I’m happy to report that I’ve finished the outline for Discovered, the conclusion of the Oneiros Log and the story which began in Caught.
COVID has caused me to have to adjust how I operate. I was counting on conventions to earn the money I needed to get Betrayed a developmental edit, but no conventions in my life (at least so far) means no sales. The good news is the finances are (apparently) back on track for my normal budgeting. That means I can resume saving for edits. That will happen in time, but it will take time (about five months at most). That’s not the timeline I wanted to work with, but we live in the world we live in.
Rather than freeze completely, I’m able to work on other projects that I can have ready for when the world (God willing) gets back to normal. I typically bounce from one project to another. In a perfect world, I would have had Betrayed edited by now, so I would do the next draft on that while I let Discovered simmer. Since that isn’t an option, I’ve decided to get caught up in other projects, namely, Images of Truth. I was working on this discovery draft and set it aside to work on Sojourn in Captivity, which is essentially a prequel to Images. It really bugged me to have a draft 118,000 words written but not finished. So I’m going to take the chance to get that draft done.
Now, Images of Truth is huge! So I might not finish that draft before I start working on Discovered’s discover draft. I promised that I’d get Oneiros done, and I mean to do it. I’ll work on Images until June 1, then get cranking on Discovered.
The moment I save or earn enough to get Betrayed to Sara for a developmental edit, I will, and I will let you know. Maybe what I get out of this is getting Images closer to ready as well. If (and it’s a big if) I get that discovery draft of Images done, I’ll do another pass on The 1,200, which is scheduled to be the book I release after I’m done with Oneiros.
I wanted to post this to show you all that I am working hard to get this saga done and into your (very patient) hands. I’m also doing my best to keep the creative projects going so there I don’t get stuck in the midst of this trial.
I’m glad I hit this benchmark, and I appreciate all the support you’ve shown from the beginning to now and, hopefully, the future.
As promised, I’ve completed the plotting for Discovered, which is the final book in the Oneiros Log.
I don’t know that I’ve ever announced that I’ve finished plotting or not, so this is a good chance to tell anyone interested what that is.
When I’m working on my process, I always start with Character Generation. Once that’s done, I plot out the stories of the main characters. For this, I ask myself what type of plot this character is going to have (or plots), and I ask myself what sort of character journey that character is on.
Then I type out brief scenes and moments of that journey. This lets the discovery writer in me play while still getting organized. For instance, in this story I gave a lot of thought to who would survive the story. This book ends in a pretty big psychic showdown (a few of them actually), and it’s hard to imagine a conflict going on like that without any casualties.
In stories, it’s one thing to know the plot points (what happens), but an author also has to know what’s going on with the characters. What do they learn? How do these events change them? When I plotted Betrayed, one of the characters makes a very important decision. That decision impacts how things develop in this book as well.
Betrayed introduces two very important characters (not just those two, but two you’ll want to know about). I can’t tell you about one (spoilers), but I can at least name the other. Mariana is critical to the trilogy. She’s a great counter to Kaitlyn because there are also similarities. Mariana only has about one chapter in her point of view in Betrayed, but she plays a prominent role in Discovered as one of the main characters. You will also get to meet Daniel, whose story I love.
Hopefully, Discovered brings the story to the place I’ve always imagined it, opening a new world with endless possible stories. Will I write them? Probably not. If I’m being honest, I have far too many other ideas I want to play in. My honest hope is a Netflix or Youtube or Hulu will take what I built with the Oneiros Log and decide it might make an interesting super hero series.
It does close out the story of Oneiros though. Other main characters for Discovered are Sal (of course), Kaitlyn (of course), and Kira. Where Dom got the love in Betrayed, it’s time to show the story from Kira’s point of view. Given how important these events are to her, it would have been unfair to take her moment in the spotlight away. Though this story has been (and will continue to be) pretty brutal to her.
I’ve started the outline for Discovered, which is when I take all the plot lines and weave them together in a much more traditional outline. This gives me the main thread before I start my discovery draft. I don’t imagine I’ll finish the outline before I start work on the Alpha Draft of Betrayed, but having the plotting done is probably 40% of my work on any story.
