Posted in Short Stories

Tread Carefully…

Tread carefully, when you walk upon Our Land, my boy. Stay your step and take that second thought. We will wait here in the air long after you cease to breathe it, and our roots are nourished by your blood and bone. You have so much of both, my boy, do you really wish to give it to us?

Tread carefully, when you approach the Stones. Your people think of stones with graves, and that is for good reason. You are filled up with resources, and we can use every inch of you for something. You bring nothing of value save yourself. Do you mean to offer it up to us?

Tread carefully, my boy, and close the Gate up fast. The Guardsmen are sleeping and many of us have but waited long for this moment. We do not sleep, we do not dream, we do not hope. We only wait and watch and when a weakness is found, we strike it. Others should not have to suffer for the foolishness which is all your own, do you not think? Close the gate behind you, if tread beyond it you must…

Tread carefully, your people say that grass is made of blades, and you should listen to your elders, boy. Our fruits are laced with poisons sweet, our branches spiked with thorns. Your feet will bleed and your tears will only replenish our thirst, and you cannot afford to make us stronger. You will only weaken as we grow, and for everything we feed you, we will take back a thousand-fold. How much can you lose?

Tread carefully, for see how the storm-clouds gather above? The Huntsman rides this night, and his hounds have gone too long without feasting. The wind carries with it the sound of his Horn, and the cheers of his Riders break the night. Maybe you shall be fast and clever, able to evade them long enough they will take you for their one of their own, but you are so slow, so ill-used to these games, my boy, it is far more likely still that you shall provide them their sport in other ways. How do you think you shall taste to them when they catch you?

Tread carefully, when you think to follow the Hidden Path. It was hidden for a reason and wiser folk than your foolish young spirit learned the lessons to avoid it. Its twists and turns are beyond your mind’s capacity to hold firm, and you will not enjoy losing your grip on the world’s truths… nor on your own self. It is such a pretty, pretty mind, my boy, but it will be prettier still when it shatters into so many brilliant fragments…

Tread carefully, when you think to enter the Wilds and seek your fortune therein. You are a Tamer at heart, and the Wilds have no interest in buying what you sell. Tame things live lesser lives, shorter ones, Wild lives race along a razor’s edge and are all the more certain for it. You think to explore, but you wish to take with you more than memories and pictures and all things come at a cost. We do not give you of ourselves without consuming all that we can from you first…

Tread carefully, when you feel the Watcher’s gaze. It is not your imagination, for you cannot think of anything so terrible as Them shall be when they catch you. No, you cannot outrun them, nor outwit them. They were tearing apart those such as you long before even the language you think in. They will have their rightful prey when it wanders so willing into their den…

Tread carefully, you were not invited here. You were not wanted, and you were not sought out. You brought yourself, and that is an offering to the hungry. You are softer than you think, and know less than you ought. You are a candle trying to match itself to a forest fire.

It is not a contest.

Won’t you turn back, my boy, before you tread further? Before you become Ours, for ill or for worse…


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Posted in Short Stories

Over the Hills and Far Away…

When the fiddlers play their tunes you may sometimes hear,
Very softly chiming in, magically clear,
Magically high and sweet, the tiny crystal notes
Of fairy voices bubbling free from tiny fairy throats.

When the birds at break of day chant their morning prayers,
Or on sunny afternoons pipe ecstatic airs,
Comes an added rush of sound to the silver din—
Songs of fairy troubadours gaily joining in.

When athwart the drowsy fields summer twilight falls,
Through the tranquil air there float elfin madrigals
And in wild November nights, on the winds astride,
Fairy hosts go rushing by, singing as they ride.

Every dream that mortals dream, sleeping or awake,
Every lovely fragile hope—these the fairies take,
Delicately fashion them and give them back again
In tender, limpid melodies that charm the hearts of men.

Fairy Music, by Rose Fyleman, 1919

You wanted something different. Something new. Anything was better than this world, you thought, embittered by your own small problems and nebulous so-called larger issues which now seem so small in hindsight. And you had wanted an adventure of your own, to see if magic truly existed in the world, after all.

You danced at the standing stones, strayed from the paths in the woods, accepted the deal at the crossroads.

