Organization Woes, OneNote, and ROW80

I’m a writer of short stories. This is something that’s starting to become apparent as I work my way through my Tapestry Project–writing an extended series is a much different thing. It will be, effectively, an epic length novel by the time it’s finished–and a novel has very different considerations than a group of short stories.

We won’t get into that today–I want to share, as part of my ROW80 update, what has helped me get back on track. As I mentioned Monday, I’ve been having trouble with some of the basic plotting of my project, in particular what the characters will be doing. So I sat down and did some careful organization–and I used a new (to me) Writer’s Tool called OneNote.

OneNote is a Microsoft product bundled with their Office Suite. It’s basically note taking software; you can make notes,add images, sound or video, organize it into separate workbooks, and generally keep everything tidy. It’s a one stop shop for all your notes and research.

Now, I know I’ve talked about Scrivener and it’s organizational qualities, and they’re great–but OneNote is something I’ve wanted to try for a while, and now that I have, I’m loving it. It’s easy to use and does exactly what I need it to do. The only trouble I’m having is synchronizing it between computers–but I’m troubleshooting that.

Anyway, this program has helped me get back on track. My update on Monday showed I haven’t moved very far in the project, and I’m afdraid I can’t extend that progress–at least not in word count. But, I’ve been able to set down what I want, and some deadlines as to how I’ll get there.

OneNote 2

Deadlines

As you can see (click on the image to enlarge), this is a very long term project. I based these timelines on the ROW80 schedule; this first round I’m participating in will encompass Phase One; I’ll tackle Phase Two over the next couple rounds, and Phase Three will probably take two rounds in itself. All in all, I don’t expect to finish the project by at least 2014.

That seems like a long time away, but I like giving myself the extra time. Realistically, I may be able to write parts of it much faster–but keeping a schedule like this will keep me on track, and allow me to see when i’m dropping behind. It should be interesting to see how I keep up with it.

(Incidentally, you’ll see I was also doodling on this tab in OneNote; the program has a drawing toolbar like Word, though I had to use a paint program to fill in the lines and dots and such. I’ll get into this symbol another time; suffice it to say it’s an Occult Glyph that the Hierophantic Caste uses, and that its meaning will be explored across the project as a whole. Meanwhile, I’ll promise a free copy of the entire project to the first person who can decode it in the comments below…if you can!)

OneNote is great for all sorts of things. The ability to insert check boxes made drawing up that schedule pretty easy. The big thing I like about this program, though, is that you can write anywhere on the page–just point your cursor and start typing, and it’ll put your text into a separate box. You can then pull this box around the page, fitting it wherever you like. That proved helpful in the page you see to the right.

OneNote 1

My plotting of Phase One

This is a Plotting Diagram for Phase One. As I’ve explained, Phase One will contain four stories of four scenes each; putting each story into it’s own block allows me to move them around

as I decide which will come first. My original order was Court of Sand, Court of Rain, Court of Sylphs, and Court of Tinder; comparing all of these together makes me wonder if I should switch Rain with Sylphs.

I’m a very visual person when it comes to organizing, so being able to basically shuffle index cards and move them around was very helpful for me. And I use that metaphor intentionally; one of the highlights of Scrivener is the use of Index Cards on the corkboard, which would can move around as you please. The difference is that in Scrivener you can only change the order–you can’t place a card wherever you want. In OneNote, you can put one card on top of another, move it off to the side, or move it completely off the page (as I did with my scene by scene synopsis in the picture here; I didn’t want to give you any spoilers!)

So this is how I’ve spent the last few days working on my Tapestry project. No, I don’t have a word count to offer for ROW80 this week–I wanted to, but didn’t make the time. However, all of this planning and finagling has helped me achieve something very valuable: I know have a very concrete idea of where I want this story to do, how my characters should act, and how long it will take me. I feel like I’ve painted lines on the road and am ready to barrel down the highway–remembering of course that in writing, it’s occasionally encouraged to go off the rails.

Lastly, you’ll notice a change in the theme I’m using for this blog. I got tired of the ragged page looking one, and wanted a bit of colour. I haven’t settled on this theme, and migth play with a few others over the next while–tell me what you think in the comments!

