Victory is multi-colored

Holy frijoles, Batman, the plot board is finito! Only half of that sentence was real English! None of it was real Spanish! Anyway. Behold, the finished product:

Um, seriously folks? This plot board nearly killed me. Okay, that’s a little dramatic, BUT! Making it was hard. But SOOOO beneficial. I’m actually really excited to tackle the changes tomorrow (I’ve been making little ones because I can’t help myself, but I should really stop and go in order, because otherwise I’ll get confused and…well, I think I’ve established I’m easily confused). I’m taking a break tonight, though, clowns, because I am TIRED. I got up super early this morning to hide Easter eggs around the office for my coworkers and now I’m pretty much beat. But isn’t the plot board pretty? Don’t stare too long, it may hypnotize you, as it’s done several times to me.

To be clear (just in case anybody’s interest in making one of their own), each square is a chapter, and each color Post-It corresponds to a subplot: Protag #1’s arc, Protag #2’s arc, the mystery–the novel’s a mystery, maybe I mentioned that already?–, and the relationships between Protag #1 and Protag #2, and Protag #1 and Protag #3. Protag #3’s arc doesn’t get a Post-It of its own because A. I didn’t have enough Post-It colors and B. she’s dead, so her arc is blended in with her relationship with Protag #3 and the mystery subplot itself. The first square is a prologue, which this book actually doesn’t have (the Post-It in that square is a different color yellow than the one I use throughout the rest of it, and it reads “N/A”) because I plan on using this board again for MB and, as of right now, that novel does have a prologue. God, I can’t wait to use the protagonists’ real names. Once we sell, I can! So cross your fingers for that.

Okay, I’m done.

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Surgery

I worked more on the plot board yesterday night and it made its debut of sorts in my living room/kitchen/dining room when I showed it to my roommate, who was suitably impressed. I was (and remain) hypnotized by the bright colors. One thing I’ve noticed is how the process of assembling the board gets slower and slower as I come in from the edges of the narrative and start getting deep into the meat of it all. Characters start getting bombarded by multiple events and experience several emotions at a time, complicating the story greatly. Also, Part One of the novel is told alternately in the present and a past which also progresses along its own time line; there, it’s the structure that is complicated, which allows the narrative, in contrast, to be a little more straightforward, and it has to be, since there is so much information to impart without completely overwhelming the reader. I’ve just finished adding cues (subtitles labeling the time a scene is occurring and asterisks to separate scenes that take place during the same time period but in a different location or circumstance) to Part One in order to make the flow a lot better and, wouldn’t you know it, in the process I noticed that my time line was off. How embarrassing; I felt like I was caught by a stranger in my underwear. A little piece of advice from the trenches for flashbacks: KNOW YOUR TIME LINE. Especially if you’re easily confused, like me.

Um, so I started this post to talk about trimming the fat–or, as some people call it, killing your darlings (which was, apparently, the title of a film…the things you learn while Googling). This morning, sort of inexplicably, I started worrying about word count, possibly because now that I’m examining the MS with what are apparently new eyes I can see all the characterization I seem to have left out–and it takes a lot for me to admit this, because I feel like characterization is actually the strongest part of the novel. And I was like, “What do I think I can cut?” And then, sadly, I realized that there was a scene that I was attached to, not for its content necessarily, but because it contains the only alternative title this project has ever had, “The Atomic Weight of Iridium,” which I think has a sort of poetic ring to it. You know how the new untitled X-Files movie has a production name of “Done One”, that obviously won’t be the title when it’s released? That’s kind of what “Iridium” was to this project. Anyway, the whole scene can go. It just doesn’t go anywhere–it explores a relationship that the reader is aware of by now, and I don’t think it necessarily deepens it. I think I kept it for so long because it’s a happy scene, and so many of the scenes in the book are unhappy. So I’m going to cut it. It’s nice, but it contributes nothing. Wah.

