How to Write a Novel: Fiction Unboxed (The Full Story)

Fiction Unboxed is a first-of-its-kind “writing performance” in which two successful, full-time authors wrote and published a 100,000-word book in 30 days … while a live audience watched every little detail of the process, with nothing held back.

NOTE #1: Existing Unboxers who are signed up at the Unboxed site will have to re-register here. We apologize for this extra step, but there’s no way around it. CLICK HERE TO GET UNBOXED ACCESS AT STERLING & STONE.

NOTE #2: Unboxers can also see the (super convenient) archive page HERE. And, if you’re already an unboxer, you can unbox a friend HERE.

Table of Contents

The Story Behind UnboxedDay Zero Minus Ten | Day Zero Minus Eight | Day Zero | Day One | Day Two | Day Three | Day Four | Day Five | Day Six | Day Seven | Day Eight | Day Nine | Day Ten | Day Eleven | Day Twelve | Day Thirteen | Day Fourteen | Day Fifteen | Day Sixteen | Day Seventeen | Day Eighteen | Day Nineteen | Day Twenty | Day Twenty-One | Day Twenty-Two | Day Twenty-Three | Day Twenty-Four | Day Twenty-Five | Day Twenty-Six | Day Twenty-Seven | Day Twenty-Eight | Day Twenty-Nine | Day Thirty | Day Plus Three | Launch Day! | Fiction Unboxed Conclusion?

Fiction Unboxed

The Story Behind Fiction Unboxed

In June of 2014, we conducted Fiction Unboxed in front of our live audience with fantastic results.

Here’s how it happened:

In December of 2013, the three of us (Johnny B. Truant, Sean Platt, and David Wright — hosts of the popular Self-Publishing Podcast) released our definitive self-publishing guide, Write. Publish. Repeat. But even after reading how Sean and Johnny published over 1.5 million words of well-reviewed fiction in a year many WPR readers had a few remaining questions:

How can you write so much, so fast?

Where do you get your ideas?

What does your brainstorming, writing, editing, proofreading, and publishing process look like from beginning to end?

We (Sean and Johnny) considered writing another book to answer those questions. But in the end, we rejected the idea of telling people how we worked … and decided to show them instead.

As you read this, the book we wrote live during Fiction Unboxed — The Dream Engine — is out in the world, being ravenously enjoyed by readers. But when we began Fiction Unboxed on June 1st, 2014, we had no idea what story we’d tell. We didn’t know any of the characters, the plot, the setting … not even the genre. All we knew was that we had 30 days to write and publish a book from scratch … and on that first day, a live audience was already peeking over our shoulder, waiting for us to deliver.

During the next 30 days, we worked together, developing a story from nothing, including a vast new world in which our characters lived. Every one of those first story meetings was recorded (and available here). Unboxers watched as we struggled with concepts, rejected ideas wholesale, and tossed others around like kernels in a popper. One day, we had to surrender in frustration after a brainstorming session hit a wall. Our live audience watched as we shuffled the deck and started again. 

Once we finally had our idea, Sean began to outline and craft characters — a process we shared with our audience as it unfolded. Johnny then wrote the first draft, posting each day’s new work as soon as he was finished — which, quite often, meant that people who followed the project live saw the day’s new words even before Sean. 

We recorded every one of our story meetings, including several emergency session at the end to untangle complicated knots in the story. We posted each stage of the edit: Johnny’s rough draft, Sean’s edit, Sean’s out-loud polish read, and the final books. We even shared all of our story-related emails, so that you can see exactly how we write our books … warts and all … with nothing held back.

We finished the book and published it on June 30. Readers loved it. 

But as the saying goes, “it’s about the journey, not the destination.” And Fiction Unboxed was an astonishing journey — one that you, reading this now, can still share with us.

Take a look through the entries below to see how our journey to “write a book in a month, starting from scratch” unfolded. It was a rough ride … but in spite of that rough ride — maybe even because of it — we think that Fiction Unboxed may just be the most useful, instructive, inspirational, and demystifying experience you’ll ever have as a writer.

Dig in.

Story Flying Pages

Day Zero Minus Ten

Welcome to the Unboxing

It’s May 21, 2014.

The Fiction Unboxed campaign ends tomorrow. The project starts its new life here.

We’re so excited. The campaign has been a lot of fun, but slightly too long. We’re eager to get on with your story.

We’ve been working our faces off to get this site live early, because we wanted to give you as much time as possible to look around, make friends, and feel at home.

We’re going to be nose deep in Blunderbuss, the working title of our Fiction Unboxed project, until we decide on something in June, so our social activity will be barely existent. But we will check in here regularly.

We’ve kept the site super simple, without clutter. Spare so that everything’s easy to understand and navigate. Your needs should be a click or two from being met at all times.

We got together for an impromptu Hangout last night so we could go over the site, and let you know what to expect. Here is video from our very first Unboxed Hangout.

A Short Tour (& Mindless Discussion)

We stay mostly on topic, and manage to keep the video to half an hour. We’ll be building the site out over the next week, so comments on this page are a great place to leave any ideas you may have. Though we do want to keep things simple, this place is for you, so please let us know what you want.


We’ll be posting here every day in June. Most posts will have Unboxer-only content, with links at the end that will allow you to automatically click over to walled off copy (like downloads of transcripts and videos, plus access to forums). Below each post there will be simple sharing buttons for G+, FB, Twitter and LinkedIn — the three places we think this content is most likely to be shared (we really hope you will!). Just under that, a login for Unboxers, and links to each day’s free content, for those readers who wish to skim along.

Each day we get more excited about everything to come, and are constantly considering ways to improve it. Comment below to say hi, ask questions, or offer suggestions for things we can do better.

This project will be amazing. Thank you so much for being here from the start. We appreciate all you’ve done and are doing.


Day Zero Minus Eight

This Feels as Big as It is

Yippee skippee Unboxers, we did it.

Mostly you. Our hardest part is yet to come. For the most part you’ll get to sit back and watch, maybe throw things at Dave, or gasp at my giant beak (I didn’t know it was that big!).

If you saw yesterday’s Kickstarter update, then you’ve read this next part already, but it’s important enough in our project’s timeline to quote again here. From Yesterday:

I was stepping on my stomach through the last couple of minutes.

I didn’t know the countdown would finish with seconds, I figured it would stretch a minute then leave us with a zero.

Johnny texted, “Now they’re counting down by seconds. That’s not nerve wracking or anything.”

It was, but it was also a helluva minute, not quite as swollen as the ones just before Ethan or Haley were born, but in an odd way not all that far off.

Because this feels as big as it is.

In the final minute, a backer named Robbie said, “One of the cool things about this project is that I think the guys have found their 1000 True Fans – or at least 976 of us.

I LOVE that sentiment.

THAT is absolutely one of our biggest reasons for starting this project, and shaping it through every iteration, sanding it down until it was glassy because good enough was only a breeze to the storm.

Not everyone here is (by definition) a True Fan. Nor is everyone who listens to our shows or reads our books. True Fans are with us for everything, and it’s amazing to know there are hundreds of awesome people who are part of this project, read our stories already, and listen to one or both of our shows.

Those are the truest of the True Fans and each day I wake up early with a giant smile ready to work hard to earn your affection.

To every True Fan who backed this project. THANK YOU!

We could not have done this without you. We owe our lives as they are to all that you do.

To everyone else, we hope you’re True Fans by the time we finish “Blunderbuss.” We hope to excite you enough that you’ll want to read more of our books and share more of our stories. Maybe even listen to one of our shows. Well, not Better Off Undead. No one should listen to that.

Thank you for making sure that this not only happened, but turned into something so substantial. This is already amazing, and hasn’t yet started.

To say thank you (and because Johnny needed an excuse to swirl his White Russian), we held a celebratory Hangout. Here’s the full video:

The Fiction Unboxed Backers After Party


In other news, this website is now almost finished. After I finish writing what you’re reading right now, I’ll hand everything over to Johnny for a thorough audit. He’ll catch most of my mistakes and make a few Oh of course!! Why didn’t I think of that!?! suggestions.

Hopefully we’ll tweak the rest of those this weekend and be ready to open the forums by Monday.

But we shouldn’t have to wait until then before everyone can start getting to know one another. We don’t have to formally introduce ourselves here — that’s what the forums are for — but we thought it might be fun to ask questions while we’re all waiting, and get to know one another that way.


Day Zero

Procedures and How This Will Work

Whew! Tomorrow is the day … DAY ONE of Fiction Unboxed!

To say we’re excited is a bit of an understatement.

To say that we’re nervous? Well, that’s also true. (But at least it’s not an understatement.)

We wanted to record a video today, on “Day Zero,” to explain things and tell you what to expect over the next month’s worth of posts.

We cover how things will unfold, how the first few days will be spent, what to expect from us, and what we totally know is true of all of you amazing, awesome folks watching.


