Page of Scribbling Technique


Just for posterity, here is a page of scribbling I did trying to block out what I thought would be the final 10,000 words or so of Airworld. What ended up happening is that I raised more questions than I answered, and all the answers started branching off into all these other fairly massive sub-plots. You may also notice there is a whole new, vitally important character in there that was introduced very late in the story. (Just in case I ever do finish the story, I blurred out some spoilers.)

(I’m not really sure if the page-of-scribbling technique actually works for me as a writer.)

A Minor Variation

With apologies to Billy Joel. I had a minor revelation for my Airworld story last night. It occurred to me that things would work out much better if the location of the Council of Life is known when we start out. For some reason I had set it in stone that Naobi was leaving Motiva to search for the Council of Life. Now she is leaving to visit the Council of Life. With that minor variation, some other things fall into place nicely. Mainly, it removes “finding the Council of Life” as a condition for ending the story. I was having major problems with the ending because it wasn’t symmetrical with the beginning.

Dissecting What Went Wrong

In the continuing saga of what to do with Airworld, I believe I have figured out why I don’t particularly want to continue it.

Somewhere along the way, the story stopped being fun to write.

It seems pretty obvious in retrospect. If it was fun to write, obviously I’d still be writing it. But what happened? This exact thing was something that Rachel Aaron addressed in her NaNoWriMo question-and-answer thread again and again. She advised not to continue writing something that wasn’t fun. She also advised that you should figure out why it isn’t fun to write, because it probably indicates a problem that needs to be fixed.

So after some thought, I think I know exactly when it stopped being fun: It was November 16, at the precise moment when Falclef rescued Naobi from the trial in Leavon.

I recall thinking at the time that there was something “off” about that rescue. I now realize what the problem was. Up until that point, Naobi was driving the story. She made the decisions that moved the plot along, be they good, bad, or indifferent. But when Falclef came along, she was helplessly carried away into a whole new setting and a whole new situation, getting tangled up with a rebel Order faction fighting a bigger war.

In my attempts to outline the rest of the story, I came up with a plot that took Naobi and Cheton away from Koerl and Falclef and that whole faction of rebel Order folk. I was overjoyed to get them back on their own, and now I realize that it’s because the rebel Order war with Dark Horizon is a whole different story.

Whew. Glad I figured that out.

Now I just need to figure out how to fix it.

What Would a Professional Do

So yeah, I’m still stuck on Airworld. The main obstacle I think is my complete lack of confidence in the outline I have sketched out for the rest of the book. It sounds like it will be terrible. Nothing makes sense, nobody is anywhere for a reason, entire plotlines are pointless and stupid. And what’s worse, according to my 3-books-a-year schedule, I should be starting a new book in February. That’s less than a month away, if you’re somehow unable to look at a calendar.

Let’s look at this like a professional writer. Let’s imagine that I’m under contract to deliver the first draft of a book by February 1. What would I do?

Well, I’d finish the book, that’s what. Because if I didn’t, I would develop a reputation as one of those temperamental writers who is hard to work with, and that’s probably not good, particularly for a new author. Seems pretty simple and straightforward.

Does it matter if I deliver a book with a sucky ending? My internal editor screams, “Of course it matters! Your entire life and reputation is riding on this!!” That’s probably not exactly true. But still, as someone who is supposed to be a pro, it’s not ideal. My theoretical publisher is probably expecting something they can sell. But then it’s still a first draft, the worst version of any book. I certainly wouldn’t be the first author to write a lame ending. Perhaps a theoretical editor could provide some tips to make it better. It’s also remotely possible that it’s not as bad as I think. Unlikely, but possible.

Okay, well that was easy. A pro would write the ending, deliver it, and move on.

But now let’s look at it from the view of an aspiring author who’s never published anything. Which is very realistic because that’s what I am.

My business goal right now is enticing an agent to represent me. That means I need to send out query letters. That does NOT mean I need to send out full manuscripts. If an agent is intrigued by a query letter, they will probably want to see only the first few chapters as a sample, NOT the full manuscript. They might also want a summary of the entire book. But if an agent is intrigued they will eventually want the full manuscript, so I should have it finished and ready to deliver, even if it still needs work.

So I still need to write an ending. However, re-writing the first few chapters is far more important at this point. Which means I should hurry up and finish the ending, then spend a little time revising the beginning. Then write queries. Then move on to the next project.

Outlining The Rest of Airworld

I’ve not forgotten about Airworld. I’m outlining the remainder of the story. I find that I can only be a pantser up to a certain point (usually that point is about now, where the story needs to start moving toward a resolution), at which time I really have to sit down and figure out how to resolve things without using magical faery dust.

In this case it’s harder than I might have expected, because Airworld became ¬†rather complex, and there are many threads flying about loose right now. I suppose this is why writers always advise you to know your ending before you start. It’s good advice, but extremely difficult for me. Unless you count something like, “Then they figured everything out. The end.”

Anyway, for those interested in the writing process, I started by writing a synopsis of the story so far, where I wrote roughly a paragraph covering each chapter. This was quite instructional in itself, because it’s the first time I’ve looked at an overhead view of the story since I started. I’ve already identified plenty of places to make revisions just from that.

After that I tried to identify the questions that were raised in each chapter and wrote those questions after the paragraph. I imagined each paragraph to be one of those old-time movie serials, where at the end the narrator says something like, “Will our hero find a way to get out of the boxcar before it plunges off the cliff? Tune in next week to find out!” And it would be in that old-timey over-excited radio voice where they speak ten times too fast. Mine aren’t that dramatic though – more like, “Will Naobi find the Council of Life?” or “Will Garath’s plan work?”

Through trial and error I’ve discovered that questions phrased to give simple yes/no answers seem to provide better focus on the plot. For example, “Will Cheton make it back to the group?” As opposed to, “How will Cheton deal with being separated from the group?” Questions with more open-ended answers leave me with too much room to make up new sections of plot, as opposed to writing along a pre-determined course.

After that I will make another pass through those questions and figure out which ones have already been answered, and which ones still need answers. That will hopefully inform the direction of the rest of the story.