Going Traditional for The Rising

Be seeing youOliver Hammond via Compfight

I’ve self-published all of my novels up until now. But for my next novel, I’ll be going the traditional route. At least until it’s abundantly clear that I still suck at writing. If I get through my list of agents and nobody is interested, I’ll release it myself. Unfortunately, this means all five of my current fans will have to wait longer for next year’s novel.

The reason I’m trying Traditional next time is because I haven’t actually tried to submit to agents since Tyrmia. That novel was my third and apparently it was just not good enough. The Rising will be my sixth SF novel, so maybe I’ll have improved by then.

Fear not, you can still read the final ebook in the Star Trilogy – Starveyors, this November. But aside for an odd short story, there won’t be a novel released next fall. That doesn’t mean I won’t be writing though. I’ll finish The Rising and will plunge into XiniX after that. XiniX will take the following year to write. If The Rising has not sold by then, you could get a double batch of novels in 2014.

First Draft of Starveyors Complete

Yesterday I finally finished the first draft of Starveyors. It feels like I’ve been writing this one forever, probably because I started it in January. I will now let it sit for a few weeks before hammering on the second draft. First drafts of my novels tend to be fluid and disorganized and the prose is sparse. I’m just getting the story down in the best, fastest way that I can. The manuscript becomes more interesting in the second draft, where I focus on scene order, continuity and the minutia of description and emotion.

The second draft is usually the one that my Beta readers get to read. After they rip it apart, I rebuild it and that becomes the final version that the editor sees. My editor usually doesn’t have to focus on form and structure, more on grammar and word choice. Once I get her changes made, it goes to the copy editor and he/she then finds the mistakes I entered while I was making the editorial changes. The process takes about three to four months until I get the manuscript into a releasable form.

So for my readers out there, what all that means is that you can expect to have Starveyors in your ebook readers this Christmas. I know that sounds like forever from now, but that’s the way it is.

Meanwhile, I’m starting to outline the next novel. Which is called The Rising and is set a year or two after Starforgers. This will be a smaller novel with only a handful of characters. Hopefully I can get it out sooner than this time next year.

P.S. For the writer geeks out there, here are the stats of the finished first draft.(64,227 words and 290 pages in Standard Manuscript Format.)

Five Thousand Words to Go

DragonCon Anna Fischer via Compfight

I’ve got about 5K words to write to get to the end of Starveyors. I’d like to finish it here in Middle Tennessee and come home with a completed first draft. That may or may not happen. I got through my outline and realized I was about ten thousand words short of the ideal length for the novel. But somehow I must have realized I would be short and buried in my prose were pointers for where I needed to take the story to create the ending that would do it justice.

I love when that happens. You realize in the end that your outline was insufficient but low and behold, you already have the plot threads and character definitions needed to create a viable new ending. The ending is not terribly different than what I had planned. I’m not veering wide into something completely bizarre and new. Just tying known plot threads and wrapping up the story in what I hope will be a more interesting fashion.

There will be more explosions and fighting before the final sentence. Oh, yeah!

Novel Progress and Laptop Woes

MacBook light shift Milind Alvares via Compfight

I’ve crossed the halfway marker in total word count this week for Starveyors, my Work In Progress(WIP). Sitting at around 44,000 words and counting. Progress through this middle part of the novel had been slow. Not because the story is lacking, but mostly because external forces are making it harder to allocate the time to write. Also, I believe the warmer weather is making my brain slow to a crawl. I’m finding it very hard to concentrate on writing.

Writing a novel is a complex mental task. It requires you to think about your characters, your plot and your world building. In the middle of a novel you are juggling subplots like spinning plates all while worrying about your main character’s development and a whole host of other pressing matters. Oh, and trying your best to keep your butt in the chair and your fingers typing. My mind of late has not been up to that complex task.

My trusty white MacBook is on its death bed. It’s about six years old. I’ve written four and a half novels and a dozen short stories on it. The track pad button is unreliable and the case is slowly disintegrating. A plethora of stickers on the outside are all that’s keeping it together. I really need to invest in a new laptop.

But sales have been down these past few months so my writing income is not going to cover a hardware upgrade. I have enough funds to pay for an editor and a copy editor and hopefully my cover artist, but not enough for all that and a new laptop. The good news is that I can finally afford to fund a novel that I self-publish from money earned self-publishing. Someday, I hope to make enough to pay for a new laptop for that writing. Someday. In the meantime, I’ll suck it up and buy a new laptop and keep on writing.

