A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L’Engle

ringReleased: May 1, 1980
Pages: 332 pages (paperback)
Theme(s): Coming-of-age, dealing with grief, searching for meaning, friendship, family
Genre(s): YA / Contemporary / Fiction
Age Group: 12+

★★★★

After a tumultuous year in New York City, the Austins are spending the summer on the small island where their grandfather lives. He’s very sick, and watching his condition deteriorate as the summer passes is almost more than Vicky can bear. To complicate matters, she finds herself as the center of attention for three very different boys.

Zachary Grey, the troubled and reckless boy Vicky met last summer, wants her all to himself as he grieves the loss of his mother. Leo Rodney has been just a friend for years, but the tragic loss of his father causes him to turn to Vicky for comfort—and romance. And then there’s Adam Eddington. Adam is only asking Vicky to help with his research on dolphins. But Adam—and the dolphins—may just be what Vicky needs to get through this heartbreaking summer.

Forward

A Ring of Endless Light continues to be one of my all-time favorite books. I probably first read it around the age of 12. I’m pretty sure I read A Wrinkle in Time first, a required in-class reading in 5th grade Language Arts class, but I was aware of A Ring of Endless Light before Wrinkle because I had seen the 2002 Disney Channel Original Movie book-to-movie adaption. While I loved it then, I’m not really sure it holds up in my eyes. The movie was very different from the book and not really in a way that I can defend.

With summer approaching, I wanted to give this book a reread and shine a spot-light on this YA classic in the hope that it would find new readers. I don’t feel like there’s anything quite like it being published these days and feel like it still has a lot to offer new generations of young adults.

I feel like people may be more familiar with A Wrinkle in Time, the science fiction adventure. A Ring of Endless Light has some speculative science but all together is grounded in the real world with real-life challenges that people have to face, like losing loved ones and choosing how to live one’s life. Like Meg, Vicky is at an age where she questions everything that is happening around her and finds herself thrust into situations she isn’t fully ready for.

My Thoughts

“It’s hard to let go anything we love. We live in a world which teaches us to clutch. But when we clutch we’re left with a fistful of ashes.”

Taking place over the course of a summer, this novel is about Vicky Austin and her family trying to enjoy their remaining time with her grandfather who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Vicky is asked to be available at home to support her mother during the difficult time, but her father still fully supports each of his children taking on a summer project of some sort.

Vicky’s summer project becomes helping Adam Eddington, a summer intern at the local marine biology center, with his top-secret research involving dolphin communication. While he has the mind of a scientist, he recognizes the benefit of a poet’s perspective. They are both surprised to find just how well his dolphins take to her and how integral she becomes to his research.

While she grows closer to Adam, the boy who understands her but begins to keep her at an arm’s distance, she is also grappling with her evolving relationships to two others she’s known for longer. She finds herself no longer so revolted by Leo, the son of a recently deceased family friend, while at the same time having to navigate his clumsy romantic advances. She’s also juggling the rich, troubled Zachary Grey, who keeps showing up out of nowhere with a desire to disrupt her peaceful existence.

It might sound like a soap opera, but I promise it’s not!

Throughout the book, Vicky is learning how to be a good friend and a shoulder to learn on while dealing with grief herself. In this novel she is not just supporting Leo and Zachary, but also watching grandfather deteriorate and be there for her mother. At this crucial time, she’s also renegotiating her relationships to all her siblings: the brother who is beginning to see her as a equal, the brother who is not a baby anymore, and the sister who needs more help than she lets on.

I love this book so much, it’s one that I almost wish I could hide away from the rest of the world and never share, for fear that outsiders could change the way I see this book. I know that there are people out there who might accuse this book of being sentimental (I think it toes the line perfectly) or religious (I think it supports faith but also a critical and open mind).

Craft

I’ve long admired L’Engle’s work not just for her storytelling ability or the lovable characters she writes but also for the way that all her books are interconnected. In A Ring of Endless Light, you can get a sense that it is L’Engle speaking through her characters when Vicky says, “Grandfather says there is no such thing as coincidence” and he elaborates, “The pattern is closely woven.”

