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.

 

No Comments
- ♥ -

Courting the Dragon – New Excerpt

Posted on January 30th 2018 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category: Sneak Peeks

For those of you who have been waiting patiently (or impatiently in some cases), here is a new sneak-peek excerpt from book two, Courting the Dragon.

As a reminder, anything posted is a draft, and therefore could be modified in the final published version. Please remember that this is my work, and I worked hard on it. Do not copy without expressed, written permission.

__________

The ballroom was a masterpiece of marble and granite. The vaulted ceilings, two stories high, glowed with reflected candlelight and reverberated with music and laughter. Between the enormous columns that held the ceiling aloft, tall windows and doors of expensive glass ringed three sides of the expansive room. Most of the doors, which led out into a private section of the palace grounds’ extensive gardens, were thrown wide open to relieve the oppressive heat of so many bodies.

Penelope had tried to find a quiet section of the garden to hole up in, thinking the outdoors would likely be deserted when all the excitement was inside. Most of the ladies wanted to be on the dance floor under the golden lights where their fancy dresses would be on display. Most of the male dandies weren’t much better, she admitted to herself ruefully.

Alas, that was not the case. The garden was doing an amazingly brisk business this evening as couples slipped off to find some space to get more intimately acquainted. After stumbling upon her third partially dressed pair of the evening, Penelope made her way back to the ballroom. Better to suffer the presence of her suitors than to feel the urge to scoop her own eyeballs out with a soup spoon. Or so she thought. She hadn’t taken three steps through the doors before two young men were asking her to dance. She declined demurely, but they followed her anyhow. She’d spent the better part of the last hour trying to rid herself of the hangers-on but had succeeded only in gaining a third.

A fourth voice interrupted the young lordlings’ chatter.

“May I have this dance, Your Highness?”

All three of her suitors rounded on the interloper with expressions of indignation, but Penelope smiled gratefully at him and held out her hand.

“I would be delighted, Your Grace.”

Salarath, in his Stellan persona, swept Penelope onto the dance floor and safely away from the stunned gazes of her admirers.

“Thank you,” she murmured as soon as they were out of earshot. The music was a pleasant dance of moderate speed that allowed for discussion and didn’t require Salarath to hold her too close. Still, a shiver of pleasure ran up her spine when his warm hand rested on her back.

“You looked like you could use a little help.”

“They are troublesome,” she admitted. “Since they know they have Father’s blessing they’re quite bold.”

“Who can blame them?” He paused to spin her around, continuing once she was back within his embrace. “It’s not every day they have a chance at the most beautiful woman in the kingdom.”

“Careful,” Penelope warned, a little smile on her lips. “It wouldn’t do for the Wizard Lord Stellan, Duke of Steelbourgh to be caught making lecherous advances on his goddaughter.”

Salarath snorted. “Perhaps I should have come as Stefan.”

“Father really would have turned you out.”

Warning: This does contain some minor spoilers. If you don’t want any part of the story spoiled, do not read any further.

(more…)

No Comments
- ♥ -

Hot Tea & Tall Tales – 1
That Time I Broke Time

Posted on January 28th 2018 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category: Reviews

Introduction

This week’s review is of the That Time I Broke Time, a debut novel by indie author Sarah Emily Lelonek. It is listed as YA and SciFi/Fantasy. Currently, it is enrolled in Kindle Select. Enrollment in this program means that it is only available for purchase through Amazon’s Kindle Store, or through Kindle Unlimited. I do not have a Kindle Unlimited subscription, so I paid the reasonable purchase price of $3.99 (at the time of this posting).

View the video review, here.

Disclaimers & Disclosures

Full disclosure, I am personally acquainted with the author. We are in both in the AkroNaNoWrimo group for National Novel Writing Month. This does not influence my opinions on the book, and I am receiving no compensation for this review, except maybe some free press (like a blog link, or a Facebook post. Twitter is nice 😉 )

About the Author

Sarah Emily Lelonek is a new author from Akron, Ohio. She holds a B.A. in English from Kent State University and M.Ed. in Higher Education Administration from Tiffin University. She has a yorkie named Joey.

