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

It’s Not a Retcon Until You Hit “Publish”

reoutlining-fanfic

Don’t zoom in unless you want spoilers!

Here at Unicorn HQ, we have a three-day weekend, which means plenty of time for writing projects.  At the moment, of course, we’re just sitting around drinking coffee, but we’ll get back to work later on.  Maybe after we go grocery shopping.  But rest assured, we’ll be hard at work sometime soon.

Last night, we worked on the outline for S’s latest fanfic saga.  Maybe at some point she’ll post some more about it, but for now all you need to know is that it’s a sort of romance story with a love triangle.  As originally conceived, it was all about the romance, though with just enough plot to explain how, at various points of the story, two of the three members of the triangle get into rather serious trouble.  (I can’t say how they get in trouble, because that would be a spoiler.)

So a few weeks ago, S started posting chapters of this fanfic at her favorite fanfic-publishing site.  And an odd thing happened.  It turned out that her readers were actually quite interested in the plot.  They liked her original characters and said they were looking forward to seeing what happened later.

You can see her problem now, can’t you?  The plot was never intended to be important.  It was just window dressing—an excuse to get the members of the love triangle in position (as it were) for their romance to blossom.  Now S suddenly realized that she really needed to flesh out the plot.  And that meant going back and outlining again.

We got out the butcher paper, rolled it out on the floor, and she wrote out a quick summary of each chapter.  Then we went through, figured out where the plotting and political intrigue could be expanded, and wrote it in with a pencil.  After that, we did some quick character profiles for some of her original characters.  In the story as originally written, these people barely showed up.  But if they’re going to become a bit more important, S needs to know what they look like, where they’re from, and what their motivations are.

This kind of re-outlining is always a bit tricky.  When you write a scene, it hopefully has a certain flow or rhythm to it.  So it’s not always easy to find places to add new information.  Let’s say you have a scene where Susan and Bob are talking about their friend Frank.  And in your new outline, you’ve decided (for some reason) that it’s really important to find some way to mention that Susan and Frank went to college together.  Maybe that could be entirely straightforward—rather than telling a story about something stupid Frank did at last year’s office Christmas party, you can just change that so it’s a story about something Frank did at a frat party in college.  Bingo—you’ve got that information into the scene for the reader to see, and almost nothing had to change.

Sometimes, though, you’re left pulling your hair and banging your head against the keyboard, thinking, “There’s no where to put it!  There’s no reason why Susan’s college years would ever come up in this conversation!”  Now you’re faced with either rewriting the conversation from scratch, or writing a new scene.  Which means more outlining, of course.

But that’s what you have to do, and that’s what we’re up to this weekend.  Also, I’m still working my way through the reference guide that I’m writing about the main city in the Myrciaverse.  Last night I invented a number of markets and shopping districts.  It’s good fun.  Just the thing for a cold winter afternoon.

J

I’ll Fix It in Post

film-reel

“Fix it in post.” The most dreaded words on set?

Often when J and I are writing, we will borrow from the world of film the idea that we can fix what’s wrong in “post.” Of course, this is just our silly way of referring to revision, but I thought about the idea, and the trope, more seriously when I was working on my ill-fated NaNo novel. Granted, unlike a film, a novelist can always go back and “reshoot” (rewrite) a scene to get what she needs, but I think there’s something to be said for having the raw materials you need before you get to the revision process.

Now, I’ve never made an exact study of the numbers and percentages, but let’s say in a novel that has been properly outlined and researched ahead of time and is drafted thoughtfully, it will have 10-20% changed significantly in revision. When I start a novel knowing that eventuality is coming, that is something I can live with at this point, because I’ve written enough to appreciate that writing is rewriting. But then on a novel like The Queen’s Tower, my NaNo book from two years ago, I went in with a tenuous outline and characters I didn’t know especially well. I finished the first draft of that knowing I would be changing around 20-30% of what had been written, plus adding about 30% entirely new content. That’s pretty daunting, and probably why I still haven’t finished the novel.

And that brings us to this year’s NaNo novel, The Swift True Road. Not only did I not start with the level of detail to my outline I prefer, but I didn’t do as much character work as I would have liked, and being my first historical novel, I quickly realized I hadn’t done even close to enough research. Because it was NaNo, I kept plowing along, but around 35,000 words in, I realized I would be completely reworking at least 50% of what I had already written. Knowing I would be chucking half of what I was laboring so hard to write became discouraging to the point that I didn’t have the heart to continue writing the novel. It also seemed to be a supreme waste of time.

