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Write like a Snake — by Pam Uphoff

*Pam is one of a few writers who will be taking a rotating slot amid the mad ones on Friday.  And honest to purple unicorns, I’ll be doing a roster.  Or perhaps bullying Amanda into doing one.  (She’s just up from the flu, so I might get away with it.  Briefly.)  I should have got on it before, but February was not a good month for me.  For viral infections, it was great, though*

Write like a Snake

Pam Uphoff

 

No, not the one finger hunt-and-peck. I use three or four fingers, and sometimes even a thumb.

No, my writing is like a boa constrictor. A well fed one, with a long line of bumps from the plot bunnies he lives on. Yep, he refuses to be sensible and just have one big meal and finish digesting it before he eats again. No, Bo is a glutton.

See all those lumps of unfinished books? But look at him! He’s eyeing that nest of cheeping plot bunnies (OK, they’re imaginary. Plot bunnies can cheep, scream, and nag. They are carnivorous and well known to ambush innocent writers. Bo is doing the world a favor, eating them. Really.) This particular nest of plot bunnies is wiggling about enticingly cheeping “Write me next! Write me next!”

Bo is actually waffling a bit. Common sense at last!

See that first lump? It’s barely cleared his throat. It’s about a wedding whose participants haven’t even met yet (see lump number three.) I don’t even have a _problem_ for the story to be about, yet. Nothing resembling an outline and I have no idea where the story is going.

Lump number two isn’t quite so bad. It’s got an outline, it’s got a problem, it’s got a holy terror of a main character, who has decided she doesn’t want to talk to me.

Lump three is a Mystery. No, I know all about it. That’s the genre. It’s a murder mystery. At 50K words, it needs a fair amount of expansion. You know, things like the detective questioning people and such. The characters, however, have rushed onward to greater things (see lump #1 and two of the cheepers.)

Then there’s lumps four and five. They’re big lumps, mature manuscripts that have come home, unsold. Despite the size, they’re proving easy to digest.

Lump six is giving Bo indigestion. It may be two or three plot bunnies, swallowed all at once. I really don’t want to know what they were doing, that they could ever have been mistaken for a single story!

Lump seven is taking notes and thinking about doing a split as well.

Lumps eight and nine are two sequels to my YA Alice-in-Cyberland series. They’re duking it out over which one comes first. And they both insist that one of the manly men is ever-so-attractive, no matter how often or how firmly I repeat that there is going to be _no_ romance in the series, and certainly not with a man ten or more years Alice’s senior.

Lump ten is one of those ambush stories. It’s in the near (twelve years or so) future of my big series. It insisted on being written, but I’m really trying to publish in internal chronological order, so no progress toward actual publishing is allowed . . .

You know, Bo was a really bad metaphor to come up with. Because the finished product may have started out as plot bunnies, but even in my lowest moods I don’t think of my published work as snake poo.

But sometimes I think I need to figure out how to have fewer stories in process, with faster progress on each. Surely a single nest of tempting plot bunnies, a single book being written, a single finished draft being honed, and one in the final editing/copyediting/publishing shuffle is enough.

But so far this method works for me. I’ve just published the twelfth book in my multiverse SF/F crossover series, and have three YA novels out there as well. If I only counted the time since I started Indie publishing, it’d average out to one book every other month. But, of course, Bo started eating long before I started publishing.

But it’s long past time to put that snake on a diet . . .

Oh! Look! A Space Opera plottling! Isn’t it adorable? *CHOMP*

Sigh. And the above wasn’t anywhere near a complete list. But since we keep saying “Do it the way that works for you” I thought I’d toss my process in for your perusal. I think the danger of this approach is the risk of never finishing anything. You do have to pick one thing to concentrate on. Then when the words dry up, switch to editing, covers, devouring plot bunnies and so forth, but always getting back to the main work, and always progressing on the editing and publishing. The other ideas can live on an occasional quick note, or scene that just occurred to you, until a book is published and all those lumps shift forward.

My goal this year is one novel or collection published every other month. It’s doable,  depending on the snake’s indigestion.

49 Comments
  1. I feel your pain– I have four novels in the snake plus I deal with fatigue. I am finally finishing up two of the stories I started two years ago– and doing new stories in shorts.

    March 7, 2014
  2. See that first lump? It’s barely cleared his throat. It’s about a wedding whose participants haven’t even met yet (see lump number three.) I don’t even have a _problem_ for the story to be about, yet.

    Suddenly, the “random tail-pull bad guy” storylines of some long running series make more sense.

    March 7, 2014
    • Right. How many Bad Guys can one character encounter?

