Thursday, June 28, 2007

The entire Hal 4 outline - right here!

Here it is, my working outline with every plot twist carefully detailed:

(Relax, it's an old version.)

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Okay, so where is it?

I was going to make this big announcement yesterday about finishing the first draft of Hal 4. Well, a funny thing happened on the way to the end.

My wife and I were putting together dinner last night (I was doing my special hamburgers - ultra lean mince, an onion, an egg, breadcrumbs, dash of herbs - while she made a garden salad), and I started telling her about my plans for Hal 5 (or was it 6?)

I started coming up with some great ideas with all sorts of neat twists and turns, shady characters and a great outcome, and then I realised I had to write it all down. So, mid-hamburger-making I raced for the PC and spent about thirty minutes writing out a 1000-word outline.

(Yes, I washed my hands before I hit the keyboard...)

I'd already written 4000 words of Hal 4 for the day, so this wasn't instead-of, but after getting excited about this great new plot I decided to put off the rest of Hal 4 until today. (And I haven't done it, thanks to a murderous headache.)

By the way, the burgers were really good ... as was the salad.

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

Monday, June 25, 2007

Hal Spacejock at Powells Books

A lot of my US friends are waiting for the Hal Spacejock books to appear over there - I know, because you keep writing to me and commenting in my blogs, asking when the hapless space idiot is going to get his stuff together and LAND already.

Well, it's going to be quite some time before you've all won free copies, and I'm afraid there's no word on any interest from a publisher yet. What I do have is an availability update: Powells Books are showing all three Hal Spacejock books as stock items. Hal Spacejock, Hal Spacejock Second Course and Hal Spacejock Just Desserts

They're back on Amazon too, so I guess that means the ship finally came in. It's a long, slow haul from Australia to the US, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Especially if he's trying to sell you cargo space.

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Hal 4 - Nearing the end

I had an email from the general manager of Fremantle Press yesterday (that's Hal Spacejock's publisher). He's attending the annual Penguin sales conference over east, and I got the feeling he was confirming the book was actually being written before he started promoting it to a couple of hundred wholesale reps ;-)

And yes, the book is being written. I've knocked off 24,000 words in the past 7 days, including 3500 today, and I only have a chapter and a half to go before the first draft is done. This is a very rough draft, one where a quarter of the scenes will have to be rewritten, where all kinds of inconsistences will have to be resolved, and one where three or four characters are going to disappear so completely you'll never know I wrote them in the first place.

Still, if I finish by tomorrow night I'll be right on target, and that makes me happy.

As for the daily word count, I've discovered I'm not a 1000-words-per-day-no-matter-what kind of person. I'm the do-nothing-until-you-have-to kind of writer who then goes nuts to meet the deadline. I just write better under pressure - I have to accept that and plan for it.

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Hal Spacejock Book 4 progress

I'm not one to post daily word counts (because I have software to do it for me!) but I do like to report on how it's all going from time to time.

My editor wants a copy of the Hal 4 draft on the 9th of July. Right now I have 14 new scenes to write and 28,000 words of existing material to rewrite. (The latter are scenes from earlier versions which no longer fit the current plot, but which more-or-less cover the same ground. Instead of stopping to rewrite them every time I have a brainwave, I just update the summary in yWriter and mark them as Draft - REDO.)

A few weeks back my plan was to write 1000 words a day. Then, the day after I upped this to 2000 per day, I got a case of the flu which addled my brain for a whole week. There's a lesson in there somewhere - i.e. do not give your brain any warning about lots of upcoming hard work.

After the flu I scraped out 1000 words a day for a while, until I got the email from my editor asking for the book. Then I realised I was going to have to up my limit, and 2000 it was. But over the past week I've upped that again, to 3000 words per day. I suspect it'll be 4000 before the end of next week.

I've also found that I'm thinking about the book 24/7 (yes, including my dreams) and that's helping me write it. I'm practically living the characters' lives by this stage, and slipping into writing mode is easy. It also helps that I'm working on the last quarter, where things get exciting, gripping and dangerous. (Those 14 new scenes are ALL from the last 6 chapters, and comprise pretty much the entire ending.)

I've given myself 5 days to write those scenes, and a further week to rewrite the 28,000 words in REDO parts. Then what?