Here’s the video:



While videos starting tomorrow will be private,  today’s is public. So feel free to share both the video and this page. (Starting tomorrow, please only share the page, not the videos.)

You can comment below, move conversation to the forums, or both.

Tomorrow, we start building our world!

Fantasy (1)

Day One

After the longest wait in the history of ever, we finally have our Day One Video!

So exciting. Shockingly, after a meandering start (like you expected anything else) we started talking story world and managed to stay at two hours. That was our scheduled time, but we all figured we’d go a lot longer than that.

This was a landmark story meeting, not just because we’ve never done one for an audience before, but because the three of us have never done one together. After today, I’m positive there will be many more in the future.

Today we discussed our larger story world concepts, tomorrow we’ll dig into our genre. Can’t wait for that.

I don’t want to spoil any of the video, because it is best to watch it, but if you’re a Participant Level backer and need a quick summary of what you’re voting on, we’ll cover that after the video.

NOTE: If you are not an Unboxer you will not be able to see this video. Click here to become an Unboxer.

See you all tomorrow.


Day Two

Today was a mess, just as it should be.

By the end of today’s video you’ll be wondering OHMYGODHOWARETHEYGOINGTOGETANYTHINGFROMTHAT?

But we will. This is all part of the process. Today was a big, giant idea day. Tomorrow we’ll dig deeper into story.

We didn’t really get to genre, or story. There were just too many ideas to sift through. From right now until tomorrow’s meeting I’ll be playing with story so I’ll have some ideas to share with the guys.

Same as yesterday, I don’t want to spoil the video. It’s best if you see it for yourself.

NOTE: If you are not an Unboxer you will not be able to see this video. Click here to become an Unboxer.

See you all tomorrow!


Day Three

Yesterday, we began the post by saying “today was a mess.”

Well, yesterday had nothing on today.

Today, there are TWO (count ’em … two!) videos for you to peruse.

WARNING: The first video is a lot of wheel-spinning and ends on an inconclusive note, so you may choose to skip it.

Our first meeting of the day was about an hour long, and in it the following things happened:

1. Sean proposed a timeline for our story world.

2. Johnny was underwhelmed and tried to be nice about it, but wasn’t digging the vibe. Dave played along but was overall not sure what to do with it.

3. Johnny then went from underwhelmed to overwhelmed and decided that the only way to process this whole endeavor would be to forget about the larger world (trusting that it will come out through the narrative) and instead concentrate on story first.

4. At this point, because the storytelling process will be Sean and Johnny, we gave Dave permission to leave … and to watch us voyeuristically, hopefully while keeping his hands to himself.

5. Left alone to discuss story, we realized Sean didn’t have any story ideas yet. Those were supposed to come later. So we tried for a while to brainstorm, but ultimately decided to reset and meet again later. (In the second video you’ll see further down in the post.)

We briefly considered not even giving you this video, but in the end we all thought that you deserved to see it.

We promised to show you everything, and this sometimes happens when writing a book.

It’s not good or bad … it just happens. And you will watch, in the second video, how we got through it.

NOTE: If you are not an Unboxer you will not be able to see the two videos in this post. Click here to become an Unboxer.

After our first meeting, Sean took a walk around the lake outside his home to brainstorm story seeds and Johnny sat around and bitched to his wife about feeling discombobulated.

Then, an hour later, Johnny grabbed alcohol and we met again, this time with actual, actionable story ideas. This meeting was much better and much more productive, and we walked away with story ideas that we asked our participant-level folks to vote on … and which, following the vote on which idea to pursue, we’ll hit hard to flesh out in tomorrow’s meeting.

Here’s how that second meeting went:

Sean had come up with six story ideas, which he presented.

We digested them all, turning them end for end and figuring out which story elements we can use in any of the story ideas, which were themes instead of individual story ideas, which felt robust enough for a novel and which didn’t, and which interested us most.

Then, we boiled Sean’s ideas down into three story ideas, all of which are fleshed out a bit on the video.

See you all tomorrow for Day 4, when we’ll hash out whichever story idea our voters ratified and begin creating our story’s outline!


Day Four


Today’s session was amazing.


Today, you’ll get to see us take the mishmash we’ve been rolling between our hands for three days and turn it into a bona-fide story.

Before the meeting began, Sean wrote the “pre-beats” or “story synopsis” for the new project — something he’d worked up during the course of the day following our last meeting. As the vote tipped toward our “builders and dreamers” story idea, that’s what Sean focused on … though you’ll see that he incorporated a lot of things from the other two story ideas, which was something voters had also been screaming for.

You may want to read the story summary (in the form of Sean’s email) before watching today’s meeting further down the page, because I’d read it before joining Sean.

NOTE: If you are not an Unboxer, you will not be able to see the story summary, the marked-up page images, or the video/audio of today’s meeting on this page. Click here to become an Unboxer.

We began the meeting by discussing how thrilled we were about the project’s evolution, how we were able (in the second video from yesterday) able to turn nothing into something cool, and how jazzed we both were about the summary Sean had just written and I’d just read.

Johnny starts writing tomorrow. That means we’ll be posting the first few thousand words of this story, to be followed later in the day by Sean’s revision. So exciting! Blunderbuss is finally underway!

The participation portion of the actual story itself (not including things like the book cover) is now finished, so we’ll be flying solo from here on out as far as story direction. “Story isolation” is actually important enough that until the draft is finished, Johnny will not be in forum threads having ANYTHING to do with story.

However, we will be having our first Q&A session this weekend! Participant-level backers will be able to join us live and ask questions, but everyone can watch. The Participants are a great group and are, we think, representative of the questions most of you would ask.

There is no need to attend live if you aren’t a Participant, so hang back and we’ll post the video, audio, and (when it’s done) transcript for you!


Day Five


I got to start writing today. I absolutely love what’s coming out, and have zero worries about fleshing out the world. So, so exciting!

I’ll give you a blow-by-blow of what happened since our last meeting, but I’d just like to repeat something so that nobody thinks I’m rude:

Until the rough draft is finished, I will not be watching blog comments and forums, and will not read or respond to emails or social media having to do with story-related questions or suggestions. (Sean probably will, though, and may function as my filter.) I realize there’s a distinct chance that makes me sound like some sort of a prima donna, but I swear it’s not about that. It’s about “closing the door” while writing the story and obeying what I see and hear inside me. I can’t have outside influences other than Sean’s. To do so will mar the story and screw with what you’re here to see.

So with that handled, here’s what happened.

Last night late, Sean sent me enough story beats to get me started. I’m attaching those emails below. You’ll see the story beats for two chapters in there, along with our very brief discussion.

NOTE: If you are not an Unboxer, you will not be able to see today’s story progress, our emails, or the video. Click here to become an Unboxer.

NOTE: I haven’t included Sean’s MS Word attachment from the post because it’s the same stuff as in the email.

You’ll see a few interesting things in here. For one, in the actual manuscript section for today included below, you’ll see that I’m already deviating from Sean’s beats. Second, my last email in that thread is an idea I woke up with. Sean’s response is typical rah-rah, which we do a lot of.

(FAIR WARNING: You will also see us congratulating ourselves a lot. We talk all the time about how ideas and new words are awesome. That enthusiasm is necessary.)

I woke up this morning and decided that on the momentous “first writing day” morning, I should record a brief video explaining my office and setup. If you care, that’s below:

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After that, I got to writing. I’ve included below what I got, which is just over 4000 words. It was a bit slower than normal, but that’s typical at the beginning. The important thing is that I am VERY EXCITED about this story and where it’s going. I have all sorts of ideas!

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Here’s some stuff to keep in mind about today’s rough draft progress above:

1. These are ROUGH DRAFT WORDS. This is exactly how Sean is seeing them, as they came off my fingers. As such, don’t expect them to be all polished.

2. That said, relatively speaking, I’ve been told that I produce very clean rough draft copy, so if your own rough drafts are far messier (Sean’s are), don’t sweat it. To each his/her own.

3. This, like all daily word counts, will end when it ends. I’m shooting for time, and I don’t care about finishing scenes. So where this ends is NOT the end of a scene. It will continue right from there tomorrow. (Accordingly, tomorrow’s words will BEGIN AND END in the middle of scenes, probably. You’ll need to get used to picking up each new day’s words where the last batch stopped.)

4. I’ve left the Scrivener comments visible so you can see how I talk to Sean during the process. If you want to just read the draft and not the comments, skip the gray text you see in the file above.

5. Despite the name clarifications in the above email, Ila’s name became Eila in the draft.

After I passed the first batch of words to Sean, he edited them. Under our normal working conditions he would start editing once my draft was entirely finished, but the project dictates that he edit right behind me.

NOTE: If you are not an Unboxer, you will not be able to see today’s story progress, our emails, or the video. Click here to become an Unboxer.

