I Threw Away My Outline

Posted on February 5th 2018 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category: News, Writing

I finally fixed Courting the Dragon’s plot problem.

I threw away the plot.

Alright, the main plot points are still the same. The blurb that’s already posted on this website is still wholly and perfectly valid. But I threw out that stupid outline that’s been suffocating me from day one.

Didn’t I just say that outlining is important for sequels like two or three blog posts ago? Yes, yes I did. And I stick by that statement. But that only works if you wrote a good outline in the first place. I’m here to tell you, this one was garbage.

If you follow me on Twitter you’re probably aware that I took a machete to my more-than-half-finished draft a while back and I’ve been building it back up. Most of what I axed at the time was related the to the villain I hated oh-so-much and the utterly failed attempt at using him as a pseudo love interest. That didn’t work out for all kinds of reasons, primarily because Penelope wasn’t having it (I don’t blame her) and I just couldn’t make the guy likable.

But that still left me with a heap of things I didn’t like, and a whole big section that feels like a Regency Romance novel that makes me want to beat my head against a wall. It isn’t anything against the genre. I’ve read quite a few that I enjoy (a bunch of things by Johanna Lindsey come to mind). The problem is that writing in that way made my female characters feel very vapid to me, and it’s really the antithesis of the personas I built for Penny and Tiffany in Saving the Dragon. I have no idea how other authors manage to write strong female characters in such a setting. More power to them, honestly. If you have any tips to leave in the comments I’m all ears.

So, for the time being, that section I’m unhappy with is still technically part of the draft. I expect it to bleed red in the first round of hard revisions. Like, big red X’s and all new scenes scribbled on the back and in the margins. There’s a plot point in there I somehow need to keep, and I have a few ideas about how to do it dancing in my head. BUT. That is a problem for future me. I’ve promised myself no more big cuts before the last line of the first(ish) draft has been written.

So, what did I do about the plot?

I went back to who my characters are. 

Penelope isn’t someone who waits around for someone else to come up with a solution. To quote her in one of her new scenes: “Have you ever known me to sit in a tower and wait for rescue?” And yet, I had her doing exactly that for a substantial part of the very early draft. Some of the things I had her doing were so appalling out of character that it made it impossible to do anything with her.

Don’t even get me started on what Salarath was up to. Let me just say, sulking is not a good look on him.

Getting reacquainted with my heroes put a few things in sharp perspective for me, and made doing a few more surgical removals (prior to the no-more-big-cuts-vow) a simple matter. I graphed on some new scenes to replace what I’d sliced away, and suddenly some things fell into place nicely, because Penny and her dragon were acting like themselves again. Whew.

From that point, I decided to take a road somewhere between the complete and utter pantsing that I did for Saving and the tightly constrained outline I initially did for Courting. My characters were at point A, but I knew they needed to get to B, C, and D before I could even think about writing the finale. So, I noted B, C, and D, and then just let the characters take me to them.

Do I have a few crap transition scenes that are totally going under the knife in first revisions later this month? Abso-frickin’-lutely.

Am I a thousand times happier than I was with this draft a month ago? You have no idea.

When I finished my first round of big tear-outs, I’d taken the draft down from over 50k to ~43k words. I’m now coming up on 70k again (probably more by the time this post actually goes live). At this rate, Courting may very well end up being almost twice as long as its predecessor. I ain’t mad about that. I don’t think everyone who has been looking forward to this book will be either.

I think it may be time to accept that I’m not a traditional outliner. I do need to take notes like nobody’s business because I will forget the neat little plot twists I had in store. Or I’ll forget some detail about my magic system I had intended to work in. Or whatever. I had all kinds of things planned for book three, but I didn’t write them down, so now I’m having to try and remember what they were. I’ve now started my notes file for book three now precisely because of this. But it’s just that, notes. It seems that a more free-form approach of just random bullet points in a Google doc works best for me.

