The Persuasion Project

northangerpersuasiontitlepage

Original title page of Persuasion, published posthumously along with Northanger Abbey.

Happy bloggiversary to us! Well, actually, our two year anniversary is this coming Thursday, but we figure it’s best to celebrate now. Rather than do a recap of the past year as we did for our first bloggiversary, we’re using the occasion to launch a new series—a live reread of Jane Austen’s Persuasion.

So, why Persuasion? It not my favorite Jane Austen (that would be Emma) or J’s favorite (that would be Pride and Prejudice), but Persuasion has been on my mind a lot lately as it seems to keep popping up on my social media. Also, it’s a brilliant novel, which receives less love that the two mentioned above, and that’s just not right. Although, I have often found that the people who love this book, really love it.

Now, the idea of this live reread is that one of us will read a chapter (or two? we’ll see) of Persuasion and blog our reaction in as real time as it’s possible to do while reading. Or we’ll do all of our thoughts at the end of a chapter. Whatever strikes as us interesting at the moment. We’ll try not to neglect this reread and post a little something at least once a month, but we don’t want to neglect other topics, especially with NaNoWriMo just around the corner.

And here goes nothing. My thoughts on Chapter 1 of Persuasion.

 
Chapter 1

Sir Walter Elliot, of Kellynch Hall, in Somersetshire, was a man who, for his own amusement, never took up any book but the Baronetage; there he found occupation for an idle hour, and consolation in a distressed one; there his faculties were roused into admiration and respect, by contemplating the limited remnant of the earliest patents; there any unwelcome sensations, arising from domestic affairs changed naturally into pity and contempt as he turned over the almost endless creations of the last century; and there, if every other leaf were powerless, he could read his own history with an interest which never failed.

Not what usually comes to mind when thinking about the first sentence of a Jane Austen novel. It doesn’t have the sly humor of Pride and Prejudice or tell us something apt and amusing about our heroine, a la Emma and Northanger Abbey. No, it’s setting up the family at the center of the story, much like Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park, Austen’s two least novels. Yet, it’s the right opening for this book. The tone of Persuasion is more subtle and somber than Austen’s others, and as much as the reader grows to adore Anne Elliot, opening with someone so modest and unassuming would feel exactly wrong.

For several paragraphs, Austen continues on with Sir Walter, and every word makes the reader like him less. It’s a bold way to open a book.

Following the introduction of Sir Walter, we hear about his deceased wife and her best friend, Lady Russell. Then Austen mentions Sir Walter’s oldest, and favorite daughter, Elizabeth, as well as the youngest daughter, Mary. Only then does the reader finally meet Anne. But why should we have met her sooner? “[S]he was only Anne.” If you haven’t read the novel before or know anything about it, you might not even realize this is the introduction to the novel’s heroine.

That is until the next paragraph. Austen makes the reader think highly of the dead mother, so that as soon as her best friend sees a likeness to the deceased in Anne, the reader knows this will be a character we care about. And yet, all we get here is this single paragraph, before Austen sets off on Elizabeth and the Mr. Elliot who shall inherit, since Sir Walter has no son.

The chapter ends with a discussion of the Elliot family’s financial problems, and the reader still learns no more about Anne. But why should we worry about her? She “had been a very pretty girl, but her bloom had vanished early; and as even in its height, her father had found little to admire in her, (so totally different were her delicate features and mild dark eyes from his own), there could be nothing in them, now that she was faded and thin, to excite his esteem.” Actually, how much more does this tell us about Sir Walter than Anne? Come to think of it, given how vain and unlikable he is, do we even believe him? Perhaps Anne has her own sort of loveliness. Whatever the answer, it’s a fascinating way to begin a novel, not even allowing the reader to be certain of what few “facts” we know about the heroine.

~S

Founding a Dynasty

dynastypic

Just like this.

The big writing news today is that S just finished writing Fiat Justitia, the third Oleg Omdahl novel. We visited her mother today, and I drove so that she could get some writing done. She literally finished the last sentence as we were pulling into her mom’s garage. It’s very exciting. Maybe we’ll have gelato to celebrate later. And perhaps she’ll post something about it sometime soon.