You’ll see me freaking out in that email thread because I wrote a character wrong and didn’t understand something, in a bunch of emails from me this morning trying to get Sean’s attention. The upshot — he replied via text — is that what I’d concluded by the final email in the series is fine. He’ll revise; I’ll keep writing.

(There was also one text exchange about the first email that isn’t captured here. Basically, my one concern is that this book will be too long with all these beats, and although we need to play it by ear, we think we’ll handle it by having Eila go down below the city one fewer time. As it stands, there are a lot of trips and two can probably be combined into one.)

So… on to today’s new words!

What follows is today’s new stuff, in rough draft form, exactly as I wrote it. As I mentioned last time, this is the way Sean sees it before editing anything. It also picks up right where the last excerpt left off, without an actual scene break. (There is a scene break partway through, where chapter 1 gives way to chapter 2. But then chapter 2 just sort of ends on a random sentence as I finished.)

Here’s the link:

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In today’s stuff, we finish Eila’s time with the psychic. It was fun seeing the stakes come out at the end. We get a real feel for what Eila is facing… but we only feel okay with it because we’ve read the book’s description. I like that it basically just scares her shitless.

In chapter 2, you get a look at the Ministry of Manifestation, where Eila works as a Builder. As with everything I write, the details come out as I’m typing and literally aren’t known 2 minutes before. So we learn, for instance, that the Ministry was Built in part by its own Builders. Pretty cool IMO.

As with last time, I left in the Scrivener notes I left for Sean, so you can see what I’m thinking. Some of it is notes for him to know, and some is just random, like the thing about the Bjork song I was listening to.

There was one final bit of business today: After recording the Self Publishing Podcast, we hopped on for a meeting to 1) clarify our editing and posting process and 2) discuss some story loose ends and OMFG over the awesomeness of it all. Here’s that meeting:

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See you tomorrow!


Day Seven

Today’s new section is pretty short, so you can breeze through it if you’re following along live. Remember, even though the format makes it look like each day’s work is a distinct new chapter, it’s not.

This one picks up in the middle of chapter 2, right where Day 6 left off, and ends still in the middle of chapter 2.

I often find that first chapters are often longer at the start of a project we get to know the characters and the world, and quicken as things go along, as we become familiar with them all. I feel that starting to happen already here, which is awesome.

Today, we meet the Blunderbuss machine!

Here’s my original rough draft copy, with Sean’s edited version to follow:

NOTE: If you are not an Unboxer, you will not be able to see today’s story progress or the video. Click here to become an Unboxer.

We also did our first Q&A Session today, and Participant backers asked questions. It was awesome. You’ll want to watch it, because I’ll bet we covered some of your questions here too.

NOTE: Even if you don’t watch the full video, please watch the first part, in which we discuss feedback of the in-progress work. I’m becoming concerned that if we don’t all work together in the spirit of Fiction Unboxed, the project may suffer for all of us. It begins at 3:40 in this video.

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Sean is working on characters and locations this weekend. He hopes to have them ready for you by tomorrow, or Monday at the earliest.

See you tomorrow!


Day Eight

As with yesterday, today’s new stuff is pretty short. (There’s some new words below, but then Sean sent me final character profiles in an email thread further down.) We’ll be back in full force on Monday, with a much longer section.

Picking up in the middle of the chapter from the Day 7 stuff, this is the bit where the fantasy world from Eila’s dreams begins to infiltrate her work at the Ministry. This was WAY fun to write, and it bummed me out to stop. I’ll be very eager to start again tomorrow.

Here’s my original rough draft copy, with Sean’s edited version to follow:

NOTE: If you are not an Unboxer, you will not be able to see today’s story progress. Click here to become an Unboxer.

And here’s that email thread I mentioned above. Sean sent me character sketches to see if I had any questions (and so I’d know how to write them tomorrow and beyond), I asked a few quick questions, and he clarified.

As we post this, Sean also just emailed to let me know that the entire beats/characters/locations/etc. setup stuff is ready for me. I can’t post all of that, but you’ll see it at the end of Unboxed when we share the world stuff. Great times! I can’t wait to write tomorrow!

Here’s the email thread:

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See you tomorrow!


Day Nine

Today was a very strong day, from my perspective. Sean sent me the completed world docs, containing fully fleshed-out character bios, location photos and descriptions, finalized beats, etc. last night, and I spent an hour before working today (and some time last night) studying them.

The end result is that I now feel that I know this world, the people in it, and a lot of the mysteries.

This is a BIG DEAL. Now I can just write, and salt the prose with the things Sean gave me, like Jonah, the whale god that the people of Altera believe in. Stuff like that.

Unfortunately, you won’t see the images in the locations because we don’t have copyright on anything, and don’t think it’s worth slowing down to figure that out. We’ll show you exactly how everything strings itself together when we record the Scrivener Beats series using Axis. All of the photos Sean used in that Scrivener file are stock, and paid for.

Click the link to read locations and Sean’s thoughts on the world. This is exactly how I saw them last night, except for the accompanying pictures.

NOTE: If you are not an Unboxer, you will not be able to see today’s story progress. Click here to become an Unboxer.

Here’s my original rough draft copy, with Sean’s edited version to follow:

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And lastly, here are Sean’s edits for everything written through Sunday.

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See you tomorrow!


Day Ten

Another amazing day! I’m finding that, as is typical at this stage in a project, I’m feeling more and more “fluent” in the world. As such, I’m figuring all sorts of little things out — both ways to mention world elements that Sean described and inventions of my own that occur while writing.

Characters also come and go as needed. In today’s new rough draft words, you’ll see the appearance of “Al,” a man from the more blue-collar section of Waldron Gate who gives Eila a bit of orientation. I just made him up, but I really enjoyed writing the cadence of his speech.

We also see the birth of the real mystery today, as Eila discovers a hidden door and descends a staircase into the below-ground world we’ll soon know as Pavilion.

So here we go:

NOTE: If you are not an Unboxer, you will not be able to see today’s content. Click here to become an Unboxer.

We also had a new story meeting today. We typically have them on Tuesdays, so … being that today is Tuesday … you’ll see that we’re moving into a more normal, less hectic rhythm.

Here’s that meeting:

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Sean is nearly caught up on his edits. We’ll post them tomorrow.

See you then!


Day Eleven

WOW. I hate to keep repeating myself, but the story is REALLY getting exciting to me. In this scene, we first see Pavilion, the underworld where we’ll learn about the Builders/Dreamers dichotomy and learn one of my favorite things in any story: “how it all works.” I’m on a lot of that particular bit of the journey with you, so I’m learning as you learn.

At the end of this scene, we finally meet Daw, the “dirty scientist” who will tell Eila what she needs to know. I can’t WAIT to write tomorrow!

NOTE: If you are not an Unboxer, you will not be able to see today’s content. Click here to become an Unboxer.

You can see Sean’s edits now that he’s nipping right behind me. You’ll notice that there are less edits on these pages than the first batch. That’s because as we get going I’m always more comfortable with the story. He’ll sand that down further, as will our editor Jason, and then me one more time. But you can also see how much of the core of our story is already there.

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See you tomorrow!


Day Twelve

Today you’re just getting one scene, but it’s a really important one. This is the conversation between Daw, Levi, and Eila that explains the facts of the world to the reader. It’s important to note that when I go into one of these scenes, I don’t really know what’s going to be said. I have bullet points of what should be covered, but when it comes to the actual way it’s explained, I simply listen to the characters in my head and see where they go.

Historically, in Realm & Sands books, scenes like this are turning points in the story, where all sorts of new things are discovered. Discussion chapters in the Unicorn Western books birthed ALMOST ALL of the world’s secrets and ways. We don’t know these things before writing. They surface in the first draft.

You’ll also see some other changes in this chapter, as Sean and I discussed in our meeting on Day 10:

1. “Fog” became capitalized.

2. “Waldron Gate” became “Waldron’s Gate.”

We do this kind of thing constantly — adjusting in the middle, then correcting it in the edit and polish. I typically assign Sean to do it (“Hey, I just changed this … make it consistent in prior chapters”), but in this case I’ll be an extra set of eyes when I do a final polish after he’s done.


3. I’m finally allowed to use the word “dream,” once Daw explains it. Avoiding it was hard, and I may even have missed some … which I know Sean will catch.

Here’s the file:

NOTE: If you are not an Unboxer, you will not be able to see today’s content. Click here to become an Unboxer.

You’ll see from Sean’s edits, the copy gets cleaner and cleaner as we go on. It’s good to see his quiet assessment — that the story seems to be going as well for him as it is for me.

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See you tomorrow!


Day Thirteen

If you look back at Sean’s beats, you’ll see that in today’s words, I compressed an entire chapter of his into a page or so. I do this to vary pace (Sean can’t know the pace and mood of my first draft when he beats; he can only guess), but also to simply keep the story moving. In this case, Eila just had to get back to the surface. There was no need to describe it.

