Scrivener


12.25.12TracyMelHappy New Year! Much as I love the holiday season, I always find I relish quiet, cool January days, settling back into work with a steaming cup of tea and plentiful (or at least more plentiful than in December) time. My WIP, the next Malcolm & Suzanne book, now has a working title, The London Gambit, and I’ve started the new year off by going over my draft of the book so.

I always say I’m the sort of writer who plots in advance, but the truth is a bit more complicated. I do need to do quite a bit of advance thinking and note taking before I can start to draft scenes. I lay out plot ideas on the wonderful Scrivener corkboard and move them around and start to build the story. But at a certain point I need to start actually drafting some of the scenes. It’s as though I need to flesh out the scenes to see how they work, how the characters interact, how different plot strands twist together. Often the very process of writing the scenes gives me additional plot ideas . And in and around writing, I’m continuing to think about the plot and making notes.

I write many of these early scenes out of order – skipping parts of the story I’m not sure of and fleshing out the scenes I know I need. Often I’m not sure where a given scene will fall in the arc of the story when I first draft it. In the past couple of weeks I’ve begun to organize the scenes I have. I spent a couple of days last week not trying to write at all, just playing with index cards on the corkboard and seeing how the story can fit together. A clear structure for the first “act” of the book emerged pretty quickly – which required some additional scenes to connect what I’d already written and sent me back to drafting new material, while I also edited the scenes I’d already written. Now I’m mulling how the second act fits together, though the turning point into Act III is clearly marked.

So for me, plotting the book and drafting scenes are inextricably intertwined, which was never more clear to me than working on The London Gambit over the past few days. While I don’t think I could write without plotting in advance, I also don’t think I could comfortably plot an entire book without fleshing out some scenes along the way. And just as stepping back and thinking about the plot gives me ideas for scenes, sometimes writing a scene gives me plot ideas.

Writers, how do you approach plotting? Has your approach changed through the years? Readers, any questions about plotting?

And to welcome in the new year, I’ve just posted a new Fraser Correspondence letter from Mélanie/Suzanne to Dorothée written in early January 1816.

My current WIP, the book after The Paris Affair, is set in London in October 1817. This is the point where the Malcolm & Suzanne chronology takes a parallel track to the Charles & Mélanie chronology, with Malcolm and Suzanne experiencing a lot of the same revelations and events as Charles and Mel, though under different circumstances. By the end of this book, Malcolm and Suzette won’t quite be where Charles and Mel are after The Mask of Night (they’ll be rather more raw), but I should be able to write the book I planned to write after The Mask of Night.

The book I’m writing now is a book I’ve been both excited and nervous to write. It’s challenging to revisit key moments in Malcolm/Charles and Suzette/Mel’s relationship and try to make them fresh. But I’m also finding it fun and fascinating to explore those revelations from different angles. The book is set in 1817 and parallels some events from both Beneath a Silent Moon and Secrets of a Lady. The plot that surrounds those revelations is very different – Colin isn’t kidnapped, Kenneth has already died, Malcolm and Suzanne are investigating a very different mystery from either of the other books (centered around Simon’s theatre and a mysterious manuscript that may be by Shakespeare), and Malcolm learns about Suzanne’s past in a very different way. Today I decided that the revelations would unfold in a different order, with Malcolm learning about his parentage before his learns Suzanne’s secret, which shifts the emotional response and reaction for both him and Suzette.

But part of the change is the characters themselves. I know them better now. I’ve explored more of their history. Malcolm is more aware of his own role as a spy, the compromises he’s made and the moral dilemmas he’s faced. I’m still working out what this will mean for his reaction, but it means it will be more complex than Charles’s torrent of anger and hurt. I know the texture of Malcolm and Suzanne’s relationship and just how strong a partnership they had, which, I think, will also shift Suzanne’s reaction as well and how they work through their problems.

I jumped ahead and wrote the first draft of their big confrontation yesterday (with Scrivener, I find I write more out of chronological order). I have a lot more thinking and exploring to do, but I hope the result will be satisfying and illuminating both to readers who’ve taken this journey with Charles and Mélanie and readers who are experiencing it for the first time with Malcolm and Suzanne.

I’ve just posted a new letter to the Fraser Correspondence from Aline to Gisèle again, this one written after Waterloo.

Mélanie and I just got back from a lovely few days in New York, including fun visits with my editor and agent. There we are above at the Nancy Yost Literary offices. I’m revising The Paris Affair, I just got copy edits for His Spanish Bride, the novella about Malcolm and Suzanne’s wedding, and I’m starting to plot the next Malcolm and Suzanne book, which is one of my favorite parts of the writing process.

I love talking about writing, so I thought it would be fun to start working some writing craft posts into the blog. I’ve always been the sort of writer who plots in advance. I used to write down plot elements and scene ideas on index cards and then lay them out on my dining room table, shuffle around the order, look for gaps in the plot. It’s a great way to build the story arc, though my cats have a tendency to walk over the cards and wreak havoc on my plot order.

Then, in the midst of writing Imperial Scandal, I discovered the writing software program Scrivener. I love Scrivener for numerous reasons, but one is that it has a corkboard built in. You can lay out scenes on index cards, switch to a writing review to draft a scene, then switch back to the corkboard. Because of this, with The Paris Affair, which is the first book I wrote completely in Scrivener, I found I could write as I was plotting. If knew a scene had to occur later in the narrative, I could jump ahead and write it while I was still working out plot details earlier in the story. I spend a lot of time mulling when I’m working out a plot, and this way I was able to write while I was mulling.

Any questions about plotting? What other parts of the writing process would you like to see posts about? Writers, what’s your plotting process? What tools have you found that help with it?

I’ve just posted a new Fraser Correspondence letter from Mel/Suzette to Simon.