I forgot about that!

As I’m reviewing my notes, rereading what I’ve already written, and putting together my outline for Mara’s Tale, things keep coming back to me.

Over the last few months, I’ve had a lot of ideas that didn’t get developed beyond my initial thoughts.  Fortunately, I made notes when I couldn’t write details.  Even a tiny “learns to read” notation in the manuscript can remind me of the concept.

Today that note (“learns to read”) brought back everything that I had come up with when the original thought occurred.  Between Mara learning to read and pick locks, as well as the training/interactions that she gets from her mentor later in the book, there should be some great material to work on when NaNo comes around!

Outline and Existing Material

Today I started an outline for Mara’s Tale (as I am calling my rebel NaNo novel).  I used the big time line I have on my wall, as well as pulling open what I already have.

I’m going to have to read through the existing stuff before NaNo.  I’d like to get a sense of what still needs to be written (answer: a lot) in order to be ready when it’s time to start accumulating words in November.

I don’t normally work from an outline, and I often don’t know where the story is going when I start.  One of the challenges I’ve had with this massive Butterflies project is that I’m building around existing material.  I know quite well what’s going to happen to this character, including novels that come after the first.  That’s why I decided to create an outline – perhaps being a little more organized with my thoughts and planning in advance will mean that I can make some headway in this book.

One of my goals for 2013 is to complete at least one novel for this project.  I don’t know if I’ll make it, but 50,000 words for NaNo would be a massive improvement.

NaNo is Coming…

Next month is National Novel Writing Month, affectionately known by participants as NaNoWriMo or NaNo.  If you’ve participated, you already know what to expect.  If you haven’t, you have a little less than a month to decide if you’re going to give it a shot this year.

For 2013 I am planning to be a NaNo Rebel.  What is that, you ask?  I am planning to participate in NaNo, but I am not going to follow all of the rules.

(Okay, enough with the insincere gasping in shock.  I am a rule follower, I know, but this is an occasion when rule-breaking is okay.)

Before I explain how I am breaking the rules, I should tell you what they are: 50,000 words in November, work of fiction, started from scratch.  This year I am planning to use NaNo as a chance to work on Mara’s story.  I’m still planning to write at least 50,000 words in November, it’s still a work of fiction, but it is not something I am starting from scratch.

Is it still legitimate for me to claim to be participating in NaNo?  Is it okay for me to use the tracking on the NaNoWriMo site?  Should I validate my novel at the end and claim to be a winner?  It turns out that this happens on a regular basis and the folks at NaNo recognize it, at least enough to host a forum for the rebels and encourage them to utilize the site!  As for validating, well, they leave it up to each individual writer.  In fact, here’s the final verdict, straight from the “Am I a Rebel” forum over at nanowrimo.org:

This is a self-challenge.  The REAL prize of NaNoWriMo is the accomplishment, and the big new manuscript you have at the end.  Everything beyond that is icing on the cake.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself!

Big Gaps in the Timeline

I had to clean up my spare room in preparation for a visit from my parents, and in the process I found my giant Butterflies timeline on the floor.  (The tape gave up, apparently.)

I re-hung it and pondered it for a bit.  There’s a lot of work to be done, which is probably an understatement.  I mean, I’m dismantling a novel and making it into a series, so there’s going to be a lot of work!  There are also some big gaps I still need to fill.

Some of the gaps are easy – there’s a section of time on Gretchen’s line that is labeled only “training with Dad,” but there are already a couple of scenes written and it’s fun to think about different ways she can learn how to fight.  I’m also contemplating a side story for Dad, and maybe one of the brothers, which can twine through that time as well.

Some are more challenging – Andi’s story doesn’t really even get started until she’s four or five.  Gretchen has a house full of brothers, both older and younger, so there are opportunities for stories before she can remember, and Mara’s story is interesting from day one, but Andi has one older brother near in age and a significantly younger little sister.  What stories are there with a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old, that aren’t the usual toddler tales that most parents have?  Even the important parental conversation about her doesn’t happen until she’s a bit older.

I’ll keep thinking about it.  Really, I shouldn’t dwell on it too much – I’m supposed to be working on Mara’s story this year!

A Lack of Layers

If there’s one thing most readers notice about fantasy novels, it’s that there’s a lot going on.

Multiple story lines.  Intricate subplots that tie in to the main plot in unexpected ways.  Detours to follow side characters.  Details that seem unimportant but reappear with earth-shattering consequences three books later.  Rules for magic, for governing, for courtship.  Many (sometimes many, many) people to keep track of, relationships to remember, places and faces and societies and who was that again?

Some authors even give us a character list (Jacqueline Carey) or glossary (Robert Jordan) to help when we’re confused, because there is so much going on.

This is a problem that I’m trying to address with Mara’s story (and, by extension, Gretchen’s story and Andi’s story).  The original Butterflies tried to cover too much, too quickly, so I’m dismantling it and making it a series.  I would like to give each of the three girls a separate story, at least until their lives intertwine and the stories coalesce.  There is enough in each life to make it worth the effort, but I’m finding that  now I’m going to simple.  If all we’re doing is following one character as she grows up, where’s the complexity?  Where’s that layered look fantasy readers are used to seeing?

I don’t want to use existing parallel subplots, because they will seem unrelated until the stories come together in a later book.  Perhaps what I need to do is find some side characters from the early lives of the girls, so we can have some subplots that resolve within each tale.

Great, Leigh, make this very challenging process of rewriting even more complicated than it already was.  Nicely done.

Physical Surroundings

Today I started thinking about Butterfly Gardens.  This is the name of the estate where the three main characters of Butterflies (along with many others) go for training.

I know what kind of training they get at the Gardens.  I know the kinds of facilities they have, and the types of space they live in.  What I don’t know, because I never actually laid it out, is the exact plan of the place.

