Steps to a Story: In Conclusion

This series of posts started in October, when I started writing With Honor to post on Serial Central.  With the epilogue posted yesterday, the story is complete and so this series is as well.  Theoretically, you could now read the entire story and the entire Steps to a Story series and you could experience the short story and the process of creating it as well.

The series was a fun one for me.  It was often interesting to think about my process; how I created the story and characters, the struggles that I went through, and blogging about it kept me involved in that self-discovery.  I hope you enjoyed it as well.

For those of you who are dying to know what happens to Matthew and Charlotte after the story ends, I’ll share with you this.  It is the second paragraph of the prologue of The Queen’s Butterflies.

Matthew Lewis paced the front porch of his family’s farmhouse.  As his daughter’s first cries pierced the quiet of the country, he looked up at the sky.  The smile that had begun to spread across his face quickly turned to a look of concern as he realized that the moon was the color of blood.  Shaking off a quick shiver of fear, he raced into the house to ensure that this omen was not for him.  He opened the door with a sense of dread, but issued a sigh of relief instead as he saw his smiling, exhausted wife and new baby girl on the bed.  Matthew sat gingerly on the edge of the bed as Charlotte handed him the carefully wrapped child.  “Let’s call her Gretchen.”

A lot more happens to Gretchen (one of the main characters) and her family, but I’ll leave that for when you get to read The Queen’s Butterflies.  🙂

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Steps to a Story: wrapping things up

If you’ve read the most recent section of With Honor, you know that we’ve gotten to the end of the story, at least for now.  This is a prequel, after all, so the people who’ve had a chance to read The Queen’s Butterflies can probably guess what happens.  But I know (more than most) that The Queen’s Butterflies is not yet published, so most of you won’t have that knowledge base.

To that end, I decided that an epilogue was in order.  I don’t want to cover everything that happens to Matthew following his return.  Honestly, like most lives of most people, the day-to-day stuff is fairly boring.  There are a few important events that happen to him, however, and I wanted to share them with readers.  I’m sure a lot of people are also wondering if he makes it back to Charlotte.  If you want to know, you’ll have to read the epilogue when it posts on Sunday.  🙂

Steps to a Story: a better way to share information

My first writing task of my retreat weekend was to finish With Honor.  The next section was fairly straightforward to write.  I needed to share several very specific pieces of information with the reader, as well as finding a way to return to the relationship with Charlotte and Matthew.

My first attempt to complete this section was to have Matthew reflecting on the things that had happened and were going to happen, concluding with a conversation between him and the girl.  It worked, but not well.  It became a bulky, hard-to-follow mess, with time frame switching from current to past to future.  I wasn’t pleased with it, but when I went to bed it was at least completed.

In trying to fall asleep on the air mattress in my screened shelter for the first night, I had a lot of time to work on story stuff in my head.  Just before I fell asleep, I came up with a possible solution.  What if I made the entire section a conversation with Charlotte?  She can ask for the info that the reader needs to know.

Of course, I was trying to sleep so I just mulled it over and left it.  I didn’t want to drag the laptop out once again just to play with the scene; it seemed counterproductive to my efforts, not to mention the light from the computer screen kept drawing little irritating bugs.  So the next morning, after breakfast, I focused on With Honor once again.  It took some tweaking, since the information had to be broken down into different combinations, but it worked!  I’ll revise it once more before it posts, but I think the conversation between characters is a much easier way to share information with the reader.

My First Writer’s Retreat, or what do you do in a state park?

I just got back from my first writer’s retreat.  I stayed in a screened shelter in Martin Dies, Jr. State Park.  It seems like a wilderness retreat, but to be fair, I had a roof, electricity, and a typical running-water restroom within easy walking distance.  There was no internet or television, but that was sort of the point, and I managed to survive without air conditioning.  I wouldn’t exactly call it roughing it.

When I went camping the last time, in October, my mom asked me what I do when I’m camping.  She couldn’t think of much to do in a state park, finally concluding that she would be happy to roast marshmallows over a campfire before getting bored and wanting to go home.  I’m the weirdo outdoors-girl in a family of indoor people, I’m afraid.

One of my friends asked a similar question, however, when he found out I was going camping for three nights.   He wanted to know if I was going to get bored.  Honestly, I was a little concerned about that myself, which is why I brought a magazine, two books, and my knitting as well as my computer for writing.

It turns out I found plenty to do while I was on my retreat.  I hiked and walked a lot; my best estimate is that I walked over 12 miles in the course of two and a half days.  I did a bit of birding, although if I couldn’t find the bird or didn’t know what a call was, I didn’t spend too much time on it.  I slept, not as much or as well as I was hoping, but I got to sleep in and nap.  I did knit some, and read some, although I finished the magazine the first day and then didn’t open a book until the last evening.  I relaxed, I rested, and I even did some personal reflection.

