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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