Out of Order

There are a few gaps in the WIP, where I couldn’t come up with anything else, so I simply started the next chapter with “two weeks later”. I thought they were permanent, because I’ve always written a story before in chronological order. Except… maybe I’ve leveled up.

Because the last two scenes I’ve written are filling in the gaps. They’re good scenes, they’re slotting perfectly into the worldbuilding, and fleshing it and the characters out even more, and providing explanation and foreshadowing, and…

And they’re also taking this book that has long since gone seriously off the rails as a meta critique on military romance, and turning it back to my normal thriller. And the world is getting darker, and richer, and the poltics getting more convoluted, and the people even more human. They slot in just like I was writing it in order, fitting like a jigsaw puzzle piece in the right spot. Any filing I have to do is merely to take out some of the “two weeks later” and a little explanation or info here and there that’s now somehow turned into a rehash of a bit of the chapter that wasn’t there before.

I’m going to call it leveling up, because otherwise I’d start screaming in frustration.

Then again, I realized what the problem is with this WIP; I normally spend about 6 months worldbuilding, writing scattered scenes as characters audition for hte plot, and plots audition for the characters, and figuring out how everything fits together, coming up with the rough ideas and highlights of the story… and then in about a month, sit down and pour out everything in 1K-6K days. This time I didn’t have that 6 month period, because the story started live from the beginning, and I’m stumbling through blindly. And I’m in month five… and wouldn’t be surprised if it takes another two to finish. Same time, far more frustrating process, eh?

***

Twenty minutes before the meeting, Twitch jogged through the correct section of the park where he’d agreed to meet Mikey. Normally, they caught lunch closer to Mikey’s end of the city, or met up at a convenient bar close to base, where the bartenders understood not to cut off Boosted troops before they’d barely gotten their metabolism revved up with alcohol. The park, with its mown grass and groomed trees with branches starting above his head-height, did provide clear fields of fire where the playsets and bleachers, and the ballfield fencing didn’t funnel people into a trap, but the herds of small children and accompanying parents made it more alien to him than the unterraformed parts of the Outback.

He spotted Mikey at the ballfield, with Mikey Junior in a team uniform talking very earnestly to him. The boy looked like a miniature copy of his old man, down to the terribly serious expression on his face as he was asking for advice. Wisdom received, he jogged over to the rest of the team milling around, and Mikey sat back on the narrow bleachers and traded pleassantries with another dad who was also going to grey and to potbelly. For a moment, Twitch felt an odd disorientation – that given another fifteen years, that could be him getting soft in the middle and grey on top, and relaxed even when sitting out in the open. With kids… his brain shied away from actually coming up with faces, but just the potential of being one of the fathers there felt like he was a kid watching the recruiter talk again, ignoring half the presentation for wishing he could be that strong, and confident, and hardassed himself.

Shaking his head, Twitch jogged down and took a seat where Mikey had left a space on the bleachers bench open. “How’s it going?”

“It’s a good day; no one’s shooting at me.” Mikey grinned at him, and jerked a chin out toward the field. They watched the teams form up in stations and queues, each trying throwing or running or catching over and over. Mikey Junior wasn’t especially good, but solidly, Twitch judged, middle of the pack. “We’re doing basic drills today. Somebody thinks his old man doesn’t know a damn thing about the sport because he’s never seen me play, but he’s willing to take my advice anyway. Provisionally.”

“As long as it doesn’t contradict his buddies’ latest Bright Idea?” Twitch grinned, and Mikey sighed. The father on his other side looked over, and laughed a little ruefully. “Of course, I was never prone to that. My class was perfect.”

“Your class was awful enough I’d have voted to cut the lot of you from selection if they’d let me.” Mikey grinned, and Twitch declined to take the bait with a shrug.

“Instead, you taught me everything you know, old man.” He paused to let Mikey shoot him a look, and said a little more softly, “You know how damn scary it is, when the kids are looking at me and expecting me to be the wise old man on the team?”

