Author Archives: Word Smith

About Word Smith

Lover of words, especially ones that create worlds. Lover of coffee. Finding new ways to bring writers together.

Storybuilder Inc. — Building a Revision Template

Storybuilder Inc. is on a brief break until May. (To view all posts, click here.)

For those of you who have followed the series, you have all you need here to see your project from initial premise to polishing. The last few installments will focus on polishing itself, a phase that can take on many layers, spanning months to years, and overlapping with various stages of the submission and publication phase.

While you wait, start building a revision template. That’s a list of to-dos and must-checks that will help you hit some of the major angles of revision that are often over-looked if you simply revise from beginning to end several times. Building your template takes time and your template can always be added to as you gain experience, but I have found the following five books to be invaluable for creating that list:

1)       Donald Maass, Writing Twenty-first Century Fiction

2)      Noah Lukeman, The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying out of the Rejection Pile

3)      Rayne Hall, The Word-Loss Diet

4)      Jessica Page Morrell, Thanks, But This Isn’t for Us: A (sort of) Compassionate Guide to Why your Writing is being Rejected

5)      Robert McKee, Story

See you all in the spring!

out_of_the_darkness_300sigRita

Graeme Brown has been writing epic fantasy since he was a child and continues to develop his stories every day. He is the author of The Pact and is an editor for Champagne Books.

Find out more about Graeme and his writing by visiting his website, HERE.

fwj-banner

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Graeme's World, Storybuilder Inc. Outlining and Storytelling Process

Being a Writer

One of my fellow fantasy writer, Daniel Ionson, asked me to compose a homage about why I write, and kindly offered to post it on his blog. (You can visit Daniel’s blog at http://danielionson.wordpress.com/). I thought the piece would be worth sharing on my blog, and on here too, since I haven’t posted for some time.

(Storybuilder Inc. fans, not to worry – I am on a short break while I wait for the busy academic term to end.)

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

pencilI am a writer, and that means I write. If I were thrown into a dungeon and told I could have but one thing, I would ask for a pencil. You see, with a pencil I could at least write my stories on the walls and keep it sharp by rubbing it against the edge of the stone. If you were kind, you might give me paper, for when the walls are full, and perhaps a dictionary, so I might discover new words to play with. But if you weren’t, still I’d find a way to put my stories between the lines of others and ponder their meaning.

I am a writer, and that means I love words. When I awaken, I hear words and sort them out in my head like playing cards, shuffling with abandon until I find an arrangement that makes me grin. My truest distress comes when I cannot find a pad of paper, and my academic notes are often inscribed with scribbles about a fantasy worlds that might be just as obscure as the mathematics that fill the rest of their pages.

I live to write. This does not mean I must write to live, for the two are not the same thing. No, often I starve so that I can write and make a living so that I do not starve too much. Book deals, book store placements, fan letters—these are by-products, afterthoughts, and compliments that make me happy, but I am far more contented to enjoy the friends I meet on the way. You will never hear me ask you to buy my books, but you will hear me talk about how much I enjoyed writing them.

I am a writer, and that means I love stories. I live story. I breathe story. I am story. If, upon my departure from this mortal frame I were to enter into a wonderful afterlife and behold, in a glance, the life I’ve lived, my truest regret would be all those moments I spent worrying and forgetting. Life is full of wonder, fear, joy, sadness, excitement, pain, mystery, and uncertainty, but above all, life is  full of story, and could I live for ever I would live to discover more stories, and expand the universe just a little.

Come, reader, friend, scholar, muse. Close your eyes, just for a moment, and think of what surrounds you, every time you draw breath, and every time you let it go. Life is endless and immense, it is the comfort of a mother to her only son, the sorrow of a wife who’s lost her soul-mate. It is the anger of a lost traveler, and the rage of a betrayed lover; the folly of arrogant fools, the wisdom of old men whose bitterness has made them hunch, the rudeness of a joker, the hurtful tears of one who doubts herself. Life is strange, enticing, tantalizing and profound.

And so I write, eager to capture all these fleeting snowflakes in their glass ornamental stories, eager to live every moment twice as fully, daring to dream, daring to write, no matter the cost.

Leave a comment

Filed under Graeme's World

Storybuilder Inc. — Step 12: Revision 501

Welcome back to Storybuilder Inc.

For those just joining, I am both a writer and an editor and have compiled this series both by utilizing various principles of storytelling craft learned from other writers and professionals in the industry, and from techniques I use in my own practice. I do my best to make it accessible and adaptable for other writing styles, i.e. intuitive vs. planning.

I cover everything from the initial premise to the final, polished draft. Last time, I covered 5 advanced principles to help as you use your revision outline from step 11 to adjust your manuscript so it matches the kernel of your story. This week I will talk about 5 final, very advanced principles of pre-polishing revision.

For a complete guide of all Storybuilder steps, including a list of posts to come, CLICK HERE.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Tip 1: Discover characters’ fourth dimensions and world-building under-story

Are your primary characters three-dimensional? Time to make them four-dimensional. Are you secondary characters two-dimensional? Now it’s time to get to know them as well as you knew your primary characters before you started telling your story. Tertiary characters, those ones who make a quick appearance, will also get a promotion—at least, some of them. Pick those tertiary characters who stood out more than expected in the manuscript and make them more that one-dimensional. The ones who stay one-dimensional, those extras in the crowd, can now be called quaternary characters for the distinction. Go on, rewrite all your profiles and label accordingly.

What about settings? You drew them out, made some notes. But your story went on and maybe you forgot to write down the details. Now it’s time to organize and get them down. And all those details with your world need organizing too. If you write speculative fiction, then you might need to make profiles for nations, cultures, peoples, religions, languages, or groups. You might need a chronology to deal with the history behind the world as it’s come together. Do that too. Develop a system and keep it organized.

Do you see the point I’m getting at and how it relates to the idea behind this tip? So far, we’ve just been looking at the story in each sub-frame and how to make revisions without losing perspective. Now the goal is to comb over your sub-frames, look at the world-building behind them, and see how you can coherently organize your notes to make sure everything’s consistent.

Contradictions in story occur because we lose perspective of what is actually going on. After all, writing a story involves lots of juggling. At the same time, getting carried away with profiling to make sure you understand all the inner workings can pull you away from the germ of the story, leading to a manuscript that reads as an attempt to Frankenstein a bunch of disjoint creative blocks.

In Step 4 I mentioned basic techniques to keep your world-building together and in control. (In fact, I will be following Storybuilder Inc. with a companion series on this process.) Now, after the writing is done, it is most appropriate to take the time and build to your heart’s content. It will give you more perspective, which is exactly what you want.

Focus, in particular, on character, since character motives are the essence of story and the conflict that defines it. Go deeper than just knowing all the levels of your primary characters—wear their skin, see into their soul. If they’re burned, feel that burn, if they weep, you should be weeping too, if they are depressed, get ready to see the doctor for some antidepressants. Wear black if they like black, or spend hours in a garden or conservatory if your heroine is a gardener in a land of eternal spring. Think of yourself like a movie actress (or actor) getting into character, and go so far as to talk like your primary characters, walk like them, even think like them while you’re trying to discover this fourth dimension of their character. The story you tell is their story and the only way it will be believable is if you believe it—and that means you must live it. That’s a four-dimensional character, and even if it drives you a bit crazy, well…there’s a price to pay for prose that truly are alive.