For someone very familiar with her work, it seems to be a nod at her tendency to keep her novels set into the families she has created, namely the Murray-O’Keefes and the Austins. Because of the drastically different adventures these two families face, one could naturally expect them to live in alternative universes. What was so remarkable to me as a child was seeing that so many characters from her novels bounce from book to book, bridging these different worlds.

I feel like L’Engle did what Marvel Studios have sought to do since the first Iron Man (2008) movie, create stories that can stand alone but which have characters flit between each one uniting into something magnificent. L’Engle never had an Avengers-like culminating piece, but I still love looking at the family tree above and marveling (pun intended) at the world she created in her body of work, particularly as her novels were contemporary YA.

Yes, there was often a smidgen of science fiction/the supernatural embedded into her stories, but for me her novels stand out as a celebration of a close-knit nurturing family in a crazy, sometimes mean world. I feel like it might have been radical when these books were first coming out, given Zachary Gray’s morbid fascination with these families. I think they are more radical now in a time where our ideas of what makes a happy family have expanded.

Something else I always admired of L’Engles’ work is her integration of words of wisdom from famous literary, scientific, and spiritual figures. Her books have always seemed like a synthesis of many different ideas and academic field, which I love. I can’t really think of any YA authors who do this kind of thing right now. (That being said, feel free to share any authors think are integrating ideas from different disciplines down below!)

Outgoing Message

When I read this book, over a month ago now, I decided I wanted to revisit more of my favorite Madeleine L’Engle works that involve mysteries, science, and conspiracies. For that reason, I held back from publishing this review right away, so I could introduce my intentions for the next few book reviews that you will see on this blog this month.

Next week on Betwined Reads I will have my book reviews for The Arm of the Starfish and Troubling a Star, the two other L’Engle works that feature the marine biology-themed adventures of Adam Eddington. And the following week I will publish my reviews of the two more middle grade novels about kids uncovering international conspiracies in Dragons in the Waters and  The Young Unicorns.

Have you read A Ring of Endless Light? If so, what’d you think?!

Thank you for reading!
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La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

Screen Shot 2018-05-26 at 11.45.08 PMReleased: October 19, 2017
Pages: 464 pages (hardcover)
Theme(s): Bravery, loyalty, destiny, survival, the danger of theocratic rule, toxic Christianity, prejudice
Genre(s): Young Adult / Fantasy / Fiction
Age Group: 12+

★★★★

Malcolm Polstead is the kind of boy who notices everything but is not much noticed himself. And so perhaps it was inevitable that he would become a spy…

Malcolm’s father runs an inn called the Trout, on the banks of the river Thames, and all of Oxford passes through its doors. Malcolm and his dæmon, Asta, routinely overhear news and gossip, and the occasional scandal, but during a winter of unceasing rain, Malcolm catches wind of something new: intrigue.

He finds a secret message inquiring about a dangerous substance called Dust–and the spy it was intended for finds him.

When she asks Malcolm to keep his eyes open, Malcolm sees suspicious characters everywhere; Lord Asriel, clearly on the run; enforcement agents from the Magisterium; an Egyptian named Coram with warnings just for Malcolm; and a beautiful woman with an evil monkey for a dæmon. All are asking about the same thing: a girl–just a baby–named Lyra.

Lyra is the kind of person who draws people in like magnets. And Malcolm will brave any danger, and make shocking sacrifices, to bring her safely through the storm.

Preface

I first read The Golden Compass, the American title for the first book in the His Dark Materials trilogy, when I was in either 5th or 6th grade (2004/5ish). I’d loved it at the time, loving the fierce heroine presented in Lyra. I think she was one of the first strong female characters I’d ever read who was confident, brave, and not a bookworm or goodie-two-shoes (ahem *Hermione*).

I’m not sure if I ever finished the trilogy when I was a kid, but I recently gave the books a read in 2014 around the time I first got serious about writing. My earliest novel attempts were heavily influenced by these books with their complex themes and characters. I loved how these books that were marketed for young adults could also enthrall and resonate with meaning for adults. These are the kinds of books I hope to write.

Discovering La Belle Sauvage debuted last year was a happy coincidence. Of course, when I ordered it I was in the midst of a reading slump (a dangerous time to shop for books, I might add). So it’s taken me until now to finally give this book a go, hoping it’d motivate and inspire me as I wrote my first serious novel (serious as in not pantsing it during NaNoWriMo).

