Taking a Midcourse Assessment of Narrator

assessmentNow that I’ve hit the midpoint of Narrator, time to see how my outline‘s holding up. Just a quick read-through of my index cards is enough to throw out half of the upcoming scenes. Maybe Arianna was focusing on a problem that wasn’t important anymore, or Calder was taking an action that he never would now that he’d lived through the first half of the book. But it’s not just about being out-of-date. I noticed a few points where I could actually ramp up the conflict by letting the characters succeed instead of fail.

I dropped a few storylines. I also have new storylines that didn’t exist when I made the outline, so I have those to work in. I won’t bother writing up the new index cards I need, though. Not all at once. I’ll just try to keep a few steps ahead of my writing. I want to be able to keep the index cards current with any new changes.

This and a few other checks are part of the Midcourse Assessment in Holly Lisle’s How to Think Sideways writing course. With Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering as a close second, this is the single most useful instruction I’ve seen on how to write. If you’re curious, feel free to ask me about either one!

And with that, I have some new index cards to make.


Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.

Meet Calder #2

Calder 2In my massive rewrite of The Narrator, I’ve just passed the midpoint. I was pretty worried about the scene, and kept putting it off and putting it off. But when I finally dove in, it was actually pretty fun.

And I owe it all to Calder #2.

There are two Calders in Narrator: the original, and the one the Narrator tried to make by changing his backstory. At the midpoint, the second Calder manifests (because of an enchanted forest) and the two Calders have a bit of a chat.

And that second Calder was a treat to “work with.” He was very talkative and came up with some great stuff, all without really trying.

(I know that to non-writers this kind of talk sounds crazy, but characters usually take on a life of their own. They can be complete chatterboxes, like Calder #2, or they can refuse to give up any information on themselves and frustrate the crap out of you.)

So this scene was going better than I expected, but still with a lot of false starts and backtracking. And suddenly Calder #2 was dragging his feet, and refusing to cooperate, and giving me a really crappy performance — until I put back some paragraphs I had removed. Once they were back in place, he was more than happy to talk again.

Things slowed down again as we neared the end of the scene, because Calder #2 knew this was going to be his only scene, and he was reluctant to “leave.” I could tell he was trying to stretch out his time. I felt bad for him, too, since he was (for the most part) so great to work with. But alas, I don’t think I’ll be able to justify bringing him back.

Even if it would be fun.


Jennifer A. Johnson is a newly published fantasy writer thanks to The Adventure of Creation anthology. She's still revising her first novel, but you can sign up for her free newsletter to pass the time.