Plotting by Pen

I’m a fairly hi-tech writer. Generally speaking I like to use my computer heavily for all-things writing. It’s a by-product of being a nerd; I use normal software (Scrivener, Word, OneNote) and my own programs and beefy spreadsheets to keep track of everything.

However there are also times when I break out ye old pen and paper and work through problems by sketching, writing, arrows and scribbles. I’m not sure why moving away from the keyboard helps my thoughts flow more freely but it is sometimes helpful.

As an example, I’m going to share a section of my novel Vengeance Will Come (available on Amazon). This post contains slight spoilers. Regent Danyel Abudra while frantically searching for his missing wife has a confrontation with a criminal kingpin named Zekkari.

If you can read my writing…

Originally my plan was to have Danyel kill Zekkari during an interrogation. This would begin a moral slide for Danyel who had always been a man of integrity. You can rescue your wife, but it’s going to cost you style plot device. This eventuality raised several questions of world-building and plausibility.

Would Danyel, as Regent of Tador, be held accountable for killing Zekkari? What are the laws surrounding the treatment of criminals who are yet to be found guilty? How much immunity from prosecution does a ruler have? What is the relationship and interaction between Tador’s laws and the planetary Regional Assembly judiciary?

More importantly, is it plausible, even under the significant duress of his wife being abducted that Danyel would kill Zekkari? The more I considered it the more I realised he couldn’t. Granted, if I saw someone harming my wife they’d find themselves in not-insignificant danger — but that is different to “I suspect you know something about my wife’s disappearance and you’d better tell me.” I just couldn’t see a cultured, intelligent person resorting to murder on such circumspect evidence. Perhaps of equal importance it didn’t fit who I wanted Danyel to be.

So initially, as the result of my pen etchings I decided that Danyel would accidentally kill Zekkari. An accident is far more plausible than intentional murder.

While my example in this picture is fairly clean it is not uncommon for me to have a half-dozen possible solutions and write the pros and cons of each approach down.

As it happens, that’s not exactly how the story plays out — but I did promise no spoilers…

Continuity: Examples from TV

My beautiful wife and I have just celebrated 11 years of marriage. Most of those years have been fantastic, even if there were challenges to overcome. Marriage is awesome when you both put in the effort to look after one another and keep the marriage healthy. It pays dividends like no other investment.

One of our traditions that has developed over the years is we like to celebrate our anniversary by completely relaxing. We buy the latest season of Law and Order SVU and NCIS and then binge watch over a weekend.

Today I’m going to blog about the observations I made on continuity watching both seasons. Continuity is important for all series, whether book or TV.

Continue reading

Big Budget Does Not Mean Good Story

With working some long hours, and over-taxing my body, I’ve spent more hours than normal in front of the TV in the last week. In hindsight, I realise it was time not well spent. Even though it was shows and movies I wanted to watch, I found most of them bland and uninspiring. Even high-cost productions lacked a good story line, leaving my overall impression at “bleh”. I moved from anticipating the new series through to just feeling obligated to finish it.

The one exception to this cacophony of lacklustre entertainment was the Marvel movie Doctor Strange. Spoiler alert: read no further. From a cinematic point of view it was too heavy on CGI for my liking, but in contrast to everything else it had a good story line, even if it was cliché.

Good: Doctor Strange played by Benedict Cumberbatch is a deeply-flawed egomaniac who wants to win at everything. He ends up defeating the bad guy by being willing to fail endlessly.

Bad: I’d have to say I didn’t believe the transformation. I didn’t see him changing over time, it was like someone flicked a switch and all of a sudden he’d changed. Not so much a character arc than a plot-required u-turn.

Good: Being willing to fail is something that most people can relate to, and for the perfectionist it is a hard thing to accept.

Bad: In hindsight, it was kind of a weak ‘fail’. I mean he was willing to loose in another galaxy, population 1.. There were no witnesses. It’s not like he was willing to admit his mistakes on international TV.

Good: There was some good humour to break up the action. (Marvel are good at this). Take for example this where his cloak has ideas of its own.

Bad: And then the super-cheesy, I-so-didn’t-see-that-coming from the monk who never laughs. (Guess what he does?)

There were other problems with it too, which I guess just shows how bad the others were. From now on, I’m reading, not watching TV when it’s the approach of bed time.

Today is the Day

I barely slept a wink all night.

The countdown is close to reaching zero on two separate events. One event is that today I mail off my submission packet for Vengeance Will Come to a publisher.

My very first submission. It feels like I’m breaking new ground. Or better yet, stepping out on the ice, hoping that it’s frozen enough to bear my weight.

To be honest, I’m fully expecting a template rejection letter. Thanks, but no thanks. It’s my first novel and I’m sure I have much to learn about writing. I could have moved on without attempting to publish this first book – but the project would never have felt complete otherwise. (I still have a few wrinkles to smooth out in the manuscript, but they are minor and I hope to be actually complete in two weeks).

And without attempting submission I would never have learned about writing a synopsis, which was both a pleasure and a pain.

Writing a synopsis is an art all of its own and different to a query (or “pitch”). It forces you to distil your entire manuscript down to the core ingredients. (Vengeance Will Come is 300 A4 pages and my synopsis was 7 pages). In complete contradiction to an author’s normal impulses you must outline all major plot points, plot twists and character arcs. You must lay bare your secrets in a summarised recounting, without making it sterile.

I found creating the synopsis helpful in how it articulated the character arcs. In future projects I’m going to write the synopsis in parallel to the manuscript.