“Oh, yeah.”

“Were you just flying by the seat of your pants, outdated intel, instinct, and training on a half-assed guess, too?”

“If I had intel, it was bad!” Mikey laughed, and Twitch noted it wasn’t nearly as sour as he expected. “Welcome to the senior side of the force, kid. What can I do for you? Who are you looking for dirt on, or what impossible thing do you want help pulling off?”

“The latter, actually. It’s not impossible, it’s just so far outside my wheelhouse, I need help from someone who’s in the civilian world to lay out the map.” Twitch gave up on looking casual. “So, I met this girl.”

“In a bar? Bad start.” Mikey lifted an eyebrow at him.

“No, at the Landing Day Ball.” Twitch was silent a moment, trying to think what to say and rapidly discarding the options he’d preplanned as unreliable or wrong. Start with her strengths, that was a good idea. “Really good shot, for a civilian. Good with a knife, too.”

“You know, most men start by noting height, weight, and T&A.” When he looked over, he saw Mikey was watching him patiently, waiting for the brief.

“Redhead, C cup. Taller than me, in those ridiculous heels. Probably masses a hundred and fifty; it wasn’t very hard to pull her down when the shooting started. Honeysuckle perfume.” He shook his head, and started over before he started giving details the other man really didn’t need to know instead of the ones he did. “Grad student, specializing in finding oil.”

“Wait, what?” Mikey was paying close attention now.

“Does the word magnetotelluric mean anything to you? I looked it up, and it’s got something to do with using the planet’s magnetic field to determine what ores are underneath. Beyond that, hell.” He ran a hand through his hair. “I can do ballistics. Geology defeats me.”

“It means rather a lot to me.” Mikey replied, and dropped his voice. “I wouldn’t go throwing that word around. You’ll get more attention than you want, and some of it very unfriendly and all too interested.”

“Ah. She said she was trying to escape some vicious politics in academia, and get a job in the real world. You telling me she’s in for more vicious politics in the job field?”

Mikey gave a slow nod. “Fed’s been using the Sons as catspaws to assassinate the key industry and academic research eggheads in order to prevent our ability to fuel the armed forces and economy. I know, because I’ve been trying to hire one, and getting nowhere. If she goes throwing her contact details around on open net, she’s going to be in for a world of hurt.”

Twitch cursed, softly, and cut it off as the kids took a break and started jogging back to the bleachers for water, snacks, and encouragement. Mikey Junior stopped and regarded Twitch with wide eyes. “Twitch? Is that really you?”

“It’s me, kiddo. Your dad said I ought to come watch you work out. You’re doing good.”

The kid’s spine straightened, and skinny chest inflated. “I’m not as good as I want to be.” He confessed, as if to a great crime.

Twitch gave him a serious nod, and replied with his own lowered voice. “No one ever is. Every day I drive into work, I wonder if the gates are going to admit me, or this is the day I’m not good enough.”

“But you’re in Recon!”

“Yeah, but I’m not the best in Recon. There are better guys than me. So I just keep working my very hardest to make sure I give it my very best, every day.” There were worse than him, too. And then there were all the young kids, nipping at his heels and keen for his rank and position, but Junior wouldn’t understand that one yet. Give him ten years, and he’d be one of those kids. “And we’re always training, if we’re not in the field.”

Junior chugged the drink his dad held out, and snarfed down a power bar, stopping to ask, “Do they make you do these drills, too? I’ve already got passing down, if the other kid doesn’t screw it up.”

Twitch felt a thousand years old, at that moment. When he opened his mouth, the words and intonation that fell out were straight from his firearms instructor out of basic, and he listened to himself and wondered now if the man had been quoting his own instructor, and the one before… “Son. An amateur practices until he gets it right. A professional practices until he can’t get it wrong.”

19 comments

  1. I like that snippet you teased us with! I’m looking forward to buying it when you release it!

    I recognize that last sentence, and it fits perfectly where and how you presented it.

