When I started writing these Kindle Vella projects, my main idea was to get some of these damn stories out into the world. For the most part, except for the Martiniere books, that’s been the case. I have pulled things off of my hard drive, put a little organization into them, and tossed them up on Vella, then at least up on Amazon if not wide.
And it’s been a learning proposition. I’ve definitely changed up my drafting processes to use Scrivener even more than I was starting to do (the non-serialized Martiniere books were driving me in that direction just so I could keep track of continuity). I suspect that’s been a minor factor in this huge change I’ve noticed.
What I didn’t expect was for the serialization-to-novel process to affect how I plotted a story and, ultimately, my productivity processes. After doing this off and on for over a year (well, not so off-and-on considering I have been doing the same thing over on Substack, only with a slower schedule), I have started to realize that serialization has helped me figure out how to plot better without needing to be so formal about it.
Why? I’m not entirely sure. I do work off of an outline, but these days said outline is primarily a set of fairly loose chapter summaries running about 3-5 chapters ahead of where I am in drafting. And the outline is pretty flexible. It lives in its own file under the research tab in Scrivener, where I have it open most of the time while drafting the current chapter in Word. If anything, as I said above, drafting serials seems to have helped me use Scriv more effectively. Some of this is just a matter of visual organization. I can look over at Scrivener and see the chapter titles. Check the word count of the draft. Look up something without needing to scroll back in Word. Keep track of the chapter length because each chapter has its own document, until it’s finished and put into Scrivener.
But what is happening as a result of serialization isn’t just a matter of how I’m outlining and drafting. Serialization provides me with set deadlines. For Kindle Vella, that means an active project must have enough drafted so I can stay at least two weeks ahead of my publication schedule (my active Vellas post new episodes every Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday). Episodes generally run from 600-2000 words.
For Substack, I try to have enough drafted to post a new 800-2000 word episode every Friday. I prefer to run a month ahead of schedule there.
In both cases, I’m writing chapters that are anywhere from 3000-6000 words, and splitting them up accordingly (essentially, dividing into major scenes).
But what this also allows me to do is work for a while on one project, until I either run out of steam and need to let the story sit for a little bit, or get enough ahead that I can focus on other projects. Generally, given the different publication rates between Substack and Vella, that works out.
Sure, I could do this without resorting to serialization, but…one thing that really seems to work is to have the hard deadline. The awareness that I need some lead time for an episode to clear with Amazon, in the case of Vella. And having that deadline seems to be freeing. The brain starts figuring out a lot more stuff.
Case in point–Federation Cowboy, the Vella serial that started publishing this past week.
Oh, I had made a running start at this story a few years ago (and actually had circulated a short story version for a little while). I even have a novel outline. But, dear God, it just wasn’t working. Lovely space opera elements, but I just couldn’t get them to work. I had a few pages with an earlier scene, where Jeff and Caroline meet because he’s retired from a career as a rodeo duelist and wants to go into politics–and Caroline is a political consultant. But then it skipped ahead to the short story, where Jeff the Planetary Representative gets into an argument with a sentient–Converted is the term I’m using–horse colleague, Fenarmin, who is also a former rodeo duelist. Things cross a line and Jeff and Fenarmin end up engaging in the most dangerous and intense version of rodeo dueling–sentient against sentient, which goes until one participant is either disabled or dead. The duel ends with both badly injured. Caroline and Fenarmin’s partner, Rifanel, discover that nefarious forces deliberately used an intoxicant to set up the fight between Jeff and Fenarmin–to sideline both of them before a significant vote in the Federation Congress. The nefarious forces are trying to gain control of a power source found only on an planet which has some…interesting characteristics.
It just didn’t work.
So. I blew dust off of the story a few weeks ago and started working with it. I went back to that first scene. I decided to keep the tone somewhat light-hearted, by allowing my human characters to choose usenames that reflect their aspirations when they reach adulthood. Caroline wants to get away from old Earth and her family. Jeff wants financial security for him and his extended family. Rifanel is a powerful mare who wants what is best for her extended herd. Fenarmin wants to make amends for a bad family history.
And then the pieces kept falling together. Both Jeff and Fenarmin were forced to retire by non-rodeo injuries that sabotaged their careers. Jeff was able to prove foul play, but Fenarmin couldn’t. Instead of a power source being the source of contention (and introduced later), a plant-based drug with different effects on different species and tightly controlled by a cartel which–may have ethics issues of its own–is what everyone’s fighting over.
The cool thing is that the twists keep popping up as I write along. But this is not the story I would have written ten years ago, when I first tried to write it. I don’t know if serialization finally kicked things loose, or if the idea finally just had enough time to sit in my brain.
Nonetheless, it’s been a fascinating change in drafting processes. We’ll see how this continues, when I move to writing the fantasy trilogy in the spring.
That is, if something like the Martinieres doesn’t happen along to further distract me (which is what happened three years ago, when I was originally going to write that series.