Monday, November 30, 2009

Working Toward the Second Act

So last Thursday night I finished writing Act One of "Cocke & Bull." The next step is to write Chapter Eleven, which is essentially a trip across a couple of colonies and down to Georgia. I have to think of some event that will occur during this chapter to avoid it's being nothing but a travelogue. But that's a pretty trivial challenge.

The larger challenge remains writing Act Two. This second act should be around 40,000 words long, have its own story arc and 3-act structure, and neatly connect the first and third acts of the novel's overall shape. When I was writing my original outline for Act Two, I wasn't at all clear about what was going to happen in it, though I knew how the act would end. I'm one of those writers who starts with the idea of the ending and works backwards from there to the beginning to sort out plot and character evolution.

So I've been sort of brooding over Act Two since Thursday, letting it stew and seeing if I'd have any ideas. I knew I wanted the middle of the book to be a sort of novella that bridges the outer acts, and I knew I wanted the middle to have a three-part structure of its own, but I didn't know what that structure would be. I was missing two things: an idea of what the essential conflicts of Act Two were (and who they were between), and an event that would trigger the climactic chapter of this act. Last night I sorted all of this out.

One of the writerly conceits of this book--the structural narrative devices I'm using, that is--is the idea of repetition. Images and events keep getting repeated by different characters in different settings with different meanings. It occured to me that I could have a character do something 2/3 of the way through Act Two that was done 2/3 of the way through Act One, and it would have heightened effect in the second act, and the consequences of this action would be similar in Act Two to what they were in Act One, but much more dramatic for the main characters. Also, repetition of this action will make the irony implicit in the plot more apparent. Further, everything about this action and its consequences is true to character for all the players and readers will see that it is inevitable. So it's all Win, which makes me happy.

I still have to sort out how to make this happen across nine longish chapters, how to keep the tension growing across 40K words without boring or exhausting the reader, and how to avoid getting to the climax of Act Two without making the act either a series of episodes that do nothing but pad the length of the novel, or a bunch of digressions about the nature of man and that sort of thing. In other words, things have to keep happening that have to do with the essential conflicts of the book (both the outer conflicts of Act One and Act Three, and the inner conflict played out in Act Two). There must be, as John Gardner said too often, profluence.

My plan (though I should really write Chapter 11 first) is to sit me down at lunch today and expand my outline, and find out what necessary events and crises are called for by the book.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Chapter Ten? I call that "written"

So last night, from about 9:30-midnight, I sat and wrote Chapter Ten, the climax of Act One of my current novel. I'm all aquiver over it; I think it's pretty good.

wordcount? 21,993!

Chapter Eleven ("South") is a sort of transitional chapter that sets up Act Two but also gives the reader a bit of breathing room after Chapter Ten, which was very tense. Oh, body count ended up being only four corpses. I have saved one for later, because I'm thrifty like that. It's good to leave survivors, too. They make trouble down the line.

Anyway, I think Chapter Eleven will go quickly enough and is likely to be fairly short. The nine chapters which make up Act Two are all to be fairly long and before I really dive into the prose I want to sit and reflect for a bit and make some more detailed notes. This book is the finest thing I've ever written, and I'm pleased pleased pleased with it so far.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Quick Update Pre-Bed: Chapter Nine Done


Next, Chapter Ten, or Hope Unbound, in which our protagonist does regrettable things that will change the course of his life, such as it is. The promised corpses will be delivered in this chapter. I can't decide if there will be four or five. At least four, though. Hang on for a rough ride.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Chapter Eight? That's Done.

Yay, me. The chapter I began at lunch today was continued during a commute this evening and finished about half an hour ago after dinner and a late-night trip to the grocery store. Color me productive and pleased enough with what I've written. Some of the action might need a bit of work, but I think most of the chapter is good. Better than I thought it would be. Captain Penner turns out to be a fine character. I have named two of the grenadiers Claypoole and Diggins. Things might not turn out so well for those two; we'll see.

Wordcountometer=18,088. That's not bad. I'm up to about 23% of my 80K first draft goal. In a few chapters I'll stop worrying about wordcount entirely, though it's one of the few quantitative measures of progress we writers have, isn't it?

Anyway, on to Chapter Nine, "Hope Bound." Threats, promises and decisions will be made. A failure to communicate will result in the action of Chapter Ten, to be titled "Hope Unbound." The first act is nearly concluded. I'm all aquiver, I am.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Sick Day, Chapter Seven With a Fever

So today I was not feeling up to going to the office so I called in and slept late, rising at some point mid-morning to make a pot of coffee, sit in the kitchen and scribble out the entirety of Chapter Seven ("Hope"). In my somewhat challenged and possibly still-fevered state, I think it's pretty good, this lot of words what I've written. We learn what sort of woman Hope is, we learn more about Cocke and Bull's relationship, we learn some important stuff about Bull through a fabulous bit of backstory that is, yes, a flashback in present tense because I'm a rule-breaker and stuff, and we move the plot forward with the introduction of a certain Captain Penner (have I stolen that name from you too, Piedmont Writer?), of His Majesty the King's Grenadiers.

