Been working on the novel. Resetting to match Larry Brook’s outlining

I’m at 33 k, and I went back and fixed it to remove 5 additional characters who were clogging up the works. That took some time, but there was no reason to haul around two entire fireteams of marines, so I killed off a fireteam and offed two of the shuttle crew while I was doing that. Overall, I changed a few hundred words.

I also wrote 1500 words yesterday. I will need to rewrite the scene for conflict.

Today I’ve broken down all the scenes I have so far. I have 32 scenes (so far). They average 1047 words each. In an 80,000 word novel, I’m 40% of the way through. A review of the scenes shows that some are information only, no conflict, and will need a rewrite to introduce goal/conflict in each scene.

So I’ll take what exists and rewrite the scenes for conflict. Extend them to create more uniform length. Shortest scene: 47 words. Longest scene: 3800 words. The rewrites will fix the pacing and structure. I can see that my structure, in order to sit correctly in the Larry Brooks sense of things, needs to have that first plot point somewhere between words 16000-20000.  That is not correctly set right now, which will be fixed by controlling the scenes and length.

I’ll also plot out the rest of the scenes, so that each scene has conflict/goal, each scene accomplishes what it’s supposed to accomplish for that part of the book, and it all comes together with precision.

I see the only problem with having the structure be so defined is that someone who knows structure will be noting the important points while reading their kindle, since it tells you percentage-wise where you are in the book if you choose that information (or tells you location, or how many minutes are left in the book).  That’s thrown off if there’s a hook chapter at the end of the book so you get sucked in to the sequel – your 25% plot point might be more at 23%, so it looks like it’s early when it’s not. But… if people want to see the underlying structure, fine, so be it. I want it to be obvious that we’re hitting the plot points when we should and that all is right in the universe, writing-wise.  Those who hate structure and don’t care, that’s fine, they can ignore it and just enjoy the book, which will seem awesome for some strange reason they don’t understand, like the fact the plot is structured perfectly. 😀

 

 

Story Engineering, Day 2. Characterization and a summary of what I’ve learned

Today, I’ve chopped through 43% of Larry Brooks book Story Engineering, and I finished characterization.  That was an interesting way to consider how that works. In a nutshell, he says there’s the surface dimension (1st level), which is the façade (oooh, a Basque letter) you present to everyone, i.e. charming ex-CEO who smokes cigars and loves the ladies. The second level is the back story on why you are how you are: upbringing, experiences, abusive uncles, car accident where you were struck by 57 Chevy on the corner near school and it changed your life at 17 so that you were permanently broken and now you’re an addict at 63 and trying to change and you’ve always wanted to own a copy of the car that almost killed you, etc. So yeah, it’s the psychology behind the character, and that backstory needs to come out in the first act so we get a clue to the character’s deeper ideals and why they tick. Then you have the third dimension, which is the times when their true character appears, not the first level facade. We see behind the curtain to the real person.  And the third dimension moments define the character, whether they choose right or wrong, and why they choose that. (He doesn’t say this, but third dimension moments are also not usually on display, they seem to be triggered by some sort of conflict or event. Or maybe he said that in different words. I’d have to go back and reread it. That’s where the kindle isn’t nearly as fast as a dead-tree book.)

There’s a great deal more. He talks about character as structure (how the character develops throughout the story, which is, I think, the character arc). Essentially, certain things have to happen at certain times in the story, or it’ll be all fouled up. Your character needs to struggle all the way into the end of act 2, and if she overcomes that struggle before the climax, it messes up the pacing of the story because that becomes the new climax, and everything else after is anti-climactic.

I was considering this when I was reading Kate Colby‘s The Courtesan’s Avenger (Desertera #2), which, incidentally, was a great read. In it, her protagonist Dellwyn Rutt, a courtesan, has some serious flaws. And her backstory informs these flaws and the bad decisions she keeps making. She makes terrible decisions, but they make sense from the point where Dellwyn feels real and has very good reasons to make her flawed decisions. I kept yelling at the book, “Arc! Arc already!”  Of course, if she’d arced, it’d stop being interesting because then nothing would happen.  Nevertheless, it made for a good read and the character (and supporting cast) are well-characterized. They all have flaws, and this gets in the way of meaningful discourse, just like real life.

