Sunday, January 18, 2015

Spanner R5 #amediting Update: In Which I Give Up on the Olden Ways and Start a Plot Spreadsheet

I have just discovered, long after I should have, just how extremely difficult it is to plot a novel as complicated as Spanner Book 1 without a spreadsheet. Until now I've had this stubborn notion, dating way, way back to the Apple II days of VisiCalc, that spreadsheets are for business calculating stuff no different from the paper ledgers that inspired the original spreadsheets. So for the last 3 years or so I was trying to wrestle this unwieldy plot into shape without a spreadsheet until I finally gave up.

This is the kind of thing that makes me feel old.

Anyway, I have started a spreadsheet for Spanner Book 1. Already my mind has started making the connections that evaded me when I was still trying to do everything in the HTML files. My writing may have improved by leaps and bounds because of all that editing, but plotting has been a lot more difficult. The spreadsheet is already making a difference.

And so I'm going to take a break from the rewriting for a while, though here and there I'll still slip in a few new scenes (one set at the end of "act 2" even contains a huge cliffhanger), until I've entered all the chapters and scenes into the new spreadsheet.

Some things just have to be done. It's a wonder I avoided doing it for so long.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Spanner R5 #amediting Update: The Sinister Plot Is Complete, Now to Give the Characters Their Arcs

I thought I'd have trouble plotting all those messy or barely even written chapters of the new Spanner Book 1. To my surprise it turned out to be easier than I thought. Even so, I knew I had to finish the plot before I could start rewriting, or I'd remain stuck indefinitely. And now I have.

I started with the seven "flashback" chapters that take place earlier in the day. Some of them I kludged up out of really short chapters which I extracted out of Chapter 1 R4. I expanded everything and added real flashback scenes and a second plot thread. I did something similar to the 13 "present time" chapters that alternate with them. I made sure the plot coheres, the continuity has as few errors as possible, and there's some conflict and suspense in every chapter.

Finally, I organized the mess that was Interlude 0 and worked out the events of the next-to-last chapter, the big flashback chapter. Plotting these also turned out to be shockingly easy. Book 1's plot is now fully worked out so that I have a complete outline to work from.

But that was just the easy part. The real work now begins. Next come the all-important character arcs, especially those of main character Shira and apparent protagonist Rico. After that, I'm going to rewrite much or most of what I've written so far, and write what I haven't yet written. Once that's done, I'll need to do a full read-through and a second pass of editing to make sure I eliminate all the typos and continuity errors that slipped through. And I want to get it all finished and ready for the beta readers this month. And so it's on to the next step...

P.S. Incidentally, as Win Scott Eckert tells us, on this day in 1795 a certain meteor fell down near the hamlet of Wold Newton in Yorkshire, England, irradiating a very special group of people, some of whose descendants include various Spanner characters whom you'll recognize by the telltale names Becket (=Noel-Moriarty), Wilder (as in Clayton-Wilder), and Holmes...

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Spanner R5 #amediting Update: Why Does the Future Keep Catching Up With Me?

In the Spanner comics script I did for Script Frenzy in 2008, I opened issue 2 with a Dalek-like security robot summarily executing a one-shot character. Then in Chapter 4 R3, I gave Corporate patriarch Dr. Lars Thorwald, chairman of Biotron, a more advanced production version of a prototype robot that uses an iPod as its head and brain.

And now this:

The article: <a href="">5-foot-tall 'Robocops' start patrolling Silicon Valley</a> ( The subject: a security robot now policing the streets of San Francisco — and it looks exactly like the one from the Script Frenzy 2008 version of Spanner #2.

Why does the future keep catching up with me?

One thing about speculative fiction is that an author must keep second-guessing the future. My second guesses involve "friendly fascism", the technology of oppression, the cyberpunk truism that the street makes its own uses for things, and the level of tolerance that masses of ordinary people have for tyranny before their desire to live forces them to revolt (and the eagerness of elites to push that tolerance to its limits). Not superheroes, not psychics, not vampires and werewolves and shapeshifters; those belong to my critique of superhero mythology.

My problem is that I've been delaying Spanner's publication for so long that history has started overtaking my speculation. This problem has become so bad that I actually moved the years in which the series takes place from 2014-16 to 2018-20, simply because 2014 had already arrived and thus was no longer speculative. I picked the 2014 date all the way back in 1994, when I aged Shira down from her original 25 down to the Standard Anime Protagonist Age of 15; now I've aged her back up to 19 while keeping her birthdate of September 9, 1999.

