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