Experimental Slowness

With the latest short story from the Tales of the Thief-City series I’ve tried altering my writing process so that I have only a rough outline and a collection of lines and ideas to go in there somewhere. I then write it at a slow pace, firming up the details as I go – rather than having a more comprehensive outline and sometimes dictating the text.

It’s a mess. Some stuff I’m fairly certain is repeated, other stuff that feels like its in the wrong place, and a story that feels too simple – as though it’s missing a beat or two. And I was extremely frustrated and stressed out by the slow pace I forced on myself (and by the delays of working out what happens next).

It looks like a thorough outline is the way I’m more comfortable writing. While I can take my time on the outline, when I’m doing the same stuff writing the first draft of the story I feel an urgent need to get it done.

I’m wondering how doing the outlining on computer would work. If I do write up blocks of text I could then just slot them in when I get to the proper writing, rather than transcribing my notes. I’ve got a feeling it wouldn’t work, that I’d feel compelled to just get on with the writing.

It might be worth trying on a short story though.

Grey Enigmas

Grey Enigmas is now available.

Grey Enigmas small
In a telepathic society where everyone has their inner policeman, mysteries are rare. So when a thoughtform programmer is murdered, with no obvious culprit, the authorities are at a loss.

Woken from his sentence still unrepentantly anti-social, Alex finds society now has need of a detective.

Will solving the mystery offer him freedom, or is that no longer possible

A 3900 word novella.

Based in the same setting as Grey Engines, this is set over a century later, so is a stand alone story rather than a sequel.

Quiet Time

The lack of recent postings is as much due to lack of inspiration for topics as it is lack of time, and I don’t see it changing in the immediate future. Hopefully I’ll get struck by inspiration (or something) soon.

On Saturday I’ll be publishing the novella, Grey Enigmas. It’s a follow-up to Grey Engines, but occurring over a century after that doesn’t really count as a sequel. It should work as a stand-alone story. While it can’t yet be bought on Smashwords, you can download the beginning to try it out.

Am I writing Large Enough?

I’m worried that I don’t write stuff as wild as I could. Some broad ideas from the initial conception can get lost by the time the story’s finished, becoming more… I don’t necessarily want to say realistic, since I mainly write fantasy. Maybe restrained would be more precise.

I lose much of the sense of whimsy I intend to include, and the wilder ideas can get rationalised down to seem almost reasonable (relatively speaking).

It may be partly due to the fact I tend to write in outline – so some ideas may get rationalised down through the iterations – which would be okay. But some instances I worry that it’s because of fear of making the story too broad, which I’m less okay with. That’s pandering to an imaginary audience, which never works out (especially since I have a very small audience). I should be my first audience, because if I don’t enjoy it then why do it (if I was a bestseller then money might be a motivator, but I’m not, so it isn’t).

In some cases the restraint may work. My first novel, the unpublished Paragon Protocols, is an espionage thriller. The initial idea had a fair bit of super-science, so headed towards some of the excesses of Bond films – and beyond in some cases. The end product was more grounded, with intentions to bring in the super-science as the series went on – the second would have been heavily into this. Given to groundedness of the first I’m now debating whether to risk going broader in later books, which’ll mean a serious rethink for the second one. The overall story for the series would still be the same, and I’m hoping to get to them some day. (Allegiances is set in the same world).

In other cases I seem to be fighting myself to include the whimsy. In the Tales of the Thief-City series I make a point to try and include at least one element of dark whimsy per story, which is relatively easy to incorporate given the disparate sources making up the city of Nexi. In the Shadows of the Heavens series I didn’t really get the whimsy I’d initially intended, and in one way it doesn’t sit right. I’m happy enough with the end product, and the nature of the empire’s controlled society means all the true magic of nature would have been pushed to the edges, which I suppose works.

Maybe it is realism rather than restraint. Finding the way the fantastical would work, and how it’d then become mundane to those who live among it. Or maybe I’m just a boring writer. You know, the kind who’ll ask questions and not offer any real answer.


[Warning: this meanders quite a bit, towards no real destination]

It occurred to me that last week’s post may have read as though I’m totally against continuing stories, which isn’t the case. I read a lot of comics, where continuing series are the standard, and many have been around longer than me. (Series with a continuing creative team, or at least writer, tend to be different beasts, and not what I’m wittering on about below)

Long running series have both good and bad points. And shared universes tend to exacerbate the bad points, making them things that need to be accepted, ignored, or retconned (retroactive continuity is the rewriting of history to say that something never happened. If you’re lucky they’ll give a reasonable explanation of why people thought it did).