Some events that occurred in the middle of writing and editing Spanner:
  1. the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the ensuing invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq in 2001-3, coupled with a "USA PATRIOT" Act that almost convinced me that the "future fascism" I'd been setting the series in since 1992 (if not 1989) had already arrived;
  2. the death of Steve Jobs in 2011;
  3. the "Arab Spring" revolutions and Occupy Wall Street movement, both also in 2011, and both of which failed; and
  4. the anti-police-state protests going on as I write this.
On the technology front, progress in aircar, jetpack, hoverboard, and sexbot technology is such that all of them will be in commercial release by 2018. Despite the failure of Google Glass, augmented reality will become common and normal just as tablet computers, which were a pie-in-the-sky technology, have become today. Another new technology I borrowed toward the end of the plotting phase (late 2000s) was the smartphone; later, in the leadup to the NSA surveillance scandal, I gave my hackers and rebels generic smartphones without tracking devices; and now the PiPhone (made from one of those tiny Raspberry Pi computers) has convinced me that, under a Chinese-style phone company/ISP monopoly with massive supercomputers dedicated just to censorship, hackers must kludge up their own smartphones and use secure meshnets for calling without the monopoly's interference.

Even the particular manifestations of the reactionary politics I would later call "the Conservative Revolution" have largely come to pass. Apparently I didn't get dystopian enough to expect the British "panopticon" surveillance policy, the growth of Soviet-style "vote for the ruling-party candidate Or Else" elections in the US, or the return of the Gilded Age capitalist predators who tried in the 1890s to destroy American freedom and are trying yet again. I did throw in a tyrannical megacomputer, but that's almost a cliché of 1960s and '70s science fiction that — surprise! — turns out to have become a reality as well, along with The Terminator's Skynet. It also took me years to realize that the "Conservative Revolution" is really just the ultimate manifestation of the American Civil War that, despite the near universal assumption that it lasted only four years in the 1860s, really started in the seventeenth century (or even the thirteenth, the century of mother country England's Magna Carta) and has never ended.

Yeah, I know, science fiction has a reputation for making predictions that turn out to be not just wrong but impossible. I throw in some impossible things myself, usually to either critique the superhero mythology or pay homage to classic SF. But too much of the SFnal speculation I've put into Spanner since 1992 has already come to pass, and I'm certain a lot more of it will by the time the story begins in 2018.

Now to edit that second-issue opening back into the third chapter of the new Book 2...

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Spanner R5 #amediting Update: The Insidious Plot, or Making This Thing Coherent

There's still a lot of chapters in Spanner Book 1, especially in the flashback chapters, which are made up of pretty much nothing but exposition. Originally I compiled them out of short segments which, in their original context as scenes scattered throughout the second half of Chapter 1 R4, didn't need action. Well, now that the short segments are part of long chapters, they need to contribute more than just background exposition to the plot. And so I'm going to plot the chapters. Among other things, I'm adding action, suspense, and antagonism generally.

There are seven flashback chapters. I have at least rough plots in mind for the first four:

  1. "The Emergent Pattern": what choice of action will Jennifer take, and will it clash with Shira's?
  2. "Climinal Team Origin": the girls have to convince Rico to join them for better reasons than just money and thrills.
  3. "Breakfast at Winkie's": the team have to fend off both terrorists and cops at the same time and still get the weaponized malware and Cold War tech they need for their mission.
  4. "Welcome to the Penguindrome": they have to root out a group of "boxed crook" police infiltrators, including one who will later become a major villain whose final act sets off the plot of Book 6.
The problem here is that the remaining three flashback chapters don't yet even have plots I can connect with each other and the present-time chapters. Agent Niemeyer and Paulie the Worm, who appear in "Breakfast at Winkie's", don't return to the foreground until the last flashback chapter, "The Fuses Have Been Lit". As for the remaining chapters, "Know Your Enemy" and "The Chosen One", I haven't even decided which segments of Chapter 1 R4 go where.

I have the same problem with several of the present-time chapters as well: they remain unplotted.

So here's my next challenge: before I get back to editing the narration and dialogue, I must give all these neglected chapters the plots they require, as if they really are the TV episodes I once intended them to be. Once I give them their structure, the rest should come easier.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Spanner R5 #amediting Update: The Post-NaNoWriMo Slowdown

I haven't done much editing this first week of December. Partly, it was the expected slowdown after a particularly frenzied late-NaNoWriMo Panic Time. It was also a busy week for me, requiring this night owl to wake up early because of the requirements of his early-bird mother's schedule, meaning loss of sleep, morning lethargy, afternoon fatigue, and headaches, leaving me too confused to do much editing work at all.