In other news, I’m continuing with various reference projects in the Myrcia ‘verse. At the moment, I’m inventing the various noble dynasties that took part in a long-ago civil war. This is a somewhat mindless task that’s easy to do in the evenings while we’re watching TV or something. I’m going through and giving names and dates of birth, marriage, and death for each generation. Like so:

Bob, Duke of Earl
(b. 420, d. 482 of consumption, duke from 440)
Married: Susan, daughter of the Earl of Warren (b. 423, m. 445, d. 460, of ague)
Children:
Fred (b. 446; m. Joan, daughter of Baron LeChrysler, 469; d. 508 of ennui)
Stacy (b. 448, m. Frank, son of Sir Loin of Beef, 470; d. 473 of intense mortification)

Then I do a similar entry for Fred, and then one for his heir, and so on. I don’t worry about Stacy’s kids (if she had any). And I’m not really worried at this point about their personalities or physical characteristics, or anything at all about them other than the bare fact of their existence.

The reason I’m doing this is that I’m planning to write some novels that take place during this time, and I want to know who the main political figures of the era will be. Someday soon, perhaps next year during Camp NaNoWriMo, I might be looking for story ideas to write about. I can look over this list and say, “H’m…. It would be fascinating to know why exactly Stacy died of intense mortification in 473.” So at that point, I can do actual character sheets for her and for her husband, Frank.

Or suppose I decide to write one novel set in 435, and another in 450. I can look at this sheet and know immediately that if Bob shows up in the first one, he’ll be a 15 year-old boy. In the second one, he’ll be a 30 year-old married man with three kids. I don’t have to waste my time planning all this out, because it’ll already be done, and I’ll just have to look it up.

Plus, because all this information will be in a single file (backed up and saved in the cloud, as always), I know right where to find it. If I decide to write a third novel, set in 470, I don’t have to go frantically searching all the way through the previous two, wondering, “Wait a minute, did I ever name his daughter? And is she even still alive at this point?” I just have to open up this one file, and I can see that her name is Stacy, and that 470 is the year she marries Frank.

Ah ha! Maybe the wedding takes place during the novel!

And just like that, I’ve got ideas for a subplot in my novel, just based on a couple lines and a few quick dates that I made up randomly while sitting in my comfy chair and watching an old episode of Community. This is why I like doing background reference work like this in my spare time. It saves so much trouble and effort later on, when I’m actually trying to be creative.

J

Let Me Draw You a Picture

hovedby-detail

Giant dry erase board–most important tool in my process.

I’m finally close to finishing Oleg Omdahl 3, Fiat Justitia, and I, in fact, wrote most of the climactic showdown last night. (Although I went to bed before I had to write a character death. I was tired and it was past midnight, and the character deserves my full attention.) Once I finish up that chapter, there are just two chapters of denouement, and draft one of the book will be written.

But before I started the showdown, J helped me draw a map of the area where it would be taking place. There’s some fighting and wizard spells flying around and all that good stuff, so I figured it was finally time to get an exact picture of the area and stop settling for, “Well, you see, there’s this alley, and the building is somewhere in these few blocks.”

This was helpful so I understood the space and also so I could have references to help the reader know where the action was taking place. Also, since we needed to fill the area, it finally gave us the opportunity to place the offices of a company we’ve been writing about since J invented them about 5 years ago, and we’ve both now mentioned multiple times.

Yes, maps take time, and they can be a distraction, but I’ve never failed to find some important detail that makes my story better when drawing or looking at them. In fact, the entire plot of the second Oleg novel, The Science of Fire, came from me looking at the original map J and I made when we first created the Myrcia ‘verse. Until I really looked at the map, I’d never noticed a little quirk in the border of two countries, but once I saw it, well, it changed everything.

Now, the real question is how much trouble could I get into if I start learning 3D imaging like I keep threatening?

~S

The CW of the 19th Century

 

Pearl Maiden Sculpture

Our hero, Marcus, admires the the Pearl-Maiden’s bust.

Um…let me rephrase that….

Today is Labor Day, and S and I are celebrating labor in the traditional way: by doing as little as possible.  Actually, that’s not true.  S is doing laundry, and I did some dishes.  And who knows?  If the weather isn’t too hot, we might go outside and move some more rocks for our landscaping project.

