Tuesday, July 16, 2013

An Old Project Gets a New Life

I am working on so many projects at the moment. Working through a manuscript with Humber School for Writers. Writing out the first draft of a new novel with the help of Camp NaNoWriMo. Generating ideas for future projects.

And into the mix I've just thrown my masterwork, as I know it. A high fantasy epic that leans to the YA side that has dominated my mind since the first character appeared to me for the first time when I was seven years old. It's been that long that the world and the story has been evolving.

But because this particular tale has been evolving along with me for so horribly long, it's very close to me. It is a scary enough prospect to write a novel and send it out into the world. About a thousand fold for something I've been thinking and working on for...about 25 years. And so I've had, for the past few years (since I went back to my teenage way of thinking -- of taking a career as a novelist seriously) thought about My Fantasy Epic as a project that would begin in earnest when I was an established author. Something in the future, at some unspecified date. Despite this pronouncement, the wheel keeps turning and round again and again I come to This Project.

Last November, during the usual session of NaNoWriMo, I wrote a draft for what I thought then to be the first novel in the series. I wrote it from my extensive notes I keep on the subject. Then, of course, having finished it, I went back to work on RoboNomics, the manuscript currently in edits with Humber. And now I come back to it, with new found resolve.

My Fantasy Epic involves a cast of five main characters, each with their own stories, whose stories eventually are intertwined. So the plan was originally: a novel for each character, and then a sixth novel during which they meet up and enact the end of the story. But the more I thought of it, the less sense it made to keep going back, in a series, to another chronologically parallel plot line. And so my mind dug up an idea that I'd seen someplace before:

I've mentioned this book on my blog before. It really is a great book, but I can see now that it does not cover everything. Or rather, that it covers most of everything but it is like a beginner's handbook. I am very grateful to my brother for giving me this book. I know that I've always had a raw talent as a writer, but I needed this kick in the pants a few years back to really begin storytelling. It's an amazing place to start!
Anyways, on page 162, James Scott Bell -- the author of the book -- describes a system for plotting that I found intriguing. It involves a roll of butcher's paper and color-coded post-it notes. I've never had need to use it before now. But I thought I'd give it a try for an epic that has parallel but related plots. So I made my own version:

I didn't actually have any butcher paper, however. And frankly, I don't know where I'd obtain some. In such matters, I have a tendency to want to rely on what I already have. So I took up some old pads of paper that I had lying around and started taping them together. In the image above, you can see that I've outlined one plot, and have started on the second. Each post-it is a scene, each color the story of a different main character.

The only thing is, having laid out two thirds of character #1's story, the length of it makes the entire thing unwieldy:

It's super long. Thankfully when it's rolled up, it does indeed present a nice, compact little package:

More or less. I'm actually pretty happy with the results so far. The point of it is that, once I've laid everything out, I can rearrange the structure of the intertwining plots while still having them color-coded for character. It's already, at this nascent stage, proved effectively. I can already see the plot holes in character #1's story. Superb! It's things like these that make me excited about projects, injecting new life into them even though they are 25 years in the making. :)