Category Archives: Progress

Progress Update

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Hi Everyone,

I’ve been so busy I haven’t had a chance to write an update in a long time, but rest assured I’m writing every day. I am currently working on a new fantasy series which follows on from my short story, No Escape. A few people asked about writing longer stories in the same setting, but initially I was skeptical because the original story had always intended to be standalone. Then, a conception for Magian the Infinite popped into my head and the story began to take shape. I took various locales and ideas I had in the back of my mind and filled out the world massively.

I gave myself a month to outline the book, a chapter a day. I had tried outlining before and it never really worked for me. I found it too constrictive. The pressure to tick all the ‘boxes’ irritated me, so I decided I’d simply pants the outline, or ‘plants’ if you will. Every chapter had to propel the story, and there had to be a beginning a middle and end. I kept the POV characters down to two.

After a month, I was really happy with the thirty-plus chapter outlines I had produced. Everything folded together pretty well. It worked as a standalone story and yet I could tell there was a lot of story left so I immediately started to work on outlining two sequels.

The outline of the second book was a bit more of a struggle. There were now three POV’s for various reasons. The setting was too open. When anything can happen, it’s harder to get traction on the story. Some of the early chapters were too loose, but the story gelled nicely about halfway through. At the end of the month, I had a full outline of 30-plus chapters finished.

The outline for the third sequel took only a month as well. There were some pacing issues (it moved too fast in places, at least in outline), but I felt it was pretty solid by the time I finished it. But, almost from the beginning, I knew there would be a need for a fourth book. That fourth turned into two.

So, after five months, I had outlines for a five book series. Each outline took 25 hours, give or take. I probably saved time spreading its development out over a month. My sub-conscious had time to mull over each chapter in a way it never would have if I had done it in a more concentrated time span.

Now, the real work had to begin. I started work on the first draft of the first book. I have a lot of other commitments (family, work, etc.) so I set myself a goal of writing at least five hundred words a day. And I stuck to that commitment.

The one rule I set myself was that I would have no ritual, no special time or place or mug for my coffee. If I was going to do this, I couldn’t give myself any excuses not to work. All I needed was either my computer or my phone. I used Scrivener on both so I could always work on the project directly. I found it extremely easy to use my phone as I was already used to reading pretty long novels on it.

Over the next four months, my muse brooked no excuses. Tired? Write the five hundred. Busy day. Write the five hundred. Not inspired. Tough, five hundred. Holidays, five hundred. At times, it might have been convenient to simply waffle five hundred empty words, but my conscience wouldn’t let me. Each day, the progress had to be real.

That’s not to say it was perfect. It was a first draft after all. There were lots of things I was unsatisfied with. But the important thing was I knew how to fix them. There was nothing in there that I feared. I solved any problems of that ilk as I came across them.

The outline worked out pretty well. There was the odd plot point that had to be dropped. For example, it quickly became clear that a letter supposed to be important to the plot couldn’t work, so that was scrapped for something better. Overall, very little strayed from the original outline.

At the end of four months, I had my first draft (63k). It had taken 156 hours. I immediately moved on to the next book. I didn’t even take a day off.

Book 2 felt much tougher. Remember the problems I had with its outline. I really struggled for the first third. The outline for those early chapters quickly went out the window.  The subplot fitted together nicely though and by the time I reached the end of the book, I could see pretty well how to fix most of the early issues. Also, even though I felt that I really struggled with it and that it had taken a lot longer to progress, in actuality, the first draft (61k) was finished a week early and took only 115 hours, three quarters of the time the first book took. It’s good to keep track of these things, not as a stick to beat myself with, but as an objective guide to my progress so I don’t have to depend on feelings but hard facts.

I’m about a week ahead of my original schedule for book 3. There’s still a long way to go, but I feel confident.

 

February Update: If the Devil is in the detail, then editing can be like an exorcism.

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Finishing the 2nd draft of novel codenamed Spaghetti 1 at about 70k words, I immediately started on the 3rd draft. This draft will work through the detail of the story. I have the skeleton but it needs to be fleshed out in a lot of places. The organs are there, but some are too small or too big or in the wrong place.