Much like with Mara’s tale and the wall, I am going to need to know a lot more about Butterfly Gardens when I get to the girls’ training.  Depth of story means that I’m going to have to work on my less-developed ability of description and give readers a better picture of the place.

Making the original map of the countries involved in Butterflies was a challenge.  I knew that it had to be done, so I could keep track of the many battles and locations of the war.  Visual details don’t stick with me, so a map is incredibly helpful.  (I even had a list of what all the major characters looked like for reference while writing; that’s how much those details slip my mind.)

One of my friends recently told me that she likes making maps.  Perhaps I’ll recruit her help to develop a map of the grounds of Butterfly Gardens, so I can keep track of where things are as we explore more of the place!


As I work on Mara’s story, I realize that the development of this tale offers something that is both a blessing and a curse.


It is awesome that I get to explore Mara’s childhood in greater depth, and learn more about her character.  (I’ll get to do this with Gretchen and Andi, too.)  Giving her a solo story means we get to meet more of the people in her life and experience more of the forces that shape her.  We’ll also get to see more of her world, revealing cool details about the capital city of Diaea.

The flip side of this is that I have flesh out more people, come up with more scenes, and develop more of the details of the capital city.  When my inspiration is running high (like a few nights ago when I started pondering the wall) it’s fun and exciting.  The ideas ebb and flow, however, and the lulls make the timeline on the wall and the gaping holes in the story loom large.

This isn’t new information; when I decided to dismantle Butterflies I was well aware that this was a large project.  I just need to remind myself that I took on this project willingly when the drought threatens.


Mara’s Wall

In the usual way of my mind, last night I started thinking about something related to my writing when I was trying to fall asleep.

Unfortunately, it was not about the girl’s secret.

No, my brain decided to work on Mara’s story.  In a way this is good; I’m supposed to be working on Mara’s story.  The inside-look writing practice was just that: practice.  Now that I’m (however briefly) back on Mara, I think I’ll run with it.

Last night I started thinking about a wall.

This is not just any wall.  This is the wall around the city where Mara lives, which happens to be the capital city.  The wall is really important to Mara’s story  and there were some details I needed to figure out before the tale can really continue.

You see, the city outgrew the wall several generations before Mara was born.  The capital is in the middle of the country, far from the borders that are shared by (relatively) peaceful neighbors.  Why is this important?  Because Mara and her group of street kids make full use of the spaces within the wall, spaces that would make something meant to be defensive basically useless were it still being relied upon for that function.

Here are the things I determined about the wall, some of which will  be revealed through Mara’s exploration of it.  The wall is used to delineate certain sections of the city; the poorer and less-desirable sections (like tanners and animal sellers, whose work tends to smell) are outside of it, while the wealthy people and the major merchant sections are inside.  The gates are still guarded, and the top of the wall patrolled to a limited extent by a unit of the army, mostly out of tradition at this point.   The wall started as two stone walls with dirt compacted in between; at the gates and several other places, there are solid sections of stone linking front and back.

There are a few tunnels that have been constructed through the wall, with actual (locked) doors on either side.  At this point they are old enough that no one is sure who built them.  In many other places, the folks outside the wall have removed sections of stone and excavated some of the dirt, creating odd rooms that are used for a multitude of purposes.  Very rarely one will have a cave-in of sorts, causing a brief uproar and forcing the guard to attempt to prevent further excavation, but it doesn’t last long.

Some of the honeycomb is connected, some is blocked off from the outside by fences or patches, and it generally makes for an interesting place that is much-used by the urchins and orphans that live in the city outside of the wall.

As I said, if the city needed it for defense it would be useless at this point, but it is in exactly the right condition for my purposes.

Picking Locks

Mara, one of the characters in Butterflies, learns many skills in her childhood on the streets that become important later on in her life.  One of those skills is picking locks.

Initially I figured that life as a street urchin would necessitate some level of illegal behavior, and that picking locks was something she learned in order to survive.  As I am developing her character more deeply, I find that I don’t really want her to become a full-fledged thief.  The gang of kids she runs with are opportunists; if there is something easy to swipe, they’ll take advantage, but they aren’t strictly thieves.

So if she’s not a thief, how does she learn to pick locks?  She needs to have the skill before she gets to the training school where the three main characters meet – it is a secret she saves until an opportune moment.  That leaves two places for her to learn it: with the street kids, or from the woman who becomes her mentor.  I’m leaning towards learning it as a street kid, because that seems to fit better.  Her mentor is who gets her into the training school, which also means that her teachers would know that Mara had already learned the skill, making the secret less impactful when it is revealed.

There is another reason to need to pick a lock besides thieving (which she doesn’t do) and spying (which is why she needs the knowledge at school).  Locks keep you out of places.  The group of kids that she joins lives in the odd spaces between buildings and inside the city wall (yes, actually inside of the wall), and some of those spaces would likely be protected by locked gates or doors.  Once I had that realization, it was easy to envision a young version of Mara learning how to quickly and efficiently pick a lock, for the same reason the chicken crossed the road.  She needed to get to the other side.

I Need an Event!

Now that I have my massive timeline on the wall, and some idea of how the five (maybe six?) books will break out, I realize that I need something.

Specifically, I need an event.  There are already two major world events that link the first four books – the lunar eclipse that starts it all, and the big celebration at four years in.  The ends of three of the books braid together as well, as the main characters’ lives intertwine.  The fourth book will go past the end of the other three, and pick up the braid and carry it.  (That’s part of the inspiration that struck last night as I blogged.)

However, between four years and 10 years, there is a huge gap with the stories not linked in any way.  I’ve decided that I need to add another big world event to tie them together again, perhaps at seven or eight years.

But what can that event be?  I’ll have to go back to the original book and see if something jumps out.

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