Monday, March 4, 2013

Scout's Honor - Afterword

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            Chapter 1 of Scout's Honor was published on May 28, 2012.  By making the story public and putting it on a regular schedule, I was committing myself to finish the story.  That was the whole idea of the project, but I had concerns.  What if I ran out of ideas?  What if the series of cliffhangers grew stale?  What if I found the project tedious?  Nine months later, I'm not concerned any more.
            Making the story public was vital.  Any writer will tell you the importance of establishing a writing routine and sticking with it.  I've known that for decades, and had a routine back when I wrote comic books.  My other attempts to establish a writing routine never succeeded until I agreed to write a weekly column for Bruce Bethke's Friday Challenge site.  Once again, I was able to establish a routine and, for the most part, stick with it.  What did writing comic books and writing the online column have in common?  A commitment to other people.  It's easy for us humans to let ourselves down and much harder for us to let others down.  Without that commitment to readers, I doubt I'd have made it past chapter 10.
            The length restriction for each chapter was vital.  I wanted the story to be lean and fast-paced, while not entirely sacrificing character development.  The word limit kept me focused on advancing the story.  I ended up cutting lines and scenes I liked because I couldn't include them and stay within the word count.  In the early chapters, it was tough to cut those lines and scenes.  It got a lot easier and, I believe, improved my writing.
            Ending each chapter with a cliffhanger was vital.  The original idea of the cliffhangers was to give myself a goal for each chapter.  That worked admirably, but it had two major effects on the story.
            The need to develop cliffhangers drove the story in unexpected directions.  My plan had been for the characters to start in the desert and work their way north, toward Mordan.  Instead, the characters spent the first forty-five chapters going south.  Tristan, Nist, and the Pauline would never have existed without cliffhangers.  Trogs were originally throw-away wild men, a means to introduce Prince Callan and Rob, and a means to introduce the effects, positive and negative, of Boost.  The story dictated otherwise, leading to pivotal chapters set in the city of Faroon.  I might have found a way to introduce Milo and his sister, Kim, but I can't think of a better setting for Raoul's true character to have been displayed.  Only the broadest strokes of my original story remain.  I like the finished story much better.
            That leads to the second major effect of the cliffhangers.  They made the story fun, not just for readers (I hope you all had fun) but for me.  Whenever my mind had a few spare minutes, it turned toward the story.  Where was it going?  What obstacles were the characters going to face?  If I use this great cliffhanger, how the heck do I get the characters out of it?  Yes, I know more about what's going on than you readers do, but less than you might think.  Several times, the story has undergone major changes based on single chapters; something I'm sure will continue in Scout's Oath and Scout's Duty (the working title for the third part of the story).  I have a 200 word outline for those two novels.  If the writing stays true to form, I'll end up scrapping a lot of what's in those bare-bones outlines.
            I'm looking forward to finding out what happens next.  I hope you are, too.

Tune in on Wednesday for Chapter 1 of Scout's Oath, book two of the Scout Trilogy.