Map Till You Nap

Keneburg Small

More fun than a barrel of monkeys.  Though I suppose most things are, really.

It’s been a very busy week. Seriously, you have no idea. But I’ve still had time to read, here and there. I’m working my way through Joe Abercrombie’s Best Served Cold, which is very good. I’m about 80% of the way through, and I just discovered that one of my favorite characters isn’t dead after all. Which wasn’t really much of a surprise—I had a feeling he might still be alive. It wasn’t hard to guess, really. When someone gets stabbed, and his friends leave him, assuming he must be dead, that’s almost like when they say, “No body was ever found,” on a soap opera. But anyway, I’m enjoying the book.

I also listened to The Book of Three on audiobook. That’s the first book in Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain, of course. I should probably have read all those books when I was a kid, but I never did. In fact, I’m not even sure I knew they existed, which is a shame. If you read through the reviews on the Goodreads page, you’ll see a number of people grousing about how it’s full of fantasy clichés, or about how it’s a “blatant” Tolkien rip-off. Which I think is a bit unfair. Clearly Alexander is just drawing from the same sort of mythological sources that Tolkien used.

Also, Tolkien, no matter how awesome he may be, never had a female character like Princess Eilonwy. I like her a great deal, and I am quite serious when I say that she pretty much singlehandedly lifts the story from being run-of-the-mill YA fantasy. One reviewer on Goodreads, several pages in, calls her “an irritating twit,” only with a different vowel, and I suppose it says something about the sort of characters I like that my first thought was, “So, what’s your point?”

But it’s not just reading that’s been keeping me busy. This is our last full week of Camp NaNoWriMo, and we’re still in the middle of planning our next big novel. We have the whole thing outlined, and each chapter has been broken down into 400-700 word chunks. That takes a good deal longer than you might expect. When I do this by myself, I wouldn’t try to fully outline more than five or six chapters in a single day. It really just makes your brain melt. And that’s because, as I like to tell people, the outline is really the first draft of the story. It’s just the one where you don’t have to worry at all about how you phrase things. You just think about the plot and the character arcs. And it’s easier to see where things are missing (“Hey, this guy is supposed to be a main character, but he’s disappeared for ten chapters now”).

Now that we’re done outlining, you might imagine that it’s time to get started writing. Or rather, you might imagine that if you’d never met us. No, it’s not time to write—it’s time to make maps!

Last night, we started making a map for Leornian, one of the main cities of our Myrciaverse, and the ancient capital of Myrcia. It’s a city our characters have visited many, many times in many, many books, and yet we’ve never gotten around to finishing a map of it. I mean, we started a map, eight or nine years ago, but looking at it now in the sketchbook, it seems that we got about a quarter of the way through and then stopped for some reason. Maybe we went to take a nap or something.

Anyway, we’re finishing it now. Or rather, we’re starting from scratch, using that good old standby of fantasy mapmakers: blatant theft. We’re taking a map of Florence, turning it around, and moving things around in GIMP to match the image of the city in our heads. As I’ve noted before, this is a much faster way of doing things, and in some ways, much better. Adapting real maps of real places helps to keep your maps grounded in reality. You have some assurance that the city you’re planning is possible, because you know for certain that a city like it exists.

Using a real map as a starting point also helps to keep things more or less to scale. We have a cathedral in our universe that’s over 900 feet long—far, far larger than any real cathedral—and that mainly happened because we forgot to check the scale when we drew it. Since then, we’ve rationalized and lampshaded so that a 900 foot cathedral makes sense (wizards built it, I imagine), but yeah, if we could do it over again, it would probably be smaller than that.

Of course, if you need to change the scale, you always can. But very carefully. This weekend I finished the map for a different one of our cities, which will be a major location for the book, as well. That’s the map at the top there. It’s based on Carcassonne, France, though I changed the scale a bit, making it quite a bit bigger than Carcassonne.

Once we’re done with the maps, I suppose it will finally be time to start writing. Assuming we don’t find something else to do. Some people might think this is all a waste of time, but it’s not. If we’d taken the time to finish that stupid Leornian map seven or eight years ago, we wouldn’t be doing it now. And if we take the time to finish it now, we’ll be thanking ourselves seven or eight years from now, when we need it again.

