dianne salerni author
dianne salerni author

MorrigansCurse_REV coverI have never been a runner, but I am guessing that as runners near the finish line of a race, they don’t look back to see how far they’ve come. They have their eye on the goal. But as a writer, I often find it instructive to look back at my process. This month, I’ve been working on a second round of revisions for The Morrigan’s Curse with my editor. Yes, there will still be copy-editing and proof-reading to do, but for all intents and purposes, I am approaching the finish line for this book.

Looking back through my files, I saw that I started the first draft of this book (originally titled THE GIRL OF CROWS) in November of 2013. That’s right. 2013 — before the first book in the series, The Eighth Day, was even published and out on the shelves. This is something I posted at Project Middle Grade Mayhem back when I was just about to get started:

***

Dianne: Hello, team! Glad to have you all back for Book 3 in this series – and to the new characters, welcome. I assume you’ve seen the proposed outline for the next book, and you know I’m not very good with outlines. But after two books, we’re used to working together, so I figure you’ll know where I’m going astray.

Jax: Well, there’s something majorly wrong with the climax. In the first book, we saved the world. I mean, the Villain was “this close” to succeeding. And in the second book, you went for more personal stakes. I mean, there was plenty of exciting stuff … my identity was in question, and Riley and Evangeline’s lives were in danger …

Riley: Yeah, he’s right. Personal stakes were fine for Book 2, but in Book 3, we’ve got to get back to saving the world.

Dianne: But the New Villain has a pretty evil plan …

Evangeline: And, according to this outline, we stop him while he’s still three or four steps away from succeeding at it. That’s not very scary.

Dianne: I see your point.

New Character (Name Withheld): If you let the New Villain take things further, he’s going to have to involve me. I’m going to have to make up my mind which side I’m on. Won’t that solve the problem you’re having with my character arc?

Dianne: You’re right. It will.  Great idea!

New Villain: I object to my cartoonish nature. You did everything but give me a cape to swoop and a mustache to twirl. Can’t you provide me with some depth?

Dianne: Not in the outline, buster. You’re going to have to develop your personality on the page, just like everybody else here.

Riley: Yeah. You should have seen how she had me planned in her outline for Book 1. But I set her straight by the end of the first draft.

Secondary Character (Name Withheld, but maybe you can guess): Hey, I have a complaint. I don’t even show up until the middle of the book. I was beginning to think I didn’t have a part!

Dianne: We couldn’t have a story without you! Readers simultaneously love you and want to strangle you.

Secondary Character: But after you bring me in, I’ve got nothing to do. I don’t even see my name mentioned in the climax!

Dianne: I didn’t know how I was going to use you in the climax of Book 1, but I brought you along for the ride – and when the time came, I discovered your purpose. Trust me. You’re my wild card. When it’s time to use you, I’ll know.

Secondary Character 2 (Name Also Withheld): Now it’s my turn to complain. What’s this about me possibly dying?!

Dianne: It’s the third book. There should be casualties. We can’t just kill off bad guys and lose none of our own. What do you think this is, the Twilight series?

Secondary Character 2: But why me? Do you know how many times I’ve saved your heroes or bailed them out of trouble?

Dianne: That’s kind of why you have to go.

Riley: Don’t kill this person off for the sake of our character arcs. None of us want to take the rap for that!

Jax: I don’t think it’s fair for you to kill anyone as a cheap emotional trick.

Secondary Character 2: I don’t want to be the All is Lost Moment!

Dianne: I wouldn’t waste you like that. If you go, it will be a Turning Point – a Courageous Sacrifice for your friends. Otherwise, I won’t do it. Deal?

Secondary Character 2: All right. Either I go out in a Blaze of Glory – or I survive. Deal.

Jax: Hey, the ending scene is perfect.  Good job there.

Dianne: That’s what we’re working toward, then. That ending. Okay, folks. Let me mull over the World Stakes Climax, and we’ll meet back here for Chapter 1 in a couple days. We can do this. Right?

***

Looking back on this is pretty funny to me now. I don’t remember all this uncertainty! I can’t even remember what the original climax was supposed to be — the one that wasn’t very good because the villain never got close to succeeding. I’m really proud of the one I wrote instead. As for the fate of Secondary Character 2 … I’m not going to reveal it here. Everything became clear as I wrote the story. There are casualties. But they may not be the ones I was originally considering.

This is why, for me, outlining is never as useful as actually writing that first draft. Painful as it is, it’s the only way I can figure everything out. And that’s always helpful for me to remember when I’m in the agonizing throes of drafting.

How often do you look back at your process? Do you ever find little gems like this post that remind you how far you’ve come?

InquisitorsMark_revised_finalIn a little less than 2 months, The Inquisitor’s Mark comes out. Traditional publishing is strange in that the gap in time between the writing of the book and the release of the book is SO LONG, I can hardly remember what it was like. In fact, when I sat down to write this post, I had to go back and check the beginning date on the first draft to remember when the heck I even wrote it. I was surprised to discover that I started the first draft exactly 2 years ago today. (I wrote this post on 12/4, btw.)