There’s also the lesser players who knit together the subplots. Contradictions and plot holes abound when secondary characters are little more than two-dimensional jigsaw pieces. You know a bit of their back-story, their motives and goals, but not much more. Make them more than a wind-up toy that spins and somersaults. Now, you don’t want them to be three-dimensional in the story, because otherwise your narrative will be over-saturated with meaningless info-dumps, but those characters do need to become three-dimensional to you, their creator, and he perfect time for this is the point where the story is told and you want to get to the bottom of why everyone is doing the things they’re doing. Look this little bit deeper, and see if the story your wrote is in line with it. If not, make a slight adjustment to make it true.

Last, those tertiary guys and gals. Every piece of your story must be meaningful. And so everyone who occupies more than a few sentences should be as well. Convince yourself that their presence passes this test, and, to do so, make them two-dimensional on paper so that, when they speak, walk, or are observed by your protagonists from a distance, you’ll understand their significance.

An example:

A bearded man walking across the town square now is an unemployed lumberjack whose wife wants him to find work as a blacksmith, and he’s storming across the town square because he hates the thought of it. His lip is curled, his shoulders are hunched, and he’s cursing the Goddess of Thunder. And this is perfect, since he does this during the chapter with emphasis on misdirection and free choice. Furthermore, the otherwise sunny day I picked now will change to foggy and overcast, making the primary character uncomfortable and on edge. See how a bit of knowledge of a tertiary character’s second dimension can enhance a scene, change the tone and mood, and send a ripple across the manuscript? Do this with every tertiary character you can think of, using the slightest brush stroke, and watch your story come to life. (And I’ll assume you all are familiar with writing’s number one rule: show, don’t tell!)

You’ll find that probing characters deeper will open up setting and world details too. If you are writing a story set in the real world, then you might profile relevant groups based on your research if, for example, you find out your character was a former spy for an organization called the Black Bells. Let all the layers build and add up, and tweak your story accordingly (or make notes where you’re not sure so you can address it all during the polishing to ensue).

Tip 2: Clear all your lists

Revision, like drafting, is organic. That means, although I’m detailing various tips to reflect five different levels of complexity, in truth the order you tackle things will be as unpredictable as the creative process itself. Outlining—true outlining—after all, is not about laying down all the boundaries and limiting your creative freedom. It’s the exact opposite, in fact. It’s about become freer because of the confidence you have in a directive process that will yield a story fleshed out to its fullest.

Either way, before you move on to polishing—the step where you will take all the notes and revision strategies and produce something ready for an editor’s eye—make sure you deal with everything on your list. Cold read notes, alpha reader notes, or another list that grew when you started the revision process. Don’t jump the gun, no matter how tempting that is, because otherwise you’re going to run in circles and end up with a story you knew could have been better, if only you’d waited. If your publisher or agent is pestering you, then ask for more time. If there’s a deadline, then throw everything distracting aside, lock yourself in a room, and ask your friends and family for forgiveness. Do what it takes, but whatever you do, don’t cut corners; leave no stone unturned and you will have the best polishing experience possible, and, most importantly, happy readers when your book is in print.

Tip 3: Good bookkeeping

Your manuscript is going to look like a dog’s breakfast. It will consist of the neat, well-thought-out words you put together during drafting, and the looser, boxed-in notes, offset with various anchors you’ve dropped in during revision. Once you get through all your revision check-lists and have treated every sub-frame and given it the considerations of the various levels of Tip 1, go over your manuscript and read these notes. See if you can clean them up a bit, or put them together. (In the process, you may generate a creative spark or two—it’s fine to fix up your manuscript during revision, just as long as you avoid getting pulled into linear revision.)

If you’re a multiple drafter and more of an intuitive writer (i.e. a “seat-of-your-pantser”), then this corresponds to exactly what you do, but with notes inserted as you run over your drafts, rather than just changing the manuscript each time until it happens to work out.

(Quick fact: intuitive writers often write many drafts, up to twenty, as a process of discovering their story. These stories often abound in surprises and twists that outline-based drafts lack. However, I will again emphasize that the Storybuilder model is neither of the two. There is no “formula” for writing a great story. However, there are steps you can follow to help as you creatively discover how to create your own unique cosmos. Revision, whether you are an outline writer or an intuitive writer, is as much an opportunity to introduce twists, surprises, and new layers to your story as in drafting.)

Tip 4: Embrace unpredictability

Since your story’s true existence is abstract and your true work involves careful thought that far exceeds the time you spend crafting its prose, this means the storytelling process itself can be very unpredictable. As much as you might want to control it, the truth is it will take you for as many twists and turns as the story itself (perhaps more).

The goal of the revision model I’m presenting is to allow you to embrace this process. Rather than forcing on story layers and changes without a sense of their effectiveness, you have an opportunity to write in an intermediate medium. In much the same way computer programmers write in pseudo-code to break down a problem before investing too much energy in implementing thousands of lines of code, so too a writer can learn to write in “pseudo-story”, looser sketches of the story in question without investment in a particular course of prose. Just as a problem-solver uses these looser forms of notation to assist as a focus for thought, so too a writer can feel his or her way to the essence of their story before taking out the brush and sweeping every grain of dirt from its stones.

Tip 5: Kill your darlings, but believe in resurrection

It might seem intuitive to keep the strongest passages of your story and clear away the weaker ones. This, in general is true. But sometimes it’s wise to go to the parts you feel the strongest about and decide they need to be better.

You’ve heard the expression, “Kill your darlings.” Why do we do this? Not because fiction, as a rule, shouldn’t contain anything profound. It’s something deeper:

If you wrote something worth keeping, then it’s not the words, but what the words do, that is worth keeping. So, go to a part you love. Think about it, reflect, then make the decision to tear or apart. Tear it apart and make it better. What will come back will be something different (though it sometimes will be similar). In its resurrected form, it will be there because you connected with what is happening in your story. You connect with why, and the process of writing itself, and in so doing detach from enamor over having written.

I’ve used the image of layers of an onion, or a snake shedding its skin. Also, metamorphosis. Layer upon layer, your goal is to strip your prose down until the diamond and gold and nameless precious gems of your story are naked and gleaming for your reader to see. You’ll break them free during revision, then make them smooth, shiny, and well-wrought during the final polish.

It ends with polishing

Some of you have heard the word “polishing”. Perhaps it was from an agent or an editor who said, “It must be polished before you submit it.” The word itself makes me think of continuous rubbing and smoothing off all rough edges. It’s easy to think this means you just have to write a story then keep going over it again and again. Hence, linear revision, which is, for most, a trap.

I’ve tried to break revision and polishing into separate pieces, and hope this helps you highlight strategies to make the overall process productive. “Keep going over your manuscript until it’s perfect” is not specific at all, and is very unhelpful. Good goals are concrete and specific (like good stories).

Next week, I will detail more techniques, ones that will give you detailed, measurable steps to make sure that “continuous rubbing” leads to a finished story.

out_of_the_darkness_300sigRita

Graeme Brown has been writing epic fantasy since he was a child and continues to develop his stories every day. He is the author of The Pact and is an editor for Champagne Books.