J

The Persuasion Project: Abrupt End

burn

From giphy.com

So, I got sidetracked with other writing projects and never continued with my Persuasion Live Read. Well, I just finished reading the novel for my book club at work, so here’s the live read for chapters 9-24. Not terribly live, especially since I was often reading at work, so let me just dump my feelings. Perhaps if I try a live read again in the future I’ll figure out a way to make it more regular and spontaneous.

That Passage I Love

I’ve mentioned before here on the blog a passage I particularly love in Chapter 9 where Captain Wentworth rescues Anne from her naughty nephew. I have tried to figure out just what it is I love so much about this passage, but my guesses have never felt completely accurate. It turns out I’m a very lucky woman, and I’ve made some wonderful friends on Twitter since I wrote that blog. One of these friends, Erin, is an English prof and all-around Austen smartypants, and she brought up an amazing point about the shift in the narrative voice in the passage. Here’s the passage as a reminder:

There being nothing to eat, he could only have some play; and as his aunt would not let him tease his sick brother, he began to fasten himself upon her, as she knelt, in such a way that, busy as she was about Charles, she could not shake him off. She spoke to him, ordered, entreated, and insisted in vain. Once she did contrive to push him away, but the boy had the greater pleasure in getting upon her back again directly.

“Walter,” said she, “get down this moment. You are extremely troublesome. I am very angry with you.”

“Walter,” cried Charles Hayter, “why do you not do as you are bid? Do not you hear your aunt speak? Come to me, Walter, come to cousin Charles.”

But not a bit did Walter stir.

In another moment, however, she found herself in the state of being released from him; some one was taking him from her, though he had bent down her head so much, that his little sturdy hands were unfastened from around her neck, and he was resolutely borne away, before she knew that Captain Wentworth had done it.

Erin focused on the bolded: “she found herself in the state of being released.” Here Austen shifts from an account of what is happening to Anne to Anne’s own disoriented thoughts. It gets the reader so much closer to Anne, which Erin explained to me quite vividly: “think about how different ‘she found herself in the state of being released’ is from ‘suddenly the boy was lifted off her shoulders’ or ‘Wentworth appeared and took the boy off her back,’ etc. All describing the same action, but Austen’s really puts you in Anne’s body in a way the others don’t.”

The Rest of the Kellynch Stuff

Chapters 10-14 cover the rest of Anne’s time in the neighborhood she has lived in all her life. The most moving part to my mind is in Chapter 10 when all the young people take a long walk in the direction of Charles Hayter’s, the cousin Henrietta eventually marries. Anne overhears Captain Wentworth talking to Louisa Musgrove, the possible object of his affections, about the kind of woman he is looking for—one who thinks for herself and is strongly resolute. If your heart doesn’t break for Anne in that moment, I suspect your heart is, in fact, a potato.

Off to Bath

Overall, I’m not sure that I don’t prefer the first half to the second. The cast in the Kellynch area is more engaging, as I think becomes clear at the relief felt when the Musgroves arrive in Bath in Chapter 22. Yes, I enjoyed the discomfort and tension and longing between Anne and Captain Wentworth at the concert. And Mrs. Smith’s revelations about Mr. Elliot, the heir of Kellynch, are as interesting here as the revelations about the cad often are in Austen. Yet, I would still exchange it all for more time with the slightly less socially polished but more interesting cast of the first half. Well, I wouldn’t exchange all of it.

The Letter

Is there anything left in the world to say about Captain Wentworth’s letter to Anne? Seriously, if you don’t meep and sigh as you read it, you probably don’t even have a potato where your heart should be.

Burn!

What stands out most about Persuasion compared to other Austen is just how vicious the narrator can be. Granted, Austen’s narrative voice can always be sly—look how she views Lady Catherine or Mrs. Elton. But the narrator of Persuasion has a brutal honesty even about characters who on balance the reader should ultimately like more than dislike. The finest example is surely where the discussion turns to Richard Musgrove, brother of Charles, Henrietta, and Louisa. When he was young, Richard joined the navy, and at one point sailed on a ship commanded by Captain Wentworth.