But we aren’t at work, and that means we have time to write.  S is nearing the end of Fiat Justitia, the third Oleg novel, and I’m working on some revisions.  There’s a wizard character who appears in five books that I’ve written so far, and I’m checking to make sure that she’s written consistently.  I want her to seem as if she’s the same person, but has changed in believable ways over the years.

In other news, I’ve started listening to audiobooks from Librivox.  It’s just something to do while I’m exercising.  All the recordings are done by volunteers, so it would be mean spirited to critique the quality of the reading.  As long as I can follow what’s going on, I suppose the reading is good enough.

The first one I listened to was Pearl-Maiden: A Tale of the Fall of Jerusalem, by H. Rider Haggard.  (The title of this post notwithstanding, Haggard actually published it in 1903.)  This was a book I didn’t even know existed until I saw it in the Librivox catalog.  I’ve read Haggard’s most famous works, King Solomon’s Mines and She, of course, and I liked them, so I decided to give it a try.

It was pretty good, but of course as an amateur author, I naturally have to see if I can learn something from it that I can apply to my own writing.  And the main thing I noticed as I was reading (or rather, listening) was just how fast the plot moves.

Let me give you an example.  And it should go without saying that there are spoilers here (insofar as anyone can spoil a book that’s 113 years old).  Bear with me here.

Our hero, Marcus the Roman, is imprisoned because he foiled the scheme of Prince Domitian, the evil second son of Emperor Vespasian, to buy the Christian girl Miriam (our heroine, and the “Pearl-Maiden” of the title) as a slave.  Marcus and Miriam are in love, but she can’t marry him because he’s a pagan.  Miriam, bought by Marcus and freed, is living among the Christians of Rome and earning her keep by making clay lamps.  (She’s an exceptionally talented sculptor.)  While she’s there, her childhood friend Caleb (the antagonist) discovers her whereabouts by accident, when he recognizes a scene from their childhood adventures depicted on one of her lamps, and convinces a guileless shop worker to tell him where the maker of the lamp lives.

Caleb confronts Miriam and threatens to reveal her location to Domitian if she doesn’t agree to marry him.  Miriam refuses, and she’s so good and decent that Caleb becomes ashamed of himself.  He has a change of heart and swears he will help and protect her, even if he can’t ever marry her.  Miriam, realizing that she’s not safe in Rome anymore, escapes and sails off for the east with the help of Cyril, the Bishop of Rome.

Meanwhile, Marcus gets a second trial, this time with Prince Titus, the good elder son of Vespasian, and his former commander in the army, as his judge.  Titus realizes that Domitian is a jerk, and can see that Marcus was falsely accused, but for political reasons, he can’t just overrule his younger brother publicly.  So he commutes Marcus’s sentence to three years’ banishment, instead of death.

(Again, bear with me here.  I promise there’s a point at the end of this.)

News comes back that the ship Miriam was sailing in has sunk, and everyone on it is dead.  Marcus, who is still in prison, waiting to leave Rome, learns of this and wants to kill himself.  But Cyril, the Bishop of Rome, talks him out of committing suicide and discusses heaven with him.  Marcus decides to become a Christian and is baptized.

Caleb forms a plan, with the help of Domitian’s chamberlain, to waylay Marcus and kill him.  But at the last moment, Caleb, remembering that he had promised to help Miriam, has a change of heart, and dresses up like Marcus so the assassins kill him, instead.  Marcus and Bishop Cyril find Caleb’s body, and Cyril tells Marcus he should pity Caleb, instead of hating him.

Marcus and Cyril sail for the east, and they arrive in the harbor at Alexandria, Egypt, just in time to hear people singing hymns on a nearby ship.  They go over to join the church service, and who should be leading the choir but Miriam.  It turns out that reports of her death were greatly exaggerated, and her ship didn’t sink, after all.  Marcus tells Miriam he’s a Christian now, and they get married immediately.

Okay, did you get all that?  Good.

Here’s the thing—that’s not the plot of the whole novel.  That’s just what happens in the last two chapters.  And the 27 chapters before that are just the same.  The story burns through plot at an absolutely furious pace.  In S’s words, H. Rider Haggard is “the CW of the 19th century,” referring to the way in which shows on the CW network, like Vampire Diaries and The 100 race breathlessly from plot point to plot point.

I certainly wouldn’t suggest that all stories move along at that kind of pace, and S and I have found recently that we appreciate shows, like AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire, or SyFy’s The Expanse, that take their time.  But it’s important, as authors, to remember that readers want things to happen.  Haggard could easily have made five or six or ten chapters out of the events I’ve mentioned above.  Marcus’s contemplation of suicide could have been its own chapter.  His conversion could have taken up another chapter.  Caleb’s confrontation with Miriam could have had a chapter to itself, too.  And if I’d been writing that story, I almost certainly would have given an entire chapter to Caleb deciding to sacrifice himself for his hated rival, Marcus.  That’s a big moment for the character, and I wouldn’t want to rush it.

But as a reader (or rather, listener), I have to say I didn’t really miss all that contemplation, internal monologue, and navel-gazing.  I rather appreciated that the story got to the point and kept going.  And that’s something to keep in mind as I write my own novels.

J

Satisfying Partnerships

satisfied grin

My silly edit from The Musketeers and a representation of what coauthoring should look like at the end of the day.

Thanks to a fanfic I posted a few weeks ago, I have now officially coauthored fiction with two different people: J and a lovely woman I shall call Max. I always felt as though whatever alchemy allows J and I to write happily together might not necessarily allow me to write with someone else, but now that I have, I think I’ve learned some tips that apply to any coauthoring situation.

Have a Plan
Even before J and I started outlining obsessively, we had a plan for the entire Quartet worked out in an Excel spreadsheet. It allowed us to know what happened in relation to everything else, which we quickly learned was vital if we were going to be writing at the same time. For instance, before the spreadsheet, we both introduced the same character multiple times. Yes, coauthoring is almost always going to mean spending a little extra time in revision to smooth over the rough patches, but once we had even a rough order of events, we stopped wasting a lot of time doing the same thing.

With Max, I wrote what’s called a 5 Times story, meaning there are 6 vignettes that are tied together. Once we had the progression of those 6 scenes figured out and each claimed 3 of them to write, we were able to get started with some assurance that we knew where we were going and could be writing simultaneously. We still had some details to decide on, but we had enough to begin without fear that we would be stepping all over each other’s toes.

Update Regularly
If your writing partner is going to be relying on you to write Susan’s character introduction, and that introduction is going to inform your coauthor’s section, you need to get Susan’s first scene written and shared in whatever fashion you’ve decided. J and I share OneDrive folders for the Myrcia ‘verse, and Max and I had a Google Doc where everything—outline and chapters—went. It was vital that we put our finished chapters in the Google Doc for the other to see and comment on, again to keep us on the same page. (J and I don’t use comment features much since we’re usually sitting right next to each other, but we have been known to bust those out in Word on occasion.) Point being, get your part written and don’t forget to get it to the other person in a timely manner.

Make the Important Decisions Together
J and I have killed a lot of characters. We’ve surprised the reader with twists. We’ve waged battles and thrown a fair few characters into bed together. And we made all of those big choices together. Or, at the very least, if we wrote a fundamental change to a character without asking the other first, we always did so knowing the other had veto power, and we might be rewriting.

With Max, we didn’t kill anyone, just threw two characters into bed. But since the whole point was to get them into bed together over the course of 6 chapters, we certainly talked about the best way to build from initial attraction in Chapter 1 to penetrative sex in Chapter 6. So, what got touched, kissed, licked, or petted was something we decided together.

Be Willing to Change
Did I mention that sometimes you might still need to change things no matter how much time you spend discussing it beforehand? For instance, in the story I wrote with Max, I wrote the even number chapters and she wrote the odd. I started work on chapter 4 before she wrote Chapter 3, and I had the POV character remembering something very specific from Chapter 3. When I showed this to Max, I did so with the understanding that if she couldn’t work that in elegantly to Chapter 3, I would take it out. Lovely coauthor that she is, she changed her plan to add what I had referenced. With J this happens infrequently because we share a brain.

An Agreed upon Referee
So, you’ve coauthored your thing. Now you need someone else to read it. J and I have a mutual best friend who is an incredibly astute reader who is incredibly mean and we trust completely. Without her to step in and say, “This sucks. Fix it,” I don’t know what we’d do. With Max, we needed someone to read through for consistency and grammar, and bless Max for being trusting, we had J look at our story for us. He did an awesome job and we were both pleased with the result. As were our readers.

