More Processing on the Writing Process

I submitted RESISTANCE to the press last Sunday, and now I’m in the waiting-for-feedback limbo. I’m still very much in the process headspace, and I just finished re-reading all the Harry Potter books and having all the resulting Harry Potter feelings, so it was time to grab something new to read off the shelf. I grabbed this:

really this should be titled WATCH STEINBECK WRITE LIKE A BOSS

I didn’t really think too much about it, just shoved it in my backpack. And then I marveled at the fact that my backpack was at least 5 pounds lighter than it had been in two months since I was no longer hauling around a Harry Potter tome, but that’s neither here nor there. I grabbed it, and then I cracked it open on a bus and realized I was reading, largely in real time, a (much greater) author’s own process-y headspace while he wrote EAST OF EDEN. Apparently I am still very much in dialogue with myself about the writing process, and now I am in a one-sided dialogue with John Steinbeck, too. This volume is a collection of letters he wrote but did not send to his editor, Pascal Covici, while he wrote the first draft of EAST OF EDEN. The letter served as a warm-up exercise for him, something to get him in the groove of the day’s authorial work, and as such they flit from the gritty mundanities of smudged graphite to his ultimate sweeping purpose for his novel from paragraph to paragraph. The style is casual and unguarded, which makes sense given that he never expected anyone to read these letters, and it serves as a friendly work diary.

There are weird familiarities in terms of process as I read Steinbeck’s work diary. He talks of his book “having pups” and getting longer and longer, breeding side-stories and subplots. And, man, do I ever know that feeling. My books are all so interconnected that I sometimes feeling like I’m writing fanfiction about my own stuff. RESISTANCE, or rather its base story, “Proof”, came about because one of the leads was mentioned in “Blue Flowers” and the other lead down the line has certain interactions with some characters in THE LONG ROAD. This whole project began, essentially, as a way of filling in some backstory for other projects. Every minor character is a hero in her own story, and I have a very strong tendency to let every minor character take center stage at some point.

Steinbeck is also a much more deliberate writer than I am in terms of structure. This could be simply an individual difference, but it could also be that EAST OF EDEN was written late in Steinbeck’s career, written when he had done most of his learning and stumbling, while I’m still just crawling through. He had very particular ideas of what a chapter is or should be. He had very particular ideas about how chapters should relate to and balance each other. He came into the book very much knowing how he wanted it to be read–not necessarily what he wanted to say, but how he wanted the reader to feel, what the experience of reading it should be like. He spends much more time in his unsent letters discussing pace, discussing the need to keep himself relaxed in order to keep the text itself relaxed, than he does on plot or character development. Again, maybe this is a sign of my youth as a writer, but I haven’t yet started a project with an intent to readership experience like that. I don’t know that I can just yet.

Now, I really like RESISTANCE. I think it’s awesome. It’s no EAST of EDEN, though; that shit was a masterpiece. The biggest, strangest and most obvious revelation I’ve had reading his letters is that the work one writer is the work of all writers. Steinbeck wrote long hand with pencils–he was very, very particular about his pencils, actually and spends much time outlining his pencil preferences in these unsent letters to his editor–and I wrote RESISTANCE on a laptop. He wrote EAST OF EDEN at home at a very particular writing desk of his own design, which he fiddled with and perfected over the course of the novel, and I wrote RESISTANCE mostly on buses and airplanes. The methods are different, but his process and mine and probably everyone else’s is essentially the same: you just…write it. You just write a chunk (mostly) every day until the beast is done. Or, in Mr. Steinbeck’s own words right as he began:

I don’t suppose writing consists in anything more than doing it.

And so we do it. And sometimes we finish what we start, and sometimes we edit it, and sometimes it sees the light of day. And sometimes–so very rarely, but sometimes–someone writes and finishes and edits something that turns out to be something like EAST OF fucking EDEN.

Correcting RESISTANCE

ah, the glamorous life of a writer

ah, the glamorous life of a writer

I’ve gotten feedback from some wonderful and thoughtful beta readers. I printed out draft 1 of RESISTANCE and pored over the text myself. All that’s left before I send it to the press is to correct the draft!

