Sunday, 16 November 2014

Log 2014 Nov 16th: Bad Dog 5th Draft

I finished, for some definitions of finished, the fifth draft of my current novel Bad Dog on Friday evening - in a spurt of creative enthusiasm that comes when the end is in sight.  Of course I've now shot myself in the foot by getting Scrivener to produce a PDF, which I'm reading, and finding stuff I want to polish.  Still, for definitions of finished it's something.  This draft is structurally close to my original first draft, but a world away in terms of the writing, characterizations and setting.

Looking back at my files it took me 18 weeks to write the first working draft, which ended up being 93,075 words.  The second draft took five weeks with a total of 90,970 words.  I spent 20 weeks reworking the third draft, and ended up 87,999 words for my effort.  The fourth draft only took three weeks, and ended with 88,908 words.  My fifth draft took five weeks, and looking back at my records I cut about 8,000 words out, but ended writing extra scenes, which brought the total back up to 82,317 word, but this draft is still the best part of 10,000 words tighter than my original work.

I can only continue working to tighten up the text, reduce repetition and try to add more drama to the story.  This is all uncharted territory for me, but that has been true from day one.  I remind myself that being able to write a good story is 99% blood, sweat and tears, with the remaining 1% being a combination of talent and inspiration.  Though it can be argued that the latter is what makes a good novel great, but at this point I'm aspiring to be just good - great can come later.

Things I've been watching, or have watched, but forgot to mention - Edge of Tomorrow, which is the film adaptation of the manga All You Need is Kill, and for the Blu-ray release has the title Live, Die, Repeat added in front of the original title, because the film didn't do well at the box office  I know that a lot of people have mixed feelings about Tom Cruise, but given the likelihood that I will ever hang with Tom, or any other Hollywood star is less than one, and I really don't pay much attention to the tabloid gossip, none of this matters to me.  But that said I have been avoiding the film, because I knew that the plot is very close to that of Bad Dog, and it features power armoured troops fighting aliens.  As they say there is no such thing as an original plot, but Bad Dog's similarities are all surface level stuff, and the MacGuffin driving the plot is different; as in mine is based in real science and Edge of Tomorrow is just pure Hollywood razzle-dazzle.  Besides that Emily Blunt is brilliant and Tom gets killed a lot, so all is right with the world

Other films we watched since last week were Iron Sky: Dictators Cut, which is a Finnish B-movie that people either love or hate.  We loved it, because Space Nazis from the Moon invading Earth in flying saucers, what's not to like?  There is a sequel being made, and the trailer features Adolf Hitler riding a dinosaur called The Coming Race.  Finally, we also sat down and watched the Europa Report.  A found footage movie telling the story of the first mission to Europa, I don't think I'm giving any spoilers away by saying it doesn't end well for the astronauts.

So that's it for another week of internet raging where the old adage of you reap what you sow has never been more true.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Log 2014 Nov 9th: Magnificent Maleficent

This has been definitely a week of watching lots of stuff.  In no particular order: Maleficent, Grimm, and all three of the The Thing films.  Maleficent was bought by my partner, and I had no particular expectations when we sat down to watch it.  The reviews I'd read had been a bit mixed, but I really enjoyed the film.  The writer is to be commended on how she re-framed the Disney version of Sleeping Beauty into a heart warming story of true love.  So yes it's a bit of a chick flick, but it has a dragon, and some weird and rather cool tree like warriors that guard the magic land called the Moors where Maleficent lives.  So highly recommended.

Grimm season three was fun, but not as good as season two, in that the cliff-hanger finale was less interesting.  Though to be fair having had the hero drugged lying in a coffin surrounded by zombies at the end of last season was going to be a bit tricky to top.  The show is still a monster of the week police procedural, and it is rather formulaic, but the relationship between Monroe and Rosalee makes me want to keep watching.  Also Sergeant Wu is being developed, though I think far too slowly, as it's about time he was a full member of Team Grimm.

We finished the week by starting to watch the three Thing movies, spurred on by listening to a series of podcasts.  We both enjoyed the Howard Hawkes version for the snappy dialogue, which really felt like real people speaking to each other.  We then watched the 2011 Norwegian prequel next, which is OK, but doesn't quite nail it - though it's a very loving homage to the John Carpenter version, which we have lined up to watch tonight.

Reading wise, I finished Max Brooks' World War Z.  I enjoyed it, but a couple of things annoyed me.  For example a soldier calling a magazine a clip, and I wasn't totally convinced by the big zombie take down scene where the descriptions of the details about the battle stretched my credulity.

