Writing EXTRACTION – entry 11

so many questions!!

so many questions!!

This is the eleventh 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.

I know I’m getting close to the end of a piece when I start brainstorming for the next one. Unlike in my personal life, in terms of writing I am a serial monogamist: slavishly devoted to one piece…for a while. I can see them through the end, but as the story wraps itself up I get a wandering eye*. And so it is with The Long Road rewrites (which I’ve tentatively titled Extraction.

I’ve been working steadily on the manuscript. Between a particularly hectic period at work and a particularly hectic period at home I haven’t had much of a chance to blog about the rewrites, but they’ve been going well—lots of bus writing, you know. The draft will definitely need a second pass to clean up characterization and clarify themes, but the draft looks really solid. I’d been shooting for a rewrite which streamlined the previous draft down from a sprawling 150K word novel to a tighter 70K word young adult novel. Parallel storylines were jettisoned, the cast of characters was pared down. I’m entering the last section of the book at the 63K word mark, so I’m right on schedule.

But is it a young adult book? That part I don’t know. YA seems to me a slippery construct, probably in no small part due to the fact that I was a precocious reader who read frankly inappropriate stuff quite early. I’ve read most of the YA books I have as a fully-fledged pushing-thirty adult. I guess what I mean to say is that I set out to rewrite this book as one I would have wanted to read as a young adult (which is what, when you’re 14? 15ish?). But there’s part of me that suspects that if I tried to shop this around as a YA novel it would be deemed too adult. There’s some drugs in it, and not all of them are portrayed in a DARE-ish JUST SAY NO kind of way. Addiction is explored somewhat. There’s sex in it, some of it fairly explicit (though there are plot reasons for that). All the sex is consensual, a lot of it is queer, and all of it is of the positive life-affirming variety, even when it’s not a 1:1 match with love. There’s surprisingly little violence in the book. This seems appropriate to me.

But then I think about The Hunger Games. Those books are all violence, no sex. Some chaste kisses, that’s it, though kids get gutted and torn apart by genetically mutated dogs. Somehow that’s more ok for young minds to read than two women having heartfelt and thoroughly enjoyable sex together? I don’t know. It makes no sense to me. Which is not to knock The Hunger Games at all—I love those books. They are fantastic, and they explore a lot of ideas about PTSD and heroism and propaganda that I think are absolutely appropriate for young adults. But America, with its Puritanical streak, is so much more ok with kids reading vicious ciolence than positive portrayals of sexuality. It just so strange.

Ultimately I’m not sure it matters much one way or another. Hopefully this book will find its audience, and its audience will probably be some adults and some young adults. I think it will probably get out there through a small press, likely not one with a particular focus on YA lit, so this is probably all a moot point. But it’s food for thought.

*I’ll expand on this in another post soon. YOU GUYS I’M VERY EXCITED ABOUT THIS ONE.

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)

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.

Rewriting THE LONG ROAD – Week 8

excel, and powerpoint, and scrivener, oh my!

excel, and powerpoint, and scrivener, oh my!

This is the eighth 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’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.

What actually happened:
I finished the character-level timeline! And it is a beauty, let me tell you. Check it out:

don't be shy; take a gander at this baby

don’t be shy; take a gander at this baby

I plotted out who is doing what where and with who all the way through to the end of the book. This was actually an extremely useful exercise since it made me think through some hard choices about how someone would end up where they are at the end of the book(s).

The color coding works really well to visually distinguish (a) which characters are together at a given point, and (b) the scope of a given plot arc. One thing this sort of thing does for me writing-wise is it helps me clarify my instincts. For instance, there’s a character named Kellidion who I’ve had this nagging instinct to put in this story. He popped up years ago as a character mentioned in passing in a totally different book, and then I wrote a set of shorts about him, and he’s popped up here and there. His story overlapped in a glancing way with this one, and on a hunch I gave him a row on the above timeline. And it’s going to pay off. It makes sense in about a million ways for him to be involved and now I’ve worked out why.

