header('Cache-Control: max-age=259200'); Structure Archives – Kristen Koster
Jul 062012
 

This week for our How I Write series, my accountability group is talking about where we write. And I’m sure that the others are going to talk more about physical spaces and where they take their laptops and notebooks for field trips.

I’m going to tackle this topic from a slightly different angle. I haven’t found that going out in the world to a coffee shop, bookstore, library or other place really helps to shake things loose in my head, they provide distracting people to watch which are often much more interesting than what I’m writing! Yes, even with headphones. And I didn’t really want to show off messy pictures of my desk or some of the other spots around the house that I’ll settle into to write. Because for me, it’s not so much about the location, as if I have the right tools with me.

For brainstorming and very early exploration work on a project, I take pen and paper and usually end up spread out on the bed, scribbling madly. Once that’s done, I used to take it and try to make sense of it by organizing it into a spreadsheet in Excel or an outline in Word.

After that, I used to use Dropbox to keep the files on my desktop and my laptop synched up. But my process has changed slightly since I inherited my iPad 1 from DH who got the newest one this spring. It’s much lighter and more compact even than my Macbook Air and with Dropbox available on it, that took care of the synching issue.

Screenshot of Scrivener and my desktop writing space.

Scrivener allows me to SEE the structure and rearrange easily if needed. Love the Project target window as well.


That left me with the question of what app I was going to use to do the actual writing. I’d played a bit with Notes on my phone. Ick. But, I’d recently converted to using Scrivener on my desktop and LOVE IT! The only problem is that there isn’t a version for iOS, yet.

Screenshot of IndexCard app for iPad.

Virtual Index Cards: Don’t Leave Home Without Them!

In the meantime, I found a workaround using IndexCard which is an iPad app mostly used for screenwriting and has some of the same fundamental features. It’s holding me until Scrivener completes their app.

But what this really means is that I’m no longer tied to my desktop or laptop. I am much less reluctant to drag my iPad along with me where ever we go — out to eat (IHOP, Red Robin, Applebees, TGIFriday’s), on appointments (various doctor’s offices, the eye doctor’s), etc have all become my writing spaces as well as many more locations around the house. Somehow, the iPad isn’t as isolating to use as my laptop when we sit around the TV in the evenings and I’m not captured by the show. I can also quickly drop in and out of the current “card” and not have to worry about screwing up the pristine copy.

I just have to make sure the synching is correct. You do have to do a bit more manual synching with IndexCard, but the freedom is worth it right now.

So… for me it’s not just WHERE DO I WRITE, but more HOW I WRITE when I’m there that’s important to keeping the words flowing and the creativity bubbling.


YOUR TURN: Does a change of scenery help your creative pursuits? Where are your favorite places to work? What helps you focus and keeps you motivated to finish a project?

And if you’d like to read what the rest of my accountability group thinks about mixing up their writing venues, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Kimberly Farris * Danie Ford * Emma G. Delaney

Apr 132012
 
Photo of an old foundation at Harper's Ferry, WVa.

I like lots of layers for a strong foundation.

This week for our How I Write series, my accountability group asked, “Share at least 3 things you like or admire about each of your main characters. Share at least 3 things you like about your story.”

I’m going to focus on my reluctant duke’s story, Beneath His Touch.

Main Characters

  1. James never expected to be the Duke, but he’s trying, for the sake of his family to do things correctly. He can admit he’s not prepared for the role and needs help. Just how much help, I don’t think he’s quite realized. He also has a quiet sense of humor about him that I just love.
  2. Tabitha is trying to save her brother from himself. She’s always been there to clean up his messes and she worries she will always be there, because at this rate, he’s never going to marry and will need someone to take care of him. In many ways, she’s fearless. She’s not afraid to ask for what she wants or needs, even though she may think she’s nervous about doing so at the time. She’s already decided what steps need to be taken and does them.
  3. Ambrose was a fun character to write. He’s over the top in so many ways, but I think we’ve all known someone similar. Rude, crude and totally wrapped up in themselves.

