I realized yesterday afternoon that one reason Calamity of So Long a Life is hitting the page more slowly than my usual pace a first draft is a new phenomenon I’ve never really encountered in my own writing process before.
Exclusive of the actual plot synopsis, I have 50 pages (literally) of continuity notes, backgrounders, a cast list, a places list, and so forth. As I write, I keep stopping to check things which I generally know are there but want to get right. Or I stop to update the cast list because new named characters just walked onto the page, otherwise four months from now I’m going to either wonder who the heck Halle Wirkkala is, or I’m going to name another minor character Hailey Wirkkala by mistake. Or I stop to check the description of a planetary setting. Or I stop to…
You get the drift.
Every world I’ve built up til now, I’ve largely built on the fly as I wrote. That’s a short story writer’s technique, and I’ve made it work even across multivolume series. Not utterly so — many notes were made on the clockwork Earth before I ever started drafting Mainspring, but that amounted to five or ten pages of cosmology and weird pseudophysics. But by and large, I simply sorted things as I went along.
This led to, among other things, the memorable and annoying problem in the first draft of Trial of Flowers wherein I rotated the Burgess’ palace 90 degrees about halfway through the book. An enormous amount of directional information, setting detail, character action, even things like the angle of shadows, had to be reworked with excruciating care to repair that.
On a project as monstrous as Sunspin, I can’t afford to make errors that basic, that require so much retooling. The simple fact of the matter is I’m going to do it anyway. This stop-and-start drafting is a way of minimizing the frequency, scope and impact of those errors.
It also has the odd and possibly desirable side effect of riding my brake a bit as I write. I’m thinking more at the line level in first draft. We shall see over time if this approach pays off or not, but I suspect I’m fairly committed to it.
Interesting stuff, challenging my own span of control and revising my process in motion. Feels a bit like changing the oil and rotating the tires on my car whilst driving down the highway.
Do you write with a lot of background detail pre-planned? How big an issue is this continuity process for you, at short lengths or long?