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So I wrote a 130K-word first draft in a year, and I thought I'd try to finish the second draft in a second year, but that deadline passed four days ago, and I wasn't even close to making it, despite a lot of steady work over all that time. I did manage to hammer out an improved version of the most difficult part. The revised version held together and I thought I was over the hump. But then I asked myself, Why did this take so long? It took so long because it was hard. I thought that was okay; sometimes writing is just hard, I thought. But now I think that this was hard in a bad way. I was trying to fix an engine with tape. That's hard work, all right, but it's also futile. In this one part of my story, the engine was broken: there was a basic problem in the plot. Because of timing constraints that I felt I had to respect in order to keep my story's integrity as a realistic fantasy, my secondary protagonist was sitting around for six weeks, waiting for the main protagonist to show up. This basic problem was concealed in the first draft because I didn't directly describe the six-week waiting period. It was backstory. I introduced the second protagonist at the moment he meets the first one. So in the first draft, the six-week lull came out in reminiscences and background data dumps. I thought it would be harmless this way, but dull and implausible don't really taste any better for being spread thin. I missed seeing the basic problem for what it was, I think, because it hid in the interface between two ideas: "fill in backstory" and "timing constraints". The timing constraints seemed to stick me with this six-week lull in my backstory; of course I had to fill in backstory. So I didn't connect the dots to realize that my writing and re-writing was really all about excusing a bizarre lull in what was supposed to be an urgent plot. The six-week stasis was like a tumor in my story that my scans failed to detect. Over the past year I moved a lot of backstory into main story, by starting to follow the second protagonist before the two meet. I invented some interesting things that would happen during the six-week lull, and I turned my second protagonist into a vengeful schemer with a suitably nasty scheme. It was all still hard going, however. The episodes that I invented to pass the boring six weeks were interesting but mostly pointless; I tried to present them as parts of the nasty scheme, but they really mostly weren't, because it was nastily simple and didn't really need them. I believe I have a simple solution to this problem. I'm going to let my second protagonist spend four weeks traveling to the climactic setting. He was always supposed to have traveled there, but his starting point has never been pinned down, so I can easily make his trip take longer. I think I can salvage almost all of the stuff I've invented over the past year, by just transplanting it from the destination castle to a river barge en route. I think this single trick will really help a lot. Right from the beginning, my guy can be making clear progress towards a clear goal: he's going to the castle. And the interesting episodes that played no genuine role in the nasty revenge scheme itself can now become genuine solutions to problems of the journey. Having the hero solve genuine problems helps a story even more than you'd think it would, I believe. All kinds of nice details seem to fall naturally into place, when the basic plot makes simple sense. My main concern is that this will end up lengthening the book too much. I think I'll just have to try it and see how it goes. Anyway, I think I've learned something. When writing gets hard, is it right to just keep on writing? Up to a point, I think it is. By hammering away on my second protagonist, even within his crippling time frame, I improved him a lot and invented some neat parts of the story. But I think I took this too far. There's a level of effort that is too hard, and past this point the difficulty is a signal that something unrecognized is basically wrong. If I had taken this hint a bit sooner, I might have saved myself a lot of time. And if this trick works, then the next time I find that a story seems to be lacking momentum, I'll try putting in some literal movement. Maybe journeys are the ketchup of fiction, and every one-line plot summary can be improved by adding "... on a road trip."