    1. I did a quick internet search on the phrase, and giggled when some site tried to place it as a music school poster “in the early 2000’s.” Oh, kiddo, history was happening long before you were in high school, and I can assure you it was employed with exhaustion and weariness by a drill instructor in South Africa on a young troepie in the early 1970’s, and it was an old, old phrase even then.

      1. I suspect there’s a Vulgar [as in common] Latin version that goes back to a centurion and a new trooper.

  2. Love the tone, really looking forward to the story. I especially like Twitch’s reaction to the ball field. Well over a decade later I still look for IED’s when I see trash in the street, and I was by no means a high speed low drag kind of guy.

    1. Thank you. I was looking back over that this morning and thinking “Do I need to layer in smell and sound to anchor the scene better in the reader’s mind’s eye? … and then I read your comment, laughed, and said “Not for my military readers, apparently!” And got more coffee.

    1. And here I thought because my “plot” consisted of about 10 bullet-point lines with semi-cryptic memory jogs for specific scenes (about half of which move, change, or aren’t used by the time I’m done), even if my worldbuilding with the ecology and economy was already done, I was a pantser already.

      But you’re right. This is being a pantser’s pantser. I don’t think I like it.

        1. Do you know how much time you can sink into research on the largest craters in the solar system that didn’t shatter a planet, and the minimum size needed to make its own weather? Or the trophic levels of subarctic marine ecosystems vs. temperate ecosystems, and how the various currents affect them? Or the week by week chores in a vineyard, and which varietals are most susceptible to which parasites, insects, and molds?

          1. As much time as you allow yourself? I usually start writing and research as I need it. And probably not as in depth as I ought. A fair amount of rewriting occurs.

            1. I *used* to research first and then write. But now… *looks over at neglected book on Rhodesian FireForce tactics that I have to finish in order to write the next scene*….

  3. I think as you get better you get better at pantsing? Also I find it ironic that Twitch is quoting that line about rehearsal in a book by someone who is blogging about rehearsing. (grin) Totally iterative. (And if I don’t work my flute some I will sound really bad in church next week)

    1. Everything gets better with directed practice. (Except healing; there doesn’t seem to be a way to instruct my body to do that better and faster than when I was 18, because I have more practice.) At least I have the advantage of knowing people further down the road, with more experience, and so I can tell that writing out of order is, indeed, a skill set that you pick up. Which is why I say it’s leveling up.

      Still gonna complain about it, because I don’t want to do it, but in the end, if it works, and the book is better for it, and the readers are happy, then it works. So after the obligatory initial complaints, I shall suck it up and keep writing, yes?

      Glad the irony amused you!

  4. Good for you, and about time…LOL Let the muse run! And that last was around in the 70s when I went through training… I’d say it ‘probably’ dates to Roman Legions… LOL

  5. Research can become an incredible time sink if you let it take over. Always remember that you aren’t building a world, you’re building a stage set. Have faith in the pants!

    1. Amen. And very nice snippet. Speaking of stage-setting … can anyone recommend a web resource to pull up a readable ancient city map? I don’t have the skills to make one up. Any help would be appreciated.

  6. Love the snippet. Want the book. The levels and mixes of conflicts and interests will be fun to read about. Like an adventure. 🙂
    Dangerous, nasty stuff that happens to someone else, far away.
    NFOs comment reminds me of reading of Henry VIIIs law requiring all men of military age to practice archery with longbows every Sunday after church, with the targets at a distance of no less than 220 yards.
    John

  7. I’m one of those people who usually does things worse with practice.

    Like bowling. Honestly, everybody is safer if I just don’t think about getting it right, aiming, improving… If I don’t think about it, the ball goes in the vicinity of the pins. If I try hard to aim, it ends up in the gutter or the next lane.

    I try to think about it as being like zen archery; but really, it’s like having very bad astigmatism. Because I do.

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