At the start of this month I began work on a new book, tentatively titled DIE EASY: Charlie Fox book ten.
Actually, that’s not entirely true – well, what do you expect from someone who lies for a living? I should say that as far as I’m concerned there’s nothing tentative about it – DIE EASY is the perfect title for this story. Ever since I first saw the old Bruce Willis classic ‘Die Hard’ I’ve wanted to do a riff on that theme. Let’s face it, it was that movie turned a light comedy TV leading man into an all-action movie star, bare feet and all. And as my book is set in New Orleans – The Big Easy – what better title?
OK, that was itsy little lie #1.
Itsy little lie #2 was that I didn’t start this book on October 1st. I should say I RE-started the book this month, as I wrote the opening three chapters and the half-page jacket copy outline way back at the beginning of this year.
But then Other Things got in the way – like getting the entire Charlie Fox backlist out in e-format, plus putting together an e-thology of CF short stories, FOX FIVE: a Charlie Fox short story collection. And I have to say that I don’t begrudge the time spent on those projects at all. It was a thoroughly energising experience that has brought me back to my writing, and the series, with renewed enthusiasm, as I’ll explain.
Having found out, however, that my lovely US publisher Pegasus Books is bringing FIFTH VICTIM: Charlie Fox book nine out in January 2012 instead of the March I was expecting, I realised that I needed to Extract My Digit in quite a big way if I’m to deliver the finished t/s of the next book before publication of the last one.
(Of course, Brit readers have already been able to get hold of 5V from Allison & Busby since March this year.)
At that point I had only 5800 words written out of 100-110,000 and no full outline. I knew the broad brushstrokes, the major dramatic highlights and emotional themes, but not the nitty-gritty that would enable me to actually get on with the scribbling.
So why write the opening scenes at all?
Because I wanted to know where it all began. Sounds totally illogical, but very few books start at the very beginning of the story itself. Deciding the right jumping-in point – where you grab the reader by the arm and rush them towards the edge of the cliff – is a vital choice for me. Until I know that, I can’t get on with it. I know some people just start writing and worry about that later, but sadly I’m not one of them.
From early on in the series, I’ve been trying to avoid the foreshadowing opening. The ‘had I but known’ style of thing. I did it in the first book KILLER INSTINCT, but I’ve tried to avoid it since, otherwise it becomes very old very fast. I’ve used a couple of flashforward openings, though, and those I do like.
For instance, some people assumed that the opening chapter to SECOND SHOT: Charlie Fox book six was from the very end of it, but without giving too many spoilers, it’s not.
When I wrote ROAD KILL: Charlie Fox book five the original opening for the story had a group of soldiers standing around a fallen motorcyclist who lay screaming in the middle of a road through a very dodgy housing estate in East Belfast, with an angry crowd gathering.
It was a great opening chapter and I loved it.
But it never made it into the final cut of the book. It simply did not drop my protag – and the reader – into the right place in the story. One of the reasons that book was such a pig to write was that I held onto that opening chapter far longer than I should have done. Even now, I still hanker after that original rather than the first chapter I eventually went with. But the final version – which opens with Charlie swinging a sledgehammer into the walls of her cottage – does better serve the story.
But I digress.
It’s now twenty days into October, and so far I’ve had three zero-word days and one day when I only managed a bit of reshuffling, which added 43 words to my total. (Yes, I’m sad enough to keep it all on a spreadsheet.) But yesterday I still managed to hit 20,000 words and I’m aiming to be at 35k by the end of the month.
Then 70k by the end of November, and 105k by the end of the year. That leaves me the last bits to finish off in January, print it all out, do a read through to try and catch inconsistencies, repetitions, check my chapter breaks are in the most effective positions, and ruthlessly scalpel out unnecessary words.
Just like that. Ha!
But I’ll be keeping a running tally of all this on my Facebook author page – seeing as how I’ve almost discovered how this social media stuff works – and possibly on Twitter as well.
I hope you’ll stop by and have a giggle at my expense.
Speaking of having a giggle at my expense, if you happen to be near South Wales next week – October 26th – I shall be appearing at the Newport Big Read event in Gwent. If you can make it, I’d love to see you there.
