Saturday, July 18, 2009

Don't Rush Things

One thing I'm learning--and re-learning--is to not rush my writing. So often I do the bare minimum of planning and outlining because I would rather be writing the story. Perhaps I'm more of an organic writer than I would like to admit. However, whenever I do stop my outlining short I find that the scenes I write are not as compelling as I feel they could be. I end up taking short cuts only to get the scene written. When I take the time to slow down both my scene planning and scene writing I find that those sections have more depth than when I give in and rush to writing.

I hope that as I continue writing I can better pace myself so that I can get better scenes written. It is something I need to learn. I also feel that subconsciously I'm focused more on getting published rather than telling stories. That will be a difficult thought to break I think.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Series of Short Stories

I recently read somewhere that a novel can be viewed as a series of short stories. I think that I heard this before, but it did not have the impact on me then as it has now. Thinking of a novel in this way has some benefits (for me perhaps).

First, thinking of a novel this way may allows me to work on one piece of the work at a time. Since I am someone who likes structure that can be quite useful. I can then concentrate on one short story at a time and truly get a feel for the events that take place within that portion of the novel.

Second, this may help me because there would always be an explicit story arc to grab the reader's interest. Each of these mini story arcs can help a story move along. In addition, breaking a novel in this way could help me focus better on creating tension on every page.

How many short stories a novel can be broken down into depends upon how the novel is organized. Using a three act structure presents several options.

  • 2 short stories (acts 1 and 3) and a novella (act 2)
  • 4 short stories (one for acts 1 and 3; two for act 2)
  • 8 flash fiction stories (two for acts 1 and three; four for act 2)

Although these "short stories" would not be true short stories by definition of word count it shows the general concept I'm trying to portray. The first two options can be useful for novels that need a slower pace (e.g. epic fantasy). The final option could be useful for faster paced novels (e.g. thrillers). My current novel may be fit better with the first two options I think.

I am still experimenting on how to structure and plan my writing. Every day I read advice on blogs and workshops on how other writers are able to write successful novels and stories. Some of this advice has helped me whereas some just does not work for me. I am finishing up the first act of my current novel in progress so I may look at this break down as an option for my next act.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Chapter Outlining

My goal is to write a chapter each week. Last week I wrote two chapters but those were new and had fewer scenes than normal. Since I had not outlined them I struggled to get the scenes written. I had to plan the scenes out as I wrote. No way I could survive as an organic writer.

So, yesterday I outlined the scenes I planned for my next chapter. Previously I had at most a sentence or two describing the scenes. Now I have full paragraphs for all but one of the scenes. In addition, I developed another important scene to add to the chapter.

Friday is the one day of the week I can work as late as I want since I don't have to get up early the next day. I will now use Fridays to plan out the scenes for the upcoming chapter. I hope that this will speed up the actual writing since much of the information will be planned out ahead of time. I think this will also help me speed up my initial outlining phase since I would not need to write out as much detail for early drafts of the outline.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Freehand Writing

I tried something new this last weekend: freehand writing. Normally I compose directly into the computer and find myself working as fast as possible to get to the end of a scene or chapter. I had heard that some writers write freehand because they can take more time to think about what they write. Since I wanted to find ways that would help me better experience the characters and their story I thought I would try this out.

It did not work well for very long. I found myself rewriting the first paragraph three times. In addition, I felt trapped and my creativity seemed stifled. I stopped after getting a few paragraphs into the scene. I even planned the scene out with what aspects of plot, character, and description I wanted to include. Even with all of that planning I still felt like I had hit a brick wall creatively.

Later I typed what I had into the computer and started composing the scene as I normally do. An hour later I had the scene completed. Although I will need to go back later and edit the scene I feel that I was able to make progress whereas the freehand method seemed to get me nowhere.

On a later scene I may take the planning I did with the freehand method and combine it with the organic composing I do on the computer. That may be a good combination for me. When I have a firm idea of what a scene contains I can compose fairly quickly.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Chapter One Completed

I completed chapter one last night. I removed a scene at the end because the ending to the second to last scene seems right for this chapter. The information I wanted to present from that deleted scene can go somewhere else without the novel suffering. The chapter ended at 3,350 words long, which gives me room to expand. I plan to have chapters average around 4,000 words or so.