The truth is, with only one completed long-form work under my belt, I’m still learning what exactly my process is. But I think that the moral of this story is you are NOT married to an outline (unless of course, you signed a contract stating that you are and you owe it to some big publishing house, then I’m both sorry for you and extremely jealous). If your outline isn’t working for you, throw it away. Start over. Get back in touch with who your characters are and the story they are trying to tell. Then write a new outline if you’re someone who needs the structure. Or don’t if you’re really a total pantser. But don’t stick with an outline you’ve come hate.

General Progress Update

I’m now very confident about getting the first(ish) draft of Courting finished this month. I had hoped to be done around the last weekend of January, but doing the editing on my first video book review turned out to be waaaay more time consuming than I anticipated, partly because I was trying to learn new software. To complicate things further, I’m now dealing with some hand and wrist issues that I’m hoping aren’t a big red flag for worse things yet to come. So that is slowing down my progress a bit from the rapid movement I was making before. Still, being well into revisions by the middle of February remains realistic, despite my hand and wrist pain. Fortunately, I revise on a printed draft, so that will give my left hand a nice break.

With that confidence about finishing the draft, I am now also ready to say that I am targeting a summer 2018 release for Courting the Dragon. I do have an exact date in mind, but I’m not quite ready to share it since these pain issues are cropping up and *cramping* my style (get it? get it?). As I get into revisions and get the second(ish) draft out to beta readers it will become more obvious whether or not that date is feasible. Start looking for an official launch announcement around March.


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Writing my sequel was also hard

Posted on January 21st 2018 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category: Writing

I recently read a blog post from a friend in my NaNoWriMo group, Franc Ingram. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Franc is the author of the author of the Euphoria Duology. The second book, Kings of Euphoria, just went on sale this week. The blog post in question is titled “Writing a Sequel is Hard” and I’m here to tell you that truer words were never written. You may want to read her post first and then come back and read this one.

In any case, Franc’s post got me thinking about all the reasons why Courting the Dragon still isn’t on sale. Of course, there are the obvious things. My divorce certainly put large parts of my life on hold, my writing included. If you want all the nitty-gritty on that, check out the blog post I did about it a while back. Then there’s the fact that I basically disappeared into my day-job for six months and only recently came back up for air. I don’t recommend 10-hr days, especially not when you have a choice about it. Fortunately, I came to my senses and now go in and come home at reasonable hours.

But the simple truth is, like Franc says, writing a sequel is hard.

My problems and Franc’s problems aren’t the same, but that not really all that different, either.

Problem #1: I went into this thinking it would be easy because I already built the world.

No, it’s not easy because I already built the world. I’ve painted myself into all kinds of not-so-fun corners because I didn’t think my magic system through beyond the first book. Granted, it’s going to result in some interesting (I hope) magical solutions in book two, but… ugh. Until you’ve had to experience the frustration that is existing canon that fans expect you to adhere to, you don’t really understand how restrictive it can feel. Hopefully, in a few months, I’ll be able to write you a nice blog post explaining how it’s a great challenge that helps you grow as a writer. We’ll see.

Problem #2: I went into this thinking it would be easy because I’m using repeat characters.

No, no, and no. This goes back to the whole canon thing. Or really, being consistent. While characters should always grow and evolve, unless they’ve had a complete soul-overhaul, they’re still the same person at the end of the day. My characters keep wanting to be whiney shells of themselves, and not more mature versions of the people they were in book one. If you know you’re going to be writing a multi-book series with a character, considering thinking through their character arc all the way through to the end before you even start book one, chapter one.


And not in a good way. I despised this character so much, the only suitable ending for him was being stabbed to death with a butter-knife halfway through. That would make for a very short book, obviously, which is why I had to do something about it. Part of what’s kept Courting the Dragon from hitting online sellers near you, is that I had to rework huge chunks of the mostly finished manuscript. Why? Because I had to figure out how to work with the villain and not against him. Have I recaptured the fun it was to write the villain in my first story? No, not at all. Have I made the villain into the character the story needed him to be? I think so. You guys will have to tell me later this year.

Tips for a better sequel writing experience? 

