This is the seventh in a series of posts about the redrafting process of THE LONG ROAD which will be composed and published as I rewrite the book. The other posts in this series are here.
To recap, my goal from last week was:
By next week, I should (FINALLY BECAUSE I WON’T BE DISTRACTED) have all the major events of the war built out in the Aerdh Bible. I will probably have an utterly absurd file structure brewing in there. The next big step is to create a visual timeline of the war itself with the arcs of all involved groups represented, so hopefully I’ll be organized enough to start that (BECAUSE I WILL BE MAKING PROGRESS ON THIS OVERARCHING GOAL FOR REALSIES).
What actually happened:
Timelines! Timelines is what happened. I’m still chugging away at the Aerdh Bible, but the Aerdh Bible is fleshed out enough now that it has become a bit of a black hole. What I mean to say is that I have the capacity to drill down further and further and further into the worldbuilding way past the point at which it becomes a time suck. I can chase that rabbit down that particular hole into oblivion. Check out the difference between the Scrivener folder structure in the Aerdh Bible two weeks ago vs. this morning.
The Aerdh Bible will still be useful going forward, especially as a place to put scraps of notes and information for the back end of the worldbuilding that doesn’t quite make it into the actual book. But, I think it’s best if I step way from it a little now lest I lose my self in the tiny nitty gritty details no one really cares about but me.
Since I have the course of the war built out pretty well, I went ahead and set up a timeline. Timelining is really valuable for me and the stuff I write for a couple of reasons:
- the assorted sentient species in Aerdh have different capacities to perceive and use magic, a side effect of which is varying life spans. So, what is a generation worth of years for one group (elves) could be more like two generations worth of time for another group (humans). Similarly, since folks have different expected lifespans, it’ useful to timeline the plot so I can get a better sense of how old Person A is in relation to Person B at a given point.
- As a writer I think in terms of character arcs. I don’t really think in terms of plot at all. The upside of this is that I have a pretty nuanced feel for my characters, and the events that transpire in the text are usually well-grounded in the character’s motivations, desires, etc. the downside is sometimes I just forget what happens and what the relationship between events actually is. This is especially bad when i’m dealing with Big World Events as opposed to interpersonal life events since said Big World Events most often happen to the characters and not necessarily because of the characters.
- Given that I write a whole lot in Aerdh, and given that characters from one piece have a habit of meandering into another piece, timelining is important to make sure that it’s actually feasible for said character to be in said piece. Internal consistency within the universe and between books is important to me.
I poked around on the web for a good free or very cheap program in which to build said timelines, but ultimately my poking around was for naught There are good programs out there, but alas, none are for the secondary world fantasy writer as they all are built to use real-world calendar dates. Which, since my worlds are secondary and don’t use our calendar systems, makes them unusable for my projects. I turned to my trusty old friend, Excel.*
I created a workbook with separate tabs for separate kinds of timelines. One is for an overarching eagle’s eye view of the course of the entire story (which will likely be broken into two or three books).
This will make keeping track of who is doing what when very easy (way easier, say, then thumbing through pages of handwritten notes or sifting through the overly intricate Scrivener structure mentioned above). Yeah, it took five weeks of foundational worldbuilding to get to a point where I could make this relatively simple timeline.
YOU GUYS, WHICH MEANS
That now I can begin plotting out the actual story! And my first little baby step in that direction is this timeline:
This is the second tab in the timeline workbook. What I’ve got going on here is a timeline layered with each notable or influential character in the book I have identified so far (also organized by what their affiliations are). I’m building it so I can see who is with who, who’s participating in what events, approximately how long something takes. And I’m formatting the left-hand column with the characters’ names to differentiate who is a leader vs. who is not and using color codes to denote who is probably going to end up as a POV character.
I have a few more things I’d like to do before delving into the outlining proper (not necessarily in this order):
- redraw maps of Aerdh and mark out the movements of factions, groups, and specific characters
- draw a relationship web to figure out who knows who and how well and for how long
- this will be an interative process also involving sketching out character backgrounds to clarify relationships, roles, etc.
- it might also involve sketching the characters themselves in a literal draw them sort of way
- sketch out (JUST SKETCH OUT, KEEP YOUR FOCUS, SANDERS) how characters involved in the war who are not prominent characters fit into the overarching structure of this Big World Event. It’s a Big World Event, man, there’s a whole lot of stories in it and not all of them are going to fit into one book.
By this time next week, I’ll shoot to have this character-level timeline worked out as well as I can through the end of the story (which is incidentally the end of the war COUGHspoilerCOUGH). This should provide me a much clearer sense of who is going to be important in the book and who will have to wander off into their own stories to be written later.
PS – I did make a valiant effort to just say no to side projects but this still happened anyway:
Expect more of this sort of thing to happen as I do more hardcore work on character stuff in the upcoming weeks.
*I am an Excel wizard, though the above use of it is really very basic. I spend roughly eight hours a day as a K-12 education data analyst working in increasingly and perhaps overly complicated Excel spreadsheets.