Category Archives: Drama Box

Character Grid

As I begin work on the next Hollows book, THE RULE, I’m sharing my plotting methods.  Today, I’m at day three of my process, which is where my character grid comes into play. It’s  basically a spread sheet that lets me see the entire book at a glance and helps me organize my thoughts. It’s invaluable in a rewrite when I have to insert a snippet of information and am not sure where to logically do it.
The post below is from 2009, but it’s still 
accurate. Though a lot of my plotting methods have changed through the years, I still use and keep my character grids for future reference.

For those of you who haven’t been to the drama box in a few days, I’m taking the opportunity of NaNoWriMo and me just starting rough draft to detail out my plotting process.  Disclaimer:everyone writes differently, there’s no wrong way to do it.  This is what I’ve come up with over the last ten years or so, and what works for me.  It’s a process that’s still evolving.  Oh, and my word count is still zero.

Yesterday I rewrote my plot to take out the demon plotline and expand two others of crime and love.  It made a much more tidy story and I was able to dig deeper into the relationships instead of skimming over them.  My one page synopsis turned into a 13 page synopsis, casually broken into maybe-chapters.  Today I’m going to begin to break this up into clear chapters so I can better balance the entire work as to pacing, place, and characters.  I don’t want to spend too much time in the church, or be moving from place to place in any given chapter.  My rule is no more than one scene shift per chapter, and try not to stay in any one place for more than two consecutive chapters.  Same thing with characters.  Variety keeps the reader interested and the story moving.  So to better see the patterns that the story is taking and head off any potential problems, I have come up with a character grid.  It’s about the only piece of “software” that I use, and it’s just an Excel spreadsheet that I’ve modified to my needs.  Here’s the one I used for ODW.

Characters are down the side, the locations of the scene are on the top, and the action is at the bottom.  (this is an early version, so it might not dovetail perfectly into the published book) The color shift is an indication of a change in day (which can be seen by the dates) and the chapter numbers are under that.  The Xs are when a character is an a chapter, and sometimes I use an O to indicate that they are in the chapter by way of phone or scrying mirror.  I usually have the month and day the book takes place in across the top, and the sunrise and set and average temps at the bottom,

My character grid is how I first realized that Jenks was in almost every chapter in the earlier books, and I’ve become better at getting him out so other characters can shine.  It’s also how I know if I have a character who is needed for a crucial scene, and yet is not introduced anywhere until that scene.  Very bad.  Same thing with the bad guys.  I try to have them show up early, and then at least one more time before the end.  Another rule of thumb is don’t introduce too many characters in the same scene, even if they are returning characters.  I like to have only two at the most, and will break a chapter just to avoid this.

A character grid of some sort is also a great way to make sure that your male to female ratio isn’t wildly out of balance.  Mine usually slant to the male end of the ratio, but since Rachel is female it works out.  Oh, and when you go to rewrite and need to add something that revolves around a character, it’s really easy to go the grid, see where they are, and place your clue instead of spending an hour thumbing through the file and guessing where to put it is.

Tomorrow, after I break this monster into chapters, I’ll let you know what balance issues I encountered and nipped in the bud, but for now, I’ve not a clue as to what problems the manuscript has.  I can’t wait!

–Kim

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Day Two Of The Plotting

I’m sharing my outlining process this week, thanks to just having finished outlining THE RULE, (sequel to AMERICAN DEMON, out in 2020) and a curious reader. Friday I gave you my bare bones of how I start with a list of “I wants” to do a very rough plot plan of two or three threads, as well as figure out which characters will be the most useful in reaching my goals. It takes a day for me to do this if I’m working in the Hollows. If it’s a new world, it can take a week, or even two if I’m developing all new characters, magic systems, and mythologies/species.

Below is the beginning of step two of my process. It’s a reposting of several years ago when I was working on book ten or so, but not much has changed.

Friday was the second day of my plotting out of the next Hollows book, and still no words on the screen, but I’ve plenty of notes, so all you people taking part in NaNoWriMo, be assured that you are way ahead of me.  At this rate, I will be hard pressed to meet your 175 page count by the end of the month.  And I still have a few days of plotting before I can begin.  So what am I spending my time on?

