To First Drafts and Beyond!

First, a victory announcement: I just finished the first draft of my novella for NineStar Press’ “Lost” collection! It has polyamorous alien space pirates versus mad scientists and totally-not-dinosaurs! During at least the last five thousand words of the book, I listened to nothing but Meat Loaf’s discography, and everything is glorious!

The novella also ended up clocking in at almost 35,000 words; the collection requires between 30k and 120k, but I erred on the shorter side so I’ll have plenty of time to edit before the April 30th deadline. This was a new challenge for me, since I usually either write novels that are over a hundred thousand words, or short stories that tend to be under ten thousand. Thus, today I’m going to discuss the process of creating this novella, and how it differed from my usual methods (and what tended to be par for the course.)

First, I had to settle on an idea and an overarching plot in the first place. Other than the length, the only requirements were that characters were somehow lost, and that LGBTQIA+ romance be incorporated into the story. As I mentioned in the Valentine’s blog post, I’m not as inclined toward writing romance outside of pre-established relationships, so I bounced around a couple different ideas; a superhero and supervillain who get lost together and team up to escape while falling for each other, a demon trying to help a failed cultist after a ritual goes wrong, etc. But the idea I kept coming back to was an old sci-fi staple; getting lost on an alien planet. I already had a story in mind for a space fantasy setting, but with a long plot and an entire spaceship crew’s worth of characters, I figured it’d be too bloated to cram into a novella.

What I COULD do, however, was write a prequel in the same universe. And I already had a relationship set up to explore; one protagonist’s parents, a polyamourous quartet of space sirens (the Psyrens discussed over here) who were feared and revered pirates before being scattered across the galaxy. Of course I could have these pirates crash onto a bizarre alien planet, and what could be more romantic than four alien pirates who are all in love with each other? I busied myself with plans for what alien planets would be most interesting for these pirates to get lost in—and how to make sure my plots didn’t replicate pre-existing Star Trek episodes (thanks Mom!)

Next came the outline, a process I rigidly cling to even though I always deviate from the outline halfway through like a swiftly-derailing train. I’d already settled on having two protagonists, separating the pirates so they had to find each other and a way to escape, so I had to create two storylines that would meet at the beginning and end, and figure out how to have them mirror each other. It sounds like a complicated juggling act, but thankfully writing the “Deadly Drinks” series, which alternates between the Gallows brothers’ POVs, prepared me for doing it on a smaller scale. The main difference between outlining the two was that I didn’t mark when I would switch protagonists; I rigidly stick to chapter length and alternating in “Deadly Drinks,” but I elected to be looser about scene length and when POV switches happen in this piece.

Then comes perhaps the most necessary part of my process: writing and deleting a series of false starts. I’m not the sort who can actually write scenes out of order, and it often takes me a bit to set my train of plot on the outline track, so to speak. For this novella, the false starts led to an entirely new outline; where I’d originally planned to touch on the quartet early in their pirate days, I decided to go earlier and strengthen the romance aspect by having the story be about how three of the pirates find the fourth member of their spacefaring quartet. All I had to do was answer all the questions this brought up—why wasn’t their fourth member on their alien homeworld, how do the pirates reunite, how can they escape afterwards—and the plot practically wrote itself from there.

I had also originally planned to maroon my dear pirates on a frozen planet with a blood red sun (requiring characters to snuggle for warmth, which is the height of romance in the elements, right?) and hidden underground tunnels where most of the fauna actually survived to avoid all the snow. But between images of classic sci-fi art and a few hours of wandering through “No Man’s Sky,” I decided I wanted to explore the terrors of an alien jungle instead. I decided to keep the expansive network of underground tunnels, but what would the tunnel-dwellers be hiding from? Giant, hungry megafauna, of course. (Perhaps I’ve been playing too much Magic the Gathering, with the recent cards involving Pirates versus Dinosaurs…) And then what if there was intelligent life hiding in those tunnels, unnoticed by spacefarers overhead because the signals were blocked by being underground? That means a chance to introduce *more weird aliens!*

See, that’s perhaps the most important part of writing: there has to be something enjoyable about it. We authors joke about how much writing and editing equals suffering, but if you don’t enjoy the story or its purpose, then what’s the point? Even if they don’t all make it into the final draft, I always make sure I have a few key concepts or scenes in my stories that I want to explore, like a cool fight or examining the details of a magic system. Or, in this case, designing weird aliens who are relatable and “human”, even if they grow mouths instead of scar tissue and can control others with their singing. Yes folks, Psyrens are bizarre, even when they aren’t pirates.

While I had challenges writing my first novella, figuring out issues like pacing and how much information to include or discard, it was also a lot of fun. More room than a short story to add plots, sub-plots, and extra character development, but without the time investment needed for a full novel. Plus, I’m literally writing a classic sci-fi adventure and all the ridiculous twists that entails, but with polyamorous alien pirates. What’s not to love?

I’m taking a few days off from it to celebrate its completion (returning to a for-fun project instead to keep my writing chops up), and then I’ll go back into editing with a clear head. Should all go well, it’ll be ready by the April 30th deadline, and will hopefully release with the rest of the “Lost” collection. We’ll see soon enough~

~Dorian

6 thoughts on “To First Drafts and Beyond!

  1. Hey ho, congrats, Dorian! Also, happy to hear that your method also leans heavily on writing and deleting false starts – mine does, too! 🙂 Have you noticed any kind of trend in this? As in, how many false starts do you need, on average?

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    • The trend I’ve noticed so far is how long I’ve been planning the particular story for. No matter how well I’ve outlined a story, it’s more likely to run off the rails and require a restart if I’ve only had it on my mind for a short amount of time. How well I’ve researched necessary components like the setting is also a strong factor. More time and research = less restarts needed, and the need for restarts is realized earlier in the process.
      As for the average amount of restarts…I think the amount is around two or three restarts, but the main varying factor is how far I get in each restart. For the novella, I wrote about 5,000 words each time before deciding that those beginnings didn’t work. For the second Deadly Drinks book that I’m about to start the second draft of, I somehow once got to chapter 13 (in a 21 chapter book) before realizing that I needed to scrap almost all of what I’d written. That book was…quite a feat to finally finish the first draft of. (And I already had book three in my hand during most of it, so since I had all that plotting time, book three has gone so smoothly that I’m halfway through and haven’t had a need to restart anything so far.)

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      • Mm, that matches my experience, too! That’s why I think it’s so deceptive when people say they wrote their first drafts in one sitting, or whatever. It just conceals the fact that a lot of brain-work went into it before, consciously or subconsciously.
        Also, don’t worry about getting to Ch.13 before realising you gotta scrap. I wrote an entire novel (short, 60k words, but still) before realising it wasn’t the novel I should’ve written. 😀 It turned out to be the seed for two independent, but somewhat related, novels! And it’s taken me half a year to realise what they’re actually about, too…
        Anyway, what about the first Deadly Drinks novel? Do I get to read it soon? 🙂

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      • I’ve done that too, especially with my one NaNoWriMo novel where all the characters are now in completely different projects with no connection to each other. So many of my stories are built on the backbones of other old stories and characters I’ve torn apart and recycled; can any story truly be wholly created in one sitting? Hrmm…
        As for “Bones and Bourbon,” it’s scheduled to release this April! The exact date keeps moving around; as of right now, we’re shooting for the 23rd. Plus, the novella I just finished the first draft of is to be submitted on the 30th of April, so I’ll spend the next two months in back-to-back editing. Should be fun?

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