I got asked to write about plots, subplots, and, in particular, about "the subplot of a love triangle or square or pyramid...or whatever shape you want." So, here we go. Ahem. Let's see here. What do I know about plots or plotting? Not much, considering the fact that I do pantsing, although I did plot my trilogy extensively, but then gave up. Plotting ahead of the story is just not my thing, although the more I meet and talk with wildly successful published authors out there in the wide wild publishing world, I start kneading my brain in wonder, because all of them so far told me that they plot, so I'm thinking, what the fuck is wrong with me then? I should plot too. But here is the thing, I DO plot, only differently. You see, plotting ahead kills the momentum of the story for me. I know how my book will end, but I don't know how it will get there. I write the way I would read somebody else's book, without knowing what happens next. Each morning I wake up, excited, eager to start writing because I want to know who ate whom, or how, or crunched on what bone and sucked on it for how many minutes exactly. Oops, sorry, this is my under-the-bed monsters line, so they are growling at me right now. Anyway. Where was I. Ah, plots. Subplots. Sub-sub-subplots.Read More
Now this, my lovely munchkins, is the shit I'm struggling with right now. As of this day, when this blog post gets published, I'm 40K words into IRKADURA, and I've got plot upon plot in my head spinning like crazed monkey tails, twisting and turning into pretzels. I'm afraid to spill it all at once, worrying that it will be too soon for the reader, and I'm also worried that it might be too late and the reader might guess everything already. On top of it all I'm worried about doing it right. So finally I was like, fuck it, I'm writing this book like I'm reading it, right? Right. So, I'm writing it for myself, I'm the first reader, which means that if I feel like it's starting to get bored, my readers will feel the same. It's time to throw the bone. Maybe I'm doing it wrong, I don't know, but I'm chiefly operating from my own internal feelings. It has to feel right, for me, then it will feel right for my reader, the mystery reveal, I mean. (Oh, before I go any further, know this, I'm writing without plotting beforehand, so it might be different for those of you who like to plot first and write after).
Whenever you pause, feeling slightly bored, you need a reveal. This is a simple rule I've been using, and so far folks told me that in SIREN SUICIDES, for some people, plot points, or, I guess you can call them mystery points, got revealed too fast. Some people even said that they needed the books to slow down a bit, to have a breather. But hear this. It's how my brain works, it's my speed. I get things quickly and I hate it when in books people chew stuff and slowly feed it to me page after page after I've already guessed what's happening. I'm not an idiot and I hate it when I feel like one. I want to feel smarter than the writer. This is one of the things that Chuck Palahniuk said at one of his readings (and I love Chuck), he said, make the reader feel smarter than you. I assume that same thing about my readers. So, as soon as my writing starts feeling slow to me, I know it's time to reveal stuff. I might have been holding on to it, but, oh well, I will have to come up with more mystery later on. And I know I will, it happened in ROSEHEAD where I have revealed something meant for the end in the middle of the book, and then sat, staring at the screen, thinking, what the fuck did I just do? How will I end the book now? Guess what, I came up with another twist in the plot, and another, and another, so there was plenty of mystery going on. Same is happening with IRKADURA. Just today, while writing, I had this twist reserved for the very end, and then, bam, decided to throw it in at 40K words because the story started to drag. Oh well, now I'll have to come up with more mystery to keep it going! The exciting part is, that's why I love not plotting. I'm excited to write every day because I don't know where the story will take me, so in that way I kiss writer's block bye-bye.
