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Friday, March 21, 2008

Word Count Isn't Everything

I haven't written all that many words this week - a few thousand. Early action is a bear when you don't have the novel plotted and outlined. It is much easier to figure out where to start than to figure out what, out of all the myriad possibilities, happens next, and what does it look like, feel like smell like, and who on earth is there and why?

I have pages of notes by now, jotted as I write. Some are lists of Potential Clues and Their Rationale:

  • The arrow tipped with a common poison (not magic) but enspelled in a most suspicious way.
  • What does the lensmaker know?
  • Whose knife killed the mule? And why?
Many of them are Things We Need To See:
  • The suspects and the queen
  • Dante shows magic of the kind to garner the interest of the bad guys
  • The inverted village [No, I won't tell what that means.]
  • A public demonstration of the new science vs inadequate magic
Others are Events That Need To Happen
  • The trial
  • The third assassination attempt
  • A visit to Collegia Seravain
  • Ilario's science exposition (this is a new one that I came up with only yesterday)
Some of these clues, needs, and events such as the trial and the inverted village, I've known since the proposal - sketched in to give an idea of the story. More of them, such as Ilario's science exposition, are ideas generated by the writing itself - I love it when that happens. So how do I use these lists?

What I want is for the Event ideas to subsume the Things We Need To See - the cool things the reader must experience in order to interpret (and, I hope, enjoy!!) the story. In this case, as I just realized, the idea of Ilario sponsoring an "exposition" because he thinks the word sounds intellectual and the event might counter the common belief that he has the intellect of a flea, has given me a place for Dante to show something that intrigues the bad guys, as well as the public demonstration of the new science vs failing magic. All of a sudden I have generated a major scene, as well as the scenes leading up to this exposition - where we will surely accomplish some of the smaller events that need to happen and the encounters that need to occur and will give Portier a chance to slip in some investigation he might not otherwise have occasion to do.

A major scene of this nature will often provide a turning point in the story. I often like to make it a twist, a reversal of fortune or expectation that will lure the reader into the next arc. Think of Osriel's revelation scene in the refectory in Breath and Bone, or Seri standing in a murdered servant's room with a flower in her hand in Guardians of the Keep, finally understanding her nephew's behavior, or Seyonne rescuing Aleksander from the prison tower in Transformation.

I never understood story arcs until my first editor pointed out the four principal arcs in Transformation. [Can you name them?] I had structured the story by instinct, and she showed me not only what they were, but where I had failed to maintain the sense of rising tension that is integral to a story arc. A novel usually has a single overall story arc that is the major character or plot arc that directs the plot. Within that, it may have three, four, five or more major arcs - these progressions of rising tension that result in a climax of some kind. And within those may be smaller arcs, nesting, overlapping, all drawing the reader through the story. Writers may or may not have a handle on these structural pieces to begin with, but by the time that novel goes to the publisher, they'd better.

Somehow, by recognizing the significance of Ilario's Science Exposition along with the other motives and clues I've struggled with this week, I have been able to make a great leap today. I now have four defined story arcs and an idea of the climactic scene of each. The accumulation of hints and clues and events that were causing me to tear out my hair earlier in the week have now begun to sort themselves out. This one belongs in the assassination arc. This one contributes to the trial arc...and so forth. I feel mightily accomplished. Word count isn't everything!

4 comments:

tami said...

Reading those lists of things to see and events, I am very excited about the next book.
The story arcs comments make a lot of sense. Reading the blog and how you write has been very interesting. While I am not much of a writer, I can see how I need to use them in my own writing.

carolwriter said...

Tami, Truly my writing method is a hodge-podge. I guess I never realized it quite so much until I started writing it down. I'm wondering how I ever get anything done!!

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I'm always joking about my tea-stained spiral notebook or legal pad--one per book, dog-eared and scratched through by the time the book is finished. It wouldn't make any sense to anyone else, but I start to see how I can pick out the arcs amid the scribbles.

Now I'll have to go back and read Transformation to see if I can pick out the arcs!

Karen said...

I'm fascinated by your writing process, as always :) Very inspiring.

-Kas