So, ‘Rati, that’s how I’m intending to tackle my writing schedule over the next couple of months. How about yourselves? And if you’re not writing a book at the moment, how do you deal with big tasks that seem overwhelming at first glance? Do you break them down into work first/reward later, or do you put them off as long as you can possibly manage before knuckling down?
This week’s Word of the Week is ultracrepidate, which means to criticise beyond the sphere of one’s knowledge. It comes from the painter Apelle’s answer to the cobbler who went on from criticising the sandals in a picture to finding fault with the leg. “Ne sutor ultra crepidam.” – “The cobbler must not go beyond the sandal.”
Love both FIFTH VICTIM covers and the idea behind DIE EASY. Very nice.
I'm writing my ass off just getting ready to WriMo. Practicing with Dragon Dictate and trying to see how well it will work with Scrivener. I can't do 50,000 words with a mouthstick or any combo of techniques, unless Dragon works for me.
Having some doubts because I rely a lot on the visual feedback in my head, something that the Dragon screen precludes. I can see the words I want to write, but they get lost in space if the feedback is too quick. Dunno if that makes sense. I am determined to do it somehow, so I'm practicing with a paragraphing outline. I've never done that before, but when I saw Alex's outline from the other day I superimposed it on my book notes and started to fill in the skeleton with paragraphs.
I'm excited about it – actually enjoying it – and want to make the most of November. I am transported by writing. I don't have to make myself do it. I more often can't make myself stop. That doesn't mean it's any good, of course. Temporal lobe epilepsy sucks, but it gives me the rush of creating and has a way of causing me to see new angles.
I'd rather be in Gwent right now, though.
I even write in my sleep. In my writing dreams I see the words coming up on a computer screen. I write volumes that way. Only, of course, they don't get written down. It's a writing suck fest. Sometimes I remember the gist and use it. Then it's worth it.
First: New Charlie novels! Hooray! I'm just about to start Road Kill, so I'll pay even more attention to the opening.
As for your question:
When uncertain, when in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout . . .
To be completely, wretchedly honest, I'm all but stalled on the last eighth of my WIP (except the final two scenes, which were written in my head the moment I sussed the main characters). I know *what *happens, but I'm not sure *how* it needs to happen.
So I'm taking some advice and starting my second draft editing now — I'm planning to iron the wrinkles out all the way to the end and reacquaint myself with all that came before.
Hope it works . . . chapter two was, to borrow my new favorite descriptor, a *pig*.
Zoe, let me know if you need to do some on the ground research — you can use my house in New Orleans, which is empty save for when I get there to visit (like this weekend). Goal in November (inspired by Alex and Nanowrimo) is to edit another 100 pages of the work in progress (no title yet, still working on that). Have 65000 words so far but it needs editing badly. So will follow your progress with interest and using it to inspire me to achieve my goal.
Do not go above the sandal. That advice could seriously derail my love life.
I always break down big problems into pieces, legacy of my math days. And I can't write unitl I plot out the book. I tried this last time and hit a wall, because I knew something was wrong. But it wasn't time wasted, just misspent, if that makes any sense, and I used what I'd mis-written to explore more mindfully what really needed to be on the page. I've now worked out the skeleton (plot), and am ready to add flesh, blood and sinew. I'm feeling optimistic, which in itself is a bit of a coup these days.
I may be contacting Andy regarding his newfound professional skills, btw. And best of luck with all the new endeavors. You seem charged up. A good thing.
I've just finished your first 3 novels, and absolutely loved them. I'm well into the 4th now and my husband is wondering why I can't put the books down. I told him I want to BE Charlie Fox!
My writing goal, thanks to Alex and her Nanowrimo prep pieces, is to use November to make a start on a novel. I've got the barest skeleton of an idea and have been using her card method to try to flesh out more of the outline. I don't think I'll do the full Nanowrimo thing because of my work schedule (in full-bore trial prep right now), but I do want to use the month to do what I can, and between you and Alex, I have plenty of inspiration. 🙂
Very best of luck with NaNoWriMo. I don’t think I have the bottle to take on THAT big a project in a month, so I’m filled with admiration for everyone who takes part in this annual marathon event.
