SNIDE: The second act slump


I have a habit of checking my word count a lot when writing a book, which isn’t helping me right now.

For a while it is super useful, seeing that I’ve made so much progress. The first ten thousand words feel like a slog, but once you start nearing fifteen thousand it begins to feel like you’re actually doing something important. Then you start to near forty thousand, as I’m doing now, and all you can think of is I’m not even halfway yet.

I still need another sixty thousand words. Possibly more. That’s really bloody daunting. I tend to let the story dictate itself to me as I write, and this book is no different, but I’m rapidly running out of expected material, marching straight into terra incognita.

This happens in every book, and once I cross the magic midway marker things should start to make sense again. But right now it’s a bit scary. It’s also getting all serious, and I mostly don’t write things that are serious. I mostly write things that have sarcastic shitbags annoying people for 300 pages.

All this being a legitimate writer business is weird.

On Emergent Storytelling in videogames


I’m often confused by people who champion emergent stories in games, but that’s largely because the stories they cite are rubbish. That said, I’ve been playing Crusader Kings 2 an awful lot, and that’s throwing stories at me left right and centre, and all of them are great.

At least until I tell people about them.

Usually, stories are a thing that should be shared. That’s the whole point of writing a book, to share a story with the world. To that end, you have to structure it in such a way that you ease the reader into it, or grab them so hard they dare not pull away. This, I think, is why I get that sense of confusion with emergent stories.

The ones I experience, like in games like Crusader Kings 2, are built around my experience with the game, the thousands of things that one can’t easily articulate that shape your game. When the story forms, it already has that bedrock of interest. When others tell me their stories, this bedrock is omitted – because it is not something easily transmitted – and so I don’t tend to connect with their stories.

This sounds like a criticism, but in truth it isn’t meant as one. If anything it is praise. True, maybe the stories aren’t easy to share with conviction, but at least they are powerful enough that you remember them.

And besides, any game that lets you create an alternate history where Abyssinia conquered Spain is fine by me.

(It’s totally research, not procrastination. Honest.)   

SNIDE: Writing baddies


Writing the baddie always seems to become more fun for me than creating the protagonists. That’s not to say the others are arduous, but they tend to be a bit easier to put together. There are more pitfalls with the bad guys, and that’s what makes it fun.

It’s important that the villains be believable, as I’m sure you know. The moustache twirling madman of old still has his place, but it is largely in satires and spoofs. A proper villain has to think they are doing the right thing, which means when you are designing them, you need to find a way to justify what they are doing.

For SNIDE, this means I’ve had to work quite hard at that. The logic I’ve had to work with to keep the villains consistent with the plot as well as somewhat realistic has been great fun, and has given me numerous jumping off points I can exploit in future stories too.

Essentially, writing is exploring. I go nosing around the heads of tiny little people I build out of words, and they surprise me every time. The ones in SNIDE have been especially good at it, to the point where I find them dictating huge detours from where I expected the story to go.

And I’m okay with that, because they are awesome.  

SNIDE: Multiple Viewpoints and why they are fun to write


SNIDE has multiple viewpoint characters. If you’ve read Diplomancer, you’ll know this is not something I am unfamiliar with – and when you get to read Light Touch, you’ll see it a lot there – but I am tweaking it a little this time around.

Diplomancer’s switching viewpoint came in handy because, having two main protagonists, it let me change the scene when one was about to do something uninteresting – like travelling or sleeping or something – and it meant I could keep the story flowing. The switch was a tool, and while I’m still very proud of how I used it, it was a little limiting. I had two protagonists, and very rarely did I allow someone else a say in the grand scheme.

I hadn’t intended to do this at all in SNIDE, seeing it originally as a single protagonist only, but this is where writing gets fun. I can’t work to a rigid outline because I need the magic of the story almost telling itself as I write, and in turn this has meant that SNIDE has presented its own view points for me. Some of which are the baddies.

Writing the bad guys – which I’ll probably talk about tomorrow – has had the added bonus of letting me flesh out the world I’m building. The audience is allowed to know more than any of the characters, which is a thing I’ve not done too often in the past, and therefore I can use that to trick them just as easily.

With each change comes a different set of motivations and voice, which can be a tricky thing to maintain but is oh so rewarding when I manage it. I think it’s made SNIDE a much better book, purely because it has let the characters expand themselves at their own pace.

And I’m not even halfway through yet.

On Research and the Secret History of Concrete

Paved Roman Road

Doing research for a novel is weird. It feels a bit like cheating, seeing as it’s a perfectly legitimate way to not be actually writing your book.

Here’s an example. I’m writing a book at the moment – a shock, I know – set in Victorian England. As such, in the name of research, every time I mention anything at all I have to go and type it into google to see if it even existed at the time.

It’s amazingly enlightening to find out just how much you don’t know about the things that are around us every day. The history of things as simple as concrete, for instance. I actually had to sit down and research when we started using the stuff, only to find that it was basically invented during ancient Rome and then forgotten about for something like one thousand years.

A thousand years! It gets you thinking about the secret history of other mundane nonsense, reminds you that there are stories everywhere if you care to look for them.

Sometimes, when I’m subjecting a group of people to a long and pretentious conversation about the art of book-writery, I’ll get asked “where do you get your ideas from?”

Things like this, that’s where.

My Writing Routine


The hardest part of being a writer is the whole “writing” thing. It sounds a little bit stupid when you lay it out like that, but it’s true. When you’ve got the idea formed in your mind – or written out as a cool little outline, whatever floats your word-boat – getting that down on paper can be quite daunting. Thousands of words need corralling and controlling very carefully. When you sit down to do that, and you see nothing but a white page and realise all the work that you need to do, of course you’re going to want to put it off for as long as possible.

I got around this by enforcing upon myself a routine. This is the sort of thing I should have done at university, but that didn’t work out well. Now that writing is my job, however, it feels like I should treat it with a modicum of adult professionalism – at least then, when I’m angrily swearing at myself for forgetting a ridiculously pretentious synonym for something, I can feel proud that I am working.

So here is my method:

  •  Wake up – This is difficult, because I don’t seem to conform to any human hours.
  •  Stare angrily at the unopened document for an hour.
  •  Have breakfast while still staring angrily.
  •  Finally open the document.
  •  Punch two thousand words onto the page while worrying that it’s all a huge mistake.
  •  Sneak in an extra couple of hundred so I have a head start on tomorrow’s two thousand.
  •  Save, close document and stop worrying. Clearly it was great because I am talented and amazing and lovely.

Do any of you have special routines to get you through your working day? I’m nosey.