Category Archives for "Novel Pre-Production"

Dec 25

The Need for Speed

By terranceacrow | News , Novel Pre-Production

I’ve been working on the beats for A Ghast in the Machine since at least May 2018. My last update in October boasted that I’d finished the beats for about 12 chapters. Guess how many I have now?


That’s about two a month.

Clearly, I need to make some changes! I started thinking about why I was able to finish Divinity Ascending’s beats in a shorter span of time, and I think I figured out why. It’s a much more simple plot. I didn’t have to juggle as many plot or character interactions, so I was able to keep track of things with a minimum of administrative overhead.

Ghast seemed much more difficult to even start the beats, much less push them forward. I was taking a lot of time to reacquaint myself with the lay of the land between sessions, Using Scrivener’s cork board view and using different tags to color the Point of View (POV) characters helped, but there was still that burden of having to re-immerse myself every time. Some nights, I get less than a half an hour quiet time, and it’s easy to spend that much just getting ready!

Scrivener’s cork board is awesome, but I was missing something. Some key to getting more quickly back into the book’s universe.

I began to wonder if I needed a higher-level outline for Ghast. Something that would be more abstract than the beats, but at the same time, be more accessible — and accessible more quickly. 

I did a bit of research and found posts like this one from the Scrivener forum. Scrivener can do outlines, but in the way felt natural to me. Plus, I love Scrivener for what it can do for the rest of the process, from character sketches to world building to beats to actually writing the novel. I didn’t want to interfere with any of those areas of functionality.

I thought it was time to look at a product that specialized in one thing: outlines. I needed something where I could sketch the main plot milestones that I learned from Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering

As we all know, Google’s our friend when it comes to something like this. I used it to narrow down the list, but you know what? I wasn’t comfortable choosing something that’s going to be integral to my writing based on reviews alone. I had to be able to evaluate the product first.

I’ve used products from the Omni Group for years. I used OmniGraffle to create sketches of some of the interiors for the Indiana, one of the ships that’s going to play a big role in Ghast. Before that, I used OmniPlan to create moderately complex project plans. In both cases, I had good experiences not only with the products, but with the products’ tech support. It felt natural to try OmniOutliner for my current quest. 

Since I have a Mac, I was able to use the App Store to download a trial version that would let me emulate the two versions: Essentials and Pro. I set the emulation to Pro and tried to re-express the beats I’d done as a plot-centric outline. 

OmniOutliner looks like it’ll give me the higher level view that I think I need. I hope. 

I learned two things from the exercise. First, OmniOutliner’s highlighting and other formatting tools will help me keep organized and oriented. I think it’ll give me a way to quickly engage with the material by showing me the plot context of each major development. I can map one major plot point/development to a family of beats.

Second, it showed me something I wasn’t looking for, but should have been: Because I didn’t have this view of the plot, my beats were drifting away from the plot structure I think I need. That means one of two things: I’ll need to spend a lot of time re-writing the beats to realign them, or I’ll miss that need entirely and end up writing the book based on plot-skewed beats. 

That would mean one of two things: reduced readers because the plot would not be as satisfying, or a much bigger investment in time for rewrites. I would prefer to avoid either of those scenarios, thank you very much!

Now, I just hope that OmniOutliner will have the impact I hope it does! One of the benefits to me maintaining this blog is that I can see exactly how long things are taking, so I hope to have the answer soon!

Have you used a special-purpose outliner? If you have, I’d love to hear about your experiences! 

Mar 11

Does Finishing a Novel’s Beats Qualify for a Celebration?

By terranceacrow | Novel Pre-Production

Remember back in January when I said I hoped to have the beats for Divinity Ascending finished soon?

Guess what?

As of 6:30PM on Sunday, March 11, 2018, the beats for Divinity Ascending are done!

Does finishing the beats/outline quality for a celebration? I don’t know for sure, so maybe I’ll only have a Bud Light instead of a higher quality brew…

Yes, it’s true! The beats for Divinity Ascending are done. And you know what that means! Time to write the beats for the next book!

