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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.

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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.

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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:

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Genres help each other

Besides writing fiction, I also work as a journalist for a local newspaper and I write book reviews for most books I read. GoodReads has 250 of my reviews by now, and I noticed recently how much writing nonfiction improved my fiction.

Journalism

Writing articles for an old-fashioned print newspaper teaches brevity and influences word choices. In a print newspaper, unlike an online blog, page space is at a premium, and word count is tight, like in a book. I have to squeeze everything I need to say into 800 words, so I learned to formulate my thoughts in the most concise way and to select only the most relevant, truly important points for inclusion in a story. I also learned to use very few adjectives in my writing—no room for flowery prose—and to select the most precise and expressive words to convey ideas. These skills do wonders in fiction.

Book reviews

When I critique a book, figuring out what I like and dislike in a story, I try to use my finds in my own fiction. It’s not as easy with quality, the books I like—these are often highly subjective—but flaws are easy to pinpoint in the other writers’ works. Each one I notice is a lesson to apply to my own writing. A few of the most common flaws—the most important lessons—I list below.

Deus ex machine – this is a No-No! in every textbook on writing, but many writers still use this literary device. It’s very tempting to drop their characters into an impossible situation and then introduce a powerful sorcerer who can wave his wand—and poof! Problems solved. Heroes saved. Or it could be a boss, or Zeus, or a genius rabbit coming to the rescue. Sergei Lukyanenko in his books Night Watch and Day Watch uses this approach. His hero doesn’t solve problems. To keep his conscience clean, he allows others to do it for him, to dirty their own conscience.
I never resort to this trick. My characters always solve their own problems. And if they can’t, then maybe I, a writer, should fix the situation they find themselves in, so they would have a solution available.

Info dumps – another technique frowned upon by all the writing teachers. Still, many writers do it in the beginning of their books. Mercedes Lackey is especially prone to info dumps in prologues. The readers should know the character backgrounds and the world description before they plunge into the story, right? Wrong! Everything the readers should know they could learn from the story later.
I try hard not to use this comfortable and attractive solution. As a reader, I’m bored by the info dumps. I don’t wish to bore my readers, so I start my stories with action.

Unsympathetic characters – this is a border case. I don’t usually finish books where I don’t like any of the characters, but some readers accept this writing quirk, even derive a contrary satisfaction from reading about doormats or villains. In the last decade, a wave of darkness swept the literature, and many writers consider a good protagonist almost a taboo. They add some artificial faults to their heroes, as if a drug user is automatically more interesting than an honest, hardworking non-smoker. I disagree. For me, it feels like a lazy way out for a writer, but liking and disliking has always been subjective. I try to write about characters that I myself sympathize with. I make my characters strong and able, standing firmly on the ‘side of light’. They still have complex problems to solve, so it’s largely a personal preference, but it’s a lesson all the same.

Too many details or unnecessary details – this flaw isn’t huge but it’s often irritating. Some writers don’t even consider it a flaw, they cram their novels with details, but for me as a reviewer, too many details make a book tedious. Every detail, if used, should tell something about the character or be relevant to the story or convey a mood. If it fails to perform any of these three functions, it’s extraneous. I read a book by Alex Bledsoe lately. In it, his hero goes peeing one morning. Who needs this detail? Why is it there? It doesn’t serve any purpose. In my own writing, I try to follow this maxim: no unnecessary details. Sometimes, I fail, but I make an effort.

What other fiction writing technique did you learn by working in another writing genre? Marketing? Technical writing? Communications?

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Storybuilder Inc. — Step 9: A Cold Read

When to stop writing

When you are finished writing your draft, you might want to take a vacation from writing. Many writers work on something else then come back to their older manuscripts. While it’s true that this alternation creates much-needed distance, it’s not necessary. What is necessary, however, is for you to switch gears from creator to appreciator.

One way to achieve this is by doing a cold read of your manuscript. I’ve written about cold read revision already. If you want a play-by-play, visit The Writer’s Vinyard, here (though I will repeat the content of that post here for convenience). Otherwise, if you want more about the rationale behind it, you can visit my guest post on Scarlett van Dijk’s blog, here.  What the cold read allows you is the chance to rest from writing and the chance to get a different perspective on your work, without unplugging you from your project.

Of course, you might just want a break, in which case that’s fine. I took a one week break when I finished my current novel. After one year of hard work, every day, I couldn’t think about writing at all. I enjoyed the sense of accomplishment, and slowly built up the urge to jump back in to the next stage.

