Meghan Bode’s Next Story Unfolds

Maybe there’s a good reason I didn’t dive into Meghan’s new  story.

Trust me. I could never do this. (image credit: Microsoft clip art)

 

While I was thinking over the possible plot lines, Meghan reversed the first two main events on me. And she was absolutely right. This makes better sense for the structure of the story. What had been the opening “hook” for Part One instead became Plot Point 1, which leads to Part Two of the story. If I’d started writing those scenes from the start, I’d have some major revisions on my hands.

And as details emerged about those scenes, I realized the story has a theme and a concept. Some behaviors and actions are shared across time. The returning characters are maturing and fleshing out. This story will still have its lighter moments, but it does touch on some thought-provoking issues.

Part One, Plot Point 1, Part Two, Theme, Concept—does this sound familiar to some of you?

It will if you’ve read Larry Brooks’s Story Engineering.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I haven’t  abandoned my pantsing ways. But from the beginning there was just something about this story that had me holding back. Partly it was concern whether I could handle the more recent nature of part of the plot. But I think some of it may have been a subconscious awareness that the complexity of the story required some planning.

And that’s when I decided to follow at least some of the suggestions in Story Engineering. Whatever you think of the book if you’ve read it, Brooks does lay out clearly the basic structure of a good story. And I see that my first two novels fall short. So with the initial planning of what will be a longer Meghan Bode tale, I want to shape the story properly from the beginning. (But I do wish Brooks would have given more examples relating to genres other than mystery/suspense, which is what he writes.)

Thinking first also has me pondering a major element of storytelling.

POV

Meghan’s first story was told from both her and Sandberg’s POV. Buried Deeds was told solely from Meghan’s. That made sense because Sandberg didn’t have a major role in that story. But given a major plot element, Sandberg will again have a larger role. Can I make him and his profession believable in a longer story? But if I limit the story to Meghan’s POV, how will she learn everything that Sandberg does? I don’t see these two sitting down over drinks at the end of every day and Sandberg using her as a sounding board.

I’m still working on that one. And figuring out the key events that drive Meghan and the story forward—and the clues that lead her and Sandberg to solve the modern mystery—and, well, most of the story. But for the first time in months, I’m feeling optimistic about my writing. And I’ve really missed that.

Just maybe there’s something to thinking first and writing second….

I could use some positive thoughts to help this story along. I’d really appreciate it if you could spare a few!

60 thoughts on “Meghan Bode’s Next Story Unfolds

  1. Planning the story line is key for me. And if I’ve written without planning, that copy usually becomes part of the planning! It all takes time. Good luck!

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    • Thanks, WBD. 🙂 I’ve read some author interviews where they say every book is different in how they write it. And maybe that’s the case here. But given the shortcomings I now see in my first two novel manuscripts, I don’t want that to happen with this story. So we’ll see if this works for me. I’m hoping it does!

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      • I think the closer you get to your copy – the more you start to see shortcomings. I wish I could rewrite the first three scenes to Martini Bond – but don’t have time!

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  2. Ooh, I like this how you are talking us through your thoughts and processes on it. It’ll be interesting to see how this story develops when you are taking a less pantsing approach to previously. Some positive thoughts – Yay, Yay, go J! You can do it!

    By the way, my daughter has been saying for many months now that she wants to be a forensic archaeologist, she’s only 14, so obviously still early days, but she’s been set on wanting to do something in forensics for a couple of years now, and she’s honed in on the archaeology branch because she loves history. So we’ll see!

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    • Thanks for those positive thoughts, Vanessa-Jane! 🙂 I’m still a long way from knowing everything that happens in this story, and I suspect the road will be long and painful rather than easy and fun. But Meghan seems determined to stay in the picture. And since I won’t let her “pants” a story every week on the blog, she’s still making sure no one forgets about her in the meantime!

      Hmm, forensic archaeology at 14? There’s certainly some realistic fiction out there that she could sink her teeth into. Maybe not for a few years, but still, it’s there when she’s ready. And you have such interesting history in England that she could investigate. I’m a bit envious if she does go that route!

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  3. This sounds like the old chicken and egg dilemma. Which comes first, a good story or a good outline? I think I’m inclined, like you, to prefer “pantsing it.” But I also agree that some engineering would help my stories. Maybe the only way to do this is to experiment and see what feels right. I’ll be eager to hear what works best for you. Congrats on working through that writer’s slump and getting your groove back!

