The second victim of my ‘5 strikes and you’re out‘ rule for short story submissions but i’m walking this one because it’s only faced 3 pitches.  I like the idea behind it but I don’t think the execution has been particularly well done.

Anyway, let me know what you think, how you’d rewrite it and if you actually do want to rewrite it, go for it!

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After a few false starts, some dodgy decisions, mundane storylines, awkwardly plotted ideas, cardboard characters and directionless dialogue…everything’s all tickity-boo on the ‘Broken Branches’ first draft front.

Trimmed down the characters, shuffled some scenes, deleted others, got my head down, wrestled with this sucker and now I’m halfway through Chapter 7, pretty happy with it so far and have the next 3 chapters briefly outlined, which is always a nice place to be.

So what went wrong and how did I ‘solve’ it?

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Came across the site I Write Like which compares your own writing with more esteemed writers.

I uploaded the first 3 chapters of Railroaded and IWL said I write like Cory Doctorow.

I then uploaded the first 3 chapters of my WIP and IWL says I write like P.G.Wodehouse.

I’ve never read either of these writers but I know a little about each one and it seems a pretty good mix.

Naturally, I thought what would a mixture of Ben Ellis, Cory Doctorow and P.G.Wodehouse look like?

I went to MorphThing and mixed up these great writers.

What a strange looking fellow…but what a writer!

The writing hasn’t begun again because the ideas I’ve got for this ‘near future society’ needs to be hammered out.  I’m trying to keep things simple but this one difference has knock-on effects which need to make sense for the whole point of the book to be understood.

I’ve changed how I’m going to start about 5 times, however this latest version seems like it’ll stick around.

I’m not completely starting from scratch like my previous, panicked post may have alluded too but I have had to give myself and the first draft a severe kick up the arse.

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It may seem like a tough decision to pull the plug on a novel 7 chapters (14,600 words) long but since I first thought about scrapping it and having slept on it, it seems like the best thing to do.

The problem wasn’t the themes or ideas, it was the approach I took with the characters I chose.  My main problem was the number of protagonists.  I chose triplets, so you got three people plus their significant others and friends, their work mates and quickly the number grows.  Then you’ve got to have an antagonist or two plus other bit players, and the number got so unwieldy that I couldn’t keep track and characters were being writing about so infrequently that the whole novel had no pace or manageable structure.  The ideas were spread so thin that no-one had any solid motivation and it all ended up in a contrived mess.

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I like it when I see a future idea I had being brought into some kind of reality.

No ideas are original, so the idea of a road generating power via solar panels is not ground-breaking in itself but still, it means I’m not a dribbling idiot…which is always nice to confirm.

I get ‘Popular Science’ magazine every month and this month there’s an article, ‘Environmental Visionaries: The Solar Roadrunner‘. About a company, Solar Roadways, who want to ‘cover all concrete and asphalt surfaces that are exposed to the sun with Solar Road Panels‘.

I’ve briefly mentioned this before, ‘Self-Sustainable and Carbon Neutral Car Travel‘, and this newer article doesn’t really say anything new just that the project is still going ahead with a few little targets to get it live and achieving a critical mass by starting out in McDonald car parks.

I think a better way of generating power AND being beneficial to the customers would be to install hamster wheels in a McDonalds car park and have them running round, powering the deep fat fryers.

I thought I’d put some of the chapter planning notes I make online.  There’s no tips or advice because who the hell am I to do that, this is just to put it out there as I haven’t seen anyone else do this so thought it could be interesting.

Reading blogs and magazine articles featuring the writing process from many different authors, you get a wide range of advice about planning from ‘I totally wing it‘ to ‘I mercilessly plan and research every detail before I even crack open the laptop‘.

I’m kind of in the middle.  I can’t start without a basic theme or a general direction I want to head into.  After I got that, I research the theme and tentatively create characters and situations to convey some sort of central theme and direction.  Once that’s done then I usually only plan a few chapters in advance.  This is so I a) know the chapter I’m currently writing, b) know how the current chapter will lead into the next and c) leaving more advanced chapters unchallenged means the novel has the flexibility to go where the story dictates.

I’ve only completed one novel and about a fifth of the way through the second (5 chapters/11,500 words), but so far I find that their story arcs arrive in about 5 or 6 chapters chunks.  I’m currently at the end of the first chunk of ‘Broken Branches’.  I suppose this is the introductory chunk; introducing the main themes, the characters and their dilemma’s.

So what do the notes look like?

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A momentous day! My first ever publication!

365 Tomorrows have published ‘Turning a Frontier into a Home’ which is more of a flash fiction story as it’s only about 350 words.

It was originally written for a competition by ‘New Scientist‘ who wanted flash stories ‘about the world 100 years from now‘.

So go check out 365 Tomorrows for a new sci-fi short story everyday.

Update 19th June: Great hearing the feedback on the 365 Tomorrow’s forum.

May 27, 2010

Here’s the third chapter of my novel, Railroaded, which means the first three chapters are now online, the requirement of most literary agents. So now you can read the opening to this novel, put yourself in an agent’s position…and send me a rejection.

I’m blaming the cover letter at the moment.

You can read the first chapter here.

The huge sprawling office complex of The Pharmara Corporation stretched across the entire 15 mile brow of the hills overlooking Wigthorn. Deemed an ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ by The World Heritage Foundation in the past, the trees and hedgerows once lining this landscape had been replaced by pure white buildings sealed with black solar panels, no windows or doors faced the town of Wigthorn. This was the view a Wigthornian would see if he or she looked northwards, if one were to look south across the sea towards France then the horizon would be filled with the tops of wind turbines like rows of runaway wagon wheels careering through the English Channel out towards the Atlantic Ocean. Wigthorn was a town cannibalising its natural assets in order to survive, as all towns were.

The Pharmara Corporation headquarters up on the hills of Wigthorn were only on one floor and designed to have no right angles or curves, every corner was irregular and every surface flat like a stealth fighter plane. Each department has its own building, the biggest being ‘Statistical Acquirement and Analysis’, it tracks every single item leaving the factory floor; from products and packaging to pallets and people. Every item has its own CBID tag (Constant Broadcast Identification) transmitting, via satellites, its vital statistics 10 times every second. Temperature, location, speed, humidity, human DNA in vicinity, other items in vicinity, the speed, temperature, location of those nearby humans and other items…and so it went on, every statistic was vital.

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I’ve finished the first chapter of my second novel and I’ve also got a title for it.

All this has happened in a couple of weeks and the first three chapter plan I had before starting has totally been thrown out of the window.

One of Elmore Leonard’s writing tips was ‘Do give the work a name as quickly as possible‘ and not having a title did feel a little weird.

I had a bunch of tentative titles which never really grabbed me and  ‘Broken Branches’ may not stand up all the way to the finish but it’s doing the job of ticking off something on the novel writing to do list.

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