Plotting a New Novel

June has been crazy, with a series of ups and downs, along with a lot of changes. This week, I started a new job. Things are starting to settle down now, hence this blog post.

Normally, I don’t plot much, and when I did, I often didn’t follow the plot.  Until recently, I have been a panster. But the plot for East of Yesterday remained mostly intact, so I’m trying it again for the sequel. I started out with index cards, but when I realized I could do the exact same thing more effectively with Visio, I transferred the cards to Visio processes (using the Flowchart template), created some swimlanes for the POV characters, and took off.

SOYThreads

South of Yesterday is just a working title, but it works pretty well, because for the most part, the plot takes place even further in the past. Areas that are blocked together will probably end up in the same chapter. This is helping me estimate how long the book might be. I had all these characters converge in a major confrontation in what will probably be the early second half of the novel. I don’t know, however. It is hard to get a feel for the length.

In the past, whenever I outlined, it the act of outlining would sap some of my enthusiasm for the story. The reason for that, I think, was those outlines were too detailed. With this approach, I can only fit about fifteen characters in each of those boxes. This helps keep my outlines in the ideal state of sketchiness. I can’t wait to write these scenes, and that’s how it should be.

I’m finding it difficult to plot much further than that confrontation. I know what the villain is doing, and some of the shades-of-gray characters, but not everyone else. There is a doosey of a betrayal, and an even better rescue involving forgiveness and transformation on the part of both the rescuer and the rescuee. The plots for some of these characters may come to an end, with formerly-secondary characters jumping into starring roles.

This month of change has been good for this plotting process. Because I have been so busy with all this newness and all my obligations, I am forced to just let it sit. I occasionally open it up and add boxes when I have a flash of insight, as I did with my betrayal and subsequent rescue/forgiveness/transformation. But for the most part, it’s just percolating. Which is just what I think it needs.

Ready to Query East of Yesterday. Almost.

I started a blog post called “Ready to Synopsize East of Yesterday” but I never finished the post and now I am finished with both the synopsis and the query.

Part of the reason I made so many changes to the story in the last few months is that it proved impossible to synopsize. I have learned that the process of writing a synopsis will make evident every point in your story that sucks. Because you will find it impossible to write that part of the synopsis.

So I did some rewriting.

I generally enjoy writing synopses. I wrote a blog post and an infographic on the subject some time ago. Still, it took me two weeks to get a two-page synopsis that worked. I ended up writing three versions–one that was too detailed but had lots of voice, one that was concise but lacked voice, and a combination of the above. When I finished that, I went back to the query, but I only made a few tweaks to it because I liked it already. So I am ready. Now I need to come up with a querying strategy.

There are several agents who have read my full manuscripts in the past, and who might like this book, even though it is significantly different from anything else I have written. So they are my top choices. But the question is, do I query them first? The reason I ask this, is after one round of querying, I inevitably think of better ways to query/synopsize, and I revise everything and end up with a better query and synopsis.

On the other hand, one hears all the time that one should not put all one’s eggs in one’s basket. Plus, I think the query is damned good as it is. Any improvement I make, at this point, probably won’t be groundbreaking. Besides, none of the so-called improved queries and synopses ever ended up in a sale.

It has been a very long time since I have sent out a query. I have not queried anyone since before I sold The Sevenfold Spell. I really want an agent for this book, so I’ve been going through the old tools I used to use. AAR, AgentQuery and Publisher’s Marketplace still appear prominently in my Google query. AgentQuery used to be my preferred agent search tool, but the data is looking a bit stale, and I don’t see a good way to check how old each entry is. I

Then I thought of QueryTracker–I remember when the guy first launched it because he emailed me. It has a slew of awards, so I created a account (a new one–the old one seems to have been purged). I just spent the last three hours going through 125 agents who accept science fiction, looking for agents who also accept Historical, and giving each of them a closer look. There’s no category for time travel, so science fiction/historical is the next best thing. I whittled it down to 27 agents.

I found quite a few agents who appear to accept all genres, and QueryTracker’s reports tool was especially helpful here. If said agent have not actually requested any fulls or partials for SF or Historical submissions, I passed them over, for now. I think this set of 27 will give me a good place to start. If I go through them without any success, then I’ll look at the rest of the SF lovers.

I forgot how much work this is!

Eight Things I Edited For. So far.