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    • I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say I’ve got my groove back…. I know what was done and why, but getting there is still a blank. I’ll feel more confident when I’m there. But at least I’m getting a good handle on Part One, and I hope that will help me figure out Parts Two, Three, and Four.

      If Meghan had her way, I’d post about this every Tuesday. But she has to learn to share the blog with other aspects of my life. Still, I’m glad she hasn’t abandoned me!

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  4. Now this is an interesting post.
    Funny. I know many who came to the research field (although they had never planned or thought in that direction) because they saw stuff working and instinctively knew it was the right directions, but realized they needed more – needed concrete proof what they were seeing/doing was accurate (and could be replicated to benefit others).
    Sounds like your writing is following a similar path?
    Quite possible all pants it. – The brain is secretly creating/organizing/”wrtiting” before we ever know it?
    Once the reveal occurs, maybe the conscious brain needs a bit of concrete structure /form to interpret the flood of ideas in order to build the story. Hard to put something together if millions of small pieces are pitched out – and no instructions given?
    Brains are sneaky, you know…and sometimes I wonder if they over estimate the abilities of the conscious self?
    Glad you have Meghan to translate for you!
    Can’t wait.

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    • Maybe the writing is catching up to other aspects of my life. I’m normally very organized, and a lot of archaeological research is very methodical. And so I was surprised when I started writing a novel at how free-form the process was. I enjoyed it then, and I still do. But I’ve also spent months absorbing the fact that the first two manuscripts fall flat in some important ways. All that creative rush and freedom—and I don’t have final products that would meet “the gatekeepers'” standards. I suspect that’s part of the reason for the slump I’ve been in. Even though I’m trying to write for fun again, I’d still like the stories to past muster.

      So maybe this planning will help my conscious self better write what’s rampaging through my brain as these characters find their way in from other universes…. Fingers crossed! (And they’re getting sore because I feel like I’ve been doing a lot of that recently!)

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  5. Point of view is something that can really fumble a story. I struggled with it in Reckonings. I was cutting my writing teeth so I actually rewrote the story from unlimited third person to limited third person to first person. What a long strange trip that all was. 😉

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    • The other thing that’s tough about POV is that some people love multiples (I’m one), and others hate them. My gut feeling is that Sandberg needs to share POV in this story, but I’m not going to rush anything. I’ll see what the main story points turn out to be and judge from there.

      Wouldn’t it be great if Reckonings becomes one of the examples we all use for why we should stick with a story, even if we need to set it aside for awhile? 🙂

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      • I think it also depends on how well it’s executed. I generally dislike multiple POV but if the writer is really skilled with it, I barely register it. I know it’s frowned upon in debut novel but I have seen writers just have a fee chapters in another POV but have a main POV throughout the book.

        LOL. That would be awesome. People kept asking me when I would just stuff it away. I hadn’t given up on it yet. I knew the plot and concept were good. It just took a while for my writing to get there. 😉

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  6. Pantsing has always sounded like more fun, but after revising for forever, I’m starting to see how planning can also be a good thing. 🙂 I read something about point of view that said think of what the story would be from each character’s perspective and how different each would be before deciding on the POV(s). If another POV doesn’t add anything to the story, then don’t do it. It sounds like Sandberg’s would add to the story. I’ve always thought it’s more fun to be in different people’s heads anyway – because really, that’s what reading and writing is all about. 🙂 I’m getting excited for Meghan’s new story!

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    • Oh, yes. As I said to Mouse above, all that pantsing on my first two manuscripts, having fun with where the Muse and characters led me, and yet, after countless revisions, I still don’t have works ready for publication. Far from it in one case. And that really hit me hard the last few months. So we’ll see how this planning works on this story. I’m really hoping it works well. 😉

      I’m leaning toward giving Sandberg part of the story, even though I know it would be hard. But I won’t make any final decisions until I better understand what’s going on. I really believe the story has the makings of a good novel. And I don’t want to mess that up!

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  7. I guess Meghan could meet Sandberg for lunch or something like that and he can tell her what he’s learned. Just an idea. It is hard at times to figure out how to bring all the information to light through one character. Glad you’re excited. Have fun with your story.

