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“The Star Pirate’s Folly” Started with Music (The Decemberists)

The Mariner’s Revenge Song

The Star Pirate’s Folly started with a song I first heard in high school over 10 years ago. My posts are getting all nostalgic for simpler times, I guess. My older brother and I used to drive in to school together in a used ’93 Chrysler Sebring with maroon-eggplant colored paint and grey, fake leather seats that had cracked and split from too many Texas summers. I rode shotgun, and he picked the music (mostly).

It was one of those early summer mornings before the sun had time to bake the cool air away. He told me I had to listen to this song, and to the lyrics in particular. It’s a pretty long song, and when we got to the parking lot it was still playing, so we stayed in the car and let the music keep playing even though it meant risking a tardy in first period.

Music: The Decemberists

Artist: Arthur Janz

Impact on The Star Pirate’s Folly

If you listened to “The Mariner’s Revenge Song” and you’ve read the book, you probably saw a lot of parallels. What I tried to do when creating this series was mash together a ton of my favorite things into one story and hope that it came out different enough from any one of them that it would feel like something new while keeping intact the ingredients that inspired me in the first place.

I wanted something like… a female version of the main character from “The Mariner’s Revenge Song” living out the story of Jim from Treasure Island, but set in a universe that borrows from Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars series, and Ender’s Game while also making sure there are plenty of pirates, references to Greek mythology,  some American history–you get the idea.

The worldbuilding aspect is a lot of fun for me, outlining a new idea or thinking of new details I can add to my universe. As a kid reading fantasy and sci-fi books, I always looked up to the authors who could create something unique and impactful. Certain things have always stuck with me, like the beginning of the lunar colonists’ revolt in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (which, btw, is a fucking awesome title). Or Ender’s team of Dragons, fighting against a rigged game. The mice of Redwall Abbey defending their walls from Cluny the Scourge and his horde.

I tried to create moments in The Star Pirate’s Folly that combined my understanding of our own world with the specific details of my world and the emotional journey of a broken girl trying to hold onto her sanity.

Did I succeed? I guess we’ll find out. 🙂

You read it! Thank you so much! Want more? 

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James

Creating New Stories (with Orson Scott Card)

When I was 16 or 17, my parents bought me an amazing birthday present: I got a plane ticket, and admission into a writers’ workshop in Utah taught by Orson Scott Card.

For me, that was nearly half my life ago! Crazy. Anyway, my dad went with me over the summer and stayed at a nearby hotel in Salt Lake City while I was in the workshop. I remember being one of the youngest people there, but the class had a wide variety of ages. The workshop took place in a large meeting room with rows of white plastic tables–it may have been a classroom, I can’t remember.

Orson Scott Card has been one of my favorite authors since I first read Ender’s Game. I’d seen his face on the back cover of my books, but seeing him in person brought him to life for me. He had short-cropped gray hair and a trimmed goatee flecked with white. Rimless glasses rested on his nose. Throughout the course he stayed very energetic and animated, though I did get the impression that he felt a bit ill at ease in front of the “class.” He reminded me of an English teacher I had in high school.

We started with the basics of creating new stories, since the point of the workshop was for all of us to write a fresh story and have others critique it. Card stood at the front of the class and said he was going to demonstrate just how easy it was to create new ideas for a story by creating a crowdsourced outline with our class. Let me see if I can remember how this went.

Basically, Card asked for suggestions from us for characters, then for motivations for those characters, and then for ways in which we could stop the character from getting what they want. These are the basics of story: people with needs to be satisfied, and the ways in which they are prevented from doing so.

As long as these basic ingredients are there for a story, you will have a character with goals to achieve and setbacks to work against. Even if this is just a turtle stuck in a ditch, slowly working step by step toward freedom, nearly cresting the edge–when suddenly a mighty crack splits the air and a thunderstorm unleashes a torrent of rain that causes the turtle to slide back into the muddy ditch.

It’s not the most interesting story, but it’s got the basic movements of a character –> fulfilling needs –> while encountering setbacks.

Thank you for reading! Join the crew on Patreon for exclusive content.

James

Shitty First Drafts: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Slush

Making Word Slush

First, say it with me: shitty first drafts. It’s liberating.

I first learned of shitty first drafts from an essay by Anne Lamott called (you guessed it) “Shitty First Drafts.” Basically, the idea is that it’s really okay for a draft to be shitty at first. That’s not to say that what you’re going to write is shitty, it’s not to make any judgment at all of the writing itself–that’s the point. Don’t worry about it. It’s fine if it’s a bit shitty for now because we’re going to fix it all later anyway, so don’t worry about what you’re saying and just keep writing.

Somewhere I heard someone call this process “making word slush,” creating content that you can work with later–like making snow before building a snowman. Going back and editing is counterproductive to writing. Don’t edit until you’re ready to show it to someone besides yourself.

I’m telling myself as much as whoever you are, dear reader, that it’s okay to write shitty first drafts because we shouldn’t worry about the quality; editing comes later. Write first, and if you can avoid it, don’t edit while you write. You just want to focus on creating pure, unfiltered word slush to work with later.

