Jack Lusted

Science-fiction writer

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Category: writing (page 1 of 7)

The First Draft is FINISHED!!!!!

More exclamation marks!!!!!!!!!

It totals 95,906 words across a prologue and thirty three chapters. 41,000 words of those were written since the 5th of June, a bit of a mammoth effort but mainly got to by increasing my word count goal to 2,000 a day. More work but I did it each and every day and now the first draft is done.

Finito!

Well, as complete as any first draft is which is to say it’s pretty much shit and fucked in so many places.

But first drafts aren’t there to be lovely and purpose. They’re there to let us suck, to explore the story as a whole and see what works and what doesn’t. Now I have a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end with plot arcs that sort of make sense I can take a look at it, work out what needs to be changed.

A quick list of pro’s and con’s for this first draft, starting with the con’s:

CON’S (boo!):

  • It’s not very good – my writing has improved a lot since the first draft of Oranje, but I still have a lot of work to do on the art of writing, though I think that will always be true.
  • The pacing is all over the place – this I’m not 100% sure of, but I think re-reads of the first draft will only confirm.The first half is too slow and the second half moves too fast. Needs changing.
  • Too much dialog, not enough description – a problem that plagued all my drafts of Oranje and I’d say was still there in the final work.
  • Characters need work – they’re not really there as distinct personalities yet in many cases.
  • Grammar? Who needs grammar! – ahaha oh god its terrible.

However, however, those cons are pretty much the point. You write the first draft to get it done then sort this out, so let’s move on to the pro’s.

PRO’S (yay!)

  • It’s a hell of a lot better than Oranje’s first draft was – that was half the length of the final book and I basically rewrote the whole thing for the second draft. I’m expecting major changes to this first draft, but not on the same scale.
  • I can see the improvements – the pacing and balance of the book is better, and the characters are more fleshed out at this point than they were on Oranje.
  • All of the con’s can be fixed! – that’s the big pro, the fact all of them are solvable problems. The story isn’t complete shit, it’s just rubbish, rubbish that can be trimmed and tucked and smashed into shape.

So all in all i’m a happy Jack – we’ll see how long that lasts once I start editing – and enjoying the moment. Be a short break whilst I work on a few issues I know straight away and working on a draft back of the book description, and then on to edit lands it is.

Today I smile.

A Progress Update on The Word

A quick post with a progress update for The Word. I’m now 30,000 words through the first draft, around a 1/3rd of the way through it if my guess at it’s final length of 90,000-100,000 words is correct. At the pace I’m going the first draft should be done sometime in June or early July. Not bad at all.

I think there is a definite improvement in my writing when compared to the first draft of Oranje though I’m noticing a lot of the same problems with it. Lack of description, too much dialog, characters showing their emotions in the same few ways (nodding, shrugging etc.). Not going to worry about that for now, 2nd draft is for fixing those.

Talking of the 2nd draft there are also other changes I know I want to do. I’ve been working more on the overall back story and setting for the United novels, changes that will give The Word and other stories a lot more depth and feeling of being part of a consistent universe.

The whole idea of the United novels is now to chart the changing situation in this galaxy a thousand years in the future, from the golden age of the Commonwealth of Earth to the new dream of the United. Each novel will tell a different part of this story, The Word telling the tale of how the United begin. Hopefully the United novels will end up feeling part of this grand sweeping story, and that people can get invested in it.

That’s all for now, next progress update probably sometime after I’ve passed the half way point.

Who Am I Writing For?

A silly question perhaps when the answer is myself, but it’s one I’ve been thinking about recently as I work on The Word.

When I first got on the path of seriously writing – that eventually led to Oranje and what I’m working on now – I spent a lot of time online researching serious sci-fi. I visited sites like Atomic Rockets, Rocketpunk Manifesto and read a lot of critiques of literary sci-fi that were going on at the time. Jonathan McCalmont’s Cowardice, Laziness and Irony: How Science Fiction Lost the Future being by far the best example of that.

They’re all excellent website, but I think I approached them wrong, especially the first two. I went to them convinced I had to write serious and realistic sci-fi because…well, I’m not sure why. But I’d convinced myself I needed to and that shaped a lot of the world building I did for Oranje. I realise the end product wasn’t the most accurate, but those sites definitely influenced how I approached it a lot.

And I really don’t know how I got into the position of believing there was one correct way to write sci-fi, or at least the one right way for me to do. Perhaps it was a desire, a need maybe, to be taken seriously, and really that’s the wrong approach.

The only person I’m really writing my books for is myself, and I should write them in a way that makes me happy and that I enjoy.

Those websites I linked are all fantastic resources, Jonathan McCalmont’s essay in particular is incredibly thought provoking, and great tools to use in world buildings. But I should’ve used them to shape a setting that came from what I like in sci-fi.

What is that? What constantly draws me to this genre?

