I’m in the process of writing Chapter 29 right now. In my outline, there are 31 chapters, but I’m looking at where I am and where I need to get and suspect that I will wind up inserting at least one more chapter. There needs to be an additional scene, definitely, but it might have to unpack to a full chapter.
Even though I’m an outliner, and get most of the structure problems solved through the outline, it’s still only a rough guide. I make discoveries and expand and contract parts of it in the same way I do when I’m writing short form.
For me, it’s a lot like sculpting. I start with a frame and then build up from there. I don’t start refining things until I have the whole structure roughed in and then I can start smoothing things out. But then, I tend to work in clay where one can be both an additive and a subtractive sculptor. I imagine my lens would be different if I worked in marble.
Boy, it’s amazing how much faster things go when I finally cut the subplot that wasn’t working. I’d really been bogging down and having trouble figuring out what the story was stalling on. Thanks to my intrepid alpha readers* I spotted the problem, excised it and things seem to be clipping along.
Although I’m expecting to slow down again when I get into the last two chapters, just because it’s the end.
[Edited to add on July 2 8:45pm PST: I made a significant plot change after posting. I recommend going to back to Chapter 21 start reading at the line, “”Good.” He couldn’t get out of there fast enough.”]
Today’s phrase, which doesn’t exist in 1907, is “whispering campaign.” Annoying, because it’s such a good phrase but it doesn’t start in use until 1920.
Also of interest is “rinky-dink” which I tried to use in Chapter 21. It does exist, but means something totally different from today’s usage. I was double-checking and the only uses I found from the early 1900s were like:
“The few who are interested always get the “rinky dink,” as was said at the Council meeting this week. And if the rest of the people don’t like being “rinky dinked” they have themselves to blame.”
“Say! me pals figured out dat I was croisy, or had got de Salvation Army fever, and I gets de rinky–dink shake from de gang for fair,” was the exact way in which Jack explained the disesteem into which he had fallen.
Baffled, I turned to the OED where I learned that at this point, rinky-dink means “to con.” While I was describing a medicine show as a “rinky-dink affair” and describing it as a con was not inaccurate, it wasn’t what I wanted the sentence to be doing.
I used the OED’s historical thesaurus to see what synonyms were available in 1907 and the one that was closest, in period use was… Honky-tonk.
No, that’s really not going to work in this context. I eventually settled on “a little tumble-over affair.” Language… I have such a love-hate relationship with it.
This one was interesting to work on because it’s got a scene on a train. I suspect that when I go back and reread everything later that I’ll wind up adding a lot more sensory details to the train scene. As I was writing it, I sort of knew that I didn’t have enough of the rocking motion.
But what it’s really missing are the smells and the tactile sense of dust. In 1907, train cars were still segregated and the colored car was usually right behind the baggage car which meant close to the engine. With trains being run with coal-fired steam, the sources I read talk about the smell of smoke and the constant dust. In the summer, the cars were always either too hot because having the windows open meant that smoke from the engine would come in.
The cars were also often in front of the white smoking car. Sometimes, it was separated from the smoking car by only a half-wall partition.
Someone from the period might be able to infer all of this, but for a modern reader, I’m going to have to go back to insert it. For my first pass draft though, I don’t fret too much as long as I get the shape to the scene right. I tend to do broader strokes. I’ll adjust the sensory details later as part of controlling pacing and my characters emotional reactions to their environment.
Sorry there was such a big gap between the last chapter and this one. I had to do some back and forth to fix a structure thing and that always takes longer. Plus there was some traveling to build those pesky gods.
Anyway, I’ve just posted Chapter 18 for those of you reading along. And, um, I’m going to go ahead and apologize for what I’ve just done to you. You’ll know why when you read it. Sorry.