About the Story

  1. Lots of layers.This is one of the things I both love and hate about this story. There’s so much going on, I have trouble juggling it all. However, this is exactly the kind of story I love to read.
  2. Focus on partnerships. Neither the hero nor the heroine can function at their best on their own. They need the skills, perspective, and experience of the other in order to achieve the best possible outcomes. They balance one another in so many ways. Again, the kind of story I like to read. The hero might come across at first as an arrogant jerk, but as we get to know him better along with the heroine, we know that’s not the real man.
  3. First impressions aren’t everything. Both the hero and the heroine misread each other when they first meet, providing a large source of the tension between them. Getting past these first impressions isn’t the only conflict, but it’s one of the things I like about the story.

YOUR TURN: What are the three things you like best about your current creative endeavor?

And if you’d like to read about how the rest of my accountability group answered, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Kimberly Farris *
* Angeleque Ford * Danie Ford * Emma G. Delaney

Dec 232011
 

Last week, our How I Write series laid out our writer’s toolkit and resources. This week we were asked, “Which books that you’ve read this year would you put into a time capsule for 2011?” It’s funny how you can almost tell who picked the questions each week by how whimsical or practical they are. This week’s question was put on the list by Alexia, but I picked it.

I read a wide variety of books. Our house is filled with Science Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery, Romance, Non-fiction, and even numerous collections of poems and literary short stories. Oh and comic books. I don’t just mean graphic novels, I mean individual issues as well as collected editions. Yes, many of those are not mine, but I’m often just looking for something different to read.

I wish I had kept up with keeping my reading list current in GoodReads, but I’m going to make an effort to do so again this coming year.

In reverse amazon purchase order, here’s my top 9 books for 2011:

The Black Hawk by Joanna Bourne
I love the way Joanna Bourne uses language. That shouldn’t be a secret by now. Adrian’s story was one I eagerly awaited and while it wasn’t what I was expecting at all, in no way did it disappoint. In addition to her command of language in general, she also uses it in such a way that her characters are expertly drawn and brought to life with their very own voices.
Pure Red by Danielle Joseph
I read a lot of YA, mostly to know what my daughter’s reading, but also to scout out great books for her to read. This one caught my eye because it tackles the topic of searching for your passion. An excellent read for anyone on this journey of self-discovery, I can only wish it’d been around when I was my daughter’s age.
A Night to Surrender by Tessa Dare
This is the first book in The Spindle Cove series and it packs a wonderful sense of humor and also addresses some serious topics at the same time. I fell in love with the main characters, but also several of the secondary characters. If you haven’t read the companion novella for this series: Once Upon a Winter’s Eve, You’ll want to go grab a copy and settle in for a cozy winter’s night read.
We Are Not Alone by Kristen Lamb
This book is a must read for the person who isn’t technically savvy or is new to social media. I sent a copy to my father-in-law, it was so useful. I’m still working on fixing a couple of mistakes Lamb pointed out from learning the hard way, first hand experience. Great advice, very personably and entertaining voice, and a great sense of cheering you on in your efforts. Lamb also encourages people to use the #MYWANA hashtag on twitter for additional conversations with others in the same boat.
Thief of Hope by Cindy Young-Turner
One of my friends from college published her first book this year. She had me at “thief”. But you add in a fantasy world with an interesting magic and political atmopshere, and you’ve got a fantastic read.
Texas Gothic by Rosemary Clement-Moore
Yep, more YA. I know want to go read more about the other Goodnight witches. Paranormal with lots of wit and real life dilemmas for the characters. I have yet to read a book by Clement-Moore that I didn’t love.
Too Hot to Touch by Louisa Edwards
If you love food and you love steamy romances, you need to indulge yourself with the richness of Louisa Edwards’ culinary explorations. She’s earned her kitchen credentials and is a bona fide foodie and it shows in her books.
Story Engineering by Larry Brooks
I love Larry Brook’s website Story Fix Lots of practical information for this theoretical plotter. I’m not sure I’d recommend it for pantsers, but if you’re interested in what makes a story work, this is a great read.
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
I was on a big kick last year with Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and The Art of War for Writers: Fiction Writing Strategies, Tactics, and Exercises by James Scott Bell, so this one by Pressfield was a natural follow-up. Learning to be an artist is definitely a lot different than strictly practical professions such as business and economics. You may need some of those skills, as well as many more today, as artists are no longer relegated to garrets or ivory towers.

YOUR TURN: What books would you put in a time capsule for this year?

