How to write a (sci-fi) novel?

Tobias Buckell Online – Ever wanted to know how pro writers write their novels? Tobias Buckell decided to let us in his writing life and give us a peak on how he does it:

Someone in the comments section asked how I wrote my novels. Here’s a quick peek at how I seem to handle it grabbed from an email sent to a friend and with a couple screenshots I snagged.

First off, I spend time lying upside down on the couch with a pillow over my head. This is called ‘plotting,’ although I understand that *sometimes* it can look like I’m actually napping.

Sometimes that does happen, but usually if the pillow is over the face that indicates plotting.

But the truth is that is only when I have dedicated couch-plotting time. As ideas strike me (either via the couch or just when out and about) I write them down on scraps of paper, voice record them into my pda, or just keep muttering with a glazed expression until I get back to my office and grab a pad. As I research online and with books I jot notes on pads as well.

This is usually the result. I give you the germination stage of the 3rd book, Sly Mongoose:

Some of those pieces of paper are actually stacked (there is order in there, I didn’t want to randomly shuffle them for you all) and are usually laid out across my desk, not on the floor. It’s about 100 pieces of paper.

Next up comes compression. I take these pieces of paper and write a 2-3 page synopsis to capture the idea of the book and try and sell it (Crystal Rain to pitch to my agent, Ragamuffin to pitch to my editor, and Sly Mongoose has only been half written).

Once I have the go ahead the next stage rolls out. Writing the damn thing.

I’m not much of an outliner, I’m what I call a ‘bucketer.’ I take all the pieces of paper and use a program called Omnioutliner and retype all the bits of information into it. Sections are created like Setting, Characters, Thematic fun, Plot. All the writing gets dumped into a category.

I take the synopsis and paste that into the plot area of Omnioutliner.

Then I split Omnioutliner’s plot area into subsections by rough parts to help me figure out where the &*%^ to put the information.

By this time I have a very good idea of how the first 3-8 chapters will run, so I put in everything I can think about them into the first part subsection’s outline. I add a different color for each POV, and write a rough 1 line description of the chapter. Omnioutliner will let me add another field that can collapse out from under it that contains detailed chapter notes if I want.

So then I start writing the first chapter. As ideas occur to me, I type them into Omnioutliner.

For example if I write that someone picks up a gun to shoot someone later in the story, I’ll pause, click on that chapter in Omnioutliner and type “Y shoots X with found in chap. Z.”

So I have a rough outline, a place to slap ideas as they occur to me, and a nice balance between ‘by the headlights’ writing and the safety of an outline to keep me on track. A finished outline makes me look anal, but here’s a peek at what Crystal Rain’s looked like by the end of the process:

I write each chapter in its own file. Text Edit on the mac is what I used. It’s like Notepad on Windows. Barebones and without extra crap.

Here I use expose to show them all on one screen:

I also keep an excel chart and spreadsheet of my wordcount as I write. So when I’m in full form, this is what my desktop looked like towards the end of Crystal Rain:

The 5-8 previous chapters are folded up using windowshading just above what I’m working on so I can edit them as I’m writing the current chapter. The current chapter is open. The synopsis summarizing the last part of the novel is open right next to the current chapter. The wordcount is below those two items, and the outline is on the right, always visible.

When I wrote Ragamuffin I used a different program, called MacJournal, to write in. It allowed me to manage the text of the first draft better. Instead of all those windows it allowed me to create chapters inside one document that were hierarchal and easy to navigate.

After the first draft I move it all into MS Word and send it to my agent or editor, and then I edit it in MS Word using the outlining features to designate each chapter as a subsection of the document so I can jump around and use document map.

Everyone’s process is completely different, however. I intend this as sheer novel-writing wank, and not any authoritative voice on the subject. The important thing is not how, but that you *do* get a novel written.


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