Saturday, October 09, 2010

Wildcard Weekend: Muddlers of the World Unite

PHS Editor Michelle Styles describes her process of writing a novel.
When you first start writing, it is easy to get overwhelmed. everywhere you turn there seems to be a different way to write. Let alone how to craft a novel.You must do this one article proclaims. Nope, it is best done that way. Outline first. Use this template. Brainstorm. Fill out character lists. Or don't.
All of a sudden you hear words bandied around. I am a pantser someone will proudly proclaim or I'm a plotter. And daggers are drawn. Each person proudly saying that they are right. And often looking with envy or dismay at the other.
 A new author could be forgiven for wondering if that means that people who write into the mist don't have a plot. Umm no. The plot may be in their head rather than written down.  The process has no relation to the finished product. It is just how one person gets there.
And some confused souls can't seem  to make up their mind. Pantser or plotter? Do I have to choose?
I happen to fall into the last category. I am not sure what I am. (No comments from the peanut gallery either). Some books I've written have required thinking out and a detailed outline. Others. have not. I knew from the outset who the characters were and what they needed to do.
There I have said it. I may seem terribly organised and confident but really it is all about what works on the day.
Some have been straight from page one to page 320 or thereabouts. I would love to think I am linear writer (please can I have my fantasies!) but often I find that I have forgotten things including whole chapters and sequences. Once I got to 35,000 words and realised that the story was nearly done BUT I'd skimmed over the middle bit. I hadn't written just the fun scenes. I had skimmed over the important things and feelings needed to be explored. This book became Sold & Seduced. Sometimes I have had to thread an important motivation in and actually fire the heroine. Cue The Viking's Captive Princess. Other times, I have had to take something out. Cue Viking Warrior UnWilling Wife Sometimes, despite all my plotting and growth arcing, I have to throw everything away and start again. Cue the upcoming To Marry A Matchmaker.
Inconsistent is probably the best description of my process. It works for me. I love writing and I love my characters..
Ultimately while I can describe the best practice or can give a description of what every novel contains, I can't tell a writer how to get there. I can only say what works for me. Once I have the first draft, I can do certain things but getting there is hard.
I do envy various authors. I envy them their story boards, their collages, their rich music lists or even the effortless way they seem to write into the mist. Everyone always seems to be doing it so much better than I do.
And I have played around with things and found they work sort of but really I am inconsistent and they don't work always.  And some things have rendered me a gibbering wreck.
Fellow muddlers unite! Let me know I am not alone!

The one cardinal rule that seems to work every time for me is Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboards and write. It is easier to fix a bad page than a blank one. If stuck, plot a bit or do what it takes to get to the next sequence. But the any other rules depend on the story. After all as Isabel Swift, Harlequin VP and Nora Roberts former editor says -- Keep your eye on the doughnut and not the hole.
So what's your process so I can envy it? Or what have you tried that hasn't worked?

Michelle Styles is currently working on her latest muddle (due 1 Nov -- it will be fab honest!) Her next UK release is The Viking's Captive Princess and North America, she has a free online serial His Stand In Bride starting on 15 November to support the publication of A Question of Impropriety and Impoverished Miss Convenient Wife.


  1. I'm definitely a plotter. I must have a scene outline as well as a synopsis and a separate page with some sentences written down about each character's growth arc.

    Then I make a chart containing 12 boxes (I bet pantsers are dying right about now) and use a box for each chapter. I note down a few sentences for each scene in that chapter.

    Next I use pink font to write in the heroine's growth arc sentences in the appropriate boxes, do the same in blue font for the hero. Finally, because I'm currently writing a medical, I use red font to write in the medical details/scenes I want to make sure I use.

    That's not to say the story doesn't change as I write it, sometimes it does but that's my (current!) method.

  2. I used to write scenes direct into one WIP file on my desktop as they came to me, lacing them all together later. Bad move, as it then took a lot of read-throughs and revisions to produce a smooth finish - a bit like icing a cake or plastering a wall in random stages.
    Now I have an Alphasmart Neo which I use to record those sudden flashes of inspiration in sequence, so I can incorporate them as I go from Neo to WIP. The book I'm working on at the moment is the first I've tried with this system, bit so far it seems to be working.

  3. My current process is start at the beginning, finish at the end and then just try and fix what's in the middle. Sometimes I have to know more in order to move forward properly...other times certain characters and plots lend themselves more easily to the story. But giving myself permission to mess up has helped a lot. Because if I know something is off, the surest way to figure it out is to write past it and then look back with a clearer eye.

    Each author is different and each book is different. Sometimes messing with process to do it "better" only creates more of a mess. If I try to analyze elements too much...well, I once tried to write a book following a "structure" and it has been the ONLY book I've ever had to rewrite FROM SCRATCH.

  4. I'm definitely a muddler-a non-linear pantser, which compounds the problem. To say that I envy you, Joanne, would be an understatement. The closest I get to plotting is beginning, middle, and end. Clear as mud.


  5. I get an idea, think about the characters and the main turning points, and write to them. Doesn't always work, but as you say, once you have something on the page you can rewrite and fix it, and also see what isn't there that should be!
    I do the plotter stuff, but only afterwards (which may explain why M&B haven't bought me yet...)

  6. You, too, Michelle? I am definitely a subscriber to the "whatever works" mode of writing. It changes with the book -- or with the hour.

    Never a dull moment!