Follow his blog for updates:

fwj-banner

2 Comments

Filed under Graeme's World, Storybuilder Inc. Outlining and Storytelling Process

Storybuilder Inc. — Step 12: Revision 401

Welcome back to Storybuilder Inc., and Happy 2014!

I have compiled this series based on my writing method to inspire others who wish to develop their own storytelling strategies. I cover everything from the initial premise to the final, polished draft. Last week I covered 5 intermediate principles to help as you use your revision outline from step 11 to adjust your manuscript so it matches the kernel of your story. This week I will talk about 5 advanced principles that build on the 5 from last week.

For a complete guide of all Storybuilder steps, including a list of posts to come, CLICK HERE.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Tip 1: Balance the senses, do your research, and build in all perspectives

The idea behind this tip is that of making adjustments without lose perspective. First, in Revision 201, I talked about going over to get each sub-frame in sync, to appreciate the story that is actually happening despite the prose you laid there. The goal was more to make notes, to summarize your scene, or to fill in any background information you now appreciate by looking at the segment of story, with the perspective you have on how the story turned out. In Revison 301, the intermediate version, I considered a more focused way to appreciate the scene by looking at inner and outer turning points, and emotional contrasts. These are important core threads in storytelling, and I demonstrated how a story’s inner engine chugs along by the movement of these pistons.

In this step we move past these elements and map out the finer details of your scene. Now it is time to fill in the rest of your sub-frame outlines. Map out the senses to see if you have an imbalance (many stories are vision heavy, which means being mindful of sound, smell, touch, and taste, can give you some extra spices that enhance emotion, mood, and vividness of a scene). Play devil’s advocate for all the details your mention so you can do extra research. Is there a sword fight? A broadsword in a light-weight woman’s hand? You might want to research broadswords and their place in battle (which would make you rethink what weapon to give your heroine). Finally, put your sub-frames in perspective.

I need to say a little more on this final point, since it’s a bit loaded. I mentioned, in Step 11 that you will want to include a section on each sub-frame for where you can summarize how the sub-frame contributes to the development of the frame. For example, if you are working a frame where your character goes back to her childhood home, a place now full of cobwebs and broken windows, then your goal might be to contrast her state of inner turmoil with her physical world (previously, we met her as a high-power business woman who couldn’t be taken down – until she receives a phone call from her ex-husband stating that her mother, who has been wasting away in a long-term care facility, has passed away). One sub-frame might be where she picks up a shattered picture frame, the picture gone, but the frame familiar because she remembers it as the one that hung on the wall, sporting a picture of her mother and father, actually looking happy. In the “contribution to frame XYZ” section you might write, “Stirs up Athena’s (protagonist) source of pain, the thing she tries to forget.” After all, the purpose of this scene is to show that contrast, to bring her toward the mission to unearth how her grandfather died and to confront the secret she’s kept since she left home to “get a real life”.

One important thing to note, of course, is that the reflections you write are not a summary of your sub-frame. They are an assessment of the true story going on, and your job, when you appreciate how a given sub-frame contributes to a frame, is to dig deeper and get more in touch with that story behind the facade of a draft that is, at best, a very educated guess.

This type of perspective-taking is important on higher levels than just the sub-frame to frame level. Not only do we have Athena’s old home visitation frame, we might have, say three frames that are part of the Start of Main Action section. Thus, we will do up a new card for each frame, and on each card we will have a “contribution to Start of Main Action” (replace “Start of Main Action” with the respective part of the nine part outline each collection of frames belongs to). What I usually do is list a bullet summary on each frame of the sub-frames, then look for the common thread. On the back of the frame card, I will divide it in half, with one side for themes, the other side for subplots or background information. For example, with Athena coming home, perhaps the frame before was a phone call with her ex about a problem with inheritance wherein he notifies her that she has to go home (she’s at her apartment with her current date, a hot middle-aged woman from the office), and the frame after is a visit to the institution where her mother died (she hasn’t been to her home town in seven years). This is all the Start of Main Action, and putting it together, the purpose of this section is to move Athena toward the ultimate goal of the novel: to make her confront her past hurt and become a better person for it. On each frame card, then, we would write how the frame contributes to the section, i.e. we would write that the home visit frame’s contribution is it brings Athena face-to-face with her troubles and shows the reader some of the trouble beneath her facade before she goes to the long-term care home where her neglected mother wasted away.

Doing this gives you meaningful perspective and a hierarchical organization to your story that reflects the structure you built from your outline, before drafting. The goal of this process is to help you appreciate themes and higher levels of story, which will, in turn, inspire you to drop anchors all over your manuscript for later development during the polishing phase to come.

You will create a card for each of the 9 parts of your outline, summarizing, in bullet form, each frame that makes it up, and including a note for how that part of the 9-part outline contributes to its parent section of the 3-part outline. For example, the Start of Main Action is art of the Beginning of your novel. For example, in the Athena story, on the card you create for the Start of Main Action, you will summarize each of the three frames, and likewise on the card you create for the Beginning, you will summarize the 3 parts, Opening Sequence, Turning Point 1, and Start of Main Action. For each of the three cards, you will have a section for how they contribute to the Beginning, i.e. for Start of Main Action, “sets Athena’s in motion to confront the source of her hurt.” Turning Point One might be the call from her ex, and the news that her mother is dead, while the Opening Sequence might introduce us to Athena during a satisfying, long-awaited “you’re fired” meeting.

It goes all the way to the card you will make for your story. On that card, you will have a summary of the beginning, middle, and end, and on it you will state the premise. Your goal will be to make that premise true, and, if you did your outlining well, it should be quite close to the premise you set out with in Step One.

Tip 2: Tackle those harder alpha and cold reads notes

The idea behind this tip is to use external feedback. In the last step, the intermediate form, I mentioned implementing alpha reader and cold read notes. However, you might find these notes difficult to tackle. Some points might be harder to define, such as, “Margaret is always sulking and is not likable. Fix.”

Well, fixing Margaret isn’t a simple job. You might need to brainstorm several places to go and fix her. Meanwhile, the principle of revision is to keep perspective of your novel and move over it quickly. Deciding how to fix Margaret will become a sub-task that will eat up days, possibly, derailing the momentum you might have built up while going through and addressing your revision checklists.

Instead, shift those harder notes until later. Skip them, and check-mark the simpler ones that allow you to address a spot directly where you can leave an anchor in your document that you will come back to during the polishing step. Then, once you have moved over and developed your sub-frames and gained perspective for your story, both fine and gross, you can come back and jump at these harder tasks. “Fixing Margaret” can be defined as brainstorming how Margaret presents herself, and possibly a “find”-hop around your manuscript for the name “Margaret”, to see where you can do some revisions.

Tip 3: The power of anchors

The principle at work with this tip, in its 101 and 202 versions, is to prevent circular revision. One of the main causes of circular revision is the “fix it now” syndrome that torments many writers. You spot a problem, get an idea, then go into your story and change it. You go through, front to back, change, fix (or so you think), then go through again, only to find that many of the things you fixed created other problems.

It will be especially true as you move to these higher levels of revision that changing your manuscript to respond to the whims that occur will be potentially problematic. Hence the need of anchors.