No matter how you craft your mystery, you will infuriate readers. Okay, this is something you just have to live with. Everyone has their own speed, in life, as well as in reading. No matter what you write or how you write it, no book is perfect for everyone. Your mystery reveal will infuriate some people, some people will love it. You have to get ready for this and not let it bother you. The best you can do is stay true to yourself, like I stated above. Does it feel slow to you? Speed it up. Does it feel fast to you? Slow it down. You're writing for yourself, essentially, so only you can tell the right speed for your story. DO NOT TRY TO EMULATE ANYONE ELSE. The worst thing you can do to your book it to try and copy someone's style. Oh, well, so-and-so revealed this and this in the first chapter, or so-and-so dragged out his feet until last chapter. So what? Whatever. You're not them, you're YOU. If you try to be someone else, your writing will suffer, your reader will feel it, sense you're fake and get pissed off at you. You don't want that, do you? I would still suggest one rule of thumb here, if you're doubting, speed it up. Think about it. We're all smart people. We read a ton of books, we are plugged into our phones and laptops and whatever every day. The speed at which we consume content would drive anyone from last century crazy. Try reading an old classic and you'll see what I mean. Assume that most people get things quickly, and write accordingly. You will frustrate less people by being faster as opposed to being slower. A reader can always go back and reread a page, to get it, but a reader will toss a book if it gets too slow, not bothering to keep reading it in the hopes of a reveal if you drag it out too much.
Don't explain too much, keep the explaining to your characters. I'm guilty of this, I used to do this, but the more I write, the more I read, the more I see that, hey, we're not uneducated morons, we can easily close the gaps in the story and assume what preceded things and what happens after. Meaning, your reader will fill in the blanks if you let your characters talk about something and let it hanging, only throwing in a few bits and pieces. As in, if you do reveal a mystery, do it with grace, don't spoon feed me, and don't give me an info dump. Simply have your characters act and talk it out. For example, let's say, a dude had an affair with a married gal, and his mates found out about it, or, rather, one of them found out, and the rest don't know. Instead of explaining all of this, you can cut to them paying a visit to said mate and having a tense dialogue. Show it, and the reader will get that something fishy is going on BEFORE THEY GET TO THE SUBJECT. Better still, the reader will anticipate something because you dropped a few bread crumbs here and there, leading up to this. But then again, it has to be surprising to you, to be surprising to the reader (remember here, I don't plot before I start writing, so this is different for those of you who do). Also, the best part about this is, you can fix subtleties in revisions. If you're writing your 1st draft, simply put down on paper what happens and move on. In the following drafts you will be able to go back and seed those mystery crumbs into the story, if something feels missing, to lead up to the big reveal.
Now, before you conclude that everything you have read above is THE TRUTH, think again. I'm only writing my 3rd novel, all right, so what the fuck do I know? I know that I trust my gut more and my writing feels better to me concerning the mystery I weave into it, BUT I'M NOT A MYSTERY WRITER. There must be tons of smart books on the subject and tons of smart blogs. I write largely by the seat of my pants, guiding myself by how it feels to me. There are only 2 feelings, right or wrong. If it feels right to me, I reveal the mystery. If it feels wrong, I don't. But I do firmly believe that if your writing doesn't excite you, it won't excite your reader. Well then, trust your gut, and get on with it! Mystery galore! And to those who tell you that you frustrated them with your mystery, you can smile sweetly and pay no attention.
This is a very interesting topic to cover, and it didn't even occur to me until my Twitter followers asked me to write about it. And write about it I will, because I happen to do both. I have plotted SIREN SUICIDES extensively, creating a whole separate folder full of files, with a biography of every character, their specific backstories, the origins of their names, etc. I also spent countless hours on research and have gone through multiple little notebooks where I have written out every single chapter as one line and as a paragraph summary, constantly going over it and cleaning it up until I felt I got it right. SIREN SUICIDES was my 1st novel (it will be published in July). I'm currently writing my 2nd novel, and the process couldn't have been more different. I've planned nothing at all. A vivid scene, like from a movie, came to me in a dream, I woke up and quickly wrote it down, then more scenes came to me, when daydreaming, about 5 total, while I was finishing the last draft of SIREN SUICIDES. After I was done, I took 2 weeks off and plunged right into ROSEHEAD, only using 1 piece of paper with names of characters written on it and about 10 sticky notes with little clues written on them, stuck to my table. That's it. I'm about 2/3 done with 1st Draft of ROSEHEAD, so bear this in mind. I'm not experienced in this at all, but so far from what I've done and from what it feels like, I prefer pantsing to plotting. Here is why.
