Stephannie Beman asked me to write a post on my writing style, and mine is by the seat of my pants.
1. Have a plot.
I might have characters in mind, but honestly, I can’t do anything with the characters until the right plot comes up. I currently have about five main characters but no plot. I’m waiting for the right plot to come along that will click with their personalities. It’s mostly instinct. You can’t force the wrong character into a certain plot, no matter how hard you try. You just need to “know” that this particular plot fits this particular character. Only then can you start the book. This waiting time can take as little as a couple days to a few years.
2. Make only necessary notes prior to writing.
I don’t outline. I might mark down a couple of notes which goes on a sticky note from a program on my computer. These notes contain the date the book starts (since I write mostly historicals), ages of characters, children, hair and eye color of main characters, and names I might use for minor characters that are hard to spell (like Hothlepoya). That’s all I do for notes. I keep this sticky note open on my desktop so I have easy access to it.
Now, if I have a series, the notes get more elaborate. I have family trees, dates of every book in the series, and notes of how characters look. I will add a quick note here how awesome and invaluable it is to have an editor or beta reader who has read all of the books in your series because they will remember what happened in other books so if you miss something (say someone had blue eyes in the other book but green eyes in this one), they might catch this inconsistency.
3. Thinking over a couple of scenes prior to writing.
Usually during this thinking stage, a few scenes will pop up. The thinking part comes when you’re grocery shopping, driving, cleaning, taking a shower, before you do to sleep at night, etc. The scenes that come to you are usually the first scene, a couple of middle scenes, and maybe the end (maybe not the final scene) but a resolution. Most of the time, I just have about two beginning scenes and about two or three middle scenes. I rarely start off with the ending.
4. Start writing.
I find the less planning I’ve done ahead of time for the book, the greater ease I’ll have with writing it because I’m allowing my characters to develop the story to suit them. I still need them to be a good fit for the plot, and when they are, the story pretty much writes itself.
I think this is also an instinctual thing. I’ll write a book and veer off in a direction that I never intended, but if I let the characters decide how it goes and follow along with what they’re doing, every time they will end up resolving all the subplots that pop up. I don’t know how it happens or how to explain it, but it works. I’ve only had problems when I was trying to force my will on the characters. When I try to step in and control things, the story stalls and falls apart. I’ve learned that if a story is starting to stall, I’ll put it aside and work on something else. While I try to maintain a certain word count each day, I work on about four books at one time so I can write in a book that is going along smoothly and come back to the one that slowed down when I figure out what direction to take it in.
5. This type of writing requires you to shut out the critic and the praiser.
Why? Because your characters need to be themselves. You can’t let anyone tell you what to do with them. So what if someone hates alpha males? If you main character wants to be an alpha, let him be. And I know it’s hard not to try to please a fan who wants your character to be a certain way or do something out of their character (ex. I hope the hero punches the bad guy), but if your character doesn’t want to be or do something, don’t make the character do it because the book will feel awkward to you. I’ve made both mistakes in the past, and now I have to give myself permission to upset some people by letting my characters be themselves. It’s not easy to do, but the characters know what’s best for them. (Just like when you have to let your kids grow up and be who they are.)
I know. It’s easy to see why you need to shut out the critic. If we’re constantly thinking of everything that is wrong with our characters, the plot, the scene, etc, we’ll never finish the story. It can be hard to shut the critic out, but I have my emails filtered for me and now only allow approval of comments on my other blogs and block people who are rude. It’s not that I don’t want to learn how to be better. I do, and I have editors and beta readers I trust who give me their honest opinion, but when they do it, they do it kindly. A little sugar goes a long way.
But the praise part needs to be shut out, too. Why? Because I never want to get to the point where I think I’m so good and so wonderful that I have no need to improve. Too much sugar can make you sick, you know? Again, I filter these out and take them in small doses, mostly when I have to remind myself that even if my books aren’t for everyone, there are some people out there who like them. It takes more positives to balance you out than negatives. Again, the honest but kind editors and beta readers are essential.
I’m not saying you have to pay for editors or beta readers. You can barter services. But I do believe it’s important to get a fresh pair of eyes, and I actually prefer at least two. I average three per book.
6. If you get stuck toward the end when trying to resolve subplots, then outline.
I’ve done a short outline as I’ve neared the end of a couple of books to get an idea of how to resolve each subplot I introduced into the book. I don’t outline what I already wrote. I take it from where I am in the story and write a short description of each scene that will resolve the subplots and finish up the book for the ending. Usually, this is when I’m two or three chapters away from being done with the book. I don’t do this often, but if I’m trying to make sure I don’t end up with loose plot points, this is what I do.
7. You’re done when the book feels done.
Again, this is just something you know. When you’re satisfied with everything, the book is complete. There have been a couple times where I added another scene because of beta reader feedback, but this rarely happens.
I don’t edit while I’m writing the first draft. I know some people do, but when I write, I keep moving forward and I don’t look back. My goal is to get the words down. I err on the side of writing too much because deleting is easier than adding once the book is finished. If I wonder about a consistency point (ex. a minor character’s name), I highlight it and will check it out when I’m in the editing stage. If I get stuck while writing the book, I stop and work on something else until I’m ready to come back to it.
My first drafts are rarely ever rewritten. What I end up with is pretty much polished up in the editing stage, but all the scenes are still there as they were in the beginning. I did just finish the first draft of a book that required rewriting and a ton of revision in the sense of scene swapping and subplot changes. It was a huge pain to do, too, but the story is better for it. Why did I end up having to do all that work? Well, I wasn’t listening to my characters. I was trying to mold them into what I believed the critics wanted because the subgenre I wrote this book for is very picky. But in the end, I wasn’t happy with the finished product (which was done at the beginning of April), so I wiped the slate clean and started over, inserting previously written scenes as the characters wanted and adding scenes according to what the characters wanted and deleted scenes that were no longer necessary. I am now done with the second version, and while I know the critics will slam it hard, my characters are happy and so am I. Sometimes you have to be okay with giving the critics something to be critical about. ;)
I also finished another first draft about two weeks ago that needs no rewriting or scene swapping. It just needs the basic edit and beta read. So there will be minor changes in this one. I took a month off from writing in this book when I got stuck on a plot point and came back to it when I had resolved it. I’ve learned that I can’t force the story, and in this book, I let the characters do whatever they wanted and they gave me a couple of surprises but they knew best and I’m happy with how it turned out.
Now both books go to the editor first and then beta readers who also proofread as they go along. So it’s a process, and even though I write by the seat of my pants, I do have a routine that goes with writing each book. It’s not like I don’t have a sense of direction, but for me, the best thing to do to create the story is to let the characters do whatever they want which is the fun part of the journey.