I recently reread Daredevil stuff from the last decade, from Bendis’ run through to the Shadowland stuff (which is a few years old now, so not really spoilers). The main idea behind Bendis’ run is what does it look like when a superhero has a nervous breakdown. It uses the character’s history under previous writers, building on your emotional investment with the characters.

The serial nature of corporate IPs opens it up to interesting interpretations by successive creators. Some are good, some are simply servicing the IP, a situation not helped by the monthly schedule: they have to have a story out even if it’s not a good one.

This was played with during this period, with each writer leaving the character in a worse place than they found him, for the next writer to carry on. Bendis left him in jail, his identity public but unproven; Brubaker destroyed his life even further, and left him taking command of the Hand, a cult of assassins he’d fought for years; Diggle left him shattered after the events of Shadowland, which kind of marked as far as he could fall. When the series relaunched under Waid, Daredevil’s trying to get back to what he used to be, but his recent history continues to overshadow his actions.

While I felt the Shadowland stuff didn’t quite work, mainly by being turned into an event, overall the sequence held together even with multiple writers. Using the character’s history to build the story on adds to it in a way a standalone story which introduces you to that history can’t. That’s what ongoing series do at their best.


[Rant Interlude: Franchises]

One of the less good parts of corporate owned IPs is the danger of over-franchising of successful properties. I’m looking at you, X-Men. There was a time, probably longer ago than I now care to remember, when I could have named every X-Man. There have been so many associated titles out over the last couple of decades, introducing so many mutants, most of whom are now considered X-Men, that it’d be difficult without a good degree of study.

Franchising tends, from my experience, to run greater risk of substandard work than much servicing the IP. And then new stories build on stories that you haven’t read. At least the advent of digital comics and increased collecting of stories solves the problems even a decade ago of not being able to get hold of the stories referred to. Whether you’d be grateful to get hold of them is another matter.

Franchises run the risk of diluting your investment.

And I’ve ranted about Events previously, so don’t get me started on that again.

[End Interlude]


Series with ongoing characters can build up an investment that keeps the reader with the story, obviating some of the set up required (although you still need to consider new readers). Pragmatically, it can also keep readers with a series, which is why publishers seem to prefer series to stand alones. As a writer you also get invested in characters and see further places their stories could go.

But I find I’m often more interested in new stuff than revisiting old stories. Sometimes they do call me back fairly strongly, and the stories still have things to say. But pragmatically speaking none have yet sold well enough to really draw any number of readers back, so my time’s better spent on new stuff that might draw new readers. I would like to make a living from this, then I can write the further adventures.

Read an eBook Week 2014

Today begins Read an eBook Week, running through to the 8th, and I’ve again enrolled my books in the Smashwords promotion.

All my novels are half price (using the voucher code REW50), apart from Glyphpunk which is free (using the voucher code RW100) [since the sequel is now out].

I’ve also made the first six parts of the Shadows of the Heavens series (apart from the first one, which is already) free.

I’ve taken advantage of the promotion to raise the prices of the Tales of the Thief-City series to 99c, but made them free for the week using the voucher code. I was going to leave it another week or so, but this should let them show up in the most heavily trafficked category.


To Be Continued…

Lately I’ve read the Peter Grant series by Ben Aaronovitch. While I’ve enjoyed them (a lot) they’ve been read maybe a month apart so there hasn’t been as much of a gap between them as there will be reading future ones. This will matter because while the main plot is tied up, there’s an ongoing story through the series, leaving questions that probably won’t be answered for years.

This isn’t unusual for fantasy, but I’m not sure whether this is ongoing or planned for a certain length of story. It’s no different from TV series that end a season on a cliffhanger (although it’ll usually be less than a year to wait [Unless it's Sherlock]), but they can irritate me (especially if they’re the kind that also end each episode on a cliffhanger, so you never have any sense of resolution from the stories, which more often than not lead into the next one with little break point).

I know that ongoing series are what traditional publishers look for, hoping they’ll have more audience retention than a series of stand alone novels. Does it also run the risk of alienating readers with knowing they’ve got a year (by most traditional schedules) to wait for the story to continue?

With TV series we’re more used to waiting for answers, and it’ll only be a week till the next fix, even if that doesn’t answer the questions (although viewing habits are changing with new technologies). You can’t control the audience’s pace of moving through a book as easily, so reading quickly through a good book could face a more jarring end if it finishes unresolved.

