Tagged: stubs

Gazing Ahead

We’re very pleased with the process we’ve developed over our years of writing together, especially our secret weapon: stubs. They offer multiple advantages for anybody working on a large-scale project, and provide a crucial foundation of common understanding for anybody working as a team. Taken together, they form a kind of first draft of the first draft.

We don’t create all the stubs up front. Typically Jen will write a dozen or so at a time, and then when we’ve used most of them up she’ll do the next wave. Our main reason for this is for continuity. The progression from outline to stub to prose brings an increased level of detail and reveals decisions that get made on the fly. If we did stubs too far in advance, by the time we got to the later ones there’d be inaccuracies.

But the other reason for doing the stubs in waves is so that the material is fresh for us as we tackle the scenes. Our current work-in-progress has fallen just a tad behind schedule, which has undermined this notion of freshness. Jen did the stubs all the way out to the end a while ago, part of a push to get the manuscript finished up more quickly.

So, it was time to remind ourselves how this thing’s supposed to end. Over the weekend we devoted a chunk of time to reviewing all the stubs, reacquainting ourselves with the shape of things in the finale. We also wanted to decide whether or not to be a bit more vicious in our treatment of one character. It felt like we probably ought to, but before committing to that idea we had to check ahead for what actions might become infeasible for this person, so we could have reassigned or reengineered tasks if necessary.

Luckily for us (unluckily for that character) the adjustments were minor.

It felt great to read the ending of the story, even in stub form. We both got a nice jolt of, “I want to read that book — guess we’ll have to write it!”

Giants of Science (Novels)

We passed some nice milestones recently in the auxiliary writing cave. Our base of operations shifted there while we collated and discussed the critique input we collected on Science Novel, and even though we would rather have done that work over the winter (because the auxiliary writing cave has a fireplace) it was still a nice change of scene.

Now we’re back in the primary writing cave, gearing up to dive into the Science series. Maybe “come at it broadside” would be more apt, seeing as we’ll have three books in play simultaneously. Now that the critique info is digested, Jen will begin an editing pass on Science Novel. Meanwhile, Kent will be making additions to the first draft of Son of while Jen lays the groundwork for Grandson by cooking up its first batch of stubs. It’s a form of cookery where all the plates are spinning, evidently.

The last time we tackled three books all at once was when we did the covers for the Divided Man series. Based on how that turned out, we might want to start making a habit of it.

Like a Swiss Clock

r-avatarSon of Science Novel may not be progressing as quickly as we would like, but it is progressing smoothly. Everything is lining up just the way it should.

Jen whipped up a dozen or so stubs before actual writing began, and when we started to run low she was able to leave the prose composition in Kent’s capable hands and get the next batch of them ready. It takes a little bit of planning to map out which of us is going to write which upcoming scene, but as usually happens with a novel, each of us has gravitated toward certain characters. And, due to good planning at the outlining stage, point-of-view scenes for each character are somewhat staggered which has resulted in us seamlessly passing the baton back and forth. Wow, that’s a terrible metaphor.


This week Kent was working his way through a complicated scene while Jen did her best to confuse Google with her research topics. She got the answers she needed just in time for Kent to need to do some research, which meant one of us was always adding to the word count.

Having a writing partner brings some challenges, but this past month has really demonstrated for us what a useful thing it is to have one.

So Now It’s Fall Already

r-avatarProgress report time: we’re making progress!

Jen has completed the first nine stubs for Son of Science Novel. Each stub represents a scene, which for us tends to run in the range of three to six pages, although many times they end up longer. It’s not exactly rare for a scene to get cut after we’ve written it, but our process does help us minimize such wasted effort. If it gets stubbed, it’s a pretty sure bet it’ll be in the book.

Kent has completed the first draft of the new short story. He hadn’t done one in quite a while, and it felt damn good. In this case it was also fun to reconnect with characters we haven’t written lately. So now that draft needs to rest for a bit and then we’ll do revisions.

And, we have been devoting a lot of time over the past few weeks to the business side. This is a trend we expect to continue for the foreseeable future. It’s exciting and intimidating at the same time. One thing that’s become clear to us is that the biggest appeal of traditional publishing is the idea of having other people do all this stuff. (Which isn’t necessarily an accurate idea, but it sure is appealing!)

Now, back into it. More worlds to conquer! And winter is, is… due to arrive… just around the corner, er, bound to show up at some point.