The bulk of my waking time, though, was spent writing.  Even while hiking I was working on stories and blog posts.  I finished With Honor on the first day.  I re-read the existing chapters of Dragon Pendant, so I could get back into the story, and ended up writing two and a half chapters plus three major upcoming scenes.  I finally resolved some plot troubles with that story, as well.  I wrote nine blog posts, including two Steps to a Story posts and this post that you’re reading.  Some of the posts I wrote were not related to writing, but rather journaling about experiences I had on while in nature.  I still plan to share them with you, as my experiences influenced the writing I did on the retreat.

With the exception of a few interesting moments (which you’ll get to read about in upcoming posts) it was a reinvigorating, relaxing experience that I hope to get to repeat in the future.

Steps to a Story: Timeline Trouble

I’ve discovered the problem with injuring the main character of a story: it takes time to recover.  I’m going to pause for a warning here. There are spoilers in this post.  It’s not anything you couldn’t have predicted, but technically I’m giving some of the story away.  Consider yourself warned. 

Working on the next section of With Honor, I have run into a timeline problem.  Three things are making it difficult for me to get the next section to work.  First, even cleaned and stitched perfectly, it will take at least a month (probably more like six to eight weeks) for Matthew’s wound to heal properly.  Second, the army will want to catch Golden Wolf as soon as possible.  Third, I would like Matthew to be part of the catching of said antagonist.

Can you see the dilemma?  I need a plausible reason for the army officers to sit on their hands and simply watch Golden Wolf until Matthew is healed.  I know the role he plays in the scene, I know how to sketch out his recovery within the story, I’m just not sure how to delay the capture.

Of course, writing out the problem is making me think about it, and a few possible reasons have come into my head just in the time I have worked on this post.  🙂  You’ve just become a virtual version of my friends who let me talk out my story while they patiently listen.  Thanks!

Steps to a Story: following where the story leads

I have the ending of With Honor outlined already, but I confess the next section was somewhat (or perhaps entirely) blank in the plan.  We left Matthew at Charlotte’s house, recovering from his wound.  Now I need to get him healed, get the romance cooking a little, and then get back to the main plot.  We do want to capture the Golden Wolf at some point, after all!

When I sat down to write tonight, I had one image in my head (Matthew sitting in the garden, warmed by the sun and surrounded by chickens) and two goals for the section (healing and attraction, as mentioned above).  That was all I had.  Less than an hour later, the first draft of the section is basically done, and I am quite pleased with the result.

How did I do it?  I started writing and let the story and the characters take the lead.  Obviously this means more than sitting down with my computer, since other sections have required a great deal more effort.  However, the two goals of the section were relatively un-demanding and I’ve gotten to know the characters (especially Matthew) as I’ve been writing the story.  Charlotte is a bit easier for me to understand than Matthew; I am very familiar with one of her descendants who takes after her in several ways.  (The descendant is one of the characters in my novel.)  Plus, I’m female.  If you’ll recall, part of the goal of taking on this story was for me to stretch my wings a bit and focus on a male main character; I’ve gotten pretty practiced at the female point of view.

Tonight I jumped in to the writing without a clear idea of where I was going, let the characters talk and the scene flow naturally, and was pleasantly surprised and pleased with where it ended up.  That sounds like a successful evening of writing, wouldn’t you say?

Steps to a Story: Summarizing

Sometimes in a story, a lot happens when the main character isn’t present.  In With Honor, the entire story is from Matthew’s point of view.  That means that for us to learn anything about what has happened, Matthew has to learn about.  The easiest way to do that is through a summary. 

Before I add a summary, I always look at the story.  Is the information important?  Some skips in a story’s action don’t miss anything pertinent, so alluding to the time interval or location change is all that I need to do.  If it’s important enough that the reader needs to see the action, I may have to switch point of view for a section to let us get the information first hand. 

However, if the information is important enough that we need it, but not so key that we need to see it first hand, I can use a summary.  There are a couple of ways to add one with the correct context of the story.  Usually, an account by another character (in the form of a conversation or even a letter) is the best way to go.  It’s also possible to have the characters reference what happened without a direct account, depending on the amount of information.  Gossip can be good for this.  “Did you hear…?”

I try to avoid a narrator-type summary (which briefly takes the reader out of the storyline) in a short story.  I’ve used this a couple of times in my novel, but the format and context allowed it without ruining the flow.

Wondering which one I used for With Honor?  Check out the next section, posting tomorrow.  🙂

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