I had a great time reading La Belle Sauvage. I was extremely fast paced and held my attention and interest until about the 350-page mark. I’ll get into my 4-star rating down below!

My Thoughts

La Belle Sauvage, set about 10 years before the events of The Golden Compass/Northern Lights, follows the 11-year-old good-natured potboy Malcolm as he gets wrapped up in a secret conspiracy to protect a baby from forces that seem to want to do her harm after she is discovered to be the subject of a witch’s prophecy.

One critique I had of this book, although I don’t know how it could’ve been fixed, is that no one has the full-picture of what’s at stake in this novel. At lot is left up to chance, but from the original trilogy set in this world, we know that destiny has a guiding hand in the form of Dust.

Malcolm ends up becoming Lyra’s guardian once the flood hits and the nuns fail to listen to the gyptian warning about the weather. But he doesn’t know why she’s important at all, other than the man who’s after her, claiming to be her father, is super evil. So he’s driven by compassion and loyalty to return her to her true father when he can’t find her safe sanctuary anywhere else.

…This is a deep and uncomfortable paradox, which will not have escaped you; we can only defend democracy by being undemocratic. Every secret service knows this paradox…

Oakley Street is a secret organization that opposes the current conservative leadership in the government and actively works to undermine it. By chance, the leader of this organization was entrusted with the task of finding Lyra a suitable home when her mother wants nothing to do with her and her father is legally unable to step in. Once they find out the conservative baddies are trying to get custody of Lyra they become more interested in why she’s important and want to keep her out of their hands.

Malcolm becomes involved in Oakley Street once he accidentally intercepts a message from a soon-after deceased messenger. He’s tracked down by the woman who the message was meant for with the help of the alethiometer (the mysterious and rare symbolic truth-telling machine). Her role in the organization was to find answers to questions regarding Dust, which is in theory a terrible threat to Christian doctrine. She enlists Malcolm’s help as someone who can offer vital intel about the baby and anything else odd going on. (It’s actually kind of weird because we find she doesn’t even know exactly who she’s working for and her only job is consult the alethiometer with top-secret questions.)

This book would likely have been rated five stars up until the last 100 pages or so. It had all the makings of a favorite book of mine: interesting characters, political intrigue, and a mystery-driven plot. About midway through the novel there’s a history-making flood and then the book turns into an exciting action thriller with one of the scariest villains I’ve ever read.

The only problem is when the flood adventure begins to pay homage to the epic poem The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spencer. It’s trippy, at times disturbing, and fantastically boring, especially considering how it distracted from the story set up in the first 200 or so pages. I wanted to know more about Dr. Relf, who shared much page-time with Malcolm in the first half of the book. I also wanted to know what happened when Malcolm got home!

Craft

The book is written in the third-person perspective of an omniscient narrator who can see inside of Malcolm and Dr. Hannah Relf’s heads, also a couple of other Oakley Street operatives up to their own stuff. This point-of-view is really useful for mysteries, especially when no one character can know everything that is going on. It allows the reader to have a greater view of the story at hand.

However, at times, it could be difficult as a reader to remember when the character whom you are following reacts appropriately to story developments if you consider whether they knew a certain bit of information yet or not. For instance, Malcolm stumbles upon documents that discuss the Ruskov field and Dust and attempts to distract the villain by asking him about it, but this only seems significant after the chapter where the Oakley Street people have revealed the villain was a scientist who specialized in the Ruskov field.

This book provides a lot of great examples of how to write a spy thriller. There are secret messages, spies, espionage, also fun thrilling bits when characters are being watched or followed. I also liked seeing how people were inducted into the secret organization. Everyone who’s involved has a special skill set that makes them valuable.

If you’ve read the His Dark Materials trilogy, you’ll know already what a fantastic world-builder Philip Pullman is. His concept of dæmons is not explored in this book the way it is in his earlier works, but it’s still easy to see how integral they are to the characters in this world. Pullman’s style is to gradually reveal more and more details as they naturally arise in the course of the story that helps you understand how things work. I admire his sparing use of foreshadowing and slow build-ups to eventual plot points.