Whether you write something else or jump in right away, doing a cold read as a first step is a great tool for restraint. Revision is a difficult process in that it involves making small alternative decisions long after you made your original ones. Often, the best changes made in revision are very subtle and have more sway than large ones. How do you appreciate what changes to make? You need to see your story as a whole, and that’s where the cold read comes in.

Getting started:

1) Save your story in .epub format, then put it in your Kobo or Kindle. (If you don’t have an eReader, this would be a good reason to go and buy one.) Reading your story like a book allows you to get comfy in a chair, in bed, or wherever you’d otherwise read a book. You can take it with you, read it on the bus, while you’re waiting two hours at your doctor’s appointment, etc. Most importantly, having your story in an eReader gets you away from the computer where, even if you read it in .pdf, you might be tempted to open the Word file and make changes to a part that bothers you.

2) Have a notebook or notepad ready, and take notes as you go through, in the form of a checklist. Ideally, have a small one that’s easy to tuck away with your eReader.

Once you are ready to go, here are some tips to help you stay on track:

1) Take a break from writing while you are reading. Don’t open the file. Let it rest. If you don’t, then such revising detours will slow the process down, and reduce the vantage point you have of going over your story at reader-pace.

2) Don’t worry about typos or mistakes. This will just bog you down. You will be going over the manuscript later and weeding them out.

3) Avoid writing out the solution to problems in your manuscript. Every time you stop to take notes, you stop reading, which you normally wouldn’t do when reading a book, so it’s important to be taking notes just to stop and give yourself reminders of things you will have to address when you begin revising.

Some good things to take note of during your cold read:

“The pacing is slow here”

“This character contradicts what she said three chapters ago”
(You appreciate this because as a reader it didn’t take the 3 months to get from chapter 5 to chapter 7 it took you as a writer)

“This scene doesn’t add to the story and can get cut back”

“Wait a minute…now that I know what this character does in the end, his actions 3/4 through make no sense at all”

“I’m rambling”

“Info dump!”

“This conversation is stilted and unrealistic. Rewrite.”

“My protagonist complains a lot. Yikes. Annoying! I’m going to have to change that. How can I make her more likeable? Simple fix, doesn’t have to be complicated. Brainstorm 3 ideas, 1), 2), 3)”
(Leave space and fill in those 1, 2, 3, slots later)

Some effective note-taking strategies to speed up revision:

1) Write 4-6 words in succession from the spot in question so you can get there using the “find” feature. I like to put quotations around them to differentiate from notes. I.e. “slammed on the table, churning”. That should take me to the spot in question, and if I have more than one place in the manuscript where I use those words exactly like that, I’d better go and revise that too!

2) Ask questions. This will give you fodder for later and inspire some at-the-keyboard creativity during polishing. I.e. “What does she hope to gain over Gordon? Isn’t she supposed to be high-society? Think about her upbringing…”

3) Suggest later or earlier spots in the manuscript where the issue you are addressing might rear it’s head so you can hop there as well when you get to that part on your checklist. For example, if you are dealing with an explanatory passage and there is another one at the end, as well as some foreshadowing in chapter 2, you will want to go between all of these places to make sure it is all balanced.

Do not revise just yet…

I mentioned that outlining and drafting are parts 1 and 2 of a larger storytelling cycle. There are four total, that being 3, the post-draft integrated outline, and 4, revision. That’s right, revision does not come after drafting! Instead, we resume outlining, now that we have a story told, and will use this post-draft outline as a framework for revision, the same way we used the pre-draft outline for drafting.

And, just as the first step of pre-draft outlining is to think about your story idea through the development of a premise, the first step of post-draft outlining is to read the actual story it became and think about how that story can be refined.

Then, when your cold read is done, you will be ready for the next step: creating subframes.

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Graeme Brown has been writing epic fantasy since he was a child and continues to develop his stories every day. His his first story, The Pact, is now available for

KoboKindle, and other ebook formats through Burst Books.

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

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Storybuilder Inc. — Step 8: Drafting 3, Layering and Scoping

In the last step on drafting I talked about ways to keep your draft on track as you move from start to finish. Everything up to step 7 has helped you prepare, and hopefully the last two steps have given you some good grounding as you do the actual writing. This week and next I will talk about some final drafting strategies to help you reach the end of the drafting phase and arrive successfully on the other side, where revision awaits.

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Shaping a story

I mentioned two weeks ago that writers approach drafting either as drafters or potters. Here’s where the latter term might be better appreciated. Potters work with one ball of clay, shaping it, moving pieces around as the object of choice (say, a mug) comes together. Once you have the rim formed, you might decide it’s a bit uneven, so you push some clay up with your thumb carefully, until you are satisfied.

