Search

12 Books in 12 Months

writing books and blogging about it

Tag

fun

To Plan Or Not To Plan?

Further to yesterday’s shout out for guest bloggers, Captain Fantastic writes:

Ali,

I read on the blog that you are shamelessly trying to spin out more books than Sir Terry of Pratchett. For someone that’s spent many a year dreaming of writing an epic fantasy novel, yet produced less than diddly squat, I’m wondering how you get going with the process each time you start a new book.

I’ve read lots of different guides on how to get started writing, but everything I read says to start by planning the plot, or the characters. I’ve tried both and failed – horribly. The planning really bores me – like reading the Silmarillion – it’s dry and dusty and it takes forever. I really want to just spew out the random jumble of words in my head and weave them into a story as I go, but everything I read says ‘no! bad dog! Start by planning, plot, characters, themes, snore, snore, snore, ya-de-ya – have a biscuit’. I probably shouldn’t look for guidance in dog books…

I was wondering then, how do you plan your writing. Do you do anything to keep the planning side of things interesting or do you just leap right in and start writing? How do you make the actual writing process itself fun so that it’s not a chore to sit down and churn out 2000 words in a day? Any thoughts?

Fantastic Regards

The Captain

Tuesday 25/4/11

Dear Captain,

The only book I have really planned thus far was the one I wrote for NaNoWriMo last year.  And even then, the ‘planning’ consisted predominantly of  reading a few books in my chosen genre, then choosing 30 cliffhangers and assigning them to different chapters.  I knew what the two main characters were called before I began, but I added everyone else in as I went along and got to know them as I wrote them.

Book One of this project, Caligula’s Blog, was planned in the sense that I read some history books and had a rough time line of Caligula’s life, and I tried to write according to that – but exact details are a bit woolly when your get that far back so it wasn’t done with military precision.

I tend to take the view that if you are bored with what you’re doing – especially at that early stage – the reader will be too.  When I planned out that first book, I couldn’t wait to start writing it, and doing so was much easier than the ill-considered NaNo attempt of 2009.

Kids author Andy Stanton makes chapter planning interesting... Or silly, at any rate. http://ow.ly/user/AndyStantonTM

With 12 Books, part of me tends to feel like there’s no time for planning (other than thinking about it in my head a bit!), so I’ve been inclined to jump in and start on the first of the month – either at a point I am looking forward to doing, or a cursory opening scene just to get something out there.  So far none of the openings I’ve written have stayed at the start for long, but they help me to get into the new story.

I think there’s a danger that if you plan too much you’ll overthink it, which is why the overarching theme of this project is to get something on paper and worry about continuity and plot holes later.  Once you have that first 50k in front of you, it’s got to be easier to plan the next 50k than if you’re still stuck faffing about with outlines.  And you may well see that themes and things have started to appear of their own accord, merely needing you to hone them a bit.

Having said all that, I do think having an outline can help you keep on track, as there are one or two problems with jumping straight in.  Frinstance:

– You occasionally find you’ve written the same thing more than once.

– Sometimes you can get quite far in and then change your mind about something, or find it tails off unexpectedly, so you end up having to lose chunks of what you’ve written.  But honestly I think that would happen with any first draft, because by the time you’ve done 50k+, left it a couple of months, and come back to it with fresh eyes, you’re going to have come up with new ideas, better ways of putting things, and so on.

– Jumping right in can mean you can lose sight of what you wanted to do.  With book 3, I thought I had a very clear idea in my head, but I hadn’t written it down in any detail. Immersed in the tale, I got to around 20k, but then unexpectedly got stuck.  I ended up breaking my ‘no editing’ rule and going back to read over it properly and change the chapters around.  That helped me to decide on a direction, and I didn’t need to lose any of it – but I can’t guarantee that result every time, and on that occasion fell very short of the arbitrary word count goal!

As a general rule with 12 books I decided to write and write until I get to 50k – even if I know some of it is nonsense.  After all it’s a first draft which is going to be severely edited – first by me and then by long suffering friends who’ll be asked to read it over before sending it to an agent who’d presumably make further suggestions before sending it to a publisher.  There’s just no need to get bogged down in detailed planning at this stage, because when you get going you’ll almost certainly change your mind about at least a couple of things.