You can find her on

Book Details

That Time that I Broke Time is estimated at 165 pages by Amazon. The typical reading time, again according to Amazon, is 3 hours and 18 minutes. I did not clock myself as I did not read the book all in one sitting, but I am a quick reader and this estimate seems fair. At the time of this writing, the book has one 5 star Amazon review.

While the book is currently only available as a Kindle ebook, Sarah says that she plans to release it as a paperback this coming April. I will attempt to remember to update this post with the additional availability. It is currently only available in English, and I am not aware of any plans for translation at this time.

A sequel is planned for later this year. I will attempt to remember to update this post when that becomes available. Also, I will do a review.

Ratings

Design  4 teaspoons of tea leaves

First, I will say that cover really fits the target genres. It’s got all the things I would look for as a reader in SciFi/Fantasy cover, particularly with a bent towards the YA portion of the genre. Color. Action. It makes me want to read the book.

One thing about the cover bugs me though, and I find that this is a common occurrence for me not only with indie books but with many, many traditionally published novels. The picture of the main character on the cover does not (to my mind) line up with the written description. Early in the story, Ellie describes her hair as “long, chestnut brown hair” and later as a “dark mane.” The girl on the cover is blond! Blond!

Okay, so that’s really just a pet peeve of mine, and it doesn’t detract from the fact that the cover is well done and eye-catching.

Four teaspoons.

The “interior,” if you will, is pretty much what you would expect from an ebook that has been put together well. The chapters are clearly delineated with pleasant looking headers, and scene shifts are well indicated. I’ve definitely come across ebooks where the latter was not the case, and it gave me a form of mental whiplash.

No teaspoons lost there.

 

Premise 5 teaspoons of tea leaves

The blurb reads:

The future doesn’t freak out Ellie Evensten. Being a product of the 2100s, Ellie is accustomed to hovers, holos, and even time travel. Ellie knows all about time travel from her adopted parents, but they didn’t mention how the time travel gene mutates with every generation of new travelers.

Now at age eighteen, Ellie is starting college with her best friend and boyfriend. Life is almost perfect. That is until she finds herself dealing with a whole new reality: Ellie is actually her parent’s birth child. She can not only time travel, but also break and bend time on her own volition.

Ellie’s life does not become easier with her new abilities. When Ellie’s parents are abducted, she not only faces an evil organization set on controlling time travelers worldwide, but she must also learn to cope with her own emotions before she breaks time for good.

There’s a whole lot of interesting stuff to dig into here, but let’s get this out of the way first: the book follows a trope. Well, a blend of tropes.

The protagonist discovers (bonus points for on a significant birthday) that she isn’t who she thought due to some secret about their family or the circumstances of her birth. Oh, and now she has awesome powers, too!

This has been done. And done. And done.

“Yer a wizard, ‘Arry!”

Here’s just a few other examples, besides J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter:

  • Rand Al’Thor in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time Series
  • Shea Ohmsford in Terry Brooks’ Sword of Shannara
  • Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa, and Anakin Skywalker (the whole dang family, really) in George Lucus’ Star Wars (the movies or the novelizations, take your pick).
  • Sookie Stackhouse in Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse novels aka True Blood for you HBO fans.
  • Percy Jackson in Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series
  • Diana Bishop in Deborah Harkness’ A Discovery of Witches
  • Richard Cypher in Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series.

I mean, I could go on for days. I didn’t even list all of the ones my friend helped me come up with when my brain got stuck.

But the reason it’s been done so many times is that. Heck, I even have an unfinished manuscript with the same trope! It’s a pretty good launchpad for all sorts of crazy adventures. Every story I just mentioned (aside from my unfinished one) is well beloved for totally different reasons, vastly different plots (although some do follow similar archetypes in other respects), in part because they all put their own twist on the trope.