The soldier recounts that he was firing one round a second, and while he had breaks, the battle lasted for 15 hours.  One round a seconds is 60 rounds a minute, which is 300 rounds every five minutes, which is 3,600 rounds/zombies per hour - the ammo weighs 3lbs per 100 rounds, so 1,770lbs of ammunition for each soldier.  Seems reasonable, but the number don't make any sense.

Accounting for dramatic license, and assuming the zombies came shuffling in at a steady pace and peaked somewhere around the seven and a half hour mark, this equals 27,000 zombies per soldier for the battle.  Say 1,000 soldiers (number not specified, but unit described as forming a British square, which has to be large enough to contain the lorries carrying the ammo sitting in the centre, so my best guess), then that's 27 million zombies.  I calculated from the description of the size of the piled up bodies - about 1.8 million zombies - based on a ring of dead zombies at 500 yards out from the firing line).

While I may be being pedantic, I do think it shows that one needs to do one's research, and understand the implications for one's logistics.  Also, please can we not have a rehash of Napoleonic tactics - modern battles are based on fire and manoeuvre for a reason, and just don't get me started on why being surrounded is not a good plan.  It's like the military forgot every lesson they've ever learnt from history!

Still mustn't quibble too much over the little niggling details, because the story was enjoyable enough.

Finally, another weeks worth of editing on Bad Dog.  Twelve chapters revisited for a total of 34,749 words.  Just under half way through the second edit.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Log 2014 2nd Nov: Agents of Shield

I managed to forget to put my weekly update last week, which I'm going to put down to forgetfulness, rather than the onset of age related dementia.  

We've been having a break from Xena & Gabrielle this week, diving into Marvel's Agents of Shield.  We've been assiduously avoiding spoilers, but having watched Captain America: Winter Soldier, it was kind of obvious that Hydra was the big story arc.  We really enjoyed the series, yes the first few episodes were setting the scene, but the payoff was well worth it.  I guessed Agent Ward was the double-agent, purely from the process of reasoning from first principle.  Still, the story had enough twists and turns, clever surprises, and good dialogue to carry one through the slower parts.  Must admit we thought Agent Coulson was a clone, it was the whole Blade Runner mementos that sold us on that idea, the denouement of what had really happened was both touching and clever.

This week I finished my first editing pass of Bad Dog's fifth draft.  Checking Scrivener and my diary log of daily work I've reduced the running total from 89,368 down to 82,730, which is 6,638 words cut out of the text.  This draft I've gone through the work looking for all the tense errors, which were previously eluding me, but I can see them now.  That had been very frustrating, so it's good to have found my editing mojo.

Of course this still doesn't mean that my writing can carry the story in the manner to which I aspire.  Wishing I can write better is not going to make it happen, so I continue once more into the breach etc.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Log 2014 19th Oct: Portal


Portal by Eric Flint and Eric E. Spoor is the third book in the Boundary series.

Boundary is the first book in the series.  The story starts with an archaeological dig finding the fossilized remains of aliens.  Apparently they were killed by raptor when they landed on Earth 65 million years ago, which places their death on what is called the KT boundary.  This discovery leads to sending a mission to Mars, where the discovery of a base on Phobos then leads to further discoveries of a base on Mars.  Needless to say the race is on to exploit the alien technology.  Threshold, the sequel to Boundary,  takes the story to Ceres, and then on to Jupiter, ending with the expedition stranded on Europa.

 So I was keen to read Portal, and find out where the story would go next.

The series is unashamedly traditional old school science fiction.  While it may not have won any awards, the story of finding the alien Bemmies (bug eyed monsters), makes for a fun read.  The story has dinosaurs, squid like aliens, and spaceships.  What more can one ask for?  I certainly wanted to continue turning the pages to find out what happened next?

Meanwhile we are still watching Xena Warrior Princess, and are now coming to the end of series three.  It is what it is - lightweight escapist fun.  Sometimes the stories are profoundly cringe inducing, but at the same time the series is strangely addictive.  On a similar note, we both really enjoyed both the recent Dr Who episodes.  The Mummy On The Orient Express played with the murder mystery tropes, and this weeks episode Flatline, which was stonkingly good fun, told a good story with scary monsters.  I like Capaldi's Doctor.

Writing this week has been quite exciting.

I began the week working on my novel The Bureau.  I managed to write 3,732 words, bringing up the running total to 46,803.  I then switched to making notes for a couple of articles for Miniature Wargames.  One about the Blast-Tastic!, a show I went to, and the other describing the scenario I ran at the show.  I then received an editorial report identifying some problems that needed fixing on Bad Dog.  So my week ended up with me adding 907 words during the rewrite.