He also pulled off an extremely satisfying feat of character development the side character of Alice. I did not think she would end up being so important in the story at all, if anything I thought she might accidentally get Lyra killed. But she is the strong female character that this book needed to foil and support Malcolm on his quest. Absolutely love her and how Pullman brings her and Malcolm closer together.

Final Thoughts

I really enjoyed this book, and I’m glad to have finally gotten to it. I would 100% still recommend it to people, although probably not young children (rape and sexual themes frequent throughout the book, although, portrayed at times through the young protagonist’s perspective).

I don’t think fans of the His Dark Materials trilogy would necessarily like this book, as it doesn’t really change much about how you frame the drama of the trilogy. BUT I think it has a lot of value to offer as its own story.

I’m personally a little peeved that the next book in this The Book of Dust “series” will not follow Malcolm and Alice, who I adored in this book. However, I am excited, to know that it will follow a young adult Lyra!!! I just hope we find out what happened to these two kids who saved her life when she was too young to remember.

Have you read La Belle Sauvage? If so, what’d you think?!

Thank you for reading!
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Five Word Story Challenge | Blog Tag

Sorry this post is coming late tonight! I was tagged by Sara @ The Bibliophagist to do the 5 Word Story Challenge on Sunday! It seemed like a fun little writing challenge to stretch the writing noodle, so I decided to give it a go.

Since I’m currently working on my novel, I decided to integrate this challenge into my story. I feel like I put unnecessary pressure on myself, announcing this on Monday! But once, I realized it only needed to be five words, I was like, “Ok, that’s easy!”

It wasn’t actually all that easy (that last word was intense). I don’t think this little excerpt will work its way into the final draft of my story, but it does feature my protagonist in a scene that could be perfectly well happen, so let’s consider it an outtake.

The Rules

  • Thank the person who tagged you.
  • Close your eyes, open to random pages, and point your finger on a random word in the last book you have read. Articles do not count.
  • Repeat the above rule 5 times.
  • List the 5 random words you have.
  • Create a 5 sentence flash fiction using your 5 random words. Each sentence must contain at least one word from your list. You can change the tense of the word as needed.
  • Tag 3 people.

My Last Completed Book

La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman (review coming tomorrow!)

5 Random Words

 other | faded | out | hours | symbolize

Story

She lay on her stomach under her bed, the other journal still bound shut under her right hand. The faded and smudged characters were a challenge to read in the dim light. But rather than come out, she was content to stay in the spot that made her feel most at home. It was had been hours since she heard the last door at the end of her corridor shut. Off-hand, she wondered if the carvings at the bottom of her door symbolized anything or if they were just scratches from a small animal who once sought freedom.

I Tag

Elle @ The Nishume Chronicles

Katherine @ The Writerly Reader

Ely (& her co-bloggers if they so wish) @ Of Wonderland

End Note

Feel free to complete this tag if you’d like to! I’d encourage anyone to put their own spin on it.

This challenge reminded me of grade school assignments where we were asked to write a one-page story using all the vocabulary words for that week. I was the weird who enjoyed that kind of assignment. I remember a Halloween-themed story particularly fondly. Why didn’t I have a mom who saved those kinds of things?!

See you tomorrow (6/7) with my book review of La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman!

Thank you for reading!
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A Quick Update | June 4th

aquickupdate

Hey, everybody! I just wanted to provide you with a little update about the blog post that was supposed to be published yesterday. I’ve not been able to complete my first Weekly Spotlight just yet. I had written so many things down that it was getting really too long. And that was without any description of the blogs I had selected to highlight in the post, which is supposed to be the most important part!

So instead of stressing myself out about it and trying to finish it up tonight, I’m just going to save it for next Sunday. Or maybe it’ll be a two-part extravaganza, with something coming on Saturday and Sunday.

I have been keeping up with my other blog hopping challenge, namely, to comment on at least five blogs a day! It’s taken more time than I thought it would (one reason the Weekly Spotlight is coming late), but I’ve honestly enjoyed it! And I’m learning a lot (one reason why the Weekly Spotlight was getting super long).

I just wanted to do a little blog post explaining what’s going on right now. I have no plans to disappear this month, but keep in mind that I am trying to finish a novel this month by June 20th! I don’t know how well I’ll be able to stick to a schedule past this week.

