Well, it’s been a while since I’ve written about writing hasn’t it! Have I finished my novel as a result? Sadly not, but it’s certainly on the way at forty seven thousand words. I’d like to have got more done, but March and April have been busy months for me with work so I’m slightly behind on my target. What’s really helped me stay focused and on target is a technique borrowed from one of my friends at Mightier than the Sword.
Rather than simply writing and writing and writing, he’s made a list of all his plot points that he needs to hit to complete his novel. I’ve done the same, although my list is only forty plot points compared with his one hundred and seventeen. The difference is caused by how we’ve written our list of points. He goes into a lot of precise detail, separating each point so it stands alone even if several appear in the same scene. On the other hand I’ve written a list of scenes or events, which sometimes include two or three such points together.
Our lists may differ in style and/or design, but they perform the same function. They reduce the monolithic task of writing an entire novel all at once into much smaller and more manageable writing tasks, albeit a long list of such tasks. It allows for incremental progress, and an easy way to measure progress which is more rewarding than slogging through and endless mire of words and chapters.
I’ve written fourteen out of forty, all of which need editing. By that measure, I’m not as far as I thought I was and need to shave some extraneous words out of what I’ve already done. Not far off the right word count for being two-fifths of the way through the story though, which is good to know!
Now for my writing tip of the however-long-my-blogging-interlude has been! There are scenes in your book where characters are just getting from one place to another, or waiting for something to happen, where not much happens. Stakeouts, car journeys, running electronic database searches that take time, restarting your interstellar space engines or the like. Nothing happens in them so they could be easily skipped or brushed over with a sentence like, “After restarting the engines….”, “The stakeout was long and boring, but eventually…” or “the drive had been a pain in the ass and long as fuck to boot, but we reached our destination just before dusk…”
This word-count efficient approach robs a writer of a remarkable opportunity to explore character, plot or setting. With nothing else to do except think to themselves, protagonists both first and third person can use these waiting or travelling scenes for reflection. This reflection can be about themselves, other characters or events in your novel, which allows you to explore your plot or world.
I call these scenes ‘corridor’ or ‘lift’ scenes. Their things that your characters definitely do but aren’t always interesting to write about. Standing in a lift, walking up stairs or along a street, these things are necessary and obviously happen in your world but following the character every second of their day. This is why you’ll very rarely see or read a scene where a character is on the toilet – sure, it definitely happens but if it’s not relevant to the plot then its not worth posting.
Quite often corridor and lift scenes aren’t necessary to the plot, and they’re difficult to make necessary. This is why they are often brushed over – but they don’t always have to be skipped over. Neither do they always have to be included, as following every moment of your characters’ lives isn’t going to be useful or exciting for your reader. However your characters can’t do much plot or personal development in action scenes, so I highly recommend you include a couple of less intense scenes where your characters travel or spend time together or separately. This will give you an ideal opportunity to explore their thoughts and relationships with themselves and each other.
I’m making a return to the Wild Lovecraftian West of Shadows of Brimstone to illustrate these points. Today’s segment finds our heroes on the long dusty road out of town towards their first mine. I wanted to explore the friendship between Javier and Hank a little more as I’ve alluded to their ling-time friendship but not really illustrated it. I also want to show more about Lilith’s and John’s characters but can’t really leave them on their own at this point. This means Safi is stuck with them while Hank and Javier scout a little further ahead.
They left town early in the morning, Hank and Javier rode ahead of the others to scout for bandits and worse. Safi was left to herd John and Lilith, neither of which appeared to be comfortable riding a horse. Safi knew she wasn’t the best horsewoman in the West, but the other two had the approximate horse riding ability of a sand storm between them. Lilith eventually gave up on the side saddle style and tore her expensive-looking dress to ride facing forwards while John seemed to get a handle on how the horse responded to the reins around the same time.
“Shame about your dress. Guess you can wear it upside down now and no one would know,” Safi drawled.
“I’m not sure why I’ve gotten so much grief for having a stylish sense of dress,” Lilith sniffed.
“I think you look mighty fine, missy,” John said, earning himself a withering glare.
“Dress how you like, that’s what I say. And if you like looking like a lady of the night that’s fine by me too. All your choice.” Safi smiled at the sun overhead, shielding her eyes while scanning the horizon.
“At least I only look like harlot to the uncultured. I’ve never danced for change as loose as my…morals,” Lilith snapped back.
