Tag Archives: plotting

Thoughts on Writing – Outlining Challenge (Cyberpunk Snow White)

Warning: This is a really long post. But I wanted to include everything in one place rather than trying to split it up.

A while back, in the November Infinitas Publishing status report, I mentioned that, for my NaNoWriMo project, I had a goal of reaching 50,000-65,000 words in 12 days, writing in a world I hadn’t written before. I achieved that goal (completed at 50,316 words), and today I want to go a little more in depth about that progress.

(I’d been meaning to get this blog written for a while, but as you can probably tell, it’s been a hectic couple of months).

A Bit of Background

I have used loose outlines before, but I haven’t really tried a heavy-duty outline for a world I haven’t written in. My most detailed outline was for Messenger of Gaia (rough draft completed, but not yet edited), a novel that clocked in at 77,000 words and was written during Camp NaNo. That one, however, was based on a role-play that my husband ran, so I already knew the basic story and how everything fit together, and I put together a summary outline that reminded me of each scene. This was the process I wanted to emulate, but I wanted to try it with a completely new story.

The New Project

I’ve had an idea percolating in my head for a while regarding a fairy tale retelling in space, but as the time came closer to November, I wanted to figure out how that world got to where it was, so I could better set up the factions and character motivations. The result ended up being a completely different, cyberpunk fairy tale… a retelling of “Snow White,” but from the point of view of the huntsman (or, in this case, the huntress).

There are a few books I credit with how I developed the outline for this project (Click the links to see my Goodreads reviews of the books):

Janice Hardy’s Planning Your Novel, which helped me develop the Three Act Structure for this story, and further developing the main characters.

Libbie Hawker’s Gotta Read It!, a short ebook explaining pitches, which is excellent for crafting the basic concept of your novel so that you can keep it on task when developing an outline.

Libbie Hawker’s Take Off Your Pants, which further explains concepts from Gotta Read It! and gives another form of outline to work from, as well as explains the idea of the “ally” character, and puts a strong emphasis on the greatest weakness of your main character. It is this “greatest weakness” aspect that I found to be extremely helpful when crafting the outline for this particular story.

Developing the Main Characters (Using the Take Off Your Pants Method)

To start with, I tried to develop a sense of the main character. (Note that this is just my initial concept, and I changed some of the main pieces once I started outlining.) While writing this, I made notes to myself of anything I would want to check or explore later, and at this point, I haven’t actually named the Huntress or the Queen (other than knowing her last name will be Konigin).

The main character is Huntress, a loyal bounty hunter for Konigin Corp. She sees the advantage of a nanite-enhanced society, especially since her parents were killed when a plague spread through the metropolis and killed both her parents at a young age. She was taken in by Konigin Corp, who provided funds to take in the numerous children left homeless. (Why were healthy adults targeted?) However, as one of the most loyal to the company, she is privy to information that others are not. She knows that the plague was the result of another company (ZiTech–check to see if that name already exists) messing with a virus and accidentally infecting their scientists with a dormant virus, which then spread. Konigin Corp stopped it from being a worse disaster, but she understands how a balance between nature and science is necessary for their survival. She hopes to gain a say in company matters (and the increasing tensions between progressionists and technologists) by getting closer to Queen.

Looking back at this, after having written the rough draft, I can already say that the plague of the past plays a much smaller role, and only warrants a brief mention. It may end up being cut altogether if I find a stronger explanation of her backstory. The important part was that the main character sees the “queen” as a mother figure, but also understands the concept of balance between nature and technology.

Per Take Off Your Pants, I also jotted down the external goal of the main character.

Do favors for Queen in order to gain more power for herself (become the Queen’s ear), so she can rise in the ranks of Konigin Corp and eventually influence internal company politics and avoid some of their “nastier” practices.

Next, I have the Antagonist listed. (Note: the order I’m talking about these elements is not necessarily the order of development that I came up with the ideas, just how they’re presented in the long run. I highly recommend reading Take Off Your Pants for more details about how to develop each of these elements.)

Queen – the founder of Konigin Corp.  Vain, she sees beauty as the ultimate sign of perfection and healthiness. She uses nanites to enhance her beauty, and is furious that Snow maintains her beauty without any augmentation. Augmentation and uplifts (sapient animals… check to see if I can use that term) are the only way she sees humanity surviving against the constant threat of war, environmental disaster, and disease. She wants all her “daughters” (company workers) to be augmented.

Snow –  Queen’s half-daughter. Her father broke up with Queen when she insisted on augmenting their child shortly after birth. After the divorce, Snow was raised to see augmentations as a danger to humanity. (Progressionist Lobbyists). Technologists threaten to remove everything that makes them human and upset the natural order of things. She is a favorite ambassador candidate of The Society for Natural Progression, (The SNP, or Natural Progressionists). She has a beautiful singing voice, and is known for her sheer (natural) beauty.

I’ve included both of these characters as antagonists, though which one is the primary antagonists switches as the story progresses.

Then, per the Take Off Your Pants method, I wrote a basic concept of what The End should be.

Huntress must betray Queen’s loyalty and reveal Queen’s secret practices and upset the line of power she’s fought so long to control, thus allowing Snow to assume the corporate throne. She gains Snow’s love, and Snow’s ear. She is able to act as a voice of reason, suggesting they allow Queen to leave Earth for a colony planet with her uplifted army, rather than executing her for her crimes.

This is what I originally envisioned. However, by the time I finished writing out a fleshed out outline, the ending was very different.

The Queen never leaves for a colony planet. She has a different (ironic) fate, though we do see the Huntress try at the very last to give her a chance to redeem herself. Also, whether or not Snow and Huntress actually get together is left vague (Due to some of the atrocities that Huntress commits in the Queen’s name, I haven’t decided if Snow would ever truly feel comfortable around Huntress), though it is clear that Snow now respects Huntress, and there is a chance for a happily ever after. (Because me trying to write a romance? Well… it looks like that challenge has not yet been successful).

