Monthly Archives: August 2015
Posted by petercruikshank
One of the biggest issues I have come across in writing Fantasy is the timing within the storyline; and in the case of a novel with multiple storylines, how these different storylines relate to each other within the timeline of the overall novel. These problems are not as magnified if you are writing a single storyline from a single Point of View or a very linear storyline, but they still exist nonetheless.
In my first novel, Fire of the Covenant, I didn’t worry about this until after I completed the First Draft. Actually I didn’t think about it at all as I was writing the draft. I went with the philosophy that you just sit and write until you are finished and then go back and fix the crappy draft. The fact that I actually published Fire proves this strategy works. However, I spent a lot of effort fixing timeline problems during Revision that I could have avoided with just a little forethought and minimal effort.
When I was going through Revision on Fire I struggled when I tried to match up the storylines. Now, you have to understand I thought I had created the storylines so they would just fall in line with each other. So you can imagine my surprise, and subsequent depression, when I found that I had a major disaster on my hands. The storylines didn’t line up at all and even the scene sequences within most of the storylines didn’t make sense. The biggest surprise I discovered was that the scene sequence in one storyline could impact the sequence in a different storyline. The end result was that after a lot of fiddling with chapters and timelines, I ended up throwing out ten chapters and created twelve new ones to replace them. I also had to rewrite a number of other chapters once I realigned everything so that the timelines made sense for all the storylines. This little process took me weeks to sort everything out before I could even start writing the new chapters and to revise the mis-aligned ones.
You might be saying to yourself “I only have one storyline so this isn’t a problem”. If you answer yourself then there may be more issues here than I can resolve. I would disagree with you, both the you asking questions and the one answering. Getting the timeline correct early on is just important in the single storyline manuscript as it is in a multiple storyline book. If you are like me you have read a novel where some character does something in one scene then the next thing you read is that the character rode their horse to another location, overnight, and a hundred-and-fifty miles away. Unless it is a magical horse, this would be pretty much absurd. You can pick your own unbelievable location/incident vs time availability, but it happens in all forms of fiction and in every sized book.
The other benefit of having a good understanding of your storyline/timeline relationship is that it helps you grasp where you are in the manuscript and what you still need to write. I know some people like to outline their entire novel before they start writing their first words, what are known as Plotterswhat we call “Pantsers” – you write by the “seat of your pants”, or if you are like me, are somewhere in between. I have one pant leg on when I start writing my First Draft. When I began Fire, I knew some of the main scenes that the manuscript must contain, but many of the intervening scenes were just a wisp of random thoughts floating somewhere in the back of my mind and didn’t come out until I was far into the book.
I had started the draft for Betrayal with the intention of writing it like I had Fire. I just kept writing, going from one scene to the next. Which I admit is a little difficult with multiple storylines, but thought I could untangle any issues during Revision. This worked fine until I had written a big chunk of the draft, then I was having a little trouble figuring out some of the remaining scenes. What exactly did they need to cover and where did they go in the sequencing? I also wondered exactly how much more I needed to finish the draft.
I started going through the scenes and quickly realized that not all the storylines aligned (this created a terrifying flashback to what I encountered during Revision of Fire). I also noticed that there were some holes in the storylines that I had not expected. Looking at my scene list in Scrivener, and trying to juggle the sequencing in my mind, only bewildered and frustrated me. I decided I needed a way to identify the individual scenes in each storyline and align them along the same overall time line. But how?
Writing is such a creative process, as they say “right brained”, but my problem required a “left brain” solution. Luckily I had my past experience to fall back on. Much of my career had been spent in the business world with my forte being in organizing data. So I drew upon this experience to tackle my problem.
I tried to think what could help solve this problem and let my mind drift back to my time as a project manager. I remembered how I tracked the different tasks and the sequencing of the tasks. What I did to manage the tasks was create a Pert Chart. Pert stands for Program (project) Evaluation and Review Technique. These Pert Charts are a standard tool for analyzing a projects progress and also to plan and schedule complex tasks. It relies upon CPM, Critical Path Method, which list of all activities required to complete a project, time duration for each activity and the dependencies between the activities.
Okay, enough business talk. What this all means is that thinking of my scenes as activities, something similar to a Pert Chart would allow me to figure out what scenes I had already written, how they fit within the novels overall time line, and how the scenes interacted with each other.
I used a software program, not one designed for project management, but something I could bastardize to give me what I needed. However, it would be a lot easier, for this post, if I describe what I did as a manual process.
I started by creating 3×5 cards for every chapter/scene I had already written and the ones I thought I still needed to write. Each card contained the tentative chapter name and number, the character(s) whose Point of View is used in the chapter, the storyline it belonged with, and a short description of the scenes in the chapter. Then I laid them out on the floor by storyline so I could check the sequence of each storyline. Next I aligned the 3×5 cards for the different storylines with each other (I have five storylines in this book). The other issue I had to deal with was how did these sequenced 3×5 cards align to the overall timeline for the entire manuscript?