The real circumstances of this pathetic piece of family history were, that the Musgroves had had the ill fortune of a very troublesome, hopeless son; and the good fortune to lose him before he reached his twentieth year; that he had been sent to sea because he was stupid and unmanageable on shore; that he had been very little cared for at any time by his family, though quite as much as he deserved; seldom heard of, and scarcely at all regretted, when the intelligence of his death abroad had worked its way to Uppercross, two years before.

He had, in fact, though his sisters were now doing all they could for him, by calling him “poor Richard,” been nothing better than a thick-headed, unfeeling, unprofitable Dick Musgrove, who had never done anything to entitle himself to more than the abbreviation of his name, living or dead.

If Austen was ever meaner, I missed it.

Final Thoughts

So, all in all, I love Persuasion. It’s an incredibly delicate work, written with a surprising edge, and featuring an incredibly sympathetic heroine and attractive hero. And yet, I never reach the end without thinking, “Gosh. It’s over already?” One wonders if Austen had plans to flesh out the characters and story more in places, or if this was essentially her intention. Whatever the case, while I love it, I can’t love it as I do Pride and Prejudice or Emma. Will I read it again someday? Most likely. Will I be happy to do so? Absolutely.

~S

Yet Another Update from Camp

We’re in the middle of Camp NaNoWriMo, yet again, so as you will have noticed, our posting has been a bit spotty. Last week, I was in Montana for a family reunion, which meant I had to start my project on the road. Not really a big deal, but it’s amazing how little time you end up having to write at an airport, even if you have a three or four hour layover.

As of right now, we’re still outlining Magnificent Kingdom. We’ve finished a preliminary outline, laying out what will happen in each chapter. And now we’re dividing up the work of filling in the details. Oh, and just for fun, I’ve already written the first chapter. Just so you can see what this is like, here’s how it works.

Here’s the original, quick description of what was supposed to happen in Chapter 1:

Chapter 1 (Edmund/Maud): The City
May 30, 560 (Saturday)
EPP 1: Hung over in bed with Ethel. Caedmon wakes him to go to castle—king is dead.
MPP1: Sitting at dead father’s side, holding his hand
MPP2: Modig takes her to see Edmund. She’s snide about Edmund. Modig says she should cut him some slack.

“EPP” here stands for “Edmund Plot Point,” and MPP for “Maud Plot Point,” referring to the plot point structure for Act I of a screenplay outlined in My Story Can Beat Up Your Story (a book we’ve recommended many times before, even for people like us, who aren’t screenwriters).

Next, we filled in the details of what would happen, and it turned out like this:

Chapter 1 (Edmund/Maud): The City
May 30, 560 (Saturday) (H 72, L 56, T-storms later)
EPP 1: Hung over in bed with Ethel. Caedmon wakes him to go to castle—king is dead.
MPP1: Sitting at dead father’s side, holding his hand
MPP2: Modig takes her to see Edmund. She’s snide about Edmund. Modig says she should cut him some slack.
Part 1 (Edmund, 500 words): Ed is in bed, early morning, still chilly. Just starting to feel beginnings of a hangover. Scene starts as he feels a hand reach over and take his, and he’s a bit nonplussed—tries to remember whose it might be. Then he remembers it’s Ethel. She snuggles a bit closer, but his ears pick up people rushing quietly this way and that out in the corridors of the Bocburg. (He’s visiting for the weekend, as the king is sick.)
Part 2 (Edmund, 500): Door opens, and it’s Caedmon. Caedmon (not as gruff and grumpy as he’ll later be) is clearly embarrassed by Ethel’s presence. Neither Ed nor Ethel is even slightly embarrassed, though Ethel is modest. (Ethel also is discreet, and when Ed fetches her robe, she slips quietly out, after politely wishing Caedmon good morning.) Caedmon tells Ed that the king is dead. Ed was sort-of afraid that was what had happened. Ed thinks of everything he’s going to have to do—help plan funeral and gemot, inform the troops, find riders to help summon the nobles. Oh, and dammit all, he’s going to have to talk to Maud, too.
Part 3 (Maud, 500): Maud holding her father’s hand. She thinks about her father, feels alone in the world. Thinks about how her father never really got over the death of his wife and heir. Terrwyn comes over to put her arm around Maud, and Maud remembers that she’s not entirely alone in the world. Maud knows she should go do things, but she doesn’t want to leave. Partly because she doesn’t want to leave her father, but also partly because once she does, she knows she’ll have all sorts of responsibilities.
Part 4 (Maud, 500): Modig arrives, along with some nuns from the convent of the Blessed Illuminator (long supported by Maud’s family), who are here to begin laying out the body. Modig is very polite about it, and Maud lets him and Terrwyn lead her away, knowing the nuns have a job to do. Maud wants to go up to her room, be alone for a while, but then Modig says her cousin Edmund is waiting to give his condolences. Maud, annoyed, sees him for literally ten seconds—just long enough to take his hand, hear him say a few polite words, and leave. Afterward, Terrwyn gently chides Maud. Maud is like, “Why shouldn’t I treat him like crap?” Modig says she should cut him some slack.