You were so happy to find Them at last. You were so eager, so excited…

Besides, nothing which sang so sweetly, which laughed so merrily, could be so very bad. They were so kind to welcome you, so eager to talk to you, as eager as you were to talk to Them. With moonlight skin and silver eyes, They were so wonderful to look at, so compelling to watch as They danced and danced, and you were welcomed to dance with Them in your turn…

Salt and silver, bread and milk, do not give them your name, do not take their deals, do not listen to their songs, do not eat their food, do not listen to their pretty, pretty lies…

You had heard the warnings of your elders, and you remember still their words, although their names have long since faded. Or perhaps they were taken from you? So many things have been taken from you by now, and it is pointless to try to count and trace them all. Time is a thief in its own right, but at least the soft fading away of long-ago memories is painless and natural. Nothing else about your life has been natural is so very long…

Ah, but you were so foolish back then…

But you see… You had so wanted to see another world, wanted magic and legends and something more than the dull grind of a callous world. Different would be better, and nothing could be worse, you had thought.

You have long-since learned that you were wrong. The mouse learns that the cheese in the trap is no better than food outside of it too, much good as the lesson does you both, now that you have learned it.

They liked you at first, you were different to Them. New. Your tongue was one They were unused to and you sang Them songs They had not heard time beyond telling. You showed Them the dances from your own childhood, odd hopping movements, and complicated gestures in the air. They laughed, and you laughed with Them then. They asked and asked and asked for the things which you knew back then, and you gave it all up to Them freely, asking little and less in return from Them. It did not occur to you to bargain, to hold anything in return, to keep anything in reserve should you have need of it later.

You were so foolish back then… So very foolish…

Perhaps you would have enjoyed those days of wonder, of light and sparkle and laughter, but even back then you could see – pushed aside and into the shadows, forgotten for a while in the face of something new – the eyes of those who had come before you. Could see your own future staring back from the corners of the room and the shadows they daren’t creep out from.

Faded beings, empty eyes and grasping hands, mouths slack with hunger or tight with pain, once human and now… not. But still too human to remain unmauled, even once they had been stripped of their colour, their spark and life. What remains of them is uncanny and stilted, but far worse is the sense that they are now … missing pieces. You wonder how they might have come to bargain away anything which you can sense, human as you are, but you just as quickly cast the thought aside. Best not to think about it. They looked at you with envy, aye, but they looked at you with pity also. The new, bright, hopeful auditioner, a new favourite… for a short while. Never for long.

They are like children, you think sometimes, though the words hold only the last remaining dregs of their remembered meaning. You’re not sure, if you try to think about it, if you really know what children are, what they look like, if you yourself were ever such a thing. But still you keep saying such phrases to yourself, trying to remember thoughts from a time when you knew they were your own. Sometimes They play a game where they slot new thought after strange phrase into your mind to see how long it takes for you to realise. Sometimes They take things away until you reach for something and find it is no longer there. Once the game is up and the laughter has ended, sometimes They give you the missing pieces back.

Sometimes.

If They feel you’ve earned it.

They are like children, easily distracted, easily charmed and no object permanence at all. Quick to discard a toy once it ceases to entertain Them, and quicker to forget and move onto the next shiny new thing to wander across Their vision…

Except there they are nothing like children at all. They never truly forget about their toys, after all. If they did, perhaps you could hide. But you can’t. No matter how far you push yourself into the shadows, no matter how small you ty to make yourself appear, They come to find you quickly enough.

They took and took and took from you, everything you could think to give, poking and prodding to remind you that there was surely always something more to feed to Their endless curiosity, and you gave it all up with open hands, freely at first and then more and more fearful. You do not even wish to imagine what will happen should you disappoint them. Your fears whisper to you and you determinedly close you ears to them. Your hands tremble as you hold out yet another part of yourself – some small detail, some new thought or memory or secret you had held within yourself for so long – to be gobbled up, sucked dry and you feel some inner core of yourself start to shrivel with the constant plundering by greedy ears and mouths and nothing new to feed it with. You will think of something new tomorrow. You must.

Eventually, the inevitable. You search within yourself for yet more to feed to Their hunger and find that there is nothing left that is new. And you realise that your fearful thoughts are only the beginning. Now comes the true price of your foolishness…

Your voice begins to crack, to dry up, your mind begins to empty. They do not wish to hear the thoughts which They put there for you. They want more from inside you. You have nothing left to offer, and now the real test begins. Your songs become stale to The, the melodies faltering, the verses hesitating, the notes unsure. You have sung this song since Before, surely you cannot forget it now? When they wait to hear it? But no matter how you stretch your mind, it finds only half what is needed and even that you are unsure of.