Then I went through all my blog posts from that time period.  These are the things that I recorded in my blog about the process of writing my first sequel (my blog being the closest thing I have to a diary):

  • Writing the second book in a series presents a new set of issues to be insecure about. Your cool premise is no longer original. Readers are familiar with it from the first book, and they want to know: What else have you got?
  • For each of my characters, there is only one way to go. It may seem as if they have choices, but they don’t. Not if the story is to move forward. They (and I) have to keep following the path that’s open until we all get to the bottom of the hill.
  • My WIP has me by the throat and will not let go. Even at work, I walk around muttering to myself in the voices of my characters, drawing little maps on scraps of paper, and choreographing action scenes.
  • Over the 3-day President’s Weekend, I wrote 9,000 words. My feet finally touched the ground around noon on Monday when I typed THE END on the first draft of THE EIGHTH DAY #2.
  • I started the draft on December 4. Seventy-seven days from beginning to end.  I know that might not seem like a feat to anyone who’s succeeded at NaNo – producing 50,000 words in 30 days.  But this is the fastest I’ve ever written a manuscript.
  • I had an outline for this book. But I realized, right before I hit SEND and zapped the manuscript to my editor, that my favorite parts of Book 2 were never in the outline at all.
  • I had a new character sharing POV with my MC, but I didn’t know anything about his personality and motivation when I started writing. I didn’t discover it until halfway through the first draft, and the revelation, when it came, required the addition of a subplot that wasn’t in the outline.  (PS – I didn’t know it then, but that unplanned sub-plot ended up being crucial for Book 3.)
  • One of my very favorite scenes in the book (involving a garbage chute and a fire ladder) is an event that was never planned.
  • The climactic action scene was plotted out right before I needed to write it – at a restaurant in the Pocono Mountains during a ski trip. “Listen everybody,” I said, commandeering all the forks and knives and a few condiments to make a diagram on the table. “I need to know how these people can fight this creature in this confined space. And since there’s an exit right over here, why don’t they just run away instead?” My husband and daughters were nonplussed by this demand. My daughter’s friend looked kind of surprised, but also vindicated – as if she suspected all along that Gabbey’s writer mom was a nutjob.

Overall, I think the writing of The Inquisitor’s Mark was one of my most intense writing experiences yet. It was fun to look back at how I experienced it at the time, to remember all the really neat things that were never in the original plan for that book.

I hope readers enjoy the finished product!

Dorian & Sloane

Two new characters in THE INQUISITOR’S MARK — Dorian Ambrose and Sloane Dulac. (Character sketches by Rachel Gillespie)

 

  • Next Monday, school starts for my children and for my former teaching colleagues, but not for me. This is the first time I haven’t started school in the fall since I was a kindergartner. To distract me from this major life change, my husband suggested I do something I wouldn’t normally be able to do, and I said, “Yes!” (I’ll tell you about it next week.)
G&G 2014

Both my daughters will be in high school this year. How did that happen?

  • Don’t forget the Back 2 School YA Giveaway. One winner gets ALL 8 books. CLICK HERE.
  • When I wrote about outlining with the Snowflake Method last week, I was surprised how many die-hard pantsters responded. I’m a pantster at heart, too. Outlining is more like an exploration of an idea, to see whether or not I really want to write it. I learned something important, though. Step 1 was to write a one-sentence summary of the book. I couldn’t find a way to make my main character the subject of the sentence without having it sound passive. I suddenly realized: I chose the wrong main character for the story!!! This is someone else’s story — and I need to re-envision the whole project!
  • On the subject of being a hopeless pantster, I’d like to share with you a favorite line I wrote for BRANEWORLD last week:

Regrettably, the only viable plan would require using her favorite human as bait.

What I love about the line is this: I have no idea what the plan is! Bwa-ha-ha-ha! (I hope the details are shared with me soon …)

  • One of the vice presidents of my husband’s company bought 5 copies of The Eighth Day, which he then gave to his son and his nieces and nephews. (Wasn’t that a nice thing for him to do?) Last week, his son went into school to take Accelerated Reading tests for his summer reading credit and discovered The Eighth Day was one of the AR tests available. Awesome! And he passed. Even better!
  • And for my final bullet point: A reader sent me fan art. Fan art! Is that not the most awesome thing ever?
Eighth Day fan art by Kat

Jax, Evangeline, and Riley ~ by Kat

 

 

 

 

 

snowflake-imageIf you read Monday’s post about my struggle with my WIP, you might not be surprised to hear I’ve been looking at strategies for outlining. However, if you’ve followed me for any length of time, you’re probably shaking your head, saying, “Again? Dianne, you know that never works out for you.”

