In Which Our Heroine Gets Hung Up On Process

2 August 2004

Still coughing. Still very little voice. Still feel run over by a truck.

Still, apparently, pretty cranky.

I spent most of the day yesterday lying down with a book and a glass of water or juice. Wheee! Such a thrilling life I lead. I enjoyed Brilliance of the Moon, felt fairly neutral on Janet McNaughton's An Earthly Knight and Zilpha Keatley Snyder's The Velvet Room and Iain Pears's Giotto's Hand, and put Ursula LeGuin's Changing Planes down halfway through. It wasn't any worse than the McNaughton or the Snyder or the Pears on a sentence-to-sentence level, but it had neither plot nor characters, so there was really no reason for me to continue when I wasn't wowed with it.

I am, however, wowed with Hope Mirrlees's Lud-in-the-Mist. It's good stuff. I'm looking forward to finishing it. You all probably know this already, it being a classic of the fantasy genre and all. But I'm still impressed. The groundedness of the denizens of Dorimare works extremely well for me in context.

I am trying very hard not to be a cranky bear. But I've just about had it with this sick stuff. At the very least, somebody needs to drop off some of my library books, and somebody needs to pick up my prescription at Walgreen's. (Birth control, not anti-sick pills.) So I may have to go out briefly today. Wheee.

Aside from that, I can't do phone chores particularly well, and I'm not particularly up for very physical house and yard chores; at least, not more than a tiny bit at a time. So I have the feeling today is going to be another day for work and reading. I should probably get the birthday pictures off the camera and crop them and post them. That would be quasi-useful. They'll be here when I get around to it. Philip asked about the particulars of my novel-writing process. And as that's a fairly cheerful topic for me, I thought I'd inflict it on everybody instead of just Philip. If you didn't want to hear me blather about books and writing, I figure you'd be somewhere else by now.

So. I write non-sequentially and with an outline. That's the basic practical part. Conceptually, I write from character relationships. That's the basic flittery artsy part.

What this means is that I scribble down an interaction -- usually a bit of dialog, sometimes not -- and a bunch of notes when I'm starting a novel. I make the notes into an outline of sorts. Usually I've already written a couple of scenes by the time I'm outlining.

How I do the rest has varied. For Fortress of Thorns and The Grey Road, I wrote it all out longhand, crossing things off the longhand outline and adding as necessary, then pieced it together and wrote the bits that connected things up.

I have stopped doing the bulk of my novel writing longhand. This is mostly due to a lifestyle change: I no longer sit for several hours a week in grad school classes, and I no longer have such a tiny apartment that I would have to essentially sit on top of the TV in order to work on the computer. Sometimes I still do need to write longhand. It's good for me. I also need to do edits on hardcopy. Can't help it.

When I did things this way, I had lumpy files. I had six or seven files for the entire book, and they roughly corresponded to conceptual portions of the book. For Fortress, I have files called things like "Cat Prince" and "Catching Him At It." Then I have files with chapter numbers once I went through and gave it chapters. (I hate chapters. But that's a different rant.) I finally have an aggregate file so the page numbers worked right.

For Reprogramming and Thermionic Night and Sampo, I had or have three working files apiece: the text, the outline, and random notes I wasn't sure how to place in the outline. As I write more on the text or alter the outline, I delete the notes. As I work through the text sequentially, I delete the outline up to the point where I'm finished. So. While several of the climactic scenes in Sampo are finished, I haven't gotten to them in sequential work. They are marked with an x to indicate that they're done, but I haven't yet removed them from the outline. They still need to hold their shape so that the stuff around them makes sense.

For The Worldbuilders and Dwarf's Blood Mead, and for Zodiac House when I get there, the outline was (is) embedded in the text. I do this for short stories as well. The ZH outline, for example, says, "Chapter 12: Tiger -- Tab -- Garrett's bedroom." Then immediately under that it says, "'And what are you doing in here?' said Garrett, pleasantly enough, but they all flinched." and goes on into what I know of that scene. I still have the separate notes file, but the outline is in there and gets eaten as the book grows.

Philip asked if this was still an experiment for me. Well...I've done two books that way. You can judge for yourself whether that's significant or still experimental. Frankly, for me, it's all still experimental, and I'll do something different if something different works for me tomorrow.

One of the things that's been a little strange about Sampo and Dwarf's Blood Mead and will be strange about Zodiac House, I think, is that they have come in chapters. For Sampo, this is because the two viewpoint characters lend themselves to chapter breaks. Now we're dealing with Edward's half instead of Ansa's? New chapter. For DBM, I have no idea what it was. It just worked that way. For ZH -- which is, in case I haven't mentioned it -- the middle-grade, "chapter" children's book I'll be doing next unless someone nice pops up with a contract -- the structure is pretty inherent to the plot.

(I have now closed the file to Zodiac House, having made my point, because it's easy and sucks me in, and we are not doing that yet. We are finishing Sampo first. Dagnabbit.)

I originally had broken the Not The Moose into three files, one for each section of the book. We see how well that worked out. Last week I officially changed the file names from "Part One," "Part Two," and "Part Three" to Thermionic Night, Sampo, and Midnight Sun Rising. I don't think I'll be too keen to section out book manuscripts like that again. It's more convenient to work with smaller chunks, in some ways, but at the expense of making single books into a trilogy? No thanks.

The outline, like the draft manuscript, is constantly changing. If I manage to hit a point earlier than I had thought or don't manage to hit it until later, it gets moved around in the outline, regardless of whether that's embedded in the text or a separate file. If I have the bit that needs to get covered later readily in my head, I'll often go where it belongs and write it, but sometimes it doesn't work that way.

I almost never try to keep things in my head. If it's redundant, it's redundant, but I try to write things down somewhere, because I think of myself as having a brain like a sieve. Objectively I know that this is not entirely the case; objectively I know that I remember some classes of things better than most people. I know that plot points for my own stories may even be one of those things. But it doesn't matter to me if someone else forgets something that might matter to their book, because I'll never know about it. It matters to me if I forget, and eventually I'll remember again, but who knows if it'll be too late? At this stage in my career, I'm not turning books in on a sharp deadline, but sometimes the shape of the book has made itself without the insight you lost track of, and if you try to redo it, the book gets pulled out of shape. Some things can't be edited in at some points. The river has flowed on, and splashing around in it will not make it the same water; time like an ever-flowing etc. etc. etc.

And that's about one etc. too many, so I'd better go have a fruit juice popsicle and a rest with Lud-in-the-Mist. If you want to know more about the novel process for me, ask; if you want me to talk about something else entirely, ask that instead. In the meantime, down I go for the moment.

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