I have every hope that Betrayed will be out sometime in 2020, though when has more to do with finances and book sales (you all can help with that) than workflow. If I can’t afford the editing and art fees, I can’t move forward. It’s my sincere goal (especially now that Discovered is plotted), to finish the saga in that same year.
That will mean I can jump back to The 1,200 and start working on Mercer (my little procedural cop show with a Harry Potter twist). Then I’ll get to work on the rest of my to-do list.
As always, I just want to thank you all for the help and support you’ve given. I think that while my readership is small, you all are so loyal and supportive. It gives me hope that this readership will only continue to grow.
I want to touch on two things that really stood out to me. There’s really a lot to glean from that book, and I honestly recommend it, especially for those working on improving their outlining skills.
Write first. Explain later: I’m a fan of long fiction, and, to be honest, I don’t know how many people abide by this rule AFTER they’re established. But it’s still a valid point. Writers feel like they have to really get their readers to connect with those characters, so they tend to want to draw out a moment or give back story. What that usually ends up becoming is a bunch of exposition that just bogs the story down. I saw this in practice with my Beta Readers for Sojourn in Captivity. Most of them liked the story (I may even go so far as to say loved it), but to an email they all said the beginning was too much. I wanted to establish Elele’s relationship with her family, her spoiled upbringing, and her skill with math. I also wanted to do some world building. This only served to give my readers a large terminology lesson before the book started moving. I tell my students this many times: The delete key is almost always the answer to your problems. What’s now the first segment, dives right in. I take the time to explain a few things here or there, but I start the story with the tension and let it build to her confrontation with the recognized god of her alien race. My editor liked it much better.
That brings me to the second point of discussion I appreciated in Bell’s book.
Happy people in Happy land: That’s what he calls an overdone part of a book. I’ll be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about that segment. What it gave me was food for thought. The entire book is essentially about keeping the tension and conflict going. With no tension or conflict in the beginning (i.e. happy people in happy land), what concern should the reader have for the characters? Why should they keep reading.
Here’s my example: Do you go for walks? I do. Do you stop randomly and stare at the window of a quite home? I don’t. But what do you tend to do if you hear screaming and shouting? See where I’m going?
I thought about that segment of the book and felt the desire to argue. What I ended up doing was changing my inference. I wouldn’t say Bell goes so far as to tell you to start off with miserable people in miserable land. Instead, show the scene that’s true to the arc of the character, but make sure you give the readers that insight as to the conflict that represents the burning embers of the inciting incident. If there is tension in the characters’ minds or hearts, make sure the reader can see it.
Let’s go back to those houses. Maybe they aren’t screaming. But maybe you hear a door slam? Maybe, through the window, you catch a glimpse of a woman and a man sitting apart. (I promise I don’t just randomly walk by house windows and peek in. This really is just a hypothetical example.) The point is you need some sort of disturbance to draw the reader in.
This book has a ton of helpful hints, a few case studies and even an example outline. It’s a great tool to help readers identify how to bring each scene to it’s highest intensity. I recommend this book to new writers looking to understand what keeps readers turning pages. It’s also good for people trying to figure out outlines.
The first thing I’m a fan of is the case studies. Each arc description is summarized and supported with examples to help illustrate how such a plot plays out in different movies. I should explain that this book is a bit different from what I’d call plotting.
In plotting, you’re marking the key plot points and events in a story. This is so readers see progression in the overall narrative. I’d wanted to improve my development of characters as they progress through the plot points. This novel did that. Weiland breaks down three types of arcs: The positive change arc, the neutral change arc, and the negative change arc. She breaks negative change into three more I can’t recall off the top of my head. The case studies and benchmarks she provides are things I plan to pull out while outlining my next main project and editing whatever I’m working on. I think understanding these types of character arcs is a must for writers. How you feel about them and how you apply those thoughts is as unique as the storyteller in my opinion, but understanding them matters.
Another thing I’d like to highlight is the idea of “The Lie Your Character Believes.” That resonated with me. I won’t go into it here because 1) I fear copyright and 2) I think authors, especially those who feel they struggle with outlining, should give this book a read. I actually listened to the audio edition, and that was super helpful for a guy like me.
