Saturday, July 30, 2011


So have I officially pimped the Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook yet? It's pretty amazing. Maass writes in the introduction that the exercises are intended to be applied to an existing draft, but some of them really seem like good ones to do before you start writing. I plan to do about 15 of them before moving onto the next stage of NP. But this is a good one for Pantsers, too-- it can help you to figure out what the heck to do with the stuff you pantsed. I recommend skipping the original book and just getting the workbook; there are plenty of examples in each chapter to get the feel of what he's talking about. And while some of the exercises will make you want to punch the wall, if you're honest with yourself you'll admit it's because he's right and that element of your novel does need some major work.

(Warning: this book is not fucking around. It assumes you want to write the best novel ever and that you are willing to complete 32 chapters worth of exercises and make literally hundreds of revisions to your novel.)

On Thursday The Son had his day with nana, while I indulged in an orgy of productivity, whipping through six "deepening your protagonist" exercises from WtBN and making notes on my little 3x5 monuments to OCD index cards. I was soaring by the end of the day, so high on accomplishment, so in love with my heroine Irsa, so filled with awesome writing power, I felt like I could probably grind out the book in a week or two if I had to.

The last two days have been significantly more subdued. I've discovered that I don't know any of the other characters as well as I do Irsa. The next WtBN exercises focus on deepening secondary and antagonist characters, and I'm drawing more blanks about their wants and needs, their goals and inner conflicts. I see now that the still-shadowy areas of the plot are a direct result of shadowy antagonists, and am hoping that the next week's work will shine some light into those shadows.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

More About Scene Sheets (Pantsers, Avert Your Eyes!)

I just finished the scene sheets! 52 scenes for the novel, and somewhat to my surprise I figured out some of the shakier plot areas and did some shuffling of scenes. Plot Point Two needs some work, and some of the sheets toward the end there have almost nothing on them-- just the title and maybe two reasons why the scene should exist.

Now I shall I sit in front of the TV and write the scene titles on 52 index cards.

In the interest of full disclosure, here is my scene sheet, cribbed partly from The Weekend Novelist, partly from this awesome post by author Kait Nolan, and partly drawn from my own rich history of writing myself into corners. If you are a seat-of-your-pants, outlines-make-me-itch type, you may want to look away now.




What is at stake? Why is it urgent?:

3 Reasons for the Scene:**







Sense Details:














Character Development:


I know.

Rest assured, I do not have all this crap filled out on 52 scenes already.

*That is, is the scene :
            -moving the protagonist closer to or further from her goal?
            -providing or changing the protagonist's motivation?
            -bringing the protagonist into conflict with opposing forces?

Not all scenes will perform all three functions, but it's helpful for figuring out what the hell you want a scene to accomplish.

**Kait Nolan says you should be able to come up with at least three reasons why the scene belongs in the book; if you can't, the scene needs to be either overhauled or axed.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Scene Sheet Update

I have one of my sucky three-day headaches goin' on right now, so I'll be brief:

I'm chugging along doing scene sheets. Just hit the mid-point at 27 scenes. I'm planning to finish them ("finish" in the sense that I have a page for each with at least some basic info) by the end of Wednesday, so that I can use my long writing day Thursday to start working on some exercises from the Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Girl With The Spider Tattoo

Almost 15 years ago, I got a tattoo of a spider spinning a web between two blackberry bushes on my left upper arm and shoulder. It was my third (and possibly last) tattoo, and by far the largest. I was in my late twenties, in grad school for fiction writing, and beginning to realize what a hard row to hoe a novel really is. I was scared I wouldn't be able to do it-- would never finish a novel, never be published, never be a "real" writer. All my workshop cohorts from college had long since given up writing and settled into sensible careers like advertising or law. And no offense to any lawyers out there (some of my own parents are lawyers!), but thought of following them down that path was terrifying.

I felt the need to take vows, like a nun or a bride; to make a concrete commitment to the dream I'd had since I was seven years old and decided I, Lianna Williamson, was a writer, just like my childhood hero Laura Ingalls Wilder.

So I decided to get a tattoo of a spider. But not a scary, black punk spider; I wanted a pretty, light-brown, muse-like spider, and I wanted it sitting on the top of my shoulder, so that when I glanced down I would see it and be reminded of my pledge to myself to never give up on being a writer. And I never have-- even when I've gone for months or even years without writing, part of me always kept the faith.

And every time I see a spider-- every time, and our woodland home is surrounded by webs-- I feel like I should be writing.

