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Corey J. White Posts

Killing the Blank Page

As if proving what I said in my last post, Warren Ellis offered this piece of writing advice in his latest newsletter:

The only screenwriting “trick” I have is a tip picked up from John Rogers, who you probably know best from having co-devised and produced the show LEVERAGE. He builds every stage of the story from the one before.  Rewrites the beat outline into the treatment.  Rewrites the treatment into the screenplay.  Just pastes it in and starts working with it. This particular job is the next stage of a treatment I wrote earlier in the year.  It’s 5000 words long, twelve pages.  The pleasure of this approach is that, after the roughest of outlines, you’re never working with a blank page.  Just expanding and adapting (and fixing!) what you’ve already done.

I make notes at the top of every story document.  Usually just two things.  What’s it about, and what does each character want?  It’s simple and simplistic, and doesn’t contain the entirety of the work in any way, but in a rigorously structured thing, it can help me keep on track.

 

From the latest Orbital Operations.

He’s talking specifically about screenwriting here, but it’ll work for prose too. If you’re the kind of writer who plans, split that outline up into (possible) chapters, and either space them out in your Word doc, or paste them into a separate Scrivener page (?) and build from there.

Another trick I use, is to put points I want to reach, or currently-disconnected thoughts in [square brackets], and write to them, deleting the bracketed thought once it’s been implemented into the manuscript. (I prefer square brackets because they’re not generally used in prose, but regular brackets can be used for asides.)

Personally the blank page isn’t much of a block for me, but I know it can stall a lot of writers when they’re starting a new project, so these couple of tricks can help to dirty that page up and give you an excuse to just start, get that first draft down, and worry about improving it later.

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Excitement

Two exciting things have happened recently, one of which I’d been meaning to post about for a while.

 

First, I signed with literary agent Martha Millard at Sterling Lord Literistic, based in NYC. Martha reached out to me after reading Killing Gravity, was super enthusiastic, and had some great advice for me in regards to turning this little book of mine into an actual writing career. Martha’s been in the business for a long time, and represents some big names in science fiction, like William Gibson and Ian McDonald. If you’d told teenage-me with his nose buried in Neuromancer that I’d one day share an agent with Gibson, I would not have believed you.

The second thing is that Warren Ellis was kind enough to find time in his consistently-crazy work schedule to write up a couple of paragraphs about Killing Gravity in his Orbital Operations newsletter.

I’ve been a fan of Warren Ellis’ comics, prose, and newsletters for a long time now, so this means the world to me. (And if you think ‘being a fan’ of a newsletter is a bit weird, you’ve obviously never subscribed to one of Warren’s. You’ll get everything from political, sociopolitical, and technological commentary, to recipes, to ‘reviews’ of books and films, music recommendations, the occasional blistering rant, and gems of writing advice. I’d say his insights into the writing process are invaluable for any writer, but particularly for anyone with aspirations to write in the comics field.)

Now, if you’ve somehow discovered my work before Warren’s, then let me make some recommendations. As far as prose goes, Normal is fantastic. It’s a 2016 novella put out by FSG, and it’s Warren at his abyss-gazingly best: hints of William Gibson’s Blue Ant trilogy and Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach trilogy (to me at least), with characters that could only have emerged from Ellis’ mind, and a sort of technological paranoia/perversion that seems a perfect response to the surveillance capialism of today.

For a look at the sort of ‘thinking out loud’ you get in Warren’s newsletters, you can’t go past Do Anything, which I could try and describe, but would probably fail – so instead, click here.

And in the comics realm, there is so much to choose from. Some personal favourites though:

  • Black Summer – a superhero decides the President of the United States is a war criminal beyond redemption who needs to be killed. But that’s not the arc of the comic, that’s the opening few pages. Was written as a response to George W. Bush deceiving the Western world into a fucked up war in Iraq, but will probably still appeal to people today who like the idea of POTUS being slain.
  • Desolation Jones – Ellis’ take on the classic ‘noir detective in LA’ genre, but where the detective is a former British spy who lost all fear and human empathy after being subjected to a particularly fucked up experiment, and who is on the trail of Hitler’s personal porn stash.
  • Global Frequency – a fantastic series of connected sci-fi one-offs. A TV pilot was filmed, and it’s criminal that it was never picked up – it had the potential to be something akin to Person of Interest meets Fringe.
  • Trees & Injection are two newer series, that have a couple of volumes each so far and are shaping up to be some of the best SF comics of the 2010s.
  • And if you’re more of a superhero person, Ellis’ runs on Stormwatch, Authority, and Planetary are some of the best super stuff you’re going to find.

So yeah, exciting times. But that’s enough for now. I’ve got a book to write and another book to edit. Take care of yourself, and those closest to you.

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Continuum 13

This long weekend, Australia’s Natcon is happening in Melbourne – Continuum 13. As well as Guests of Honour Seanan McGuire and Likhain, and authors and fans from all over the country, you’ll also be able to find me at the con. I’m going to be doing a reading on Sunday morning, I’ll be on a couple of panels, and I’ll be happy to sign any copies of Killing Gravity that come into my hands.

So, if you’re going to be there, please say hi. Don’t be shy, that’s my job.

 

My schedule:

Saturday 4pm
When Spec Fic Becomes Reality

Rachel Nightingale, Emma Osborne, Cat Sparks, Corey J. White, Ju

Science fiction has been known to predict the future, for instance Octavia Butler wrote about a zealot who promised to “make America great again” in Parable of Talents, and Synners by Pat Cadigan is so relevant today. We’re chatting about books that are far less fictional now than they were when written.


Saturday 6pm
Westworld

Kathryn Andersen, Robert New, Emma Osborne, Corey J. White, Nuke

The classic 1973 Hugo and Nebula nominated movie has been turned into a stunning HBO series. What was great about the original, what’s changed and been modernised for the series and is this our future?