Well . . .  I took my six pages of notes from Thursday and wrote up a free-flowing, one-sentence brainstorming list of “ways to start” and a list of  “ways to end.”  I still don’t have a good way to start the book, and I won’t until I have the end, but my goal is to have in the first five pages the hint of the problem that is settled in the last so to make a full circle.  I’m more successful at this some times than others, but if you break the stories apart, it’s there.  By the way, I found the ending by the time I turned my office light off.  Damn.  This is going to be a fun one to write.  As usual, Tim helped with finding the kicker.

I then wrote out a handwritten, ten-page summary of the book, starting at the beginning and going all the way to the end, saying who died, who got jailed, and who got pregnant.  No, none of those things happened, but you get the idea.  Some might say it’s a waste of time, but I just saved myself three to six weeks of grief as I realized that my original three plots of demons, love, and crime were taking up too much page count and there were too many characters.  My solution?  Get rid of the demon story line for this book, much as I love it. (It will show up in the next book where it belongs)

After some thought, I realized that the story would work that much better with some new limitations that no-demons engenders.  Now I can expand on the other two story lines and bring in some secondary characters that I’d have had to skimp on.  I’m going to miss Al, but let’s hope it’s absence makes the heart grow fonder rather than out of sight, out of mind. . .   Today, I’ll rewrite my 10 page summary and maybe start on some more detailed chapter outlines to be sure I’ve not forgotten some bit of logic and to nail down the character lineup.

Kim

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Writing starts with “I want”

Wendee asked me if I might detail out my outline process, seeing as I’d just finished prepping THE RULE for some serious keyboard time and I was happy dancing online about it. I thought it was a great idea, so I went back into my old Wordpress files, and found where I’d already done it! Not much has changed in the last nine years as far as my process goes. I’ve trimmed some things out, and added a new tools in my toolbox. I’m just going to drop my old post here, and maybe add a few notes as to what’s changed in the preface.

I decided to detail out THE OUTLAW DEMON WAILS to help reduce spoilers, but if you’ve not read it . . . well . . . there it is.

Even now, I still start each book with a list of “I want to see,” but by this point, much of my list is things that stem from the previous books, things that rise from Rachel’s actions as she tries to make her world a better place for everyone, not just herself.

I’ll have the next step for you on Monday, but for now, here is how I begin my plotting:

So, it’s NaNoWriMo, and though I’m not taking part, I am just starting a rough draft of book ten and thought it might be cool to detail out what I do as some of you are scrambling for page count.  Mine is zero right now.  I’m way behind.  I just finished the last of my personal rewrites on book nine.  (insert wild happy author dance here) and am ready to rip into the next, so what do I do first?  (disclaimer:everyone writes differently.  I’ve been developing my writing style for over a decade, and this is what works for me.  There’s no wrong way to do it as long as you’re making progress.)

I want. . .

That’s what it’s all about at this point for me.  What do I want to see or accomplish in this 500 page monster.  So today I’ll be sitting down with about ten sheets of paper and a pencil.  No keyboard for about a week or so.  I’m going to go over what I just finished and where I want to be in about three books from now.  I try to write down the gottas for story movement, and even some fun things that make the story interesting.

Since I’m not going to share with you my want list for book ten, I scrounged up my want list for THE OUTLAW DEMON WAILS.  (Yes, I keep everything)  So don’t read if you don’t want spoilers.

Set around Halloween–cause I want to know how Inderlanders celebrate it.

Matalina dies, Rachel does black magic to save Jenks  –Obviously this didn’t happen.  The pixy just won’t die.  (laugh)

Marshal out of the books, and Pierce starts moving in.  (no sex).  —  This one I managed.

Rachel bites Ivy?  Maybe work the demons in this way with a spell or charm?  —  again, this one didn’t make the cut as it’s written, but it still might be used in a later book.  Don’t know yet.

