Bullshit! That's the first word that popped into your head, right? Or, baloney! Or, nonsense! Choose your sophistication level. More, here is a scimitar. HACK OFF MY HEAD! Because who am I to dare to say this! No one. Carry on. Go somewhere else. I don't even know why you're still reading. What is wrong with you, poppet? Didn't you read everywhere that outlining a novel is a must? Oh, you must not lose yourself in the jungle of your thinking! Oh, you must not let the creative wander, you must contain it, organize it, channel it, for fuck's sake! This is how writers write, they stick to the outline! They must know how the book ends before beginning it! They must not stray from the road of the story! They must not... Yeah, yeah, yeah. I heard all that. I'm sure you heard it too. And I read about it. And I totally outlined my first trilogy. TOTALLY. Like, 3 whole times. I reoutlined my outlines, even. Gee, talk about being thorough. Now, my 2nd novel, I wrote without an outline. I thought I was crazy, but I simply didn't feel like it. It was more fun just to plunge into the mess and swim in it. Or drown in it. Anyway. With my 3rd novel I got sorta stuck, at first. I wrote the 1st shitty draft, wanted to puke at it when I reread it, and now I'm finishing the 2nd draft, and I hacked it to pieces and restitched it and added a whole another layer and am changing the ending and I was so scared and doubted myself so much that I thought, SHIT. I should've outlined this beast. But. Here is something to ponder.Read More
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
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.
Right. This was supposed to be a blog post on character development, as folks on Twitter asked me to write one, but it turns out I already blogged about that, using PINK TUTUS as an example. So, then. Since I just finished reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, I was so taken by how masterfully J.K. Rowling does her plotting, that I feel inspired to write about plotting, or, rather, how I do it, using socks as examples. Why socks? Because it was all the rave last morning in Twitterverse, which, as you can tell, is sort of like my writer's group and my sounding board. Anyway, socks it is and plotting it is, well, how you do it then? How do you plot a novel? You don't. At first. Hold on to your chair and don't yell at me, here is what I mean by it.
Don't plot until your first draft is finished. Okay, this is key, at least this is what I have learned, so please don't assume like this is some sort of special truth, it is not. It's what works for me. The idea is this. Your subconscious knows better than you do. Now, very few of us know how to turn off the noise in our brains and go down to the place that we only feel. It comes with experience and years and years of practice, of which I have neither. So, you have to write your first draft very fast, lighting fast, ideally, without any breaks at all, well, not longer than 1 to 2 days. It shouldn't take you more than 3 months, as Stephen King advises in his ON WRITING. It took me 6 weeks to bang out 1st draft for SIREN SUICIDES, and I'm almost half-done with 1st draft for ROSEHEAD, having only started writing it 3 weeks ago. I assume it will take me 6 weeks total as well. Why? Because you charge forward on association, writing the first thing that comes to mind and excites you.
- Sock example number 1: A pair of checkered socks lay forgotten at the bottom of the drawer, when an unfamiliar hand reached for them and set them on fire (so, twist number one, who got the socks? Why fire? No clue, first thing that came to my head. What would be cool next?) But then the socks exploded because they were made of special magic exploding wool! BAM! (Whoa? Where did this come from? No idea. Have to keep moving, keep writing.) The socks themselves, instead of burning, grew into two humongous floating balloons and burst out of the house, when the unfamiliar hand reached for them and grabbed their ends, flying out into space! (Right, I thought I was writing fantasy, but this is turning into sci-fi. Fine, I have to keep moving.) A vicious rain of acid alien socks pummeled the pair, causing them to deflate and land on the Moon, which was actually a roll of wool in the jaw of a cat that represented the universe and everything. (WHOA!!! What the hell? No matter, I'll keep writing.) See what I'm doing? I keep moving no matter how crazy it sounds, because it's fun and it keeps me going.
