Thursday, June 30, 2011

my novel's journey: Discovery: Conclusions on the manuscript

On Saturday, June 18, I finished my analysis of Discovery. It was in all about a 20-30 hour project, depending on whether you count the first day of reading, and the imagining, or not. I thought I'd give you the summary, so you can see why this book has been evading me for the past three years:

Theme: The wounds we hold in our souls can be our making or our undoing.

Main idea: The crew of the Edwina Thomas discover an alien device that can show you the hidden parts of your soul; how each reacts to this knowledge will make their lives better--or destroy them all.

Subplots: 11 Total No spoilers, but there are two romantic situations, a couple of lost sheep, a murder in the making, attempted sabotage, daring rescue attempts and of course exploring the ship itself.

Main Characters: 12 (Yes, twelve)
1. Sister Ann: a genius nun with a penchant of speaking in quotes and technical manuals. She understands the device, but cannot make others understand
2. Sister Rita: she joined the Order of Our Lady of the Rescue to escape Earth and the temptation of a romance, but she's still haunted by doubts.
3. James Smith: left priesthood because he thought he was in love with Rita; returned to find her gone. Three years later, they meet again on the Edwina Thomas.
4. William Thoren: power-craving mission commander and head researcher. He sees the Rescue Sisters as a threat to his power base
5. Chris David: PhD candidate who discovered the alien ship by accident. Lives in Thoren's shadow, until he falls in love with Andi
6. "Andi" Andromeda deChavez: commander of the miners in charge of extracting the alien ship. Loves Chris, but his weakness and lack of confidence put her off.
7. Ian Hu: Derive systems specialist with a terrible guilt; had habit of washing hads.
8. Jason Larache: mechanical engineer with a horrifying secret; likes to say he can either laugh or cry. Ann thinks he should have cried more.
9. Merl Prithard: Evangelical type with a lot of fear and a drive to "save" everybody, whether they want to be saved his way or not.
10: Kelli Riggens: a pagan who battles with feelings of rejection
11: OvLandra: a zerog, a race genetically engineered to live in space with a strict racial purity policy
12: Cay Littlefield: a troubled miner with undiagnosed xenophobia

Other Important Characters: 31 named characters in all--here are the top five
1. Sister Thomas "Tommie": pilot of the Rescue Sisters' shuttle. Ex-military who found peace in her calling
2. Captain Jamal Addiman: Captain of the Edwina Thomas
3. Galen Keegan: pilor of the Rockhopper, the miners' ship; Chris's roomie
4. George Powers: a loud mouthed miner; good for saying what needs to be said
5. Zabrina Muha: xenobiologist (microbiology); freaks when sees a real alien

So, as you can see this is not my usual stuff--it's far more complex, and enters territory I've never uncovered, from Church policies on genetic manipulations to planetary astrophysics. Last night, I realized I'm not writing a story; I'm writing an epic science fiction that examines issues of space colonization, religion, and the resilience of our souls. No wonder I've felt intimidated.

But what have I said is the cure for intimidation? Write! So here I go!

Monday, June 27, 2011

my novel's journey: Discovery: Analyzing the manuscript that doesn't work

Last week, I talked about analyzing the story by mind mapping. This is also a terrific brainstorming tool if you want to plot your story out in general terms without a chronological outline. However, in my case, I had a full manuscript of words--just not all the right words--which was already ordered by time.

So in order to figure out what was wrong with the manuscript itself, I started outlining the text itself.

First thing I did was go back to my mind map and give each character a color. I did this so I could see at a relative glance whether the characters were getting enough facetime and if that time was evenly spread or clumped together. Ideally, we'd be learning a bit about the characters as we went along, according to their importance.

Then I started reading and outlining. Now the outline was very general--the chapter, the main ideas as they applied to the conflicts in the mind map. If a detail was important for later, I sometimes noted it as well. I'd run a colored line through a given statement for each character it affects. So, if Sister Ann says something important about Chris to Andi, that statement gets three colored lines.

While I did this, I was also making my list of major and minor characters and some brief notes on them. I had about a dozen half-lists of my characters. As I went along, I could see where I might start combining people and roles to simplify my cast, which is the biggest I've ever worked with. I also started taking notes on things I needed to insert, delete or change, sometimes by page number; sometimes by "before chapter 16, James must do X."

I also started figuring out where the plot holes were. Sometimes, I knew exactly how to plug them; and I'd write NEED THIS SCENE HERE. When I didn't know, I'd write: NEED SOMETHING TO DO X and jot some ideas down.

Whenever any note affected a specific character, it got a line or a star in that character's color.