Your stories dull and wandering; you do not remember the endings anymore, cannot always keep the threads straight in your mind. You think at first that the suggestions They call out to you – to the sea, he goes to the sea! No, to the hills, you said to the hills! Ah, but he has wings, so he must fly! – are to aid you, that They have taken some pity upon you at last, mocking though Their pity only ever is. But you begin to realise that you have told the beginning of the same story seven times over and gotten no further than the first of the hero’s tasks, cannot remember now what the task was, nor why they were attempting it, and the silver bells of laughter around you echo so loudly in your ears that you cannot hear yourself think long enough to find and pick up the shivering threads.

You look up, lost and beseeching, but the silver queen stares straight back at you from her frozen throne, her silver eyes which pierce you through like spear-tips, uncaring as you bleed beneath your wounds, and you wonder why you ever thought that she was kind.

“I will have my story, child. Begin again.”

And the air that you breathe cuts into your lungs with icicles but you gasp for it anyway. Speaking with no air in your chest hurts. You bow your head, find your tongue again and begin once more, as you were bidden. You cannot rest until you reach the ending, after all.

You think you may be taller now than you once were. Perhaps. Your hair is certainly longer, but maybe you are only remembering a different style to wear it in. You have become more and more like them and they have hundreds of their own. They do not need you, pale imitation of their own beauty that you are. You are no longer exotic, and far from perfect, and so you are simply… defective. A malformed creature in their eyes. You wonder if you look like your own people, from Before, but you have no way to know and you doubt it all the same.

You are no longer the focus of the evening’s attention, certainly. You think you sigh in relief, but perhaps it is regret also. You miss the chance to dance with Them, and you still pine for Them to smile upon you and laugh, for the days when Their hands were soft and welcoming to you, not tipped with claws and greedy to pluck ever more from your depths. You wish so much to escape from Them, but you also wish you could crawl up and curl at Their feet, sleep in peace again and be loved by Them.

Surely They loved you once? You were so sure that They did…

Ah… But you were so sure of so many things, and you were wrong… so very wrong…

Besides there is always something new out there to be found and collected, something different. There are new children come to Court, bright-eyed and giggling with excitement. They can’t believe that all of this is quite real yet, are sure that it is all some fantastic dream, which they do not ever want to wake up from. There is little enough chance that they can, so perhaps they will be happy for a while.

You pity them a little, but you hope too that they are full of interest for everyone. You are sure that they will have plenty of new songs and stories to share, perhaps even a new dance to teach Them. They like to learn something new, They always do. Things move on so fast, do they not? You have grown, no longer shining and innocent and new. There is nothing left to corrupt, nothing left to shock or bedazzle. You have seen Their tricks one too many times too.

You have not yet lost all use though. You are never sure whether to be glad of it or not. You think it cannot be worse, to be finally cast entirely aside, but you remember you used to think nothing could be worse than your life Before, and now you know better.

They find other ways to take their entertainment from you. Ways you were expecting and ways you weren’t. They change the colours in your hair, your eyes, your skin, changed the shape of your chin, the tilt and form of your ears, until you look into mirrors and even you don’t remember what you once looked like anymore. Your voice is different every day now, and sometimes it is no voice at all but the whine of a frightened beast or the shriek of a trapped bird. They like to rake you with pain and see if They can make you scream in the tongue of every creature They know, comparing the different tones and timbers of growl or whimper, pretending to pet you as They discuss which voice They should ‘gift’ you with next. You are not asked what you would wish for. You do not expect to be.

They took your eyes from you once, and you don’t know how long you spent stumbling without them, feeling your way around and trying to gauge distance from the sounds in your ears, until you remember that They can play with echoes just like anything else, and gave up all hope at last. You have eyes again, but you doubt that they are truly your own. Nothing else is, after all.

Your limbs may be longer than theirs now, but They find interest enough in them all the same. You flinch whenever they bring out the pipes, but you know there is nowhere to run to, and trying only makes things worse.

Come, dance for us! You love to dance! They call, and the pipes drone out their opening notes and you wish They had not taken your tears from you, but even if you still could cry, it would do you no good.