For the curious, it looks like I’ll be going with a 13″ Macbook Air. Hopefully I’ll get another six years out of that one.


How I Use Scrivener to Write a Novel Part Two

Part One

This is the second part of my two part blog post on using Scrivener to write a novel. I covered some useful things in part one, so if you haven’t read that yet you might want to, it has a nicer introduction.

Writing Chapters and Scenes 

The first thing I build up for a novel in Scrivener is my outline. It starts small and I add to it as I write. I think it’s important to use an outline, but I also believe in not being too detailed. You run the risk of developing a mindset that you have already written the book, when all you really did was create an outline.

The actual writing part has to flow in the direction of your outline so that the story develops on course. But what stops you make along the journey is part of the magic of writing a story. So I don’t get too detailed.

I break the major events of the novel up into chapters. Each chapter is likely to have three or four scenes. There’s no law against having just one scene in a chapter. I usually break out the scenes for the next three chapters and then focus on writing them, before I move on to the next three chapters. This allows my brain time to dwell on story at hand, not where it’s going down the line.

This image shows how I would add a scene from my scene template. See Part One for a decent description of exactly what a scene is as I use the word in writing a novel.

I wanted to have you take a look at this outline view for a moment so I can explain some things. The meta data that is displayed is what I use the most. So going from left to right across the outline it would be: Chapter or Scene, Total Words (actual word count), Total Target (target word count), Words (again?), Total Progress (in relation to what goal I set for the word count of that scene), and finally, Point Of View (character POV).

Each scene should be written from a single character’s point of view, so that’s important to know. General rule here is the fewer POV characters the better for a Third Person POV novel. Again, since I’m writing Space Opera, I will have more than a Mystery novel or Romance novel.

Chapter length – I strive for no more than 10 pages per chapter. It’s not a law, you can have more or less, but when you get past 20 pages, it may seem too long for a reader. Most of my Space Opera epics are paced that way with about 25-30 chapters per book. I don’t know how many scenes that is, but I believe the average scenes per chapter is 3 or 4. That’s really not very important, so I don’t track it.

Compiling Synopsis

In Part One I mentioned that you could compile just your Synopsis notes. This is a very handy feature if you are submitting your novel to agents or acquiring editors. They will need to see your synopsis. Of course this only works if you actually write a chapter or scene synopsis as you create them.

If you self-publish, and don’t need it for submitting to anyone, this compile will give you a handy reference of where your story is going. So you can read it and see if your plot or sub-plots need adjusting. If nothing else, this will train you to write your synopsis as you write your novel. Because doing it after the fact, is one of Dante’s levels of hell.

Below we see what the output of the Synopsis Outline is in Word 97 format. When you forget to write a Synopsis, it says No Synopsis. Clever. Still, this is a damn useful document for getting a handle on your novel. This one is not complete, and its already at six pages long.

Compiling a Draft

The final draft of any novel always seems to wind up in Word. This is because most digital editors prefer to make edits in Word. If you are dealing with either digital or paper submissions, then just print out the manuscript in Proof Copy format and compile for Word.

The above screen shot shows what the resulting format will look like in Word. This is what is known as Manuscript Format. Notice that italicized words are now underlined and the font was changed to look like a typewriter. It’s also double spaced and has wide margins. All of this is to make the editor’s job easier. Notice that this document is 195 pages long. Those are manuscript formatted pages. That’s the page count you are shooting for when you submit manuscripts. For this novel, I’m aiming for about 350 pages, so I’m just shy of 2/3 of the way done.

Scrivener has always had this nifty compile mode that spits out a perfectly formatted draft version of your novel. It is one of the hallmark features of the program. But it now compiles into ebook format and a whole list of other formats. I don’t use the ebook format so I can’t comment on it. My novels are edited in Word and from there are saved as RTF documents and given to my ebook designer. He has his own magical methods for transforming text into an ebook and they always look fabulous. My paper book designer also takes the final RTF version and works his magic in Adobe’s publishing software.