I’m doing that over this weekend since working from a sheaf of loose papers and a laptop is not so bus compatible. I’m getting this iteration of the book as close to perfect as I can for the editors–though no matter how many times I go over something or someone else goes over it a fresh set of eyes unearths a new volley of crappy grammar and bad spelling. Pays to be humble, y’all.

I like this part of the process. The hard work of editing is done and all of this is just the icing on the cake. When there’s only 1-5 corrections per printed page you fly through the draft pretty quick, so there’s a happy illusion of productivity.

Writing RESISTANCE: A Post-Mortem of the First Draft

replace this image of someone furiously running with my fingers furiously typing and you get the picture (image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

replace this image of someone furiously running with my fingers furiously typing and you get the picture
(image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

RESISTANCE is still not done: it’s currently out to a host of wonderful and voracious beta readers, and then the first draft needs a final pass before I send it to Inkstained Succubus. Then, the editors will read it (and hopefully like it!), there will be a developmental edit, rewrites, line-editing, etc. So RESISTANCE is not done. But, the first draft is done! And getting out that first draft means I’ve jumped a pretty huge hurdle already.

Writing the first draft of RESISTANCE was a different process than writing anything else I’ve ever written. Not the content–after all, RESISTANCE is an expansion of my short story “Proof” and is set in fantasy universe I’ve written in many times before. What was different about RESISTANCE is that this was the first piece of fiction I’ve ever written on someone else’s timeline. And it is the first piece of fiction I’ve written with an explicit idea of getting it published. The combination was a doozy, let me tell you.

I confess I had a touch of panic. I had a few moments of imposter syndrome-induced neurosis. Nathan Bransford described J. K. Rowling as a clutch writer. While I was writing this draft of RESISTANCE I felt like anything but a clutch writer. I had a weird blindness: I would write and reread what I’d written and I could not tell if what I’d written was good. It seemed good? Maybe? BUT THIS IS FOR REAL IS THIS REALLY GOOD?? The self-doubt just crept up and lingered around the edges of my brain. Added to this that I rarely write a plot so meticulously planned, which gave me a feeling of being slightly out of my comfort zone, and I very much had no idea if what I was doing was going to fly.

I went with it anyway. I have, more or less, two secret superpowers: 1) I am a fearless public speaker and (more relevant) 2) I am really, really good at buckling down and barreling through a heinous amount of work. The meticulous planning was, in retrospect, a good move on my part–I had no moments of writer’s block. I sprinted to the finish line in a mad dash, because the faster I wrote the more time I’d have to polish this manuscript before sending it to the editors. And now it’s done, and I’ve read it and a couple of other folks have read it, and the early feedback is promising. I am still anxious, definitely I’m still anxious, but the draft is tangible now. At the very least I like it and that’s something. Whether the editors will agree is still an open question, but I like it and that feels pretty great.

I had thought in the planning and the sprinting that the actual writing process itself would be more…stale. I had thought that by planning everything out and writing so fast that I would effectively be choking out that exploratory part of the writing. Turns out I was wrong. Mapping out the plot served to make this a smoother, faster process, to be sure, but the book still evolved organically. Themes fell into place that worked with the plot but which I didn’t see coming. The story twisted and turned in ways that surprised me even though I followed my 14 page outline virtually to the letter. In retrospect, it’s a tiny bit silly that I thought writing RESISTANCE would be a perfunctory thing; the rewrites of ARIAH were no less meticulously planned out and no less surprising to me as I drafted them anyway. I’ve been mired in a lot of first drafts lately, and it could be that I’d forgotten how fresh and exhilarating a from-scratch second draft is.

I am marking this as a success, which means I’ve just edged a little bit further out of my comfort zone as an emerging writer. And really, when you’re a writer at any level, is there anything better than coming out of a project and feeling like you grew in the process?

ETA: Hey this is my 100th blog post! What a cool little coincidence.

