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Covid 19 horror story

Posted April 9 into Writing by John Birmingham

Ditzing around on the twitterz last night I came across a really cool horror story by Alan Baxter, a really cool writer of horror stories. I thought it was so good it needed to be preserved in more permanent form. Huzzah! It's now available on his blog for you to enjoy. From 1.5m away.

A Strange Thing Happened at Class Tonight.

5 Responses to ‘Covid 19 horror story’

she_jedi mutters...

Posted April 9
This was so horrifyingly good!

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Dave W puts forth...

Posted April 9
That has quite a bit of the King-esque short story to it.

And I mean that as a very sincere compliment.

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Barnesm ducks in to say...

Posted April 11
I knew there were security issues with Zoom but I never realized.

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w from brisbane is gonna tell you...

Posted April 11

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FormerlyKnownAsSimon mumbles...

Posted April 11
that is nice. I was a bit worried he was going to have to fight himself to get out of there. Which is a worry for me because i have impostor syndrome and the covidalt me might actually get my work place out of financial problems and leave me without a job .. . . but as long as it leaves me on my five acres i could probably handle it . . . .

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Deadline Psyche

Posted January 24 into Writing by John Birmingham

I’ve been on deadline for a couple of weeks now, hammering away at the keys, croaking into the dictation rig, all aimed at finishing THE SHATTERED SKIES, the second book in the Cruel Stars series, before I get on a flight to Rome on Monday.

No way am I finishing that book.

But that’s okay. I knew there was no chance I would ever finish it in time, because...

NARRATOR VOICE: The deadline was coming from inside his head!

Cue Wilhelm Scream.

The deadline wasn’t set by my publishers. I did it to myself to avoid coming back from Europe in mid Feb with a truly impossible job to do. So for the last three weeks I’ve been cranking on 4000 words a day, or trying to, simply to get into a position where I could finish the manuscript at a more leisurely 2000 words a day when I get home.

Mission accomplished. I should have about 75-80K words in the bank by Monday.

One thing I am gonna try while I'm away is writing a couple of pars, here and there, that aren't driving the plot - they're just nice writing. I had a look through my story plan, plucked out a couple of scenes that are mostly descriptive, and opened some documents in Bear, the rather nifty little writing app I have on my iPhone for stuff like this. Maybe I'll never open those documents again. But hopefully I will as an alternative to, say, mindlessly browsing a Twitter feed if I find myself with ten minutes to wait for a train, or an hour or two on that train.

Example. I have to describe a ring world called Cupertino.

It's a megastructure, a Culture Orbital, as designed by Apple, or what Apple becomes given 700 years. At the moment I have no idea what it's like other than it's very big and very nice. Rather than breaking flow on the action driven plot to spend an hour or so describing this thing, I'm just going to play with the idea like a prose poem over the next three weeks and see what I have at the end of it.

The idea is I can then just cut and paste the words into the manuscript when the time comes.

9 Responses to ‘Deadline Psyche’

Barnesm ducks in to say...

Posted January 24
That sounds like a delightful idea.
I admit my first thought was "why is the orbital named after a San Francisco fish stew?", and realised that's Cioppino. Duck Duck Go pointed out that Cupertino is a neighborhood in California.

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Dave W reckons...

Posted January 24
I used to do this kind of thing when I was working on my M.A., busy with work, on a real deadline for an essay. For the side points on the essay I'd use a bit of micro-spare time and pencil down whatever it was. I found it useful, even if I didn't use it, for getting those side points out of my head. Damn things could take up too much space in there.

she_jedi mumbles...

Posted January 24
I'm intrigued by your strategy around side points. The number of times I've gone down a side point rabbit hole in an essay for uni and then had to backtrack out of it... I will try this on the next one and see if it helps keep this stuff out of my head :)

Dave W would have you know...

Posted January 24
Gulp- Results may vary!

she_jedi puts forth...

Posted January 24
I certainly won't hold you responsible for my application of your technique and the results that follow!

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Matthew F. puts forth...

Posted January 24
I'd be interested in a little review of Bear if you have a few minutes and a mind to do it. I took a quick look at it but it's hard to get a sense of what it's like to use. There's a subscription mentioned - did you get that or is it available as a one-and-done purchase?

John Birmingham is gonna tell you...

Posted January 24
I bought it outright, but I’ll check the sub model and write a quickie review. I do like it as a note taker.