      This story is like the characters insisted on the “Happily ever after” story being written. So obviously I’m going to have to have someone kill some else, no doubt hiding the body in the large wedding gift that the main POV character insisted made for the best opening scene when she delivered it to them. So . . . I need a just-obscure-enough bad guy and someone for him to kill. The most toothsome victim is an important character in lump # 10. So I can’t kill him. Hmm, what to do what to do . . . Oh. I know. I’ll put this turkey on the shelf until the precursor mystery is done. I still have plenty of opportunity to bring forward some people _there_to kill and be killed _here_. That’ll work.

      Now I just need to distract Bo from chewing on the Space Opera. It’s a serious distraction from what I ought to be doing.

      March 7, 2014
      • There’s always the “it was obviously character #N that’s dead here,” and then it turns out it wasn’t.

        March 7, 2014
        • My suggestion is to do them like JMS did with B5. Season 3 & 4, we were going. “D–N you JMS *that’s* what X, Y & X meant in seasons 1 & 2.” Yes, it frustrates us readers, but we do understand. Don’t we?

          March 7, 2014
  3. Pam, do you have a quick and dirty rule for evaluating what’s a plotling and what’s a mere ornament? ie, what can grow into a plot, and what can never be more than a shiny hanging on a tree?

    March 7, 2014
    • The characters on the ornament have to have a problem that matters _to_them_. Doesn’t matter how silly or how earthshaking the problem. But it has to be important enough that they will take risks and do(from their perspective) daring things to solve the problem.

      March 7, 2014
  4. Will not call Pam a piker, will not call…. Oh, heck, Pam, you Piker, I have 21 novels in some stage of completion. Head>desk.
    SAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAVE me.

    March 7, 2014
    • I’d offer to help, but I have four (at least) cheeping madly and two more dancing around going “neener, neener, neener!” But research requirements mean only one gets digested at a time. (Note to self: avoid alt-hist in future because of research requirements.)

      March 7, 2014
      • Yep. I have a completed alt-hist mss sitting to the side because I *know* I didn’t do enough research on it. It would be mauled by the first person who knew anything about late-imperial Russia, even the ones who only read the Cliff notes on Anna Karenina.

        Alt-hist is a bear.

        March 7, 2014
        • bearcat #

          Alt-hist is a bear.

          I seen what you did there.

          March 7, 2014
      • Yeah. Alt history– plus a whole thing about philosophy during a philosophy rich age. The character in said alt history– is having an existential crisis. What would that look like in the target year? The research requirements are beyond my ability to manage, I think. But he’s still there. I think he needs to take a number. A “niced” number.

        And we won’t even talk about the steampunk story, and the cosy mystery, and the SF space opera about a family in crisis… oh, and that big ensemble cast project that I promised to finish. The due date is getting ever nearer. Eeep!

        March 7, 2014
        • I’ve avoided Alt history and historical fiction simply because my foundation in history is so very rickety, I’d never do enough research to do a good job. Hence the Cadfael fanfic that shall never see the light of day. It’s a very demanding genre and the readers are armed with facts.

          Now, science, oh yeah, there I just have to double check “What I know” to make sure it still is. And I enjoy the research.

          March 7, 2014
          • Jim McCoy #

            “Not enough research to do alt-hist/historical fiction.”

            I get the problem and this still almost cracks me up. Any historian worth his/her/it’s salt knows that any type of historical fiction is so far twisted from what actually happened that it’s pathetic. Seriously. I no longer have the link, but I took a college class on Japanese history as part of my undergrad degree (BA in History) and we read a thirty plus page scholarly paper on what was wrong with The Last Samurai. Really. Most professors are completely unaware of the alternate history movement. I tried to explain it to one and his head exploded. He couldn’t get the concept.

            OTOH, I get the fact that your armchair historian types, many of whom get their information from Wikipedia, will hate on your work if it doesn’t fit with what they think the time period in question was like so this makes sense but…

            I dunno. Maybe you have to have the degree to get this one.

            (And for the record, I don’t write hist fic/alt hist for just this reason. Not even about events that I wrote about for classes. So far I haven’t had an idea force itself on me either.)

            In the case of historical fiction/alt-hist it may be better, if one can subdue their own Muse, to either do it as a SF story, set on another planet far in the future, or as a fantasy story filled with dwarves. That way you can’t be blamed for your historical inaccuracies. Then again, I read alt-hist, so maybe I’m a hypocrite here?

            March 7, 2014
            • Correct. It’s more about fitting what people THINK was true,than what was true.

