Saturday, 12 February 2011

Trying to be a Time Lord

I'm 65,000 words into the current novel, which I think may be 80,000 words long when finished (it's difficult to judge) and I'm having a worse than usual battle with Time.

You'd think it wouldn't be hard for an author; after all, I'm in total control of the world I created - except when the characters get above themselves - and I'm telling the story in chronological order. I've printed out a calendar of the weeks I'm using, and have noted what happens on which day. Simple, huh?

Actually, no, and I think it's because of the structure of Unofficial Girl. At the start, Beth Chandler is duplicated in a flawed experiment, and alternating chapters tell the stories of Beth One and Beth Two, in third and first person narratives. This is harder to write than Remix, because just as I get on a roll, I have to switch to another character/group of characters. I also have to stop one Beth getting ahead in time when not much is happening to her, and there is lots of action in the life of the other.

I've tried novel writing software, but you have to learn how to use it to benefit, and I'm not convinced enough of its worth to expend the time. I can only admire and envy Gary Corby, who does spreadsheets to fine-tune his plotting. Darned if I could.

I'll just have to muddle on, grim and determined. I'll get there in the end. Watch this space.


  1. I got lost when Gary said the word Spreadsheet! or is that two words. I like to keep my life simple and spend my time writing, Lexi. I have an outline of my story chapter by chapter and in red I write within anything I need to know including any area I need to add more details as I work back through the next draft.

    Working out flowsheets spreadsheets etc would take my mind away from the storytelling. If I was to be writing an epic like 'Lord of the Ring' then you would have to workout all the details to keep all the characters in check.

    Good luck with your new novel.

  2. Jarmara, you've just made me feel worse. A chapter by chapter outline!

    How fast I could write if I wasn't making the darned thing up as I went along...

  3. Spreadsheets are for accountants.

    I'm kidding!! If it works for you then go for it!!!

    Good luck with Beth One and Beth Two!!! Take care

  4. Kitty, I've never warmed to Excel. I think its column proportions are not pleasing, quite apart from not understanding how you work it.

    Yesterday I got fired up and did a graph to compare four months' sales. Then I accidentally wiped it before saving. Oh well, never mind :o)

  5. This sounds like a real challenge to write but a pleasure to read. I love the premise of following two different versions of the same person.

    Good luck with sorting it out!

  6. FH, it's an idea I've often toyed with, especially when extra busy and thinking two of me would be just the job. But then I'd have to share my small flat, and my workshop, and she'd think my bike was hers...

  7. Hi Lexi, I just read Gary's post and saw you'd linked to it so hopped over to see what you had to say.

    As I commented on Gary's post, I use something similar, but not quite the same, and I think it is more suited to the problem you're describing.

    I need to keep track of multiple threads, swapping between them, and make sure that events in one don't get ahead of the other. More importantly, things that happen in one thread might have an effect on the other, and there are gaps in some threads where someone is going to take a week to travel from A to B, so chronology is vital.

    Yes, I use a spreadsheet. Before you gag on that, remember it is just a way of laying out a table. You could do the same in a Word document, or on paper. My approach is like keeping a calendar of days/weeks, but instead of just a linear calendar, it has a second dimension to show a column for each POV. That way you can see each character's calendar laid out side by side and make sure that you are keeping tings in step.

    The advantage of a spreadsheet is that it's easier than Word to have many columns, and easier than paper to rearrange things.

  8. Thanks, Bot, you make it sound less daunting. Maybe I should try it with ruler, paper and pencil and work up to something more high-tech...

    I will have to do something, clearly.

  9. Hi Lexi,

    Thanks for the shout out on the spreadsheet. I'm sure you could do it if you wanted, but I've read Remix and I know you can balance a book beautifully without it. Thinking of which, congratulations on Remix's terrific success. It's a pleasure to see.


  10. Ahh the difficulties and anguish we go through to get a novel together!
    Personally I use two methods the first is a rough two page synopsis from which I draw out a rough character map and then sketch in linkages and conflict or action points. With that finished I then do a list of the first twenty chapters and if possible give each a title and rewrite out a paragraph on what's suppossed to be happening and who's pov.
    Then off I go writing away chapter by chapter though not always sequentially. I usually find it important to jump ahead and write up junction or action chapters to give the story a series of goals.
    Anyway thats the method down in this part the Antipodes

  11. Ah, thanks, Gary.

    Gregory, your method sounds as if it makes the whole process more controllable. Unfortunately, the best bits in my novels happen while I'm writing.

    Take the Fubars, a small group of disabled soldiers seconded for research to a government laboratory. They were to have had a key role, with one of them the love interest for Beth Two. Instead of which, a not altogether likeable spec op has taken over and shoved his way into being one of the main pov characters. The Fubars haven't been mentioned since Chapter One.

    I used to write out of sequence with my first book or two, but seem to have stopped doing this. No idea why.

