Miscellaneous Methodologies

Yesterday I got three more chapters into the outline, putting me up to Chapter 10. One of these is really vague, a chapter meant to put some space between one episode and another. My sole note for this chapter is, “A feel-good filler chapter. A week should go by.” I don’t know what I’ll do for it yet, but as things develop, I’m sure I’ll come up with something. I’m sure the dictates of the plot will take care of that for me, or some things could be set up that might come in handy later in the series. I’ll depend on The Filler Effect to take care of that for me.

Along with those three chapters, I also wrote some snippets of scenes and dialogue under the respective chapter headings, and then I got to a sticking point with the plot. I wasn’t sure quite where to go next. So I dug out one of my old tricks , which I call plot mapping.

Usually when I do this, I plot map by making boxes for each character, and then interconnect them with lines, each with a word or two that describes their relationship. Looking at relationships in this way can help you see things that you can exploit in moving things along – or even resolving things for the end.

Yesterday, though, I tried a more linear approach. In this version, events were in a series of chronological boxes, with notes telling me things like bits of dialogue, or more importantly, whether these things happened on or offstage within the book. Without the boxes, it might look something like this:

HERO gets apt and learns of landlord’s dire situation >>> HERO offers to do landlord a favor >>> HERO tries to do LL favor and gets in trouble with COP >>> COP remembers HERO from Desert Storm >>> COP and HERO have a few beers

This is an event-by-event form of mapping, not chapter-by-chapter. One thing it can do is help you see things like climactic points at which to insert chapter breaks. For example, breaking after the hero learns about the landlord’s dire situation is not the cliffhanger that you get with ending a chapter with the Hero’s promise to help. And the whole bit where the hero gets in trouble may be a chapter unto itself. So if you put in notes for chapter breaks, it might look like this:

(Ch. 3) HERO gets apt and learns of landlord’s dire situation >>>HERO offers to do landlord a favor >>> (Ch. 4)HERO tries to do LL favor and gets in trouble with COP >>> (Ch. 5) COP remembers HERO from Desert Storm >>> COP and HERO have a few beers

(Keep in mind that I don’t do this with every book. Each project is different, and I use different tools to get through it, depending on what my situation is at the time.)

I should also note that this still didn’t get me all the way through the book – although it did (with some influence from the Terry Brooks book) give me an idea for the suitably exciting ending that I was looking for yesterday. However, I got stuck in mapping the plot when trying to get from Chapter 10 to that thrilling moment, so I decided to take an alternate route: I started with the end and began to work backwards toward the point at which things ground to a halt. Maybe today I can get the two to meet up.

I also did a little research. I went to Borders and picked up a copy of Janet Evanovich’s first Stephanie Plum novel, One for the Money. Yeah, I know, I panned Hard Eight, but I still recognize that I can learn something from Evanovich. Besides, I might like this one. My intent is to not only read it, but take it apart to see how she structured the book – not merely in terms of plot , but in physical terms as well.

For example, looking at the paperback, I intuited that the book would run about 90,000 words. I did a rough word count, and One for the Money clocks in at approximately 91,000 words. This is good news for me, since my novels typically run about 100k words. There are 14 chapters, which means 6500 words per chapter. That’s roughly 30 manuscript pages per chapter. This is good news too, since my chapters typically run 20 – 30 pages.*

Knowing the physical structure of a novel can be useful in the following way. Assuming that CMS (Comic Mystery Series) #1 will be 90,000 words in length, and knowing that I wanted to have this project so thoroughly mapped out that it can be written in 90 days, that tells me that I need to write 1000 words a day – roughly five pages. This is a good thing because it’s the goal I try to keep when working on any project.

Of course, on a normal project, I give myself two days off a week, which means that a) I’m going to have to write a little extra each day, or b) I’m going to have to knuckle down and write five pages every day, no matter what.

I’ll see which one works.

Meantime, I’m going to put together some kind of schedule for my little impossible dream. I’m giving myself a deadline for having some kind of detailed outline for the book in place – the day when I start taking class again (a day class this time out – hopefully without the same time drain I had this summer). This would put a target date for completion of the manuscript on… oh, let’s use my traditional (and never met) finishing date of Thanksgiving. A month or so to edit and whip the book into shape over the holidays. In the mail by January 2005. Can I do it?

Well, I do this sort of thing to myself all the time. The law of averages has to catch up with me. Maybe this will be the time I screw up and actually make my self-imposed deadline

* Based on roughly 200 words per manuscript page. Your mileage may vary depending on font style and whether the page contains lots of description or lots of dialogue.

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