BUT. As much as it’s important to accept the shitty first draft, to love the shitty first draft, we also have to prepare for it. With something as long as a novel, it’s so easy to get lost and drown in just how much there is to think about. For me, the prep work to getting my first book completed was absolutely essential. I have to have a road map, I can’t just wander through the story without knowing where it ends.

Some people like that, and if you’re a seat-of-the-pants type of writer, YOU DO YOU. The Star Pirate’s Folly started when I was just struck by an idea, I got up, and immediately started writing the story in my head. I built the outline after, and I didn’t even end up using that first draft in my final copy, but writing those first few pages was SO important for the story because it gave me something to work with.

Mind map –> Outline –> Write

This is my formula. Bottom line, if you have an idea, get it down on paper/in a document, ANYWHERE, or you might forget. Personally, I like writing my outlines and mind maps by hand first and transferring them to Scrivener, a writing program (which is awesome for outlines!!). If you’ve never heard of a mind map, it’s basically just writing down ideas in a web and connecting them to each other. It makes outlining so much simpler.

I like to use an 8.5 x 11 legal notepad and a pen, but some people like to get a huge piece of construction paper or something with more space. Mind mapping is something I wish I’d done for my first book, so that’s where I started with book two, The Star Pirate’s Return. Since it would give away the plot, I can’t show you that, or go into much detail, but I’ll talk about it in terms of the first book.

The basic idea of the plot arc came from a Kurt Vonnegut lecture called “The Shapes of Stories.” I won’t go into that, but google it! It’s really cool. He’s a funny guy. (Okay, I had to google it myself anyway to get this cool picture, so here you go!) The basic shape of Bee’s story in The Star Pirate’s Folly was the “Cinderella” variety:

**WARNING: SPOILERS FOR BOOK 1 BELOW**

plot cinderella

At the beginning of the story, Bee is pretty low on the “good fortune” axis of the graph–surviving day to day on whatever she can, unable to really pursue her goals. She catches her first real break with Hargrove, who gives her a place to collect herself and be safe. Then, she gets her ticket off planet by selling the map, Starhawk shows his face (but only as she’s leaving Surface), she makes new allies with the Wanderlust crew, and so on. In the end, she gets her shot but has to sacrifice everything she’s gained. It doesn’t match up perfectly, but that’s where I started.

**END OF SPOILERS**

The important thing for me was just getting a framework for my story. I had key events at places in the book that acted as landmarks for my outline and let me keep in my head a basic idea of where I was in the plot. Tools like the good/ill fortune graph really help with visualizing the story.

Mind map –> Outline –> Write

Start with mind mapping. Just get everything out. Write your title in the middle, circle it, and then start with your plot (at least, that’s what I did). Write down the first thing that happens in your story, circle it, and draw an arrow from the title to your first plot point. Next event, circle, arrow, you get the idea.

If you get stuck on the plot or don’t have it all figured out yet, make new blobs from your title for characters, for setting, for anything you can come up with. When you’re finished, it will probably look like the ramblings of an insane person and that’s okay (I hope).

Your Outline Is Your Road Map

Once you’ve got a handle on your plot and you feel like you’ve gotten your ideas out onto a mind map, start with outlining. Your story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Try to break the plot points on your mind map into these general sections, then from there break each beginning/middle/end section into chapters.

If you’re more familiar with the three or five act structures, use that. I decided for my first book I’d write 40 chapters at roughly 2,000 words each, which works out to 80,000 words or 320 pages. But you can use whatever proportions you want–I just like short chapters.

Beginning/Act 1: Chapters 1-5, 10k words, 40 pages

Middle/Act 2A: Chapters 6-20, 30k words, 120 pages

Middle/Act 2B: Chapters 21-35, 30k words, 120 pages

End/Act 3: Chapters 36-40, 10k words, 40 pages

Don’t feel like you have to follow this ratio exactly, this is just what I ended up with because it felt right for the book. What you want to do next is make an outline for each chapter using the information you wrote in your mind map. Break each chapter into 3-5 scenes.

All you need is quick sentences that sum up an action or event which leads the characters through your chapter and ultimately through your whole story. Point A to Point B. Cutting the work into small chunks makes it much more manageable. It might not be totally legible, but here’s the most recent outline I used to finish The Star Pirate’s Folly. 

**WARNING: SPOILERS FOR BOOK 1 BELOW**

20170324_134146[1]20170324_134204[1]

 

**END OF SPOILERS**

For me, quantifying the book into a number of words or pages made it something I could wrap my head around. At first it was pretty intimidating to think about all the words I hadn’t written yet. But as I got farther into the book, keeping the wordcount in mind made it easier to plan and adjust my outline as things came up.

And because I’d been thorough with my outline and plotted out each chapter, I got a better idea of which parts of my story would need improvements and which might take more space than I thought. Some chapters got removed, split up, or combined with others. Each time I made a big change I’d update the outline so I had a “current” version in addition to my old ones.

Just going to say it one more time.

Mind map –> Outline –> Write

Thanks for reading! Join the crew on Patreon for exclusive content.

James

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