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Today I came across this article, posted by fellow CVS member Linda Adams on Twitter. It’s a quick look at where forward looking science fiction got things right when predicting what was then the future, but is now the present.
Those who have followed me for awhile, especially those in my writers group, know of a novel on my back burner called Capsule. The novel takes place in the 2080s, and so I made predictions about the course of history and technology over the next seven decades. Occasionally, Capsule alpha readers send me articles that make it sound like I knew what I was talking about.
I say this not to pat myself on the back and claim any great ability to predict future trends. Instead, I’m here to say if I can do it, anyone can do it. So here are my tips on how to be the author seen as a predictive sage in some future present. This is going to involve a little more “in my unpublished novel I…” than any one post should contain, but hang with me, there is a point to be made.
Tip #1: Follow the trends. This is why I follow coverage of Apple and Microsoft keynotes with such interest, why I read sites like Gizmodo, Engadget, and io9. When it came to crafting the world of Capsule, the trick wasn’t prediction it was extrapolation. Choose one or two areas of technology that have the potential of being the next big thing then make them even bigger than that. When I started Capsule, augmented reality was just starting, now with Google Glasses inching towards the market, implants that interrupt the optical nerve to put augmented reality directly into your vision seem 5% less weird.
Tip #2: Look for the concept products. It’s not just car manufacturers that come out with concepts that will likely never be reality. None of the concept cars from the 1970s are on the road today, and likely none of the concept tech goods that are proposed in drawings and videos will ever make the market. These are fantastic jumping off points for technology. The Nokia 888 concept, for example, became the origin point for wrist wrapped computers in Capsule.
Tip #3: Exaggerate the annoying. Future based science fiction, when really executed properly, is about the period it’s written in, not the period it’s written about. So find those elements of modern life you want to highlight, and blow them out of modern proportion. Within Capsule that meant a continued thread about technology that brings far flung people together creates walls between people much closer at hands.
Tip #4: Rely on psychology. Alright, this is actually the point of this blog post. Predicting the near future is a skill that is similar to psychic cold reading. Which is to say it’s not a skill at all, but a carefully crafted magic trick intended to fool the audience. In either instance, the underlying requirement of the trick is the trust of the audience, bringing them into a narrative that they want to participate in, even as a rational portion of the brain may understand it to be a fiction. If they like you enough, they’ll remember only your hits, not your misses.
When presented with how prescient Snow Crash feels to a reader twenty years later, Neal Stephenson is quick to point out just how much he got wrong, such as his prediction that some virtual real estate would be far more valuable than the rest. Star Trek has its cell phones, though far later than in reality. It also had a third world war happen in 1990s when eugenically created super men took over the world and plunged it briefly into a new age of feudalism. Blade Runner correctly posited we’d one day have umbrellas with light up canes, but where are my damned replicants and Los Angeles ziggurats? We don’t focus on those misses, however. We focus on the hits. Even in a project that exists only as two thirds of a rough draft, people remember only the hits.
So the real trick to predicting the future in your science fiction? Extrapolate, exaggerate, but then tell a compelling story. Make the reader want to read the whole book, so they’ll see all your predictions. It improves the chances of them finding the one thing you accidentally got right, and that’s the detail that will stick with them.
I’m going to actually link to my resolutions post from 366 days ago, just to keep myself honest. And I’m going to be honest with some responses to it.
Resolution 1: Finish the first draft of Capsule. This did not happen. Largely because I hit a point where I realized the book I was writing was not the right book to write. It needed to be divided into two books, because I was telling two completely different and unrelated stories. I’ll come back to both of these books one day, but probably not until 2013 in all honesty, certainly no earlier than October 2012. But I learned a lot from walking away, such as recognizing when something isn’t working and why it isn’t working. I also stepped away to work on a novel that has a lot of promise, so again I can only beat myself up so much.
Resolution 2: Three short stories out at all times. This was a lofty goal for someone who went into the year with a limited number of stories ready to go out. And then came the fantastic problem of having two taken off the market by sales! Yay! I tried to keep the stories that were ready for publication circulating, but probably could have done more. Some of them, like Sleep, are just hard to find markets for. I do have two out with long-response publications right now (Vampires of Mars and Face of the Serpent).
Resolution 3: Write from-scratch stories for six anthologies. I did five. One sold (Home Again), one wasn’t sent due to quality problems (Back Half), two were rejected (Vampire of Mars and Beyond Light), one is still out for consideration (Face of the Serpent).