I did a quick read of this rough draft and I like what I have so far. I mainly concentrated on the plot and inner conflicts for this draft. I did little to bring out the setting or world yet. I found as I wrote this chapter that I need to do some additional world building since I do not touch much upon the social aspect for these characters. This will become important later, but I did not want to stop the writing for that.

I don't have as good of an outline for chapters two and three but I will work on the scenes that I have and add to the chapters later. I want to try using three point-of-view characters for this book and these chapters are from those points of view. Since this is a new change I have not planned much for them yet. I wanted to dedicate one full chapter to each of them initially and see how things go from there.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Taking time to enjoy the writing experience

I've heard recommendations that writers should get their first draft as close to a final draft as possible. This has always intimidated me because my first drafts were far from good. True, I have not been writing as long as some of these authors who believe in this theory, but it still feels like a daunting task. Hopefully someday my writing skills will get to the point where I am more comfortable with my first drafts.

So, this weekend I took one scene from the chapter I am currently writing and slowed down a bit, taking time to get it right the first time. I know that I will need to do some rewriting on that scene in the future, but I wanted to see how it would stand up to my normal writing. I will say that it took longer to complete because I stopped and thought about what descriptions I needed to add (sights, sounds, tastes, mood, etc.), character turmoils to bring out, etc. I usually do not put these into a scene until later.

When I look back to the work I put into that detailed scene and the other scenes of that chapter, I realize why I normally write simply to get a scene competed: time. As an aspiring writer I want to get the book done. I do not take the time to enjoy the characters and the world while I write. Sure, there are times when I do slow down because I get a bit of inspiration, but more often I am more concerned with getting the book done. To be honest, this is a symptom of wanting "to have written" versus wanting "to write." I say I want to write, but I still fall prey to the "to have written" syndrome. My book suffers because of this.

I don't know if other aspiring writers do the same thing or not. I need to think of this as a marathon rather than a sprint. That will be extremely difficult for me. Sure, I want to get published and because of that desire I am rushing my work. What I may try to do on occasion is take a scene and purposely slow down. Then later try that with a whole chapter. With a bit of practice I may be able to do a whole book like that, maybe. In the long run I hope my writing may be better for it.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Characterization or Outlining

These last few weeks I have spent working on the characterization for my main character, supporting role character, and antagonist. I have gotten many ideas for the story from the work I have done. However, lately I have had the temptation to start writing again. I also know that the more characterization I do the more story ideas I can get. So, I'm debating what to do now.

Due to the ideas I have now, I decided to write this novel from multiple points of view. Originally I was only going to show the story from the main character's point of view. I want to keep the number of views down in this book, probably only three. Last night I spent a good amount of time working out scenes for this novel's outline. What I may do is work on solidifying the outline of the first quarter of the novel and then start writing that section only. Even when I changed the plot in the past the first quarter of the novel really did not change all that much. I think I have at least that much of this book solidified and I should not have to change it too much if the outline changes.

Although I have not done as much characterization as I wanted I think the temptation to start writing may be too much for me to resist.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Character Driven Plot

When I first started writing many years ago I never truly thought much about my characters. My idea of "characterization" was primarily the characters' history. Where did they grow up? Who were their parents? Although this might be interesting it really did not allow my characters to become memorable. Because of this my stories were driven by the plot alone. That may also be a reason why I like epic fantasy so much. It can be easy to forget about the characters because I am too busy finding ways for them to save the world.

For the first time I decided to give depth to my characters. I had never done this before so I felt I needed to do some research. I found several good websites and a couple books that have helped me develop my characters. One thing these methods had in common was to create characters with inner conflicts (preferably mutually exclusive conflicts). That was what I focused on for the last several weeks. This was not easy because this was the first time I tried this. What I came up with helped not only the characters but the story itself.

