Six Books Later.
Never before has the process crystalized so clearly, as it has for my sixth book, The Perseid Collapse. The long overdue sequel to The Jakarta Pandemic has percolated in my head for nearly six months (while writing Vektor), which certainly helped smooth the transition, but I credit “the process” for swiftly delivering me to the starting line…the point where I can start writing. For me, the less time I spend in between novels, the better. I find myself lost without a manuscript-in-progress. Putting words into a story eases that feeling.
I often joke around about the”organic” mental process for creating the complex plots in my novels. “Neural Flow” is a term I used recently to some amusement. The Black Flagged series is extremely complicated and deeply nuanced, or so I have been told, and I wish I could keep it all straight in my head. “A Beautiful Mind” I am not. Instead, I rely on a process that appears rigid, but is inherently flexible. Let’s face it, any system based on the placement of yellow stickies on poster board isn’t exactly chiseled in stone. Still, I’ve followed the same process for three novels, which implies a level of rigidity…for the process at least
The rest is fluid and can change at a whim. A random thought while driving (I have more windshield time than I care to admit), a tech article on the internet, YouTube gun video (I watch far too many of those), a ten minute Call of Duty game play with Matthew (son), a sudden discussion about a character with my wife…all of these can change the course of my novel within the flash of a synapse. I’m always thinking about the story, and the story is always changing, slightly…sometimes drastically. This is the neural process, and I can’t really explain it. What I can explain is how I tee up the writing and keep myself on track throughout the three to four months it takes me to strike the words.
I start out with a “talk through.” Basically, I vomit a VERY rough synopsis of the story and expand it over the course of three to five days. If you read it, you’d probably feel like puking. It barely counts as English, but it works. I take this four to five page document and try to identify potential scenes from the scribble.
For the Perseid Collapse, I identified 44 scenes, which translates into a minimum of 44 chapters. I created a yellow sticky for each scene, and added them to my board.
The board takes on a life of its own over time, with stickies moving back and forth, up and down…or into the trash. New stickies arrive weekly. The topmost stickies are labeled to represent individual or group entities in the story. I place scenes involving these entities under the appropriate heading, in chronological order. Books in the Black Flagged series required some creative space arrangement on the board. The Perseid Collapse is a welcome break from multiple organizations and diffuse subplots. Compare the two. Vektor is shown in the first picture.
The last piece of the puzzle was recommended by a fellow Maine writer and the host of my local writing group, Bryan Wiggins. He thought Aeon Timeline would help me keep track of the complex timing involved in the Black Flagged novels…wow has that program saved my ass on multiple occasions. I finished Black Flagged Vektor without it, which was a big mistake. My inner voice told me to take the time and input every scene in Aeon Timeline. I resisted, but quickly relented and spent an entire day inputing the scenes. Without going into detail, let’s just say that I found a few critical timeline errors that my readers would not have missed. For Perseid, I will input the scenes as they are written. The story takes place over a 72 hour period, which doesn’t give me a lot of wiggle room in terms of timeline.
A lot happens to the Fletchers in those three days.
Did I mention the research? I’ll save the details for another post.