My Personal Process: Worldbuilding, and Where to Start?

When I first started writing this post, I thought it was going to be an easy one to write. When I first started worldbuilding the world of Laoche, I found a bunch of question lists I liked online, and put them together into my own questionnaire that I thought encompassed everything you could possibly need to worldbuild. I’d just copy/paste that list of from my “blanks” document, mess with some formatting to make the enigmatic WordPress happy, and be on with my day. That’s when I stumbled across this website, a comprehensive worldbuilding checklist that includes more details than I could ever hope to come up with. It’s a great resource, and I’ve bookmarked it for future reference, but now I realized that I could just share this instead, and be out of a blog post. Instead, I’ve decided to explain how I decide where to start worldbuilding.

It’s very easy to get caught up in the world past the point where it’s relevant to the story. Big lists of things to consider don’t help with this either, because it’s easy to feel pressured to answer all the questions up front and build yourself a cage made of potential contradictions, or so overwhelmed that you consider switching to contemporary Earth. It’s also very easy to focus on your plot and characters so much you forget to put infrastructure into the background of the world, then struggle to fit in unique settings around the existing story that fit the themes.

I think it’s the most useful to start by asking cause and effect questions like, “What about the world influences the way my characters think?” and “What do I absolutely need to know to inform the plot?” These lists are supposed to be a guide where you can pick and choose what you want to work on, and what works for the story, then ignore the rest to figure out later, so your outline-stage worldbuilding can be as detailed or vague as you need it to be. If you find you need a certain gesture or fashion description as you write, then you can just come up with it on the spot, choosing what makes sense in that moment. Then add a comment or highlight to that section so you don’t forget what you came up with later. Your editing self will thank you for it. That all being said, I want to share my process on how to approach what aspects of worldbuilding in what steps so that I don’t get so overwhelmed and work on the most important things first.

Earth – realism

If you’re writing your story that takes place somewhere on Earth and doesn’t involve any paranormal, portal, or futuristic aspects, I really don’t know why you’re reading an article on worldbuilding but welcome! Your first step is RESEARCH. If you’ve never been to the places you’re writing, google maps is your friend, try to get your information from people who actually live in that area instead of tourist websites, brush up on your history and political current events, and be respectful. If you’re writing historical fiction, have fun going down that rabbit hole of your choosing! I’ve been there before, and it can be very fulfilling but also a little overwhelming and more than a little distracting.

The most important thing to remember is asking yourself “Will this break the immersion if it’s wrong?” If your female character is whining about corsets in an era where every woman wore a corset, that might attract the annoyance of the historical costuming community. If your don’t describe in explicit detail the design of the buttons and which company manufactured them, you’ll probably be fine. Keep your sights on which details are most important to the characters (would this character notice the buttons?) and the plot (are those cuff links foreshadowing because they belonged to the heroine’s late fiance?). For example, when I was writing Newsies fanfiction, I used the Library of Congress Nespaper Search to find headlines because the characters rely on those to sell their wares and make a living, but I didn’t spend time researching the textbook history surrounding the headlines because the characters only care about the headlines (and how they can be “improved”).

I’d also recommend reading books that were published in the time frame and by the demographics that you’re writing about to see what contemporaries cared about! If, by chance, you happen to be writing about early 19th century Europe, I’ve published a summary of The Count of Monte Cristo, which might be a good place to start! (shameless self promo oops. If you’re writing about early 19th century Europe you’ve probably already read TCOMC). If you’re writing in the modern day about a group you’re not a part of, do your research first by consulting those people, and consider hiring a sensitivity reader after you’ve finished drafting to double check you didn’t miss anything potentially offensive.

Familiar, but slightly sideways

This is the category I’d reserve for things such as fairy and folktales, anything with superheros, Urban Fantasy, “Low” Fantasy, anything horror/crime with a paranormal slant, ghost stories, cryptids, and scifi that’s still set on Earth but slightly in the future. That last item could include a lot of cyberpunk, steampunk, “insert-the-aesthetic-punk set on Earth here.” Specifically, this genre is for stories set on Earth with a fantastical or speculative element. If you’re writing a superhero story set on an Earth-like world but with different countries and cities, that would fall into the Speculative Fiction category instead, because that world doesn’t have Earths history and everything that goes with it. If you’re writing this setting, your biggest question will be How do I deal with the line between the familiar the the weird?”

If you’re dealing with a hidden world situation like Harry Potter where there’s a clear line between the wizarding and muggle worlds, you need to figure out how and why those worlds are separated and what happens when something crosses that line. I never actually finished reading Harry Potter because the inconsistent worldbuilding took me out of the story, but this can be really well done like in the movie The Incredibles – it takes a few minutes at the beginning to introduce the characters before the disaster that changed their lives – the legal battles that sent supers into hiding – then shows us the after effects of that event and how the characters are struggling to live with it.

If the line between the familiar and the weird is more blurred, you’ll have to figure out where and how those lines interact. Again, this is where the topic of scope comes up. What aspects of the weird influence your characters day to day lives, thought process, and beliefs? The level of technology, impact on culture, and any prevalent laws/government influence would be a good place to start. For some stories this might be building the city block where your character lives, and for others it might mean figuring out the logistics of inter-planetary military/exploration campaigns. Focusing on the natural cause+effect of any given worldbuilding decision will help guide this process to a natural conclusion and cover any contradictions along the way.

In my story Runaways (introduced here), there are two courts of faeries: the benevolent Seelie and malevolent Unseelie. I need them to be fighting each other, but since they’re functionally immortal unless killed, why would they risk their lives on petty squabbles like that? I realized that if they would want to battle, it would be more convenient to do it with proxys, getting mortals to do the actual fighting for them. So in this story, Unseelie steal human children to be soldiers, and the faeries they leave in their place act as spies. The Seelie don’t like the idea of child soldiers, so instead they give willing humans gifts of magic powers, which is how you get folk heroes. Much of the worldbuilding in this story follows from this basic premise, as I bring that conflict into the modern world, and focus on one family that’s caught up in it. However, since the human world largely doesn’t believe faeries exist, and my characters are children who don’t care about the criminal justice system, I didn’t bother worldbuilding how governments deal with lost human children. That can be filed as a “missing persons” case, if it’s even noticed, and I don’t need to come up with a new law or department that investigates these situations.

Runaways is an example of ground-up worldbuilding, where I started with a world and situation, then found a story in the premise by looking for conflict. I’ve talked a little bit about the “ground up” vs “plot down” method of developing stories in my post about creating characters, and with this sort of worldbuilding, I normally find myself making “plot down” characters. Since I found the plot by exploring changelings, I built my characters to fit the archetypes that I needed to tell the story: one is a human girl going into the fae realm to rescue her sister, one is a fae who grew up in the human world, and one is a human that was taken by the fae and raised in their realm. Their personalities developed by working down from the plot that came out of the world that I built from the ground up.

Speculative Fiction

These are the stories that require the most expansive worldbuilding and most original settings: genres like high fantasy and scifi that takes place in other galaxies. It’s likely that in the course of writing your story, you’ll have to at least touch on nearly every item in the list I linked above, and that’s a lot to tackle all at once. Again, I’d first advise you to look at your plot and see what you need to figure out first, then follow cause and effect from there, but if you don’t know where to even start, this order might help give you an idea. The important question to ask here is “How do these elements relate?”

  1. Are you writing nonhuman characters with fundamentally different lifespans, anatomy, and physical needs from humans? If so, figuring out the basics of habitat is a good starting place. Society will evolve differently at the bottom of the ocean or underground, so starting with the key geographical factors that your characters will have to deal with will help inform what kind of culture can grow out of it.
  2. Depending on what resources your new location has, the local government may need to regulate their use or trade for what they don’t have. Depending on how defensible the location is, their military will have to adapt to be good at the terrain, or they may be pacifists because they don’t need to fight often. Their resources will also determine how technologically advanced this society is. What sort of logistics are required as far as things like public transportation and utilities go?
  3. If you have a magic system, how does that work? What are the effects of magic on this society’s logistics and culture?
  4. What does the culture look like? What do these people value and how does that effect things like their class structure, education system, and major religions? How do they see outsiders, and what does the average family look like? These fundamentals can be determined by decisions you made in the first three steps, or you can build a society specifically to reflect certain aspects of your character. Resources can also influence more visible aspects of day to day life like the local cuisine, fashion, and stories.
  5. Now you have a culture! How does it interact with the other cultures/powers nearby?