But I have in fact done some editing. After the Intro, Interlude 0, and the two introduction chapters, every chapter either has its own plot or otherwise fits into the main plot. For example, the new Chapter 3 (the first chapter of the flashback thread, now called "The Emergent Pattern") used to be episodic like the two chapters before it, but now has a coherent plot involving a choice so pivotal that the character who chooses it seems to be the real protagonist for most of the story, through both the flashback and present-time sections, a choice reinforced in the last two chapters of the flashback section only to be undermined at the very end. The new Chapter 10 (the present-time chapter "Escape to New York"), by contrast, is not relatively self-contained but carries on two sets of tightly intertwined threads from the previous chapter (8: "Hunting the Hunters") to the next (12: "Last Train to Grand Central"), one involving the villains in New York, the other involving the heroines speeding from Seattle and Los Angeles toward New York. Looking over the plot, it seems the flashback chapters are more episodic and the present-time chapters are more serial.

The other thing I've been focusing on is Shira's character arc. The main character of the series needs a strong character arc more than any other character. But Shira's arc is the hardest to successfully plot because of the three primary ways she acts:
  1. she misdirects and otherwise tricks people, and hides in plain sight;
  2. she rapidly adjusts her strategy to changing situations; and
  3. she does what one least expects even when the situation doesn't change.
"Hunting the Hunters" (new Chapter 8) is a good example. Ostensibly Shira's in Washington, DC to save a young niece (Lucie in Revision 4, now Melodie) from both a pedophile senator and a team of assassins; but though she fails that mission due to another unexpected factor (the arrival of Drusilla's most dangerous priestly acolyte), she manages to steal Leila's power crystal from one of the assassins (Oliver), the one who claims ownership of Leila by marriage arrangement and also wields NaNoWriMo's infamous Travelling Shovel of Death (whose craving for blood he of course indulges). Shira surprises him by stripping naked in front of him specifically to fight him, whipping out her lead-loaded lemon-yellow Go-Yo™, stealing the crystal while he's still disoriented, and disappearing in front of his eyes. The example I just added is toward the end of "Prelude to Ascension" (new Chapter 19), when an attack on Shira through the computer in her head forces her to adjust her strategy just a little, but enough to change the outcome of "Spanner in the Works" (the last chapter) completely.

I hope that once the weekend's over and I get caught up on my sleep, I'll get my editing back up to speed. New story ideas must be fitted in and old darlings must be killed when they don't fit. Anyway, back to the scratch paper...

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Spanner R5 #amediting Update: SpaNoEdMo 2014! or, I'd Better Finish This Thing Pronto

In my last post, I celebrated my ninth consecutive NaNoWriMo victory, which I won with Spanner Book 6. But now that I'm done with Book 6 (until I reach it in the edit phase), it's time for me to return to Book 1 for a very special "SpaNoEdMo".

I've completed some very important chapters, but most of the rest seems stubbornly resistant to editing. So I'll need a strategy for the month. I have most of the important character arcs worked out, except ironically Shira's own. Shira's is the most important because she has to make the most impact at the end by revealing herself as the true protagonist.

The strategy I'll adopt for the final edit of Book 1:
  1. Work out Shira's character arc. By the end, she reveals herself to be far more than just some amoral young "fixit girl".
  2. Give each chapter its own coherent plot as if it were an independent short story in a series of interconnected ones.
These are the keys I need to finish Book 1 at last. My goal is to get it completely edited and send it out to my beta readers by December 31. If I don't get it done now, will I ever get it done? Thus the deadline.

Here goes...

NaNoWriMo 2014: Victory #9 Achieved: or, It Was Spanner What Done It

I thought winning my ninth NaNoWriMo would be a cinch. Problem is, the novel wouldn't come. Then I realize that only one novel would come:

Chaos Angel Spanner Book 6: Business Is War. That one.

And indeed it came. I remembered several of the plot points I'd put in the initial five-volume manga plan I mapped out in the Project Notebooks back in 2000, plus several others I'd worked out or at least thought up in the years since. I found myself making references to the previous five volumes, indeed all the way back to the Spanner Incident in Book 1. My muse threw me several shocking new plot twists, including the deaths of several villains, the entire Socialist Revolutionary Organization left-wing terrorist group (with former villains as its new members), and even what is possibly the coolest character in the series, Willa (though the muse is already bringing her back in an equally shocking way at the beginning of Book 7).

