Friday, March 31, 2017

Writing Factory Coming Online

Well, it's time to get it done.

I hate bitchwork--that tedious bullshit that gets in the way of the important stuff--so I am quite happy to accept anything that cuts out bitchwork, and for writing fiction that means I would rather study and master proven methods and techniques over flailing pointlessly reinventing the wheel. I am quite capable of learning from others' mistakes, and I am proud of doing so; learning from others' more generally is nothing more than a step removed from witnessing or reviewing said mistakes.

So, when Michael Moorcock's formula for writing novels in three days (meaning 60K word manuscripts for his adventure stories), a formula built upon Lester Dent's 6K short story formula, gets a prominent blog article I paid attention and bookmarked that.

What we've got is proof that the literary obesity that Traditional Publishing veered into as a means of competing by consuming shelf space is just that- arbitrary, artificial, and driven by the egos of corporations and not by actual audience demand. Consider that Moorcock's Elric novels--slim, succinct, and still fucking popular--hit the same notes (however different the path) as E.R. Burroughs' Mars books or Howard's Conan stories in much the same space shows that Moorcock understood the territory even if he didn't like its norms.

As I get older, my tolerance for bullshit--especially bitchwork--crashes like the Hindenberg, and I sure as hell don't want to do it when I'm the other side. Get in, do the thing, get out. Writing lean, tightly-focused, and fast-paced stories of adventure is the thing I am willing to master because I deliver what I desire; it compels efficiency, and efficiency compels mastery. SO yeah, I'm going to use these models for my efforts because they are the right tools for the job. (If I write a book about why John Locke was a shill, that's a task needing different tools.)

So, now that I'm prepared, it's time to get on it with it. Work time blocked out, and when it's done I'll say so here so you folks can lend me a hand on the next step.

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Opening Crawl In Practice

As promised, this is the Opening Crawl in the current draft of Lacann Pell and the Blood Moon of Rammagar:

The Privy Wars are over. The Free Lords lost. The Solar Guard is gone. The Electoral Collage is abolished. Only the Usurper Vidun won. In the wake of the death of Duke Navare's death, most survivors ceased overt dissent for fear of retaliation. Those not willing to surrender went underground.

Young Duke Ireton, a Free Lord in exile, joined with a Privy Lord- Duke Farr. They cooperated on a course of action against The Usurper, starting with establishing a logistical network outside of the Usurper's control. Operating from a former Free Lord outpost never discovered during the war, the dukes and their chief allies organized their campaign and dispatched agents to execute it.

One mission is to establish sanctuaries beyond the Usurper's reach. The lost colony world of Rammagar promises to be such a world, if it still exists and if it remains inhabitable. Veteran scout, former Free Lord commando, and Ireton family retainer Lacann Pell traveled to Rammagar in one of Farr's shuttle accompanied only by a pair of automatons. Duke Ireton stands by awaiting Lacann's report.

There you are. The resemblance to what you see in a Star Wars film is deliberate, as was Lucas' use of this device being deliberate invocations of the serials of the 30s and 40s, summarizing what lead up to the events of that episode so if you missed them you weren't a ship out of water. If you're doing things that are fantastic, or you're looking to establishing a mood quickly, spending three fucking paragraphs setting it up isn't a bad thing.

Yes, even if you end up not using it in the final manuscript. Having that crystal-fucking-clear in your mind makes everything going forward easier, because when you cut immediately to the inciting incident (in media res) (which Blood Moon does, starting when Lacann arrives at Rammagar) you will know what to tell the reader and how to say it to hook them into your story as fast as your skills allow. (Ideally, with the first sentence.)

If you do use it, then going in media res is the go-to follow-up technique to use. No need to spend pages doing this when you can skip the boring shit and get on with the adventure that your reader is there for, and that's why I'm stomping about here- it's a very good tool to identify that point and get you (and your reader) there right away (and from there, for you the writer, to quickly outline the rest of your story and know where to do your beats and likely how and why to do so).

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Opening Crawl: Put It In Your Toolbox

One thing I think is interesting is that the Opening Crawl we're long-accustomed to with Star Wars films isn't done in print stories anymore. I think this is a mistake, especially for those seeking to write fast-paced adventure pulps. There's a big reason why, and it's as simple as seeing it used by Lucas and company: it's efficient in setting things up so you can get right to the point. (And its absence in Rogue One is ones of the signs that it's not that good.)

