Posted in editing, writing

Project Roadmap: Rosekeeper

I tend to switch my projects around fairly frequently, usually from month-to-month. It’s worked out well for me for years. Until recently however, I haven’t been doing much more than choosing a monthly project to work on and sort of diving in wherever felt best. The results of that have been mixed. Sometimes it works out great, and other times I end up staring at the same chapter for days on end. A couple of weeks ago, a friend suggested that I try mapping out what I aim to accomplish for each project each month.

Which, for me makes a lot of sense. I tend to work best when I have a goal I can aim towards. While I’m a discovery writer by nature, I also have a love for to-do lists and goals. Having a roadmap checks both those boxes by giving me a list of things I want done, and dates to accomplish them by. In theory, that should mean I can streamline my editing process like I’ve wanted to do for years.

I’m testing that theory with this month’s project: Rosekeeper. If you’ve read my short novella Crimson and Gold or my serial Seventh you’re already familiar with the world of Rosekeeper. With the rough draft clocking in at just over thirty-three thousand words, it should be another novella, albeit longer than Crimson and Gold.

Like its related stories, Rosekeeper takes inspiration from Western fairytales. In this case, the Beauty and the Beast. If you’ve read Under Her Own Power, you’ve actually met one of the main characters of Rosekeeper, Sola.

Because it’s so short, I’m aiming to have a second draft completed by the end of the month. With that, I’ve broken it down into four main tasks. The first of these is completing any necessary editing notes such as outlines and character arcs. The following three are each roughly ten- to eleven-thousand sections of the story itself to be edited. All four have their own deadlines, about one per week, the first of which is to have all my notes done by the fifth.

I’m excited to see how things go now that I’ve got a detailed editing plan in place. What about you? Do you have a roadmap? What does your plan look like? Let me know in the comments below!

Posted in General, writing

Adventures in Editing

Now that we’re out of Camp NaNo, I’m turning my attention back to the excessively long list of projects I want to work on. Ultimately, I decided on tackling one of my more unwieldy projects.

I say unwieldy largely because it rapidly outgrew the initial portal fantasy idea I had for it, bloomed well into a hundred thousand words around the halfway mark and keeps growing. At the moment the working title is Casters. It’s still in the fantasy genre, but at this point anything else is fair game.

As with everything else, I tend to write in rough chapter segments. To start getting Casters lined up, I opted to start with a one to two sentence summary of each segment, which highlighted a couple of interesting facets:

  • Several of the major characters had prominent and strong arcs, more than enough to warrant a story of their own.
  • Two ‘minor’ obstacles had a lot of potential to develop even further.
  • I’d completely forgotten that my initial main conflict had intended to be, somehow, larger.

Obviously getting everything down in one book would be an undertaking the size of Lord of the Rings. Knowing that my earliest drafts tend to be a little short, I’m already expecting the already oversized wordcount to expand once I get later into editing.  

With a series on my hands, the next step was to try and organize each character arc and figure out a rough order.  That turned out to be easier than I’d thought it would be, resulting in five smaller arcs that loop through each other and should carry through at least the first half of the main conflict.

For right now, I’m starting at the top, writing and rewriting each segment to bring everything more-or-less in line with itself. I’m also working my sway slowly through individual titles for each segment.

It’s a lot of work, but I’m enjoying the process.

What are some of the adventures you’re having in editing?

Posted in writing

Story Bibles

If you’re a writer and you’re in the midst of editing, or even writing a series, you probably want a place to keep track of all the details of your story. It’s incredibly useful, especially if you want to write a series. Bonus points: if you do a lot of roleplaying and need or want to write your own campaign, having a story bible set up for your in-world conflicts, NPCs and lore makes it easier to keep your campaign more or less on track (sorry, but I can’t promise the same of your players).

A story bible is essentially a document or several documents that keeps the details of your story or stories together. This prevents things like character details changing unexpectedly halfway through the story. It also helps keep worldbuilding and relevant setting details in one place so you don’t have to go hunting for particular details.

There’s several ways you can keep a story bible. If you’d prefer a hardcopy, a binder or multi-subject notebook is a good option. This way you can section your bible off as necessary. Digital options include things like Microsoft OneNote or Evernote, or even something like World Anvil or Notebook.ai to keep your bible sorted and on track. Depending on your preference and how you work best, you may find one option better than the other. I personally prefer to keep a digital copy of my notes in OneNote because of the search function.

Although your story bible should work for you, there’s a few sections you may find helpful to keep in it.

Character Notes. This is a good place to keep things like detailed descriptions, character sketches, backstories and family trees. I usually create a small section for each character so I can keep track of their character arc during edits.

Setting Notes. Depending on the genre you’re working in, this can easily become a massive portion of your story bible. Everything from notes on legal systems to lore can be placed in your setting notes. For speculative writers, this spreads to include bestiaries, cultural analysis, maps and even engineering schematics as necessary.

Story Notes. Editing and writing in general tends to create a multitude of different notes—outlines, and even thematic notations. Having a story-specific section makes it easier to keep all your editing tools in one place. A lot of my plotting notes end up here, but I also try to keep a list of any flash pieces relevant to the story, world or characters here.  This way if I need to reference something for a flashback or thematic reason, I can easily reference back to the original piece.

What are some of the things you keep in your story bibles? How do you prefer to keep them?