(You’ll also see that later, where I excised a long dinner scene. We’ll want some of that later to show the family dynamic, but due to the exposition I already had, lingering on a dinner scene felt like too much.)

I like to use meditative scenes like this to reinforce some things that 1) weren’t explicitly stated in the previous scene and/or 2) that are really important. I try not to beat issues to death — though sometimes I do repeat myself too much, and that’s stuff you’ll later see Sean cut — but I want things reinforced. Key concepts. Revelations. Things that are on my “the reader needs to know this” list but that I didn’t want to jam in because they wouldn’t fit elsewhere without feeling like clutter.

We also meet Eila’s mother Juliette in this scene. I really like how she came out. If you read our character sketches, you’ll know Sean modeled her after Nicole Kidman. I wrote her as quasi-Stepford-Wives, to make her a little cold. But in reality, Juliette isn’t cold; she’s just tuned to noticing things at the surface, like beauty. I think her character will break out a bit later in the series, though probably not in this book.

It’s not terribly obvious in the PDF, but there’s a chapter break before Eila wakes up. The coming scene will be a hum-dinger, so stay tuned. Sean will be posting complete edits on Sunday, so we’ll be in sync going into next week.

See you tomorrow!


Day Fourteen

Holy shit do I like today’s excerpt. I hope you dig it — and even if this isn’t your style of novel or if you don’t really like our writing voice, I hope you appreciate it and what I tried to do here.

There’s a lot I love. First, I like the dynamic with her brother. Up until now, Eila has kind of been a little adult. And that’s fine, because Waldron’s Gate is a kind of stunted place, but seeing her with a brother reminds us that she’s just a kid whose brother is kind of an asshole sometimes. We all know that kid.

Second, it gave me a chance to reinforce some things about the Blunderbuss, including the fact that Eila is definitely going to look at it differently now.

Third — and this just popped up — I wanted to take a further chance to humanize Eila by having her talk to Victor, a teen co-worker who Cora earlier accused her of having a crush on. Victor can explain a few things to the reader while giving Eila a moment to appreciate him.

Fourth, we reinforce the general assholishness of Rabbit Brampton, who breaks things up and demands everyone is there early even though there’s no work to be done.

But mostly, I love where the rabbit (no pun intended) hole went in terms of Eila seeing the Blunderbuss as an instrument of dream theft and torture. In the beats, Sean had Eila simply “discovering its true nature.” So the spontaneous idea to have her follow a thought “from the Aether” to its real source was mine.

The mental-space sequence Eila shares with a Dreamer here skirts the line, and a big part of me wanted to make it absolutely horrible. But this is YA, and while YA can be deadly (anyone read The Hunger Games?), it really shouldn’t be too graphic. I tried to make it frightening and terrible without crossing a line. I kept thinking of how Sean’s excited for his daughter Haley to read it, and my kids just talked to Haley (and her brother) on Skype yesterday. At 12, she may not be the center of the target market, but there will be plenty of sweet girls like her reading it, so I felt a responsibility to deliver the message while keeping the David Wright meat hooks locked in the dungeon.

Here are the words. I think today was a HUGE turning point, and I really, really feel on track with this story now.

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See you tomorrow!


Day Fifteen

It’s interesting to me to note a lot of the details about how I write, since I spend time thinking about what to say in these posts. Accordingly, there’s a few interesting things I have to say about this one.

First, the scene opens after Eila’s descent into the lower part of the Blunderbuss, after learning the truth of how the whole operation works. She has to keep putting in her time because no matter how much weird and frightening shit you see in a dream, that fades and eventually life takes over.

In Eila’s case, her whole society has been built (no pun intended, again) on Building. The whole society depends on it. So at least for the day, she finishes up, but she now sees it as the theft and exploitation it is. This part of the scene gave me a chance to say some more things about the society itself.

Second, although “Eila runs into Cora outside the Ministry” was just a mention in the beats, it merited several thousand words here. It didn’t seem right to me that they’d just breeze through a hello, and it also didn’t feel right to me that Eila would just head on down to Pavilion again “for the hell of it.” She needed a reason to go, and she needed to face off against a conflict with her old life in order to do it, and Cora got to play that role.

We see Eila’s attitude toward her old life changing … which, again, gave me a way to talk about the world.

By the time she finally heads to the Convenience again, a lot has changed in Eila. She no longer fits at home and the closest thing to relief is to go deep again.

One of the things I like most about what happened today was some of the stuff about Eila’s world’s religious beliefs. It’s just a tidbit, but she’s starting to believe that monsters are being manifested for real … so why not a god? It calls into question the true nature of belief.

Great things lie ahead now that we’re nearly halfway through the draft. Can’t wait to see what’s next!

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As teased in yesterday’s email, Sean has a surprise for you today. Not only do we have more edits, but our polish has officially started. You’ll notice that these edits are still a lot heavier than what you’ll see later, after the story got going.

You’ll have the polish for Chapter One, but since he was reading it out loud to his family, he recorded it for you. Don’t expect anything near perfection, he definitely let  audio roll through his blunders.

Let us know if you guys like hearing the story read in pre-final form like that. It’s definitely no Ray Chase, but it might be a fun way to get the story if you’re strapped for time and want to hear it before the official release.

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See you tomorrow!


Day Sixteen

Today, Eila heads down to Pavilion for the second time — this time just to meet with Daw. It’s interesting to note that she doesn’t even really want to be there; she’s just keenly aware (especially after yesterday’s tiff with Cora) that she no longer fits into her old life as-is. She now knows something she can’t shake, and because she can’t erase that knowledge, she can only move on by pressing forward.

This is turning out to be a key scene for me as I figure things out, and you’ll see me explaining a few things here as Daw explains them to Eila. When I write scenes like this one, I never know how much I’m repeating myself or if it even makes enough sense in the first draft, but I trust a few things:

1. I know that Sean will clean up my written diarrhea. If it meanders too far, I know he’ll bring it back. If it gets too high-falutin’, he’ll bring it down to earth. Etc.

2. I know that when I go through it again at the end, I’ll probably trim it even farther.

3. I respect that this process, in a scene like this, is as much about us learning the story as the story itself. That means that its purpose goes in two directions, and makes the specific words less precious. As long as we learn things, that’s good.

4. Perhaps most importantly, I know that both of us will salt things learned here into earlier parts of the narrative when we go through it again. The idea of Stensue being a sort of military stronghold in a nation with no external enemies, for instance, will be brought out a bit here and there as we run through the draft again. And much more.

But because of this “figuring things out,” some really cool things are beginning to emerge that neither of us saw coming. In On Writing, Stephen King would say that these things are “part of the fossil.”


• Crumble is taking on a quasi-religious meaning in addition to its known meaning. I invented “The Pit” today (Satan) and gave Alterrans a fear of The Pit sneaking in when they don’t take Crumble.

• I’m also realizing that the people up top are numb for a reason: it’s not just their dreams that are being stolen; they’re also losing a lot of the darkness and fear that make humans human.

• Quite surprisingly, I’m learning a lot about the geography of Alterra as it relates to dreaming and Crumble. Why do the people of Nascent believe that there used to be elves in the haunted city of Aerohead? Because they’re far enough from the influence of the Builders that they have to create a lot of their own wares … which means they have to “tinker” and assemble things the old-fashioned way … which means they have to exercise their creativity … which means they have a lot of “humanity” that the city-dwellers don’t have. And that means that while they may not dream, they do have a sense of fantasy and imagination that, in this case, manifests as superstition.

• Semi-related, we’re seeing more of how technology in Alterra perpetuates itself: city-dwellers get more Built goods, so they think more about those Built goods instead of fantasy and building by hand, and so they Build more in the same, unimaginative vein. I like how this is also giving us a REASON FOR STEAMPUNK. Why would you build a steam airship instead of a jet? Because you think in terms of steam and have had your creativity ripped away. So you get faux-innovation, where things get bigger and better but where nothing is truly outside of the box.

I think we’re in for some very cool stuff during the second half of the book. Stay tuned to see what happens!

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Anyway, here’s today’s rough draft. It’s a bit longer today at nearly 6000 words:

See you tomorrow for the next Q&A, and more story!


Day Seventeen

In today’s new words, Eila finishes her conversation with Daw, who explains a lot more about Crumble, what it does, and how society may have been handicapped by it.

As with yesterday’s copy, I was exploring a lot during this section and it may or may not be changed a bunch during editing. I wanted to play with the idea of insanity as being “just a difference of opinion” and we’re again seeing that Eila’s world — topside, anyway — is defined by a lack of darkness. It’s a cleansed world, because the Dreamers are sifting the nightmares down below.

And this, my friends, is how theme happens.

The idea that darkness or negativity is just as essential to the world and human existence as lightness and beauty is a theme that Sean and I visit all the time in Realm & Sands stories. I think that theme done well isn’t about an author stomping down on a tale, telling the reader what to think in a premeditated, heavy-handed way.