If you’d like to see what’s in my friends’ time capsules, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Kimberly Farris *
* Danie Ford * Emma G. Delaney * Angeleque Ford *

Dec 022011
 

Last week, we talked about How We’d Spend A Day With One of Our Characters, but this week’s entry in our How I Write series, takes a closer look at our planning process. So, since we’re all writers, we’re focusing on plotting, which inevitably leads to the question: Plotter vs Pantser or some weird mix?

Plotting Via Spreadsheets

Hi. My name is Kristen and I’m a spreadsheet addict.

There. I said it. Now, I love me some colored index cards and other office supplies, too. They have their uses, but they also get scattered and lost. I’ve also been known to scribble mind-maps and notes on loose paper, but I do much better if when I’m satisfied with the basics, I transfer everything into Word or Excel. Sometimes both.

I also have a love of puzzles that captured my attention in my college economics courses and led me to double major in it alongside business administration. You probably think I LOVED my accounting classes too, but you’d be wrong. There’s a huge gap between intriguing puzzles and busy work. I see plots more as complex puzzles that I haven’t quite worked out the rules behind.

I’ve looked at many different plotting methods to build my outlines, Snowflake Method, 3-Act Structure, Save The Cat, The Blob, Hero’s Journey, Emotional Structure, Billy Mernit’s 7 Steps of Romantic Comedy. You name it, I’ve probably tried it. Even on the same manuscript.

You see, I also have another problem. I over think things. Yes, I can admit it, but that’s easier than avoiding doing so. I like to look at things from different angles. I want to make sure what I’m building will make sense when it’s complete. I like looking at things through different lenses and not just for photography. This is why I don’t think I could pants a story to save my life. It only takes me so far and I’ve lost sight of where I was going and end up circling in confusion and walk away from it.

With spreadsheets, you can keep all your thoughts and notes in one place. Using different worksheets in the same file or even different columns on the same one, you can apply different lenses (plotting methods) to the same plot outline. Is it effective? I don’t know. I think it works for me in the long run. I think of and see different things as I approach the problem from different angles. Does it help keep me on track and get the project finished? Probably not, but it does help me explore and think about the story and the characters so I know them before I sit down to work.

Linear vs Non-Linear Writing

If you’ve read any of my previous posts on writing or plotting, you know I strongly believe I need a road map to get from the beginning of a story through to “The End”. I may sound like an extreme plotter who plans everything down to the most miniscule detail, but I really do enjoy having my characters surprise me along the way.

I could never write out of order because of that though. Things change wildly enough sometimes without jumbling things out of order and requiring major surgery to stitch everything into place before it can be considered done.

One of the methods I found and liked, but which drives my DH insane when I mention it, is called a Phase Outline. It’s a very detailed outline, where you describe what needs to happen on each page in a line or two. “Why write the story twice,” he asks. It doesn’t feel that way to me. I try to leave it lose enough that the characters can move outside the confines of the box and become who they need to be, but it’s still structured enough that I’m comfortable in knowing where we’re all going, and that we’ll get there on the right page.

Escape From the Box

So, you probably now have an image of me as a control freak. You wouldn’t be wrong.

You might also picture me as indecisive, insecure and unable to commit to a single method and stick with it. I prefer to think of it as thorough, but you might have something there.

So, how do I know when I have a plot that I can work with? Gooooood question. Sometimes it takes working through it and see if the pieces fit together.

Wait?! Didn’t I just say that was the exact opposite of how I saw my self working? Probably, but I’ve found that when my characters surprise me by doing something that’s not planned, it’s better for the story. I know a lot of pantsers say they run everything through in their head several times before committing it to paper. I suspect many hardcore plotters do the same thing, they just commit all their iterations to paper along the way.

As far as knowing when something’s ready to go out into the world? It should resemble the working outline, but doens’t have to exactly. The highlights of the journey must be hit, and I often can’t see that for all the details along the way. Once I have a draft or two on a manuscript, it has to be sent to a couple of readers to see if I managed to get the story in my head onto the page.

I’ve only reached that point with one manuscript and only sent that to one agent because my confidence having done that isn’t as high as I’d like it to be. That’s definitely one of my goals for next year. Deconstructing the puzzle and putting it back together again. Each iteration gets better, but I fear I’ve left a string of characters still trapped in their boxes along the way.