For example, in Laoche I needed flying characters for plot reasons, so I created the Avians. The thought process for building their city that features in Storge went something like this:

  1. They could be nomadic, or they would want to settle down somewhere that could accommodate that sort of lifestyle. The world needed to have the right gravity and atmosphere to allow them to fly in the first place, but not be too different from Earth because I also have humans. I decided to make a world with similar gravity to ours, but add a canyon with large deposits of magical materials, including ones with anti-gravity effects.
  2. Their homes are built into the cliff walls, carved out and balanced on top of each other like a Jenga tower, reaching hundreds stories into the sky, and they can easily get between the sides of the canyon since they don’t have to climb up/down the cliffs.
  3. Fresh water could come from the river that carved out the canyon but they would need to trade with humans for food. Because they can fly and humans can’t, they could be a military power, but their easily defensible position and sense of justice means they have a strictly pacifist culture. This becomes plot-relevant because there’s a civil war going on amongst the humans, and now my villain can threaten a trade embargo, which might starve the city.
  4. Magic in this world at this point isn’t very well understood. The resource of magical elements they have are valuable, and they’re willing to trade them. They use the magic to carve their homes out of the cliffs, and become craftspeople, with a strong emphasis on education in magic and the trades. One of my main characters, Acheran, is a charm maker who studies magic in a scientific sense through his art.
  5. I wanted the culture of this city to be matriarchal, so tying into the education, I developed a university and let the government be run by a council of Magistras who each take care of a different department. Chara is the Magistra of trade, so she’s responsible for dealing with the villain. There’s also legend that the land was won from the humans by a young scholar avian woman in a competition of riddles. They have two religions – a polytheistic one that worships nature spirits of the mountains, river, sun, and air, and a monotheistic one that worships the Artist because of their attention to trades and crafts.

If you’d like to read more about the Worldbuilding of Maaren, I have two posts on that topic (part 1, part 2). That example makes it seem easier than it really was, since in retrospect I can look back and put the process into four steps, but the brainstorming took several months and hoarding inspiration on Pinterest boards. Now though, I know where to start, and which trails to follow, so building the rest of Laoche has been a lot easier because of that four step process. Laoche is an example of plot down worldbuilding. I started with a cast of characters I loved and a plot for them to live out that was built from the ground up, then I looked at the needs of that story and worked down to the workings of the world from there. If you need help with outlining, I also have a post about how I go about that process. Now that I have the important pillars down and the first draft of Storge done, I’ve spent more time focusing on the little details to round out the world in my descriptions. I’ve continued worldbuilding through the editing phase, but now it has a different scope and focus than the whole epic.

I hope these categories give you some perspective and staring points for your project! If you’re looking for other worldbuilding resources, I have several linked in this Writing Help Masterpost. If you’d like, take this as an opportunity to share your favorite lore in the comments. I’d love to hear about my reader’s worlds and how you got there! Thank you for reading, and happy creating! 🙂

March Goals Recap

Happy Easter! Thank you for being patient with the delay in my posting schedule from Friday to today. I wanted to observe Good Friday with my family, and didn’t think it was appropriate to post this at the same time, so I waited to publish it until after the holiday. A new post on worldbuilding will be going up on this upcoming Friday too, so that will get me back into the regular schedule.

That being said, I’m happy to show that I did win this month after two relatively unsuccessful months. The spring semester is still in full swing, and with the way my classes coordinate, I have an exam in a different subject nearly every week. In February, I didn’t realize this, and was way too ambitious with how many goals I set. I also tried to multitask, so I made incremental progress but didn’t get anything actually marked off. Keeping that in mind, I was able to change my approach for this month, and I think it worked pretty well!

14 / 22 goals overall

5 / 7 Writing Goals

Finish “Four Hours for Bridge Four” – this is my Stormlight Archive fanfic. It’s mostly drafted, but the last 4 chapters need to be fixed up before I can post them, and I didn’t have time to get around to that unfortunately.

Write two chapters of “Lost and Found Again” – this is my poor Newsies fanfic that’s on indefinite hiatus while I prioritize other stories. Since I chose to not multitask and prioritize Storge, I wasn’t able to do this either.

Draw 15 things – Class doodles save the day again! As always, you can check out my OC art on my Instagram under the “my art” highlight on my page.

Finish Mort / start reading Oathbringer – Audiobooks save the day again! I’m in part 3 of Oathbringer now and I’m losing my mind a little, but I’ll stop myself there before this post turns into a Stormlight rant lol

Finish TCOMC series and publish all the March posts on time + canva graphics – this is a goal all of it’s own because that series (and the graphics to go with it) were a huge time commitment. I’m very happy with how it turned out, and that it was pretty well received! I promise I’ll pick a shorter book for April’s Worldbuilding Reading Rec though. (In case you missed it: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)

Post 2x a week on Instagram – I’m very bad at remembering to do this so I post reminders, and sometimes ignore the reminders, but I did manage to do this! I think I’m going to combine the goals relating to the website and IG for April because I’m starting to think of them as two sides of the same coin.

Edit 5K of Storge – I know 5000 words (that’s right, not 50,000 like during NaNo), is a really small amount in the grand scheme of things but this felt like a huge achievement to me. I’d stalled on this story because editing is so time consuming and reading my old writing is a special kind of painful, so overcoming the mental block was a big deal. The thing that helped pull me out of being stuck was a non-writer friend asking how the story was going out of the blue. For as much as I ramble online, that honestly took me by surprise, especially when he expressed his interest in reading it one day. I ended up writing two entirely new scenes for chapter four and coming up with some fun worldbuilding lore. Really hoping to keep up that momentum in April!

In April, I’ll also be working on Runaways for Camp NaNoWriMo! I set a pretty small goal (only 10K words out of the planned 35K), but I’m hoping to overshoot that, rather than miss a larger goal by a small margin. As of the day I post this, April 5th, I’ve already got about 3000 words done! Good luck to everyone else doing nano, and let me know what you’re working on in the comments! 🙂

Runaways: A WIP Intro

Summary:

Cecilia disappeared. She didn’t wander off following fireflies again. She isn’t hiding in the library, and she couldn’t go out into the storm last night. No, Hannah is sure that faeries stole her sister, and she’s taking the search into her own hands. Armed with their father’s green coat, a steel pocket knife, and a red string tied round her ankle, she stomps into the first mushroom ring she finds to demand her best friend back. Soon she finds herself on a dangerous and extraordinary adventure, navigating between the Seelie and Unseelie courts and trying to find her way back home before dinner.

Main Characters:

Hannah: 13 years old, totally mundane human, and the oldest in her family. Clever, unconditionally loving, and protective. She’s got Pure Underdog Fairy Tale Protagonist energy with a heaping side of Too Curious For Her Own Good.

Cecilia: Supposedly 10 years old, runs away into the forest one Halloween to find the Seelie court and protect her family from a horrible fate. She’s mischievous and quick witted, but likes nothing more than climbing into bed with her older sister to read stories long after the lights are supposed to be out.

The Taken: A mysterious girl with no name who attacks Hannah when she enters the faerie woods. She looks human, but wields vicious magic and answers to an entity called The Piper.

The Piper: A boogeyman, one of the unseelie court. One of those creatures parents invoke to convince young children to behave.

Setting:

This takes place in a vaguely modern-day Earth. Hannah and Cecilia live in the countryside in an old farmhouse with their parents. They have a big garden, and woods in the backyard that are also home to a tiny hidden faerie realm. The Seelie and Unseelie courts are (broadly speaking) the benevolent but still dangerous, and actively malicious faeries respectively. They have an uneasy truce, but in the times when they did war with each other for power, the immortals didn’t want to die for the conflict. Instead, they steal changelings to do their dirty work, since it’s so much easier to let the mortals do that sort of unpleasant fighting. The faeries they leave in the child’s place act as spies and keep the humans from getting involved. The practice has fallen out of use for some time, but bold unseelie still steal children occasionally for their own uses. Even though this great cosmic sort of battle is taking place in the backdrop, the story just focuses on the sisters.