Notice that all four parts are supposed to be five hundred words. It didn’t turn out that way, of course. Those were just rough guesses. I think each section turned out to be more like 800 or 900 words, actually. But whatever.

Finally, I wrote the chapter. It’s a bit too long to include here, and would obviously involve giving spoilers, so here are the first few paragraphs. Included is a bit, dubbed “Ode to a Hangover,” that S originally wrote years ago during her first crack at this book. I liked it, so I edited it down a bit and stole it. Which is totally cool with S, naturally.

Chapter 1 (The City)

The first question, thought Edmund, was “Where am I?” The bed curtains were not his. They were heavy and purple, but did little to keep out the chill in the room. He reached out, very slowly, and pulled one of the curtains back. A piercing shaft of light hit him, and he shrank back, groaning. Holy Earstien, how late had he slept?

There was a dull ache just behind his eyes and his guts slowly tumbled, over and over. His mouth tasted foul. Not quite like something had died in there, but certainly like something had suffered a long and painful convalescence. He was cold, and yet, when he put a hand to his forehead, he could feel a film of sweat there. He wiped it away, but it came dripping back almost immediately. His throat burned, and he felt dizzy, but after a moment or two, the feeling passed. He thought about getting out of bed and searching for a privy, but then decided it wasn’t going to be necessary.

On the whole, he’d had worse.

If he were at home, he would lie very still until a pretty housemaid came up with his breakfast. He would eat and drink with deliberation for at least half an hour, more if it had been a truly monumental evening. Once he felt capable of movement, he’d ring for water and the tub. After a good soak, he would dress in something comfortable and make his way to the fresh air. It was a process that took a good part of the day, but he felt as though he must deserve it if the night before had been good enough to get him into this state.

He rolled onto his back, and something stirred under the quilts to his right. Someone’s hand slipped into his, and he tried to remember whose it might be. A small hand, warm, soft. Long nails, too. He shifted, and he felt the sting of the scratches across his back and his shoulders. So this had to be Ethel. Of course it would be.

So that’s what we’ve been up to. If you haven’t started your project at Camp NaNo, go do so immediately. We’re barely a week and a half into the month; you’ve still got plenty of time!

J

IRL

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Just a tiny part of the outlining we’ve been doing this week. Bless ultra fine dry erase markers.

So, oops, we forgot to post last weekend. We’ve been busy with our parents, as well as the never-ending disaster that is our yard, not to mention Camp NaNoWriMo prep. But in between all of that, we have been spending a fair amount of time thinking about writing and narrative and the things we always have on our minds.

Outlining
In the book we’re working on together for Camp, we will be weaving together six POV characters, spread over thousands of miles, covering four years. We have profiles of varying depths of 70 characters, and character arc beat sheets of 23-50 beats for the six POV characters. Today’s project is to take those six beat sheets and start figuring out how they weave together and plotting actual chapters for Act 1 (the first 25% or so of the novel). Whether or not we get to doing our usual word count breakdown of each chapter before we start writing, we still haven’t decided.

