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Notes and Quotes

GwenW notes that letterboxers seek to manifest, through their hobby, their belief in the unseen but discoverable.

They enjoy puzzles and word-play. They’re comfortable taking risks outdoors, exploring new areas based on someone elses clues and encouragement. They want to leave their mark to show they’ve passed through this world. They want to know they are not alone on their adventures, they want to see who has gone before them, even if they never meet them in person.


The first draft of Maganda’s Comb was about predation and predators. This draft is shaping up to be about choices – knowing that choices are there, figuring out how to make the right choices, acting on choices, and living with the consequences of choice.


KelvinS notes that Choices must be thought through, then Movements must be acted upon. Often we Choose with our actions, without thinking, and allow Thinking to stop our actions….or something close to that. I’m still trying to figure it out… it’s about not overthinking actions, but thinking through choices and acting based on that choice.

An Experiment

One of the craft books I read recently (I know, bad me for not remembering /which/ one) recommended taking a favorite book and retyping the whole thing to get a feel for how the story was paced. I really don’t have the time (or inclination) to do that, so I thought I’d try a little experiment. With the help of the cool word count tool on Renaissance Learning, I’m going to try and figure out the pacing/plot arc of a book I’ve read recently:

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

Word Count: 90k (375 pages)
Chapters: 22
Average words per chapter: 4000

Chapter 1: I Accidentally Vaporize My Pre-algebra Teacher – Magical world introduced; sense of life/death struggle hinted, major players introduced (Percy, mother, Grover, Mr. Brunner)

Chaps 2-4: Stakes raised as Percy flees from monsters.

Chaps 5-8: Percy faces struggles with peers and comes to grips with his true identity.

Chaps 9-21: Percy searches for object of his quest, encounters blocks in every chapter, escapes several life-threatening encounters with monsters, gets deeper into Greek myth, and achieves quest goal.

Chap 22: Percy learns that although his quest is over, a greater challenge awaits him, and he starts to make his own choices and lets others make their own choices also.

Interesting…This is a fairly straightforward book with a classic plot arc shape. Each chapter builds on the previous one, heightening tension while revealing character strengths and weaknesses. It’s sort of a ‘team’ book, with Percy aided by two other characters.

For comparison, Keturah and Lord Death by Martine Leavitt shows the following:

Word Count: 50k appx.
Chapters: 14
Average word count per chapter: 3500

Prologue-Chap 1: Main character and antagonist introduced, as well as social structure and environment. Main problem is introduced.

Chap 2-13: Series of events where main character looks for ways to keep antagonist at bay, instead finding herself more and more involved with the antagonist in positive ways. Main character supported by two friends, pursues several leads to end conflict, interacts with many members of her village.

Chap 14-Coda: Main character resolves conflict and narrative reveals fate of other characters.

The plot of Keturah is less complicated but the characters are more complex. Also a simple rising action plot with reflecting and descending emotional arc.

This gives me good food for thought on sketching out the novel. I’ve found recently that I need milestones to move forward. In my essay writing, I find that I can’t even begin an essay until I have all/most of the quotations I want to cover written and referenced. Once I have those arranged, the essay writing is fairly easy.

So I’m going to try and do the same for the novel, plotting out scenes beforehand, even though I also plan to let the plot take me where it wants to go – having a roadmap is a good thing and a proven method from my storytelling apprenticeship.


It’s taken me the better part of a week to get re-acclimated to life at home. It’s so good to be with my family again, but there was the laundry and the putting-away-of-stuff and the ordering of more books and the reading of more books and the writing of novel notes that needed to be done.

Part of re-entry too has been helping get things done that were put on hold while I was gone and it’s all come together nicely. I finished two books this week – Alexie’s “Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” and Leavitt’s “Kathura and Lord Death.” I haven’t blogged them on GoodReads yet (in fact, I’m sorely behind on entries there) but it’s safe to say I loved both books and learned much about writing for the YA audience.

The novel notes are coming along and I’ve worked out some glitches from the first draft and created some interesting changes for the new draft. It will be interesting to see what makes it on the page finally. I haven’t decided on my essay topics yet, but I suspect one will be on how magical environments/themes are introduced in novels and the other on the significance of community in fantasy novels.