I found that these characters helped add to the plot of the story. These inner conflicts help me develop more for the plot than I could have working on the plot by itself. In fact, due to the inner conflicts of one character, I have that character going in a totally different direction. Before this characterization I would never have had that character do anything like what I am having him do. However, these actions are logical based upon these conflicts. Now I am developing a more character driven plot whereas before I struggled to build up the story on plot alone.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

World Building Overload

I finally have a good feeling for the inner conflicts for my main character and the supporting role character. It is often suggested that you create desires (preferably mutually exclusive desires) within your characters which conflict with one another. I've struggled with the mutually exclusive part for some time. So, what I came up with is a strong single desire for each of these characters. However, they both have two mutually exclusive ways to accomplish those desires. I don't know if this will work as well as if I had two specific mutually exclusive desires. I'll have to wait an see.

Another thing I have found with the development (or re-development) of this novel is that I'm trying to plan this project out too much. I am going too deep into the world building and characterization. Right now I have a good understanding of what these characters' desires are but I am not going so deep that I have a complete history about how they became the way they are. I do have some general ideas that has led up to their desires but not too much detail on that history. I can always add to that history later.

For now I will stick with the general characterization that I have and proceed from there. Each author has his or her own way of preparing / writing and I still have not found what is best for me yet. A few steps forward; several steps back. I'm confident that I will eventually make forward progress.

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Willingness to Let Go

This project has been with me a very long time, even though I have not written on it for at least ten years. When I returned to this project I was reluctant at first to change much of the plot. I did change some aspects of the story because it was far too dark originally. Those changes forced me to change the main character. However, I still maintained the basic plot for the story, which cause numerous problems as I tried to outline the story based upon the change in history and characterizations I made. The more detailed my characterization became the more difficult it was to modify the outline for this project.

As I worked on the inner conflicts of the main character I developed several ideas on what could be conflicting with this character. However, none of these worked well with the story that I had. I was too stubborn to adjust the story based upon what I developed for the characters. I wanted some strong inner conflicts for the characters but I kept trying to force those into the story as I had it. I never felt any of that worked well for me.

This weekend I thought of a good inner conflict that I could give the main character. When I tried to work it into the story I found that this inner conflict was naturally solved within a few scenes of the book. What good is character conflict if it gets solved quickly? I didn't want to give up on this inner conflict because it was the strongest one I had developed. The two sides of this conflict were mutually exclusive unlike any of the others before. I wanted to keep this conflict if at all possible.

So, I thought about the story and came up with a possible new beginning to the novel. This adjustment could certainly play upon this inner conflict and keep it going for much longer than before. In fact, it could easily become a driving force for this character. However, it meant letting go of a part of this plot that has been around for a long time.

Let's say for a moment that this is a quest story. The original plot would be something simple like someone sending the main character on a quest to accomplish something. Not very exciting by itself. The conflicts were mostly external. However, now the main character is thrown into a situation and must fight to discover what is happening and find a solution. Throw in the fact that the inner conflict forces the character to make a decision to go in one direction or another (and cannot do both, although both are equally desirable).

Even though this new adjustment could be a better than what I had before I had to be willing to cut out what I believed what was "right" for this project. That was not easy to do. I have had this story in my head for so long that it is still difficult to give up any part of it.

I think, in a way, I may have an advantage because in this project I want to "deep outline" before writing anything. Otherwise I would have written several chapters that I would never have used in this book. Some may say that is a good exercise. Perhaps so but I am the type that likes to have a very good idea of where a story is going before writing anything.

Hopefully the new direction this story has taken will work better than what I had previously. What I do know is that the inner conflict works much better now and I can build upon it better than the other conflicts I developed.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Main Character Details Coming Together

I have gotten some good insight on my main character and the interaction with my main supporting role character. I still have work to do before I feel comfortable that I have a complete profiles. I am still getting ideas for the conflicts between the main character and this supporting role character. The dynamic I see between them has grown significantly and I hope to bring out that conflict as the story progresses.

I can say that I have enough knowledge of these two characters to begin working on a more detailed outline for the book. Mostly I will focus on the first one-third of the novel. I have a good scene by scene outline on what would be the first 36,000 or so words of this 100,000 word project. The characterization I am working on now will be quite prevalent in this section of the novel. With what I know now I think I can come up with a good start of the character arc of my main character.

