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Writing Process Tutorial, Part 3

April 29, 2010

In a previous Tuesday entry, I described my process for how I work up ideas from the rough notes to the outline and finally to the story.  Since I’m moving this week and don’t really have time to devote to blog entries, I’m going to give you a more in-depth tutorial of this process with my current WIP:  Tales of the Scarlet Knight, Vol 5:  They Stood Up for Love.  So today you’ll see how Chapter 3 developed from rough notes to outline to the actual first draft.  This should give you a great idea of how everything flows together.

And since this is Volume 5 of the series, you can catch up on Volumes 1-4 here.


Phase 1:  Rough Notes

Meanwhile (again) Emma is dressed as the Scarlet Knight and approaches Captain Donovan for help on finding Megan, but the cop is too busy to track down a flighty college kid—or that’s how Donovan sees it at least.  So the Scarlet Knight works the case on her own.  While she’s busting arms or whatever to track down leads, something goes boom down in the sewers.  Pepe finds her and tells her that the Sewer Rat is trapped and needs help of a non-rat variety.  Emma goes and helps him out of some rubble to find that he’s injured.


Phase 2:  Outline

Chapter 3:

  • In the Scarlet Knight gear, Emma meets with Captain Donovan and brings up Megan, but Donovan says she has better things to do than look for some college kid.
  • That night, Emma uses the armor to slip into Megan’s dorm room.  She’s searching when the roommate shows up and then things get awkward as she’s hiding with the cape while the roommate does some dude.
  • Emma finally escapes and is met eventually by Pepe, who tells her there’s been an accident down in the sewers!


Phase 3:  First Draft

Chapter 3

Thanks to the newly-formed Anti-Vigilante Task Force, meetings between the Scarlet Knight and Captain Donovan had become even more covert than before.  Instead of meeting in the band shelter at Robinson Park, they worked out a system of rotating meeting places designated by a number in their Email messages.

In this case, Emma had indicated Location #7:  the rooftop of the old Jernigan’s department store.  This was the closest location to the campus of Rampart State, where Emma had finished a class a half-hour ago.  That had left her with just enough time to drive over to the department store, call for the armor on the abandoned third floor, dress, and climb to the roof.

She had to wait for only a minute before Captain Donovan showed up.  The police captain must have just come from a meeting as she wore a gray pantsuit instead of her usual jeans and black leather jacket.  While the captain had tried to quit smoking, at the moment she held an unlit cigarette in her teeth.

“I thought you quit,” Emma said.

“I’m not lighting it.  Just holding it.”  Captain Donovan glared at Emma, finally saying, “I hope you have a good reason for bringing me up here.  I’ve got the don’s boys in IA watching me like a hawk.  If they saw us up here they’d have my ass.”

“I need your help.  I’m looking for someone.”

“I’ve heard that before.  What kind of psychotic freak is it this time?”

“It’s a girl.  Her name’s Megan Putnam.  She’s a student at Rampart State.  She’s been missing for about a week.”  Emma held up a picture of Megan copied from the registrar’s files.  In the picture, Megan didn’t smile, looking instead as if she were about to have an asthma attack.

“Maybe you should ask someone in Missing Persons.”

“No one’s reported her missing yet.”

“Then why are you looking into it?”

“I think she might be in danger.”

“You think she might be in danger?”  Donovan threw the cigarette to the ground, stamping on it though it wasn’t lit.  “You brought me here to look for someone who might not even be missing?”

“Her father is out of town.  There’s no one to report her missing.”

Captain Donovan shook her head.  “Don’t you think we have enough actual crimes in this city that we don’t have to worry about ones that might not have taken place?”

“I’m sorry,” Emma said.  She turned her back to the police captain.  “I guess we should wait until her body turns up floating in the river.”

Emma dropped the picture of Megan on the ground and then stomped towards the edge of the roof.  Before she could jump, she heard Donovan say, “Hold on a minute.”  Emma turned around to see the captain studying the picture.  “Since you’ve already brought me up here I might as well look into it.”

“Thank you,” Emma said, resisting the urge to hug Donovan.  Though not a reader of comic books, she was certain Batman had never hugged Commissioner Gordon.  That would violate the superhero-police confidante relationship.

“Yeah, whatever.  Remember you owe me for this.”

“I will.”

“Maybe you could get me some evidence on Don Vendetta—”

“I’ve tried.  She doesn’t make it easy, even for me.”

“Yeah, well, it probably didn’t help that your stand-in shot up her club.  By now she’s probably got her skeletons buried where we’ll never find them.”