Accordingly, I feel that theme is a bad thing to spend much time thinking about. Good thematic work simply shows up and is almost unconscious. If you let it happen, it will, with practice.

The next chapter sees Eila coming home, beginning to come off Crumble because as frightened as she is by the idea, she knows she can’t simply go back to “life as usual” because she’s changed and there IS no more life as usual. The only way out of the rabbit hole is to go deeper into it.

In this scene, we get the family dinner that Sean had placed earlier in the beats. I thought it worked better here, and gave me a place for Eila to 1) really start to feel guilty about lying, 2) explore the discordant nature of thought as her mind begins to experience the mental dichotomies we all feel everyday because we don’t use Crumble and 3) begin to lose her shit at the dinner table.

I already know where this will go next, and I think it’s pretty damn cool. So stay tuned for tomorrow.

Oh, and I also screen-capped me writing the end of this and you’ll see that tomorrow. You wanted to watch words form on a screen for an hour? Well, baby, you got it.

Here’s today’s new rough draft copy:

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We also recorded our second Q&A session last night and answered Participant questions, so here’s that. Some great questions and idea threads in this one:

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See you tomorrow!


Day Eighteen

This excerpt picks up after Eila’s freak-out at dinner, and launches into a totally unforeseen scene. Sean didn’t have this in the beats at all, but it felt warranted. I figured I could just have her run upstairs after losing her shit (the next scene was her going to sleep, so that’s where she needed to go), but that felt like a cop-out and a bit of a cliche — the teen girl storming off and nobody understanding her. Besides, if I was honest about this family, I knew someone would come up and talk to her in her room anyway, so might as well have that scene now, and address the truth as it was unfolding.

I’m glad I did. Not only does Atwell have his talk with his daughter, but I learned a lot of interesting things that only this scene could have done:

1. I reaffirmed the family lines. While everyone gets along in the ways families do, two of the kids are more like their mother and two are more like their father. Juliette has a cold exterior but a secretly warm heart and believes in the unseen. Atwell believes in logic and conscious disobedience. Eila is mostly like her dad.

2. Much to my delight, I realized that Atwell isn’t buying his daughter’s bullshit. That was nice to see. Kids always think they’re getting away with everything, but the truth is that parents aren’t usually as dumb as they think we are. I know I thought I got away with things as a teen that really just amounted to my mom letting me believe it.

3. We learned new things about the Ministry’s operation, having to do with the way in which dreams are like a lack of focus. We learn the nature of Eila’s ruining Pianoforte.

4. Every so slightly, we’ve opened a crack here wherein Eila could begin to wonder if her father actually knows more than he’s letting on. For the record, I don’t actually think she’ll begin to question him, but it never hurts to raise doubts. What person is ever 100% sure of anything? Who truly has NO DOUBTS?

The following scene was crazy fun to write, and I’m DYING to see how fun tomorrow is as Eila goes into her first true dream. I think it’s going to get freaky.

One of the things I wanted to do once Eila was alone in her room was to play with ALL of the facets of negative thought that she’s not used to. I don’t think that everyone in Alterra thinks they’re beautiful (and indeed, I’m sure they don’t), but they’re probably not plagued by severe, crippling self doubt and image issues.

If Eila’s mind is going to be flooded with nightmares and stuff, why wouldn’t she be unable to face her reflection? Why wouldn’t she see innocent shadows and, for the first time, see them in imaginative new ways? And if she did, why wouldn’t her mind, unused to seeing such things, imagine them as sinister and frightening?

Before going to sleep, I wanted to give Eila a terrifying night of doubt. I was going for a shut-in vibe, where everything is suspect. She’s jonesing for her drug, but refuses to take it. And as she finally gives in and goes to sleep, her mind quiets and she gets a glimpse of the positive things that can come from “cluttered” thought — specifically, the way the mind will talk to itself and begin to puzzle out problems … rather than relying on a “dream engine” to do all the work of Building for her.

One last thing to note is the bit with Juliette and Eila, from when Juliette took Eila to see the Fog when she was 11 years old. Like most of the little gems, this came up totally out of the blue. But it establishes that Eila’s mother truly does love her and is looking out for her in her own way. It gives Juliette a few new facets: she’s as disobedient (but in a different way) than Atwell, and she may or may not know more than she’s letting on.

Because to be clear, when Juliette tells Eila that she wants her “to be prepared” and Eila wonders what she’s supposed to prepare FOR, I don’t know what that means. I don’t know the answer to that question. I’m just opening a loophole that I may or may not use later.

But more often than not, I’ll look back on something like this with wonder, because it will turn out to be JUST WHAT WE NEEDED to solve a plot puzzle. And it will seem like we did it on purpose all those words ago — and often in a totally separate book — because we’d known what was coming and needed the loophole in advance.

But that’s not how it works. We don’t know in advance, and yet serendipity has a way of happening.

If, three books later in the series, it turns out that Juliette was saying something important here, some readers will look back at this part of book one and think we were geniuses to have sowed that seed on purpose. But you will know better. You will know that it was just a hunch that grew out of nothing while writing the first draft. So if magic happens, it’s the magic that should get the credit, not our ability to plan.

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Oh, and as promised yesterday, we’re also delivering another “treat” for you today. (I put “treat” in quotes just now to show the irony because it doesn’t seem that “treatish” to me.) At baffling popular request, I recorded an hour of myself writing from yesterday, so that you can watch words form on my screen. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to watch this, but knock yourself out if you dig on it.

Basically, there’s no audio on this video other than in the beginning where I explain that you’ll just watch my screen for an hour. The video quality was a bit dodgy at the beginning when I tested it just now but cleared up after a few seconds. It’s not crystal-clear even then, but hell, it’s just words forming on a screen. You can read them, so I figure it works.

(Oh, and by the way, if you want the full experience, you can listen to what I was listening to during this session. During most of this project, including this video’s session, I’ve been listening to the Sucker Punch movie soundtrack because it’s kind of steampunk. I just couldn’t include that on the video for copyright reasons.)

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Sean has his sixth edits. These cover chapters 10 and 11.

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See you tomorrow!


Day Nineteen

Today’s excerpt was pure, blue-sky play. I just love writing sections like this. Usually, I’m pretty confident that as all-over-the-place as such bits are, they’re as coherent as they need to be and tell the reader what needs telling … while hopefully entertaining them. This time, I wondered if I was TOO all over the place, but Sean said he liked it a lot. So there we go.

What’s so great about dream sequences and other mindfuck writing is that it’s a chance to let yourself go and be a little bit more insane than we’re normally allowed to be. I just kept pushing and pushing, trying to see what seemed surreal, what scared me a little, and what an Alterran citizen might have tossed out with their mental trash.

Accordingly, the Fog is surreal and frightening, but also disorderly and half-there. We’re all a little bit nuts (see the beginning of this paragraph), but the Alterrans of the surface world don’t get their “nuts” on. And what’s perhaps most disarming is how out of control it all feels.

One thing that came totally out of the blue here was the idea of the Citadel. I wanted to seed a place that would be deep in Alterran lore and that we can explore later. A Lord of the Rings sort of place with wizards and dragons. But really, I just wanted Eila to recognize it enough to know the truth of where it came from.

The resolution of the dream scene leads to a peek beyond the Fog — as she sees it in dreams, anyway — and the next chapter I started here is just a very small look as shit gets ready to hit the fan as Eila has to reconcile life without Crumble against what she actually wants to believe.

She’s about to try make up with Cora. I don’t know about you, but I kind of doubt it’s going to go as smoothly as she hopes.

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We also held our “Improv Happy Hour” for eligible backers last night. The idea was to bat a bunch of ideas back and forth, thus hopefully helping people blossom the seeds of story ideas into something even more awesome. Improv had the same purpose as a lot of Fiction Unboxed: to demonstrate that while writing is magic, it’s not exclusive magic. With practice, you can make great ideas out of anything.

Here’s the video:

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An interesting thing happened in the middle of the words posted above, though. At the point where Eila and Cora meet, I ran into a no-man’s-land and didn’t know how to proceed. It felt wrong to leave the Cora storyline hanging, and I knew Eila would seek to restore the normality of “her old life” after what she’d just gone through with Crumble withdrawal, her frightening first nightmare, and the fact that she seemed to have the manifesting ability Daw had said she had.

While that might be interesting to the reader, it would freak Eila out. Humans typically fight to restore their sense of equilibrium during change, so this was Eila stabbing at the past … without really thinking it out.

Anyway, I didn’t know what to do once I was into this scene, so I called an emergency meeting before continuing. You’ll see that meeting and what I think was a really awesome resolution here (and in the draft above, of course.)

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Sean has a trio of awesome for you today: fresh edits, the polish for chapter two we forgot to add last time, and the polish for chapter three, plus its reading.

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See you tomorrow!


Day Twenty-One

I had a lot of fun with today’s writing — a bunch of great, quickly-written scenes followed by a sudden stop that you can read more about below the draft copy, above the video of yet another meeting.

