Wednesday, March 27, 2013

writing science fiction

To answer a question from a fellow writer on Google+, I thought I would go ahead and mention how I go about outlining a new story and what I do to keep track of all the many details involved in world-building.

For Cyberdrome, which was my first full-length science fiction novel, I knew I would be taking several months to write it (actually turned out to be several years) so I knew I would need a very detailed outline to keep the story coherent over many writing sessions, sometimes separated by weeks, or even months.

Since I decided to plot Cyberdrome as a scene-based thriller, I created a very complicated excel file that contained dozens of little details, like character profiles, scene descriptions, which characters were in any given scene, location descriptions for each scene, tension level of each scene, character arcs for each major character, etc. I also plotted words per scene, words written per week, and tension level scene-by-scene (important for a thriller). In hindsight, I think I spent far more time on that darn file than actually writing the manuscript!

For the science fiction series I am writing now, which is planned as four ~20,000-word novellas (with 8 more stories outlined if the series does well), I simplified everything and just created a number of MS Word documents in advance. These included;
1)  A short outline which is a paragraph description of each book in the series
2)  A detailed outline which is a page or two long and describes the major events of the book, and sometimes a bit of dialogue if it's important.
3)  Character profiles for all major characters, including a picture of an actor matching the part. I find that if I add a real face to the part, it forces me to make that character more three dimensional.
4)  Background info like the "history of the world" leading up the events in the story (my series is maybe 150 years in the future)
5)  A list of any "secrets" I plan to distribute throughout the series.
6)  Setting descriptions: Most people wouldn't do this, but since most of my stories take place on board a cargo submarine of the future, I created a detailed floor plan of the entire ship, and then my brother rendered the whole thing, inside and out, in 3D. So now when I walk through a room, I can describe every detail if I want, because I can actually look at real images of it. This really helps me "live" in the space I'm describing.

So, before I started writing the manuscript, I printed all of this out and placed it in a 3-ring binder, so that while I am writing, I can reference everything quickly.

Now is this new simplified method working any better than the older, more complicated one? I think it is. However, what is probably more important is the fact that I am now writing as often as possible, at least 3-4 times a week, even if it is only for 30 minutes at a time. I used to think I needed 3-4 hours in order to organize my thoughts and make the characters come alive, but that's why it took me so ling to write my first book, because I seldom found 3-4 hours free time in any given day. Now I find that by writing several 'quickies" a week, the story stays in my head and I can actually output quite a bit in those 30-minute sessions.

So that's my method. What's yours?