Signs of the Apocalypse: Outlining

I tried to outline a novel precisely once. It was the fourth novel I wrote, and I’m not sure why I tried to outline it. I think it was because the writing community I was involved with at the time had convinced me that this would somehow be a step forward in my craft. The outline bore little resemblance to the novel I wrote, and the novel I wrote bore little resemblance to quality. Whether the outline had anything to do with that, I couldn’t say. I just know that I had to rewrite the novel practically from scratch; to give you an idea of scale, it got thirty thousand words longer, and I know I wrote more new material than that. It was the Amazing Accordioning Rewrite — like a hamster on a wheel, I ran and ran and ran and never got anywhere — and I hope I never have to do its like again.

I am not a writer who outlines.

Except, perhaps, right now.

It’s a very different type of outline. As in, I’m not sitting down to outline because I think I should, attempting to make up the events before I even know what they should be. This is a story where I had some bits that I knew I wanted in it, and those bits spawned other bits, and so on and so forth until I find myself with an assortment of intertwined narrative threads that impinge on one another here and over there and that will affect that other thing. Not only that, but I know where the story’s going. I know the major plot resolution all those threads will lead towards.

What I don’t know is timing. I know the novel will start with a conversation between certain characters, but I’m not sure what stage of the relevant plot thread they should be discussing. Do I need to start at the very beginning of that plot, or would I be better served to leap into the middle of it? I know steps A, B, and E of Plot 4, and that E needs to happen after step M of Plot 2, but what about B? Etc.

So I have again Committed Notecard. I sat down and wrote every plot bitlet I had onto an index card, one bitlet per card. If it involved more than one scene, it went onto multiple cards. (There were fewer cards than I expected, though; it may be there are bitlets I’ve temporarily forgotten, which will return to me later.) Then I went through and put colored dots in the corner, marking which plot thread each card had to do with. Then I sorted them into sequences where I knew their order. The stage I’m at now is integrating the sequences — figuring out whether that development should happen before or after that kablooey, etc. The idea behind the colored dots is that it will allow me to see more easily the frequency of particular plots, and whether I’m having big blocks of one thing or another, so I can decide if I want to interleave them a little bit more.

Is it working? Hard to say. At the very least, I have a record of my bitlets, which is good. It hasn’t told me what to do with the conversation in that first scene, but if need be I’ll go back and change it. I’m just hoping that the exercise will help me time the various threads better. This novel doesn’t have full-blown subplots, precisely, but it does have threads, and (since Karina recently woke me up to my tendency to use weaving metaphors about my writing) I want to make sure they’re all spaced and tensioned correctly. It’ll save me some nightmares in the revision.

Rage Diverted

I was literally in the middle of writing a long and ranty entry about this article in the Washington Post, when I got a heads-up from Ellameena to read this entry of hers. I don’t have the motivation to wade through the actual CDC document at the moment, but the short form is, the spin the WP writer put on the situation may well be a misinterpretation of the CDC recommendation.

Which I rather hope for, since I’d prefer to live in a world where the CDC isn’t actually recommending that all women of childbearing age be treated as “pre-pregnant.”

But I thought all of you currently chewing on your desks in fury might appreciate the (hopefully accurate) perspective.

May is up

I’m back on schedule! The recommendation for this month (and it really is this month; I’m not behind any more) is John Myers Myers’ novel Silverlock. As a teaser to lure you into clicking on that link and finding out what the book is about, I have this to offer: how many novels involve a guy who variously calls himself Golias, Taliesin, Amergin, Demodocus, and Orpheus singing, in Heorot (and in properly alliterative Norse verse), the epic saga of the Alamo?

Forward Movement

As Amazon has finally posted the cover image for Warrior and Witch, and Doppelganger has been out for over a month, I took some time to update the sequel’s webpage with things like the back cover copy. SPOILER WARNING: do NOT go look at that page if you haven’t yet finished the first book.

The revisions I promised my agent got sent off yesterday, so you know what that means? Yes, little chickadees — it means it’s time for me to make good on my promise to Kit that I would pay attention to him soon. Stupid amounts of research for not a very long story, here I come. (Again.)

catching up

I’m making good on that promise to catch up with my recommendations.

For those who are new to my journal, a quick story. Last year, finding that my spare time for reading was scanty enough that maintaining a monthly fiction recommendation was getting hard, I set aside three months of the year (April, August, and December) for “primary source” recommendations (or folklore recommendations, as I call them on the page). My reason was that these sources are the bedrock on which fantasy is built, but few people seem to read them. And I particularly wanted to bring them to the attention of fantasy writers, since the genre as a whole will be well-served if its people familiarize themselves with something more than an adaptation of an adaptation of an adaptation, the way it so often seems to go. (Tobias Buckell has a good piece on this called “Original Source Creativity,” though at present I can’t find it on his site.)

Last year’s primary sources were Beowulf, The Canterbury Tales, and the Old Testament — three foundational works with a profound effect on English literature. I like the idea of organizing these around a theme, so this shall be the Classical Year, opening with the Iliad.

And with that, I’m back on schedule, provided I can get something posted for May in the next twenty-three days. That should be manageable, right?


Herewith a post full of links to Pretty Things.

First up, horses made of driftwood. There’s something faintly creepy about a few of the shots — the arc and color of the wood occasionally gives the faint impression that you’re looking at the flayed body of a horse. But on the whole, they’re awesome.

Second — and get it while you can, since there will be a new Image of the Week soon — Kenn Brown and Chris Wren of Mondolithic (the fellows who did the cover for Summoned to Destiny) have a series of images of the Seven Wonders of the World. Even if you don’t share my giant soft spot for the Wonders, they’re still awesome pictures.

Third, some gorgeous digital artwork at Furiae. The galleries are organized by general color palette (umber, jade, azure, ruby), and while I don’t like absolutely everything in there, the work in general is stunning.

Fourth, going from the highly technological work of the last post to the beautifully primitive art of origami, we’ve got this guy’s pieces. Picking an example more or less at random (since they’re all awesome), try out the Archangel Gabriel. I didn’t think paper could do that.

Enjoy the pretties!

Mail Call

Today’s mail held not only my contributor’s copies and check for Fictitious Force #2 (with my story “Sing for Me”), but my contributor’s copy for Dark Wisdom #9 (with my story “The Wood, the Bridge, the House”). I don’t even recall proofing that latter, but whether I did or not, here it is. Neat!

Also in the mail a couple of days ago was a copy of the Romantic Times Book Club review of Doppelganger. It seems they cover a lot more than just romance — which, given that they apparently review something like two hundred and fifty books in every issue, ceases to be surprising. Anyway, much of the review is a plot synopsis, but at the end it says:

Kudos to Brennan for writing such a remarkable first novel and creating a distinctive fantasy world that poses a unique magical and ethical question. The twin heroines follow an electrifying knife-edged journey that takes readers to uncharted territory. An exceptional debut for what looks to be an intriguing series!

You can’t read the RTBC reviews online, but you can see what they rated things, and when Rachel alerted me that they’d reviewed Doppelganger, I went and took a look. They gave my book four and a half stars; I presume that’s out of five, but I can’t be positive, since nothing else in that issue got more than four and a half stars.


And, just to keep my ego in check, some rejection letters in the mail, too. But I’m used to those at this point.