Find out Art killed Kisten and bound Rachel.  —  Okay.  Art did kill Kisten, but it wasn’t good for the story if Rachel had been bound.  But man, it make for good character development when she realized how close she came to it.  Positive, positive.

Work in more demon culture  At least one night with Al  —  Questionable success here.  Work in progress.  Oh, and one night with Al doesn’t necessarily mean sex.  If I mean sex, it will say sex.  (grin)

Robbie comes back to Cincy to take Mom to West Coast to reduce Rachel’s strengths.  yeah.  That kind of happened.

Ford finds Pierce when trying to recover Rachel’s memory.  –That one came though pretty much intact.

Oh, and the main story line fits in there as something like, work with a new species.  Banshees?  Use them to touch on auras more.

And there it is.  Not a lot of detail on the structure or the plot, just wants

Then I wrote up a page on what’s going to limit Rachel in this book:  Winter, so Jenks is curtailed, Robbie takes mom, Trent not going to help, David on a retreat, Witches won’t sell to her.

Another page was reminders:  Trent still not trusting her, Lee-low profile, David and Weres are happy, Ivy, Cormel, and vamps not happy, FIB is worried, the IS is in with the vamps, the coven is watching her, Nick is unknown, Ceri is four months preggers, and Al knows about Pierce.

From that, I can sort of decide who is going to be in the books, but I just keep it in the back of my head at this point.

So for me, it starts with “I want” and a whole lot of time with my pencil.

–Kim

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Quiet doesn’t mean nothing’s going on

Hi all.

I’ve been shunning my social obligations lately because, well, how many pictures of birds and plants can you take? But I’ve been busy. Very busy–keeping my mouth shut.

It’s shut no more. After spending a nice chunk of time cleansing my writing palette and playing with a few new-to-me writing techniques, I’m officially back writing the Hollows. AMERICAN DEMON, the next Rachel and Trent book that follows right after THE WITCH WITH NO NAME–has  found a home, and a rough publishing date.

(insert wild-Snoopy-dance here)

I am tickled to be back working with Anne Sowards at ACE, which is where and who I got my start with the Truth and Princess series.  I couldn’t be more pleased.

You guys are going to love this.

–Kim

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PERfunctory afFECTION shipping, and almost gone

Hi all.

I’m just about in happy tears this morning after an email from my publisher at Subterranean Press. Perfection is at the warehouse and being shipped out as fast as it’s coming in. They have retained about 100 of the signed and numbered hard covers, but the e-book is now available, and the audio as well. So if you are one to wait, or know someone who is interested, please let them know.

But the tears? That’s because of you guys. I can’t tell you thanks enough for giving this experiment of mine a fair shake. I love the Hollows, and I’m eager to return to it, but only because I was able to play in a couple of different worlds for a while, stretch my thoughts, explore a new way to write. So thank you. Your support as I try to grow as a writer is humbling. I’m not active on my social sites anymore due to family issues, but knowing you are still there is gratifying. (Tim and I are fine. It’s just life.)

On a more personal note, I haven’t looked at reviews in a long time, but I will admit I peeked last night before turning my bedside lamp off with a pleased snap. They are mixed, really mixed, for one of my usual releases, but I’m not unhappy.

Meg’s story is not for everyone, and I knew that going in. One of my goals with Perfection was to craft something that could be interpreted two ways depending upon your expectations, or even your desires. It’s not a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, but I tried to balance it so how you interpret the ending is up to you.

Those early reviews seem to be saying just that, and as a writer, it’s good to know you’ve accomplished your goals–even if that means one- and two-star reviews. (wink)

Feels good. Really good.

Happy sigh as I return to work.

–Kim

Subterranean’s signed and numbered hard cover

e-book: Go to Subterranean for links to all major retailers.

Audible

 

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e-book price drop, pass it on!

Two of the Hollows titles are on sale right now for 1.99, e-book format. It’s a good chance to make a late gift to the Hollows addict on your list, or even for yourself if you are trying to round out your e-library. And please pass the word!

