Sunday, July 15, 2012

Late night thoughts

It's been a long day, but very satisfying.  I've just finished Part 3 of the five-part manuscript I'm working on.  It's been bugging me for well over a year, trying to make this introductory book of a proposed series hang together.  There are a series of interlocking problems I've been trying to tackle, with limited success.

  1. The book has to catch the reader's interest, making him want to read the whole thing (and, hopefully, subsequent books in the series).  Since fiction writing in general, and science fiction in particular, and military science fiction in particularly particular, is a demanding field, I've got a lot to learn.  So far I've written close on two million words over six or seven years as part of the learning process.  I think (I hope!) I'm finally beginning to get it.
  2. It has to set the scene for a whole fictional military-science-fiction universe, drawing on extensive here-and-now military lore and experience so it's not completely foreign to today, but also incorporating future science and technology in ways that are at least theoretically practical.
  3. Characters introduced here will be very important in future books, some only for one or two volumes, others for the entire series.  How can I build them up in this 'first pass' without committing the massive infodumps so characteristic of some authors?  (If I find them frustrating in other authors, I'm sure my readers would find them the same in my work - so I'd better avoid them from the get-go!)  Too little information is sub-optimal;  too much is bad;  but what's just right?  Paging literary Goldilocks . . .
  4. Most important of all for me, I want the military scenes to be realistic.  I know how frustrated I get when reading such elements in the work of authors who're making it up from whole cloth as they go along.  It's something one has to have experienced in order to understand, I think (although others might disagree with me, of course).  I'm finding it a real challenge to be realistic about military service (particularly combat) while minimizing the profanity and in-your-face raw humanity that's so much a part of that experience.  After all, one can paint a very accurate word-picture of a sewage farm without having to recreate the stench on every page!

I'm very pleased that a new idea I had a few weeks ago seems to be coming up trumps.  It'll hopefully tie together numerous elements and provide continuity over at least three books as a major plot point.  I've written or re-written or edited about 80,000 words in the past three weeks to accommodate it, and I've got about 40,000-50,000 to go.  It's flowing nicely, which is a big relief after the prolonged 'writer's block' that preceded it.  (You can read the first chapter of the revised book here.)

Anyway, that's why blogging has been light sometimes.  I've just finished the third section, and my eyes are tired and hard to focus after all those hours staring at a computer screen, so I won't try to put up several blog posts tonight.  I'll put this one up to explain what's been going on, then hit the sack.  Tomorrow morning I'll add a few more.

Sleep well, y'all.



Scott said...

One of the better ways to manage what would be a data dump was something I saw in Laura Reeves' "Peacemaker" series:

A data-point about how the FTL drive worked was described by the main character with a bit of distaste as someone else's drive showed signs of poor adjustment or poor piloting...

Later, the main character does that some thing on purpose.

But you're totally right, there is a fine art to giving enough information about how a world works but not waxing Clancy-esque about the way the system works!

Andrew Smith said...

Don't forget to make sure that the super-mega-weapon of SF lore can be destroyed by throwing a $5 wrench in to it at the right moment. They'll never see it coming. :-P

Rova said...

You have my sympathies; I've passed the 1.8 million word mark and have 3 of 5 volumes done to rough manuscript with another +700k in notes and plot lines. Truly, it would be easier and involve less trauma top simply hack open an artery with a blunt garden cultivator and bleed over the blank pages, hoping inspiration would take over from there. . .
"Why do it?" never enters into the equation at the day's end.

Anonymous said...

To avoid a "data dump" in characterization, only reveal what you need to for the current volume. You can reveal more in later volumes, as the characters grow.

Think about how acquaintances grow into friendships: You didn't get a full "data dump" the first time you met them. Writing should follow a similar pattern: let the characterization details grow over time.