I know some authors who put the timeline day on the top of the 3×5 card and then just put them in order by this date. This provides some degree of alignment, but for me it doesn’t provide the overall big picture of the manuscript and doesn’t provide the necessary relationship between storylines.
The easiest way to resolve the timeline and storyline relationship issue was to lay out big sheets of paper, possibly blank newspaper sheets or poster board. If you have a lot of chapters like me, you might even need to put a couple next to each other to make it big enough. Then I wrote the days for the timeline across the top, then laid out the 3×5 cards, by storyline, under the timeline written at the top. As you would expect, they didn’t quite align and the other big thing I discovered was that there were entire scenes missing. In fact, rather than needing twelve more chapters to finish my book, as I originally thought, I needed twenty-three. So after creating 3×5 cards for the “new” chapters; which I colored in blue to distinguish them from existing chapters, I drew lines between the cards for each storyline and also lines where the storylines interacted. The below image is a digital representation of what this might look like, though I changed some of the information so I don’t give away the story 🙂
In contrast to the weeks I spent during Revision with Fire, I did the above in a day-and-a-half. Not only did I complete the process quickly, but having this all mapped out has allowed me to write quickly and with a lot more passion. I knew where I was going and how to get there.
Not that this is a perfect process. I have found that as I continue to write the missing chapters, I am still moving the cards around a little and have added at least one more new chapter… so far.
I could never be an “Plotter”, as I really have no idea exactly how the manuscript will flow when I start it. As I mentioned, I have a few scenes in mind and know where I want the book to end up, but most of the scenes come to me as I write them. Using the above process I was able to use my “Pantser” mentality until I got to a point where I could use my bastardized version of a Pert Chart to figure out how the rest of the manuscript would turn out.
The manual approach I used above was how I figured out the timeline alignment for Fire of the Covenant during Revision. Again, it took a couple of weeks. Not because it was a manual process, but because it was after-the-fact and rather than planning how I was going to finish the First Draft, I had to tear apart work that was already written. I am a digital type of person, so for the current book, Betrayal of the Covenant, I am using a software program to perform this timeline/storyline process. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a software program that did exactly what I wanted, so I used a “freeform” program, Scapple, that I made work. Below is a major portion of the timeline I created (manipulated via Scapple).
The outgrowth of being a “Pantser/Plotter” is that I discovered the shortfalls quicker than I did in my last book, and I will be able to cut my Revision time by more than half – remember the ten chapters I wrote that I had to trash and all the rewriting to make a number of other chapters align between the storylines? I already know what chapters I need and as I write them, I will know how they align to the overall timeline.
I am always open to new ideas, so I would be interested in how you deal with timelines and their relationship to the storylines.
Posted by Cat-Gerlach
As you might have noticed, over the summer things have gone a little quiet over here. That’s not due to a loss of interest but to a wave of realife-a-titis. Several of our regular members have been extremely busy or are coping with personal disasters, so much of what we usually do falls to the wayside.
Take Will for example. I hoisted my middle daughter onto him, and now he’s doomed to live with a teen in puberty who can’t even speak the language properly for a fortnight. That’s taxing (although I have to admit, she’s a rather nice teen).
And I’ve been struggling to get my eldest prepared for her first ever job, and my youngest needs to be taken places so she won’t be jealous that she couldn’t fly to America too. Others are struggling with their health or with novel-birthing pains.
However, we will be returning to our regular schedule soon.
Don’t give up on us.
Posted by Will
Will you look at all the dust in this dungeon! How long has it been since the last vict- er, guest author was here? Let me just clear out the worst of it over in this corner, by the sharp things. Gad, if she’s allergic to mites it will be enough just to bring her in here. And by the way, bring her in here.
We are delighted to welcome– yes, that chain around the ankles, fool, have you forgotten your job– Ms. Jamie Marchant, who fell into our clutches during her blog tour for The Soul Stone. I don’t believe we’ve had the pleasure previously, but we’ll soon get everything we need from her. Just let me find my favorite bullwhip- ah there, covered in grime. Let us begin.
Q: So where do you come from, author-person? Your location in the Alleged Real World is of no consequence here; we want to know your roots as an author. When you were young and still contemplating your life of crime, whose temptations swayed you the most in reading? Was it always fantasy for you, or did you come to the genre late in life?
Jamie: As is often the case, my family first led me astray, especially my older sister who told me fairy tales and encouraged me to write ones of my own. In my teen years, I fell under the influence of Piers Anthony and Stephen R. Donaldson. As an adult, Mercedes Lackey and Jim Butcher completed my corruption until I was irredeemably a fantasy fan, but as you see, the seeds of fantasy were planted in me before I was old enough to read for myself. I really didn’t have a chance.