➴ Coming up on Betwined Reads this week

Five Word Story Challenge | Blog Tag // I was tagged by Sara @ The Bibliophagist this weekend. It seemed like a fun little thing I could do and it meant I could have a writing-themed post go up this Wednesday.

La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman | Book Review // In keeping with my regular scheduled programming, my next book review will be published on Thursday. I adored it for the most part, and I am excited to share my thoughts on this surprising book.

On a Final Note

Sneaky writing update: the writing has been going really well! The words are coming easier, and I’m getting more and more happy with my natural writing style. I do worry that my June 20th deadline might sneak up on me, so I’m going to need to try to spend less time tinkering with overlong blog posts. I’d rather continue to do blog hop and comment, even at the expense of my own blog posts this month…

We’ll see how things work out! See you around ^_^

Thank you for reading!
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June Goals + TBR

June will be a very different month for me, because I’ll have a lot of time on my own to work on my personal projects. I’ll have a lot more personal freedom about what I do and when. I don’t know about you, but when I have a lot of extra free time on my hands I have a tendency to get less done than I do when my life has more of a structure (school, work, etc.). For that reason, this month’s goals and TBR are more important than previous months!

Not only do I want to get my novel done I want to continue the work I’ve started on Betwined Reads. Below are my goals and the list of books I intend to read in the month of June. I have no doubt I will reference this post at several points throughout the month.

^_^

Goals

1. Read more blogs!

I don’t know about others, but I feel sometimes like a lot of us are shouting into the void when it comes to our blog posts and bookish social media. I think the problem is we think so much about what we want to say and how we want to say that we forget that there are others we can learn from and find enjoyment in hearing from. So I want to start making it a daily habit to read and comment on blogs. In case you missed it, I did a specific post about my plans for Blog Hopping in June.

2. Write for at least 30 minutes everyday

I’m in the thick of writing my novel now and I really want to commit to working on it each day this month while my mind is still deep in my story. It hurts my progress to take a few days off of working on it so I know that if I commit to working on it everyday without fail great things will result.

3. Get organized

It’s been a year since I completed grad school and I’ve still yet to go through all my binders with readings or even fully organize my desktop and all my folders. I feel like I need to declutter and that will help me refocus my life in a way. I’d like to commit to at least one blog post this month on my progress. I think it will be a fun creative challenge to look forward to so that I don’t get burnt out on all the reading, writing, and blog hopping I’ll be doing this month. Wanna join me in getting organized this month?!

TBR

I feel like I made a mistake last month choosing books that would call for a lot of my time when I was still in the thick of a big reading project (what I will now refer to as the great Harry Potter rereading project of 2018). I also seemed to forget what I already know about myself, which is I don’t like getting stuck with a TBR of books that I have no immediate reason for/interest in reading.

So this month I thought realistically about the books that I want to read 1) in order to review, and 2) because I think they will inform my writing this month. As it turns out, the start of a new month (and the approach of summer) reminded me that I wanted to review all the great summer reads that are the Madeleine L’Engle books I acquired last month.

End Note

After a week of preparing posts the night before they were scheduled to upload, I’m ready for a little break to focus solely on writing! You’ll hear from me again next on Sunday with a new feature linked to my Blog Hopping in June plans. In the comments below, let me know what you plan to do in June!

In case you missed them, here’s a list of this week’s posts:

Blog Hopping in June

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Making a List of Possibilities | Writing Wednesdays

May Notes

Thank you for reading!
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May Notes

betwinedmaynotes.png

It’s that time of month again when I look back at the goals I set for myself at the beginning of the month as well as reflect on what I posted and read. May was another month of which I could feel exceptionally proud. I not only got a lot of good reading done, I produced a lot of new kinds of blog posts in addition to the regular book reviews.

I feel like I’m growing a lot as a blogger and I’m happy to continue pushing myself to experiment in the future. Before I get into my plans for next month in tomorrow’s post, let’s reflect on this month!

Goals Revisited

It took me a little while to get started on my goal for this month, so I’m happy with the progress I made toward all these goals. I’m beginning to realize the goals I’ve been setting for myself are a little ambitious, but I think that’s a good thing. If a goal is not really a challenge, then I think you’d eventually begin to wonder what is the point of it. So as long as I’m working towards these goals throughout the month, I think I’ll be content.