I’m less inclined to be entirely beholden to some of the more rigid benchmarks. Weiland gives specific percentage marks for each point of the story. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I completely disagree, I just don’t know that I’d be that militant about where certain shifts in the story happen. What I will say is those benchmarks are great guides, but stories need a bit of leeway.
What I intend to do with this book and information is weave some of the elements of this book’s character plot points with my plotting. This should keep the sense of progression my stories have (which I feel are solid) and give me a way to plan the emotional journey of my characters a little more carefully.
Creating Character Arcs is a great outlining tool that provides informative case studies for each type of arc. Authors or aspiring authors should pic this up and add it to their toolbox of story building tools. I’m a fan of “how-to” books that are this simple to understand and through in presentation. I can’t say enough about those case studies!
So I read a blog from Quintessential Editor a few days ago in which we discussed character or conflict. He and I may (I’m actually not sure) disagree on what makes a book great. I’ll vote character every time, and I have my reasons, but the blog inspired me to offer my view on what turns out to be how I evaluate characters.
I love Writing Excuses. It’s a great podcast, and they did a podcast a few years ago (back when I had the luxury of listening every week) that helped me understand why I like books. I’ve said it a few times. I like sympathetic, proactive characters. The podcast to which I’m referring is the one on character sliders. In it, they discuss how to evaluate characters by Sympathy, Competency, and Proactivity.
I’ll let you listen to the podcast for the explanation because they’re awesome, hugely successful authors, and I’m an Indie guy trying to find my way in the world. I will make one argument.
Sanderson explains that Sympathy is the “how likable a character is.” He’s my Yoda in every regard, but I don’t know that’s true. I think Sympathy (at least to me) is how strongly I feel about the character. Whatever the emotion, if I feel it strongly, I’m drawn to the character. The formula works regardless, but I see sympathy as “strength of emotional reaction” and not strictly “likable.”
What I thought I could add or build from this wonderful tool was how to use it when writing a book. I don’t see this as a character development tool myself. Rather, I try to anticipate how readers will see the character. I’m editing Caught still, so I’d like to use Sal. In the previous draft, he was proactive and sympathetic.
My editor and I disagreed on his arc. What I wish I’d argued then is that he wasn’t actually very competent. He tried several times and several ways to do something before he gained more power. His argument, in the interest of being fair, was that Sal struggled and failed so many times, and never reacted to those failures.
I kept this in mind while revising. I kept in in mind while writing for the other characters as well. I want my readers to say two things when they read my books. “I (feel strongly) about his characters” and “they’re always moving.” I hope they hate the characters I want them to hate, and I hope they love the characters I mean for them to love, but as long as they feel strongly, I feel I’ve succeeded.
So how do you do this? Well, I’m sure there’s a lot of ways, but this is my own spin. At each major plot point (for me, this is when I check my outline), look at your character and see how the plot point might have effected each of these traits. Every time a character fails, he or she seems less competent. Some fans hate incompetent characters. I’m actually not one of them.
Case study: Naruto is a moron. He’s a goof, who’s just winging it. He can’t do a single normal jutsu and really only has the one major trick. But look at how hard he works! Look at how much he cares about his comrades? Look at how he struggles to maintain his bonds. In fact, each time he wins, it’s usually DESPITE his competence. Still, if he NEVER learned anything, he’d eventually get boring. So at certain points, he becomes ever so much less stupid. This is how we see his progression as a character. Don’t mistake progression as moving forward.
Case study: Rand al’Thor is one of my favorite characters ever. In fact, I’d like to compare him to Ichigo from Bleach. I feel Rand works more because there’s more progression. Ichigo gets more powerful. He’s competent, proactive and sympathetic, and he never really changes. Rand becomes all the more compelling because as he becomes more powerful (and we’ll have to discuss something soon), he becomes more isolated and less sympathetic. So you see, he devolves in sympathy as he evolves in power.
Is power a slider? For me it is. Because competence, to me, is the character’s success rate. But there are several characters who win a lot, but still don’t feel very powerful. The first that comes to mind is Ender Wiggin. He’s incredibly sympathetic, competent, and proactive. But none of that matters because he’s supposed to fight an alien race that the human race has feared for generations. Power is a factor in a lot of things, and conflict can be the gauge by which you measure it. So why do I consider it a slider? Because it can be used as a source of conflict in itself, not just a resolution to conflict.