73 chapters. From Columbiana, visible from the wreckage of what used to be Columbus, Ohio to the gilded vaults of Manhattan. From the ruins of Old Cleveland to the launch ports near the coast in Opelousas, Louisiana. From the TransStell manufacturing facilities in the L2 Earth/Moon orbit to the bases constructed in the Newton crater on the moon. The beats for Divinity Ascending are done!

I mentioned earlier that I want to finish the beats for the first three or four novels before actually writing them. I’ve been studying Sterling & Stone, whose Fiction Unboxed is well worth the price, as well as Nick Stephenson’s Your First 10,000 readers, which seems to be  a great resource for setting up your own marketing infrastructure that is independent of, but takes advantage of, the e-publishers like Amazon. The consensus seems to be that you need three or four books in the chute to begin building your audience, and I guess that makes sense. So, that’s my plan.

Problem is, Mel and the Ghast weren’t content with dramatically changing the plot of Divinity Ascending. I thought I had the initial trilogy planned. But Mel, the Ghast, and others (don’t even get me started on Matsushita Sachi and her family) have decided that no, Olympia Dreaming isn’t the next book. In fact, it’s not even in the first trilogy!

In all honesty, I’m hugely relieved that the characters are interacting with me like this. The stories are about them, and if I’m serious about viewing my writing as an act of sub-creation (albeit in a derivative sense), then I’m going to need their help.

Now that I have a system down, I hope I can crank out the beats for the next two books (whatever they’re called!) in less time. According to my instance of Jira,* I spent 48 hours and 31 minutes of effort hours to write the first beats. That seems excessive to me. I’ll see if I can do the next book even faster, with more coherency!

I hope you’re excited to see forward motion! I’ll try to have some interesting material for you as we get closer to launch.

Hope to have more good news soon!

* Yeah, I use Jira, a software development tool, to track progress on my books. Old habits die hard!

Jan 14

Characters in Rebellion!

By terranceacrow | Novel Pre-Production

My characters are assuming control of the first novel.

This is actually a good thing. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself. This is what happened: As I was pushing to finish the last 20% of the beats, the Ghast and Mel Conrad conspired to dramatically change the direction of the plot.

First, not content with a bit part, the Ghast (who wasn’t even supposed to be in this novel!), demanded a bigger role. For reasons unknown, Mel supported her! Now her role is about 60% larger than I expected.

Second, in a related development, the title is changing to “Divinity Ascending.” I hope you’ll see why soon.

What high maintenance characters!

Seriously, I do think this is a good thing. It means I’m getting to know the characters better. It means they’re speaking to me and they’re trying to help me be a less stupid writer.

I almost feel sorry for them. Their struggle in that regard will be mighty!

In any event, I hope to have the beats done for Divinity Ascending soon. Then, I’ll write the beats for the next two novels before harmonizing all three. If my plans go well, within a few months I’ll start writing in earnest.

I hope to have more news soon!

Jun 27

The “Whole Audience Thing” through the Lens of Star Trek Discovery

By terranceacrow | Novel Pre-Production

I’m trying to be a student of Sterling & Stone’s Smarter Artist approach to indie writing. One of their core concepts, just after “Know your why,” is to know your audience and to write material they’d want to read.

Not sell yourself out by writing junk you think might sell, but by finding your audience, a group of folks who want to read the kinds of things you want to write, and writing for them. It’s an important rule, and like all rules, only a master can break it with hope of success.

For example: When Harlan Ellison wrote the original script for Star Trek’s (original series) episode City on the Edge of Forever, legend has it that he had crew members on the Enterprise dealing drugs. The Star Trek audience wouldn’t have accepted that, because that’s not the world Gene Roddenberry envisioned for Star Trek. Harlan Ellison* criticized the decision to change his script, but in the end, Roddenberry and associates won out to protect the integrity of their vision. Otherwise, they would have disconnected from their audience.

As I’m building the world for Divinity Falling, I saw the official first look trailer for Star Trek: Discovery. I wondered why I disliked it so intensely. Stars I like hold the leading roles. The special effects look like they’re top notch for today’s technology. But you know what?