Here are the goals I set for May:

  1. BUILD A BACKLOG OF BOOK REVIEWS
  2. FINISH MY FIRST DRAFT OF MY W.I.P.
  3. POST THREE TIMES A WEEK

Because it took me a while to finish up my Harry Potter rereads, I had trouble getting through many books fast enough for my book reviews to build up. However, I am ending the month with at least one review saved for next month! I plan to have a little Madeleine L’Engle-themed week or two highlighting some of my favorite works of hers that I think are excellent summer reads.

As for my second goal, I did not get as much writing done as I would have hoped to be able to claim by the end of May, but I did get some crucial work done that will make the first draft better than it will have been if I had started earlier and wrote a bunch of filler words. In case you missed it, I managed to post a pretty long writing update yesterday (Making a List of Possibilities | Writing Wednesdays) that included some details about how I plotted my novel.

My final goal to post three times a week did not prove to be too hard once I started! At the beginning of the month, I was M.I.A. because of my Harry Potter reading and reasons explained in Playing Catch Up in May. Ultimately, I think I was successful in this goal because I plan to keep it up from this point onward! For more details on what to expect on Betwined Reads in June, be sure to check out tomorrow’s post.

This Month’s Posts

  1. May Goals + TBR
  2. Revisiting Harry Potter | Part I
  3. Revisiting Harry Potter | Part II
  4. Playing Catch Up in May
  5. Hogwarts Mystery ❆ | Betwined Tech
  6. Blog Hopping in June
  7. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
  8. Making a List of Possibilities | Writing Wednesdays

What I Read

I made a mistake at the start of May of listing books on my TBR that I was not entirely interested in reading at the moment and, therefore, only got to one. I’m glad I read that one (The Ocean at the End of the Lane), but the only reason I did is because I talked myself into it because I thought it might inform my novel writing. I was kind of right; I liked the mediation on monsters and dream-like style.

Here are the books I read this month:

  1. A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L’Engle (review coming in June)
  2. Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
  3. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
  4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
  5. A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J. Maas  (reviewed)
  6. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (reviewed)
  7. La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman (review coming in June)

I realized I listed A Ring of Endless Light on last month’s Notes, but I didn’t really finish it until well into the first week of May; so I listed it here as well. My favorite read this month is probably going to be La Belle Sauvage (which I haven’t finished yet but intend to finish the day this post goes up). I adore the protagonist Malcolm and all the spy business afoot. My least favorite was ACOFAS, for reasons I detail in my review.

End Note

Well I’m off to go finish reading La Belle Sauvage! I hope you’ve had a wonderful month. Many thanks to you regular readers of my blog, new and old. Next up on Betwined Reads you can expect my June Goals + TBR, in which I will share my plans for the month of June. It’s already shaping up to be an exciting one!

Thank you for reading!
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Making a List of Possibilities | Writing Wednesdays

It seems like I’ll be sharing one writing update per month for the time being! There’s been a few points in the month where I’ve felt like sharing an update, but I had to hold myself back. I generally like to write my blog posts in advance and then put final touches on them closer to their publication date, but that doesn’t really work for writing posts.

So much can change in the course of a single day, regarding my story progress. If I were to record every single up- and down-swing in my confidence, plotting, etc. my posts would be an absolute mess, and nobody wants that!

I think a lot of people harbor secret fantasies of being a writer but struggle to think of ideas or how to build good writing habits. I certainly have, and for a long time. That’s why I am so tempted to overshare right now, even at the expense of it ruining my streaks of progress! I love reading other people’s writing updates, because they get me excited to write. I like to think others might get the same motivation from reading my own trials and tribulations.

So that I don’t overshare on my novel writing progress, I’ve decided to limit myself to just one post per month until I am fully done with my first draft. However, my next few writing posts will also feature a strategy or resource(s) that have helped me in my early stages of writing a novel, starting today with how I plotted the novel on which I’m currently working.

But first, here’s my little writing update!

Deadline Extension

In my last writing update (Here We Go Again | #AmWriting), I shared my personal deadline for my first draft was May 31st. I had to move it to June 20th for the reasons listed below.

