The howl of the storm echoed through the tube, a banshee screaming in furious reverberation, increasing in ferocity and beginning to drive sideways rain many meters in from the cliff entrance. Any thoughts of waiting it out near the entrance now gone from their minds, Anna and Laxmi scrambled toward the inner end and peered into the dark void beyond, their headlamps piercing the gloom with twin beams of focused light.
The roughly eight-meter long by one-meter wide tube ended much as it began, with a sudden and smooth circular opening in the midst of an inward-facing cliff. Beyond lay a dark, cavernous chamber, its size lost in the black, though Anna’s headlamp picked out crystalline reflections sparkling from what might be the far side, a few hundred meters away. The floor of the chamber lay not far below them, a half-dozen meters, with a deeper narrow gully between the main floor and the wall from which she peered.
Yes, I know I told you that I was going to resume work on an older work-in-progress, for the moment called Shadow, but I also said I’ll still continue with Silence, didn’t I? So continue I have done, and will do, and here you go, the latest installment. Anna and Laxmi escape from the hurricane, burrowing deeper into the cave they’ve found, but what awaits them inside? What secrets of the mysterious missing Keplerians might be revealed?
You’ll have to read the scene to find out! And as always, I welcome feedback of any kind.
A little over a year ago, I spent the Christmas holiday with my wife Carole in Bend, Oregon, to ski the famous cross-country tracks of Mt Bachelor and environs, taste the famous microbrews of the Bend Ale Trail, and lay down some serious drafts, writing retreat style, for my novel.
Bend had a notoriously low snow year, so we accomplished only a little skiing. We did, however, collect some growlers from a handful of wonderful brewpubs.
And I spent hours staring at my laptop, completely blocked.
It wasn’t a problem of the words not flowing, though I’ve faced that at times, too. I simply couldn’t figure out the plot. I had an idea, summed up in a couple of sentences, but could not figure out the sequence of events that would tell the story. I had devised a few character sketches, I knew roughly who my protagonist was, knew a bit more about my antagonist, and had a wonderful concept for a contagonist impact character. I even had the broad strokes of how to bring the first act to a close, and what sort of crisis would precipitate the third act climax, though the details remained fuzzy.
I just had no idea for what should happen in between.
Carole had a perfect description for my state: analysis paralysis. I was so focused on getting every plot point just right that I was letting perfect become the enemy of the good. I sipped drafts from the collected brews of the Deschutes valley, but found no further inspiration there. And then Carole said something fateful.
“Why don’t you stop worrying about the plot and just write? It worked for you in NanoWrimo, so why not now?”
So I did just that, albeit not with this project. I set my unfinished plot outline aside, and simply began writing, without any plot worked out in advance, based upon a simple image I held in my mind, an image of alien ruins, signs of an advanced civilization, long abandoned. I saw space stations, falling apart in orbit around a darkened planet, and the arrival of human explorers to investigate.
The result of that stream of consciousness experiment is still unfolding, as The Silence of Ancient Light, and some of you have been reading along as I post my first draft scenes on these pages. That was another part of the experiment, to post scenes as I went, thus “forcing” myself to keep going.
I’ve made mistakes along the way. I’ve posted scenes, only to realize one or two scenes later that I got a technical detail wrong, some point of astrophysics or orbital mechanics that just wouldn’t work. I’ve thought of better ways to handle events for already posted scenes, and then struggled with whether to keep writing in a manner consistent with what’s already been posted, or to write as if the earlier scenes had been different. Of course, that would make the narrative confusing for anyone trying to read through, but it is a first draft, after all.
Perhaps worst of all, however, is that I’ve concluded I had my characters go down a path I didn’t want them to tread several scenes earlier, and I’ve written myself into a corner. Now what do I do? Do I keep writing the story as it has been unfolding, even though it isn’t really where I wanted it to go? Do I go back for a “do-over” and rewrite everything from that point forward? And if so, do I create a new fork in the thread of the story, leaving the originals as they are as signposts for my folly?
Some of you may have noticed that I’ve slowed down on my output for the draft, and this crisis of my own making is the major reason.
Along the way, I’ve had concepts and ideas for other novels come to mind, as they do, and even been tempted when the writing on Silence slowed down to break off and explore one of them. The writing community over on Twitter (great group!) was practically unanimous in their advice not to do that, to make notes on the concept, but keep going on the current draft, finish what I’ve started. And so I’ve been doing just that.
Yet a new conundrum has arisen.
Remember the original story idea, the one I was trying and failing to carefully plot during that winter retreat to the land of ales and trails a year ago? The one I put aside to work on Silence instead?
I think I’ve solved my plot blockage.
There is still a lot of work to do before I begin drafting the prose, but I have a very high-level outline for 60 scenes spread across 20 chapters (those numbers may and probably will change). With a few more days (or weeks, more likely) of work, I should have an outline detailed enough to be called a treatment, a plan for simply “writing down the bones,” scene by scene, chapter by chapter.
And this, after all, was my original project, which I set aside to work on Silence. So, should I now set aside Silence to return to it?
No, I don’t think so, and I don’t think you think so, either.
