Monday, December 12, 2011

Behind the Book: Three Things Writers Can Learn from Liar's Moon, Part III

Again: If you are here for the giveaway, scroll on down!
If you are here because you're interested in the $2.99 e-book of
StarCrossed, yay you! Click here for details about where to buy it.
And if you are here for writing craft stuff, read on.

3. Recognize the Power of a Damn Good Outline. 

As anyone who’s read Second Sight knows, I love a good outline (or a bookmap, as I call them there), and as pretty much all of my authors know, I am sort of insane about using them. That’s because an outline allows you both to see the action of an entire book laid out in just a few pages, and to break down how that action and the characters involved are developing scene by scene . . . what's changing, what’s not feeling necessary, what maybe should be added, how I as a reader am reacting to the characters and events as we go along. Sometimes I will ask authors to outline their book at the same time I’m doing it, and it’s always fascinating to compare what I as a reader am taking away from each chapter versus what they see in it.

Anyway, because the narrative structure of Liar’s Moon was so complex, I ended up outlining it in four different ways at various stages in the process, and I thought it might interest you all to see those various drafts. In the first one, my Basic Bookmap, I outlined the events in detail in the order in which they unfolded in the plot, in which Chapter 2 was described like this:
Ch. 2/11 – Durrel helps her clean up. He’s there because they think he murdered his wife Talth Ceid by a poison called Tincture of the Moon. Only people against him = Talth’s family. Account of murder night on p. 17. Raffin Taradyce has joined the Acolyte Guard. Someone has bailed Digger out, and she leaves. Durrel asks her to take a message to his father.
(The “11” was the page number on which the chapter started.) That helped me wrap my head around the basic events of the book, and I made notes in bullet points underneath or sometimes within those descriptions. The first draft of this outline is just for me, but later, after I’ve processed all my reactions to the book and determined what’s most necessary and helpful for an author to hear from me at this stage, I’ll often edit both the chapter descriptions and the notes and send this outline to the author as part of an editorial letter.

Once I had the whole book in my head this way, I broke this down into my second outline, a Mini-Map with just the key events of this chapter, to wit:
2 – meets Durrel, learns about murder of Talth
 A Mini-Map is useful for quick reference—answering questions like “Okay, now when did she find that dead body again?”—especially in long or plot-dense novels like this one.

The third version, the Plot Points Map: I went through and identified where each of the many mystery plots started, labeling it in bullet points and all caps under each chapter. Then I added any LIES told in the chapter, or any TRUTHS UNCOVERED, to help keep track of what Digger knew was true when; and polished it off with a SETS UP, so I knew what the reader was expecting to happen based on the action of this chapter, and I could be sure that the later action of the book followed up on that and paid it off. (I also sometimes added TO ADD if there was information we needed earlier, TO MOVE if something was going elsewhere, or TO CUT if something wasn’t feeling necessary.) That changed the look of this Chapter 2 outline to this:
2 – meets Durrel, learns about murder of Talth
    •    MYSTERY: Who killed Talth Ceid?
    •    LIES:  Durrel says that he doesn’t know how the poison got into his room
    •    SETS UP:  expectation that Digger will go by Charicaux and talk to Ragn
    •    UNDERSTOOD THREAT & MOTIVATION:  The Ceid are out for Durrel’s blood in revenge for Talth’s death.
Finally, because this is a mystery novel, and mysteries move forward in part by digging backward, I created a chronological list of events that started a couple of years before the action of this book began—before the murder was even committed, in fact. This “Backwards Outline” chronicled all of the complex series of events leading up to the murder, and also narrated the events of the night of the murder itself. That way we could be sure that the backstory structure was sound by seeing that all of its events were there; and once that backstory structure was in place, and events arrived at the point at which the action of the book actually began, we could concentrate on when to reveal those backstory events in the frontstory for maximum effect. While revealing any of that backstory would be spoiling you for the reveals in the book itself, here’s where the action picks up with the book’s beginning:

TWO MONTHS LATER (when the book begins)
    31.    (Ch. 1) Digger, pickpocketing, is roughed up and arrested by the King’s guards.
    32.    Taken to the King’s Keep, she is thrown into Durrel’s cell and (2) they talk about the murder.
             a.    MYSTERY:  Who killed Talth Ceid?
    33.    Digger’s friend Rat bails her out (courtesy of a note attached to 50 crowns) and she leaves the Keep.
             a.    MYSTERY:  Who sent the note to bail Digger out? And if this was arranged on Durrel’s behalf, who got her sent there in the first place?
    34.    (3) Digger asks Rat to track the paper of the note. (4) She decides she will investigate the murder.
             a.    Digger’s belief:  Durrel is innocent; no idea about other suspects.
    35.    Digger goes to Bal Marse and finds it abandoned and empty, but with traces of magic about.
             a.    MYSTERY:  How is Talth tied to magic?
Here, you can see, I started numbering the events so that it was easy to refer to them later—for instance, later in the outline, after Talth’s murderer was revealed, I noted in the outline that that SOLVED MYSTERY 32a. Such a strategy helped me keep track of all the plot threads flying in the wind and making sure there weren’t any loose ends we didn’t intend to leave dangling. (Some we intended.) And when Elizabeth and I were having editorial conversations about the book, it was very easy to say, “Okay, so let’s move events 45-49 to Chapter 8 so that we don’t reveal that information too early in the process.” If I can speak as a proud editor for a moment, the fact that I could make a Backwards Outline for this book is precisely what makes Elizabeth such a great writer: how densely and completely she’s imagined and written the world she’s created, and how well she brings it to life. 

