Let the laboring begin

The past week was full of extracurricular events – the best was going to opening night for the opera Aida. It was so much fun I’m planning on buying season tickets next year. Next year they’ll have a performance of La fanciulla del West, which was originally set during the Gold Rush in California (no, I didn’t know that, but Wikipedia did). Next year’s performance will be set in Colorado instead. How awesome is that?!? I often write historical fiction set in the old West, so for me at least it’s pretty awesome. 🙂

Now that all that fun is out of the way I’m buckling down. My deadline for finishing my next novel (and hopefully settling on a title) is the end of the month. This isn’t because of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, which is always in November) – the dates are merely coincidental. I started November with a complete draft of my novel, but it needs a lot of work. In some places it’s pretty solid, and at most will need additional sensory details and description. In other areas it’s very sparse and quite a bit of content written. And, of course, once all that is done I’ll need to make several editing passes before I send it to my editor. Participating in NaNoWriMo, where the goal is to finish November with a first draft – not a final one – would have been far less work!

My first step is to write a detailed outline for the entire novel. I’ve completed my outline through chapter three, and am working on chapter four. This is not a fast process because I need to read through what I’ve written, or if I come across one of the ‘holes’ I need to think – in detail – about what isn’t yet written. When I find something that isn’t clear, or if I make a reference I want to tie in later in the story, I make notes.

For example, here’s a portion of the outline from the start of chapter one. Mark, the selkie, is the viewpoint character when the book opens. And if you’re wondering, everything in this chunk of the outline will be present in the book description/back cover copy – just much better worded. 🙂

  • Viewpoint: Mark
    • SETTING
      • The attic in Katy’s house.
    • Mark goes to the attic in Katy’s house to get his sealskin.
    • He’s ready to move on, and spend some time in his seal form.
    • His sealskin isn’t where he left it.
    • He remembers the tales about selkies having their skins stolen.
    • TO DO
      • Make this more powerful. Assume the reader knows nothing about selkies. Make it clear that if his skin is gone it’s dire.
    • He searches the attic and finally admits it’s gone.
    • That evening over dinner he tells Katy he lost something, a ‘kind of coat’
    • Katy says, “I know.”
    • CLIFFHANGER
      • Katy has stolen Mark’s sealskin.
    • SCENE GOALS
      • Introduce Mark. Show he’s a nice guy, loves the ladies, and that he’s a selkie.
      • Explain what a selkie is.
      • Explain how important a selkie’s sealskin is, and how dire it is if someone steals it.
      • Show that Katy stole his sealskin.

There’s a lot that isn’t mentioned, of course. For example, I want the reader to like Mark, to feel his pain when he realizes his sealskin has been stolen, and to root for him to get it back. This means I need to make Mark engaging, charming, and sympathetic – but not weak. His sealskin is gone, his world has been turned upside-down, but he can’t be passive about the situation – even though he has no idea what to do. That’s an awful lot to work on, and for another story I’d note that in the outline. For this story, I’ve already put a lot of work into all of that, so I felt I didn’t need to write it down.

One of the things in this part of the outline that is crucial is providing information about what a selkie is and what the legends are. Some people reading this novel will know more about Celtic mythology than I do – some won’t know anything at all. I want this story to work for both types of readers, so I need to present information about the myths in a way that explains them to some readers while not annoying those readers who already know all about selkies. I have a TO DO so I remember to work on this when I’m editing. I also list this in the scene goals. By the time the reader gets to the end of this scene, he/she should understand enough about selkies to know why Mark’s sealskin being stolen is so terrible, and should also have picked up on the fact that Katy – who clearly took it on purpose – might not be a super nice person. This is also the cliffhanger for this scene, as well as being one of the scene goals.

I will probably tweak my outline approach as I work with it more, but so far it’s proving to be very helpful. For example, I thought I’d done a good job at explaining the selkie myths, but in thinking about that as a goal of this scene I realized what I’d written needed a bit more work in order to make it clear how awful this theft is.

And now … back to the outline!

2015-11-03 Dakota Ridge

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