The simple answer I think is that the genre contains so many interesting stories about people which are set in universes and worlds that allow the story to tell us about what it means to be human. Whether that be what it is to love, to hope, or to suffer lose and grief.

Those are the kind of stories I want to write, in a setting that allows me to tell those stories as best as I can.

That is what the United novels are meant to be. Even if The Word is going to cover a lot of the same story I had planned for the September series, it will do it differently and in a way that better reflects who I am as a writer.

Who am I writing for? Myself, and that’s all that any writer can really do.

What Are Colours?

K Tempest Bradford on twitter linked to an post of hers from a few years ago, Mental Noodling About Color, Ancient Peoples, and Alien Races, which got me thinking.

The fact the spectrum of colours we use to describe the world came about fairly recently (really recently when talking about the whole span of the human species) and before then people talked about colour in very different ways. The author Kameron Hurley linked to this page on Ancient Greek Color Vision that says how for the Greeks the words they used to describe colour were more than just about the tone as it were. It was about the qualities they associated with that colour, the texture of it, shadow and many other elements.

Obviously this isn’t something we think about much as we take it for granted that we have this vast vocabulary of words to paint the world around us in. But what if we didn’t? Or, perhaps more interestingly from the perspective of a budding sci-fi writer, what if that changed in the future?

It’s got me thinking about how I talk about the details of the settings in my books. Colours not only describe the world around us but also use them to define it. In stories set a thousand years in the future, where the galaxy as been colonised and interstellar travel is common, wouldn’t our concept of what colours mean have changed?

With space itself being so freaking big, and so black for the most part, I wonder if the old dichotomy of light = good and dark = bad would remain. I’d hope not given the current worrying implications it has towards skin colour but then our society as a whole still needs to deal with the racism that exists today which is something people far more qualified than me have talked about with far greater authority.

It strikes me as a possibility that with a greater part of the population being exposed to space, and with all the changes that spreading across the galaxy would bring, that a new language around colours and how the world is described might evolve, existing words used in new ways to define the world around us.

Definitely something I’m going to think about more and try and develop, but I thought it was interesting enough to share.

One Day…

You tell yourself you’ll get round to doing it one day. That book you’ve always wanted to write, or getting started practicing your painting. One day you’ll start. You’re too busy right now, not ready yet to jump into it. But don’t worry, one day you will.

One day is a filthy lie.

One day is a mantra that puts you off doing what you want.

It persuades you that there is always more you need to do before starting. That it doesn’t matter, you’ll get round to it.

One day is a comfort we tell ourselves so we don’t worry about not doing anything right now.

It soothes our worries, and tells us it’ll be okay one day.

One day is a temptress that seduces us with its promises. It lulls us into believing its mantra.

Well bollocks to one day.

Write. Create. Today. Not tomorrow, or the day after, or sometime next week.

Today.

Art is not created by putting it off, art is created with practice and work.

Do something today. Whether that be outline a chapter, write a sentence, do a five minute sketch. Just do something. And then do something tomorrow. And the day after. And the day after that.

You might after a while you’ve created something. It might not be good, or up to the standards you’ve set yourselves.

But you will have made something. And you can be damn proud about that.

It’s a hell of a lot more than saying ‘one day’ will ever have you create.

Go out and art, let forth the ideas in your brain. Enjoy yourself.

Variety is King – Chapter and Sentence Length

I’ve almost finished up my refresh of the outline for The Word and the biggest thing I’ve noticed is the number of chapters in it.

Oranje had 45 chapters (including progress), each of pretty much 2,500 words. The first outline of the word had 57 and from first draft work the chapters were turning out around the same number of words.

This outline has 32.

There’s the same amount of stuff going on in the story, probably even a bit more than the previous outline. The biggest change is I’m trying to break away from such consistent chapter sizes. It’s often something I see talked about on writing forums, people often worried about how long a chapter should be and people saying the length they aim for.

I find that really dangerous advice.

Equally sized chapters are boring and can slow down stories. Well not just on their own but if each scene is playing out over the same number of words there is an inevitable amount of consistency to the pacing.

Letting chapters be as big or as small as they need to be will help let the individual scenes thrive. There can be fast paced action ones that aren’t too long, and slower more dialog based ones where the reader can take a break and absorb the characters and story.

Now this has to be done in conjunction with other tools. You can have long but fast paced scenes and short but calming ones. But when you combine the length of each scene with the amount of information/action that happens in it, alongside that other great pacing tool of sentence length, you have more levers to control your story.

I could write a bit about sentence structure myself, but I won’t as there is a fantastic example that already exists from Gary Provost:

This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety.

Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length.

And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbal-sounds that say listen to this, it is important.

Chapter and sentence length and tools and weapons in the writers armoury to add variety and better control the pace and flow of their work.

It’s something I am to make better use of myself with The Word. We’ll see – as always – how it turns out.

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