Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Unstuck, Part Two

During lunch today, I sat down and read the first bit of my novel. Or rather, the new first bit of my novel now that I've cut the 5200 words that used to be the first bit. I made a list of the events of what's now Chapter One, and it goes something like this:

1. Scene introducing protagonist (P), main character 2 (MC2) and supporting character 1 (SC1)
2. Scene w/P & MC2, mostly exposition
3. Exposition
4. More expostion
5. Scene introducing main character 3 (MC3)
6. Telling (exposition)
7. More telling about setting
8. SC1, P and main character 3 (MC3)
9. Scene w/P & MC3
10. Scene w/P, MC2 and other characters
11. Telling (exposition)
12. More telling (exposition)
13. Scene w/P, SC1 and main character 4 (MC4)

So, erm, a lot of exposition and a lot of telling. What there should be instead is a lot of dramatized action between P and MC2, then scenes between P and MC3. And the whole thing should have a dramatic arc from the first scene to the final scene. Right now it's not development of story so much as placement of playing pieces.

Since I love outlines and outlining, I have of course made a chart showing what the dramatic arc of this chapter will be when I've rewritten it, that shows character interactions and conflict and rising action and goals versus results. This time tomorrow, or maybe the day after, I'll have a much better chapter that points the reader on the trajectory of the story.


  1. Hey Scott,

    I'm new to your blog (thanks ElanaJ!) so I hope you don't mind me laughing. As a total free spirit (in every definition of the term) I can't imagine outlining to the degree that you do. I bet I could learn a lot from you!

    Good luck with your rewrites. That was probably an excellent exercise ... reading through and writing down how the chapter broke down. Great way to see where we slip into telling and such. Think I might have to try that ... IF I can tame my wayward mind long enough to give it a go.

    Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. Ali: Thanks for commenting! Outlining isn't fun, but it's a discipline that I appreciate more and more all the time. I'm trying to learn how to write freely and be disciplined simultaneously. Will it work? No idea!

    But you're right: it was eye-opening to see my story in list form. Immediately apparent were all the holes and structural problems. But the solutions were also immediately apparent, so I'm glad I did this.

  3. Hey, I thought outlining was fun for you!

  4. Where the hell is the prologue?

  5. Scott, I do this will all my chapters and it helps a lot - and makes everything go slower and more frustrating. Haha. But it makes the story better, and that's what matters. In the end I have to remember that the most important part of every scene is the tension. If that's there, you reader will sit through some exposition, some telling, etc. Because even though those things SOUND bad, sometimes they're necessary. :D

    Good luck! I'm really looking forward to reading the book. I'm antsy!

  6. Davin: I don't like outlining; I like having outlined.


    Prologue (events five pages before climax)
    Exposition (setting)
    Exposition (weather)
    Backstory (protagonist)
    Exposition (buttonholes and hatbands)
    Backstory (supporting character)
    Exposition (salad forks, brief history)
    Dialogue (oil and vinegar vs. dressing)

    Justus: You second Rick's outage? What?

    Michelle: Exposition and telling aren't bad, as long as they're part of the forward motion of the story. What I had was a sort of infodump rather than movement. I did some further outlining and note-making last night, and I really think that the amount of work I've got ahead of me is less than I had first supposed. Which is good. And, more importantly, the book will be better.