Lastly, I decided on these three pieces of information to keep in mind while developing the outline:

Flaw: The huntress is loyal to Queen, even when Queen is obviously in the wrong.

Ally: An uplifted wolf? A hunter for a different corporation (Something??? Inc.), he represents balance between the technologists and the progressionists.

Theme: Balance is important (All things in moderation)

Once this was complete, I diverged a bit from the Take Off Your Pants method and started first with creating an outline from the Three Act structure, so that I could easily see the overall arc of the story.

Now, this is not the final story. I did make a few changes as I created the outline and progressed with the rough draft, so I don’t mind sharing this (since it’s not exactly as spoilery as you might expect).

Opening Scene: Huntress is fulfilling a contract, dragging in a progressionist. She suspects the man is innocent, but turns her back on him and his being experimented on due to her loyalty to Queen.

Inciting Incident: Queen learns that Snow has just been voted the most beautiful, despite her daughters all being healthy and gorgeous (and augmented). Queen orders Huntress to leave Snow with a scar that can only be fixed if she accepts augmentation.

Act One Problem: Snow reveals herself to camera with scar, refuses to get the augmentation, and people still see her as beautiful (she has poise and determination). Queen furious.

 

Act Two Choice: Huntress seeks way to bridge gap because she realizes she’s falling in love with Snow, but wants to remain loyal to Queen, who raised her. She has secret meeting with Snow, and begins to investigate Konigin Corp’s secret practices (mind-wipe tech, to be used on criminals).

Midpoint Reversal: Queen orders Snow to be killed, and for her lungs and liver to be removed, so she can regrow a version of Snow for her own purposes, a daughter she can train as her own. Huntress suspects that Queen is going too far, but following her orders is the only way to rise in power. (She attempts to bend Queen’s ear, but it fails).

Act Two Problem (Dark Moment):  She tries to kill Snow, but fails when she hears Snow’s singing voice and her passion for her philosophy. Huntress questions if she’s as loyal as she should be (and if that’s even a good thing)

 

Act Three Plan: Plans to face Queen and try to convince her to give up her secret experiments and help her bridge gap… which she has the power to do. She argues with Snow for Queen’s exile, rather than execution, which Snow reluctantly agrees they can try.

Climax:. Queen refuses and sends her hordes of uplifted/augmented armies to attack Huntress and Snow’s men.

Resolution: Huntress reveals to the armies the treacheries Queen has caused, but instead of working with her, they turn against Queen and kill her (using the mind-wiping tech Huntress discovers earlier). Though disappointed, she is able to be with Snow, and argue for some measure of balance, and she is appointed as the new leader of Konigin Corp.

Next, I took my three act structure and filled in the gaps with a short description of every scene that was intended to take place in the story.

At times, I ended up adding new scene while writing the rough draft, because something would feel natural or because I felt like something was missing, but this is what I referenced whenever I continued writing the rough draft.

These are my notes from Act I. (Note: Verdi is the Huntress, and words in all caps were stand-ins until I came up with name for them.)

*Verdi stalks a man from the shadows. He is passing information to another informant… at least, that’s what she’s been told. She suspects he is just trying to get extra food, since food is scarce. But before he can complete his contract, we see her attack the other man using some kind of modified weapon tech, and then capture the innocent man. She will do her duty to Miss Konigin.

*Verdi drops off man at an underground station. Heavily modified workers take him in. He begs her to let her go, screaming that all this is unnatural, but she ignores him. (Complains he’s not accepting the gift Konigin has given them). As she heads down a secret labrynth of halls, she overhears a pair of scientists discussing the miner-protocol mind wipe, and she hurries past the area where she knows special bodies are being grown/built for the mining procedures. This is a necessary part of Miss Konigin’s plans. For now, anyway.

*Queen is pleased with Verdi’s progress. Invites Verdi to one of the company meetings as her personal bodyguard. Verdi is delighted. This is one of the few times she’s been invited in directly. If the other corporate leaders get used to seeing her, maybe they’ll begin accepting her thoughts and opinions.

*However, when one of them suggests stepping up the capture of SNP members, she is immediately shushed when she tries to point out that capturing innocent people is liable to hurt them. She is chastised. Perhaps it is for the best. Konigin knew what was best when the SOMETHING plague went around, anyway.

*Standing guard within Konigin’s personal quarters (which she is familiar with, and has memories from as a child), Konigin reminds her of just how important technology is to them. How they mustn’t give in to the lure of a natural, Darwinian “only the strongest survive world.” Besides… this world is so much more beautiful. Verdi is beautiful, and Konigin seems very pleased with her. Verdi agrees, though she thinks Miss Konigin is the most beautiful of all. Konigin laughs, good-natured, and says they shall see tonight, when the results of a  POPULAR MAGAZINE comes in with the votes of the people. She suggests “that one of her other “daughters” (her company workers… all “beautiful”) may manage to beat her out this time.

*They are eating dinner with distinguished guests. Verdi stands watch in the corner. Konigin is horrified when the newscaster reports that  SNP candidate, Maria Snow, has been voted the fairest of them all by the people. Verdi is stunned, because she thinks Maria is indeed very beautiful, but Konigin storms out of the room, ranting about the blindness of the people.

*Verdi hurries to follow her, afraid she might do something rash. But, in the silence of her private quarters, Konigin gives her a new mission. She must leave Snow with a scar that can only be fixed if she accepts the augmentation of Konigin’s nanites. She gives Verdi some kind of acid weapon and orders her to leave that night, and not return until the deed is done.

And that’s the first act. My total outline was 3,200 words.

Finally, here is a scene that was spawned from that outline. In specific, it’s the one where the Queen invites Verdi to a board meeting. (Note: This is the rough draft, unedited.)

A soft buzzer sounds from the door. I pause in the middle of stretching. “Agnes?”

President Konigen is here to see you. Should I let her enter?