In this case, the twist is that the protagonist is a carrier for time-traveling genetics that she had believed she could never have possessed, due to her parents faking her adoption. Points for originality, because I’ve read a lot of fantasy and sci-fi, and I can’t remember coming across that combination before. It’s an intriguing premise. The science behind the TT gene itself is glossed over (yay, suspension of disbelief!). And honestly, I’m glad the author chose not to just throw a bunch of physics babble in there and bullshit the reader through it. The main character didn’t know how it worked, admitted as much and we moved on.

But, while it’s not the hard and heavy footnote-laden steamroller that a Michael Crichton novel would be, That Time I Broke Time does it’s best to explore some of the big questions outside the protagonist’s own turmoil. In particular, the story tackles a big one: what would the governmental and societal reaction to such a power be?

So, the premise, in my opinion, is great. I give it five teaspoons. But now that leads us into the execution, and that is where many a grand premise goes to die. Bwahaha!

Okay, just kidding.

Characters 3 teaspoons of tea leaves

Main Protagonist – Eleanor “Ellie” Evensten 

At the beginning of the story, Ellie is… how do I put this? I find her just annoying and self-absorbed, but in that I-just-turned-18 sort of way. The good thing about this is that it gave Ellie plenty of room to grow as a person from the first sentence to the last. What Ellie has going for her is a good character arc. And because we are in her head the whole time, we really get to see the changes in her as the plot moves forward. She shows progress as a character through the story as she begins to look outside of herself.

Main Antagonist – Kyle 

Kyle starts out the story as Ellie’s boyfriend. Honestly, there doesn’t seem to be much to his character besides the fact that he’s a dick. I don’t even like having to say that word on camera, but it’s pretty much the best summary of his persona there is. However, Kyle doesn’t spend too much time on screen, and I find his flatness forgivable, especially since the real villain of the story is much more complex.

Ellie’s Family

I’m just going to lump all the Evenstens together here. Ellie’s family is supportive almost to the point of being irritating. I don’t think they actually reprimand her for a single thing the entire story, even when they probably should have. They’re very loving, doting parents, but again, they seem a bit flat as characters despite the absolutely freaking massive secret they’ve been keeping from their daughter. Grandpa, too. He seems to lack some depth for the badass he seems to be. I’m hoping for some more development of Gramps in the next installment.

Ellie’s Friends

The best friend (Nat), the childhood best friend (Taylor), and the new probably future bestie (Ying) to round it out. The friends where just interesting enough not to be complete paper-cutouts for me. I feel like you could replace a couple of them with totally different people and I don’t think it would have affected the story much, if at all. Moving on.

All in all, Ellie’s strong character arc is what saved this portion for me. Everybody else just felt a bit flat for one reason or another. Still, it feels like there’s some great potential in some of the side characters. I really hope they get a chance to shine in the future. Three teaspoons.

Worldbuilding 4 teaspoons of tea leaves

I teetered between 3 and 4 teaspoons for this section.

In any kind of fiction, but particularly speculative fiction, worldbuilding is paramount. You have to make enough of the world feel real that the reader can suspend their disbelief for the really crazy parts. That Time I Broke Time seems (most of the time) to find a nice balance between overt in-your-face acts of worldbuilding (hover cars, because future) and subtly (like the evolution in teen/college-age alcohol/drug culture). There was obviously a lot of thought put into several key aspects of the world in which Ellie lives. The society and governmental structures that have formed in this world are well thought-out and make sense (at least to me) given the technologies described. But then there are some things that just seem like they were popped in as either being throw-away, expected because of the future-world premise, or plot crutches, which we’ll talk about in the next section.

I think the thing that put the worldbuilding over the top for me and into the solid 4 teaspoons was the International Time Traveling Organization (ITTO) and its genuine nefariousness. It’s all the the terrible things that can go wrong with a governmental body with too much power and not enough oversight. The true evil in the story, the ITTO as a natural result of the TT gene is what makes this story for me. It answers the big “so what?” about time travel. We have humans with the super-ish ability to go back in time? So what? We have to regulate them! But where do we draw the lines? I’m so excited to see where this goes and how it develops in the sequel.

