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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Writer Retreat

So, this weekend was the weekend of my self-proclaimed writer's retreat. How'd it go? Well, first a smattering of eye candy...
My room

My writing space.


This is only one of the many porches, shot through a door.

A sad, lonely Gargoyle, waiting for someone...

The Penthouse for birds


If we wear fur coats, trees wear ivy coats. Oh, yes, darling, you look smashing!

I always thought these trees look like a paint-by-number.
In case you're wondering... It is a Sycamore or also known as a London Plane Trees. (But they're quite fancy... hahaha)

Where to begin... Well, first of all going away, being out of my element, opened my eyes to things I hadn't considered. When I am home, I am distracted, as previously posted, and I don't think I saw things in my own writing, quite as clearly.


The Retreat...
My First Revelation...
The first day I got to my B&B, I read the pages previously written and it was as if someone had handed me a special pair of writer's glasses where mistakes were now glaringly obvious. At first, what struck me was how much I told in my story instead of showed. Now, I thought I was aware of this before, but for some reason, it was so obvious when I was away -- all the mistakes I had made and hadn't even seen them before.

Maybe it was so obvious because I had put my novel aside for a number of months and read it fresh. Maybe it was because I was away and out of my element and so I was able to see it through fresh eyes. Maybe it was a little of both. But, whatever the reason, I was so taken back when I read my pages and saw these mistakes. At first I was discouraged. But don't worry - that didn't last too long.

My Second Revelation...
I hated the pacing! Hated it! I was told once, very early on, that I had to quicken the pacing. And perhaps I did, but I misunderstood I think exactly what that meant. I thought, then, that it meant, I needed to bring the fantasy element right upfront. But now I realize that is not necessarily so. I realize now, that it means to hint about the fantasy element right away, to show it little by little, to tease the reader with foreshadowing so they can guess what the fantasy element is and lead them to the REVEAL where they will then feel like, Yes! I knew that's what it was!

My story is considered low fantasy - like ghost stories - it takes place here in our world, with our strengths and weaknesses and our beings... But, there is that fantasy element in my story.

So, I slowed the pacing but added hints about the fantasy and made the hints grow, and grow, and grow, until the reveal -- which makes it actually feel quicker paced, even though, in reality it slowed the reveal down. I learned that quickening the pace doesn't mean a sudden thrust into the REVEAL. Of course in a high fantasy novel, the fantasy element should be right up front, but again, you should still take time getting to the reveal. And if the reveal IS your fantasy element, then I like the slow hints along the way, slowly building and building. So, I turned up the sound a notch or two on my subtle references and painted with a few brighter shades...

My Third Revelation...
I realized in order to slow down the pacing, but make it still engaging, I would need new chapters in the beginning of the book, so, I would need to change my intention for the weekend....

My original intention was to turn out new pages, but seeing these two glaring mistakes (telling vs showing and pacing...), made me re-think these intentions.

Instead, I went back to outlining. UGH! But this time, it was a real, bon-a-fide outline. I outlined and wrote very detailed summaries for three new chapter, re-organized two subsequent chapters, and completely, and I mean completely, changed the reveal. And you know what? I love it!

At first, yes, it was very hard to see that my work was not on paper as it was in my head. But then I got over that fast and got straight to work. I have to say, the brainstorming and outlining process, for me, is exhausting! I took a three hour nap on Saturday and woke saying, Oh No! I completely forgot to put this in the outline for chapter four... so, even when I slept, I was writing, and outlining, and organizing...

The Outcome...
I was definitely ready to come home, and I am a little disappointed that I can't say I typed the words, THE END, but I am happy. I know I am on the right path now and in a much better place, especially that my new prescription for writer's lenses has been upgraded - and I owe that to the 20 books I read this year and the writer's groups and conferences I attended (and still attend...).

In the end, I didn't write new pages, and I am still sticking to outlining, but I'm OK with that. I am not going to rush this process. It takes time to write a novel, especially your first one - so I hear - so back to the drawing board and that's OK.

The Outline
Here is the outlining format I used for each chapter, old and new...

Chapter Number; Chapter Title
Characters We Meet:
Here, obviously, I listed all the characters who appear in each chapter. But I did not forget to mention the ones that also came in dreams or visions. That's still an appearance, after all...

Tristan’s Goal: This is my MC. I write here what her goal of this chapter is. Sometimes a goal can also be trying to avoid doing something.

My Goal: This is where I listed what my goals, as the writer, were. For example, show a relationship growing together, show a relationship growing apart, introduce a new character, etc...

Conflict/Obstacles: What is the MC's conflict or obstacle in this chapter? What is getting in the way of her reaching her goal?

Arc: What is the MC's mini arc for this chapter? There should be a larger arc that is resolved at the end of your story, but I believe each chapter should strive to have a mini arc within. So, I try to have my MC start a chapter one way but end another way, which leads to...

Disaster: The disaster of the chapter, I usually have towards the end of the chapter so it can leads to...

Cliff Hanger of Chapter: ... the unanswered question of this chapter actually takes me to the next chapter where it might be answered and then another disaster leads to another mini cliff hanger, leads to the next chapter, and so on...

Anything foreshadowed: I love foreshadowing. I think foreshadowing is what engages a reader. I think it is important to answer some foreshadowing a long the way to make the reader feel successful, like they're so smart, and leave the bigger foreshadowing to be resolved in the end. So, I need to keep track of everything that either is, or can be, considered foreshadowing.

Fantasy in the Chapter: I need to keep track of the fantasy element - Was it hinted upon? Was it the reveal? Was it used in one way or another? Was something new learned about it??

