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.