As J pointed out last week, I decided to set The Swift True Road aside, and I went to work on other projects to see me through the month of November, and make certain I still wrote 50,000 words for the month. At some point, I absolutely intend to return to The Swift True Road. I still think it’s a great idea for a book, a romance between two mercenaries in Renaissance Italy, but I’m not going to pick it back up again until I’m sure I can successfully draft a novel that will leave me with the pieces I need to polish a good story in post.

~S

The Hobgoblin of Little Minds

ralph_waldo_emerson_ca1857_retouched

Emerson never did any prep work for his NaNo novels. 
True story.

Here at Unicorn HQ, we’re deep into the process of NaNoWriMo prep. A few nights ago, S and I worked on her outline, and to make it easier to see, we used our giant living room TV as an external monitor from her tiny new Lenovo laptop. It was awesome.

(Because I know you were all wondering, the new laptop’s name is Signy. She’s named after a character in S’s Oleg Omdahl mysteries.)

As usual, I’m doing two novels in November, and as I make my outlines, I’ve been switching back and forth between them, making sure to keep them both fresh in my mind. The tricky thing for me is that both are sequels to my previous books.

The one I’ll be writing first is A Tincture of Silver. It’s more or less a direct sequel to Called to Account, which puts it in a sequence of novels that now runs from S’s Queen’s Tower to my Lady’s Knight and covers more than a century of Myrcian history.

My second novel (if all goes well) is going to be When Uppance Comes, which will be a sequel to both A Meager Education and Joint Command. The first of those, as you’ll see if you go to our page listing our novels, is a school story, while the second is a spy novel. This new book is going to show what happens when those two worlds collide.

There are plusses and minuses to writing sequels. On the upside, I saved a lot of time in making my character sheets, since many of the characters carry over from previous books. So I just had to copy and paste the information I’d already written about them for the previous novels, and then add a few sentences to tell what they’ve been up to in the years since.

The problem with writing sequels, of course, is trying to make sure the characters are consistent. You want the reader to have the sense that the character Lisette whom they meet in When Uppance Comes is the same Lisette they came to know and loathe in A Meager Education. And this can take a lot of planning and preparation. Oh sure, we could take our friend Ralph Waldo’s advice and “Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day.” But that is bound to end up frustrating both the author and the reader. So we’re stuck having to keep very careful track of what the characters did and said and thought.

The first thing I’ve been doing is simply reminding myself what I wrote before. I could simply reread my books the old fashioned way. But lately I’ve been converting my novels, a couple chapters at a time, into PDF files, and then using the “Read Out Loud” feature of Adobe Acrobat and a pair of Bluetooth headphones to listen to my old novels like audiobooks while I pace around the house. (There’s also a “read aloud” feature in MS Word, but it doesn’t work nearly as well.)

As I walk around, I keep a notepad and a pen with me, so I can keep notes on the characters as I go. I keep track of the character’s habits, tics, and speech patterns. Then I look at the outline I have planned for my new book, and where necessary, I make notes to be sure to include those things in the new book.

For example, in A Meager Education, one of Lisette’s very few positive character traits is her dedication to exercise. (Although, to be fair, she really only keeps herself in shape because of her titanic vanity; if you haven’t guessed, she’s not a very nice person.) As I was listening to that book, I kept noticing all the times she talks about going riding or swimming. And then I realized that I’d completely forgotten to have her do anything like that in my outline for When Uppance Comes. So I quickly made a note of that. And then, when I had more time later, I went through the outline, chapter by chapter, until I found a few places I could have her think about swimming or riding or whatever.

So that’s what I’ve been up to. I trust S will have something to say about her own NaNo prep sooner or later. And if you haven’t gone to the NaNoWriMo site and signed up yet, go do it now!

J

The Magic is Gone

magic-city-starz-tv-show

Wishing they were on a better show.

October is upon us, and that means it’s time to start planning our novels for NaNoWriMo!  Last night, S and I started plotting things out on dry-erase boards.  And we got the long roll of butcher paper down from the office upstairs, so we’re ready to start plotting out S’s novel and taping it up on the walls.  This morning, while I slept in, S has been hard at work, naming her characters.

