Can’t wait for Dragon Blade

Come on Australia. When do we see Dragon Blade?

 

Proofs for Linesman

Got the proofs back for LINESMAN today.

It’s pretty cool, seeing your typeset pages for the first time.  It looks like a real book.

In other book news:

  • We’re finishing the last draft of book two before we send it to our editor. That’s s due by 1st May
  • After the 1st May—or before, if can make it—it’s back to draft one of book three.

How long is too long?

We like to finish the first draft of our novels at around 90,000 words. We know we’ll clean up 10-20,000 words just in the minor edits, but we also know that we tend to write spare, rather than overwrite, and that in the following drafts we’ll add 20-30,000 words of new story.

When we finished early drafts of LINESMAN book 2, we found ourselves with a whopping 130,000 words. Which is way too long when we know we are going to add new scenes.

We’re gradually whittling it down, but we’re getting close to the stage where we really need to step back and let the book sit for a few months before we can do the editing justice. Unfortunately, we have a deadline.

Thus it was interesting to read LightningLouie‘s IO9 article How Long is Too Long? Louie had just read Patrick Rothfuss’ The Wise Man’s Fear, and found it long, with the impression that it could have done with some editing.

I confess that until we started writing our own books to a contract, I was one of those people who would probably have blamed—as one commenter said:

New Writer = Vigilant Editor
vs
Old Writer = Complacent Editor

Now I’m not so sure. Another commenter mentioned the demands of the marketplace.

Based on our own experience, how much does the length of the contract have to do with how dispassionately an author can look at the edits in a book?

Many genre books are delivered in nine months nowadays. I don’t think it takes the author any longer to write a book, but I do wonder if the shorter amount of time between finishing the first draft and delivering the last draft contributes to being able to edit less dispassionately.

Reflections on writing series books – part 3

The third in our musings about the difficulties of writing series books.

There’s a line in the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie where Elizabeth falls off the fort and into the water because her tight corset makes her faint. Jack Sparrow dives in to rescue her. He drags her out of the water and rips off her corset, which allows her to breathe.

One of the guards Sparrow has been talking to, says, “I never would have thought of that.”

“Clearly,” Jack says, “You’ve never been to Singapore.”

Terry Rossio says that in the first movie, it was simply a throwaway line. Yet two movies later, the crew of the Black Pearl are in Singapore.

It’s part of the magic of writing a series. You never know which little bit of colour you add in one book will stick in your mind, and a novel or two later, become important to the story. For example, there’s a passing mention of a rather unpleasant man in LINESMAN (not naming names, because … spoilers). We’ve started book three, and all of a sudden—who’s one of our bad guys? He is.

We don’t know what’s coming

In an ideal world, we’d have our three story arc and our overall story arc determined before long before we start. And we do in a minor sort of way, because we sent synopses for books two and three to our editor before we were even offered a contract.

For pantsers like us, books don’t slot themselves neatly into the synopses. I won’t say we don’t outline, for when two of you are working together you need to know where the book is going. Ours is more of an organic outline. We know roughly what happens in the story—the one page synopsis we sent to our editor—and we have a good idea of the end. Then, as we write, we discuss what happens next. So we know a day or two ahead what’s coming—and it doesn’t always come, mind. The story can go off in a totally new way in the following day’s writing.

I don’t want to give spoilers for Linesman, so I’ll use an example of another, unpublished, story of ours. This one’s middle grade, and it’s called Hero’s Apprentice.

Jorry and his father have hardly spoken to each other in the year since Jorry’s mother died, and when they do talk, it’s to fight. Jorry decides to impress his father by becoming a hero, and he knows how to do it too. The scary old Hermit down the road has a Supreme Star—the highest honour in the galaxy. Only true heroes get Supreme Stars. All he has to do is get the hermit to take him on as an apprentice.

At the end of the book Jorry gets his chance to be heroic and his father is proud of him. Jorry, however, discovers that being a hero isn’t all he thought it would be, and that sometimes deeds other people deem heroic are not ones he is proud of.

As you can see, we know a lot about how the story starts, have a rough ending, but little in between. We thought we knew how Jorry got to be a hero, but that changed. We thought we knew his relationship with the hermit, but that changed. We didn’t know anything about the alien Jorry befriended, or about fire rocks, or kin skills. They came later, as we wrote the book.

Half the fun of the story is finding out what happens as we go along.

