In preparation for NaNoWriMo‘s blast-through-a-first draft-November, I’m following K.M. Weiland’s roadmap on constructing an outline. I’ve outlined my last three novels, but each time it’s like starting from scratch. In any case, I like learning something new.
I began last winter with Weiland’s software, Outlining Your Novel, which is the computer version of her workbook by that name.
All this to say that reading her book this morning, she mentions using old calendars to establish a timeline for a novel. I’ve been working all month on a detailed timeline on Scrivener, but using printout calendars is an excellent idea. Ms know-it-all Google directed me to this useful site, and I now have color-coded printouts of the years 1549 to 1559 with the significant events highlighted. I especially like that I will be able to know the phases of the moon since this was all-important pre-electricity.
Four other blog posts on outlining that may be of interest:
Question: What happens when you live in one house for over 40 years?
Answer: It gets cluttered with unfinished projects and treasures without a place (including letters and treasures from my parents’ cluttered attic).
Question: And what happens when, of an instant, you decide to have the entire first floor refinished?
Answer: Everything must get moved out and surfaces cleared.
This process takes time! Everything must be puzzled out.
One of the treasures without a home I picked up this morning, for example, is a manilla file titled “Crime of the Week.” It’s filled with clippings of the Crimes of the Week as reported in the northern Californian Anderson Valley Advertiser in the 1980s and 90s. My parents had a property in beautiful Anderson Valley (not far from Mendocino, California), and my father used to send me the Advertiser. I began cutting out various Crimes and slipping them away in a file.
The Advertiser is still trucking, but I suspect that the crimes to report these days may have lost some of their last-century charm.
For example, here’s the Crime of the Week from June 22, 1988, picked at random:
CRIME OF THE WEEK
A Westport couple was hanging out the window of their house screaming that they were trapped. Deputies Hillard and Degeyter walked right on in through the front door and transported the couple to Ukiah for psychiatric evaluation.
Or this one (date not noted):
CRIME OF THE WEEK
Miles Reisman of Redwood Valley called the Sheriff’s Office to say a neighbor of his was walking through the neighborhood wearing nothing but a “scrap” around his waist while swinging a dead skunk. Deputy Pendergraft was unable to locate the dead skunk twirler, speculating the man had simply blended in with the Redwood Valley commute crowd.
I’ve long thought that the Advertiser should publish the Crimes of the Week as a charming daily calendar, something a publisher like Workman might be interested in. At the least, I thought I might share some of them on this blog now and then. (What do you think?)
Today the Crime of the Week feature seems to have morphed into Catch of the Day. On October 13, 2016, Catch of the DAY listed 13, with grim mug shots of each.
And thus it is that it has taken all morning to place just one file without a home in Current. :-)
A note to writers of cosy mysteries: the Anderson Valley Advertiser would be an excellent source of ideas for plot and character. There is even a book put out by Bruce Anderson and Mark Scaramella: Mendocino Noir; Crimes Large and Small.
I’m pleased to announce the beautiful Canadian paperback edition of The Game of Hope. It’s fresh and fun to have a new cover. The first person to email me* a selfie holding the book will be sent an autographed hardcover edition.
In other news, I’ve just returned from a three-week trip to the UK, researching the early life of Queen Elizabeth I and the village of Adisham, where I’ve set my other heroine, young Molly the falconer.
In one month, shortly after Canadian Thanksgiving, Richard and I will be heading south to San Miguel de Allende for the winter. Once settled, I plan to NaNoWriMo-write the rough first draft of Molly & Bess (working title). I’m not yet sure if it’s one novel or two. This will be one way to find out.
One of the most challenging things for me in writing a YA novel based on the scant (and most likely apocryphal) stories “Mary of Canterbury” has been figuring out where to place her. I needed to find an old village in the countryside close to Canterbury and not far from the cliffs of Dover. Proximity to the Pilgrim’s Way of Chaucer fame would be a plus. Also, because of how my story was evolving, I needed proximity to a pond.
I had originally thought that I would “simply” fabricate such a village, but I discovered that that was far from simple—at least for me. It appears that I need a real place to dig into. Ironically, without facts, I am creatively lost.
In researching the turbulent years leading up to the accession of Queen Elizabeth I, I learned of a tiny village not far from Canterbury that was rife with conflict. Like a story-seeking missile, I had found my village.
Adisham (pronounced—I think—AD SHAM), is an old village not far from Canterbury, not far from Dover, and not far from one of the Canterbury Pilgrims’ paths. And it had had, in former times, a “dangerous pond.” How good was that?
The more I learned about Adisham, the more fascinating it became. A poltergeist in a house near the church? A witch dunked in the pond? A main street called “The Street”?
The biggest bonus was the discovery of John Bland, Protestant rector of the church of Adisham.
A “Canterbury Martyr,” John Bland was one of the first to be burned alive at the stake under the rule of Elisabeth I’s half-sister, “Bloody” Queen Mary. It is also claimed, likely falsely, that he was 103 years old when executed!