Over the last few weeks, I have been going back and forth over my manuscript, tightening up the language. Here are the things that I can recall looking for in particular:

  • Adverbs. This is always the first step, accomplished by looking for “ly “, “ly.” and “ly,” It has the added benefit of letting you see other word use problems, of which I seemed to have an abundance for this book.
  • “Going to”. Man, did I ever overuse this phrase. I noticed it when I did my adverb hunt.
  • “Well” to start a sentence. It took three nights to sweep the manuscript for this word. This was a problem in Magic Mirror, as well.
  • “As well.” Yeah, I overuse this one, too. See above sentence. I saw it so often that I paused my “well” search to look for this in particular.
  • Contractions in speech. I don’t tend to use contractions as frequently as I should when writing dialog. Everyone sounds terribly proper as they enunciate their words perfectly. So I have to go back and add a few. I also added contractions in stream-of-consciousness episodes, when you’re basically reading my character’s thoughts.
  • Colloquialisms. I also don’t use these enough. I believe this comes from avoiding colloquialisms with every other book I have written, which have all taken place in a medieval setting, where colloquialisms are inappropriate. They are appropriate in this story, where the main characters are from the present day, and are in their 20s. So I salted in some gonnas, gottas, ain’ts and similar words.
  • “Basically”, “Actually”, “Quite”, “Rather”. Depending on the decade or century of my characters’ origins, they tended to overuse these words. I purged them.
  • Grammar and Style Check. As Microsoft Word has matured, the grammar and style tool has improved. Even though I still often disagree with the problem or the suggested fix, it usually succeeds in highlighting sentences that need some kind of attention.

When I finished with all these sweeps, I found that I purged 1000 words from the manuscript. I now stand at 114,533 words.

My overall impression is that I have gotten sloppy. The grammar and style check uncovered more passive voice than I can recall ever having let slip through before. Once, I had the habit of questioning every use of a “to-be” verb, not just passive voice. It made my voice so much richer. I need to get back into that habit.

7 Things I Did During My Writing Break

Well, it’s been two weeks since I took my “writing break” and I have one week to go. And what did I discover? I do a lot of writing. When I am not writing, I actually have some free time. Here are some of the things I’ve done over the past two weeks.

  1. Reread Petroleum Sunset Episode 3 – Prince of Hicksville – and contemplated whether or not I want to publish it by itself or bundle it up with the first 2 episodes. I do think I should rewrite the whole series, and keep the voice while eliminating the dialect spelling. On my ToDo list for when I have time. But hey! The cover is already done.
  2. Revealed to my husband a scheme I had been hatching to collaborate on an epic fantasy based on one of his role playing game plots. It really is a terrific plot with this highly claustrophobic setting. Plus, it has paladins. He is intrigued.
  3. Went over to my old Fantasy Debut site and spruced it up, removing the sidebar notices about it having moved to this site. No, I have not restarted that blog. This is in the “thinking about” stage. When I ran Fantasy Debut it was manageable alongside my fiction writing, whereas Debuts & Reviews was not.
  4. Reread my Christian supernatural and made a few edits here and there. If I move forward with this novel, I will self-publish. This plot is probably the most intense one I’ve ever attempted. Only The Sevenfold Spell comes close.
  5. Played a lot fewer video games that I expected. My Morrowind character seems hopeless, and I am daunted at the idea of starting over. Again. I tried Dragon Age, but I can’t get out of that stupid and endless Fade subplot. What were they thinking? And then my Xbox crashed (we have one of the bad power packs, and the replacement we ordered was just as bad) and I lost interest. I’ve played a lot of MineCraft with my daughter. We are building Elsa’s ice castle.
  6. Discovered Star Trek Continues. Watched all 3 episodes. Considering funding the next Kickstarter. Yes. It was that good. Review upcoming.
  7. Started to teach my daughter calligraphy. Bought some fresh marker pens, and a calligraphy ruler.

So what do I do in my spare time when I’m not writing? Well, as it turns out, I’m … mostly writing.

East of Yesterday Complete!

Exciting news! I have finally finish drafting East of Yesterday!

