The Nameless Horror

I Don't Know How They All Do It

Today: I was awake just before 7am with Aidan. By eight, I’d built train track, fed cats, washed up, put on a load of laundry, made him breakfast, and read dinosaur books. After Future Wife - still no sign of Future Offspring making an imminent appearance, FWIW - rose at 10ish, we went to town and I did errands while she dealt with the newly-discovered flat tire on the car. Then apple-picking at her mum’s all afternoon, more dinosaurs, I fixed her mum’s computer, came home, got everyone dinner from a fish and chip shop in the rain (in lieu of cooking, I admit), showered, got him washed and brushed, bedtime story and done. Then downstairs again, clear away train track, have a cup of coffee and QI, buy him some trousers and finally get down to try to write 1-2,000 words post nine o’clock. Tomorrow I’ll be baking apple pie.

Don’t get a fucking Sarah Jessica Parker movie made about me/us, though.

Lessons In Plotting 4: Editing

They say you can’t edit an empty page, that it’s best to get words down first and then hack them into some semblance of readability afterwards. And to an extent, both are true.

And also untrue.

You see, you can edit an empty page. Imagine you’ve just written a page of total balls. Utter garbage. It’s a scene, but not in that, “Hey, what an awesome scene!” way you want - in that “Sir, you’re making a scene” way you don’t. If you know, before you write that scene, that what you write will be such balls (because you don’t have the mechanics of the thing clear in your head, because it ties to something earlier that you’re not sure you’re going to keep anyway, because OMFG YOU HAVE PSYCHIC POWERS DUDE YOU SHOULD TELL ME THE LOTTERY NUMBERS, etc.), and if you know what’ll be coming after, you might as well skip it. It’s rubbish. Pretend you have written it, and that you’ve deleted it. Move on to the next one.

So long as you’re not skipping too much, it’s like you’re pre-editing your writing. Yes, you’ll have to do it from scratch at some point, but it’s less work than doing it badly to start with and then rewriting half afterwards to get to the same level. 50% better, in fact. By the time you’re done with a book, your voice is usually there and your post-written material is likely to be stronger than its earlier brethren.

If you get the hang of recognising ahead of time when you’re about to go typing up Shit Alley and avoiding it, it’ll also greatly improve your first draft standards. Kiss goodbye to deleting and redoing 30,000 words at a stretch. Yes, it will probably stretch out the writing time a little to begin with, but you’ll save more in editing time after.

I vaguely recall, through a haze of opium and Taiwanese prostitutes, Alan Moore talking about his early days in comics when deadlines were exceptionally tight and there was no time whatsoever for anything more than the most cursory tweaks to a script. Your first draft, effectively, had to be your only draft. The notion gives many writers the shudders, but I’ve some (less pressurised) experience of the same thing waaaaaay back in my brick shed shipping journalism days, if some dipshit work-for-hire freelancer couldn’t cough up the thing they’d promised on print day and muggins here had to crank out 1,500 words on comparative marine paint technologies without any time for oversight at all. Get it right first time by knowing when you’re about to fuck up.

This, therefore, shall be referred to as the Comparative Marine Paint Technology Rule. Or the Alan Moore Rule, if you’re weird.

Lessons In Plotting 3: Scenes

I’m pretty sure it was Elmore Leonard, or Kurt Vonnegut, or Winston Churchill, or Martin Luther King, who said that every scene in a book should advance the story or else it’s a waste. People get very much up in arms about this (“What about character establishment, motherfucker?!” etc.), but broadly speaking it’s true and whoever said it was right. Motherfucker.

Look at a scene - “Bishop breaks into the corporate HQ”, “Everyone sits around the campfire”, “Maria’s feeling too damn hot and can’t wait for that sexy air conditioning repair man to arrive”.

Now ask yourself “why do we need to read this?” You may get all kinds of answers:

  • Bishop discovers it’s his long-lost friend behind it all. Shocked gasps abound.

  • We learn why Talahasee hates zombies so much.

  • There’s been a lot of action before, and a lot coming soon, so we need a pause, a chance for the reader to catch their breath.

  • Things have been quiet, but this ratchets up the tension and keeps the reader engaged.

  • We see the neighbourhood where the characters grew up. Learning what and where they came from provides context for the choices they’ve made later in life.

  • We first learn about the terrible trouble Maria has keeping her clothes on.

  • This is how Taggart needs to get from location A to location B.

The last one’s the thing to watch for. Unless any of the others also apply - plot or character development, necessary shifts in pacing, establishing a new setting - chances are it shouldn’t be there at all. You don’t need to see A to B if there’s nothing of value in it; you can skip straight to B. You can do it even if it’s not a location but a plot beat; go from the murder scene to “we got lucky with the third suspect on our list” and back to the story. Suspects one and two aren’t important unless they fulfill another one of those criteria.

(Also note that plot development by itself is never enough; there should be more internal logic than “this character does this because the script says so”. Something that’s sadly lost in a lot of modern movie output, for instance.)

You can even use it sparingly to get out of a corner. You leave one chapter with the main characters trapped underground, in a flooding room filled with piranhas and a ticking nuclear bomb (modern bombs, as Fight Club points out, don’t tick, but FUCK YOU, REALITY) and open the next with them swilling cocktails in a nearby bar, soaking wet but very much alive. “I can’t believe we did it,” one says. “No one would ever believe how we made it out alive!”


(But awesomely.)

I shall refer to this as The Lord Of The Rules, because most of the LotR is skippable A-B stuff with no inherent value. Unless you like songs about dwarves, in which case fill your boots.


Baby-to-be. Future Wife’s due date is Friday, so one way or another we don’t have long to go.

@ChuckWendig's 100-Word Challenge: FALLS (Reposted Because I'm An Idiot)

The lights dim and the curtain falls.

I’d have given you anything, Alice, if you’d just asked me. You knew my share of the take was going to pay for my son’s treatment, some of it. Still you took everything and damn near killed me doing it. I buried Jack in his tiny coffin a week ago, and you should’ve hidden better. All’s turned to dust, and your blood’s all over the floor and I don’t have anyone left to love.

The barrel at my temple. Curve of the trigger on my finger.

The lights dim and the curtain falls.

Chuck Wendig runs a regular flash fiction challenge on his site. This week, 100 words only. “Oh ho ho,” I thought. “I can do 100 words even while Future Wife is killing my brain with television.” And so it proved, and this is mine.

I might, of course, be cheating. Chuck wanted a whole tale, and while I think there’s one here - the narrator and Alice were clearly thieves of some sort, as well as lovers, she double-crossed him and took a whole score, money that would’ve saved his son, and now he’s buried his kid he’s come and killed her before topping himself - but it’s mostly inferred. But hey, I’m cunning. Also, exactly 100 words. Skillz, people. Skillz.

Reposted because I initially did this as a link post, and Tumblr doesn’t let you change types. Moron, me.