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    • In Buried Deeds it was easy to keep the story to Meghan’s POV because the main mystery dealt with the historic skeleton and Evelyn Browne’s character. But this new story has modern implications for Sandberg. And so I think we need his input. Writing from a detective’s POV will really stretch me, though, and I hope I could do it well.

      It’s definitely good to feel some optimism again. I’ve really missed it the last six months or so!

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  8. I’ve only written one novel in 1st person, JM, and found it quite difficult because the other characters had to show or tell everything and I couldn’t get into their heads (so to speak). I’ve written stories with two povs and this was a lot easier, but I find the easiest way to write is ‘omniscient view’ 😀

    Best of luck with it all and I’m looking forward to reading more about Meghan 😉

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    • I’m comfortable with being in multiple heads, too. 😉 I’m just worried that I don’t have “the chops” to make a detective sound realistic to an audience, especially in something that will likely be a long novella or a full novel. But my suspicion is that this story needs to be in both Meghan’s and Sandberg’s heads.

      I’m perfectly happy reading books with omniscient view—writing them well is another story! And I don’t think I’ve reached competency with that.

      Meghan’s not thrilled with this planning, but I think she’s coming to understand why I need to do it. Now I need to do her story justice.

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  9. JM, I’m sending loads of positive thoughts your way! I’m so excited for you that you are feeling optimistic about your writing again and that Meghan is allowing you to take a different approach to this story. I’m fascinated by how you’re are taking your time, thinking through the story and doing some planning/outlining. Sounds like it was good instincts on your part to hold off on writing and sharing the story in real time, considering Meghan pulled a switch on you. I can’t wait to see how this new approach turns out and to see what decisions you make along the way. I love the window into your process that you’re sharing with us! Thanks and Happy Writing … or should I say Planning 🙂

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  10. Thinking first and writing second is probably *smarter* but there’s something to be said for the beauty that comes from spontaneity. I hope you try both! 🙂 And hurry!

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    • I don’t think I’ll ever give up my pantsing ways. If a scene strikes me, I’ll write it, even if it gets heavily modified or even discarded. But I need some time to get over the sad news I mentioned in the two comments above. Life really didn’t need to remind me It isn’t fair.

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        • Don’t feel bad, Andrea. I had just posted them before I answered yours, so you couldn’t have known. We just heard this morning. The absolute worst part is that he was getting married next week. How cruel can the universe be?

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          • Oh my gosh no! That’s terrible. I try not to yell at the univers(al beings) too much but there are times…. oh there are times. This would be one of them. His poor partner/fiance, just tragic. 😦 Hold on, kiddo, you’ll get through it.

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    • It will take some time, but I hope this story will really show some growth and maturity in my writing. Even if it falls short of publication quality, I’ll enjoy challenging myself and my abilities.

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  11. Larry Brooks just had another book come out called “Story Physics: Harnessing the Underlying Forces of Storytelling.” It offers to “elevate your story above the competition.” I really liked “Story Engineering” so it will be interesting to see what this one offers above that. I’m currently working my way through a book on writing technique written in the 60s, but the techniques still ring true. It takes me a while to get through these books–so much else to do–but it’s nice to get different perspectives on the craft.

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    • To me, the best stories “grab” a reader, no matter when they were written. So good advice should prevail through time, too. I mean, there’s a reason the “classics” stand the test of time. If we can strike the chord that holds a reader, no matter the outcome, then we’ve succeeded in writing a “good” story.

      When I go through Story Engineering, I can still be disheartened that I’ll ever master the knack of writing a gripping story. But other days, Meghan works with me, and I think, “This could be good.” And, sometimes, Madeleine (or Jack or Landry or Ortzin) offer glimpses that tell me Death Out of Time is still viable. I need to learn patience. And heaven knows that has never been one of my strengths. 😉

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  12. I like your thoughts on POV. It’s one of my biggest issues when beginning something. I always end up changing my mind a few chapters in. If you were in both heads before, do you think that will work again? I like novels that change VP and give me something extra from a different POV.

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    • I’m hoping I can make a detective come across as realistic enough over a longer story. With the complexity of this one, and a plot line focused on Sandberg’s work, I really think I need both him and Meghan to share POV. I think it’s another reason why I need to plan this one out before I do too much writing. I am allowing myself to write some scenes if they strike me. But it’s with the knowledge up front that they could be cut or heavily revised if the story needs it.