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Vovchara asserts...

Posted January 26
I have rather of topic question.
Why the hell are you traveling to Europe in February? Saying as someone who just spend freezing up my arse outside.

John Birmingham ducks in to say...

Posted January 27
I like winter food.

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The Shattered Skies. (Teaser)

Posted January 8 into Writing by John Birmingham

I'm deep into the deadine for the next book in this series. To keep myself honest (and motivated) I might drop the occasional paragraph in here. This is a from an early chapter.

At this distance, the star was a far away point of light, slightly larger, slightly brighter than the thousands of its kin scattered through the local cluster. Solar winds streamed out from the G2 main sequence burner, ionised particles and magnetic fields whipping through the heliosphere, inflating a protective bubble around the local volume, safeguarding the planets within from the harsh radioactive bath of interstellar space. In one sense the volume was small. Just one rocky planet and two gas giants, a modest little neighbourhood that had nonetheless occasioned a savage conflict between two human tribes over their contending claims to that remote and lonely world. In another sense, of course, the measure of three dimensional space both tribes thought of as the local volume was immense; so impossibly vast that the human mind was actually incapable of truly understanding it, having evolved over millions of years to comprehend distance as something measured in the number of steps needed to find food or water in a small patch of forest or savannah. At the very edge of this unimaginably huge, somewhat fluid area of space, in the electromagnetic turbulence of the constantly moving boundary between the bubble of the star’s heliosphere and the radioactive plasma of the interstaller medium, something profound was about to happen. The structure of spacetime itself suddenly flexed and warped before utterly collapsing to vomit up first one, then two human spacecraft.
A tribe had returned to its hunting grounds.

4 Responses to ‘The Shattered Skies. (Teaser)’

she_jedi has opinions thus...

Posted January 9
Oh this is GOOD! I loved The Cruel Stars so much I can’t wait for the sequel.

Unrelated, but I went to watch the new season of the Expanse yesterday, only to discover I hadn’t watched S3. I spent about 10 mins confusedly wondering how the hell I missed an entire season in the switch from Netflix to Amazon Prime, only to realise that now I had TWO seasons to binge. WIN! The reason I bring this up is that it is filling the Cruel Stars universe shaped hole in my life until you’re done writing the Shattered Skies. Just sayin’.

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Barnesm puts forth...

Posted January 9
This is certainly stimulating the cerebral juices (esghh!) in anticipation for the next book. Just checked, doesn't appear to be available to pre-order. How will the beast of Bezo's know how awesomely this tome is anticipated if we can't pre-order it yet?

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insomniac mutters...

Posted January 9
Related to your Authors for Firies offer on the twitz, I'd like to see Skomo D'Nyer and P-Turr Dartton punched in the face by someone like B'Ruz B'Chanee and R'Za B'Rati.

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Therbs asserts...

Posted January 9
Now all I want to know is the condition of the occupants of those interstellar craft. That is aside from them being bits of space barf, probably carrot. Are they space barf carrot? if so would a space wabbit eat them?
Can't really see a giant bugs bunny munching on a couple of shiploads of your characters but it would be as funny as fuck.

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Christmas party in TV land

Posted December 13 into Writing by John Birmingham

I enjoyed a quick trip down to Sydney last night for a Christmas party with the TV guys I’ve been doing some stuff with this year.

Great night. The venue was a brew pub in St Peter’s - Willie the Boatman.

I had whatever lager was on tap, because I’m finding most other beers too fruity for my gnarly old man palate these days. There was an elegant sufficiency of nosh, including three different types of sausage sandwich. The company was excellent. And I want to be a TV writer now.

Seriously. I love this stuff. Not just the wide range of Frellman-approved complimentary sausage products, but the writing. There is something about the screenplay form that really appeals to me.

Earlier this year I talked a bit about writing a pilot episode for a black comedy set in the world of espionage. (Couldn’t sleep, seething, the night of the election. Got up at 3AM and vomited my rage into the screenplay software. Finished the first draft inside a day. It was very funny. Who would have imagined that deep existential dread and loathing would have an upside?)

I put my experience with the Felafel movie to good use. Sent off the script with my invoice and promptly moved on. I didn’t forget about the screenplay, but I consciously stopped thinking about it.

Writing for screen more generally, however, was a different matter. Having acquired some new skills I was keen to polish them. So when I got back from Korea I put aside some time to write another pilot. This time an adaptation. Since A Girl in Time was the first novel I wrote after studying screenwriting to get a better grip on story structure, I decided to rework it into a TV pilot.