PROOF Expansion ready for beta readers!

bigger and better than ever

bigger and better than ever

Holy shit, you guys, I finished expanding “Proof” into a novel! I have tentatively retitled it Resistance as adding 45k words does tend to change the scope and focus of the work a little bit. I’m planning on writing up my process and experience working on a deadline, but for now, I’ll just throw out a call for beta readers!

Resistance has many faces, and one of them is Shandolin’s. When she finds her friend brutally murdered, Shandolin knows that her life as an elf living in the City of Mages under the heel of the Qin is going to get a whole lot harder. Though the Qin have her in their sights and put an assassin on her trail, Shandolin decides to fight instead of run–but her only hope of survival is a takeover of the City government.

Shandolin draws everyone she loves into the fray with her: her assassin lover, Rivna, who would prefer a quiet life; her mentor, Moshel, whose history with the Qin leaves him paralyzed and frightened; and her best friend, Kel, who has too many mouths to feed to play a losing game of politics. Apart, they are weak, but together Shandolin and her friends, lovers and fellows may be just strong enough to save their skins and the skins of the other elves in the City.

Set in the unique and finely realized fantasy universe of Aerdh, RESISTANCE is a completed fantasy novel 52,000 words in length. RESISTANCE is about the big and small ways hunted people fight back, and what it may cost them if they win the fight.

Interested? Let me know!

PROOF Expansion Update

I did not mean to neglect this blog so long, but as you are about to see, I have been hella busy. the expansion of “Proof” into a novel is going really well! I am actually ahead of schedule already. Good job, me. Anyway, I thought I would write up a post that walks you through my process for this blitz writing project step by step, because if there’s one thing the aspiring author blogosphere needs it’s another writing process post!

Step 1: Make a plan of attack

Evernote is awesome because you can stick in to do check boxes, and there's nothing sweeter than checking off a box. I'M DONE, BRO you say to Evernote. And then Evernote buys you flowers.

Evernote is awesome because you can stick in to do check boxes, and there’s nothing sweeter than checking off a box. I’M DONE, BRO you say to Evernote. And then Evernote buys you flowers.

I have a hard deadline for this project–August 1st–so it made sense to me to map backward from the hard deadline to see what needed to be done by when. I know my writing process well enough now to know I would need time for worldbuilding/brainstorming, obviously writing time, and then a little cushion at the end for copyediting. Because, you guys, I am a shit typist, and I don’t catch the terrible typing as I’m writing. Since this is my first project I’m doing ~for realsies!~ like with a really good shot at seeing it published I am kind of nervous. Instead of getting stuck in the self-doubting seventh circle of hell, I’ve built in even more cushion time to get a couple of my very fastest beta readers to look through the manuscript before I send it off (though if they’re like WOW B THIS SUCKS MONKEY BALLS I’m not sure there is functionally enough time to really do anything about that; this is mostly a peace-of-mind thing).

I gave myself a week of worlbuilding/planning time at the start, then two weeks at the end for edits. The time in between is writing time, and I worked out how much I would need to write everyday all of those days in order to hit 60k words by the point at which I need to start editing.

Step 2: The outline to end all outlines
You see the highlighting? The highlighting means I'm taking this seriously.

You see the highlighting? The highlighting means I’m taking this seriously.

I mentioned before that I’m not much of a plotter, but for this project plotting makes sense logistically. I’m pretty sure that was exactly the right call to make, so I wrote up a very extensive outline of what is essentially the original short story but with many more complications and a handful of new characters thrown in for flavor.

The thing is, when I say I don’t plot or plan much for most of my work, I mean that pretty much wholesale. I don’t structure the plot ahead of time, and I certainly don’t pay much attention to the structure of the book itself (chapters, sections, etc). But I did this time. I figured give or take 6k words was about the right length for a chapter which in a 60k draft would mean give or take ten chapters, so I printed out the Massive Outline and broke up the action by chapter, and within chapters broke it into scenes.

Step 3: Structuring the draft in Scrivener

Oh, corkboard feature. What a fool I was to think I'd never use you.

Oh, corkboard feature. What a fool I was to think I’d never use you.

