Process in Progress #2 – The Character Wall

Hi there.

I had a bunch of things I wanted to write about today, and, in choosing one, I wound up shooting wa-a-a-a-ay over the typical release deadline. Apologies for that.

But I didn’t want to publish another life update. And I didn’t want to vent about my presence on social media either (which I’m displeased with not from a popularity standpoint, but from an “I hate what I do on there” standpoint [more on that in the Afterword]).

What I did want to do: actually talk about writing again, which I feel I haven’t done for a while.

The topic? The weird way a story requires you to prioritize certain character arcs. In a roundabout way. Let me explain.

I’m Honing One of My Protagonist’s Motivations
(& I Was Having a Harder Time with It Than I Wanted)

The situation: one of the protagonists in my current WIP is named Kole Buchanon. As that WIP is a rewrite of a book I wrote years ago, Kole’s personality has drastically changed.

In the original, he was insecure from a lifetime of being mistreated. Lacking in confidence, he was often unwilling to face challenges and his arc centered on defying that–putting himself in harm’s way to help other people. The hang up of being mistreated is something I still want to use in a future book somewhere, because I think that has merit, but the arc was as typical as they come.

New Kole is a capable, fledgling rebel. A person who’s challenged the setting’s corrupt Emperor by engaging in (admittedly low-impact) criminal activity. His hang up is experiencing, in the Prologue, the futility of challenging the Emperor when he tries a slightly higher-impact heist and it goes horribly wrong. His arc is . . . still up in the air actually, but that doesn’t matter for this post! Ha ha!

What matters is, in my outline for the rewrite, I kept referring to Original Kole’s arc.

I’m not sure how that happened. I knew he was a different character in the rewrite, but somehow, I focused so heavily on my other protagonist, Memory, that I just didn’t realize the adjustment to his personality was as intense as it was. Or maybe I was just so hellbent on getting the outline done that I didn’t realize I needed to slow down for Kole’s sake?

Either way, all of this came to a head when I got to the last chapters, and finally looked at the notes my writing group gave me about Kole’s motivations: that they weren’t clear. And, after I revisited those motivations and his arc as a whole, I finally realized the mix up.

Now, why am I writing about this at all?

Because, on one hand, after the last session of my writing group, I realized not only that Kole needed a totally new background story, but that the arc he needs for this first novel . . . isn’t going to be his best arc?

Like, I came up with a really awesome arc for him when I was brainstorming what his best character arc could be, but it just doesn’t fit in the first book? He needs to react to the situation in front of him, and that awesome potential arc works way better for a potential sequel?

I definitely explain, but first . . .

The Character Wall

When I realized I needed to rewrite Kole’s past, I realized that there were certain aspects of him that I wanted to focus on.

And, if you’re here exclusively for the “Process in Progress” part, then this is it.

I realized that, with Kole and all of my characters going forward, I want to know:

  1. The Hang Ups – Probably the most important thing for me is going to be the emotional problems that a character has. It’s “hang ups” plural because there are going to be a bunch of these. “Regrets abandoning his family.” “Experienced a lot of horrible things in the war.” Not all of these will heavily impact the plot, but in my mind, they’re as prevalent as “Favorite Color” and way more important.
  2. The Arcs – Specifically the arcs the character is going to go through and how those arcs are split up among the different entries in the series (if it’s a series). I can’t predict this right off the bat–I’ll have to work on each installment of the story before I know what arcs fit where.

But I’m here mentioning all of this now because . . .

A Character’s Arc in a Story Needs to Fit the Story

Okay. Seriously, forgive me for sounding dense.

But what I meant with that heading is . . . a character’s arc can’t just be what you want it to be for a novel.

You can’t just design a setting, establish a plot, and then just force the character’s best arc to happen in that setting and plot if it doesn’t fit.

Kole Buchanon is going to learn some hard truths about his past. It’s going to happen.

But as absolutely bizarre as it is to say, he’s not going to learn any of those truths in the first book.