The notes lash themselves around your wrists and ankles and you jerk to your feet, stumbling and flailing a little. They laugh. You spin and turn, leap and bend, body moved by the music, over and over, faster and faster, never ending, never slowing, you are lost to it, until the music should see fit to realise you, and it never will. Another quick spin and you feel the skin on your feet begin to shred, blood beginning to seep out into the dry earth. It soaks the redness up without comment or thanks. You gasp for breath and find too little of it. The air is sharp and hard, you cannot breathe it properly. You need rest. You need to stop.

The music does not care, you begin the sequence again, spinning and leaping and bending. They laugh as they watch. You think desperately to scream for help, for mercy, but there is little help to be hoped for and certainly no mercy to be found. The soles of your feet are covered now in blood, you think it is probably your own, but there are plenty more just like you all around, jerking wildly and leaping and turning and you are all being pushed too far beyond your limits. You are all bleeding, chests tight as you fight for your next breath. And your next. The pipes play on, heedless, tugging you this way and that to the tune of Their fickle whims.

They laugh.

You wonder how you ever thought Their laughter an invitation.

It was a warning.

They did warn you. Back before everything.

You didn’t listen.


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Posted in Chronicles in Creation, Nanowrimo

Nano-Wrangle: Week 1

Week 1! Yes, I know it’s only been two days, but it is the end of the week, so I figured this was as good a place to start checking in with you all as any.

First, some unexpected good news that came just before Nanowrimo started! So I was out for the day with some friends and I was talking to them about how I wanted to take part in Nano again this year, and how I was really going to try my hardest to make it to the end for once. Now one of my friends asked what Nano was, and then suggested that she would like to take part in it too. Now, my friends are lovely people, very polite and kind ladies, so I just thought that she was being nice and encouraging me, and didn’t really mean it.

But of course I said how I thought that was a great idea and all that, because she’s such a creative thinker and I think she’d be a great writer…

And then, a couple of days later… I got a notice!

Nano - Buddy

So that was a huge boost for me! Thanks for taking the leap with me, Icklespan, and I hope that everything goes well for you!

Anyway… you can’t go all of Nano by just making friends (although if you are giving Nano a try, do please take every opportunity to make friends! It makes the whole thing a lot easier and more fun, I promise!) Sooner or later… you need to do some writing!

So it wasn’t the smoothest of starts: I made the classic mistake of starting writing first thing on the first morning, I haven’t had my first cup of tea, I’m still waking up… And I wrote 740 words before I had to dash out for the bus!

Which is great! Such a good feeling as I got on the bus and went to work…

And then I made it to work, had my tea, got on with other things. And then in my break I pulled out what I’d written already, just flicking through it … and the number one thought in my head was, ‘What on earthhave I written here? What is this rubblish?’

Now… I’ll be honest, this is my normal response to rereading my own writing. This isn’t new. But there’s a flavour to hating your own work, you know? Sometimes you can feel it’s just the sense that you could, obviously, do better somehow. But sometimes it’s the creeping suspicion that you’ve made a wrong turning somewhere and you’re taking the wrong path…

And I thought about it all through the afternoon while I did a frankly ungodly amount of photocopying…

(Side Note: Does anyone else find that they have some of their best ideas while babysitting the photocopier for fear the wretched thing will jam up again? Just me? OK.)

So I thought about it, because 740 words right at the start had felt like a great beginning, but if it’s just going to niggle away at me while I write, I’m going to get discouraged and lose momentum.Ch.23 - Plotting for Non-Super Villains

Do I keep going, leave all my misgivings for the editing stage, just ignore them and push forwards? Or… Do I scrap the thing and start over, while it’s still the first day, while I have the most energy I’ll have all month for writing? Fix it while I still care?

I rewrote.

I know, I know… but I really just couldn’t leave it and sometimes you just have to go with your instinct.

So I sat there with the old draft on one side of me, the detailed plan you’ve all seen before on the other and I started again from scratch, with a day’s worth of waking up and caffeine fuelling me! And I have to say that this was the right decision in the end. I’m not saying that the 2,993 words I wrote that night are the best ones ever. I’m not saying that they won’t need some heavy going-over later when November’s done. But I will say that they sparked a lot more interest and creativity in me than the first version did!

And as a bonus, I got my first Nano badge! Look, I went camping a lot as a kid, and my adult camp blanket is a monster of a thing. Basically, badges are very exciting for me!