It’s not Star Trek.

Even though it says Star Trek right in the title, it is not Star Trek.

First, Star Trek is about the ships. I can tell the difference between the Constitution-class Enterprise and Enterprise-A; the Excelsior-class Enterprise-B; the Ambassador-class Enterprise-C; the Galaxy-class Enterprise-D; and the Sovereign-class Enterprise-E. I can even identify the NX-class Enterprise by sight. Maybe because of the tireless work of the designers since the original series, the ships of each era had distinctive characteristics. At a glance, you know that the USS Reliant from Wrath of Khan was a contemporary of Enterprise-A, or that the Defiant from Star Trek Deep Space Nine was a contemporary of the Enterprise-D. The ships and their related technologies like Star Bases gave the world of Star Trek a distinctive and comfortable feel. Not only the ships, but their interiors, especially the bridges, were part of a continuity. As a fan, I loved that.

I’ll bet you can tell at a glance what period a ship comes from. Check out this image from Deviant Art. Don’t read the caption. Just at a glance, what period is it from?

The Discovery doesn’t seem to fit anywhere in that timeline. Watching the official first look trailer, I felt like I was watching something from the Kelvin timeline. It’s nothing like what I’d expect for a bridge that existed before the Enterprise of the original series. If anything, I’d expect it to share updated characteristics from the Enterprise shown in The Cage. Truth be told, I’d love to see a resurrected design like that!

Technology changes, you say. I can’t expect a series produced in 2017 to use such outdated visuals, you say.

Sorry, I ain’t buying it!

The Star Trek Next Generation episode Relics showed the original series Enterprise bridge in a Holodeck simulation, and it never looked better. And if you want to be part of Star Trek, be part of Star Trek! Don’t make something that looks like a cross between Dune and Star Wars A New Hope! Both are great franchises; but neither are Trek.

The second characteristic of Star Trek has survived almost all of its television incarnations, even to a lesser extent through Enterprisesocial awareness and commentary. Whether they’re protesting the war (like the war contemporaneous with the original series, which was Vietnam) in A Taste of Armageddon, exploring the insanity of racism in Let This Be Your Last Battlefield, or the implications of disability (like deafness) in Loud As a Whisper, Trek often dove into these topics. That’s part of its timeless appeal. Did you see anything like that in the Kelvin timeline? I didn’t. This is only conjecture, but I’m betting that’s part of why the latest movies haven’t spawned the kind of merchandising success that we saw for previous efforts.

As a part of the original Trek audience, I can say that those forays into social commentary are what stay with me.

I look at the official first look trailer, and I don’t see anything that speaks to me. And lest you think I’m just being a typical old curmudgeon yelling at the new series to get off my lawn, consider: I watched Prelude to Axanar, and I see what could have been if the powers that be doubled-down on the core Trek audience. I even watched the trailer for a Trek spoof called The Orville, and I’m excited! That’s more Trek than Discovery!

Be honest. Watch the official first look trailer:

Then go watch Prelude to Axanar:

Heck, go watch the trailer for The Orville:

Please, be honest.

Which of those three shows look and feel the most like Trek?

I’ll tell you my opinion: Axanar first, Orville second, and that’s it. I don’t think poor Discovery feels at all like Trek.

If Harlan Ellison, a Science Fiction Grand Master and one of the most prolific and imaginative writers of our time, had to respect his audience with “City on the Edge of Forever,” then I’m betting that Discovery will have to as well. That is, if the show hopes to succeed.

What do you think? Am I being too harsh on an unproven series? Does Discovery’s current masters seem to lack respect for the Trek universe? Or am I setting up a false dilemma? Let me know in the comments!

* If you’re interested learning more about Harlan Ellison and his colorful personality, I strongly recommend Dreams with Sharp Teeth. I re-watch it when I need a creative boost.