Faeries have all the magic powers and wish granting abilities as the old legends and stories. Sometimes they’ll bestow magic unto a particularly exemplary human that finds them, but always beware of a hidden “catch.” These people are known as “powers.” This story takes place at Halloween and so there are cameos from different minor nature spirits and the aesthetic has a lot to do with the weather changing and fog on the fields and red leaves fringed with frost. Some of these background characters include folk heroes, various trickster spirits, and “Jack,” one guy from the the mid 1100s that was clever and unlucky enough to star as protagonist in no less than six faerie tales.

Basic Informaton:

Genre: Portal Fantasy novella, middle grade/YA

Themes: Family, sisterly love and bonds, escaping evil

POV: Third person deep/limited, mostly from Hannah’s POV

Status: Outlined, using a combination of the Hero’s Story and a 3-act-structure

Goal: 35K words, 12 chapters. Hopefully I’ll be finished with drafting by the end of the year! My plan is to try to self-publish this story first, so I can make all my rookie mistakes on a different WIP from Storge. I know there’s a lot to learn about the process and I’d like to grow my author’s platform with a smaller standalone debut novel before releasing The Laoche Chronicles. For comparison, Storge has 7 POVs, 4 suplots, and is 110K+ words long. I now have three original projects going at the same time: drafting this story, editing Storge, and outlining the Laoche Chronicles, so I’m going to do my best to divide my free time between them so that I can get done on time. Wish me luck!

The Count of Monte Cristo Plot Analysis Part 4

Welcome to the last part of this series and the thrilling conclusion of the book! If you happen to be reading this in the future and missed the first three parts, I’ll leave links to those here so you can catch up: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. Obviously if you don’t want to see how the book ends, avoid this part for the sake of spoilers. I also wanted to put a trigger warning at the beginning of this one for suicide. It’s been mentioned before in the book, but one actually does occur in this part, so steer clear if that’ll be troubling for you. Stay safe, my friends!

When we last left off, the pieces were in place, the secrets known and ready for release, and the undoings begun! The coward Caderousse was murdered by Benedetto Villefort and Madame Danglar’s illegitimate son, now masquerading as an Italian nobleman named Andrea Cavalcanti thanks to the Count’s patronage. Danglars is teetering on financial ruin after losing a million francs in the stock market, so he’s set up a marriage between his daughter Eugenie and Andrea to get his money. Noirtier’s Bonapartist political affiliations ruined an unwanted arranged marriage between Valentine and Franz, and potentially his son’s Royalist political career, but instead of now being free to marry her true love Maximilian Morrel, she’s been framed as a poisoner. Meanwhile, the Count still can’t figure out his feelings for Mercedes, and news about Fernand de Morcerf’s military scandal in Greece was leaked to a local newspaper. Though it was missing any connection to the family name, Albert was still concerned, and asked his friend Beauchamp to investigate.

The Morcef Mess, Chapters 85-93

This chapter opens with Beauchamp arriving at Albert’s home to tell him the bad news that he has solid proof of his father’s crimes in Greece. Because the original story didn’t have a direct link to the Morcerf family however, this news can still be suppressed, and Beauchamp promises no to release it because of his friendship with Albert. He thanks his friend and visits with the Count for a vacation at the beach. Three days later however, the story is published in a rival newspaper linking Morcerf with the whole scandal and Albert rushes back to Paris to do damage control and hear the whole story. Fernand belonged to the government Chamber, and after the news got out, they ordered a trial and extensive investigation into the betrayal. At the trial, Haydee appeared and testified to the murder, as well as how Fernand sold herself and her mother into slavery and presenting evidence in the form of the selling/buying contracts from Monte Cristo.

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*claps* drag ‘im girl!

Albert realizes that the Count must have known this whole time while pretending to be their friend, so he rushes off to challenge Monte Cristo to a duel. He’s ashamed of his father’s actions, but he’s determined to protect his family’s honor. The Count has decided not to take any visitors today though, so Albert just has to wait until that night when he’ll be at the Opera. He asks Franz, Debray, and Maximilian to meet him at the opera and storms home where he asks his mother what the Count has against his father. Mercedes begs Albert not to pick a fight with Monte Cristo because he’s not their enemy, but he doesn’t listen. That night at the opera, he public ally insults the Count and challenges him to a duel the next morning at 8:00. The Count casually accepts, and asks Maximilian and Emmanuel (his brother-in-law) to be his seconds at the duel, which they agree even though they’re torn between their alliances.

Just as Maximilian and Emmanuel are conflicted over how to approach this duel, so is the reader and the Count at this point, despite his outward coolness. When he first met Albert in Italy, Edmond didn’t trust him because he was Fernand’s son, but over the course of the story, they’ve grown close. Albert is admirably loyal to his mother, a good friend, and overall noble man, so he shouldn’t be held accountable for his father’s wrongdoings, but he’s also trying to kill Edmond and get in the way of the justice that Fernand deserves. In the end, Edmond’s willing to kill him, though he pities Albert and feels bad about it. As a reader, we’ve grown to like, or at least have a begrudging respect for, both Albert and the Count. Neither is the villain here, and this duel is going to be tragic and messy no matter which way it goes.

And that’s when Mercedes takes action. She desperately confronts Monte Cristo and begs him not to kill her son. When he shows her the false accusation from all those years ago, he speaks as if killing Albert is just a matter-of-fact part of his plan. But then she calls Edmond by his true name. She declares that she’s always loved him, and thought him dead, and only married Fernand because she really had no other choice. She appeals that he only take out his revenge on the one who deserves it. She reaches past the 20+ years of pain and anger to the just and honest man he used to be, and pulls him out again. Edmond swears he will pardon Albert’s life, but since he still has to show up at the duel, he’ll let himself be killed instead. He’s prepared to die for Mercedes.

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When he arrives at the duel the next day, Albert refuses to draw his pistol. He apologizes to Edmond, and explains that Mercedes told him the whole story last night after she returned from visiting the Count, and he understands everything now. They reconcile, and Albert returns home to his mother. Together, they pack up their things and leave Fernand, instead returning to Mercedes and Dantes old home in Marseilles where Edmond leaves them the money he’d intended to give her at their marriage. Monte Cristo goes home to Haydee, who’s thrilled to see him return alive and safe, and now that he’s put the past (mostly) behind him, he starts to recognize her affection and realize that he might love her too, one day.

Then, Fernand arrives, furious at Albert’s refusal to follow through on the duel. His career is ruined, he’s lost his family, and he demands to know who the Count really is with a dueling challenge of his own. The Count retreats to his rooms for a moment to “make preparations,” and returns wearing his old sailor’s uniform. That’s when Fernand finally recognizes Edmond, and realizes what he’s done. He flees back to his home, finds it empty, and in despair, commits suicide.

Mercedes cuts to the heart of the lies that Edmond has been telling himself the whole book. He believes that she became a greedy aristocrat just like the rest, but she’s the only one smart enough to see through his acts, and noble enough to forgive him for everything he’s done and persuade Albert to save his life in return. Mercedes never became the “Countess de Morcef.” She’s always been herself, and her son has always been innocent. Justice does triumph here, maybe not in the way the Count of Monte Cristo expected, but in the end, evil is punished and good is freed. That doesn’t mean the Count is done with the revenge though, and the next several chapters are split between the Villefort and Danglars stories, which at this point, have become so intertwined it’s somewhat impossible to separate…

The Last Days in Paris, Chapters 94-111

Continue reading

Reading Rec: The Count of Monte Cristo Part 3

Hello! I’m picking up again today with this series, but if you missed the first two parts, you can read those at the following links: Part 1, Part 2. For convenience sake I’ll put a summary and color code guide, but if you’re already up to speed, you can skip the next paragraph.