“Okay now ladies, don’t go getting all fighty ‘cos this heat now,” John clumsily moved his horse between the two of them as Safi whirled around, one hand going to her saddle bag.
“What’s she going to do? Hit me with a fan?” Lilith sneered.
“Those bags is well used and she rides better than we doin’. I reckon she’s had plenty of men get out o’ hand with her, so I figure it ain’t no fan she’s reachin’ for.”
“You ain’t as stupid as you look, John,” Safi said coldly. Her hand stayed inside her saddle bag.
“Well, let’s not be hasty. I got all day to be doing dumb stuff.” John’s face split in a wide, practiced idiot’s smile. Safi frowned but turned back to face forwards. Her hand was empty when it came out of her bag.
The road stretched on, the horizon waving like the sea as the heat washed over it. The sun blazed down, and incandescent tyrant over a beaten land, and the dirt paid a tribute of dust as the horses walked over the cracked soil. It rose in a cloud towards the sky but it fell back before rising barely above the horses’ backs. A warm wind blew over the riders and made the oppressive heat all the worse. Clothes were loosened and hats pulled low but there was no escape as noon approached.
“This heat’s worse than being drunk,” Hank grumbled to Javier as they lead the group from a hundred yards ahead, both on watch for anything untoward.
“Meirda, are you kidding? Of course it is! Being drunk is great!” Javier shook his head. “Hot weather ain’t that bad either hombre. It’s too much of either you can’t be dealing with!”
“Anyone ever told you that you’re a real helpful man?” Hank asked.
“Only if they need someone shot, robbed or blown up,” Javier replied cheerfully. “You think our new friends are good folk?”
“John might be fine. Lilith smells like trouble.”
“Ha ha ha! You ain’t wrong, hombre! She’s a pretty little flower, but something ain’t right about her,” Javier wrinkled his nose. “Think she’ll be okay in the mines?”
“No. You think any of us will?”
“I’ll be bueno, hombre.”
“You always seem to be, my friend.” Dust rose and the sun beat down. The horse snorted and walked along at a lazy pace, their riders geeing them along occasionally to keep their pace.
“You think Lilith’s going to be okay with Safi?” Javier asked after awhile.
“Depends on what they talk about,” Hank craned his neck to look back at their three companions following some distance behind. “They could well be the best of friends. ‘Cept Safi’s a table dancer and Lilith dresses like one but ain’t. Might be they get to scratching at each other.”
“Might be fun to watch,” Javier chuckled. The wind whistled over them before the Mexican spoke again. “Lotta people would call Safi a whore.”
“Safi would punch a lot of people,” Hank set his jaw grimly.
“I ain’t saying that ain’t the case,” Javier looked back over his shoulder and then laughed. “I’m just saying Lilith might have learned that the hard way.”
“Dammit.” Hank looked back over his shoulder and shook his head. “She ain’t no whore.”
“Nah, hombre, but she does a lot of the same kinda work. Dances, dresses like a lotta them do, looks pretty. People gonna say what they think out here.”
“Yeah,” Hank agreed laconically. “But she ain’t no whore. She’s a showgirl, sure, but she don’t sell herself. I guess people call shots as they see ’em.”
“Some people make bad shots,” Javier shrugged. The women’s voice caught up to them, the words unclear but the tone almost palpable on the wind.
“Yeah they do. I seen you shoot.” Hank pulled a lopsided smile and Javier laughed out loud.
“At least you remember how to smile, essay! Maybe I’ll even try to hit something when we’re down there. If it gets you laughing then the scratches will be worth taking!”
By the time the sun was setting Hank had spotted out a good place to camp. Safi and Lilith were talking more amiably, if a little formally when they arrived but John kept a careful quietness until he was sure the conversation was safe to be involved in. Hank and Safi took charge of setting up camp while Lilith prepared dinner. It became apparent that she was a pretty decent cook so some of the hostility towards her abated.
As the moon rose higher in the night sky Hank and Safi asked Lilith more questions about what it was they needed to do in the mine. Hank was pretty pleased they only had to blow the mine up, and Safi seemed glad they weren’t going anywhere…else apart from the mine. Javier and John stayed out of what the Mexican called ‘high and mighty gringo talk’ and shared a bottle of whisky. The camp wound down and they hunkered down for the night under a starry sky. The tranquillity was deceptive; a distant, unearthly chittering whispered over the dry plains and eyes born on other worlds watched from distant caves