Now that I’ve done a few case studies, let’s turn that microscope on myself. While writing Bob, I was very concerned about the first act because the conflict is subtle. Most reviews regard the first act as the best, which makes me feel good I didn’t cut it from the book. In the first act, Bob is sympathetic and proactive. His proactivity is what causes the conflict. Police notice him, and now he has to evade them. He’s not very competent. He doesn’t know anything about his job. He doesn’t know how to avoid police. He’s not even very good at covering his tracks. This leads to the climax of part one.
When I got to Part 2, I checked up on Bob’s sliders. Sympathy 100% Proactivity 100% Competence: 30% (I’m probably being nice). Power 50%. This might surprise people. While Bob talks about how “useless” his powers are, he’s still comparatively more powerful than most of the characters in Part 1. In Part 2, I introduce Grimm. Now he’s very competent, very proactive. How sympathetic is he? I HOPE readers say they hate him, but I can’t pretend to know. There’s hardly any feedback on him though, so that leads me to believe I miscalculated here. So he’s not sympathetic at all. (otherwise, readers would have said something about him by now). I can learn from this. But what he DOES do, is make Bob seem LESS powerful. That also makes him seem LESS competent. So the progress for Bob is actually devolving and not evolving.
In Part 3, I make Bob more competent. I do this by showing him learn. I had to bring in the “mentor” archetype. I had to give Bob a few wins. This made it so when he got to the final conflict, he looked like he stood a chance.
That’s how I use the sliders. If I ever felt like my sympathy or proactivity values were slipping, I adjusted for it. I encourage authors to do these checks. When you hand the book to beta readers, ask them to send a chapter by chapter evaluation using whatever sliders you use to evaluate the character, then compare those to your own assessment. If they’re the same, I’d say you’re doing it right. If they’re different, that’s when it’s time to find out what you’re missing.
I’ve never really cared much for competent characters. They bore me. Oh there are a lot of characters that I love that are ALSO competent, but for my money, if a character doesn’t make me feel and isn’t doing anything, I hate the story. That doesn’t mean EVERYONE will. Know your genre.
That leads me to my last point. The Mary Sue character. Corey would be awesome and tell you where that term came from, I just learned it an moved on. (The difference between a gardner and an architect if I’ve ever seen one). A Mary Sue is a character that is the most compelling, most powerful, most proactive, most competent character ever. Dear God, do I hate those characters. I argue that if a character is too powerful and too competent, the sympathy bar naturally slides down for me. It’s a risk writers take. But here’s my twist:
Mary Sues don’t happen when all the bars are maxed; they happen when all the bars are equal.
I get this from photography. I picked up that wonderful skill in the Navy, and I’ll love it for the rest of my life. In terms of light, if you have equal values of red, blue, and green, you get gray. You can have 20% of each, or 100% of each. (Zero..well..then you don’t have any color, so that’s black, which, according to Batman is a very, very, very, dark gray). I find characters feel like Mary Sues when all values are equal, no matter those values.
Character study: Rey. She’s not that sympathetic. Really. She’s just out there in the desert chilling. You LEARN to care for her, but that’s not the first hour of the movie I saw. She’s competent, but everyone but me remembers how she got captured (like a chump) and messed up the doors (like a fool) when they were first aboard the Falcon. If I evaluate Rey right after meeting Han, I’d say she’d measure out at: Sympathy 10% Competence 10% Power 10% and Proactivity 10%. Remember, Finn is the one who gets her to move. She wanted to go home through the first half of the movie.
Her arc SEEMS Suish (trademark M.L.S. Weech) because she processes equally across all sliders throughout the movie. She gains more power and competence. This makes her more proactive and sympathetic. I love the movie. I don’t mind Rey, but I don’t love her either, because she essentially sat around the desert until someone forced her to move, and even then she didn’t do much until she got captured. Watch the movie, let me know if you think I’m wrong.
So that’s it. Try it on your book. Toss me a few character studies. Let’s make a game of it. Until then, thanks for reading.
I’d like to start this story out by telling you about my senior year in high school. I promise, this is relevant. I don’t know about you all, but my algebra class had a rubric which accounted for showing your math. This infuriated me. I’d get the answer correct, but lose a point because I didn’t demonstrate how I got there.