From time to time, I've noticed something odd about my tattoo: occasionally it kind of puffs up for a few days, so that if I run my fingers over my shoulder I can clearly feel the outline of the spider sitting there. More recently, I've realized that it's only the spider that does this; the web and the branches don't puff up. I mentioned it to a tattoo artist acquaintance, expecting to hear an explanation; but instead he just frowned a bit and said that after all these years I shouldn't be experiencing any inflammation, and that even if it was a reaction to sunscreen or something, why would only the spider be affected?

This spring, after I stumbled and fell during my attempt to at last finish EN, the spider puffed up again. And it stayed that way-- not for days this time, but months. In June, my dear college friend D. came up from Florida to visit, and we took a road trip to our old stomping grounds in Woodstock, NY so she could get a tattoo at Pat's Tats, the shop where I got all three of my tattoos. While we were there, Pat took a look at my shoulder (tattoo artists love to inspect work they did long ago) and asked me what was up with the spider.

"I think it's mad at me because I haven't written lately," I said.

Pat nodded sagely. She's a spiritual old broad herself.

And now, the weird part: pretty much the day I started working on NP, the spider deflated, and has been lying serenely in its web ever since.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Checking In

Productive day! I "spun" 4 times and got the whole plot fleshed out, minus a few holes that still need spackling. I also made up a "scene sheet" template, and have been setting up sheets for the early scenes. I've done eight so far. Even though there's no way I'll be able to fill out an entire sheet for every scene in the book at this stage of the game, I'd like to have them at least started. It'll give me a place to write notes to myself like "mention x here", and help me to define the goal of each scene, and keep track of timelines. At least, I think it will. In case you haven't noticed, I'm pretty much winging this novel thing.

And you'll be happy to hear that the living room, while perhaps not "clean" in the strictest sense of the term, is vastly improved.


I have a long day to myself today-- quite possibly the last such day of the summer. Next week is The Son's last week of morning camp, and I should be busier with SAT tutoring through August. So I need to make the most of it!

Today I'm doing something The Weekend Novelist calls "spinning down the page". Basically, you write out the plot of your novel, scene by scene, in a kind of freewrite-meets-bad-poetry form, in short lines
that run down the page
like this
including whatever details
or snippets of dialogue
that occur to you
as you write without stopping to edit
until the timer goes off.

I did this for 30 minutes and got through Act I. I'm going to try to go for three more 30-minute sessions and wind up with a rough scene-by-scene outline by the end of the day.

And I really need to clean the living room. We have an issue with The Son's art supplies taking over every flat surface in the house.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Houston, We Have Plot!

I just finished the problem/solution chain for NP! Eight pages, single-spaced. Three Acts. Rough, yes, and sporting some vague "problems" like "Showdown with Roma". I'm sure it will be substantially overhauled in the coming weeks and months. But still: I plotted a whole novel! Wheee!

Monday, July 18, 2011


Plotting away. Still doing timed writings, and I typed up the scrawled problem/solution chart for the first half of the story. Hoping to inch forward on that tonight.

I also worked out my six key scenes (opening, plot point one, mid-point, plot point two, climax, and closing), and I've got notes for all of them except the climax, which as always is the toughest one for me to see clearly.

In other news, I picked a theme song for NP: "Fearless" by Pink Floyd. It's a song with heavy emotional ex-lover associations for me, but it is so perfect for Irsa and Akenam I am willing to hand it over to them. Also on my brand-new NP playlist: "On the Road to Find Out" by Cat Stevens and "Pink Moon" by Nick Drake. I am writing about SF hippies, apparently. I'd love to stick a Gorillaz song in there, too-- maybe "Dare".

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Plot Ahoy!

I finished the first round of worldbuilding. I still have more fiddling to do, but I have also decided to give in and admit that I've already plunged ahead into working on plot.

I had the first half of the story roughly plotted out, but the second half was mostly a blank, and I had some niggly unanswered questions that were making me nervous, since the niggly unanswered questions in EN are STILL giving me headaches 128 years into writing it. I don't need to have every little thing worked out before I start writing, but I'm not getting stuck in the "oh crap, I have no idea what my climax should be" place again.

So Friday night, I opened a file where I'd been collecting one-line scene ideas, and began shuffling them around into sections labeled Act I, Act II, and Act III, and adding new scenes as they occurred to me. To my surprise, I figured out a whole chunk of the remaining story doing this somewhat half-baked exercise. My climax scene is still hazy (grr), but I have a plan of attack to get at the heart of it.

I took The Weekend Novelist out of the library while we were on the Cape, and I devoured it. When we got home I ordered it from amazon... only to have a very much "revised and updated" version arrive. At first I was dismayed, since I really wanted to be able to reference the exercises and examples in the original edition, but now I'm over it and combing the book for what it has to offer. I've plotted NP along a Mythic Journey curve, and have begun doing a series of timed writings (with startlines like "This is a story about a character who..." and "My protagonist escapes the cage when...") in hopes of accessing any story wisdom my subconscious has to offer.