Emma resisted the urge to defend Becky; Becky had just done what she’d felt was right.  Instead, Emma said, “I’ll keep trying.  There has to be some way to get her.”

“Let’s hope so.  That might take a little wind out of that task force’s sails.”  Donovan reached into her jacket for another cigarette, which she again didn’t light.  “If I find anything about this girl I’ll let you know.”

“Thanks.  I appreciate it,” Emma said.  Then she took off running for the rooftop and bounced out of sight.


In seven years, Emma had never worn the Scarlet Knight’s armor on the campus of Rampart State.  There were certainly crimes she could have foiled, but most of them were small potatoes like underage drinking and drug use that she could leave to campus security.  Once she became a teacher at the school, she especially avoided using the armor on campus so as not to risk anyone recognizing her by accident or seeing her putting the armor on or taking it off.

Tonight she made an exception to this rule.  Since Megan’s roommate was clearly hiding something, Emma saw little choice but to use the red armor to get into the dorm room and snoop around for any evidence of a crime.  At the very least, she might get an indication of why Megan had left without telling the school.

Emma summoned the armor in the ladies room for the department.  There was no one around at the moment—everyone else had gone home or to a class—but she locked the door anyway to make sure.  The last thing she wanted was a janitor to stumble on her changing and start spreading the word about the Scarlet Knight’s identity.

Once dressed in the armor, she wrapped the yellow cape around her body to make herself invisible to most human eyes.  As she’d painfully learned at the Plastic Hippo, she would still be visible to the security cameras around campus.  She had already studied the university’s security, though, so that she knew to take the back stairs.  These led to the parking lot, where her motorcycle was still parked.

She continued past this, into the main courtyard.  Since it was night there were no sunbathers or Frisbee players at the moment.  There were a few couples hanging around the fountain, sitting on the benches with their backs turned to the water as they made out.  She felt her cheeks turn warm beneath the helmet visor as she passed by the fountain.

Marlin of course chose this opportunity to appear in front of her.  Even if the couples weren’t focused so intently on each other they wouldn’t have seen the spirit of Merlin’s assistant.  Ostensibly the ghost was the Keeper of the Lore for the Order of the Scarlet Knight, but mostly he was the Head Nag, always chiding her that she wasn’t doing enough to battle crime.

“You seem a little overdressed for class,” Marlin said.

Emma waited until she had left the fountain behind to hiss, “I’m working here.”

“Really?  Has Don Vendetta set up shop on campus now?”

“No, this is something else.  One of my students has gone missing.  I’m going to check her room for any evidence.”

She thought the ghost might give her more grief, but he only said, “Well, I suppose it’s better than getting your arse handed to you by the don’s thugs again.”

“They didn’t hand me anything,” Emma said out of professional pride.

“Oh yes, you really showed them.”  Marlin sighed.  “I suppose it was to be expected after what your trigger-happy friend did.”

“Leave Becky alone.”

“Fine.  Do you want any assistance or do you think you can handle this on your own?”

“You have a hot date?” Emma asked, smiling beneath the visor.

“I thought I might find some more interesting crimes for you.”

“Sure, go ahead.  I’ll see you later.”

Once the ghost had floated away, Emma continued across the courtyard to the dorms, her progress slower than earlier because of the cape.  Nearing Maple House, she surveyed the entrance.  There wasn’t a camera at the entrance, but at the moment there was a small group of smokers clustered around the door.  It would be far too difficult for her to slip past them and get inside.

Walking around the edge of the building, she searched for another way in.  She was grateful for the warm weather that had prompted some of the students to keep their windows open.  From Emma’s calculations, this included Megan’s roommate.

She was further benefited by the location of Megan’s dorm room on the back side of the building.  After making sure no one was around, she dropped the cape and then began climbing up the side of the building.  The fingertips of the magic yellow gloves held easily to the brick as she climbed up to the third floor.

For a moment she hung suspended beside the window, peeking inside.  Tapping the side of the visor once, the helmet’s night vision came on so that she could see into the dark room as if it were daytime.  There was no sign of Megan or her roommate inside.

Emma dropped into the room, between the two twin-sized beds.  It was easy to see which side was Megan’s from the neatly-made bed and lack of any posters or knickknacks.  There was no way to tell for certain how long ago the bed had been abandoned; it could have been last week or this morning.  Lifting the covers carefully so as not to disturb the bed too much, she searched for blood or traces of any other fluids.  There was nothing she could see with the helmet, which didn’t mean there wasn’t anything there; she would need specialized equipment for a more thorough search.