Writing Stats Spreadsheet v1

Now available is the spreadsheet that I’ve been using to record my statistics for The Rebel Queen. (It’s free, which means use at your own risk, no liability accepted. Always back up your files :-)). Writing Stats Spreadsheet v1

While it’s highly probable that I’ll make improvements to it later, I don’t envision doing any work on it for the foreseeable future. The spreadsheet is designed to keep track of word count in both draft and revision versions of a story. The Excel spreadsheet contains the following worksheets:

Settings

There’s really not much to see here. You can enter the name of your writing project, and it checks that all of your scenes have a point-of-view character assigned.

Stats

As the name would suggest, it shows some basic stats about the writing project. One of the cool things that I’ve recently added is the concept of an “estimated reading time”.

While the estimated reading time is of less value here (whole book), the value comes out in the per-chapter analysis. My new-found opinion is that I want chapters ideally to be 15-20 minutes long, ideal length for a commute. (Though it strikes me as I write this; commutes vary).

Basic Stats

While the table on this worksheet could be deemed ‘information overload’, it is important to be able to monitor word count reduction at a scene-by-scene level. Also on the stats page is a way-too-small chart which shows chapter and scene comparisons between revision and draft.

Chapter Summaries

A more useful by-chapter view of the world: scene count, word count, estimated reading time and percentage change between revision and draft.

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Draft Scene Info and Revision1 Scene Info

These two worksheets are near identical. They both possess a table where you specify chapter number, scene number, a scene name, a point of view and the word count.

revision

(Ignore the bad scene names; I don’t want this to be a spoiler for The Rebel Queen). The scene names for the same scene must be the same in both draft and revision worksheets, but they can be in a different order (different chapter or scene numbers). Also, the revision worksheet can contain new scenes or absent scenes. (That’s what revision is all about). Filling out the Point of View is easy, with a drop-down list.

Characters

This worksheet contains a list, and summary of the characters who get a point of view in your story. (Non point-of-view characters aren’t included).

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Characters POV

This worksheet is also a recent addition, which also has the benefit of being aesthetically pleasing. I discussed this in a recent post on character balance.

Draft General Pkar POV

If you have any questions or problems using the spreadsheet, please add a comment below.

 

 

Describing Characters

I’ve written before that I am still finding my style when it comes to describing characters. (I previously panned Robert Jordan, and then realised I was mistaken and he was correct).

I’ve recently read Mirage by Clive Cussler with Jack Du Brul. (I’ve never known quite what to expect when ‘with’ is used. Is it truly a collaborative work, or is one author simply nodding through someone to use their name? Of course it could be different in each case). However that’s a tangent; whilst reading it I made special note of how the characters were described. Below are the samples I noted:

He wore prison blues, with a thinly padded jacket to ward off a little of the arctic air. At first, it looked as though he had tightly cropped dark hair, but, in fact, his head was perfectly shaved. It was the intricate design of interlacing tattoos covering his skull that made it look like he had hair. The tattoos continued around his throat and disappeared into the V of his prison shirt. He wasn’t necessarily a big man, but there was a feral intensity to his glacial blue eyes that made him seem dangerous. (page 4)

Having seen season 1 of Prison Break I can envision this.

Both of them were massive, standing at least six foot six, with hands like sledgehammers and biceps and chests that strained the fabric of their shirts. Also like the newly arrived prisoner, their necks were adorned with prison tattoos, though one had a strand of barbed wire inked across his forehead that denoted he’d been sentenced to life with no possibility of parole (page 5).

While the man ate like a near, drank like, well, like a Russian, and exercised every third leap year, he was still in pretty good shape for a man of fifty-five (page 15).

I appreciate both phrases “hands like sledgehammers” and “exercised every third leap year”. The first tells us form and function, the second is clever word-play.

Heavyset, with a florid complexion, a crescent of ginger hair ringing the back half of his skull, and a nose that had been broken enough times that he could have been mistaken for a professional boxer… (page 47).

Methuselah was a teenager compared to the man who trod out of the craft’s broad rear deck. He wore robes and a head scarf and leaned on a cane made of gnarled wood. Wisps of pure white hair coiled from under the scarf while the lower part of his face was covered in a beard befitting a fairy-tale wizard. (page 82).

Patronov was so fair-haired and pale-skinned that he almost appeared albino, and with an upturned nose that looked like the double barrels of a shotgun, he was considered porcine as well. His wet lips were overly large, and he had a cauliflower ear from his days as a boxer in the old Soviet naval academy.He wasn’t particularly tall, but had wide shoulders that sloped up to a bullet head that he kept trimmed in a half-inch buzz of pure white hair. (page 151, 152)

So on the character-description continuum Cussler definitely comes in longer-than-shorter. I also noticed that he also likes to describe clothing. I’m not kidding; the protagonist has more wardrobe changes than a stage performer (and they are all described). He does this I assume to show the character’s fashion sense and wealth.

The story is an action adventure which is fast paced and continual. It’s not my normal genre (although I have read a fair amount of them). On reflection I realise now that I never really thought about any character’s appearance beyond turning the page.

Perhaps in an epic fantasy, which is character-driven, the character’s appearance matters more than a plot-driven adventure where plot overshadows character? Just a thought, but it sounds right to me…

And then the other shoe drops…

Ever changed the plot and had it have unforeseen consequences later in the story? Well, now I have…

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Source: CoolClips.com

And as yet I don’t know how I’m going to solve the problem of my own making.

On another note I came across a story yesterday about Japan’s evaporating people. Reading stories like these help to broaden my mind beyond my own culture, which is never a bad thing when you’re trying to create your own cultures.