Posts Tagged ‘serials’

I know, I know, I skipped out on last week’s posts. I had a really good excuse though: my oldest turned 10 last weekend, and it was kind of traumatizing. For me, not for her; I’m pretty sure she had the best damn day of her life, whereas I had to spend several hours inside a small room filled with bounce houses, screaming kids, an arcade where half the games were broken and employees who gave less than a shit about refunding the money we lost inside some of said broken games. I’m glad she had fun, but I still have a horror hangover. So that’s why I wasn’t around. (That and my mom came to visit for the weekend, and she lives in a different state – we only see each other a handful of times a year. Mom wins out over everything, y’all. Sorry.)

At any rate, I’m mostly refreshed and ready to go, so let’s dig in to part 2 of the lessons I’ve learned since starting this project (part 1 can be found here):


I came across a writing tip the other day, wherein the writer addressed the issue of research in writing, and what to do when one hits a wall in terms of knowledge: interrupt the flow to do the research, or skip over it and come back later? The tip was to insert the word “elephant” into the manuscript and keep going, so that one could simply run a search on the document after everything was finished and fill in the holes at a later date. It was a good tip, and it’s a technique I’ve used myself when I hit a plot wall, although I prefer to plug in an * rather than “elephant”. Whatever works, though.

I wish I could fucking do that now.

You would think, going in to my story, that it wouldn’t require much in the way of research. “Love story during the zombie apocalypse”, like, what the fuck could you be looking up? And I suppose I could have fudged on a lot of stuff, or eliminated plot points to simplify the process. But no. No, I prefer to know exactly how something works, like vaccine production or CDC quarantine procedures, and THEN I screw around with it, changing aspects to suit my needs and keeping just enough so that it could be plausible, maybe, if you tilt your head and squint a little bit.

Question: What did I research and where did it show up?
Answer: Damn near everything, and you probably didn’t notice.

When I first started, I spent hours reading about vaccine production and distribution, CDC history and policy, and accounts of real disease outbreaks and how they were handled by medical professionals. I looked at blood-born disease vectors versus air-born. I looked at cases of “zombification” in the animal kingdom, shit that didn’t even show up in the plot until this last chapter, and then it was a throwaway from an obviously crazy person. But there really is a parasite that hijacks the brain of paper wasps, which seems a bit like karma considering there’s a type of wasp that hijacks spiders and makes them build webs on their behalf. The more you know.

In trying to figure out if I could put an indoor fire escape in Vinnie’s building, I wound up reading pages and pages and PAGES of the NYC fire code, which is….even more boring than you’re imagining. The answer I came up with was yes….maybe….if it met certain code requirements and existed in conjunction with other means of code-compliant escape routes. So I just made the building old and the landlord a jackhole who didn’t fix shit, like the elevator or Vinnie’s broken escape ladder (a code violation!) and called it a day. I wish I could get those hours back.

I spent about two hours two weeks ago trying to figure out if street lights in certain areas run on a separate power grid from the one that supplies power to domiciles, without getting a straight answer. Although the city of New York really wants me to know about the new light bulbs they’re putting in their streetlights, so…yay for them?

I’ve spent so many hours looking at a 3-foot tall map of New York City that I’m pretty sure I could get around with my eyes closed, despite having been there only once, 13 years ago.

That just sits in my kitchen, to the right of where I write, and mocks me all day long. Bless my husband for not even glancing at me oddly when he happens to catch me musing over it at random times. He probably doesn’t even notice anymore. I’ve lost time looking at worse things.

Like the guns.

So, full disclosure: like Maddie, I’ve never seen a gun in person, let alone held or fired one. I’m working on remedying that, as I’d like to have the experience before I have her shoot one for the first time, but the shooting ranges in my area kind of frown upon random people just showing up and asking to fire weapons? What’s up with that? I just want you to hand me a handgun and shoot at things for an hour, I DON’T THINK THAT’S UNREASONABLE.

(Okay, no, it totally is. But I’m working on finding a solution.)

