Skip to main content

Orienting the Beast

So writers, where are you in your work in progress? It's a question to ask yourself often--and I don't just mean, how far along are you in your draft? Also, do you know exactly when and where each scene takes place, and have you told the reader?

Chapter Nine of Briars and Black Hellebore opens three miles and a hundred years from where I started the book, and every character that appears in Chapter Nine is completely new to the reader. When I brought Chapter Nine to my writing group, it opened with a scene of a monster guy sitting at a table crying as he counted spoons. A handful of people wandered about in strange attire making snarky comments at each other.

Of course, my reading group was a bit disoriented and confused about what was going on--and who, and when, and why. In a first draft, it's easy to forget to orient the reader in time, space, perspective, and mood. (Also, sometimes, in key plot points.) But it is essential to keeping the reader's attention and can be done briefly and simply.

I added the following paragraph to give just enough information to let the reader get her bearings:

Gustav peered through his hairy claws out of the slim, peaked window that framed the ruin of Old Vepres-Castle on its hilltop three miles away. The dragon that had lived there for nearly a hundred years stretched a translucent wing skyward, from its nest atop the West Tower. The scene was hazy to Gustav’s poor eyes; the ruin was an oily blot on the clean, snowy landscape.

Now the reader knows exactly where Gustav is (three miles away from where my story originated), that he has "hairy claws" (combined with other details in the chapter, indicating that he is the "Beast King" discussed previously in the story), and that nearby there is a dragon "that had lived there for nearly a hundred years" seen in a "snowy landscape" (so we know it is about one century later, in the winter).

My goal is to give just enough information in this paragraph to orient the reader and also start to build a little suspense. The reader can now deduce that the hundred-year curse upon Old Vepres-Castle is almost at its end.

J.K. Rowling is a great example of an author who does a great job of orienting her reader, particularly in the Harry Potter series. She's like a GPS system, always letting the reader know exactly when and where each new scene takes place. It's especially important to do this in books written for younger readers, but it makes writing for adults easier to read as well. And it makes editing and timeline adjusting a heck of a lot easier for the writer, too.

Check out the blog How to Write a Book Now for concise, practical advice on this and other book writing issues. The other fantasy writer in my group also talked with me about how, even though it feels super dorky, it can be enormously helpful to create a written out timeline (in addition to an outline) and a physical map of the story's time sequence and location. When you as the reader have a clear grasp on "where you are" in the story, it's much easier to lead the reader through the story at just the right pace.


  1. This is great! The book I'm about to begin is going to be quite complicated, so I'm already anticipating needing a time-map and outline, etc.

    1. I'm intrigued by your new project! It's so much easier to do this scaffolding work first rather than patchwork later. Have fun building your newest world!


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

35 Great Things About Turning 35

The prime of life starts at 35! It's the best-kept secret from younger people, but your 35th birthday is a major cause for celebration. For mine, I have made my own listicle of 35 reasons why experts agree that 35 is the best age to be:
You get to say, "I'm 35." The number 35 carries so much more gravitas than 30, but you're only a few years older. At 34, I've started fudging my age--by adding a year. People automatically take me seriously, and if they don't, at least they tell me I look young for my age. (Eye roll, hair toss, "whatever.")  35-year-olds DGAF. Inner chill reaches new heights at 35. Despite its #2 status on this list, it's the #1 response I hear about what's best about hitting 35. My gorgeous friend Nerlie was beautiful and resilient and wise beyond her years in high school, but now, at age 35, she gets to fully enjoy being herself on her own terms. She writes,  "I've survived so much that I don't waste time o…

A Bad Romance Starring Till Lindemann, Sophia Thomalla, Gavin Rossdale, Simone Thomalla, Sven Martinek, Andy LaPlegua, and Leila Lowfire

November 2018 Update: Sophia is settled in with Gavin a young soccer player (like mother like daughter) now, I guess, and Till is spending time with 36-year-old (hell yeah, thank you, sir) Ukrainian singer Svetlana Loboda. He is either her latest babydaddy or doing her the favor of bearding as such (not that he's great with beards, but we don't mind--we know how much he loves pregnant and lactating ladies) to help her keep some distance from her crazy ex who cuts his wrists over her. The juice continues...

To misquote Gaga, "I don't speak German, but I can look at foreign tabloids and guess what's going on if you like."

I guess it would be more professional and ladylike for me to be above this sordid celebrity gossip, but I'm not. I'm so not.

So let's see if I've got this straight. From what I gather...

Metalgod Till Lindemann, 54, and model Sophia Thomalla, 27 (upper left) recently exited a five-year, on-off, opennish relationship, which bega…

Ich Liebe Rammstein: Richard

Richard Z. Kruspe
Richard Zven Kruspe is Rammstein's founding father, lead guitarist, and natural frontman.

***IMPORTANT UPDATE, 2018***: Richard has immortalized his lifelong bromance with Till in a tender duet about their friendship, "Let's Go" by Richard's side band Emigrate. Till sings words such as "Zwei Herzen in mir schlagen" with sincerity and I think I am now deceased.

He's gregarious, well-spoken in both German and English, a professional showman, and an enthusiastic promoter for the band. In German, his name is pronounced "REE-kard," and in Germanglish, "Reeshard," or "Reesh" for short. Richard is sexy, and he knows it. To many Rammstein fans, he is the cuuuuuuute one. His Facebook page would have you believe it.

Legend has it that Richard has a lovechild with lead singer Till Lindeman. The myth is based in complicated facts and figures, including one unconventional love triangle. Circa 1990, Richard and Till …