So, go forth and find someone to write with. It has the benefit of making you accountable to someone else, and providing you with a partner to help out when you get stuck. I honestly don’t understand how people write completely alone.

~S

 

The Precious Cinnamon Roll

 

Nevilleroll2

Too good, too pure.

Late summer is a good time for writing.  It’s incredibly hot here, and so we’ve been spending more time indoors lately, even though we have projects we really ought to be working on outdoors.  We’ve been putting decorative rocks and edging around the house, for example, and that’s sitting half-done.  And the newly planted grass in our lawn is long enough now that it really needs to be cut.  But, as I say, it’s too hot for that.  So we might as well stay inside with a cool drink and write, yes?  Yes.

S is finishing up Fiat Justitia, the third Oleg Omdahl mystery, set in our Myrciaverse.  Last night she finished up a chapter, and I think she’s going to try to write another one today.  Perhaps she’ll give an update on that sometime soon.

But anyway, the other day S and I were sitting around, discussing writing and characters (yes, we really do this), and we started talking about how to make a good character who is also a good person.  In other words, how do you make a character who is interesting and realistic, and yet is also virtuous?  It’s a question that interests us, because it seems like there’s a tendency on the part of many writers (I won’t name names) to assume that in order for a character to be interesting, the character has to have a dark side—a tendency to assume that the best way to make a character complex is to give him some sort of terrible moral flaw.

The topic came up because, in my latest novel, Joint Command, I managed to work in a cameo for one of our favorite characters from the Quartet.  We’ve mentioned this character before, when we were discussing our favorite fantasy characters, and we compared her to Neville Longbottom.  Neville doesn’t really have a moral flaw.  (I mean, who knows what he grows in the greenhouses, but what happens in Herbology stays in Herbology.)  As far as we ever see in the books, though, he’s a decent guy, and his flaw, if he has one, is that he’s a bit of a klutz at the beginning, and he’s really forgetful.  None of that is his fault, though.  And none of his problems really amount to a moral failing on his part.  In fact, insofar as his life has a dark side, it all comes from the actions of other people.  And he perseveres and puts up with it and eventually becomes an awesome hero.

That, I think, is the answer to the question we posed.  A virtuous character can be interesting, but he still has to have an arc.  He has to overcome something or achieve something, even if he’s a nice guy the whole time.

Our character, whose name is Tynble, has a similar arc to Neville’s.  Obviously, I don’t want to give away too many spoilers about exactly what happens to her, but I suppose I have to reveal that she does manage to live through all four books, since she’s in Joint Command, and that novel takes place about twelve years later.  To be honest, I mainly put her in as a surprise treat for S (who is the audience for whom all my books are written), though I do think her appearance in the book actually makes sense.

When I wrote her, I didn’t really give much thought to how her character might have changed in the intervening years.  She’s just as cheerful and happy and whimsical and fundamentally decent as she was before.  Perhaps that’s lazy writing on my part, but I like to think it isn’t.  It’s not that I think she hasn’t had misfortune and sadness in her life over the course of those twelve years.  But no matter what problems she might have had, she wouldn’t stop being who she fundamentally is.  I think it says something about a character that she stays good, no matter what.

As S and I were talking about her and Neville, we started thinking of other fictional characters we’ve loved who share that same kind of unshakeable decency.  Luna Lovegood from the Harry Potter books, for example.  And we can’t forget Lucy Pevensie, our favorite fantasy character of all time.  And a few from outside our genre, like Richard Quinn in The Fountain Overflows, by Rebecca West—a book we read for S’s book club just recently.  S informs me that this type of character is known on Tumblr and Twitter as “a precious cinnamon roll, too good for this world, too pure.”  And what S and I have discovered is that apparently we like cinnamon rolls.

I suppose it’s a matter of balance.  There are plenty of dreadful people in the Harry Potter stories, and there are people, like Ron Weasley, for example, who are good, but occasionally do the wrong thing or act like jerks.  Likewise, Lucy’s shining light of goodness is balanced out by the much grayer morality of her brother Edmund or her cousin Eustace.  Cinnamon rolls are great, but I doubt you could make a meal out of them and nothing else.

