On Thursday, I invited over a few friends for an entirely selfish event. I would tell them the story of my work in progress, and they would ask me questions, poke for plot holes, and spitball solutions to problems.
In return, I would give them wine and pizza and so much love.
The idea came to me after experiencing several jealousy pangs from reading the acknowledgments of authors I admire and seeing them thanking their spouses or critique partners for helping them figure out tricky bits of plot, or, you know, entire acts. Most authors I know have a "first reader" who allows them to talk at length about their story. I have several amazing and willing readers, but there's no one I feel entitled to talk at for hours at a time as I wrestle with plot, so I asked these people to be that for me, for an evening.
I didn't expect it, but we spent an entire hour on backstory and magic rules alone. By the time we got to the synopsis itself, I was kind of exhausted, but telling the story was good for me. I felt where I was shaky on the story and saw how some important relationships are sidelined in my plot. It reinforced my suspicion that I have some characters and plot threads fighting for attention and that I need to focus.
My friends asked amazing and challenging questions, gave me some excellent homework assignments, and convinced me that what I've got makes more sense than I feared. My favorite moments were when they audibly reacted to twists in the story or emotional peaks.
Here are only a few of the ridiculous things that were said:
Nick: "Okay, so, I'm a necromancer . . ."
Mary Winn: (in response to my question of when to start the story and when some characters should die) "It's sexier if they've been dead longer."
Me: "I've been calling them Guardians, which is stupid, but I'll come up with something better."
Nick: "How about Batmans?"
Tai: "So it's kind of like boxed wine . . . the wine is the spirit, and the bag is the wraith, and the box is the physical body?"
I learned there is no better way to test the rules of your fictional magic than having your friends use it on each other while pretending your living room is an ancient Celtic battlefield, as below:
Victoria: "Okay, so say Tai and I are wizards, and we want to battle Nick and MaryWinn for that couch they're sitting on . . ." What followed was a long hypothetical (and impressively accurate to my mythology) description of a magical battle for territory.
Some less ridiculous things were said as well, insightful things that thrilled me because for a night all these ideas I've been tangling with for years were making sense to other people and exciting them with their story potential.
And the most amazing thing is that they all seemed to have fun and to want to do it again.
This was originally posted on Quirk & Quill.
Heat causes expansion. Cold, contraction.
Fire behind a story gives it flesh. We find our spark. The story burns. The pages fill. And once the story's full, it's time for cold. Sharp. Reflection.
In my first revision of DON'T TOUCH for my editors, I had a lot of questions to answer, lots of backstory to clarify, characters to unfold. The novel grew. When I sat down with my line-edits, I needed to focus on pace. I needed to chill out, get analytical, and SLASH with an ICY BLADE.
I wanted to see how all the characters, settings, and threads fit together, so I looked to the blog of fellow VCFA grad Ingrid Sundberg. She has many excellent posts on structure, but since my book deals with OCD, it's only fitting that a post called "Obsessed wtih Story Structure" spoke to me.
I love that this post encourages flexibility in design. This is not a formula. Identifying what needs tracking for a particular story can be as instructive as creating the visual itself.
I made a graph tracking four settings, five plot threads, two types of scenes (flashbacks and theater scenes), and nine characters. Along the top, I also used opposing colors for alternating sections and chapters (shown in the second picture).
On a separate track, I outlined all the plot points and played with lines representing tension and desire.
Then as I cut, I folded over the cut pages, accordion-style.
As the graph contracted, the proportions began to look nicer, and the patterns pleased me. For other sections, I was able to visualize changes without manipulating the paper. It helped me identify sections that needed trimming or a change of pace.
If you're considering trying this, here are some things I learned.
I got super-specific -- one block on my graph equals two pages. I would suggest starting on a larger scale. The trends and proportions should still be clear, but it won't be as painstaking. I might also start with less characters or group those who almost always appear together.
For me, mapping out the plot threads was most helpful. If I had a page or more with no plot threads represented, often, it could be cut.
I also found it helpful to use a single color for both a character and a plot thread that featured him or her. In my graph, the hot pink color represents Caddie's friend Mandy, the thread of their friendship, and the setting of Mandy's house, and that consistency made it easier to connect the sections of the graph.
Best of all, this graph gave me the courage to SLASH without worrying about what might be lost.
News, events, fun stuff, serious stuff, and online doings. I kept a personal blog for years at The Storybook Girl, and I'll slowly be migrating some of those posts to this blog.