If I get more plot details on this first one-third of the novel I may start writing that section and then characterize some of the characters that are introduced in the middle section. I can then flesh out the details of the plot for that section later. I'm eager to begin writing but I want to have a better idea of the character progression before I do so. With the details I have now I could certainly begin writing if I were more of an organic writer but I know I must be patient. All of my previous attempts failed because I didn't put enough efforts into the world building. I don't want to make those mistakes again.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Character Outlines

Over the weekend I tried to get some outlining done on this novel. As before, I got stuck on getting the details down. However, this time I leaned the source of my frustrations from previous attempts at outlining. I was trying to work out too much detail for each of the scenes. So, I decided to work on the climaxes for the novel. I was a little more successful there, but only for the first third of the book. At this stage of writing a novel I think I only need to have the basics of the events of the story in mind rather than a detailed description of each scene. More on the reason below.

Setting the plot aside, I decided to do some work on my characterization. First, I worked on the main character. This is my new main character due to the story changes I made a few months ago. I am getting a much better feel of who she is and what she wants in life. This is something I was unaware of previously. She is coming more alive now than ever. In fact, as I developed her character I came to get a better feel for one of my supporting role characters. So much so that I can see a strong dynamic between these characters building.

As I stated above, I think only need the basics of the storyline at this stage because as I developed the main character (MC) and this supporting character I discovered scenes that I could place in the novel that would play out the dynamic relationship these characters have. These scenes would never exist had I not developed the characters as I did today.

With this experience in mind, I may later take the last two thirds of this project and draft up a very basic sequence of events. Using those basic events I can then delve deeper into the minds of these characters. In addition, since I have two new characters being introduced in the middle third, I can take that time to develop their characters and build scenes based upon their personalities.

Overall I am quite pleased with these results. I think, for me at least, having a basic outline of a novel may be important before I begin characterization. I don't know that this technique will continue to work on this project or any future projects. However, I will go along with it as long as it works.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Returning to Original Project

Fellow aspiring writer, Jeff Baerveldt, convinced me to not give up on my first novel project. I had only set it aside, but I did come to realize the source of my frustrations. I had made some changes to the story and characters but I did not complete the job of fully developing those characters and the world around them to match those changes. Thus, I need to go back to the world building aspect of that project.

I will still track my efforts as I progress through the project. I hope to include information of what steps I go through in order to complete the novel. This may include what world building aspects I completed on a specific day or what characterization I did. I had the thought also of tracking how much time I put into each of these. That may be more work than it's worth but I would be interested in knowing how much time goes into writing a novel.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Gathering Characters

I put together a list of the characters that I intend to use in this novel. In addition to the main character, I have a primary character, several secondary characters and the antagonist. What I will do over the next few weeks is develop their history and characterization.

I intend for this novel to be character-driven rather than plot-driven. My previous book was more about the plot. Unfortunately, I did not take the time to draw out the characters sufficiently. When I return to that novel I will take better care in learning about who those characters are. This time I want to concentrate more on the characters of this new project so that I have a better idea of who they are and how they will react to the events I will throw at them.

I have also written a paragraph that briefly describes the general plot of the story. When I begin pitching this novel I will need to refine this summary into more of a "high concept" description. However, I think I will wait on that until I have a better idea of the characters and their personalities. That way I can present a feel of the characters in the hook that I will use for querying.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

New Novel Project (Project: Life)

In the last few days since setting aside (not giving up) on my last novel attempt I have tried to come up with a new idea. This has been a struggle. I came up with a few ideas for starting a few novels but none of them worked for me. I could not come up with their overall storylines. On the way home from work tonight I came up with a new story idea. I think all of the articles on "high concept" helped me with this. If you're struggling with your next novel idea perhaps you ought to do a search on "high concept novel" and do some reading. Alexandra Sokoloff has a post on premise that is also a good read for this.

I have always been interested in what goes into getting a novel completed. Other aspiring writers may be curious as well. So, I will attempt to track the progress of this new project from its inception, through its lifespan, up to completion (and, hopefully, publication). I may make mistakes and backtrack along the way but this is a learning experience for me. If so, hopefully others will be able to learn from my mistakes.