A title and three paragraphs. That's something you can put on one page. That one page can easily provide everything your reader requires to orient himself. There's a catch: this is also where you sell your story, that hook-or-suck point where readers either buy in or get lost. Most publishers put what functions as the Crawl on the back cover, or inside the front cover on the sleeve; it's the same thing, and serves the same purpose, but it's rarely done by you in traditional publishing and it shows.

Not I. It's a one-man-band here, so I don't get that luxury. That sizzle is something I need to sustain interest past the Amazon listing, and that means entire chapters spent setting things up have to get chopped in favor of three paragraphs that sort that out and then get on with it.

The authors who pay their bills with their books get this. The formal language for this is "Find your Inciting Incident, and start your story there." The Opening Crawl is fantastic for doing just that; you use the Crawl to set it up (remember, it's one page, and then immediately get into the action. Even if you decide to not publish that Opening Crawl, merely using it during the drafting process to find your start point is a great idea and it's foolish to dismiss its utility.

Look for the Opening Crawl to my Sword & Planet story, "Lacann Pell and the Blood Moon of Rammagar", by the end of this month.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Writing Updates & New Exerpt

Story update: The outline takes shape. Running into issues in the second act; focusing effort on fixing those. I've had to de-emphasize Homsar from Deuteragonist to Sidekick, but that's an overall benefit to the story; Lacann needs a more wordy companion to play off of when he's not dealing with an antagonist. Act 3 has some issues I need to sort, but that part is in better shape; it's a matter of what elements to put where rather than what elements to use at all.

Business update: The Big 5 look like they're about to have another massive shake-out, with Scalzi's new book already failing to meet expectations and that's likely going to result in Tor's midlist roster getting slashed severely to cover that gap. Amazon's finally telling the romance zombies to stay in their fucking lane, something pissing off the posers in SF/F writing romance in SF/F drag (GOOD!), and the retail scene for Barnes & Noble looks more like Borders did before they collapsed.

I'm sketching out a plan to take some of the better posts at my political philosophy blog and expand them into a book. Cleaned up, properly-edited, and independently pushed. Also, short and written for laymen; SJWs Always Lie and Gorilla Mindset is the model I'm looking to follow and make my own.

Finally, something from the story draft. This isn't getting cut, but it's not the final version either:

"My lord," Homsar said, "Lacann's our best chance to break the enemy that we've ever had. If we can take just enough of those towers, then his allies can get through to us. At the very least, that means we can take to the skies. Maybe we can even strike from the heavens!"

"If what our alien friend said is correct, then we need to remove five of them from specific places. Places far, far distant from here- too far for us to reach by hoof or sail in seven days." The old warlord looked at Lacann, who held up a hand, and nodded.

"Not hoof. Bike." Lacann said, weakly, pointing back towards his wrecked shuttle, "Two bikes. Aft hold. Plenty fast."

The old warlord smiled. "Machines, yes? Capable of great speed?

"Indeed." Lacann made a swooping motion with his hand. "Direct and cover me."

Homsar beamed. "That's where I am most useful!" He turned to the old warlord. "If my lord permits, of course."

"We keep them busy here, while you two slip past and strike at the towers. That's your plan?" The warlord eyed Lacann curiously.

"Yes" Lacann said, "Seen their like before. Know how to deal with them."

"Can you fight?"

"Yes." Lacann said, and then he pointed at Homsar. "With me."

"I'm not certain how you'll do it," the old warlord said, "but I know why you're willing to risk your life trying, and Homsar's good enough for what you need from us. Go, both of you. We'll keep them held down here as long as we can."

Friday, March 3, 2017

Work In Progress: The Set-Up

This is more stuff that I chose to cut out. The reason is that this scene, focused on someone other than the protagonist in both attention and presence, deals mostly in world-building and I don't need this for the story I'm telling. What needs to be present is better executed after the inciting incident; the story begins with Lacann's arrival in-system, and sets up the immediate stakes right there. What I'm putting down below--while interesting--doesn't play into that at all. That's why it got cut.

Duke Far followed Senator Radu into the senator's quarters, meant for the commander of Pell's Cottage. The younger man took his chair behind a desk, while the elder man took up a chair adjacent to it. The lights dimmed, and a holographic map of the galaxy appeared on the desk.

"The matter at hand, Senator?" Duke Far said.

"Briefly, Your Grace." Radu said, "Only so we are certain to discuss later from a point of common understanding."

The old duke nodded and stroked his graying beard. "Very well, then. Proceed, Senator."

"It is my understanding, from my sources, that the Court of Stars has split due to the ascension of the one your faction deems 'The Usurper'." Senator Radu brought forth an image of Imperator Veehs, a still from his self-declared assumption of power, "He, at present, enjoys sufficient noble and popular support that open opposition near the Court itself is suicide."