My eyes widen, and I quickly straighten the black robes I’m wearing. I should have worn something a little more colorful. Black is striking, but there are more beautiful options in my wardrobe. “Of course! Please, let her in.”

As you wish, Veridian.

I smile brightly as the door lock whirs and then the door swings open. President Konigen stands in the doorway, poised with her chin up and her shoulders back, and she is, as always, gorgeous. Her long, wavy black hair has been pinned back at the nape of her neck, likely with a gold barrette. Her skin is pale, almost white, her lips as red as cherries, her cheeks rosy. Her eyes are a bright blue. She wears no makeup, but she doesn’t need to. That’s what she has technology for.

I quickly bow at the waist, and gesture for her to enter. “To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?”

President Konigen comes in and laughs, her eyes twinkling. “You don’t have to have such formalities around me, Verdi.”

I pop back up, self-conscious. “I know, but you deserve them.”

She chuckles and shakes her head, amused. “Always so polite.” She sits on the edge of my bed, still poised gracefully.

“That’s how you raised me,” I say, my heart skipping a beat. She’s not my biological mother, but she took me in as a child when one of ZiTech’s products took a downhill spiral and went from a well-planned product to a deadly virus. Konigen managed to find a cure, but not before the damage was done. That’s why the lower city is so sparse. There used to be more people living there. Though the virus is no longer contagious, few want to visit the area.

But Konigen had recently lost her own daughter, so she took a few of the orphans in and raised them herself. She made sure we were healthy. She ensured we were beautiful.

She smiles at me. “Then I must have done well.”

Heat rushes to my cheeks. Everything I do, I do for her. I owe her my life. If it wasn’t for her, I might be living in the streets, unaugmented, afraid of technology just because of one company’s mistake. Or I might not even be alive. I might never have received the vaccination which prevented further outbreaks.

“Thank you, President Konigen.”

Though I long to call her mother, and though she raised me as her own, I don’t dare call her such. She’s more than that, and I can’t delude myself into thinking that she is as base as the people who died on me, the people who refused to augment themselves against the virus. She is… President.

President Konigen straightens her knee-length skirt—a lovely forest green that shimmers under my bright bedroom lights. “Verdi, I just wanted to say how proud I am of your recent accomplishments. You have brought in far more of my corporation’s threats than any of the other huntresses, and I hope to see your work continue.”

I puff out my chest with pride. “Thank you, President Konigen.”

She claps her hands together, then presses the tips of her fingers to her rosy lips. “As a reward, I would like you to accompany me to tonight’s board meeting. We will be discussing the future of Konigen Corp’s operations, and hearing tonight’s matters might benefit you going forward.”

My jaw drops. “Seriously?” She’s never invited me to one of the meetings before. I’ve stood outside the room, keeping watch, but she’s always had a senior hunter or huntress accompany her within the room. It’s a critical job. If one of the members turns out to be a traitor, we have to be ready at a moment’s notice to protect her. “I’d love to! Yes, thank you.” I bow again.

Beyond the honor of being to the meetings, if the other board members get accustomed to seeing me with President Konigen, they’ll begin to trust me. I’ll have their ear. Maybe, finally, it’s not just what I do that will be important to them. What I say will be important to them, too.

“Good.” President Konigen nods curtly. “Be ready in half an hour, and make sure you’re wearing your finest. Let’s make a good impression on them with your debut, shall we?”

“Yes, President.” I smile, my stomach doing back-flips. I have to decide what to wear…

It needs to be practical, but stylish. Strong, but not scary.

Beautiful?

Always.

All that’s left is the regular editing and revising process, which might be a while since I have several other projects ahead of this one.

* * *

I hope that this helps explain a bit more of my process, and is helpful to those of you considering writing from an outline.

Have you tried creating a detailed outline for your stories? If so, how did it go?

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Thoughts on Writing – Fixing a Derailed Plot

While working on the third book of The Wishing Blade series (I’m writing the rough draft for Camp NaNoWriMo) I ran into a snag. I knew how the book should end, but I wasn’t sure how to get it there.

Without getting into too many spoilers (since the second book isn’t even out yet!) I can say that the three main characters have been split into two groups (not by choice). Toranih’s off dealing with the shadows directly, while Daernan and Siklana are trying to get to Soralsyn (a place where magic doesn’t like to play nice). They’re following Nihestan, a mage they don’t really trust, in hopes of getting glass-stone, a precious material that might help them defeat the shadows. But Nihestan decides they need training first–whether they want it or not.

Now, this whole training thing was running too long. Siklana was attempting to learn word magic and getting nowhere because Nihestan doesn’t trust her, and he is actively trying to slow her progress. Then Kirse’Ve, an immortal companion tagging along with them (who isn’t quite as blind-sided as Nihestan), decides to take Siklana to Soralsyn on his own, in hopes of clarifying some of his own suspicions.

In the meantime, Daernan is stuck learning how to use magic’s lure from an uppity god of wine and merriment. Since the god decides that the best way to make someone who doesn’t want to use magic’s lure is to use magic and force him to practice, the concept was starting to run too similar to another story line I’m working on. That… and the god of wine and merriment was starting to feel just a little too similar to the trickster god.

With those arcs in place, the plot was getting nowhere.

I discussed the problems with my husband, Isaac, who pointed out two things that helped me make the necessary changes.

  1. Don’t have Kirse’Ve take Siklana to Soralsyn so early in the plot. Since it’s supposed to be difficult to get to Soralsyn, having him fly there on a whim cheapens the danger. (Plus, having him refuse to take her earlier, on the grounds they aren’t prepared, raises the tension as she tries to convince them to go).
  2. Make it clear that Nihestan doesn’t plan on reuniting Daernan and Siklana with Toranih (quite the opposite, he thinks she’s the enemy and needs to die). This raises further tension between the characters.

Both concepts were important as I tried to run through a mini-synopsis in my head–especially when I came to the point where, (yay, pantsing), Daernan and Siklana decide they’re going to sneak off without the mage and go to Soralsyn on their own.

