Days Until Home, a retrospective

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Twenty-one weeks, twenty-one chapters. Three authors in three different time zones. The Days Until Home collaborative web serial ended last week. I asked David and Greg to jot down a few thoughts on the project and I added my own two cents. You know, the standard stuff: what we enjoyed, what vexed us, and how the collaborative process was different than our normal writing process. Since the chapters went David, Greg, Mark, I’ve ordered our responses in the same way.

* * *

I’ve worked on collaborative projects before. Danny McAleese and I started the hit new Choose Your Own Adventure-style series Ultimate Ending, where readers make decisions for the character throughout the book and reach endings based on their decisions. However, the [Ultimate Ending] collaboration is more strategic than tactical: Danny writes a book, then I write a book, alternating back and forth and giving each other feedback and ideas. Aside from beta reading and general criticism, each book is either his or mine.

The collaboration on Days Until Home was an entirely different experience. Alternating chapters is simple enough in concept but adds a new dimension to the writing in a lot of different ways.

First, there was very little outlining. Mark, Greg and I wrote down a super rough idea of things at the start, but it was just a guideline to estimate how long the project would be, as opposed to an outline to follow. I’m normally a big outliner, creating outlines that are dozens of pages long, so this was a new (and fun!) experience for me. Each chapter was written mostly on the fly, seeing where it would take me. Near the end of the project the three of us ran some ideas by one-another a bit more, which was necessary since we were hitting the climax, but most of the book was written more-or-less blind.

Second, the goal of each chapter was slightly different. On normal projects I’m always thinking about what’s next: what’s going to happen next paragraph? Next page? Next chapter? Days Until Home always had a big blank space just ahead, since Mark and Greg would be writing the next two chapters before I had my turn again. So instead of setting up my own plots, I felt like I was playing a game of volleyball, constantly setting the ball so one of them could spike it. I really enjoyed this part of the project because it allowed me to “let things go” that I would otherwise obsess over. Normally I’d be focusing on every little detail to make sure everything is consistent and makes sense, or is perfectly explained. This project allowed me to let go of some of those details, “setting” the ball for Mark or Greg instead.

Finally, the biggest part of this project was not knowing where my writing comrades would take things. I would be brainstorming one thing, and then Mark or Greg would drop a big fat (and awesome) new plot that I’d need to work with. As a writer, this was a fun new challenge. There were times when something they wrote screwed with one of my ideas, and I’m sure there were parts I wrote that messed them up, but that forced us to be more creative and work together.

I had a blast working on this project. Writing once every three weeks helped me avoid writing fatigue, so I was always excited to work on the project when one of my chapters was due. Mark and Greg are great guys who I’d be honored to work with in the future. Check out their other published work if you haven’t already!

David Kristoph

David Kristoph lives with his wonderful wife and two not-quite German Shepherds. He’s a fantastic reader, great videogamer, good chess player, average cyclist, and mediocre runner. He writes mostly Science Fiction and Fantasy. Check out his work if you want to help pay for his beer.

Twitter: @DavidKristoph
Amazon: David Kristoph

* * *

When Mark invited me to be a part of this project, I was a bit hesitant. I knew that it would be hard Science Fiction and territory that I tend to stay away from in my own writing. But we need challenges to improve, so I came aboard and found myself very happy that I was a part of it.

Writing Winchester Hayes was a big part of my motivation after pulling the straw for the bridge crew, and he was a fun point of view to get behind. I’m a lover of Westerns and characters with shades of gray in their morality, so Winchester gave me a chance to explore a bit of that.

Reading David Kristoph’s initial chapter really lit a fire under my butt. The Olympics are going on, and I would liken it to seeing a runner before you leave it all out on the track and knowing that you have to maintain the momentum or do better. You don’t want your fellow writers to have to pick up the slack, or worry that your terrible chapters will bring the project down. I thought I did okay, but the feedback from our wonderful readers assured me that we were working on something special.

One of the best parts of collaborative writing, when it’s done in a relay the way Days Until Home was done, is the fact that you have to release the controls. Most of us as writers are in full control of our characters and can decide on their futures, interactions, and fates. With this project, David or Mark could easily kill off one of my crew members, or make them do something that will forever alter their future.

A character can go blind, contract and STD, get blown out of an airlock, or divorce their husband of 20+ years. You have to eat that if you aren’t able to convince your writing partner that it is a bad idea, and then play it forward in your next chapter.

I mentioned before that I don’t write hard Science Fiction, and this was evident by the amount of research I had to do for the tiny tech portions of my chapters. My books are very people focused, I’m more about the arguments, the character development and the relationships that ensue. Trying to describe a crippled ship from the point of view of one of the geniuses on board? Well, I was a fish out of water.