Each scene got its own notecard with the following: a chapter designation, a scene number, a quick and dirty summary of the action this scene pushes forward, and keywords describing the characters present, major plot points, and setting.

The fact that you can mouse over the card in the binder and it displays the summary is super useful while writing–essentially, it lets me write to the next scene so I can keep any foreshadowy bits in mind as I go along.

Step 4: Get your write on

This is the fun part.

This is the fun part.

I’ve set this hard goal of 2200 words per day every day until the book is done. Now, I work 40+ hours a week and parent a toddler and have, like, a life and shit, so 2200 was, I thought, a reach goal. But it’s working.

I write on the bus, basically exclusively on the bus. I have a 40 minute block in the morning where I’m getting out about 1200 words, and I have another 40 minute block on my way home in the afternoon where I usually match or surpass the amount written that morning. The fact that I know the story so well and have hammered out all the actual stuff that happens makes this a bit easier, but by a week in honestly I think the rhythm of writing in two focused blocks helps me get all those words out.

This is not to say there haven’t been surprises along the way. The chapter structure has shifted a little. Characters I definitely did not expect to show up came into the story. Characters I thought I knew quite well showed me a whole different side to them. Despite all that meticulous planning and the rigidity of my writing schedule, the actual writing part of this project still feels very organic, which I think is a good sign.

Step 5: Progress monitoring is key

And we're back to my dear old friend Excel which you may have noticed I use for basically everything.

And we’re back to my dear old friend Excel which you may have noticed I use for basically everything.

I keep a spreadsheet where I track daily writing, log whether it’s writing or planning or blogging or what, and where I track my queries. I also keep a list of books I’ve read in here. Look, I just like lists, ok? That’s not a crime.

Usually I just have this log because I like data, but for this project it’s vital to track and monitor how closely I’m following that week-by-week project plan I’ve got over in Evernote. Doing this showed me that this weekend HOLY SHIT I was actually far enough ahead of schedule that I could take a break from writing. Which was good because I had Proper Adult Things to do this weekend like cook Father’s Day brunch for my partner and organize the hellhole which was once my closet and play with my kid and install a new saddle on my bike. Also somehow I drank an entire jug of orange juice in a single day. That was super important, and frankly, I feel rather accomplished.

This spreadsheet is actually kind of awesome because I have it where it auto-sums the number of words written within the year to date and also it sums the total number of words in a month and takes the average written daily for the month. WHAT I LIKE DATA.

Step 6: Make sure your ducks are in a row

compiling sounds so productive, doesn't it? "Oh, what did you do today?" "I compiled an entire book!" "Wow, look at you go!"

Compiling sounds so productive, doesn’t it? “Oh, what did you do today?” “I compiled an entire book!” “Wow, look at you go!”

I am writing the book according to the specs I’ve set the Scrivener editor to for my own particular preference (12 pt Palatino Linotype, 1.5 spacing in case you’re interested), but lo! The press for whom I’m writing the book has preferences of their own. The mysteries of the human mind. Anyway, they send me a pre-edit checklist and formatting document, and I spent an hour or so tinkering around in Scrivener’s compile settings to work out how best to get Scrivener to export exactly the kind of document they want. I periodically compile a chapter here or there to make sure everything fits their requirements, and then I can just write the damn book without having to scramble at the end to make the formatting work.

So, that’s where I am and what I’ve been doing the last couple of weeks! It’s clipping along at a great place, the nerves about this REALLY BEING A REAL THING are manageable, and I’ve been able to keep my head above water in the other domains of my life. Basically, I feel like this guy:

Well, I feel like this guy if he was, like, wearing clothes.

Well, I feel like this guy if he was, like, wearing clothes.
(image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Expanding PROOF – Week 1

As I mentioned a few days ago, I have switched gears to due an impending and enormously exciting deadline! Since I document everything ever, I figured I’d go ahead and document this process, too.

