On Writing Tension

With Echoes out on the digital shelves, I turned my attention to completing the revision of offering number two–That Zombie Story, better known as Grave New World. 

It was a bit of a jolt. Echoes was written in more descriptive prose than I usually try, and had a sort of dreamy quality to it. GNW is darker, grittier, and moves a lot faster. The plot and characters are also much older, dating back to 2006, so while it was easy enough to slide back into Vibeke’s narrative, I had a lot of reworking ahead of me.

My two big challenges in converting The Evil That Men Do into a quartet of novellas were finding the natural break points and ratcheting up the tension.

Well, there was that whole rewriting thing…but that’s another post.

The first break point was easy enough to find–the epidemic breaks out. That left me with tension. In the original draft, Vibeke, Tony, and Dax are sitting around for several months waiting for a rescue that doesn’t come, and are finally forced to move when the city burns down. I mixed in the arrival of the undead with the fire.

I wanted Grave New World to be more zombie-centric, so on that end I had to cut out a huge chunk of story…and somehow cram all the character development that came with it into a much faster-paced plot. I handled this in three ways:

  • Is it utterly necessary? No? Cut it out entirely.
  • Is this something you can express through dialogue? (Condensed an entire paragraph of Vibeke’s heritage into two lines: “Were your parents hippies?” “No, just Norwegian.”
  • Can it be expressed through action? (Dax originally declared his reluctance to hurt people in a speech; I cut that and made him hesitate during a firefight.)

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National Novel Writing Month is just around the corner. Do you have your novel idea?

Because I don’t. And I’m a bit spooked.

This is not a huge emergency; my personal “NaNo Best” came in 2006, when I started writing The Evil That Men Do on November 15 (scrapping my original idea, which wasn’t working), and I blew through 60,000 words in 15 days. Were they good words? Well, some of them were. The dialogue was pretty snappy. The story and characters (and some of the dialogue) were eventually reborn as Grave New World, the first story in my Endtimes series, which I think (read: think) I’ll be able to release in November. Full circle and all that.

I’ve participated in NaNo since 2002. Holy crap, have I seriously been at this for almost a decade? Where has the time gone?

At the moment, I’m leaning between book two of the Endtimes series (and since it’ll coincide with The Walking Dead returning to AMC, I’ll definitely be in a zombie kind of mood) or The Frozen Ocean, which I really need to get cracking on…

So expect plenty of writing-related posts over the next month and a half as I try to figure all this stuff out.


Finished That Zombie Story, which as of now is Gray New World, unless I can think up something else. It clocks in at something like 37,000 words, which is 7,000 over my target, but a lot less than my usual overages. I may yet trim some of it out.

Besides editing and trimming, it also needs a suitable last sentence (haven’t figured that out), and I’m not sure whether it warrants an epilogue yet.

Did some substantial reworking of the Echoes cover. Will slap it up tomorrow. I feel like I’ve had a monthlong crash course in Photoshop, but things finally started coming back to me. I even figured out how to make a proper nebula.

The Process Continues

Times like this, I really wish I’d paid more attention in my Photoshop segments.

I have an old version of PS (maybe 6 or 7) that I used in college. I can do some basic effects and maipulations with it, but figuring out cover art and website stuff is…challenging. I may still hire a pro for the cover, but I’m taking a shot at it on my own. I don’t particularly want people on my covers, or anything more than maybe a landscape/galaxyscape. Heck, I’d be OK with just one color and some text for title and author, provided it all looked nice. In that case, it makes sense for me to try this on my own.

There’s plenty of tutorials around for me to practice with, and I’ve been dabbling with the light effects and text features on my own. So we’ll see. If I can’t pull it off to my standards, I’ll hire someone. In the meantime, it’s always a good skill set to learn…along with the CSS and XHTML.

Something like 19,000 words on That Zombie Story. Not sure how that happened, though it occurred this morning. My protagonist is sufficiently disgusted with the whole apocalyptic situation, even though they’ve managed to acquire the obligatory post-apocalyptic canine companion. They are also realizing the extent of the damage, just what sort of people tend to do well in these situations, and what they may have to eventually do in order to survive.

One of the over-arcing themes in this little series is how far one’s willing to go to live. When the veneer of civilization starts rubbing off, it becomes difficult to tell the good guys from the bad. Throw in dead people running around and it’s a real mess.

