Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Confessions of a Sophomore Author - Part V - How Much Do I Need Before I Start?



I was speaking to a writer friend the other day as both of us began work on new books. I mentioned I was outlining to her, which sent her into a fit of shivers. It had me thinking just how different we writers and our processes are. For my friend, beginning a book is having a vague sense of a plot in her head and putting fingers to keyboard. Her inspiration comes as she writes and is surprised by what happens on the page. For me, my preparation takes a week or two. I interview my characters as if I am working on a news story, I lay out my four act structure and know all my key turning points before diving in. Totally different methods, yet both my writer friend and I have a process that works for us.

It’s a balancing act for me because if I know too much about a book before I write it, it takes the magic away. I need to be able to create as I dive into a blank page. So what works for me is following the four act structure that many Hollywood screenwriters use for their scripts, nailing down my key act elements, then allowing myself free artistic reign after that.

My first few chapters set up the story and the inciting incident which pushes my characters into the conflict of the story. The middle of the book escalates the conflict and puts my characters in a situation of no return, launching them into the heart of the book. In true Hollywood fashion, this act contains a resting point, a point where it looks like things might actually turn out and happiness might be attained, however briefly. But of course, that’s not the case and my major crisis then hits my characters between the eyes.

Act three opens with the sense that all is lost, with the big black moment, which is by necessity brought on by my character’s flaws and solvable only through the completion of their character arcs. Thus comes the climax and in the romances I write, a happily ever after, of course.

All of this is necessary because knowing these key turning points tells me what I need to build to, what I need to hit at what point in the story, how my character arcs need to progress. If I don’t know what I’m building toward, I can’t create the right foundation. Every scene must push the story and my character arcs forward and if it doesn’t it doesn’t belong in my fifty-thousand word novel.

Maybe someday I’ll be able to sit down and write a book without outlining because it’ll be that intuitive a process to me. For now I appreciate not getting to the middle of the book and floundering because I have no where to go. I appreciate it’s helped me with less revisions. This middle ground is what’s right for me. But not for everyone. 


I have to give a shout out to Connie Flynn and Linda Style and their wonderful Bootcamp for Novelists workshops which really drove these concepts home for me. And I highly recommend Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey to understand what makes classic stories great and what a character’s journey should encompass to make their journey complete. Connie’s Bootcamp For Novelists Basic Training Manual book is a staple on my desk as is Linda’s Bootcamp For Novelists – Beyond The First Draft.

How about you? Are you a plotter or a pantser? What works for you?

8 comments:

  1. I'm a mixture of both. I came up with a pseudo outline for the first novel I completed and loved it. I get a good grasp of my characters and plot, writing down what has to happen. I then go through and look for inconsistencies in the story and how I might go about fixing them (Fairy Plot-mothers, I call them). Then I dive in. I like to think of it as a maze; I let my characters choose which direction they want to go in, but there are walls in the way of some choices, if that makes sense. This means, of course, that in the revision stage, I am sometimes backing them up, erasing a turn here or there to find a better route out of the maze, but this way keeps me chasing the carrot. This way also makes tackling the synopsis part easier. :-)

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    1. Hi! Nice to have you here! I think this sounds awesome! The perfect mixture of plotting/character and creativity. I need to be able to create on the page but need structure too! And - anything that makes a synopsis easier is gold eh? :) Have a great rest of the week!

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  2. Hot cover, Jen, and the title's not bad either :-). Thanks for the plugs for LInda's and my writing books. You are a star student and I'm so proud of your success. I was going to say "keep it up," but I already know you will.

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    1. Aww thank you Connie! You're the best. I am so lucky to have studied with you!

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  3. Thanks so much for mentioning the Bootcamp books, Jenn. Connie is right, you are a star student and I can't help talking about your success to others. So very proud of what you've done. Love the new book cover and can't wait to read it! Write on!

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    1. Your book is brilliant Linda! I have you 'with me' on my desk! I constantly go back to it. thank you!

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  4. Tee hee hee! The Shivers! Yep, that pretty much describes how I feel when I even think of sitting down and plotting a book! I love how you describe your process though and think it's amazing that we can have such differing approaches yet still, somehow, we make it work (touches wood!). xxx

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    1. Exactly my writing wizard! I love that you can sit down and just 'fly' xx

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