Story Progress: Mixed Basket

Woohoo! I just finished writing chapter 11! Alright, so it’s not completely typed up yet; that’s the next stage. But it’s written! Yay!

I’m also partway into my rewrite of chapter 2 in volume 1. I admit I’m still moving parts around on my rewrite of chapter 1; I can never seem to get the opening just right. But I think I’ve finally found my opening lines:

No ward shall leave the temple, unless expressly instructed by their superior.

Most wards probably thought this rule was meant to encourage new maidens to settle into their new home—to leave behind their noble families and embrace their new role.

They were wrong. This rule was made for people like me.

This way, I have a hook in my first line, and it’s the catalyst for everything that is to come. I cite the rule, and all that follows is what happened this one time when the rule was broken—or rather, when the stipulation at the end of the rule got in the way. This will keep the opening in Labriella’s perspective. After these lines, the question is how much to show of a normal day in the temple, or whether I should just start with the bullying and lead straight into Mistress Healer’s errand.

The other current question in my rewrite of chapter 2 is what to do after Rome saves Labriella from the men who try to rape her. Rome kills all the men, and disappears back into the forest. Labriella doesn’t know her savior is Rome; it’s too dark, and his appearance is altered. Should she run after him, like she did when she got lost in the forest all those years ago? If so, then should he scare her away, or turn her away? Allow her to hide out in the forest, or take her back to his house? Should he have been living in his house all this time, or does he only return to give her a safe place to stay?

Or should Labriella stumble away from the carnage, back to the village? There she can get taken in for the night by a common family, and then make her way to the inn in the morning—the condensed version of some things I already wrote.

I kind of like the idea of her running after Rome better. But if she follows him home, how does Rome’s noble heritage come into play?

If I dealt solely with the temple runaway issue and the lovebirds’ reunion in the first book, and left the noble heritage dealings until the second book…would the first book have a plot?

Uggh, so many questions. >_<

In the meantime, I’m attending an online workshop called “New Kid on the Block: A Guide to Writing New Adult,” put on through Maryland Romance Writers with Chanel Cleeton as the instructor. There are precious few of such New Adult (NA) resources available (at least that I have been able to find), so I jumped on this opportunity to receive feedback on whether or not my story is actually NA–even though it meant joining the group late.

I signed up for another online writing workshop this week, called “Inside the Male Mind.” It’s through Colorado Romance Writers, and it’s about writing from a male character’s perspective. I look forward to the insight on how to make Rome’s P.O.V.  more authentically masculine.

I also joined a Critique Connection group, organized by Janice Hardy over at Fiction University. But after joining the Fantasy Faction, I realized that although I would absolutely love to critique other fantasy writers’ works, my manuscript might not fall enough under the Fantasy umbrella for it to qualify. What I probably need is a Paranormal Romance group. It ruffles my feathers a little, because my story does not take place in the real world, as so many other paranormal romances do. But the reality is that my plot is strongly romance-based, and I feel a bit timid about asking fantasy writers to critique my romance. They’re awesome, but fantasy writing comes at plot orchestration from a different angle.

I feel like such a mixed basket right now.

Ah well. The good news that I hope you take out of all this is that I am actively taking steps to better my story (including all the endless hours of outlining attempts that I have not yet mentioned), and I should have my next chapter out in the next couple days if all goes well with typing.

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Complex Plotting: Zero = Four

For months—maybe even over a year—I have been frustrated with my first book, because I could not find a plot in it. With all the fiction I’ve read over the course of my life, and all the stories read to me before I could even read, and all those classes where teachers made me analyze and chart plot structures, how in the world could I create a book without a plot?! The possibility had never even occurred to me. And once I began to scrutinize the possibility, I was even more disheartened to find it true. Because what else could be the problem?

But after my sixth attempt to outline my plot points—always getting stuck in the same place—I tried a new approach, and finally realized my problem. It’s not that I don’t have a plot. It’s that I have four plots running concurrently, and the primary focus is the romantic one, so no traditional plotline gets the limelight enough to emerge as the official identifiable plot. In fact, you might argue that all four of these plotlines are actually story arcs—meaning they span at least part of the series, rather than being resolved in a single book.

