Tag Archives: fiction

To The Far West: Research and Outlining

One thing I haven’t done on my blog is go through the process of creating fiction, from start to finish. Since I’m in the middle of a short story, I thought it would be a good time to correct that oversight.

This is my contribution to Tales of the Far West, an anthology for the Far West franchise. I’ve written for a number of franchises in the past (everything from Vampire: The Masquerade to Red Dwarf), and one of the key things of writing for someone else’s universe is that you have to research. You don’t have to just research the specific property in question (although for some established franchises, that can be a massive undertaking in itself), but you also have to look into ancillary research that relates to the property.

For example, Far West. Since this is a property that’s still being developed, Gareth was able to get me a short bible, and made himself available for questions. If I don’t know the franchise to start, I try to go into it relatively blind, so that I don’t form an idea for a story and then become disappointed. In this case, one particular paragraph grabbed my attention:

Our analogue of the Pinkerton Detectives, mixed with a bit of Detective Dee and more than a smidge of James West from Wild Wild West. Our “citified dandies” who use gadgets and tech.

I immediately pitched the idea of a detective story in this setting, and Gareth gave me the green light. This led to more specific research, including a lot of questions about the legal and political structures of this franchise.

But remember how I mentioned ancillary research? Far West is a kind of Wild West/steampunk setting with Asian influences, so I had to also look into criminal investigations and technology from the 19th century. Luckily, my Sherlock Holmes project meant that I had most of the resources on hand and fresh in my mind (part of the reason I made the pitch, if I’m being honest), but the point was that I had to do a fair bit of reading before the rough shape of the story took shape in my mind.

At a certain point, I had enough details in my head that I needed to start writing them down and banging them into an outline. I am a writer that lives by outlines. I have tried to write without an outline, but every time I end up getting lost half-way through the story and giving up. Every time I outline, I can finish the project. The down side is that sometimes it takes me weeks to get an outline strong enough for me to start writing, and some projects have died in the outline phase. Still, it’s better to have it die after a few pages rather than a few dozen (or hundred).

In this case, I did spend a few weeks just working on the outline. People who have worked with me as a developer have remarked on my clear, thorough outlines, but the ones I write for myself aren’t so clear. The first pass is usually just a hand-written list of details. I try to put them into some form of shape, and notice gaps which I then try to fill. For this story, I knew I was looking at a story of at least 5,000 words, and using the Lester Dent formula, I wanted to have a couple of twists and a couple of conflicts before the end.1 In my notebook, I literally drew four boxes and scribbled facts, twists, and conflicts in each one to make sure I had the right balance. I immediately noticed a very soggy middle and a weak ending, so over the course of a week I wrote it a few different ways. At one point a key piece (the reason behind the murder) popped into my head, and the whole outline fell into place. I created a new SpringPad note (something I can easily get to on my computer, phone, or iPad for refeerence) and write a list of bullet points, covering the key facts of the backstory (since the murder happens before the story starts, I had to make sure those facts are straight as I introduce them), and the three or four things I needed to do each 1,500 words or so.

Then I started writing my first shitty draft, which I’ll get to in another post.

  1. I have a different way of interpreting Lester’s formula — I should write a separate blog on that sometime.

Mini-Props for “Gloomy Sunday”

Martin Livings did a mini-review of “Close Encounters of the Urban Kind,” including a nice nod for “Gloomy Sunday.” (Thanks, Martin!)

[T]he best compliment I can pay this one is that it ended too soon. I could see a novel growing out of this tale of genetically-implanted musical melancholy.

And since I’m on the topic of my writing, I’m working on a series of essays about the original Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes canon tentatively entitled “Tour de Holmes.” It’s going to be slow going, and there are going to be a lot of them, so for now let’s just see how it goes.

Got My Copies of Close Encounters Today

Long day of work today, but I did get my two copies of Close Encounters of the Urban Kind in today!


And just to prove that I do indeed have a story in there:


(Sorry so blurry – my iPhone was having trouble keeping it in focus.)

I’ve actually lost track of how often I’ve been published now, but I never lose that thrill of seeing my name on the page. And it’s weird reading my own writing again, but that’s a blog for another time.

You can pick up your own print copy of Close Encounters directly from Apex Publications. Also, you can still pay what you want for an ebook version. I haven’t had a chance to read the other contributions yet, but I’m planning to once I get through some of my growing book stack.

Get some of my fiction. Pay whatever you want.

Close Encounters cover
Close Encounters cover

I just got this from the folks at Apex Publishing.

Right now you can grab the eBook of Close Encounters of the Urban Kind and pay what you want over at Smashwords. That means you can grab it for free, toss a coin in the hat, or pay list price. It doesn’t matter. We only want you to get a copy of the book and read.

This link takes you straight to the book page: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/14757

Smashwords provides the book in a number of formats including mobi (Kindle), PDB (Palm), LRF (Sony), ePub, and PDF.

I contributed a story to this anthology — “Gloomy Sunday.” If you’ve been curious about this story, this is a great way to check it out. As mentioned, you can pay what you want, but I’d appreciate if you came back here and left me a comment to tell me what you thought of it.

Pre-Order Now for “Close Encounters of the Urban Kind”

Originally published at The Whitechapel Project (for MP3s and polls, click this link). You can comment here or there.

Cover of "Close Encounters of the Urban Kind"

Cover of "Close Encounters of the Urban Kind"

Long story short: an anthology I’ve been published in is open for pre-orders. Buying a copy would be awesome.

Details: Pre-ordering opened today for Close Encounters of the Urban Kind, the fiction anthology by Apex Book Company. This anthology features my short story, “Gloomy Sunday.” It’s about a washed-up private detective, his government-employed ex-girlfriend, and a song that kills people. While the story isn’t directly tied to any events in Whitechapel, it does share elements with it (most notably the Lacuna organization, a first-person narration style, and a tendency for me to be really horrible to my protagonists).

The special pre-order price is $15.95, and the book will be available for sale in April 2010. If you’ve been a fan of Whitechapel so far, picking up a copy of this book would be a great way to support me.

The link to the pre-order page is here:


Writing and writing and writing

New & Noteworthy Books

Image by olinlibref via Flickr

Before I start, I need a moment.



Whew. There. Now that that’s out of my system, "Gloomy Sunday" has been confirmed as one of the stories in the upcoming Close Encounters of the Urban Kind by Apex Publishing. This is awesome for a couple of reasons: it’s only the second time I’ve been paid for my straight fiction (the first was "Questions" for the Pseudopod podcast), and it’s the first time I’ve been invited into an anthology instead of blindly submitting a story for consideration. I have a chance to do a polish and reformatting pass before the editor gives me redlines. And then, at some point in the future, the awesome happens.

But no time to slow down. I’ve been chugging along on Whitechapel, and I’m pretty pleased with how it’s turning out. I’ve been babbling about my writing process on that project quite a bit — you can check out my post-mortems if you’re interested.

And because my brain doesn’t have enough going on, I’ve been poking around with an older project for the past few days — a weird kind of pulp superhero universe. It’s something I’ve kicked around for a few years now, but it’s been intermingled with some other projects in my head, and I’m in the process of slowly extracting them so I can focus on fleshing out those elements. Originally I had a few different OpenOffice documents that I was trying to keep notes in, but it was hard to keep track of all the interconnections, so I’m now putting all my notes into a TiddlyWiki page. My time running a Scion cycle on Obsidian Portal has helped me to think of ways to use a wiki for cross-referencing world information and characters. Of course, I don’t have any plans to work on comic scripts or a superhero RPG, so I’m not entirely sure what I’ll do with it just yet, but I’m sure I’ll have some fun with it at some point.

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