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).

Rewriting THE LONG ROAD – Week 4

this post is basically a scrivener infomercial

this post is basically a scrivener infomercial

This is the fourth 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:

I’ll have a sense of how the war transpires and why it transpires that way, and I will be able to start figuring out who the cast of characters will be in the book.

What has actually happened:
I finished working out who did what why and when through the war on a truly epically obnoxious flight* last Friday. The war has a shape and a purpose and a course now, which is really really exciting!

I ended up with 37 handwritten pages of notes plus and additional 5 single spaced pages of text exported from Evernote. It is all very rough, very freeform, and ultimately mostly just helpful for the exquisite brainstorming of which it was the product. In terms of using all these ideas to shape the book itself, I needed to wring some order from all that chaos. And that’s where Scrivener comes in.

I have, like every other aspiring writer with a blog, a whole separate post planned for someday all about why Scrivener is the shit and why it is a writer’s best friend. But his post will specifically focus on how it’s helping to organize my wide-ranging and nebulous worldbarfs. Anyway, take a gander:

SPOILER ALERT: I love these digital notecards

SPOILER ALERT: I love these digital notecards

Now, given that I write in the universe of Aerdh a lot, and given that many of those pieces overlap and many characters cross from one book to another, it made sense to me to create a Scrivener project (called the Aerdh Bible) that would capture information about the universes generally since the information used in this book will inform other rewrites and future work. And that’s exactly what I did. I created this generally project to file away the canonical information I create about the universe as I create it so I don’t have to keep track of everything in my brain alone anymore.

The screenshot above is the very first thing I did in this Aerdh Bible. My first step was to pour through my notes and come up with a list of all the major events that occur in the war, then make a seprate file for each event, which show up like color-coded cards on a corkboard. I rearranged them until I felt pretty good about their order, then used the order to start building out a very rough and dirty timeline. And from there, I embarked on this:

the multi-tasking capabilities of this program are mindboggling

the multi-tasking capabilities of this program are mindboggling

For each event, I’m writing up a quick 200-300 word description of what happened, who was there, the outcome, if it’s referenced by anything (say a song), and if the event is mentioned as a piece of background or appears “on screen” in a book. AND, because Scrivener is awesome and totally panders to my fiddly side, there is a feature that lets you create internal links to other files in the project WHICH MEANS that when a given figure is mentioned I can link to that character’s sheet.

Building the skeleton for all this cross-referencing is particularly useful because the empty cards serve as a reminder of all the little i’s I have to dot and t’s I have to cross. In any case, I am essentially building a wiki for my own fantasy universe and it is a ludicrous amount of fun.

By next week, 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. Stay tuned!

*Ok, so apparently my plane hit a bird on its way into Denver. A bird big enough to “leave sizable dents” on the plane, which, what the hell was it? An emu? Anyway, the wayward bird and its untimely demise delayed the flight for a full seven hours. I took the opportunity to read an entire book, do some sudoku, and finish a short story. We get on the plane, and it’s a good thing I’m no nervous flyer, because that was the choppiest flight I’ve ever been on. AND THEN FRIENDS, and then, when we landed, we were delayed yet again by a group of entitled assholes who decided to stand up and root around in the overhead compartments for their stuff while the plane was yet taxiing. Air marshals were called on board to deal with the troublemakers — a process that took substantially longer than you’d think — and I took that opportunity to finish out the worldbarfing process.


Rewriting THE LONG ROAD – Week 3

longroadrewriteheaderweek3

a gift that keeps giving!

This is the second 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:

 Let’s see…by this time next week I will have worldbarfed the war itself. Right now I have a solid sense of the conditions and context of it but still a very nebulous sense of what actually happened.

What has actually happened:
I have, in fact, worldbarfed most of the war! Not all of it – I don’t yet have a full sense of the endgame – but I have managed to figure out a large chunk of the Ominous Middle Section which I have for years avoided building out. Progress has been made!