I’m determined not to sit complacently with them though, I will find my way out of this self-made maze.


When I first conceived of this post, I had the idea of a mime trapped in a box, which was really a cell in an excel file. But this morning as I got thinking about taking my laptop with me on a field trip to the car dealership, I was thinking how similar it was to the portable writing desks people carried (lugged?) with them during the Regency Era. So, as a special treat, here’s a photo of one. I think I’ll keep my laptop with Word and Excel for everyday use, but one of these to go with my antique lady’s secretary would be nice too.

A Regency era mahogany and inlaid writing box, circa 1810.

A Regency Tunbridgeware mahogany and inlaid writing box by Dunnett's of London, circa 1810. The cover inset with a painted panel of Venus and Cupid, the border of chequered form, the compartmented interior with green paper lining and label inscribed 'Dunnetts Toy & Tunbridge Ware REPOSITORY No.3 Cheapside, London' 14 in. (36 cm.) wide


YOUR TURN: Are you a macro or micro manager? Do you plan everything down to the most minute details or do you get a vague idea in your head and take off running? Do unfinished projects haunt you? How do you know when your project is complete?

And if you’d like to read about deal with plotting and knowing when a manuscript is ready to go out, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Kimberly Farris *
* Danie Ford * Emma G. Delaney * Angeleque Ford *

Jan 112010
 

Writing as Craft IconJust like we need a bit of structure in our lives in order to thrive and stretch our selves to reach our goals, our writing needs a bit of structure to it. This helps keep the story coherent and cohesive and helps it resonate with the reader. I’m sure there are experimental constructions out there where upon first glance it makes no sense at all and as a reader you can’t make heads or tales of it, until you learn the structure and suddenly everything clicks and makes sense.

Now, structure isn’t the same as plot, nor is it the same as a formula.

When people talk about stories, books, tv shows and movies as being formulaic, they don’t necessarily mean their structure is boring and worn out. Usually they mean their plot is tired and so well-worn, there are no surprises for us.

However, people have been telling each other stories for millenia. Some jaded folks claim there are no new stories or ideas. But we’ve seen numerous stories told where the structure is repeated time and time again. Why? Because it works with a wide variety of plots and people are comforted and satisfied by the familiar. Indeed many of the same basic plot lines have been retold with new characters throughout the ages.

The most familiar form is probably the three Act Structure as described by Aristotle in his Poetics. It can be found from ancient Greek plays to numerous books and movies of today.

Aristotlean Play Structure

Structure: Exposition->Rising Action->Climax->Falling Action->Denoument

  1. Exposition
  2. Rising Action
  3. Climax
  4. Falling Action
  5. Denouement/Resolution

This system will look very familiar if you graph it like Gustav Freytag did at the right when he analyzed ancient Greek and Shakespearean dramas.

Many people are interested in how novels and screenplays are organized and each have their own perception of how it works best and why. Some look at it from the angle of characterization and the emotional stories of those characters. Others have likened it to a journey that the character takes and the steps involved to propel the character on his journey and the adventures and trials experienced and his glorious return as a hero. here’s even a twist on this for the heroine’s journey. Yet there are others yet who are more plot-oriented with some delving into what motivates the characters to make the decisions that they do during the course of the plot.

Popular Takes on Structuring A Novel or Screenplay

  • Traditional Three Act or 5-Part Structure
  • Christopher Vogler’s Hero’s Journey
  • Peter Dunne’s Emotional Structure
  • Debra Dixon’s Goal/Motivation/Conflict
  • Michael Hauge’s Six Stages
  • Kara Lennox’s breakdown for a 400-page novel
  • Billy Mernit’s Seven Steps for Romantic Comedies

I’ll be looking closer at these in the coming months, but I don’t think most of them are really completely different structures so much as various lenses with which to analyze a story or alternate sets of questions to ask yourself as you go about building your story.

Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser will determine your level of comfort and need for outlines, but I’m sure you’ll still find yourself asking these same types of questions that will affect your structure at one point or another, either before your first draft or as you try to assemble a later draft into a coherent story.

 

Which type of structure comes naturally for you? Have you ever used some other type of structure? Diary, Framed Flashack, Family Saga, or something else?

Jul 072008
 
Compromise isn't easy!

Compromise isn’t easy!