Sunday 10am
Author Readings

I’ll be doing a reading, along with JS Bruekelaar and Michael Pryor.


Monday 9:30am
Communicating with Other Life Forms: Starting with Life on Earth

Never mind the aliens. Dolphins might have near-human intelligence, and octopi can use tools. How close are we to communication with animals, and how would society change if we achieved that? (Bonus points to any prospective panelists who can talk about seaQuest!)

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Big, In-Depth Interview

Recently I was interviewed by Alasdair Stuart over at Tor.com. Alasdair is behind Escape Artists (the family of SFFH podcasts which includes Escape PodPseudopodPodcastle, and Cast of Wonders), and the magazine Mothership Zeta… in other words, he knows his science fiction well. This comes across in the interview, with Alasdair asking a number of great, in-depth questions that gave me a chance to delve into a lot of the stuff that was going on in the background while I was writing Killing Gravity.

AS: What sort of aesthetic do these books have in your head? Is everything high tech and advanced, or we talking crunchy switches and Logan’s Run? I get a little of everything.

CJW: It’s definitely varied within the world, depending on a character’s personal preference, the level of tech they can afford, and environmental factors. I kind of think of it in terms of mobile phones—back in the day I could walk down the street, tapping out a text message on physical buttons without looking at the screen and the message would come out perfect, but if you try the same thing today with a smart phone, you either end up with a gibberish message, or you end up walking into someone/something. So as much as people want the Minority Report-style holographic interface, for certain people and/or at certain times, you need physicality. After all, in Minority Report, the fancy display is useless without the wooden balls laser-etched with premonitions.

Read the whole thing here.

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Cats In Spaaaaace!

I got to write about space-bound felines over at Tor.com, and as you can probably tell I had a lot of fun putting it together.

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New Interviews

With the release of Killing Gravity (oh, yeah, that came out this week), I’ve had some new interviews come out.

First off, I was interviewed on the Start Writing podcast, which focuses on the craft of writing and other questions about marketing, publishing, and selling books both in traditional publishing and indie publishing. Check out the interview here. (NB: I took cold & flu tablets to try and minimise on audible sniffles, and kind of underestimated how jacked up I’d be between the meds and nerves… so if I talk WAY too fast, you know why.)

 

I was also interviewed by Paul Semel, largely about the influences that went into Killing Gravity and what’s in store for the future. Check that out here.

 

Also, here’s a thing that happened – my box of complimentary copies of Killing Gravity arrived (just in time to be boxed up with the rest of my books for my house move. Yes, it’s been a busy goddamn week.)

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China Miéville’s Structure

If you’ve seen a photo of China Miéville, you know he’s a structurally significant human. I mean, just look at him. Oh wait, he’s talking about novel structure? I guess that’s relevant.

I was wondering if you could give me some advice on how to deal with structure? How do you deal with it?

“You’re talking about writing a novel, right? I think it’s kind of like…do you know Kurt Schwitters, the artist? He was an experimental artist in the 1940s who made these very strange cut up collages and so on and very strange abstract paintings. And I was just seeing an exhibition of his, and one of the things that is really noticeable is he is known for these wild collages, and then interspersing these are these really beautiful, very formally traditional oil paintings, portraits, and landscapes and so on.

And this is that old—I mean it’s a bit of a cliché–but the old thing about knowing the rules and being able to obey them before you can break them. Now I think that that is quite useful in terms of structure for novels because one of the things that stops people writing is kind of this panic at the scale of the thing, you know? So I would say, I would encourage anyone that’s writing a novel to be as out there as they possibly can. But as a way of getting yourself kick-started, why not go completely traditional?

Think three-act structure, you know. Think rising action at the beginning of the journey and then some sort of cliff-hanger at the end of act one. Continuing up to the end of act two, followed by a big crisis at the end of act three, followed by a little dénouement. Think 30,000 words, 40,000 words, 30,000 words, so what’s that, around 100,000 words. Divide that up into 5,000 word chapters so you’re going 6/8/6. I realise this sounds incredibly sort of drab, and kind of mechanical. But my feeling is that the more you can kind of formalise and bureaucratise those aspects of things. It actually paradoxically liberates you creatively because you don’t need to worry about that stuff.

If you front load that stuff, plant all that out in advance and you know the rough outline of each chapter in advance, then when you come to each day’s writing, you’re able to go off in all kinds of directions because you know what you have to do in that day. You have to walk this character from this point to this point and you can do that in the strangest way possible. Whereas if you’re looking at a blank piece of paper and saying where do you I go from here you get kind of frozen. The unwritten novel has a basilisk’s stare, and so I would say do it behind your own back by just formally structuring it in that traditional way. And then when you have confidence and you’ve gained confidence in that, you can play more odder games with it. But it’s really not a bad way to get started.”

Via this link right here.

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Slush Wisdom

Aidan Doyle has posted a great piece over at Medium, What I’ve Learned From Slush Reading at PodCastle, which as well as containing some great advice for submitting to PodCastle in particular and to other venues in general, it also contains links to some other fantastic articles, and is well worth checking out.

Aidan links to Confessions of a Slush Reader over at Shimmer which contains a lot of advice for writing a story too compelling for a slush reader to pass on with examples of story foibles and suggestions for how to avoid them.

He also links to Zen and the Art of Short Story Titling by John Joseph Adams, which has some tips for writers who – like me – struggle with finding the perfect title for a story… or even just a good one.

Check those links out, and find Aidan on twitter right here.

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Ride the Wrong Way

Go where your energy is, and when you come to a point where you need to make a story choice, go with the less comfortable one.  It’s only time and paper. Ride the wrong way for a while and see what happens.

– Warren Ellis, from this post.

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