              March 7, 2014
          • Could either of you add enough magic to make it fantasy? Then it’s fantasy with an alt-history flavor, which will still get you angry letters but only from die-hards. You could even comment in the author’s note “the reason this is fantasy is because I know I couldn’t make it an acceptable alt history.”

            March 7, 2014
            • Oh, the WWI alt-hist is part sci-fi because it sets up some characters that appear later in the Cat Among Dragons books, and it brings in the Drakonic Houses. But my historian side won’t let me play in the past without having a very good idea of what needs to be tweaked in order to change what I want to change. *Siiiiiiiighhhh* And I deliberately left the fantasy elements out of the Colplat books, because I’d gotten too lazy. http://almatcboykin.wordpress.com/2014/03/05/telepathically-lazy/

              Some day I’ll put up a blog post about what I changed in history prior to WWI to create the CAD Earth, and why.

              March 7, 2014
            • I may have to do this someday. Although I really enjoyed defeating the Reds in my version of the Revolution.

              March 7, 2014
      • oh gawd– I have a cozy mystery that’s trying to get out with two friends who like to travel and a french bulldog *sigh Plus I don’t even know how to form a story around a mystery let alone a cozy.

        March 7, 2014
        • Yeah. I had a fairly decent mystery that just happened. Now I’m learning how to do it on purpose. I think I know what I have to do to it, to make it work–like bring the murderer in early on and regularly enough that he isn’t a big surprise.

          March 7, 2014
          • I have an opening that I wrote as a flash a long time ago– just looked at it recently and about died– It is definitely a mystery … and the murderer? don’t know yet *sigh

            March 7, 2014
            • Don’t panic. I have that happen. A lot.

              March 7, 2014
              • Yea– I thought that I could get the older stuff done and then work on the new stuff… but I end up working on one then another… and back and forth– It’s amazing that I get anything finished.

                March 7, 2014
                • Yep. This is how contracts stop me up. Because I feel I must work on only one thing. But since most of my work is subconscious, I need the back and forth to get past issues.

                  March 7, 2014
              • Oh… you mean not knowing the murderer? Yea– I never see farther ahead than two scenes– and usually not more than one or two sentences at a time.

                March 7, 2014
        • grumble, grumble, grumble. Do we need a course on writing cozies? You’re the second one who’s asked…

          March 7, 2014
          • Yes – I can’t seem to find anything about that particular sub-genre.

            March 7, 2014
            • That’s because the NYC establishment decided they’re not “real mysteries.”

              March 7, 2014
              • I am swearing under my breath– colorful sailor curses.

                March 7, 2014
                • Sit on your knitting needles? 😉

                  March 7, 2014
                  • Funny you should ask– since I do knit lol

                    March 7, 2014
    • Ha! If I were truly honest . . . no, no. I’m not going to go back and count. You can’t make me. Neener, neener, neener!

      March 7, 2014
      • Oops, that was a reply to Sarah.

        March 7, 2014
    • Save you? Pfui! We’re all waiting for the next book! Write faster! Drink more orange juice! Get plenty of sleep! (After all, if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything.)

      March 7, 2014
      • Yes, yes, and then how do I start the war….

        March 7, 2014
        • Let me count off the possibilities on the six fingers of my right hand.

          March 7, 2014
          • You’re a bad man. Come on over. It’s snowing. We’ll drink hot chocolate and watch it. (I WISH we had a portal and could do this. Must get on younger son.)

            March 7, 2014
            • Yes – all your writer friends should be the beta testers too. 😉 (of the portal)

              March 7, 2014
              • Does it open into summer?

                March 7, 2014
                • Well – it is supposed to open into Sarah’s living room– does that count?

                  March 7, 2014
                • bearcat #

                  If you came through it this direction it feels like it today. It was close to sixty degrees out. Along with the cujillion other things I was trying to get accomplished on the first day it wasn’t pouring the rain in a week, I had to stop and clean my ditch out, so all the snowmelt would run down it instead of across my driveway.

                  March 7, 2014
    • Why? More books are a good thing.

      March 8, 2014
  5. May I make a suggestion for the “alt hist” nuts (excuse me, authors). A friend of mine said something that probably applies, about 12-15 years ago. “All fans know entirely too much about at least two subjects.” (Wendy Z’ski. (I won’t even attempt to spell her last name.:-) ) On that basis, ask for advice on specific points. We can’t all be Harry Turtledove (Historian by trade).

    March 7, 2014
  6. I know this feeling all-too-well. My snake is so lengthy and lumpy. And my doesn’t that sound like I’m talking about something completely different (and possibly with a condition)… D:

    March 8, 2014
  7. Yes, do spill on the How-to of Cozies….Sarah.

    March 11, 2014

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