It never hurts to talk about anchors, so I’ll repeat:

An anchor is a cute term I use to describe any symbol that won’t accidentally crop up in your manuscript so that you can get to a spot of interest right away. For example, in my manuscripts, I like to use [*] as an anchor for places where I’ve left myself revision notes to be addressed during polishing. I use some standard anchors, like [*introspec] for passages of introspection, [*XYintrigue] for where character XY’s intrigue is revealed or at play behind some of the mysterious actions. You can invent your own, but whatever you do, make sure you keep a list of all your anchors so you can “find” them and look at the passages of interest, or address the notes you’ve left for yourself.

Some people use the revision features of their word processor, however I’m not a fan of this because the text in your revision notes does not stand apart from the text in your manuscript during a search. For example, if I want to get to a specific comment or type of comment, I can type in one thing and go straight to it because of the anchor. Likewise, I can group together various comments using common anchors, and thus address related issues together for better continuity, rather than going through every comment and skipping the irrelevant ones (which still takes time to read and determine if they are irrelevant to your task; let’s not mention the temptation to take a detour and fix a different issue).

Tip 4: 90 percent thought

The office for a writer is a mental space, not a physical. All the scribbling you do on the page is just ten percent of the true work that happens. Whether you acknowledge it or not, you spend much of your time plotting and thinking about your story while away from the medium that allows you to capture it in still form.

Thus, embrace it. That was the spirit of this tip at level 101 and 202. The reason we leave anchors and spend time looking at abstract structure beneath our story is to move to higher levels of thought. This is where we think deeper about the story’s elements that we are now familiar with, to make sure we’ve got it right.

Like a cow with six stomachs, you’ll go chewing, swallowing, chewing, swallowing, and so on, until your story isn’t just a crude ball of cud. This takes time, thought, and care. If you’ve utilized this skill during the drafting phase and have written your words with care, then you’ll find this process of careful thinking will guide you beautifully through revision.

Tip 5: A snake shedding its skin

I mentioned rumination, but there is another image that better describes revision: a snake shedding old layers of skin. Your story is growing as you pass through successive stages of development, and if you avoid circular revision and even everything out with the right amount of thought, you will be able to appreciate how your manuscript itself evolves. As you address your revision concerns, you will be loading your manuscript with anchors and notes, and you will also make changes as they come to you. You won’t have a second or third draft. You’ll have an organism that changes slowly, shedding skin as you reach milestones for core aspects of its development.

Metamorphosis is a better image for how your story will transform after polishing, so if you’ll bear with my disgusting metaphor…revision is about shedding layer after layer after layer, changing subtle bit by subtle bit by subtle bit, until, at last, you’re nothing but a…CATERPILLAR! Then it’s time to crawl into the cocoon, do a hot read (Step 13), and put the revision notes and hot read notes to use and patiently toil so that your manuscript can emerge a wonderful butterfly (Step 14).

Next week, you’re a level 5 revisionist

The spirit of revision is restraint, no more than it is for writing itself. I have been sharing some of the higher levels of revision that I use, the with goal of presenting stages of complexity so you can think about and try some of the simpler before moving onto the harder. In truth, however, this presentation is an ideal representation of what is, in practice, much more chaotic. Nonetheless, a procedure is taught in any work place so that the workers will know what they should be doing, so that when they must improvise (most of the time), they can at lease improvise in style. So I sort out and share the method I follow in the hope that you, my fellow writer, will takes some notes and revise in style. (Unlike the office workplace, the storytelling office is one where you improve ALL the time).

In my next post (3 weeks from now) I will move to the highest level of advancement and talk about the most painstaking (and worthwhile) extents I go to ensure I have fully developed a story – to ensure not that a story is perfect (because no story can be written perfectly), but that it is complete.

out_of_the_darkness_300sigRita

Graeme Brown has been writing epic fantasy since he was a child and continues to develop his stories every day. He is the author of The Pact and is an editor for Champagne Books.

Find out more about Graeme and his writing by visiting his website, HERE.

fwj-banner

3 Comments

Filed under Graeme's World, Storybuilder Inc. Outlining and Storytelling Process

Storybuilder Inc.

Do you write novels? Do you want to write novels, but don’t know how? Are you look for a step-by-step guide to outlining, drafting, revision, and polishing your novel, from premise to the shiny, submitted manuscript that will be ready for an agent or editor’s eyes?

I am both a writer and an editor, and Storybuilder Inc. is a comprehensive list of steps that utilize various principles of storytelling craft I have learned from other writers and professionals in the industry, and from techniques I use in my own practice. I do my best to make it accessible and adaptable for other writing styles, i.e. intuitive writers vs. planners.the writing method I use. While there is no one true writing method, it is my hope that taking the time to detail this procedure will be a helpful resource for writers looking to develop their own strategies for success.

Below is a list of the steps, each containing breakdown, explanation, and numerous examples. I will continue to add to this resource during my weekly Tuesday posts.

If you like writing tips, be sure to check out the posts by my fellow authors here at Worlds of the Imagination, especially:

Olga Godim’s writing tips

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

“When forced to work within a strict framework, the imagination is taxed to its utmost – and will produce its richest ideas. Given total freedom the work is likely to sprawl.” – T.S. Elliot

STAGE ONE: PRE-DRAFT OUTLINING

Step One – A premise: Starting your story with an idea, based on 3 key considerations

Step Two – Crash testing your premise: Five steps to make your premise as strong as it can be

Step Three – The three-part outline: Expanding your premise into end, beginning, middle – in that order

Step Four – Character and Setting profiles: Dealing with and keeping lateral growth organized as you outline

Step Five – The nine-part outline: Expanding from 3 parts into 9 – the key plot-point model for your story framework

Step Six – The Proposal: Write a fool-proof plan before you get ready to draft

Step Seven – The Frame-by-frame outline: Create a chronological map of milestone scenes, based on your 9-part outline

STAGE TWO: DRAFTING

Step Eight (Drafting 1) – Drafting Begins: How to draft and use your outline to keep you grounded

Step Eight (Drafting 2) – The forest for the trees: Techniques to help you persevere during the long haul of drafting

Step Eight (Drafting 3) – Layering and scoping: Some advanced techniques for developing a solid draft

Step Eight (Drafting 4) – Alpha readers: Adding some objectivity while you draft – pros and cons, and differences from “beta readers”

STAGE THREE: REVISION

Step Nine – A cold read: An effective first step, appreciate your novel at reader-speed after months spent at writer speed

Step Ten – The key to mastering structural revision: How to revise your manuscript without going in endless, hopeless circles

Step Eleven (Part 1) – A revision outline: Divide your story up into its smallest units, and make a post-draft outline

Step Eleven (Part 2) – Discovering microstructure: How to assess your manuscript’s revision needs using your post-draft outline

Step Twelve – Revision 101: Basic revision tips, utilizing the “unique story universe” principle

Step Twelve – Revision 201: 5 simple tips for efficient revision

Step Twelve – Revision 301: 5 intermediate tips for efficient revision

Step Twelve – Revision 401: 5 advanced tips for efficient revision

Step Twelve – Revision 501: 5 very advanced tips for efficient revision

Interim – Building a Revision Template: Top 5 books to help start your revision template

Forthcoming (spring 2014):

STAGE FOUR: POLISHING

Step Thirteen – A hot read: A strategy to hold you entire story in your hands

Step Fourteen, Part 1 – Polishing: How to make your story shine on every line

Step Fourteen, Part 2 – Nuclear bombs, since this is no anthill

APPENDIX: WORLDBUILDING

A companion series to follow Storybuilder Inc., detailing strategies for efficient world-building. This series is intended for writers of speculative fiction. I will explore the three major aspects of world-building, being character profiling, setting sketches, and world elements.

