Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Parallel Processing

Essai sur l'électricité des corps
Abbé Jean Antoine Nollet
(src)
If you've been reading this blog in the past month, you know that I've been struggling through the pre-writing phase of a new novel, which bears the working title Ubermadchen (henceforth, UM).

Given that I've changed parts of my process recently, I saw fit to document the phases of my progress as a record for future me and present readers. All is hypothesis: "this may work."

With the disclaimer out of the way, this is how I am proceeding:

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Main point: parallel processing.

I'm still researching. However, I'm doing it with a different sort of emphasis, more on the spirit of the times than the details. Of course the devil is in the details and all that, but I need to remember that I am writing an alternate historical fantasy, not a nonfiction book.

This does not mean that I'm going to start making up huge important things. I'm also not diverting the entire stream of history orthogonal to its prior flow (that gets to happen in another story that's been sitting on the back burner). My actual mode of research isn't going to change much (google, click first link, skim to see if useful, read with notes if useful, click on links contained within, rely upon Wikipedia), but the way I treat my notes will be more impressionistic, with the attitude that the facts are tools to use or discard, as necessary.

I'm plotting in pieces. I've written the setup--the normal world and the inciting incident, so to speak--and as I get further along in my plotting, I'm going to research more specific details. For example, I'm probably not going to need to dig out the old maps of Warsaw at this point--for Edinburgh, maybe.

Furthermore, learning from my robotics experience, I'm trying to debug in the design stage. As I progress, I'm asking myself, "Would they really do this?" and encouraging the "Why don't they just…?" questions.

After having written two novels, I know that things aren't going to turn out exactly according to outline, so I'm not filling in all the details, and as I continue I might sketch out a couple of different paths that the characters could take. But my desire for structure is strong, and so I'm hoping that, if I stress-test my ideas now, I won't have to scrap as many of them later on.

I'm remembering to have fun. Let's be real: most writing days are not wonderful. I drag myself through 400-600 words, thinking, Wow, I'm a hack, getting distracted, producing either purple prose or talking heads dialogue. I was extremely lucky in that the last couple chapters of Orsolya flowed by as if in a dream.

The point is that I need, consciously, to focus on what I enjoy about the writing. To that end, I've drawn up a list of the places I want the Ubermadchens to go, the people they'll meet, and scenes that seem as though they'll be fun to write.

An example: the scenes set in their "normal world," prior to the catalyst of the story. The domestic scenes where they're just hanging out, learning things, thinking. This is good, because the third prong of my approach is writing such scenes, both as a way of keeping myself sane (writing withdrawal sucks) and as an exploration into the characters/their interactions.

Also, I'm counting on my backbrain planting details in these snippets that I'll be able to use later. Shh, don't tell anyone.

A fourth element of my revised process: I'm writing in other stories. Busman's holiday principle. I have a lot of other stories that include elements not present in UM (e.g. dragons), and working on those stories gives me a chance to refresh. For these sessions, also, I'm shooting straight for word counts because they should be writing I really want to get into.

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Since I like making lists, here is a tl;dr:

  1. Treat research as a toolbox, not a straight-jacket
  2. Plot incrementally, stress-testing components
  3. Write enjoyable introductory material to explore your story
  4. Use indulgence stories as a pressure release valve

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