Resolution 4: Fortnightcaps. This was a fun project for a few months, and I had intended to keep it going through the year. What stopped me? Discovering other flash fiction contests, and realizing that I was burning story rights without anything to show in return in terms of readership. So anyone who was paying attention might have noticed they stopped in September, but since I never had a single person ask me “hey, what happened to those Fortnightcaps,” I suspect no one was really paying attention. This showed in the readership dips on those days. I’m not blogging solely for readership numbers, but it is nice to not send stories out into the void where no one is reading them when I could make something more out of them.
So it was a mixed bag, but even in my failures I feel like I learned a lot about writing in general, and specifically how I write, in this past year. I wouldn’t trade a single bit of the experience.
Last night at CVS we sat down and talked about resolutions going forward. I wrote down five at Day‘s insistence, but it was secretly just three. We followed the SMART acronym used by most corporations in determining yearly objectives: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. For example, writing 10 novels is specific and measurable, but isn’t attainable or realistic. So from that perspective, my resolutions break down to the following categories:
Completion. Complete Nickajack to a condition where it can be queried, then query it. There are a lot of steps involved in this (such as, ya know, finishing it), and “Query Nickajack” really is my overarching resolution for 2012. Each month’s State of the Writer for 2012 will start with those words and my progress towards that goal so I don’t lose sight of it.
Research. I’ve made a specific goal of reading three non-fiction books about pre-to-post Civil War era, and two fiction books with as similar a setting as possible. Which is tough. Southeastern US Steampunk is not a common market segment. One of the fiction books will likely be How Few Remain by Harry Turtledove. It’s not Steampunk, but it is Alternate History, and I’ve always preferred Steampunk that falls under Alternate History more than Fantasy. Recommendations are welcome!
Man Up. I need to get over my crippling con introversion, the one that border lines on social anxiety. To make this goal measurable, I’ve taken it upon myself to find 6 people to provide prompts for the 2012 Flashathon. With the event being expanded to 18 hours, that means I’m on the hook for a third of them. This is, by far, the hardest of the resolutions I’ve set. Which says a lot about me that I consider talking to six people, just six, at a convention as more of a challenge than finishing a fucking novel.
And with that, this blog will likely be dark until the New Year. Everyone enjoy the festivities. I’d caution to not do anything I wouldn’t, but that would make for a boring weekend, so go out there and do at least one thing I wouldn’t but is still legal. It’ll be more fun that way.
The process of carving Capsule apart is slow. Slow and mentally exhausting. I’m averaging about three chapters per night before my brain and eyes stage a coup and leave me insensate. Something about staring at my own writing and trying to reverse engineer it into an outline dries my eyeballs. Or maybe that’s just all the dust being kicked up by the kitchen renovations taking place on the first floor while I write in the basement.
Something about using the phrase “while I write in the basement” as part of a blog post. Nevermind.
The process is slow, but I’m pushing on, largely for the sake of the novel that will still be called Capsule. The toughest part about transitioning from the conjoined story to the split novels is pulling out the murder motivations, which entirely belong to the frustrated cultists who’ll land in Post Apocalypse. So I need everything about the murder plot that I can salvage, so I know where to start weaving in entirely different characters and motivations. It’s that age-old question: Why would someone commit murder in the 2070s if not for the influence of Tezcatlipoca? I’d like to think Shakespeare and Hemingway dealt with this same question when working on King Lear and Old Man and the Sea, respectively.
My companion and friend on this road was and is Scrivener for Windows, and thank Lit & Latte for that. I’m not drilling as much as I could with the tool, but the constant presence of a little note card beside the chapter I’m currently dissecting is keeping me sane. No hand written notes, no flipping between programs, just a friendly little note card. Pulling this novel apart is teaching me a lot of the features I’ll be using to stitch Frankenstein back together at the far end. I’ve got the file broken into chapters, but not into scenes, just because I’m not going to do the kind of rearranging in this file.
At some point I’m going to reach the end of how useful the reverse outlining is, well before I reach the end of the conjoined draft. The farther I get away from Chapter One the more I drift afield from the eventual plot of Capsule. After that I’ll probably carve out all the dream sequences that will get adapted into Post Apocalypse, and then get to outlining the two new novels. That’s probably my November project, as I doubt I’m doing Nanowrimo this year. Maybe next year with the next of the three outlines in the queue. After the post on Writers Block and Nano, I’m serious about not tackling the challenge again without a full outline ready to go.
For now, I need some eye drops.