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      • I had a head switch in mine and once I had written the first draft I did a quick spread sheet marking POV for each scene and highlighted the different heads in different colours so I could see the switches and who was having more POV time.

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  13. Sorry to hear about your sad news JM and sending best wishes your way. Glad you’re finding things are moving with the next story – and I definitely see the value of ruminating before writing – doesn’t mean you have to lose the spontaneity by having some structure. I found Sandberg perfectly believable so I’m sure you can expand on that if you want to include his POV – but actually I can easily see him and Meghan building a relationship where they’re sharing information – I think that would be one of the interesting developments of the stories..

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    • Thank you for your thoughts, Andrea. We’re still waiting for details on memorial/funeral arrangements, so we feel a bit “in limbo” just now. I’m glad to hear that you find Sandberg a believable character. I’m already seeing potential for some friction to arise between him and Meghan due to some difference in their personalities and outlooks. I hope that will also help make them more realistic in a longer story. After all, no two people agree on everything. And that friction is another reason to let Sandberg handle some of the scenes. He should have the opportunity to show why he thinks the way he does. I’m beginning to think everything I’ve written before (including two unrelated novels) has simply been preparing me for this story….

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  14. You wrote: “Can I make him and his profession believable in a longer story?”

    This is where so many multiple POV books fall apart for me, and oftentimes I ‘ll skip reading the lesser character’s contributions to the story…which of course leads to a less than satisfactory experience!
    Right now I’m reading Dick Wolf’s first novel, in which 2 main characters are telling the story, and quite skillfully: but both are cops, which is something Wolf knows quite well. In this case, one is male and the other female, but even this isn’t a prob for Wolf because there is little in the story that is uniquely female.

    I understand your hesitation to write from Sandberg’s viewpoint but I think your fears can be squelched by proper research and keeping a law enforcement “consultant” on speed dial if something doesn’t feel true as you write.

    I so enjoy learning about your process, JM!

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    • Want to know a secret? I think writing these posts helps me figure out what my process is! 🙂

      I may be an outlier when it comes to POV—as long as the characters are moving the story forward and I can keep track, then I don’t mind if there are three or ten POVs being presented. I even don’t mind the somewhat “old-fashioned” omniscient POV, where we might get any character’s internal thoughts or perspective at any time. But they need to be presented well and mesh together. If that isn’t done, it can feel like I’m reading two or three different stories.

      This is another area where I really hope the planning will help me make the right decisions from the start rather than going down too many dead-end paths!

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  15. I hope you know by now that my encouraging words are mostly “You are gonna write something I get to read?! Great!”.
    Looking forward to Meghan asserting herself.
    Scott

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  16. This is awesome news, JM. So happy to hear you’ve had this breakthrough! They’re not always easy, as they can sometimes make us rethink our own talents, but it sounds like you’re well on the way to sorting out all the basics, which is great.

    As for the POV issue, I think it’s fine to balance between two (or more) different POVs, so long as it’s done carefully and consistently. You seem to have solid voices for each of them, though, so I don’t think that should be an issue. It might be neat to give Meghan the bulk of the narrative POV, but then interject with little aside chapters designed around Sandberg. Maybe, prompt the POV shift with a passing conversation between them, or Meghan seeing him on the street, and wonder what he’s up to. Then, switch to Sandberg for the next chapter or section.

    I usually stick to a single POV, as well (third-person limited), but it can be refreshing and fun for both reader and writer to see the conflicts and issues from more than one perspective, especially if the perspectives are in opposition or seeking different goals. It can really help round out an otherwise simple story in one more complex, which sounds like what you’re looking to do.

    Good luck! I’m looking forward to learning more!

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    • Thanks, Mayumi! Meghan’s approach has been so different from that of the characters in my first two WIPs. Maybe she watched what happened there and decided we had to take another course. For a woman who’s something of an introvert and modest, she was certainly bold in having me write two works about her live on the blog! I think she was quick to realize my reticence to do a third one that way. And if this is the story she wanted to jump on, I’m glad she held back. The necessary ingredients for a full novel are there. We’ll see if that’s how it develops as I get back to the planning.

      And I suspect the planning will help me figure out how to handle POV, too. Right now, I think we need some scenes from Sandberg’s perspective. As you say, maybe not half of the story, but at least enough to show how the police investigation of certain things is moving forward and to help solve what happened.

