Monthly Archives: June 2024

Writing Process–Scene Matrix for The Cost of Power

Over the past few days I’ve been working my way through nearly a thousand pages of manuscript to whip The Cost of Power into some sort of continuity shape. After running all three books through a line edit, my next step was to sit down with paper and a felt-tipped pen to create a rough scene matrix intended to help me identify holes in the story as well as places where I contradict myself. I addressed some issues in the line edit pass, but this is laying the foundation for the big revision.

After two years of working on this trilogy, I needed to do this intensive review to get all of the pieces into my head as a coherent whole.

I’ve used this tool before, primarily when working with more than two points-of-view in books with a complicated geography. The last two books of The Netwalk Sequence required this treatment because not only were there four character viewpoints, but the characters were scattered across the Earth and in space. The same was true for the last two books of Goddess’s Honor, except in that case I was coordinating magical battles across two continents, plus dealing with less technological means of transportation.

The matrix this time wasn’t as complicated as either of those series, thankfully, just longer because it covers three books for nearly a thousand pages total. I only had two POVs to coordinate, and distance wasn’t a factor. So I didn’t need to figure out where everyone was in each scene and whether offstage characters were doing something important that needed to be covered.

For The Cost of Power, the biggest reason for resorting to the scene matrix (besides length and time spent writing it) was that the last third of the third book came up with some big surprises that needed to be addressed earlier in the trilogy. Otherwise these ending events read like a deus ex machina and that doesn’t work. They’re also the sort of worldbuilding pieces that enrich and deepen the story. I needed to identify holes in the story, plus figure out where to put this backstory earlier in the trilogy.

Is it going to make the trilogy significantly longer? Not really. For one thing, during the line edit pass, I got rather aggressive about cutting words. Those first drafts had a lot of repetition in them. For another, in this pass, the scene matrix identified spots where the characters were just blathering. It was interesting blather, but it didn’t advance the story or give much depth to the characters or the world.

Which is one reason why I really like using a scene matrix to analyze a book in revisions. All I needed to do was identify pages, characters in the scene, scene events, and scene purpose/notes (which became more notes than purpose as I worked through the piles of paper). Unlike Netwalk or Goddess’s Honor, I didn’t need to figure out what the other characters were doing and where they were.

I also sat down and ran through a book a day, rather than taking this step slowly. Why? Well, I wanted the entire trilogy in my head, as I mentioned above. Because I’d just done the line edit of all three books, I still remembered mental notes I had made about things I needed to consider during the scene matrix creation.

It’s not quite time to dive into the rewrite, though. I have to make further notes about several issues I flagged as backstory that I need to flesh out, as well as figure out where I need to insert the backstory or fix holes that need me to create the framework for fixing them.

But at least this step is done. My arthritic thumb is swollen and a little achy, but that’s gotten better as I worked. I have ink stains from the old and failing felt-tipped pens I used to create the scene matrix—better to use felt-tips for long periods of handwriting than ball points, as I’ve sadly discovered. Even if the felt-tipped pens are messy and I can only write on one side of a sheet of paper due to bleedthrough. I have a lot of spirals hanging around still (leftovers from abandoned student spirals that I just pulled out sheets that had been written on and saved the clean paper).

I have no freaking idea if this story will sell at all, or if it just turns out to be a trilogy of the heart. Nonetheless, I’m committed to making it the best damn trilogy I can. It’s the conclusion of the Martiniere Saga, even though I do leave myself an opening to possibly write something about the next generation. Though I don’t think that will happen. As I’m learning from wrestling with the concept of the sequel series to Goddess’s Honor, even if there’s a possibility that the stories can go on…that doesn’t mean they necessarily will.


Note: I seem to be on a blogging roll of late. Soon enough I’ll be slowing down, but it appears that I apparently am able to get back to posting again.

Meanwhile, don’t forget, if you like what you read, you can buy me a coffee here.


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Reorganizing the office

It’s amazing how inspired I can get from reorganizing my office. Starting the process always begins with me reaching a point of frustration, because whatever structure I have been using suddenly just doesn’t work. Brain fog tiptoes in and I end up feeling overwhelmed, blocked, and dull. Until I find a solution, I fumble around feeling like I’m trying to catch raindrops in a sieve and straining to make sure I’m not dropping a ball somewhere.

The chaos flows over into planner use. When my systems are working, the planner has nice neat outlines for what I need to do during the week. I make my deadlines without stressing. But when they aren’t…the planner devolves into blank pages, scribbled frantic notes, and half the time I can’t find either it or my phone so I don’t have a mental picture of my day, my week, my month and it all becomes a big AUUGGGH, especially when I need a piece of paper and I can’t find that one paper I really, really NEED.

Sometimes the fix is simply an issue of doing the damn filing.

Sometimes the fix requires more, like rearranging furniture because the current office layout isn’t working.

That’s what I was up against this time. I needed a quiet space to spread out and do editing and revision work on the trilogy. While I always keep saying I need to have space when I’m shuffling papers or working by hand, for some reason that setup rarely seems to happen in my writing office, for various reasons.

My chair doesn’t fit the surfaces in the office to use for handwriting so I don’t use them. Stuff then accumulates on the surfaces. Or I can’t access my filing setups if I do have the surface that works for handwriting and paper shuffling, so the paper piles grow taller and taller.

It’s always that. Always.

I’ve been slowly working on addressing this issue over the past year. During my teaching days, I had a solution of sorts. My computer desk formed the base of a U-shaped arrangement. On the right side, I had files and a space for quick writing notes. On the left side was a big old Steelcase desk where I did grading, planning, and longer-term work. My chair raised and lowered easily.