I have a very real feeling this blog is going to turn from a focus on writing to a focus on outlining over the next few months. Especially after crafting my last post about Writers’ Block #5 and using outlines to counter it I can’t help but think about the three novels churning in my brain. The longer they stay up there, the more essential it feels to get them into some solid form, to get them outlined.
But do you want to know my dirty secret?
I’ve never done a full novel outline before.
I’ve done partial outlines, section outlines, but never felt moved to outline a novel from opening to closing scene, touching on everything in between. So I’m also going to be doing a lot of learning about the process, reading up on it, studying it, finding the tools and the methods that work best for me. In terms of tools, Scrivener for Windows looks like the clear early winner in terms of software, especially with the full release finally coming out on Halloween. I’ve been doing some poking around with it the last two weeks, going through a process akin to reverse outlining as I pick apart the manuscript that was Capsule to turn it into two new outlines. Outline one will still be called Capsule and will include all my near-futurism and the murder plotline. Outline two now has a working title of Post Apocalypse and will include all the Lovecraftian dream elements, kidnapping, and frustrated doom cultists.
Outline three will be the joint project I’m working on with my wife, a steampunk adventure novel we’re calling Nickajack, a name that I’m seriously intending to keep.
Being that I’m new to this whole outlining thing, I’m not sure how long to expect it to take. I’m hoping to get a rough outline of each of the three done by the end of the calendar year, so that I know which needs the most focus. Post Apocalypse is the most time sensitive of the stories, so might get priority for that.
I’d love to know anything you have. Articles. Books. Recommendations. Suggestions. Tools. Methods. I’m going to do my own research, but I’m stepping into a world that scares me, ground I’ve never really walked on before, and any and all guidance that can come from my blog readers is one step closer to making these novels actually work, and not just wither and die in my grey matter. Help me tell these stories!
Another month. September absolutely sped by. Here in the DC area it was a hell of a month with earthquakes and flooding, and on a personal end included getting a new sewer line finally installed at the Casa Del Thurston.
What it didn’t include much of was writing, unfortunately. I’ve been working on a steampunk short story located on Venus that has a lot of promise, but needs better direction than it currently has. In the end it’s one story that could be told in two different directions, which is interesting considering my upcoming project for October.
After the blog post I made a few days ago about my conjoined novel, I’ve been thinking more and more about the status of Capsule. The final conclusion is that it is, and always has been, two novels. The final straw was reading Kraken by China Mieville. It’s a story that goes in a lot of different directions, but at its heart it remains a heist story. Capsule? It’s gone in not only different directions, but has transitioned from being one type of plot line (murder conspiracy) to another (cult kidnapping) with only the most tenuous of ties between the two. It’s had this problem as long as I’ve been writing it. On one hand, I wish I could have seen this sooner, on the other I’m glad I was able to see it at all.
So this month, the process of division starts. I’ll track it in the blog, as I suspect it’ll make for an interesting case study. Scrivener for Windows is going to be my tool of choice, identifying which pieces go in novel A (still called Capsule) and which go into novel B (working title: Post Apocalypse). Really, the entirety of the process will be broken into three parts:
- Identifying the pieces that go in each novel.
- Identifying what needs to fill in the missing pieces from each half.
In an ideal world I’d have one outlined enough to be a Nanowrimo project, but I highly doubt that’ll happen.
Two other big October features:
Capclave! As I’ve attended other writers conventions, the local one here in DC still strikes me as my favorite and the best I’ve attended. If you’re a genre fiction writer in the DC area and you haven’t been to Capclave…why the hell not?
Flashathon! There are still some details to leak in the coming three weeks, and then the event itself three weeks from today. October 22nd. I’m hoping to get a nice turnout for the event here on the blog. I’m hoping even more for some fantastic mental exercise and inspiration.
State of the Writer’s Blog
Blog viewership continues to grow, for which I am eternally grateful. In the ongoing quest to reach eyeballs in all 50 states, I entered September needing six more states. During the month, this blog got its first views from Montana, South Dakota, and Louisiana. That leaves only North Dakota, Arkansas, and Delaware to go. I’m not sure what the next goal is going to be after finally collecting all fifty, but I’ll figure that out when I get there.
State of the Writer’s Beer
No news. Haven’t done any brewing or much drinking this month. Means that bottles we have are that much better aged. Been meaning to crack another bottle of Lazarus.
Anyone in my writers group knows my long struggles with this novel. They’ve seen me start it, stop it, restart it, walk away from it, return to it, circle it, and just generally futz with it for about three years now. And still, it’s only a shell of the story that I had in my mind when I started writing it. Bits and pieces of it have made their way into short stories, some intended to be related, some entirely unrelated. It’s led me to make a series of blog posts about where technology is going, and read the Popol Vul. It frustrates me, and excites me, and leaves me absolutely bewildered.