Bingo!

At that point, I realized a bit of rearranging would help the plot. Kirse’Ve isn’t going to take Siklana to Soralsyn on his own, thus leading to more frustration and the final decision that they need to leave.

The earlier plot point I had regarding Daernan’s training is also going to be changed. His trainer isn’t going to force him to use magic’s lure (at least, not directly), but he does show such a disregard for mortals that Daernan is absolutely ready to leave the moment Siklana suggests they go off on their own.

Since Nihestan seems dead-set on killing Toranih, now they have a ticking clock because they need to figure out how to fight the shadows before he does if they even want to get close to her.

And perhaps, once they get themselves lost in Soralsyn (because it is supposed to be difficult to navigate), Kirse’Ve, who’s a bit wiser in how to treat them, comes to their aid–but not without a price. He’s on the same side as the mage who wants to kill Toranih, and he sees the means to do so based on what our heroes learn (but hey, they aren’t lost anymore!).

Now it feels like I know how to get the story on track, and I’m ready to move on to plotting what’s happening with Toranih.

With a little rearranging and a few tweaks to how the plot plays out, you might find that it’s easier to get a derailed plot back on track than you might first think.

I hope you enjoyed this post. Have you ever run into a derailed plot that was fixable with a few tweaks? 🙂

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Thoughts on Writing – Salvaging Plot Points from a Trunked Story

Every once in a while, I like working out potential plot points in blog posts. This is one of those posts. Be warned, there may be spoilers for the world of The Wishing Blade series ahead. I’m trying to keep it to a minimum, but…

I’ll have a big SPOILERS warning before I get to the plot-heavy part.

Now, onto the post.

With beta-readers looking at the manuscript for The Shadow War (Book Two of The Wishing Blades series) and Camp NaNoWriMo coming up, I’ve been plotting for the third book (currently unnamed). I’ve got the general plotline figured out, and I know where this particular story is going. However, there’s a few particulars I’m still trying to figure out, since those may affect the fourth book, as well as later books set in that world.

One particular I’m working on has to do with Litkanston, the country south of Cirena. In Magic’s Stealing, Litkanston is briefly referenced in a conversation between Aifa (a goddess) and Toranih (the main character).

“You’ve heard of Litkanston?” [Aifa asked.]

Toranih scowled. “Kind of hard to miss the neighboring kingdom.”

“But you’ve heard the tales…” Aifa stepped forward, her doe-eyes wild, fearful, and a tad over-dramatic for Toranih’s liking.

“Vaguely. No one can leave Litkanston if they go past the Division.”

“The Divide,” Aifa corrected.

Nothing else is mentioned about it in the first book. In the second book, though, Litkanston is mentioned again. Without delving too deep into spoiler territory, I can say that something the main characters need to stop the shadows is found near the Divide… and there’s a good chance they’ll be spending time in that region in the third book, trying not to get themselves trapped.

But here’s the thing.

The so-called “Divide” that traps anyone who enters Litkanston happened fairly recently in the history of the world, leading a couple characters to suspect that Shevanlagiy (antagonist of the first book) had a hand in its creation.

Does she?

WARNING: THIS IS WHERE THE POTENTIALLY BIGGER SPOILERS ARE! (I say potentially since this might not be the direction I take the story).

That’s what I’m currently trying to decide. On one hand, she very well could be responsible for the Divide, for all the reason that the characters believe (after all, they know she has a major role in the creation of shadows, and a tendency to destroy worlds). On the other hand, I’m tempted to push it into the hands of a character that no one would suspect–Listhant-Nsasrar, the high-god of Cirena.

The reason is two-fold. One, because I don’t necessarily want Shevanlagiy to be responsible for all the world’s big magical problems, and two, because of a story-arc I wrote a decade ago when I wrote the rough drafts of the original Cirena stories, a plot referencing a lost romance between Nsasrar and a princess of the Cantingen Islands.

With the updated story, it would be fairly easy to explain the Divide based on that plot. Let’s take a closer look.

From what I remember of the original plot, Nsasrar falls in love with the princess of the Cantingen Islands. But fate binds him through magic’s lure, and the princess is killed by a specific sword that isn’t supposed to be able to kill her (thanks to the equivalent of word magic). At least, it appears she is killed. In reality, it seems she has been thrown back in time, and into Litkanston, where a younger version of the god and the princess develop their romance. Alas, she is mortal and he is not, and I assume she eventually dies (because this was a story draft I didn’t complete), and presumably, the god returns to the Immortal Realm to wander. (After writing the draft for this post I skimmed through the original manuscript to see if there’s any tasty story fodder… and now I want to work more on the actual mythology of the world).

Theoretically, the high god could attempt to slow time down in the region with his love interest, thus creating the barrier later known as the Divide.

There’s another story element from the original stories that could play a part, as well.

Originally, the time span of the stories was much, much longer. The main characters in The Wishing Blade series became immortal, and the Shadow War took place over a period of two hundred years (Now I suspect it’s going to be less than a year). In both versions, the shodo’charl eliminated shadows in a brilliant flash of light. But in the original, it took those shadows and sent them some two- to four-hundred years into the future, removing the shadow essence from them in the process (and leading to some very confused former shadows).

I haven’t yet decided what happens to the shadows who are hit by the light of the shodo’charl in the updated series. One possibility is that they’re thrown into the future (but not several hundred years). Another possibility is that the shodo’charl sends the shadows to Litkanston.

If that’s the case, then that gives me story fodder for later, as characters seek to bring their loved ones back to Cirena. (Remember, once they pass into Litkanston, they can’t return–at least not until the curse on the place is lifted and the Divide is broken).