Because it just doesn’t fit what’s happening and what he’s feeling in the setting and plot I’ve created for the first novel.

Kole can’t reconcile his bad experiences with his family because that just doesn’t work with the theme and plot of the first novel. Even if I tried to wedge it in, with would be rushed, rigid, and would not land like it would in book 2.

So I can’t do it in book one. And, as a person who’s never written a sequel, that blows my goddamn mind.

The Memory Roadmap–which is a things I have now?–is set for Kole to have his big arc in book 2 and Memory to have hers in book 3.

And, aside from that being weird and surprising, it also brings me a lot of hope.

Because, for the first time in my life, a sequel is coming together in my mind.

And just yes.

Please.

I am so goddamn pumped to write an amazing sequel.

This is a weird milestone that I have to imagine other writers hurdled right over.

But whatever. I’m not them, and I’m massively grateful to be experiencing this progress.

Book 2? I’m coming for you.

~Afterword~

Thanks for reading.

Yeah, about social media–I hate it. LOL I just don’t do it well. Like, when I hop on Twitter, it’s just to look at cute cat videos or get massively angry about political stuff. Or, at the worst of times, I scroll through fandom hashtags and get inspired to talk shit about things I don’t like.

And–I’ve said it so many times on here–I just don’t want to do that anymore. Dissecting multi-million dollar blockbuster films is one thing, but talking shit about something people love–on Twitter–is another thing entirely. Like . . . why? Why shit on someone for being excited about Justice League, or for liking the DCEU in general? I unironically loved Aquaman. It was a stupid, fun spectacle and I’m super excited for it’s sequel.

I’d just rather dole out that love than fling hate.

So, yeah, I’m deleting my Twitter. I would keep it and say positive things, but I’d feel trapped not being able to speak my mind, and speaking my mind has the chance to spark an argument, yadda yadda yadda.

So, on the chance you’re following me there, expect me to just disappear.

And, hey, just follow me here instead.

Where, ya know, we can chat about dumb stuff in more than 280 goddamn characters.

If you enjoyed this post, I do this every Sunday (unless it’s a day like today where I got to posting after 12am). You can always stop by next week for something else that could be anything. Between now and then, I could go to space and write about how that felt. Probably not gonna happen, but maybe.

Anyway, until next time, stay safe, and take care of yourself. Really though–make sure you’re drinking enough water and don’t push it all the time, even if you want to. You are the only person capable of pampering yourself the way you deserve to be pampered. Basic human rights, like water, are a good start.

Bye!

Process in Progress #1 – The “Promises Outline”

My process has always been manic.

It’s 2010 and I’m a plotter, ’cause that’s obviously the way to go! My first novel was a mess even though I outlined it, but that’s only true because I wasn’t thorough enough. “Thorough in what way?” you ask? Why, thorough with my characters’ micro-expressions, of course! This new outline for my rewrite has everything worked out down to gasps and eye rolls!

Of course, the moment characters deviated from that outline (within the prologue) I knew that level of plotting wouldn’t work.

So, it’s December, 2016 and discovery writing is *clearly* the best. My characters are free to do whatever they want without having to adhere to a plot. It’s beautiful, natural, and I finished an entire novel in one month for NaNoWriMo 2020. It’s so comforting to have found the approach that works for me. A little surprising that it’s discovery writing (considering I’m such a chronic organizer when it comes to other projects), but, hey, whatever works.

Only it didn’t work. The plot was incredibly muddled. The intro was especially confusing. Plot lines, intended or implied, were established and then dropped because I didn’t manage them at all (I didn’t even think to because I was so set on the idea that plotting didn’t work).

After that, I spent a long time just thinking about my process. I knew that I’d have to outline whatever I did next, but I also knew that I had to leave it open-ended. I was afraid to tank another few years into another failed novel, so I worked on story structure across a group of short story ideas instead, considering a rewrite of my NaNo 2016 novel on the back burner.