Of course, this is Camp, which has some flexibility, so we may just count words/time spent on the outline toward out Camp goal. We’ll see how it goes, since today is the last day we have off together before Camp starts Saturday.

A Not Very Good Book
According to J, a book he just finished does pretty much everything wrong. The hero and heroine are billionaires who are good at absolutely everything, whom everyone loves. They save the day after saving the less fortunate in an amazing piece of Deus ex machina. (It’s revealed after having never been mentioned earlier that the hero was once in the Special Forces and can call in the black helicopters to fix everything.) Well, actually, that ending isn’t totally without set up—it’s on the cover. Because there’s nothing better than getting a spoiler for the climax on the book jacket. But as much as J didn’t care for the book, as always, we learn a lot from reading not particularly good books, having excellent examples of why several items that are popular on Don’t lists are things to avoid.

A Very Good Book
I just started my new classic lit book club at work, and this week we discussed Great Expectations. That was a real treat for me, since I’ve been reading stuff that’s not really up my alley for my other book club at work, that frankly, I also don’t find very good. (Of course, it was also nice for J, who was reading the above.) Dickens just knows how to weave together a story, no plot thread dropped, and yet avoid that horrible feeling of “Well, isn’t that convenient,” that plagues so many 19th Century novels. Also, who doesn’t love Herbert Pocket? Seriously, I don’t think I would trust someone who didn’t. We had a lively debate over the ending of the book, which I initially read as a bit vague, but others claimed is unambiguously happy. I think I left agreeing that it’s happy, but not unambiguous. Next month we’re discussing Persuasion, so expect the Live Read to kick back into gear!

And that pretty much covers the Mawdsley narrative life atm. We’ll try to update regularly during Camp, but even keeping up with Camp (and my two book clubs at work) is going to be an interesting challenge. Thanks RL.

~S

Birthday Crunch

geek bday cake

If I could bake and decorate, J would totally get this cake on Saturday.

As those of you who read this blog regularly know, J and I like to write each other presents for events like birthdays. J, who can write faster than any person should be able to, always manages to churn out a novel for me, and I typically manage a short story for him. Well, I decided to try and up my game for his birthday this year, and I’m writing him two stories. I have rough drafts of both, but they need typed and revised, and if I have any hope of making that happen before the big day on Saturday, I’ve got no time to blog.

Hope you all forgive me!

~S

This Time It’s For Real. For Real.

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Tonight’s project: reorganizing our home library, taking advantage of our new bookshelves!

We almost forgot you all today.  We had to drive to Cleveland to help J’s parents in the rain.  On the plus side for us, we scored some bookshelves and books.  On the downside, the weeds are getting longer.  From where we live, Cleveland is about two hours away, in part because we like taking the scenic route.  But we didn’t mind the drive, because we are (as previously mentioned) a Unicorn.

As you may remember, it was on a trip to help out J’s parents, right after returning from our awesome honeymoon, that we started planning our very first novel.  So we decided that our trip today would be the perfect opportunity to start planning our project for July Camp NaNoWriMo.  For the first time since the Quartet, we’re writing a book together, just in time for our ten-year anniversary.

The book is actually something S started ages ago.  But she got bogged down when she realized how sprawling and out of control it was (she blames Game of Thrones).  Then S saw Mary Robinette Kowal taking questions on Patrick Rothfuss’s blog, and S asked for advice on how to proceed.  Kowal’s response, surprisingly enough, was essentially that maybe it wasn’t the right project for S to be working on at that time.  She cited Brandon Sanderson putting aside Way of Kings for years until he was a better writer and able to do it justice.  Now that we understand a bit better how to write novels, we decided now might be the time to go back and tackle S’s abandoned project.

The novel is called Magnificent Kingdom, and it is the story of the war of independence that founded Myrcia, the central country of our universe.  S originally wanted to do it because the two main POV characters, Edmund and Kuhlbert, are fascinating people—two of her favorite historical figures from Myrciaverse history.  She wanted to write about how they met, and how they ultimately fall out.  She wanted to write about the moment when two characters she loved crossed paths.

