Blocking a Novel

I’ve mentioned several times that I’m a discovery writer, but that doesn’t mean I write blindly.  I have a basic plan before I begin.  This gives me the basic plot, setting, and themes of the story as I set out.  It gives me a rough roadmap but it isn’t so restrictive that the story can’t breathe.  Nothing is locked in, so if a character turns left instead of right, I can still follow them… unless of course I realize I’m going over a cliff.  At that point, I need to look at why the story veered and see where the problem is.  Have I been true to characterization?  Can I introduce other motivators to keep the character on track?  Is the new direction better and will it lead back where I need it to?  And so on.

Last article, I looked back to 2013 when I made a fundamental change to the protagonist that resulted in me to starting “Tears from Iron” all over again.  You can find that article here.  I showed this shift and how I grappled with it through a series of journal entries.  On the one dated February 20, 2013, I described how I made a rough plotting of the new idea (and the old one, too).

I used a technique I learned somewhere long ago… a technique I haven’t been able to find again after numerous Google searches.  The concept goes something like this (and for those who know it, please forgive any errors).  You start with one sentence that encapsulates the entire idea of the story.  Then you double it to two sentences with a beginning and an ending.  From there you go to four, where the first sentence is the First Act, the second and third the Second Act, and the final one the Third Act.  It then doubles to eight and then expands one or two more times with each step adding detail until you have 25 sentences.  These 25 sentences form the foundation of your story.  Theoretically, each one represents one chapter.  I’ve never been rigorously enough to enforce that, but I find that this technique is helpful for building a map as I get started.

I was able to dig out my old 2/20/13 document and will be sharing that today.  You’ll note that it isn’t perfect.  I don’t quite use the sentence technique I describe above.  I start with a bullet statement idea and then extrapolate from there adding detail.  Also, a few of the “chapters” right in the middle are blank while many toward the end are much sparser than those at the beginning where my mind was clearer.  But first I need to display an earnest warning:

**********WARNING!  This article includes significant spoilers.  I strongly encourage that you only read this if you’ve finished “Tears from Iron.”  It gives away several critical parts of the story that may diminish the pleasure of reading it.**********

Comments highlighted in blue were added as I prepared this article.  Everything else is from the original work that concluded on 2/23/13 except for a couple typos that were fixed.