Drafters do the same thing, but might not do this reshaping until they are writing new drafts. Either way, at some point a writer must deal with layering.

Placing anchors

Last week I shared some tips on how to stay connected to your outline as you write. One of these techniques involved moving around your document to break free on those days where the writing just doesn’t want to start up. While this is a great way to escape from writer’s block, it isn’t the only reason it’s useful. It’s also the core of layering.

To achieve effective layering, it is good to place several anchors in your manuscript as you type it. (If you are a drafter and you don’t type your earlier drafts, then this stage can apply to you when you reach the typing phase.) So, what is an anchor?

Here’s a picture to give you the idea: You’re a cartographer on a boat, crossing an ocean with the intent of mapping out a series of islands (yes, writing your story might as well be that big a feat). On your way, you encounter a spot that you realize is important and you may want to get back to it many times. But, aw, shucks! you have to keep sailing. Fortunately, it’s the twenty-first century and you have radio beacons that broadcast to GPS and will help you get back to those spots without any trouble. So, you drop them in the water and drop an anchor from each one so they don’t drift.

Now, let’s apply that to your story. Let’s say this is Ren’s story (the elderly revolutionary from our earlier outlining). I’m writing a scene where she is kidnapped in the market square during her “invitation” to become Mad Bert’s  seamstress. Except, just before this happens, she spots a guy named Harrold Fletcher, and I don’t know where this guy came from (one of those surprises that I spoke about last week). I make sure to give him a profile page, and write out a few places later in the manuscript where he will come back. I might write: He’s a cats-paw for one of the nobles who wants the king assassinated, and Ren’s abduction, arranged by the same noble, is an opportunity for him to use her to pull some strings. He doesn’t expect she’ll fall in love with the king, though.

I’m going to keep writing and might forget about Harrold in the market. I can always search “Harrold”, but what if at this time he’s just “a man”? What if Ren’s obsessed with this market and so the word “market” occurs 45 times in the manuscript prior to the abduction? I could remember something about the scene, maybe the type of dress Ren was wearing. Right. Now, was it wool? No, the wool dress was the opening. Silk? Or the one with slashes of red that she enjoys wearing in the fall? See, Ren loves dresses and has a whole variety of them (she’s a seamstress, after all).

See the problem? You can rely on your memory, or you can take advantage of your twenty-first century GPS pods. Something to the effect of:

[*a]

Say, a for anchor. The point is, if you create a unique combination of symbols that you will remember, then you need only type these in the search box to find your desired passage.

Anchors are very useful, and are easy to remove once your draft is revised (simply use find / replace and make them vanish). You can develop your own system with them. For example, I have a code sheet that I use as I drop various ones to keep track of how certain plots develop through key conversation exchanges or uncanny actions. You might try something like:

[*symbol] wherever you are using a symbol to highlight a theme, or [*Angela] for a subplot involving a character Angela (who you first meet as a man). Use anchors, lot of anchors. The more you drop, the more you can take a strategic hop through your manuscript as you develop it and work in various layers.

Scoping

This leads us naturally to another aspect of shaping your manuscript. You made use of scoping when you outlined, right from the development of your premise. First you viewed your whole story in a sentence, then in a paragraph, then in a few pages, then in several, with accompanying profiles to handle the growing complexity. Finally, you zoomed in to 100% with a fresh memory of how the whole tale looks.

The strategies I discussed over the last two weeks give you good tools to keep you connected with your outline, and this is important as you consider each frame as its own story within your story. Using anchors to layer your manuscript with elements from earlier frames will help you to work with your outline notes in a way viewing those original blueprints will not. After all, when you’re building a house, you keep looking at the blueprints to make sure you’re on track, but it’s the actual house coming together that serves as the true reference for how the project is actually progressing.

Good examples of layering and scoping

What if you (like me) are writing a fantasy epic? This means you might have frequent references to the history of your world, or details about it that you want to make sure are consistent. This is also something you will want to layer into your manuscript effectively.

A good anchor might be: [*world]

Let’s rewind to when I was on frame 17 of my current project, where several Goblins were making negotiations around the table, smoking their cigars and referring to events in the Mountainlands. Goodness, there was a lot of references and development there. I was quite creative. But, I was also smart. Every time I sat down with this scene, I typed “[*world]” in the find box and had a quick look at all those anchor points, to give me a sense of the scope of this element and allow me to make use of earlier material and layer it in.