~J

Naughty Characters, KISS, and a late update

image courtesy of photosteve101 via Flikr

Okay, so I wasn’t able to put a post up on Friday, and I also missed my ROW80 update on Sunday. It’s been a busy–and sadly, rather unproductive, writing wise–week. Sometimes life just happens, and you’ve got to let it.

So today I thought I’d share why I’ve been in a bit of a writing rut this past week: my characters are misbehaving.

Three of my major characters from my Tapestry project–Metedre, Ohmel and Alkut–are starting to act out. They’re starting to vie for my attention, and in the process, they’re pushing another character–Tauri (the Emperor no less!) out of the picture.

Let me explain.

Alkut is my antagonist. In Tapestry, he’s a young page who has aspirations to the throne of the Yziman Empire–and wishes to push his people into war against the Toral. Metedre is the Empress, and I want her to be a kind, gentle person. She’s technically a “bad guy,” being of the Ozym, but I want people to sympathize with her. Ohmel is her son, the General of the Armies, and is endlessly devoted to her.

When I started writing Court of Sand, the first part in this saga, Alkut surprised me by sneaking out of the Empress’ chambers in the middle of the night–they’ve been having an affair. I thought this would be an interesting way to introduce him–it shows his duplicity, being the Emperor’s right hand man; it shows how he’s trying to manipulate the Empress into helping him get his way; and it makes him generally unlikable right off the bat. Win-win-win.

Later in the story, I was surprised again when Metedre unwittingly revealed a secret: she’s pregnant with Alkut’s child. Scandalous! The idea is that Alkut wants to set his own child on the throne, and that Metedre will have to go on the run to prevent this, and to escape the wrath of her husband.

But here’s the problem: all of this leaves the Emperor a rather impotent character, pardon the pun. With the focus on these three characters–and later, a few more who are crucial to the larger story–Tauri seems less and less important. I’ve even toyed with having Alkut kill him and take the throne, just to get him out of the story. He’s not really needed at all…except if I remove him, the stakes for the other characters change, or disappear altogether.

What’s a writer to do? I’ve puzzled over this all week. If I simply remove the Emperor, Alkut doesn’t have a reason to sneak around, Metedre has no reason to feel guilty and thus eventually gain forgiveness from the reader, and Ohmel has nobody to avenge when Alkut carries out his plan.

If I keep the Emperor, I have a useless character–or if I give him something important to do, he complicates the plot needlessly. Further, I don’t have a good reason to demonstrate that Metedre is a good person; shes having an affair with her husband’s advisor, and doesn’t have a really good reason for it.

Then I remembered some very good advice: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

When you’re writing a story, you always want to be thinking of the reader. Will they be able to follow the plot? If I complicate the plot, will it divide their attention enough that they’ll lose a thread here or there? Will they sympathize with the characters–or are there too many to sympathize with? In my case, I think I’m being needlessly complicated. The whole family dynamic subplot is important to the story, but only in terms of characterization, not plot.

What I needed to do was ask myself honestly: what story do I want to tell? Then, what’s the easiest way to tell it?

The plot of my story is a brewing spiritual war–the machinations of a family have nothing to do with that, so I shouldn’t concentrate on them. I want to keep the dynamic these characters have, to a point, but it shouldn’t be the focus. This has caused me to re-think most of what I’ve already written for Court of Sand, for which I’ve already completed the first draft. Much of that will likely be tossed now as I bring it to a better focus. But, such is the way with writing. In the end, I think the best way to go is to compromise.

The Emperor has recently died, leaving Metedre a widow and the Empire in chaos. Ohmel, heir to the throne, doesn’t want it–and is generally seen as unfit anyway. Alkut secretly longs for the throne, but knows he can’t take it because he lacks the lineage. Metedre wants to lead her people, but they have trouble accepting her as a capable leader (which is a nice counterpoint to the Toral, a matriarchal society). And all the while, the people are in the midst of a famine, starving for resources–and there are rumors that Tauri’s death was not natural. This is the atmosphere in which the book will open, and can be explained with a small amount of exposition that won’t get in the way of the larger story. I hope.

As for my ROW80 update…I can’t say I accomplished anything beyond growing some new grey hairs. Hopefully I’ll have something more tangible by Wednesday.