Gentlemen, Start Your Engines

r-avatarWe mentioned recently that there hasn’t been much writing going on in the writing cave of late, and we’re happy to announce that that’s about to change.

Yes, we’re still wading around in the marketing bayou, wielding our machetes, collecting the far-flung pieces of the treasure map that will assure us publishing success, while doing our best to avoid quagmires, gators, and other distractions. But we are still attempting to plug away at the fiction at the same time.

A few days ago Jen finished up the detailed outlines and timelines for the next two novels we’re going to tackle. They’re both sequels to the Science Novel, so it makes sense to work them in tandem. This was the first time we’ve worked on such a grand scale, and it took a lot longer than expected to get them both fleshed out. We needed to upgrade our crystal ball to get better resolution for such far-future details.

Then last night Jen composed the first stub for Novel #7, aka Son of Science Novel. (In our writing cave, Stubs are what we call detailed scene descriptions, the step between outline and actual prose.) We like to have at least half a dozen stubs lined up before we start writing so that we’re both clear on how our individual parts will fit into the finished work. We’re not quite ready to start yet. But we’re so close! The excitement is building, and we’re hopeful that we’ll actually remember how to do it. To limber up, Kent is working on a short story.

A Little Pantsing Can’t Hurt Too Much, Right?

r-avatarMan, we are closing in on the conclusion — make that the action-packed conclusion — of Son Of Music Novel. We’re so close. The scene Kent is working on is that last big chunk of writing, although we have stubs for a few more scenes that are mostly denouement. (Also, there’s a feature of the Music Novel that recurs here, and for which we need a significant amount of text. Jen’s made an excellent start on that.)

All this adds up to a strong likelihood that our manuscript’s completion will fall during NaNoWriMo. Ah well, if our baby’s a Scorpio we’ll love it anyway.

Kent’s working from a stub that turned out to be a little light on details. It was fine up to a point, and then it got vague. The way we chose to deal with that issue (once we figured it out) was to have Kent beef things up in the stub first, rather than just winging it and going straight to prose. Either way could work, and our way we knew there was a small amount of extra writing to be done. It was tempting to see that as nonproductive and skip it, but experience has taught us that we’d end up with more rewriting if we succumbed to that temptation. Better to do a few hundred words up front, knowing they’ll never be read by anyone outside of the writing cave, than to write thousands of words thinking that they’re counting toward completion only to find that they don’t work, and then do another batch.

You might be wondering how we ran into this problem, given our fervor for a stub-based methodology. It was kind of a perfect storm. The later in the story we get, the less need for worry over derailing things. This lack of worry is great from a stress-management perspective, but it can lead to cutting corners. And as it turns out, there is a second edge to that “close to done” sword: things need to start coming together, not keep ramifying. You’re on final approach, and you have to make sure you won’t run out of runway. Another factor here is that the vague area of the stub was mostly kinetic, which makes it easily glossed over. But the action in question incorporates thematic elements and needs to cover specific beats for the character arcs. It’s not just, “make up something exciting and interesting,” it’s “do that, within all these nuanced constraints.”

It seems glaring in hindsight, but until the prose was well underway we thought the stub was pretty solid. Fortunately our work style involves lots of conversation and we figured out the issues without losing any ground. Kent does seem to have a Zeno’s Paradox thing going on, where each evening he manages to write half of the remaining words in his scene. Jen’s not the kind of co-author who’ll sit back and let that run its course, so one way or another that cycle will break pretty soon.

Happy Friday the Thirteenth to all our triskaidekaphobe friends! And all you triskaidekaphiles, too.

Writing Cave Status Report

r-avatarRune Skelley’s habitat has been a rather hectic place of late. In addition to the recent travel and interviews that we mentioned the past couple of Fridays:

  • We heard back from two more Science Novel beta readers with much positive input
  • Yesterday’s #PitMad kept us nicely distracted on the twitters for a while, pitching the Trilogy and the Music Novel
  • Jen analyzed the outline of Son of Music Novel and terrified Kent with the number of words we should expect to write by the end of the year to meet our deadline
  • We allocated the next handful of stubs — we will be able to work in parallel for the foreseeable future so our productivity should take an uptick (unless this jinxed it)
  • We’re shortly off to a conference, our first in a while

All the schedule disruptions, while they slow down our prose generation, are also positive things in their own right. So we have mixed feelings about them. Maybe if they didn’t travel in packs…

Writer’s Block? Our Ounce of Prevention = Stubs

r-avatarWe haven’t talked about the special sauce in our team-writing process lately. We still rely on stubs, and so should you. Besides curing warts and controlling the weather, stubs have another miraculous ability we’ve neglected to mention. If you use them, you’ll rid yourself of writer’s block forever! Okay, sometimes it might still be hard to get rolling, but we find our stubs help us keep on track and on task, and make the tyranny of the blank page almost a thing of the past.