Today, I will read and attempt to embrace what Mr. Brooks has to say about Theme. I have a feeling that while I may see the words, I’ve never been one to grasp the underlying meaning very well. That’d be my character flaw. “Huh? There was a theme?” It might be my undoing as an author. Plus, there’s the aspect where I say, “why don’t we just have some nice shoot-em-up scenes.” Well-written, lovely, boring, non-thematic scenes that come out dry and meaningless, when instead I could be writing a thinly veiled polemic about the dangers of senior citizens running for president. As if that’s what the world needs, right now.

You may enrich the content of this blog with your treasured comments below. Especially if you understand theme.

Nice people write lousy fiction

I suppose that better fiction comes from people who are messier, who don’t mind wading into a scene where there’s conflict.

Because that’s what messes up my plotting. There I’ll be, setting up the battle to end all battles, and I’ve got my people primed and ready to go. There’s going to be Donnybrook!

But wait. Not really a plot twist, more like a balloon full of molten lead. The antagonist has flown the coop. There is no battle. No bodies. No blood. No bullets flying.

That’s awfully boring, isn’t it? No one wants to read that. Give us the figurative blood and gore. We want it. We need it. It’s necessary for fiction to have that.

That’s the point of the title. The nice people out there, they shy away from dragging everyone else through their messes. Fiction comes from the depiction of people in different bad situations. Maybe people who’ve been damaged by conflict in their childhoods might write weak fiction because they shy away from the nasty stuff. I don’t blame ’em.  Maybe you are the eternal optimist and think there’s enough conflict in the world. Maybe you’re just nice and want people to have a yellow happy face have a nice day sort of  blather. Either way, that is the insipid path to dullness.

Stories do not work without conflict.

So brace yourselves and make everyone argue. Peace is a nice thing to talk about in blog posts where you have no intention of doing anything to back it up, but it’s dullsville in fiction.  If you manuscript says, “The elves and dwarves had been at peace as long as anyone could remember,” I’ll fix that for you. Say, instead, “The elves and dwarves had been in a bitter war as along as anyone could remember.”  Everytime we get and elf and dwarf together, there’s a fight!

Plus, each scene needs that conflict goal thing. You know, the character has a goal. There’s a conflict. They can’t have their goal. Then you do the whole mourning thing, they come up with a new goal, and go to carry that out. Scene and sequel. Repeat this over and over. Apply structure, apply arc, add plot twists, you have a book.

I will now go make my characters fight some more. There’s way too much agreement.

I think it needs more explosions. And radio coms.

Synopsis is bad

I picked up my 18000 word monster and tacked on another 1000 words.  See, I was stuck in this scene where it was an expository thing – we need to find out what the priest knows. I took Dave Koster’s advice and cut out the introductions. He’s right. You don’t want to read a synopsis again and again. We are all reading over your shoulder, so we know this stuff, yadda yadda. Cut to the chase. There are any number of books where I have this problem – I was thinking the starship mage series, the first book, was written in serialized chunks, then the author tacked the whole thing together without a re-write. Therefore, you get a synopsis of what’s gone on before every 3 chapters, and it’s annoying. I learned to skim/skip those. The book would be far tighter if we could dump those 2 pages of summary happening throughout the book. Keep the serialized pieces as is, but the stitched together version demands an edit.  It won’t hurt anyone if you cut 4000 words of unnecessary explanation out.

Military radio communications

It’s been a while since the hospital rescue, which may need rewriting. I read through it again and while the radio stuff is pretty solid, I think, it gives things a chaotic view, especially if you’re not familiar with military radios. Then again, I’m assuming most readers will be familiar with military radios or some variant of it and will be able to follow all that.  Coms are the way that infantry communicate with each other if they’re in all these large suits. You can’t yell to your buddy as easily (like “Left doorway!”), and if you have a fluid system to make the communications easy (to squad, to individual, to your immediate superior in chain of command) then it makes sense to use that. Anyone familiar with using multiple nets to communicate knows the difficulty in keeping them straight– don’t make the wrong radio call to the wrong recipient.

And coms that aren’t policed for uniformity in transmissions are also chaos. If you work with someone long enough, you get to know their voice and they don’t have to identify themselves on every radio transmission. You know their voice, their stupid accent, their favorite expletives they use when something doesn’t go right.  So that’s a tactical squad net, you aren’t as formal. When you start speaking to the chain of command, however, those guys higher up might not know your voice, or accent, or stupid expletives. So the superior guy needs to hear the broadcaster’s designation. I chose to go with the squad designations in a platoon – alpha, bravo, charlie, delta.  Each of those is 9 men, which is two fireteams of 4 plus the annoying squad leader. Each fireteam is broken down further into the fireteam leader (FTL), the assistant fireteam leader, a machine gunner and a loader, or the sci fi version of this.  The two fireteams are further designated as alpha and bravo. The radio call sign for the alpha fireteam leader is alpha-alpha-one.  Bravo fireteam leader is bravo-alpha-one or just alpha 5–it’s interchangeable. The squad leader is alpha 9.