One, I squandered my time, prioritizing blog posts and goals. It’s hard to punish myself when I have been doing work that I’m proud of, especially work (read: reading) that I believe has the added benefit of making me a better writer.

Two, plotting my story has been difficult. I went through three versions to end up at the one that finally, and tidily, unites all the characters and plot lines that have existed in my head some amorphous brain stew. I’m glad that I didn’t start writing before I was confident in my plot, because I don’t think I would have ended up in place that I did or even a place with which I could be truly happy.

Three, for reasons I will share at the end of next month, I will have a lot more time to myself to write in the first half of June. I will be able to use this extra time to write quality words, not hastily written ones that are discardable placeholders. I’ll be able to focus on and live in the story I want to tell.

While I often say that I’m writing when I am actually doing other tasks that help with writing (plotting, world-building, etc.), I have started properly writing this past weekend. I took my plot (in the form of short summary paragraphs with bullet-points), identified the most prominent plot arcs, chose the ones I wanted to work on first, then referred to the books that I thought might give me ideas as I began to write. PROPERLY WRITE!

A List of Possibilities

At long last we’ve reached the point where I will talk about the main topic of this post: making a list of possibilities. I got this idea from a video by Katytastic that I’ve referenced before at the end of Writing Update #1 | NaNoWriMo 2017. She talks about making a list of every possible direction your story could go when you get stuck in your writing. While she is recommending this list for people who have already started writing, I took it and ran with it as a plotting technique.

I can’t plot my stories by following a strict story structure, as much as I’d like to be able to. I find it more useful to refer to well-known story structures as guidelines when I know there’s something missing that I can’t readily identify. Instead I’ve found much more success in plotting by summarizing the story I want to write in the simplest terms

I rarely know what I’m going to write (read: summarize) ahead of time; I discover it as I go. Unsurprisingly, this never results in a great plot at first. Fortunately, I’m often very easily able to tell when I don’t like something I’ve plotted (for any number of reasons) and go about fixing it.

What I do in these instances is brainstorm different options that fulfill what that plot point needs to do for the story to work, but in a way that satisfies me. Sometimes the first new option I come up with is great and will work, but I try to think of at least one more direction the plot point can take just so that I’m confident in my final choice.

Here’s an example of some of the original options I had for how the female (FMC) and male (MMC) protagonists in my story meet, revised and made more concise than I originally wrote them.

Option 1. MMC introduced before the Hook (witch taken away) as a charismatic mercenary. Meets FMC and build connection before he knows she’s important. Later he is a part of arresting party that takes the witch, helping the FMC avoid similar fate.

Option 2. MMC introduced after Hook, sympathetic to FMC helps her visit the witch in prison driven by his own secret motives.

Neither of these options made the final cut because I eventually realized that my MMC was better utilized not fraternizing with the townsfolk but with another group of people whom my FMC falls in with. Also, I didn’t want his true mission to turn into a reason why the witch was taken away, as it seemed like it might.

Ultimately, I decided not to let the MMC and the witch character’s paths cross at all. A few days after stewing over my plot, I decided to introduce him in an action scene, novel’s first major pinch plot as a mysterious rescuer who was fatefully in the right place at the right time.

(I wish I had a better example, but in the two first plot versions I drafted I deleted the “loser” options, so what did for this post was merge the “winners” from the first two plot iterations. )

End Note

If you’ve read this far, I hope you find this post helpful! I bet there’s a proper name and better description out there of what I tried to express through my “list of possibilities,” but I’ve not come across it and this is what worked for me.

Before I go, I will say that this process did not happen all in one day. I’ve always found it necessary to let things stew a few days before I return to work on the story so that I know if I’m still excited by what I came up with. So while making a list of possibilities may seem simple enough, it can become harder the further down the road you get. It’s especially hard if you grow attached to plot points that may not end up fitting well with the rest of the story in the end.

It helped to start a fresh new blank document each time I needed to make a drastic change. That’s why I can clearly delineate in my head two different plot versions (1.0 and 2.0) with their defining characteristics. It was also handy, because it allowed me to preserve old plot ideas that may still be utilized in future novel drafts as I discover what fits.

Thank you for reading!
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