I hit a surprising number of major plot points. This is a major improvement over two years ago, when I didn't get much of Book 5 written (when it was Book 3) and didn't hit most of the important plot points. I'll have to revisit Book 5 sometime soon, just to map out the plot more completely. But right now I'm taking a break after eleven days of way too much writing.

December will be my month for editing Book 1. My goal will be to edit it completely and send it out to my beta readers before New Year's Eve. It's getting ever more urgent as history catches up to my speculative fiction at an ever faster pace.

But first, I'm going to sit back and savor my ninth NaNoWriMo victory. Champagne is in order.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Spanner R5 #amediting Update: Abandoning the "Non-Novel" for a Coherent Flashback Structure

In the original version of the new Spanner Book 1, I split not just the old Chapter 1 apart but various chapters from all over Book 1 R4 into shorter new chapters made up mainly of single sequences, then trying to organize them on the order of John Brunner's "non-novel" Stand on Zanzibar. After I moved the timeline forward to 2018, enough major plot elements changed along with the characters' ages that I find myself combining chapters again. Here's a short rundown of the first five chapters alone:
  • Intro: To the end of the original version, which hadn't changed all that much in 4 years, I tacked on Chapter 1's date tag ("19 August 2018") and its associated epigraphs, followed by the new R5 scene in which Shira gets her mission which becomes the Spanner Incident that is the focus of the new Book 1.
  • Interlude 0: To the already unorganized mess that is Revision 5's new Interlude, I'm merging the chapter that previously followed it, called "The Age of Unreason". I plan to reorganize so that the entire "old Jennifer meets young Jennifer" thread becomes a single scene followed by the flash-forwards that gives this Interlude its name, "Foregone Conclusions". I may move some villain scenes into the next chapter, or not, depending.
  • "The First Blast of the Trumpet": From "Welcome to Spanner's World", I moved the short Leila scene and expanded it. A new action sequence introduces the myth arc I borrowed from Jack the Giant-Killer (which the title references) and has our distaff Jack, Shira, killing her first "monster" in the series, here a transhuman mercenary with multiple Bioroid bodies. The double epigraph to the original Chapter 1 are now here; previously it was in a chapter I'm not keeping, "The Beginning of the End"
  • "Welcome to Spanner's World": In addition to the various epigraphs to various later chapters in Book 1 R4, I inserted some epigraphs and character quotes taken from "The Age of Unreason". In place of the Leila scene I moved to the previous chapter, I inserted the entire chapter "Escape from Harmony", which is basically her escape scene from Drusilla's "halfway house". Spanner himself became the focus for a new opening intended to foreshadow the very last chapter ("Spanner in the Works") and an extended version of this chapter's final sequence with added backstory.
  • "The Point of No Return", formerly "The Day of Destiny": The original chapter is now a framing sequence for the series of flashbacks that used to be the chapters "Beauty Queen on the Television Screen" (containing Leila and Shira backstory) and "The Bright-Eyed Girl" a.k.a. "Bright-Eyed Captive" (Amanda's backstory), then rearranged things to my satisfaction. But the result is that this has become quite a long chapter.
What I did was abandon the "non-novel" approach with its single linear continuity intercut with its related short stories, essays, and collections of "happening" fragments for a coherent flashback narrative. I abandoned the nonlinear structure of Stand on Zanzibar for that most complex of flashback structures, the one which structures David Lynch's Mulholland Drive. The structure of Enter the Monkeywrench is far from identical to Mulholland Drive's, but I'm modifying that template even without the content (since I plotted what is now the final chapter, "Spanner in the Works", along with the Intro before that movie even came out). Thus, the flashback and background chapters I wrote for the first version of Book 1 R5, I'm either incorporating into other chapters in their entirety or breaking up to put in more than one chapter. That's how, for instance, the entire chapter "Escape from Harmony" became the replacement Leila sequence of "Welcome to Spanner's World". I've settled on long chapters this time, not short ones; "Spanner in the Works", after all, is one of the longest chapters in the book.

So far, of the first five chapters, I've finished all but Interlude 0. I'm continuing to stick to my decistion to abandon chapter numbers in the Fifth Revision, since I'm no longer doing Spanner as a comics or TV novelization but simply as a novel.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Spanner R5 #amediting Update: The New Direction

Resetting the first four books of Chaos Angel Spanner four years in the future has changed some things, some in major ways. Admittedly, the new Book 1 had become something of a mess in the edit. I was attempting my own version of the complicated structure science fiction author John Brunner used in his 1967 masterpiece Stand on Zanzibar. Shifting the timeline forward allowed me to remove the backstory and pseudo-essay chapters that were getting me in trouble. Now I'm combining chapters and putting parts of some chapters into others. Even the Intro, which I thought I got completely finished two years ago, isn't untouched; parts of what was to be the following chapter got moved there, including both the prologue and the quote section from Chapter 1 R4.