6 Comments

Filed under Graeme's World, Storybuilder Inc. Outlining and Storytelling Process

A time to celebrate

Happy Holidays to all!

Storybuilder Inc. will resume in the New Year. Meanwhile, I’m days away from submitting my debut novel, which I have labored on a few hours every day for the last 15 months. Between that, many Christmas feasts, and squirreling away by the fireplace with coffee as often as possible, it should be quite an enjoyable week.

Happy writing!

 

1 Comment

Filed under Graeme's World

Storybuilder Inc. — Step 12: Revision 301

In the last step, I talked more about revision, covering 5 basic principles to help as you use your revision outline from step 11 to adjust your manuscript so it matches the kernel of your story. Now, I will talk about 5 more principles that build on the 5 from last week.  In the New Year, I will spend another two weeks doing this, covering revision at two deeper levels of complexity, before moving on to polishing, the final phase of storybuilding.

For a complete guide of all Storybuilder steps, including a list of posts to come, CLICK HERE.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Tip 1: Look for inner and outer turning points, and emotional contrasts

In last week’s tips (Revision 201), I talked about making adjustments. Of course, we were not concerned with big adjustments at that point. We were only trying to detect where the story fell out of sync. The goal of going through and filling in your outline is to appreciate this, but the actual work of making corrections in each individual sub-frame is difficult and something that requires many layers of development. To help with navigation, you will want to get to know each sub-frame well, and a crucial way to do this is to look for inner and outer turning points, and emotional contrasts.

If you filled your sub-frame sheets in according to the instructions from step 11, then you will have a place for these three things on each one. Looking at your sub-frame and identifying these three things is a good way to sweep over your manuscript and connect to the story underneath.

An outer turning point is a change in circumstances that gives your narrative a tailwind. It can be subtle (in fact, it is most effective when it is subtle). An inner turning point is a change within your character, and often it is linked to an outer turning point. It can be direct or indirect. Maybe you are writing a mystery novel and all the evidence gained up to this point serves as a backdrop for your detective to have a sudden epiphany while lying in bed—the realization that everything they have been doing is wrong and they have to go about the case another way. An outer turning point could be anything from an unexpected home invasion to a betraying friend’s smirk, to a sudden gust of wind, while an inner turning point can be anything from an epiphany to a brief moment of recollection to a sudden shift in story voice (conveying a subconscious inner shift).

Emotional contrasts go hand-in-hand with outer and inner turning points, and a strong story is one where a character’s conflict arc progresses under the pull of strong conflicting emotions. While outer turning points are related to plot, these outer events, however subtle, bring about or contrast changes in your character that present an emotional shift and often an opposition to the previous emotions. This, in turn, leads to an inner turning point. All together, these three things are the coal that keeps your narrative engine chugging.

An example might be:

[example summary of a sub-frame]

Abe awakens to serene sunrise, reflecting on what might lie ahead in the day, wondering if his fiance, Eve, will come visit. He smiles, appreciating how beautiful the sunrise is on the water. A leaf drops on the pond, sending out dark ripples and the air is suddenly chill, rekindling the memory of how he nearly lost her two years ago. Never again, he vows. He goes back indoors, realizing how cold his coffee is.

In this example, we might write:

  • Outer turning point: the leaf sending ripples along the water
  • Inner turning point: Abe realizes how uncertain his life is and decides he can’t fool himself no matter how hard he tries
  • Emotion contrasts: nostalgic, hopeful, and pleasant vs. insecure, uncertain, and uneasy

In the next sub-frame, Abe would cart the new emotions along and those, along with any external turning points there, would lead to further development of his arc within this frame.

Since inner and outer turning points can be subtle, you can look for them in every sub-frame. These shifts are what compels your readers to keep turning pages. The goal of a storybuilder is to infuse every sub-frame with them effectively.

However, one note of caution: beware creating these for the sake of creating them. They must belong, otherwise your story’s events might read like a cartoon. Again, this is where art comes into it. You, the writer, must know what your overall goal is with each sub-frame and how it contributes to the larger scope of your story. When you look for these three components, you want to ask what is truly happening, and what is true to the story—not what ought to happen so you can make the scene dramatic.

Think about what is happening in the frame as you think about the inner and outer turning points and emotional contrasts of a particular sub-frame. Think also about what is happening in the part of the 9-part outline, even the 3-part. For example, in the scene with Abe, maybe this is the middle of the novel and Abe is about to discover that he has a devastating mental illness. Maybe our goal is to have him end up in a mental hospital where an old woman teaches him to trust the world again through their hour-long sessions of coloring with crayons. If that’s the purpose of the novel, then this scene’s meaning can be put in context. In this scene, for example, let’s say Eve never calls Abe, and he hangs around until supper and watches the sun set. This frame is about the onset of his madness (as it turns out, Eve went on holiday and he doesn’t remember, because he is starting to hallucinate). He goes to bed with the light on, and hears whispers on the wind. He picks up the phone and suddenly the operator’s voice recording actually speaks to him and tells him Eve is dead. Panicked, he runs outside, half-naked, until one of his neighbors finds him on the street. (That’s the final sub-frame of this frame.)

Get the idea? Now see what you can do with your story, and next week we will dig deeper into how we can use the sections of the sub-frame notes to appreciate the story behind each meaningful segment of your manuscript.

Tip 2: Implement alpha and cold read notes

During the last part of Step 8, Drafting 4, I talked about alpha readers. We also did a cold read, in step 9, where you made notes as you went over your draft like a reader. You can look at the storybuilding process as a bit of an architecture project. You spent a lot of time in the pre-building phase, doing renderings, then developing a careful blueprint. You can only plan so far—so at last you went and built, very carefully. Afterward, though, there are tests and fixes that need to be done. Your role now is to use all those inspector’s notes (both your own as cold reader and the alpha readers’).

Last week I shared basic tips to help you get your bearings with the process. Now you can think about where to put these notes. I recommend you avoid putting them in until you have filled in all your inner / outer turning points and emotional contrasts for each sub-frame. The reason for this is you need to gain some perspective as you break your story apart so you can better appreciate where a given issue might rear its head. One of your notes might be, “Your character doesn’t seem to have much confidence. Is she always like this?” Your goal is to check, but in order to do that, you have to know where to look.

I recommend you put all your notes together in one place and move through them like a check-list. Basic fixes and adjustments you can tick off the list right away. Larger fixes can be worked in using square-bracket notes that you’ll address at some point in the layering process. Avoid fixes that seem so large you don’t know where to begin. We will talk about those next week.

This part might be tedious, but if you avoid the instinct to “fix it all now”, it should be straight forward. You will also find there is lots of overlap or issues you may have addressed while you layered in some changes during the time you spent filling in your post-draft outline.

