Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Writer's Wednesday - Lynn Raye Harris

Please give Presents author Lynn Raye Harris a huge PHS welcome!  Lynn's here to talk about deviating from a normal pattern - when desperate times call for desperate measures.

How to Write a Book in Three Weeks (or, What I Learned from Following an Outline)

Writing a 50,000 word category romance in three weeks sounds terrifying, doesn’t it? It did to me, and it wasn’t what I intended to do. But other projects, revisions, deadlines, and a trip to the RT convention in Columbus, Ohio, left me with three weeks to write and turn in my next contracted novel.

However, don’t hate me just yet. Because, though I did it, there is a secret. One my pantser heart just hates to admit.

I had an outline.

For you plotters, this won’t come as any surprise that writing with an outline was easier, but it’s not the usual way I work. Nor will it be the way I work in the future. (She didn’t learn a thing, the plotters wail!)

I did, but you see, the outline wasn’t mine. The project I was working on was part of a continuity, which means the editors already thought up all the story details. All I had to do was follow the path they’d laid out.

Which wasn’t easy! And I can’t say I completely followed it to the letter, either. Because, as usual with a pantser, things occur to you during the writing that sound better (more organic) than the path you were following. I did not hesitate to take those side roads when they promised to be more scenic, I assure you.

Though the verdict is still out on how I did, my editor did tell me she absolutely loved what she’d read so far. I can only hope the love continues all the way through the book. ;)

On a related note, I gave a library talk last week about plotting and pacing. I sort of felt like an idiot talking about plotting, since I don’t consciously do it, but of course I know that I DO plot. We all do. It’s just that our processes are varied. My process involves a lot of thinking, a lot of what-ifs, and a launch into the story when I feel I know who the characters are and what they want.

But on my quest to provide the best plotting information to the people at my workshop, I did try to look at various ways of plotting. And I kept coming back to one word: conflict.

That’s what it’s all about, right? In a romance, you need an external and an internal conflict. In a Presents, for instance, you need a lot of internal conflict. External conflict is secondary in the books I write. But it is there.

What the editors had done for me on the continuity was think very long and hard about the internal conflicts of the characters. They gave me a roadmap of events that needed to occur, of course, but the internal conflict was so strong there could be little doubt how my characters would behave when confronted by the external events.

That was the secret to writing the book in three weeks. Strong internal conflicts and a roadmap of events.

Not that you want to write 50K in three weeks, but if you want to write quickly, make sure you’ve thought your characters’ backgrounds through completely. Then either plan a list of things that can happen, or go ahead and write the dreaded synopsis if you enjoy that kind of thing. So long as you’re willing to toss the roadmap out and take the side road from time to time, you’ll have a template that will get you to the end a lot quicker than if you’re constantly thinking about what happens next as you write.

I’ve already started my next book, and though I don’t have an outline, I know I have really great internal conflicts. I have a word document I saved in notebook layout (it has tabs, which I love) where I can jot things about plot issues, character issues, or just find and paste a lot of pictures for inspiration. Through the course of seven stories for Presents, I’ve learned what my process is – and what it isn’t. This saves a lot of time and trouble once you know who you are as a writer.

So if you’re just starting out, you’ll probably write a bit slower as you learn who you are and how you write. Experiment a bit. Don’t think you have to do it any particular way. If detailed outlines work for you, do it. If a combination of outlining and writing by the seat of your pants is your thing, you’ll figure it out. Just be willing to change the process as you go, to see what works for you, and don’t let anyone tell you that you’re doing it wrong.

What other lessons did I learn from writing a book in three weeks? There will be a lot of take out meals, a lot of dirty laundry, very fast showers (if there’s the chance to take any), very little sleep, and a sort of dazed zombie look that lasts for several days after you’ve turned the book in. Other than that, piece of cake! ;)

My latest book, THE PRINCE’S ROYAL CONCUBINE, was not written in three weeks. ;) RT Book Reviews awarded the story 4 ½ stars and gave it a Top Pick recommendation. This book is also a USA Today bestseller.

Two glittering royal houses…

Prince Cristiano di Savar√© hunts his prey by ruthless means. Tonight’s pickings…Antonella Romanelli, crown princess of a rival country and part of a dynasty he has every reason to despise…

…one majestic seduction

Antonella is rocked by Cristiano’s unexpected magnetism. But there’s ice in his wolfish smile… She’s far from the promiscuous, spoiled socialite he believes her to be, but Cristiano is here to persuade her into compliance. If bedding her is what it takes, then it will make his mission all the more pleasurable…

For more information about my books, please visit me at

Lynn Raye Harris is a USA Today bestselling author who writes glamorous, sexy romance for Harlequin Presents.


  1. Thanks, Lynn, that's a really useful post, Lynn. I must investigate my own computer's notebook. Maybe it has a similarly useful setup.
    And congratulations on your Top PIck and USA Today listing!