I’m sitting here streaming Life After People on Netflix, and Juno keeps reacting to the sound effects and occasional explosions. Very amusing. The show itself is kind of sobering…at times, it’s hard to think about all the things we made–all the aspects that made us human–just disappearing forever. But it’s a good primer for the empty world the protagonists in That Zombie Story will inhabit.

Muddling Along

I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t carry out my plans to go down to San Diego during the worst of the heat wave. Most of the area lost power for most of yesterday, and I would’ve been sitting there stewing about not being able to work.

I keep starting on entries and not finishing them. Ugh. Distracted freelancer is distracted.

I am in the process of reading two books — Rosamunde Pilcher’s Flowers in the Rain (a collection of short stories) and usually something on the Nook. I’ve gotten more used to reading on it, and I can see myself eventually using an e-reader for most fiction. With that said…I think the Kindle is a bit better. It’s lighter, the screen is much more eye-friendly. That’s not to say I’m not fond of my little wannabe tablet, but Nook Color still has a ways to go.

I would like to remark on the crappiness of formatting, though. What really irks me is that the crappy formatting I am seeing is largely coming from the Big Publishers. Yeah, some of the free stuff is shoddily formatted, but most of the indie authors I’ve purchased from have taken the time to format their offerings properly. Big Publishing clearly can’t be bothered. I saw it in the newest Martin book and I’m seeing it with additional titles. My mother said her Kindle version of The Help had some “weird stuff” in it, and after describing it to me over the phone, it also sounds like formatting issues.

There’s really no excuse to do this with bestsellers, Big Pub. You sit and slam indie authors for poor editing and appearance while perpetuating the same bad habits. At least practice what you preach.

After weeks of empty threats, my landlord is finally replacing the doors in our little complex…the contractor was out bright and early, and I awoke to the sounds of buzzing, hammering, and metal screeching. So much for sleeping in. Juno has responded to all this noise by BEING AS LOUD AS POSSIBLE, which would be charming if I wasn’t trying to actually get work done at a reasonable hour today.

Hit about 13k words on That Zombie Story last night. It’s fun to write, but it’s a slightly different kind of heroine for me. I tend to write the kickass alpha female in my longer works, but in the short stuff, my heroines seem more…sedate. Kate in Once is an effective hybrid–competent without flaunting her skills, I guess–but Vibeke, the narrator in That Zombie Story, has no survival/fighting skills whatsoever, so for the first section of the story she’s sort of floundering. She learns as she goes, but she’s one of the quietest of my female leads.

It can be a little bit of a pain when working out action scenes, but this was a decision I made when I first crafted the story. Much as I love a badass taking on the undead, nothing irks me more than someone with absolutely no training and/or survival skills shifting overnight into a badass to take on the zombie horde.

I have no logical endpoint to this particular entry, so I will just say…goodnight.

That Zombie Story

12,557 words on that zombie story. I’m pretty sure I had around 8,000 when I started today.

It’s changed drastically from its original incarnation, though I see echoes of the original tale. In bumping up the zombies, I bumped up the introduction of Tony. He’s ostensibly the male lead, I guess; back in 2006, my heroine, Vibeke, was filching ramen from the third-floor kitchen and Tony confronted her. I’ve had a couple characters stride onstage and just take over stories, but I think the sassy Mr. McKnight is the most memorable. He struts around and spits out his witty one-liners, and he would be fabulous if he weren’t such a pain in the ass.

In bumping up his appearance, though, I ended up adjusting his actual relationship to Vibeke. In the original story, they worked for the same company on different floors, so vaguely knew each other and played the getting-to-know-you game throughout the book. In the new version, they already have a bit of an antagonistic back-and-forth, which actually helps both characters and the story. Funny, the writing process.

Oh, and the undead finally made their appearance. Tony kept his dialogue from the original version: “Just what I need…the living dead.”

It’s still murderously hot in here. Ended up only partially covering Juno, although my bedroom is much cooler than the office.

The Hack’s Progress

The three-day, city-wide frat party that is the Orange Street Fair continues to rage. A drunkard is wailing underneath the tree outside my kitchen, while my neighbors are singing happy songs. Meanwhile, my relatively tidy apartment is locked up securely, and I’m hard at work on my next project.

