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Groundwork

There is a stage in everything, when it looks like you’re going nowhere.  It is of course possibly a reflection of reality. Your career has stalled, your book has stalled, your relationship has stalled, the house you’re trying to build has stalled…

It’s quite easy to stick at this point, to give up. It may even be sensible. But hey, I’m a rock-climber: telling me something wasn’t sensible (or possible) hasn’t put me off so far.

And oddly, the phase when it seems you’re getting nowhere can be deceptive. I have had times when I’ve been going backwards… Well, besides that, in the writing sense you are generally doing a lot of groundwork. Trust me on this (rather than making the mistake yourselves, learn from mine) whether you’re a panstser or a plotter, there is a huge amount, consciously and subconsciously, that needs to happen before you can write a book that feels like a window into another world.  Some people call this process noodling. I’m not entirely sure why. It’s more like doing the cut and fill, sourcing your materials (maybe even learning how to use some of them).

For me it inevitably boils down to a lot of research, and by the time a book gets rolling I know one hell of a lot about the setting – including the whys and wherefores and a lot of facts that the reader will never see. I spend days to months being terribly vague and forgetful, because all my mental processing power is wrapped up in the book, the background, the characters, the possibilities. I always START writing in this stage – it helps to tie the characters and basic scene down. And then I stick –possibly limping slowly forward with very small wordcounts – despite all my attention being focused on the book (or story). This I treat, I think correctly, as a time to research and think about the setting.

So maybe it’s just an excuse to read up about historical vegetables and Roman Military tactics.

That’s quite possible. I actually enjoy delving in this stuff and letting the great anti-computer in my head turn all those facts into garbage. Well, into fiction anyway.

I find I abruptly move past this and am able to move onto my next major block point (which is where small decisions can majorly shift a book’s outcome –typically around the half-way point. But every single time I’ve tried to push hard and not allowed that book to get its groundwork done… I’ve ended up tossing a lot of words and work time. If I’d finished those books I would have ended up with a house with a weak foundation that cracks and crumbles.

Listen to that inner voice. Broaden your reading on the book’s background. Spend time thinking about it.

I’m sorry this very short – but I am busy proof-reading ALL THE PLAGUES OF HELL and it is due today.

23 Comments
  1. *perks up* Is that a new book coming out?

    September 24, 2018
    • BobtheRegisterredFool #

      Yes. Newest in the Alexandria books. December 2018, eARC out right now.

      September 24, 2018
      • Draven #

        So it really was due that day…

        September 25, 2018
  2. Yeah. When I get something new, it’s often in the form of the first chapter.

    _Then_ I have to noodle around, figuring out who, where, when, and why these people are, what their world is like, and what their problem is and how they’re going to go about fixing it.

    Even the weirdest fantasy has to have something resembling a government, an economy, accepted customs, prejudices, taboos, ways to get food, who’s in charge of the kids and so forth.

    And SF has to have accurate science right up to the FTL method. My much hated physics textbooks are right behind me, where I can grab them. The Astronomy texts are within an arms reach. The atlas, well, Google Earth is so handy.

    September 24, 2018
    • Margaret Ball #

      “Even the weirdest fantasy has to have something resembling a government, an economy, accepted customs, prejudices, taboos, ways to get food, who’s in charge of the kids and so forth.”

      THIS.

      I’ve lost count of the books I’ve walled because the writer has no clue how an economy works, or that a society lasting more than one generation has to have somebody in charge of the kids, or that an island consisting entirely of one humongous city is totally dependent on imported food. Science fiction writers, I’m looking at you as well as at fantasy writers! Both genres require world-building.

      September 24, 2018
      • I went to part of a panel several years back where L.E. Modesitt mentioned how many acres of land it takes to support one knight. (I had a small child along that time and he started fussing, hence “part of.”) I think it’s helpful if you have some non-city experience under your belt, whether it’s visiting a farm (and seeing actual farm work) or going camping (backpacking especially.) Just knowing that you can walk X miles a day carrying all the stuff you need is a useful worldbuilding skill. I have the mental shortcut of “ten miles a day” because I know that it’s possible to hike much more, BUT you’re going to need time to camp, find food, cook food, etc., so ten miles is a reasonable average for most terrains. (My mom hiked the Camino de Santiago around her 71st birthday, and she was doing a bit more than ten miles a day, but her clothes were being transported to her hotels, and obviously she didn’t have to cook.)