For my last novel, and probably for this current one, I will compile to Word and then send it to my editor. She will return it dripping in red ink and notes and I will throw it up on a larger monitor and then use a second monitor to make the changes back into Scrivener. Editing changes are the last frontier that Scrivener does not currently handle. Word is fantastic at making changes and inline notes by my editor and keeping them all assigned to a particular person. If I could wish for one feature to be added to Scrivener it would be to include the editing capabilities of Word. Then I’d never have to leave Scrivener until I compiled the final draft.

Odds and Ends

The next few things I’ll mention are parts of Scrivener that I find useful from time to time. I don’t always remember they are there, but I’m starting to use them more.

Word Target. Near the bottom right of your editor screen is a circle icon that if you click it brings up a form to fill in your estimate of how many words the scene should contain. If you set this, you’ll get a little progress bar in the same location so you know if you are getting close to your target word count. I’ve found that my scenes are either about 500 or 1000 words long on average. You can include this measurement in your outline view and that allows you to see how long your scenes are running. It does not measure pages but it can be changed to characters.

If you just want to know how many words you typed, its displayed at the bottom of the editor in real time.

I don’t use the full screen capabilities of Scrivener but they are robust and a crowd favorite. If you don’t want any visual noise while you write, go full screen and write distraction free.

Another nifty feature for when you are deep into your novel and want to go back to a previous scene to check something, is Quick Reference. Click on the button labeled Quick Reference on the button bar. It puts up a window that you can call up a particular scene and then keep writing in the editor. This happens far more than I’d like. Especially when it comes to character thoughts or details of a location that you can’t quite recall.

That’s All Folks

There you have it. That’s all I the features I use in Scrivener when I write. I probably only use a small fraction of what’s available in this application, but that’s pretty typical for most users.

If there’s a feature in Scrivener that you think I should try, let me know in the comments. I’m always wiling to give it a go, at least once. Thanks for tuning in to this two part series.

Now get your copy of Scrivener and go write that novel!

Starveyors Update, 23 April 2012

Be seeing you
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Oliver Hammond via Compfight

After taking a few weeks off from the novel, I’m back to writing again as of this weekend. Saturday I read through the last few chapters I had written and then that evening I rewrote a scene that I had lost. I think I’ve broken the bla’s and will now dive back into writing on a regular basis to finish out the first draft.

Writing a novel during my son’s baseball season is always questionable for me. I usually can’t find the time due to losing lunch hours at work in order to get to the fields early enough for games and practices. Exercise also takes a nose dive during this period of time. Being a coach and an umpire just eats away at all my regular writing free time. By the time the kids are in bed, I’m too physically and emotionally spent to do any writing.

Last year though, my most productive writing days were right in the middle of the baseball season. Not this year. This year I have to search for more time anywhere I can find it. My priorities are always going to be with the kids though. I don’t make much money on my novels and they are not my primary income, so I can’t give priority to the writing. The kids on the other hand, will only be this age once. I can be a writer until I die. I can only be this involved in their childhood once.

Wind in My Sails Again

come sail away
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: darwin Bell via Compfight

I’ve made my way out of the mid-novel doldrums and my sails are filling out. I’m still only at 46% complete, but I’ve moved out of the funk I was in with the story. Turns out all I needed to do was up the ante by killing someone!

I needed a death to stir up my emotions and get excited about writing the story again. Now things are starting to look bad for the good guys and the bad guys. Stuff’s happening, people are angry, scared and surprisingly, at least one doesn’t really care what happens. I know that’s all very cryptic. Sorry about that.

I’m just happy to be cranking out the words again and thinking creatively about the story. It helped doing the mid-course correction to the outline and it helped to unexpectedly kill off a character. Not a major one, but it ratchets up the tension so that the reader now begins to wonder if there will be more deaths or not.

My writing time allotted for this novel is at an all-time low. I average about four hours a week. I have no idea about my word count. Probably less than a thousand words per hour spent writing. I really need to increase the butt in chair time, but life is not letting me have any more time right now. Baseball coaching and umpiring is about to kick off in high gear and next week I’ll be in Seattle for Norwescon. So while I’ll be away from family, I’ll be otherwise occupied.

Interestingly enough, when times are tough, I usually write more. Someday I’ll have to examine that more closely. In the mean time, I’m under way and ready to start trimming the sails to take advantage of the burst of fresh air.

