Philip Brewer's Writing Progress


Thursday, 11 October 2001

I spent a half hour using a technique that Pat Murphy taught us. I went through my story, divided it into scenes, and noted down what each scene did for the story. Then I thought about what the cumulative effect was, and how I could make it stronger. There was one scene I could delete. There were a couple others that could be trimmed down a lot by deleting bits that, while neat ideas, didn't contribute to the story as it has come to be. More important, I spotted two places where I needed to punch up the conflict. Most important of all, I split what had been the final scene, where the hero tries to figure out what to do and then settles on his course of action. The first part gets moved much earlier so that his choices are crystallized. Then, the scenes where he struggles with his choices are played out against his two bad options. In the previous version, there was hope that everything might work out fine. In the new version, that particular hope will be dashed at about the midpoint. The story is about him choosing the least bad alternative, even while still striving hopelessly for a better one--and then he finds a different better one than he'd been striving for.

I didn't actually make any of the changes yet, just notes. Time was short. I didn't write over lunch, going out instead with some friends from work. Then I ended up working late, because there's some new schedule pressure.

Schedules are produced based on guesses. Everybody knows they're just guesses, and it's made clear--explicitly stated--that these schedules will be adjusted as we learn more about the task. But very early those schedules get frozen and any change gets described with terms like "schedule slip" or "not making your dates." (There are plenty of Dilbert cartoons on the topic.) Anyhow, our managers apparently got berated for how we "never make our dates" and now there's enormous pressure. Since the dates were only guesses in the first place, of course, this is crazy.

My own next date on the schedule has me delivering something the first day I'm in Finland. (The master project plan didn't get updated to show that I'll be away, working on other things, for several days. It also didn't get updated to show that the thing I need before I can go on to my next step is about three days late.) I could go gripe to my manager about those things--but it would be crazy because the time in between was just a wild guess anyway! So, I'll see if I can't get the stuff done before I go. I still don't know, because I still don't know enough to make a realistic schedule. (Give me two more days. Then I'll have a pretty good idea how long this next task will take.)

Fortunately, I've had enough experience doing this sort of thing to know that it's the same everyplace.

Jackie and I lifted this morning. I've gotten into a groove with my workout, using several of the new machines. It feels good.


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