I appear to be writing another novel. I wasn’t planning to, it just worked out that way.
As I wrapped up the first draft of The Ghost Smuggler I started mulling over what I could do while I let it fester. I had a few short story ideas but I wanted to continue my writing streak and even writing just a few hundred words a day, it wouldn’t take me long to get through them.
I’d also been trying to think of things to post on this blog, beyond word counts and random ramblings. Somewhere along the line Ethel the Muse suggested I combine the two and write a weekly serial to post here. As a kid, I loved watching the old Buster Crabbe Flash Gordon Saturday morning serials. They seemed to be on TV every summer and at Christmas (along with the old Tarzan movies) and I never got tired of watching them.
So, I decided to write a Flash Gordon style serial and post it to the site, one chapter a week. Initially the plan was to write ten chapters of around 1,000 words each. Then I decided that ten weeks wasn’t really long enough for people to discover the story and get drawn in so I extended it to twenty six chapters – six months worth. 1,000 words also seemed a bit short so I figured I could stretch it to 1,500. That would put the word count around 40,000 words which was longer than I’d originally planned but was still doable.
Towards the end of August I sat down and plotted out the story. I came up with a fairly complex structure which took a spreadsheet to plan.
I’ve had a lot of success with the seven point story structure so I built a nested outline using that system. First, I created an overall plot within the seven point structure and split it into twenty six chapters, creating a goal for each chapter that would move the main story along. Then, I created twenty four mini-stories, each one also following the seven point structure and achieving the chapter goal somewhere along the way. These, combined with two bookend chapters would make up the whole story.
Now, the key to the old Saturday serials was the cliffhanger ending. And they really were cliffhanger endings. At the end of each episode, Flash was falling into a pit full of lizards or trapped in a spaceship that was about to crash. Of course, he always found a way out – sometimes (as Annie Wilkes will tell you) through some rather dubious plot twists.
I wanted the same effect with my serial so I took the mini-stories and shifted them within the overall chapter structure so that the Pinch 2 point was at the end of a chapter to create the cliffhanger.
In order to keep track of all those overlapping elements I built a spreadsheet that looks something like this.
The sub-chapters are the mini-stories and as you can see, from chapter 2 onwards they start in the middle of the actual chapters. The seven points of the overall plot are spread out over all twenty-six episodes.
Once I felt I’d filled in enough of the outline for the early chapters to give me something to work with, I started writing.
Immediately, I noticed two things. First, I was really enjoying the writing. Secondly, and this is probably related to the first point, the chapters were longer than I’d thought. More like 2,500 – 3,500 words. Which would put the final word count somewhere between 65,000 and 91,000 words.
I’m currently on Chapter 21 and my 26 chapter outline is edging towards 30 chapters. I wandered off the outline for a bit but I like the end result and it ties in nicely with the rest of the plot so I’m okay with it for the time being. Some of the chapters have been below 2,000 words and there’s plenty of editing to do but still, this is firmly in novel territory now. It’s certainly not the quick little side project I’d originally planned.
Not that I mind. Glitch Mitchell and the Unseen Planet (working title) is turning out to be really fun to write. It will be posted as a serial…once its finished. The brave thing to do would be to post each chapter as I finish it but that’s a step too far. I want it to be as polished as possible before it leaves my hard drive and I’ve already spotted some glaring omissions from the earlier chapters that I’m going to have to go back and fix.
Of course, it’s also going to need to sit and fester for a while once its finished and I may end up running it past an editor for an extra level of polish so I don’t think it will be online any time soon. Maybe February.
In the meantime, I’m going to have to find something else to post besides word counts and random ramblings.
[Glitch: A New Novel by Philip Harris first appeared on Solitary Mindset on 4th December 2013]