My thought is that perhaps Nsasrar falls in love the princess, and knowing the shodo’charl has time-bending properties, he attempts to set up the divide to slow time to the outside world of Cirena–thus giving him more time to spend with his beloved. (I should probably note that while he is the (Cirenan) god of creation, Madiya is the (Cantingen) goddess of death, and he can’t necessarily stop a person from dying. I mean, he could make them immortal, but I’m not sure how well that would sit with a Cantingen princess. The Cantingen religion sees death as part of an important equilibrium. Then again… immortals can still be killed. That there is a potential plot hole I’d need to examine closer before choosing to go this route.)

However, in his attempt to create the barrier, something goes wrong, and the Divide is stronger than he expects, causing the whole country to be cast under a blanket where regular magic doesn’t work (or if it does, it doesn’t work properly) and strange creatures escape from the Immortal Realm to terrorize the land. And the days are extremely short. And the night brings a fog and werewolf-like creatures that use a form of magic’s lure (which seems to be one of the few powers that still works) to control and army and take power…

Ahem. That particular story could use some tidying.

A lot of tidying.

Still, the original plot could also play into the fact that the realm as whole is getting weaker, a plot point I’m currently tinkering with in the second book.

Now, the fun part is that most of this plotting wouldn’t even be touched on in The Wishing Blade series. It’s all backstory for me to know and use to examine character motivations (and possibly have Shevanlagiy protesting that particular magical mishap was not her fault). That, and political implications. Nsasrar isn’t necessarily going to want to mention to Madiya that he’s the one who got the country of Litkanston separated from their realm. But it does show why he might be sympathetic to Shevanlagiy’s cause. Both have lost someone they loved, someone who they took desperate measures to try to get back.

END OF POTENTIAL SPOILERS

The point of this (other than letting me clear my thoughts by writing out the idea and reasoning through it) is that even when you have an outlandish rough draft that you may have trunked a long time ago, you might still find snippets of useful information that can breathe life into your story or make a plot work… without taking a really long roundabout way to fix it. (I am prone to daydreaming the roundabout ways to see if there’s anything useful in them).

And this is why I don’t delete anything. I just save it in a new document and move on. I never know when I might want to examine it again. Plus, if you’re writing a fantasy story, it’s kind of like finding a legend that gives you hints about what might have happened…

Okay, just looked at the original manuscript that has that story line. 134,000 words. Oiy. I always did tend to write on the long side.

I hope you enjoyed this post. 🙂 Have you ever salvaged anything for a story from an older story you wrote?

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Thoughts on Writing – Subplots and End Scenes

Isaac has finished writing the rough draft of Trials of Blood and Steel, and I’m about half-way through editing his draft (with plans to go back at the halfway point and start polishing, that way we can start releasing episodes), so Isaac is now working on the little segments that go at the end of each episode.

We’ve been calling these segments end caps (a cross between recap and end of the scene? I’m not sure how we started calling it this), but I realized that wasn’t the actual name for those scenes. Did a bit of research, and they aren’t exactly a post-credits scene/stinger (they don’t come after the “credits,” just at the end of the episode, and they aren’t a teaser, since they come at the end of the episode rather than at the beginning. They also aren’t finales or cappers or endgames, per Merriam-webster.com.

So… I’m still not sure what to call these segments.

For now I’ll call them end scenes (though even that isn’t technically correct, per this site).

Anyway, our goal is to have a small scene at the end of each episode which provides a bit of extra background without being required for the main plot. Preferably, it will be something that makes readers wonder what’s going to happen next, and how this scene will get tangled into the main story.

For example, this is one of the end scenes (Still semi-rough), which references a carrier pigeon that was set loose earlier that episode:

Miles into its flight, the pigeon reached the border of the northern Prussian forest. The bird flapped tirelessly, trained for such flights, though it planned to take a food-break once it reached the other side.

Or it would have had a break, if it had made it that far.

A pair of glowing gold eyes spotted the pigeon from the ground, waited until the bird was within range, then lifted its rifle, sighted the target, and fired.

The shot echoed across the trees, but due to a slight miscalculation in wind speed, the bullet only clipped the bird’s wing. The pigeon faltered, but it had been trained as an elite war bird. It compensated for its broken wing, angling its beak and tail feathers in its best attempt to direct its plummet away from its assailant. The wind coasted under its good wing, and the bird directed its dive into the thicker part of the nearby woods.

The marksman waited as the bird disappeared into the trees. Despite being ordered to retrieve the bird, it turned around on its spiny legs and began its trek back to camp. The bird had fallen into the Deep.

The Deep… even in the marksman’s strained memory… resonated with its core and sent a tingle of fear through its metallic body.

Despite being a small part of the woods, no one who entered the Deep ever came out.

The goal of this scene is to raise the stakes (an important message has now been delayed), to set up the strange, metallic marksmen (which will become a major foe later), and to do the first foreshadowing of the Deep (which our heroes will encounter very soon).

Technically speaking, this scene isn’t absolutely necessary to the main plot.

It does raise the stakes, but if we remove this from the story, the rest of the plot would still make sense, though we might lose some of the richness.

This is, effectively, a subplot.

One of the interesting things about watching Isaac add the end scenes after writing all of the other episodes is seeing how they effectively develop into a subplot (mostly detailing what the bad guys are up to).

Not only that, but the end scenes significantly boost the word count.

Something to keep in mind if you have a bare-bones story that you want to develop further–or need to increase the word count of–is that you can add subplots.

Are there any plot threads that readers might find interesting that add to the story?

On the other hand, if you need to reduce your word count, cutting a subplot may be the way to go, particularly if there’s a thread that slows things down rather than keeps the pace moving. (If you need a breather, a subplot may be a nice way to release tension).

The next decision Isaac and I need to make is whether to have these end scenes be a separate post of their own, so it’s clear that they don’t have to be read for the main story to make sense (though I certainly enjoy them), or whether to include them at the end of the episode, perhaps with a telling Meanwhile… to denote that these are something separate from the main story.

I hope you’ve found this post helpful. 🙂 Have any thoughts about subplots you’ve found to be effective or ineffective?