Nano Badge - 1667 words

Day 2 dawned in a shower of rain and gales, which is always a bad sign for me when I want to write, because for some reason it’s impossible to concentrate when the wind’s having more fun running around than I am.

Also? You know on the Nanowrimo website when they talk to you about prepping for the month and they don’t just mean plotting things out or making sure you have enough post-its? When they talk about getting in food and cleaning everything down nicely so you won’t be distracted? Yeah…

In my defence, that’s a lot easier to do when you’re not working full-time and also buried under various other extra-ciricular activities. So a big chunk of the day was spent doing three loads of washing, buying food, tackling the fearsome Mount Washing Up that has been judging me from the other side of the room…

Serious adulting was accomplished that day, friends!

Still fortunately I have Icklespan only a message away to remind me that we are both mostly evening writers and that the day being spent doing productive things that will help me avoid getting distracted later on is a good thing. Thanks Icklespan!

In the end I stayed up late and kept plugging away at the thing. It was slow going and I imagine that editing the thing will be a complete and vicious nightmare, but that’s a December problem right there! What matters here and now in November is that 2655 words were in fact written, and I have shouldered my way through most of the first chapter. Phew!

So today’s goals are to finish filling in the couple of small gaps left in Chapter 1 – little chunks of conversations which on rereading I realise should probably exist, that sort of thing – and either jumping into Chapter 2, which is an entirely different POV, or skipping it in favour of Chapter 3, which continues the POVs of Chapter 1.

Also breakfast…

So yes, this week has seen plenty of ups and downs already, but on the whole I think it’s gone pretty ok. Hopefully we can keep this up for the rest of the month!

Wish me (and Icklespan) luck!

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Judging a Book By its Cover…

Friends, today’s post is short, but I need to share something with you all. Partly because I need sympathy, and partly because I have so many questions!

OK, so this is the Oxfam Bookshop in the middle of Oxford.

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It sits just across the road from my workplace. It is also one of two in Oxford, and the other one was five minutes walk from my old workplace. I have never been more than ten minutes walk from one or the other of these in my whole time in Oxford, and I’ll be honest, there’s the vaguest possibility that this may be ever so slightly connected to my massive hoard of books and my lack of money. Maybe.

It’s OK to despair of me, my family is right there with you…

Anyway!

So I was walking past the window on the way to work one morning and this piece of majestic-ness is sat in the front window!

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I mean… Just look at it!

I have so many questions! How do these creatures go together in places that aren’t this blog?

Only in Oxford, am I right?

Long-time readers of this blog will know that we of course have a tiny dragon in the office, getting into my stationary and judging me when I’m not writing and generally causing trouble. 

And if you live in Oxford then you also know that ducks get everywhere. They keep nesting in college quads and then causing chaos once the ducklings have hatched, because no mama duck ever has apparently thought to herself prior to building a nest, ‘Hmm… I managed to reach this nice quiet nesting site in this fox-free space by flying. But my ducklings, they will not be able to fly straight out of the egg. Is this site, therefore, a good idea?’Ch.9 - Duck and Cover

So Trinity (Summer) Term is one long saga of students with cardboard boxes chasing down ducks and ducklings to help them all reach a nice body of water. It’s probably character-building? At the very least, it’s a distraction from looming exams, I suppose.

Also, if you have twitter, and you don’t already follow Twitter of then please go and check them out, they are an absolute delight and treasure and I can think of nothing which so wonderfully summarises so much of what is good in Oxford. It’s ducks, it’s literary puns, it’s madcap adventures sometimes; frankly I don’t know what else you could possibly ask for, but even that is probably to be found right there on that feed.

The annual duck-related shenanigans naturally has made it into the Ghosts and Gowns series, if you fancy checking it out?

Anyway, so obviously I had to read this book and find out a few answers. Was it separated out into poems about dragons and poems about ducks? Were there poets about dragons and ducks together? Did these two groups of agents of chaos finally join forces and inspire great sagas commemorating their epic deeds? Were they eternal enemies locked forever in combat from whence there is no end or escape? What?Ch.14 Making Men of Myths - Part 2

And now, I know, I know that we shouldn’t judge a book by it’s – frankly amazing – cover, but I regret to say that we can only speculate about the hidden potential behind it. For now, alas, we come to the saddest part of this post…

You see, the bookshop does not open until 10am, which is notably after the time I need to be in work. So I waited, eagerly, patiently I waited until my lunch break. Who needed to go to eat lunch? Who needs sandwiches when there is a book to hunt down? That book must be mine!

