It’s the most fun work I can think of, being mistress of all I survey, but sometimes it’s still work, and it takes time, and is subject to all the interruptions Life has to offer.
For all that I didn’t start polishing Book 1 (Pride’s Children: PURGATORY) until I had a complete blueprint and a rough draft of the whole story all the way to the end of Book 3, I’m finding that the original blueprint – even the one from the Great Reorganization – is merely a sketch compared to what I need to actually sit down and write every day.
Suppose you’re building a house, and you have this nice little plot of land on a hillside, and you sit out there and draw a few lines of what it might look like when it’s finished, with a porch here, and a big window in the kitchen with a view of that magnificent dogwood tree…
The house is no more real at that point than a dream, and you can’t go into the bedroom which doesn’t even appear on the drawing, and take a nap.
There’s a bit of work to be done first.
The road from dream to reality is a long one
Once the house is built or the book is finished, it has the solidity that belies its complete lack of existence before that sketch, and somehow it doesn’t FEEL any different than the sketch did, but the concept has absorbed an enormous amount of human time and energy (and money or opportunity cost).
In Spanish we say, ‘Del dicho al hecho hay mucho trecho,’ which means, ‘From words to action is a long way.’
Many books never get written.
Well, the reason I haven’t had much to say lately is that I’m just down in the trenches, doing the work, and it isn’t all that exciting.
But it’s incredibly necessary.
Blueprint/outline/storyform – don’t proceed without it
I’m a structuralist and an extreme plotter, partly by nature, and partly because, working on one tiny piece of the quilt at a time as I do, I have to know the pieces will fit together when I finish them.
Book 1 proved the worth, to me, of my methods: I did it exactly the way I said I was going to do it, and it worked and came together and connected and made sense.
Now for Book 2
The blueprint that I have, my Dramatica storyform and its ‘encodings’ – the sum of everything that I’ve put into the little text boxes which are the result of figuring out the structure behind this WIP, or what you might call events illustrating each structural point – was complete in concept, and even had placeholders for everything.
I had two choices: use the long-ago blueprint, and try polishing the rough draft.
Or go through every single piece and decide if it was still the best way to do that part of the story – or if it needed replacing with something better.
A lot was already good and connected and made sense.
What happens during writing?
But I’m more experienced now, and the first part of the story, a developing friendship that left its characters at a particular point with no obvious way forward, is finished.
The characters – big surprise – grew in the writing. Not changed. Grew. Things only hinted in my rough draft and master plan – happened.
That’s the only way I can describe it: until they are written in their final form, things haven’t ‘happened.’
And the blueprint for the next part needed a thorough going-over before being used to make the next set of things ‘happen.’
The eternal problem: picking up the story in the next book
Instead of choosing to understand and execute what I had planned back then, even if it was somehow part of the whole – which would have meant examining every choice I made in the storyform, and reading every bit of text I put in a text box so that I could write that better, I chose to delete most of it.
Not because it was ‘wrong,’ but because making it mine again as a whole would require that I remember why I put it there in the first place, and then that I take the time to decide if I still wanted it quite that way.
I foresaw that it would actually take me longer to go through the steps, for each entry, of figuring out what I meant back then and then deciding whether I still meant it quite that way and changing it to reflect Book 1 where necessary – than to trust that I have enough of the story encoded in my brain as a whole, and just answer all those prompts again from that gestalt.
This, I hope, will have the side effect of making the ‘new’ more connected when I start, and making the revisions – complete rewrites in most cases (as it was in Book 1) – easier when I’m working on my quilt squares.
I didn’t do that in Book 1, because I was too deep in revision by the time I really needed that one-ness, and so I found myself having to figure out whole sections AS I went.
I think this will be easier in the writing phase because I’m putting so much work into the planning phase.
And since I really need to write faster – and a major part of my time in writing the scenes in Book 1 was spent figuring out what and why – this may help me complete the next two books faster, so we can all have the whole story sooner.
Will this help Book 3?
Yes, this means I’ll have to do the same thing again for Book 3.
I naively thought I could do 2 and 3 simultaneously, and then pick up at the end of revising Book 2, and just move right into writing Book 3.
Until I realized how much work the re-planning is.
Book 3’s will have to wait.
I took extensive notes, and I’m feeling out my whole system (I’m not planning to stop writing after I finish the trilogy), and it shouldn’t be nearly as hard as for Book 2, since I won’t go through most of this questioning again, and just do it.
Learning to write is a process of finding out everything there is, and then selecting YOUR writing best practices, and finally getting practice doing it your way.
Even with refinements, and especially when you start out older, this system, if it works for you, is not going to get a lot of future change. This is one of the benefits of being more mature as a LEARNER. [And if some of you are out there, laughing at me because I’m STILL naive, so be it.]
Progress on preparing for writing again?
Those little text boxes for the Dramatica prompts? There are 71 of them, if you don’t count the character appreciations.
I’m almost finished with re-filling them, and I’m pleased that both nothing has changed – and they are filled better and more consciously and, what’s more important for me, more coherently.
They are forming a better ‘set’ than they would have, had I merely tried to remember what I was doing.
And – phew! – they have not hugely changed anything in the story that I care about.
And I have answered a bunch of niggling questions in my mind that I was putting off until ‘later.’
Character appreciations? What is she talking about?
The remaining ones, the character and character relationship apps? There are a LOT of them, but they tend to be shorter and smaller and more obvious – and require only a bit of thought or dialogue to reveal in the final version. Plus many of them carry over from the first book.
Only a few characters change from book to book. I use the Dramatica technique of handoffs: if character A represents something in Book 1, and then dies or leaves or the story moves elsewhere, then someone else is needed to represent the same thing in Book 2 or 3, and may express the ‘something’ differently.
To put that in more understandable terms: George has to go home at the end of Book 1, which will leave Andrew, just at the point where many things are heating up, without the childhood friend he trusts as a sidekick. Who will his replacement be – and how will the replacement deal with the pressures of the job – and will the replacement have the right stuff – and what will the consequences of the change be to Andrew? All questions important to the final end – and all planned in.
Hint: how is Nahrendra like George – and how is he George’s antithesis?
I’ll stop here, having talked forever about something few people will have any interest in.
But if you wondered why there weren’t more posts in between, when I have so many other things to write about, this is the reason: I’m putting in the work, and I need to stay focused until it’s done.
But trust me. It hasn’t been boring.
And it’s all necessary.
What say you? Does structure bore you or bear you up?