Walking this morning, in between acts in the glittering show that was the night sky, I had an insight into the way I’m approaching Sunspin. I have known for a while this next project would have to be rather different from my previous ones. The scale alone is an issue — I expect a first draft between 600,000 and 750,000 words. Likewise the fact that it’s science fiction, and I need to approach both the story and the text differently than I’ve approached the fantasies I’ve been writing the past few years. Not more rigorously, but with a different rigor.
Both of the above points presage a much more detailed outlining process than I’ve ever indulged in before. I simply can’t spin three quarters of a million words off the top of my head. Well, actually, I probably could, but not while trying to accomplish my goals for this project. And the sfnal requirements are such that I’ll need them to be pretty carefully spelled out in advance. For example, my concepts about FTL, the Fermi paradox and the social structure of post-industrial, trans-human interstellar feudalism in a culture where FTL is only of limited application. Those need to be internally consistent and convincing before I ever put draft to page, and they need to inform plot, character, action and dialog every step of the way.
I’ve always resisted detailed outlines, as arcaedia and casacarona can surely attest. To me, writing is discovery, and in the past, the outline process has always felt like it robbed some of the magic from the writing process.
But a funny thing happened on the way to Tourbillon. The outline was as skinny as any of my others, but it was skinny in a different way. Because in Tourbillon, as I’ve mentioned before here on this blog, I was dealing with a serious outbreak of Third Book. Meaning, the world building, the social structures, much of the character development, and an enormous amount of the background detail were already in place before I ever started writing. I was focused on plot, character transitions and dialog in the drafting process. I enjoyed writing the book as much as I always do, and having so much of the world pre-fabricated didn’t subtract from the process of discovery. In fact, in some meaningful ways, that process was enhanced.
My insight this morning was that developing a detailed outline before writing Sunspin wouldn’t be all that different from writing Tourbillon with Mainspring and Escapement already in my head. Which came close to shocking me when I realized this.
While most of you may well be pitching peanuts at me now for discovering once again that the sky is blue, this is a significant revelation for me, and almost certainly a rather important one.
Here is what I love most about writing: You never stop learning. Or least, you never have to.