Unseen Art of a Novel

Many times while producing a novel I’ve had artwork generated that was never seen in the final production. Some of that art was intended for covers, some of it was intended to help me keep things straight in my head, like maps and some of it was just me doodling with a pencil.

Below are some 3D renderings that my cover artist has done for the back cover of the Starforgers paperback novel. He recreated my S. S. Sokol model and was experimenting with different textures for it. The results were very interesting.

S. S. Sokol 3D Model by Byron McConnell.

Battle scene from Starforgers. In this scene he was attempting to layer over the model with Photoshop and add details that were not originally there.

Here is a blueprint-like version of the ship taken from the wire-frame. I like this because it shows how long the ship actually was in my imagination. None of these images will in all likelihood make it to the final cover, but each of them is a step along the way. I love to show off these sketches as we go along, because  sometimes they are works of art that are never seen by most people.


A More Detailed Outline

Filling in the outline for Starforgers is coming along at a leisurely pace. I’m supposed to be finishing up the final draft of Tyrmia, so that has priority right now. Back to the outline. I do my outlining in a spreadsheet. This is so I can add and subtract things with relative ease. I start with the basic plot outline divided up by major scenes and then breaking those down into chapters. Each chapter is broken down into bullet statements with plot points that need to happen. It becomes a check list for writing the chapter. I also note the Point Of View of each scene or chapter bullet.

Sometimes I go into more detail or I mention certain things like – change this name or rethink this scene. Other notes may be about character arcs or just about anything that might occur to me before actually writing the first draft. When the time comes to fire up the word processor and start typing, I usually have it clear what needs to happen in each chapter. My goal is to get through a chapter per week. Usually I write only on weekends, early in the morning. But this time, I’m going to be pushing myself to get through the first draft sooner.

Tyrmia took way too much time to get through the first draft with a several month long break in the middle. I don’t want to do that this time. I want to start writing and stay writing until the end. Not sure how many months that will take. Going to start writing in October, hopefully. The goal for now will be to get to the end of draft one by January 2011. Then let it sit for a month before jumping into draft two. I may have a few beta readers look at draft one. After draft two, I will open it up to more beta reader and hopefully their inputs will be incorporated into the third and final draft. With any luck, by next summer Starforgers will be going to my editor.

Starting A Novel, Part 1

This summer I will begin writing the next Star Series book in the Galaxy Collision universe.  Starforgers takes place at the onset of the Great Galactic War and will be the first novel set during that time-period. As with Starstrikers before it, Starforgers will be a romping Space Opera filled with heroes and villains and lots of in-between characters that I dub Grays.  Grays are not black and white but a mixture of both good and evil and as such tend to be the most fun to write about.

I’m not sure just how far back the plot ideas for Starforgers go, but I can safely say the story is over a decade old.  Looking back over my notes, I see that it was at one time outlined in a synopsis form.  Of course in recent years, I have continued to think about the characters and the plot for Starforgers and that original synopsis may end up getting thrown out completely.  But it does serve as a useful tool for constructing the new story outline.

When I set out to write a novel, I almost always start with both characters and plot.  Sometimes the characters are well drawn out already, either in short stories or another novel and sometimes they are just place holders from which to build the plot with.  In the case of Starforgers, at least three main characters are already developed from short stories, Devon Ardel and Senator Constantine. Both Devon and her mother Gail Constantine were developed in early drafts of Starforgers and in short stories, some of which will be featured in Tales From Ocherva Vol One, my e-book anthology due out this summer. The third character is the android Thirty-seven, also a staple in the aforementioned anthology.

The Villain for the new novel is less defined and I will have to spend some time developing his character before I start writing.  The same goes for the primary Gray character, in this case, a space pirate.  Yes, you read that correctly the book will indeed have space pirates.  But it will not have any zombies, so that crowd can move along.

I use a spreadsheet program to outline my plot.  So one of the first tasks I have is to start putting together the plot points and then weaving in the character conflicts.  In many cases the character conflicts help define the plot, which is why I can’t just outline a plot and then build my characters.  Both elements must be well defined before I start writing.  I’ve always enjoyed this period of novel writing more than the actual writing part. Not that I don’t like the joy of discovering things as I write, I just really like playing God with my story and its characters.  But then don’t most writers like having that power?

Next post I will go into greater detail about how I outline plots and define characters.  I’ll try not to reveal any spoilers along the way.