I am a seasoned commuter by now. I’ve had some adventures along the way, though for a while there I managed to work in Glasgow city centre and avoid anything worse than a ten-minute train ride bookended by pleasant walks.
Of course that was never going to last. I’ve recently fetched up in Edinburgh, which for the uninitiated is a 55-minute train ride from Glasgow city centre.
It is quite a long journey, but the trains are fairly comfortable and there aren’t many stops — as long as you can get wedged into a good window seat, it’s safe to chow down on some more meaty activity than is usually possible…
You might remember my cute netbook, Astradyne? I got it for my first ever commute, which was to the terrible wastelands of Inchinnan via chartered company bus.
The commute to Edinburgh is about twice as long as that. While it sometimes suffices to slam on some tunes and keep my eyes peeled for fluffy bunnies in the fields between Linlithgow and Haymarket, that feels awfully unproductive — and being unproductive makes my blood boil. This is the whole reason I bought Astradyne in the first place: to make use of dead commute time… by writing.
I have to admit that my major writing project, the fantasy epic trilogy currently referred to only as “the Wreckageverse”, has languished somewhat over the past few years.
(I call it “the Wreckageverse” because I’ve pulled back from actually writing the core trilogy at the moment. Sort of. I’ll get to that.)
This swords ‘n’ pragmatic sorcery saga had been reconstructed at least three times (to varying degrees) before this phase even began. Each time, new elements and turning points slipped in and out to confuse matters — and on top of that, the hiatus period spawned numerous extras that were never integrated, from tiny world-building quirks noted down during work to pages of hastily scribbled plot points that unfolded beautifully during sleepless nights.
Fertile ground, perhaps, but a bloody nightmare to make sense of when your head’s been saturated almost exclusively with hand-wavy sci-fi for the past two years.
So before I could even think about picking up the baton again, I had to begin just by sorting through all these notes. The notepad that I never leave the house without, the scattered text files on various computer desktops — they all had to be condensed and transferred into the central Wreckageverse wiki on Astradyne.
I didn’t worry too much and conflicts, contradictions and consistency, though. I just wanted to get all the raw ideas safely ensconsed in the right places so they could be easily referred to and patched up in due course.
With all the successive re-writes, I’ve always had problems with the overarching structure of the story.
See, the original stories grew organically from their beginnings to their ends, so they sometimes twist in awkward ways, and have a strange balance between periods of pointless meandering followed by periods of brutal exposition.
For example, the first part of the trilogy, When the Freedom Slips Away, doesn’t remotely foreshadow the rest of the arc — because when I first wrote it, there wasn’t even the slightest conception that the story would continue beyond that point. At least when it came to building the next part, This Wreckage, I realised about half-way through the first pass that I was naturally building to a much larger climax and that a third and final piece, Shattered By Light, was inevitable.
Once I got all my notes in order, I decided that trying to do yet another pass in the same way would probably result in the same problems and so wouldn’t be worth the effort… But what to do instead?
As a true computer scientist (ha!), I have resolved to boil the whole lot right down to the absolute basics. Before I get bogged down in the fine details and the prose, I want to create a list of events, of turning points, of important conversations and the barest revelations and inferences required of them for the plot to function. The pure narrative arc.
Because the pure narrative without baggage will be much easier to manipulate. When the inconsistencies in pace start to emerge, when characters end up doing things too much out of nowhere, tweaking, injecting and removing a few event descriptions will be a far cry from reassembling fifty rambly conversations replete with further notes and dangling hooks.
The History of the Future
The other fun element of this project is that the events of the trilogy depend quite heavily upon ancient historical events, the repercussions of which our plucky hero gets caught up in (ordinary people in extraordinary situations, right?). In the organic growth writing mode of the original write-ups, the ancient history was imagined at the same time as the present-day events… Which again might have led to some inconsistencies. Not an approach I can particularly recommend, though it was fun at the time.
So I’m starting at the beginning this time, and hashing out the historical elements before diving into the proper stories.
Sure, big chunks of this ancient history will only ever be alluded to (if they’re mentioned at all), but I need to have that wide and solid foundation so that any references required are consistent (and, indeed, the state of the very universe is consistent) — to the point where piles of allusions can let the readers work things out for themselves. I definitely need to know where I’m being deliberately ambiguous and where I’m waving my hand because something doesn’t matter, because that’s a boundary that may have been indistinct in my previous attempts.
Will It Work?
I have no idea. This project has been rolling on for years now, give or take the aforementioned periods of hibernation. On the other hand, I’ve never stepped back and thought about the process before, so who knows? Maybe this time it’ll finally break through.