Chain of Command (COC)

And the chain of command is pretty important. If your immediate superior dies, the next senior person takes their place. In the real world military, you’re supposed to know the roles/mission of the people you supervise, your own role/mission, and the role/mission of your immediate superior.  Thus, if a colonel gets killed, a captain steps in and takes over to further the mission.

This pecking order descends to the junior-most guy, the new guy on the fireteam. If his three fireteam members are dead, he’s in charge of his fireteam, at least until his squad leader re-assigns him.  Is it reasonable to assume that alpha 4 is going to know how to perform the fireteamleader role? Not really. It still happens in real life and sometimes unlikely guys turn out to do amazing things on their own initiative.

Tension

I think I’m going to tension the next scene by having an inconvenient conversation, where Father O’Hara and Yuen are finally going to have the conversation they should have had long ago, and right when Yuen knows there are people with guns who are going to come any minute now.  Stuff like that makes my teeth itch. It’s a mean writer trick. People really do decide to have important conversations at bad times, oblivious to the danger.  “Just go!” the reader squeals. “Talk about it later. Go!”

Quick! Find an editor. Go.

Is there a resource where we can get a book that lists editors, their specialties, books they’ve edited, contact information, location, and a blurb about them?

It’d be a phone book of editors, of sorts.

Or do I need to write it?

It’d look sort of like this:


Name: Bob the Clam
Email: clammyediting@gmail.com
Address:
Type of editing: Line/Copy/Content/Developmental/Proofreader/Beta reader/critique partner
Books edited: Gone With the Wimp, Catcher in the Sty, Rudes, To Kill a Mockingjay, A Light We Can See, Last 100 Words, the Wrong Brothers, Girl Off a Train, Kim Kardashian: Shellfish
Location: Australia
Preferred genres: Any, Climate Fiction, books about fish
Pricing: US$.08 per word, first 100,000 words, discount after.
Glowing recommendations:
Jim the Clown, Author: Bob really helped me. You see, I always boldly and dramatically use adverbs. Eventually, I’ll learn to promptly and regularly remove them. Then I’ll live victoriously. However, Bob also removed only half the words in my manuscript, very cautiously. He performed his work terrifically and quickly.


If this already exists, splendid. Where is it? Is there a secret website known only to the in-crowd authors? Greatedits.com?

If not, is it something you’d pay a dollar for to buy on the great slushpile? You think an editor would pay to be in it? What about if the editor pays extra for a big blurb while everyone else rides for free? Or is this odious, and you authors are saying, “I’ll find my own darned editor, Pontius, you miserable bar sinister! I don’t need your help.”

Writers Tip #92: How to Write Like a Pulitzer Prize Winner

I’ve oft wondered about the fact that you can take a story and the way it’s written and that’s considered literature, and then there’s chewing gum for the brain, which is the rest of us. And I have discussions with my wife about “The Pearl” and other stories we were forced to devour in high school, and whether anyone actually reads those books because they want to.

This article breaks it down and it makes sense. Sort of.

When you read your story, does it sound off, maybe you can’t quite put your finger on it, but you know you’ve done something wrong? Sometimes–maybe even lots of times–there are simple fixes. These writer’s tips will come at you once a week, giving you plenty of time to go through your story and make the adjustments.

I have never wanted to write like Pulitzer Prize Winners Ernest Hemingway, Saul Bellow, or William Faulkner,. The style doesn’t fit me. Not to say I wouldn’t love to win one of the world’s most prestigious writer awards–who wouldn’t?–but I don’t think I can make the compromises to my personal voice to fit into that square hole.

I didn’t understand why until I read Joe Bunting’s article on what characterizes that style of writing (see below). You may see yourself in them. That’s good. There’s room for all of us under the authorial umbrella. If…

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Military Officer Function for Science Fiction

Tactics and strategy inform or should inform everything a soldier does.

Your soldiers in military sci-fi must have a doctrine of some kind which tells them what to do and how to do it.

In the modern US Army, the nuts and bolts of things soldiers are trained to do are called Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTP for short).  The larger picture is strategy, and there are some pretty basic things that are to be accomplished with strategy.