There’s already a rough timeline and some character profiles.  But our goal today is to start applying what we’ve learned over the last ten years.  We’re going to fill out those profiles using the character beat-ups from My Story Can Beat Up Your Story.  Then we’re going to start thinking about making S’s old timeline of events into an actual outline for a “novel-shaped novel.”

We already know that this is going to be a very long book—maybe the longest single novel we’ve ever written (not counting the four novels of the Quartet and the six novels of My Private War).  So obviously this is going to take longer than just one month.  But we’re pretty confident we can at least make a good start.  Once the month is over, we’ll both start working on other projects again (like S’s fanfic), but we’ll keep working on Magnificent Kingdom, as well.  As we like to say, it’s always more fun when we’re together.

J and S

Almost Birthday Time!

unbirthday-party-1

This is your last Unbirthday until Wednesday.  Make it count!

I was supposed to post a blog yesterday, but we did yardwork, instead.  We have a small volunteer tree at the end of our driveway that had nearly engulfed our mailbox, and I’m sure our mail carrier will appreciate the fact that we finally trimmed it back a bit.  After that, I felt like I’d accomplished enough for one day, and I retired to my recliner in triumph.

Actually, I wasn’t just being lazy.  Tomorrow is a certain someone’s birthday, so I’m finishing my last read-through of her birthday novel, Unspeakably Wooed.  It’s a sequel of sorts to my April Camp NaNoWriMo novel, Black Eagle Rising, and it fits in with the Myrciaverse civil war timeline that features books like The Last Bright Angel and Called to Account.  It was a fun story to write, and I’m hoping S enjoys it when we start reading it on Tuesday.

A couple days ago, as I was listening to my new book with the Adobe Acrobat read-aloud feature, it occurred to me that I should write down what I’ve been doing to revise.  It used to be pretty haphazard, but over the last year or so, I’ve been developing a standard process, and since S and I are such dedicated outliners, it felt like I should make a revision outline that I can follow in the future, so I don’t accidentally leave something important out.  So here’s what I’ve been doing to revise Unspeakably Wooed.  Some of these things I’ve been doing for a while, and some of them I’ve started doing recently, based on what I’ve been reading on some of my favorite writers’ blogs.

Revision Outline

1. First read-through
-Fix inconsistencies, major typos.
-Take notes of potential major issues to fix later, but don’t fix them yet.

2. Second read-through
-Read by character.
-Last, first, second-to-last, second chapter, and so on, working toward the middle.
-Look for consistency, particularly of character voice.
-Fix minor issues; take notes of major problems.

3. Address the first round of notes
-Look at notes from first and second read-throughs, fix character issues and problems with plot.

4. Third read-through
-Using read-aloud feature in PDF, following along in the Word doc.
-Continue to smooth awkward phrasing.  Make notes of possible structural issues.

5. Ctrl + F
-Look for following words: “Only, Just, That, Immediately, Suddenly, Abruptly.”  Cut as many of these as you can.
-Check for sighs, eye-rolls, and any other physical movements that turn up too often.
-Ctrl + F for any other words and phrases that seem (based on first three read-throughs) to show up too many times.  Rephrase where necessary.

6. Structural issues 1
-Look for infodumps and backstory in the opening chapters.  If they’re necessary at all, make sure they show up no earlier than the end of Act I (ideally wait until Act II).
-Find logical places to reveal this information later in the story; move it there.
-Make sure each POV character has at least one chapter in which he/she shows up and is introduced with action, but without backstory.

7. Structural issues 2
-Look at character sheets for POV characters.  Look at their “Central Questions” (Physical, Emotional, and Spiritual Goals).  Has each character achieved his/her goals?  Whether they have or haven’t, has this been mentioned in the text or reflected upon by the character?
-What was the “point” of the story (the “Thematic Question”)?  Has this question been resolved?  Where?  Clarify for the reader if necessary.

