I think that my Machine of Death short may be finished. I’m very pleased with it, I think I’ve explored some concepts that nobody in the first volume did, and even aside from the whole death predictions thing I think it’s a good story. It’s not ‘gimmicky’, is what I guess I’m saying–not that there’s anything wrong with a gimmick short, I love a good gimmick short, me, but I think this story would hold together even without the MoD ‘draw’. I’m particularly happy with the characters–with a short you’re given such a tiny amount of time to introduce everyone, but I think all five characters in this stand out and the differences between them are clear from the start. I’m going to give the story to some people to read over, then I’ll submit it.
Writing a short has been really fun, but also kind of a time drain–with the story being so short, I did about six edits and four proofs, probably more than it needed. Now, I’m at the point where I’ll delete a word or rewrite a sentence then just put it back how it was before, which usually means editing is ‘finished’. I haven’t entirely neglected my other projects, but over the last few days I’ve only added a few thousand words to my Against Darker Days outline. I really need to get back into that now, I’m near the end of a couple of storylines and then I just need to outline the ‘wrap up’ (I already pretty much know how it’s going to go, but outlines can still surprise you) and then figure out how on earth I’m going to structure this thing. The good part is that I feel all of the storylines are equally compelling–I think that’s the most important thing when you’re juggling multiple plotlines, they all have to be interesting and strong enough to stand on their own. When you switch from one to another, the reader should have just a moment of “No! I want to know what happens to X and Y!” before getting drawn into the continuing story of A and B. I think probably the ultimate example of this is The Wire, where you could wait episodes for a particular character’s story to advance, and even then you might only get a line of dialogue–but it wouldn’t matter, because every character’s story was so interesting. In fact, in general I feel that I draw more influence from TV shows than from novels, at least in terms of the way I approach structure. Attempt to start each scene by showing the characters and their motivations, attempt to end each scene with a punchy line or a lead-in to the next, some kind of connection. Keep things moving, don’t let anyone stand still, and if you’re not sure how to procede, ‘compact’. This is a technique I learned from Valve–there’s a story about how they just couldn’t get Half Life to ‘work’, how it was okay but not exceptional. So they threw everything they had into one level, every enemy, every trap, every idea–and the result was fantastic. So that’s often how I outline, I push events closer together, I combo them into one another, if there’s a point where the characters get to stop and take a breath, well, sometimes that’s fine, but they had better have earned it–and you better be putting some nice character moments in there, maybe some foreshadowing, maybe some stake-raising revelations. This is how I eventually got Miya Black V to work, there were a couple of sequences that were just … they were okay, but not spectacular. So I took out all of the ‘in-between’ bits, every single instance of Miya getting a chance to catch her breath, and suddenly EVERYTHING was better and the whole sequence started working.
So that’s my advice for the day. If a sequence is too sluggish then move everything closer together. Combo scenes into each other, don’t have a scene and then a rest and then another scene, have the second scene INTERRUPT the first scene, and then have a third scene crash into both. Keep things flowing and don’t give your characters a chance to catch their breaths until it’s the reader who’s begging for a break.