First, we have a scene that’s meant to break up the narration (“tell”) -heavy prior chapter, in which we needed to have time pass without spending tens of thousands of words detailing Eila’s every motion.

This is a fun, dialogue-heavy scene where the characters are playing a game that Eila doesn’t understand. (The inspiration, by the way, was the “Cups” game from Friends.)

(Oh, and by the way, I know that the mandate in writing is “show, don’t tell”, but it bugs the shit out of me when people act like anything is black and white. Sometimes — in my humble opinion, anyway — it’s okay to “tell” your readers something, especially when you’re trying to speed up the pace and make time pass quickly. We bunkered the “telling” in yesterday’s words with a lot of snappy dialogue/action on either side.)

After that, we have two back-to-back scenes that weren’t even hinted at in the story beats. In fact, I’d recommend going back and taking a look at those story beats to see just how much I’ve already diverged from them, and how much I did here. This stuff just comes up, so I follow my gut. That’s where a lot of the magic happens.

The first is a scene with Savannah of the Guile. I used it as a way to explain more about the Guile’s belief and M.O., as well as what we know about the tunnels.

The second was with Levi, out on Daw’s porch. This scene actually happened for a kind of dumb, formulaic reason. Basically, I realized that Eila was having a lot of bonding with Savannah while I’d let her relationship with Levi (who will eventually be a love interest, we think) go fallow. She needed to talk to him instead of Savannah, so I had Eila walk out so she could talk to Levi. That was all there was to it at the start.

But once they started talking, I LOVE what came out. I got to explain that Levi’s ability makes him like an empath, seeding a ton of possibilities for later. We learned a lot of Pavilion vs. Waldron’s stuff. And Eila got to confront more of her change, and start to feel some of her power.

At the end, I began the training scene Sean had put into the beats. But it didn’t go how I’d thought (I had a fundamental problem with the structure of the training), and that’s where another story meeting became necessary. Keep reading below about that.

Anyway, here’s today’s new words:

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After today’s writing, I realized I was at an impasse — not knowing what to do with the scene where I’d left it. In fact, I’d planned to write more but stopped because I wasn’t sure what should come next. Usually, I stop when time runs out or I hit a goal. Today, I stopped because I (you know … the writer?) wasn’t sure what Daw (you know … the CHARACTER?) was up to.

That’s an odd thing that happens a lot.

We broke into another unplanned story meeting to discuss it. We wanted to know what exactly the tests were supposed to prove, what lesson Eila needed to learn, and a bit about how the book’s ending would play out.

Check it out:

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Sean’s cranking on the reading with another three (!) chapters to listen to, along with their accompanying edits. As always, don’t expect a perfect read — this isn’t audio narration so much as a part of his polishing process.

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See you tomorrow!


Day Twenty-Two

This may have been my favorite day of writing yet. There are three major scenes/events to note:

1. I delivered on what was discussed in yesterday’s story meeting.
After thinking through what we talked about yesterday, actually making it happen was surprisingly easy. Mainly, it was easy because I’m still not entirely sure what’s going on, or what Daw did. I kind of know (he’s going to teach her that sometimes there IS no answer and that she’ll need to be okay with that uncertainty), but the details are still really foggy. That’s okay. I’ve done this enough by now to know that these things always resolve for us, and that gems in this scene will only become apparent as the gems they are later on, after more story is written.

2. I had Eila meet with Rabbit Brampton … with unexpected results. 
Again, these results were unexpected by me, so I figure the reader won’t have seen them coming. I knew I wanted Eila to be a “reverse junkie” as explained by Sean in yesterday’s meeting, so I had her wandering around numb for a while, putting in time, lying, running to Pavilion to train and be further frustrated by failure on Daw’s machine, etc. So this is a downward spiral, and she’s just beaten up. But then Sean had a “possible meeting with Daw” in the beats, but it was just a one-liner and wasn’t even a for-sure. I turned it into a huge turn in Eila’s character. Read it to see what I mean. (And as a bonus, we learn a lot more about the world here, too. And about Brampton. And the government. And on and on and on.)

3. VERY unexpectedly, I had Eila reunite with Cora.
Here’s how it happened: I knew that the next major event was for Eila to dream a dragon into the real world, as stipulated by the beats. That meant she needed to go to sleep. Now, the meeting with Brampton makes Eila’s failure to control herself make even more sense (she’s kind of in a “fuck if I care” state right now), but it also raised a challenge: because she’s kind of like a fugitive (but not really), she can’t go home. I wanted her to sleep up top, though, because she’ll loose the dragon up top. That meant she needed a hideout. A childhood place seemed logical … and who better to share that place than Cora?

That last scene has only begun, but it KILLED me to stop writing without exploring it. I just know it’s going to tell us so much. For one, we get a feel for the pliability of their friendship. Second, we see that Cora is the giver and Eila is the selfish one. And three, we set the stage for Eila to explain what’s going on with her, and to finally have someone who understands … as well as anyone can, anyway.

Can’t wait until Monday!

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Sean is finally mostly caught up. Tomorrow he’ll be recording a live edit. Today, another two chapters from The Dream Engine’s polish and audio.

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See you tomorrow!


Day Twenty-Three

If all goes well, this will be my next-to-last day writing rough draft copy, and the story will conclude tomorrow. That will necessitate a double-shift, though, so if I manage it, there’s still “two days’ worth” of stuff left. I just may write it all in one day and post it tomorrow.

There are three scenes here, each with a different purpose.

In the scene where Eila and Cora are falling asleep in their old childhood treehouse, I wanted to reconcile the friends, give Eila someone who believes in her even though she’s not as good to Cora as Cora is to her, and twist the knife a bit. Specifically, I wanted to use Cora to ask some questions that Eila can’t answer, and get her thinking that maybe she really is nuts to go off Crumble. This is Eila’s chance to see herself through another (more typical) person’s eyes.

In the dream scene, I wanted to deepen the wound from the previous chapter. The main purpose of this scene, plotwise, was to have Eila manifest a dragon in the real world, but there were a dozen ways to have a “dragon dream.” So I chose to set it in the Citadel so that we can call back to that earlier mention and not leave it hanging, and I chose to give her an adversarial companion in Rabbit Brampton, who will again raise the notion that it’s pretty crazy for Eila to think that she, all by herself, knows better than all of Alterra. I don’t think this viewpoint is explored enough in fiction. It’s easy to root for a hero, but why doesn’t it ever dawn on the hero that it’s kind of nuts to think that she alone knows what’s up?

Lastly, the “fleeing” scene is simply about advancing the plot.

From this point, I think we just need to get Eila to Pavilion, have a plan hatched, have the plan implemented, have the plan (and Eila) start to fail, have Eila realize her power and save the day, and then have resolution along with a small WTF to get readers interested in what happens next.

So here’s the words … but keep reading below the link.

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After today’s writing, I’d hoped I could just figure out the ending on my own, but it was still too unclear to me to feel totally confident without having a final story meeting. So we held one to discuss how things will all shake out after Eila goes down to Pavilion and has her final climactic scene and resolution.

Oh, and by the way, here’s the “callback” scene we talk about using in this meeting, to be referred to in the climax:

“Horrors. Dreams that cause you to wake in a sweat or with a scream. The mind’s dirt working upward, percolating out in order to cleanse you. Or perhaps to soil you, because sometimes our wounds make us who we are.” Daw uncrossed his legs and leaned forward, now hands to knees, lightly clasped. He was near enough to touch her, but met Eila’s eyes like a reluctant teacher. “Right now you are like a girl with her eyes closed who believes she can see the world with her hands. But if you don’t open your eyes, you will never know the meaning of blue.”

Anyway, here’s how that meeting went:

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See you tomorrow!


Day Twenty-Four

I’d planned for today to be the final day writing, but something very interesting happened after the first of my two planned daily sessions. Basically, we realized we had the ending all wrong and had another meeting. That meeting squashed any plans I had to write more and left me with a headache. So instead of hitting 12k or so today, I wrote 7500 words. But it’s all good; I’ll finish tomorrow and the end result will be so much better.

Check the section above the video if you want to know a lot more about what stopped me.

In today’s segment, I concluded Eila and Cora’s escape from chaos, seeing how the city was falling apart in the aftermath of the dragon’s discovery. Note that I incorporated some of Eila’s “fire fears” from the day before. (Although now that I think about it, I feel that adding fire as the boogeyman is now a complication we don’t need. Let’s see what Sean thinks when he reads this, as we now have a new “big boss.”)

Then I moved into another surprising scene, where Levi and Walker are preparing to head out into the tunnels. This was a really fun revelation. Basically, we needed a way to explain why the Guile, who have had tunnels all along, weren’t sure where they led. I decided to make them responsive, like the Blunderbuss itself… and to call back to Pianoforte to explain why the tunnels responded so strongly to what just happened above… and to give them a reason to act NOW rather than just sitting on their hands.