So if you’re a “pantser,” and you’re having trouble unearthing that plot that seems like it’s hiding or nonexistent, I suggest writing out a play-by-play outline, and then an extremely vague outline of points, and see if you can divide things up by topic.

If you can’t abide pinning down your work like that, write down your ideas in different colored pens, and then take a look at what kinds of things ended up in each color. Surprise! You’ve drawn yourself a mind map, and now all you need to do is draw up the key. That’s what I did. Sometimes you just need to look at your thoughts differently to understand what’s going on and roll with it.

These are my plots, as I discovered them when I tried separating them out into categories (as defined by the parties involved):

  • Pandora
  • Temple
  • Noble
  • Romance

I suppose I could split “Romance” again, into “Gian & Labriella” and “Rome & Labriella“…but I would actually prefer to stick with a triangular effect. I want to use Gian to enhance and/or force out a definition of Rome and Labriella’s relationship, and use the nobles (and Pandora, and the temple) to further force it out of the shadows. That probably means I need to scatter Gian’s parts throughout the timeline a bit more, instead of having so many chapters between him and Labriella in the first book.

In my case, does the solution to having four plots entail untangling those plots? Or maybe picking just one per book? Ummm….Ew. I mean, I could do that, but I wove all those plots together subconsciously for a reason; they add depth to one another. At first glance it appears that there is no plot, because you’re walking through the characters’ lives. It’s those elements in their lives that brought them together, and that make up all those plots. Each is a festering issue that needs to be dealt with–and each starts out very small.

Part of the reason I’m so set on revising my first book again, is because I want to resolve either the noble plot or the temple plot (or both) by the end of the first book. I now suspect the noble plot will be more of an undercurrent that will come to a head on several supporting occasions. So I’m fixing my attention on the temple plot. If I start book one with the temple, then I should end book one with the temple. Otherwise, Labriella being considered a “runaway” becomes old news and eventually feels buried or ignored.

Previously the first book revolved around the question of whether Rome would allow Labriella to stay with him. But a few of my readers complained that they were running so many insecure circles around one another that it was slowing down and lengthening the story. And I agree. At least one set of circumstances needs to be sealed in by the end of the first book.

I feel like I’m trying to cram in a lot of things. But maybe, if I eliminate lengthy descriptions, consolidate scenes, and get rid of reflective dialogue, I might still be able to shorten things up. After all, my goal for revising this time around is to keep the plot moving.

Openers: Starting Too Early

If you’re wondering where I’ve been in my periods of online silence, I’ve been tinkering. I finished writing the new opener for my story. I was very pleased with how it turned out, if a little shocked by how details could make it feel invasively graphic. I had to concede that maybe I shouldn’t be making the reader feel that so early on.

Online, I keep seeing people say, “Don’t start with a dream” or “Don’t start with a wake-up scene.” The reasoning that almost always follows such statements, is that these beginnings are cliché. Well, fine. I’ll write a wake-up scene that breaks the cliché by scaring the pants off of you, faking an action scene. That’ll get you interested. Then I’ll give you a glimpse into my main character’s temple life, and how she feels about it, and throw a kink in it that sends your head as reeling as hers. Problem solved.

But when I cracked open the books on writing that I’ve been hoarding lately, clichés weren’t the reason they gave at all. They said wake-up scenes were indicative of starting a story too early. You’re starting at the beginning of the day, but not necessarily at the beginning of the action. And apparently the action doesn’t matter unless it qualifies as an “inciting incident”—the incident that sets everything else in motion.

Well, I can’t start with the action of the inciting incident; that’s a near-rape scene, and that’s not the expectation I want to set in the first few lines. I have a paranormal romance, which means I have a world with alternate rules to snapshot and two characters to draw together from the very beginning…yet you’re telling me I can’t start with any introductory info? Sure, I can just start with my temple servant character walking into a new scenario that is the catalyst for action. But the moment I tell anyone that my main character is a temple servant, the first thing they ask is about the temple. (-_-); Needing that background to understand the rest of the story is kind of unavoidable. I can sneak mentalities in here and there around transitions, meetings, and dialogue. But the reader HAS to see Pandora (the most obvious villain) in action BEFORE the inciting incident, or you won’t care.