Tip 3: Drop more anchors, use references, and be open to radical change

I mentioned last week that you shouldn’t get too carried away with fixing. In fact, I even said to leave notes inside square brackets (rather than comments, since you can easily find these notes using “find” in the body of your word processor). As you’re doing this, you’re going to realize lots of parts are connected. Maybe there is a big intrigue that shows its face throughout many subframes. In fact, you might notice that it is in sub-frame 2 of frame 21, and so on. You might write:

[look for consistency on this plot. Go into 16.7, 18.5, 21.2, 8.2, and 26.6 and read all references to the Blue Plague and its ties to the Overworld]

Whatever it may be, leaving yourself these detailed referential anchors will help tremendously as you deal with Revision 501, the most advanced stage of revision, and sync together all rough ends such as plot holes or more serious flaws related to a faulty premise or underdeveloped outline.

Unlike the world of architecture, the word “oops” does not necessarily mean rewriting your book. Using the storybuilder principles, you can address the most fundamental of flaws in your manuscript, and these anchors are key ingredients to be pinned in place as you piece together where you have to go back and perform some magic.

Tip 4: Ruminating on higher levels

Tip 4 of Revision 201 can be extended to this level. The goal of moving in stages, with the aid of your post-draft outline, is to create deeper intimacy with your story. You want to move away from seeing it as a long chunk of words that took a long time to write, with some scenes you remember. Instead, you want to reach a point where you can identify which sub-frame a given event happens in, where you can appreciate all the connections of your story and, most importantly, appreciate what your plot elements are and how they evolve.

At this point, you will become aware of flaws in your manuscript and ways your story doesn’t quite fit. Be very critical of these. Don’t second guess yourself. If something is “not quite right,” then there’s a reason for that, and your novel will not be finished until all those not-quite-right’s are dealt with. You don’t need to have the answer right away, but that should serve as an indicator of where your thinking energy needs to go.

I will emphasize that this is not a “stage” of the process (these are just tips, in order of complexity, to help navigate you through revision successfully). This is a principle to show how you want to be looking at your manuscript. In Revision 401 next week, I will extend this tip by visiting some of the more specific ways to deal with these higher levels of problem-solving. For now, see your goal like this:

Imagine your story’s details are the trivia for a game of Jeopardy. Do you want to win grand prize? Then know your facts inside and out. That is the start of realizing where work needs to be done and where some things don’t quite match up.

After all, the devil’s in the details.

Tip 5: Layer in your rewrites – AGAIN!

As you proceed, keep on layering. Think of a snake with its suits of skin. You have a process, but the draft evolves organically. There is no draft 2 or 3. Just the one draft and its evolving states. If you want you can save your draft as a new file to see how it changes, but you will have hundreds of them by the time you’re done. I don’t save my drafts, other than the draft I finished for the cold read, the one that is ready for polishing (the “hot read” version for step 13), and the final.

Layering is the key to doing this effectively, however. Layering allows you the power to seize a sentence and put it where it belongs, right then and there. Layering frees you from keeping you stuck in one place. Layering allows you to move, to make notes, and to come back when you are ready. It allows you to write where writing is ready to happen—where it needs to happen, with the direction of your critical revision process.

Layering in and of itself, without the structural guidance of the post-draft outline or careful storybuilding steps, is no guarantee that a novel will be finished. However, making this your rule of procedure for how you implement revision will give you, the writer, the spontaneity and freedom to swing your hammer down on the manuscript where it needs tempering, rather than beating it in every which direction and always having to unfix what didn’t need fixing.

Next week, you’re a level 4 revisionist

If you’re still following, then you are a determined storyteller and I hope you continue all the way to the end. If you have a desire to tell a story, then do not lose hope or lose sight of your goals. Many writers, sadly, give up at this step, or even before. Worse, many turn their manuscript in for submission and skip revision, applying some polish and saying “good enough”. With the temptation of self-publishing, it’s easy to give in, especially when the going gets tough. But this easy road usually means silent readers or standard rejection letters, and having been there myself I don’t need any convincing which road is more desirable.

It’s going to get tougher next week and the week after. But if you’ve read this far, then I’m going to assume you’re in for the ride. You want a finished novel, something you are proud of. You want a manuscript that’s gone through all the treatments, so that, no matter what, you’ll have finished work in your portfolio.

This is the part where you start feeling like you’re crazy, where your every waking moment belongs to your manuscript and you really wish you could move on to something else. It’s the part where you wonder if you’ve written crap and if you’re wasting your time, if it will ever find a publisher or just be another failure. You might hate it as much as you love it, and wonder if you’re ever going to succeed.

Don’t give into those Gollums! Tell them to go away and never come back, and guess what? Eventually you’ll have peace of mind.

Don’t think about if this is “worth it”, or if it will be “great”. Don’t think about if it will be “crap” or “meaningless”. Throw all that in the fire and let it melt. What you’ll take out, then, will be pure. This is the part where you manuscript moves from being your own to being something else, and that something else will be the story you set out to tell.

See you all in 2014!

out_of_the_darkness_300sigRita

Graeme Brown has been writing epic fantasy since he was a child and continues to develop his stories every day. He is the author of The Pact and is an editor for Champagne Books.

Find out more about Graeme and his writing by visiting his website, HERE.

fwj-banner

2 Comments

Filed under Graeme's World, Storybuilder Inc. Outlining and Storytelling Process

Storybuilder Inc. — Step 12: Revision 201

In the last step, about the basic principle for effective revision I use, but now I will spend another four steps outlining 5 tips, with increasing complexity each week, before moving on to the final steps, 13 and 14, highlighting five key steps, in order of increasing complexity.

For a complete guide of all Storybuilder steps, including a list of posts to come, CLICK HERE.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Tip 1: Avoid those little fixes

Some writers prefer many drafts and proceed on good faith that the prose will work themselves out as the layers add up and they get more familiar with the story. This means leaving weak sentences and misfit paragraphs in place, trusting on good faith that they will come together as you churn through draft 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and so on. I will make the assumption that you have been following this workshop and have tried to write your story using the principles outlined during the drafting phase (Step 8).

This means you have worked carefully using your frames and have invested approximately 1-2 hours / 1000 words of draft. This means your overall prose are well-developed, as are your scenes. It means you can delegate your work into two distinct phases: revision, which involves larger changes, and polishing, which deals with all those “little fixes” (I will talk about polishing in Steps 13 and 14).

As I mentioned in last week’s post (Revision 101), the goal of revision is to bring your draft in sync with your story. This means having scope and perspective to make large changes and appreciate them beyond the actual words on the page. Fussing with your prose to perfect them, therefore, will steal the large scope you otherwise need to achieve effective revision.

Tip 2: Use your post-draft outline

In step 11 we invest quite a bit of time in going over our story and writing an outline that divides your manuscript into it’s smallest components. The process of creating this outline and filling it in meant rewriting the former outlines you developed and telling your story in bullet form so you can appreciate angles that the prose otherwise might hide.

Use the post-draft outline sub-frames to direct you. Each of these sub-frames is anchored in a given frame, which will help you appreciate how each sub-frame develops themes relevant to your premise. The sub-frame sheet allows you to write out background information that doesn’t appear in the draft and allows you to look for inner and outer turning points so you can see if your story in this place moves in a way that is compelling to your reader.

Tip 3: Don’t let the draft lie to you

Your draft is what you wrote. Think of it as a discovery. Think of it also as a lot of uncharted territory and false labeling as you attempted to make sense of what you actually encountered.

