Making a List

I have reached the point in my tale where my main character lives and learns with her mentor for three years, in preparation to undertake more rigorous training once she is of an age to enter into an apprenticeship.  This is a significant amount of time in her young life.

In the original book I gave this important time exactly ONE scene.  That’s it.

Now I get to build it all basically from scratch.  I’ve already started describing the house where they live.  I have a couple of new characters in development (a housekeeper and a cook).  The bulk of this section needs to revolve around her relationship with her mentor, and her training.

Thus, I have started a list.

I’m writing down the basic skills that a nine-year-old street girl wouldn’t have that her mentor thinks she should.   The first few were obvious: reading and writing, basic math skills, simple cooking.  I’m debating about horsemanship, both because I’ve already established on two occasions that Mara is NOT comfortable around the animals and because they live in the capital city without easy access to reliable riding horses.  It’s also a class that she complains to her friends about when they do get to training, and I’d like to keep that option intact.  (It’s one skill that most of her cohort already has, and really the only area where she needs additional training – nobody’s perfect.)  I think she also needs a basic history of her country as a foundation.

There are some interpersonal skills that she’ll be learning as well, but those won’t be specifically taught as training.  I’m making a little note to myself on the list, so I remember to include something that gives the reader an idea of the mentor’s intent.

That’s a pretty solid list, and gives me a lot to work with.  This should be fun!

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Unexpected Length

My initial plan for Blood Moon Born was this: short prologue (<1000 words), one section for each of the three girls (about 20,000 words a piece), concluding section for the royal children (6000 – 10,000 words).  This would put the novel between 67,000 and 70,000 words, which is a decent length but not huge.  (For reference, the first Harry Potter book is just shy of 77,000 words.)

I was right on with the prologue – it currently sits at about 700 words.  It’s the next part that I underestimated.

Mara has gotten the honor of the first section to be written, although I think her section will be the third of the main three girls.  (Right now it feels like it will go Gretchen, Liza/Andi, Mara – for those already familiar with the basic tale.)  Her story itself has three big chunks: early childhood, life on the streets, and training with her mentor.  These chunks won’t be the same size, but it does give me a rough idea of what’s left.  That’s how I know Mara’s story, at least, will be longer than planned.

We’re currently clocking right about 20,000 words, and I’ve just finished the second section!

As my mom has mentioned (she’s my main sounding board as I write), there’s nothing to say that the three girls need to have the same number of words.  Mara’s story is a little more involved, so maybe hers is longer and the others are a little shorter.  It also doesn’t matter if the book turns out to have more words than I initially planned.  A 100,000 word novel is a pretty respectable length, especially in fantasy.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out, but for now, I’ve reached a good spot to pause.  I’ll do a little rough editing and send the draft to my mom for her thoughts, after which it’s time to work on the final portion of Mara’s tale.

This is flowing a lot more effectively than I thought it might!  Here’s hoping the rest of the kids have more stories to share as I get to their tales.

Dialog, Part 2

I went a bit of a different way with my dialog than what I originally mentioned in the last post.  Here’s where I ended up:

“This is Colleen,” Mama said as she gestured towards the woman, who nodded at the girl. Turning towards her guest, Mama added, “This little bit is known as Moth.”

 The girl knew the wording choice was deliberate, and her mind settled into its usual patient wariness.

“I’ll leave you two to get acquainted,” Mama said, and exited gracefully.

It’s not a lot more words, but it’s definitely a different experience than the first version I posted.  (That was pared down for dramatic effect, after all.)  There’s a description of Colleen from Moth’s perspective in the paragraph before the introduction, and a lot of non-verbal communication immediately following.  I’m working really hard to make sure that there is more to the dialog than just what people are saying.

I’ve gotten a large chunk of this conversation done, although I didn’t quite finish it.  (It’s where one of our girls meets her mentor – it’s the longest conversation scene in the story up to this point.)  I might continue writing when I finish this post, because I’d like to get it done.

If I can decide for sure what they’re going to say, of course.

The Challenge of Dialog

Dialog presents an interesting challenge for me as a writer.

The conversation itself isn’t the problem.  My characters chat with each other in my imagination all the time, and as an auditory person, I hear them.  Inflection, tone of voice, peculiarities of pronunciation – all of it is in my brain.  By the time I sit down to write out a scene of dialog, I’ve run through it several times in my head.  The conversation itself is solid.