In answer to your last point, this means keeping things fun isn’t that hard at this stage.  The process of coming up with first drafts is arguably one of the funnest, most creative parts of writing a novel.  It’s the point where you can try things out, and it’s a bit of a challenge getting to that 2000 words a day which is enjoyable as long as you don’t let it become a stress or something YOU MUST DO at the cost of all else.  The editing process, on the other hand, is far more laborious – that’s where writing becomes a job, and it’s how I reckon authors really earn their keep!

Hope this answers your question, and best of luck with the fantasy epic!

Ali

Writing Teenagers

I instinctively write the ones I know – moody, foulmouthed and bored all the time.

Well, it’s cool to be bored, innit.

However, I also remember that as a teenager I had long periods where I was actually quite happy, and this presents something of a problem when writing Jennifer, the lead character in my Paranormal Romance/Dark Fantasy title.  Should I allow her any respite from the angsty world of being a lonely vampire?  Should she be allowed to have some friends who accept and even seem to be fond of her, as I did when I was growing up?  Should she occasionally have hyperactive giggling fits when she is showing off in front of a boy she likes?

To turn to the heavyweight of this genre; Bella out of that Twilight book has friends – not that she appreciates them in any way.  All she’s interested in is bedding her sparkly vampire Adonis, and she seems blissfully unaware of the fact that the kids of Forks go completely against stereotyping etiquette by accepting her into their group without question.  She never laughs, or does anything much other than pine after a man a hundred years her senior, who has questionable dietary habits and a sense of humour bypass.

Is this something I ought to be entering in to?  Up to a point I suppose I am trying to write for a YA audience, but I struggle with the concept that teenagers have no sense of fun.  Granted, their concept of fun may be slightly skewed towards setting stuff on fire, picking on the weaker members of the friendship group, or hanging around street corners and shopping centres getting in people’s way… but it isn’t all time spent on the verge of tears over a member of the opposite sex.

Still, some of it is, and that may well be what people want to read about.

Based on the habits of my friends in school and of kids that came into the library where I used to work, part of my trouble is that a lot of teenagers seem to stop reading around the age of 13 and never pick it up again until they’re 19 or 20.  In doing this, they manage to miss out on a lot of brilliant fiction because they go straight from kids books to adult ones.  I tended to read books ‘aimed at teenagers’ between the ages of about 11 and 13, then I went on to more grown up ones.  I only came back to teenage stuff a couple of years ago, as an adult.

All of which makes me wonder who the ‘YA’ audience actually is.  And should my  book encourage people in their mid-teens to keep going, or is it aimed at people in their late teens and early twenties?  Or is it both?  And if so, how do I appeal to the broad range of emotions and experiences that constantly change and evolve over the period of adolescence?

There’s a lot to consider, essentially.  Although ultimately I think I’ll do the same thing I do every time – write as it comes to me and worry about it later.

The editorial process is going to be an interesting one.

Get Involved!

If, for whatever reason, you can’t leave comments on the Get Involved page of the blog, help is at hand!  I have made a photo album on the facebook page so you can leave thoughts on different genres there.  It’s not actually in chronological order, but you’re intelligent people and I’m sure you’ll figure it out.

I’ve done this because March – the first month where I’m really throwing this out to the general public – is fast approaching.  I’ve had some suggestions, but the novel is far from planned!

To remind you, I’d like the main protagonist to be an older gent, based on a lovely chap who used to come into the library and take out 12 westerns at a time, even though he’d read them all hundreds of times already.

Maybe he sees his day to day life in a slightly schemey bit of town as a Western? Maybe he goes back in time, either in reality or in a dream?  Maybe he goes forward in time, to a Serenity style futuristic space western?

You may have gathered by this point that I don’t want to spend too much time researching the actual history of the wild west, I just want it to be a fun, colourful, ripping read!

So, what’s my old gent called? What western movies should I watch for inspiration? Where is it set? Who are the other characters?  He must have a dead or estranged wife/child in his past somewhere, right?  Or maybe that’s too traditional.  In which case, what is his motivation?

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: