30 May, 2016

On outlines and plantsing

I tell you what: Comedy of Rain has been a bear to wrestle with, and I'm not talking about Hipólito.

Before Tragedy of Ice was anything more than one book, I'd had only stray ideas about what the characters' lives were going to be like after the fact. Nothing truly solid to make another story with, but thoughts of "Oh, that's how ___ is going to happen" or "Oh, now that'll be interesting if they ____ when ____". And then my favourite muse finished reading Tragedy of Ice and said, "You know what? Their story's not done. You need another book."

And another book became three more books. The Europan Theatre is what I've coined as the series name (finally!), and it's slated to be a tetralogy. Now that could change as I go along, but I can't speak to that until I reach that point in the road.

But the muse spoke, and I listened, so back in . . . we'll say October, I scripted an outline for Comedy of Rain so I could have my ducks in a row for NaNoWriMo 2015. Following the same format as Tragedy of Ice, I scripted one prologue, 34 chapters, and an epilogue, with the only difference this time being that Hipólito had POV chapters. And that was fine. Mostly. Sorta. Kinda.

Not really.

The prologue went according to plan, but being NaNoWriMo, I recapped Tragedy of Ice so much that it inflated to probably 5,000 words past its necessary word count. Then chapter 1 introduced a character who wasn't supposed to show up until chapter 5, and that was okay. I could work with that. Chapter 2 had that character show up again, and I'm thinking, "Oh, crap, he's gonna have a bigger role, isn't he?"

Naturally, this was the point where all planners start to reconsider their outline, but being NaNoWriMo, I had to soldier on. So by chapter 5, a whole new subplot arose, and that was that. I had to wing it all the way through NaNo, using my outline as a general target while adapting to where the plot rivers took me. And, boy oh boy, were there some interesting rapids that got thrown in my way.

Flash forward to the end of NaNo, and I thought I only had less than ten chapters left to write. I was wrong. I brought Comedy of Rain back out to work on for April's Camp NaNoWriMo, and all those rapids that'd come up before only got more treacherous as I went. Suffice to say, I busted my outline and—while I did get the occasional bit from my originally scripted chapters—I ended up having to fly by the seat of my pants.

Which was not a fun experience.

Kadiza, Franklin, and Hipólito were facing new obstacles, and I was drawing blanks on how to get them to solve them. I did the best I could, and while I reached my goal for Camp NaNo, I was left with a still yet unfinished manuscript. Now I'm all the way through May, and I've been taking my time, slogging on through the difficult parts, and avoiding writer's block (gasp!) by reminding myself that all the things I don't like about Comedy of Rain right now can all be fixed during the revisions. I won't allow myself to go back and begin revisions yet, especially since I still haven't finished the story.

What I am doing is allowing myself to make notes and revisit my outline. Sort of like creating "stage direction", I've got my new outline that's accounting for all the changes made to date, plus what's left to write tentatively annotated on the outline. The ending hasn't really changed, but the next several chapters could end up going directions I never expected. And if that happens, yes, I'll have to redo my outline, but at least at that point I'll know the fate of certain characters, as well as what I need to do when I go back to actually revise and start weaving in the new threads properly. Or "tightening the shoelaces", as I like to call it. Everything's essentially there now, so it just needs better allusions and foreshadowing so that the setup rings true with the reveals. And, as always, the iceberg knowledge of what's been going on in the background so that I can pull from that info and write the best story I can.

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Ash Litton

Ash Litton is a writer and lover of sci-fi, fantasy, and all things fictional. She is the author of Thoroughbred, Evening Hallow, Comeuppance, and Cabover Cabaret, and works on other Appalachian Dream Tales between her ongoing novel projects. She's also written No Diet, No Surgery, No Sweat, an ebook chronicling her weight-loss journey.

When she's not writing, she's drawing, and when she's not doing either of those, she's dreaming up new projects to work on. Born and raised in rural West Virginia, Ash has always wondered what things lay hidden in the hills around her. She attended West Virginia University, where she studied the English language before returning home to her family in rural West Virginia.