The Witch With No Name: Nook. Kindle

White Witch, Black Curse: Nook Kindle

But while I was looking through my archives for a past post I could easily modify to tell you about the sale, I found this little gem from 2015. It was during an unusual -30 cold snap that seemed to last all winter. When it gets that cold, the mind wanders, and the poet in me claws its way out.

The Breaking of Silence

Kim Harrison, February, 2015

I was awake early this morning, long before the sun came up. It gave me an almost singular chance to sit in my office and drink a cup of cocoa and witness the breaking of silence. There was no wind, eerily still with no sun to push even molecules into motion, no birds to mar the perfect beauty of temperature gradient slices of air so defined you could breathe them in like flavors of ice cream. Too desiccated for clouds, only the black bare branches mark the subtle shadings from apex black, to blue, to a hint of watery pink at the horizon. Definition comes from what lacked, not substance itself.

A foot of Sandman’s sleep lays upon the world, the swollen, ugly red of sun devoid of even a whisper of warmth as the earth rolls in its gravity track and pushes it up through the bands of cream and blue–rainbows so stretched and thin that their color can’t be seen.

It is so cold my attic is cracking.

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Kim Harrison short-short to share

Get your tissues handy! I’ve got a gift from me to you today, written long before I found publication and was raw with the need to reach and connect and short on literary grace. You may have seen this in previous years, but  it still makes me cry, and like the best gifts, please feel free to share it.

However you celebrate the season, I hope you find joy, warmth, and a feeling of completeness.

Kim, Tim, and the boys

Angel’s Song
by
Kim Harrison

 

Silent night, holy night.
All is calm, all is bright. . . .

Humming, Kaylin held her coat close against the cold, more from habit than anything else as she dodged through the unseeing, evening shoppers. She was anxious to get home. Her work had seemed to stretch forever today, but finally The Boss had let her go. She couldn’t wait to see her daughter–it had been too long since the entire family had been together.

Slipping at the bus stop, she grasped the door to the bus, just making it on behind two tired women as the doors closed. The sound of their money jingling into the box chimed like bells, and the bus jerked into motion. Kaylin stood where she was, gripping the ceiling support as the gears shifted. Her gaze rove over the heads, looking for acknowledgment she existed. There, at the back where the heat didn’t reach, was a smiling face and a beckoning hand.

Though she didn’t recognize him, Kaylin went to sit with the old man. She smiled shyly, the anticipation of her coming evening prompting her to be more bold than usual. “I’m going home for Christmas,” she said by way of greeting as she jammed her gloves into a pocket.

“First time?” the old man murmured, his brown eyes going sad in memory.

She nodded. “Since my accident. I can hardly wait to see everyone together.” Kaylin put her hands in her lap, glad she couldn’t feel the cold anymore.

The man met her eyes. “See that boy up there?” he said, pointing with his chin. “I’m spending Christmas with him. He’s a college student on his way home. He needs all the help he can get, and my family doesn’t miss me anymore.”

Kaylin bit her lip and fussed with the hem of her coat’s sleeve, uncomfortable with the idea she would eventually be forgotten. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. Make the most of the time they remember you. As it’s said, it came to pass.”

She didn’t know what to say. “This is my stop,” she said, glancing out the window to the colored lights.

“Best hurry. The door won’t wait for you.”

Giving him a hesitant smile, she hastened to the front, edging to the sidewalk past the three girls giggling about the presents they had gotten for their boyfriends.

Kaylin’s mood went soft as she took in the familiar street gray with twilight. The curb was jammed with cars. A noisy, joyful reunion on her front steps had the dogs barking. Excitement tingling to her toes, Kaylin waited on the walk, following the last of the children inside.

Her shoulders eased as she stood in the entryway, basking in the cheerful clutter and the too-noisy greetings. She waved as she spotted her grandmother in a corner, deep in the thick of it. The old woman’s eyes sparkled as they met hers. Her fingertips again had a rosy glow, and the blue tint Kaylin remembered was gone.

“Jasmine is in the kitchen!” her grandmother called over the noise. “Go on. We’ll talk later.”

Relieved her grandmother understood, Kaylin followed the smell of heated punch into the kitchen. She stopped in the open doorway as her heart clenched.