Q: I completely understand, blaming others is typical in these cases. Bailiff, fetch us this sister and we shall have a talk next. Tell us a bit about Korthlundia where your tales are set. Your main characters seem neck-deep in royal intrigues, on their guard every minute. Is the world also at war all the time? Do regular folks suffer from whomever it is opposing the goddess who has picked your heroes to help? I mean, what kind of a world are we dealing with here?
Jamie: Korthlundia had enjoyed over fifty years of unbroken peace because of its geographical isolation and the wise rule of Samantha’s father, King Solar. Both the nobles and common people prospered. The troubles in Korthlundia began when Duke Argblutal murdered the king and attempted to usurp the throne. Samantha was only nineteen years old, but she and Robrek put him in his place, six feet under, at the end of my first book, The Goddess’s Choice. However, the nobles aren’t too keen about a young woman and a common young man taking the throne, and the unrest is starting to affect regular folk as well. This is especially true when, in my second book, the Soul Stone breaks loose from its ancient bonds and begins to kill indiscriminately.
Q: Excellent! Always good to hear that a villain with an unpronounceable name is dead. Removes so much worry. Coming back to your heroes, you make it clear that Crown Princess Samantha and Robrek, the common-class sorceror, are from very different walks of life. They have very separate talents too. And busy! Saving the world makes for a crowded calendar, I suppose, but if these two are destined to marry, do they happen to see anything in each other along the way? Or is this going to be a marriage of fate and not the heart? (That is, assuming they make it long enough!)
Jamie: As the crown princess, Samantha had always believed that she couldn’t marry for love. This becomes especially difficult for her when she meets and falls for a common peasant boy at a horse fair. Although she comes to learn that Robrek is a powerful sorcerer and nowhere near as common as she first believed, she thinks an unbridgeable gap divides them. Only in bard’s tales do peasants marry princesses. At the end of The Goddess’s Choice, she is overjoyed when the Goddess reveals Robrek to be her choice for her consort. Theirs is very much an affair of the heart as well as of fate. However, in The Soul Stone, it appears that Robrek won’t live long enough for them to enjoy their love.
Q: You mention getting all geared up on literature in school, but then putting the writing itself on hold for a long time before taking up the pen to write about places like Korthlundia. I accuse the Alleged Real World of criminal trespass into your free time! Bailiff, take the ARW into custody, we’ll deal with it later. But what does the victim have to say? Did you not know this was what you wanted, or were you always thinking about it.
Jamie: I knew since I was a young child that I wanted to be a writer, but this ARW you speak of seduced me with the idea of making money. It took a few years for me to realize I was the victim of a con. Yes, one has to eat, but professional success can’t compensate for the absence of the creative muse.
Q: How would you describe your success so far, and what have been the keys to further exposure in your opinion? Are you happy with sales, with new outlets, and professional connections you’ve made? Are you mainly a paper book author, or did you lean on e-book sales early on?
Jamie: I’m not sure that any author, especially one published by a small press, is ever happy with sales. Getting sufficient exposure for my work is difficult, but I’ve been making progress with connecting with other authors and bloggers via the internet. While my books are all available in paperback, it is the e-book sales that make up the greatest portion of my books sales, which seems to be typical.
Enough, we are satisfied for now and hereby order your release. You may keep the manacle as a souvenir. Just leave us your information, where we can find your confessions (I mean, writing) and the proper links to seek you out for further punishment in the future.
Author Bio: Jamie Marchant
From early childhood, Jamie has been immersed in books. Her mother, an avid reader, read to her, and her older sister filled her head with fairy tales. Taking into consideration her love for literature and the challenges of supporting herself as a writer, she pursued a Ph.D. in American literature, which she received in 1998. She started teaching writing and literature at Auburn University. But in doing so, she put her true passion on the backburner and neglected her muse. Then one day, in the midst of writing a piece of literary criticism, she realized that what she wanted to be doing was writing fantasy novels. Her muse thus revived, she began the book that was to become The Goddess’s Choice, which was published in April 2012. The second volume in the series, The Soul Stone, was released this June.
She lives in Auburn, Alabama, with her husband, son, and four cats, which (or so she’s been told) officially makes her a cat lady. She still teaches writing and literature at Auburn University. Her short fiction has been published on Short-Story.Me, and my story was chosen for inclusion in their annual anthology. It has also appeared in the anthologies—Urban Fantasy (KY Story, 2013) and Of Dragon and Magic: Tales of the Lost Worlds (Witty Bard Publishing, 2014)—The World of Myth, A Writer’s Haven, and Bards & Sages.
Links to Jamie’s Books
Contact Jamie Everywhere