Your outline was your map from which you planned your trip carefully before starting your draft, but it couldn’t prepare you for every tangle of underbrush, pitfall, and the layout of enemy tents. When you did your drafting, you went out reconnoitering, and wrote out exactly what you saw.

Now you’re back with detailed data and it’s overwhelming. You wrote down everything you encountered, but it was dark, and you didn’t know what you were actually seeing. That underbrush you encountered was actually tripwire, and you’re lucky you get caught in it. And those enemy tents—guess what? They were actually your allies, so the plans for attack you formulated while on your way back would have made the war a lot messier.

Your draft is a best guess, and, if done well—if you write slowly and take the time to truly discover the story—you’ll have all the details right. For the most part.

Your post-draft outline is a chance to go back to the map, consult with intelligence and other reports, and put all the details together so that your detailed account of the terrain is in fact correct.

Then you’ll be ready for attack.

(Aka sending out to a publisher. Yep, it’s a tough market.)

Tip 4: Leave yourself notes and time to think

So your draft lies to you here and there and you have to change your plans. Don’t change them too quickly. Those tents that you are told are allies might be neutral. That matters when you’re planning war.

Similarly, the subplot that makes no sense might work with the fix you come up with as soon as you spot the problem, but there might be a better fix that will come to you as you continue to hop around your sub-frames and consider the various angles. See the whole picture. Don’t just think about the problem in sub-frame 19.2. Think about how that problem pokes its head up in 11.2, 13.4, 16.7, and 23.3, and leave notes in those spots that will be easy for you to get back to using the “find” feature in your word processor. (I like to use text in square brackets between paragraphs, and anchors.)

Mastering revision involves lots of restraint. Like the art of mastering drafting, it, too, requires more thought than writing. While you might spend 1-2 hours / session of revision at the computer, and do this for many months, during this phase your mind will be spinning all throughout the day and these are problems you will no doubt be taking to bed.

Tip 5: Layer in your rewrites

The goal of the revision phase is to get away from linear revision. This means you should not feel like you have to go  through your notes from the beginning to end when you address those parts of your manuscript that need a tune-up.

Think of this as a visit to the chiropractor. (This workshop started with a posture analogy, right?) If you’ve made it this far, you’ve done a lot of work, and I bet you have lots of knots in your back.

Now, a chiropractor doesn’t go over your whole back, bottom to top, again and again. She might go over it once to feel where there are the most subluxations. Crack. Crack. Crack. That’s your middle back, by the way. Maybe there were a few in your lower back, and a few in your neck, but every time she gets to your middle back it’s like you’ve turned into a bag of Orville Redenbacher.

That’s where your chiropractor spends most of her time, and similarly you, as writer, need to spend most of your time where it matters, layering in all your rewrites until there are no more things that are out of alignment with your post-draft outline.

Next week

Revision is important. It’s the time when your story comes out of the cocoon and spreads brilliant butterfly wings of gold and purple and scarlet. You can always do more of it, but at some point you have to stop. It’s not meant to be endless, which is why it’s important to have a method, even if there is madness in it.

My goal with this workshop is to give you all a resource to help you complete your projects, and so I will spend more time on revision. Next week comes revision 301: 5 more tips that will help you deal with all those popping vertebrae.

out_of_the_darkness_300sigRita

Graeme Brown has been writing epic fantasy since he was a child and continues to develop his stories every day. He is the author of The Pact and is an editor for Champagne Books.

Find out more about Graeme and his writing by visiting his website, HERE.

fwj-banner

3 Comments

Filed under Graeme's World, Storybuilder Inc. Outlining and Storytelling Process

Storybuilder Inc. — Step 12: Revision 101

Like an alchemist

Revision is like metallurgy, and good storytellers must become good alchemists. How do you know what changes to make? How do you know what things to leave alone?

I developed my story-building model based on the principle that any story can be developed to its full exactly as it’s told, and to change that story in any way creates a new story. Hence, one need change nothing! Instead, one need discover what should never have been there in the first place.

Your story is gold, but in the process of telling it, some impurities slipped into your mixture. Your goal when you revise is to eliminate them by working your magic and turning them into gold as well.

That is the alchemy, and if you are scratching your head wondering what the heck I’m talking about, then please read on.

The multiple universes of story

It’s tempting to get carried away with revision. After all, you can change anything you want. You can add a character, or take two away. The story changes then. In fact, it is another story altogether. You’ve discovered something new. You’ve slipped into another universe with its own laws, and if you truly want to discover that one, you’ll have to go back to the drawing board and work everything out once more. Never mind that wonderful universe you outlined then wrote into existence.

It’s so tempting to go into that other universe, even though it seems the same. I assure you, it is not! (If you have been the victim to circular revision due to entertaining these seemingly innocuous changes, then no doubt you can relate.)

The true, unique story you discovered

“Wait a minute,” you might be saying. “I had my protagonist Al’s whiny mother tag along as a side-kick for my whole novel. You’re telling me I shouldn’t cut her?”

Well, actually, I’m telling you neither. What I’m suggesting is that you discover WHAT your true story is and ask how Al’s whiny mother helps to serve that story. You spent time carefully outlining everything up to this step, so I presume you had a good reason to put Al’s whiny mother in the story. If not, then, by all means, Al’s whiny mother might have crept in somewhere while you drafted and now you have to go back and determine just how to set things right. Maybe she has to go (if she was never part of the story to begin with), or maybe (which I think is more likely) you have to discover just what function she serves in the development of your story arc.

This is exactly what it means to unearth the true, unique story you discovered. Not just with Al’s whiny mother, but with every single sub-frame and the elements in it. If you’re ruthlessly cutting elements from your story to avoid hassle and get it to your publisher, then you’re taking the easy way out. Granted, sometimes it’s liberating to let loose with the sledgehammer when you’re doing renovations—at least, until the ceiling falls down on you.

Sledgehammers aside, your goal is to find the “true story” that lies somewhere in between what you’ve written and what you can appreciate to be the true story from the post-draft outline you developed in Step 11. Bring the two in sync, bit by bit.

The art of doing this well is not something I can tell you how to do—the ability to do this is what makes you a writer and is very much a “gut” thing. However, having a method by which to anchor yourself as you do it is very much a calculated move that does not depend on gut and chance, and it can spare you the headache of listening to many “instincts” that take you in wild circles.

You’re going to apply this treatment again and again and again, very much like peeling back the layers of an onion, until you get it just right. For example, maybe the first pass over your manuscript you will try to determine each sub-frame’s inner and outer turning points, contrasting emotions, and contribution to the overall frame. Next time, you might pick out more specific senses, list characters and places involved, note things you need to research, write out background information, and realize a few more things about what function that sub-frame needs to serve for it to “belong” to the story. The time after that, you might layer in more alpha reader and cold-read notes, and tick off things from your to-do list. (Keep in mind, you can visit this sub-frame again any time. You don’t have to go from the beginning to the end before coming back to it, and you don’t have to visit every one the same amount of times – only the particularly troublesome ones.)