Plot 3 teaspoons of tea leaves

This is another section where I teetered on what score to give. I’m going with the 3 teaspoons, and here’s why.

On one hand, the story keeps moving. It’s well paced. It’s slower where it needs to be and faster where it needs to be. The action is good. There’s a good level of anticipation and suspense.

And yet.

Some things in this book were just too dang easy. The “modern” medicine really just felt like a crutch. There’s an entire scene based around it that I felt could have just been completely skipped. Like, completely, and nothing would have been lost from the story.

Some of the help the receive is also just, so convenient. I would have liked to see more trial and error, more struggle for the characters.

Writing 5 teaspoons of tea leaves

First, let me start by saying that Sarah is a talented writer. Her writing has a clear voice and presence. She does well with evoking all five of the senses. By the end of the first digital page, I had a strong sense that I was going to enjoy this book on pure style alone. And she didn’t disappoint.

I did notice a handful of editing mistakes, but honestly, they were minor enough that I didn’t even care. If I had not written down reminders and highlighted them all on my Kindle I probably would have forgotten all about them. I’ve seen far more egregious mistakes in professionally published books that went through only heaven knows how many rounds of editing, copying editing, and proofing. Heck, my own debut novel probably has worse editing mistakes. I’m too much of a coward to look at this point because there are so many print copies already out in the world.

Final Thoughts – Overall Rating 4 teaspoons of tea leaves

 

I liked this book. I’ll be honest, I originally didn’t think that I would. That Time I Broke Time was a fun read. It’s not overly lengthy, and can be enjoyed of an evening if you’re a quick reader. It’s well written and well put-together. Although it could have used some fortification in some areas, the plot was interesting, and the premise was stellar.

A note on the genre labeling, to those who are wondering if this book is appropriate for their teenagers. While this book is targeted to a YA audience (according to Amazon), if I were personally asked to label this book, I would call it New Adult (NA). Sarah does not shy away from the profanity. There were a few f-bombs within the first five or so chapters. The first chapters show some questionable behavior (drinking, substance use) before getting into some rather adult stuff.  If your child is less than 15 I would consider pre-screening the book first.


If you are an indie or small press author and are interested in being featured in my reviews, please contact me at reviews@sara-cleveland.com with a subject line of “Hot Tea & Tall Tales Inquiry.” The subject line helps with inbox rules so I see your email faster.

 

No Comments
- ♥ -

BIG ANNOUNCEMENT
Saving the Dragon is coming to Audiobook!

Posted on January 22nd 2018 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category: Audiobook, News, Sneak Peeks

This post is a follow-up to the announcement made on Saturday.

This spring, Saving the Dragon will be available as an audiobook through Audible, Amazon and iTunes. The exact release date is still forthcoming, but it should be sometime in April. Sooo… be sure to watch the blog, Facebook, YouTube or Twitter for updates! Stayed tuned for release details, pricing, and maaaybe even a give-away 😉

Saving the Dragon Audiobook Cover

Saving the Dragon Audiobook Cover

As I explained in my initial announcement video, this is a first for me, and the narrator, Hilary Dickinson. I’m so pleased that she was able to bring the characters to life for this exciting release. I hope you all will enjoy her performance as much as I have. This project absolutely would not be happening without her, so I wanted to give everyone a proper introduction.

Hilary currently resides in Georgia with her two cats, one dog, and six very fat goldfish. “Each is special in their own way (even the fat goldfish),” she says, “and bring me tremendous happiness.” She spends her days working for the Veteran and Military Crisis Hotline. In her spare time, she is an avid gamer, reader and all-around sci-fi/fantasy junkie. She decided to try audiobook narrating on the insistence of a friend, who clearly has excellent acoustic tastes.

Listen to a sneak peek here (but please bear in mind that this is just an early sample, and not from the finished audiobook)

Here is the video announcement to YouTube on Saturday.

 

 

No Comments
- ♥ -