Writing Things, Part 6

Spoilers Ahead

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.

Counting Words

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

Screenshot of the Aeon Timeline app's events view. There are four events listed: Bee Sparked. Maevis Morgan Sparked. Bee Winked. Maevis Morgan winked.

The Start Date values next to these events are in a fantasy calendar format, so it is difficult to tell how much time passes between each event. There is no date value next to the first event, "Bee Winked".
Birth and death, spreadsheet version

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:

  1. Drop the idea of a novel calendar and have both worlds use Earth’s familiar, boring one.
  2. Create two separate projects, one for each timeline, and then deal with the headache of having their event data disconnected.
  3. 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.


11 responses to “Writing Things, Part 6”

  1. Wow, that’s pretty interesting. I’ve always been interested in tools, and sometimes care about them to a fault—more than the actual writing, lol. So this was a nice post to come across. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I like the idea of moon time more than solar time, which doesn’t make a lot of sense if you really look into it. But then, it’s not all in the same system… so that is a issue to take care of in some way or another, as you said. Ahhh what a process this thing called writing really is.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’d like to do something different with the moon cycle too. I don’t even pretend to understand the arcs of how the moon and star move in relation to the Isles – I’ve made a few claims, but I have no geometry / astrology to back this up:

      There is a large, dim star known as the Pale Eye (or Great Pale Eye).
      The major moon is known as Tear (“teer”) which leaves a milky contrail behind that some claim is an immense, celestial white fire. This also gives it the name, the Burning Moon.
      On a cycle of some kind, the tear emerges from the Eye. This constant “weeping” of the Eye has informed countless religious beliefs.
      The minor moon is little often seen, being too pale against the night sky (dominated by Tear’s everywhere effervescence). During only the high Winter Festival can it be seen – always high above, as though lofty beyond her celestial kin. She circles in a tighter arc in the heavens, never dipping too far to the horizon. Tear, on the other hand, stays low to the horizon, leaping out from it like a fish. Some faith systems call these two moons Fish and Bird, and they are famous rivals in many epics.

      Although all of that right there was easy to decide, I have no clue whether it’s elliptically possible for what I described to even occur.

      You’ve given me the thought though that I should consider moon phases in the accounting of time.

      The above material / ideas released as Creative Commons 0 (CC-0), which is public domain.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Your description has inspired me! I wish I could include your world in my next book, which is about a Traveler who, like old-time explorers such as Lewis and Clark, goes about cataloging various worlds.

        But I can visualize it quite well in my mind’s eye. I wonder if the Pale Eye charges up Tear and the lesser moon, like our sun charges up our moon. 🤔 hhmmm… very intriguing indeed.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. As it happens, you can include whatever you like of this into whatever you make – that is the nature and aspiration of Creative Commons licensing 🙂

    I have mostly so far released my material as CC-BY-SA – which basically means, attribute the origin, and then release what you create from that, likewise licensed. But my aim is to release the Allegoriian Isles part specifically (known as the Compendium Allegoriian) as CC-0, which is Public Domain, and as available for re-use as you can find anywhere 🙂

    In fact, to be specific about it, I’ll edit the above description to include the CC-0 license. Then, you can go right ahead and use any number of words or thoughts from it in whatever order you see fit. The Isles are meant to be modular, that way!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That makes sense. I would definitely need to read everything you’ve written about the world and I’d prefer to bounce off of you any thoughts I had on the world before I used it. I really like the idea of sharing ideas and working together, as we’ve discussed previously, as artists.

      I’m sure you have more than you’ve shared here, written down somewhere.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I do have more things to write about the fantasy world part of the story, though admittedly a lot is up in the air. A lot is in my head too, and could stand to get continued by having it typed out. I had intended for the Allegoriian Isles stuff to be half of the book, and half of my time – and Maeve to be the other half, but I’ve gotten sort of stuck on her story for the last few months.

        Very happy to discuss anything related to a shared backdrop world! One of the reasons I chose a world consisting of islands and great changes in climate is to facilitate the telling of very different stories by very different writers – each island can be going through its own things, and might even have its own natures. I can’t know how that might work, until other writers might show up and build off of things.

        One aspect I’d like to discuss, with anybody who might be interested in building off of shared material, is their comfort level with releasing the results of their own work under a Creative Commons licence as well. It is not necessary, at all, but it’s something I’ve been interested in: propagating free ideas, with the help of others.

        There are several CC licenses, from the most permissive (CC-0), to fairly restrictive (CC-BY-NC-ND) – they all essentially have in common the idea that the material is free to share and distribute, in order to make it enjoyable and accessible to the largest audience; the differences lie in whether attribution is required, whether derivatives are permitted, and whether those derivatives are permitted to generate revenue for those creating the derivatives.

        I like the following set of CC licenses (pardon me also if you already know all about CC licenses, I’m also explaining this for anybody else who hasn’t had a chance to learn about them yet):

        CC-0, which is public domain… no attribution needed.
        CC-BY, which requires that the creator of the work being re-used is attributed.
        CC-BY-SA, which adds the requirement that whatever works are derived must also continue to use CC-BY-SA.

        NC (non-commercial) and ND (no derivatives) are the other commonly used restrictive versions.

        CC-BY-SA is really interesting. Imagine if an artist or a set of artists created a work that had real potential- maybe it was a great screenplay or something, or a great book, or game… and it got a decent following. Now what happens if a studio or publisher wants to take the project on, and sometimes happens? It’s a valuable property, but it also requires that their own production of the property be released as CC-BY-SA.

        What publisher or studio would do that? I want to know who those publishers and studios are – the ones who get the idea, and are willing to do something different, like give up their own copyright and ownership of the movie adaptation, or book series, or whatever, which they helped create. Would that ever happen? Maybe it has already – I’m bad at research.

        I’m reachable at bbbutterwell@gmail.com, if you or anybody you know would like to talk about creative collaborations like this or other things. I’ve got a bunch of ideas these days but only so much energy at the moment to figure it out myself! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’d really like to learn more about CC and what that all really means practically. On the face of it, I’m intrigued and it’s something I feel I could really get behind. But I also wonder how it would play out, as a publisher, potentially working with folks on it. I suppose the thing to do would be to see if any books or papers already exist which address this. I’m curious about all the rules and how it looks “in the wild”.

        I sure appreciate you always being willing to discuss this and your project in such great detail.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I dropped the ball responding, sorry! I’ve been busy with other things and my blog took a back seat. I’m glad you appreciate the notion behind it! I am also interested to know more about how Creative Commons licenses work “in the wild”…. I hope to make some progress on this in the coming month! Thank you as always for your feedback!:)


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