November 7, 2011

changing gears

Last week, I tried working on the sequel to The Clockwork Giant again, and things were going nowhere. I couldn’t write because the plot was a bit ho-hum, spawning one of last week’s posts (go big. go bold. go dangerous.). But even though I knew the plot needed work, I couldn’t seem to plot properly. Things were just a mumble-jumble in my head, with no sense of order to rope in the chaos.

So I changed gears. I knew I needed a better plot, but I didn’t know where to start. So I started doodling the inside of a PBV-1 (technological terms!), and after drawing the gauges, instruments, and controls, I started to fill in the scenery. Then, there were other PBVs, airships, explosions, and bullets raining from every direction. Well, that’s interesting, says my muse Victor. So I ask him, How can we get Petra there? And ever-so-dutifully, Victor started giving me more images—airships, an EMW (more abbreviations!), a battlefield, and the Guild council chambers. I didn’t write any new scenes. I kept on with the drawings, and when I ran out of steam on one thread, I started another. Only when I had a good number of drawings did I start transcribing the images to scenes, which actually only turned out to be ten. But those were ten scenes I didn’t have before.

All the same, ten scenes do not a novel make. So, I then built a handy-dandy plot chart, assigning a number to each rising slope, peak, and valley—1 for the beginning, 3 for the end of Act I, 6 for the midpoint of Act II, 9 for the end of Act II, 12 for the midpoint of Act III, 15 for the end of Act III, and 16 and 17 for the Denouement.

Seventeen points in all (very close to the fifteen plot-point beat sheet). Then I took what I knew about my story, old plot points and new kind of swirled around together in my head. I didn’t consult any of my outlines for this. Sometimes I find relying on my own memory is the best method, even though I forget things. I almost always only forget the bad ideas. I built the bare-bones plot of the story—everything that absolutely had to happen for this story to exist.

And now, this week, I’ll work on expanding the plot, turning each beat into a scene or more, filling in any gaps with characterization and lighter scenes. It may take me all week, or just a few days. I’m not too concerned about being in a hurry with it, seeing as Skyrim comes out Friday, and I will be out of commission for most of November because of its epicness. I do hope to get started on the sequel next week, but because of Skyrim, I doubt I’ll be all that productive. No matter. Even if I only get 100 words a day, that’s 100 words I didn’t have the day before.

Sometimes, it’s good to change gears. When one method isn’t working, why stick with it? Every book is different. What works for one doesn’t work for all, even within a series. So, when you get stuck, try something new, something different. It’s much better than staring at a blinking cursor.

And in other news: my website is officially up. It’s pretty. You should go look at it.


  1. It looks like you did your own uniqe version of a storyboard and used the pictures as your jump off point for building plot, scene and structure. Very cool indeed.

  2. Hey cool! I never really thought about it, but I kind of do the same thing. When I get stuck writing fantasy, I take a break from the story and make lists of things the characters are carrying with them (either on their person or in saddle bags). If I'm writing sci-fi, I scetch the ships each character travels on (whether it belongs to the character or not). These exercises help me think through things subconsciously and usually help me find out why things aren't working they way I wanted them to.

    Also, congrats on the web site! Can't wait to read Clockwork Giants!

  3. Yay! Website! I love your creative brainstorming and plotting--I would never have thought to do this! You're awesomesauce!

  4. That's really neat, Reece! I'll have to try that with a few of my settings next time I get stuck.

    Rowenna, I only just thought of it! A doodle turned into a sort of storyboard, and I just went with it. Glad I did :)