Friday, 07 September 2018 20:10

Bringing Ragnarok - Dev Diary 2

Woo, time for Developer Diary 2!

This week, Bringing Ragnarok Book 2 hit the (approximate) 75% draft-complete stage.

Now, that could mean a lot of things, so here's what it means for me: When I complete a draft, the story itself has been told to whatever checkpoint I've pre-established, and it is readable (but not good). I'm fortunate in that I've been writing and editing professionally for so long (that's what academia is, in reality) that my initial draft usually comes out pretty solid. At university, my general practice for writing an A paper was to bang out 12 pages in about 4 hours the day before it was due, spend an hour line-editing before printing, then it'd be off to turn-in. I'm just one of those lucky people who can compose about as fast as I can think, and the act of putting words together on a screen actually comes much easier to me than speaking.

And no, I'm not bragging - just being honest. Writing is the one thing I've always been told I'm good at. I ain't a great speaker, my ability to follow instructions without getting bored is minimal, and anyone who tries to tell me what to do rather than seek my consent is in for a very rude awakening (as too many past teachers would attest), so it is probably a good thing that I can write a reasonably interesting bit of prose (gods never poetry though, which is sad considering how much I would love to write music). Otherwise, absent living in a world where it becomes acceptable to hunt & gather for meals, I'd starve.

Which is all to say that, when left alone without any external distractions (emails, phone calls, so forth), I can consistently pump out 10,000+ words per week, which means I can draft a full novel-length book in 3 months.

This week's progress brought me to the point that I may be able to get Bringing Ragnarok Book 2 fully drafted by the end of September.

Of course, that doesn't mean I'll let anyone actually read it. While I can write reasonably well at a single go (that's pretty much how I blog, hence teh errers), I'd prefer not to be one of those indie ebook authors who gets review after review complaining about typos. I mean, I'll get some anyway, I'm sure, because I don't always follow grammar rules, and my speaking characters have a tendency to... grammatically innovate on the fly. Also, I choose word spellings for aesthetic, and often use Commonwealth English spellings (colour, armour) or de-accented German and Scandinavian because I'm too lazy to do Umlaut and Eszett correctly all the time.

So after the draft is done, I'll spend at least a full month editing full-time, line by line, half the time actually speaking the lines, especially character lines, to make sure they ring reasonable. A big chunk of the fun is designing characters who have independent personalities, likes, preferences, so on. And the only way to do that, given that I'm writing Bringing Ragnarok from local perspectives, trying to evoke the immersive feel of oral history, is to make damn sure the dialog doesn't suck too bad.

Still, unless something goes weird in the world (something else, 2018 has been a terrible, terrible year overall) between now and December, I'm on track to have Book 2 through draft, me-edit, Bev-edit, and final corrections right on schedule. Then on to Book 3.

In terms of this week's challenges, well, on the writing front it's just been churning out the words using the 'research' materials I've created. More of my thinking has been around how to actually get the story in front of people who want to read it. I've actually invested about $500 over the past couple months in learning the Amazon advertising system, which has happily generated a steady trickle of sales - not bad for a new indie author! I've also started to get ratings for Bringing Ragnarok on Goodreads, which was a pleasant surprise, inducing me to (finally) set up my author profile there.

BR is a bit of a challenge to figure out how to market, because the publishing world is set up to channel readers into genres, like science fiction, fantasy, military fiction, so on. But being me, I'm pulling pretty equally from Norse mythology, alternative history, and military science fiction, plus a general dystopia sort of feel. I'm self-consciously writing something EPIC, because that's what I like to read. Big ideas, deep history, challenging arguments. After this story is done, I'll probably pursue my Babylon 5 spiritual reboot, and do a space opera featuring fully-fleshed out, interacting alien species and the descent into Space War 3 (or whatever).

But in a publishing world still structured by genre, this has some downsides. Is an alternative history (alternate history, if you prefer) reader willing to accept a story that includes future alternate histories? Like Tolkien, when I read, I prefer something historical - true or feigned. So my dystopic futures of 2041 and 2147 are intended to be as historical as the dystopic past of 1944. I think alternative history fiction is my kind of fiction, and I definitely always enjoyed (and wanted to better) Turtledove's work. But are the strictures of genre too tight?

Similarly, while I'm drawing heavily from the tradition of military science fiction, I'm not sure that my use of a predominantly non-white male cast will play well with readers in that genre. Now I'm not saying that there's any particular reason why the writing shouldn't fit, but there are genres with a definite gender-skew, and while that's changing, it isn't changing fast enough. So are female readers - who I know must be out there, since by and large women like the same stuff as men, and read the same kinds of books but just aren't always socially allowed to admit it - so used to seeing white male characters as a staple of military science fiction that they don't browse that genre very often?

Me, I'm banking on there being a significant potential audience for an epic war saga that assumes half (or more) of the people involved should be female, because if you sample the human population, that's what you'll get (on average). Same thing goes for skin tone - in a world of 7+ billions, fewer than 1/3 with pale pasty skin like me, there should be more characters whose recent ancestors didn't all come from Northwest Europe.

Plus, something most people don't know, is that among hard-right blood & soil conservatives in the USA, there's a longstanding anxiety about secret United Nations troop buildups on American soil, preparing for a nefarious coup. The 2041 plotline is designed to make their nightmare a reality: the Missoula Regiment, while containing many former US military personnel like Sandra Chavez, is more than 50% international.

Yep, in the future I see coming, Russian, Chinese, Nigerian, Turkish, Peruvian, hell even Icelandic mercenaries (modern vikings, can I get a hell yeah!) camp out in (former) Yellowstone, right in the heart of Post-America.