When we last left off, Edmond Dantes (aka the Count of Monte Cristo, Abbe Bussoni, Lord Wilmore, and Sinbad the Sailor) had moved to Paris and started meddling in the affairs of the other characters. He gets the default black color. His old love, Mercedes, who recognizes him but says nothing out of fear and her son Albert are pink. The Count met Albert in Italy and saved him from bandits. Mercedes’s husband, Fernand Mondego (aka The Count de Morcef), in red, accused Edmond of treason to get him out of the way but doesn’t recognize him as the count. He is now wealthy after a military career in Greece. The reader also meets the Count’s “slave” and friend – a Greek girl named Haydee who is traveling with him. The Morrel family are old friends of Edmond is green. Notably, Maximilian is in love with Valentine de Villefort, but their marriage is impossible due to a family grudge and her existing arranged engagement. Her grandfather, Noirtier loves her to death and does not get along with his son due to differing political views. He is disabled due to a stroke but communicates with her through blinking. Valentine’s mother hates her, dotes on her son, and takes an interest in poisons while ignoring her husband. Valentine’s father, the prosecutor Gerard Villefort, sentenced Edmond to prison, and tried to bury a baby in a box one time before he got stabbed by Bertuccio – a man with a vengance who took the child and raised him as his own. Their fun dysfunctional family is violet colored. The child, Benedetto, grew up to be a criminal and ran away from home at age 11. He’s not missing, and he gets Brown.. In the meantime, Bertuccio was also witness to Caderousse (the old cowardly and selfish neighbor) killing a jeweler to keep a diamond and large sum of cash. He was last seen on the run from the police, and is shown in yellow. The Count also makes an impression on Danglars, the greedy sailor who schemed to betray Edmond now turned banker, by taking out a huge line of credit. We also meet Madame Danglars, a scheming woman who doesn’t actually like her husband very much. Their daughter, Eugenie is engaged to Albert Morcef, and the family gets this blue color.

Connections, Continued… Chapters 54 – 57

Continuing the story, we learn that the connections between the characters are even more complex than what they seem on the surface, and this is the moment that I realized I’d need to break up this series into so many parts! At the opera, Haydee recognizes Fernand de Morcef as the man who betrayed her father in the war and sold her into slavery. It’s confirmed that the Count bought her to save her from a worse fate and he continues to give her agency and treat her like a princess, so she is loyal to him even in her anger at Fernand.

The next day, Albert and his friend Lucien Debray visit the Count to discuss Albert’s arranged marriage with Eugenie. Mercedes disaproves of this match, and Albert isn’t happy about it either, since he doesn’t love his betrothed and doesn’t want to hurt his mother, but he feels trapped because their fathers have set it up for money and he can’t seem to find a way out of it. For the record, Eugenie doesn’t want to be married either, preferring an independent life as an artist. Eventually the conversation drifts into finance, and Debray admits that he’s having an affair with Madame Danglars, and that he gives her insider information about the stocks so that she can gamble large sums of her husband’s money. The Count files this useful information away for future reference, and invites them to a dinner party before dismissing them to take a detour to a different conversation.

Two poor Italians arrive at his home under instructions from the Abbe Busoni, pretending to be a nobleman and his son, called Andrea Cavalcanti. He gives them both large allowances of money to service the disguise and invites them to a dinner party the following Saturday. This is passed off as a one-off event, but within the narrative, reads as setup for part of the Count’s larger plans.

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This is supposedly the dashing and charismatic young man the Court is patronizing but he looks sus to me

These three seemingly disparate events don’t really fit together as an arc, but they do an important role in setting up other aspects of the story and showing how much careful thought and effort the Count has put into his plans. By going out of his way to get people and information, he works each new development into the bigger picture, and so does Dumas behind the page. This does slow down the pacing, but the important part of why this works is that we know Edmond is content with slow pacing – he bided his time for 14 years in prison, and for another 10 years after that. These events could be written off as tangents, or the eccentricities of a billionaire, but because they fit into the characterization and plot, they become important in hindsight. Reading normally, you don’t know what exactly the Count is planning yet, but it’s implied that this is important and that you should pay attention, so I’m trying to highlight that with the colors here so you can look ahead and try to make connections as well!

For the several sections, a lot of different aspects start to overlap in fast succession, so I’m going to try and summarize them as cohesively as possible. In a summary this reads as a little jarring, but in the prose, Dumas takes his time with each chapter so that the pace slowly picks up after a long slow setup, which works to effectively heighten the tension.

The Engagement, Chapters 58 – 60

Continue reading

February Goals Recap

General goals: 16/32 – Won!

Creative goals: 5/14 – Lost by 2

Taking a quick break from The Count of Monte Cristo to post this, but I’ll be back with Part 3 next week! Do you need to catch up? These are the links for Part One and Part Two of this reading recommendation/plot analysis. This past month started spring semester for me, and I unfortunately over-estimated how much free time I would have, especially with this week being midterms. Yikes. 32 goals is a lot even for break, so I’ll definitely be readjusting for March to be a little more realistic and manageable. My other problem is that I tried to multitask, and since I was splitting my time and attention between multiple goals, I didn’t actually finish and mark of either of them. So no points for partial credit, but it’s a lesson learned for next time!

  1. Draw 15 things – you can see some of these under the “my art” highlight on my Instagram page. I spent a lot of time working on expressions, plus developing a design for merfolk! I’ve found that doodling is something I can do to stay focused during zoom calls and multitask, whereas writing requires my full concentration, so this was easier to finish.
  2. Listen through Mag 100 – my current job requires a lot of driving around, and while I can’t write in the car, I can listen!
  3. Read Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson – I just ran out of time on this one. I wanted to read it before Oathbringer, but when it comes down to writing vs reading, writing is normally going to take higher priority for me.
  4. Finish Mort by Terry Pratchett – I’m very close! This is a very fun book, but I do not understand the author’s aversion to chapter breaks. I had to set it down for a week because of studying for exams, but struggled picking it up again because there weren’t any set stopping/starting points to reference when I wanted to reread what I might have forgotten.
  5. Queue website posts ahead of time – I really had to work ahead on the TCOMC series because there was so much rereading to do with each post! If you missed it, I also published a post talking about my process for outlining and keeping track of messy plots which you can find here.
  6. Start being more active on Instagram – That’s right, now I’m posting memes! And WIP progress in the stories!
  7. Do photoshoot with my sister – I had hoped to get more aesthetic photos to post, but the memes were serving well enough that we didn’t bother (and neither of us know how to use mom’s fancy camera but that’s besides the point).
  8. Outline one more chapter of Laoche: This is getting into the point where it takes a lot of time to sit down and organize all the plot points with the timeline, so when I don’t have several hours straight to just focus on that, it doesn’t get done unfortunately. I’ve got a lot of fun ideas just no actual structure on paper.
  9. Finish Laoche map: I’ll be posting this soon here but until then it’s also up on my tumblr!
  10. Write, edit, and publish 1 chapter for LAFA: This is my Newsies fanfic and yes it’s still on hiatus, no I really don’t have an excuse for this one.
  11. Drafting and publish FHfBF: This is my Stormlight Archives fanfic, and I did draft and publish 2 chapters, but I didn’t get through all 7 so this is a loss. I’m super excited to finish it though, I came up with a really clever way to end it and I’m looking forward to seeing people’s reactions. It’s gratifying to be able to get feedback when there’s already fans for a work, whereas with my OCs it’s just me ranting at my ever-patient and long-suffering wonderful friends and family haha.
  12. Outline Runaways: AND I released a WIP intro on tumblr and IG! Formal intro is coming soon here too as soon as I have the chance to batch some posts.
  13. Edit 10k words of Storge – again I don’t really have an excuse outside of being busy and overestimating my speed at editing the tricky beginning parts. Thank you so much for all your patience with this eeeennnndddleeesss project.
  14. Update Website – That’s right, I have big new plans! I want to make a new static homepage with graphics and widgets, and maybe redo the gallery and add an archives feature to find all my old posts by topic. I’ve been designing another website for my karate dojo (long story) and I’ve learned a lot so I’ve got ideas and mock-ups on how to improve this one but didn’t finalize anything yet. Maybe I’ll save this for summer because it’s looking like a BIG project.