"Correct." Duke Far sat forward, eying the map. "My sources tell me that the majority of League parliamentarians are dead, imprisoned, or--like you--in hiding while the Imperial Navy occupies your worlds with the aide of local collaborators running puppet regimes."

"True." Radu said, sighing, "It is also true that the Imperator is already radically reorganizing the Imperial military? Not just a purge of those insufficiently loyal, but wholesale turnover of material as well as personnel?"

"Yes, that's been planned. The material will turnover first, with personnel turning over at a slower rate; the existing forces will not be replenished as they were during the war. They will be spent on the occupation and pacification campaigns, replaced by new units raised from newer sources personally tied to--and loyal to--the Usurper"

"And I hear that what remains of the United League military has scattered, scuttling whatever it could not abscond with, but that your final loses were so severe that there wasn't much left to either take or destroy."

"True on the material. Not so with our personnel. Seeing that defeat was inevitable, and knowing what the terms of any peace would be, many of us were ahead of you and your allies in reverting to a guerilla structure."

"But because of what you had to do to escape, your group lacks the means to act effectively."

"And your side, being mostly politicians and other public figures, lack the experience required to lead a successful campaign; you're too long accustomed to delegating such affairs to subordinates, as a class, concerned more about assassins in your chambers than armies at your gates. Or you like the Imperial Order handle it. Either way, you lot talk better than you fight."

Duke Far laughed. "I said as much to the others recently."

"Then we are at a common understanding." Radu smiled, "Good, we can skip to getting organized."

"The first thing we'll need is our own logistical network. Long before we start shooting, we need that sorted, and that means routes and nodes out of the Usurper's notice- like this place."

"Agreed, and also set up using a cell network for compartmentalization." Radu noticed Far staring at the map. "You're beyond that now, aren't you Your Grace."

"We have a window right now to seek out hidden bases, under the cover of seeking out old ones. We should use that."

Radu followed Far's gaze to a place in the map where a planet icon has a question mark on it. "Are you thinking of anywhere in particular?"

"Is your man Lacann the only scout present?"

"No." Radu took off the image of Veesh and brought up a handful of men on base. "I have these men, each able to operate on his own as Lacann does."

Duke Far pointed at that planet icon and several more on the map, all off the main lanes and well away from known areas of operation during the war. "These planets. Send then there."

"Why these worlds?"

"They're all worlds who broke contact with the Court of Stars generations, even centuries, ago. No one knows why, and even before the war the records immediately before they lost contact were sealed by order of the Elector Council. Yet they exist, and if not for the course of both war and commerce they would've been returned to galactic society long ago."

Radu read the man's face. "You're not just seeking open worlds. You're looking for allies."

The old duke gave the young senator a knowing grin. "Of course. We're looking at another war, and soon. At the very least, we need people willing to shelter our people for the duration, if not join their banner to ours."

"And your allies consent to this plan?"

"As much as they have to this meeting, or that yours have, for that matter."

The two men gave knowing looks to each other. "Your Grace is known for acting first and getting compliance later." Radu said.

"A brilliant engineer once said, 'Build it and they will come.'" Duke Far said, quoting Radu's father.

A moment passed, and the mood again shifted. "The first Imperial ships to be decommissioned will be the converted consular cruisers, such as the Gale Wolf." Duke Far said, "Arranging for them to be diverted and disappeared won't be difficult, but I can only get so many that way."

"Right now, Your Grace, any new material sources will do- especially in contacting mysterious unknown peoples."

Duke Far sat back. "Enough for now. Let's recess, dine, and reconvene thereafter. Have your scouts come this time, as I want to get this joint operation moving immediately. Once it succeeds, we can present the results to our allies-"

"-as a fait accompli, which they will accept as an excuse to go along."

"Fortune favors the bold." Duke Far said, and they left for the Officer's Mess.

The following scene I did to explore this went over the other planets, assigned scouts to each one, and gave them the same survey-and-report mission with the understanding that permission to make contact would be the next step followed by a diplomatic mission to formally open relations and begin negotiations. In other words, the reason for Lacann going to the lost colony is part of a larger operation to establish a covert network of guerilla supporters. Not mentioned here, but in the second follow-up is that Lacann's target world is said to be a colony founded about a millenia ago after another galactic war where one of the winning officers refused the Court's order to disband and go home, instead taking his warband with him into exile (and their families with).

But that's not the story. That's the fame around the story, suitable for an appendix entry, but not for inclusion in the story proper. The story is about Lacann's mission to the planet, not the people who sent him there.