State of the Thing: Fix-It Edition

What’s this? Another update? In the same month?

See, I wasn’t lying about trying to get my shit together.

Now that I’ve talked about crazy life things, it’s time to talk about the Thing–this book-thing I still haven’t finished yet.

The short story: Yes, I’m still working on it and making progress as time and energy allows.

The long story: I’ve written, rewritten, and done a fair amount of polishing on Part I, but every time I get about midway through the book, somewhere in Parts II & III, things start to fall apart. The characters seem to stop driving the story and I’m left to figure out the direction–which as anyone who’s ever been in a car with me or watched me play a video game knows, letting me navigate is a really, really bad idea. I had to give myself some time to step away, clear my head, and really think about where and how the pieces weren’t fitting.

The conclusion I ultimately came to was that the story wasn’t going wrong in the middle, it was going wrong before it ever started.

There’s a two-year gap between Bloodlands and Nightlands. It’s not an arbitrary period of time, but was chosen to give the characters time to settle from the events of the first book as well as to give space to some events I knew needed to happen before the next book. I didn’t map that whole between period for every character, however. I had a strong idea for how to kick the story off and couldn’t help but jump right in. Writing might be the one area of my life that I don’t always carefully plan ahead of time. Unfortunately, the gap in my own knowledge eventually manifested in a fragmenting plot and an inability to connect with the motivations of some of my characters.

By going back and more carefully piecing together the events of that time gap, not only did I come to better understand the motivations of some of my protagonists, but I better understood the plots of my antagonists as well. The latter is especially important in this book, as the antagonists set the plot into motion. In Bloodlands, the protagonists–or at least Senora–was responsible for driving the plot from the beginning, which made the whole book easier to write in many ways.

I’ve tried a few different methods for visibly plotting/creating timelines, from cards on poster board (I blogged about that once), to Scriviner outline templates, to plain and simple notebook scrawlings. So far, the tool I like best for visual management (and ease of editing) is Campfire, a program for story planning. Not only can I easily plot timelines, but I can set up and link character profiles, which in turn gives me the ability to flesh out character arcs.

CampfireMasterTimeline (2)

The revised master timeline. I’m current working on fleshing out Part II.

The ability to nest timelines lets you really customize how you view the flow of your story.


Color-coded by character with flow lines to indicate how events impact other events. It starts to look a little more complex at the detailed level.

Each little summary card opens up into an even more detailed card that allows you to edit which characters and locations are involved, where the event takes place temporally, and, of course, a full description of the event. I won’t show you one of those–don’t want to spoil too much too soon, after all.

The summary card makes it easy to distinguish if the event happens off-screen or on-screen. This is really helpful for tracking what the antagonists are doing since we don’t always see them through the narrative. It also helps me keep track of the passage of time, which was a challenge while writing Bloodlands.

Campfire does a lot of other cool stuff too, but it’s probably time to wrap this up before it becomes a commercial.

The main lesson in all of this is that I’m still learning to balance my two different working modes, spontaneous inspiration (which usually drives my drafting process) and planning/analysis (which usually drives the revision and editing processes). Sometimes, you need both in the same phase of writing.

I’ll post more updates as I make more progress, and in the mean time, I’ll keep content coming… at least more than one post a year for sure!

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