The gist is in two months I need to take “Proof”, a 6,000 word short story, and expand it into a short novel by adding at least 40,000 words. No small feat, right? Well, luckily, I have a bit of a head start: “Proof”, like the vast majority of my fiction, takes place in Aerdh. And it explores characters in a locale i’ve pretty thoroughly built out worldbuilding-wise. And it dovetails with some characters I’ve written about elsewhere. In short, I have a pretty comprehensive sense of what’s going on in the universe in which the story is set at that particular time in the universe’s history, which makes things a lot easier to work with. Mostly expanding “Proof” means taking the current plot, which is stripped pretty bare, and throwing in a bunch of complications to blow up the scope of the narrative.

I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m not much of a plotter. The pace and action of my narratives typically develop organically from exercises in worldbuilding first and then character development. This project is really no different–the characters are definitely my starting place.

"where should i start? I know! A nice orderly table about my characters"

“where should i start? I know! A nice orderly table about my characters”

“Proof”, at its heart, is a love story, and I very much want to keep that element when I expand it to a novel. Specifically, “Proof” describes a relationship between two women that already has a history. Obviously, one direction I could take the project in is to pull back and watch them fall in love. But I like that they’re already together, that they already have a rhythm and a history. My inclination now is to keep it like that and to use the longer format to explore why and how they work (and why and how they don’t work) together. There is a certain kind of playfulness that exists when you’re writing about two people who already know each other and already love each other that is a little different than the sort of playfulness that exists when a relationship is new and still forming. I want the book to be about how they stay in love rather than how they fall in love.

So, since this will be a book so deeply rooted in how these two characters play off of each other, I started with mapping out how they react to each other. With a table. Look, I’m an analyst by training and trade, right, I think in tables.

The other thing I’ve been working on is an extremely rough idea of a plot. Now, the reason I’m doing this instead of just letting it blossom on its own like I usually do is a matter of scope–left to my own devices I will turn this into a 200,000 word epic about the nature of love and loss and shit like that. And it would be good. But this needs to be a quick, swift romp with just enough gravitas, and for that I need to keep my focus. Since I’ve got two months to make it happen, I don’t have time for a sprawling first draft.

EYES ON THE PRIZE, SANDERS

EYES ON THE PRIZE, SANDERS

So I’m brainstorming at lightspeed, figuring out which elements of the current story need elaboration and what the scope of this will be. It’s like a planning blitz, and so far it’s been really useful. I am sort of concurrently working out the roughest outline in the whole wide world.

I’ll keep y’all posted on where it goes from here!

Shifting Gears

we pause our regularly scheduled shit for an exciting new project now on an exciting new deadline

we pause our regularly scheduled shit for an exciting new project now on an exciting new deadline
(image courtesy of wikimedia commons; click through for source)

I had a Back to the Drawing Board post all half-written, but it’s going to have to wait. Not that I haven’t made progress on The Long Road rewrites, because I have*, but because it can be put on hold and something else has to get done by August 1st.

I submitted “Proof” to an open call for an anthology, and it caught the interest of the editors! Alas, it doesn’t look like the anthology is happening, but they have expressed interest in me expanding “Proof” into a short novel! They want the daft by August 1st, and I have full confidence I’ll make that deadline.

*Actually, I made quite a bit of progress The Long Road. I started drafting the rewrite! I am about 5k words in. Yep, the second I finished with all that prewriting and worldbarfing and timelining I have to put the project on hold.

Submissions Update: A Bouquet of Near Misses

Image

Well, Ariah made it to the ABNA 2013 semi-finals and no further. I wish this year’s finalist the best of luck! In any case, this seemed as good a time as any to write up an update on my submissions process thus far.

I’ve been writing with discipline and with hard-earned skill for about four years now. It’s only been in the last year that I’ve let anyone besides my partners Jon and Sam read any of my writing. Just sending stuff to friends was incredibly scary, and I think I started doing that around last April. And it wasn’t until last October that I sent anything to publishers or agents–that is, it wasn’t until eight months ago that I actually decided I wanted to try getting published.

