Six impossible things

More In the Middle

Back in July, I talked about Messing Around With Post-Its when I was three chapter into the novel, and came up with a plan for the next two or three chapters. This is an update on how that worked, and why.

As a refresher, I had arranged events to go something like this:

  • -Heroine wakes up and finds “how to be a dark lord” book
  • -Family consultation
  • -Breakfast, where she meets her cousin and half-sister and gets hints about Tradition
  • -First half of the council meeting
  • -Interruption by challenger; defeat of challenger
  • -Second half of council and refusal to follow Tradition

As planned, this looks to me like a pretty full day, so the rest of the events I had planned (evaluating the treasury, dressing like a Dark Lady, finding out the cousin’s problems, finding out the half-sister’s problems, sneaking out to explore, getting caught and grounded by Mom) all got pushed off into future days. Because when I’m writing or planning what to write, I always have a little timer in the back of my head ticking off how much story-time is passing and how much time it will take for my characters to do X or get to Point Y. In a complex story, or one that involves more than one trip from A to B (which will have to take the same number of days or weeks each time), I print off or photocopy a blank calendar page and fill in the days with the events as they happen.

In this case, I got halfway through the third item, “breakfast,” when I realized that “dressing like a Dark Lady” absolutely had to happen before the council meeting. So I stuck in a mini scene that skimmed over it lightly, got halfway into the council itself, and realized that it wasn’t working.

Ninety percent of the time, when a scene like this isn’t working, it’s because I messed up something in the run-up to it. So I looked back at what I’d done, and the problem fairly leaped out at me. Logically, none of the Dark Lady clothes in the castle are going to fit a fourteen-year-old without alteration, and that’s not something you can do in fifteen minutes.

So I went back to “dressing like a Dark Lady” and expanded the scene. By the time I finished, it was clear that the heroine wouldn’t get proper Dark Lady clothes until the following morning, at the earliest, so I had to arrange for the council to be put off until the next day. Which left me with the rest of the current day to fill up.

I could have just jumped ahead to the next day and the council, but that implies that anything that happens in the rest of that day isn’t important enough to show. At this point in the story, nearly everything that happens to the heroine is important, so a time-skip isn’t my best choice. So I expanded the “dressing like a Dark Lady” scene a little more, throwing in a bit of exploration and discovery, followed by a mini-scene talking to the half-sister that sets up the “finding out her problems” talk to come. Then I go get the “evaluating the treasury” scene, and that fills up the afternoon.

At this point, my new scene list looks like this:

  • -Heroine wakes up and finds “how to be a dark lord” book
  • -Family consultation
  • -Breakfast, where she meets her cousin and half-sister and gets hints about Tradition
  • -Dressing like a Dark Lady, part 1
  • -Lunch and talking to half-sister
  • -Evaluating the treasury

I could, at this point, call it a day, send everybody to bed, and go straight to Dressing Like a Dark Lady, Part 2, or even the council, but it doesn’t feel to me as if I have enough of a build-up for it yet. So I add the “sneaking out, getting caught, getting grounded” scene. It’s flat because nothing much happens when she sneaks out except that she gets a better idea where things are in the castle. So I need something to go in between “sneaking out” and “getting caught sneaking back in” besides just walking around.

The logical thing to go in there is running into someone (there are plenty of people in this castle who can further the plot). The most helpful (from the author’s perspective) people for her to run into would be the cousin or the half-sister. The half-sister is avoiding her, so I pick the cousin, and am immediately faced with the question of what he’s doing sneaking around the castle late at night.

Well, what sorts of things do rebellious teenagers sneak out to do? Stuff their parents disapprove of, which in this case means anything normal and non-Dark-Lord-like. So…he’s meeting his non-Dark-Lordy friends down at the tavern. When my heroine catches him, he invites her along. This gives her a chance to meet some completely different normal people, get some more interesting background, and find out what his problem is. It also means her mother is going to be half out of her mind by the time she tries to sneak back in, so “getting grounded” is going to be a bit more fraught, which is good.

That finishes off the day, but still leaves me with a few things to do before the council scene, most notably getting the fight with Mom uneasily settled and the second part of Dressing Like a Dark Lady. Then I look at my earlier draft and realize that when I moved the council scene from immediately-after-breakfast on Day 1 to mid-morning on Day 2, I also cut a bunch of information about what’s going to be expected of her at the council. So I have to figure out who is going to step up and give her the advice and when. And my scene list now looks like this:

  • -Heroine wakes up and finds “how to be a dark lord” book
  • -Family consultation
  • -Breakfast, where she meets her cousin and half-sister and gets hints about Tradition
  • -Dressing like a Dark Lady, Part 1
  • -Lunch and talking to half-sister
  • -Evaluating the treasury
  • – Sneaking out and meeting cousin
  • – Going out to the tavern with cousin and finding out his problem(s)
  • – Sneaking back in and getting grounded
  • – Next morning: Talk with Mom, breakfast
  • – Dressing like a Dark Lady, Part 2
  • – Getting advice about council
  • -First half of the council meeting
  • -Interruption by challenger; defeat of challenger
  • -Second half of council and refusal to follow Tradition

Which is slightly more than twice as long as what I started with, and should get me to the end of Day 2 and roughly the mid-point of the book.

2 Comments
  1. When you do this sort of re-ordering of the plot, how much is the unit-of-story a “scene” and how much is an “event”? Some of the things you list sound like they require their own scene, while others sound like they could be fit into different scenes. E.g. hints about Tradition could come at breakfast, at lunch, while being measured for Dark Lady clothing – squeezed in whenever the timing is best. But Dressing Like a Dark Lady, Part I sounds like it does have to be its own scene.

  2. @Deep Lurker —

    To be slightly facetious, a scene has an “exeunt”; you change either place or time afterwards.

    An event is something that happens of which the reader must be aware; it can be as simple as having to mention that Aunt Margaery is wearing the blue hat. It can be as complex as, well, anything that has a thematic unit. (You can argue that, say, The Red Badge of Courage, whole, is a single event from several angles.)

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