Standing behind the curtain, Walker’s heart thudded loud enough that he could hear it over the audience. They were still clapping for a magician who had performed an escape act in olio. Walker and Miss Parker had been doing this act for the past week and that didn’t seem to change a darn thing for him. Tonight they were headliners. His knees burned like he had a fever and his stomach felt like he had a bellyfull of live fish.
Walker shifted the padded canister in his hands, gripping it tightly to keep it from floating upward. Inside it was enameled, but he’d wrapped the exterior in padding and black velvet to make it quiet and hard to see.
I’ve just posted the draft of Chapter 17 for those of you reading along with The Transfigured Lady.
Mr. Jernigan offered her a hand down from the trolley, but Cora handed him one of the bottle’s of Big Sam’s Magic Elixir instead. She hopped down with the other bottle tucked under her arm. “What are we going to do with these?”
“Don’t ask me. You were the one who accepted them.”
“He seemed so happy.” She held the bottle of amber liquid out at arm’s length. “What do you think is really in it?”
Mr. Jernigan pulled the cork out and sniffed. He coughed, turning red in the face. Tears streamed from his eyes as he hastily shoved the cork back into place. “Alcohol. Camphor and probably capsicum pepper.” He wiped the back of his sleeve across his eyes. “I’m beginning to doubt that he was thanking us…”
You were right. I did need another vaudeville scene but going back and adding that meant that I needed to massage the chapters on either side of the new scene. This is slower than just writing a new chapter, but it’s faster than trying to figure out where to put it after I finished the whole darn book. This is why I like having you read along.
There were also changes before that and some after that to make the new scene fit. So let me tell you what the retcon for this one is:
Cora is using a different stage name beginning with Chapter 13. She starts going by Clara Fontaine at The Lyric
Chapter 15 now has conversation about planning their new act.
Besides that, there are other minor changes in tone, but nothing that will affect plot. Thanks for reading along.
Here’s today’s teaser.
Cora stood in the wings, heart pounding as she stood next to Mr. Jernigan and watched the act in front of them. Another wave of laughter went up as the youngest Keaton got knocked flat on his face by his father. The child seemed to be made of rubber. She had seen him knocked down, thrown, and tripped with a broomstick. The child’s deadpan expression seemed to provoke the audience to ever increasing bouts of laughter. The family was slaying the audience.
The boy tumbled head over heels and Cora’s sense of doom grew. If the manager thought she could follow this, he was out of his mind. There should be a spectacle after this, like a gymnastics act or a contortionist. Cora’s act was going to be too quiet, even with Mr. Jernigan’s additions.
Writing continues apace. I just posted Chapter 14 of The Transfigured Lady draft. Here’s today’s teaser.
Lightning flashed, illuminating the front of the Lyric Theatre. Walker hopped out of the cab in front of Miss Parker and held the umbrella up to try to shield her passing powder from the worst of the cold October rain. A gust of wind pushed needles of water down past the collar of his overcoat. He put a hand on the flap of his pulverstry bag, to make sure it was sealed. His umbrella turned inside out with a snap just as Miss Fairchild set foot on the ground.
For those reading along, I’ve posted the draft of Chapter 13 of The Transfigured Lady. I have realized that I am spending a disproportionate amount of time double-checking hotels and streets for this novel. Someday, I want to be able to afford a research assistant.
For those reading along with the draft of The Transfigured Lady, I’ve posted Chapter 9.
The front entrance of the Rutherford had never looked so attractive to Cora. For the past week they had been doing full rehearsals of the show and over the last few days had been adding the effects. Mr. Jernigan had wrought magic, no matter how insistent he was that pulverstry was science. Only four more days until opening but Mr. Tate was driving them as though they opened tomorrow. What Cora wanted most was a long, hot bath.
“Good evening, Miss Fairchild.” Mr. Longstaff gave a funny half-bow from the front desk. “I have a message for you.”
“Oh?” She almost never had messages. Cora angled her path away from the stairs and went to take the slip of paper from him. With luck, they had changed her call time to later in the day so she could sleep in.
Let me explain why I like having people read along. The other day I got a comments from two of my readers which both pointed to the same problem. On the surface the two comments appeared to be talking about different things, but reading them made me realize that I had a structural flaw. Not a huge one, but one it made sense to fix now instead of waiting until I was finished with the novel.
I have the whole thing outlined so I know where I’m going with it. In this case, I’d planned on presenting information that the reader needed a couple of chapters later. By moving it forward, I addressed the two seemingly unrelated comments and also fixed another structural gap that no one had flagged yet.
Now, I am careful about what I stop and fix. I’m also specific with my readers that I don’t want sentence-level word-smithing at this stage. The thing I’m interested in is if the story is working. So the things I’ll fix are structure issues like timing, motivation, info-dumping or conflict.
I only go back to fix it at this stage if I read the comment and think, “My God! This is completely right! Blind! I was blind!” Usually when that happens, I also have a general idea about how to fix it. Please note that having the idea and being able to execute said idea are not the same thing.
In this case, however, it involved moving half a scene from Chapter 8 to Chapter 6 and fleshing it out. This made Chapter 6 an ungodly 6500 words, which is Too Long for my tastes, so I split two of the scenes out of that and declared them Chapter 7. That’s bumped all the following chapters up a number but, overall, the structure feels much better.
I had a good day yesterday and today and finished Chapter 9 so posted Chapter 7. It’s really a reward for myself for finishing a chapter, besides the benefit of being able to go back and weave things into the story if I need to. Today’s bracket involves the color of the carpet in the Vanderbilt Library. No, I shouldn’t worry about it but my brother is at Vanderbilt so I figure he can just swing by and ask.
I also found this great photo of a geology exhibit in the Science Hall. I just don’t know when it was taken. More specifically, if there was a t-rex in the room in 1907 I am totally working that in. Hot-diggety.
Here’s a teaser of Chapter 7, with bracket.
One of the things Walker had missed, about more than anything, was the quiet hum of students working in the Vanderbilt library. Folks weren’t talking so much as just thinking real hard. It wasn’t quite the same since the fire of ’05, but the remodeling had provided a dense burgundy [check] carpet which absorbed footfalls, leaving only the whisper of pages turning. He was just glad the Science Hall had been largely untouched.
Walker had found a table tucked back in the corner behind the geology books. A doorway had been walled off after the fire, leaving a hall that went nowhere. Someone had shoved a table in there to make a study space, but since it had no windows, it wound up being too dark and stifling for anyone to want to use.
I’ll tell you, as productive as I’m being while I’m here, I suspect I should visit Hawaii more often.
I’ve just posted the draft of Chapter 4 of The Transfigured Lady, for those of you reading along. The lovely thing that has happened this past week, while working on the novel, was that I got to make a trip to the North Portland Library and spend the day in the Black Resources Center perusing the Fisk University Collection.
Actually, the part that was really great was talking with Patricia Welch, the manager of the library. I had called the library earlier in the week to ask if there were a reference librarian that I could meet with. I’d been doing research on my own for the past year, but was running into some trouble as I started to get more specific in the things that I needed to know. To my surprise, Ms. Welch agreed to be the librarian helping me with this project.
Not only did she spend a chunk of time just asking me about the story, she also found books which were exactly what I needed.
Writers: Reference librarians are your best friends.
In part because they know their material and they are trained in how to search for other items. Don’t expect them to do your homework for you, but when you need help finding that one key piece of information, they are the first place to turn. I know it seems wacky, but the internet does not hold all knowledge.
I’m lucky in that Multnomah County has an excellent collection overall and an enthusiastic staff.
(Tor Books — August 21, 2018) Continuing the grand sweep of alternate history laid out in The Calculating Stars, The Fated Sky looks forward to 1961, when mankind is well-established on the moon and looking forward to its next step: journeying to, and eventually colonizing, Mars. Of course, the noted Lady Astronaut Elma York would like to go, […]