However, if you don’t plan your series up front you never know what you’ll have to do in later stories to make the sequels fit the story.

Balancing act 1

Once something is in print you can’t change it.

For instance, in the original drafts of Linesman, we made line four the line that dealt with computers. Even in today’s world computers don’t generally get their own guernsey. Your car has a built-in computer. Your credit card has its own microchip. Your phone has apps. None of them are computers per se, they’re technology built into the device.

So instead, we made line four the line that dealt with gravity. Which worked well, because our ships had artificial gravity but until we made this change, no apparent means via their technology of doing this.

Luckily for us, we were able to change that in the rewrites. Imagine, though, if we hadn’t changed it in time. You can’t change it in book two. Whatever is set in print is what you have to use in ongoing books.

As you build your world, book by book, you have to remain true to the universe you have created. There are some things you’ll get wrong. Even now, finishing book two, we find little niggles that we would change if we could back in book one.

Balancing act 2

I said in an earlier post that we didn’t initially start off writing three books about the same character. We started writing stories set in the same universe, with characters common to both stories, but with different protagonists.

We hope some of these books might published one day too.

The first one—let’s call it Acquard, after the protagonist—is set around a specific event. This event happens early in book two of Linesman. Once it’s happened, Ean Lambert, our protagonist from Linesman, knows what Acquard (and Rossi) discover in Acquard. It’s not something Ean would ignore.

We can ignore it and pretend it never happened, which means that Acquard the book will end up under the bed, because so much of the book is based around a specific event.

Our agent may not like the story, in which case it will end up under the bed anyway. Even if she does like it, she may not be able to sell it. After all, we don’t know if Linesmen will sell enough to warrant another series yet. Also under the bed.

But we like the story, and the characters, and we have enough faith in it to want to assume that it will eventually become part of the line series canon. Which means we have to include characters we wouldn’t have otherwise, and the reader has to know what Ean knows without giving away too much of Acquard‘s plot. And we have to make it fit into Ean’s story without it being an obvious add-on, so our editor doesn’t automatically say, “Cut [this character’s] scenes. They don’t add anything to the story.”

It’s a balancing act.

Word’s latest weirdness

Or not so much Word, but Microsoft’s cloud, aka OneDrive.

Revisions. We keep our files on OneDrive, so we can both edit the file and, theoretically, when the one person opens the document they can see what changes the other has made.

It’s working a lot better than it used to. Microsoft seems to have fixed some bugs. The two users are playing nice in the same file nowadays, which is more than they used to. (Four users really, since there are two at home and two for the daily commute).

Until we start tracking changes.

Well, actually, track changes is fine. The problem is accepting changes.

You accept the changes on one computer. Everything looks fine.

Then you open the file on another computer. Only to find that both sets of changes have disappeared altogether, or the changes have been inserted twice.

Aargh!

A moment in Spock time

One of our favourite Star Trek media is the Pocket Book, Ishmael, by Barbara Hambly.

It was a crossover novel. Or, if you prefer, a mashup before they had mashups.

As children we both loved the television series Here Come the Brides. As adults, we discovered Star Trek, and Mr Spock was our favourite. It always amused us that Mark Lenard—Spock’s father in Star Trek, was the antagonist in Here Come the Brides.

And then Barbara Hambly wrote Ishmael.

In it, Spock goes undercover to infiltrate the Klingons, is caught, and transported back to 1867 Seattle, where his ever-so-great maternal grandfather (Mark Lenard as Aaron Stemple) has made a deal with mill owner Joshua Bolt to bring out a hundred women as potential partners for his workers. The catch—all the women are to have husbands within twelve months or Bolt loses his mill to Stemple.

It’s a beautiful book. As a Trekkie you get a Spock/Kirk book. As a Spock fan you get Spock with amnesia, trying to fit in to a society that is totally alien to him. Much like Spock in Spock’s own time, really.

As a fan of Here Come the Brides you get to see a totally different Aaron Stemple. One that stayed true to the man, but also peeled away different layers, so you saw the real man underneath.

As writers—although we didn’t realise back then that we were even dissecting the story as writers—the story was satisfying on so many levels. Everything was logical (if we can use that word).

Ishmael_(Star_Trek)Spock loses his memory because he has nothing in this new world that he can associate with his old life. As soon as he sees a Klingon his memory returns.

He is sent back to 1867 because the Klingons were trying to go back to 1867 and kill Stemple.

