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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Outlines and Causality

chain

(Photo credit: Anita Pratanti CC)

My friend Annaliese recently told me about some advice she heard at a writing conference she attended. In a synopsis (or outline), it’s important to not only tell a series of events but to link them by actions on the part of your main characters.

Instead of “this happens, and then this other thing happens, and then this other thing happens,” say “this happens, and so she does this, and because of that this other thing happens.”

Notice how the second story sounds more like something you want to read?

As I finish my outline for Featherfolk draft four, I’m paying particular attention to causality and how my main character’s actions shape her story.

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.

Collaborative Writing

I thought a bit about collaborative writing back when I read Sorcery and Cecelia, Or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer. Lately I keep coming back around to the idea. Two members of one of my writing groups submitted a collaboratively written piece in our last session. Also, I recently helped my husband draft some things for work by taking dictation.

You see, my husband is great at brainstorming and developing stories, but he has a very hard time writing anything down. This is due in part to dysgraphia and probably also to lack of practice. I just keep thinking how great it would be if we could write a story together. Featherfolk is already a Frankenstein’s monster of my ideas and his ideas, but I think it would be wonderful to write something with him that contains my words and his words.

Have any of you done collaborative writing? What did you find worked/didn’t work?

Happy Yarning!

This Year

I took a look back at last year to see how much I accomplished in my writing career. I’m pretty proud of myself.

I started to wonder how much I’ll do this year, and I realized it depends on how much I want to do.

I want to do a lot. I want to finish Featherfolk and start the work of polishing. I want to fix up Raven and send him out again. I want to get at least one short story published. I want to do NaNo again.

If I really want to do these things, I can. I just have to put in the effort. I just have to steal time from other things. Stealing time from Facebook seems like a good place to start, and if I have to start stealing time from this blog, I will.

Yesterday I picked up Featherfolk again (glad to find it not as horrible as I thought). I wrote 250 words while the baby slept.

It’s a start.

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!

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!

Concrete Emotions

“Concrete” is the opposite of “abstract.” It’s also a hard, durable substance that can be used to make foundations, walls, roads, etc.

The story I’m currently rewriting involves a lot of emotion. The main characters each have a magical ability to sense the feelings of other people or creatures they are bound to. One thing I’m trying to do as I rewrite is make the emotions real to readers.

My friend Oddstuffs is very good at this. When she’s published and you can all read her work, watch for this. She has a unique knack for describing emotions in visceral terms that grab you by the front of your shirt and make you pay attention.

So instead of writing something like, I could sense Chayña’s disappointment, I say, I felt the chill of her disappointment, adding in a term you can reach out and feel. But even better is when I can link the feeling to a visceral sensation both my main character and readers associate with the emotion, often with a simile or metaphor. I felt the chill of her disappointment–like icy water sliding down my throat.

Personifying emotions is another tactic to sprinkle into a story. I could write about how rage clawed at the inside of my chest, or somesuch, rather than simply stating I was enraged.

These kinds of concrete descriptions are extra fun when the text is read aloud. They add a lot of life to a narrative, and can make it more memorable. They’re durable (like concrete).

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Happy Yarning.

Some Thoughts on Magic Systems

Magic Circle by John William Waterhouse

Every magical ability has an effect on the world. This is a principle I’m working to follow as I rewrite Featherfolk. My main magic system consists of special powers granted by spirits. The availability and breadth of different powers alters the setting and plot, but that’s the way it should be.

The poster child for what I’m talking about is teleportation. If characters in a fantasy story can teleport magically from place to place, why would they rely on x for sending messages, and why didn’t they use teleportation when event y or z occurred? Why do social problems a, b, and c still exist? Even with limitations on when or where or which characters can teleport, it’s  hard to catch all these and keep things consistent.

I tend to shy away from teleportation, because it gives me a headache to pin down all the effects such a power would have on economics, politics, warfare, etc, but I still have to be careful with the powers I grant my characters.

Have any of you had to re-work a magic system to match a setting or vice versa?

Happy Yarning.