Have you thought about simply teaching Kendall to touch-type? He’s a smart dog, I’m sure he’d pick it up. Hell, if I can do it …
I admit I LIKE spending time getting the outline right before I start, and doing the POV outline for a first-person narrative has been a bit of a revelation for me. It just makes the whole balance of the book and the story arc easier to plan out.
I’m a very visual writer, too. I see a movie of the book in my head, and when I’m struggling with a scene it’s usually because I can’t ‘see’ it clearly enough. Maybe I just need new glasses.
Or laser eye surgery. I heard the other day that Tiger Woods had his eyesight not just corrected but actually ‘enhanced’. (OK, I’d like you to know that I’ve just deleted the joke I typed after that comment. You should all be proud of my self-restraint right now.)
I’m so glad you’re looking forward to them ;-]
Sorry to hear you’re stuck – but as I’ve said before, you know where to find me …
LOL on your new favourite descriptor. I like it so much that I even called a horse in FIFTH VICTIM ‘Cerdo’ which I’m reliably informed is Spanish for ‘pig’.
Ooh, wow, thank you for the house loan offer! I should point out, however, that we often have the bad manners to actually turn up when such rash invitations are issued. Just ask Toni (McGee Causey). We stayed with her and husband Carl last year when we were over in the States and they gave us guided tours of NOLA. Of course, I still need to tie down one or two other details …
Best of luck with your edit on the WIP next month. I promise not to wimp out of reporting my progress.
Zoe, you are a juggernaut of activity. Alas, I can't break down the big things I plan to do. How does one further break down: 1) take a bath, and 2) pick up the mail?
I SO do not want any more details about the part played by sandals in your love life. Sorry, guy, but there are some things you simply should not share ;-]
My maths is awful – and yet I’m the one who takes care of the accounts. Yeah, go figure.
Just because I’ve spent all this time plotting beforehand doesn’t mean it’s set in stone by any means. (If only.)
I usually describe it as like driving along a road at night with your headlights on, using your sat nav for pace notes. You know your ultimate destination, and the sat nav gives you reasonable warning of the more obvious twists and turns ahead. (It may occasionally try to guide you into a river down a rutted farm track, but come on, you’ve held a driving licence long enough to avoid the more obvious cul-de-sacs.) As you drive, you can see the area immediately ahead of your lights in stark clarity, but only to the limit of the beam. After that, things get a lot more murky. And there’s always the chance of something unexpected leaping out in front of you, which you have to respond to if you don’t want to crash.
OK, here endeth the longest and most convoluted analogy for plotting out there.
But if you want to talk to us/me/Andy about e-book stuff, no problems. Nobody should be letting the fruits of their labours rot on the vine.
Thank you – and thank you for the email earlier, too. I’m saving up my email answering until I’ve got today’s words done. Or at least this afternoon segment done. I break the day’s total down into further bite-size chunks and because of sorting my blog out this morning, I’m running a little behind. (But there’s still an hour to go before our evening meal, so I have a chance to catch up.)
I’m delighted that you’re enjoying the books, and please pass on my apologies to your husband that Charlie is distracting you so much!
The first outline I write is very sketchy – just a rough idea of what happens in roughly the right order. Then I start to work out who all the characters are, and why they’re doing what they’re doing:
The son has always lived in his father’s shadow and is treated like a gofer – is that reason enough to plot to kill his father?
What did the returning sports hero DO in his youth that made him leave town in a hurry and why has he never been back since?
What’s pressured him to return now? And who still bears a grudge?
What effect on Charlie will it have if she comes face to face with one of the men who attacked her in the army?
How will Sean react to this guy if he can’t really remember what happened AFTER the army anyway?
Etc, etc. Once I’ve got all this info, I work out how it all fits together.
And then, finally, I re-order the whole thing from Charlie’s first-person POV. She can only KNOW the backstory if she finds it out in some way. How does she find out? And before she’s found out the truth, what does she mistakenly THINK is going on at any given time.
Once I’ve worked all that lot out, the rest is relatively easy.
(Erm, did I mention the word “HA!” before …?)
Before I decided to reanimate my backlist, I would have struggled to make that choice between bath and mail. In fact, I would probably have plumped for the bath INSTEAD of fetching the mail, as at least that didn’t involve having to go outside the house and walk across the drive to the post box.