This draft is also about making decisions. I must expunge the narrative scars of ideas that went nowhere. The 2nd draft had a level of ambiguity. For example, two mutually exclusive ideas might have been allow to coexist, I have to now choose, one way or the other. Where there are conundrums in the narrative, I have to solve them as I go along, even if it means taking a few steps backward at times. And of course, any decision can set off an avalanche of new ones. And new ideas are coming, better ideas than before, that must be accommodated in the story as if they had always been part of it.

And every detail needs to be carefully indexed so I don’t have to wade through pages of  text later, getting that horrible drowning feeling, to confirm I’m not contradicting myself. From dress to character, from motive to tea preference, everything must be made consistent.

It’s slow. It can be tedious. But is it worth it? Yes. It’s fantastic to see the story take shape, the characters come alive, and the blur come into focus.

September Update

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I really must write these updates more often.

When I wrote the last one in June, I was working on the first part of a LitRPG trilogy, codenamed Spaghetti 1, 2, & 3. I now have first drafts of the first two completed and am currently half-way through the third.

The first book is kind of typical for LitRPG with some twists. The main character, starting off at the lowest skill level, must defeat a local (player) boss to win his freedom. The world is kind of like a typical fantasy MMORPG (for me). The focus is on the player interactions. The length of the first draft is about 49k words. It needs a lot of work, but hopefully, there’s enough in there to keep the reader interested.

Spaghetti 2 is a much different beast. It has a much more epic scope and the typical tropes kind of fall away a bit. Wait till you see the setting! Dante’s Inferno was a big influence on the story but I really let my imagination run riot. The action takes place in a locale we briefly visit in the first book. The main character is more advanced in this one but so are his surroundings. He’s up against much more powerful players with godlike powers. The first draft came in at 40k but it is absolutely packed with action. I don’t see any problem expanding it into full novel length.

Spaghetti 3 is an apocalyptic story. The end is nigh for the game world. At this stage, the main character is very advanced, the head of a powerful clan. A lot of seeds sown in the first and second books will reach fruition. This book will take a lot of work because given Book 2 is so epic, I have work out how to dial the third up to eleven.

I decided to write the three books to first draft so that I can see how all the various elements fit together. Although the three books have very different plots, I want to give them a cohesive tone.

Once the first draft of the third book is complete, I’ll be splitting my time between redrafting the books and writing new stuff. At times having so many ideas for projects is frustrating. If only I could get them all written and released. But I never publish anything without it being as good as I can make it.

On the short story front, I made The Fate Healer wide and free. I am in the process of doing the same with a new horror short story called The Murder Seat. I wrote it originally about three years ago. It’s set in recessionary Dublin in the 1980s. Hopefully, people will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. 🙂

 

And The Winner Is…

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The winning cover was designed by Venanzio. It is awesome, but I must say it won against some stiff opposition. The facility to carry out polls is a really great feature on 99designs, because it allows you to test immediate reactions of people unfamiliar with the covers.

My intention is to make this story free out like The Fate Healer, so publication will be a little drawn out. I hope it will be free on all the usual stores by mid next week. Here’s the blurb to wet your appetite.

Dr. Herbert Marriott has a problem that only murder can solve. Luckily for him, the perfect weapon is locked away in his rundown museum, one too incredible for any court to accept. The cursed chair kills all who rest upon it. But will Herbert’s victim be so easily drawn to her fate?

 

 

June Update

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I haven’t published one of these updates in a couple of months but I’ve been very busy behind the scenes. First of all, I finished the short story I had been working on. After  the rolling pin of Beta Reading and editing had flattened all the bumps, it ended up rolling out to 7k.

I paused work on the novel Diary largely because I found the solution to the problem that dogged the project I had been working on in February, nicknamed Spaghetti. If you remember the February Update, I had parked this project, which involves people being trapped in a massive multiplayer. At the time, while I really enjoyed writing it, I could see it had a lot of issues around how much game mechanics and language to include. I didn’t want to knock a few corners off a square and call it a wheel.