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Thoughts On Writing – Foreshadowing

I was talking to one of my beta-readers the other day and they got me thinking about foreshadowing. Foreshadowing is important to having a satisfying ending, especially if the reader doesn’t see that ending coming. Without foreshadowing, readers may feel confused and lost. That’s okay if that’s the effect you’re going for, but be warned, sharp turns, like on a really rough, old, wooden roller coaster (I’ll take the smooth metal ones, thank you), can leave a reader nauseated if they aren’t prepared.

For example, I once critiqued a short story which started out sounding like a pleasant memoir. Kind of happy-go-lucky scenes, but the story rambled. It lacked direction. A couple plot points seemed out of place with the tone of the rest of the story, but they still felt… normal. Then, out of nowhere, there was a rather graphic scene that scarred the character (and the unsuspecting reader). In all fairness, I don’t mind stories that have some graphic violence, but in this particular story, that scene came out of the blue. It wasn’t satisfying. Had the foreshadowing been stronger, I think the scene could have worked perfectly, but the author wasn’t inclined to make changes to the manuscript that would allow such foreshadowing to take place. Their story, their say, but that incident did get me to start thinking about how important foreshadowing is to a story’s plot.

Some foreshadowing happens intentionally. You leave clues for the reader to create an expectation about what’s to come. This can occur within a short scene, across a book, or across a series. You might see this in the form of a prophecy. An example of this can be seen in Lord of the Rings movie, when the leader of the ringwraiths tells Eowyn (who is concealed by her armor), “No man can kill me,” and she replies, “I am no man,” then proceeds to defeat him. Prophecies are ripe with foreshadowing, and my favorites are the ones that seem clear but have double-meanings. The Sight, by David Clement-Davies, also uses prophecy to foreshadow events, and then twists the prophecy’s meaning to have a different ending than expected. With foreshadowing, those twists are exciting, rather than confusing. Take a look at any Twilight Zone episode. These shows often take unexpected turns, but those endings were cleverly foreshadowed so that the viewer has an ‘ah-ha!’ moment. Suddenly all the puzzle pieces fall into place and the viewer understands.

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury also has several examples of foreshadowing. The story revolves around two twelve-year-old boys who discover a dark secret about the carnival that has come to their town. Throughout the book, the tone is dark, sinister, foreboding. Before the carnival arrives, we know a storm is coming because a lightning-rod salesman announces the coming of a storm and proceeds to gift the boys with a lightning-rod that has been adorned with various ancient, mystical symbols. But when the storm arrives, it’s not a lightning storm, as predicted, but the mysterious carnival with a dark, illustrated man and his tricks. The lightning-rod’s ancient symbols hint at the coming dark magic, and even (as the story later reveals) that the magic is ancient. Later in the story (Warning, spoilers ahead!), Will’s father (who has been foreshadowing the sinister purpose of the circus through his unease and concern) discovers that his laughter hurts the dust witch (who is absolutely creepy in her own right). Faced with the chance to confront her during a so-called ‘bullet trick,’ he carves a crescent moon into the bullet before firing. The crescent moon isn’t a moon, however, it’s a smile, and it kills her. (As a side note, the end of this book had me daydreaming an entertaining My Little Pony crossover where Pinkie Pie must face off with the Illustrated Pony…)

Foreshadowing allowed the ending to make sense, and for the reader to anticipate how the main characters would defeat the evil carnival. Readers keep reading in hopes of seeing if their theories prove true.

In a sense, foreshadowing is a shadow cast by the future. It can be a pale shadow, a single line or reference that hints at what’s to come. Or it can be a heavy shadow, a constant application of tone and mood and imagery. Characters may have suspicions (incorrect or not) about the future, which you can use to foreshadow events and to create lovely twists when the reader least expects them. Foreshadowing creates questions that entice a reader to keep turning pages. If you have a genre shift in your book, foreshadowing may be immensely important to keeping readers on board. Foreshadowing is a way to help readers suspend disbelief. Same with characters. If they’re going to need an obscure skill later to save the day, showing this early on, even in passing, allows the reader to believe in the character when the time comes.

Another kind of foreshadowing is the kind you don’t mean to add. Sometimes you write subtle hints into the story that you read later, which point at the outcome even though you didn’t realize you wrote them. There’s a line in Distant Horizon that stopped me cold after I’d written the rough draft of Glitch, a sequel in which one of the main characters dies rather horribly to save their friends. I remembered writing the line, but I hadn’t realized the potential impact it would have and how true it was. Granted, the line only has impact if you read Distant Horizon after Glitch, but it does provide a little bit of set-up for the character in question.

I also use foreshadowing heavily in The Little One, a prequel novel for the Distant Horizon series. Little One is a childlike spirit who has a number of chilling visions which eventually come to pass in one way or another. In several of the scenes (as they currently stand, since I still need to do edits), she references a rising sun. The rising sun is a reference to a symbol in the later stories, but, aside from being an Easter egg for readers, these scenes are meant to add to the story’s mood. The scenes start off lighter and become progressively darker. I’ve truncated a few scenes and edited them to make sense out of context:

First scene where the sun is referenced as foreshadowing…

 

One morning, Knight had gotten up early to use the restroom and found Little One staring out the window in her make-shift bedroom. Tiny rays of pink sunlight flickered across her face through the trees.

 

“It’s pretty,” she said absently.

 

He wandered around the foot of the bed and squeezed in beside her. The air conditioner tickled his feet from the floorboards, and early light twinkled across his eyes. He blinked. He hadn’t really watched the rising sun lately. Most the time he was sleeping. Or if he was headed to work, he was planning out his day. Not watching the sun slowly grow and ascend.

 

“It’s changing,” Little One said.

 

He glanced at her. “Yeah. It’s because of the earth’s spin and–”

 

“Not that. It’s different.”

 

He tried to tell if there was anything different from this sunrise than all the other sunrises he’d ever seen, but it looked the same as any other sunrise.

