Writing Tip: A Bird’s Eye View

Birds Eye ViewThe manuscript I’m currently writing is a bit of a mess. I have a lot of story and not a very clear notion of how it all fits together.

This also means that I have a lot of scenes. I’m not entirely sure how they fit together either. And I am not referring to some overall sense of the book at large. I’m talking about a very nuts-and-bolts sense of how the various plot points intersect.

I’m constantly asking myself questions that I can’t remember the answers to.

Has Frank met Lucy yet?

Did Lloyd tell Baron about the trap door?

How long ago did the Spaghetti Conversation take place?

Where the hell did I leave that character again?

I often get lost while looking over a large story using a word processor. There’s little sense of where you are in the story. A scene might be eight pages back or three pages forward or only in your head and not actually written down yet.

A great way to sort this confusion out and take a different view of your story is to go through and jot down, scene by scene, what has taken place. Just list out the things you’re trying to keep straight in a list. No need to go into more detail than you need (I’m sure you know yourself which details you’re having trouble keeping track of).

Each line is a new scene, or for longer scenes, a new moment of import.

Then end result will be something like this:

Bird's Eye View of Story


Granted your handwriting won’t look like my insane pen scratches, and for some reason I always use legal pads when doing this, but the final product is a compact, zoomed-out view of your story. From here it’s remarkably easy to move things around. You can edit, swap scenes, and, possibly most important, you can cut extraneous moments.

And since everything is in order as it occurs in your computer document, it’s easy to then go through scene by scene and implement the changes you have made.

A completely different view of your story can make a giant snarled mess seem manageable, and will help you figure out exactly what goes where.



Where the hell did I leave that character?

Human Echoes Podcast Appearance

PodcastA few months ago, (a year ago?) I was interviewed by the Human Echoes Podcast. Since then the relationship between the HEP and Joseph Devon Industries has flourished and they opted to have me back on again for a second interview. The core of our discussion centers around Persistent Illusions, though we cover all the usual topics like Kate Upton and Hitler.

You can go have a listen here. I highly recommend it. Keep in mind that if you haven’t read Probability Angels yet, there are spoilers. Though if you haven’t read Probability Angels yet, I’m not sure why you’re here and you should go do that now.

But wait! There’s more!

While you’re over at the Human Echoes website, you might notice a page from last week discussing a new writing challenge that myself and Tony Southcotte are currently attempting. Tony’s first challenge to me is right here. My first challenge to Tony fired off yesterday. The game is on. Blood has been drawn. And my first short story in this challenge, a supernatural western, will be posted on tomorrow.

So basically go hang out on their site this week.

I have fiction to write.

Untitled Writing Challenge in the Theme of Thunderdome

Writing ChallengeBook three is still coming along. I can tell I’m making progress because I have so much more first-draft content that I don’t know what to do with than ever. That’s always a good sign. However, it’s still a while from being done and I’ve had the itch recently to put out more fresh fiction for your entertainment.

With that in mind a new project is being kicked off over at The Human Echoes page.

I’ve always been a fan of shows like Top Chef, competitions where contestants have to slog through weird challenges to test their mettle, and I’ve always wondered if it would be possible to have a competition of that sort for writers.

Well…this new project is not that. Not yet anyway. See we still really have no idea how such a “show” would work as of right now. I chat about that over here a bit.

But, myself and Tony Southcotte are willing to learn by doing, so we’ve started a sort of writers’ duel in the hopes of refining the “writing competition” idea further.

We will each be issuing writing challenges to the other in alternating sequence, demanding words from each other in a battle to the death.

Mano e Mano.

Grace verse Brawn.

Words against…other words.

(Death may or may not ensue. We haven’t worked that out yet. It probably won’t.)

We’re hoping to learn a bit about how a larger competition might work, get some eyeballs on our sites, and give our readers some new fiction.

Please visit the first challenge post, wherein Tony has thrown the gauntlet down, and please offer input, ideas of what you might want to see more of…a name for this whole thing, or whatever you have to offer.

Thoughts On Building a Publishing Machine

Writing MachingI’ve been spending a lot of time at various forums for self-publishers recently. They are a wellspring of good advice and the success that a lot of these authors have achieved is both impressive and inspiring.

They almost make it seem easy.

One post over at the Kindle Boards discusses the process of using a mailing list to build sales.The author of the post gives away the secret recipe to her marketing: 1. Write a book. 2. Send a blast to your mailing list announcing the new release. 3. Encourage new readers to join your mailing list. 4. Repeat.

Easy right? Well there’s also the added factor that this author is writing a new book every two months or so.

Two months.

That is…I don’t know what that is. That’s six books a year. The idea of cranking out books at that pace just seems like lunacy to me. The perceived flaws I would see in each rushed book would absolutely break me. I don’t think I could do that. I know that much of my best work comes in the months after my first draft is finished. And I can only get through a first draft knowing that I can let mistakes slide because I’ll get them fixed during rewrites.

This is not to say anything negative about this author’s writing or her approach to publishing. She wanted to write books for a living, she started writing books, and she, unlike me, has met with success. She still feels she has more growing to do, but her numbers are impressive just as they are as far as I’m concerned.

My question, I guess, is do I fit into this world? It very much seems to me that more product, i.e. fiction, equals a larger audience. It’s when new fiction comes out that I get the biggest influx of new readers. But there’s no chance that I could write a book every two months. Hell I wouldn’t even want to do that if I could. I like writing slowly. I like what I create when I do write slowly. And I’m okay with the hit that my numbers take due to this.

My philosophy about all the new tools that technology has made available to writers has always been that it is all about choice. The larger markets, the ease of publication, the variety of platforms for distribution and the many new ways to build an audience, this means that there should be room for more types of authors and artists as a whole. And more and varied art reaching more people? That just sounds like a win to me.

But after seeing the pattern of most successful self-published authors wherein they turn themselves into book factories, I find myself wondering what my machine will look like when I figure it all out.

Am I building a similar machine to these authors, only at a slower pace?

Or am I going to have to build some whole new device?