The Stemple/Sarek/Spock circle is just perfect.

And, of course, James T. Kirk has been working frantically in the background and arrives just in time.


Leonard Nimoy—as Mr Spock you were part of our life. We thank you for it.

A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP.
Leonard Nimoy (March 26, 1931 – February 27, 2015)

Kingsman

This week I’ll give you a break from talking about series to talk about the movie we saw last weekend.

Kingsman.

A clever, coming-of-age story about a boy who becomes a spy (or the equivalent of). With nods to all those old sixties, seventies and eighties spy movies and television series like James Bond, The Man From Uncle, the Avengers, and no doubt a dozen more. And, of course, to the graphic novel from which it was spawned.

It was very violent. Exploding heads, people getting stabbed and otherwise finished off in various terrible ways. Almost slapstick humour. Definitely not a movie for the squeamish. It was so violent that I could turn off on the violence itself, but I couldn’t always turn off on the audience laughing at that violence.

There were some beautiful pieces in it.

The church scene is … awful, but superb is the only way I can describe it.

The recurring theme of ‘manners maketh a man’ was fun too.

It was a well-plotted movie. Talk about guns on the mantelpiece. There were plenty, and they used them all. If I wanted to teach someone storytelling I’d point to this movie as one to dissect to see how they did it. The writers used classic storybook techniques and they told a fun story with it.

I do have to mention the actors. They were great, and I’ll never think of Colin Firth now without remembering that church scene.

All up, a fun movie if you can get past the violence.

Next week, back to talking about writing series novels.

Reflections on writing series books – part 2

The series arc

Now that we’ve gotten the ‘why’ of writing a series out of the way, let’s talk about some of the things you need to consider when writing it. The first is the series arc.

You can write an open-ended series where each story is standalone. Or you can write an ongoing story that ties everything up in the last book. Then there’s the combination of these two—standalone books that have an overall arc that ties up nicely by the end of the third book.

Everyone has their own likes and dislikes about series. As readers we love the third type ourselves. Stories that finish at the end of a book—it’s so frustrating when you get to the end of a book and the story stops, with nothing resolved—but that work to a bigger picture that becomes clearer as the story unfolds.

As readers, too, we don’t like a series that goes on seemingly forever without important issues being resolved.  Wheel of Time, I’m looking at you here.

I confess that I get tired of a series after about four or five books. As a reader, and as a writer.

I’d rather (we’d both rather) write series’ the way Robin Hobb does.

Three books about Fitz (the Farseer Trilogy). “I’m done. His story is finished.” Or words to that effect. So she goes off and writes Liveship Traders, set in the Rain Wilds, a different part of the same world. With a guest appearance by my absolute favourite character out of the Assassin books. Meantime, she’s been thinking about Fitz and the Fool. “Maybe I do have another story I can tell.”

Yes, please.

And she gives us the Tawny Man series. “I’m done with them now,” and she writes the Soldier Son trilogy, and then another Rain Wilds series (four books this time). And now … another Fitz and Fool series.

As a reader, I love it. She tells the story, she finishes, she moves on to something else.

As a writer I love it too. Imagine if Robin Hobb had written all nine Fitz and Fool books one after the other. She’d be getting awfully tired of her characters, I think, and it would show. Instead, when she has a story she is ready to tell about them, she tells it. And when she doesn’t, she gets to tell other stories.

This keeps the writer fresh, and also means that the story has to finish within the original three book arc. Nowadays, a series usually means three books. We can all point to exceptions, but unless you have an outstanding proposal, it will be three books.

The fourth arc

That means the writer must provide four story arcs. The story arc for each individual book and one for the whole series. And they must keep that overall arc unresolved without leaving too many loose ends.

Writers do it with varying degrees of efficiency. Some writers plan one big story and then seem to chop it into three parts almost arbitrarily. So you really only have one arc, not four.

Me, I find it frustrating to get to the end of a book with nothing resolved. It’s even worse when the story ends on a cliff-hanger. As a reader I like some sort of closure to each book. I also lose a tiny bit of faith with the writer when he/she does that.

If they do too often I tend to stop reading them.

Pantsing it

It’s a smart thing to know the story arc you’re working toward when you write your series.

We’re pantsers, not plotters, but even we see the benefits of knowing the story arcs that we’re working to. Particularly the overall story arc.

