The Only City Left: Behind The Scenes #1

Note: This post originally went live between Part 13 and Part 14.

Since this blog is supposed to be about the things I am interested/involved in at any given moment, today’s post is going to be about my own serial SF, The Only City Left.

When I re-started this blog, I set a goal of three posts a week, to push myself to write more and stay on a schedule. I started writing The Only City Left (TOCL) because I figured it would be a good way to take care of one of the three weekly posts.

I started the story with an idea, which was to have a fun, scary adventure through a future Earth where the entire planet is one gigantic layer-cake of a city. The setting would allow me to throw almost any fantasy or science-fiction element that I wanted into the mix. Fun would trump realism as needed. I knew that my main character, Allin, would be alone. Allin, alone, get it? Gosh, I amaze myself sometimes (not now, but sometimes). He would be in danger. And he would be trying to reach the surface of the city and see the Sun. Except for a list of all the cool things I would want in a story (sample: vampires, kung fu, robots), I had no particular outline of what would happen. I like to write this way, to discover the world and characters as I write.

I am now 13 Parts and 14,000 words or so in (Pt 13 was double-sized), with another 5,000 words in the buffer. And while I won’t say it has become more difficult to write TOCL, I will say that I am putting more care into it now. The story has come to life for me and I don’t want to give it short shrift.

So what does that mean for me? For one thing, I had to go back and do a thorough re-reading of my work recently, to take notes on the people and creatures who show up, the plot points that are hinted at, gadgets and technology that are mentioned, that sort of thing. I also discovered pieces of the story that didn’t make sense together. Yikes, only 14,000 words in and I’m contradicting myself already?

That’s okay, though (for me, at least). This is a first draft, for all that I am trying to make it a good one. So what kind of errors have I found? Here are a couple:

In Part 1, Allin narrates: “If I had a last name, I’ve forgotten it.” Ummmm, really? Later on, he is addressed by his first and last name and he doesn’t think, “So that’s my last name!” And it doesn’t make sense for him to have forgotten his last name, actually. It was fun to write at the time, but that little tidbit can and will be removed from later versions of the story.

Part 4: In the original flashback, it starts with Allin saying he was 13. This doesn’t make sense for many reasons, not the least of which is that his love for Tyena, while perhaps naive at 15, is a bit creepy and weird at 13. I’ve already changed this one on the website for any new readers who come along.

(I saw something today that made me feel better about my errors: On Peter F. Hamilton’s Facebook Wall today, he talks about an error that made it into the advanced reader’s proofs before being caught by a copy editor: “It’ll be interesting to see how many reviewers notice a minor character who gets decapitated then turns up driving a jeep a few scenes later.” Of course, his book is 1000+ pages long, but still…)

There are other items that I caught that I would not call errors so much as items that need to be explained at some point. For instance, the werewolf ghost that chases Allin interacts with his environment in a more physically destructive manner than other ghosts in the story, and he doesn’t pass through inanimate objects like the other ghosts. I’ll admit I didn’t really notice I was doing this at the time, but I have since come up with reasons for this and it actually dovetails amazingly well with the plot that is brewing. It is an example of what I like to call a “Thank you, subconscious” (TYS) moment. Yes, I do believe that sometimes my subconscious nudges me in one direction or another or outright inserts something into the story that I don’t think much about at the time, but which makes sense when I look back on it later.

With a little wiggle room going for me thanks to the 5-week buffer, I am starting to outline the “tentpole” moments in the story (a good piece of advice that Chuck Wendig recently tweeted); I am using note-cards and a bulletin board to put events in order (inspiration courtesy of Travis Kotzebue), and most importantly, I am figuring out how I want the story to end (good advice from one of my favorite comic book writers, Greg Pak). Yes, I started the story without knowing the ending. Shame on me.

Finally, I have been reading other serials on the web lately, and one of the ideas I am taking away from them is that a title banner for the story would be nice. I’m no artist, but here’s some concepts I scribbled today.

Letters as buildings, “O” as planet covered in buildings, “C” as crescent moon: 

Thin letters, “O” as planet covered in buildings, “C” as crescent moon: 

Small letters except for planet-city “O”, with crescent-moon “C” in orbit around the “O”: 

Just some ideas; not essential to the story but it might catch the eye more than the current wall of text.

Okay, so that’s a look into my TOCL-ized brain at the moment. I hope you enjoyed it and I’ll see you Sunday for Part 14 of The Only City Left!