Obviously, everyone is different, and your sequel writing experience may be vastly different from mine, or from Franc’s. Honestly, I hope it is. I hope you have a phenomenal time, and your plot and characters behave, and the world is sun and roses. Because I wouldn’t wish my current situation on my own worst enemy. But let’s be real, it’s probably going to suck in some different but equally terrible way. Let me know in the comments. In the meantime, here’s a list of 5 things that I am going to adhere to for my next sequel (book 3) and any future series:

  1. If you know you’re doing a series before you start, plot all the way through the series at least a little bit.
  2. Always think ahead. As you’re doing your pre-writing (and actual writing) for book one, give yourself a chance to think about how your decisions are going to impact those future books.
  3. Update your characters sheets/sketches/whatever as you go. Keep track of all the little evolutionary details of their character, even if it seems stupid.
  4. Keep all that worldbuilding/notetaking/etc that you’re now going to do in a place where you can find it easily. Everything from Saving is so scattered it makes keeping up with canon for Courting very frustrating.
  5. The second you hate where a character/plot device/etc is going, STOP. Don’t throw it away, but set it aside and try writing in a different direction. See which you like better. Don’t let it get to 50k where the sheer amount of things you have to change now is overwhelming. You are not married to that thing you don’t like. Period.





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Courting the Dragon – Additional Sneak Peak

Posted on February 27th 2016 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category: Sneak Peeks, Writing

As I’m working on the editing and revising I’m rediscovering scenes that just amuse me. So I’ve decided that I’ll share a few of them here (provided they don’t contain major spoilers). This scene is for the readers who enjoyed the character of Guy in Saving the Dragon just as much as I did. 🙂

As always, I wish to remind everyone that is my work and it belongs to me. No one else. You do not have the write to copy, use, abuse, or pass off my work as your own. You may of course share the link back to this blog post as many times as you like.

“You’re doing the right thing.”

Salarath’s hand dropped to his lap. He arched his neck to look around the back of his chair to the wall hiding the door to his horde. A small, metal dragon’s head stuck out of the middle of the map that appeared to hang from the illusionary wall. The head belonged to the horde’s guardian, who had randomly taken to calling himself Guy after encountering Penelope. Guy was, to put it in the simplest terms, a consciousness brought about through a complex series of enchant-ments. The spell forms that maintained and shaped the energy that allowed Guy to exist were one of Salarath’s greatest masterpieces. It had taken him three rather sleepless years to get it right. He might have reconsidered it if he’d known what a busybody Guy would become.

“And what makes you say that?”

“Well, you have been moping about for weeks,” the little dragon head said. “It’s clear you don’t really want to be out of your relationship with the little thief.”

“For the ten thousandth time, Penelope is not, was not, nor will ever be a thief. I specifically asked her to retrieve one of those books. It just slipped my mind to warn her about you.”

Guy managed to look hurt despite the fact that his dragonian features didn’t much lend themselves to human expression.

“It was nothing against you. I was a tad distracted, being locked up in my own dungeon and all.”

“Well, you could make it up to me.”

Salarath eyed the dragon head suspiciously.


“You could give me a holiday.”

Whatever the wizard had expected Guy to say, that wasn’t it. His horde guardian wanted a holiday? Did magical constructs take holidays? How did Guy even know what a holiday was?

“I’ll still guard the horde,” Guy said quickly, afraid that Salarath’s stunned silence was actually concern for his riches. “I’d just like to get out a little. Maybe see a bird.”

“What is it with you and birds?”

“Well, I’ve seen their baths, it’s only right to want to see one of the creatures. Your lady told me they have wings.” Guy paused a moment. “What are wings, Your Grace?”

“They’re what birds have instead of arms so they can fly. That’s not the point! How am I supposed to give you a holiday? You’re part of the wall, for gods’ sakes!”

“How should I know? You’re the wizard.”