It’s 2020 now and I am very tired. I know that, inherently, there’s something I’m not getting about the writing process. I know that I have a hard time maintaining my plot lines, but I also never want to force my characters to adhere to something. I do not have time to do both of those things, back and forth, to see what works, and I am too busy at work and dealing with my bullshit life to think outside of the box.

Oddly enough, it isn’t until I’m a few months into quarantine, in the heart of a terrifying time, that I find hope.

I’ve already talked about stumbling onto lectures by Brandon Sanderson on YouTube. Those lectures presented his process: a loose outline. Sanderson plots, but is always ready to completely change that plot if his characters aren’t following it. Or if there’s something wrong with its structure. Beyond just talking about it though, Sanderson detailed his process, provided links to his own outlines, answered student questions.

I don’t know if it’s because I was in the middle of quarantine, or if it was because I was listening to my problem being solved by a pro–for free–because he decided to upload videos with the express purpose of helping other writers, but after years of struggling and repeatedly hitting walls, I cried. I know that’s probably weird, but, at a certain point during that first lecture, I teared up.

Because, 20 years into my career, it was the first time I found a professional offering a helping hand (without it being locked behind a contest or a paid seminar), and I could not believe it was exactly the help I needed. If ever there was a moment in my life that felt contrived by fate, that was it.

The interesting thing about those lectures, however, is that Sanderson points out, repeatedly, that his way is not the only way. While talking about his process, he made it clear that there are famous pantsers out there too. And that other plotters might have a completely different process from his.

Which was amazing to hear because I knew some of his approach wouldn’t work for me. So, instead of just emulating his to a T, I sat down and devised an outlining process that works for me.

And I figured I’d present that here (and continue presenting it as it evolves), because I need to contribute to this effort of helping other writers in whatever way I can.

So, here, as of August 31st, 2020, is my process:

The “Promises Outline”

My major takeaway from Sanderson’s lectures is that you need to keep track of the promises you make to your readers. My problem was that I’d never even thought of “promises”; I dealt in plot lines, which are different.

A plot line is a facet of the story that you establish and maintain.

A promise is an event that your story implies will happen, whether you intend it to or not. Promises are conveyed by elements of your story that the audience has seen before and thus make assumptions about, and managing those assumptions is essential to composing a novel.

And, yeah, that sounds pretentious, but it’s just the right word; being aware of your promises allows you to direct the reader along the experience you want them to have.

Promises and plot lines often overlap, and that’s fine, because that’s what you want them to do.

That said, let’s get to my process:

Step one, as per Brandon Sanderson, is to start my outlines with a Story Archetypes section:

LS-ArchetypesExample

Note: I’m using Grounded just as a quick example here (I’m not into novelizations, but I have been playing Grounded a bunch lately and this was the quickest route to an easy example. Also, I probably shouldn’t have listed Bug Buddy as a story archetype, but I was extremely excited for lady bug friend.

My goal with Archetypes is to just lay out what’s been done by other stories similar to mine. If my story features a Terminator-like character, for example, I jot down a heading like “I’ll Be Back,” think about the iconic things the Terminator did in Terminator or Terminator 2 (depending on whether my Terminator is a robotic killing machine or a robotic hero), and then I try to summarize those iconic things.

And I do this not so I can emulate those things, but so I can more easily pare them down into Promises:

LS-PromisesExample

The name of the game here is trying to come up with whatever trope events happen in the story archetypes I’ve listed.

Typically, my design standard here is:

Number of the Related Archetype) Heading Summarizing the Promise: Explanation that details how I meet that promise, or why/how I’m going to subvert it (as I did in the “Ol’ One Eye” example above).

Now, when I got to this point during my Memory rewrite, I wound up sitting with Promises for a while, honing them into a framework; with the plot ideas and worldbuilding that I’d already done (on a totally different part of the spreadsheet [and yeah, I use spreadsheets]), I considered what I wanted my story to be. The tone, the arcs for my characters, the balance of the villains.

