Jan 13

Plot Cards Finished

85 scenes in 15 chapters. That is subject to change without notice. I suspect the finished book will wind up with somewhere around 90-95 scenes.

Next up is to adjust Version 2 to reflect the scenes that are gone. That will significantly reduce word count, but give me a good foundation for moving on into the actual rewrite.

Aside from the timeline problems, I also identified and fixed (I hope) some other inconsistencies. I don’t think I have one person in two places at the same time or any more long stertches of time unaccounted for.

Each step completed cinches my excitement up a little bit more. I can do this. I will do this.

Dec 22

Scene Cards Done

I’m just way too excited about getting into the rewrite on Washed in the Blood. I guess that’s a natural outgrowth of finally getting a draft finished.

I had originally planned to wait until after January 1st to do my line-for-scene cards, but I just couldn’t. Since I observe the Winter Solstice as the actual turning of the new year, I decided to dive in.

I went ahead and did my cards this morning. 81 scenes in 11 chapters. Some of them are really short. Some of those actually by design.

Doing the cards made me aware of soem serious flaws in the design as well as in the plot logic of this novel. None of them are fatal, though. The next step along this path, upon which I will embark next week, will be a thorough read-through of the printed manuscript with copious marginal notes, some grammar correction (since I just can’t help it, I’m an anal-retentive former English major), and cards for the scenes I need to add.

I can already see that one chapter is going to have to be eviscerated. The left-over parts will probably be absorbed into the adjacent chapters, so I should wind up with something like 90-95 scenes in 10 chapters. As I embark on the actual rewriting sometime next month, I will have to also look at chapter structure. 10,000 word chapters may be too long. I just don’t know that yet.

Each step is progress, and the positive progress is a big help in fighting the mid-winter darkness this year.

Nov 26

Outlines, Outlines, and More Outlines

Thursday – 350 words
Friday – 190 words
Saturday – Took a day off to think about a knotty plot problem
Sunday – 450 words
Today – 400 words

I can’t remember how many outlines I have made for this novel. From the time it was no more than an idea to today, nearing the end, I have made outlines and made outlines and made outlines. Paper, note cards, mind maps, I’ve made them all. In the end, though, the finishing product resembles all of them and follows none of them slavishly.

The problem, if you wish to call it that (I don’t), is that my mind works better when I’m writing than when I’m planning. The ideas and plot twists that force themselves out onto the screen as I write as far better than anything I can come up with in an outline.

So, the big question: were all those outlines wasted effort? A lot of wasted note cards, to be sure, but wasted effort not at all. All of those outlines gave me some vague hints about what I wanted to happen and how. They all helped clarify my thinking about the characters and the themes I am writing about. They all helped keep my mind focused on the important things: plot, character, and theme.

Other people, many of them much better and more accomplished writers than I, have commented that there is no such thing as wasted writing. I am coming to believe that more and more. Words matter. Words count.

Mar 10

Running From the Past

Started filling out John’s Character Development Worksheet today. Everything was going fine until I hit the question “What is the character’s greatest secret?” and its close relative “What does he fear would happen if his spouse ever found out?” Much pondering and musing ensued.

Our greatest secrets tend to also be the source of our greatest fears, which in turn fire our greatest motivations. This quite often happens in the secrecy of our own subconscious minds. John’s greatest secret engenders his greatest fear which is what drives him and keeps him so intensely involved in his work. He is running as hard as can, but he is soon going to find out that he can’t escape.

What is it that he’s running from? What drives him so hard? His past contains something so horrid, so evil that he won’t even admit it to himself. What is it? Thomas knows. I sometimes hear him late at night whispering in my ear, my own personal Hannibal Lecter. His soft, seductive voice and impeccable reasonableness pull me inexorably forward toward the edge of the Pit. He wants me to look in and see the things that hide in the shadows, gibbering and capering with gleeful insanity.

I asked the Tarot and it told me “King of Cups, Reversed”. A father or father-figure who is deceitful and untrustworthy. My mind immediately linked this up with “the sins of the fathers are visited on the sons unto the seventh generation”. When I put this together with the undercurrent theme of betrayal that is evolving, I ran into a big “Uh-oh”.

This is the part where I tend to back away and look for something more innocuous. I can’t do that. Writers establish a relationship with their readers. We have to gain our reader’s trust, their faith, if you will, that we will be honest with them. Unfortunately, I can’t be honest with my readers unless I’m honest with myself. They will know, and once that rust is broken, it is almost impossible to re-establish. No matter how much I want to keep looking “through a glass, darkly”, I must look, not into a mirror, but directly into my heart and soul with clear eyes and a firm resolve to face the monsters and bring them out into the light.

I consider myself a reasonably liberal free-thinker. I value honesty and candor. There are some subjects, however, that cause me to turn into a staunch, head-in-the-sand, denier of the truth. This is the kind of territory that I’m exploring right now. This is the scenario that keeps replaying itself in my mind:

John’s family consisted of him, his father, and his older sister. His mother had died while he was still an infant, and his sister, 7 at the time, had raised him. Though nobody talked about how his mother had died, his father, and therefore his entire family, was treated as pariah by the community. Some secrets will just have to remain hidden for now.