And then… disaster!

By the time I reached the bookshop, the book had been sold already! I missed it!

In hindsight, I suppose it was inevitable; with a book so inherently amazing, someone probably pounced as soon as they could get in…

Never will I read the epic adventures of ducks and dragons… *Sniff…*

On the other hand, I now can’t stop thinking of other amazing book titles! I have several ideas already:

Knights and Kittens – in which either the knights are often rescuing kittens from high perches in castles, or possibly doing battle with terrifying and fearsome kittens? (If this sounds unlikely, please check out the British Library’s post about knights battling snails! If it sounded totally legit on first thought, check out the pictures of knights battling snails anyway – I promise you that down that path lies only magnificent and wonderful things!)

Knight V Snail1
Knight v Snail III: Extreme Jousting (from Brunetto Latini’s Li Livres dou Tresor, France (Picardy), c. 1315-1325, Yates Thompson MS 19, f. 65r)

Mice and Magicians – In which a band of brave mice help and advise an apprentice magician as they journey through a series of challenges to reach the great magic tournament. Think the Knights of the Round Table (Round Cheese? Keep work-shopping that…) assisting Merlin, with side quests including the Green Squirrel, the Lapwing of the Lake, narrated throughout (naturally) by Gerbil of Monmouth…

Seagulls and Sphinxes – Neither side of this title will make much sense, but only one will eat you while you’re alive? But no seriously, this is really the perfect pair-up, since I don’t think that sphinxes can fly, but obviously seagulls have that down, and if you’ve ever been mobbed for your food by seagulls then you will know that seagulls would absolutely ask you impossible riddles if it got them more food somehow! I don’t know what their adventure would actually look like yet, but I’m working on it…

Anyone else have any suggestions? It has to be a team-up between a fantasy character/creature and a non-obvious tiny mundane animal… And if possible, do chip in with what the adventure story would look like!

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Plotting! (For Non-Super Villains) – Part 2

Ch.23 - Plotting for Non-Super VillainsWelcome back! This is Part 2 of a 2-part post. Part 1 looked at some of the various reasons why I personally find planning my stories out fully in advance to be enormously helpful, but in keeping myself on message, and in just keeping myself going at all!

Here in Part 2, we’ll be taking a look at the various methods – or steps, I suppose I should call them? – that make up my planning process.

Obviously, you may feel that I’m planning in a ridiculous amount of detail, but I swear that (for me) each step allows me to learn a different thing about the story I’m creating, and I couldn’t write without them.

If you are currently planning, or maybe you struggle with planning in a helpful and productive way, and you find any of these methods helpful: that’s great! Always very happy to possibly help!

You might have a totally different way of planning out a story, in which case please do let me know down in the comments!

Right, now that’s out of the way with, let’s go!

Step 1 – Argh! All The Wild Ideas!

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Technically this is probably Step 1.3, but I was too busy plotting to grab my camera before this…

Step 1 of planning out a story is to grab all of my relevant ideas, and at least three colours of post-its and start scribbling. Jot down each and every single thing that you currently know happens in your story. Every. Thing.

“Stan meets Cleo” – that gets a post-it. “They sneak into the castle” and “They get caught” should probably be two post-its. Heck, “Sinister cat appears” should absolutely be a post-it! In fact, make several of that one, you’re going to want to repeat a moment that inherently awesome!

Once you’ve got all the immediate ideas jotted down, get yourself a big flat surface, and start laying them all out, and shuffling them around. You’ll know going in that some things will happen before others, so stick those ones earlier, but some ideas will be a bit more nebulous, and you can play around with the order until you find something that you really like.

Also can you see, I have some smaller beige post-its? Those just have chapter numbers written on them, and as I start sticking ideas down, I tend to get a bit of a sense that this event, or that development will be a whole chapter in itself and doesn’t need anything added. Again, a lot of this will change a bit as you work on shaping your story, but that’s the beauty of post-its! They can just get pulled up and stuck down somewhere else!

Why do you need multiple colours of post-its, though? Well, if you have a Main Plot and a Sub-plot, you’re going to need to differentiate them nice and easily. Got a romantic sub-plot too? Definitely need to keep an eye on that. That way, you can see if a plot-thread has started to disappear out of your narrative, or if your sub-plot has basically become the main plot by taking up too much space!