Okay, at that stage I'll have a rough first draft, which certainly won't be ready for my editor. I'll print it all out, about 400 pages of double-spaced type, and then retire to a quiet spot for a read-through with red pen in hand. THIS is where the book really starts to take shape, as I strengthen a few connections, add some foreshadowing and look for parallel or similar events. And while I've tried a number of times, I cannot do this stage on the screen. On the plus side, at my book launches I've been known to hand out signed pages from one of these drafts, including all my scribbled comments, so they don't go to waste.

Apart from marking slow bits, rubbish, mistakes and so on, I also tend to cut the dialogue a fair bit at this stage, looking for every set of four sentences which can be trimmed into two. (You know the kind of thing: A says this, B retorts with that, A has a comeback and B says yah boo sucks to you. If I can turn that into just A then B, it's much tighter and reads a lot better.)

You'll note I've not mentioned spelling or grammar. I'll mark any typos, but this draft isn't supposed to be word perfect. (Typos are about the extent of it anyway - I correct as I write, and never intentionally let anything slip by. My most common error is editing a sentence and leaving a stray word in, or not updating all the parts of it at the same time - e.g. Hal went to grabbed a bucket. )

Okay, the draft is getting closer. It takes about a week for me to read and re-read it until I'm happy, usually going through a new draft each day, and entering all the changes that night.

Then I'll send it off, and what happens after that has been covered in an earlier post ;-)

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Will they, won't they?

This came up during today's writing session. The plot calls for one character (A) to go off and leave the other (B) behind. There's a prospect of danger for B, but they both agree it's the best way to handle things.

(I'm deliberately muddying gender so I don't give anything in the book away.)

During the writing of the scene I changed one tiny little thing: A and B always intended to leave together, but at the last minute B reveals they're not going (and explains why)

Is a little change like this really that important? Hell yes.

In the plot outline A and B knew they were going their separate ways and the reader would have got used to the idea over a chapter or two. When the characters parted it was expected, normal, boring.

In the new version, character A - and more importantly, the reader - is caught completely by surprise. B's suggestion is logical but unwanted. Conflict and tension result, and instead of the reader getting a couple of chapters to digest the idea you smash them in the gut with it in a single sentence. They don't want it, but they can see why it must be so. And that's what keeps people reading.

When plotting and writing keep an eye out for this kind of change. It's so easy to do but it's very effective.

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

Setting it to music

I know some people like to write while their favourite music is playing, and others prefer silence. I'm a silence person myself but there are special cases.

For example, if the kids are home and making a racket, music through headphones is a great way to isolate myself for an hour or two. I don't mean I wander round the house 24/7 in a musical daze, but if I need a couple of quiet hours of writing time to finish off my word count this is the way to get it.

Second, if I'm writing an important scene I find the right music can really help to set my own mood, and therefore the mood of the piece I'm writing.

And that's really the reason for this blog post.

You see, although you might listen to music while writing, how carefully do you select the pieces? I use my own yPlay software which allows 100 named playlists, but anything else with similar features should do. And here's what you need: a playlist for each mood and style of writing. Have a Romance playlist with gentle love songs, an Action playlist with heavy drumming and wild electric guitars, perhaps a Classical playlist for a bit of culture - something to listen to while you're writing about a visit to a posh hotel or restaurant, for example.

What you don't want to do is have one playlist with all your faves mixed up. It's very hard to write a touching romantic scene when heavy metal is hammering your ears one minute and Cliff Richard is going on about his walking talking doll the next.

Does anyone else use specialised writing playlists? If so, what categories do you use?

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

Monday, June 11, 2007

What to do when it starts to fall apart.

Has this happened to you? Your plot outline is nice and detailed, you've written half your book in record time and yet you have this horrible feeling it's not working.

Maybe your characters aren't behaving, or your big plot twist is more of a slight bend, or you've crammed in too many subplots ... whatever it is, you start to feel swamped and the big worry is that there may be too many problems to overcome.

I've experienced D) all of the above during the writing of each of my four books to date, and so these days I expect this kind of self-doubt. The only thing I have on some of you is that I've worked my way through it and am fairly confident of doing so again. I still experience strong self-doubt, though. Just ask my family.

So, remind yourself that it's quite normal for a novel to go through the disorganised mess stage. in fact, you can plan for it and even insure against it. Here's how:

First, if you have a major plot and several subplots, concentrate on writing the major plot scenes first. Leave markers in the text describing the subplot scenes and then skip over them.