But replicating a setup like that in my writing office, has always been a challenge. Remembering that U-shaped setup helped. Finding the solution without spending money on new office equipment was the challenge. That, plus accommodating bookcases, the need to find a better mousing setup, and replacing my office chair were all pieces to fit together.

It’s been a slow process. I found a solution of sorts for the mouse. Then the chair. Horse trailer repairs required a visit to a (relatively) big city nearby that had a Staples. One of my office chair issues is that I needed to sit in the darn thing. I had read too many negative Amazon reviews of all sorts of office chairs to make me comfortable with buying one online. There were some I thought might work, but….

I found the chair that worked. Then it was coming up with that flat surface for shuffling papers. First, I tried an old typewriter desk that my much older brother had used during his college years. It’s pretty nice—‘60s era faux wood with two drop leafs. I had been using it for sewing, but it wasn’t ideal. Too shaky.

However…I had been using a card table when I wanted to work on big projects. It wasn’t an ideal fit in that room, but it was kinda okay. The spouse had one of those early model pressboard student computer desks. He was using the card table because it worked better for him. I did some measuring, and…it fit!

I just sat down and did the major scene matrix outline for the first book in The Cost of Power: Return on that setup. It was comfortable, I was able to get up and work on other things without worrying about my papers being disturbed, and best of all, I was able to put it all away on the typewriter table when I finished. Ah.

It’s a tight fit, but I can move the typewriter table to see the books behind it, the filing cabinet is clear, and…I can be productive. Yay.

And now it’s off to do the scene matrix outline for Book Two.

Just a reminder, if you like what you’re reading, please don’t forget to buy your writer a coffee! The link is here, and thanks to those of you who contribute.

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Well, I’m back

Image–roses at Arlington, Oregon, taken by Joyce Reynolds-Ward

Well, I’m back.

I didn’t expect to be away from writing a blog post for so long, but I’ve had my head down writing madly so I could finish The Cost of Power trilogy.

There’s also been life stuff going on. The sort of thing that comes along with aging and all that not-so-entertaining stuff involving doctors. Not life-threatening, and the health stuff wasn’t me, but the spouse. Thankfully, so far it seems to be settling down. However, it was a wakeup call. Add to that the news that the wife of our college roommate found him collapsed in their greenhouse without a pulse. He was revived, but…incidents like that happening to friends are the kind of thing that make you think once you hit that retirement age.

Especially when long-term household items decide it’s time to be replaced. The mattress. The tack room lock and the floor on the horse trailer. The old Subaru. Not fun when you’re driving up Cabbage Hill and the darn car won’t go over 45 mph even when floorboarded and in third gear. I’ve decided that I am never ever going to say “well I think that’s the last of THAT item I’ll ever buy” because…yeah. It doesn’t work that way.

So. A lot of life going on. Plus the realization that trying to write a trilogy, juggle several serial fiction pieces, and write Substack blogs just plain burned me out. It hasn’t been that I haven’t been thinking about writing blogs, it’s been more of a matter that I just haven’t had the energy to write them. Or work on fabric art. Or do much beyond basic housework plus horse training and maintenance.

Nonetheless, the last book of the trilogy is finished. Now the fun times begin. I have nearly a thousand pages of manuscript printed out and ready for the big continuity edit, after going through a preliminary line edit. I’ve been working on this trilogy for—let me think—something like a year and a half? Two years?

I don’t know if it’s finishing the trilogy at last or what, but all of a sudden it feels like I can actually get things done. While I attended the virtual side of the Nebulas last weekend, I didn’t feel as tired out as usual after a convention, and I actually have been accomplishing things this week, including a major office muckout and rearrangement. Now I feel ready to attack editing the trilogy.

That’s going to be a major job. While I plotted out The Cost of Power by writing chapter synopses, about halfway through the second book I started getting some twists I hadn’t expected. I anticipate that something like this will occur and usually account for it in my writing process, but by the time I got to the last third of the third book, I started realizing that the story had turned in an even bigger fashion. Therefore, the continuity edit. However, even with the last pieces, it’s not going to be a monster rewrite. More along the lines of dropping breadcrumbs so that the last part of the trilogy doesn’t come out of nowhere. All the same, I’m probably going to fall back on one of my tried-and-true editing processes, using a scene matrix to ensure that I haven’t left something out.

More than that, I may (yet again, damn it), have another piece to write about in this world. The Cost of Power is most definitely science fantasy contemporary western with a relationship. One of the backstory pieces that is now nagging at me to be written is a straightforward prequel involving high fantasy and a multiverse. But it might need to sit on the back burner and simmer for a while. I don’t think it’s going to be a big story—at most, a novella.

So things are pretty much plugging along. The first book of The Cost of Power will release on August 20th, the second three weeks later, and the third two weeks after that. I plan to issue an ebook omnibus edition in November which will include snippets that are currently only available to my newsletter subscribers (which if you want to subscribe and get access, the signup is here). Those of you getting this blog post by email will also have access to the first snippet, available here. But the process right now is that newsletter folx get the first chance at it, then the email blog recipients. We’ll see after that.

Whew. Getting back into the swing of things is…a challenge. But I’m up for it. There’s a lot of stuff I can write about the horses—Marker is proceeding right along in training. He and Mocha are currently on summer pasture, and he’s being indoctrinated into The Mocha Way. The old mare is enjoying her well-earned retirement and looks good this summer.

That’s it for now…hopefully I’ll be getting back to blathering on a more regular basis.

Oh, and if you’re interested in tossing a coin to your scribbler, the horses would like some cookies. Buy me a coffee here.

Until the next time…which I promise won’t be so long!

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