One week left and right on track

An Empire in Disarray
Phase:1.0 Draft
Due:4 days

I’ve got exactly one week left on my deadline for An Empire in Disarray (book 8 of Sons of the Starfarers), and surprisingly, I’m actually on track to finish it on time. You have no idea how satisfying it will be if I can actually pull this off.

People tell me that I’m a prolific author, but I never feel like it because I almost never hit my own deadlines. For a long time, I thought that was because of a lack of discipline, but I’m starting to discover it’s more of an issue with my prewriting. As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m retooling my writing process, especially with the prewriting, and it’s making a tremendous difference.

This WIP is a proof of concept. For the last book, Victors in Liberty, I’ll see if I can replicate it. Over the next few WIPs I expect I’ll refine it even further.

Guys—if this actually works, I may be able to triple my creative output. Triple it. Instead of taking years to write novels, it will take months. Instead of agonizing over lengthy revisions and multiple drafts, I’ll be writing clean first drafts that are ready to send to the editor without making a second pass.

All this time, I’ve been using a needle and thread, and now I just got a sewing machine.

So yeah, I’m pretty excited. Also, An Empire in Disarray is on track to be finished by Christmas. I’ll still do a standard revision pass, just to make sure it’s publishable, but still.


Pantser vs. plotter? There is no such thing

I have come to the conclusion that the “pantsing vs. plotting” way of thinking about writing is as impractical and useless as nature vs. nurture, or talent vs. learned ability.

Are you a pantser who discovery writes from the seat of his pants, or a plotter who has to outline every character, every plot point, and the whole world first? Well, that’s about as useful as asking whether you were born stupid or whether you were taught to be. Probably a combination of both.

The pantsing vs. plotting dichotomy is something I learned early on, when I was just starting out as a writer. At the time, it seemed like a useful distinction to make. Beginning writers tend to make a lot of mistakes, and those range from world-builder’s disease (where you spend all your time outlining instead of actually writing), to rewriting the first chapter into oblivion, to writing yourself into a corner and having all your characters scream at you. It’s amazing how many things you can get wrong. By dividing these things up into pantsing problems vs. plotting problems, it was helpful to figure out how to fix those.

But then you start to identify with one side or the other, and that leads to an entirely new set of problems. Because the truth is that to write well, you need both. A pure pantser often writes himself into problems that he can’t easily get out of, or misses key elements that render the rest of the story moot (like “if only these two people would talk with each other, the obstacles to their romance would all go away” or “if only Hermione would use the time-turner to stop Voldemort from becoming the dark lord, no one else would have to die”). In contrast, a pure plotter often writes stories that are too mechanical and predictable, telegraphing every plot turn and reducing every character into an avatar for some theme or idea.

So, while thinking of it in terms of pantsing vs. plotting may be useful for the beginning writer in diagnosing the areas they need to work on, I’ve found that it’s not particularly useful for the professional writer. In fact, it can be damaging.

For the last several years, I’ve considered myself to be a pantser. Discovery writing is my mojo—give me a few good ideas and the barest outline of a plot, and I’m off to the races. Except… I always tend to stumble and fall in the middle. In fact, I often have to throw out entire chapters or set a story aside for months at a time, to “let the ideas percolate.” For the last several years, that’s been my modus operandi.

Until now.

With Son of the Starfarers, I’m working on a set of very tight deadlines to finish the damn series as quickly as I can. It took way too many months to write book 7, and I can’t afford to take that much time for the last two books because that’s time I’m robbing from other projects (like Edenfall or Gunslinger to the Galaxy or The Sword Bearer). As a pantser, I can write any book if given an infinite amount of time, but that’s not practical. I need to find a new way to write, one that maximizes my efficiency.

And I think I’ve found it. I’m still tweaking it, of course, but it involves <gasp!> outlining. But wait—I’m a pantser, not a plotter! Except, it turns out, that I’m not. Because no one is.

Pantsing vs. plotting does not describe the writer so much as the method of writing. It’s not a question of where you fall on the spectrum, it’s a question of whether this particular project requires more discovery writing or more outlining. And it turns out out that there are ways to outline stories that actually make your discovery writing better. Every battle plan falls apart upon contact with the enemy, but you need the plan to know which direction to march your troops.

In the next few weeks, I’ll go over some of the new outlining methods I’ve been trying out. It took me almost five months to write A Queen in Hiding, struggling over multiple drafts, but it’s been only four weeks since I started An Empire in Disarray and I’m more than 2/3rds of the way through it, with a clean first draft, and I’m on track to have something finished and publishable by the end of next week. There are still a few kinks in the process to work out, but I think I have it down well enough to share.

So if you consider yourself a “pantser” or a “plotter,” and you’re still struggling to write as much or as well as you’d like, I’d urge you to revisit your basic assumptions about your writing process. That’s what I did, and it’s made all the difference.

Knights of Dark Renown by David Gemmell

If you’ve been following this blog for any time at all, you know I’m a huge fan of David Gemmell. He’s not only my favorite fantasy writer, he’s my favorite writer, period. His first book, Legend, is still one of my favorite books of all time.

