Working With (and Around) an Outline

squirrely plot diagram

Why didn’t I ever try a detailed outline before? Live and learn, I suppose.

Things are gliding along in Featherfolk draft IV. Plus, I’m right on track for my 10,000-word November goal!

I regret not one moment of the time I spent outlining. I kept itching to dive in, but I held back and laid the groundwork first. It’s wonderful to have some of the imagination heavy-lifting already taken care of.

Of course, my outline is far from perfect. I already had one scene turn out different than I expected. One of my characters refused to act how I assumed he would. When I realized that, I let him be. I made some mental tweaks to upcoming scenes, and things are going to work out.

I highly reccommend outlining. It may feel like you’re not getting anything done because you aren’t writing, but it’s worth it. I promise.

Happy Yarning!

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Icky Middles

I’m taking the time to carefully outline Featherfolk draft four. I’m a plotter, even though I tend to write by the barest of outlines and the seat of my pants. This inevitably creates problems for me farther down the draft.

Now I’m wrestling with the middle of the story, and I remember why Carol calls middles icky.

That part of my outline needs more flesh on it. I can tell because it’s the part I try so hard to convince myself is just fine with its few flimsy ideas. The part I’m afraid to touch because it might collapse like a card house and bring other chunks of the plot with it.

Miscellaneous Playing Cards
(Photo credit: Philippa Willitts CC)

But this time–

I’m going to poke all those flimsy places until they straighten up and stand. Even if it means re-structuring the plot and sequence of events around them again and again.

It’s worth it.

Happy Yarning!

And Then That Castle Sank into the Swamp

Bodiam Castle (Photo credit: Mark Seton CC)

I feel like the king from Monty Python who kept building castles in a swamp. The first one sank, so he built a second. That one sank. He built a third, which burned down, fell over, and then sank into the swamp.

But the fourth one stood up.

I think I’ve been going in the wrong direction with Featherfolk. I recently wrote a few flash fiction pieces and pared them down to their essence so they could squeeze into the 150 word limit. (Like playing limbo: “How low can you go? How low can you go?”)

Those experiences helped me realize I’m losing the essence of the story I really want to tell in Featherfolk. It’s getting buried. I want to pull it out into the light where it can shine. I still love it and think it’s an important story.

This of course will require starting over. Again. I’ve brainstormed and jotted notes and mulled it over for a week or so. My fingers want to get typing, but now I’m jittery.

Should I start it yet? Should I wait until I pin down all the details?

If I don’t lay all the groundwork, will it just sink into the swamp again?

Is that why it sank before–because I started writing too early?

Even if I lay all the groundwork, will it sink anyway?

Jitter jitter jitter.

What do you do when you begin a new draft/new project? How much do you plot and plan and write notes? What’s your process? I need some advice here.

Happy Yarning!

In Late, Out Early

“In late, out early” is a writing maxim I heard at some point in college.

It means, start a scene or story as late as possible before its climax, and end as soon as possible after. Basically, leave out details that distract from the story or don’t move it along, and then don’t linger at the end to spell out all the ramifications.

In Featherfolk, I made the mistake of beginning one thread of the story too late. Now I’m working on a new beginning for it.

Anyone know of books that do “in late, out early” really well?

Happy Yarning.

Introducing First-Person Narrators

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I gave the first chapter of Featherfolk Draft II to one of my writing groups. The general consensus was that I didn’t introduce my main character very well. One of my groupmates was not even certain of the character’s gender.

I realized this is something I have long struggled with. How do I elegantly introduce facts about a first-person narrator?

There are plenty of (to my mind) inelegant ways, such as providing a convenient mirror within the first few pages for her to glance into, or otherwise having her dwell on her appearance at length for no apparent reason.

I did some research on how other authors introduce the gender of their first-person narrators. This involved pulling down twenty-odd books written in the first person from my shelves and reading until the author stated positively the character’s gender.

Sometimes this happened on the first page, or within the first paragraph. Often, it took a few pages. Always, it was within the first chapter.

And actually, it was fun to think about how and if the stories would have changed with a main character of the opposite gender.

I found six tactics that authors used to identify the character’s gender.

  • The main character told the reader his or her gender-specific first name.
  • The character identified himself/herself with a group of men/boys/sons or women/girls/daughters.
  • Another character spoke the main character’s gender-specific first name.
  • Another character spoke about the main character, using a gender-specific pronoun.
  • The main character described his or her clothing. (This only works if the character is part of a culture familiar to the readers.)
  • One author included a prologue in third person that described the main character.

As far as physical descriptions of main characters, some of the authors didn’t bother in the first chapter. A few gave full descriptions (one included exact height and weight). The most non-intrusive method I noted was comparisons to other characters’ appearances or to a desired norm, and these tid-bits of description came naturally in the flow of the story.

