Progress So Far: Three Quarters Present and Correct, One Quarter AWOI*
* AWOI: Absent Without Information
There comes a time in most long-term writing projects where there is a lull, a pause when the only thing to do is wait. For me, that time is now. I’ve just sent an email to Frontier full of awkward questions, many of which probably don’t yet have an answer. Getting answers is pressing in terms of my story, but my guess is that fleshing out these aspects of the game is probably lower down Frontier’s to-do list. It involves game content that is more likely, I think, to be released as a later update or add-on pack. (Frontier hasn’t given me any basis for my assumption, I’m just reading between the lines.)
This puts me in the rather strange position (for a writer) of being unable to visualise something that does not exist. Making stuff up is what we do. I could try to substitute something from my own imagination, but these are ending scenes with strong visual elements that will be key to how they play out. Just imagine a movie actor working on a green-screen set where there are no visual cues to respond to, and no other actors to interact with. All that is added later by a computer. Right now I feel like that actor, but the film mascot ate the script, my director is on holiday with his mistress, the camera crew lost their equipment (which is now in Ecuador), the sound crew has come down with a severe case of microphone roundworm, and the head of lighting got over-excited and blew all her fuses. Creativity will have to wait for the arrival of the muse, and an email from Dem Dat No Tings Bout Elite. (Wotcha, FILFs. *waves* ).
Ask The Author, Maybe
So, what to do while time meanders on its merry way? After listening to the LaveCon podcast Q & A sessions (having unfortunately missed the event itself), I thought I would try my own author interview, and who better to interrogate me, than you? If there is anything you want to ask (within reason), then please put your questions in the comments below, or send them to me via email, or DM me on Twitter. (Comments will be moderated, and so will not appear straight away.) I will do my best to think up something intelligent to say (although that does not come with a guarantee). Alternatively, I can sit, embarrassed, in a dark corner of my writing room knowing I have no readers, or friends. (Emotional blackmail? Absolutely!)
This is your chance to pet your own author—I promise I’m house trained.
(Image, ‘Human Resources Concept Stock Image’, courtesy of 89studio, hosted by freedigitalphotos.net.)
I’ll start the ball rolling.
What does the T. stand for, or is that part of the mysterious aura around the author?
Some of the authors have gone ahead and written scenes with place-holders and just using their own solutions to some of these design voids discussed above. It’s suggested that this approach may even allow Frontier Developments to adopt an authors approach if they like it rather than have to dream up their own. Is this something you have considered?
One of the questions being asked at LaveCon was about the potential early pubishing of some of the novels before the game release date. Fans are obviously hungry for Elite Dangerous related media and would love to have something to read during those final weeks waiting for the release of the game. Do you see a chance of this with Out of the Darkness or is this unlikely?
You think I have a mysterious aura? Awesome! Now, what cool things can you do with one? The ‘T’? One of my online friends thinks it’s short for Terrible. The initial wasn’t consciously chosen to give me an aura (who wants to look like one of those radioactive ReadyBrek(TM) kids from the 80’s?). I chose to go with an initial because when I first started writing I thought that I would be focusing on fantasy, and there’s a tradition of using initials in that genre. Then I figured it would work for whatever I wanted to write, so stuck with it.
I’ve been writing the whole book using frequent place holders – everything is effectively a place holder until Frontier gives the final stamp of approval – but the last scenes involve either the main character having a powerful and specific reaction to things in her environment (which will potentially mean re-writing several other chapters to fit if I need to change it later), or the character is dynamically interacting with the environment in a way that allows the plot to move forward (i.e. if I have to re-write the scenery again, the plot may stall and it’s a big headache to re-write those types of blocks). So, for the final scenes, place holders are less of an aid, and potentially more of a hindrance.
The final scenes involve the Thargoids. I submitted a substantial amount of work to Frontier when I was working on the early drafts of the guidebook. Although they used quite a lot of what I suggested, aspects of their later vision for the Thargoids moved substantially away from my intial ideas. Now I am waiting for their final concepts so I can use them to finish the story….
As for a publication date for Out of the Darkness, I would be open to releasing it before March, 2014, but I don’t know how realistic that goal is. If my beta readers don’t spot any major problems with the story, and if I find an editor who will do a good job and turn things round quickly, and if Frontier are able to approve the manuscript without delay, then yes. But probably not: there’s a lot to do, and my priority is that it’s done right and not rushed.
I hope that answers your questions? Thanks for dropping by.
Advice on Writing
Hello T. James,
I have been following your posts in relation to Out of the Darkness since it was plugged on the Elite: Dangerous Kickstarter and subsequently backed.
This will probably come across as rather uninspired, but what techniques or words of advice would you give for being able to construct a plot? In my attempts at writing in the past I seem to spend a lot of time world building and find it hard to build a plot for my characters to move through in the world I’ve imagined.
Also what would you say is the greatest barrier to decent writing?
Thanks for your interest in the book.
Uninspired? Don’t worry, all writers get that way sometimes. As for plot construction techniques, find what works for you. There are hundreds of books and writing blogs that offer suggestions, some of which are really helpful, but if something isn’t working, ditch it for something that does. Everyone needs something different to get their creative juices flowing, so don’t let anyone tell you how you should be doing it.
That said, if world building is the easiest place for you to start, there’s no reason that can’t be a useful springboard into a plot. (I don’t know how you write, so forgive me if what follows doesn’t help.) If you fancy writing an epic (plot driven) story, where the characters are caught up in world events and swept along by them, then I suggest looking at the history of the world you’ve built. Ask yourself lots of questions: Why is the world the way it is? Why is this city located here and who founded it? Why was the western quarter destroyed by fire, and by whom? The river flows here, but did it always? Was there a cataclysm that diverted its path? When you find a time and a place with an interesting story hook attached, try populating it with characters and see what happens.
The other option is to focus on people (a character driven story). The needs and wants of the character drive the plot forwards. The story is about how they reach, or fail to reach, their goals. Again, I would try asking questions. Think outside the box if it helps. Who cleans the streets? Give him/her a name. What interesting event could change their life? Finding a ducal ring in the gutter, maybe. Who owns the ring? Maybe a local cleric, someone who is corrupt. Would he kill to get the ring back? If the cleaner is found with the ring, what will happen? He’s likely to be accused of stealing and whipped. So what does he do? Run, and attempt to start a new life in a new city? Or stay, and try to return the ring? If he runs, do the Cleric’s flunkies catch him? If he stays, whilst he is imprisoned, does he discover some dangerous information from another prisoner before they are killed? How does he escape? What does he do with the information?
Question chains help me to find plot arcs that work. Mix one or more plot arcs together, and you have your story.
I hope this helps. Good luck.
The greatest barrier to decent writing? That’s a hard one, but I think I’m going to say lack of courage and self-belief. Very few writers start out any good. Most have to learn the craft, one sentence at a time. There is sometimes the expectation that, because English is our native language and we’ve been reading for years, that writing and storytelling should come easily. Most interviews I’ve read by well-known authors talk about how long it took to learn their craft, or to revise their stories again, and again, and again. Writing is easy; writing something of quality is not. The only way to get better is to find the courage to press on, and the self-belief to say, ‘I may not be there yet, but with practice I can get better.’ Without these, many writers fail before they ever really start.