Finally, Levi and Walker head out and Eila, on Willoughby’s Blunderbuss clone, follows along. And that was going pretty well when I stopped for my break, planning to pick up an hour or so later. But then I had a small question for Sean, and that question unraveled into a necessary meeting.

I didn’t end up writing that second time today, so now tomorrow is the final day of the rough draft. Yay for random surprises!

Anyway, here are the new words:

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Today we held OMFG THE LONGEST AND MOST COMPLICATED MEETING EVER after I realized that the ending we had in mind was more of a “serial ending” (cliffhanger followed by a “Ha-ha, screw you”) than a “series book ending” (closure on the story arc followed by a tickler about what cool thing was coming next). That was fun, but what was even more fun was the way it unfolded, which was like this:

1. We ironed out many complicated plot points.

2. Thus finished, we moved into discussions about the book’s in-progress cover, marketing plans, scheduling Q&A and “after party” sessions, and reminding Participants about their rewards.

3. Then we said OH NO WAIT, WE DIDN’T SOLVE THAT ONE TINY THING. We then re-embarked on the meeting and spent a bunch more time hashing it out.

The cool and amazing thing, though, is that we both LOVE what we came up with in the end. It took a ton of figuring and went through many complicated areas before allowing us to emerge on the other side, but in the end it’s just one more day of writing and a bunch of seeding things earlier in the story. And we think it’ll make the story amazing.

Enjoy the meeting, if you dare …

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As if 7,500 words and a two and a half hour video wasn’t enough, this is also Sean’s biggest delivery day ever. He has 22,000+ words of edit, three polished chapters, and the accompanying audio to go with it.

And lastly, you’ll find the in progress cover.


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See you tomorrow!


Day Twenty-Five

If you read today’s pages — which (HOORAY!) conclude the rough draft of The Dream Engine — without listening to yesterday’s marathon meeting, you may be a little bit confused. You’ll see some new things introduced that seem to allude to earlier story elements, but if you’ve been reading the rough, you’ll know those story elements aren’t in there.


Yesterday’s story meeting re-imagined a lot of elements of our ending, and I think that the result is really, really strong. We needed to give this book some closure while also leaving an opening for the sequel. We accomplished this by making the “big boss” Crumble itself, and giving Eila a faux Atwell as a key nemesis. But in order to do that — and to seed the WTF reveal of the ship waiting outside the fog — we had to reverse-engineer some elements that were foreshadowed or mentioned earlier — an inconsequential one I happen to remember is the description of Atwell’s briefcase.


I will add those things as I polish the draft a final time, beginning tomorrow. So it’ll be more meaningful of an ending (in terms of callbacks to earlier elements) in the final draft than it may be for you now, considering how many things were brand-new yesterday.

I’d planned to only write another 6000 words today, but true to my usual form, it went double that. So today’s final pages are about 12,000 words (bringing the word count of the first draft to just under 108,000 words), and go through several key things we needed to hit:

• Eila needed to “discover” her father walking into the Fog, including an explanation of why Eila is quite sure it’s really him, why the real Atwell would do such a thing, and so on. (This section relies on some truths about the Enigma vs. Build floors at the Ministry that haven’t yet been seeded.)

• Eila needed to flee into the Fog for real, leaving Phoebe in charge to make nightmares.

• Eila needed to face off against her addiction by confronting Atwell. (And after a “fire” scene that I rather like and that I hadn’t planned to include.)

• She needed to get the crew through the Fog, then find the ship waiting outside.

And finally,

• We needed to add the key brand-new element from yesterday: a concluding chapter from Cora’s point of view, wherein she sees Eila in a strange place, broadcasting a call for people who’ve found themselves unsettled to try going off Crumble.

Some of what I wrote may need massaging, but the only part I’m not totally sure about is the tone of Eila’s message. By the time I wrote that part, I’d been writing for 6 straight hours, without a break longer than one to use the bathroom, at a pace of 2000 words per hour. In short, I was burnt out. It’s entirely possible that when I do the polish, I’ll re-work it a little. It’s also possible that I’ll love it, and not change a thing. The important part was to get the words out now, then revamp later.

Starting tomorrow, I’ll run through the draft from the beginning — words that Sean has been through twice, and our editor (Jason Whited) and continuity guy (Archer Caldwell, one of your fellow Unboxers) have each been through once. I can only imagine what Archer has thought of the continuity, given all the “retroactive foreshadowing” I mentioned above. So Archer, when you read this, let us know if it’s kind of fucked up. :)

I’m really, really pleased with how the story came out, especially in rough. I can’t wait to see it again — after polishing, after Sean has taken around 15% of the fat from my draft — and add all the little gems that will really make it sparkle.

Here’s the final pages of the rough … HOLLA!

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Sean has another 14K words of edits, and will have the rest of them tomorrow, including the live edits! He’ll also have six chapters polished and read.

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See you tomorrow!


Day Twenty-Six


These days are getting long, but we’re almost done. The home stretch is officially here.

Johnny finished the rough draft yesterday, but I realized there was a chapter that I’d skipped over during the initial edit (the one I was saving for a live-edit, before I did it with the final three chapters instead).

While Johnny spent the day starting on the final polish, I finished the edit, and got through another 15K words of polish for Jason. I’ll deliver the final 8K words for him tomorrow.

Today we have another several chapters of edits, plus three chapters polished and read. Tomorrow we should have all of the remaining edits, and another few chapters of polish and audio, along with the videos from the live edit. They’re all rendered, but are a combined 400 megs, so I need to get them up to YouTube.

NOTE: If you are not an Unboxer, you will not be able to see today’s content. Click here to become an Unboxer.

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See you tomorrow!


Day Twenty-Seven

Disaster …

Today started beautifully. I finished reading the book out loud to my family, totally cracking at the end — both from the story’s emotion, and from the deep exhale that came with finishing enough to know we were onto the spit and shine.

It was a wonderful morning, but then it got hard.

We had major Scrivener issues. One of the hiccups of going this fast. We were working on the same files at the same time on different computers, without Dave’s network of decoys.

Our Scriveners were showing different versions of copy, and it was difficult to sift through it and figure which were the most accurate files. It took all morning, and rolled right into the podcast. Johnny equated it to having a hundred different sized needles all strong on a line. Then after they fall to the floor we’re asked to gather them up and put them in order.

Haley was in a play, and that was really awesome. She was Ana in Frozen, and delightful. :)

I’ve still not uploaded the live edit videos to YouTube, but I swear on my fingers that I will have that tomorrow. In the meantime, here’s the video for Yesterday’s Q&A:

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Other than that, I have quite a few goodies.

  • The remaining edits, all the way to the final chapter.
  • Chapters 15-20 Polished
  • Chapters 15-20 Audio
  • Comparison PDF: Rough Draft of Chapter One vs. Final Copy

Tomorrow we’ll have those edit videos FOR SURE!!

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See you tomorrow!


Day Twenty-Eight

Amazing that we’ve just three days left!

Today we have lots of stuff — closing boxes and clearing the deck with all of the remaining polishes and readings, plus the three video live edits.

It is a ton of stuff. As far as media this is our biggest day so far. My desktop has been insane. With all of this uploaded, I can finally start cleaning the clutter and getting ready for July (and Q3!)

But first, we’re going to start with the chapter names. These aren’t final, we’ve already changed one, but they’re definitely close. Chapter names are like raw copy, I just need to get them out the first time, then come back with fresh eyes and improve them. Here’s where they are as of this morning.

A Psychic at Solstice
The Pianoforte
Down in Forefront
The Convenience
Down the Rabbit Hole
The World With No Sky
Upside Down
The Dream Engine
Where Dreams May Come
Portraits on the Walls
The World on His Shoulders
The Mind’s Dirt
37 Pills in a Dish
A Crumbled Reflection
A Deep Cut
The Guile
Like Infection From a Wound
Very Real Decisions
In Brampton’s Office
In the Treehouse
Sleep’s Stickiest Webs
Fuel. Food. Safety.
Into the Tunnel’s Mouth
No Time For Blame or Pity
Into the Fog
Thank the Crown
The Meaning of Blue
The Water’s Edge
When You Start to Believe

I hope you like these live editing videos (if they’re not too boring for you, I could definitely see doing this again!)

See you tomorrow!


Day Twenty-Nine

I only had a tiny bit of Fiction Unboxed work today (including this post and the email I’m about to send). Guess how I spent it …

By writing 9K words for Sterling & Stone’s new project manager, Archer Caldwell. He wanted a brain dump, so I gave him one. It’s the absolute 30,000 foot view of the business: where we are and where we want to go. Between a strong finish to Blunderbuss, and getting that brain drain done, I could not feel better about the end of the first half of this year as we step into the second.

Today we wanted to share the final cover, but first we wanted to show you the two candidates, and explain why we went the way we did.