Write out plot points and clean them up. Once you're done with Draft 1, put it away for at least 2 weeks. Don't touch it, forget it existed. Then, after 2 weeks are gone, read it all in one sitting. Again, I'm only borrowing advice from Stephen King here, it worked for me, so I'm sure it will work for you. Anyway, then, when you read it, keep a notepad next to you and write down every single little plot turn you come across, just like you write down a list of to-do's.
- Sock example number 2: A hand reached for socks. (Whose hand? Why? Why secretly?) Socks exploded. (Why? Did someone put them there on purpose? By accident? Were there more socks like these or are they one of a kind?) Exploding wool. (Who invented it? Why? Is it used in other products, like exploding sweaters? Has it been tested on ill-tempered humans?) Socks inflated. (Who did? Did they have a computer chip for it? Was it implanted by special spying sloths? Murderous hippos? Sock monkeys?) Acid alien rain was waiting for them. (Did aliens plan it? Were they enemies for years? Have they mistaken these socks for some other checkered socks?) You see the pattern I'm creating here? That's it. You write out a list of all your turns, big and little, and then start cleaning them up, weaving a logically possible story out of it.
Explain every single plot detail in Draft 2. Now comes the painful part. After you are done with Draft 1 and writing out plot points, in Draft 2 make sure you carefully explain every single plot point, to the point of wanting to vomit. Seriously, write as much of it as you can, as if you were explaining it all to your almost deaf great great grandmother. Because if she can understand what you're talking about, any other reader will understand it too.
- Sock example number 3. A pair of checkered socks lay forgotten at the bottom of the drawer, their bright pink and purple pattern barely visible in the gloom of the rest of the socks, most of them brown or black, the typical fare of a typical boring clerk working in a bank his entire life without a raise. This particular pair of socks felt particularly out of place, itching to get out, after having spent there only 1 hour, a tag still attached to them, together with a barely discernible scent of a woman's perfume. Then, without any warning, a woman's hand, long and slender, each finger encrusted with a diamond the size of a robin's egg, swiftly snaked in and snatched the pair with a pair of silver pincers... Do I need to continue? I don't think so. You see the point. I try to over-explain every single detail.
Cut down to only necessary details in Draft 3. Bam. You did it. Now in Draft 3 simply cut out the fluff that is not needed, leaving only the things that ring true. Ask your beta readers to chime in, if you're having difficulty seeing it. Or, again, take a break for a couple weeks, and then read it all in one go.
- Sock example number 4. At the bottom of a drawer, underneath a pile of silk stockings, a pair of checkered socks lay uncomfortably, their purple microchips blinking. One minute left until explosion... I think you get the point.
Use the accordion method for the rest of the drafts. Somebody told me about this concept, I can't remember who, but the idea is that you keep expanding and shrinking your drafts until they can't expand and shrink anymore. In any case, don't do more than 10 drafts, chances are, you're overwriting it. Don't write the same novel for longer than 2 years, chances are, you've lost the spark and have to move on. Trust me, once you move on to a new novel and start the same process all over again, it will flow a 100 times smoother. I know, it does for me in ROSEHEAD.
Well, here you have it. It's the method I use, it's nothing like you would read in books on plotting. It works for me. What works for you? Got any tips or secrets to share? Please do in comments, I'm totally dying to learn.
Photo by Brooke Shaden
This is one of the scariest topics for me to write about, and, frankly, it didn't even occur to me to write about it until I asked my followers on Twitter what they would like to see next on my blog, and this particular topic, suggested by Brad Ulreich, stuck. Because it's one of my biggest struggles, bigger than writing dialogue. Writing fantasy is hard. Writing good fantasy is harder still. When starting out on SIREN SUICIDES, I blithely charged forward, naive and oblivious to any kind of notion of how to create a fantastical world that is also believable. And it's only in Draft 4 that inconsistencies started bugging me, as they did my beta readers, so in Draft 5 I tried paying close attention to the world building. I'm saying, tried to, because I'm still learning. What follows is what I have glimpsed so far, and I'm by no means an expert. Proceed with caution and be careful not to get tangled in the notion that this might be the truth somehow. it is not, it's no more than ruminations of a rookie writer.