I worked on my novel for about a year and half using Apple's Pages app. It gave me no problems even as the story stretched well past 100,000 words. Pages is a general-purpose word processor and doesn't claim to be optimized for writing novels in particular, but it's robust and easy to use. I liked that it wasn't anything more than that. I knew about fancy-pants apps like Ulysses or Scrivener, that offered all kinds of corkboard views and index cards and stuff. I was afraid of them. I thought they would be great tools for someone who wanted to be writing a novel — as opposed to someone who actually wanted to get one written. They would give you endless things to fiddle with, sustaining an illusion of production. The reality is, of course, that the only thing that really counts as progress is the bare text of your book itself. No matter how nice all your index cards look on your corkboard, no readers will ever buy and read your background notes about your world and your characters and your themes and your blah blah blah. Writing in Pages kept me honest. Every word in the file was a word of the book. If I needed to make notes to myself, I wrote a separate Pages file for notes. I had one big file for my book, and I couldn't kid myself that anything else counted. But a couple of months ago I decided that I had actually done pretty well in bringing a draft to a conclusion, and maybe I wasn't at such a high risk of getting bogged down forever in navel-gazing. I really didn't just want to be writing. I wanted to finish, and I would. The task of re-writing the third quarter of the book was just difficult. I knew how the story would end and I knew its first half, so I was painted into a corner in a lot of ways. It was a jigsaw puzzle, to fit everything into the existing frame. I knew I needed to cut some fresh pieces, but I wasn't sure exactly what holes I needed to fill. I decided to give Scrivener a try. Its killer feature is that it lets you carve up your text into little pieces, give them little titles and summaries and comments, and move them around or see them all together. It makes it easy to do all that, with just a few clicks or keystrokes. It makes moving between big picture and small pieces fast and easy. That's pretty good, in fact. There's definitely an opportunity to spill your effort into character notes and stuff, which are all part of your Scrivener document and so feel like they're part of your book even though they're not. But the app really does something, with its carving up text into chunks, that is hard to do with a general purpose word processor. Maybe for a first draft you're better to just pour everything into something like Pages until you've got the story told, baldly and badly; but for revisions, I think Scrivener may be a really useful tool. I've even started using Scrivener for scientific papers now. Scrivener doesn't do equations properly, so I'll have to export into LaTeX for the final version, but for getting the text itself right, the outlining feature of Scrivener may be even more useful for scientific papers than it is for fiction.
We were once a great civilization. We were the explorers, the colonists, the conquerors of all that came before us. We harnessed the power of the stars to travel the heavens. It seemed nothing could stop us. That is, nothing except ourselves. When I was young, my grandfather talked about the olden days. About the ships that came from the stars, carrying masses of people and goods, mighty steel beasts falling out of the sky. About the prosperity and happiness that permeated the land. Every person lived without fear, free to wander the planet's beautiful landscapes and perfectly-terraformed beaches. When it was commonplace to step into a steel bird and step out of it a day later on a different world. That all ended the day the skies exploded. War, misery, starvation. The once-graceful steel ships crashed to the ground, shattering metal and bodies out of their plasma-scorched hulls. Fire raining from the heavens, turning entire cities into glass, destroying all of a once-great world. Forests turned to ash, lakes boiled into cracked and broken pits. One day we were everything, the next we were nothing. We're only a shell of that once-great civilization. Once we could look up and see the stars, feel them looking back at us, knowing that, on some giant rock hurtling around them, there was a human looking up at his own view of the heavens. Every night I look up, but I feel nothing but the emptiness of space. So little remains. Where once hovercars flew, horses now walk. Holsters that once held energy pistols now hold six-shooters. Light sockets now gape empty, the only light seen from them is that reflected by torches and lanterns. The only fragments of the past are the twisted, shattered hulls that mar the landscape, the ruins where every step crunches underfoot. The few remaining bits of technology, from a portable flashlight to the remaining books, are treasured more than gold. But out of the ashes rise the seedlings of hope. War and strife produce pain and anguish, but also dreams, perseverance, and dedication. Pockets of society rose up, places where the beacons of society shine brilliantly through the darkness of the new frontier. Our ancestors would scorn these places as rough and dirty, but to those who grew up after the Fall, they are welcome refuge from the bandits and scavengers. Every day is a new day, where men live and die, love and yearn. Our forefathers made their choice. How will you make yours? — Luke Archer, historian of The Preservers, June 7th, 152 years after the fall. ----- Robert Hereford III stepped back from the workbench, knuckling his sore back as he examined his