Posts Tagged ‘writing’

Retreat to Go Forward

December 28th, 2009

I finished Sword, Staff, and Chalice on Yuletide Eve, which was a nice present. Starting with a plot that was fairly solid but had some gray areas in it, I wrote 120,000 words in under two months, which is a good pace for me. The first draft has been described as a ‘page turner’ by its intrepid first reader (I haven’t even re-read the book myself yet), which is something no one said about Beowulf Stormbringer.

When I was midway through book one, Scott Sigler gave me some good advice, namely that my first book would suck. I resisted that wisdom at the time, but after learning how to do it properly, I can now say that story-wise book one is too internal, linear, and simple. Things come too easily to young Beowulf, and as a result, he has more conflict in his own mind than he does with the world. Not ideal for sword and sorcery… My task right now is to discover my events that complicate and enrich his path toward discovering his own strength and the sword that is a two-edged, um, sword for him.

It is for this reason many people wiser than I have argued that starting your novel-writing career with a series is idiotic—you have to sell the series on the basis of the first book, and guess which one is likely the weakest? However, even if I had gotten that sage advice before starting, I might still have started the way I did. It’s been a wonderful learning experience, and I believe I can finish a strong three book series. Writing a standalone second book might get me to market faster, but speed is not my goal. I don’t want to be published until I’m have something that is fun, satisfying, and just a little edifying, I am ready to maintain a pace of two books a year, and I already have one or two sequels or new projects nearly complete to follow it up.

At the same time as I work on the plot to book one, I want to push ahead with book three (just starting to flesh out the plot now), and I have at least three other projects I am itching to start. That means more living very simply (which as long as I have a roof over my head and enough to eat is actually fine with me), working hard, and writing 3,000 words per day when I’m writing rather than plotting, researching, or editing. All of which I’m really looking forward to.

Pantser or Plotter?

August 10th, 2009

Some writers don’t like to prepare any outline; they write by the seat of their pants. Others like to plot meticulously, honing their story and character progressions before they write a word of fiction. Within those two extremes lie a host of working methods–but ultimately all writers lean toward the pantser camp or the plotter camp.

I used to be a pantser–which was fine because I worked in shorter fiction. Now that I’m trying to write actual books I found I had to transform my planning style. Perhaps the most famous example of a pantser gone wrong right now is George RR Martin, whose Song of Ice and Fire epic got bogged down in book four (which was of course eventually split into two books, the second of which is currently delayed with no publishing date). I’m a huge GRRM fan who loved the first three books of the series, but I was taken aback when I asked him at a booksigning for book three what his writing method was: was the plotting worked out on paper or did he carry the whole world in his head.

“It’s all in my head,” he confirmed, which blew my mind. I felt like a mere mortal in comparison (how could anyone keep such a complex world straight?) but when the publication of the fourth book began to drag I started to have doubts about his methodology. And when I got bogged down on my own Beowulf book I realized I needed to make a change.

I already had some background information written about my world; I codified this to make it easier for me to refer to it while writing. Most importantly, I started a simple 10-step outline starting from the beginning of the tale and ending with the final events. I knew where I wanted to go; it was the middle part that was a muddle in my mind. Working from both ends I eventually got a storyline I was happy with.

Another writer I know was horrified at this shift to a more craftsman-like approach. “You’ll take the magic out of your story,” he warned. But I haven’t found that to be the case. I write more confidently (and coherently) when I know what the following events will be. There are large gaps in my outline–and it’s still the ‘in-between’ bits that I struggle with. How do my characters travel the 120 miles between locations? What do they eat for dinner? What are they wearing? How much food do they need to carry? That sort of thing.

Sometimes I have success by doing micro-outlines of the action immediately ahead of me. Rather than writing fiction I write brief descriptions that I enclose in brackets so I can easily differentiate it from normal text. Without worrying about language I describe how a conversation will go, or how the give and take in a battle might proceed. With that in front of me I can concentrate on the language of pacing of the actual writing when I get to it.

I often start projects with nothing more than a vague idea. But after I get that bit of inspiration down on paper I turn to plotting techniques before I get too far in–because I’ve found this works for me.

For now at least. You never know when things will change and I’ll do whatever I feel the story requires.