Here’s how it works.

The stubs themselves are “burner” writing. You know you’re the only one who will ever see them, so you can give yourself permission for the prose to suck. That’s terrifically liberating, and paradoxically can lead to your best work. If the stub starts to get “too good,” that’s fine. You’ll be able to mine it for gold later on.

When it’s time to do the “real” writing, the stubs give you something to use as a jumping-off point. There might be gold in there, after all. Even if there’s not, the stub holds all the minutiae for you, so you don’t have to worry about it. This lets you apply your energies to crafting magical sentences and inhabiting the characters.

The next time you feel blocked, think of stubs as a way to get get unstuck. Optimally, they’re part of a system that begins with a thorough outline, but you can get a lot of bang out of them even without additional infrastructure. Maybe all you need from them is their disposability, so you can get out of your own way and start writing. Or maybe your stub will just be a list of the key details you need to keep track of in the scene. The important thing isn’t to use them right, it’s to use them to write.

Son-of-Music-Novel Progress Report

r-avatarCounting the stuff from Wednesday night, we’re almost up to 43,000 words on the new book. We’ve done twenty scenes (one’s not quite finished, but it’s thisclose) which nearly depletes our stub stockpile.

While we don’t like to work on a scene without a stub, that doesn’t mean that we generate all the stubs before we do any of the writing. What we’ve found works far better is a sort of inchworm approach — stub it out up to some milestone, then write all that prose, then generate the next batch of stubs, and so on.

There are definite advantages to doing this. For one thing, even with a thorough outline such as ours, your plans will inevitably be overtaken by events. The outline has to be end-to-end despite the likelihood of needing to redo a lot of it. If we also ran ahead and created all the stubs, then that’d just be more rework. There’s also a purely logistical reason: we find it works best to have one person do all the stubs (that person is Jen), so if she had to generate the whole set before anyone could move on to the next stage, someone would be sitting around for a while (that person would be Kent).

How do you choose the cutoff point for each round of stubs? In this case we based it on a watershed moment in the story — it’s the boundary between acts I & II. You could also divvy things up based on character chronology: Jane as a child, Jane as a teenager, Jane in college, etc. Or just guesstimate word count and chop it into quarters or tenths or whatever you’re comfortable with.

Whatever size “inch” you make your inchworm, remember to take stock each time you start another iteration. Make the stubs your story needs, which might not be the ones prescribed in the outline. Stay flexible and keep moving forward.

It’s Just Like Riding a Unicycle

r-avatarThey say that you never forget how to ride a bicycle, and in our experience that’s true. The problem is that sometimes novel writing feels more like riding a unicycle, and neither of us ever figured out how to do that (Jen does get bonus points for actually owning one when she was a kid).

The manuscript currently checks in at a little over 23,000 words, which means yay! we’re making progress. That’s double what it was the last time we talked about it. But the last time we talked about it was several weeks ago and that’s really not a ton of progress when you consider that there are two of us.

The current speed bumps are thus: Kent keeps falling down research rabbit holes and trying to write scenes to incorporate all of his new learnings, but those scenes are far ahead in the outline and haven’t been stubbed yet, and this causes angst and rewrites. Meanwhile Jen is trying to check the work we’ve completed so far against the stubs to make sure that every important detail has been included before she files the stubs away. That wouldn’t usually be a very time-consuming job, because usually we’re meticulous about following the blueprint presented in the stub. Right now, though, we’re still trying to remember how to balance on one wheel, and some details are falling through the cracks.

Why doesn’t Jen just go ahead and make the necessary changes? That was the plan, until she got into the thick of things and discovered that she’d forgotten how to steer something with no handlebars. It took many reassurances from Kent that, yes, she is allowed to — nay, is expected to — make changes, even to stuff Kent wrote, before she felt comfortable doing just that. It was a strange headspace for her to be in, and she seems to have figured her way out of it, finally.

We might not be ready to ride our unicycles in the circus, but at least we have each other around to help balance.