Oct 20

A Ghast in Melchizedek’s Backstory

By terranceacrow | News , Novel Pre-Production

You know how when you’re really into writing — when you forget there’s a keyboard and the words flow unfettered from mind to screen? It’s like establishing a warp field. Until something pierces the field, your creativity’s flowing — but even then, you’re only mostly in control.

Case in point:

I’m working on a scene from Melchizedek’s* adolescence to help me fully envision his backstory. I had a specific goal in mind, and I was happily writing toward that goal. Dek’s was a VR landscape when he encounters an AI ghost that’s supervising some children.

Here’s where things got weird.

I had intended for him to interact first with the ghost, then with the inhabitants of the church/school behind her. I had the several scenes of dialogue queued up. But — and I swear I have no idea why this happened — I got to watch an AI ghast split away from the ghost and confront Dek. As The Spooks Beastiary notes, a ghast is a ghost splinter. The ghost remained on task with the children; the ghast interacted with Dek.

I’ve learned to go with these moments, and by the time the scene was done, a new potential theme and subplot dealing with the ethics of imprisoning an AI, especially an AI that didn’t know it was imprisoned.

Nobody expects the ghast! At least, I didn't. It's cliche, but the creative process is a mystery!

Nobody expects the ghast! At least, I didn’t. It’s cliche, but the creative process is a mystery!

Maybe it’s cliche to say, but I’m still a little in awe of the mysteries surrounding the creative process.

If you’re interested in ready the backstory, I have good news! As soon as I get my e-mail list up and running, I intend to offer the backstory as a gift for subscribing. Then, I’ll periodically “reward”** my subscribers with new backstories, story notes, starship sketches, or other pre-production material. Just think: someday, I may be famous! That stuff could become cool mementos!

See you next post!

* My wife suggested that instead of calling him Mel (as I intended to), I should call him Dek. I think she saved me from forever associating the main character of book one with the TV sitcom Alice, in particular Mel’s Diner. I enjoyed the show; I’m not trying to disparage it. But it’s so not the vibe I’m going for in Divinity Falling.

** I hope it’ll seem like a reward!

Sep 22

Titles, Characters, and Old Demons

By terranceacrow | Novel Pre-Production

Trilogy’s Title

In my last post, I laid out the titles for the books making up my first planned trilogy. You may recall that they were:

  1. Divinity Falling
  2. Olympia Dreaming
  3. Founders’ Rising

I proudly announced that the trilogy’s title would be The Fall of Caerleon.

My daughter, who is herself a published writer*, read that once, frowned, and asked why the titles were non-parallel. Sigh. She didn’t buy my explanation that Auto Correct was the culprit.

So, I am now re-announcing the trilogy’s title. It’s:

Caerleon Falling.


My favorite part of writing a novel is building the characters and the world. It’s the point at which the fictional universe has the maximum potential. Anything can happen; anyone could be in the story.

Unfortunately, no matter what I do, moving from potential to actual disappoints me, because the finished product never looks like what I thought I could envision. This Facebook post from Writing about Writing is a perfect illustration:

I fully intend for Caerleon Falling, taken as a whole, to be “so amaze” with “much magic.” “Much adventurer,” too.

So far, I’ve sketched the seven critical characters. I may add another one or two, but I’m not good enough yet to handle too many at once. I’m using an idea I got from Sterling & Stone: I’ve associated an actor with each character. That helps me visualize the character’s physical appearance. I’ve pasted the actors’ pictures in my Scrivener documents that describe the characters. Part of me feels like that’s cheating; another part feels like I’m using good advice from a trusted source!

Sometimes my degree in theology manifests itself in unproductive ways.

Old Demons

I can sit down and write code without a second thought. I can write business documents without flinching. I can even write blog posts without undue panic.**

Why is it, then, when I sit down to write Divinity Falling, I feel like all sentients across all times in all universes are peering over my shoulder to point and laugh?

It’s the same thing I fought when I was a young ‘un.

But no matter how I articulate the problem; no matter how clearly I can describe it; no matter how tired I say I am or how overworked I feel; there’s one answer.


Don’t read about writing.