It’s time to talk and think about conflict again. I just noticed the last time I touched on this topic was March. I should have paid more attention to it then and maybe I wouldn’t be such a tight corner now.

The craft books keep hammering on how you need to have conflict to make your characters work for their goals. Nothing can come too easily for them or it’s just not believable. That’s exactly where I’m stuck. I’m in the last third of FQD and everything’s just falling into place and it’s just not interesting. If I’m not interested, there’s no way anyone else is going to be. I was telling Andi, I’ve got all these loose ends to tie up and she asked if it was really necessary. Well, yeah, if it’s a romance, they have to get together. That’s a pretty big loose end to be flopping in the breeze. There’s lots of smaller things too, like why the heroine was off at this house party in the first place. What if she gets home and her father could care less if she brought what she thought was this big prize for him back home with her? Arrrgh.

Methinks something seriously went awry in the planning of this one. I looked back at my early posts and they focus on the hero. Somehow my working outline only brings through the heroine’s story. What’s REALLY annoying is that this is the same thing that happened with Revealed. I started out with the hero in mind and whoosh, everything ended up flipped upside down on the heroine’s side.

I suspect this happens because in both cases I had an idea of the hero in my head and absolutely none of the heroines when I started working on these stories. Thinking I was in good shape with the heroes, I neglected them to concentrate on what made the heroines interesting both to me and the heroes. Yeah, good, but that’s only HALF the equation. In both cases, there’s very little conflict between the main characters. They’re both on the same side. There’s very little tension either and there’s definitely nothing keeping them apart. There’s nothing grand and passionate or filled with sacrifice or even really a question in anyone’s mind as to why these characters have to work through anything in the end.

Andi’s challenge brought up some interesting ideas for the main character in FQD, but I’m going to have to go back and restructure everything again. I guess it’s a good thing that I’m not satisfied with these two as they are and I want to go back and fix them instead of just abandoning them as would have happened by now in the past.

So what I need to do is come up with some good ways to put my heroes and heroines on a chair like the one pictured. Make it so no one is satisfied and on solid ground until the very end. I think I’m going to have to revisit Leigh Michael’s book again. I’m also going to have to take my time building those conflicts and tensions into the story and not just hope a basic situation is enough. The more facets they have that exist in contrast, the more interesting it will be for me (and the reader) to untangle the knot while still getting them to their Happily Ever After.

Thanks for putting up with me thinking out loud again. 🙂

Mar 012008
 

I hate the ones like on the SAT where they’re not much more than busy work.

You know. Lots of irrelevant information thrown at you about what the weather was like when Mrs. So-n-So’s 3rd grade class went to this specific zoo and saw a group of monkeys, so many males and so many females all eating fruit with even more irrelevant details thrown in. Then you’re supposed to figure out which monkey’s name, their favorite fruit and where they liked to eat it by the set of clues about their likes and dislikes.

They always involve setting up a table and filling in the blanks given the information in the clues. I hate when the kids bring these types of problems home because they refuse to see the pattern and get stuck in the irrelevant details. It’s all about focus, pattern matching and sifting through the information given to find the useful nuggets.

I feel like I’ve been working on a giant one of these this week. I’ve got a list of 22 scenes (so far) with various columns regarding what should be happening in each one. I’m not sure I have it slimmed down to the relevant info yet, but it’s coming along and seems to flow from one to the next.

The trickiest part has been stepping back and looking at each scene as a collection of beats like in a screenplay and making sure the final action leads to the next scene while at the same time making sure the scenes also progress through a story arc and also allow the hero and heroine to make their romance work. I suspect this one might fall under “with romantic elements” but I think that can be shifted a bit more to the 75% romance instead of 67% that it’s currently at.

Did I mention that I have trouble thinking short and simple?

I have all but the last 5 scenes sketched out. I think I still need to go back and look through them for how the characters are feeling at these points in the story, but once the timeline and what needs to happen is set out, I can get down to the business of writing this thing down.

I’ve tried to stick with a plotline that would be similar to the type I’d done for the game, and it’s interesting to see the parallels as well as where the way I think about it has to diverge from tried and true patterns. I actually have to go through the process of “playing through the quest” and figuring out what makes it interesting to watch from the outside instead of just experience on a personal level. Screw-ups are only interesting if they teach the hero something useful about himself that will eventually affect his overall success.