So imagine my delight when I discovered the genre LitRPG. This genre, which began in Korea and Russia and is slowly gaining momentum in the west. Popular series include The Land by Aleron Kong, The Way of the Shaman by Vasily Mahanenko and The Phantom Server by Andrei Livadny.

However, one key factor missing from my story was leveling. The focus was on very advanced players at the top of their game. I needed to go back and build up to the book. So I decided to create a trilogy with Spaghetti as the third volume. To keep things simple, I made it Spaghetti 3 and the first two volumes became Spaghetti 1 and Spaghetti 2.

I started out pantsing Spaghetti 1. Simply put, I built up the story letting myself be led by the words I wrote. This process was helped by a killer beginning that just came to me out of the blue. Everything was going along smoothly until I was about 28k words in. Then I discovered a vast chasm between me and where I wanted to go. I took a deep breath and revised what I had done, but the solution wasn’t forthcoming. I got about sixteen chapters in when I decided enough was enough. I must either map my terra incognita or  I put it aside. I have a dozen projects clamoring to be written. I gave myself two days.

I started to map out the story on Scapple from the point I had reached to the as yet unknown end. Basically, at each stage I asked what would be the most interesting thing that could happen next. I connected these points with arrows and I deleted lines that went nowhere. And very quickly, everything clicked into place. I even had the inciting incident and setting for the next book.

What I didn’t do was break this tapestry of plot threads into chapters. The exercise wasn’t about prescribing to the finest detail what would happen so that writing the book became a form of transcription. It wasn’t about bashing it to fit some preconceived template. No, I left the story space to grow, to surprise me. But I now have a clear idea where I need to finish and a general direction on how to get there. I’m confident I can get the first draft finished in the next couple of weeks.

March Update

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I spent most of this month working on the Tank project. I was somewhat distracted by the release of The Unconquered Sun. Finished the Rev. 0 Draft (about 32k). A lot of work still to be done on it. There’s a lot of reshaping and rethinking to be done for sure and I’m not sure it is going to be a novella or a novel. Generally, my projects increase in size every draft, so it might reach novel length yet. But the main thing for me is that the story achieves the length necessary for its telling. I’m under no obligation to meet X thousand words.

At the moment I am working on a short story which probably illustrates what will happen with Tank. The Rev.0 was 5k words and the  Rev.1 is now at 6.5k, but there’s probably not one word that hasn’t been changed at least once. I like short stories because everything usually clicks into place so much faster (if they click at all). You can see the whole thing taking shape very quickly.

As soon as the Rev. 1 of this story is finished, I’m going to start the Rev. 0 of another project, Diary, a horror novel (hopefully in genre, not execution.) If it gets too dark I might switch to the light fantasy project, Knife. I’m also hoping to complete the Rev. 2 of the short story I am currently working on. This month I will be also releasing the paperback version of The Unconquered Sun.

 

 

 

 

February Update

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So, at the start of January, I was working on one project (Spaghetti) and by the end of the month I was working on a different novel (Tank). So what happened? I enjoyed writing Spaghetti. I had a fairly good outline. I liked the characters. The writing needed a lot more fleshing out but that’s the nature of first drafts. I was over 20k through the story when on the morning of Friday 22nd I began to question whether the story was original enough. I knew that under the bonnet, there was something new, but I worried it would become evident too late in the story. By 10 am, I decided to park it. I worked on a second draft of short story for the day while I mulled what to do next.

On Monday, I started work on Tank, because I finally figured out how to overcome the POV issues the story posed. I’m very happy with the direction the story is taking. While I don’t have an exhaustive outline, I have most of the key events already written in some rough fashion. In a week, I had four and a half chapters completed (8k words). The writing felt solid, though obviously it needs polish and there are plenty of burrs to be planed away. Research held up writing a couple of times. Sometimes, it’s easier to wait to learn the questions before looking for answers. You can waste a lot of time on superfluous detail only to find it’s a waste of time because there’s some underlying fundamental flaw in your basic premise.

I am hoping to have the first draft finished by St. Patrick’s Day. In the meantime, The Unconquered Sun will be finally released on 11th February.