20170824_22414620170829_233430As you get a better handle on your story, you’ll be able to fill in your blanks.

(Also, as you can see, I ran out of space on my table pretty quickly and the wardrobe was immediately sacrificed! Please don’t judge me for the stuff on the floor?)

Step 2 – Typing Up (Round 1)

As anyone who lives around post-its for long enough knows, post-its are only ever a temporary solution. They come unstuck and get everywhere really easily. Then they get hoovered up, played with by the kids or the cat and you will never see them again. And there went your plot.

Plotting stage 2So once you’ve managed to haul the plot points you’ve got into the general shape of a full story with a distinct beginning, middle and end, it’s time to start typing them up.

(For the sake of my own sanity, I tried to find colours in Excel that matched the post-its pretty closely, but you may be mentally-robust enough not to need to care about such things?)

Whether you just literally type up what’s on the post-its, or whether like me you use this opportunity to start fleshing out each point, it’s totally up to you. Basically, you’re preserving the post-it plot and giving yourself a usable, printable document to start playing around with a bit further.

Plotting stage 2.1

Susan Pevensie Part 1As you can see, there will likely still be some gaps in that plot! I never worry about them too much yet, but I do make sure to mark in what idea I do have in that space, and make myself little notes to remind myself that there’s  still something I need to work on. That way, when I get to later stages (or even, heaven forbid! writing up!) I won’t be suddenly and unexpectedly blind-sided by this massive gap that I don’t know what to do with.

I don’t have a photo of one, but I tend to keep a ‘To Do’ list of all of these little gaps separately, so that I can work through them and get them sorted out when I’m not at my desk staring at the document too.

Step 3 – Narrative Arcs and Plotting Tension

I fully confess that Stage 3 is the one I understand the theory behind the least. However, I do find it useful, and I recommend at least giving it a bit of a go. I promise that it will tell you something!

Plotting stage 3

Basically, I sit down with my plot-points and try to measure the average tension of each chapter of the story. I tend to use a scale of 1-10, but that’s mostly because that’s the extent of my estimating-expertise. You may find that you are more comfortable in talking about ‘the tension’ of a chapter, and may have more nuance in your estimates.

Ch.19 - The Tragedy of Backstory - Part 1The point here is largely to check that you have a steady over-all rise and fall of tension, but also to check that the tension does actually rise and fall in a sensible manner, and that the various plot threads do in fact intersect at some point! There’s nothing worse than a book with three plots, not one of which relates to any of the others, right?

When I planned this plot initially, I found that I’d built up nice and evenly to the climax, lots of good narrative tension going on, and then the story basically stopped! Clearly that’s not ideal, so I shifted some of the explanatory dialogue and some of the personal resolutions further towards the end so that there was more of a winding down of tension and the reader will (hopefully) not feel that the book just stopped and dropped them.

Everything will hopefully feel nicely resolved and wrapped up.

Step 4 – The Check List!

Finally we get to what I tend to call ‘The Final Stage’ of planning; the stage where everything I’ve learned and considered and decided comes together into a check-list of sorts that I can have next to me while I’m writing and just check off as I go.

Plotting stage 4

This stage is really just about getting a clean copy of the planned out plot so I can start writing. It’s got as much detail in it as I possibly can think of, it’s got draft chapter titles, it’s got everything!

I very rarely get chance to just sit down for a full day and write uninterrupted. Between a full-time job, and friends, and family and keeping up with laundry and cleaning and all that other fun stuff, writing just has to be done in the snatches of time I have spare some weeks!

As a result, having the most detailed plan I possibly can means that I’m much more likely to end up with a first draft that is tonally consistent and doesn’t wander off into wild tangents because I had a blank space and a flight of fancy at the same time! As I said last time, having a plot all planned out also means I’m less likely to get discouraged because I can’t remember what was going to happen next and now I have no inspiration to think of something different. The less I leave to my poor over-worked brain while I type away into the dark of night, the better!

And there you have it! I’m sure that there are loads of other great ways to plan out a plot, and if you have a method that works, please do come and tell me about it in the comments! There’s never not something to be learned from a fellow-writer!

New to this blog? Check out some of the rest of this series – or indeed try out some of my original fiction! – down here:

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