I still have doubts about the saleability of this idea, but I’m not going to worry about that for now. First, I have to get the first draft down.

I did find an interesting article over on Michelle Willingham’s site about how someone can go from hate to love in 11 steps. Definitely something I’ve seen repeatedly in my reading, but never really thought about as outline points.

So, what do you compare your writing process to? What have you experienced “Aha!” moments over?

Feb 262008
 

So, I’ve been fiddling with a new idea to go with this game-like approach I’ve been thinking about (I haven’t forgotten, Jodi!) while being offline most of last week to spend time with my mom, her friend, and the kids who were out of school.

I found a great resource Folktexts where they have collected a ton of Folklore and Mythology Electronic Texts. I spent a lot of time looking at folktales Wikipedia as well. The English Wiz site also has a very cool section on The Etymology of First Names.

So… I decided I wanted to try to write something around “The Flower Queen’s Daughter”. I don’t know how it’ll turn out, but it’ll be an interesting excercise. DH said it sounded long, but that was probably just my mangling of telling him too many details along the way.

So, yesterday while the kids were in martial arts class, I sat down with my clipboard and started planning. I’ve gone over the story several times to get a feel for what all needs to be included, but beyond the plot sequence, I hadn’t done much else with it yet.

If I was truly going to turn this into a section for a game, I’d need to go into much more detail in mapping out where all the different settings were located and deciding what connected them together that could be interesting or at the least useful. Instead, I came up with 8 locations that can be used and reused during the story.

The Flower Queen’s House
The Hero’s House (more likely his father’s)
The Ditch along the Road
The Road where he’s searching (generalized location here)
The Dragon’s House
Salon/Receiving room
Ball Room
Stables
Meadow
Garden

The characters required seems a large and unwieldy list just now. And they’re not going to be literal representations of how they’re referred to in the book. I was thinking of having the animals/flowers/etc represented in their coats of arms/crests and let it be more metaphorical.

Hero – Alexander
Heroine – Anthea
The Flower Queen/Gyspy — Flora, I’m conflating these two characters
The Dragon Mother — Rosalind
King of Eagles — Arnold
King of Foxes — Todd
King of Fishes — Dylan, Marvin, Morgan, or Meredith
The Dragon’s brothers —
The Dragon — Drake
Hero’s Father —

There are also some items that play roles in the story that will need to be mentioned: a bell, a mare and her foal, and three cloaks (copper, silver, and golden).

I’ve already worked out which characters/items/locations are needed for which of the 16 plot points I pulled directly from the synopsis so far. My next plan is to take those note cards and write Dunne’s Story points on the reverse. I think I’ll also need a few more scenes so that this isn’t completely in the hero’s POV. The heroine needs some reason why she’s just going to waltz off with a man she barely knows instead of staying in what appears to be a cushy place.

So my next step is to lay out the plot points on my handy plot diagram and see where they fall and where I still need answers and ideas.

Jan 282008
 

I’m stuffing the rewrite of Revealed back into a “drawer” again. I want to wait until a couple people have read it and commented more thoroughly on it before tearing it apart again and just sitting here second-guessing myself. I still don’t have a lot of ideas on how I’m going to fix the hero’s arc, but instead of beating my head against that wall, I decided to do something proactive.

I’m going back to the previous WIP where the pesky fellow was only a secondary character. I’ve been taking my spreadsheet that I based on the diagrams in Dunne’s Emotional Structure and Vogler’s Writer’s Journey. I’ve added a lot of notes to it from various other sources as well, and I hope I have something I can work with to guide my thinking into a workable and interesting story.

The main problem is that I have 25k words written in this WIP already. Trying to determine if the already written scenes need to stay or just move is giving me a headache. I suspect I’m also having similar issues with the GMC of the characters not being defined well enough to propel the plot along in a meaningful fashion.

I’ve also been chasing down a lot of rabbit trails lately. I’ve found a lot of interest in the world of screenwriting. Setups and payoffs, ideas about laying out things to fix in the characters life to make the story pay off, and generally more information to take up space in my brain. I hope they’re worth it as I have been trying to think about how these little tidbits relate to the stories I’m trying to tell.

