Showing posts with label computers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label computers. Show all posts

Travelers Postmortem: What Went Right

In the gaming and business worlds (two of my past lives), we would do postmortems at the end of a project to determine what went right, what went wrong, and how we could improve our process. I've unofficially done that on my own with Travelers, but "unofficially" means "not very well," so I'll do it more officially here now. It'll help me to think about my writing process, and I hope it can help others too.

I'll start with what went right. This isn't so much about the specifics of the story as it is about my writing process in general.

Developed Character Backgrounds Beforehand
For every major character, I made a chart like the one below. The information in these charts is out-of-date, poorly thought-out, and mostly never used, but if I didn't do it then every character would have been much flatter than they are. Knowing who the character is supposed to be, and used to be, helps when I'm writing and thinking to myself, "What would they do here?"

Random Passages
Before I started officially writing the manuscript, there were a number of scenes that seemed clear in my head. Often they were the ones that excited me most (my candy bar scenes), though sometimes they were scenes from a character's past, or scenes from a future book that may never be written.

Whenever I got stuck in my outline, or I got bored of the story or some character, I'd go write one of these scenes in a file called "Random Passages," prefixed with some note about the context of the scene. For Travelers, I wrote 9 such scenes over the course of the novel. Six of them ended up in the novel. Four of those were rewritten to the point of being unrecognizable (and one of the remaining 2 "scenes" was just a line of dialogue, three sentences long).

Even though they were almost never used as-is, writing these scenes kept me interested in the story and gave me a place to play with the characters before they were "committed" in the story. I read the scenes now and groan because they're bad and make no sense to the story anymore, but I also read them with fondness because I remember how much I enjoyed writing them.

Microsoft Word's Document Map Feature
I learned this during my life at Black Isle. Here's a quick run-down of the feature.

I didn't use the document map for an outline, though. The top-level headings were my chapters, and the sub-headings were the first lines of my scenes. It worked amazingly well to keep me organized and to remember where everything was.

Word Count Statistics
Most authors I've heard of keep word count statistics. I love statistics anyway, so for me, seeing my word count increase and dates of how long it took me to write a chapter kept me going. One of the things that motivated me to finish chapters was that I knew I got to update my stats file when it was done. It's geeky, but it worked.

Alpha and Beta Readers
Beta readers are the folks who read your manuscript before it gets sent out. For some authors, they read it when the draft is finished, for others they read it as each chapter is done. I have both, and call the former my beta readers and the latter, alpha.

For me, I had one alpha reader - my wife. She was both my encouragement and my insurance that I was on the right track. My beta readers were immeasurably helpful as well (in particular because my wife is not a sci-fi reader), but I don't think I would've gotten to the beta stage at all if I didn't have an alpha reader to push me through.

Seriously Overreaching

Microsoft Word is a lesson in feature creep. To be fair, I still use the version they made in 2002, but I've never known a company to remove features in later versions. Which is part of the problem.

One feature that should never have been added, probably never even attempted, is the AutoSummarize feature. A few seconds after selecting this option, Word boldly states that it "has examined the document and picked the sentences most relevant to the main theme." It then offers to highlight the key points for you, create a new document of the summary, or "insert an executive summary or abstract at the top of the document."

Seriously, has anyone ever used this thing to write an abstract for them? They probably don't have a job anymore if they did. Now, I've been having trouble writing my own mini-synopsis, so for fun (and procrastination!) I thought I'd let Word have a shot. Here's what it came up with in 100 words or less:

Alex groaned. Tom replied. Tom. Tom nodded. Alex laughed. Alex froze. “Arad’s soldiers. Doce nodded. Alex nodded. “Doce! “Doce! Doce!”

Alex nodded. Tom nodded.

Tom’s dad shrugged. Tom nodded. “Dad! “Doce? Alex.”


“Alex. “Alex. Alex yelled.

Alex yelled. Alex nodded. Tom thought. Alex chuckled. Alex sighed. Alex responded. Tom’s dad asked.

Alex exclaimed. “Dad! Arad stopped. “Doce!” “Doce!” “Doce!” Alex hesitated. Doce waited. Doce stopped running. “Dad?”

* * * * *

“Dad,” Tom started.

Dad screamed, “Tom!” Alex blinked. “Dad?”

Alex gestured.

Alex thought. Alex shouted.

Alex pressed. Alex screamed. Doce!”

Alex shrugged.

Alex waited.

Alex thought aloud. Arad pointed.

Just beautiful.

It's sad that it couldn't even get basic punctuation right. Nested quoting should be a basic, especially for a company that also makes grammar checkers and compilers. For the heck of it, let's see what Word can do in 10 sentences:

Tom. “Doce! “Doce! Doce!”

“Doce? Alex.”


“Alex. “Alex. “Doce!”

Dear Microsoft,

Thank you very much for your query, but unfortunately this doesn't sound right for our agency. We encourage you to keep submitting, however, as the right agent may be just around the corner. Thank you again for thinking of us.


Every Agency Out There