It doesn’t have to be set in concrete. It doesn’t need to be long. And you don’t even require it for the first book, especially if you wrote it as a stand-alone.

You need to know it as you work through book 2, though. Otherwise you may end up doing far more rewriting than you planned.

We have a one sentence overall story arc for LINESMAN—which we’re not telling, for obvious reasons—but it’s enough. By the end of book 2 you may not even realise what we’re working to.

You’ll definitely know in book 3 though, because the overall story arc has to tie in closely with the smaller arc of the third book.

Part 3.

Reflections on writing series books – part 1

You’re a newbie author, trying to work out what to write. Should you write a series, because if you sell the book, chances are you’ll be asked to write two more books, all about the same character? Or do you write standalone books, to give yourself a better range of options when you’re looking for an agent and a publisher?

There’s no one answer to this. What works for some authors won’t necessarily work for others. In the end it comes down to how it works best for you.

We started by writing standalone novels. That suited us. We had lots of stories we wanted to tell, and they were in mixed genres. Fantasy, young-adult, science fiction, and at least one science fiction mystery cross.

Our agent took us on for a science fiction novel. Naturally, we mentioned our other work, and even sent her a fantasy novel we’d written, but she told us very early that she would prefer initially to establish us as science fiction authors.

We were fine with that, especially as the science fiction we had sent her was the science fiction we loved to write.

TakeAway_1Be sure that you love the genre and style you are submitting in, because if you get an agent or sell your book, they’ll likely want more of the same.

 

TakeAway_bonusEnsure that you and your agent have the same business vision for your writing.

 

Having said all the above, if you write genre there is a good chance your publisher will want a series. That’s usually, but not always, three books.

TakeAway_2If you don’t think you can write three books in the series, be honest about it up front.

 

This was another thing we discussed with our agent. We chose to write another two loosely-related books. That is, two more books set in the same universe but with different main protagonists. We loved the setting and we had lots more stories to tell.

When our agent sold the book, however, the editor wanted three books about the same character.

We had spent considerable time and discussion on the other stories, but the main character was only a secondary character in the new stories.

TakeAway_3Be prepared. Be flexible. Understand that what you offer may not be what the editor wants. Don’t say, “Yes,” just to get published. Think about whether you can deliver it. If you don’t think you can, be honest up front.

Because, after all …

TakeAway_4You have to deliver what you agree to.

 

 

We talked about it, and decided we could write three books about Ean Lambert, and came up with some ideas. We came up with them in a hurry, maybe not the best idea on reflection, but we got our three book contract.

Now, we’re authors who normally sit on a book idea for months, keeping it in the back of our mind, gradually adding other ideas to it as we go. We’d already written book one, we were ready to start on book two. And we hadn’t really thought much about the plot of the second book yet.

TakeAway_5Know how you write. Understand the limitations, accept them, and work around them.

 

I don’t think we could have done it differently to the way we did, but it definitely made book two more difficult to write than book three, which we’re working on now. Book three has had six months to germinate, and as a result it’s a better, cleaner story. We think it will be easier to write too.

The writing itself comes with its own challenges. Keeping track of names, remembering who did what, and trying to give backstory in books two and three without dragging the story down, all the while remaining true to the characters and how they behaved in the earlier books.

But that’s for another post. But first, we have to talk about the series story arc.

The benefits of co-authoring

We finished revising a major draft of LINESMAN Book 2 recently.

There’s a lot more work to do on it, but this version is essentially complete. We’re at the stage where we’d normally put the book aside while we write the first draft of the next book.

Except this time we don’t have time to do that, because the book is to be delivered on the 1st May. That doesn’t mean we’re not going to write the next book, because we’re starting on that today. It does mean we won’t get Book 3 finished before we have to go back to Book 2.

We’ll give it a month if we can.

But we also did what any sensible writer would do in the meantime, and sent it off to our agent for her to have a look at. (She offered.) Then last night at dinner we sat down over a glass of red wine and talked about the problems we thought she would come back with.

It’s an early draft. We wouldn’t normally show it to anyone yet, but there was something cathartic about sending it away. Just like that, relaxing and talking it over, we were free to analyse the issues we knew were there but hadn’t been able to fix.

We even came up with solutions to two major scenes that had been bugging us for a while. Good solutions. We were tempted to recall the email, rewrite and resend, but that may have been the wine talking.

Getting deeply into the story like this. It’s between you and your co-author, and it’s one of the best parts about writing.

Linesman