This burst of energy has been caused at least in part by the process of reviving the backlist and seeing it take on new life in a new format, finding new readers like the delightful Jenni and Sarah above.
My dear, we need to talk.
Put off. Then go flippin' nuts trying to do everything on time. "On time" as in "in a short period of time that sometimes it's just not Physically enough to accomplish the task I'm supposed to". Most times, it works. Someday, I'll get screwed big time because of this. I'm really scared 'someday' is going to be this weekend. I'm freaking out badly 🙁
I groaned when I read this, because you're advice makes so much sense, and I just can't bring myself to take it until I'm at least 1/3 of the way into a book. I wish I were an outliner. But it takes all the fun out of it for me. I like those broad brushstrokes, but sometimes it's even more fun to just start and see where the story goes. That's what I'm doing now and I'm loving it! In between headbanging on the walls, of course.
For some reason, I got thoroughly tangled in the structure of book #3 and the more clever strategies I tried in order to sort it out, the worse it got. I finally resorted to index cards for every scene, reassembled the entire work in a new file with the right structure and am now reworking the whole bloody thing to get rid of problems such as Dani getting out of bed 3 times in the same day, having people leave before they arrive, etc. As JT says, I'm having fun when I'm not headbanging on the wall every couple of hours.
Right now I"m working on a new short story while I'm letting the first draft of a novel rest. I'm still not sure on my method. For short stories a basic idea and I can go at it blind, but for the novel I did a bit more. It helped, but the middle still sagged. Of course, the short story is cannabalized from a failed novel, so I guess nothing is really new.
"Fox Five" was a great read. Thanks for that.
Hi Zoe. Great to have a plan…a schedule. Very exciting that you're fired up and ready to go! And I also keep track of my word counts most of the time too, although I'm not organised enough to have them in an Excel spreadsheet – just a table at the end of my Word doc or Scrivener doc.
My schedule…mmm…I've just finished a batch of corporate writing gigs and a ghost writing project, which means I can actually move onto MY novel for the first time in months. Except that I have a meeting next week about a new corporate project 🙁 I think NaNoWriMo might be my only hope!
Love the covers, by the way.
Wow, sounds like you’re under some pressure at the moment – I hope this weekend passes off uneventfully for you …
Somebody once told me that Important jobs are rarely Urgent, and Urgent jobs are rarely Important. So you do the urgent jobs first but that means inevitably the important ones get left until they are suddenly urgent AND important, and then there isn’t the time to do them without a stress overload.
I know – that’s no help at all. It’s just an observation ;-]
Oy, seems like I start over everytime I sit down in front of the computer — at least it feels that way. I've been in the revising and agent-hunting process for too long now…I've forgotten what it's like to start with a FRESH story — can I write a first draft anymore without overthinking everything? My analytical brain has gotten tons of exercise these past few years, but the creative first-draft brain feels, shall we say, a tad atrophied. Sooo, I'm thinking about, maybe, probably, hopefully, participating in Nanowrimo. Developed a new novel idea last year, so it's sitting there waiting for me. If I set myself the ridiculous 50K word goal, maybe my analytical brain will shut up. I'd love to just let it flow in the Ann Lamott "shitty first draft" way. That would feel great!
Also, developing a short story idea that I might submit to the MWA anthology for next year. I find the short form incredibly difficult — my ideas are nearly always novel ideas at heart.
I know that feeling, because the longer I delay actually *writing* the more panicky I feel. I was starting to sweat a bit because I didn’t get on with DIE EASY until Oct 4th, when I’d promised myself I’d start Oct 1st. And that was three whole days gone, dammit, with no words to show. But the extra time spent getting my POV outline in order is paying dividends now. As of this evening I’m at 21,500 words.
We’re all so different, aren’t we? I *do* like an outline – it adds to my fun. On the other hand, I haven’t tried writing a book with no set ideas about what it will be, just for the heck of it, which might be entirely different. When I’m touring, for instance, I have a full itinerary typed out with every hotel confirmation number, flight number, email address and nearby restaurant/Best Buy/Target/gun range en route. But that’s business, not vacation, and we hate packaged holidays, preferring to just fly in, rent a car and wing it as far as hotels and reservations are concerned.