It has largely taken a back seat to my burgeoning career as a short story writer. And that may have been for the best in the long run, though I’m now going to avoid rehashing my Unleaded post this week about the dangers of getting into a novelist-only mindset.
However writing that post has got me pondering just what the hell is up with Capsule. And after picking some pieces apart I’m starting to wonder if the whole problem is that it’s two novels that I’m trying to write simultaneously. If it has too much story, if I’m trying to do too many things.
On the one hand it’s a novel about someone trying to solve a crime in the 2070s committed by people living off the grid in a society that has forgotten that they’re on the grid. On the other hand it’s a novel where a father is trying to save his daughter from an apocalypse cult that is disappointed that the world didn’t end in 2012 like they were promised. Those are both stories that I’m enjoying, and that I think could be novels. But more and more I don’t think they’re the same novel.
Just writing that sentence feels good. I don’t think they’re the same novel.
Where it all started to fall apart for me is when I tried to make the one novel turn into the other novel, when I shifted from a murder investigation to a kidnapping plot. Where just because both stories relied on a fanatic underground element that they had to be the same fanatic underground element.
My wife, ever wise, suggested that maybe I should put it all into Scrivener, that picking apart the pieces, summarizing the scenes, figuring out where the plot pieces are, that maybe it’ll help rebirth Capsule and get it to work in its current form. I’m going to do that, in a large part because it will also help me dissect the two stories from each other, attempt to pull apart these conjoined twins without killing one or the other. If that surgery is needed, it won’t be easy, but who ever said writing a novel was?
July was a month of submission, waiting, and maintenance. It wasn’t nearly as productive as June, but that’s to be expected. June was about setting myself up in a position where I could have five submissions out, and July was the month they were out. So far those submissions have resulted in a short listing, a rejection, and three I’m still waiting to hear back on. The short list thrilled me, I thought it was probably the strongest of the five submissions, and the rejection didn’t surprise me, as it was the weakest. I’m wrapping up a huge reedit of that story, and looking for another good market for it.
July also saw me put a few new projects together. My wife and I are in the initial stages of noodling out what we’re hoping will end up as a trilogy of steampunk novels based in 1870s America. In fact, my last writerly activity for the month of July, completed around 10:30 last night, was assembling an alternate map of the American south to use as the main setting for the first novel. There’s a big unfamiliar state sitting in the middle of the south that I’m going to have to get used to staring at. Step one is to stop thinking of the capital city as Huntsville, Alabama.
But that’s a future novel project. July also ended with me getting slowly back into the right frame of mind for Capsule. My optimistic goal is to finish the first draft of it in August. My realistic goal is September. Either way, it’s a story I’ve been talking about returning to almost since the day I stepped away from it, and with several short stories making the rounds, this feels like the right time to finally do so. And I’m excited. I remember the last scene, know the next scene, and have a clear path through to the end of Act Two in what should be a nice three act structure.
State of the Writer’s Beer: Mustache Cat gets better and better with every bottle, but there’s a clear upper limit. It’s crisp, a little more bitter than I’d like, but certainly drinkable with a nice strawberry finish. And that’s really about as good as I expect it to get. We have started sharing, so we’re about halfway through drinking the batch. Tonight the first bottles of Lazarus Ale go into the fridge, so we’ll be drinking lemongrass ginger ale next weekend. I’ll not be started a new batch until a significant amount of the current beer is gone. Good target will be having enough empties to bottle the next batch without buying more.
State of the Writer’s Blog: July saw this site have it’s biggest day, week, and month since relaunching. I don’t normally talk about actually numbers, but I’ll pull back the curtain and show how low they are. The big day was the 28th with 22 visits, the first time the blog has topped 20 visits in a single day. That lead to the week of the 24-30 seeing 73 hits. Month total just passed 200 for the first time. Yeah, there are blogs out there where my monthly totals would be a lightly traveled day, but things are growing around here, which excites me.
My quest to collect visits from all 50 states has now reached 40, with first time visits from Wyoming, Nebraska, and Maine during the month of July. That just leaves Alaska, Nevada, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Arkansas, Louisiana, Vermont, Rhode Island and Delaware to go.
Coming this week: Speaking of best month ever, I made a promise in Twitter that I’d do a bonus Fortnightcap today if the site hit record monthly views. I don’t think anyone actually saw that promise, but I’ll still follow through. Also, look out tomorrow for the first details of the #flashathon that I will be hosting in conjunction with Unleaded Fuel for Writers in October. Well, the first details other than “cohosted with Unleaded” and “October” that is. It’s an event that I’m excited about.
