20 February 2013

Book Update! Or, a Lesson in Organization

Image (c) Valsharea. All rights reserved.
Right. The book, the book. The reason (hopefully) why most of you guys are here.

I started writing The Name and the Key back in 2010 as my first assignment at Seton Hill University for their Writing Popular Fiction program. And when I started writing it, I had no sense of a plot, or characters, or even what I wanted to do with the story at all. I knew I loved fairy tales, and so I thought it would be easier for me to have my first book ever be a reworked fairy tale.

I knew I wanted to redo Beauty and the Beast. I also realized, when I was researching, that I thought I could write a meditation of some sort on the ideal of beauty in fairy tales. So then I decided to work in Snow White and Donkeyskin into my tale as well.

Got that? A triple-homage reworked fairy tale.  Whew. At the time, it was called Lily Beauty, Lily Rose, and was full of flowery language, (read: purple prose) overworked narration, too much description...and the sense that the book was written without any direction whatsoever. Which means, a lot of pages where nothing really happens.

The Lily Beauty, Lily Rose version was mentored by Tim Waggoner, and with him I wrote several versions of the first few chapters, changed plot ideas several times, and dropped all but the Beauty and the Beast elements from the book. Poor Tim got to only see my worst writing....by the time I made it to my next mentor, Scott Johnson, the book had already turned in a different direction. And during that time when I worked with him (so like a full year into the program) I realized that I pretty much was writing an entirely different book than what I originally intended. Even the Beauty and the Beast part of the story was significantly diminished, and the "beast" became less of a traditional monster and more of a metaphysical creature; something less solid, more ambiguous, and definitely abstract.

Actually, the entire book went that way (and it got really, really dark!) I dropped the book's Big Ideas about beauty--that didn't really matter to me anymore--and I went back and started thinking about the other aspects of the original fairy tale..so I was concerned with the idea behind the beast.

What are beast-like qualities in a human being? Just think about animal behaviors--they eat, they sleep, they breed, and it's all governed by impulse and instinct. The only difference between animals and humans is our supposed ability to govern those impulses through logical thought and willpower. So my brain took impulse to equal need, and then I changed need to desire, and that's how I decided on the beast angle for my book.

The original, oldest version of Beauty and the Beast was all about desire, anyway. Here's my paraphrase of it:  A prince is born during a time of war, and to protect the baby monarch, the King and Queen send him to live in the woods, to be raised by a Fairy who vows to protect the child. The kingdom is lost to the war, so everyone's gone, and everyone forgets about the prince in the forest. Baby Prince grows into Beautiful Young Man, and the Fairy falls for him. But the Prince only views her as his mother (since she raised him). When he refuses her sexual advances, the angry Fairy turns him into the Beast. And then the fairy tale for the most part continues on as we know it.

That original context gives the story a whole new, deeper element, don't you think? True Love has to break the spell. But Desire caused the spell to happen. And almost every moral tradition prizes Love over Desire...so maybe you can see where I'm going with this.

In my book,  Man becomes Beast when he gives into Desire.Which is very, very Buddhist in a way.  At the same time, a man who rids his life of Desire has acquired a kind of Truth (enlightenment).  When you know the Truth, you're closer to god than man. All of these ideas crop up in my book....which is so different from Lily Beauty, Lily Rose, that when I reached this point in the text, I renamed the story The Name and the Key.

Anyway, at this moment in time, my book is due April 10th. The book is currently in three different fragments--the LBLR version; the Name and the Key version; and a huge chunk I'd like to nickname Fluffy Fairy Overkill (that's another post entirely). The book is well past its word-count requirement. But the book is so all over the place that I'm back to one of my earliest problems with it:

Image (c) iStock

When you're writing three books at once, and on accident, you can believe it screws up your brain. I don't know what I'm writing anymore, exactly, even after I walked you through it a little bit ago. I know the beginning of my story. I know the end of the story (for the most part). The problem is that enormous section called THE MIDDLE. I think I would not have had this problem, had I known what I wanted to write in detail from the beginning. But because I've got all these different versions, I am totally confused as to what I'm supposed to write because I don't want to accidentally compose chapters that resolve anything from the LBLR track or the Fluffy Fairy Overkill track.

I don't have time to write things that need to be cut. Everybody who is still working on their thesis for April  is currently in revisions. I am not. I am still writing in fragments, and when I reach a block I try to go back and fix old LBLR writing to make it into the Name and the Key writing. Which aggravates me, because even doing that takes me forever.

Taking three classes on top of all of it has exacerbated my anxiety, because it has taken a HUGE chunk of my time away. I have a sad feeling my book will not be finished until April 5th, leaving almost zero time to revise it properly, let alone even proof it.

Basically I feel like the worst writer in the world right now, even though my mentors and crit partners assure me that the actual writing does not suck. I still feel like a bit of a failure, nonetheless.

To try to get my head on straight, I recently attempted something I've never done before:  PLOTTED WITH A TIMELINE.

Why did I not do this in the beginning? I don't know. I kind of want to facepalm myself.  But I've just made the timeline, and it's been so helpful that I've already realized some mistakes I made in my text that I wouldn't have caught had I not made one.  There's a few things that still need to be added to it: the last few events before The Name and the Key wraps. But for the most part, the timeline is full. And because The Name and the Key overlaps with The Step and the Walk, both novels are listed on the timeline. Which means when I go to work on The Step and the Walk, I'm sure I'll have a better experience writing that book because I'll have a significant chunk of information about it already.

I cannot begin to tell you the clarity this tool has allowed me. So, if you are curious about my organization (or about the books themselves), this is my plotting timeline. Let me stress that this is a tool and nothing in it will be set in stone until publication. And if you'd like to make your own timeline, you can go to Time Glider and start up a free account.

In the meantime, wish me luck. I'm trying to do next to the impossible here.  *breaks down in tears*

For a larger view of my book Timeglider, check it out here.
Friendly reminder--this stuff is protected by copyright. 

Readers and writers, do you have any advice or tools to help with plotting?


  1. I wish I did have advice on plotting. Typically I'm a pantser--although Tim suggested after my first draft that I outline the book. I did, and I figured out a lot of cool stuff (like Blessing's whole dying god allegory that runs deeper than I'd thought) which has really strengthened the story. Needless to say, I outlined the epic-dystopian-paranormal-romance-science-fantasy I want to write next. :P

    And dude, I feel you on the anxiety. Nicole's class is uber-stressful to me for some reason, probably not related to class at all but to my freaking life-suck of a job. And everything else pulling me in 25 different directions. I am thankful to be in revisions, because for a while I wasn't sure the damned thing would get done, or that I even wanted to finish it. Hang in there, and let me know if I can help with anything.

  2. Isn't it always a nice surprise to find that there's deeper meaning to what you've written? :)

    I think part of the reason why Nicole's class is stressful is that it requires us to be more active than some of the other classes. I've taken for granted the Readings in the Genre classes, because that has stuff due every other week, so I'm not used to doing weekly (and sometimes more often) participation. That, and the subject matter is sooooo daunting!

    Thanks for the encouragement. You hang in there, too!


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