Don’t think about why I’m not writing.

Don’t complain about (insert my “Gripe of the Moment” here).


Then write some more.

Read from time to time.

Then write.

So, I’d better get back to it!

If you’re so inclined, leave a comment to answer: Do you ever get the same kind of feeling? Do you even experience writer’s insecurity? Or — gasp! — am I all alone in this?***


* If you’re interested, you can read her short story in the anthology Triskaidekan. Her story’s called “XIII.” You can buy the book here from Amazon (disclaimer: I’m an Amazon Associate).

** You might not be able to tell it by the dearth of content here. My excuse? My full time job takes a lot of my time. My other blogs, like Crow’s World of Anime and my application developer security site Interstell, Inc. also demand some of my time. Still, that’s no excuse. Must. Write. More.

*** Too many of my writer friends have expressed similar misgivings for me to really think I’m alone. But then, none of us have major or best sellers under our belts! So I’m not sure we’re the best sampling.

Sep 01

Prose Just Got Real: The First Trilogy Has Working Titles!

By terranceacrow | News , Novel Pre-Production

My last post mentioned Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering (you can buy it here — I can’t recommend it enough!). The book’s a wealth of information about all aspects of writing a novel, from the nuances of character creation to plotting. The latter was of particular interest to me, since I had concluded that my writing skills lacked one critical part: I didn’t know how to plot a novel.

Yeah, I’m kinda disappointed with me, too. You’d think by now…

Putting aside my natural tendency to take myself to try myself, convict myself, and give myself a stern talking to, I’ve finished Story Engineering. I’m excited to say that after digesting the chapters about plot, and after applying the architectural principles Mr. Brooks described, I’ve come to a conclusion.

He’s right. There’s a repeatable way to approach plot. And I think I can do it.

That was the last obstacle to me starting my first trilogy. Well, to be completely honest, my first trilogy since high school. That means my excuses are exhausted.* It’s time to get started.

The trilogy’s working title is The Fall of Caerleon. I’m going to grapple with the idea of the purpose of power; of its uses, abuses, and controls; its links to our empirical and mystical aspects. The Conrad family, much like Masayoshi Son, has a long term plan to better humanity. Will that plan survive the enemies arrayed against it? Will it survive the Conrad family?

The first book, Divinity Falling, follows Melchizedek “Dek” Conrad as he struggles to push back the advances of Terran Consolidated Products and its hyper-cash reserves against his company. At the same time, his company is trying to get off world to gain the breathing room it needs to take the family’s plan to the next stage. Which force will be more compelling?

Olympia Dreaming, the second book, follows Jack Conrad’s fight against Aldertraum, one of Earth’s colonies, as it tries to take humanity on a dark but unfortunately familiar path. Can humanity rise above its hard-wired behaviors? Or is it doomed to remain in the cave forever? This takes place a couple of decades in Divinity Falling’s future.

The last book of this trilogy, Founders’ Rising, presents Benjamin Conrad and the maiden voyage of the Resolution. Set just after Olympia Dreaming, the story portrays the conflict between human power and its links to claims of divinity. Can human overcome their ancient tendencies, even in the face of species extinction? Will Aldertraum’s attacks prevail? Are they even the real enemy? Or is our own nature much more deadly?

The problem of human power has always fascinated me. We need power to get things done, to influence groups to come together to accomplish things that individuals can’t achieve. At the same time, our history’s littered with the aftermath of power gone mad. History’s also full of attempts to manage or control power. Most recently, we see the foundation of the United States and the establishment of three branches of government to act as checks on power. We’re witnessing a time when those checks have been attacked and eroded, but that just increases my interest: how can humanity harness its collective will without falling into demagoguery? How can we withstand the corrosive effects of hyper-cash — and should we? If we should, why? What’s the justification? I hope to explore those questions in this trilogy.

How do the titles sound to you? Any thoughts on humans and their exercise of power?

Now, please excuse me. I have some work to do!

* If you’re a writer, you’ll understanding to interpret this not as a statement of fact, but as a desparate plea!