Thursday, October 29, 2015

Château Soleil Update 7: Doing The Math

Current word count: 70,013
Chapters done: 24/52
Projected length: 151,695 words

Wrapping up the first half. I've got about two chapters left, but I've gone a little out of order, and you may notice how small the projected total has gotten. I'll have more to say about that in my next update. For now, I want to talk about math.

Don't run away screaming just yet.

This is important for my current project, because one of the major characters is a mathematician, and I just wrote a scene where she* has to save the day using geometry. She was using a metric that gave a rough figure for distance in order to triangulate in on a person (although within a three-dimensional structure, so... "quad-rangulate"?). I didn't want to diffuse the tension by getting bogged down by the actual numbers. On the other hand, I did want to treat the math seriously and treat the inexactness of her calculations as a serious liability in their search. So when numbers were called for, I used very round ones. And instead of focusing on the calculations, I instead focused on the shape of the data and how that translated into a visualizable geometric model, and how the holes in her data would hurt her model. 

Hopefully, this will be engaging to non-mathy reader but has enough candy for math people to appreciate it as well. It was definitely a different kind of challenge.


I studied math in college, and I'm seldom happy with the way it's treated in movies and books. In general, in pop culture, mathematicians demonstrate their mathy-ness by doing complicated calculations in their heads (see Samuel L. Jackson's character in Sphere). When math becomes important to the plot, it does so in magical ways, as in the movie Pi. Or it's treated as a hand-wavy plot advancer, as in Jurassic Park's myriad meaningless discussions of Chaos Theory. None of this is bad, per se, it just feels extra fictiony to me and tends to take me out of the story.

In real life, math involves a great deal of estimation. When exact calculations are needed, they would be done using a computer, but a mathematician would also have done a quick-and-dirty estimate in his or her head to make sure that the number the computer spits out makes sense. The other important thing a mathematician brings is an interpretation of what the numbers mean. If you want to see both of these done well: Tom Hanks does some math in Cast Away on the wall of his cave, figuring out the area that rescuers would have to search to find him. He uses judicious estimation to get to his numbers quickly, and then contextualizes them for the audience. The actual area as a number is meaningless. "Half the size of Texas" makes it more real.

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*Yes, "she"

Friday, October 23, 2015

Château Soleil Update 6: Structural Weirdness

Current word count: 59,999
Chapters done: 18/52
Projected length: 173,331 words

So, I'm not technically at 60,000 words yet, but I am at the end of a chapter and how could I not make a post with my one-word-shy word count? I suppose I could go back and throw a "Damn" somewhere just to round it out, but that would feel fake.

Depending on how you look at it, I'm either coming up on the midpoint of Act II (which is coincidentally the midpoint of the entire novel) or I'm in the middle of Act III of the first half of the book. I'm using an unusual structure. By breaking out the first half into its own "book" with its own climax, I'm masking the fact that I'm using a three-act formula at all. Always a plus if you can use a formula without making it look like you're using a formula.

I don't know. Fly casual.*

I had two goals in messing with structure. That was one of them. The other was that it facilitates a device I'm using in the chapter epigraphs. There are three "books" within this book. Each is 'graphed by excerpts from a different piece of correspondence that is explained at the end of that "book". And yes, the first half of the book is the first "book", making it the longest by far. Which is an unconventional choice.

Which means none of this may survive editing.

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*Okay, this reference is really nerdy, even for me, but kudos to you if it made you laugh.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Château Soleil Update 5

Current word count: 50,150
Chapters done: 15/52
Projected length: 173,853 words

So what's really funny is that this started out as a short story idea. I imagined a heist where the... um... heisters... pulled off a daring escape through the center of the sun, which allowed them to fake their own deaths. It was a cool idea, but it also felt like a wholly unsatisfying conclusion to a short story. On the other hand, it could be a very enticing beginning to a long one.

So I began to develop the idea a little. Passing through the sun would involve some kind of McGuffin to let a ship pass through matter. So they're passing harmlessly through the sun. What then is the unbelievable event that would set the plot in motion? They run into something, of course. What do they run into? How about a bigger ship? And then it captures them.

That's how the original idea came together and then radically changed scope. And, in fact, that is more or less my elevator pitch for it. For reference, my actual elevator pitch:

A band of thieves pulls off one last heist using stolen tech that allows them to pass through matter. They attempt a daring escape through the interior of the sun, only to be captured by the Château Soleil, a mammoth vessel that was already hiding there.

Fun stuff.

Racing towards "set piece #1." See you in 10K.

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Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Château Soleil Update 4

Current word count: 40,275
Chapters done: 12/52
Projected length: 174,525

So, I'm not quite a fourth of the way through my outline. Put another way, I'm getting into Act II right now. My ridiculously ambitious goal is to have the next thirteen chapters finished this month. Probably not going to happen, but there's a nice little mini-climax that I'm working towards that should help keep my momentum going. And I'm getting into the territory where the chapters are a little shorter.

There are a few reasons for this. First, the characters are splitting up more, so there are fewer things to keep track of in a given chapter. Second, a lot of the backstory has come out now, so chapters are more oriented on plot than on world-building and character development. At 40,000 words, the characters are pretty well established and I'm trying to keep things moving forward. Third, one of the POV characters in this stretch just has shorter chapters. He's not especially thoughtful, he's isolated from the rest, and he tends to use small words and short sentences anyway, so a chapter for him will only be about 2/3 the length of the chapter for one of the other POVs. Finally, moving towards a climax (even a mini-one) means shorter chapters for pacing reasons.

Expect the projected length number at the top to continue falling for a bit, but I doubt it drops below 165K. This is still going to be a crazy-long book. For me, anyway.

See you in 10,000 words,
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