I didn’t know it then, but this was an early indication of my writing style. When you get down to it, there are generally two types. There are discovery writers like me, who think, formulas be damned, here’s the book as I made it up.
Then there are outliners. These are the people who toil and stress over each plot line and scene.
A few of those big names out there have different terms, but they all mean the same thing.
But wait! Matt, you said you outline all the time!
Yeah, yeah I did, but that’s because I, like most authors, have found a little bit of both worlds can be helpful.
The first book I ever finished writing was discovery written. I wrote a chapter a day for a few months and finished a book. I made it up as I went. I knew what my ending was, and I had a few general ideas, but I just sat down and typed. I’ve mentioned before that book never worked, but while numerous drafts are a consequence of discovery writing, the technique isn’t a bad one. I was just so inexperienced and raw, I didn’t know what to do.
The first act of The Journals of Bob Drifter was also discovery written. I had to revise that part a few times, but I was also more experienced. I’d been studying and reading. I was practicing my craft. Then I sat down with my brother (primary alpha reader and main supporter). We set out a few plot points, and I had an idea.
I decided to use my discovery writing tendencies to develop an outline. This let me keep the freedom of letting the story take me where I wanted with the ability to make continuity and development adjustments. I could switch things around without having to do a bunch of rewrites. (Don’t let me mislead you, no matter what you do, you’re going to have rewrites. I just mean I didn’t have to do dozens.)
This is what I tend to do now. I develop my characters. I plot their progress. I do this by typing a summary of their through line of the story. If I hit a scene I really like or just want to flesh some things out, I do. If my pace starts to slow down, I just summarize what’s going on and move forward. I’ve written whole chapters that way. Once all my characters are done and their through lines prepped, I tie them together in an overall outline. Again, as I copy and paste these plots together, I let the 17-year-old me come to all the conclusions he wants.
Remember that story I opened with? I did that then too. I’d write down a formula or do a step or two if I was stuck, but once I felt like I was moving, I just kept going. All I cared about then was getting to the correct answer. All I care about now is getting the outline done.
When I finish, I have my outline. BUT, the discovery writer in me isn’t done yet. After my outline is finished, I start what I call my discovery draft. The rules change a bit, but I still have some freedom. The rule change is I have to complete a manuscript. I do this the way any writer of integrity and skill does.
My fingers still fly across the keypad. I don’t stop for anything. Inevitably, I come to a new chapter, a new character, or pretty much anything that needs description. Description is the molasses in my swimming pool. I get better with every book, but inevitably, I get frustrated, or just flat out bored. So what do I do? I use parenthetical symbols.
The good guy kicked in the door, his 9mm Barretta (CHECK SPELLING) held just at eye level. The room was like a nightmare. (BORING, WHAT MADE IT LOOK LIKE A NIGHTMARE).
Inside the parenthetical symbols, I use all caps and write a little message to myself. I’ll do everything from say (DESCRIBE THE ROOM) to (FIND OUT WHAT SORT TACTIC A HACKER WOULD USE TO RESOLVE THIS SITUATION). I’m not a hacker, but I know people who know people. (NOT ACTUAL HACKERS).
So I just motor through my draft. Sometimes I go back and clean things up. But whatever I don’t fix this time around, I don’t worry about. I just get everything on paper. I use my first draft to address all those notes. I find experts who are willing to help me with stuff and get rid of those. Then the dreaded editing starts.
I’ve found that really works for me. It took just about three years to write my second book. (That first book I mentioned, I wrote it 21 times through a 15-year period). This new system allows me to write about one a year. It still takes a hot minute to edit and make them ready to publish, but not nearly as long as Journals took me.
I decided to sit down today and explain this because it helped me. But what if you’re an outliner.
That’s okay. You’ll probably hate yourself less during editing, but if you find yourself stuck, I don’t want you to be afraid to just pound something out. I have a few friends who can’t turn off their internal editors or cure themselves of world-builder’s disease. If you find that you’re stuck, do something different. I found that I hated how many rewrites I had to do, so I decided to outline in a way that still fits the way my mind works.
So what are you? Outliner or discovery writer? Do you have a process you think works for you? Please share it in the comments below so everyone can try to add a new tool to their toolbox.