And now back to work . . .

Krissie just left, Toni should be home in New Orleans by today, and I’m back in bed, which isn’t as slothful as it sounds because that’s actually a healthier way to write than sitting at a desk all day. Okay, and because I need more sleep, but still we worked hard this weekend, so no guilt. It’s amazing how much we accomplished, how many blanks we filled in, how much ground we covered, especially when you consider how much time we spent shopping and eating. So here’s what worked for us this weekend:

POST-DISCOVERY SCHEDULING: This was the time to meet. If we’d gotten together any sooner, it would have been a waste of time and money, but because we’d socked away six weeks of intensive discussion, brainstorming and discovery, running into walls and doing detours, solving problems and discovering our characters, we had a massive amount of data that needed organized, and you can do that quickly when you’re in a small living room with four white boards, four dogs, and a third party who says, “Uh huh,” a lot. We also knew the big things we had to get down–the turning points, the laws of magic, the antagonist’s escalation, etc.–so we could work for four hours, go out for lunch, come back and say, “What’s next?” without missing a beat. The prep for this kind of meeting is crucial.

CHANGE OF SCENERY: I think going somewhere else to talk about something new is just smart. Krissie and Toni did that while I stayed home, but just having them here is a change of scenery for me. The context in which we do things changes those things, so changing the context meant looking at things in a different light. The best example of this happened when we were talking about the geography of Monday Street, how it’s the lowest part of the city, the land that it’s on sloping steeply down to the water so that the street behind it is a full story higher. We’re trying to visualize it as we walked down to the lake at the bottom of the property here (which is NOT EASY so another breakthrough was “forget reclaiming the stone steps and just put in all new wood steps”), and I’m thinking how Monday Street is a semi circle off the main street because the coastline is uneven there, and then we get back to the house, Toni goes back to the hotel, and it hits me: I live on a semi-circle off a main road because the shoreline of the lake I live on is uneven, and my house is way at the top of the hill. So I e-mailed Toni and said, “You know the church yard on Monday Street? We just hiked it.” I could have written that whole book without realizing I’d modeled Monday Street on the geography I was sitting on if we hadn’t walked down to the lake. (Big props to Toni for risking her life and limb to do that.)

WHITE BOARDS: I went to Home Depot and bought four 2’x4′ white board pieces for ten bucks each. They’re not framed or fancy, but they meant we could think out loud while organizing thoughts and keep an ongoing record we could both see.

(Here’s a typical but by no means only possible white board outline:
Plot Outline for White Board)

It’s that “both see” that’s key. We can keep notes in our computers and both look at the screen, but the white boards meant that we were looked at them and each other, not staring into another damn glowing rectangle. It also meant that we could each see how the other worked, which is key because Toni and I have never written together. And it gave Krissie a chance to see the world and what we’ve done with it so she’s familiar with it when she wants to write in it later. Which brings us to . . .

KRISSIE: Having somebody who knew the original world, who had a familiarity with the world as it’s developed, and who plans to write in it in the future meant that we had a sounding board who was already invested. She became a touchstone–“Does this make sense?” “Is this any good?” “Is this confusing?”–and that was a huge help because this world is complex as all hell. I’m okay with that–hey, worlds are complex–but I wasn’t okay with “confusing.” At one point, I said to her, “Is there too much stuff in this book? Because there’s a lot of stuff in here,” and she said, “No, it’s just rich.” One of the many lovely things about Krissie is that she tells me the truth, so if she says something is okay, I stop worrying about it.

So those are my conclusions: Do the prep, change the scenery and walk the terrain, use white boards, and invite Krissie.

Also, make bunnies, but that’s a different post.

ETA: A different plot outline.

17 thoughts on “And now back to work . . .

  1. Walk the terrain is a most useful insight from this series. Did it, and revealing plot and character points just came pouring out. Thank you.

    1. Thank Bob Mayer. He’s the one who made me do it and convinced me it was valuable. I’d rather think the terrain, but it is just not the same.

  2. Yep. I’m a lover of walk the terrain, but sometimes it can become expensive. For me its all about the way a place feels, smells, the colors, the light. I do wish I could travel to the location for every book. Anyway, so glad you all had a great time and got some fine tuning done. I’m seriously thinking I don’t do enough prep.

    1. I’ve been trying to “google map” the terrain, due to prohibitive cost of walking it (it’s in Boston and I’m in Indiana and I haven’t been to Boston in a few years and even then it was brief). But it’s frustratingly insufficient! I’m thinking that my next vacation is going to have to be “Walk the Terrain” themed…

  3. I have been carving more time now in my life for all these wonderful prep tools I’m learning here. I’ve been ‘walking the terrain’ beginning this past Sunday. I can’t physically be in my story’s town, but -like you, Robena,- I’ve been remembering the scents, colors, and feelings of when I was there. Thankfully, I did spend a lot of time there, and the love of it ensures those senses remain with me.

    I’m having so much fun with my stories now. They have never been a chore for me, but all these fresh tips have really enhanced my longing and my ability to write. I’m truly having a great time.

  4. (-: Now I’ve got “Stand in the Place that You Live” going around in my head.

    A fantasy world has got to have a base somewhere, and it’s fantastic that yours is in the backyard!

  5. Whiteboards are the best. Well, and progress. But I love me some whiteboards.

    Unrelated, my teenage daughter and I were talking about…something you posted, maybe about stuff on writing, maybe book references, can’t remember, and she said, “Wait, how old is Jennifer Crusie?” And I said, “I think maybe a few years older than Granny.” (Note: we are a family of women who had our kids young.) “REALLY??” “How old did you think she was?” “Forever in her twenties.”

  6. I’m so glad it was such a productive and enjoyable weekend for you all. And that you were able to get back up from the lake. It sounds like a steep, daunting, bushwhacking-required path.

  7. Sounds like a fun and productive time. Er…I don’t suppose you’d like to share a printable version of that whiteboard outline? There might be some chocolate in it for ya…

  8. That lake path is beautiful, and the view down at the lake is stunning. As is the view from the back porch. The cottage is so incredibly wonderful, I can see why Jenny immediately said YES even though it needed work.

    The walk down isn’t really bad at all… it is steep, and right now, a little treacherous in places because a couple of the stones have sloped, but Jenny’s got a great plan, and I’m so impressed with her handiwork of all she’s already done. It’s going to be stunning when she’s finished with everything.

    We had a phenomenal weekend. I’m so jazzed.

  9. I was in Ann Arbor for a friend’s book release party recently and picked up a book called What We See When We Read. by Peter Mendelsund, a book cover designer. He contends that no matter how much authors describe settings, readers set the novels they read in places from their own lives. Thinking maybe authors do that, too!

    1. Readers definitely rewrite stories to make them fit what they need. I think a lot of the time, a book that fails for a reader fails because there’s just not enough room for him or her to inhabit that fantasy. If you think about the books you would have loved except that the dog died, and there was no way you could fix it so that the dog lives, that book fails for you. Whereas if the book is set in Ohio and you want it in New Jersey, that’s an easy cognitive fix.

      1. This is why errors in the text are so jarring for me. Typos; someone speaking to a character named Bob, who suddenly morphs to being referred to as Steve for a sentence or two; characters who know things that only happen later in the book. All of these things wake me up from the story.

  10. This sounds wonderful. Glad you all had such a fun (and productive) time!

    I’m having difficulty “walking my terrain” right now as I’m writing a sci-fi romance. My characters are colonizing a new planet and can’t decide what the terrain looks like. 🙁


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