Salarath jerked himself around in his chair and slumped into the overstuffed back. Both hands scrubbed at the stubble growing on his cheeks as he pondered Guy’s request. If he let the guardian loose – if he could even manage it, that is – what sort of havoc would he wreck upon Steelbourgh in Salarath’s absence? The Ancestors only knew. He will-ingly turned his mind away from the horror of that prospect and on to the technical problem at hand. If he recreated the spell forms that maintained Guy’s consciousness on something mobile, could he safely move Guy from his place in the horde’s door to this other “body”? Or would he, by the act of moving the energy from the horde to the new vessel effectively kill Guy as he knew him and create a new consciousness? Furthermore, did he have a moral obligation to tell Guy that was a possibility? Did Guy qualify as a living creature? The implications of the whole situation were staggering.

“Should have put more thought into this before I created him,” the wizard muttered.

“What’s that?”

“Oh, nothing. Just trying to decide if you qualify as a living being or not.”

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Mostly on Schedule

Posted on February 27th 2016 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category: News, Writing

So, my blogging has been abhorrently lacking lately. Don’t worry though, I haven’t been slacking too-too much. Courting is still slated for release this summer, even if it kills me.

The problem I found though, as I was preparing for my NaNo group’s editing event today, is that my manuscript is… how shall I say it? Woefully disorganized. It currently lives in at least three different files, in various states of completion. The scenes are all jumbled round to the point where putting them in order is vaguely akin to doing a jigsaw puzzle. We’re supposed to bring our first 10,000 words to the event. I’m bringing my best guess at what my first 10,000 words are supposed to be.

This is okay though. Sure, the revision process that I’m currently starting (yeah, yeah, I know it’s the end of February, I should be finishing the first pass, not starting it) is going to be hell on Earth. That’s okay. Everything will be alright. In fact, the book will probably end up that much better for it, because I’m having to seriously re-evaluate and consider every chunk of text that I wrote (mainly because I have no freaking clue where each one is supposed to go). This forces me to re-examine my plot-line, my pacing, and how each of these scenes advances my goals. Should be fun, right?

And so, dear readers, I promise that Courting will be done by its summer release (actual date still pending). Hopefully by the end of next month I’ll be able to say definitively when that date will be. In the meantime, here’s a draft of the cover!

The Cover for Courting the Dragon


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Gotta Love November

Posted on November 4th 2015 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category: Writing

What is it about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)? How is it that I can languish over 9000 words of a rough draft  for almost a year, yet in the space of two days in November I can magically crank out over 11,000?

Nothing changed. I don’t have any more or any less time to work on it. The plot didn’t suddenly become better or more interesting. My villain is still the same jerk I want to stab with a steak knife. And yet. And yet somehow the magic of the story I had thought long dead at the keyboard is once again alive and well.

There is something wonderful and invigorating about NaNoWriMo. Don’t ask me what it is, but it’s definitely there. Heck, I’m even writing blog posts again, and I’ve lost track of how long I’ve been on hiatus from that!

It could be the accountability of NaNoWriMo, both to yourself and to others. There’s just something about that little number on the top bar staring balefully at you that makes you want to make it bigger. There’s something immensely satisfying about watching the bars on the daily chart get taller. At least, I find it to be so. Then there’s your fellow writers. Sharing their counts with you and asking you about yours. Pushing you, encouraging you, making you insanely jealous when they reach 50k on the first day (*cough* Rose *cough*).

And it’s not just the word counts. There’s something powerful about the shared experience of doing something as crazy as writing 50,000 words in a month. Which I suppose really doesn’t seem like all that much at first. But when you think about all the other crap most of us have to do in a month. Work, school, karate, Thanksgiving, children, husbands, wives, pets, knitting club, watching the Browns loose… There’s a million other things for each of us that need doing just in the month of November alone.

Yet somehow we all find the time to band together at Panera or the library, or wherever else and write. And share. People from all sorts of different backgrounds, beliefs, politics, classes, races, genders (although I will say it seems the ladies do outnumber the men), and who knows what else are all tied together by this shared experience in November. And that’s pretty freakin’ cool if you ask me.

So as NaNoWriMo wears on I will continue to fight the good fight. Maybe Courting will get done this month. It’s certainly much further along than it was in October!

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