In my mind-mapping, I already identified a couple of subplots I don't need, so I deleted them, but I saved the text in the comments section in case I wanted bits of it elsewhere.

I spent about seven hours doing the mind-mapping and outlining the first day, and got to page 103 of 198. I had several scenes imagined though not written down. I got through the rest on the second day--about 12 hours total.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

my novel's journey: Discovery: Analyzing the story that doesn't work

Sometimes, I know intuitively where a story is failing--or I can show it to my best friend, Ann Lewis, and she can pinpoint the problem like a Great Detective she's written about. In fact, she did that once with Discovery by helping me realize that the plot was too small and--when I complained I felt like I was writing "Love Boat" in space, she made me see I had underutilized my alien ship. In 2009, that made all the difference in the world.

However, in 2011, I have a bigger plot and a great angle on the ship, but it still doesn't work. This time the mess is in the details, and, with 98,000 words written, it's not intuitively obvious. This time, I need to be the investigator.

I've never had to work this hard on a novel, and truth to tell, I've started this process and put it aside several times, trying to jump ahead to intuition. However, it's not worked, so today, I grabbed a stack of paper, colored pens and the computer.

I started just by scanning the entire manuscript. This helped me get back into the mind of the characters and get the gist of the plot. I could already see places I wanted to make changes; however, I refrained from anything but the most minor of edits. I did make some comments in the margins, though.

Now that I had the story fresh, I started mind mapping. Mind Mapping is really the new term for bubble brainstorming: put the main idea in the center bubble, put related idead in connecting bubbles around, and connect until you get the whole. It can look like this (when neatly done):

Step one is to find THE main idea. Holly Lisle says if you can't tell the theme in a single sentence (a simple one at that), then you don't understand your book. I realize now, it's taken three years for me to understand Discovery, but what a revelation now that I do!

I finally understood my main idea: An alien device enables people to see the damaged parts of their souls. Everything will relate to that. So that was my central circle. From there, it was easy--I made circles for the folks who experienced the device and what their damage was. From those circles, I drew causes, effects, others that they influence or are influenced by.

This gave me my cast of major characters and main subplots. After that, I did the same kind of mind mapping for each character and their particular weakness.

Wow, did this work! Now only was I able to clearly define my story, but I also determined who is an important character and who is secondary (which means I can kill some off), but I also discovered some of the holes in the plots I needed to fill and better yet HOW and WHY they needed filling. If I had wanted to, I could have started from scratch with those ten sheets and written the entire book.

But I had 98,000 words already written! Most of it is really good, too. So rather than start over, I now went to analyze the manuscript itself.

Monday, June 20, 2011

My Novel's Journey: Back to Discovery

Neeta Lyffe II is on hold until I can hash out some details with my subject matter expert (on oil refineries, not zombies), and since, I am tired of this monkey on my back, I am determined to finish DISCOVERY this month or early next.

For those who are not familiar, I have had a three year, tragic love affair with this book. It started as a NaNo project and after letting it rest, I found I really liked the characters and wanted to finish it. But it would not finish! I let it sit, shared it with friends, mulled and imagined. In October 2009, I knew what it needed: a bigger and more SF plot. I started again and realized one character was far more interesting than the original duo. For November, I was doing fabulous.

Then the computer died and took all my work--including backups to the external drive--with it. After that, I was writing Neeta Lyffe, and Why God Matters and doing all the marketing for them and ISIG II and... However, Discovery always stayed in my mind...taunting me.

What's worse is that the publisher I hope to sell it to has heard me talk about this book for three conventions, yet I never produce. How embarrassing!

That's it: This year, I make good on my words. I am embarking on my most extensive revision yet. Once again, I will be hacking scenes and killing characters, but this time, I am dealing with an incohesive manuscript, so there will be much to add and knit together as well. Since I plan to immerse myself and get this done quickly, I'm going to devote my blog to the process and progress. Check Thursday for my autopsy of Discovery.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Summer and best laid plans for writing goals.

Remember what I said about 3000 words a day?

Forget it. Summer has intervened. Plus, waiting on information--CHUCK, CALL ME!!--and teaching classes and a book that got moved up a month in launch date (Mind Over Mind comes out in August!)...

I'm not giving up on my goal, mind you, just being more forgiving of myself if I don't meet it. However, having had the goal has helped me in a couple of ways:

1. I know I can meet it. I have done it. I can do it again.
2. Just trying to meet the goal has increased my productivity. I think I average about 1500 words a day.
3. I know a little more about what I need to meet such a goal in terms of preparation and environment. I can better apply that when the school year starts again and I have more quiet time.
4. I am able to handle more than one project at a time when so inclined. I'd been kind of monofocused of late, but this month, I was not able to do that and achieve anywhere near my goal for reasons beyond control of the story.