Glad to hear the new project is going well. Can’t wait to hear all about it.
There seems to be a lot of headbanging going on today ;-] Does anybody need paracetamol?
It’s so easy, when you’re rewriting, to encounter things like somebody getting out of bed several times in the same day. We’ve all done it. I managed in THIRD STRIKE to have a nine-day week, but fortunately that was a relatively easy fix.
For me, I’ve found the easiest way to keep track of it is to keep a summary as I write, including a brief précis of conversations, time of day, day number and if it needs to be a specific day of the week, weather, injuries any characters are carrying, etc. That way, I can go through the summary and make notes about any changes without having to plough through the whole t/s, which can be a very daunting prospect. Good luck with the rewrites!
Thanks, Larry – so glad you enjoyed FOX FIVE
Letting a novel rest between finishing it and reading the whole thing for the first time – or between first and second drafts – is a great idea. Reading it out loud, if your voice can stand it, is another terrific way to really spot any clunky dialogue, or bits of narrative that just go on that bit too long.
The rest period is what’s going to suffer for me this time, I think, because I don’t have the time to let it sit before my deadline. But I’m hoping I’ll get time for reflection between submission and official edits. Ah, the beauty of electronic edits. You no longer have to turn in a ream of paper that’s as much red crayon as it is type ;-]
I find if I don’t have a schedule, it’s too easy for a day off to become a week off to become a month where nothing gets done. Life just has a habit of interfering in one’s plans, doesn’t it?
And as someone who wrote in the cracks of the day job for years, I can entirely sympathise with other stuff getting in the way of your latest novel. I was writing non-fiction magazine articles at the time I wrote KILLER INSTINCT and RIOT ACT, and it was only with the later books that I was able to retire from the non-fiction writing side to concentrate on photography instead, which was different enough to dovetail into the fiction work rather nicely. I still enjoy going out and doing the odd shoot just to keep my hand in.
Never got the hang of Excel, btw – I use Lotus 1-2-3, which is probably more or less the same. But it was very satisfying tonight to be able to open it up and add in my 1300+ words for the day. (See my halo shine …)
I tend to split the working day up into segments – am, pm, eve, and try to get a certain amount done in each. If I manage it with time to spare, I can then go and do something else for the rest of that segment – an incentive and reward scheme. Hence I had a little flurry commenting here earlier.
Thanks for the comment on the covers. I know I keep saying that I’m really pleased with what Jane Hudson at NuDesign has done with them, but I feel really lucky that I’ve managed to get in on the ground floor of her cover design career while I can still afford her!
Best of luck with NaNoWriMo. I hope it really flows for you in a not-at-all-shitty-in-fact-surprisingly-decent-first-draft kind of way!
I did a short for the next MWA anthology (although in the last MWA newsletter they credited me as Zöe Sharpe, so maybe that’s not me after all …) but I find shorts hard to write, too. Having said that, before I got back into DIE EASY I did work on a new Charlie Fox short that I’ll put out before Christmas. I knew once I was back immersed in the book I wouldn’t want to come out of it to do another project. I know our Alex can manage to work on several different projects at once, but she a far better multi-tasker than I’ll ever be ;-]
I get bogged down with doing lots of changes to a piece of work, too. I’ve found that the more I go over something, to me the worse it seems to get. I think this is why I try to work on the outline so much before I start, so what I actually put on the page is fresh but has a certain confidence. But I can entirely appreciate that everybody has to find their own method. This is not a one-size-fits-all business.
Excellent suggestions, Zoe, thanks. You're right – it's essential when you're making wholesale changes. My conceit of keeping track in my head at this stage is proof of just how off the rails I've gotten!
Glad to have made some suggestions that make sense – my brain is a little fried at the moment, I fear.
I hold my hand up, though, because I’ve been writing fairly fast my summary has fallen behind, but I know if I leave it to the end it will be a big job, so I’m going to have to sort that sooner rather than later. I’m already up to chapter 15 …
Oh, I put things off. Especially if I don't have a deadline (which I don't). I'm an expert procrastinator, but I think I perform best under extreme pressure, so there's that. Unfortunately, this past summer just sucked the creative energy right out of me. I've been slowly but surely getting back into what I hope will be the final re-write of this ms.