  12. Hi Lexi
    I had a similar problem with Park Life: two main characters in separate narratives who can't get ahead of each other in time, especially as they turn up in each other's stories. A simple spreadsheet similar to Botanist's helped keep track of it. I also didn't force myself to always alternate, but gave the next scene to the character whose story needed it. As yours can't meet, I guess that might not work.

    Anyway, my spreadsheet had a worksheet for each character, with a table of events for each scene and what it needed to achieve, datestamp, chapter number. I could then see where the high and low points were, get the key plot points in the right places (if you believe in that method) and it gave me a routemap to embroider around. However, I did write half of it without that before realising I was lost and stopping to 'draw the map'.

    As your story is developing organically I guess that won't work. So all I can do is wish you luck! It sounds a fascinating concept and I can't wait to read it.

  13. I don't know what to say - you're all so organized...

    I may or may not have to join you :o)

  14. As they say there is theory and the real world. While I do research and planning in the intial stages once the fingers hit the keyboard the ahh 'characters' begin to take over. Some characters end up entirely different and demand a rewrite of the plan, ahh very frequently. As they say the best laid plans of mice and men!

  15. You'll never convince me mice make plans...

  16. Lexi it sounds like you've got the story mostly planned. Is it not possible to write one character's storyline, then do the second and cut them up into alternating chapters? I've never written a story like that myself. I've considered some similar ideas, but I don't think I plan far enough ahead to make it work right.

  17. Jamie, I think my methods are too like yours. The best I've been able to do is run on a bit sometimes, so I have the beginning of Chapter 26 before I write Chapter 25. But I can't get too far ahead or one Beth will end up driving the story with the other tagging along.

  18. Have you tired Scrivener, Its a sort of word processor but constructed to help novelists. It has a cork board feature. You write all the scenes as and when you feel like it but you can put them on a cork board and shuffle them around in any order and then later reassemble the whole thing into a book in the final order that you chose..
    I think the really tricky thing is when there are events in one thread that are referred to in another, I still end up with flow charts on endless scraps of paper.

  19. Rod, I think I have. I remember not being able to handle that cork board...

    The trouble is I'm too impatient to get on with the book to stop and master a new method. I occasionally use cards, though.

  20. For a moment I thought the two Beths were in parallel universes, in which case they could develop independently. Then I realized that you haven't yet made that quantum leap. Life is so much more non-linear and coupled in a single universe!

    Danielle Steel in 'Mirror Image' had identical twins who swapped places in a marriage with intriguing consequences. Sort of similar to your idea. The consequences of the swap were dramatic.

    Can't wait to find out what your clones get up to! *smile*

  21. Pish tush, quantum, not everything is to do with quantum mechanics you know. (Or would you say it was?)

    I think doppelgänger books are going to be HOT next year, since I'm writing one and so is Richie D. You heard it here first.

  22. Spreadsheets? Not for me. I like the nice, systematic method of writing a lot and then throwing out what doesn't work. Very efficient.

  23. But Alan, that means you write each book several times over...

  24. Pretty much. I've tried outlining and storyboarding and waterboarding (no, wait, that's not right), and flow charts and graphs and just about every other way I have read or heard about to make my writing more efficient and none of them do anything other than suck all the life out of both the process and the writing. So I construct big messy blocks of marble and then chip away at them until they look like something good.

  25. Then that is your Method, and when you are famous you can tell people about it in interviews, and young writers will emulate you, and think a book but half-written unless they have discarded more than they end up with.

  26. Actually, I think that one of the Great Problems with trying to pry the ol' How Do You Write answer out of successful writers is that any answer they might give has the potential to throw thousands of up and coming writers off their game because they think they need to adjust to fit their idol's methods. The result is confusion and frustration and a general wondering why whatever magic might have been there before has up and vanished.

    So for me I have reverted to simply reading good stuff to help me write good stuff. Don't care how they got there, I just want good examples to aspire to. I'll figure out my own way there.

  27. Lexi: Pish tush, quantum, not everything is to do with quantum mechanics you know. (Or would you say it was?)

    Well, God used Quantum Theory to screw the world together, so it underlies everything whether you see it or not! LOL

    Don't you think that a basic plot outline highlighting the main places (in space and time) at which the worlds of the two Beth's overlap, should be adequate. The route between these 'fixed points' can then be pantzed. This should allow free rein to that spontaneity which keeps the reader on the edge of his seat.

    It seems to me that it is all to easy to over plot, stifling the sparkle and creativity that characterizes the best of romantic prose.

    But that's a theorist for you! *smile*

  28. I think that's pretty much the way I work, quantum. I know the beginning, the end (roughly) a few characters and some key scenes when I start. The rest I make up as I go along.

    I don't know about the reader, but this method certainly keeps me on the edge of my seat :o)