What it did for me, however, was it made me respect the extra details as they add a bit of realism to our space fantasies. Sure, it’s a made-up whatchamacallit that runs off of made-up name version of a familiar energy source, but it’s still important to describe why it’s working. [Edit: The EXT is very real, and is used by NASA! :p -Mark]

I look forward to another project like this, hopefully when I’m not working on something of my own. One of the biggest challenges I found was jumping from the fantasy series that I am currently writing to the more serious science fiction world of Winchester Hayes. I was forced to write more than I have ever written before in a three-month span, but it was a nice workout that pretty much showed me that I could be writing more.

In any event, this was good, and I hope to do it again in a genre that I am more comfortable with. Hopefully, readers will enjoy Hayes as much as I enjoyed writing him, and this beautiful Frankenstein that we have built.

Greg-Dragon-2

Greg Dragon has been a creative writer for several years, and has authored on topics of relationship, finance, physical fitness and more through different sources of media. In particular, his online magazine has been a source of much pragmatic information, which has been helpful to many. As a result, his work continues to grow with a large and loyal fan base.

Twitter: @hobdragon
Amazon: Greg Dragon

* * *

I’ve done collaborations in the past. Warmache, Brass Automaton, War of the Worlds: Retaliation and Moonrise come to mind. I’m a total pantser (I think the cool kids call it “discovery writing,”) so allowing David and Greg to push the story wasn’t a big deal for me. David is hardcore on the hard science fiction, so I had to do a bit more research than I normally did. I usually just make stuff up until someone calls me on my crap, and that someone ended up being David most of the time.

In Days Until Home, there was more communication between the authors. I’d write something and show it to Greg, and he’d say, “I don’t think that Hayes would act that way.” So I’d need to rewrite that scene. There were also a few plot holes that had to be fixed in our rough drafts that we shared with each other before posting. (How can person xyz be in this scene, she’s trapped in the drive-thru?)

Because writing is such a solitary thing, it was nice to have two dedicated beta readers that I could get (almost) instantaneous feedback. Like David and Greg, I had several other projects going on at the same time, and it was interesting how Days Until Home threw a wrench into my schedule every third week.

Here’s a minor behind-the-scenes spoiler for you: When the voting on who the villains were started, I took an early lead and maintained it until David had a last-minute surge of votes in the last days. I had already written a different ending based on the (false) assumption that my faction would be the villains. I have to admit that I was a little disappointed that I couldn’t use my ending, but David really came through with his ending, and I’m glad we didn’t know how the story was going to end because it offered us a bit of freedom to do whatever we wanted. This led to some excellent writing, and I’m sure you agree, an excellent story.

I’ve always been a sort of lazy writer, and my two writing partners kept me on my toes. Also, as a short fiction writer, I had to write single chapters that were longer than some of my published works! (Chapter 15 was a whopping 7300 words!) Dethroning War of The Worlds: Retaliation as my largest word count (over 67,000 words,) Days Until Home weighed in at over 91,000 words. And we still have to work on the rewrite in a few months to get it ready for publication. I like to operate out of my comfort zone, so I embraced the differences in this project versus others I’ve been involved in.

**Spoilers** I dreaded writing the final chapter because I had to match the intensity of David’s and Greg’s writing, and wrap up the entire story in a satisfying way. They had to actually get home (they did), Hayes had to die for extra feels (he did), and Viktor had to reunite with his wife (couldn’t quite make it happen.) Plus those of us that weren’t the villainous faction had to explain away all the red herrings we dropped through out the project. (Really? A shower? Come on!) I talked through my ideas with Greg, David and a few other authors that weren’t part of the project, and I’m satisfied that the ending is as awesome as the rest of the story.

It was an epic adventure writing with David and Greg, and I hope to do more with them in the future. Maybe this can be a regular thing we do: bust out an epic science fiction collaborative web serial every other year or so… (Hint, hint.)

mark-300x450

Mark Gardner lives in northern Arizona with his wife, three children and a pair of spoiled dogs. Mark holds a degree in Computer Systems and Applications and is currently attending Northern Arizona University, enrolled in the undergraduate Applied Human Behavior program.

Twitter: @Article_94
Amazon: Mark Gardner

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About Mark Gardner

Mark Gardner lives in northern Arizona with his wife, three children and a pair of spoiled dogs. Mark holds a degree in Computer Systems and Applications and is currently attending Northern Arizona University. View all posts by Mark Gardner

One response to “Days Until Home, a retrospective

  • Greg Dragon

    Lol, Mark, my “whatchumacallit” comment was not based on our story. I know that we used real world things for this Science Fiction, but there’s a lot of hard Science Fiction out there with the flux capacitors and vibranium flight suits powered by arch reactors that go into enough detail to make it seem feasible. Just saying…

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