For this new project, what I came up so far is the "high concept" of the book. It's a single sentence, though not detailed. In addition, it would be more of a "middle concept" since it may not attract the attention a true "high concept" idea would. However, from this I have an entire novel churning through my head--beginning, middle, end--whereas the previous ideas gave me very little from which to work.

In short, I came up with the "high concept" of this new novel project and will start from there.

Friday, April 17, 2009


I have not done much writing this week at all. This new outline has given me all kinds of trouble. I'm thinking of setting it aside for now and coming up with another novel idea. It has been a long time since I've done any writing so that may take me a while (at least to come up with a decent idea that has not already been done to death). I may just go to the bookstore and go on a spending spree.

I read a post this week (don't recall the source) where someone sent a novel manuscript to TOR and it took THREE YEARS to get a rejection; he did that two more times. That's just crazy. Definitely makes sense to start working on the next novel while waiting (I was planning on that anyway). In that time you could complete a trilogy by the time you get a rejection. The sad thing is that you cannot submit simultaneously during that time.

For now I will work to come up with a new novel idea. This current one is giving me so much trouble. Perhaps I'm only now realizing that it was not very good in the first place. Either that or my writing skills have gotten rusty after ten years. I prefer the former.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Organic versus Structured Writing

I have come to the conclusion that I am not an organic writer. Some writers are able to sit down at a black screen (or sheet of paper) and start wrting their novel from beginning to end with little or no outlining. Now, I have "written by Muse" before where a scene is so vivid that it flows straight to the page. However, I could never do an entire novel that way. For me, I need to have an outline before I write. I am the type of writer that requires structure.

I searched the Internet for authors in my genre to see how they write. Orson Scott Card (OSC) has some nice articles in his Writing Class section, which gave me a start. In addition, I read several methods of fellow aspiring writers on OSC's forums. Jeffery A. Carver's online course can be of help as well. However, none of these seemed right for me.

One day, as I looked for sites and blogs of literary agents, I came across Alexandra Sokoloff's blog (author of The Harrowing and The Price). She describes her Index Card Method where she writes the scenes of her novel on index cards (one scene per card) then organizes them into three acts. I won't go into much detail here, but I suggest you check it out if you're seeking guidance on how to get started on you next novel. She has several other posts on her blog that I have found very helpful.  I will try the index card method on my next novel. She breaks down the novel in an intuitive manner (for me at least) that I feel will help me get past some of the writer's block I have been experiencing.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Choosing the Main Character

I made quite a few changes to the world history of my novel and added some deeper characterization. These changes have improved the story quite a bit. Having the history more defined has helped me get a better feel for the story.

Unfortunately, I have come to the conclusion that the novel is no longer my current main character's story to tell. I've been fighting with that for a week now because that character has been the center of the story for a long time. I wasn't planning on reusing much of the original writing so I'm not too upset at having to write additional chapters. However, I was on a roll with the scene writing and now I need to re-think the outline.

Monday, March 16, 2009

My New Blog

It has been over ten years since I last wrote fiction. After reading The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien in Junior High I was fascinated with genre fiction, specifically fantasy. So, I started writing my own stories, mostly novels. Unfortunately, I never had enough discipline to finish anything until I was in college. I learned, as many aspiring authors do, that editing as you write can start a cycle that prevents you from ever completing a novel. After all, something could always be improved. Therefore, I decided to plow through the novel until it was completed. That worked for me. And then it sat.

Occasionally I made changes but only for a couple years. I felt confident in my writing but I had less and less time to write. Then, life came along (career, family) and my writing sat for ten years, collecting dust. Until now.

During those ten years I occasionally felt the desire to write again but it never became strong enough to follow through until this month. I finally had a strong desire to write. First, I had to find my writing. My novel was boxed up along with many notes, maps and miscellaneous stories I did for college classes, but it took me several fearful days to find the electronic versions of my writing. Second, I had to revisit a world I had not seen for ten years. I look forward to seeing old friends again.