J

Fanfiction: The Stigma and the Literary Value

Hey readers,

As you know, I’ve spent the last year pretty immersed in fanfic, and I really rather like this post on the topic, and I wanted to share. Hope you enjoy!

~S

Fanfiction opens community discussions of deeper metacognition than I have ever seen anywhere else. People have gone into deeper psychological and deconstructive analyses than I have ever encountered…

Source: Fanfiction: The Stigma and the Literary Value

Midcourse Correction

midcourse correction

Hard a larboard! (My screencap from Horatio Hornblower)

When is something a tick or a bad habit, and when is something a part of your process that needs embraced?  This is something I started thinking about a lot in July as I essentially moved from one project (my modern, mainstream novel The Sorrow Thereof) onto a new fanfic (which we shall call Bob’s Big Adventure, just so it has a title). I got the idea for Bob’s Big Adventure as I was nearing the end of Act 1 in The Sorrow Thereof and starting to panic a bit about the direction of that novel. Since I had a new idea I was excited to run with, I figured I should just go ahead and set aside The Sorrow Thereof for a while. But guess what? As I was starting Act 2 of Bob’s Big Adventure, I began having serious questions about the direction of that story.

TV procedurals have taught me twice is a coincidence, three times is a pattern for a serial killer. Has the transition from Act 1 to Act 2 flummoxed me before? If so, perhaps there’s something trying to kill my stories.

Dock 29

This is my first Oleg Omdahl novel, and I wrote it for my first Camp NaNoWriMo several summers ago. It was the first time I tried doing a detailed outline for a novel, and it was the first time I attempted a mystery. I looked at several mystery structures, took what I thought I needed and ignored the rest. Of course, when I was diving into Act 2 (this is about 25-30% of the way into the book), I started to worry about how boring everything coming up suddenly looked to me. This is what comes from writing with a formula, right? Actually, it’s what came from ignoring it. I hadn’t thought that second murder in a whodunit mystery was important, but my novel needed something to propel it through the middle of the book. So, I stopped writing, thought about who I might kill, who might do it and why, and reoutlined Acts 2 and 3. It was my first midcourse correction, and that was fine. I was just learning mysteries.

The Queen’s Tower

If my very faulty memory is correct, I think I made it all the way through my next Oleg novel, The Science of Fire, without having to make major changes. I think it might have something to do with the fact that I knew these characters at this point, and I outlined the story to within an inch of its life. I’m currently finishing up Act 2 of the third Oleg book, Fiat Justitia, and I haven’t had to make any serious changes to my very exact outline.

On the other hand, The Queen’s Tower was a mess to write. I never have finished revising it to my satisfaction, although I genuinely want to someday. It was a novel I started with very little outline, and if you look at the hardcopy of the outline I worked from while writing the first draft, you will see that it is a giant mess of additions. And when did I realize I needed to make some pretty fundamental changes? That’s right, as I was finishing up Act 1, and I realized I didn’t have a compelling story waiting for me once I finished introducing these people I was just starting to understand.

The Sorrow Thereof

So with these experiences behind me, I should have seen my issues coming with The Sorrow Thereof, right? Well, I didn’t. I’ve done some reoutlining, but the biggest issue I still have with the structure of this book is that Act 1 doesn’t tie in particularly well with Acts 2 and 3, which I’m afraid are going to feel like a different story. If everyone will forgive the sacrilege, I noticed a similar issue the other night when J and I were watching Return of the Jedi. What does that business at the beginning with Jabba actually have to do with blowing up the Death Star? You could argue that it ties in because they had to rescue Han, except rescuing Han doesn’t require the entirety of Act 1, and Han doesn’t actually help much in Acts 2 and 3—Luke, Leia, and C3PO are responsible for winning over the Ewoks, and Lando is the one in the space battle. Han, bless his snarky heart, is actually kind of useless. Point is, I don’t want people to read The Sorrow Thereof and wonder why the hell they read the first eight chapters of the novel.