When John was 9, his sister, now 16, became pregnant. She confided in John that their father had been having sex with her regularly since she was 10 and that the baby was his. She then ran away deep into the mountains. A few months pass. John and his father have always been practically strangers, and his father had only barely tolerated his presence in the house. With Sarah now gone, their discomfort with each other grew, and John lived in fear that his father might hurt or even kill him in a drunken rage. What actually happened was even worse. His father came to his bed one night?

“Raise the stakes”, Maass says. Turn the screw. John and Maggie raised a daughter. She now has a five year old daughter. Children tend to follow in their parents’ footsteps, especially children of abusers. This is going to get ugly. Every now and then I have to ask myself why I do this to myself. Because I’m there? Because I’m square? Because I’m the closest thing to Heaven?never mind. Because I must.

Ugh. That kind of thing really makes me feel slimy. I served on a jury once on a case where a father was accused of molesting his 5 year old daughter. It still haunts me. It was a mistrial, by the way, so we didn’t have to decide. Whew!

“Father, if it be Thy will, let this cup pass from me?nevertheless, not my will, but Thine be done.”

On a side note: I have determined that John is a Leo and Maggie is a Cancer. Fire and Water, a volatile mix, to say the least. Deborah (new name is now official, for now) is an Air sign. Can you say “conflict”?

Another excellent plotting article

Again from PBW‘s list of plotting resources. Great stuff in there! This one is about using the Snowflake Process to develop your novel. Again, it doesn’t fit my style exactly, but it appeals to the librarian part of me that longs to bring order to chaos. The “voice crying in the wilderness” part. That champion of lost causes I referred to a while back.

Anyway this article uses a top-down approach. Find your premise. Expand it into a sentence. Expand the sentence into a paragraph. Take each sentence in the paragraph and use it as the starting point for its own paragraph, turn each paragraph into a page. Etc., etc., etc. Continuous refinement until you have what amounts to a 50-page detailed outline. He also does a line-per-scene using Excel. Intriguing to some extent, but I much prefer to keep that in a Word document.

Back in my former life, when I had a mind, I wrote computer programs this way. It’s a familiar technique, and one that will contribute something to my process, which is still evolving and probably will evolve forever. I’m glad to be reminded of it.


Due to some manual dyslexia, I munged the link to my WIP page yesterday. Maybe this one will work? Thanks for letting me know, Debra! If only the damned computer would do what I want instead of what I say. 🙂

Mar 09

Feet of Clay

In her list of Ten Things to Help With Novel Plotting, Paperback Writer has a link to this page. Thanks, PBW for a great resource list!

Jungian Novel Writing: a Mythological Approach to Story Telling: that’s an attractive concept for me. I believe that all story telling is mythmaking. Writers create and re-create our culture’s myths constantly. We dream, and we tell our dreams to others so they can learn to better understand the reality we share. I haven’t had a chance to explore the rest of this site yet, but it’s on my Favorites list.

Two things I wanted to say about this article in particular. First, it’s a great introduction to some basics of novel structure. I have read an awful lot over the years about the “story arc”, but this is the first time I’ve ever actually seen this concept illustrated. While I think this author’s approach is a little simplistic (hook, first plot point, mid-novel reversal, second plot point, resolution), he has given me something I can latch on to and use as a fundamental template while I’m feeling my way through the darkness of my first novel. He also stresses the concept of Premise very hard. By starting from a 3-word premise statement and working upward, I can keep the development and structure under control and maintain an overview of the story. I was working in a somewhat similar fashion already, so the validation helps.

Second, this article really points out the dangers in self-publication. Mr. Sheppard probably whould have proofread a little more carefully or asked a friend to proofread for him. The article is sprinkled with distracting statements like:

“Premise is the Rosette Stone for decoding the entire idea and getting it into the form of a novel.” Would that refer to the stone tablet unearthed by Napoleon’s army near Rosetta, Egypt?

“Any event that sticks in your mind does so for a reason, and that reason is that it means something to you. What, you may not quiet be able to verbalize, but it does.” As a librarian, I’m all for verbalizing quietly, but I don’t quite catch the drift here.

This is a very good introduction to novel plotting for rank amateurs such as myself, but a little bumpy to read.

Musical musings

While reading this article and the one on “The Four Point Plot Line”, also on Paperback Writer’s list, I was struck by the similarities between novel structure and the Classical 4-movement symphonic structure. I have long been fascinated by the similarities and differences between writing and music. This came about when I first read Godel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter. It is still one of my favorite books and an eternal gold mine of illumination and steak-and-potatoes food for thought.

Hofstadter mainly explored fugues and canons, and I have plans to write short stories in these forms at some point when I have the skill. “Fugue in the Key of Shadows” has been on my idea list for several years, now. One day, I’ll get up the nerve to start.

A parting shot from the distant past

“Goodnight, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are!”

I have no idea why that drifted up. I’m not sure I want to know.