This new/old WIP has an external conflict that the H/h should be working to resolve, but it’s not gelling very well with the emotional story arcs that they also need to follow. His lack of responsibility and her overdeveloped sense of protecting her brother are nice opposites. He’s being forced to be respectable and she only sees the worst in his little vices (which compared to the examples that her father and brother have provided her of wastrels are rather pathetic).

So far, I think I have the opening worked out for both the hero and the heroine and the middle worked out for the hero. Her middle is a bit more muddled in my head. And about all I know of the ending for either of them is that the external threat is defeated and they have their Happily Ever After.

I also need to write up reviews for two books I managed to finish recently. I’ll try to get those done sometime here in the near future.

Jan 232008
 

I find myself rather annoyed with Hugh Daniel Leighton, Viscount Barrington.

Last fall, he whispered sweet seductions in my ear like the practiced rake he was, urging me to tell his story. So I abandoned the ms where he’d been a secondary character and found him a nice girl with a few quirks of her own.

Was the wretch grateful in the least? No! Every time he was on stage, he wanted off again. He hadn’t struck me as the shy nor reluctant type. Maybe this was he way of pulling a joke on me. He’s rather fond of getting attention that way, always trying to make someone laugh.

Everything I thought I knew about him, as a secondary character, also seemed to disappear during the month of November. His feisty, dragon of a grandmother, POOF! Billiard games with his best friend and wagering on them with reciting bad poetry as the forfeit, POOF! The sneaky debutantes who were trying to lure him into the parson’s mousetrap, POOF! About all that remained were his name and the fact that he was a charmer, who liked to play jokes (a recent development).

Ok. A bit more than that remained, but re-reading the ms revealed huge, gaping holes where his side of the story should be. Like the original 2400 word draft, there are clues and vague hints at goals and motivation, but nothing concrete or developed. His character arc seems to be missing. There was too much focus centered on the heroine and her story. DH’s biggest complaint is still that Barrington hasn’t earned anything along the way, it just happens to him.

So I complained about this troublesome hero previously and Jodi suggested reading Creating Unforgettable Characters by Linda Seger. The book had a lot of common sense advice. It’s not a workbook/worksheet type of book. I’ve looked at those types of character sheets before and gone, ‘Uh, yeah, but most of this is too modern pop-pysch for someone who lived 200 years ago!” What I ought to do is just start writing in his POV and see what happens. I’ve done some work on his GMC. Goal and Motivation, check. Conflict, hazy at best.

Last night I came across some old notes for the story where he’d been the secondary and I had one of those ‘Aha!’ moments. I’d worked out three separate story arcs with creating conflict through the gaps in each characters expectations. I’d ignored that little exercise for this one. No clue why, probably too excited about exploring Dunne’s structure at the time. So that’s also on my to do list.

Seger’s approach includes defining the character through consistencies and paradoxes. Ok, skipped that big-time for him. There are hints, but I need to expand on them and nurture them into something meaningful.

I need to go back and look at their relationship again as well. In those old notes I found the following quote: Dilemmas: mutually exclusive goods or lesser of two evils. Whoa! *head smack* How is it I can think I’ve learned something and then space it so completely, so soon? There’s very little conflict on his side of the relationship right now. He’s pretty clueless about the whole thing and seems to just go along for the ride for no real reason. He cares, but he’s been rather bashful about admitting why.

Learning more about the editing process beyond the word/sentence level helped none of these issues only compounded them. So, how about all those scenes? Didn’t I spend a month last fall dissecting scenes? Didn’t I think about the purpose of each scene, what the characters in the scenes might want to accomplish and how they’d go about creating that conflict necessary to keep the interest and tension going? Didn’t I have a nice little format for thinking about this already worked out? Uhh… no. Apparently, the panic of 1,667 words a day with very little preparation sent all thoughts of that approach right out the window.

Keeping forward momentum in multiple story arcs is exponentially harder than just one.

Sometimes I think I’m cramming too much into my brain. Getting everything to gel together into a coherent and working mindset is proving difficult. I’ve got a lot of habits to break too. He verbed/She verbed is still my favorite sentence construction. One interesting comment that DH was regarding how often my word choice wasn’t quite the most effective one to show what I wanted.

Back to the story board…

Oh, and blame Dana Belfry for the length of this post because she called me a blog slacker. Sometimes stuff has to percolate in the grey matter for a while.