I have over 30 handwritten pages of slightly organized fodder for this next draft. I’ve managed to get past the hard part of ecologically and dialectically centering the war in pre-existing conditions. That was the heavy lifting needed to make the crux of this book make sense to me, and now that I’ve got that nailed down I’ve been mapping out the specifics of the course of that war. And by mapping out I mean throwing ideas on the page as soon as I get them.

2013-03-21 09.49.42

and a million digressive text boxes were born on that page

This is not the most efficient way to do this. It is not the easiest jumble of information to use down the line, as I found yesterday when I paged through my growing notebook for a tidbit of information I was sure I wrote down somewhere – here? no before that…or after? I don’t know. somewhere – but couldn’t find. And then I just kept on wroldbarfing anyway.

It is liberating. It is necessary to just throw it all out there without sorting it out. And I have figured out why this is working for me so well: it’s organic. It feels very much like I am watching these histories unfold rather than trying to engineer something, which is exactly how it should feel. When I write a good indication that the writing is going well is when I feel like a passenger, or a spectator. Like the story is happening of its own accord and I am simply recording it. Getting to that feeling already is a good sign.

Now, I’m in the thick of working out the war itself. Now, by inclination and habit I tend to write smaller stories, ones that just happen, not earth-shattering events. That’s one reason why I felt the need to redo this foundational worldbuilding in the first place – the scope of this story has always been offputting to me. Counterintuitive. But, goddamn it, it is my story! And it has such potential! And now I’m finally getting to a point where it does actually feel like it’s my story and has potential I can bring out.

So I’m in the thick of the war, now, as I said. And I thought (erroneously – notice how often that happens) that I would just plot it out. That it would be clear-cut and dry. Instead, my planning process for the war itself has been like this:

on the real, though, my brain is full of brightly colored lines. It’s like Tron in there.

This is a map of how a computer decides what move to make in a chess game it is playing against itself (click through for source link). And this is basically what I’ve been doing. It’s actually very exciting – I worldbarf a bit about one side is up to, their options, the divergences of opinion within their ranks and then BAM switch to the other side that totally does something surprising! And then side 1 has to react to that. Well how would I react to that? LIKE THIS, SIDE 2, THAT’S HOW I WOULD REACT. Oh yeah? Yeah, Side 1? Well what if Side 2 DID THIS, huh??

Back and forth trying to outsmart myself. Now that I’ve spent all that time working out the limits and edges of this world’s sandbox, framing the paradigm in which this war takes place, and structuring who has access to what resources why and when, this back and forth is actually quite seamless and easy to do. All that foundational work was really building the rules of the game, and now I get to play it.

Next week’s goal. I will hopefully be done playing this game of chess against myself. I’ll have a sense of how the war transpires and why it transpires that way, and I will be able to start figuring out who the cast of characters will be in the book.

Rewriting THE LONG ROAD: Week 2

it is much more pleasant than it sounds, I promise

it is much more pleasant than it sounds, I promise

This is the second 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:

My plan of attack is to write a fairly dry wikipedia-style entry that tracks the war from start to finish: how it started, who shot first, the highlights and lowlights, how it ended and why it ended that way. Wish me luck!

What has actually happened:
I am still very much mired in the worldbuilding stage of things. The planning stage is far, far away – if I shield my eyes and squint I can just see it there on the horizon. That whole wikipedia entry idea? Apparently not in the cards (yet).

Last week, when I said I was going back to square one, really I should have said square zero. I thought I’d plan out the diagetic world events as they happened to specific characters in specific moments but that’s not shaping up to be the most productive approach. Here is a kicky chart that summarizes what I’m talking about:

worldbuildingpyramid

you guys, I just love charts

Ok, so what does this (extra fancy) chart mean, exactly? Well, let me tell you! I think every book – every narrative – is an attempt to explain and explore a world event through the eyes of a handful of people. It’s a way of making the historical, the grand, the political, personal. It’s a lens to understand what happened, why it happened, how it happened, and what might happen next. That’s why stories are so powerful.

