1/23/2013

Book Names, Outlining and Future Projects

I'm definitely one of those authors who works best when he's outlining a book in detail. It's been said, accurately I think, that there are two kinds of writers - those who plan extensively, and those who make it up as they go along (and, I'm presuming, don't mind scrapping tens of thousands of words when they turn out not to work). The nice thing for me about planning everything beforehand is that such things are much less likely to happen.

It's been my experience that there's a correlation between how successful one of my books is, and the length of the outline. I found a copy the other day of the outline for Stealing Light, which clocks in at 22,000 highly detailed words. Even then, there are minor differences between that and the completed manuscript, although the key word here is 'minor'. My first two books, for which I did only cursory outlining, drove me to endless frustration. Stealing Light, by comparison. was a cakewalk to write.

So with all this floating around in my head, I finished up the current outline for the new book, at just under 18,000 words. Nearly one-fifth the length of some people's novels. I've heard some people suggest that outlining everything in such detail removes all the pleasure of writing a novel and discovering aspects of the story along the way, and feeling the excitement of the narrative as it builds.

Well, each to their own, but I'm inclined to think that's balls.

Spontaneity can produce good results, but only at the cost, in my experience anyway, of a huge amount of wastage. Your mileage, of course, may vary, etc, etc. But what other people call 'spontaneity' I call 'hours and days of clawing at my hair trying to figure out how the hell I'm going to get myself out of the corner I've painted myself into without scrapping half of everything I've written over the last three months'.

My current outlining process arose from such frustrations. When writing Against Gravity, I found the only way to make sense of things by the time I was halfway through was to write a highly detailed summary of everything that had so far happened. That way, I'd be able to clearly see the forest as well as the trees. Then I realised I could keep my scalp safe by doing all this worrying and fretting before I'd written one word of the damn novel in the first place.

And that's been pretty much the way I've done things since. I don't even start until everything's planned out. In detail.

The new book, as I've said before, is a slight departure from previous novels. It is, essentially, about a team of survivors - each one the last man or woman from an alternate post-apocalyptic Earth - brought together for the purpose of exploring other post-apocalyptic alternate universes. It'll be the first novel I've written that doesn't feature spaceships.

The question of why they've been brought together, and the ultimate purpose of the Authority - the organisation responsible for bringing them together - is only one of many questions for which the characters have to find the answer. I've heard it said the post-apocalyptic sub-genre is getting a bit tired, and I agree; that's why I thought it would be much more fun to write a book in which you get to see a whole bunch of end-of-the-world scenarios, packed in together.

The new deal is for two books, so there'll be a sequel as well. What happens in that I haven't yet
planned, although ideas are stirring. It's possible it might step away from post-apocalyptic scenarios, and concern itself a little more with exploring the multiverse.

The only thing I can't tell you for sure at the moment is what it's going to be called. When I came up with the original title, Touring the Apocalypse, I was going through a bit of a John Kessel kick. I love that title, but Tor thought it a bit lighthearted given the actual story, and so asked me to come up with alternatives. They're right, unfortunately, but there are the very rare stirrings in my head of an idea for a short story (set in the same universe) for which I could use that original title.

As for the book itself, I have a couple of ideas.

But naming a novel can be hard. It can be exceptionally easy to come up with something trite, or ridiculous, or overblown. There's no lack of dodgy self-published novels with the word apocalypse in them. I think hard about titles. The only one of my book titles I don't like is Nova War, at least partly because I didn't pick it; that was a case of editorial fiat. It's my own fault, though, because I couldn't come up with anything better at the time.

Generally speaking, I tend to prefer book titles that don't just say what's in the tin, so to speak. I prefer titles with an element of ambiguity, that make you think of possible alternate meanings. Angel Stations does in fact feature 'angel stations', alien-built space stations, but that's not the first thing you think when you see that title. It triggers off all kinds of associated ideas and thoughts that don't immediately make you think alien space stations.  Against Gravity doesn't make you think doomed cyborgs. Nova War, by contrast, is about...a nova war.

One current working title for the new book is: The Last Diary, which I actually really like. It does, however, sound a great deal more mainstream than the story I'm writing. It sure as hell doesn't suggest band of adventurers across the multiverse. For that reason, it's not likely to make the grade.

Or there's The Extinction Game, which I kind of liked when I came up with ti, and still do...kind of. I just have to figure out what the game is. Unless it's 'game' in the sense of being a 'racket'.

A third title that came to mind is Scavenger Red. I like this because it sounds sort of cool without being specific. Scavenger, because that's what the survivors nickname themselves. Their job is to scavenge dead worlds throughout the multiverse. As for where the hell the Red came from well, your guess is as good as mine. It just sounded cool, and being a writer, I can probably easily come up with a reason for it (there might, for instance, be teams of scavengers labelled Scavenger Red, Scavenger Green, Scavenger Blue).

Take none of this as absolutely read, by the way. I have a bad habit of changing my mind. Frequently.

Hopefully some time soon, I'll be able to post the cover for the new book set in the Stealing Light Universe, called Marauder.

3 comments:

Dave-Brendon de Burgh said...

Yep, I'm setting my thoughts in place to write a detailed outline for my novel, too - oddly enough, it's how I began the novel eight years ago... Looking forward to the the new book!

CameronJ said...

Currently bogged down writting my own novel, half-way through and have hit a block with no outline, though I do have the end worked out in my head. Currently scratching my head mulling over the potential ways to get there - I suspect I will need to write outlines for the possible ways forward after going "free-form" in the first half (I suspect re-writing/cutting earlier parts will be involved later on.) I think I'm more of a skeletal-outlining kind of guy, so far, anyway.

Ah, Man, this new book sounds pretty good! Lots of scope for adventure there. I bet you will have a lot of fun naming this, and lots of ways to go with this one I reckon.

Ends of the Earth / Ends of Earths
The Many Deaths of Earth
Apocalypse Reload
The Final Page
Cities of Dust
Empty Worlds
etc

I do like 'Scavenger Red' though, it has a lot going for it, and RED could be some sort of acronym; Random Earth Disaster, R? Earth Destination etc.
Looking forward to finding out the eventual name of it.

-Cameron

Gary Gibson said...

Cameron - outlining doesn't need to be only before you begin a book. You can do it during and even after completing a draft. It's a way of seeing the whole forest and not just the trees. I've often spent some time redrafting an outline halfway through a novel to regain much needed perspective, and it sounds like that might benefit you as well at this point (I stopped working on Stealing Light to rework my six thousand word outline about a third of the way into the first draft, and the outline grew to over twenty thousand words).

Once you start writing down the events in your novel so far, you'll get a better sense of where it's supposed to go.

Also, 'Cities of Dust' is quite good. Not right necessarily for this project, but a nice title all the same.