Ok, so by now you may have noticed I get carried away. All of my seemingly simple information structuring techniques turn into these peculiar baroque creations, and this is now exception. I went through it again when I finished it, and the act of going through sparked ideas, so I used Excel’s comment feature to note these down. And so really the timeline looks like this:

a veritable avalanche of plot!

a veritable avalanche of plot!

BUT THAT’S NOT ALL!

Finishing the timeline means I have a better sense of character arcs, which means that I can do a whole lot of very fun work building out character trajectories and backstories.

seriously this is hella fun

seriously this is hella fun

This is getting done in the Aerdh Bible so that these character notes can be used in future projects and updated according to those projects as needed. Information centralization! It’s a thing I believe in!

I’ve also started this nifty thing:

look at all those lines and bubbles

look at all those lines and bubbles

This is the relationship web I mentioned in my last post in this series. I find it useful to have a visual representation for this which works to jar my memory of what I’ve built out at a glance. Turns out powerpoint is really good at this.

All in all, this has been a productive little week.

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.

Next steps are to redraw the world map and track paths on it as well as changes to the landscape as a result of the war.

Rewriting THE LONG ROAD – Week 7

prepare yourself for some bitchin spreadsheets

prepare yourself for some bitchin spreadsheets

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.

My name is B and I have a problem with elaboration.

My name is B and I have a problem with elaboration.

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.

So! Timelines!

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).

check it check it

seriously though you should click through and look at this puppy up close

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.

WHICH MEANS

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:

it's a veritable rainbow of fake information!!

it’s a veritable rainbow of fake information!!

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:

I just can't help myself.

I just can’t help myself. I REGRET NOTHING.

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.

Rewriting THE LONG ROAD – Week 5

I...didn't say no. LEARN FROM MY MISTAKES, FRIENDS!

I…didn’t say no. LEARN FROM MY MISTAKES, FRIENDS!

To recap, my goal from last week was:

I should 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.

What actually happened:
None of that! I got distracted. Waylaid by my own sprawling brain. I am most of the way through mapping out entries in the Aerdh Bible for the course of the war, but the thing is I keep veering off course. When I’m sketching out an event, sometimes the event is fascinating, or the characters in the event are fascinating, or both, and I feel a story brewing. A good story! With excellent themes! Which could be structured in a very interesting way! You can see the process happen below:

1) OH WAIT THIS IS COOL Syndrome

Slide2

a febrile mind at work

As you can see here, I interrupted my own writing to make a note about something I want to write. Initially, this was just a mark-it-put-it-aside-for-later thing, but then on the bus ride home this happened:

2) MAYBE I’LL JUST START IT Syndrome

2013-04-04 11.21.01

trusty notebook! we meet again!

I wrote the entire hour long commute. I cranked out 5 full pages. Maybe I just missed the pure hit of narrative fiction writing. I don’t know. All I know is when I sat down next time to work on the Aerdh Bible, dutifully stowing the notebook containing the spontaneous beginnings of a draft of a story I really shouldn’t be writing just now, this happened:

3) IT DOESN’T COUNT AS CHEATING IF I’M JUST THINKING ABOUT IT Syndrome

eyes on the prize, Sanders

eyes on the prize, Sanders

Yeah. So. I started a Scrivener project where I am currently outlining all the super cool story ideas bursting forth from the Aerdh Bible process which would not work in the actual book I am trying to rewrite. BUT I’M NOT WRITING THEM, OH NO, SO IT’S COOL TO TOOL AROUND IN HERE INSTEAD OF MAKING ACTUAL PROGRESS ON THE ACTUAL BOOK THESE STORIES ARE SUPPOSED TO BE RELATED TO.

The thing about me is that I am a pretty disciplined writer. I have a hell of a work ethic, and I trust myself to churn out reams of text with little effort. But for this project, I need to become a slightly more focused writer. All these story ideas will still be here when I’m done with the rewrite. The burgeoning stories are extremely useful in terms of building up ambient richness for the book itself, but they are also new and shiny and different and intriguing and seductive. Hopefully this craving to write them will dissipate a little when I actually get to the writing stage of the book.

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).