It can get the customer to stay with the series if it’s as well-written as Aaronovitch’s stuff, but I can’t be sure if I’ll feel the same by the time the next one comes out, or whether I’ll have forgotten the dangling plot threads by then.


My Use of Ongoing Stories

I tend to shy away from more overt uses in my stuff since I don’t do many series (I switch, trying to find something that’ll catch on [and as inspiration takes me]). The only time I’ve intentionally started with an overall story planned was the Shadows of the Heavens series of novelettes, which I released on a weekly schedule. Even they didn’t have the overall story too overt to begin with, but all had been written before the first was published.

I’ve done other projects with overall stories more roughly planned, such as Blade Sworn (which had a conclusion but the larger story not quite seen in the background won’t be expanded on unless the book starts selling), and the Tales of the Thief-City series of short stories (which I’m planning out the remaining parts of story for, so they should be released on a close schedule).

I’m unlikely to commit to larger ongoing stories until I start seeing more sales that’ll make it worthwhile (while sales are low sequels aren’t likely to gain me many readers [unfortunately most of my stuff at the moment is sequels, but ones spun out of the previous story rather than part of a planned larger story]). Even then, I don’t know how I’d feel committing to a seriously long project, and the last thing I want to do is start one and then leave readers hanging if I can’t carry it through (or get so bored that the work’s likely to be boring).

Tales of the Thief-City revisions

I’ve given a slight polish to the published short stories of the Tales of the Thief City series. Only a couple of typos in the later ones (that I found. I thought there were more when I read through them before writing Dreams of the Dead, but that could just be my irritation with not having time to fix them then). They’ve also had the customary tweaking that I can’t help doing, as well as some to get them prepared for the print edition.

Since I’m intending working on the remaining stories in the series in the following months, I’ll have enough to make a print collection. And since I wanted to fix some typos and awkward phrases it’s more efficient to format them for print now.



As part of my regular process the last couple of rounds of revision are formatting it for print, and then reading the print proof for errors that show up easier in print (or that I just happen to see in that format). The main cause of tweaks in this phase are getting rid of widows and orphans (one line of a paragraph that appears on a separate page from the rest of the paragraph. These are to be avoided). Some places advise fiddling with the character spacing, to increase or reduce the number of lines by making text narrower or wider, or having the occasional blank line at the bottom of a page where it’ll be less noticeable, but I prefer using it to force me to rewrite and hone the language. Some lines can still get stretched due to justifying lines where there’s large words in surrounding lines, but stretching them is better than the alternatives.

[When the print version is done to my satisfaction, meaning the text is in its publishable version, I then have to format it for eBooks. This primarily means ensuring chapter breaks are formatted correctly, making sure there are no leading or trailing spaces (which cause problems for Smashwords' conversion). The latter is the most laborious, even with Word tools letting you display them. I do two versions, one for KDP (Amazon) and one for Smashwords, with the main differences being chapter breaks, and front and back matter.]



So after I’ve got Grey Enigmas ready for publication (I’m provisionally planning for April, but I haven’t got it formatted for print yet, and Createspace can easily take a month to deliver the proof internationally, so that could change) I’ll get back to work on Dreams of the Dead. There’re still a few things needed that I haven’t quite worked out yet, but overall I know most of what needs doing for it.

At some point during working on it I’ll at least write up outlines of the remaining parts of the story, maybe even write a few. The current plan has another seven short stories, although there’s space to include others should they occur to me.

While the published stories play into the overall story, I’ve so far only had a vague idea of the shape of it. Some story beats I’ve known from the beginning (such as the identity of person or persons responsible for certain actions), while others have come as I’ve gone along (what and where is Nexi, and what will be Rax’s ultimate fate). The remainder may feel more cohesive, and from here on in events in previous stories – and especially the next short story – while have a more noticeable effect on the ongoing narrative.


The current stories are available for free for the next few weeks (at which point all but the first will go up to 99c) at Smashwords and associated retailers. Amazon will do whatever Amazon decides, so some might be free there if you want to try.





I’ve just released the sequel to Glyphpunk.


With the Society and Alliance in decline, the monarchs unite to depose the usurpers. They’re hardly powerless, and growing threats from outside the kingdoms and within could be enough to send everything spiralling towards war. And that’s before Thjorn’s plans reach fruition.




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