  1. Destruction of Children Camp (My original name for the Scions of the Fallen Tree was Children of the Fallen Tree, not Scions. I made the change because there are many “children” references out there already and children also was a little too close to the t’Okaedrin “brothers”)
    1. Kill gate guard and signal attack
    2. Meet brethren and witness attack (The ‘Brethren” was my early name for t’Okaedrin)
    3. Execution of prisoners, Vitarria forgives him (This opening chapter became the third chapter in the final version of the novel)
  2. Return Home
    1. Triumphant but haunted by Vitarria
    2. Teased by brothers for not fighting
    3. Reader gets to witness normal Iron-Men life/culture/beliefs
  3. New Assignment
    1. Hopes are dashed when Tazil sends undercover again. This time deep cover first as slave then as rebel.
    2. Goal: To ID as many rebellion leaders as he can.  Only then can he call in a raid.
    3. Infiltrates at forward camp like newly captured slave. Assigned to different camp than his home (to avoid ID)
  4. As a Slave
    1. In fields or artisan shop? I don’t know
    2. Teased by brethren because they know that he cannot retaliate without compromising himself. He must suffer the punishments.
    3. Belarrin angry at torments but surprised by empathy of the other slaves who are around him. They offer a hope which he has never heard before.
    4. Belarrin grows confused because he is hearing hope from the “enemy” and is being tormented by his “family.”
    5. No raid… time passes; restless & furious, grows desperate; contemplates violating oaths and blowing cover
  5. “Liberated” again
    1. Finally, the raid; Belarrin escapes and joins the Children.
    2. During escape, attacked by confused brethren who jeopardize mission; Belarrin kills them and saves Sravika’s life (a rebel).
    3. Thrilled to be on real mission now. But surprised that he is thrilled to be free just like real slaves
    4. This causes him to contemplate the meaning free. Has he ever been free?  Are the Iron-Men actually free?  Or is their bondage only hidden?
  6. With the Children
    1. Of all the newly freed slaves, Belarrin holds some celebrity for his bravery. He meets the leaders of this rebel group.
    2. Debate on raid. Rejoicing in the success, but Sravika is upset by high losses.
    3. Sravika wants Children groups to unify to make bigger raids and reduce the risk. The other leaders fear that the large groups will make them more vulnerable.
    4. Belarrin realizes that Sravika is key to mission – find leadership. Therefore he must help unite rebels so they can be destroyed.
    5. Sravika is happy to have his help. She already feels like she owes him one for how he saved her life before.
  7. On a Hunt
    1. Belarrin, Sravika and others go hunting for food. Sravika and other rebels tell their stories drawing some empathy from Belarrin.
    2. Rebels get human dimension causing Belarrin’s doubts to grow stronger
    3. Maybe religious talk and Belarrin must advocate a view he doesn’t believe. At the peak, he begins to believe himself; foundation shaken
  8. Shadow-Servant’s First Visit
    1. Realizing that Belarrin is teetering on the point of turning from his beliefs, Reigliff appears to give him the final shove.
    2. Reigliff explains the truth of Belarrin’s upbringing. He tells him who his parents were (is this made up?)
    3. Reigliff does not tell Belarrin why he has visited. He tells him that what he has said thus far is enough for now.
    4. After Reigliff leaves, Belarrin weeps and renounces his past. But what can he do now? 
    5. The brethren may be watching — not close, but near enough to be a danger. Until he can decide, he must act like he is carrying on with his mission.
  9. ???
  10. ??? — Steps of Unification
  11. ???
  12. Shadow-Servant’s Second Visit
    1. He tells Belarrin of Ushtyl’s plot to overthrow the emperor. (originally, the Syraestari Empire was ruled by an emperor named Inrelk. I subsequently decided to make the ruler Inrelk’s mother, Kayrstana.  Teaser:  Inrelk is the protagonist of “A Whisper in the Sand.”)
    2. Belarrin is troubled, both as an Iron-Man and as a human. As an Iron-Man, Ushtyl’s plot is a betrayal of all he has been taught to believe. 
    3. As a human, he is beginning to see the evil of slavery and sees how Ushtyl will make things worse.
    4. Risk of Belarrin telling Children who he really was. He will be more likely to succeed if he can convince them.  But if he fails, he’s dead. 
    5. Belarrin is terrified by the prospect because for the first time he has found true joy in life and he does not want to lose it.
  13. ??? — Steps of Unification, debating whether to tell Children
  14. Confession to the Children
    1. Belarrin tells the Children leaders who he is. They are infuriated and bind him but Sravika believes him and convinces them to listen to him. 
    2. Somehow they decide to test his claims.
  15. ???
  16. Shadow-Servant’s Third Visit
  17. Discovered
    1. The Children learn Belarrin has been consulting with the Shadow-Servant. He is bound and set for execution.
  18. Freed
    1. Sravika frees Belarrin
    2. I added a footnote to the original 25-Chapter plan at some point between 2/21/13-2/23/13 that stated: “Or should 17 & 18 be a new plan to get the Iron-Men to attack in such a way that the camp is safe but Belarrin gets back with his brethren?”  This is the path I ended up following, though obviously ditching the “camp is safe” idea.
  19. Back with the Brethren
  20. Trying to save some of the Brethren, fails and exposed
  21. Condemned to the Boards
  22. Freed by Sravika, infiltrating city
  23. Climax 1 — Saving Inrelk, freeing slaves
  24. Climax 2 — Saving Inrelk, freeing slaves
  25. Resolution

As I read through this in preparation for my article, I was amazed at how closely the story follows the initial outline.  Of course, it gets much bigger.  There are huge gaps.  For example, there is no reference to Lady Ninanna or the high lord conspiracy, only an idea of Ushtyl betraying his emperor.  This concept was a much more crude and simplistic coup d’etat.  The idea that is portrayed in the outline is so simplistic that it doesn’t really weave into the Belarrin arc at all.

Other absences include the lack of sorcery, though I suspect I had the germ of that idea, too.  In the original Wildman version of the novel, Belarrin was a Siharrin, just like he is in the final version.  It may have been that in my initial new brainstorming I set that concept aside but by early March 2013, I was incorporating it into the story again.

A lot of details are missing, such as specific ideas on his fellow t’Okaedrin like Arcomin, Bridionis, and Hirnid or key fellow Kalilaer and Scions like Yrpel, Mirnadd, and Zoltha.  There is only a rough idea of a transition from Iron-Man to true Scion.  In fact, the path was too easy.  I made it a lot more challenging and anguished in the novel up to and including the destruction of many of the people Belarrin was trying to protect.

You’ll note the incredibly vague climax which lacked any reference to Belarrin’s ultimate fate.  This is because I didn’t know if he would live or die.  As I set out on the novel, I could see value in both endings and I wanted that to evolve naturally.  Looking back, now, only one resolution is truly possible, but at the time I couldn’t know that.