Smooth transition. Or relatively smooth, with a couple of caveats. The dialogue and scene setting moved from page to screen without a hitch. An hour long pilot was the perfect length to move Cady and Smith from Seattle to London. The ep finished with them escaping London on a cliffhanger. All good.

The one issue I did have, and still have to address in any future drafts, was point of view. I write point-of-view novels, of course. I hadn’t realised just how pointy until I attempted the transition to screenplay. A lot of the humour and narrative power of that book, and probably all of them, comes from the very particular world views of whichever character is narrating a chapter.

But how do you do POV on screen? To be honest, I have no fucking idea. But I’m going to find out. One way it affects the transition if you just cut and paste? You find your characters standing, talking, and doing nothing. In a novel those sections can be surrounded by passages of internal monologue and reflection. But not on screen.

That’s why that party was so good last night. A room full of people who’ve done this stuff their whole working lives. It was like talking to a bunch of kung fu masters who had all of this arcane knowledge I needed to gather.

So I’m gonna do another quick screenplay next week. A conventional crime/adventure/martial arts story based on a book idea I had a couple of years back but did nothing with.

And then back to novels for a while. Still gotta pay those bills.

4 Responses to ‘Christmas party in TV land’

Bondiboy66 asserts...

Posted December 13
Smith and cady would be a great basis for TV! Be nice if it comes to fruition!

John Birmingham puts forth...

Posted December 13
Yes, yes they would.

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Therbs has opinions thus...

Posted December 13
Ask for a laugh track for the funny bits. Apparently its a TV thing. And a tag line at the end of each episode.
"Oh Cady, you sure do talk funny!" (cue laugh track, roll end credits).

John Birmingham puts forth...

Posted December 13
Man, it’s like you’re looking over my shoulder.

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The weird little origami-like folds of dictating your story

Posted September 4 into Writing by John Birmingham

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.

4 Responses to ‘The weird little origami-like folds of dictating your story’

Matthew F. reckons...

Posted September 5
+++But it's not easy to talk to yourself for just under an hour.+++

Oh, I don't know, I manage it pretty well when I'm on a task or out walking and have something on my mind and forget there are people around. And then I stop to take stock, or waiting to cross a road, and see all the looks I'm getting and get that sinking realisation that my internal monologue wasn't quite so internal for a little while there.

Anyway. Probably not what you meant. Carry on.

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Doccs has opinions thus...

Posted September 9
Thank You JB-I’ve been struggling with VR software as part of my work.
Your idea kinda gels with what I’ve learnt that you have to speak in phrases, ie ones you’ve already thought out.

Will give your method a try.

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NBlob mumbles...

Posted September 11
In a previous career I schlepped AV equipment. One day a very casually dressed bloke asked if I minded him working in the back of a room I was setting for a show. Of course, so we each got on with our work. I noticed he wore a headset and would occasionally talk. I assumed a phone call. As I finished up we had a brief conversation. He is/was one of the lord high poo-bahs of the Federal Family Court. He was reading submissions and dictating notes via Dragon. I mentioned I knew a bloke who wrangled words professionally and who was down one arm at the time who spoke to the Dragon. He showed me how it learnt to understand him and the specific arcana of law-speak. He mentioned how unlike Ye olde memorex cassette & typist transcription, he composed each note in his head before speaking. An additional 30 seconds before clicking resulted in a significant decrease in edit & revision. Also some sweet ass tagging methods for subsequent analysis.

So when can we have a Spoilerific Spoily thread on 0DC &/or TCS ?

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Doccs puts forth...

Posted September 12
Thanks Nblob-helps me understand a bit more.

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Alternate realities

Posted May 23, 2019 into Writing by John Birmingham

One of the nice things about writing for a living is the way you get paid to retreat from the world of real things. I've been in full retreat since about 7.30 on Saturday night. The entry below, "Dark Thoughts", was composed in the hours before dawn when I'd woken up, seething and unable to get back to sleep.

I brought myself down to my office, wrote that blog post, and opened up Scrivener. I started to work on a TV script. I can't talk about it in detail because we're still in the early stages of development. But I can say this. I fucking LOVE writing for TV. I get lost in it. Sometimes I get lost in novels too, but not like this. I've been racking up long hours at the keyboard all week. Not because I'm on deadline or under pressure, but because once I step into the imagined world of this show I find I much prefer it to the real world. I don't want to leave.