Another situation I encountered in the same scene: I’ve done my search to prepare for it, but during the conversation my goblins hint, between the lines, that an earlier event might be more than it seems. (Let’s not spoil the ending, since this is The Pact’s sequel I’m referring to.) The earlier scene is hard to find based on the words in that passage, but fortunately I have the anchor [*DD] – DD being the initials of the conspirator behind that particular plot. This comes in handy, not just for finding that scene, but because I’ve put those anchors all over the place wherever I’ve developed this subplot. Now, when I search for the scene to make sure I don’t contradict myself, I can also get ideas from other parts. It’s layering and scoping all over again.

Let’s say you don’t write fantasy but are writing Bob’s story (our marathon runner). You might use [*mem] as an anchor for whenever Bob remembers a bit more about his departed wife. You might use [*dev] for any passage where Bob and his nemesis develop their relationship together. You might use [*fore] in any parts where you want to subtly foreshadow the end. Or maybe you don’t like square brackets and asterisks, so you’ll have {!elem}. It really doesn’t matter so long as you remember what the anchors are.

Oops, I forgot!

What if I didn’t know about a subplot when I made the first reference to it? What if that scene was just a memory in a dream sequence and I intended, at first, to be completely random about it? Well, that’s just fine. In fact, the scene I referred to from my own novel was just that and only later, when I met the character from the hallucination again, did I finalize the details of the subplot. I had to hunt a bit for the scene, but when I found it I made sure to place an anchor there, which came in handy for the chapters of the climax that followed.

Layering and scoping are powerful techniques to help you keep your story fabric tight and to assist with the process of carefully weighing your decisions as you pull your prose out of the creative void.

Yet these tools are one hand clapping. Next week, we will talk about the other: team alpha.

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Graeme Brown has been writing epic fantasy since he was a child and continues to develop his stories every day. His his first story, The Pact, is now available for

KoboKindle, and other ebook formats through Burst Books.

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

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

Tribute to George R. R. Martin – Don’t Forget the Four Senses

Welcome to a another posts in my summer series devoted to my favorite author, George R. R. Martin. Today’s post is about the power of the senses in fantasy writing. I hope you enjoy these, as I had a lot of fun writing them, and look forward to sharing more over the next few months.

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Visual description usually gets the most attention in writing.  An author describes what their character sees, describes the events that unfold, describes buildings, the setting sun, the ladder-back chair against the far wall, a character we meet sketched quickly with some well-chosen adjectives.  But there are four other senses too that make our world disparate and real.  There are sounds, smells, touches and tastes.  Sounds are often not forgotten – the world is as noisy as it is colorful, but smells and tastes and touches can be forgotten when we go into the realm of imagination.

John might walk down the street, where shadows stalk the alleyways and a brindle cat watches from a lantern-lit window, and this is intriguing.  But how much more real is it if he walks down that same alley and smells nightsoil in the ditches, mingled with the reek of mold and wet stone, if the cool fog clings to his forehead and a bead of sweat scurries down his cheek, if someone is screaming far away, a distant echo…

Suddenly, I’m not just in a dark alley.  Now, I’m John, and I’m in the dark alley with him.

George R. R. Martin does a brilliant job with the senses. Particularly, in his depiction of Arya as a blind girl. He uses the opportunity to do a fascinating depiction of those four senses we often forget.  These few chapters, the most recent installments in his epic, are full of descriptions of smells and sounds, touch and taste.  “Men had a different smell than women,” we read, “and there was a hint of orange in the air as well.”  Or, as Arya is eating, we find her “savoring the tastes and smells, the rough feel of the crust beneath her fingers, the slickness of the oil, the sting of the hot pepper when it got into the half-healed scrape on the back of her hand.”

Martin is vivid, and therein lies his power.  Fiction that skims over the details that make it real creates a distance between the reader and the characters who they have the opportunity to experience vicariously.  Remembering to give attention to the five sense allows the emotions embedded beneath their experience to be believable.  This is yet another thing Mr. Martin does that should be noted for anyone who wishes to see how writing can be full of realism and thus, fully engaging.

(Taken from a post at Following the Footsteps of the Masters, a blog devoted to the things that make epic fantasy great)

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Want to read more by Graeme? Check out The Pact, the first story in a dark epic fantasy series, now available for KoboKindle, and other ebook formats.

You can follow Graeme on Twitter (@GraemeBrownWpg) or on his blog, Fantasy Writing Journey, and if you like learning about a unique word each day, come check out Graemeophones

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Filed under George R. R. Martin Series, Graeme's World