I’m trying not to panic about how little I’ve actually written this week and trying to focus on what I have accomplished in the way of novel development. Time is coming, though, to stick to my chair and write. We’re easing into a routine at home which is helping and I’m looking forward to really digging in this weekend.

Time to bid Montpelier farewell-for-now. I puttered most of the morning, tidying up my things and waiting for the taxi. It was thunderstorming off and on, but the taxi driver didn’t think it would delay flights. I had the good fortune to not only share a cab with two faculty but to see two more at the airport. I was feeling a bit bereft since the day previous I’d forgotten to say goodbye to all but one faculty member. They all taught me so much in the few days of the residency and I felt guilty for not expressing my gratitude before heading out.

Thunderstorms not withstanding, the day progressed very slowly as planes were delayed due to traffic over Boston. The delays were incremental and by the end of the day, I was three hours delayed. Thankfully Blessy was traveling on the same flights and we kept each other company between naps and reading. Really, though, the day was a complete blur punctuated by bone-tiredness and anxiety to get home.

My family picked me up sometime after midnight and we decided to stay in town overnight before heading home. Tired though I was, I really felt a longing to be in Vermont, trudging up the hill and attending lectures. What an incredible experience!

Class of 2010

Class of 2010

The day started early with a lecture by Ellen Howard on Sacred Silence. A self-styled luddite, Howard eschews the use of technology whenever possible – she uses a typewriter (albeit with 1 page memory) and a copy machine. That’s it. No email, no internet, no cel phone.

She inhabits this space in order to give herself the best chance to write without distraction, and I’m thinking I will do similar, writing long-hand during the week and typing it up on the weekends. I’m not sure how long my hands will last, but I’m the first one to admit that when I’m stuck, it sure is easier to check my email (all three accounts), the forums (obsessively), and the news. If I’m really stressed there’s always Lolcats to view, YouTube flicks to watch, and blogs to skim. The idea of just sitting and dreaming and writing seems…unnerving.

I know I need to be more quiet, but I’m often unsettled by my thoughts as they bounce around telling me what I haven’t done and what I should be doing and what I’ve failed to do. I’ve been encouraged on several fronts to take up meditation, but I often fall asleep as a result. But learning how to wait and be patient – I can see the value of this.

Today was also the last workshop and I snapped pix of my workshopmates and tried to soak in their wisdom. After a quick lunch, I tried to catch up on …yep… my email, blogs, etc. skipping the Career Development Discussion and waiting for Graduation.

Watching the graduating class receive their diplomas and be recognized for their work was very inspiring. They’re a very cohesive group of writers, bonded at the hip and all bound to do great things in children’s literature. It’s amazing to think that in 2+ years that will be me.

The graduating class very graciously gave my class journals – spiffy ones made of old hardbound kids books. Most of my classmates got classic titles – Dr. Seuss and Dick and Jane. Me, I got “Tom Swift and His Space Solartron” (c) 1958, which looks like a cross between the Hardy Boys and Spaceman Spiff. It’s the perfect journal for me considering I started this whole writing thing with writing science fiction back in junior high. And it’s a terrific way to recycle old hardcover books! Interleaved with the blank pages are several pages from the actual book.

Opening line: “Calling Tom Swift! Power failure in the wind tunnel!”

Talk about immediacy, use of dialogue, and conflict revelation all in one!

Ending line: “Dare you to make a roast beef dinner with our skipper’s solartron!”

Apparently exclamation points are important too.

After the reception, most of my cohort headed to the main restaurant for NECI. We figured that if what we had been eating in the dorm was ‘first year’ food, then we deserved to know what ‘graduate food’ tasted like. I had a nice virgin strawberry daiquiri with a plate of mussels and a salad. Delish. Our group was too big to seat all at one table, so we were broken up over three tables. The discussions were lively but bittersweet with the knowledge that we wouldn’t be seeing each other for six months. But we were all very excited to get home and work on our first packets.