8. General tightening (Fourth read-through)
-Read through and tighten.  Try to remove at least 1% of the words (i.e. 600 words of a 60,000 word novel).

9. Reading out loud 1 (Fifth read-through)
-Ideally by yourself, reading out loud to an empty room.  If necessary, can listen to new PDFs using the read-aloud feature.

10. Reading out loud 2 (Sixth read-through)
-With a partner.  Fix minor mistakes as you go.  Keep notes for any remaining major problems.

If you’re wondering, I’m on step number nine right now.

What really stood out to me when I wrote this all down was that I read my books a minimum of five times before I even let S see them.  But even so, I’m sure I’ll find all sorts of typos and clunky phrases when we read it together tomorrow.  And that’s why we do that.

But first, it’s time to start the pre-partying for S’s birthday!  And also, we’re going to buy mulch today.  It’ll be a hoot.

J

Hard-Earned Lessons

snape study hall

Do your work. You’ll be happy later that you did.

J and I were chatting yesterday as we made the two-hour drive home from his parents’ about what we wish we had known when we started writing nearly 10 years ago. It was such a good list I thought I should share. It’s by no means definitive, and I’ve no doubt other writers would come up with other items, but if it helps anyone avoid the mistakes we made, then it was worth my time.

Structure
There is pretty much nothing easier than writing a giant blob of prose. Writing tens of thousands of words that are novel-shaped is decidedly harder. It’s more than just beginning, middle, and end. It’s advancing character and story, plotting setbacks, making sure the reader isn’t about to nod off or complaining that what you’re telling them is pointless. If I could go back 10 years and tell myself only one thing, it would be to study structure before putting pen to paper.

Chapters
Speaking of structure, how do you know when to end a chapter? How long should it be? What, exactly, ought to go in one? There’s no one answer for every novel, and we’ve intentionally played around with this in different novels, but we had some 7,000 word chapters with 3 POVs, and zero thematic elements tying them together when we started. We write in decidedly more logical chunks these days.

You won’t remember later
Write. It. Down. That brilliant idea that is so awesome you couldn’t possibly forget it? You will. That solution you found and put in Chapter 10 is great, but when you need it again in Chapter 50, you won’t remember if you didn’t put it in the story bible. Really, if we could go back and keep a more organized story bible from Day 1, it would help a ton. And it really would have helped a lot, even if we’d never moved past the original Quartet. Now that we have over two dozen novels in the Myrcia ‘verse, a good story bible is absolutely essential. And for those little ideas that pop up, they all get written down for use later.

Write in order
We thought it would be all awesome and creative to write the scenes that most inspired us as they inspired us. So when we started, we were literally writing scenes from what would become Book 2 before the characters in that scene had even met in Book 1. At the time, it seemed like a good way to get words down, and I suppose it was, but what it mostly did was make revision twice as long as we then rewrote all of those later scenes to take into account earlier material. Sometimes, I still move around a little, but I a) have a much better outline, and therefore, a better of idea of the story as a whole, and b) have made peace with the fact it will entail extra revision.

Sympathetic characters
We thought if we created a character we liked—a smart girl who is ambitious and happy, surrounded by people who also think she’s awesome—the reader would like her, too. Oops. Early betas found her insufferable and much preferred the girl with the crappy family and the worse husband, who was always looking for a way to make her shitty lot in life just a little better. I think we’ve made them both pretty interesting and sympathetic now, but yeah, we really didn’t understand at first that adversity gets a reader on the side of your character far more than showing how popular she is.

Calendar
When you have four POV characters spread over thousands of miles in an era when travel was remarkably difficult, keeping an accurate calendar is a must. We had some general ideas about when things should be happening, but when we plotted out exact dates when things had to happen and figured out how long it would take someone to get from Point A to Point B, we realized the timing was completely off. But, thank heavens for those poor traveling conditions so that freak snow storms could hold people up for a week, and magic allows a message to get to someone almost as fast as by telegram. As I’m about to start an epistolary novel, I’m already dreading my calendar—trying to figure out when someone wrote a letter and more importantly when someone read it, again in a world with much slower travel than today. But I know I will be happy that I did, and just like all of these other lessons, when I think about skipping over them, I do my best to make that my mantra—I will be happy that I did.