I’ve tried all kinds of planning techniques in the past: bullet points, character interviews, three-act structures, detailed scene notes. Once, I even outlined a story backward – from the ending I planned to the beginning I wanted — by asking myself, “What would have caused this?”

(I did write that manuscript, but the only parts that resembled the outline were the beginning and the end! Everything else changed!)

I’m not outlining BRANEWORLD. I’m still trudging through a dark forest on that one, with only a dimly conceived destination in mind. But I want to have something waiting in the wings if, no when I finish the draft. So I’ve decided to do preliminary work on a completely different project, a historical mystery along the lines of The Caged Graves, except set in 1930s Hollywood.

This time I’m trying The Snowflake Method, which you can check out HERE.

It keeps me busy and out of trouble while I wait for my editor’s revision letter on The Eighth Day #3. And it keeps my mind off everyone going Back-to-School – which, for the first time since I was 5 years old, does not include me. <Sigh.> I’m a little conflicted about my feelings on that.

However, I can celebrate the arrival of fall with a Back-to-School giveaway! Come back on Friday to learn more about THIS:

weebly

 

Conventional wisdom says that after completing a first draft, you should lay it aside “to rest” before beginning any revisions on it — I’ve heard some experts recommend six to eight weeks!

Well, conventional wisdom (and those experts) must not work under a deadline.

And, to be honest, laying aside a first draft for weeks has never been my method, even before I had an agent and a contract and deadlines. 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
  • Plot holes
  • Unnecessary side plots, characters, or clues I never ended up needing
  • Inconsistent details in setting or world building
  • Wavering character motivation
  • Pacing
  • Necessary 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 in that chapter. This sometimes will include rearranging or eliminating chapters.
Side by Side Outline for Draft 1-2 of The Eighth Day

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.

Color coded outline after Draft 1 of The Caged Graves

It only takes me a couple days to produce these outlines. Then I’m ready to roll right into the writing of my second draft.

When the second draft is complete, that’s when I send it out to beta readers and I take a break from the manuscript. Under my current deadline, it won’t be a six week break, of course. I only have ten weeks before this book is due, and I don’t want to turn in anything less than a fourth draft.
As for the revisions themselves, I start with Chapter One. I am a linear girl …
On Monday, Vicki Tremper posted a link to an article by LibbaBray that I really, really needed to read this week. If a rock star like Libba Bray can struggle so much with a book – and a sequel, at that – and if she finds outlining strategies and worksheets as unhelpful as I do … well, it restores my faith in my own creative process.
I’m going to revisit this picture from SharkNado, because as many bloggers commented last week, it really embodies the heart of writing by pantsing – or even writing with an outline, as far as I’m concerned.
I thought Scrivener might help me plot out the third book in my series. So far it’s been helpful for keeping all my random notes, bad ideas, and research information in one place. It also gave me an excuse to comb the internet for photos that look like my characters and paste them into character charts. Wasted two whole evenings on that!
But I know in my heart that my process is to discover the story as I go. Scrivener can’t help. The Snowflake Method can’t help. Only writing will help.
I did have an outline for the first book. Well, plot points, anyway. I recently read back over that “outline” and laughed. The big plot points are all still there, but ALL the details have been changed – even the names of most of the characters.
I had an outline (list of plot points) for the second book, too. And again, those events are still in the current draft. But I realized, right before I hit SEND and zapped the manuscript to my editor yesterday, that my favorite parts of Book 2 were never in the outline at all.
I had a new character sharing POV with my MC, but I didn’t know anything about his personality or motivation when I started writing. I didn’t discover it until halfway through the first draft, and the revelation, when it came, required the addition of a new subplot.
One of my favorite scenes in the book is an episode that was never planned. I remember the idea hitting me in the middle of the school day. I spent my lunch break researching two specific things that would allow a pair of adolescent boys to secretly get down from the fifth story of a city apartment building without the use of the stairs or the elevator.
Then of course there was the climactic action scene. That was plotted out right before I needed to write it – at a restaurant in the Pocono Mountains during a ski trip. “Listen everybody,” I said, commandeering all the forks and knives and a few condiments to make a diagram on the table. “I need to know how these people can fight this creature in this confined space. And since there’s an exit right over here, why don’t they just run away instead?” My husband and daughters were nonplussed by this demand. My daughter’s friend looked kind of surprised, but also vindicated – as if she suspected all along that Gabbey’s writer/mom was a nutjob.
A brainstorming session, complete with the best Italian food in the Poconos, ensued. (Papa Santo’s in Blakeslee, if you’re wondering.) We talked about who was trapped and needed rescuing, how smoke alarms and fire extinguishers and cattle prods and broken steel beams played a role, how magic was used, and how not to accidentally knock the whole building down on their heads. (Thank heavens my husband is an engineer.)
So, am I ready to jump into the shark on Book 3 yet? No, but I have re-affirmed to myself that all I need is a few more plot points to get started. As long as I take my chainsaw with me, I won’t worry about how to get myself from point to point.