With strategy, you must ask the question: Why are your military units doing what they’re doing?

If it does not have an applicable purpose, then your officers look incompetent, stupid, untrained, or insane. If the character is portrayed as competent, then his inability to understand strategy will be seen as a function of the author’s inability to understand strategy and the reader will stop reading the book. Do not misunderstand this to mean that officers aren’t sometimes wooden, textbook responders, or unable to remain focused on the objective. It means that if you portray a competent officer, he will respond to stimuli in a competent manner, based on the information they receive.

A competent officer has training to teach him to gain information about the objective, evaluate the enemy forces and intent, and either respond or initiate a response.

The things we will see in your novel will reflect whether your POV character is a grunt or a officer.  Sometimes there’s officers who are ground-pounders– that is, company level and lower– but the higher ups formulate strategy based on the size of the units they command.  A general may command an army (or divisions), and lower ranking officers command smaller sized units all the way down to the company commanders who are in the field supervising their platoons.

One important aspect of strategy (and indeed, tactics) is sustainability. That’s the dull world of logistics. Did I say dull? It’s not dull if you’re on the pointy end of the spear and you are getting no supplies, or worse, the wrong supplies. Horror stories abound from how landing ships were configured for the US Army landings in Morocco and Algeria. The doctrine of loading a ship with stuff wasn’t advanced at all, and I believe the stevedores were often left in charge of determining what would be loaded where.  This led to situations where the guys first on the beach need tanks, or jeeps, or ammunition, or medical supplies, and instead they’ve got bales of blankets or rations or underwear. It sounds absurd, but the military will grind to a halt if they don’t have petrol and bullets. And water. And boots. And artillery.

Therefore, if you want to invade a planet, a space station, or another ship, you will need logistics: Transport, gas, food, drink, armor, weapons, communications, shelters, clothes, ammunition, and batteries. It’s not enough to go in with just the stuff on your back. You will need resupply if you’re not living off the land.  One way to cut off an army is to interdict its supply lines, and those supply lines in space are ships dragging supplies around and factories on the ground factoring. Cut off the ships, you cut off the ability of the attacker to support an attack and you conceivably will win the engagement. We see this doctrine in seige warfare, starting over 3000 years ago (the Greeks), and continuing to the present day (Cuba).

So your logistics arm is going to acquire, store, and move stuff. It finds replacement personnel and stores them. It acquires, stores, and moves weapons systems.  It provides medical, legal, and psychiatric care for personnel. If any of these things does not happen, it will affect the effectiveness of the personnel by lowering their morale and inhibiting their ability to fight.

The mindset the US Army has is that, “(1) In combat, Infantrymen who are moving are attacking. (2) Infantrymen who are not attacking are preparing to attack.” (FM 3-21.8 The Infantry Rifle Platoon and Squad, published by the United States Army.)

Overall, the strategies used in sci-fi are going to mirror those used in modern combat. Asymetrical warfare, using small unit and terror tactics, must be responded to by the larger force with a unified strategic doctrine that places forces in places to quickly react to provocation or to search for and prevent attacks before they happen.

What is the larger strategy? Follow the money. No matter how you posture your future, ultimately there are never enough resources for everyone, and that is the crux of most decisions made by the polity. It’s not for the good of the people, it’s for the good of commerce. Ultimately, no matter how deep a political system may lay in socialism, it will collapse without the application of capitalism. Therein lays the logistics argument: To get all this stuff, you must mine it, grow it, or manufacture it.  The strategy is to protect the stuff, or to take the stuff.

I see some authors who promote a character from a shivering private up to general grade levels. Being a grunt does not mean you are trained to think like an officer. It means you’re trained to think like a grunt. When you have Private Schlomo promoted way above his pay grade, he’s going to be way out of his comfort zone because he isn’t trained to understand the fight at company, brigade, or division level. A fireteam leader or squad leader has 3-8 people under them, and the decision tree may not be that complex. A platoon leader, which is the lowest level of officer supervision, is the point where the thought process must be done on a give-orders-to-subordinates basis.

You must use a staff, because you are not capable of getting the information necessary to do your job on your own. At company level, you have an executive officer who seconds the commanding officer’s lead. At higher levels than company, you see more staff to assist with functions such as analysis and prediction of enemy action, communications, IT, operations to assist in personnel (promotions, moving around, exiting the service, pay, awards, and so on), and training (both finding locations and creating the criteria for what is being taught, writing manuals, creating videos for training).