In the meantime, I’ve been spending a lot of time watching Youtube videos where other people shoot weapons. And scrolling through websites dedicated to buying guns, to get an idea of the different types out there and how they’re constructed, loaded, broken down and put back together, cleaned, properly stored, etc. And, um, googling things that have probably ensured I’m being monitored now. Hi, NSA.

What else have I looked up along the way here? The population of New York City, obviously. Floor plans of traditional brownstones. Apocalypse survival tips, like how to open cans without a can opener and how to make a flashlight work without batteries. (The secret for the latter is tin foil. You’re welcome.) The structures of the brain. Hospital emergency codes. Drugs used in hospital treatment settings. Forensics – blood spatter, how certain causes of death are determined via physical evidence, that kind of gory stuff. How flooding affects the structural integrity of various types of buildings. (……)

The thing is, I like doing research. Even when I don’t use it, I enjoy finding out the answer and storing it away for possible use at a later date. But it slows the process down massively, like when I realize I just put a gun in my heroine’s hand, and she and I are equally clueless as to how to make it realistically go boom. I can’t just throw an elephant at the problem and come back to fix it later, when all the rest is done. And every chapter, or almost every chapter, something crops up that I decide I need the answer to, and I have to stop, head off into Google land and hope I don’t get caught in some terrible Wikipedia spiral where I started out looking up parasitic wasps and when I come back up for breath three hours have passed and I suddenly know a whole lot more about Costa Rica than I ever intended to.

Don’t look at me like that. You know exactly what I’m talking about.

This would probably be easier if I could just let certain things go, accept that it’s fiction and doesn’t have to have even a hint of realism about it, but I can’t. Lord knows why. So I fill notebooks with information I’ll never need again and turn my bookmarks tab into a horror show, scatter bits and pieces of real shit throughout the text knowing nobody will ever know the damn difference, and drive myself crazy while everybody else is like “Holy crap, when are they just going to FUCK?!” Which is a problem we’ll address with next week’s post on Romance.

But seriously: Weaponized parasitic zombie virus. That’s how it’s going to happen, you guys. Buy tin foil and be ready.

You can still be fancy in the zombie apocalypse.  Don’t slack.

(Also, final note: I have my fingers crossed that I’ll have the chapter ready for Sunday, but I won’t even lie, I have a SHIT-TON of school work to finish before Monday, so no guarantees.)

Last week I snuck in a reference to a post that I intended to write when Love in the ZA celebrated its first anniversary, where I was going to go over some of the lessons I’ve learned since starting the book and the blog; you may not remember this, since it was a loooooong time ago, but in the beginning I was up-front about the fact that a) I’d never shared my work with anyone, not even my husband, before I started putting it up here, and b) I had zero experience with the serial format. A little more than a year later, neither of those things is true anymore, and the process of getting from Then to Now has been….interesting. I thought it would be fun to dissect it a little bit.

Then I dropped the ball and disappeared and missed the 1-year anniversary, and we didn’t even have cake. I really wanted to have a cake, you guys.

Well, it’s too late for the cake, but I do still intend to write about the lessons and whatnot. I tried putting everything into one post, all neatly bullet-pointed and organized, and then it got crazy long and even I didn’t want to read all of those words dragging on and on down the page, so I’m breaking things up. At the moment it’s looking like it’ll be a six-week series, encompassing the following “lessons”: Approaches to Writing, Continuity, Research, Responsibility, Romance and Fatigue. I might think of more as we go along here, we’ll have to wait and see.

Since I touched last week on the issue of linear writing, which falls under Approaches to Writing, we’ll start there. As I mentioned before, under other circumstances, I tend to write scenes for a book as they come to me, jumping over and around areas that are blocked and coming back to them later, or leaving them out altogether, depending on how the final manuscript shakes out. Other writers take the linear approach every time. Either way is valid – provided you have the time to piece things together into some semblance of order before putting it out there for someone to read. Unfortunately for me, writing a serial doesn’t give me that kind of time. It’s zero percent helpful that I (think I) know how the book will end, or that I have scenes from later chapters already scripted in my head and ready for the page; what I need is the NEXT chapter, RIGHT NOW. My brain is less than accommodating on this score.