handiwork. The rifle had been brought to him a sorry mess, but after several days hard at work, he'd managed to return it to some semblance of order. And it wasn't done soon enough; the town gunsmith and tinkerer had had more this share of work piled up. Harvest was coming, and as always everyone had put off taking in their broken items until the last minute. He'd be hard-pressed to get everything done at this rate; the smith down in Cheaton had fallen ill and a wagon had come in a week ago with all of his unfinished work. Someone knocked on the workshop door, and Hereford turned to see the sheriff and mayor of Starfall, John Walsh, standing just outside in the evening son. "Evening, Sheriff," he offered, waving the older man in. "What can I do for you?" "I was just wondering if my rifle was ready yet," the bearded sheriff stated, taking a seat on one of the stools scattered about. "Been a mite strange out there with just my pistol." Hereford nodded and grabbed the rifle off the bench, handing it to the sheriff. "Just finished 'er not five minutes before you walked in, Sheriff. I'd recommend not using it as a club in the future." "I warned 'im, Hereford. That boy's been needing a beatin' for some time now, and that there rifle was all I had handy," he said, laughing, "Anyhow, thanks for getting 'er fixed back up for me. I'll need it if them Guernsey brothers don't stop harrassin' everyone." Hereford nodded. "I wouldn't see anyone crying over them two if they got shot. Got no business doing what they do, especially with the harvest coming up." "Well, I'm afraid there's worse coming up than the Guernseys. Ol' Savage down in Cheaton says there's some new band of bandits roaming around, come in from back east. I suspect they'll be botherin' us before too long." "I'll say. Those guys never leave off 'till someone goes and shoots 'em or hangs 'em. I just hope no honest folk get killed when it comes to that." The sheriff nodded in agreement, then stood. "Well, thanks again for fixin' up my rifle. I'll send my boy over with your payment tomorrow," Walsh said, walking towards the door. Stopping at the threshold, he turned, "You be careful, Hereford. These times are troublin'." With that, the sheriff was gone. ----- [ooc] That's right, a RP that isn't AimHack! Standard RP rules apply (no godmodding, etc). Apologies if my intro is meh, I haven't written westerney before, even if it's a setting like this. So yeah, post and have fun and stuff! EDIT: It was suggested I elaborate upon "Standard RP rules". Normally this would be where I link to the RPwiki, however in four years the page "Basic RP Rule Set" is still a red link. Anyway: 1) As mentioned above, no godmodding. This means that you can't have a super-powerful character with a ten-foot sword of +80 fireballness, thus making your character +80 overcompensation and -80 fun for everyone else. 2) Related to that, no messing with other people's characters unless they approve. If you plan on going on Big Epic Quest with someone's character, maybe run that idea by them in a PM. Don't retcon anyone else's work, or anything like that. In addition, any apocrypha added to the RP Wiki has traditionally been treated as like-canon (although it is of course not set in stone). 3) One main character per player. It's okay to have a few supporting NPCs as well, but remember that this is a collaborative RP, so...yeah. 4) Please, please respect the setting of the RP. Any presence of goblins or people shaping ghraallboks in this RP is obviously not in line with the setting. 5) Related to number one, this is not a competition. It's a collaborative effort to make a story. If you make it into a competition, I will find you and beat you to death with a pillowcase full of kittens. 6) For now, mark out of character (as in not part of the story) comments with [ooc]. If the volume of OoC becomes a hassle, we can make an OoC thread for the RP. 7) I don't see this being a huge issue, but proper spelling and grammar would be greatly appreciated. If you are having issues with proper spelling and grammar, there are many fine people on this board who would love to help you out. Also, please leave the posting gimmicks at the door. 8) Have fun! This being said, I know it has been some time since a "classic RP" has graced the halls of Spiderweb. Therefore, some suggestions: - Make up a character: This is simple and can take anywhere from five minutes to days, depending on how far into it you want to go. The best part is: No skill points, no stats, no classes or traits. - Pick a backstory: Everyone has a past, what's your character's? Backstory can deeply influence what goes on in the present, personally, it's IMO almost as fun as the next point... - Pick a setting: Your character has to start somewhere. Either create your own location or choose to start in an area already defined by someone else. In any case, it's best to be near other players, so you can get to those interactions early on. - Start writing: With the previous three points dealt with, you should already have ideas clicking. - I've always recommended heavy usage of the RPwiki to organize info. For example, in another RP I had, I would always forget <stupid detail that I didn't really need but that my OCD brain wouldn't let me live without>. It's a lot easier to go to <page> on the Wiki and see <detail>, rather than having to slog through a bunch of IC posts looking for it. - If in doubt, run your idea or post past someone else. They'll spot stuff you might have missed, both story-wise (I've had issues where I would start randomly using Wiki apocrypha that hadn't been introduced IC yet, silly silly me), and grammar-wise (the its/it's draft from hell speaks for itself here). [/ooc]