Jasmine stood on a chair before the counter, stirring a cup of green frosting. “I can’t do it, Daddy,” she complained, her high voice clear over the excited babble of relatives. “It’s too hard.”

Kaylin’s hands reached out, but she stood unmoving, forcing back the unexpected tears as her husband set aside his dishcloth and went to their daughter.

“Mommy always helped me, Daddy,” the child said around a sniff as his hand covered hers atop the spoon and they stirred together. “I want Mommy. I miss her.”

“Hush,” he said, the pain in his voice causing Kaylin’s throat to tighten. “I miss her too, sweetheart, but look. She’s everywhere, especially tonight.” Eyes bright, the man pointed to the dusty Christmas candles Kaylin had refused to burn, sitting on the kitchen windowsill. “There are her candles, right where she always put them. And the mistletoe above the doorway? She made that just last year. And the bow? Remember her spending an hour on that to get it to look just like the one in the store window? And you can smell her touch in the gingerbread men and taste it in the fruit punch. She’s everywhere.”

“No, Daddy,” the small girl protested. “It’s not the same. I can’t see her at all.”

“But I can,” he said, giving her a hug. “I can see her in you when you cut out your star cookies, I watched her hand move yours when you hung the ornaments on the tree, and I can see her eyes when I look at you. So, Jasmine, she is here.”

“I can’t see her,” Jasmine said, sniffing as she licked the frosting from a finger.

Kaylin ached. The Boss had warned her it would be hard, and she thought she could handle it. But this? This tore at her. Kaylin came close to stand behind her daughter and nudged a cookie, as if she could make the star any less lopsided. Perhaps . . . . Perhaps she could pretend.

And so she was a silent participant, each moment harder than the previous, a bittersweet mix of memories. She hovered in the kitchen while dinner was prepared, blowing on the gravy to keep it from boiling over until someone remembered it. She watched the rolls brown through the oven window with Jasmine, admonishing the child they weren’t done yet when Jasmine pronounced them finished. She stood in the archway to the living room and worried about the carpet as paper plates overflowing with food were balanced on knees. She sat at the kitchen table while the dishes were washed, catching up on the women’s gossip with her fingers curved around a forgotten cup until it was whisked away.

And then it was done. Kaylin knew the signs: the last swallows of coffee, the slowing conversation, the children collapsing in their mother’s arms. Kaylin sighed. She didn’t want it to be over.

Jasmine was slumped in her frills and white stockings in her father’s arms, too sleepy to be anything but content. Kaylin sat on the arm of the couch beside them, running her fingers unfelt over her daughter’s hair. There was one final tradition as yet undone, her most cherished part of the evening, and Kaylin’s heart fell when the first of the coats appeared. They had forgotten.

“Wait, Daddy.” Jasmine stirred as her father rose to say his good-byes. “We didn’t sing yet. Mommy always sings. Please?”

Kaylin waited, hoping.

“Of course, Jasmine,” her father said, giving her a hug. “You’re such a clever girl for remembering.”

Coats were dropped to the couch in the sliding sound of nylon. Her grandmother beckoned, and Kaylin joyfully edged closer to the piano. Jasmine wiggled down to sit on the long bench before the battered keys, her father standing behind her with his hands on her shoulders. Kaylin could see a glimmer of tears in her mother’s eyes as she took Kaylin’s usual spot before the piano and began to play.

“Silent night, holy night.
All is calm, all is bright.

Tears pricked at Kaylin’s eyes. Her favorite. Voice quavering, she joined her voice to her family’s.

“Round yon virgin, mother and child.
Holy infant, so tender and mild.”

“Daddy,” Jasmine whispered, her face upturned as she pulled on his sleeve. “I can hear Mommy singing.”

Kaylin’s throat nearly closed, and tears slipped down her cheeks. Angels could sing. And on Christmas Eve, they could be heard by those who listened.

Her husband knelt and gave Jasmine a tight, fierce hug. “So can I, sweetheart,” he whispered, rocking her. “So can I.”

“Sleep in heavenly peace.
Sleep in heavenly peace.”

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