Did I mention I was writing a novel? Surely. I always forget to clarify, though — it’s actually a trilogy. Go hard or go home, and all that; RDZ never does things by half measures.
Creating the new super-refined plot outlines for When the Freedom Slips Away and This Wreckage has been mostly straightforward. To be fair, I have written three or four drafts of each over the years, so there is a lot of base material to draw from.
The difference with the cdoncluding third book, Shattered By Light, is that there has never even been one draft. It has always had an ending, and it briefly had an awkward beginning — but no middle, nothing remotely approaching a complete narrative. This is an issue that I am finally going to remedy.
Shattered By Light
It wasn’t always a trilogy. Originally, it was a one-shot, When the Freedom Slips Away alone against the world. It was only towards the end of making the first sequel This Wreckage that I realised I had a trilogy on my hands. There were certain elements of lore that gained increasing prominence throughout the development of its first draft, and these began to lead so naturally to such an ultimate conclusion that I couldn’t not make a strike for it. (It’s a pure belter of a climax, but I will say no more than this.)
So back in those heady days of yore, there were wobbles and awkward beginnings. Shatter almost — almost — got started for real, and then collapsed in on itself. The introduction didn’t really work, it was too contrived or just a bit crap. The biggest issue of all, though, was that even what little beginning I had didn’t really go in the direction of that finale anyway. So with effectively no start, and definitely no middle… It was doomed.
The Right Track
Obviously, RDZ never gives up. What’s an untenable position to a man who frequently spends years slaving over niche mods for dead games? Pah!
While constructing the new plans for the first two books on the train to work in recent months, I kept that perfect ending and all the myriad elements it might depend upon in my head. Bits of WtFSA and Wreckage started to realign themselves in minor but important increments, enough to bring a strong trajectory into focus. That’s the whole aim of the plot outline thing — get the broad strokes down solid and in an easily mutable form so they can be adjusted painlessly.
But they had drafts and rendering big meaty chunks of plot down into pithy bullet plot points is simple. When I finally closed the lid on the first passes of those two pre-attempted books and stared up at the cloud-capped mountain of the third… Well, building pithy bullet plot points out of some still-nebulous cloud of potential is not so easy.
So how does one get through this mire?
Why, one talks to oneself.
All You Do To Me Is Talk Talk
It’s not without precedent, children. The programmers among you may be aware of the practice known cutely as “rubber ducking”: that is, the act of explaining something out loud, even to an inanimate object such as the titular rubber ducky, is enough to let it coalesce in the mind so that flaws become clear. Just talking to yourself in your head isn’t good enough — there’s something in the act of speaking, of turning firing impulses into physical action, that changes the emphasis.
Naturally, I’m on a crowded commuter train and I’m probably already “that creepy guy with the silly beard”, so talking to myself isn’t going to ingratiate me any more with the travelling businesspeople of central Scotland.
But typing is as good as talking, right? The important thing is that it’s coming out of my head, that the thoughts are being externalised. It seems to work already — I mean, in the case of this blog, I get all the crap that’s rattling around my brain-box out into the wilderness and you read it (silently judgemental as always). In the case of this novelisation project, it’s just a little bit of short-circuiting — I write, I read… And I respond.
From Another Point of View
It’s not just jotting down ideas, though — it’s full-blown conversations, and that’s the key.
It’s all about working through the ideas as they come into play. Does this make sense in that context? Yes, keep going. What about this? No, that’s silly. Maybe that? Yes, that works, because that means that this and the other thing and ooooh. How about if somebody does this? No, Robbie, that’s stupid and character X would never do that because of this other thing.
Giant strings of this-no-that-yes back-and-forth blossom onto the empty wiki page. The ravings of a madman to the untrained eye, perhaps (and woe betide the poor sod that might sneak a peek over my shoulder), but to me it is the stone block from which a true plot will be sculpted.
Once that conversation has taken place, narrowing it down at the other end is just the same as turning those old drafts into refined plot outlines — weigh up the stuff that works, strip out the stuff that doesn’t, and there you go.
Neon Underlighting and Go-Faster Stripes
… Obviously I can’t even hint about the content of book three, because it is truly pristine and spoilers.
Even so, while the broad strokes of When the Freedom Slips Away and This Wreckage remain from their original drafts as cheesy teenage fantasies, their newly rebooted (heurgh) forms contain plenty of new twists and chunks and generally twist around themselves in a much deeper and (I hope) more satisfying way. And all three parts will support each other, and that’s something I just couldn’t do when my only plan was forward motion.
I mean… how hard can this writing lark really be?