Couple of reasons: One is focus, because you're sticking to the main plot and so it's harder to stray. Two is structure, because it's easier to follow the main plot arc if that's all you're writing. Three is complexity and word count: if you leave the subplot scenes until last you can drop an entire subplot if it doesn't work any more. You can add another subplot if needed, and you can also work out how many words you have to play with to meet your target count.

Example: You're writing a 100,000 word novel and your main plot alone comes in at 75,000 words. If you were planning five different sub-plots you'll now be able to work out how many words you can spend on each. Believe me, agents do not want to see sprawling 300,000 word novels from first time authors. Dropping subplots and characters after the fact is a lot more work than not writing them in the first place.

Next, only write your protagonist's scenes. If it's a multiple viewpoint novel, just put summaries in your text for scenes from the antagonist and secondary character POV. Why? Because while you're writing the protagonist's scenes you'll keep getting ideas for the other characters, and you can just dump those ideas into your notes. It's also much easier to get in character and write an authentic POV if you're not head-hopping every couple of thousand words.

Another reason for writing all of one viewpoint first: By finishing the protagonist's scenes you'll know exactly what the other characters have to do in their own scenes. No major rewrites and no wasted words. Again, if you're heading for a massive doorstopper of a novel you can cut out some of the secondary character scenesa and write less for the rest.

When I started writing my first novel I began at chapter one and tried to type the whole thing out sequentially, right through to The End. Nowadays I'm convinced that's the wrong way to approach the task. Look to the world of film for the best example: Movies are always shot out of sequence so that actors and sets can be employed for the shortest possible time.

Translating that to writing, it's easier to have consistent characters and locations if you stay with them until their scenes are done. And remember, your readers won't know how you built the thing. It's the result that counts.

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Travel to Mars

Okay, so we might never get there ourselves but this is pretty amazing all the same.

For somewhere closer to home, try this one. (And try zooming the map right in for a google giggle.)

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Why write a novel?

The problem is, about 9 out of 10 of people who set out to write a novel don't actually finish, either due to time constraints or because it turns out to be a lot more work than they thought. Usually - and this happened to me - the words and sentences hitting the page don't match the lofty ideals in the mind, and it's all too discouraging. The trick is to plough on regardless, because good books come about through rewrites, editing and revision. They don't just pop out fully-formed.

Because so few ideas turn into finished books, publishers don't want to know about your plot outlines or your plans for a series of fifteen volumes. They want to see finished product. (And once they see it they turn around and reject 998 out of 1000 unsolicited submissions.)

If it's all so difficult, why do people bother?

Usually because they have a burning desire to write a book ... for example, their characters are living in their brain and won't stop bugging them, or the tale has to be told no matter what the sacrifice. Every time I considered quitting I'd picture Hal and Clunk fadng to black, unseen by anyone but me, and the thought of losing them forever was enough to get me going again. Usually with a severe reprimand from Clunk and a sarcastic comment about quitters from Hal.

Anyway, there's all this and a lot more in my articles on writing and publishing.

Hope that helps. I don't mean to sound discouraging but writing a novel is a huge challenge. It can be frustrating but it's also a massive rush when the first draft is done and you can start on the polishing and rewriting.

This is the text of my reply to an emailed query on writing a novel and getting published. I did give it a light edit before publishing it here ... force of habit.

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

Friday, June 08, 2007

heARTlines Festival

Dion Hamill's original paintings for all three Hal book covers (below) have been shipped over for the heARTlines Festival, which is taking place here in Perth, Western Australia from the 1st of June to the 1st of July.

Update: just got an email letting me know the ABC featured the festival on the news tonight, and they even showed the Hal covers ;-) Thanks Ted!

That's not the only attraction of course. The program features any number of authors and illustrators ... for more details and a PDF copy of the program check the Mundaring Arts Centre website.

heARTlines is curated by author Louise Schofield and proudly presented by ArtsWA Department of Culture and the Arts and Healthway Drug Aware.

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

Social networking for books

I'm already on LibraryThing, but Good Reads looks like an interesting site too. I wonder which will come out on top?

Edit. Just thought I'd add this. It's a Technorati search on all the people kind enough to join Hal Spacejock's Support Crew:

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)

Monday, June 04, 2007

10 things

Spotted on Buzz, Balls & Hype ... 10 things an author shouldn't do

Simon Haynes is the author of the Hal Spacejock and Hal Junior series (Amazon / Smashwords / other formats)