I'm not doing NaNo, but I plan to heed Alex's suggestion and become a succubus, er, that is, try to feed off the creative energy of everyone who is participating. In a totally non-threatening and no I am not actually stalking anyone to sap their energy kind of way. Of course.
Also… I've recently decided to do something I'm very excited about, but that everyone else will probably look at and think I've lost my damn mind. I don't even care if they do, I'm that excited about it. It's in addition to, not instead of, the other writing and I'm not ready to discuss details yet, but it's given me a jolt of optimism and energy similar to what you described above re getting your backlist out there.
Have fun in Gwent! I love that name. Makes me giggle for no good reason. Seems a likely word to use in a limerick. "There was a young lady from Gwent…" Restraint, I haz it too.
Thnks for the good NaNoWriMo wishes. I'm getting more positive about it now that I see a shape taking form. I never outlined before, believing myself to be a seat-of-the-pants type – which I was – but now find that, because I can no longer stop writing very easily, an outline helps me to redirect that compulsion into product. I'm writing an article on that now for one of the BBC blogs, but we'll see what happens on that. I have lots of trouble getting it into such a small format, because I want to keep going and going with it. Envisioning it as a series is helpful, as I am not letting go, rather I am creating a portion. Wanted to submit it before November. We shall see.
Really really interesting about your visual writing. Love that you do that!
Kendall is practicing and thanks you for the validation.
xoxo R & U..U k
I'm doing NaNo, too. I'm hoping to achieve a breakthrough in my writing process. I tend to edit as I go, sucking the life out of my story. I'm determined to reach The End on something. My stack of partial manuscripts is nearly as tall as me!
I *can* work under heavy pressure but it just really takes it out of me. And I used to find that any job expanded to fill – and sometimes overfill – the time available. I hated homework as a kid because it used to take me ALL evening to do, and then I'd lie awake at night and sweat about the bits of it I hadn't done, or hadn't been able to do. Another reason why I didn't last in formal education, I think 🙂
Suck away – ooh er. Maybe that came out wrong! It's a fine balance, actually. Sometimes everyone else being bouncy when you feel flat, makes you feel flatter. But if you can get some transfer buzz off it, that's terrific.
And you can't drop hints like that and not tell us what it is you're planning to do that has you so excited, especially when you've said everyone will think you've lost your mind over it. Argh!
Don't get me started on silly jokes and limericks … 🙂
You're welcome, Reine
And please do let me have the link to your article when it's up. Sounds cool.
I haven't forgotten about that list I promised to send you, btw, but putting it all together is taking me a little time in between loads of other stuff. I have it on this week's To Do List!
Bests to Kendall – I recommend 'Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing'. I tried to get Andy to do that one, because they encouraged you to type faster by showing a little car race on screen and the faster (and more accurately) you typed, the closer you got to the car in front. Maybe it could be adapted with a cat in front?
Good luck with NaNo! I've always self-edited a LOT as I go, but with this one I'm only correcting scenes if I need to add or lose some story aspect and it affects the writing from here on in, not for sentence structure or the nitty-gritty, as mentioned in the post. I have a few queries and things I know I need to go back and change later, but I just insert an edit mark in the text – in my case usually a $ sign because I would tend to write out 'dollars' rather than use it in the narrative, so it's easy to search for afterwards.
So far, I have some $ signs about baseball, but have just read a fascinating article about SF Giants player, Tim Lincecum which answers quite a few of them. I also need to know a very rough area of NOLA, a very posh area of NOLA, and the kind of trees which would typically be planted to line a driveway of a mansion in one of those posh areas. It's all stuff I can find out later, unless I NEED to know it now because it affects the way I 'see' the scene I'm writing.
Trust me, before I finished my first novel I too had a stack of stuff that fizzled out before I'd managed more than a couple of chapters. It's a confidence thing as much as an application thing. So, I hope you hit your strike next month with the latest WIP!
That was very bad of me, wasn't it? 🙂
Not nearly bad enough … 🙂