 

Little One shook her head. “It’s different. Just a little. Small. But it’s different.”

 

Knight twisted his lips. The kid seemed attuned to the subtle variances an adult couldn’t see, and he didn’t want to think about what those variances might be if she had insight for a power.

 

Later…

 

Knight sat down the drawings. There were images from Little One’s dreams, but there were other drawings, too. Swirling night skies and rising suns. And each time, Little One drew the sun just a little bit darker.

 

Later…

 

Hawk looked one more time at the drawing scribbled on his wall. On the far side, scribbled between the happy images of trees and squirrels, was a rising red sun, with five rays extending from it like spokes, but each cut off halfway through their usual extension.

 

Later… (One of Little One’s visions)

 

The poster was blurred to Little One. She paused, taking a second look. She couldn’t see it well, save for the red, rising sun of her usual vision. Then reality shifted. The normal colors downgraded, passing through a dark veil. The sun twisted and darkened, shrinking on itself until only five tiny rays remained, red as fresh-drawn blood. The buildings loomed and darkened, and the crowds thinned… as if a film had been placed over them, and the people raced and ran as flames consumed the new night, warping the street until the colors ran together and bled into one dull, monotonous grey.

 

Later… (near the end of the story, after a major battle scene)

 

Behind the city, like a crimson cog, the storm sun rose, its light sending spoke-like rays through the dark thunderheads, and basking the city in a bloody glow.

Note… that’s from the rough draft. I still need to go through and do edits.

There’s a lot of foreshadowing in The Little One for the entire Distant Horizon series. The Little One is a prequel, and the character has ‘insight,’ a power which lets her know more than she should, so it’s to be expected. Those scenes were a lot of fun to play with, and I wonder how different readers will read the various scenes…. especially depending on whether they read The Little One first or the other stories first.

Alternatively, let’s look at Magic’ Stealing. The antagonist has a lot of room for foreshadowing, but beta-readers have pointed out that the references seem odd and pulled them out from the story. There’s a reason those references seem odd, but I want the story to read smoothly, and as much as I don’t want to cut the references, I’m planning to do so (leaving the less obvious ones). Foreshadowing should serve the story, and in this case, beta-readers confirmed that I needed to try a lighter method.

I hope you enjoyed this post and found it helpful. What are your thoughts on foreshadowing? Have you read anything where the foreshadow did or didn’t work well? 🙂

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Thoughts on Writing – Pantsing vs Plotting

I recently went to ConQuest, a science fiction and fantasy convention in Kansas City. It was amazing, to say the least, given that I’ve been wanting to attend a writing convention for the last few years. (Plus, I got a couple of my favorite books signed by Brandon Sanderson, and he is an awesome panelist. Just throwing that out there). Anyway, one of the writing panels I attended suggested that, when it came to writing blog posts, to write about what you’re working on.

Of course, I try to post once a week with behind the scenes information about my book cover design work. I hope that the information is useful in multiple ways. First, it highlights the book. Nothing big, but it does promote the cover for the publisher and the author. Second, it highlights what I’m doing. Yes, I hope that potential clients will see the work I’ve done and decide to hire me later down the road. But third, I hope these posts provide useful information to authors who are considering self-publishing, whether they hire me, someone else, or do it themselves. I also hope the posts provide useful information to other cover designers who are looking for tips or tricks to improve their work. I’ve certainly found blogs with behind the scenes information about book cover design useful in my learning. So please, let me know if you have questions about the cover design process. I’d be happy to offer insight if I can.

That being said, I also do a lot of writing. Writing (and studying writing and publishing) is my passion. I love seeing the worlds and characters I explore. So I’m going to try the advice the panel offered and see if I can write the occasional post about what I’m working on or what I’m contemplating… my thoughts on writing in general. You may hear a lot about my story-writing progress, and maybe my theories on publishing. And I’d love to hear your input. What do you think about the topics I’m thinking about?

With that in mind, let’s jump into the first topic that got me thinking about writing a blog post. Plotting versus pantsing. A plotter is someone who plots out everything in advance. They may have outlines, they may have fully developed worlds, they may have every scene figured out in their head before they even write a single sentence. Pantsers are the opposite. They write “by the seat of their pants,” and outlines drive them nuts. They want to see where their characters take them, and explore the world as they go.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being either. Everyone’s writing style is different. But there’s a good chance you’ll be a little bit of both, maybe leaning one direction more-so than the other. Me? It depends on the story I’m writing. Some of my original stories were very much “pantsed.” I daydreamed the story in my head, but when I wrote the scenes, I let the characters go where they wanted to go (or where the scenery seemed interesting). When I started work on my Distant Horizon universe (which got me back into novel-writing after doing short stories for a while), it was plotted out. My husband (then fiance) created the world for a role-play game between the two of us, and about halfway through the campaign, I decided to log the adventures of my main character in the form of the novel. We continued developing that story, which has been through many rounds of edits and beta readers, and is currently being queried to agents.

Since then, I’ve written a few other stories in the Distant Horizon universe. Some were more plotted out than others. They each had a general outline, but I had a little more freedom with them to maneuver and explore. And even with Distant Horizon, I did quite a bit of exploration with it outside of the original game before I was finally happy with the story as a novel.

Then last year, for Camp NaNoWriMo , I decided to write The Messenger of Gaia, a science fiction space novel based on another role-play my husband and I played. Though the role-play game relied very little on actual dice rolls, the written story was heavily plotted. I had a heavy-duty synopsis/outline I worked from, and I wrote an even larger outline for the second book, since I realized it would be a while before I get the chance to write the rough draft for that particular novel.