Needless to say, I feel like I’m getting mixed messages. I could make a list of things to cut, but all the tension I just built up for the end of chapter 1 will disappear if I cut the wrong one. I can’t “show” (not tell) and start with action, without horrifying the reader for no apparent reason. Yet I keep reading that having to include background is the mark of an amateur. Which is ironic, because every fantasy novel I’ve ever read starts with elaborate background.

Just a little frustrating.

I do have a good portion of chapter 10 written—enough to constitute a legitimate chapter, but not as long as my normal chapters. I have two more scenes to throw in before it’s ready.

Openers & Character Intros

Remember when I said that subconsciously my creative efforts wanted to be redirected toward revising? For the past several days I’ve been indulging them, and it’s going slow but well. Everything I read about in articles and in all those books about writing seem to have diffused into my head and culminated, because those tips are coming out on paper in ways I didn’t know I could orchestrate.

I’ll give you an example.

Before:

Only as my roommate carelessly discarded her blanket on my sleeping form, the rough material slapping abruptly across my face, did I blink myself awake in startled confusion. Forcing myself from my sleepy stupor, I sat upright on my mat and rubbed the sleep out of my eyes. Blearily I searched out the bare mat beside me and deposited the offensive blanket upon it. Reluctantly relinquishing the warmth of my own blanket, I stretched and stood, shaking off the dredges of sleep that still clung to me. I folded my blanket and placed it back on my mat, before following the other servant girls out of our room. Waking later made me one of the last from the room, but I did not rise so late as to be late to the dressing room.

There were several dressing rooms. Since I was young, the dressing room I was assigned to contained only washbowls and small towels. I knelt on the stone floor before a bowl of water and rinsed my face, hands, and feet, drying them with the small towel provided beside the bowl.

This happened, that happened, I saw this…tell, tell, adverb, describe, explain. This is at the beginning of chapter 2. It’s like a temple life info-dump. Not horrible, but not exciting either. You’re either caught in the lull of rhythm, or you’re trying to make a list to keep track of all the details in your head, or you’re employing patience until you can find out why all this matters.

After:

I jolted awake when a weight dropped onto me. Howls still echoing in my ears, my eyes snapped open, half expecting to see some unnameable creature ready to pounce.

My assailant was…a blanket.

I flopped back onto floor with a groan. One of my many roommates had ditched her blanket on top of me again. Seriously, how hard was it to put it back on her sleeping mat? Or in the laundry? Or folded up in a corner?

Alright, I sighed, shucking my own blanket. Enough grumbling. What if one of the taskmistresses hears you? There’ll be hell to pay.

I stumbled into the next room with the others, kneeling in front of a basin to splash the sleep from my face. Unfortunately, the cold water could not wash away my dream. No matter; I knew how to hide such things. By the time I dabbed the last drops from my face, my mask of neutrality was carefully in place.

It’s a mundane morning routine, but I made-you-look with fake suspense, kept you with her attitude, and then used her attitude to point out stuff about the room and drop hints as to what her life is like. And this is all in the first few lines of the first chapter! I read that wake-up scenes have been overdone as openers in fiction. But hopefully, since I scared the pants off of you by making you think the main character was getting woken up by a wild animal pouncing on top of her, you feel blindsided rather than clichéd.

Hopefully a bit more attention-grabbing than this:

Before:

All living beings are governed by relationships. But sometimes one relationship does not just affect two beings, or create a small ripple in the sea of time. Sometimes one relationship affects the world.

Neither of us was destined for great things. We were outcast, pariah, hidden away from the world. But the winds of change lulled me away from my assigned path, to the childlike feet of perhaps the most dangerous man alive. Had I ignored the wind’s guidance, or stood like stone, my life would have been a very different story.

I was a very unremarkable child, ordinary in appearance and unnoteworthy in ability. The temple drafted me into service at a very young age, offering me food and shelter in exchange for a life of monotonous dedication. I doubt I thought much on the offer of whichever magnanimous soul deemed to reach down into the dirt and rescue my scrawny form from starvation, though truthfully I cannot remember back that far. The temple became my life, and it was not for me to question the ways of it.