Copies of Once have been distributed. The goal is to get as many eyes on it as possible, flush out any errors/plot holes/the like. I went over it several times and I think the text itself is fairly clean. So we’ll wait and see on that one.

The next project…zombies. Or rather, a revision of a story I wrote in 2006 during NaNoWriMo. Well…it’s not so much a revision as a complete rewrite (although quite a bit of the dialogue will survive, as it was quite snappy) and a re-structuring to a) make it a proper zombie story, and b) break it into several short stories. Right now I’m aiming for 30,000 words, but when you think about how my numbers usually turn out…it’ll probably be more around 40,000. With that said, I am aiming to write 2,000 words a day, and hope to have a working copy by the beginning of October…which, coincidentally, is when I’m hoping to get Once out on the shelves.

Chapter one is done at 3400 words; dividing 30k by about 3200 and it works out to about ten chapters as a baseline. I’ll give myself some wriggle room and say maybe twelve chapters, maximum.

That seems awfully close. This particular installation is entirely plotted out, so I know what happens when, and what needs to happen, and where I need to end things. I also have a pretty firm grip on the characters, so that helps.

It’s all about treating it like a real job. Declaring public deadlines helps.

The zombie story doesn’t have a title. Neither does the proposed series. For a very, very long time, I called the original draft The Evil That Men Do after the famous quote from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: “The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones.” Except there’s already a movie, a book, and an Iron Maiden song named after it, so I’m not sure I can swing it as a title. During my earlier revisions this year, I called it Purgatory, but that didn’t quite work, either. Now…

Now it’s just “that zombie story.”

Hmm. Maybe I can work that angle. Another Damned Zombie Invasion or something like that.

Back to work.

Abstract Discussion of Coffee and Freelancing

“So,” Mom began, “Did I tell you about our break-in?”

“Why no,” I said, thinking this was the sort of subject one ought to broach earlier. “No, Mother, you did not. Please, regale me with this tale.”

Suffice to say, there’s a whackjob with a housekey running around in Old SD, and our damned dog is too mellow to do anything about it. I’m hoping my brother can arrange for them to adopt a pit bull.

I do therefore dub July the Month of WTF. August can’t come soon enough.

The novel workthrough continues apace. I’m keeping to one chapter a night; there’s been one or two I zipped through, but I feel I need to pace myself. This must not be rushed. Rushing leads to sloppiness, and I will not have that. People may not like the story, but I am not giving them a reason to complain about the grammar and formatting. Or plotholes.

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Abandon All Hope

Hark, the Santa Anas have arrived.

Actually, they might not be the Santa Anas. They might just be high winds — I’m not sure what the cutoff is. But I’m calling them Santa Anas anyway, because they are fierce. I woke up to the screen door banging around and the trees in the courtyard being thrashed within an inch of their lives.

The Santa Anas are an allergy sufferer’s nightmare, by the way.

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I just plowed through 3100 words on the possible self-pub experiment.

I feel…great. I’ll need to tweak some things later on, but once I got going, the words came easily, and the scene will act as a springboard for later events.

The story is, as of now, untitled. Its working title has been The Evil That Men Do (named for the Shakespeare line and the Iron Maiden song), although at the moment I’ve been calling it Purgatory. I wrote it in 2006 for NaNoWriMo, and I’ve come back to it over the years, cleaning it up as I can and picking at it as necessary.

I still like the story, the characters, the narrator. When I first started contemplating testing out self-pubbing, Purgatory/Evil came to mind immediately. It’s already a tough sell — a weird mashup of urban fantasy and post-apocalyptic hijinks, with zombies to taste — and the market is getting tougher. This is not a story I’m sure I could ever sell to an agent or publisher. So I pulled it out and looked it over and chopped off the entire second half.

Oh, and somewhere in between all that, I started on a short story set several years later, just to see what the narrator was up to. One thing led to another, and I suddenly had a more fleshed-out universe — and some ideas as to where to go with character development in Evil.

And here I am. It’s 1:30, I planned to be in bed hours ago, but I think I’ve set the stage to give the back end an appropriate rewrite. Which makes me happy.

Along with figuring out how to market myself as a freelance writer/editor, I’ve also got to consider marketing this thing. How do you drum up an audience? I could post snippets, I guess. Maybe a short story or two (if I can figure out how to write one — all of mine turn out long).

But I’ll figure that out tomorrow. Another fun day of editing ahead.