The one on the left was Erin’s submission, which I absolutely loved. However, I was worried about it as a thumbnail. So I sent her the following:

I love it! Beautiful. My only question is the color. Is there something simple we can do to make it pop more as a thumbnail? Maybe copper piping or something on the blunderbuss? Eila had a little more color in the original, and I do like her pale, but shrunk down on Amazon I think we need something to pop a bit on the left. Is there something that isn’t a pain in the ass that can do that?

She said:

I can make some of these changes when I get home but in the meantime I’m going to voice a strong aesthetic preference here for the more desaturated image, and throw in a reminder that the Boneshaker cover you showed me at the outset is virtually monochromatic.

While I agree, the one on the left is better in every way. If I was holding the print copy, or hanging it on my wall there’s no doubt it would be perfect, but then again I’m really concerned about the thumbnail looking washed out. I asked the guys, and we all agreed that we should acquiesce to the artist. I told Erin it was good to go as is. She said:

Well, while I have my strong preference you guys may, too, and it’s ultimately your project and you have to go with what looks right to you. I’ve gone ahead and made you a comparison shot here with a second option. It’s more saturated, and has colorized bits of Blunderbuss. You may want to go with something like this, or mix and match between the two, or whatever you think works best for selling the book. If you can get back to me ASAP with your p I can get it all finished up and packaged and sent over tonight or tomorrow.

We didn’t have time to dally so I asked the guys again. We agreed that the thumbnail needed some pop, but also that the one on the left was the better cover.

Well, while I have my strong preference you guys may, too, and it’s ultimately your project and you have to go with what looks right to you. I think early pregnancy is making me crazy pushy, but also I’m concerned how close to the wire this is getting! The color seemed to unintentionally cheapen it. The more we looked at it, the more we all liked Erin’s original version.

So in short, in this instance, art won over commerce.

Tomorrow we’ll have your full book, The Dream Engine, along with a celebratory wrap party at 8:00 PM EST.

See you tomorrow!

Party (1)

Day Thirty

We’re done! We’re done! There’s some more content to come over the next few days so don’t go anywhere quite yet (and of course, you may want to stick around to go over Fiction Unboxed again, catch up where you missed things, and use the forums), but it’s June 30, the book is FINISHED, and we pulled it off!

Thanks for all your support, guys and gals… WE DID IT!

So, first things first… here’s the completed ebook versions of The Dream Engine:

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Oh, and check this out… it’s the final cover from our cover artist, Erin Mehlos. The differences between this and the cover we’ve already posted are subtle but powerful. Eila is a bit richer in color and she added a beautiful sepia layer over the Blunderbuss and its steam. We LOVE the way this came out!

The Dream Engine

But wait… there’s more! We’re also soooo pleased to announce that we have about a third of the Dream Engine audiobook back from our narrator, Ray Chase. Ray tells us he’s actually completed all of the narration, so we’ll soon have finals of the rest.

We think Ray KILLED IT on the read of this book. Here’s the first chapter, as a sample:

To celebrate all of these shenanigans (and to celebrate the fact that we may get some sleep soon), we also held a “Wrap Party” (including the triumphant return of DAVE!) at the end of the day where we talked about some ending thoughts on the process, took some questions, and generally got our celebration on.

You can watch that video here:

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Stay tuned! We’re still going to have a marketing meeting this week to discuss our plans for blowing this book’s sales up in the marketplace, and I’m going to do a video walkthrough of why I made certain changes while doing my final polish. I wasn’t going to do that, but I realized that there are DEFINITE REASONS for everything I did, and that I was just taking those reasons for granted. But why not show you, so that it might help someone? You’re all worth it, right?

See you soon!


Day Plus Three

Who said we’d leave you hanging after only 30 days? Nah. Bring on the bonus material!

Today we’ve got two cool things for you. First off, we held our final Q&A today, all about book marketing. We got a lot of great questions, and we also detailed our own marketing plan designed to SELL THE HELL OUT OF The Dream Engine.

Basically, we’re going for a simultaneous launch of the ebook (on all platforms), paperback, hardback, and audio versions of the book. We’ll launch the ebook (which will be the primary seller; it always is) at 99 cents because if we do, we should be able to get early promotion through the big promo venues that primarily push books discounted to 99 cents.


Now, you’ve already gotten the book for free as part of your inclusion in Fiction Unboxed, so what follows is a suggestion, and we’re in no way saying that anyone should feel obligated to do it. But that said, we know a lot of you really want to see this project soar, and it’s true that with all other things being equal, the more popular and widely read this world is, the better chance any project written in the world has of succeeding.

If you’d like to help give The Dream Engine a boost, here’s what you can do:

1. Even though you already own it, buy The Dream Engine on Amazon here. (Or buy it on whichever store is most convenient for you.) It’s only 99 cents. Think of it as giving us a tip. :)

2. As soon as you can — and this should be easy if you’ve followed the book as it was being written — leave us a review if you liked the book. (If you didn’t like it, it would be similarly awesome if you kept that to yourself. :) )

If you do those two things in that order, your review will show up as an Amazon Verified Purchase, which is the very best kind of review. We’d love to have 50 or 100 reviews up before we officially “launch” the book (i.e., put a bunch of promotion behind it) later this month!

Then, for maximum awesomeness (if you are SO awesome that we can barely look at you, lest we be dazzled), you can do this too:

3. When we say “GO” at official launch time — AFTER we’ve gotten all those nice reviews — you can help the launch by using Amazon’s “Give as a gift” button to buy a second copy for a friend or family member. Remember, your name is in the back of the book if you backed Fiction Unboxed on Kickstarter, so you’re giving them something you were demonstrably a part of!

Anyway, all of that and all of the questions and answers are here, in the video and audio of today’s meeting:

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Oh, and here’s the link to the Amazon keywords/categories listings page I mentioned.

The second thing today is a total bonus. As I was doing my final polish, I realized that I was making decisions about flow and meaning and articulation of the story differently then Sean did (as well as “salting” the story with concepts that would show up again later in the narrative), so I decided to walk you through a screencast wherein I compared the final version of a chapter to the version as it existed after Sean and our editor but before I got ahold of it again.

Here’s that walkthrough:

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Finish Line

Archive/Launch Party!


The End

The End?


About Sean Platt

Sean Platt is an author entrepreneur, founder of Sterling & Stone, and co-founder of the Collective Inkwell and Realm & Sands imprints. Follow him on Twitter, Google+, or Facebook.


  1. It’s all here!! Well… almost..?

    All of the FU member content is hidden, and if I click on the links to unhide it all, it takes me to the sign up to FU page… but I’ve already signed up..? Do I need to sign up again here, or..? Will there be codes given out to those that participated in FU so they can see the member content in this blog post? I wouldn’t normally worry, but I know that the FU site is going to be transitioning across to here, so I don’t want to lose any of the access I already have. If that makes sense?

    • Haha.. you posted while I got a notice of “Your posting comments too fast – slow down!” 😀

      Well, glad to hear I’m not the only one :)

  2. Awesome to see it all in one place :)
    Less awesome, that I can’t figure out how to :/

    I used the link in the top of the page to the archives, and logged in. Got a blank page, except for a headline.

    When I click on the individual links, I get the sales page.

    So how do I see it here?
    Please advice :)

  3. Sorry ladies, you can now go here: — now I’m off to add that to the top!

  4. I just found Jacob’s (hehe: Button-Monkey – I love that!) post at the FU site and I was going to ask there about how long we will still be able to access the FU forums for before they get shut down. There doesn’t seem to be the ability to comment on that post, so I’ve come back here to ask – how long will the FU forums be able to be accessed before they get shut down?

    Also, is there any way that we can subscribe to the S&S blog posts so we can get them emailed to us directly, like what used to happen with the FU blog posts? Not sure if that functionality has been switched off at the FU site as I didn’t receive Button-Monkey’s blog via email, but I received all previous ones.

    …. and just realised that all of these questions would be better suited to the forum thread asking for site info… :off to post the same questions there…: Shoot me now. :slaps self:

  5. William Weeks says:

    Where do I find Unboxed 1.5 as promised?

  6. Just finished the audio book of Fiction Unboxed and it mentioned something about the rules of the world being in the Unboxed Extras area of this site. I didn’t see any world documentation there. Am I missing something?


  7. Kraig Whitesel says:

    I’m a recent addition to the Unbox program, and really dig it so far. I appreciate what you guys have made. I’m just running one little problem in that none of the click links to the drafts and documents you guys put together seem to work. When I click them, they link to a 404/non-functioning website. Is there somewhere else I should be looking for those documents as I go through the program? Thanks!

    • Yeah, we really screwed up and let the fictionunboxed domain lapse, and that’s where all the assets were hosted. So we’re having to rebuild it right now. I’m so sorry about that. I think we might have a folder with all of the assets in one place. You can email and we’ll get you taken care of. Thanks so much!

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