Last time I wrote here about writing, I promised myself in front of other people that I’d do an outline. Well, I’m getting to it.
Every time I re-read my chapters, I’m struck by all the words. I mean, I use a lot of words. I like repeating things. Like you didn’t get them the first time, and you need more words to read until you figure out what I’m trying to say.
Until I figure out what I’m trying to say.
Like we have all the time in the world.
Somewhat Much Progress
When I give myself the gift and curse of having to make progress on my book, and set my timer, and force myself to write until the binger goes off, I still have several paths I might choose to follow. Where does progress lie, exactly? Lay? Where is it? Progress I mean.
Maybe it’s cutting the word count down, considerably. That is, learning how to be efficient and have a purpose behind every action. Keystrokes are actions. What is their purpose?
I could go for a walk and “blue sky” things. This works sometimes. Often though I get a good line of dialogue or an ephemeral idea right when I’m not anywhere near a notepad.
Maybe I could run to the dollar store and buy yet another little notebook and some supporting pens, so that, wherever I might wander this time, I’ll have something to right ideas down in, when they find me out and about. I’ll add the little cheap new notebook to the stack of them when I get home.
Maybe I could, to inch my way sideways toward progress, blog about writing and how difficult I’m finding that. Maybe I could read more. Maybe I could draw a “mind map”.
Maybe I could just write some actual parts of the story. Write a scene. A chapter, maybe. Maybe it will be good, maybe it won’t. Will I know the difference?
So here were some more words about writer’s block, in case any other writers out there might not have heard of that yet.
In the previous section, I very nearly ended my train of thought by calling myself a writer. Me, a writer who has yet to come close to finishing one book. I’m a “writer”.
I nearly ended that last section saying that, about myself.
And then, I actually ended that last section by deciding not to take it back. That thing I said about myself. About me being a writer. Look at me, I’m writing about the writing that I’m writing.
More progress, somewhat sideways.
Timely, Lively Lifetimes
I’m trying out Aeon Timeline. My good friend Shannon recommended it to me. It is an odd duck – it feels like it started its life as a project management tool, then forayed into a support tool for creative writers who’ve gotten themselves into a pickleish bind, with all of their tangled timelines and cross-referenced references and interdependent whatnots.
One thing I appreciate about this tool is that it allows the author to create their own calendar, and it will track all the days’ passings and so on as you drag events around in relation to each other. For me, this is kind of critical at this point, since my story involves two worlds whose events are intended to intersect eventually, and both have histories – the Allegoriian Isles has a world history, and Maeve’s has a family and local community history. They meet, and things occur between these timelines, and how does a brain like this manage to organise all of that?
Apparently, with creatively extended project management software. I could have used post-it notes but I don’t have a big, bare wall with lots of pacing room in front it anywhere in the house, as it happens. Also, a laptop is more portable than a wall, clearly.
Right out of the gate, using this software stopped me in my tracks, and forced me to think about the calendar system in use in the Allegoriian Isles – I can’t even create a project without first committing it to a specific way of accounting for time. It’s not changeable afterward. Probably the translation of events from one calendar type to another is just too much of a design headache to figure out. I get it.
This is the kind of constraint that often comes in very handy: you can’t keep going forward, making up new decisions to make, until you deal with making this decision first.
I didn’t want to just use Earth’s calendar, since the Isles (well, most of them) aren’t on Earth. There’s a different star and moons around the planet, there. Fantasy tropes and things.
But therein lay a “problem”: Aeon Timeline only allows you to create one calendar per project. You can’t have some characters following one calendar, and others following another.
So how to proceed? Three options spring to mind:
Drop the idea of a novel calendar and have both worlds use Earth’s familiar, boring one. Create two separate projects, one for each timeline, and then deal with the headache of having their event data disconnected.
- Use the Allegoriian calendar in Maeve’s story too.
I think I just invented an Opinionated Predetermined Options List, right there. I could defend my decision to just go with option 3, but in the end it’s a design choice, and I’m choosing Door Number 3.
In the past, I’ve used this principle of constrained choice to decent effect with other creative projects – namely, game jams. Sometimes a constraint – whether it’s arbitrary or imposed – can help you get past the interminable decision points and just move on to the next creative act.
In this case, a quite-understandable limitation of Aeon Timeline has forced me to make – and stick to – a creative decision, and this might plausibly have big consequences for Maeve. Now her time is reckoned differently: in Allegoriian terms.
How do the characters visiting Sisters Island refer to the passage of time, then? Do I translate the Allegoriian calendar into Earth time, and have them speak in terms of seven-day weeks, and 12 months a year, and leap years and inconsistent days per month, and all of that? Do they not ever refer to years and months in the script? Is that cheating, or cleverness?
Or do I lean into the What Ifs:
- What if Earthlings reckoned time like Allegoriians do?
- How do Allegoriians reckon with time, then?
Since I seem to like What Ifs a bit too much, I seem to like this idea too.
So here’s an example of sideways progress: something has happened and changed in my story – it’s ratcheted past one of the decision points which were already looming. But was it forward progress? Not sure. I just made my job more interesting… and also more complicated. An experienced author might just pat me on the back and say, “Ah, welcome to the club, son. Pull up a chair – you’re going to be here for a while”. That’s what I imagine they might do and say, anyway.
So in the screenshot above, I have four of many important events listed: Maeve’s and Bee’s Sparking and Winking. From the very beginning of the story, Maeve tells the Reader that she remembers a time before she was born. She isn’t lying about that, and so birth and death don’t work the same way in this story, as it might in others. I gave them different names. They are sort of placeholders, but they might stick too.
The metaphysics / mysticism of the birth and death lifecycle is something I seem to want to speculate on in this book. It might not be the main theme, but maybe it is. It seems like a pretty big theme – maybe it needs to be front and centre, I don’t know.
I’m following a hunch: Maeve’s instinct about having a purpose means she knows there is a lifeline in front of her; there is one important event she is anticipating: finally learning what her true purpose is… and there must be at least one event before that: coming to really believe that she has a purpose to begin with. I think we meet her after she’s sure there must be at least that: a purpose.
We are told even earlier on that there is a hooded rat who becomes a True, Known Hero. I’m still working a lot of this part, I’ll admit, but the idea is the same: there’s a character who, so far, has largely not shown up, but has a calling much bigger than their body.
Both of these characters have more to their lifelines than “being born” and “dying” – their structure, by definition (an Allegoriian one, perhaps admittedly), has other milestones: That Moment when they find their path, that moment they even believe they have one at all… the moment they realise they are now walking it – the matter of looking back on all the good paths taken – there would be a few.
In the Allegoriian view, there are stages to a being’s time in the Isles. Manifesting in mortal form is one, but not necessarily the first. Leaving the mortal form behind, another – but not necessarily the last. Everything around and about the Allegoriian is a cycle: the days, the seasons, the years, birth and death and rebirth.
In the absence of a different, more overpowering story of one-time creation and one-time apocalypse, it might be otherwise more natural to think of a mortal’s journey as being some sort of cycle. This mindset is not even all that unusual on Earth, as it happens. So too, in the Isles – and since the Isle of Elder Bees has brought the Allegoriian calendar to Earth, Maeve’s story doesn’t begin and end in the way I’ve been taught to believe that mine might – she’s being asked whether she wants to even be.
I suppose I might be over-explaining speculative fiction – as though I’m any kind of expert. I’m only speculating about how speculative fiction works.
Anyhow, I’ve belaboured my point – which I’ve also forgotten.
Aeon timeline is a pretty interesting tool, we’ll see where it fits into things, in this project.