I've simplified Book 1's structure. I'm building on a flashback-narrative structure that alternates "present day" and "earlier today" chapters for the first two-thirds to three-quarters of the book, after which I may alternate the long climactic chapters with shorter chapters containing crucial backstory reveals. Various character threads get introduced in the second story chapter ("Welcome to Spanner's World") and split apart in all directions only to collide in the final two chapters ("Prelude to Ascension" and "Spanner in the Works") and the explosive climax. All the main story chapters will remain, but I'm adding a few new scenes and moving some of the backstory there. Moved into the story chapters, backstory flashbacks will need to serve as important reveals or Shocking Revelations, or I'll move them elsewhere or edit them out. My goal is to make it more readable for the casual reader who's used to similarly structured thrillers.

I'm expanding Leila's role in Book 1. Originally I had her appear in three scenes: one toward the beginning, one in the middle, and one near the very end. This worked when the new Book 1 was merely Chapter 1, the equivalent of a television pilot episode. It doesn't work so well when what was a chapter expands into an entire novel. She's one of the most important characters in the entire series, more important to the action than just being Shira's love interest, so she deserves an expanded role in the volume that introduces her. And so instead of just sending her off toward Seattle sleeping in the back of her aunt Ariel's car at the very end, I'm putting her front and center in the climax. She wasn't in the original "Spanner in the Works" from 2010; now she's one of the reasons it happens.

So far I've added to the Intro and finished the first story chapter, "First Blast of the Trumpet" (the name's a reference to the folktale Jack the Giant-Killer, in which Jack begins the battle against the final giant by calling the villagers to his aid with his horn, and from which I'm taking the series' myth arc). I have three scenes left to do in "Welcome to Spanner's World", two existing scenes to edit and one expansion of the final scene. I've taken several quotes, from both characters and real-life people, from the now omitted chapter "The Age of Unreason" and inserted them in "Welcome..."; other parts will go into Interlude 0 and into later chapters.

My goal is to get as much of Book 1 edited before NaNoWriMo as I can. Here goes...

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Spanner R5 #amediting Update: Shira's 15th Birthday and the Second Radical New Plot Change

Spanner main character Shira Thomas turns 15 today. The first volume (originally chapter) of the series, dated August 19, has already taken place. Considering how much time I've been taking to write and edit this thing (four years already?), it looks like events have already overtaken the story. Therefore, I must make one more radical change to the series.
  • The first radical change: turn Chapter 1, Chapters 2-4, and the School Arc of the old Book 1 into three separate volumes, the new Books 1-3.
  • The second radical change: Move the series start date forward 4 years, to 2018.
Now that Spanner begins in 2018, I can solve two major problems with the original 2000 plan:
  1. the fact that so many of the major characters were underage, making them overly precocious in intelligence and maturity, and causing a potential legal problem around their sexual libertinism; now they're all 18 or over (or in Elle's case almost 18), which also eliminates the added potential problem of this story potentially being swept into the "YA ghetto";
  2. the fact that the story is no longer "twenty minutes into the future," as I don't intend to write an alternate-universe story set in what is now the past.
It also eliminates the plot complication from the old Chapter 2 of Shira seducing private cop J.T. Sparks and then blackmailing him over her being underage, and reduces what was the major turning point of 12/21/12 nearly two years before the story began into a relatively minor backstory event 6 years in the past. But oh well, sometimes tradeoffs must be made.

In the new Book 3, containing the complete School Arc, the cousins Shira, Jennifer, and Karen are now plausible college students, though Karen can no longer be Bangor High's head cheerleader now that she's being aged up to 21. The Shelley twins likewise make more plausible fallen fashion models at 19 (turning 20 at the beginning of the new Book 4). Team Bremelo now become credible adults for the students to envy or hero-worship. And Shira can get away with an all-nude all-Rocker 19th birthday, though she'll still be agitating to lower the voting age to at least 16.

The new Spanner Book 1 now takes place on 19 August 2018. Book 7 will end in November 2020. Now I have some leeway so I can spend more time editing and formatting Books 1-3 to my liking. But I can't take too long. I want Book 1 over, done, and ready to publish before NaNoWriMo.

So it begins again...