Here’s some quick stats:

  • Genre – Time Travel Historical with light science fiction elements
  • Length – 111,000 words
  • Point-of-View – Third Person
  • Number of Points-of-View Characters 4 major, 5 minor
  • Number of Chapters – 46
  • Oldest file time/date stamp: 6/7/2009 for “brainstorming.doc”

This book is in a better state of polish than I have ever achieved with an initial draft, but that’s mostly because it isn’t really an initial draft. I have stopped resisting the impulse to edit as I draft, and I do think it worked out better for me this way. True, I sketched out the initial scenes back in 2009, but during that time, I rewrote and published The Sevenfold Spell, drafted and published The Magic Mirror and the Seventh Dwarf, wrote three Petroleum Sunset stories, self-published two of them, and wrote a significant amount for two other fairy tales (which I may get back to one day). Plus, I wrote a quarter of a Christian suspense that I have indefinitely shelved, and revised Magic by Starlight.

Obviously, I was getting nowhere. Last year, I stopped such a scattershot approach and picked the WIP that I thought had the greatest chance to succeed. Since then, I have been working on this novel exclusively.

The manuscript I have now is in much better shape than any other first draft I have ever managed. When I start a writing session, I go back to reread and edit what I wrote during the previous session.  This helps me continue on with the same tone/ voice (which I alter per POV). Another thing I do, is when I have a revision that affects another part of the manuscript, I drop a bookmark (the word “here” formatted with a special style), go make the revision, and then go back and reread to ensure everything is in sync.

Next steps:

  • Ship off to beta reader
  • Take a two or three-week break–until she sends feedback
  • Sweep the novel according to my manuscript clean-up process
  • Read it aloud/final polish
  • Write synopsis and pitch

I am hoping to be ready to look for an agent by March.

Edit: here is a link to my East of Yesterday page.

Writing Engines are Humming

What a week. Using the road map I made for myself last week, I finally gritted my way through a very difficult rewrite, pushing East of Yesterday up to over 100,000 words. Then I started cutting scenes that had become either redundant or irrelevant after the rewrite, and chopped it down to 97,000 words. And now I’m back up to 99,000 with nothing but blank pages before me.

And right now, that’s a beautiful thing. I don’t have blank page syndrome–I had full page syndrome. I had page after page of irrelevancy and redundancy, with tiny dollops here and there of stuff I needed to keep. I was daunted at the thought of straightening it all out. But I pressed on and pressed through, and now I can see the end in sight.

One thing I keep running into is what I call temporal inconsistencies. I don’t do a lot of twisting time in knots–because it’s really difficult to follow–but what little I do has to be consistent from either end of time. It’s hard to explain. You’ll have to read it for yourself. Well, I caught myself writing in an inconsistency when I was going to have someone warn someone else about something he has already done, but has yet to do. And then I realized the warning made no sense. And then I realized that it could make sense, if I just tweaked it a little bit.

Here’s a snip, from Mike’s point-of-view. He’s talking to his friend, Brad. It starts with Mike.

“Wait. Did you say you were going to ride home with him?”

“Yup. All the way to 1975. Remember that weird problem I had back then? When you said I’d been in a fight, but I really wasn’t?”

“Yeah?”

“Well, you described a guy that looked a lot like this Lysander cat. I don’t know what I did, but I guess I’ll find out, right? And we do know I pop him a good one and he’s down for the count?”

“Well … yeah.”

“So you head back to the 20s and hang tight. I’ll misdirect him back to the 70s, use my Good Knight on him, and I’ll be back before you get home.”

“But how—“

“Look, I can’t stay—they think I’m out to take a piss. Just get out of here, for the love of God. They’re still looking for Adele.”

And he ran off into the night.

The Good Knight is what he calls is famous (or infamous) right jab.

It’s fun to write. And I’m hoping it’s fun to read as well. :)

End-of-Book Slog

So I guess I’m on hiatus. Kind of.

I’ve written over 100,000 words of East of Yesterday, and I’m trying to wrestle this story into a satisfying ending. My productivity has been steady but not great. I am slowly working through it. And it seems that the word count does keep creeping up, so that’s progress.

But unfortunately, I’ve totally outlined this story, and every time I’ve done that, it has killed my writing pace. I wish I knew why. The best I can figure is that when I write it down, even as a bubble in a Visio flowchart (as I did this time), it takes away some of the freshness of the plot, dampening my enthusiasm somewhat. For the next book, I will revert to using scene titles in my Navigation Pane of Word. That approach tends to guide me through the plot, as if I were being led on a leash.

Hmm. Good idea. I think I’ll do that with the rest of the plot milestones in the story. It may just help.

Hey–thanks for your help! I gotta run now and try this out. I’ll try to pop in with an update soon.