I’m about to embark on a research trip to the UK and will be visiting Adisham, talking with people who live there. I’ve already learned that they warn new rectors of what happens to those who run afoul of the churchwarden and the people of the village. :-)
Here are two links on Adisham:
This one shows numerous photos of the church, along with historical details.
Here is a link to a description of the parish, published in 1800, opening with the charming words: “This parish lies exceedingly pleasant and healthy … “
In Canada, I have a tall narrow bookcase of books—one of many I have in our house. This one includes poetry, novels I’m either reading or would like to read, and an embarrassing number of books on writing. I am a collector, apparently, a collector of books on writing.
This morning, as I was drinking my delicious mug of decaf, I took three black binders down from the top shelf. I was curious: what were they?
One was a collection of printouts of writing exercises by the New York agent Donald Maass. Another, a thick, heavy binder, was labelled Truby. In it were printouts from master story guru John Truby. I have a lot of Truby—including a series of tapes and his book The Anatomy of Story (which overwhelms me at the first chapter every time I open it). I recalled that at one time Truby offered interactive story analysis on his website; I think it was free, an amazing offering. All the printouts were from his website.
The third binder, labelled Story Tools, was of a middling size. The first page was a list of Sarah Waters’ instructions on how to write a historical novel. Her wise words are no longer online—at least not that I can find—so here it is, my gift to you. (Click here to see the full pdf.)
In the corner I had written: 6 mos min to write 180,000 words.
I wondered when I had written that note. The second page in the binder gave a clue.
I must have written this after I’d been offered a contract to write the Josephine B. Trilogy. Several months before I had finally completed an acceptable draft of The Many Lives & Secret Sorrows of Josephine B., the first novel in the Trilogy. While my agent was looking for a publisher, I had started work on what was to become, nearly two decades later, Mistress of the Sun. On signing a contract for a trilogy, I reluctantly put the project away.
So: all this was Very Long Ago, as I was setting out on this 32-years-and-counting writing adventure.
Sarah Waters’ advice on how to write a historical novel is a treasure. I’ll be returning to it.
The photo at top is of Sarah Waters, 2010, by Sam Jones, as seen in the article in the Guardian on Sarah Waters’ 10 rules for writers (rules which are, of course, spot on).
One of the books I have in San Miguel is A Practical Handbook for the Actor, by Bruder, Cohn, Olnek and Pollack. It was a useful book to consult when writing about actors in The Shadow Queen, but it’s now and again also mentioned as a useful book for writers. This morning, I scanned through it, before returning it to the shelf.
It’s true that many of the passages are relevant to writing. I especially like this one, for example:
The only talent you need to act is a talent for working—in other words, the ability to apply yourself in learning the skills that make up the craft of acting.
With writing in mind, it becomes: The only talent you need to write is a talent for working—in other words, the ability to apply yourself in learning the skills that make up the craft of writing.
Here are some others:
You must understand that acting, like carpentry, is a craft with a definite set of skills and tools. By assiduously applying your will to the acquiring of those skills and tools, you will eventually make them habitual.
It’s as if I …
I found Chapter 2, on Analyzing a Scene, particularly useful. As writers, we “experience” the scene we’re creating. These craft tools for actors are useful for writers as well:
What is the character literally doing? (i.e. Tackling a man.)
What is the essential action of what the character is doing in the scene? (The “essential” action is the purpose behind the literal actions, i. e. Physically stopping a horrendous thing from happening.)
What is that action like to me? It’s as if … (For example, “It’s as if I were trying to stop my baby from being killed.” This third one is key to being able to put yourself emotionally into the character.)
The second step of defining the essential action can have a number of possible answers, and each one will require a different response to the third.
For example, it could go like this:
What is the character literally doing? (i.e. Tackling a man.)
What is the essential action of what the character is doing in the scene? (Hoping to get a promotion by proving herself the hero of the hour.)
What is that action like to me? It’s as if … (“It’s as if I would be fired if I didn’t prove I could do a man’s job.)
Just tell the story!
Here’s another sweet spot:
The crucial thing to remember is that the actor is not on-stage to have an experience or to expose himself to the audience, but to help tell a story.
Converting this to writing: The crucial thing to remember is that the writer is not writing in order to have an experience or to expose himself to the readers, but to help tell a story.
Another bit of advice I like is:
Choose something that makes you really want to act the action you have chosen for the scene. … The better your as-if, the stronger your action, and thus the full strength of your humanity will be brought to the work.
The through-line is the one action that all the individual actions serve.
You must decide what your ultimate goal is and then construct each individual action to bring you a step closer to achieving that goal.
That through-line is often difficult to discern when it comes to writing a novel. Margaret Atwood once described it as the skewer running through the meat and veggies that make up a shish kebab. That’s a very useful image to keep top of mind.