That's where I'm at, three weeks to the day after beginning this novel.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Three More Sections

I'm done with three more worldbuilding sections: language, slang, and gestures; knowledge preservation; and etiquette. Three more to do tomorrow, and then I'll be done with the first pass through the worldbuilding stuff. I need to expand ten or so or those sections by adding some information about the post-mortal culture, since the culture clash is part of what drives the plot.

I've got more than another week of worldbuilding according to my self-determined schedule, but my mind keeps racing ahead to plotting and outlining. There's a few sticky plot questions that need answering, and my mind keeps chewing on them, trying to get to the answers at the center.

Today is The Husband's birthday. The Son and I took the annual "Happy Birthday, Daddy!" photo and made it his desktop; we baked a lemon cake which is now waiting to be frosted and decorated; and we have a fabulous evening of Taco Bell and mini-golf planned.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Day 18

I can't believe I began work on NP only eighteen days ago. The book already feels so real to me.

I've completed 24 worldbuilding sections and have nine of the trickiest and/or most time-consuming left to do. My MIL is taking The Son after camp tomorrow, so I should have a nice long stretch to work. I plan to tackle Technology, History, and Maps.

Oh, and I've changed my protagonist's last name for the fourth, and I hope final, time. Her new last name reveals her as an ancestor of my male protagonist in EN, which makes me squee a little.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Explored By Nature

I'm at 20.5 of 33 worldbuilding sections completed. I might have done more, but my afternoon was shot after I discovered a big ol' tick on The Son's head, courtesy of Nature Explorers camp. All attempts to remove it failed, so we wound up having to take him to the doctor, who finally wrenched it free, legs wriggling madly, a chunk of my child's scalp still clenched in its jaws.

Go ahead and take a shower before you read on. I'll wait.

So, anyway, I'm done being productive for the day. The Son got to bed an hour late, I still haven't had supper, it's 90 degrees, and my house is a disaster because The Husband tossed every junk drawer in search of the tick spoon we own but have never before needed. Right. Like you're gonna find a teeny-ass spoon with no obvious home location in this house.

On the agenda for tomorrow:

1) Coat The Son in insect repellent before camp.
2) Sort junk drawers.
3) Buy another tick spoon.
4) Do more worldbuilding.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Settling In

48 hours after arriving home, I'm almost done unpacking and doing laundry. I've kept it on the DL, but we've been on Cape Cod these past two weeks. I got the idea for NP my first night there. I just didn't want to announce to the whole internet that our house and all our valuables were left unguarded save for one chubby and easily bribable cat. It was a wonderful vacation: we had glorious weather, The Son made beach friends and played outside like it was his full-time job, we swam every day, and my mom spoiled us with blueberry pancakes. Yesterday we went to our small-town country fair (The Son is a big fan of rides and cotton candy), and then to a cookout with The Husband's side of the family, and today The Son started "Nature Explorers" camp at his nursery school, leaving me 15 free hours a week to tutor and write.

Worldbuilding is going well so far. Out of 33(!) sections, I've completed 16.5 so far. That looks satisfyingly impressive-- only the second day of worldbuilding, and I'm half done! I am the worldbuilding master!-- but really it's that I've started with the easy bits, and have been pretty much just writing down what I already had worked out in my head. Next comes the part where I actually have to think and work things out and do research and stuff.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Last Day of Character Work

I've been working on NP for two weeks now, and tomorrow I'm moving on to worldbuilding. Not that I have all the character stuff worked out-- au contraire. But this time around, I'm spending two weeks each on character, worldbuilding, and plotting. Then I'll take an additional two weeks to look over what I have and fill in any holes that need to be filled before I can start writing.

That's the plan, anyway.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Like, Totally Mind-Blowing, Man

I'm inching my way through the character profile for my 370-year-old bald antagonist. But that's not where the sexy, juicy writing bits have taken place these past 24 hours. And that's what the people want. Sexyjuice!

Last night I had trouble sleeping and found myself on the couch with my notebook and pen. I've been obsessively reading and re-reading skimming The Weekend Novelist lately, and he has a plotting exercise I find pretty nifty, in which you write out your storyline as a series of problems and solutions. For example, Cinderella would start something like:

Problem: The Kingdom needs an heir.
Solution: Have a ball, invite all the single ladies so the Prince can have his pick.
Problem: Cinderella wants to go to the ball, but is prevented by Evil Stepmother.
Solution: Enter Fairy Godmother.

And so on.