Eight months later, I still have no published fiction (though I do have some academic and personal experience pieces published), but I feel really good about my prospects! From what I can tell of the publishing world as an outsider looking in, these things take time. Eight months is for most a blink of an eye on the road to publishing. And, the thing is, though I am new at this and my query letters are most definitely rough around the edges, I have been making it pretty far in my pursuits. It’s been all misses as of yet, but they have been near misses, and that’s pretty  awesome.

Case in point: ABNA 2013. I may have only made it to the semi-finals, but HOLY SHIT that’s still pretty amazing! I thought I’d be cut in the first round…and instead my manuscript was in the top 25 of 10,000 entrants! And I have absolutely glowing external reviews of my manuscript which I can use to beef up my query letter for Ariah (and, incidentally, it’s never been queried–I finished it just in time to submit it to ABNA). So, that’s pretty heartening. Don’t get me wrong, it would have been awesome to snag a publishing deal with a $15k advance, but, hell, I got really, really far.

Way back in October, Harper Voyager opened up a digital submissions process. I submitted a couple of manuscripts, and one of them, Sound and Song, was only rejected last week. Last week! I mean, sure, I would have preferred for them to accept it, but being under consideration so long is certainly a good sign. Sound and Song has also resulted in requests for partials and fulls from agents. A couple of weeks ago it was rejected by an agent, but rejected in a very flattering way:

Even in the first few pages you establish yourself as a writer keenly aware of both characterization and world building.

I sent the agent a heartfelt thank you letter, because she most certainly did not have to go out of her way to say that in her rejection. So, this is yet another near miss.

Near misses I can take. I actually handle rejection extremely well (it’s sort of a secret superpower). I might not have gotten any hard bites yet, but near misses signal that I might get one a lot sooner than a bunch of first round rejections would. Again, the very best of luck to all the ABNA finalists this year, and anyone Harper Voyager picks up through its open submissions, and to any clients that lovely agent ends up representing. I feel good about where I am, and how far I’ve gotten at this point.

EDITED TO ADD – Just now, literally two days after I wrote up this post, I got a firm bite on one of my short stories. So one of these near misses is now blooming into a palpable hit, y’all!

Rewriting THE LONG ROAD – Week 10

seriously, maps for days

seriously, maps for days

 

This is the tenth 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 this time next week I should have a bunch more character outlines in the can. And maybe this weekend – barring a terrible toddler flu resurgence – I will get a chance to draw some maps.

What actually happened:
Pretty much exactly what I set out to do! I made much progress on character bios:

*pats on own back, gives self a treat*

*pats on own back, gives self a treat*

I’m over halfway done, and the character bios continue to be useful. I am making an effort to keep my eyes on the prize, but I am getting carried away. A lot of these characters reappear, and have lives before and after this story, and I am writing those into the character bios, too, even if that information isn’t immediately useful.

BUT the big thing this week was maps! Maps everywhere! Or, more precisely, one map annotated a bunch of different ways!

Maps! They don't love you like I love you!!

Maps! They don’t love you like I love you!!

So what I’ve done here is I drew and painted a watercolor map of southern Aerdh over the weekend, which I then scanned at work (because work has a readily available scanner and my scanner at home is unreliable to say the least) and popped into powerpoint. The map I painted was bare so that I had maximum flexibility to mess around with borders, character routes, etc, digitally. Which means that I have several different types of maps of the same region: the basic outlines of countries at one point, after the war, important war landmarks, etc.

As for the mechanics, they are as follows:

marvel at my powerpoint skillz

marvel at my powerpoint skillz

I used the scribble feature under shapes to mark out the boundaries. Once I had them set, I selected all of them at once and grouped them so they were easier to manage. And then I duplicated slides with the boundaries in place to do the different kinds of maps. Voila!

For completion’s sake, I stuck one of the basic maps in the Aerdh Bible for reference:

MaaaAAAaaaAAAaaaAAAaaaps! THEY DON'T LOVE YOU LIKE I LOVE YOU!

MaaaAAAaaaAAAaaaAAAaaaps! THEY DON’T LOVE YOU LIKE I LOVE YOU!

Note to self: Stick the timeline in here, too, while you’re at it, champ.