I have to say, though, if I wasn’t worried about word count at this juncture I’d probably leave it. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with leaving in a scene you love that doesn’t technically contribute anything to the final product; I mean, there is a reason you wrote it, so it must have some value, but you have to exercise discretion. I was just watching My Big Fat Greek Wedding on Wednesday while waiting for America’s Next Top Model  to come on and we were at the part where Toula and Ian start dating and they show you one date with dialogue and flirtiness and what have you and then they show you a couple of very short scenes set to music that imply that they’ve been on many dates by the time the next longer scene happens, so you get a sense that they’re seeing each other regularly but they don’t have to show you every. single. date. to set up for the next scene. We don’t really have an equivalent in novels. I mean, we can say that time has passed, but that’s telling, not showing. And I’m not the fiercest adherent to the “show, don’t tell” policy–there’s a time and place for each, of course–but I do know that saying, “And then it was three weeks later. We’d been on a couple of dates and we really liked each other” is not the same as showing that to people. So scenes like the one I’m cutting kind of do that in a way for us; they repeat an already established characterization or theme but don’t really add much.

On the other hand, when I have scenes that do deepen characterization (such as character introspection on their background, which I want to add) or advance theme to add, I shouldn’t keep a scene I know isn’t doing much for the narrative but that I secretly have an attachment to. It’s just not practical. But I’ll stick it in my Scraps folder and maybe one day use it as website content or something. Get excited.

Board

I had a chat to my lovely agent today and I think she might’ve been a little worried about me being overwhelmed by the editorial letter (10 pgs…yikes!) that she sent me last week, and to tell the truth I was overwhelmed (as you may have noticed from previous posts), but then I set to doing what I do when I’m overwhelmed: I got organized. And the overwhelmed-ness (word? don’t think so) sort of dissipated, which I knew it would. This is how I am at work, too. I have about a billion and one Excel documents, each with several sheets, all color-coded and categorized within an inch of their lives because that’s how I deal with confusion. So, of course, making a plot board made so much sense for me.

Okay, lesson #1: Poster boards (the science fair kind, the likes of which I last used to make a display for my legendary 7th grade science fair project “How does acid rain affect plants?”, which won 4th place–which is basically bullshit anyway, because all the top five projects, mine included, were great because our parents did most of the work) are expensive in New York. I bought one and a pack of neon Post-Its and I paid about $20, which seems…off to me. Anyway, whatever. You should’ve seen me trying to get that thing home on the subway, though. Hilarity. For some reason I also decided to bring home my new DVD player, which arrived for me at work the day before (I always receive packages at work because I have a teeny, tiny little New York mailbox which fits approximately nothing and they leave packages in the hallway outside our apartment doors, which doesn’t seem very safe to me even though my roommate does it all the time and nothing ever happens to her packages–but I maintain CONSTANT VIGILANCE!! Oh my God, the tangents on this blog are fierce today) but which I had left in the coat closet (apparently I trust my coworkers way more than my neighbors, which makes total sense if you knew my neighbors) overnight for the express reason of…I don’t know, having to drag it home the next day with my giant poster board? That was not smart. Thank God the DVD player box had a handle or else bringing both home would be impossible.

ANYway, so I ignored the board on Tuesday night, but yesterday I left my friend’s apartment directly after America’s Next Top Model and went home to work on it. I assigned a Post-It color (blue, yellow, pink, green, purple) to a subplot and went to work. There are several how-tos on plot boards to be found on the internets: Diana Peterfreund has a whole series of posts on the subject, as do Julie Leto and Rachel Vincent, who plot boards on a white board and not by chapters or scenes. There are also several writers who use the Writers Blocks software to do the same thing electronically, and I have to admit I have toyed with the idea of buying similar software in the past, but to be honest I can’t afford it so it really is a moo point (you know, a cow’s opinion, as Joey Tribiani would say).