Posted in Exercises, writing

Plotting a Series

As a writer, it’s entirely possible that at some point you get hit with an idea that is simply too big for one book. That might be because of complex plotlines, multiple points of view, or even because new story ideas keep cropping up that all connect tangentially back to the same thing. You’re looking at a series, and all the fun territory that comes with it.

Series might seem a little more unwieldy than a single standalone novel or even a duo, but they’re manageable. There are dozens of articles out there that will tell you the key to plotting a series is to give it an overarching goal. I’m not here to tell you that.

I’m here to tell you that as a novelist, you probably already have the tools you need to tackle a series.

Don’t laugh just yet. Let’s start at the macro level. In a series, each book is the next installment in a longer, overarching story. Down to the micro level, in a novel, each chapter is the next installment in a longer, overarching story. See the connection?

Series will be a little more detailed than your average chapter, but you can approach them the same way. Each chapter should have a goal and a conflict. So should each book in the series. And like a series, the entire book should have a central conflict.

So, rather than getting stuck on how long that series is and how difficult it seems to plot it, break it down like you would any other chapter.

For me, I like to write out a one-sentence summary of what happens in each chapter. So it might be something like this:

  1. Snow White’s father remarries an evil queen and dies on his wedding night.
  2. Snow White’s stepmother is furious to find the King’s will leaves Snow White the only heir.
  3. Stepmother tries to kill Snow White, who runs away into the woods.
  4. The Dwarves find and rescue Snow White but demand her help in exchange.
  5. Snow White solves a problem for each of the Dwarves.
  6. Stepmother finds out Snow White is still alive and sends a hunter to kill her.
  7. The Dwarves and Snow White flee their home.
  8. Snow White and the Dwarves gather an army of forest creatures.
  9. The army is marched onto the castle of the Stepmother.
  10. Snow White becomes queen and begins rebuilding.

You get the idea. Each chapter help builds and resolve the overall conflict. Now let’s take a look at these as if they were books in a series.

  1. Snow White’s father remarries an evil queen and dies on his wedding night.

On it’s own, it seems pretty simple, but if we’re assuming that’s the overall conflict, then we know there’s more to it, so it might end up being something more like this:

  1. Snow White’s father remarries an evil queen and dies on his wedding night.
    1. Snow White begs her father not to marry his bride.
    2. Stepmother convinces King Snow is merely grieving her mother.
    3. Snow White discovers proof Stepmother will kill King.
    4. Stepmother blocks Snow White from attending the wedding.
    5. The king is poisoned at supper.
    6. King dies and Stepmother warns Snow White the same can happen to her.
    7. Snow White learns she will be queen when she comes of age and decides to simply wait Stepmother out.

The ending for this one resolves it as a tragedy while still leaving it open for the next story. Snow White will be Queen…if she can avoid angering Stepmother long enough. Likewise, the next book furthers the conflict when Stepmother finally discovers that she’s only Queen until Snow White is old enough to take the throne.

Chapters work the same way. Each one has a smaller conflict in it that must be resolved, but that still feeds into the main plot. First chapters, like first books, open up the main conflict, but still handle their own struggles. Final chapters and books resolve all the conflicts and leave the story with a satisfactory ending.

As an exercise: Take your favorite series and write a one-sentence summary of each book. Then break each book into a one-sentence summary of each chapter.

Posted in General, writing

Outlining Methods

One of my least favorite tasks when I’m getting ready to start editing is creating an outline. As much as I know they’re useful and will help me create a better draft, they take time to create. The most important thing about an outline is that it is only a tool. Regardless of how or even when you create an outline, they are incredibly useful and can help you structure your novel.

And, the beautiful part about outlines is that much like the writing process itself, there’s a variety. If you’re more of a discovery/pantster/garden writer (like me!) you might find writing an outline beforehand kills your story. You can save it for later. If you need a structure to keep you on track without boggling down the details, there are methods for that too. If you’re happy creating an outline before you start on Chapter One, then you have your pick of outline flavors based on your needs and preferences for a story.

If you have trouble with breaking your story down into chapters, it might help to use a synopsis. Because the synopsis is all of the events that happen in a story, it can be useful if you have the premise and the characters, but need some guidance on the plot itself. Bonus point for the synopsis: you’re more than likely going to need to write one at some point, especially if you’re planning on traditional publishing. Most synopses are summaries of the scenes and dialogue.

Another summary-like method is often called the flashlight method. I’ve also see this occasionally referred to as the ‘traditional’ method. In essence, you create one or two sentences for each chapter or story section. You can use the Hero’s Journey or the traditional plot structure known as Freytag’s pyramid if you’re not sure where your chapters are. The flashlight method flexes well enough that you can dedicate entire pages to each section, or keep it all on index cards.

If detail is a large priority for you, consider an expanding outline such as the snowflake method. With the snowflake method you start with a single sentence and simply keep expanding until you’ve reached the level of detail you want. If you choose to use the original form of this method (created by Randy Ingermanson) it can be very work-intensive but steps you through everything from character arcs through to plot and into early scenes.

The final method I want to cover is the mind map. This is a fantastic thing for brainstorming. You start with your core premise and began mapping out the parts that branch off from it. This includes things like your Main Character, who then has branches out for his goal, his motivation, his flaw. It might also include your main conflict and how it connects to your Main Character and your antagonist. This doesn’t follow any structure, so be warned that it may not give you a clear-cut plot line.

Regardless of what you use to outlines, keep in mind that these are organizational tools. As your story develops and changes, you might find yourself needing to revisit and revise your outline.