Bob’s Big Adventure

So, I thought something might be up when I found myself making some pretty profound changes to Bob’s Big Adventure as I started Act 2. (And I mean big—I went back and cut a sex scene I’d already written from Act 1 of my smutty fanfic.) I realized that the relationship I was trying to build was happening too quickly and easily, and in a story planned to run at least 70,000 words, a little slow burn would be for the best. Also, the characters involved are the kind of people who would make this difficult on themselves and others, so putting some things off will hopefully prove to be both truer to the characters as well as being more compelling.

Planning for Planning

Now, in the future, I could handle the midcourse correction in one of two ways. I could simply not let myself start writing until I have a very detailed outline, although I still had to make some changes to Dock 29, even with a good outline, so that’s no guarantee. Or, I just need to plan for the midcourse correction. Become one with the fact that once I know the characters and story a bit better and have a different perspective on it all, I’m going to want to make changes. I can go into a new project and know that I’m going to “lose” a day or two of writing in order to reoutline, and be okay with that. I can just make the midcourse correction part of my process. And I think that sounds like a pretty good idea.

~S

It’s a Mystery

mystery_machine_side_view

Ruh-roh

July Camp NaNo is finally over, and my summer class has finished up, and S and I are on vacation this week.  We’re at Panera today so S can write some more of her rapidly-expanding Musketeers fanfic.  At this point, she thinks it’ll end up being at least 70,000 words long when it’s all finished.

I’ve updated the section of this blog about The Myrciaverse with my two latest novels, including the one I just finished, Joint Command.  I had a lot of fun writing that one, and the outline I used was somewhat more complicated than what we normally use.  There were three POV characters, so I decided to do a different sort of story for each one of them.

For Deborah, whom I describe in my synopsis as “a veteran, fighting her disillusionment,” the story is about rediscovering her love for her job as a spy and for her rather eccentric colleagues.  So I used Nigel Watts’s Eight Point Story Arc in plotting out her chapters.

  1. Stasis (everyday life)
  2. Trigger (something beyond hero’s control sparks the story)
  3. The quest (hero spurred to action by the trigger)
  4. Surprise (obstacles and complications)
  5. Critical choice (hero makes a crucial choice, revealing character)
  6. Climax (highest point of tension, direct result of Critical Choice)
  7. Reversal (change in status of characters, direct result of Climax)
  8. Resolution (a new Stasis, result of Reversal)

The second POV character, Geir, is on the same side as Deborah, though working for a different, allied country.  He thinks he’s on the trail of a mole, but he discovers to his horror that there’s a conspiracy that goes much deeper than he thinks.  So I plotted his eight chapters as a Thriller.

  1. Shock opening.  Meet the hero.
  2. Meet main characters, intro into some of hero’s backstory and personal life.  Disaster threatens.  Hero understands what’s on the line if he doesn’t do it.  He has to step up.
  3. Subplot introduced.  Hero on bad guy’s trail, always behind, figuring out the bad guy’s game.  Midpoint.  Stakes raised.  New character introduced, and an old character is killed.
  4. Bad guy on top.  Bad guys get worse.  Hero’s team dissents, and hero is on his own.  It’s all gone wrong.  (Other people doubt hero, but hero doesn’t doubt self yet.)
  5. Someone else gets killed.  More pressure on hero.  Hero comes to doubt self.  Then hero figures out what to do.
  6. Climax section.  Hero gets bad guy’s underlings, then gets bad guy.  Payoff.  Hero prevents the disaster that threatened in Chapter 2.
  7. The real threat emerges.  Twist: the hero realizes there’s another layer of threat (hopefully foreshadowed).  Rush.  There’s no time to waste.
  8. More payoff.  Breathless pace.  The uber-bad guy is stopped.

My third POV character, Nitya, is on the other side from Deborah and Geir.  She’s trying to find the mole and bring him (or her) home.  So, since she’s trying to solve a mystery, I outlined her chapters using “The Classic 12-chapter Mystery Formula,” only with the events condensed to fit the eight chapters I had allotted her.