In the weeks to come, we’ll probably post more about what we’re doing to get ready, but in the meantime, I wanted to say a little something about a show we watched recently, Magic City.  It was on Starz a few years ago, and it ran for only two seasons.  And while there were things we enjoyed about the show, it was pretty obvious to us after a few episodes why it got canceled.

First, there are few surprises in the show, and nearly all the surprises are bad ones.  Everything you think is going to happen, ends up happening sooner or later.  You think, “Oh, I bet that guy is going to get shot,” and sure enough, he does.  Every ponderous move of the plot is telegraphed so thoroughly, you see it coming a mile away.  And as I say, on the rare occasion when the show manages to surprise you, it does so in a way that fatally undercuts the character.  For example, when Ben Diamond, the violent, over-the-top, mustache-twirling villain, finally catches his wife in bed in bed with the older son of the hero—a moment the viewer has been anticipating with bated breath for several episodes—the outcome is almost cartoonishly silly.  It turns out Diamond likes watching his wife have sex with other people.  It’s a moment from a sex farce that the show tries ludicrously to play straight, while demanding that the viewer continue taking Diamond seriously as a threat.

Many of the show’s sins stem from inconsistent characterization, in fact.  Ben Diamond is the worst offender, of course.  The writers seem to have been aiming to create an “unpredictable psycho,” but what they achieved was a character whose reactions are so out of proportion to the actions of others, and (as above) occasionally so silly, that he becomes tedious.  It’s the same problem I have with many depictions of the Joker in various Batman series and movies.  Hollywood seems to have this odd notion that chaotic villains are somehow more terrible and terrifying than villains who are thoroughly rational in pursuing their evil aims.  It seems to me that a few moments’ thought should show why that isn’t so, either in real life or in fiction.  Irrational villains get high and trash a liquor store; rational villains build concentration camps.

Then again, its probably fair to note that I’m not really fond of mob movies or TV shows.  Other than the first two Godfather movies, I really can’t think of any mob-related story that I ever enjoyed.

Other characters in the show have consistency problems, though.  Ike, the hero, is generally likeable and decent, but about halfway through the second season, he seems to get a personality transplant and start acting like a jackass to characters we like.  Again, this is a surprise, and it’s not a good one.  Several times, as we were watching the last few episodes, S turned to me and said, “Who is this guy, and what happened to Ike?”

But anyway, we’ve finished the show now, and at the very least, there was a lot of pretty 50s and 60s set decoration, and a lot of very pretty people wearing very little, and it was all filmed very prettily.  The show certainly looked good; I’ll give it that.  And it was nice to see Jessica Marais again, playing the aforementioned wife of the villain.  We remembered her from Legend of the Seeker, one of our favorite cheesy-good-fun shows.  In fact, all the way through Magic City, we referred to her as “Mord-Sith Denna,” rather than by the actual name of her character, which I’ve already forgotten.  (Wikipedia tells me it was “Lily.”)

As an amateur writer, it’s sometimes just as instructive to look at bad writing as it is to look at good writing.  So I guess what we can take away from Magic City is the necessity of consistent characterization, and the need for characters to act rationally according to their motivations.  If there are surprises about one of the characters, they should come because we’re showing the reader a previously-unseen, but perfectly logical facet of that character.  The reader’s reaction should not be, “Whoa, that guy’s nuts!”  But rather, “Ah, of course.  I hadn’t thought he was that sort of person, but looking back, it makes sense.”

And speaking of characters, I need to start doing some work on mine.  I can’t let S get ahead of me in the planning and outlining!

J

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

 

I’m Late!

Whiterabbit_tenniel

Lewis Carroll has been on the mind thanks to Philosofishal, a fellow local WriMo.

What can I say but that I’m running late for another write-in with my local NaNoWriMo group. My Camp NaNo is actually going great. I did some excellent work on my modern novel, The Sorrow Thereof, before I got a crazy idea for a new fanfic. Of course, the original idea was for what we call a one-shot in the fanfic world, meaning it was supposed to be short and self-contained. Then I got another idea, couldn’t figure out how on earth the scenario I had playing in my head could actually work, and then realized that what I needed was a bridge scene between my one-shot and my new idea, and I could put them together in one story. And as long as I was doing that, I thought I should maybe outline a little, give it an actual story instead of making it Porn Without Plot, and the next thing I know, I’m knee deep in a project I have outlined to run at least 18 chapters. But I’m absolutely in love with the story, and the drafting is just flying by, so I’m alright with everything I decided.