That’s all for today! Are you enjoying these goals updates or would you rather see me do something else? What sort of projects have grabbed your attention and demanded all your time? Which of my WIPs are you most curious about? 👀

Tell me about your writing goals in the comments and thanks for reading! 🙂

Reading Rec: The Count of Monte Cristo Part 2

Welcome back to the summary! If you missed the last entry in this series, I’d recommend reading that first to catch up on the story. To recap the color coding, our protagonist, Edmond Dantes (aka the Count, Monte Cristo, Abbe Bussoni, Lord Wilmore, and Sinbad the Sailor) gets the default black color. His old love and fiancee, Mercedes, is pink. Her current husband, Fernand Mondego (aka The Count de Morcef), in red, accused Edmond of treason to get him out of the way, and is now wealthy after a military career in Greece. Edmond’s kindly employer and true friend, Monsieur Morrel, and the rest of the Morrel family including Maximilian and Julie are green. The greedy sailor who schemed to betray Edmond, now the rich banker Baron Danglars and his family members are blue. The cowardly and selfish neighbor who said nothing during the betrayal, Caderousse, gets yellow. And finally, Villefort, the prosecutor who sentenced Edmond to life in prison for his own political gain, as well as his family, get violet.

Hopefully that paragraph doesn’t hurt your eyes too much to read. Any new characters or plot elements will also fit into one of those colors to indicate a connection to the main ones. Also, I’ve figured out how to embed the original illustrations, so this should be a little more visually interesting than a wall of text this time. Let me know what you think!

Italy, Chapters 31 – 39

This section starts 10 years after the last events covered in part one, and in a completely different part of the Mediterranean with a completely different character: a young Parisian nobleman named Franz who lands on the island of Monte Cristo to go boar hunting. It’s supposed to be an abandoned scrap of rock, but instead, he finds there the crew of Sinbad the Sailor. Franz is blindfolded and taken to have dinner with Sinbad, who shows him an incredible display of wealth before drugging him and sending him on his way to Rome to meet up with his friend, Albert de Morcef – son of Fernand Mondego (aka the Count de Morcef) and Mercedes.

These two young men have arrived in Rome to celebrate Carnival and begin making their grand plans for adventure and fun. The hotel owner warns them about bandits in a long tangent telling the story of famous highwayman Luigi Vampa and his wife Teresa, but they don’t take him seriously and go to explore the Colosseum after dark. While there, in an incredible act of timing (or perhaps plot device), Franz overhears a conversation between the Count and Vampa arranging for one of their friends, a shepherd who helped the bandits, to be pardoned from execution. Vampa pledges his loyalty to the Count and makes his escape before anyone else notices, but Franz fails to mention any of this to Albert.

Later they’re attending the opera and Franz recognizes the Count again, accompanied by a lovely Greek woman, who we later learn is named Haydee. They gossip about him for a bit with a friend, joking that he might be a vampire, then go to make his acquaintance properly. The Count is generous to the boys, offering them a coach to attend the carnival in high society and inviting them to a public execution the next day. (though.. you could argue the “generosity” of that invitation.) There, they discuss justice, the Count is apathetic as the other criminal there is killed, and watch casually as the shepherd is pardoned.

*vine with the dog voice* MAY THE POWER OF CHRIST COMPEL YOU

Franz and Albert are just a little traumatized, but it doesn’t stop them from having a good time at Carnival! Albert spends three days flirting with a pretty girl in costume, who turns out to be Luigi Vampa’s girlfriend. (Oops.) He’s captured and a ransom is sent to Franz, who takes it to the Count to beg for help. the Count agrees and easily frees Albert, appealing to Vampa’s alliance and asking him not to murder his friend. Albert is overwhelmingly grateful and promises to introduce the Count to his high society connections in France.

This is the reader’s first “formal” introduction to The Count, not through any POV or introspection on his part, or through any of the other established characters, but through an impartial stranger who’s largely incidental to the main plot. Franz serves an important role of separately showing us the different adopted personas Edmond uses – Sinbad the Sailor when he’s acting eccentric or dealing with his smuggler and bandit friends, and The Count for when he needs to act in high society which is his main disguise for the next part of the book. Through this, we get the impression that he’s oddly interesting and equally terrifying with a deep dissatisfaction in human justice systems. There’s some very unsubtle discussion of revenge and the fact that the Count has a lot of connections and a lot of power and money to throw around to suit his needs. We start to understand just what kind of a threat he can be, before any of the characters who are going to be threatened are privy to this, and that builds a sense of dramatic irony, especially contrasted to Franz’s silliness and frivolity. This comes into full forefront in the next arc:

France, Twisted Backstory, 40 – 46

Next Dumas time skips to the day the Count is due to arrive at Albert’s house, and the scene opens on breakfast with guests. We’re introduced to a few of Albert’s friends: Lucien Debray, Beauchamp, Chateau Renauld, and Maximilian Morrel. When the Count arrives they share stories, including the bandit kidnapping misadventure and that Max once shaved Chaeau Renauld’s life on the anniversary of the day his father was saved from financial ruin. The Count attempts to appear standoffish and somber, as is his usual persona, but he can’t help but be fond of Max because of his humility, bravery, and loyalty to Monsieur Morrel.

After the other guests leave, Albert presents the Count to his mother and father as “the man who saved his life from bandits in Rome.” Fernand does not recognize Edmond and takes a liking to The Count of Monte Cristo. Mercedes instantly recognizes him and is conflicted – she’s terrified at what he’s become, but he also saved the life of her son, and doesn’t know what his return twenty-four years later means for her and her family. She doesn’t say anything, except for to warn Albert to be careful.

pensive and pretty

The Count has come to Paris to start punishing the people who hurt him, but his old love for Mercedes and the friendship with Maximilian Morrel make this situation much less straightforward. Will his old love for Mercedes spare her, or will he be more angry that she married Fernand, and take out his anger on the whole Morcef family? If he only targets Fernand, will that still indirectly hurt Albert and Mercedes and their friend Maximilian? He’s still pulling the strings, but you start to see just how twisted they are as you learn more about the families.

The next part gets messy. We then follow the Count as he buys a house that previously was owned by Villefort’s late first wife. He goes to visit it with one of his servants and friends, a man named Bertuccio, who’s frantic as they walk through the place. When asked for an explanation, Bertuccio explains that years ago, Villefort had condemned his brother to death, and he swore an oath of vengeance on the prosecutor. He waited around the house waiting for the perfect opportunity. One night, when Villefort left the house carrying a wooden box and a spade, Bertuccio jumped him from behind the trees, stabbed him, and stole the box, thinking it held treasure. It actually held a half smothered baby boy who he brings back to his sister-in-law to raise as her own. They name the child Benedetto, but he grows up cruel and sadistic, and at the age of 11 kills her and runs away from home.

This was too epic of an illustration to pass up, just LOOK at that dramatic lighting

In the meantime, Bertuccio needed money and turned to smuggling. On the run from authorities, he hid in a a loft behind an inn – the same inn owned by Caderousse and his wife. He witnessed the scene as they invited a jeweler to buy the diamond that Abbe Busoni gave them, and received a large sum of gold. A storm forced the jeweler to stay at the inn overnight, and seeing an opportunity, Caderousse kills the jeweler to keep the diamond and the gold, and murders his wife because she would turn him in, then fled with the treasures. Bertuccio was arrested, but the Abbe Busoni (who he did not know to be Edmond’s other disguise) freed him with instructions to find Monte Cristo, and he’s been in the Count’s service ever since.

By finding out the Count knows all of this anyhow because of the alternate persona playing a role in the story, it shows a really interesting aspect of Dumas’s writing. All of the exposition and twists are told through dialogue and monologues – we never get a long bit of introspection from Edmond’s point of view, but instead we see the dynamics he has with other characters he’s manipulating. Dumas was a playwright before writing TCOMC, and so the dialogue-heavy style of narration might be a holdover from that experience, and he uses this really effectively in the narrative so that exposition is delivered chapter by chapter to slowly tangle the story even further. Now we, the audience, know that somewhere out there is Villefort’s not-dead son, and that Caderousse is a murderer and thief on the run which are two potentially very valuable pieces of information. Keep an eye on that.