I guess it could be fine, as far as a world-scale recollective intro goes. I was going for a taper effect: starting with “all,” funneling down to “we,” and then focusing on “I.” But it doesn’t connect you to Labriella; you’re not really trekking through the crap experiences with her. And it doesn’t leave you at all in suspense of what is going to happen next. I do go on to say “until [she] met him,” and other vague things that imply change. But now you know that whatever else happens in the story, this character has to get out alive to tell the tale—which would not otherwise have been a given (especially since I can switch to the beast’s perspective at any time).

I’ll be honest: Labriella is a troublesome character to write. Rome can show his thoughts (or the opposite of his feelings) with his actions. But Labriella is more likely to reflect her feelings by what she doesn’t do. She’s a trained servant who’s used to being bullied, so she’s not typically going to voice her opinions or fix her best friend’s annoyingly frizzy hair. She’s in survival mode, and she should be at least slightly sour or depressed underneath that because, as far as she’s concerned, a life without her best friend/crush is noticeably lacking. Trapped or depressed people don’t spontaneously decide to seek closure. So following Kitiora’s advice to go see Rome is probably a no-go—especially after what happened last time.

 

Rome? Let’s just say he’s not going to feel any more inclined to visit the village than he did when he was younger. But certain things can irk him into action. Like an ex-friend/ex-crush returning from a several-year absence to scream for him on the edge of his territory. Or having to live with his conscience if he were to knowingly let her suffer at the hands of human men, only a few feet from his reach. That’s enough for him to make a brief appearance.

 

In case you didn’t catch the implications of the above statements, I’ll be ditching chapters 1-3 (to be alluded to later), and rewriting chapters 4-6 & 10. That should shave off a few thousand words by getting rid of lengthy backstory and explanations. And, if I play my chapters right, the first chapter will rope you in, and by chapter 2 (a.k.a. like 12k words in) you’ll be in the heart of the story. Chapters 7-9 will get pushed back until after that, and probably interspersed between noble events.

I’m also toying with the idea of shorter chapters. Usually I aim for 7k-word chapters—which seems to suit my readers just fine as long as I routinely update, or if a delayed chapter ends up as 11k words to hold them over. But at this point I’m thinking scene breaks might come more naturally at half that amount, which would get updates out to my readers faster. So I guess I’ll see where I can naturally end chapter 1, and try to judge from there.

How long do you guys prefer chapters to be?

Long enough to hold you over?
Or short enough to feel accomplished for getting to the end?

The Quest for an Exciting Recollective Beginning

I finally broke down and did it: I began revising from the very beginning.

I can practically hear the communal groan. “Aren’t you done revising yet?!”

No. Not yet.

Before you throw your computer across the room, think back to chapter 1 of volume 1. And think how boring that was. Well, okay, 270k words later, you might not even remember there WAS a chapter 1. But I do, because I spent hours belaboring the opening after a friend of mine who majored in publishing put track changes all over my manuscript. That was years ago, and I changed it since then.

But then I met with a friend of a friend, who has an agent, and she said intro stuff like prologues and childhood chapters should not exceed one chapter combined. I’ve sat on that knowledge awhile, unsure how to scrunch three significant background chapters into one.

Lately, I’ve been reading all these articles about “purple prose,” exorbitant details, packed dialogue, unnecessary dialogue tags, the importance of a good “hook,” and how much of a story readers, editors, and agents really look at when they’re deciding whether to stick with it. Meanwhile, I’ve been toying with alternate recollective openers, in both Labriella’s and Rome’s perspectives. I even thought of putting in both perspectives as a dual opener, on pages opposite one another for contrast (which, of course, would fail in an ebook). But I could not make a recollection exciting in the way that people keep saying is important.

Then I realized that, as much as I love recollective works, they aren’t exciting. Intriguing, perhaps. But their openers are not at all representative of whatever action may lay inside. That’s fine for me, if I’m buying the book, because I love the main character’s level of intimacy with the reader. As long as I get lost in the middle, I’m sold. But if I’m trying to draw in an editor, publisher, or agent to make them see in a few short lines that my book is different (and that that difference is exciting), recollective tense may not be the best way for me to market my book. I’m having trouble with the “Chronicles” aspect of it anyway, considering I have two main characters who would allegedly be chronicling at the same time (one of whom has no love of writing, due to his claws).