The challenge is making sure that it doesn’t turn into this:

“This is Colleen,” Mama said.

“It’s nice to meet you,” the woman said to the girl.

Mama continued, “And she’s called Moth.”

“Hello,” Moth said.

The words on the page do NOT do that conversation justice.  As in real life, there are subtleties to inflection, as well as facial expressions and body language, that are part and parcel of the interaction.  No one talks in just words; that’s why emails and internet comments can be taken so dramatically the wrong way.

Again, for me at least, it isn’t the content that’s the problem.  I can see Mama gesturing to the two women, hear the cautious tone in Moth’s voice, and picture the slight smile that makes Colleen seem just warm enough without being overwhelming.

The challenge for me is making sure that I interject the descriptors of expression and tone without interrupting the natural flow of the conversation.  In this sample it’s relatively straightforward, but in other cases (for example, when a teen is running her mouth and I want the reader to both appreciate the stream-of-consciousness of the girl as well as the reactions on the faces around her) it’s a delicate balance.

The sample scene above (which I pared down to its bare bones for effect) is the beginning of a dialog that is currently tossing around in my brain.  It’s the next scene for Blood Moon Born, the piece that is slated for the next Tuesday.

Once I get it done, I’ll share the improved version of the sample with you.

Writing Early

Sometimes you have to be flexible.

Today my routine has been flipped on its head.  My workout partner has to be at work early this morning, so we’re postponing our swim until this evening (which will interfere with, or at least limit, my time for writing).  Since I’ve been getting up early to work out, I figured I’d leave the alarm set for its usual time and write this morning instead.

There was a small part of me that was concerned that disrupting the routine would disrupt the writing.  I don’t know that the concern was entirely baseless – I only wrote a little bit, filling in a gap I had intentionally left earlier – but I was able to write something, at least.  (I wrote a description of a kitchen, to replace my placeholder of KITCHEN DESCRIPTION HERE.)

I had to put in the placeholder because my brain did not want to picture the kitchen when I originally wrote the scene, and I wanted to finish getting what was in my head down on paper before the library closed.  This can actually work to my benefit from time to time, letting my creativity mull over something in the background while I do other things.

I’m not sure how good my early morning writing turned out (we’ll see when I do the next basic edit) but at least I filled in that gap and kept my writing habit going.

 

When Pieces Fall Into Place

I love it when pieces of a story fall into place naturally.

Since I’m greatly expanding the story of my first novel, there are several necessary adjustments that have to be made to the original plot.  The big concepts and major moments are still there, but lots of small detail pieces are getting tweaked.  Fortunately, the scene I just wrote helps a few of those pieces settle into a good spot.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I’m realigning some timeline elements to make things more age-appropriate for the characters and bring their three stories more in line with each other.  Because of this, one of my characters needs a new way to meet her mentor.  She’ll be older now when the woman comes into her life, and less trusting, so the original meeting is not going to work.

Today I wrote a fun scene where the character is introduced to someone who will be a weekly fixture in the girl’s life.  Everyone calls this character Mama, so to keep things simple, I will, too.  Mama is well-connected and a pillar of her own community (slightly seedy as it is), and I’ve decided that she will provide the introduction between our girl and her mentor.  I haven’t worked out all the details, but it both bridges the challenge of trust and resolves another issue of location.

My original plan for this rewrite was to give each of the three girls about 20,000 words, plus an additional 10,000 or so for two additional, less important characters at the end.  Even with some time skips (one of which is about to come up, in two scenes or so), this current story is on track to be at least 25,000 of its own.  It will be interesting to see if the other two girls can carry the same, or if the stories end up a little uneven.

Here’s hoping the continuing tweaks and adjustments can work out as easily as this one!

Tuesday Night is… Reading Night?

My work schedule has been very strange this week – switched up days, mostly, with days off and days working all rearranged.  Due to this, my brain isn’t really aware of what day it is, even though I can look at a calendar and see that it’s Tuesday.

Tonight I decided to forgo writing, partially because my writing inspiration is out of whack with the schedule, and instead finish reading a book that was due back to the library yesterday (another casualty of my weird schedule combined with an above-average amount of social plans).    I finished it, mostly, although I did skim the last chapter, and picked up another book I had requested.  The number of waiting books in my stack has not gotten smaller, although the books themselves are slimmer.

My schedule is (relatively) back to normal this week, so I should return to my usual writing night next Tuesday.  “Should” is the operative word in that sentence.  🙂

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