The other thing that happened this week is that I’ve begun to revisit The Prince of NorsaI had a lovely beta reader express interest, but it was written in word and getting the manuscript in a neat and tidy format in Scrivener is a bit of a chore. So, while I whip it into readable shape (getting it into a clean .mobi file), I’ve been poking at the text.

no maps here...yet

no maps here…yet

Now, one might say this is a distraction, but that person would be wrong. You see The Prince of Norsa intersects with The Long Road in some very meaningful ways. Characters wander from one book to the other. Actions in The Prince of Norsa have a direct effect on the state of things in The Long Road, and vice versa. Given the fact that I finished the first draft of The Prince of Norsa back in October, which has given me some eight months away from it, and given that the books are so intimately linked, I would say it is, in fact, not a distraction at all to work on them in tandem.

So, next week. Well, timelines are done. Maps are done. I suppose I should just finish out these last character bios and use this space next week to sketch out some next steps.

Rewriting THE LONG ROAD – Week 9

I get invested, ok?

I get invested, ok?

This is the ninth 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:

So. For next week, I’m planning to have character sheets written out for all the characters on the timeline and hopefully have then mapped out on the web.

What actually happened:
Well, not that much, actually. I took a break The Long Road to work on a short story, and I took a little break from writing to deal with a sick kid and get sick myself. So it’s only been the last couple of days that I could make much progress on this front. But, you know me: I have fancy graphics for you anyway!

I’ve got about half of the major characters’ bios mapped out. Actually the Aerdh Bible overall is coming along quite well. Check it out:

everything's more fun with statistics!! (I am being sincere.)

everything’s more fun with statistics!!
(I am being sincere.)

This gives you a sense of how much I’ve done already, which is a pretty substantial amount of pre-writing. The Aerdh Bible in total has now surpassed 10,000 words of worldbarfy goodness, and half of it is devoted to character outlines.

The length and level of detail of these character outlines has varied a lot so far. some are short because it’s actually a fairly minor character and there’s not much to say. Some are short because the character is straightforward. Some are way longer than I expected, and some are shorter than I thought they would be because the character meets an abrupt and untimely end. As someone who tends to understand plot in terms of character arcs, building out these character bios is a particularly useful way to nail down the overarching story.

The bios are somewhat standardized. In each, I’m trying to nail down the following:

  • the lifespan of the character, which I need to know in order to know if it makes sense that they would be around at X event of appear in Y book
  • Names the character goes by. I have a few characters (the pirates are especially bad about this) who change names like other people change socks, so tracking that it useful.
  • notable skills and abilities. Since this is a heavily elvish book the bios i’ve been working on currently mostly have to do with magic (both what they can do and what sort of training, if any, they’ve gotten for it), but also things like musical talent, medical training, etc., go here.
  • physical description. self-explanatory but MAN am I bad about changing eye color and height across drafts and books.
  • personal history. tracking the character from early childhood to death, which helps me formulate the whys and hows of a given character – personal history plays pretty deeply into motivations and elements of marginalization and privilege.
  • important relationships with other chracters. I think, actually, that when I say I think of plot in terms of characters what I really mean is I think of plot in terms of characters’ relationships. All my writing is super-grounded in relationships, and I tend to understand one character based in their relation to another, so marking out who the important people are in a person’s life is central to my understanding of that person.

Writing up these character sheets has become a strangely emotional experience for me. I think it’s natural and common for a writer to get attached to characters. I think you need a certain amount of investment in your characters to write them well.  The thing with these character outlines, though, is that I am explicitly nailing down the good and bad things that happen, the death and the losses and abuse suffered and survived along with marriages and children and peaceful endings. At one point yesterday, it got to me:

MAH FEELS

MAH FEELS

That’s me g chatting with my partner, who very patiently let me bemoan the state of a fictional character’s life. I presume there will be more of the above to come as I finish writing all these other characters up.

By this time next week I should have a bunch more character outlines in the can. And maybe this weekend – barring a terrible toddler flu resurgence – I will get a chance to draw some maps.