I know I said I wasn't doing any plotting yet, but this problem-solution exercise got my mind a-buzzin'. Vague ideas for scenes started locking together in problem-solution units, and when I finally gave in and started writing it down, I got a rough storyline for all of Act I and maybe a quarter of Act II.

Then I went to sleep and had those dreams where you think you're having brilliant creative insights, but the second you wake up you see it was all dream mumbo-jumbo.

Tonight's sexyjuice comes courtesy of this awesome Character Clinic post by the fabulous Joely, in which she discusses using these cards for inspiration and insight. Now, I've been reading Tarot cards for more than 25 years, but I've never had luck using them for fiction. But these are more story-specific cards, and after re-reading Joely's post, I decided to give the online two-card character readings a whirl. I've been pounding away at these character profiles, but I still feel like something's missing-- something that can't be uncovered by compiling more backstory or other facts about them.

So, swallowing my huge grain of salt, I let a computer fortune-telling program give me writing advice.

And, in a word: HOLY CRAP.

Okay, that's two words. But Holy. Crap. I cannot even express how useful this was, because I haven't really begun to absorb it all, but... I feel like I know so much more now, and I know what I don't know  so much better, too. Like, my love interest character, Akenam? Totally has a dark secret. And looking at his profile and his role in the story, DUH. Of course he does. But I didn't see it. And now I do. I don't have a freakin' clue what the dark secret is, mind you, but at least I know there is one and I can focus my character work on it. And it was all like that.

I know, I sound like a crystal-kisser, but dude. Seriously. It was cool.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Antagonist Blues

Still doing character work. I spent longer than I'd planned profiling Saadian, a Helper character who is also prominently featured in EN. I figure it's worth taking a little more time with him, since he's the bridge between the books. Also, it was Independence Day for us USAians, and there were fireworks to be watched and chocolate ice cream to be eaten.

So I still haven't started on the profile for the last of my quintet of primary characters, the big bad Antagonist. Actually, there's another Antagonist, Will, who is far worse, but he starts off comfortable and folksy and my heroine has a bit of a crush on him before he gets all evil and shit. But this one is terrifying to her, representing all that is alien and most threatening to all the truths she holds most sacred.

Here's what I know:

this person is 370 years old, a post-mortal who has been "reincarnated" into a body that does not necessarily bear any resemblance to the original model. A genius, a legend, almost a religious figure-- and now the director of a project to resettle a severely depopulated, post-plague Earth. Bad psychic scars from that disaster-- lost her child, homeland, and entire culture. The surviving groups of humans still living on the planet need to be studied, diplomatically contacted, and possibly confined to reservations... but she believes one such group is responsible for the engineered genocide of her people.

And I think she's bald.

What I don't know:

Gender (I'm using "she" in the paragraph above, but I'm not 100% sure female is the way to go), race/ethnicity, personality, goal, motivation... you know, the little things.

Actually, I think I just worked out a lot of shit just typing that. Thanks!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Day 8

Day 8 of working on NP, and I've finished a character profile for Will, one of my secondary characters.  I have no idea how he ties into Acts II and III-- just that he does tie in, somehow-- but that's cool. I'm not plotting yet.

I have two more secondary characters to profile, including the main antagonist. The antagonist has been pretty hazy for me-- until today, I wasn't even sure of gender-- but now I'm pretty sure we're dealing with a 370-year-old bald woman. Still need a picture and a name for her. I think I'll get The Husband to vote on google images of bald women.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Character Work

I just finished the profile for Irsa, NP's protagonist. I've been using Lazette's Gifford's Two Year Novel book as a guideline (I'm already up to week 12. After 6 days.), with exercises in character mapping and goal, motivation, and conflict.

Now I'm diving in and profiling the secondary characters, beginning with Akenam, Irsa's foil/guide/love interest.


Gah. I know.

So I'm sure it's no surprise to anyone that I haven't written in months. I tutored a bunch through the spring, read a crapload of novels, and let EN get as cold as The Husband's feet on a winter's night.

And then I did something naughty.

About a week ago, I was drifting off to sleep when a character tapped me politely on the shoulder, and asked if maybe I could start telling her story, since I clearly have nothing else going on at the moment. And the next morning, I plunged into a new novel. I've accumulated ~35 pages of character work and plotting ideas so far, and am feeling the giddy rush of the bright shiny new project.

I know. It's awful. You're not supposed to bail on your first novel for younger, prettier one just because the going gets a little tough. That's bad bad bad, and no way to actually finish a book. I should be ashamed of myself.

But I'm not. I'm having too much fun. Picture me with my fingers to my lips in a gesture of feigned scandalization, giggling over how incorrigible I am.

I'm calling the new project NP for now. Catchy, hm? It's a YA/SF that is arguably a prequel for EN... so it's not THAT bad to work on it? Right?