        September 24, 2018
      • Mary #

        A city planet is going to need to import oxygen and export carbon dioxide.

        September 24, 2018
        • Yeah, or crack it. Then you have to figure out the energy cost for shipping gasses compared to electrolysis, and get some kind of ballpark on the mass involved.

          Fun stuff! ~:D

          September 24, 2018
          • Or let there be oceans full of plankton and roof top gardens. At least a little handwavium to explain a habitable planet.

            September 24, 2018
            • Mary #

              And disappointed tourists expecting city planet to be, well, a city planet.

              I would expect they would get by by declaring the greenery to be parks.

              September 24, 2018
            • BobtheRegisterredFool #

              Hmm… Imagining a structure, or set of structures, a spherical shell of radial spires with approximate volumetric density of New York, and average radius approximately planetary. Fill with water, and if you have long enough pipes, you could pipe CO2 down, let it bubble up, and get turned into oxygen by suspended plant life. Trick would be keeping the underwater lights clean enough.

              September 25, 2018
  3. 23 skidoo

    September 24, 2018
  4. I write nonfiction, typically instructions on how to do stuff with various security products. I encounter something similar. 95% of my job is getting frustrated, trying different options to see how to get the $#%@#%^#$ thing working properly. 5% is actually writing instructions that are good enough the reader won’t need the 95% frustration I just went through.

    September 24, 2018
  5. I get my best ideas from just loading up on research, and incorporating little things which take my fancy.
    I usually have a long list of “stuff which absolutely MUST be in the BOOK!” by the time that I am done.

    September 24, 2018
    • And yesterday on Gab someone got into a discussion about Russian army boots and footwraps vs socks. And that’s when I realised what had been bothering me about how I dress my nonhumans… well, it had bothered me for a while but hadn’t tripped over a solution. Socks and underwear just weren’t right. But footwraps … yeah, that’s it. That’s how they’d do it.

      So you never know what’s going to trigger the ol’ word calculator. Anything is grist for the– What you grinding there? Lemme see!

      September 24, 2018
  6. I’ve found that I get an idea for setting and a very vague sense of characters. Then I need research time, just as I do for non-fiction. I read, take notes, and mull over what will fit and what won’t, and (if fiction) where I’ll vary from our reality. That can take anywhere from weeks to months, while I work on other things. Then I sit down and write, occasionally looking at my notes (fiction). Non-fiction is similar, but with notes and materials at hand (for “documentation” AKA footnotes and bibliography.)

    September 24, 2018
  7. I’m having one of those times when everything keeps bogging down. I have several projects I’ve been cycling through as each one gets stuck and I just can’t go on, but can’t seem to get anything moved to anything resembling completion.

    I’m hoping that it’s just a combination of Change of Life hormonal effects on the brain and Incredibly Busy (looks at the multiple lists of To Do’s and the dwindling time to the next shows we’re doing and wondering how I’m ever getting even a dent made in it), but it’s really frustrating to wonder if the well has run dry, or if I’ve simply lost my touch.

    September 24, 2018
    • Don’t discount the CoL hormones or the Incredibly Busy. Those are two major bogs right there.

      September 24, 2018
  8. Mary #

    I get an idea.

    Sometimes it’s a moment in the story and everything must be built outward from there. (A Diabolical Bargain)

    Sometimes it’s a top-level idea and everything must be detailed in from there. (Through A Mirror, Darkly)

    September 24, 2018
    • Mary #

      Important note: just because it was the original idea doesn’t mean it HAS to make it into the final product.

      For some reason, this is particularly annoying when you write a book for a title.

      September 24, 2018
  9. snelson134 #

    Dave, any rock climber knows that once you’re halfway up the cliff you really can’t just stop.

    September 24, 2018
    • Top-roping means never having to keep going when you get a cramp. ~:D

      September 25, 2018
  10. I typically get a concept and then have to figure out a plot and fill in details – for example, “what if Aleister Crowley and Grigori Rasputin teamed up to take over the world?” Which finally found a plot when I read about the march Bridge over the River Kwai was based on (name escapse me atm)

    September 24, 2018

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