The top of the pyramid is the narrative. The plot. The actual thing you’re actually going to read. The rest of it all floats beneath the surface, supporting that plot, giving it shape and structure. One can think of the plot as that aforementioned distillation of large-scale events down to individual narratives that reflect the scope of those events. My problem was that when I realized I needed to do worldbuilding, I didn’t realize I needed to do worldbuilding all the way down to the roots. I had a couple of failed attempts at outlining, which turned into long lists of questions I couldn’t yet answer, and then I realized what I really need to do.

It was time to worldbarf.

To worldbarf is to simply vomit ideas and concepts and half-formed histories all over the page. It’s the getting-it-out-there-so-you-have-it-to-work-with-later thing. It is not structured, it is not clean, it is not particularly usable for much of anything but getting the ideas flowing.

So, I’ve been worldbarfing. Lots of guesses, lots of questions, lots of notes about names I need to come up with later, timelines to sort out, events that are still fuzzy yet that need more refining once I’ve got the overall gist of the world and the war down. When I’ve got a computer, I worldbarf in Evernote.

for folks playing at home: take a shot for every cuss word you spot!

for folks playing at home: take a shot for every cuss word you spot!

Right now I have a note labeled “Border Wars Bible” that is a very stream-of-consciousness vomitorium for the general context and conditions in which the book will take place. Because, infuriatingtly, there’s no highlight function in Evernote, I’ve been color-coding the text as I write it – diegetic phrases, locations, and people get their own colors. One truly lovely feature of Evernote that fits very well with this free-form creative outbursting I am currently engrossed in is its ability to stick a To-Do button anywhere in your text. This makes it extremely easy to scan through what I’ve written and take note of open questions and loose ends.

When I’m not near a computer, and therefore cannot worldbarf digitally, I use an old-school old-fashioned spiral notebook.

worldbarfing - hardcopy edition

worldbarfing – hardcopy edition

It is also color-coded and very stream of consciousness. Unfortunately as I am writing longhand on the bus it is also in places illegible.

So what am I worldbarfing about? I started way, way back. How did these two populations (the humans and the elves) meet? What was first contact like? Why did the humans start settling in elvish territory to begin with, and what effect did the conditions for settling have on the way they structured their society down the line? How do differences in biology between these two groups (lifespan, typical number of children, potentiality for magical expression, etc) shape the conditions for the war?

The thing about the worldbarfing is that it works. I’ve made a tremendous amount of progress answering many of these questions, and in the answering have found other blind spots and quandries to sort out. I am nowhere near divining the plot of this book yet, but the groundwork is clipping along pretty quickly. I now have – I think for the first time – a sense of  the political and cultural context that led up to the war and shaped how it played out.

Next steps. Goals are always good to lay out, right? Let’s see…by this time next week I will have worldbarfed the war itself. Right now I have a solid sense of the conditions and context of it but still a very nebulous sense of what actually happened.

Rewriting THE LONG ROAD: week 1

because sucky worldbuilding gets us nowhere

because sucky worldbuilding gets us nowhere

This is the first 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 initial post outlining why this book is getting said rewrite is here.

I have known for some time that there are problems with THE LONG ROAD. That is to be expected since it’s the first piece of fiction I ever wrote. Let me say right at the outset that the book it turned into, and that the book it is about to turn into, is a completely different animal than the book it started as. Draft 1 to its current incarnation is a truly shocking display of evolution. Perhaps the biggest change was the decision around Draft 3 to make it a Serious Book and to move away from the attempted Hitchhiker’s Guide farcical humor of the initial drafts. This was mostly my doing and not my co-author’s – one of my first epiphanies as a budding writer was the certain knowledge that I am not a humorist. There are flashes of humor, sure, but I am no Douglas Adams or Mark Twain. I’m way too earnest for that.

The problem with this, with Aerdh more generally to be honest, is that so much of the foundational worldbuilding of this fantasy universe happened when Jon (the aforementioned co-author) and I were still playing (incompetently on my end) with slapstick. I have scrubbed Aerdh clean of most of the slapstick, but your first book is something weirdly personal and weirdly special. It seems almost untouchable. I have a fanatical attachment to this book which defies logic: it is, in this incarnation, not the sort of tale I write well or particularly even like reading and yet the idea of publishing anything and not publishing this feels very wrong. All of that is to say that it has taken several years for me to admit that maybe whole sections of plot made no sense. And maybe that is because some of the upfront worldbuilding I did a million years ago when I first started writing this book was total crap.