~S

Learning All the Wrong Lessons

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My homework was never quite like this.

Not that we’re bloodthirsty or anything, but we sure like ourselves a good character death.  We’ve talked here before about when it’s appropriate, and sometimes even necessary, to kill characters.

Just in case you don’t feel like clicking on those links, our three rules for offing a character are as follows:

1) Would it be intellectually dishonest not to kill the character?

2) Is it dramatically the right choice?

3) Does the character dying have interesting repercussions for those left alive?

One of the examples we used to show the proper killing of a character was Ned Stark from Game of Thrones.  As S wrote:

It would be incredibly dishonest and make the mighty Lannisters look incredibly weak if Ned Stark fails to die. And the drama in that moment is heart wrenching. Plus, so much of what matters in the moment of his death is how it will change the lives of his children, most importantly Robb. Everything about Ned Stark’s death accomplishes precisely what a writer (and reader/viewer) hopes it will.

So Ned’s death was a great moment in the story, and a great moment in TV.  Unfortunately, as we were watching The 100 this past week, it occurred to us that other shows are learning exactly the wrong lesson from Game of Thrones.  Rather than learning that killing a character can drive the story and provide motivation for the characters, it appears as if the writers of The 100 learned that it’s really cool to just bump off characters randomly for shock value.

In what’s been called the show’s ongoing Hunger Games storyline, characters like Jasper and Roan keep getting killed, not because there’s any logic or justification for it, but seemingly just because the writers want us to think “ZOMG!  They totally killed that guy!”  And then applaud them for their bold storytelling.  The worst part is the violation of the third of our rules: there are zero repercussions for anyone left alive, and in fact the other characters barely remember those who died at all.  But then again, that’s always been a problem for that show.  See, for example, poor old…oh, what’s his name?  It’s on the tip of my tongue.

Oh yes, Finn.

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Remember when he was the love of Clarke’s life?  No?  Well, that’s okay.  Neither does Clarke. 

So that’s what’s been on our mind this week.  In other news, S just finished posting her latest fanfic series, and the feedback from readers has been very good.  So huzzah for her!  And I’m about ten chapters into my latest Myrciaverse book, which might hypothetically be a birthday present for someone who might hypothetically be S.

Yes, we write stories for each other for our birthdays.  It’s the unicorniest thing ever.  So I’ve got to get back to that.  In the meantime, let’s all hope The 100 figures out how to make character deaths count.  I mean, I’m not holding my breath, but it could happen.

J

I’ll Do What I Want

cartman

Cartman, as the kids say, is my spirit animal.

I mentioned back in March I would be spending April trying an experiment to write what I want and not what I “ought” to write (for whatever reason), and it is time to report back. In a word, it was awesome. I finished the fanfic I was working on and started plotting a Myrcia ‘verse epistolary novel. I enjoyed it so much, in fact, I have every intention of keeping it going, more or less.

Around this time last year, I tried a new way of working. I rotated weekly through multiple projects. If memory serves, I had three projects going, but only ever switched back and forth between two. I think I’m going to try something similar now. I’ll dedicate a week to the epistolary novel and a week to fanfic. (I have two fanfics harassing me to be written, and a couple others I’m seriously considering.) I figure an epistolary novel and shorter fanfic pieces are perfect for this sort of back and forth schedule since there will be discreet chunks. Of course, I’ll also need to sneak in some blogging here, and in July I’ll definitely be getting back to the Persuasion Live Read, because I’ll be discussing the book with my book club at work.

But I think that will all be manageable with my writing schedule, even when I move on to other projects. I have some original fiction short stories ideas that I’m excited about and just need to find the time and focus to write, for instance. When I finally decide to dive into Oleg Omdahl revisions and plotting out the fourth novel (which I think I might want to do for November NaNoWriMo), the constant switching between projects might be trickier, but I can deal with that when I get there.

In the meantime, I should try to think of some more substantial posts for all of you besides rambling about my process. Suggestions welcome.

~S