  2. Thanks Lynn - I enjoyed your post :) and congrats on the USA today listing!! Well done....esp for writing a book in three weeks :D

  3. Three weeks? With or without an outline that's amazing.

    I'm pondering a new book idea about a secondary character in the one I'm pitching in Orlando. I've already changed part of her conflict. Now to figure out who the hero is. LOL


  4. Great post, Lynn! Unlike you, I am a plotter, not that I get a great amount of joy out of the exercise. And you're absolutely right--internal conflicts (and in the case of my books, which are mystery/suspense novels, the external ones, too) and that basic roadmap of events is vital to writing a strong, cohesive book quickly.

    I can't quite accomplish the three-week book (darn that day job!) but I am writing four books a year, which includes some downtime to do things like edits and revisions, so I have to have a writing plan and stick to it just to make my deadlines.

  5. I'm such a pantser!! But I write quickly. Still, 3 weeks. My hat is off to you, Lynn. I could do easily do in 6 and that would include farting around on the Internet. If I blocked myself from reading blogs and perusing facebook, maybe I could do it in 3. :-)

  6. Hi, Christina! The notebook layout is really cool. I have a 24" monitor, so I can have the WIP open and the notebook right beside it. Very helpful. And thanks for the congrats!

  7. Hi, Joanne! Thanks so much. :) Writing a book in three weeks is not something I want to do again anytime soon!

  8. I feel your pain :-)

    Well done for pulling it together in such a short time - I can't wait to read it, I know it will be fabulous.

    I love The Prince's Royal Concubine and it certainly deserved every one of it's 4 1/2 stars!

  9. Hi, Marilyn! I didn't know I could do it until I did. It's amazing what you can do when your back is against the wall, LOL.

    Awesome that you are getting ideas about your secondary characters! That's how TPRC came to be. Antonella demanded her own story. :)

  10. Paula, you amaze me! Because not only do you work a full time at a demanding job, but you write four damn fine books a year. Wow. I have no doubt you could write a book in 3 weeks if you didn't have the day job to go to. :)

  11. Debra, yay! Another pantser! I hear you about farting around on the internet. It's so seductive, isn't it? I did have my down moments while writing that book where I just had to check into Twitter or FB.

    Sarah, thank you so much for stopping by -- and for the lovely comments about TPRC! I can't wait to read all the books in the series. After all the angst, it'll be fun to see how fabulous they are compared to what the writers thought they would be. ;)

  12. Lynn,
    It was a fabulous workshop. (If any of you pantsers out there get a chance to attend a repeat of it, please do. You won't be sorry.) I learned that I am not so much a pantser, as a loose cannon--a loose cannon who want to talk about details. Some things clicked into place for me because you speak Pantonese.

  13. "My process involves a lot of thinking, a lot of what-ifs, and a launch into the story when I feel I know who the characters are and what they want."

    Hi, Lynn!

    This is my method exactly. I do a lot of thinking, maybe jot down a few ideas as they take shape and then go for it. Wrote my last novel in 20 days...had to in order to enter the HAR pitch in time. Now, this is only a first draft and I still have to flesh it out, tweaking and editing as I go, but it's amazing how you can research and write so fast when necessary.

    LOL on take out meals and dirty house. Renovations ongoing here and I refuse to clean until they're finished, hence, I can write my name in the dust almost anywhere in the house. Dishes are almost caught up though. Thank God I live alone and have no one to answer to. Of course, in the day, if anyone complained about not having a clean cup for coffee I'd tell them where the dish soap was. lol

    Keep up the good work and happy writing!

  14. Jean, LOL! A loose cannon indeed. And I love your coining of the term Pantonese. ;) Thanks for the compliments. I'm never sure if I'm making sense or not. :)

    Hi, Lorraine! Best of luck with those renovations! Those are never fun. And it sounds like you have your method down, which is great. You also speak Pantonese. ;)

  15. Hey Lynn! Great post! I too am basically a panster but I do keep a little spiral notebook (a throwback to pre-computer days) where I jot down a rough story outline. So I guess in a way I am a plotter too. Most of the time my side-trips change the basic plot but I can usually stick to the main idea. I really enjoyed reading about your thought processes. Amazing to get a book done in such a short time! Kudos!

  16. Hi, Cheryl! I think a notebook is a great idea. I've done that in the past too. :)

  17. Interesting post, Lynn. I've come to the conclusion that figuring out my writing process is as important as improving my craft.

    So far I've found that I struggle if I completely pants my way through, but too much structure stops me cold. I need to do more up front playing with the characters and sample scenes to get to know them, and then I can start outlining. At least I think that's what I need to do next time. ;-)

    I love your advice to not let anyone tell you you're doing it wrong. I think we should include ourselves in that. Thanks!