So today, I finally said “Screw it,” got out my pen and new notebook, and started writing an opening in the same tense as I would in the middle—like the character’s personality had already been developed and established. I completely shaved off the childhood chapters, and began integrating personality, dream, and temple aspects right from the beginning. I left off all the explanations and narration, and left Labriella with actions and quips. At this rate, Rome will be introduced as her savior by the end of chapter 1, and you’ll grasp just enough temple context before it gets the heck out of dodge for the real storyline.

What I’ve written so far makes the first-revision Labriella look like a flat character by comparison. I’ve been feeling for awhile like Labriella was a static character, so it’s about time I figured out how to change it. I kept reading things about making sure the beginning reads the same as the rest of the story, but I didn’t understand what that meant until now. By starting the tone like I’m in the middle, I’m boosting the actual middle, raising the standard to make it more energetic.

The other thing I’m looking to do is to make Rome more beastly and wild from the beginning. With his childhood taken out of the way, and little reflective clues dropped throughout, perhaps the reader will catch on to what happened as Labriella does—or a couple steps behind her, since she knew Rome once. If orchestrated correctly, the beast-fear factor might be something overcome in the beginning or throughout instead of at the end.

For those of you who wish I’d just finish volume 2 and call it a book…so do I. But I’m blocked. I’ve tried for the last month to force my way through it, and I know I can. But when I do that, my chapters take longer, and they just aren’t as good. I think a large part of my block is because subconsciously my creative effort wants to be redirected toward revising, and I’ve been denying it that outlet to try to press forward. It’s time to go with the creative flow, and see what comes out. That is how I’ve always written, after all. It would be foolish to think I can force it another way now.

VOLUME 1 REVISIONS COMPLETED!

Alrighty, my dears, my reworking of Volume 1 of the BeastKing Chronicles is finally complete! Go read the final chapter, entitled “Found Out,” and don’t forget to read the epilogue called “A Game of Truths“! The wedding didn’t quite go as planned, and now something happens to Labriella! Has the temple finally caught up with her? What happens if Rome can’t save her this time? And if he can save her, what is to prevent this joining together from falling apart like all the rest?

Make sure to read the note at the bottom of the epilogue! The first chapter of the old volume 2 is still posted on FictionPress, because it is acting as a placeholder so that those who have already followed and/or favorited that volume will be automatically notified when I start to upload new chapters. I will not be able to upload any new chapters to Volume 2 for at LEAST a couple weeks, because I will be gone. I may be able to jump back into writing after that, or I may not; I’m not sure yet. But rest assured, I will announce when I do begin posting.

Wedding Chapter Posted

Alright my dear readers, I have posted chapter 27! I did something a little different with this wedding chapter. Previously, I wrote a chapter where Gian walked in on a rather desperately sensual goodbye scene between Rome and Labriella. But for whatever reason, I wasn’t really feeling that in this write-through. I mean, I probably could have left the argument leading into it alone, and tweaked a few things about it being the first time he touched her like that. But maybe because of all of the details I’ve been adding in between Labriella and Gian, or because of the wolf scene, or the shared dreams (or all of the above), I felt I needed to do a better job of wrapping up the story in this chapter. So that’s what I set out to do. And as a result, the chapter is much less fiery and passionate, and revolves more around the conflicting attachments within Labriella (and some within Rome as well).

Also unlike the last time I wrote this chapter, you cannot just leave off at the end of the chapter; you must continue on. I mean, you could stop reading, but it’s not exactly a terminal stopping point—more like a brief pause. Technically I could have added chapter 28 into the end of 27, but I decided it’d be better to have a shorter chapter 27 and leave chapter 28’s resolution all on its own.

I am going to redo a lot of dialogue in chapter 28, probably. And I needed to revise the intimate parts. So it will probably read completely differently.

But in the meantime, go read “Don’t Forget“!