One of the things that an author must learn early, and practice often, is: Always Trust the Back-Brain.
Not too far, naturally, or too literally, but Just Enough. Because the Back-Brain is right far, far more often than it is wrong.
A case in point is presented in the. . .let’s call it the outline for the novel that became Scout’s Progress. I often outline by writing snippets of what’s going to happen in a particular novel. As the years have gone by, I’ve actually developed the ability to write the snippets in more-or-less the order that they’ll appear in the novel — which is endlessly helpful, and saves having to push all the furniture in the living room to the walls, so I can kneel down with the printed-out snippets and deal them across the rug, until the correct order has been established.
The. . .outline for Scout’s Progress, though. . .that came ‘way out of order.
Let me briefly outline the situation.
We’ve been writing a long, long time. Agent of Change and the first draft of Conflict of Honors were written on a typewriter, starting back in, oh, 1984. Carpe Diem was the first book we wrote completely on a computer — a Kaypro so-called “portable” computer, running the ancient and revered operating system known as CP/M. I think we got the Kaypro in 1986, when the on-acceptance check for Agent cleared the bank. At the same time, we bought a nine-pin printer.
Now, during the time we were writing Agent of Change, Conflict of Honors and Carpe Diem, we were also thinking about Where The Story Was Going. And I — it was almost always me, since Steve’s back-brain is organized differently, plus? He has a really good memory. — I would be struck by An Idea, A Scene, A Character — and I would rush to write it down.
In those days, we saved things on 5.25 inch floppies, but nobody really trusted them. We — I, anyhow — still printed things out, as a back-up, because who knew what the new-fangled tech would do, this time tomorrow, while a file drawer? Was forever.
Well. . .not exactly forever. Because. . .printouts made on 9-pin dot matrix printers to 18-lb burst computer paper? Fade. Not, I’ll grant, as quickly as printouts made onto thermal paper, but fade they do.
I found this out yesterday, when, as fate would have it, I unearthed an old free-standing file holder full of old files, which I intended to throw out, so that the holder could be re-purposed to hold the files of the new projects we’re working on.
Except that, when I opened the files, I found — scene after scene after scene, printed faithfully out on that poor old 9-pin printer, which must have ascended directly to heaven when its time came, given the hell the two of us put it through.
To the best of my knowledge, given the printer, the rediscovered scenes were written in 1986/1987 — before, in fact, Steve and I moved to Maine, because we didn’t bring the printer with us to Maine — we sold it, along with my blue Depression glass, for gas money.
So it looks like, in 1986/87? My brain was on fire. I have here a scene where Pat Rin has found the Passage after having been offered the Ring by a stranger. I have another scene with Val Con and Miri, after he was re-taken by the DOI. Another — a short conversation between Daav and Val Con regarding Val Con’s probable chance of survival, should Miri die. Ideas for stories that became novels, lists of words, character descriptions. . .
. . .and this snippet — the first outline for Scout’s Progress.
Now, I happen to love this outline. I love that — though it gets so many things wrong — it gets the important stuff right.
Aelliana is the odd child in her clan — check.
She doesn’t know who her new friend is — check.
She doesn’t want to be married again — check.
I love, love, love that she already has her grandmother’s puzzle ring.
And that she’s teaching mathematics at the university.
And that she had always won her ship in a game of chance, and from a person so unsavory, she hesitates to say his name.
Daav is hanging out for a wife — check.
He’s sneaky from the get-go — the very first time I wrote Daav yos’Phelium and the back-brain gets him exactly right! Go, back-brain!
. . .of course, there are all those things that the back-brain got wrong. Had I written out from what’s there, taking all of it literally, it would have…well. A very different book.
I’m happy with the book we did eventually write, and I’m thrilled to have found this intact first attempt at an outline.
I hope you’ll enjoy it.