Now I’m working on a story called The Wishing Blade. YA/NA fantasy, based on a rough draft I wrote in 2003. The original manuscript is… rough. We’ll go with that. But I’ve been wanting to rewrite it for a long time (tried several times, in fact. Got 10,000 words in on one rewrite, but I made it too heavily adult fantasy and took it in a completely different direction, which didn’t work. I also wrote a version of it as play for a playwrighting class… that particular version is terribly over-dramatic and cheesy), and I finally got the idea that if I worked on the manuscript from scene to scene, rewriting but sticking to the original premise, it might actually work. So far… it has. I’m about 45,000 words into the new version, and I’m enjoying it. In a sense, I’m being a plotter. I’ve got an “outline” (the original rough draft) that I’m following. However, I’m also being a pantser. I’m not sticking directly to the original story (which had a 200-year’s war worth of plot holes), and if I see something interesting… I’m running with it. I’ll write it, daydream it, and see where it takes me. In the long run, I’ll have a stronger novel.

Does that mean I’ll always straddle the pantsing/plotting line? Nah. It’ll just depend on the story I’m trying to tell.

Am I enjoying playing with different methods of writing? You bet.

I suspect that if you’re having a hard time writing something, you might want to try a different method of writing. Instead of trying to force a story to follow an outline, you might see where the story takes you when you let it run wild. (Sort of wild. You may need to reign it back in after a bit). If running wild is causing your story to go in circles, try stepping back and outlining. Do whatever works best for you.

Now, I have a main character who is currently plotting an assassination to attend to. I hope this post was useful, and please let me know what you think. 🙂

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“Research That Makes Good Fiction” – Guest Blog – Natascha N. Jaffa

We have a guest blogger with us today, Natascha N. Jaffa. Hopefully you’ll find her advice helpful, whether you’re considering trade publishing or self-publishing. 🙂

     

Natascha Jaffa dedicates her experience to helping writers grow through her editing firm, http://www.spjediting.com/, which she considers the best job in the world. When she isn’t editing, you can catch her snowboarding, rock climbing, or training for her first Ragnar Relay. She’s an active PRO member of Romance Writers of America, an editor for SoCal’s Mystery Writers of America chapter and is published in suspense and romance as Nichole Severn. Writers can find her on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

http://www.facebook.com/pages/SPJ-Editing/271063536289907

https://twitter.com/#!/SPJEditing

http://www.linkedin.com/pub/natascha-jaffa/50/258/98b

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“Research That Makes Good Fiction”

Natascha N. Jaffa

No matter what genre you write, accurate research pulls your readers into your story. Plotting, formatting, world-building and character research are just four items on a list of many that make your reader unable to put that book down.

Plotting research. A lot of writers write by the “seat of their pants” and that works for them. Others plan every detail of their work, following a close outline, but, no matter how you plot (or don’t), there is a basic guide to follow in fiction.

This includes A) introducing your reader to your character’s ordinary world, B) diving into adventure, C) accumulation of bad things happening, D) answering the call to adventure, E) gathering friends and allies, F) the point of no return G) things falling apart H) your crisis or “black moment”, I) resolution, and J) your happy ever after.

In all actuality, your plot should look something like this: 

 

Larry Brooks has an excellent book you may want to check out called Story Structure Demystified or you may want to look into Martha Alderson’s The Plot Whisperer for more info. Her site http://www.blockbusterplots.com/index.html has actual video of her lessons if you don’t want to read!

Formatting research. It’s a simple idea, but there is a lot of information to sift through in regards to what should be included in the header of your MS, where page numbers should start, the actual font of your MS, and what the title page should look like and include. Authors use their own formatting in a lot of cases, but that’s because they’re allowed to. They’ve become accustomed to what their editor is expecting. Therefore, we must research. Find a copy of Formatting and Submitting Your Manuscript by Chuck Sambuchino. It will answer those questions whether you’re submitting a short story, a full novel, or an article to an agent or editor. Remember, the more professional your MS looks, the more professional you look.

World-building research. I’ve read so many manuscripts, especially paranormal, in which the writer doesn’t take the time to actually build the world they’ve created in their book. Readers want to know an era’s/world’s clothing, language, mannerisms, government, architecture, atmosphere, customs/traditions, and culture. Nailing down the details is what keeps your reader engrossed in the story and believing they are right there with your character.

Regency is a huge in the market right now and it requires a lot of research. This means reading history books, watching films in which the era is correctly portrayed, finding other novels in the same time period as your book and learning new words. Unless you’ve done your research, readers will see exactly how much time you took to get it right.

A word of warning: world-building research can become addicting. Never research more than you need to write about or you’ll never finish the book!

Character research. Characters make the book. This is the reason readers will pick up yours, so make them believe your characters are real. This includes setting your character’s goal, motivation, and conflict and not just for your protagonist and antagonist. Every character has an agenda. This is what drives your plot. Tell the reader what, why and why not. A great resource I recommend for every fiction writer is Debra Dixon’s Goal, Motivation and Conflict. Her tips will make your character multi-layered and believable.

You also need to paint a picture of your characters for your readers. A lot of writers actually find a photo that best suits their purposes and refer to it often to keep their descriptions clear throughout the book.

You as the writer need to know your character inside and out. Their job, their likes, dislikes, relationships with family and friends, favorite foods and everything else you can think of. Some are a little easier than others to construct, but either way, it must be done. Maybe you have a protagonist who is a cop. The best way to learn about your character and step into their shoes is to interview a cop. Find out how that officer spends his day, how many years of training he had to go through before he was allowed on the force, what tests he had to take. When it comes to the simpler things, Leigh Michaels has a great list of questions to ask your character in her book On Writing Romance.

 

There is a similar warning here as with world-building research. Don’t get too into your interviews or studying. Learn just enough that you can confidently portray your characters to your readers and not have to stress about inaccurate details.

Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons, Carolyn Jewel’s historical romances and even Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series are all great examples of well-researched fiction. These authors have taken the time to get the details right in their plotting, formatting, world-building and character development, drawing readers into the story and not pushing them out by focusing on incorrect information.

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Well, there you have it! That’s all for today, but hopefully you found something useful. Thanks, Natasha, for joining in. 🙂

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