So how successful can I be, working on two projects at the same time? That depends. Silence was always intended to be a way to break the logjam, to spur creativity and to keep writing, to keep up the practice. If, along the way, it turned into something decent, that would be a bonus. I do think there’s something decent in there, even if it’s gone a little bit off the rails, so I’m nowhere near wanting to abandon it. It deserves better than that.
At the same time, I’m ready to breathe new life into my more “serious” project. (It has a working title, but I’m holding that in reserve for the moment; for now, we’ll call it Shadow.) Yet there is a difference in the stages of creation for Shadow vs Silence. I’m plotting Shadow, whereas I’m drafting Silence. Shadow has a careful structure to it; Silence is by design more free-form.
I can see myself going back and forth between the two. When I’m stuck with something in Shadow, I’ll return to stream of consciousness writing with Silence. When I write myself into another corner in Silence, I’ll wrap up the next subplot in Shadow.
I’m undecided whether I will post scene drafts from Shadow in the same way that I have for Silence. One negative side-effect of doing so has been finding myself writing for the effect of the next post, instead of writing for the effect of the narrative whole, thus giving the unfolding story a bit of a Perils of Pauline serial feel to it. When the work is complete, I don’t want the reader to feel as if she is reading a series of shorts; I want her to enjoy it holistically, to be unable to put it down until reaching the very end.
Nevertheless, I may still do so, but I make no promises. Meanwhile, though, you can still expect to see scenes from Silence appear in these pages.
Some of you likely have strong thoughts about this approach. Feel free to critique me in the comments! Seriously, I want to hear from you.
With a satisfied exhalation of breath, Laxmi sat beside Anna in the tube’s mouth, her sling of rock tools collected during her climb dumped in a jangling heap behind her, and followed Anna’s gaze out to sea. A hazy mist completely obscured the horizon, sea and sky blended together with no division, but rather a gradient from light grey descending into darkness where the horizon should have been. The distant, tall clouds they noticed earlier had now coalesced into a mass of towering giants, crenellated turrets at their peaks reaching for the heavens, and merging at their base to a solid dark wall. Nearer to hand the sun still sparkled off the sea, all the brighter for the contrasting darkness beyond. A breeze lifted a lock of Laxmi’s hair, and she turned to Anna, frowning.
While I’ve been exploring the jungles of Peru, the stranded astronauts of Aniara have been exploring the jungles and islands of Kepler 62f, fifth planet of a star 1200 light-years distant from Earth. I know you’ve been worried about the fates of Anna, Laxmi, and Jaci, so read on to learn what happens as they press…
It has been a few months since I last published a scene from my serial work-in-progress, The Silence of Ancient Light, so if you’re just joining us on this journey, you might want to start at the beginning. You can find an overview of the chapters and scenes so far at The Silence of Ancient Light.
Speaking of publishing scenes, I have a question for you. Do you find it more effective — are you more drawn in to want to read — if the scene is published as a page, the way I’ve been doing so far, accessible via menu links and so forth, and then announced with blog posts like this one? Or would you rather see the text of the scenes appear directly as blog posts?
There are pros and cons to each approach. Blog posts appear automatically in the WordPress Reader, for instance, and thus if you have a WordPress.com account, it’s possible for you to read the entire scene from your Reader feed without ever having to visit my website. Static pages do not, so you have to click the link in this post to take you there. I notice that I get more visits and likes on blog posts announcing scenes than I do on the scenes themselves, which leads me to believe that many people never follow that link. Pages also do not have a mechanism for assigning categories and tags, so there is less control over search terms and keywords. They may or may not show up as easily in Google searches.
On the other hand, blog posts become ‘lost’ in the blog roll over time, without an easy way to link directly to them with website menus. They can be found via category links, of course, but it would be more difficult for someone who wanted to read all the scenes straight through, in order (do any of you do that?). So, I tend to think of the blog as having a more immediate but short-term advantage, and the page as being more persistent and easier to find in the long-term, at least for someone who knows what they’re looking for.
What do you think?
What about a hybrid approach, posting the scene first in the blog, and then copying it later to a static page? Or would the repetition be a turn-off?
First off, the next scene from Chapter 3 is ready for your enjoyment (and your feedback — you’re an alpha reader, remember?). Anna, Laxmi, and Jaci are making the most of their enforced encampment upon an alien tropical beach. Jaci, hindered by a broken leg and thus unable to help with much else, becomes camp cook, and quickly nominates himself “greatest chef on the planet,” based upon a competition involving “every human within a thousand light-years.” Of course, there are only three humans within a thousand light-years…
Meanwhile, in other news, the poll for best scene for an audience reading is still open (see the blog post immediately preceding this one), but results are starting to narrow down to a single choice, with one runner-up. I suppose I should not be surprised that, while one scene is more action-oriented than the other, both involve significant and colorful description of the world around our intrepid explorers, and that seems to be what people are gravitating towards. But, if you haven’t yet, go vote! And then check out the results.
Meanwhile, note to self: use more (or continue using) significant and colorful description of the world around our intrepid explorers!
Speaking of colorful, I spent the weekend on another mini “retreat,” once again anchored in the middle of Port Madison Bay by myself, for the purpose of some focused writing time. While I didn’t achieve as many total words as I might have hoped, I did produce this latest scene (why haven’t you read it yet?), and had a little fun with dialogue. Do let me know what you think of it, what works and what doesn’t.