Today’s post is all about the writing of How It Ends, and the first time I serialized it.
Once I had the basics down for the plot for How It Ends, I set about the sometimes onerous task of writing it. It was an incredibly difficult piece right. I had to construct new characters, an entire plot around those characters, and motivations for each one. I ended up with a college kid, her lovestruck boyfriend, a ruthless executive that would stop at nothing to succeed, and a brand-new robot I chose to name Gammons.
An interesting (and kind of lengthy) aside is how the names of these characters came into being. The original robot in “End Of Life”, Kilgore, was named in a provocative way on purpose. I remember my mother telling me that she had had a crush on Richard Chamberlain back when he was on TV as Dr. Kildare. I really like the idea of having some form of the word to kill in a doctor’s name. So in an effort to be provocative I removed the Dare and added the Gore. Thus Kilgore was born. The ruthless executive I named Eric. He was named for a manager I knew at a place I had worked before. This manager, while not willing to kill to get ahead, was still driven to succeed in away I found unhealthy. And so I named my ruthless executive character after him. The college kid I chose to name Anita. I had really no other reason for naming her Anita other than the fact that, at that time, I knew someone named Anita at a client from whom I was doing some consulting. Seemed as good a name as any.
The most unusual name I came up with was for the new robot. I struggled to come up with a name that I liked. I didn’t want something as provocative as Kilgore, but I did want something that stood out. I had nothing that worked, until one day when I looked up at the TV while I was jotting notes. Baseball Tonight was on ESPN. The sports pundit of the moment was Peter Gammons. I thought to myself, “Gammons, that’s an interesting name. I’ll use that for the time being until I can find a better one.” I never did find a better name. One of the reasons I kept it was because it sounded science fiction-y to me. It felt like a bit of a throwback to a time when everyone was afraid of gamma rays from another planet. So I kept it to keep myself grounded in science fiction, especially since How It Ends is essentially a love story with some science fiction thrown in. I still think it’s an incredibly clunky name for a character, but the character took it and made it his own and now I can’t think of ever calling him something different.
Once I had the loose structure of the plot in my head, and had written down on a couple notes on Post-It notes, I set about the task of writing. Writing has never come easy to me. I find that I have to slog my way through it. It may seem strange for a writer to say that writing doesn’t come naturally, but it simply doesn’t for me, even when I’ve been doing it regularly. I want to tell stories, but often times I don’t know if I have the energy to tell the full story before I run out of steam. In an effort to keep myself motivated, I had to come up with some method to keep myself on a deadline. Which is how I ended up serializing the novel first time.
I reached out to Paul at Silverthought and asked him what he thought about the idea of serializing this newly burgeoning novel. He answer was far more generous than it needed to be. He had had other writers start serials before, only to have them taper off unfinished. He didn’t want another instance like that, so if I was willing to agree to finish it, he’d be happy to serialize it. We came to what amounted to a gentleman’s agreement: there was no contract, no money changing hands, no consequence of me not finishing other than my having broken my word. That was enough for him, and it was enough for me. I plowed ahead with essentially my honor at stake.
The mechanics of writing the work itself were basic and fundamental. Move the characters along toward the completion of the plot without having them do something woefully out of character. Sounds easy. Except the each chapter ended up being a major effort, like a long short story each time, some beating ten thousand words. I had to write it, proof it, edit it, and present it all within a time-frame. The time-frame Paul and I agreed to was a chapter per month. That created a furious drive in me that I haven’t had since. It also cause lots of writing headaches.
Some of the challenges are the typical challenges of writing fiction. Did I screw up any of the characters? Are their motivations still clear? Are the sentences well-constructed? Are there any clunkers? Does the dialogue work, or is it written like someone who has a tin ear? These were and are the normal challenges that occur in any writing effort, but which seemed magnified when up against a deadline. But these were minor compared to my biggest problem.
You see, when writing a serial, it’s good to have a clear sense of the overall plot all the way down to the particulars. Because without it, you have to do what I did: write myself out of corners. I would write myself into corners in one chapter, only to have to try and recover it in the next. And it was not uncommon for me to write myself out of one corner, only to find I had boxed myself into a different corner. It was crazy, and it contributed to a general swelling of the novel size. I was writing on the road and in the office, anywhere I could grab some extra time. I write directly on the computer, which certainly made it faster. I can’t write anything longhand. I’ve tried. I aj ways fail at it.
By the time I had submitted the concluding piece of the serial to Paul, the overall size of the novel was near 110k words. Which could mean only one thing: editing.
Tomorrow: Editing How It Ends, and how I nearly deleted the entire story.