Wordcountometer: 16,736!

Next up, Chapter Eight, predictably enough titled His Majesty's Grenadiers. There will be some English grenadiers (oh, go look it up why don't you) and a surprising turn of events courtesy of Hope, and some commentary about Anglicans versus Catholics. Nobody was killed in Chapter Seven, and I don't think anyone will be killed in Chapter Eight. Huh. Things might be slowing down, though the tension seems to be ratcheting up. But I promise a couple of corpses in Chapter Ten, whenever I get there. Anyway, it's progress.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Chapter Six is History

So there's another one written. It was a short chapter, but I'm happy with it. Wordcountometer=14,530. At this point, before diving into Chapter Seven ("Hope"), I will pause to write out one or two paragraphs outlining each of the next four chapters, whose plot developments will bring Act One to a conclusion. My goal is to reach 20K words by the end of the first act. Act Two will be about 40,000 words in length, or so I intend, which means that each of the nine chapters in that act will have to be at least 4,000 words long. All of this math might seem a bit artificial and anti-art, but I like the idea that I know what the general shape of the story is going to be, and I like that I'm following my own current ideas about beginnings, middles and endings and I have some sort of benchmarks to gauge my progress and keep me more-or-less within the guidelines I have set for myself. All of this can change during revisions, of course, and likely many things will. But for now, it's nice to move boldly and with confidence. Anyway, I hope to get my next chunk of outline written tomorrow, and it would be cool to have chapters seven and maybe eight written by the end of the week. I'm excited about chapter eight, because I get to make up and introduce a new character who I have as yet not even named. If I haven't said it before, I do write primarily to amuse myself, and I'm having a very good time with this draft.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Chapter Five Finished

Wordcountometer: 13,291! People killed in Chapter Five=none. Which is nice. A relief, really. The first couple of pages of Chapter Five contain, I think, some of the finest writing I have ever done and I'm very pleased with them.

Chapter Six ("A Sudden Storm") will include an argument in a church, the promised sudden storm and the appearance of a woman whose name is Hope.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Chapter Five Half Done

Yesterday I wrote the first half of chapter five, wherein Mr. Cocke visits the Widow Abigail. Today I hope to write the second half of this chapter, wherein Mr. Bull visits Mr. Clockshott. I am attempting to do something clever in this chapter. We'll see how it turns out. Actually, as I was writing this post, I had a fabulous idea about what happens next. So that's cool. Word count at this point? Maybe 13k. I haven't been so good about typing up my daily scribbles into the Master Document(tm). Hopefully I'll get to that tonight. Anyway, things progress nicely.

I remain pleased that I have an outline. It's a pretty skimpy sort of thing, just one page listing all the chapter titles with a phrase or two at each chapter telling me what I think should happen. I also have been writing out a paragraph description for each upcoming chapter so I have the opportunity to think about what the point of each chapter is so I don't get lost in the writing. That comes in handy, especially in situations like last night when I was working on a scene and one of the characters showed no interest in going where I wanted them to go, plotwise. I had to convince them, which made things interesting.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Chapter Four Finished

So there's that done, then. And about time, too. Wordcountometer: 10,578! Breaking the 10K mark is a nice accomplishment. I think I'm making excellent progress.

Next up, Chapter Five, entitled "The Widow Abigail." Parallel seduction scenes ensue. Also, a lot of cash might exchange hands; we'll see how I feel about that when I get there. What larks!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Chapter Four Started

Yeah, that's right. I had a very long commute home last night, and plenty of time to write, so I did. I got the first scene of this chapter written, and a start on the next scene. No one, as yet, has been hanged, nor has Mr. Clockshott made his appearance. Wordcountometer: ~9400.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Chapter Three Finished

Just saying. Wordcountometer: 8581!

Next up, Chapter Four, "A Hanging." To include, yes, a hanging and also possibly a man with the improbable last name of Clockshott. We'll see.

Monday, November 2, 2009


I'd just like to say that I spent the first day of November not writing. Instead, Mighty Reader and I climbed up and down ladders in epic battle with the gutters on our house. I installed some flashing. She cleaned. I got up on the roof and nailed some loose siding back into place. There was a break for a trip to the farmers' market, coffee and cupcakes and a brief stop at the hardware store. Later, we made nachos and watched a couple episodes of BTVS, Season 2. I am not doing NaNoWriMo, is where I'm going with this. I'll continue to push along with the current novel at my regular pace, which means I'll probably have a first draft done by spring. But good luck to everyone who's driving themselves mad over the next 29 days.

Edit to add: wordcountometer says 7358! Not brilliant, but it's progress.