France, Setup and connections, Chapters 47-53

Once Monte Cristo has some helpful exposition and a house, it’s time to do what any self respecting nobleman would do and show off how STUPID rich he is, specifically to earn his way into the good graces of the Danglars family. First, he opens an unlimited line of credit with Dangars’s bank, then comes up with an elaborate scheme involving Madame Danglars’s panicky horses and saving the lives of Madame de Villefort, and her son Edward when they runaway. He revives the boy with a potent elixir, which catches his mother’s attention and admiration. Villefort himself visits Monte Cristo to thank him for the heroic act, and they discuss criminal justice and natural law. During this conversation, the Count says, “I wish to be Providence myself, for I feel that the most beautiful, noblest, most sublime thing in the world, is to recompense and punish.”

The theme here comes in a little heavy handed, but since none of the characters at this point recognize Edmond, it reads as the eccentric beliefs of an exotic nobleman. We see into the psychology of The Count of Monte Cristo through his own exposition and actions. He orchestrates everything, from putting the Villefort’s lives in danger to saving them, for his own machinations and political gain, in a combination of a hero and god complex, where he believes himself to be above the law. This is disturbing to Villefort, who embodies the law in his role as public prosecutor but bends it for his own gain in the case of condemning Edmond to prison all those years ago. This immediately sets up a direct foil between old, honest Edmond, the manipulative Count he now is, and Villefort, who’s public role contrasts to his personal failings – in trying to kill and hide the child.

In the next chapter, Monte Cristo goes to visit his Greek slave, Haydee – who has 3 maids of her own and is treated like a queen in his household. He tells her she is free, to leave or to stay with him, and to do as she pleases, but she chooses to stay with him out of loyalty, since he saved her life once. The Count thanks her, and asks only that she not reveal her past to anyone in Paris. (for some reason, the book continues to refer to her as a slave after this, though it’s clear she has autonomy, so I’m not sure what Dumas’s reasoning was for this diction choice…).

Next stop is the Morrel family. Their house is happy, and they tell the Count about the red silk purse and the mysterious benefactor they never identified. He acts skeptical, suggesting the name of the English banker, but Maximilian says his father had a superstitious theory that it was Edmond’s ghost acting from beyond the grave all along. The Count is so touched by this that he leaves immediately. It’s the first time he shows any real emotion other than various intensities of anger since before his imprisonment and he can’t stand to be seen like this.

Maximilian shrugs off the odd behavior and goes to meet his secret love, Valentine de Villefort – the daughter of the prosecutor. She’s miserable because her father is distant and wants her to be married off to Franz, and her step-mother hates her. The only person who really understands the dysfunctional family dynamic is her grandfather, the old Bonaparte agitator Noirtier (we met him at the very beginning when Villefort first decided to condemn Edmond to prison to hide his ties to his father). He’s had a stroke, and can only communicate through blinking, and Valentine wants to run away with Max but can’t bear to leave him alone. Besides, Maximilian is too poor to be a good match for her and Villefort seems to hate the Morrel family (for their loyalty to Edmond).

The face of a stressed out 19 year old has not changed in 200 years.

The Count arrives soon after, which pulls Valentine away from their conversation in the gardens. Following her, the reader gets to see the ensuing conversation between the Count and Madame Villefort. They talk about toxicology of all things, as he reminds her that they’ve met before, once in Italy. Madame Villefort remembers that he had a reputation for being a great doctor, and peppers him with questions about different poisons and how he’s developed immunity to many of them (Iocane powder, perhaps?) He benevolently offers to send her a vial of the elixir he used to save her son after the runaway horse incident before taking his leave.

Besides the obligatory Princess Bride references, this series of scenes is interesting because it shows how differently the Count acts with his few trusted friends, like his servants, Haydee, and the Morells compared to the others. He tries to maintain an air of callous indifference in public, but he has a soft spot, and intends to protect the ones he cares about. We also have another tangle threaded into the situation of “who deserves revenge?” Dumas writes in the forbidden-love subplot with Maximilian and Valentine to add collateral damage. Much like the situation with Mercedes and Albert, as The Count tries to exact his revenge on Villefort, he runs the risk of hurting the innocents connected to the family. They challenge the Count’s dark worldview that humans are self-centered, and force him to change his plans to avoid letting them be caught in the crossfire. And even so, he’s only loading the traps, and the actual revenge is still long in coming. The building irony and suspense means that you keep turning pages, even as the chapters stretch on, because you want to know how this is all going to come full circle.

And that’s where I’ll leave off for this week. What do you think, and what have you learned so far? Let me know in the comments how you’re enjoying this.

Reading Rec: The Count of Monte Cristo Part 1

Welcome to February and March’s reading reccomendation! In keeping with the outlining theme of the month, today I’m sharing a book with one of the most complex and interesting plots I’ve ever read. I listened to The Count of Monte Cristo audiobook last summer and it is now one of my favorite classics. There are several movie and TV adaptations that I haven’t seen, but I want to focus on the book to demonstrate how Alexandre Dumas handles a story that spans several decades and dozens of inter-character relationships. Its the sort of story that works really well because of the slow pacing of a book, rather than being constrained by an arbitrary time limit, and hopefully by dissecting it, we can learn a few things about how to do this sort of plot as well.

This book is 1243 pages, 117 chapters, and over 375K words long, so I’m splitting this post up into four parts and stretching it out over the next month. I wanted to make sure I had enough page time to give enough context and that’s the winning option from my polls. That being said, I think there’s a statue of limitations when it comes to spoilers in 177 year old books, so I’m going to prioritize the “what can writers learn” aspect of the analysis in this article. If you’d like to read more, SparkNotes has a great study guide, and the whole work is available for free download on Project Gutenburg. True to form, I’m also color coding this! Try to spot the themes as I explain the twisty plot points!

The Creation of the Count, Chapters 1-30

The story follows the life of Edmond Dantes, a young sailor who finds himself in command of his ship after the captain dies at sea with the mission to take a message from the island of Elba to Paris. He comes home to Marseille, France, where he has everthing a 19-year-old in 1815 could possibily want – a loving father, his beautiful and faithful fiancee Mercedes, and the promise of a promotion from the owner of the company, Monsieur Morrel.

Unfortunetly, he’s also got three jealous enemies who have alcohol aplenty and motive enough to make ruining Edomond’s life sound like a really great idea. Danglars is another sailor who wants to be captain, and he writes an anonymous tip with his left hand suspecting that Edmond is a traitor to the crown. For context, at this point in history, Napoleon Bonapart was the former emperor of France, but he had been overthrown and banished to Elba – the island Edmond stopped at on behalf of the late captain. Now, Edmond is going to Paris to deliver a message he knows nothing about, but chances are good it could contain Bonapartist sympathies and get him in a lot of trouble with the current monarchical government. It’s just plausible enough to land Edmond in jail, or at least, get him out of the way long enough for Danglars to sweep in and snatch the promotion to captain.

The second member of the conspiracy is Edmond’s greedy and selfish neighbor, Caderousse. He doesn’t paticularly like Edmond, but he also doesn’t want the poor kid to get killed either. At this point in the dinner, he’s too drunk to help with the scheme, and too drunk to properly protest it either. To keep him quiet, Danglars promises that he was “only joking”, mashes up the letter, and throws it into a corner – getting rid of the ploy but not actually destroying it.

That intentional choice allows the third member of the conspiracy, Fernand, to later pick up the letter and mail it to the guards. He’s in love with Mercedes, but she turned him down in favor of Edmond. He’s also her cousin (blegh) and can’t take no for an answer. He would just kill his competition and marry her anyway, but Mercedes promised to kill herself if he did anything to hurt her finace. Danglar’s scheming gives Fernand the perfect opportunity to get Edmond out of the way for his own gain too.

It’s worth noting that Edmond has only ever been polite to these three men . He’s not stupid, and knows they don’t like him, but he does his best to work with them and even give them gifts as a sign of peace. But the letter is sent anyhow and the poor guy is dragged off to Paris for trial by the royal guards in the middle of his betrothal feast. Caderousse says nothing in his defense, Danglars convinces Morrel to give him the position as captain, and Fernand goes to comfort and woo Mercedes, exploiting her pain for his gain.