So this week I wrote a total of 4,639 words, which doesn't sound like a lot until one realizes that I spent eight hours totally restructuring a ninety thousand word novel.  Exciting or what?

Without Scrivener I would have been stuffed.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Log 2014 12th Oct: Firefall - Blindsight & Echopraxia

As I mentioned last week I started reading Peter Watts Firefall, the omnibus edition of Blindsight and Echopraxia.  Well I sat and finished read Blindsight last Sunday and what can I say?  How about wow?  If you haven't read it, and you like hard SF novels about first contact scenarios, then I suggest it will be worth your time and effort to do so.

A Google search will bring up a ton of reviews, which I feel the need to comment on.

Blindsight is a novel that discusses complex issues, and therefore if you are not the sort of person that likes to be challenged by rational scientific topic you may find the work not to your taste.  No amount of evidence to the contrary will likely change your mind.

In someways this is the product of our own nature, and how one understands consciousness versus intelligence.  An argument can be made that consciousness deals with aesthetics and emotional responses, whereas intelligence deals with process.  However, the evidence is scarce, hampered by a lack of a general theory of consciousness, with the best research into whether it's nature or nurture that drives human behaviours, only showing correlation rather than causation with either.

As regard the free will debate, I agree in principle that we live in a deterministic universe, but with the caveat that calculating the choice a person, or people in polynomial time within our frame of reference problematical.  As such, while we may not have free will, we live and act in a way that might as well be called free will as described by the two stage model.  I bring this up, because otherwise one would be hard pushed to explain behavioural changes made through cognitive behavioural approaches otherwise.  I apologize for simplifying what is quite a complex argument into one line in the process.

As pitch line: Blindsight by Peter Watts is like Rendezvous With Rama by Arthur C Clarke, but with more despondency and despair at mankind's deficiencies.

And I finished reading Echopraxia today.  It's the sequel to Blindsight, and deals with what was hinted as happening back on Earth at the end of the first book.  Spoiler alert.  It's not going to end well for homo sapiens sapiens.  For that matter it's not going to end well for any of the other cognitive sub-species either; the vampires and bicameral hive minds.

One thing I will say now is that both books require close reading of the text.  Skim read and you'll miss the clues the author plants.  Reading this book reminds me of discussions about reading levels for information pamphlets when I use to work in the NHS.  Our research showed that we needed to lower the reading age of our pamphlets, so as to make our subject as accessible as possible to the widest number of readers.  I'm not going to comment on reading levels, other than to say that people who like to read have higher than average reading comprehension, and leave it at that.

The point I'm making is that Peter Watts makes no concessions to readers, he assumes you will keep up with what he is writing about.  I enjoyed rising to meet the challenge.  Some readers may find it makes the story less accessible.

My pitch line for Echopraxia would be, it's like Childhood's End by Arthur C Clarke, but with even more despondency and despair at the transformation of the world by the Overmind.  One final thought came to mind.  At the end of the story I was really touched by a line of dialogue from Valerie, who is a vampire, who says quote, "Wouldn't it be nice if we could all just get along?"  In the context of what a vampire is, I found this a very moving statement.

One day I hope I will get the chance to meet Peter and talk about consciousness.  Until then I will have to console myself by reading his books.

As for my work this week I see I've managed to write 1,668 words, but this translated into five finished chapters.  So on reflection this has been very much a week of edit what I've written before.  So the evidence suggests that I'm still working my way through the morass of plot and structure hurdles, resulting from the process of converting the first draft of what was a graphic novel, into a first draft of a novel.

In addition I wrote 1,600 of reviews for Henry at Miniature Wargames & Battlegames  magazine.  So all-in-all not a bad week, even if it's not the most productive week of writing I've had.

NB: Edit to add opinion.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Plotting, Story & Structure

I'm big into plot, story and structure.  The latter is probably related to why I pursued a career as a cognitive behavioural therapist too.  For me, structure is about splitting the story down into acts to create a beginning, middle and end, which are the basic components of every story.  As discussed here.

Above is a picture of what I've been doing this week as I work through the plot, the story and what I need to do to get the whole structure to work.  Mostly this has involved moving scenes around in Scrivener, and making notes about how I'm going to rationalize the Cthulhu mythos in a plausible manner.  I have had some ideas about that.  I'm almost feeling the excitement of wanting to start writing stuff in earnest again, which is a good thing.

I can't recommend Scrivener too highly for this sort of thing.  Without it I would be forced to use post it notes or a cork-board.