Any props in chapter:Props are a huge part of foreshadowing, in my opinion. Some items mentioned early on, can be used later as an AHA! object... So, I keep a list of all of these.

!Misc Notes:This was a very important part for the chapters I had already written. It was where I would write things like... UGH! This chapter told and didn't show nearly enough. Or... be sure in the second draft to add such and such to this chapter. Or... be sure in the second draft to delete, or change, or... You get the idea.

Chapter Summary:
Obviously, this speaks for itself. But for the new chapters, that I hadn't written yet, this section was quite long and detailed. I would write the whole chapter summary from beginning, middle, end, include dialogue, and props, mini arcs, foreshadowing, the conflict, the disaster, and the cliff hanger ending. For chapters that were already written, I simply told a brief synopsis, since I can just read the chapter or the above info for more details.


I have to say, some of these outlining elements I learned from reading your blogs. So, I have to thank you, to all of you for sharing your methods, ideas, and thoughts. It is what lead me to my version of an outline.

How does your outlining method differ? How is it the same?

15 comments:

Jeanie W said...

Wow. What a beautiful retreat location.

Sheri, thanks for sharing so many details of your writing process. It sounds like you made some important discoveries about your novel this weekend. I love it when that happens. Reading about your experience has reminded me of that joyful feeling and is motivating me to move forward to more of those kinds of new discoveries myself. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

My outlining process is not quite as organized as yours. I name and number the chapter, then write down all the things that need to happen or be revealed in it. Then I put all that stuff in chronological order. In one of my novels I alternate POV by chapter between two characters, so I made a notation of whose turn it was to lead. That's about as far as I take the organization. I often begin writing whole scenes in the middle of my outlining process. I also do that when I'm originally scribbling about my story idea in my writing journal. I think keeping my writing fluid like that helps the flow of the story.

I like the way I work, but I can envision hitting some sticking points where I'll need to pick apart the chapter elements in greater detail. In such an instance I may try your method. I think you've nailed all the critical points.

Thanks again for sharing.

Sheri said...

Thank you Jeanie. I am not by nature, an outliner, but I have found that at some point, when writing a novel, you must give in and map it all out so you do not leave anything unresolved... so you can keep track of things. Because we all know, not only kids read our books, but other writers too, and you know they will blog about you and your talents. SO... I want to make sure I have dotted my i's and crossed my t's! 8)

Oh and I’m glad I have inspired you.

Jason said...

Wow, that's an awesome retreat. I'm envious.

I'm slowly learning the process of outline and notetaking and all the other stuff that I by nature do not want to do. I used to just sit down and write, and that never works out for me. It's better for me to have a guideline of where the story is gonna go.

Sheri said...

Jason, I am right there with you. It is a two-edge sword for me. Because on one hand I couldn't begin outlining unless I just wrote about my story in story form so I could learn about it and its characters. Yet, I feel because I didn't go straight to formatting, that is why this process is taking me so long.

But it's all a learning experience. We learn what works and what doesn't work, what we will do the same next time, or what we will do differently. In the end, it makes us a better writer and our stories better stories. So, it's all worth it in the end.

ChrisEldin said...

Beautiful, beautiful pictures!! Thanks for sharing these, as well as your lessons-learned. I need to slow my pacing as well.
Your outlining process is amazing!! Congratulations!!
:-)

Sheri said...

Thanks Chris. I couldn't have come up with it without reading all the advice on your blog and everyone elses.

PJ Hoover said...

OMG, what great revelations you had! I love that you made such great progress!

Sheri said...

Thanks PJ. It's hard that the progress is so slow-going, but pregress just the same.

keri mikulski :) said...

Gorgeous retreat.

Thanks for sharing your outlining format.. I'm starting to outline, but I'm still playing with format.. Most of the time, I just jot down a bunch of notes in a notebook and list scenes. Then, I have a separate book of note cards with pics of characters and traits. But, I'm liking yours.

Sheri said...

Cool Keri! I like the note cards with character traits. That's a good tip.

Amy Tate said...

What a wonderful opportunity! Not to mention a gorgeous place to be inspired. Wow! I'm glad you accomplished so much. Isn't it amazing how much we get done without distractions? I like your outline. It sounds like you know exactly where it's going. Have you worked on your synopsis yet? I had to write one for an upcoming conference and I found it very difficult. If you have a good strategy for that I'd love to hear about it! My writing friend Becky writes several. Some are one page, whereas others require multiple pages.

Sheri said...

Yes, Amy, I have a one-page already written because most SCBWI events require one to accompany the pages you submit for a critique. They can be a real challenge to write. But if you talk it out, or think of it as the book jacket, it makes it a little les daunting.

Outlining is not my thing, but I am finidng my brain just can't remember everything I need to in order to make my novel tight.

Sheri said...

Oh Amy, it's also so nice to see your face!

Sarah Hina said...

Great photos, Sheri!! Oh, I wish I could have been there with you (different room, of course, so we would actually get something done. ;) ). I've always wanted to go on a retreat. I'm so glad you seized the moment and did it.

It sounds like you got some monumental work done. I'm going to try outlining for the next novel--as a completely disorganized person, I need that kind of discipline and larger vision. Otherwise, I meander and just hope for the best, which isn't the best for gaining confidence or coherence. And it can read like rather a mess at the end.

I agree with you about the fantasy element, btw. For your kind of novel, foreshadowing is much more fun that being spoon-fed everything from the get-go. I think you're on the right track!! Keep us updated. :)

LEEZY said...

I am so proud of you - well done my writer-retreaty-sweetie-friend! I knew you could do it!!!!!

“Personal limitation exists only in our ideas of who we are. Give up all notions of who you are and your limitations will vanish.”

- Anonymous