I write like I read somebody else's book. Literally, every day when I wake up, I have this picture in my head, like a movie I was watching the night before that has been put on pause, and I pick up from the moment I left off. I have no idea what the day will bring, what my characters will do or how. Just yesterday a new character appeared in a chapter, only to promptly die at the end of said chapter. I was astounded when it happened. I swear, it wasn't me! The characters did it themselves, it just had to happen, to push the story forward. Now, this sounds very scary and disorganized, doesn't it? But here it why I prefer pantsing. The excitement of discovering what happens next is what keeps me going. It's like I'm reading a book, and can't wait to know how it ends. This cures me of writer's block. I don't have one. I don't like stopping, and I can't wait to start again. I feel like I'm totally fooling everyone, including myself, and am getting away with it. It's the ultimate mischief. When I compare it with SIREN SUICIDES, I remember with horror how I made myself write it in later stages, how hard it was to start every day. I already knew what was going to happen, and simply describing it didn't give me as much satisfaction as I get now. How will ROSEHEAD compare? I have no idea. My readers will tell me, but I know that I'm having fun writing it.
Fresh ideas make me write very fast. I figure, if I'm excited while writing my book, my reader will be excited to read it. Whatever I feel, the reader will feel. So if I'm bored, my reader will be bored. Because I have no outline, no plan at all, I just go crazy. The first thing that comes into my head, I write it down. Because of this, I hardly spend time thinking or researching, I barely have time to write it all down. And, as a result, I write very fast, producing about 2,000 to 3,000 words a day on average, during a 3-4 hour chunk of time, sometimes up to 4,000 words or more. I will be done with 1st Draft in a couple weeks, which makes it 6 weeks total for first draft. This keeps me going, because I can picture the book happening already, it kind of drives itself. I'm not pausing to doubt, or to research, or to think, or to gather my wits, or whatever else it is we writers do that takes us away from actual writing and gets us into the land of misery called everything-I-write-is-shit-and-nobody-will-ever-read-it. Yeah, I know, I've been there. It's horrible. I nearly got pulled into it today, when I started thinking too much. Reading Harry Potter helped me put myself on track, because I saw how J.K. Rowling totally goes nuts with her imagination, so I slapped myself hard for doubting.
I do more writing and less planning. I realized that all this time I spent on planning and plotting and outlining SIREN SUICIDES, I could have spent on writing something new. With ROSEHEAD, I'm not losing this time, I'm doing actual writing. Yes, you might tell me, it will suffer because of it. Yes, you can roll your eyes here at me. I totally get it. But for a rookie writer like me, for a beginner like me, writing time is precious experience time. The more I write, the better I will get. So what if I will write trash. I will trash it and write more trash. I will trash that too and will write even more trash. I will keep writing trash unti it turns into gold. Fresh stories will keep me going, instead of having me focused on planning something old and tired that doesn't get me excited anymore. Why suffer? Life is too short for that. I don't know if any of my novels will ever enable me to make a living. My savings are slowly running out. I have about 9 months left. I want to have fun now, to write now, until I'm out of money and might not be able to write anymore. Pantsing gives me so much fun, I sometimes feel guilty, because it feels like I don't deserve, like I'm having too much fun, and someone will come and beat me up for it.
Until then, I will keep writing the crazy stuff that comes into my head and have fun at it, hopefully giving my readers the same fun while they are reading my novel. If they will want to read it, of course. They might come back and say: "You know, Ksenia, this ROSEHEAD thing of yours, it's complete rubbish." And so I will be off again, writing more, writing as fast as I can, while I can, to hopefully produce a better book. This is my story. What's yours? What method do you prefer and why? Come on, share in comments. I would love to learn from your experience.