cos it’s 7.30-8.30 so it craters the evening for any catch up.
But I could be talked into a fizzy Herbert before. I’m meeting Abe after the earlier session. If you’re around let me know here or on the twitters.
After a book drops into the world I like to cast the movie. It's much cheaper than actually making a movie and you can get anyone you want. Before I even had a chance to think about casting The Cruel Stars, however, one of my handlers at the Penguin House emailed and asked if I'd like to write a blog post for Marshal Zeringue who's particular kink is casting unmade movies from just published books.
I was totally up for that and you can the entry here. One pick wasn't just obvious, it was virtually compulsory.
See if you can guess who before...
Of fuck that. No. It's just too obvious.
I dont care how much money Steven Spielberg is offering. Unless Frazer McLennan is placed by Peter Capaldi this movie is just not fecking happening...