Establish clear rules. I'm guilty of not being very clear about my world, and now that I'm almost done, I see it, but it's too late to go back and change the story. By rules I mean very distinct things that can or cannot happen in your fantasy. Imagine your story being a play of chess. If you had to explain it to someone who never played it, how would you do it? Now, if you had to explain it to someone who merely hasn't played for a few years, you would say it differently, right? Here lies the catch. As a writer, you know certain things that your readers don't. But simply because you know them, it doesn't even occur to you to explain them in very specific detail to the reader. But the reader will thank you for it! The reader is like that person who never played chess. The reader has no idea. Everything needs to be painstakingly explained, and not all at once either, but gradually, as the world of your story unfolds. But before you can do that, you have to know yourself what works, how, when, why, etc. This is the reason Draft 5 of my book turned into 3 books, because I simply slowed down enough to explain things.
Consistency over plot. This is a tricky thing I noticed when reading books, and I haven't seen anyone talk about it in the same vein, so I'd be curious to hear your comments. What I mean here is this. Once the rules of your world are clearly established, as in, all people in Dreamlandia are purple, they eat green capybaras for dinner, sleep 2 weeks out of a year, and live on one big baobab tree... err, let's not get carried away here, so, once your rules are established, feel free to not feel the pressure for providing a logical explanation behind everything that happens. This explanation is different from the one I was talking above. What I meant above was telling people that people in your book are purple. What I mean here is explaining why those people are purple. Who cares? They just are. You're the writer, you get to come up with anything you want. The point here is to believe in it yourself, and then we will believe in it too. The perfect example for left-out plot loops is Murakami's 1Q84. Read it and see for yourself. Because you believe in his world, you don't care about how it all happened, you want to know how it all resolves.
Supply made-up facts. This is another trick I picked up from reading, and it goes along the lines of yourself believing in your world. Because you now established the rules, and you made us believe in it, make it real by giving us facts about it, as if we were to read about it not in your book, but in a newspaper. Be as specific as you can. For example, purple people have only 4 right toes but staggering 10 left toes. And they always dream of pink zebras on Tuesdays, and on the first day of summer they each burp up a butterfly with the speed of 30 cracacacs a minute (now, who cares what a cracacac is, the point is, it sounds credible). Stephen King does this in Carrie by writing up actual news articles. Yann Martel does it in Life of Pi, inventing a fictional novelist and a report for the sunken ship. And in Harry Potter there is a whole wizarding newspaper which creates a sense of added credibility for the whole thing. I can keep going with examples here, but you get the idea.
Minimize or maximize outside contact. Like in any fantasy, there is the other side of the coin. The non-fantasy. Not all books have it. Pure fantasy doesn't deal with the outside world, and that is great, it gives you the freedom to operate within the world you created. But if you happen to write a book that does throw characters in the real world, then you have to either, spectacularly describe those interactions, showing how it impacts both sides, or, if you are unsure, which is my case, minimize the contact with the outside world, to avoid situations where you might lose the reader completely, by not supplying enough information on what happens when both world collide. Of course, I'm using a very general simplistic example here, because there are countless books written on the subject. Again, I'm simply sharing with you what I've learned myself so far.
Above all, no matter how fantastic your world is, don't forget the purpose of any story. Your every sentence has to either develop the characters or move the action forward, so if you spend a whole page describing the beauty of the left pinky of one of the purple people after he has applied freshly made crimson coating on it in accordance with an aardvark season tradition of the west bough of the baobab... no matter how divinely it's written, we will yawn, put the book aside, and move on. I'm sure I have missed a gazillion other tricks, so feel free to share your insights in the comments, as always!