Some Thoughts on Long Plotting

Posted: January 15th, 2013 under the writing life.

The scene I’ve been munching in my head for several days (and tried writing today, with mixed results) is one that has antecedents a long way back and needs to connect to an earlier book…without being a copycat scene of a particular scene in that book.   And it has to fit seamlessly into this book, hitting exactly the right note of climax-resolution for its character arc and the overall plot.

In other words, it’s a very complicated jigsaw puzzle piece, and more resembles one of our state’s badly gerrymandered Congressional districts, with a long skinny tentacle all the way back to Gird & Luap’s description of Gird’s actions,  some fatter and shorter tentacles to specific parts of the original Paks books, and some very direct and obvious connections to events in the new Paksworld books, especially Limits of Power.

Real world history does this seamlessly, of course.  The roots of today’s political situations go back along narrower and narrower (but still vital) roots to events hundreds of years in the past…in some cases issues that were alive thousands of years in the past.  Nearly all the current disputes in American political life predate the American Revolution–they came here with the first colonists and with all later colonists.   You find them (in sometimes less obvious forms) in Greek and Roman history and philosophy.

But a novel is not, despite a writer’s best efforts, “real” history.   And in a novel, unlike a history book, every element must serve Story–that ancient and powerful form of narrative that is (by all research can show so far) wired in to human neurology.  Connections must be felt,  not stated.

More than one scene in Book V needs to have a similar connection to past books, sometimes all the way back to the deepest history yet told of Paksworld.   More than one character’s arc resonates with a past before that character’s birth.    If I get it right, the whole thing (and by that I mean all ten books, the old and the new) will be like a great bell, and the reader will feel the vibrations of that resonance in chest and belly and bones.

IF I get it right.  That’s what’s so scary about this book.  I’ve done good final volumes of series before but this one is bigger…with the parts of the series separated by two decades…with every element in the series longer and more complicated than in the SF groups.   Because if I don’t get it right, I’m robbing you, the readers, of the pleasure you could have, that I want you to have, that I’m presently vibrating with as I discover the range of resonances at play here.   Some that I knew of before and some that I’m discovering now.

Limits of Power sets up some of the last book, of course–that’s what penultimate books do, but without giving it all away.    You’ll think you know things that you don’t actually know–there are still surprises ahead, and some things that will be what you think, only…more so.  I hope.   In a way, it’s acting (and I’m acting) like a rider on a top-level event horse at the start of the cross-country phase D.   We’ve had roads and tracks and steeplechase and another roads and tracks and now–it’s nothing but the big course,  hitting one giant impossible obstacle after another at the right tempo, from the right angle,  with absolute concentration every stride of the way.

And as I often do on the big books,  I’m not feeling sure I can do it.  Part of that is coming out of several weeks of being sick, but the other part is…this is a very big challenge , with a project (on a horse) I love,  that I know is big enough to pull this off if I don’t lose concentration, if I don’t screw up someplace and present the story (the horse) at the wrong angle, or too slow or too fast.   I know what I want this book to be…what it needs to be…but between here and there is a lot more writing, all of which needs to be my very best and maybe beyond, because there’s no margin for error.

So today I worked on a scene in which someone important dies, and so far the resonance with the past event(s) is more “clang” than the deep distant bonnnggggg that it needs to be.  It can’t be clang (or worse, clank.)   Yikes.  And I don’t have the music for it yet.   I think I’ll try going back to the music I used for Gird’s book,  Brahms’  German Requiem.   That will take the clang/clank out of it.   I hope.

Wish me luck.  No, wish me skill and insight and inspiration.   And  half dozen plot bombs wouldn’t hurt.


  • Comment by Sharidann — January 15, 2013 @ 4:14 am


    I wish you skill, insight, inspiration and a couple dozen dragonh egg sized plot bombs. 🙂

    But even without the wises, I am sure you will deliver and we will enjoy! 🙂

  • Comment by Gareth — January 15, 2013 @ 4:35 am


    …but the beauty of this ‘event’ is that if you get a fence down or a refusal you can go round and re-jump. It’s more like a film where you have many ‘takes’ and so long as the continuity folk don’t drop too many clangers you can blend it into one seamless ’round’. Don’t lose confidence just because you get a fence down.

    I’m curious – do you basically write the book from start to finish or do you write individual scenes out of order and join together later.

    I’m sure there will be many moments when it all comes together and a scene just flows. I’m thinking of some musicians who say they don’t write their best work, they write it down. Some parts they work at but the best parts come to them complete and they just write it down. Of course that means that sub-consciously they’ve probably been mulling it over for ages.

    Just starting the final Wheel of Time book – it’s 900 pages to tie off all those characters and threads of wheel.

    Hope you’re feeling better soon – I’m sure that you’ll have some breakthroughs as you feel better.

  • Comment by Mollie Marshall — January 15, 2013 @ 5:46 am


    We don’t really need to wish you skill and insight: you have these already in abundance.
    Your illness and the disruption of Christmas/New Year may have got the muscles of your confidence out of training, so to speak, but your readers know that you will meet the challenge of the symphony’s final movement.
    It seems irrelevant to wish you luck. We don’t just hope or expect, but know that the skill and insight, plus all your effort, will bring timely inspiration; that what you write will ring true in the scenes of Book V and resonate to all the echoes of the Paksworld past.
    Are you sure you really want plot bombs at this late stage, though? Think of all the re-writing they might bring in their wake.
    Best wishes for a full recovery.

  • Comment by Naomi — January 15, 2013 @ 6:50 am


    I’m sure that once the traces of your current brush with illness disappear you’ll be on track and pulling all the threads together to achieve your goal.