So, I've not met my writing goals, but I did learn a few interesting things about my writing and myself.

And now, I'm going to get to my writing. I might not make 3000, but I can certainly try!

Thursday, June 09, 2011

My Novel's Journey: Neeta Lyffe II: Cut that subplot!

Usually when I write, I tend to turn off the internal editor and go with where the characters lead. More often than not, they know the best ways to go.

However, the past couple of weeks in Neeta Lyffe II, that backfired.

I had originally anticipated two big zombie confrontations--one at a casino and one at the nearby oil refinery. The ideas came from talking with my sister and brother in law about the Richmond area. I thought the casino idea was going to be a big hit--lots of potential for fun--like a one-armed bandit now sporting an extra arm. Then Roscoe's lost love, Cameron, showed up as the cross dressing torch singer. Or is Cam the cross-dressing Master of Ceremonies? Even I didn't know. Either way, Cam is a dear and has stolen the show in a couple of scenes.

However, once I got to about 50,000 words and heading to the dual finales, the casino idea became more of an obstacle than an enhancement. There wasn't enough time in Neeta's world to handle both and still make an impact, and the whole juxtaposition of the casino and refinery was taking away from the fun of the refinery. After some deliberation, I took the casino out.

Still it's a fun subplot, so I'm thinking about making it the plot of Neeta III, and since we're going to Reno in August, I'll do research.

Clearing away the subplot--and Cameron with it--created holes, and I spent most of the week filling and revising. On the down side, I'm idling at 52,000 words as I clean this up. On the bright side, Gary Opkast and Sheila (soon to be Opkast) have come in to fill Cameron's place, as has a timid waitress who will find courage when defending her customers against the zombie hoard. It's also given me room to examine the zombie invasion of the refinery. Need a reason, right? How about radical environmentalist zombie terrorism?

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Chatterday closing

I'm not getting a lot of comments on chatterday, so rather than use the time trying to come up with topics to post, I'm going to devote it to other things. It was an interesting experiment. Thanks to those who did reply.

Monday, June 06, 2011

I'm a Broad!

This week, I decided to join BroadUniverse.

Broad Universe is an international non-profit organization dedicated to promoting, encouraging, honoring, and celebrating women writers and editors in science fiction, fantasy, horror and other speculative genres. I'd seen them in some of the conventions I'd been to, and it looked like an interesting group that was also interested in book promotion. Then I met author and member Jaleta Clegg, author of Nexus Point and knitter of C'thulu toilet paper roll covers, and I knew this would be a fun group as well.

First thing I did once joining was to go to the member bennie section and sign up for some for the bennies. I still need to check out this page, and flag it to check weekly, I think, because they have stuff like venues for news announcements, etc. They also have a facebook page and Yahoo group for keeping in touch.

I've already had some fun posting on Facebook, and found a few friends from other groups. I'm hoping I can do a rapid fire reading and participate in the BroadUniverse booth at Renovation. I'd also like to set up a Broad Coffee or something. Haven't asked the folks about that yet.

Anyway, I'm kind of excited about my new group, and thought I'd share. I'll give you an update in a few weeks about how it's going for me as a member.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Information: Reuse, Recycle, but Don't Reduce!

On Sunday, the Catholic Writers' Guild meets in a chat room to talk about writing or faith or whatever. Last Sunday, we actually got to talking about what we were working on, and John Desjarlais, author of the very good mysteries Bleeder and Viper, told us that he was researching life insurance for his next mystery. However, he's found an interesting angle. Did you know that companies can buy out your policy, much like mortgage companies buy out other banks' mortgages? Their payout comes if you die within two years of their having purchased your policy. How bizarre is that?

I'm sure you can see the implications for a murder mystery, but never underestimate the power of good information.

The following Tuesday, I was thinking about Neeta Lyffe: I Left My Brains in San Francisco. I have a sporting event that takes place on an unfinished bridge, and a comment Carole Nelson Douglas made on a panel gave me an idea. One of her books has a CSI-type show, except that people can audition their own deaths. So, thinking along such macabre lines, I decided that there should be a prize for the most flamboyant death in my bridge jumping contest. Then I thought that life insurance should be part of the entry fee.

...and as long as I have life insurance, why not have someone buy out the insurance policies, betting that at least one of the contestants will die? Right now, I'm thinking the City of San Francisco will do it, hoping, perhaps, to raise money to build a bridge they can finish themselves.