Meanwhile in Paris, Edmond meets the prosecuter Gerard de Villefort, who is responsible for deciding his fate. At first, everything seems to be going well and Edmond is hoping for an aquittal, until Villefort learns that the letter he’s carrying is adressed a man named Noirtier, his father, and a leader of the Bonapartist party. Afraid that the affiliation with a traitor could damage his own ambitious career, he sentences Edmond to a life sentence in the dungeon of the Chateau d’If and tells the king about the plot, earning a promotion for himself in the process.

In introducing the first of a very large cast of characters, Dumas helps make the important ones easily identifiable and memorable by giving them distinct motivations and personality traits. This helps avoid the writing equivelant of “same face syndrome” in art – even though we’re introduced to a dozen different players. This also sets up arcs for each character and their relationships as the story continues, with each character’s primary goal becoming an element of their downfall.

Jumping ahead.. some politicking happens, nobody tells poor Edmond what in the world is going on, and he nearly starves himself out of desperation and depression. Just before he actually dies, he makes a friend in prison who gives him hope and instructions on where to find buried treasure, and escapes 14 years later. Upon finding his wealth on the island of Monte Cristo, he creates a new persona for himself as The Count, befriends some smugglers with a few lies about his identity, and starts out to get some answers.

First, he disguises himself as an Italian priest called Abbe Busoni and finds the now impovershed Caderousse. He pretends that Edmond Dantes was bequeathed a large diamond while in prison, but died in his cell and wanted to have it divided amongst his “friends”. As the executor of the “will”, the Abbe says he wants to find the others: his father, Danglars, Fernand, and Mercedes. Caderousse feeling partially guilty and mostly greedy, tells of the whole plot to have Edmond imprisoned, and the Abbe gives him the whole diamond to keep as reward for his friendship. He also learns what happened to the others. Edmond’s father starved himself to death out of grief, cared for until the end by Mercedes and Morrel, who gave him a red silk purse of money, but is now on the verge of banktrupcy after several ships sunk. He’s now waiting for Edmond’s old ship to come into port, hoping it’ll be enough to save his family. In the meantime, Danglars resigned from his position as captian and began chasing money, becoming a wealthy banker and a baron. Fernand spent a tour in the military, fighting in Greece and earning a high rank before returning with a new (somewhat mysterious) fortune. After 18 months, Mercedes accepted that Edmond was probably dead, and gave into marrying Fernand.

Caderousse reflects that it seems the good are always punished, when the evil are rewarded – ironic considering his wishy-washy position between the two. Edmond, a good person who “died” to give way to the vengeful Count, intends to bring justice to the people who hurt him and to reward his friends. The other characters quickly start to fall into one of those two categories. But instead of diving off into parallel plots dealing with each friend or foe individually, their stories quickly intertwine, and add a new layer of complexity to the Count’s relationships with each family. Because I’m running out of colors, each family is going to get one color though.

After talking with Caderousse, Edmond goes to his home of Marsilles in a new disguise – pretending to be an Englishman named Lord Wilmore that has connections to Morrel’s bank. He visits the mayor to get information, buy up most of the shares in the shipping company (so now he owns Morrel’s debts), and in the process, learns how Villefort ordered him to be locked away for life, and confirms Caderousse’s story. He files this information away for later before going to visit Morrel, who is devastated after learning that his last ship has sunk. Lord Wilmore explains how he now holds the debts, gives the family another three months to pay them back, and as he leaves, pulls aside Morrel’s daughter, Julie, and makes her promsie to follow any instructions she receives from someone named “Sinbad the Sailor.”

Three months pass, and the family is still unable to pay back the debts. Morrel knows that if he cannot pay his debts, his children will be discredited both financially and dishonored, so he tells his son, Maximilian, that he plans to commit suicide on the day they are due, and let the insurance take care of the rest. Max tries to stop his father but ultimetly can’t do anything to change his mind. At the last moment, Julie recieves the lettter from Sinbad the Sailor with instructions to find a red silk purse – the same one Morrel gave to Edmond’s father all those years ago. It is filled with the debt notes, which have been paid, and a diamond for her dowry. Immedietly after, they get news that the ship, though sunk, has been exactly replaced with a new one, loaded with the same cargo, and sent back to Marseilles – saving the business, and Morrel. They rejoice over this anonymous benefactor, and Edmond quietly leaves Marseilles without revealing himself.

By completeing the setup of the story, we learn about Edmond’s new mindset and priorities in rewarding the people who were kind to him. His use of several different fake personas differentiates the benevolent Edmond from the vengeful Count of Monte Cristo, but the layers of secrecy obscure his true motivations from the people around him. We learn from the dialouge (especially in the Abbe persona) that he veiws himself as an agent of God’s justice, and how he will make sure everyone gets what’s coming to them eventually. At this point, the story takes a 10 year time jump, and the next arc focuses on the Count’s activities in Italy while on tour, so I will save that for the next post.

Thank you for your patience with this long analysis! It’s one I’ve wanted to do for a while and I hope you find it informative or at least interesting enough to keep reading. We’ll be back to the usual schedule for April. Have you read TCOMC before? What’s your best reccomendation for a story with a complex plot? Let me know your thoughts in the comments, and I’ll see you next week!

My Personal Process: Outlining/Plotting

Welcome to the second entry in this series of Personal Process posts! This series is keeping with the theme of the month, and for February I’m going to be talking about outlining and plotting, since I’m neck deep in planning The Laoche Chronicles and this gives me the chance to both share some behind-the-scenes with you, as well as give you some tips on how I make outlining work for me. This is just my process, and I’m not saying it’s the end all-be all for plotters, just another method that you might be able to learn from and adapt to suit your storytelling needs.

It works paticularly well for very complicated series, but if I’m working on a more straightfoward contemporary novella, I’ll skip over the whiteboard step and go straight into the document outline. For short stories, I might just make a bullet point list of Stakes, Beginning, Middle, Climax, End, Character Drive. I find that knowing how to tackle all the different angles leads to a better understanding of structure in general, so I find it interesting to study all the different scopes, then change this process to fit the needs of my current WIP.

Step 1: Brain Dumping

At this point, I probably have some semblance of a premise and characters for this idea, and possibly also an endgame idea of where I want to take the story but not middle or clue of how to get from point A to point B. This is where I collect ALL the thoughts. Usually, I do this between phone notes and a document on my laptop for brainstorming, but I also use voice memos or whatever else works. I’ve drawn ideas on my hand in pen during a lifeguarding shift before and just taken pictures of my inked-over arm before I have to jump into the pool again. It happens. In any case, you have ideas.

Step 2: Put it in some semblance of order by using a map

image
[Image ID] a blurry picture of a whiteboard covered in ideas in various covered pens looking something like a conspiracy theory board. This is the outline I was working on last night for the first book in the Laoche chronicles but it’s so vague at this point that I don’t think spoilers really matter. [End Image ID]

The next objective is to put the random ideas in a linear order. I collect all the thoughts into one spot and dump them on the board. I color code, so first I write down all the set plot-points in the approximate order in the black pen, start to finish, and leave space above and below for stuff has to happen in the middle. 

Then the characters come in. I generally know backstories so those get dumped around the starting point in green. I figure out what characters are driving the plot and draw arrows between said plot points writing what the character does in the green pen. I include motivations, feelings, alliances, anything that might possibly be important to the plot too.

Then come logistics and filling in – that’s in red. You could also use conspiracy theory string. Where are they in the world? What needs to happen next? Where do I have plot holes? What makes the characters tick? What makes sense to happen next? What needs to happen to get to the end? What worldbuilding needs to get figured out to enable this plot point? I write it ALL down on a separate piece of paper and start brainstorming again. When I find a good connection, I add it. You’ll start to notice the board is starting to fill up. It won’t be linear anymore. That’s fine. 