  • Comment by Jenn — January 15, 2013 @ 9:25 am


    I am reading City of God by St. Augustine of Hippo. You are right politics is just more of the same over and over and over. (secular and religious) I am beginning to think that we are not as original as we claim. 🙂

  • Comment by Eowyn — January 15, 2013 @ 9:38 am


    I am amused that Limits of Power comes out during the National History Fair and one of the things we hope to see in the projects is a link of the topic of the project to the past and future of that topic. I am one of those people who is planning to re-read the whole thing either right before Book V comes out … or shortly after reading Book V for the first time.

  • Comment by Celina — January 15, 2013 @ 10:42 am


    I am sure you will suceed with making both books epic. There is no greater joy, as a reader, to connect all plots toghter and see the whole picture.

    I hope you get well soon 🙂

  • Comment by Genko — January 15, 2013 @ 11:55 am


    Just remember that we are in the January doldrums. When I was teaching English as a Second Language I finally realized that each January I (and many of my students) lost heart, worried that we weren’t getting anywhere, were just slogging along. And yet, by June every year, we were having merry conversations in English, and could see that the January slogs were a necessary part of the process.

    Last week I weighed myself at the gym and was discouraged to find that the 10 pounds that I was thinking I had lost had returned. Bummer. No progress, or maybe relapse into doing sugar again. Decided to get back on the horse (to mix metaphors and borrow one from you) and clean up my diet once again, and go to the gym even if nothing was happening. And I remembered the January doldrums. This week it already feels a bit better (and the scale has mysteriously subtracted a bunch of pounds again), and I have some confidence and courage back again.

    As others have pointed out, you have what you need. I am confident that this is a temporary setback, and you are finding your way to striking just the right note (to pick up another metaphor of yours) in this major work. Your virtuosity is without question. Just keep slogging, as I know you do — plenty of evidence for that. May plot bombs come when they need to.

  • Comment by Daniel Glover — January 15, 2013 @ 12:00 pm


    Plot Daemon, Plot Daemon, wherefore art thou Plot Daemon.

  • Comment by Ginny W. — January 15, 2013 @ 1:21 pm


    I am happy to wish you skill, insight, and inspiration. You already have these (as many of my predecessors in this post have noted). May they all be at your fingertips when you need them. The clearest evidence of your insight is that you recognize a clang, when you wanted a bong!
    Perhaps rereading some of the passages that you wanted to link to will awaken the literary Echo, especially if there is a particular turn of phrase or expression that is characteristic of that (those) scenes.
    I am dreading the death of a key character. But I suppose we can’t only do away with the iynisin assasin and live happily ever after. It would be boring.

  • Comment by elizabeth — January 15, 2013 @ 3:24 pm


    Thank you all. Various things are happening in the book today.

  • Comment by Richard — January 16, 2013 @ 2:21 am


    I shall wish you the good fortune of no more bad Life Stuff getting in your way, and the courage to put Story ahead of consistency when you have to. And Editor the insight into the earlier books to resonate with you.

  • Comment by mikelabb — January 16, 2013 @ 5:55 am


    Elizabeth, we all hope that you have dealt with a sufficiency of slings and arrows to give you immunity for the rest of 2013, though Arcolin and co may need some in the South. I suggest staying away from New York – UK news reports say very bad flu epidemic there. I sometimes wish I could write fiction, but I am very short on invention. If someone gifts me a storyline, I can probably flesh it out. Guess that is why I was always a corporal rather than a captain (or, indeed, a programmer rather than an analyst)! Any news on a UK cover for LoP yet? I hope whatever is chosen will fit in with previous volumes. How are people managing to fill in the time till June 11th?

  • Comment by Linda — January 16, 2013 @ 6:48 pm


    I once had a doctor tell me that depression following a viral illness is absolutely normal, even if not widely recognized. Blues or blahs or whatever make even a beloved task seem “too much.” Times like that I turn to housework, which requires no inspiration.

    Thank you for inspiring this discussion. I like the idea of writing as an art form with lots of opportunity for do-overs, say compared to figure skating or water colors. Maybe there is a message for me there.

    In any case your world and it’s people are so real, I can’t imagine that they’ll let you down. Paks with help from Gird, Dorrin with her mage powers, Master Oakhallow and the Taig. You have powerful friends.

  • Comment by Lise — January 16, 2013 @ 7:59 pm


    Good luck… even if you don’t need it. You have an enormous amount of talent and lots of time to go over (and over) any issues.
    I often find inspiration comes in fits and starts and what seemed like false starts and wasted time turns out to mysteriously be essential groundwork. I hope yours is one of those cases.
    Either way, you always write amazing books so I am sure you will have it the way you want it in no time.

  • Comment by Susan — January 17, 2013 @ 8:18 pm


    I wish I had wonderful words of encouragement for you, but those above have said it all better than I could. Instead, I’ll just thank you for all the hard work and worry that you put into your books, as well as the glimpses of what goes into them.

  • Comment by Tina Black — January 18, 2013 @ 11:27 am


    I am hoarding my Christmas gift Certificate for Powers. I may have another to hoard for the one you are working on. I hope you find it worthy.

  • Comment by Caryn — January 23, 2013 @ 9:38 pm


    Wishing you lots of luck! As a history student I appreciate this, too.

  • Comment by Margaret — January 24, 2013 @ 4:17 pm


    Nobody has yet answered Gareth’s question about writing-sequence, so I’m going to take a try at it. From comments posted by Ms. Moon here, I gather she writes the various POV narratives kind-of in parallel, and pretty-much as-they-happen [with occasional backtracks when something needs foreshadowing] then braids them into the final form of the book.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment