My Writing Process Blog Chain

I was tagged into this by Beth Matthews, who asked me to do it in March (Sorry, Beth, I forgot!) and more recently by Alex Haist.  Beth and Alex were my suite-mates at Viable Paradise, and they became friends very, very quickly.  So I’ll play along.

WHAT AM I WORKING ON?

I haven’t got a clue what the elevator pitch would be.  It was originally “The Irish Troubles in Space,” but the story has morphed along the way.   My original working title was Things Fall Apart, which was to be followed by The Blood-Dimmed Tide and, hopefully, the concluding volume, Mere Anarchy.  These titles seemed apt considering that the genesis of the tale is the Irish struggle for independence, and my love of Yeats inspired much of it.  But then I recalled Achebe’s book, and now I just call it The Remembrance War, Book 1. Or, more often, “The damn book.”

HOW DOES MY WORK DIFFER FROM OTHERS IN THE GENRE?

Unlike most Space Opera, humans aren’t the dominant species in my story.  In fact, they’re just the opposite.  They are, rather, a minority, treated as second-class citizens, strictly controlled by the aliens who rescued them from a failed colony.  In part, the series is about how humanity reclaims its pride; book 1 is about how that process–and the Remembrance War–begins.  It’s also, though, a book about how one man gives up running from his past and rebuilds for himself a family, and it’s also a book about the lies we disguise as history and tell our children.

This all came about because I had this idea of a story in which somebody stole the Earth from humanity.  And I was bored one night in a class on Modern Irish Literature, and then there was a moment of Irish lit in my sci-fi/sci-fi in my Irish lit, and BAM! the story coalesced into one in which the history of humanity has a seriously huge lie built right into it.  And from that the rest of the story emerged.

WHY DO I WRITE WHAT I DO?

There are several levels to this question.  Let’s go through them all.

I write novels.  I have written, in my life, maybe ten short pieces, and most of them were rather long–easily in the novelette range or higher.  I don’t seem to be able to write less than 10,000 word stories.  My VP Thursday story was 4700 words, and when I took it home to rewrite it based on feedback I got on it, it grew to 8700 words.  I tried to find places to cut, but I couldn’t find much.   The story has now been rejected from three markets.  I should probably look at it again (I haven’t since November), but I’m not going to for a while yet.  I’m too busy writing the Damned Book.  And it’s less painful. Mostly, anyway.

I write novels because I like longer-form storytelling.  Nothing against short stories; I like to read them just fine.  But I don’t seem to be able to write them, and even when I read stories I like, I often find myself thinking “Wait, that’s IT?”

I write space opera because… well, because space opera is my first love. I grew up on Star Trek reruns, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, and Battlestar Galactica (which still has a place in my heart even though I know now how bad it was).  I grew up reading Harry Harrison, The Uplift series, the Ship who Sang, and of course Asimov’s Foundation series.  I also read fantasy, of course, but Interstellar Empires and wars that rage over galaxies have always appealed to me more than magic swords and elves, even though I do love those, too.  In adulthood I read Hamilton’s Night’s Dawn trilogy, the Honor Harrington books, and now I’m devouring the Mageworlds books.

And I tend to write Orphans, or at least people who are trying to build lives and families for themselves.  I do this because I’m an orphan.  I lost my parents when very young, and my adopted parents weren’t the best one could hope for; I was disowned by them (and my adopted siblings).  So a lot of my work is about orphans and the issues they often face.

HOW DOES MY WRITING PROCESS WORK?

I am a minimal outliner.  I tend to ruminate on a story idea for some time, putting pieces together, researching and thinking and when the story is “ready,” then I start outlining.  I do a basic plot arc: Beginning, Middle, and End.  Then I fill in scenes and ideas along the arc.

Next, I create a Scrivener project, and for each scene, I put a basic one-line description of what happens there.  I got this idea from Jason M. Hough.  It allows me to remember what happens, but doesn’t straitjacket me.  It allows spontaneous changes, which has been very helpful since I started on this book.  Some of my favorite plot points have been because, in the middle of writing a scene, an idea occurred to me and I let it happen.

Every time I sit to write, I reread what I wrote last, and make any adjustments I feel like.  Sometimes I just put a comment in the Scrivener project.  I’ll deal with those later.

That’s the first draft.  On the second pass, I tighten the language and story logic, deal with those comments, and make any changes I think are necessary.

WHO’S NEXT?

If you want to do it, by all means do so, and please link back to this post.  I’d particularly like to see it done by Nadya Duke.

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About Michael Johnston

Father of a fifth grader, high school English teacher, writer. Forty-six years old and feeling almost every bit of it on some days, and not a bit of it on others. Based in Sacramento, California, USA
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One Response to My Writing Process Blog Chain

  1. Alex Haist says:

    I’m looking forward to reading what you have to say about family and how you find it. Thanks for posting.

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