Outlines, I’ve heard, can help a bit with this issue; they allow you to lay out major plot points, so you have a better idea of where you’re going, and then you just write so you travel from point A to point B to point C. I tried that.

 No spoilers!

Super fucking helpful.

Another issue I’ve encountered is determining what, exactly, constitutes a chapter. Due to my writing style, I never break things into chapters until I’m done with the manuscript; scene follows scene, and then I go back through, read it, and figure out where it would be appropriate to do a mid-chapter scene break (you know, usually delineated with a ***) and where a chapter break would make more sense. Only a handful of Love in the ZA’s published chapters have scene breaks – most of them feature just one scene, in the interest of getting something up to be read, and also for ease of use; I can’t remember where I heard this, but somewhere I read that readers tend to abandon blog posts that require them to scroll down too many times in order to read it in its entirety. Chapters in a serial aren’t exactly the same as blog posts, I guess, but I’ve still had that tidbit in the back of my mind every time I’ve decided how far to write in a given chapter. In some cases I think I made the right call; in others, I’ve erred. I had Staples print me out a copy of all the chapters I have written so far, for editing purposes, and a single pass through led me to cut things down from 32 chapters to 24, just by changing chapter breaks into mid-chapter scene breaks instead. (33 and 34 weren’t written when I had that done, but I would totally combine them for a final draft.) Sometimes I make the conscious decision to break a longer chapter up into two, due to the format here, but plenty of these changes only made sense to me long after the work was done and I’d gone several chapters ahead. It’s the kind of editing that can only be done once the finished product is all laid out, which makes it impossible to do on a week-to-week basis. I find that immensely frustrating.

The last two things I’ll talk about are editing in general, and time management, which go hand-in-hand for this type of project (or any project where there’s a deadline, and you’re not just banging shit out in the privacy of your own home, free to fiddle with it until you decide to send it out for scrutiny). My typical method is to handwrite everything – EVERYTHING – for my first draft. Then I type it up, surface editing as I transcribe. Then I print it out, edit for language and clarity, print it out AGAIN, edit for grammar, print it out AGAIN and make sure there’s nothing else I want to change. In case you missed it, that’s four drafts, potentially five, depending on whether that last run-through yields anything (and it usually does, because writers generally can’t resist ripping their own shit apart, even if it ends in tears and a mangled piece of crap that was probably better off left alone). How much time would you guess that takes?

Any guess shorter than “Too fucking long” is incorrect.

I started out adhering to this method, which I love and am hugely dependent on. Then I realized I was spending upwards of 15 hours a week laboring over a 1500-2000 word chapter, in addition to all of the other shit I have to do every day, and something was going to have to give. Since I’m paying for school and legally required to tend to the needs of my children, the process had to change. So I gave up an edit. Then another edit. Then I had to concede that spending 3 or 4 hours handwriting a rough draft for a chapter was probably an unreasonable use of my time, and I cut it down to handwriting until the juices started flowing, at which point I now switch to my laptop, type out the rest of the chapter quickly, and then go back and transcribe the first part. My wrist is happy with the change, but I’m not. I’ve tried to make sure that the work itself hasn’t suffered, but I can’t make an unbiased judgment on that; I vacillate between loving the hell out of (almost) everything I’ve written and wanting to throw the whole manuscript into the fire.

Although now that I think about it, I feel the same way about the 100,000-word fantasy novel I’ve been working on for nigh-on 15 years now, so maybe I just have a love-hate relationship with my work, regardless of the time invested.

Some of my gripes about editing are related to issues of continuity and research, so we’ll save those for later posts. Next week we’ll tackle the topic of Research, wherein I’ll explain how I came to read the entirety of the New York City fire code and watch so many YouTube videos about Glock handguns that I’ve surely ended up on some kind of watchlist.