I thought, somewhat naively, that what I needed to do to get this rewrite up off the ground was to cut a bunch of stuff and streamline the plot. Last week, in the contained environment of a plane (I love writing on planes), I started brainstorming. On exploratory first drafts I’m not much of a planner, but for rewrites I very much am. So I thought I’d do some outlining, and then I realized just how much needed to change in order for the book to move from a well-executed silly and trite fantasy novel to an actual Good Book. The outline turned into a list of razor sharp HOW ARE YOU SO STUPID type questions about all the parts of the plot I’ve always been too much of a tender-hearted wuss to admit made no sense. But the biggest thing I realized is that I never did the really hardcore worldbuilding I needed to get done.

THE LONG ROAD centers around a group of elvish rebels trying to make it to the end of a nasty and brutish civil war. I worked out the elves’ society, the humans’ society, the way those societies interacted and mutually shaped each other, systems of magic, geography, etc. What I never spent that much time on in terms of worldbuilding was the war itself. It started because of…reasons? And ends because…something cool happens? I don’t know. I know what the world looked like before the war, during it, and after it, but the world itself is a huge nasty blind spot. This is very embarrassing to admit, but it’s true.

Today when I sat down to crank out some outlining for this rewrite I realized actually I have to take a step back further than I thought. I have to sort a bunch of shit out, do some very deliberate and crafty worldbuilding which is now complicated by the fact that I have written multiple novels that dovetail with the outcomes and highlights of this war, all of which ideally will remain consistent with one another.

My plan of attack is to write a fairly dry wikipedia-style entry that tracks the war from start to finish: how it started, who shot first, the highlights and lowlights, how it ended and why it ended that way. Wish me luck!

 

That moment where you thought you were done with a book and it turns out you aren’t.

Back to Square One signpost

I’ve been shopping around THE LONG ROAD for awhile now. It’s the first book I ever finished — actually, the first fiction I wrote in my adult life was in the context of that book which my partner, Jon, first began. Really, he is how I started writing fiction, and this book is why.

Jon and I have drafted this book three times, and when I say drafted I mean a top-to-bottom raze-it-to-the-ground rewriting process. Whole species of sentient beings have wound up on the cutting room floor. Main characters have been eclipsed, secondary characters have stepped up to take the lead, and then those main characters have switched genders. The current iteration of the book is solid, and quite a different beast than where it started. Reading through the various drafts of it is like paging through a scrapbook of my writerly life so far: I can trace the change of themes, the way my skills have grown and developed, see where I struggled and what was always easy.

So, like I said, I’ve been shopping the book around. We half-assedly queried it before, a couple of years ago, and got some lukewarm interest. I polished it up a little and since I have been querying SOUND AND SONG I thought why not? I’ll send out THE LONG ROAD, too. Recently I got a very nice rejection from an agent who mentioned as she gently turned me down that the length gave her pause. And something just clicked.

I am not one to alter a manuscript for presumed marketability. I take the stance that it’s either marketable or not, and that really it will either find an audience or it won’t, and that’s all just what it is. But when she said that I took a second to think about it. It’s 120,000 words long, and I’ve been marketing it as a young adult high fantasy book. And I think it is one, and I know that’s awfully long for a YA book. But when she said it, and I thought about it, the length of the book gave me pause, too.

It’s not that kids don’t read long books. I sure as hell did. It’s more that this book doesn’t actually need to be this long. This book is, perhaps, two different books. It’s currently structured with two overarching story lines which are honestly only tenuously related. I had plans to bring them together in a later volume in a way that perhaps does not make particularly logical sense. The upshot is I think the book needs a tighter focus, needs some streamlining.

Needs to be shorter.

Needs yet another rewrite.

And the thing is that I am kind of stoked to do it. Which is a really good sign that it’s the right move, that the book will be better for it, and that it will probably be hella fun to work on.

Yay for thoughtful rejections!