So, since my main character does not have a name that is clearly feminine, nor is she part of a familiar culture with western dress, I will try having her identify herself as one of the girls in her village.

And as she and everyone that she knows has black hair, brown eyes, and brown skin, I will have to find more subtle differences between characters to help bring out these facts.

Although, I really don’t care if my readers ever know that she has brown eyes. It doesn’t matter one bit.

Happy Yarning!

Ripping Out

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I learned to crochet first. When I began knitting, I didn’t know I could use a crochet hook to fix mistakes several rows back. I thought that a purl, which should have been a knit, would remain forever a mistake, unless I was brave enough to try ripping out the last few rows (and by some miracle get all the loops back on the needle). I thought fixing mistakes in crocheting was easier, because after you rip back to the error, you have only one loop to pick up to start again.

Now I know better.

As I ripped out line after line of Tunisian crochet back to the place where I went from 24 to 23 stitches per row, I wished I was knitting.

Sometimes editing is like knitting. Sometimes there are things that can be fixed without taking a whole scene or a whole chapter apart.

Sometimes, editing is like crocheting. Rip out and redo.

I ripped Featherfolk down to the base chain when I started draft II.

Ah well, back to work.

Happy Yarning!

The Agent Hunt Continues

Raven got his first solid rejection yesterday!
And as I’d hoped, it came with useful criticism on pacing and plot issues. The more distance I get from that manuscript, the more I suspect there is still plenty of editing work to be done, and now I have a few ideas of what direction to take.

We’ll see what sort of answer comes from the other agent who has the manuscript in her hands.

I haven’t been at this very long, but I have two pieces of advice for writers beginning the submission process:

1: Keep writing while your manuscript is out. Start something completely unrelated. The more I get excited about Featherfolk and other stories, the less I feel Raven and the Trinketeers is the pinnacle of my work. I’m still on the uphill climb, still improving. There are even more amazing things to come. So if I can’t ever get Raven into shape for publication, I’ll be fine.

2: Remember that you are not your story. You are not even your career. You are a son or daughter of God, and whether or not someone likes your work or wants to publish it has nothing at all to do with your worth as a person. Good news or bad news can’t rock you if you remember that.

Now, back to scribbling.

Happy Yarning!

Why Writing a Novel Is Not Like Building a Puzzle

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As I sorted through the pieces of a 3,000-piece puzzle, it hit me that 3,000 is a lot of pieces. I spent at least an hour just finding all the edges.

50,000 is even more pieces. I thought about how each word in a novel is like a puzzle piece, interlocking perfectly with the words around it to create a large, awesome picture.

Except…

The words don’t come nicely cut up and packaged in a box. You, the writer, have to find each one in the world around you.

You don’t get a 600 dpi image of the finished image handily printed on a box. You get, maybe, a thumbnail. The picture gets larger and clearer as you go, but never exactly matches what you’re building.

Besides that, a lot of the pieces don’t interlock as smoothly as a jigsaw. Sometimes a jagged edge fits best beside a curvy one. And there are always extra pieces that you could swap in. The puzzle never seems finished!

Compared to writing a novel, building a 3,000 piece puzzle is relaxing. Maybe that’s why I’ve been itching to build one.

Luckily, there’s a magic spell you can cast over your finished “puzzle” that will beguile all readers into thinking it’s super awesome.

Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha.

Happy Yarning.

Ready to Rewrite

Andes Featherfolk

I spent a lot of yesterday playing around with maps. For research purposes of course.

Did you know you can walk around at ground level in Google Earth? It’s far easier to control than the flying simulator, and looks just as cool.

Anyway, lots of pieces have fallen into place for ways I want to rework the magic systems, setting, and pacing of Featherfolk. There will be more research to do as I go along, but I’m to a point where I can start. Today I tackle chapter one.

I’ll be doing my best to finish the second draft before November, so that I don’t have to take a break of indeterminate length in the middle of the draft while I figure out how to care for a newborn.

Now go play with Google Earth. I dare you.

Happy Yarning!

Surprising Myself

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I just finished reading over the first draft of Featherfolk! When I began, I wasn’t sure if the manuscript had sat long enough for me to gain the distance and fresh eyes I need to revise.

As I read, I realized enough time had passed. I kept discovering small twists and turns I forgot I wrote. One bit the other day was so perfect and unexpected. It made me feel very clever indeed.

Thinking back, that particular twist was not part of my original outline. It came to me as I wrote, following naturally from the words and scenes I’d already typed.

I want to do that. Over and over. I want to surprise and delight myself.

Because if I can do that, I can surprise and delight others.

And that’s why I wanted to tell stories in the first place.

Happy Yarning!