Even when I do leave, when I push back from the computer and rejoin the family for dinner, lets say, I find myself repeating long stretches of dialogue without realising that I'm doing it.

"What did you say?" Jane will ask. And I have to mutter something about just talking to myself. To be honest, it's a little embarrassing that it's been happening so much.

Still, better than reality.

I don't think the retreat from an unpleasant outer world explains why I've spent so much time so deeply embedded in this new, inner world. I think it might partly have something to do with the structure of storytelling for the screen.

The irreducible element at the core of a screenplay or a teleplay is the scene. Each scene is a world unto itself, but unlike a book it is an almost bare stage. When writing a novel you make everything bigger. When writing a script, it goes the other way. Everything gets stripped back, reduced to essences. It's fascinating, almost mesmerising.

I've now finished the first draft of the pilot for this show. I have no idea whether it will get any further. But even so, even with a chapter of World War 3.1 to write, and a whole novel in the Zero Day Code franchise to finish, I feel myself being pulled back into the world of the TV show, almost as though I am trapped in a dangerous rip.

13 Responses to ‘Alternate realities’

WarDog asserts...

Posted May 23, 2019
Just in case it doesn't make it to T, can it reprised in written form?

jl has opinions thus...

Posted May 23, 2019
A fine question!

John Birmingham reckons...

Posted May 23, 2019
It could be, but I really hope to see it made.

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jl ducks in to say...

Posted May 23, 2019
Sounds like great fun, actually. Yeah, I got lost in my latest (an alternate history) pretty bad for the last two weeks; now the rough draft is done. Definitely know what you're saying, JB.

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Barnesm is gonna tell you...

Posted May 23, 2019
I am drawn by the imagery of your writing being caught in a rip, so Australian. Since Saturday I have been trying to follow Alasdair Gray's aphorism "Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation" but it is hard.

Matthew F. mutters...

Posted May 24, 2019
Have you read WALKAWAY yet? That line and sentiment come up quite a bit in it.

Barnesm has opinions thus...

Posted May 25, 2019
Not yet, but Cory Doctorow is always on my to read list.

Matthew F. asserts...

Posted May 25, 2019
Be interested to get your take on it when you've read it. I don't reread much these days but I'll probably take another trip through it myself soon.

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jason reckons...

Posted May 23, 2019
My favorite thing about writing and others people's writing in some ways is that you get to play in a world where you control almost everything. The good guys normally win or are so heroic it appears to be a win and the bad folks always take a licking. Far removed from the real world but a beautiful place.

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Oldy puts forth...

Posted May 23, 2019
It sounds like some chicken soup for your soul, and I for one cheer that on. I can relate to how dark these last few days have been, and anything that brightens that, I'm cheering for.

Have fun mate, and I look forward to enjoying more JB content.

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Leftarc would have you know...

Posted May 23, 2019
Sounds like good times. As a fan of the West Wing (of which seems to get more and more wistful, and yet further away from reality every single day), and the West Wing Weekly podcast, I remember a quote from the late John Spencer; 'First comes the word'. Early episodes of the podcast tell of how late the scripts were for the West Wing when Aaron Sorkin was writing was because he spent hours making sure it was right. And it was, actors had to read the script exactly, there was no improvisation, and you could not change any of the words. At all.
This is why I imagine TV writing would be a whole rabbit hole to go down. I think the difference between a novel and TV is that there is more setting out, and 'telling the story' for TV. In a book like The Stand, my imagination created how Stu Redman looked and spoke. But then watching the mini series, Stu is Gary Sinise, since then Stu's words are spoken in that Gary Sinise drawl.
And whilst you bang away at Zero Day Code, and since I brought it up, Stephen King also wrote the screen play for The Stand Mini Series. You might be onto something.

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Sparty reckons...

Posted May 23, 2019
I'd like me some JB TV.
interesting to note that @pennyred who some people tagged as a good inspiration for whats her name in the time travel books is now a writer on Joss Whedons new series..

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thetick is gonna tell you...

Posted May 26, 2019
How is writing for TV different from writing a novel, for example?

I mean, is it that you describe each scene, character actions, lines, etc?

Like, when you write a scene are you laying down the setting, the clothing, etc, or does that get filled in later?

Is it fiction or non-fiction?

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