In the end, when I worked the promises down into a set that I knew I wanted to keep, I started the actual outline like so:

LS-Ch1OutlineExample

Chapter Number: Chapter Title

Chapter Number.Scene Number

Promise Title

Promise Title

Promise Title

Beat Number (and then, in the next cell) Outline Copy

I have to clarify that this is just my current layout. This has changed while outlining Memory 2.0; initially, I also used color-coding and underlines to signify two different things (which I so dropped).

What I’m trying to say here is that I’m still adjusting, and that’s a good thing. This layout is closer than I’ve ever been to working out a process that I can use forever. It is not perfect, but it’s better than writing blind and over-plotting. With this layout, I’ve been able to do what I think of as taking the wrong path (writing a chapter or two that ultimately lead in a bad direction that didn’t work) multiple times with extremely minimal repercussions–losing a day’s worth of work deleting two outline chapters instead of two weeks’ worth deleting two draft chapters. For me, that’s huge.

But, that’s not why I wrote this post; I’m not trying to sell you on this weird, repetitive process I’ve drummed up for myself. What I want–what I’m hoping for–is that someone sees this and goes, “Oh . . . Yeah, wait, I can make my process whatever the fuck I want!” because yeah, you can.

I spent so long jumping between extremes for some reason–trying out other people’s approaches–but the best thing that I did for myself, as a writer, was realize that I could customize my process to work for me as long as I was honest with myself. Everything about it is devised by my preference, from its weird formatting down to the fact that it’s a spreadsheet (it wasn’t just a weird design choice–I love spreadsheets!).

But the key there was self-evaluation. “How do I want to write?” “Is this working for me?” Never, “Am I doing this right?” Never, “Am I following the directions perfectly?”

I have no idea if this process will always work for me, but I know that I can just keep changing it so it will.

And when I do, if I feel like I’ve actually made a template that would work for a lot of people, I’ll absolutely post it here.

And, please, if you have a weird process of your own, I hope you’ll consider sharing it somewhere too.

Because writing fucking sucks. It’s hard, depressing, secretive and shallow. It’s so easy to feel like nothing’s working and there’s nowhere you can go for actual help. I’m not conceited enough to think my process pulled someone out of a rut, but if you are struggling . . .

. . . it’s cool. So am I. We can figure this out together.

~~~

I’m getting this one in just after the buzzer, but I hope you enjoyed regardless. I will be continuing to post about my process as it changes–under the title “Process in Progress”–so although I don’t have a time frame for it, I will be continuing this series in the future. If you enjoyed this post and want to be notified when I post again, please consider giving my blog a Follow.

For next week, I have a bunch of posts lined up, but instead of tying myself down to one by name dropping it now, I’m going to leave my options totally open. I will be posting something next Sunday and it’ll either be really angry or really chill depending on my mood. I hope you consider stopping by.

Until then, please stay safe and take care!

The Editing Process

Around when his eyes start to sting and his head begins to throb, Louis realizes he misses the writing process and very much prefers it to the editing process. Fondly, he remembers that the former was like this:

-Louis sits down at his computer and rereads the pages he wrote the previous day (or the day before that, or the one before that, etc.).

-He then remembers what he wanted to happen next. He contemplates the next pages, running them through a complex, mental filter.

-He then starts awake and remembers that he decided what he wanted to happen and how best to execute it around when he dozed off.

-Ready now, he starts. With “Then.” Or no-wait. “But then again.” Ah yes. That’s right. “But then again.”

-Satisfied with this start, Louis gets up and locates a snack.

-He returns to find “But then again” and sighs deeply.

-He starts awake again and realizes he needs to brainstorm.

-He lies down on his bed to do so.

In contrast, editing is a far more constant and steady business that is frighteningly portable (like Pokémon), so that it can dominate your life even when you think you’re safe (likePokémon).

And so, Louis squints at the red mess of a particularly bad page and realizes that there are no snacks. There is no “brainstorming” required. There is only the deed, so glaringly simple now (as it is, in fact, simply transcribing corrections from his massive hand edit to his computer).

But then again…