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Friday, February 03, 2006

My Way

I was trying to quote the Frank Sinatra song, but realized I don't remember more than five words. It is early, and I'm not a huge Sinatra fan--Dino on the other hand....

Anyway, I thought if I'm going to complain about about a plotter saying her method is the only smart way to write, I should probably talk about what my process is. I don't think I've ever spelled it out, although since I discuss the writing of my books, some people probably have inferred how I work.

I get story ideas in different ways, but they don't come alive for me until the characters show up. Since they generally arrive before I finish the WIP--whatever it is--I have a few weeks (or longer) to get to know the new people. Or maybe I should say new person. The h/h never show up together--at least they haven't so far. So I'll be writing on the story/proposal that I need to get finished, and thinking about the new character and their story in my downtime.

The WIP is mailed off, and generally, I take a couple of weeks off. Usually by this time, I'm so exhausted--especially mentally--that I have no choice. This gives me more time to spend with the new characters, and by now, it is both of them. I might know more about the one that came in originally, but I'm learning the other at this point too.

I'll play scenes through in my mind. It gives me a feel for character and generally a starting point for the story. I'll hear both dialogue and internal monologue. Some of the scenes I get will never make the book and I know it. They're strictly background to help me become acquainted with the characters. By the time I'm ready to write again, I've had anywhere between one and two months to get to know my new people. I might jot down a couple of notes, but that's unlikely and I might do some research if I need to know something before I write. Like in The Power of Two I read up on quantum brain nanotechnology before I put anything down. But mostly, my prep work is mental.

I start writing. I know where I want to begin the story, and I put down the scene I envisioned. Sometimes the words will come fast and furious, but not always even though this is the easiest part of the book for me--at least the one I enjoy the most. In a way, though, I'm really getting to know the characters as I write and I learn a lot from taking them out of my head and putting them down in words. At this point, I do nothing except write story for at least two chapters.

After getting two or three chapters down, what I do next varies. If I'm working with characters that feel elusive, as if I don't have as good a grip on them as I'd like, I'll do character sketches. I've done them for Ravyn's Flight, all four main characters (and it was a Godsend when I was working on Eternal Nights to have this information) and at least one other story that I can recall.

It's after I finish my proposal chapters that I'll work on a synopsis. I have a very loose idea of a few points in the book and I know my characters well enough now. This generally involves brainstorming with one of my writing buddies who is fabulous at plotting. Me? Well, for me, it's all about the characters. I know who they are, I know what their issues are, and I know how they're going to change by the end of the book. Plot is elusive, although I like to think I'm improving at this.

So I write up a synopsis, which tends to be in the 10-15 page range. Probably at least 5 of those 15 pages are devoted to who the characters are. The rest of the synopsis is a loose framework of events and turning points in the story.

I used to be a complete seat of the pants writer, but because of deadline constraints, I didn't have time to find the plot as I wrote TPOT or Through a Crimson Veil, and I discovered that I like having the synopsis. It's not so detailed that I feel trapped, but it has points for me to write to. I feel more focused.

Now, the synopsis is done, the chapters are polished, the proposal has been sent off and the story is bought. What do I do next?

This is the hard part, getting my head back into a story I may not have even thought about for months. I'll read and reread, tweaking the proposal chapters as I try to hear the characters again. Once I feel as if I'm at least picking them up faintly, I start writing the next chapter. Since I have the loose framework of the synopsis, I'm writing toward the next plot point. I don't know how I'm going to get there, I just know that somehow I will.

If you discount TPOT which completely changed because of series needs, my synopses are generally close to what I have at the end. This surprised me hugely, but TACV and EN both wound up extremely close to what I'd proposed. There were a few differences in both of them--TACV because of the series and EN because what I had originally was unnecessary and I was already long--but the bulk of it was right on the money. I know, totally shocking! =8-O

I don't do too much revision as I write the first draft, although if it's something big enough, I will drop everything and go back. I know most, if not all, authors build on what comes before, but I think I rely on this building block process more than most.

In RF, I wrote scenes ahead of time because they came in so strongly, but usually by the time I reached that point in the story, I'd either have to rewrite the entire thing or jettison it totally. To a huge, huge degree, the characters--and how they've changed to that point--totally dictate where the scene goes. If an event happens in chapter one, my heroine will react differently than she would if that event happened at chapter ten or chapter twenty. I literally, and honestly, can not predict which way a story is going to go ahead of time. I might have an idea in my head of what I think is going to happen and how it'll lead to the next scene, and the characters will ruin it for me. I do complain about how they torture me all the time. Despite this, I somehow reach the plot event I laid out in my synopsis and start writing toward the next.

I'm a slow writer. I spend a lot of time thinking as I go along. Not so much about what's going to happen, but what the characters are saying, what they're thinking, how they're going to react. I also like to get the writing right. :-( I tell myself again and again that I can polish on revision, but I still like to phrase it right the first time. I'm working on this.

The first draft goes along this way for months. Then, one day, I near the end. My pace picks up considerably as I race to finish. I think less here as I push for the climax and wrap up.

With the story finished, I reread the entire draft, usually making notes directly on the hardcopy. In my head, I also have a list of things that I want to fix and mark those as I go through. I've got the chapters my critique partners have sent back too, and as I revise, I go through their notes. My first revision run involves plugging holes, reworking scenes and paragraphs. But my story structure is usually pretty solid, so none of the changes involve reworking the entire book or even chunks of it. I might be a slow writer, but I believe all the time I spent thinking as I wrote the first draft pays off here. I can generally get through this first revision run in a couple of weeks.

Revision run two is less work than one. I may have cut stuff out the first time around, but here I really focus on getting rid of the extra stuff. I'm not always as successful as I think I am and I'll hear about it in my revision letter from the editor. Since I always write so long, I do try to find stuff I can get lose. What thread did I introduce and then not use much in the story? If I didn't strengthen it on round one of revisions, I try to get rid of it. Sometimes I keep it and hope it'll be enough. (Just had a instance with this on EN. I introduced something I didn't explore as much as I should have. My editor pointed it out and wants me to strengthen it. She's absolutely right. I knew it as I was writing/revising the story.) This revision run generally takes less than a week.

The polishing round is next. I fix transitions, smooth out awkward sentences, generally try to make things pretty. I plan on a couple of days for this.

So let's say I have a six month deadline, how is my time divided out? This is a rough estimate.

Two weeks getting my head back in the story/characters and tweaking the first three chapters.

Four and a half months writing the story.

Four or five weeks on my revision runs. I have been known to accelerate this down to a mere two weeks, depending on deadline constraints, but that means a lot less sleep (and I don't get much now) and a lot of hard work.

The mss is then sent off to the editor, and I collapse. :-) I sleep a lot, probably to make up for all the hours I didn't get during the final push to finish. Revisions totally depend on the editor, but I haven't had anything that affected story structure yet, but I did have to take TPOT apart when my editor suggested making Cai younger. It worked beautifully, but it changed how Jake reacted to her and I dismantled the first half of the book and put it back together again during revisions.

The process does change some for every book--I've yet to do two books exactly the same--but this is the gist of how I write. Tomorrow, I'm going to try to find the time to rebut the RWR article that flashed me back to the How To Write books that nearly made me quit writing.

Other notes: I have revisions for EN and only two weeks to do them. I'm going to be busy! Add in the fact that I'm closing on the house next week, and I'm guessing I'll have a couple of stressful weeks. Plus, I really need to pick up a few things for the house. My haircut and attending my local writers' chapter meeting on Feb 11th are now crossed off the To Do List.

PS: I'm late this morning on the blog because Blogger wouldn't let me post before I left for work.