Beneath the pillow she came upon her first clue—Megan’s diary.  It was the kind of diary a little girl might keep, pastel pink with stickers of horses on it.  The cheap lock would have been easy to break even without the armor’s magic gloves.

She had hoped to find a description of where Megan intended to go or perhaps a receipt of a plane ticket or something.  Instead, she found pictures of buildings.  Emma was more than familiar enough with the Rampart City skyline to know these weren’t existing structures.  These were skyscrapers that existed only in Megan Putnam’s mind.  Flipping through page after page in the diary, Emma saw everything from traditional rectangular buildings to bizarre angular ones that would make Frank Gehry jealous.

Before she could reach the end of the diary, she heard the doorknob turning.  Emma had just enough time to stash the diary under the pillows again and then wrap the cape around her body.  Then the door opened and Megan’s roommate sagged inside, in the grasp of a young man.

Their lips were locked as they stumbled into the room, the roommate nearly backing into Emma.  When the young man came up for air, he asked, “Your roommate gone?”

“Weezy’s long gone,” the roommate said.  This sounded ominous to Emma.  She backed against the wall to listen for anything else, but the roommate didn’t have Megan on her mind.  “I’ve got a great idea.  Let’s fuck on the princess’ bed.”

“Anything you say, babe,” the young man said.  Emma dove out the window just as the lovers dropped onto Megan’s bed.  The armor protected her as she landed on her side on the grass.  She hurried away so she wouldn’t have to hear the first cries of ecstasy, wondering if it might not have been better to take Marlin’s advice.


After crawling into the bushes, she took off the armor, depositing back into its case.  She hoped none of her students saw her lurking in the bushes clad in her running clothes—or campus security for that matter.  She could have worn the armor with the cape to make her way across campus again, but she figured it would be easier as Dr. Emma Earl.

She left the red case in the bushes, where it would disappear before long, returning to The Sanctuary beneath the Plaine Museum before she called for it again.  In the meantime, she started out around the building, the smokers at the front door paying her no mind.  Perhaps later she could find time to return to Maple House to search the room for more clues.

For the moment she only had more questions.  Megan dreamed of buildings and yet she wasn’t enrolled in any drafting courses.  She hadn’t decided on a major yet.  Family pressure?  Given that Megan’s father was often out of town and her mother was dead, Emma doubted it.

Of more concern was the roommate’s comment that Megan was “long gone.”  Whose idea had it been for her to leave?  And had she left in one piece or pieces?  The roommate didn’t seem like the murdering type and Emma couldn’t see any motive for the crime.  The roommate wouldn’t get any money from Megan’s death—except for whatever Megan had on her.  Perhaps the roommate had stashed Megan away to ransom her, though the maid hadn’t said anything about that on the phone.  It was possible the maid had been covering for her employer, but that didn’t feel right to Emma.

From experience, Emma knew what it was like to be a shy, lonely girl on campus.  She had often considered running away or returning to Rampart City to Becky and Aunt Gladys and more familiar surroundings.  Instead, she had thrown herself into her schoolwork, focusing on completing her degrees as quickly as possible to achieve her dream of working at the Plaine Museum, one she had attained—at least for a few years.

Given Megan’s average grades, Emma supposed the girl had simply cracked and disappeared.  She might be wandering the city streets or hiding out in a dilapidated building like Rampart City’s transient population.  If that were the case, Emma might never find her.

Nearing the parking lot, she paused to consider why this was so important to her.  Perhaps it was because she had been so much like Megan Putnam when she was in college.  Or maybe she felt guilty for not paying more attention to the girl earlier.  If she had taken more of an interest in Megan’s welfare from the start, she might not have disappeared.

Engrossed in her thoughts, she almost sat on Pepe.  The two-foot-long sewer rat shrieked a warning, prompting Emma to straighten.  While anyone else might have screamed at the sight of the huge rat or thrown something at it, Emma only leaned against the side of her bike to look down at Pepe.

She had become well-versed in not only the verbal language of the city’s rats but their body language as well.  From the way Pepe’s whiskers twitched and the wideness of his eyes, Emma knew something terrible had happened.  “What’s wrong?” she asked in a series of hisses and squeaks.

From what Pepe said, there had been an explosion in the sewers.  The Sewer Rat—known in a past life as Jim Rizzard—had been caught up in the explosion.  “Is he hurt?” she asked.  The rat couldn’t be certain.  There had been an explosion and falling debris and then Jim was gone.

“I’ll find him,” Emma said.  “Just lead the way.”  Pepe hopped off the seat of the motorcycle to let her climb on.  He barely managed to get onto her lap before she took off.

The Tutorial concludes with Part 4 on Sunday.


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