I try not to actually cross-contaminate, as it were, the work I do as part of JS Mawdsley with my fanfic, which I write under a completely different pseudonym, but when I finish this story up (which doesn’t have a title yet), I may make an exception. Some fellow fanfic authors who I’ve been chatting with lately about our processes have shown some interest in mine, so I’m trying to be more careful than usual documenting just how I go about writing so I can share the complete beginning to end process I go through with them when I’m finally ready to publish my story on AO3. If I think it’s of genuine value, I just might share it here as well.

~S

 

Final Preparations

FinalCountdown

You know these guys are ready for Camp NaNo. 

Happy Easter! We did not make Easter eggs this year, but we did have a lovely ham and potato soup, which was very tasty. Seriously, you should all be jealous of our supper. It was awesome.

Camp NaNoWriMo starts this coming Friday, so S and I are finishing up our preparations. I wrote all of my character prompts, and I have lately been working on a map of the city where much of the story’s action takes place. As I have mentioned before, when I don’t have enough time to do a map from scratch, I sort-of cheat by taking the map of a real city and changing things around a bit. This makes the whole process much, much faster, and it means that the resulting map is likely to avoid serious geographical errors.

Now I’m going back over my outline and polishing it up a bit. Since I have a map of the city, and have named districts and streets and canals and temples, I can write those names into the outline, so I remember to mention them in the text.

I also caught what would have been a minor plot hole. One of my characters reveals his true identity to another character in chapter 15 or so, except that she should totally already know who he is. So that took some careful thought over my morning coffee before I figured out a way to make everything work out right. Morning coffee always makes everything better.

Finally, I “cast” my main POV characters. That is to say, I decided which actors I would use as their physical models. We’ve discussed this before, and apparently some people think this is a terrible idea. I’ve read people complaining about this who say that, “I’ve got this very definite idea of the character in my mind, and if I was thinking of an actor, then it would destroy that image.” No offense to those people, but I think what they really mean is, “I have this very, very vague idea of my character, and if I had to ‘cast’ him, then I would have to start thinking about boring, yucky stuff like concrete physical details.” Anyway, I think the exercise is terribly useful. I found pictures of the five actors I “cast.” Usually I like to have at least three for each character: one head shot looking serious; one head shot smiling; and one full-length, showing their general build and body type. Perhaps later in the month I’ll post some of these.

Good luck with Camp NaNo, and if you haven’t signed up yet, you really should go do that now!

J

Packing for Camp

readyforcamp2

This is what happens when you’re not ready for camp.

It’s that time of year again. No, I’m not referring to the start of Daylight Savings Time and the loss of an hour’s sleep last night. Nor am I referring to the impending Vernal Equinox, which around here serves to divide the disgustingly wet and cold late Winter from the slightly less disgustingly wet and cold early Spring. Nor am I even referring to the most tragic consequence of Spring weather, namely yardwork.

No, I’m talking about Camp NaNoWriMo. As anyone who reads this blog regularly knows, NaNoWriMo is in November. But there are two sessions of “Camp NaNo,” which are in April and July. S and I usually do both. And so should you. If you haven’t gone over to the Camp NaNo website and signed up yet, you should do so right now. Seriously, go do it right now. I’ll wait. That’s what web browser tabs are for, after all.

My preparations have been going on for some time now. This is going to be a longer novel, probably between 100,000 and 130,000 words, and there are five POV characters, so it’s taking a while to get everything ready.

I started writing my outline in mid-February, and I started coming up with characters. Some of that was already done, though, because the novel I’ll be writing this April, Written in Sand, is a sequel to my novel from last April, The Last Bright Angel, and the story I wrote S for Christmas, Called to Account. It takes place about 50 years after The Last Bright Angel, but since our wizard characters live 2,000 years, it hasn’t been all that long for them.

Today I’m hoping to finish up my second pass through my outline, fleshing out the description of scenes, so that when I actually start writing, I’m never left staring at my outline, wondering, “How did I think that was going to work, exactly?” Then tomorrow or Tuesday I think I’ll start doing my character prompts. We’ve talked about these before, and one of the reasons I started preparing so early was that I wanted to leave enough time to do them. Only one of my five POV characters is someone I’ve written before, so I want a chance to get to know these people a little before I have to write from their perspective.

So if you haven’t started your Camp NaNo project yet, go do it, and then start planning!

J