  1. Mystery, clues disclosed with dramatic event.  Sleuth introduced.  Ground reader in time and place where crime occurs.
  2. Sub-plot introduced.  Sleuth set on path to solving mystery.  Plausible suspects (each with a motive) introduced and questioned by sleuth, one of which must be the perp.
  3. Reveal facts about suspects.  A clue is discovered that points to ultimate solution.  Flight or disappearance of one or more suspect.  Sense that if mystery not solved soon, there will be terrible consequences.  Investigation broadens to put suspicion on other characters.
  4. Return to sub-plot to reveal sleuth’s background—show what drives sleuth/haunts her/is missing in her life.  Sleuth shown to have personal stake in outcome.  Hidden motives and secret relationships revealed (romantic involvements/scores to be settled/kinships).  Clues from Chapter 1 clarified.
  5. Sleuth reveals results so far of investigation.  Reader can review things so far.  Sleuth is stymied, as she has misinterpreted clues.  Sleuth has to look at things from new direction.  Chain of events that provoked crime revealed.  Crucial evidence from Act I points way to solution.
  6. Sleuth weighs evidence and information gleaned from other characters.  Based on what sleuth knows, sleuth must seek positive proof to back up undisclosed conclusion.
  7. Resolution of subplot.  Protagonist, having been tested by his or her private ordeal, is strengthened for the final action leading to the actual solution of the mystery.
  8. Resolution.  Revelation of clues and the deductive process which led to the solution.  Establish that the case has been solved and justice has been served to the satisfaction of all involved (except the villain).

As you look through these, you’ll probably see how they can work together.  Geir’s “Shock Opening,” for example (number 1 on his outline) is the same event as Deborah’s “Trigger” (number 2 on her outline): they go together to meet a third agent and discover that he’s been murdered by the mole.

Finally, I had to set up all the various suspects who could be the mole, so I outlined each “Suspect Arc.”  First I briefly stated the Means, Motive, and Opportunity for each suspect.  In other words, I figured out why my three POV characters might even consider that person a suspect.  Then I listed two clues and two counter-clues (or alibis, if you will), like so:

Clue one: Bob’s hat found at the scene of the crime.
Counter-clue one: But Bob was at work when the crime was committed.
Clue two: Proof found that Bob wasn’t really at work.
Counter-clue two: But he lied because he was with his mistress.

Then there’s a “twist,” which can be a further clue or a definitive alibi, followed by a “resolution,” where the detective, and the reader, can see whether the person is guilty or innocent.

Having figured this out for each one of my four suspects, I went through my story outline and figured out where my three POV characters could encounter each of the suspects, and where each of the clues and counter-clues would be revealed.
In the end, I think it turned out pretty well.  When the reader gets to the end and finds out who the mole really is, I think it makes sense, but isn’t so obvious that the story is boring.

J

 

The End

the end

My silly edit from The Musketeers.

It’s the last day of Camp NaNoWriMo, and J and I have both gone well past our goals for the month. J is somewhere in the 6 digits, and I officially have over 34,000 words typed up, but more still lingering in my journal, and I plan to write more today. (My Camp goal was 25,000, so, yes, I “won” by Camp standards.) I think we can both leave Camp satisfied with the work we’ve done.

Because it really has been a productive month for me. I did some work on my modern romance novel, although, I will admit, I would have liked to do more. But I got distracted by two fanfics. One was a brand new idea I got this month, and I just had to run with it. I’ve written 12 chapters in it and have a solid outline for the rest. (I’d say I’m not quite half way yet.) I foresee some serious revision down the road, but this one is really writing itself. More than anything, I’m not further along because of lack of time.

The other fanfic, which I’m hoping to finish up today, is one I’m coauthoring with a friend. It’s been an interesting experience collaborating with someone other than J, and it’s gone well. I think the key to working with someone else is having an outline ahead of time so both parties can be working at the same time with minimal revision later on to smooth over the rough patches. But there will always be some inconsistencies that need worked out in “post,” as it were, even when you write alone. J, bless him, has agreed to read through it for us for continuity, and I have real hope it will be a well-received story.

And that has been my Camp. Between now and the NaNoWriMo in November, I hope to finish some stuff. I’ve got the fanfic and the novel I worked on this month, but I also still have the third Oleg Omdahl novel lingering unfinished from last November. And, of course, I’ll have to start planning and outlining for this November. Not sure yet what I’ll do. I have pretty solid ideas for Oleg Omdahl 4 and 5, so perhaps Oleg 4. Or something completely different in the Myrcia ‘verse. Who knows. But we’ll be sure to keep you updated!

~S