Step 3: Flesh it out

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[Image ID] a poorly lit photo of a board covered in sticky notes of different, some overlapping each other. This is only a corner of the board because it’s the outline for Storge and I only took a picture of the first few chapters [End Image ID]

This is where it starts getting real. I take everything I have on the whiteboard (which at this point is a disaster) and transfer every plot point, character interaction, motivation, worldbuilding thing, pacing notes, anything about unreliable characters, author notes about who knows what at certain points (both the characters and the reader), plot twists, and anything else from the notes that didn’t make it to the whiteboard and reconstruct the story on a board.

The reason I use sticky notes is because you can move them around, layer them, and space them to create a cohesive narrative. If I need to play with timing, I can do that easily. If I need to connect plot points to characterizations or anything else, I can do that with layering and spacing next to each other. I’m still color coding at this point. I can start slapping on stuff like “which day does this happen on? What kind of transitions do I need?”, chapter divisions, and thematic elements. You’ll notice there are more holes. Fill those in sooner rather than later. And also possibly stock up on tape.

Step 4: Outline Time

I obviously can’t take my carefully made board with me to school so now it’s time to put it into a document. At this point I should preface this with the fact that I really like the 3 act structure, so I start my outline with that before anything else, like so, using headings to make a document outline – that way I can jump around the outline using the outline quickly. Probably a bit extra but it saves a ton of time:

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[Image ID] a Microsoft word document outline with a hierarchical structure that shows acts, plot points, chapters, and chapter titles. [End Image ID]

Once that’s been filled out, I start putting the information from the board into the outline structure, and I make sure to cover EVERYTHING something like this: (with color-coding)

  1. Chapter #/Title
  2. Day of the narrative: this helps me keep time and iron out the pacing
  3. The objective of the chapter: what does the reader need to learn, what is the one big thing that happens plot-wise
  4. Main Plot Happenings – this goes in red text and details what actually happens in the chapter. For Storge, this is the plotline that follows Luca and the Laine family (when they’re together)
  5. If there are subplots, these go here too in other colors. Orange for villainous cutaways. Purple for anything with the avian city/war subplot
  6. Character arcs: these are green. I bullet point a list and name every major character in this chapter. anything important to their arcs goes here, as well as how I’m writing them. What are the emotions involved? This is normally the longest part because I have a lot of characters
  7. Worldbuilding: What does the reader need to learn about the world from this chapter? This helps me space out the exposition. Details come up on a “need to know” basis, so there’s new worldbuilding in every chapter but no page-long dumps anywhere.
  8. Themes: WHY is this chapter important? How is it contributing to what I want to say with this story?
  9. Any other author notes about unreliable narrators, plot twists, foreshadowing, and what the reader should know at this point in the story. The goal is that you don’t anticipate the twist, but rereading it there’s a “HOW DID I NOT SEE THAT BEFORE” reaction, so this is more for my sake as a storytelling-craft thing.
  10. Any excerpts or dialogue or description that I pre-wrote in the brain-dump phase and liked and think would fit well in this chapter.

Repeat with every chapter until done.

This takes a long time, and I’m always revisiting and reworking that final outline once I’ve “finished” it but it’s such a huge help to set me on the right path without detouring 565479851321 times because I realized there was a plot hole too late. It’s overly complicated and incredibly intense and in-depth so it’s not for everyone but I like my 30-page long outlines, so here I am!

This post is also an updated reshare of a similar post I originally shared on tumblr last year that got a lot of attention recently, so I wanted to post it somewhere relevant so it’s always at hand if people want it as reference. If you’re still reading this, then wow, good job, and thank you! I hope this was somewhat informative! Now Go Forth! Be Creative! Have fun! 🙂

January Goals Recap

General goals: 20/36 – WON BY TWO
Creative goals: 6.5/13 – WON WITH NO MARGIN

I barely scraped past the mark this month, but this is also more goals than I’ve ever set before – ten more than my usual average of 26. Because I was on winter break for most of this month, I wanted to be as productive as possible on my creative projects, since I expected to have more time for them. I also started a new job with a wildly unpredictable schedule, so my designated writing time was a lot more scattered. Ironically, I might be more productive during the semester when I know I have an hour each morning to write before classes. I’ve posted the rest of my goals to my studyblr, which is also where I’ll be updating on a day-to-day basis for the new semester! If you’re curious at all about how this fantasy writer is also a chemical engineering student, you can go check that out.

Now the question is, What have I learned from my over ambitious goal-setting in January? Nothing. My February list has 34 goals. Wish me luck!

  1. Get my computer fixed – My computer had the problem of dying almost immedietly every time I took it off the charging cord, so I bought a replacement battery for it and now it only dies after about 3-4 hours. Still not great, wouldn’t work if I were running around campus, but just fine for moving from my card-table desk to the kitchen table for a change of scenery. Hopefully I won’t have to buy a new one for another year!
  2. Edit 15k words of Storge – I returned to re-writing in the last two weeks of the month, finishing 3216 words. This let me finish chapter 3, which was the difficult one I put on hold after my grandfather passed away in December. I’m glad to be past it, and happy with how it turned out in the end. I also spent a lot (a lot) of time doing line-edits, starting from the beginning of the book! Using the free version of ProWritingAid for this, which only lets me do 500 words at a time, and I finished ~4600 words this way.
  3. Beta read for Jana – @siarven‘s Dreams Shadow is fantastic! I really enjoyed reading it and I highly reccomend checking out all of Jana’s work.
  4. Write 5 chapters of Lost and Found Again – I didn’t even touch this story because the muse had other ideas. See below for the other fanfic I did work on!
  5. Fill in holes on brain dump sticky board for Laoche/figure out end of series– We’re getting there! My best friend helped me figure out several plot holes and the overal structure for the trilogy. Now I need to flesh it out into a proper outline, but I have an important starting place now!
  6. Schedule writing time so I have a routine for it – My “on call” job meant that planning out a schedule in advance was impossible, but I have a routine scheduled for February. Still doesn’t count as a check-off though.
  7. Rope my sister into doing photoshoot with books and stuff so I have photos to use for writing IG – She’s been busy with school and this is low priority, but I took my own photos periodically. No check-off for that either.
  8. Schedule all of January’s posts for website and make Canva posts in advance – all 5 of them went up on time! I’m really proud of some of these! Here’s some links so you can go back to any you might have missed: 2020 Year in Review + 2021 plans, How I Develop Characters, Character Voice in The Chronicles of Prydain, Storge’s First Scene, and an Interview with Katie Koontz on her story Groundhog Day and one of her OC’s Bolte
  9. Turn IG into free professional account and post 2 times a week  I don’t understand IG at all but this has been a good WIP of it’s own!
  10. Read 1 HG wells story from book I got over vacation – These aren’t even that long I just got distracted
  11. Read Oathbringer – this is a *really* long book so I didn’t finish it but I made good progress
  12. Read Mort – I’m halfway through! If I bothered to focus on any one book I might have actually marked off one of these goals.
  13. Draw 15 things – I did a lot of character studies this month, trying to figure out the designs for my Laoche cast. This goal is a constant to keep myself working on this skilll whenever it’s not Inktober, similar to how my monthly word count goals keep me writing whenever it’s not NaNoWriMo!

Other things I did that weren’t on the list

Normally if something grabs my attention in the first day or two of the month, I’ll change my list to include time for it later. These two did not fit that category, but I spent enough time on them that I wanted to give them an honorable mention.

  • Four Hours for Bridge Four – I started a new Stormlight Archive fanfic! It’ll be a short work and I’m really excited about this one, since it’s a collection of six one-shots based off the verses a sea shanty I rewrote to be a work song for the Bridge Four characters. I’ve drafted over 4.5k words of this already and hope to finish posting it in February. I reread half of Way of Kings doing “research” for this fic.
  • I also did a read-aloud for my younger siblings of The Book of Three – the first book in The Chronicles of Prydain. It’s a reread for me so it doesn’t count towards any goals, but it was really fun to revisit these characters, do all the voices, (almost lose my voice), and watch their reactions to hearing the story for the first time.

That’s all for today! Are you enjoying these goals updates or would you rather see me do something else? What sort of projects have grabbed your attention and demanded all your time? Tell me about your writing goals in the comments and thanks for reading! 🙂