Lesson for Writers:  I am completely agnostic on whether writers should outline their books before they do a first draft: That’s up to the writer and their working style and their relationships with their stories and characters. But once that first draft is done, do consider making an outline like one of the ones above, tailored to your own manuscript’s needs, to help you see the book afresh in both its component pieces and as a whole.

And did all this work on Liar’s Moon pay off? Well, check out these reviews:
  • Leila Roy at Bookshelves of Doom and Kirkus Reviews: "The first time through, you’ll concentrate on figuring out the world and meeting the characters and following the story. But when you read them again, you’ll notice how multilayered they are. You’ll notice hints and subtleties of character and plot, and you’ll notice just how carefully they are crafted. You’ll notice that the characters are fully realized people—so much so that it’s easy to forget that they’re fictional creations, even if they do live in a world with three moons."
  • Publishers’ Weekly Children’s Bookshelf Galley Pick of the Week: "It's a very versatile story—perfect for a display of mysteries, fantasy, adventure, or novels with powerful heroines. Liar’s Moon will definitely be one of my very favorite handsells for the fall and holiday seasons, particularly for my fans of Patricia Wrede, Kristin Cashore, Tamora Pierce, and Megan Whalen Turner."
  • VOYA: “As with StarCrossed, Bunce excels in weaving together several plot points and characters without weighing down the novel. Fan of [Kristin] Cashore’s Graceling will greatly enjoy Digger’s unique voice and strength of character, along with Bunce’s ability to fully immerse readers in a finely crafted world.  This book, along with its prequel, should be on most library shelves as both have a wide appeal….”

The Giveaway Runs Through Midnight Wednesday!

I wrote earlier about the terrific deal we’re offering on the digital version of StarCrossed, which continues through the end of the month. But there is no time like the present to get the word out about it! To that end, I’m having a giveaway here, with the chance to win a signed hardcover set of BOTH StarCrossed and Liar’s Moon, OR a signed paperback copy of my Second Sight . . . and I’m offering five prizes in total, so your odds are very good! To enter:

If you’re on Twitter, retweet this message between now and 11:59 p.m. next Wednesday, December 14:
Elizabeth Bunce’s STARCROSSED is now $2.99 on e-book—RT for the chance to win a hardcover + LIAR'S MOON! @chavelaque
Or you can post about this on your blog or LJ (with a link back to this blog post) and leave the link to your post in the comments below, also by 11:59 p.m. EST on Wednesday the 14th. Or both! Each individual tweet or blog post counts as a new entry, so each one increases your chances. (They’re like tesserae in the Hunger Games!) (A link on Twitter to YOUR blog post does not count toward the giveaway, though.) Once all the comments and RTs are in, I’ll pick three names out of a hat and announce the winner on the 16th.

So to do this legal-style:
  1. How to Enter via Twitter: Using your Twitter account, follow @chavelaque and then re-tweet my original tweet of “Elizabeth Bunce’s STARCROSSED is now $2.99 on e-book—RT for the chance to win a hardcover + LIAR'S MOON! @chavelaque” Please note that the phrase “@chavelaque” MUST be in your message or your entry will not be counted. Tweets must be retweeted between 12/7/11, 9 am EST and 12/14/11, 11:59 pm EST (the “Entry Period”). You can tweet as many times as you like in the Entry Period.
  2. How to Enter via Blog/LJ: Post about the $2.99 sale or this giveaway on your blog or unlocked LJ, then leave a link to your post in the comments below. Your post MUST include a link to this post. Also, you MUST leave your own link in the comments on this post between 12/7/11, 9 am EST and 12/14/11, 11:59 pm EST or your entry will not be counted. Post as many times as you like during the Entry Period.
  3. The Prizes: Three (3) winners will each receive one (1) hardcover copy of both StarCrossed and Liar’s Moon (Approximate Retail Value $35.98). Two (2) winners will each receive (1) copy of Second Sight (Approximate Retail Value $16.99). Everyone will receive my undying gratitude.
Thank you for participating, and I hope you win!


  1. Wonderful post and fantastic prizes!

    I RT on Twitter and posted on my LJ

    Thank you for doing this.

  2. I have your book, Cheryl, and it's been such an enjoyable read. I've also read STARCROSSED, so it's exciting to learn more about Elizabeth's process, and I'm looking forward to LIAR'S MOON.

  3. Oh boy! I'm in. I've read A Curse as Dark as Gold but would love to win these. Will retweet on twitter.

  4. Great giveaway and great book!
    I twitted the contest and this is my blog:

  5. So, I *just* got this post in at my other blog. Wish I'd thought of it sooner!

    And you probably already know I've been tweeting like a crazy woman. Or at least like a woman who wants to win a book. ;-)

  6. Thanks for this post. I'm a rabid outliner, but I wouldn't have thought to structure in quite this way. I'll definitely be trying this method out.

    Happy holidays.