      What I really want to see with this planning is a first draft that covers everything it should—with no significant plot holes, lost story lines, confusing plots, etc. Multiple drafts will still be needed, but maybe not as many as I’ve done for the first WIPs. Fingers crossed! 🙂

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    • Thanks for the link! That was a very interesting take on a reader’s perspective. And I’m glad to see there are still some who will take their time in reading a book and really taking it in—especially those that are complex.

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  17. JM, I agree with the others that I love hearing your processing… I have to agree. I’m a somewhat reformed pantser, and thinking more about plot points and tension and story structure this time around is (I hope) strengthening my novel. I got to write this past Friday… it’s literally been months! And the time away has given me some ideas about that whole structure thing…

    I’m crossing my fingers for both of us!

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    • To be honest, I’m hoping that putting my thoughts out here will help drive me to carry them through. Not that I ever imagined writing any kind of novel before 2009, but a mystery strikes me as one of the toughest genres to do. From the response she’s gotten already on the blog, I know Meghan has what it takes. The big question is—do I? Maybe career pantsers have an instinctive grasp of good story structure and how to flesh it out. I think my instincts are incomplete, and I hope adding some planning will help make up the difference.

      I am so glad to hear you’ve had a chance to get back to writing! Your novel sounds sooo intriguing, and I’d love to read it. My fingers are crossed for us, too!

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  18. Your post resonated as I’ve made a decision to rework my novel and changing POV and restructuring the story-line. Mine isn’t a mystery as it more of a historical fantasy but the issues writers face are the same. Planning or not to, developing strong plots and structure all features in good stories. I am sure your story will benefit from the decisions you or rather Meghan has made! Good luck. 😀

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    • I’ve heard some authors say that every book they’ve written has led them to take different approaches. And this simply reaffirms my belief that our characters really do exist “out there” and find a way to reach us. I’m beginning to think that the two shorts that Meghan had me write “live” on the blog were just a warm up for this next story. As we plan it out, I’m beginning to suspect it will be a full novel with proper plots, structure, and characterizations. And I’m very nervous about that! 🙂

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      • I can understand why you are nervous, it’s like starting a new job, you don’t know the people or their expectations. The great thing about writing is the unexpected journey your characters take you on.
        If your posts are anything to go by, I have every confidence you will shine 😀

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  19. Meghan seems to know what works well for her! That’s good, because it would suck if you had a protagonist who was a bitch and played mind games with you. I know I *should* read something like Story Engineering, but knowing me, I’d read it and then completely ignore everything it said. For me, it’s once a pantser, always a pantser.

    As for Meghan’s next adventure, I have full confidence that whatever POV you decide on, it will be a good story. Although I completely relate to the apprehension about trying something new. When it’s ready, you’ll have all of your friends here to share it with, and we’ll be so happy to read it. You’re safe with us, lady.

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    • Believe me—I will never totally abandon pantsing. But this next story really seems to be shaping up as a full novel, which is truly daunting. And I don’t want to blow it. Meghan made another suggestion yesterday morning, and I thought it sounded like a good idea. I ran it past my husband, and he thought so, too. I’m beginning to think this is what she was leading up to all along with the two “live shorts.”

      But for all I know, the next set of characters may say, “The hell with planning, let’s go.” Still, for this story, even Meghan has come to agree it’s for the best. She’s had enough of playing the supporting role. Your comments on her shorts made her want an audience beyond me….

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  20. Ah, POV! A topic that our critique group (the 5 writers) have wrestled with ever since we started working together. There is no right or wrong answer. I personally prefer third person POV if I must have more than one POV characters Not everyone agrees, and in fact I have read books where only the protagonist is in 1st person, all others in third. And it worked. First person is so much more personal, and readers seem to bond with those characters much easier, so that’s tempting. Maybe read out loud to someone in Meghan’s 1st, then 3rd person POV and try to decide when she sounds best.

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    • As a reader, I’m open to different and multiple POVs as long as they work for the story and don’t pull me out of it. So far, none of my works have been first person, but they have had multiple POVs. I’m not going to rush into a decision on this one. Actually, I’m hoping the planning will give me a better idea of how best to proceed! So many writers struggle with this—it makes me wonder why this is such a universal difficulty. Is it something about the nature of storytelling itself?

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