Edit of the Writer: Seems every time I do a State of the Writer, I end up doing an edit to it. Just got in my email the cover for Steam Works. Still needs all the text on it, so I’m probably not supposed to share it yet. But there is a cover. And the anthology is still happening.
I’m going to come right out and say it: the state of the writer is good.
On a writing front, I’ve got three stories out the door to anthologies and contests that had deadlines at the end of June, and plan two more submissions this coming week. That will mark the first time I’ve ever had five stories out for consideration at once. Hell, this marks the first time I’ve had three stories out for consideration at once. Out the door already are Face of the Serpent, Beyond Light, and Vampires of Mars, and getting ready to head out the door are Sleep and Home Again. I have high hopes that one of those will land in its current market, with a potential ceiling of three of them landing.
Yup, I’m getting all excited and optimistic, but I already wrote that post.
July is going to see a change of direction. I’ve been working on short stories for awhile, and I’ve really enjoyed it. But I’ve left Capsule languishing for far too long now, and it’s time to get back into it. Especially since I’m already starting to world build my next novel, and I don’t want Capsule to get steamrolled and forgotten. I like the story too much to let that happen. So it’s going to be back to work on that, trying to keep a strong pace going. Really, I’d love to have the first draft finished by no later than the end of August, and then it’ll be a process of figuring out what to do next. That might be turning right around and editing Capsule, that might mean making another go at Conqueror Worm, or it might mean starting Nickajack. Really, that’s going to be more a subject for September’s State of the Writer. I hope.
It’s an exciting point in my push to be something more than just an amateur writer. First short story is still due out soon-ish (though I’m honestly thinking July is unlikely, even if the anthology hasn’t officially said so), and so much more hopefully on the horizon.
State of the Writer’s Blog: June was a great month for readership. I didn’t quite hit the record views of May, but I didn’t miss by much. This was aided by the last day of June being the best single day for viewership since the relaunch of this blog back in December. So yay! Google Analytics also tells me that I collected my first views from six states this month: Hawaii, Idaho, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Ohio, and South Carolina. That leaves 13 states that have never visited my blog: Alaska, Nevada, Montana, Wyoming, North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Delaware, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Maine. I’m hoping to hit all 50 states before too much longer, so look for me to start pandering! Woo! Do you Dakotans know just how sexy and intelligent you are?
But seriously, I’m going to try to set my two July Fortnightcaps in states that have yet to show up, just to see if I can’t push viewership.
Update: Hello, Omaha! That’s another state down.
State of the Writer’s Beer: We have now drunk 4 of the 24 bottles of Mustache Cat, and it’s getting better with each bottle. A few more weeks, and I’ll be glad to share some. The bitterness that it had when brand new is mellowing out nicely, and there’s a very strong strawberry aroma and aftertaste. This weekend it’s going to be bottling time for Lazarus Ale, which I’m going to try and have the self discipline to not crack a bottle of until August. Next batch is still being planned, but I may take a week or three just to give us time to catch up on the drinking process, because this is becoming a lot of beer.
So. We’ve passed the solstice, the days are getting shorter but no cooler, what better time of year to avoid the outside, and instead write?
Alright, that was fun yesterday, and I’ll probably do that again. Not on any real schedule, but every few weeks or so when inspiration strikes.
So then, this is a lot of week. I need a schedule.
Today: #5MinuteFiction (everyone come and play!), then getting my submission to Future Lovecraft finalized and sent out the door. Did the final editing pass yesterday, today is about finalizing format and getting the cover email assembled.
Tomorrow: #HumpDayChallenge (everyone come and play again!), Wednesday Writerly Words, then…gosh, it’s a weird hole in my week. Future Lovecraft will be out the door, my Memory Eater story will still be out for review with my fellow Cat Vacuumers, and my wife will probably be writing like crazy to get two stories out the door by week’s end. So it’ll probably be alternating between Wii Sports Resort and plot noodling on Nickajack.
Thursday: Fortnightcap (everyone come and…read!), hopefully people will indulge me as I go non-fictional this week, a story that I really want to tell but want to do it more narratively, hence doing it there. Then get critiques for Memory Eater.
Friday: State of the Writer, and then BALLGAME!
Three day weekend: Edits to Memory Eater with any eye to getting it out the door by Monday.
Then…Capsule. I know, it’s exciting.