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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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…)

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New Sneak Peak

Posted on June 13th 2015 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category: News, Writing

Long time no blog post, huh?

I would love to say that this is because I have been hard at work on the follow up to Saving the Dragon, but I’m not one for lying to my readers or myself. The truth is that life, as it has a way of doing, has been interfering with me on a fairly consistent basis since Saving’s release in April. I am happy to report that I have moved back to my hometown. There is little regret in moving out of Cleveland proper except perhaps that my commute is at least 10x longer

Now on the eve of (finally) moving my refrigerator into the new place I finally have the time to sit down and revisit the beginnings of the sequel to Saving the Dragon. The tentative title is “Courting the Dragon”, although I think leaving it as such may be a bit of a misnomer.

Please note that this preview is raw. It is unedited and subject to heavy revision as work on the story progresses. Please do not inundate me with remarks on grammar or spelling. Again, this is undedited.

I also 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 😉

Now, without further ado, here is the “sneak peak” of Courting that this blog post title promises.


 

“Father?”

Penelope stood in front of her father’s desk, hands clasped in front of her skirts, watching the emotions play across King Hulbyrd’s face as he reread the letter from the Academy of Mages. The letter, written by the Dean of Students, was a commendation for superior academic performance. Several more letters rested on the king’s desk. One was from the Head Librarian, thanking Penelope for her volunteer time. Another was also from the Dean of Students asking Penelope if she would mind taking a teaching role the following semester at the grammar school the Academy ran for mages’ children and orphans. Penelope had brought the letters with her during her visit home to Saleria during the summer recess. Despite attending the Academy for a over a year Penelope was still leery of her father’s change of heart and felt the need to continually prove herself. It had taken using magic to trick an evil witch into jumping off a cliff to convince her father that she belonged at the Academy in the first place.

Finally, Hulbyrd sat the letter down. He removed his reading glasses and sat them atop the folded parchment. Penelope fidgeted with the ring on her right hand as she watched her father pinch the bridge of his nose, an action she usually associated with his frustration with her. She twisted the ring. Like her attendance at the Academy the ring was an elephant in the room. Salarath, a dragon-wizard  usually known as Stellan or Stefan to most of the humans around him, had given it to her several months ago. It was actually a replacement for the original ring, which she’d lost in the evil-witch-cliff-jumping incident. The ring had very special properties. Like its predecessor, the ring could be used to travel between the wizard’s study in Steelbourgh Castle and Penelope’s room in the Salerian palace. Unlike the original ring this one could also be used to reach her room at the Academy of Mages.

“It seems you’ve become quite accomplished.”

“Yes, Father.”

“And you won’t considering staying home permanently?” (more…)

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