Yup. That’s me. Facing the climax of my WIP and wondering, “What’s going to happen?”
I know it makes me seem like the worst sort of pantster, progressing 5 months and 56k words into a story and still not knowing what’s supposed to happen in the climax. Believe me, I’ve been beating myself up over it for weeks. How can this story have any sort of cohesiveness if I don’t even know how the conflict will be resolved – or what form that resolution will take?
Luckily, I have the history of my other, published works to remind me that this is all part of the process and if I give myself the head space and time, I will work it out.
The climactic scenes of The Caged Graves came to me all at once in the shower one day, just as I was about to launch into a completely different climax that was, by comparison, lackluster and unsatisfying.
Entering the climax of The Eighth Day, I had no idea how the good guys were going to defeat the bad guys. They were out-manned, out-gunned, and about to be sacrificed at the top of a pyramid, for pity’s sake.
I expected the climax of The Inquisitor’s Mark to be an all-out, guns-blaring battle between Riley’s clan and the Dulacs. Instead, it turned into a battle of wits for the custody of Jax.
In The Morrigan’s Curse, I knew going into the climax that Jax, Dorian, and one of the bad guys would perform certain actions. But where this would happen, how to get them to that point, and what everyone else would be doing remained a mystery to me right up until I was writing it.
So, I guess it’s not so bad if the current plan for my WIP’s climax is: The Big Bad appears and wreaks havoc (of what kind, unknown). The protagonist learns something startling (this part, at least, I do know), and this ends up (somehow) being the key to defeating Big Bad.
So many people commented on Yvonne Ventresca’s strategy of reverse outlining last week that I decided to share my techniques for “post draft outlining.”
By the time I type THE END on a first draft, I know all the things that are wrong with it, which may include:
Important information I never found a place to insert
Important information I inserted in several places, not sure which place would be best
Unnecessary side plots, characters, or clues I never ended up needing
Inconsistent details in setting or world building
Wavering character motivation
Character changes (In the first draft of The Caged Graves, the character of Beulah Poole started out as a teenage girl. I realized about two thirds of the way through the first draft that I needed her to be an old woman!)
Immediately after the first draft, I create a side-by-side outline to guide my second draft revisions. In one column, I list the important events in each chapter. In the other column, I note what changes I’ll need to make. These include all the things I listed above, as well as events to delete or re-order and chapters that need to be combined or split apart.
In the case of The Caged Graves, a historical murder mystery, I also created an even briefer outline of the events in each chapter and color coded them: purple for the mystery of the graves, yellow for Verity’s romance, blue for the mystery of the Revolutionary War treasure. This helped me adjust the pacing and make sure that the main mystery remained in the forefront of the story, with the romance providing a counter-point and the secondary mystery appearing often enough to not be forgotten. If I found that one color took over an entire section of the story, or if one color disappeared for too long, I made notes on how to fix it.
Anyone else have an outlining (pre- or post-) to share?
Today I’m hosting Yvonne Ventresca, author of Crystal Kite Award-winning Pandemic and the newly released Black Flowers, White Lies. Yvonne is a writer friend I actually know in real life. We’ve hung out together at tons of book events: NJASL Fall Conferences, Collingswood Book Festival, B&N Events, and plenty more — sitting behind our little tables, chatting with each other while trying to make eye contact with potential book buyers without scaring them away.
Black Flowers, White Lies Synopsis:
Her father died before she was born, but Ella Benton knows they have a special connection. Now, evidence points to his death in a psychiatric hospital, not a car accident as Mom claimed. When strange, supernatural signs appear, Ella wonders if Dad’s trying to tell her something, or if someone’s playing unsettling tricks. As the unexplained events become sinister, she finds herself terrified about who—or what—might harm her. Then the evidence points to Ella herself. What if, like Dad, she’s suffering a mental breakdown? Ella desperately needs to find answers, no matter how disturbing the truth might be.
1. I’m really looking forward to reading this book! Black Flowers, White Lies seems like a cross between a gothic mystery and psychological suspense. Would you say this is an accurate description?
One of my favorite classes in college was Gothic Literature! Black Flowers, White Lies does have the mystery and psychological suspense, but because it’s set in contemporary Hoboken, New Jersey, it’s not quite gothic. I briefly thought about setting the story in an abandoned castle or a creepy old boarding school, but since Ella (the main character) feels safe at home, I felt that if bizarre things happened there, it would create a scarier effect.
2. When were sitting behind our respective tables at NJASL last year, you described this book to me as a YA version of Gaslight. What was the inspiration for the story (besides Gaslight, that is)?
This novel has evolved over the years, so it has a few inspirations. My early versions were about a teen girl who needs to rescue her kidnapped mother. In the final version, Ella, doesn’t need to rescue her mother–she needs to save herself. This shift in focus really brought the story together for me, because it clarified her journey as a strong heroine.
3. Based on the synopsis, it seems like Ella might be an unreliable narrator. I’ve been fascinated with unreliable narrators since I read Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle when I was a young teen. Do you have any favorite books where the protagonist’s view of the world is skewed, muddled, or not to be counted on?
I loved Liar by Justine Larbalestier, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie, and Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk.
4. Tell us about your creative process. Are you an outliner, a pantster, or something in between?
I’m a ducks-in-a-row kind of person in general, but surprisingly, I don’t outline. I usually have a sense of the main character and some of the key events when I start a story. After I finish a draft, I create a reverse outline to get a handle on what I’ve written. Making the outline after I’ve drafted the story allows me to see flaws in sequence, pacing, etc. It’s definitely my favorite technique.
5. I also outline after the first draft is written! Great minds think alike! Were there any surprises for you in the writing of this novel? Plot twists you didn’t expect? Characters who didn’t behave as planned?
One of my favorite characters started as a female but worked better as a male. This meant a major rewrite, but once I started the revision, I could tell that it was taking me to a better creative place.
FUN FACT: During the writing of Black Flowers, White Lies, Yvonne asked her Facebook friends for their cat names, and was able to incorporate many of them into the story. Except for Petals, all of the animal shelter cats are named after real animals.
Bio: Yvonne Ventresca’s latest young adult novel, Black Flowers, White Lies was recently published by Sky Pony Press (October, 2016). BuzzFeed included it at the top of their new “must read” books: 23 YA Books That, Without a Doubt, You’ll Want to Read This Fall. Her debut YA novel, Pandemic, won a 2015 Crystal Kite Award from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators for the Atlantic region.
Keeping it short here today. This past weekend was Parents Day at my daughter’s college. Bob and I drove over 4 hours to visit Gabbey at school. When we arrived, the school had planned some activities, but none them appealed to us.
Field Day for Parents? Pass. I am a grown up. No one can ever get me into a Potato Sack Race again.
Football Game? Gabbey said, “Heck no.”
We checked TripAdvisor for local attractions, and this is what we found:
Yup. Things to Do is grayed out. Gabbey’s college is located in the dictionary definition of BOONDOCKS. The Potato Sack Race was looking better and better.
At least we got to spend a couple days with Gabbey.
When I’m at home, our local attractions are:
Longwood Gardens (pretty famous)
Brandywine River Museum of Art (original Andrew Wyeth paintings, he was a local)
Brandywine Battlefield (re-enactment once a year)
Go Ape Zip Line and Treetop Adventure at Lum’s Pond (awesome, but now infamous, see earlier post)
If we go a little further afield, we can reach Hershey Park, Hershey World, Lancaster (Amish Country), and anything in Philadelphia.
We live on the southern edge of Amish Country. Getting blocked in by a horse and buggy is not a daily event, but it happens.
What are the local attractions in your neck of the woods?