The important point here is don’t approach revision as a reader. Your goal with revision is not to read your manuscript and fix the words. You will get bogged down and lose sight of the larger implications of the changes you make. Instead, use your post-draft outline as a tree-hopper to keep you focused on higher levels of story—see your sub-frames as units and look at what the components are doing through the words. Zero in on larger goals, like trying to show various contrasting emotions and how a dialogue can be rehashed to meet this need, or revamp a “dead” scene so it actually has a function that fits with the thematic function of the other scenes it is part of. Layer in various senses so they suit the mood, modify one character’s behavior after you write out her background motives, or give someone boots when you realize the journey through the snowy forest would be quite tedious with shoes.

‘Til every inch glows

You are tempering steel. You swing your hammer in the middle and beat down the bumps you see between blows. You flatten one, then appreciate another better. Back, front, front, back. A little on the edge, several in the middle, one for the tiny bump that stands out against the ruddy light. Your arm is tired, but you can keep refreshed by the improvements you see with every swing. It keeps you going until the whole thing’s glowing and smooth and ready for another bath.

Expect revision to take you an average of 2-3 hours / sub-frame by the time it’s all said and done. That’s about 200-300 hours if you’re writing a 100,000k word manuscript (approximately a 400 page novel). Given the 200 or so hours it should have taken to write the draft (again, assume 100,000 words), this equates to half a year of Monday-Friday 9-5 work.

Does that sound like a lot? It should – after all, full-time writers are not full-time writers because they laze around in their slippers all day. More importantly, though, does this compel you and excite you as you think about the riches you can bring to the surface as you develop this unique story universe you set out to give birth to?

Persevere, and you won’t regret it. When this is all done, your story is ready for beta readers and another cold read of a special sort that involves taking time off work and assuring all your friends that your absence is not a reason for any concern.

But we’ll talk about that next week.

out_of_the_darkness_300sigRita

Graeme Brown has been writing epic fantasy since he was a child and continues to develop his stories every day. Find out more about Graeme and his writing by visiting his website, HERE.

You can follow Graeme on Twitter (@GraemeBrownWpg) or on his blog:

fwj-banner

2 Comments

Filed under Graeme's World, Storybuilder Inc. Outlining and Storytelling Process

Storybuilder Inc. — Step 11 (Part 2): Discovering Microstructure

In the last step, I talked about creating a post-draft outline. If your novel is 100,000 words, then you might have 50-100 sub-frames — and thus a big stack of paper! I only talked about what each sub-frame sheet should look like and the motivation for doing such a crazy thing. This week, I will talk about the process of filling this sheet in—the process of discovering microstructure.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Like Clockwork

Don’t you love the intricate workings of a clock? Large gears turn to control the outward display, and as they rotate smaller gears move quicker, controlling them. Spools swivel in time to those smaller gears, and even smaller components turn, some slow, some fast, but all in perfect concert with the overall progression. It’s incredibly complex, and yet, at the same time, simple. It’s unified, with one purpose.

Just like a story.

If I lived two hundred years ago, no doubt I’d be a clock-maker (a day job while I secretly work away at my stories). Instead, I find teaching about and exploring the machinations of math and computer programming just as stimulating—a digital age equivalent of a clock-maker, I suppose. One thing is for certain: it’s taught me to think about stories structurally and abstractly, without getting twisted up by all those complicated gears.

Last week we explored how to divide your story up into small chunks—the only smaller division from here would be the sentences and passages that move each one. (If you are writing a series or a collection of related stories, you might want to consider bigger wheels and what sort of machine they turn in as well. I’ll write about that in the series of extra posts to follow this workshop.)

Now, let’s explore why it’s important to explore micostrcuture.

Pearls before swine

Exploring microstructure means going over your manuscript with a fine-toothed comb, pulling out and organizing details, and discovering the emotions and plots that lie in the background to the story. It allows you to discover what is really happening so you can make intelligent structural changes that reflect the overall story. It will take hours—count on 100 hours for 100,000 words of story.

So, is it worth it?

I love the comic “Pearls before swine,” particularly for its title. It resonates on many levels for me, especially with regard to completing a story: if you don’t put your pearls first, you’re going to turn your precious gems into pig food. Ugh!

Many writers turn in work too soon (myself included, which is why those works now rest peacefully in a box). Sometimes the reason is pressure of publishers who offer lucrative contracts if a novel gets handed in by a certain date, though for the most part it’s psychological — you’re tired, and you want to finish and move on. You settle for “good enough” instead of “done”.

This is a mistake. (In my opinion—but this whole series is about what works for me, so I think I’m entitled to that here. ) There’s plenty to be learned by probing your story’s full depth, and its worthwhile to discover how to do this effectively. Discovering microstrucutre will allow you to get the bird-eye view, both from the treetop and from the far-up clouds.

This might seem like building a nuclear bomb for an ant hill, but publishers aren’t looking for tin-can explosives. They’re looking for stories that will explode across reader networks, rise in a mushroom cloud of reviewer buzz, and hover over the market like nuclear winter. And you are going to create it—if you hold onto your pearls until they’re ready.

Go back in time

The goal of this process is for you to go back in time and actually place yourself right in your story, live-time, the same way you were when you wrote it. Using your sub-frame notes allows you a different medium to engage with your story so you aren’t merely looking for sentences to change. Filling in how a sub-frame contributes to the development of the frame it is part of, writing out emotional contrasts, inner and outer turning points, emotions, senses, background story—and so on—allows you to lay out the minutest building blocks of your story. Most importantly, while you go through, sub-frame by sub-frame, you have the opportunity to make changes as your notes call for it.

As an example from my own work, the opening for frame 11 of my WIP niggled me—but when I got to filling in the sub-frame for the opening, I realized I did not give Jak enough emotional presence because I spent some time on background information while establishing the scene in medias res. Fleshing out the components for the sub-frame allowed me to make changes with a proper reference and, after about twenty minutes of playing type-delete-type-delete-type-delete, I sat back and “felt” the scene work (good enough at least for this step in the story-building process).

Using this as your guide, you might decide you need to add a sub-frame or remove one—even add or delete a whole frame!—you might decide to change characters, names of places, or how various plots execute. Discovering microstructure is a great way to see where all the components of a larger plot arc occur so you make adjustments where you need to.

Go through with your own manuscripts and relive each sub-frame. Make sure you also redo your 9-part outline, 3-part outline, and premise, and place these as dividers at the beginning of the frames where they occur. Think about clock-wheels and how each smaller part is part of the whole. Use some alpha or beta reader notes, and your cold-read revision notes (but don’t get too concerned about implementing everything from your checklist—that comes in step 12).

Be creative and introspective. Most importantly, take your time and enjoy the experience of reliving the story your drafting process left behind.

Almost done!

After you have done this, you’re going to feel like you’re close to being done, but there are three final steps. Your manuscript might read as very good, but our goal is to make it more than excellent—so good that there is no word to describe it. (I say goal because, in actuality, it will always be possible to make it better; but you might want to have this in the back of your mind.)

Next week we begin with the first of three steps in the revision stage, using our completed post-draft outline, and I will discuss the final steps to help you discover that quality to your manuscript that is more than excellent—the quality that says “done”.

out_of_the_darkness_300sigRita

Graeme Brown has been writing epic fantasy since he was a child and continues to develop his stories every day. Find out more about Graeme and his writing by visiting his website, HERE.

You can follow Graeme on Twitter (@GraemeBrownWpg) or on his blog:

fwj-banner

1 Comment

Filed under Graeme's World, Storybuilder Inc. Outlining and Storytelling Process