Cariad Eccleston

Just a gin-filled dork.

My Challenges as a Queer Female Time Traveller: 7,089 words

13 August 2017

Lots of thinking, and not much writing.

I ended last week with 5,918 words in 50 outlined scenes. Today, I have 7,089 words in 58 outlined scenes.

7,089 words written.

Why did I churn out 5,000 words last week but only 1,000 this week? Where’d all that velocity go?

Focussing on The Final Battle

The challenge I set myself for this week was:

So, this week, I need to get The Final Battle understood and outlined.

Oh boy, did this ever send me down a rabbit hole.

I started out by outlining the confrontation between our hero and villain, and figuring out a smart way for good to triumph over evil (spoiler alert!). I brainstormed a few ideas, picked my favourite, and summarised it in the outline.

…and then I realised it was pretty much the same finalé I’d already planned for the end of the trilogy. I couldn’t even claim that I was “foreshadowing” or laying out a “recurring theme”. It was just the same ending.

I needed a few more brainstorming sessions before I found another confrontation I liked.

Actually, more than liked!

As soon as I noted it down, I realised it focussed on a decision that I could foreshadow much earlier in the story, and it crystallised two moral flaws of my hero and villain which had been pretty vague up until now. In fact, the battle is opened by the villain’s primary weakness, and won by the hero overcoming theirs.

It’s a neat little package, and I’m quite happy with it. That’s The Final Battle outlined well enough for now!

Let’s just finish up the third act then get a drink

With The Final Battle out of the way, I continued working backwards through the third act to get all my ducks in a row. I needed to assemble the team and their plan to stop the villain.

…and I realised that I needed a lot of answers to questions I’d opened but not solved yet.

How does my team of heroes know what the villain’s plan is? How is it even revealed to them? How do they know what the stakes are? If the villain is hidden for half of the story, then they spend the second half fighting him, then… what happens in the middle? How is the reveal triggered, and what knowledge is shared?

I mean, of course, I know what his evil plan is – but I hadn’t made any headway at all into how it’s revealed to the other characters.

I found myself with:

  • A first act that I love.
  • A second act with some awesome, albeit disconnected, scenes.
  • A hazy third act opener.
  • …and an ending that I – again – love.

The second act needed a lot of work before the third act could be opened.

Mind mapping

Usually, when I’m brainstorming ideas, I just list them out. I open up a new sheet in Ulysses and just start hacking out anything and everything that comes to mind.

That’s a great method for getting a wide and shallow pool of ideas, but going deep on them can get complicated. Should each point get broken out into a new sheet, or expanded on below? Either way, every new idea generates more clicking and scrolling, and diamonds get lost in the noise.

Now, I know a bunch of you are yelling “Mind Mapping!” at me. I know, I hear ya. I’ve been trying mind mapping on-and-off for years, but I never really got it. It never seemed to be much more help to me than plain old lists of text.

But, I was getting super-frustrated with the sprawling brainstorming sheets I was creating. I was ready to give mind mapping another shot.

I did a bit of reading around, and MindNode seemed super-popular. They even have a free trial. It doesn’t let you create more than 30 nodes, but otherwise it’s fully functional.

I grabbed it, I installed it, and… within a few minutes, I was so deep in my brainstorming flow state that I bumped hard against that 30-node limit. I reviewed what I’d hacked out, and the decision to pay and unlock that limit was easy.

I’m officially a mind mapping convert!

I wanted to show you how I use mind mapping, but I didn’t want to give you any of my story’s notes – so here’s a quick example of how I might solve a plot problem.

Let’s say it’s devastatingly important to the plot that my character, Nigel, loses his trousers. How might he lose his trousers? Here’s how I’d map it out, with broad ideas narrowing into questions and possibilities.

A mind mapping example in MindNode.

It might take a few dozen or a few hundred iterations of expanding and closing branches, but so far it’s working great for me. I’ve created a handful of maps for specific problems I need to solve, and it’s helping me to drill down into some really awesome solutions.

This week’s challenge

By this time next week, I want to have my second act outline tightened up, and the villain’s reveal planned. I don’t think I’ll have time to get the mental string and glue out for the third act, but I’ll be happy enough if the second act is more robust.