The Knights of Dark Renown is a true standalone, something rare in David Gemmell’s sizeable bibliography. And yet, page for page, it stands up to the best of his work. A brutally violent world populated with unlikely heroes and redeemed villains. An ancient order of magical knights fighting back against an even more ancient evil. Characters who leap right off the page and grab you by the heartstrings, making you weep when they die and stand up and cheer when they triumph—sometimes with the very same breath.

Honestly, if I’d written this review right after I read the book, it would be nothing but “squee!” repeated over and over. It’s been a few months, so my excitement has definitely been tempered with the passage of time, and yet looking back I can definitely say that this was an excellent book.

It’s probably the best vampire novel I’ve ever read, which isn’t what I was expecting. There are a million different kinds of vampires out there, most of which I have no interest in, but these vampires strike much closer to the original: charming, blue-blooded monsters who look perfectly normal on the outside, but beneath the facade are as cruel and terrifying as the most competent and accomplished serial killers—which they very often are. But the really awesome part is how the vampires tempt those they deem worthy to join them, which is how they begin the conquest of the world of men. Without ruining the book, I’ll just say that I was impressed.

Gemmell is often accused of writing the same book over and over again. While that isn’t completely fair, I do see how he gets that reputation. Thing is, that book he supposedly keeps rewriting is a damn good one. He’s a lot like Louis L’Amour in that way.

However, Knights of Dark Renown is something of a departure from that vein. The magic system is different from his other books, as is the lore. The usual character archetypes are there, though he combines them in different ways. The bard, for example, follows a very different path from the Drenai books, and is cut from a different cloth. But none of it is a particularly great departure from Gemmell’s usual fare.

With all that said, I really enjoyed this book. It easily earned the five stars I gave it. Highly recommended.

Trope Tuesday: Chekhov’s Armory

The famous Russian writer Anton Chekhov had a rule:

Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.

This is, of course, where we get the trope called Chekhov’s Gun. If a gun shows up at the beginning of a story, you can almost always be sure that it will be fired at some point before the end.

Chekhov’s armory is where the story starts out in a place like this:

Or this:

Or this:

What the hell, I might as well just give you the link to the blog where I got all these photos. There’s plenty more gun porn where that came from.

My first time playing with this trope was Gunslinger to the Stars, and I have to say, it made for a really fun story. My outline literally consisted of listing a different gun for every chapter, and figuring out how to work it in. Chapter two was where all most of the guns were listed, but after that, it was pretty much “open fire” and “reload” right up to the grand finale at the end (with a little bit of kissing thrown in for good measure).

Seriously, though, it’s not a bad way to write a book: list all the things that need to go boom and figure out which order to put them in.

The biggest criticism I’ve received for Gunslinger to the Stars is that I should have described the guns in a more personalized detail. To be honest, my life experience is sadly lacking in this regard. I own a couple of guns, most notably an old Mosin 91/30, but most of my shooting experience comes from the Boy Scouts (though to be fair, I did impress the shotgun shooting instructor with a 40+ shot streak). This is a shortcoming that I am eagerly working to rectify.

So yeah, Chekhov’s Armory. It’s a really fun trope to write. When I’m finished with Sons of the Starfarers, I look forward to doing it all again with the next two books in the trilogy: Gunslinger to the Galaxy and Gunslinger to Earth. Expect book two before the end of 2018!

Gunslinger to the Stars

Gunslinger to the Stars

eBook: $5.99
Sam Kletchka here, freelance gunslinger and interstellar privateer. This, my friends, is how I went from being stranded in the armpit of the galaxy to becoming the luckiest human being in the universe. More info →
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Bake the #MAGA cake

The US Supreme Court is hearing a case today that will decide whether or not a gay couple can force a cake artist to decorate a cake for a gay wedding. The issue at stake is not whether a business can refuse service to people based on sexual orientation (the baker was willing to sell the gay couple any out-of-the-box cake on his shelf), but whether the government can force a creative professional to use their talent to advance a message that runs contrary to the individual’s conscience.

Unfortunately, it looks likely that the court will rule against the baker. In other words, we will soon live in a country where artists can legally be forced to create propaganda that runs contrary to their beliefs. And yet, for even questioning this, I’m somehow the fascist??

This isn’t about discrimination. This is about free speech. If I, as an artist, don’t have the freedom to choose what kind of art I create, I no longer have freedom of speech. It really is that simple.

So here’s what I propose. If the Supreme Court rules against the baker, then every bakery in San Francisco, Chicago, and New York City should be forced to make MAGA cakes from now until November 2020. We should fill them up with so many orders that a week won’t go by that they won’t be forced to push the message that put Trump into the White House.

We’ve already seen the power of 4chan and weaponized autism. I have no doubt that this is something that we can do. And maybe, just maybe, it will convince the few reasonable people on the Left to see just how hypocritically batshit insane their side has become. Because if we have to live in a country where conservative bakers are forced to make gay wedding cakes, shouldn’t liberal bakers be forced to make MAGA cakes too?

Please, internet gods. Make it so.