August 26, 2012

WRITING ADVICE – SL Viehl #8: Keeping Notes For Posterity And Other Fantastic Futures

I stumbled across the writing of Sheila Kelly (aka SL Viehl, Gena Gale, Jessica Hall, Rebecca Kelly and Lynn Viehl) about eleven years ago with the publication of her first novel, STARDOC. I was looking for the work of a current writer to replace one of my favorite kinds of science fiction – human doctors in a space hospital working on aliens. I discovered this genre as an adolescent in Alan E. Nourse’s STAR SURGEON, followed it into James White’s SECTOR GENERAL books and A.M. Lightner’s DOCTOR TO THE GALAXY. S.L. Viehl’s books satisfied that itch – but I learned about a year ago that she is so much more than just a “space hospital” writer! The bits of writing advice in this new ten part series are used with her permission. This one is from:

My first response to this essay on using electronic notebooks to organize your "writing stuff" was: “Oh, puh-LEEZ!”

My second response has been, “Hmmmm.”


My current work-in-progress (in case you don’t know the terminology: wip) is OMNIVORE’S DEBT. When finished it will be about 110,000 words. It’s part of a future history I plan on writing. For right now the action takes place at the International Wolf Institute near Ely, MN in a future I’ve created in which petroleum is gone, 9,000,000,000 Humans live in 20,000 Vertical Villages connected by maglev trains and 1,000,000,000 Humans grow all of the food for the 9 billion on land from which all traces of Human artifacts – except for agriculture – have been erased. Humans are one of 57 intelligences making up the 100,000 year-old Unity of Debt.

I have lists of Vertical Villages, Towns and Hamlets; some mentioned, some not. I have a list of characters – some Human, some not. I have lists of aliens and footnotes on their characteristics, culture and behaviors. I have Staff at the IWI, I have information on InterPol and ranks in the armed forces. I have a webpage link that allows me to keep tabs on the REAL International Wolf Center in Ely, Minnesota. I have data on wolves and I have two dictionaries of invented languages: Shabe and Unity (which is sounds, gestures and movement).

I also have scraps of paper with unorganized “important facts”, dialogue clips and plot points. I have a calendar of events (beginning on November 30, 2087 through January 3, 2088) and a chapter-by-chapter single sentence outline which I can check off when I make sure I cover all the facts.

All of these things are on sheets of paper variously stacked, clipped, stuck between a folded piece of paper with a category written on it. The file is beat up and about 2 inches (5 centimeters from anyone reading this anywhere on Earth except the US) thick.

And now, Sheila Kelly tells me there are, hidden inside my computer, ways I can ORGANIZE ALL OF THIS WITH THE DOCUMENT!

Of course, I might note that ironically, she has a later post that points out the inherent problem with using such a system: In what possible way are any future generations going to access our current online, on-disk, MP3 player, ipod, etc? Paper, stone, clay and plastic are virtually the only way to preserve something for long periods of time. How would someone in the future access work from my jump drive if I can’t even see what’s on the 5-inch floppy disks I first wrote my stories on anymore?

Previously, I noted that I would give writing the last chapter of OMNIVORE’S DEBT. I’ve started that task and it has granted me a remarkable bit of clarity about where I’m heading with the novel. I am also going to be extremely careful about keeping my story down to 110,000 words as an one of the members of the online writers group I belong to discovered to his dismay when he wrote a 200,000 word sequel to his first novel and was told it was too long – and now there’s no clear date for when (or IF) it will ever be published (For the whole story, see this:

So – I’ll be poking around in my Microsoft Word 2010 to see if there’s any kind of tool to organize notes in there. I’ll let you know next time what I find out!

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