For a while I wondered whether or not I should divide the board up into chapters or scenes, and decided that my 300 pg. MS had so many scenes that there was no way I could fit them all onto the board with space for Post-It notes, so I went with chapters, which is working out really well. First, I divided the poster up into squares (I ought to have used a ruler/measuring tape for this, but I couldn’t find one so I just kind of eyeballed it, which makes for uneven squares and I don’t recommend it). There are way too many for my novel (I only have 24 chapters + an epilogue, which I was like, awesome, five squares per line, five lines! But that’s not really how “eyeballing it” worked out), but I figure that’s okay because then I can reuse the board. I even left one square on the board open and labeled it “Prologue” because my next project has a prologue, so I’m thinking ahead. For each chapter (I’ve only finished seven so far, which is why I haven’t posted a picture because I’m sure it’ll look SO MUCH COOLER when it’s complete) I took each different colored Post-It and wrote brief notes about everything that went on in that chapter w/r/t that character arc/mystery/relationship.

I know I probably don’t have to do this, but I’m not using the board so much to make sure that I’m pulling all the threads through–I’m pretty sure that part’s okay. What I really need is an easy reminder of exactly what is in which chapter, since, despite having worked on the novel for six years and also read it so many times my eyes are bleeding, I still forget where some stuff is. This exercise is really making me examine what is in which chapter, so that I can compile a “wish list” per chapter of what I need to add/remove, which will in turn make the edits go easier. At least, that is what I keep telling myself. At this point, writing AUT ceases to be organic–I need to tuck and tighten, and for that I need a game plan, a checklist…I respond well to checklists.

I promise to post a picture in all its colorful glory when it’s finished. I’ve given myself the arbitrary deadline of getting all my edits done by Thursday, April 3. Why? Well, I work better with deadlines, but my agent said, “Whenever you think it’s done,” so I’m going to be my own taskmaster which, isn’t every writer his/her own taskmaster in the end anyway? This’ll be good practice. Also, they’re going to London for the book fair, so if I get it to her before they leave she can read on the plane.

Self-medication

As you might have been able to tell from yesterday’s post, I was sort of in the middle of something. I spent about ten hours, with only small breaks for walks (actually, only one, since I was sort of accosted by a creepy old man who, looking back on it, was making lewd sexual comments to me, cleverly disguised as a mini-treatise on race and gender, and kept trying to follow me home, at which point I announced to my roommate “I’m never leaving this apartment again!” This is a lie, I went to work today) and meals, doing revisions on the MS. I got so sunk in that I was sort of overwhelmed by the amount of work I had to do, and it was making me nervous as the page count started to rise. I still kind of am a little nervous and overwhelmed, although blogging helps, it helps to get out of the house.

You know what else helps? Arrested Development. My brother J.J. gave me all three seasons for Christmas and I hadn’t watched much of it lately, until I read posts on Pajiba (which is calling it one of the best 15 television seasons of the last 20 years) and Stuff White People Like and got the urge to watch. Since Pajiba suggested Season 2, that’s what I popped in, and let me tell you, I really had forgotten JUST how funny the show can be.

For instance:

Gob: I bought a boat…The Seaward.
Michael: You’re not getting a boat.
Gob: [doing rock, paper, scissors] One, two, three.
Michael: You’re not gonna do it…
[does rock]
Gob: Paper covers rock.
Michael: Fine, but rock sinks boat.
Lucille: [entering room] Michael.
Michael: Just a minute, Mom.
[to GOB]
Michael: Get rid of The Seaward.
Lucille: I’ll leave when I’m good and ready.

Ahhhhh!!! You can’t write that shit…Well, I can’t write that shit! It’s so great. And, of course, there’s the perpetually funny: “Not tricks, Michael, illusions. Tricks are what a whore does for money.” Except usually I mess it up and say: “Tricks are for whores,” which makes sense on a whole different level.

In writing news, I think I’m going to go to Staples and get the necessary equipment for a plotting board to help me sort out my editing jam. Thanks go out to Diana Peterfreund, whose tireless how-tos are really very helpful. And colorful, which I always like.