Thursday, October 13, 2016

How I Don't Necessarily Recommend You Start Your Novel

I don’t always have the next book or two in mind when I start a novel. Sometimes it’s a single story idea. By the time I’ve finished the project I may have a glimpse of what happens next, but not always.

I confess to being a “pantser.” That is, a writer who usually creates by the seat of his/her pants. Unlike the alternate method, the “plotter,” I don’t set out in great detail the world, the characters, and what is going to happen next. This works well enough for me when creating a single novel, for a continuing series it can cause a few headaches.

For example, when I wrote The Queen’s Pawn it was pretty much a stand-alone project. My world building consisted of the narrow strip of land the characters fled through, and I designed the landscape as I wrote. I didn’t even bother to give the burning city they fled from a name. It wasn’t important to the tale I was weaving. When I finished, I wrote down two sentences as to what might happen next, if I ever found myself in the fortunate position of writing sequels. Number one was: The queen is getting married and everyone tries to stop her wedding. The second sentence was similar: The princess is getting married and everyone is tries to stop her wedding. That’s it, my entire notes regarding plotting for any possible sequels. Of course, after The Queen’s Pawn was finished, I ended up writing two sequels and turning the tale into a trilogy.

A plotter would have taken the time to build their world before they began. What is the geography like? What are the surrounding countries, the politics, the history, the religion? Who are the main players? The plotter knows their characters and their backstories before starting on the manuscript and has a good idea of the plotline through to the end, may have even designed certain scenes and laid out the chapters. That is the recommended way to write for the majority.

I discover my characters’ motivations as I go along. Why does the queen go from a seeming simpleton to quite cunning? Why is the spoiled and bratty princess the way she is? Part of the fun of writing for me, is discovering their backstories.

I have learned from bad experience to try and make several notes as I write. Important stuff like describing the characters as I create them, names, places. It would be so much simpler if I did this ahead of time, but unfortunately that’s not my style. Now when I expand the story I have to expand the geography, expand the cast, and decide what nonsense the characters are going to get up to. In the case of the sequels, The Queen’s Man and The Queen’s Game, I had my main cast assembled and the villains still alive and hiding in the woodwork. I let the actors do the hard part and simply described how they would react to given situations.

One advantage for me to my method is I can jump right into the story without always knowing where I’m headed. It becomes a voyage of discovery. Keeps me interested, and sometimes surprised by what happens. At least in the above examples I knew the intended endings, two weddings.
Just a final word of caution. No one method serves everyone, or may be the only route every time. Find the way of creating that serves you best, and stick to it, until it doesn't.


The Dark Lady, Dark Days, Dark Knights (Volume 1,2,3)
The Queen’s Pawn, The Queen’s Man, The Queen’s Game (Volume 1,2,3)
The Housetrap Chronicles (Volumes 1 to 7) (# 8 being edited, # 9 being written)
Alex in Wanderland,
Knight’s Bridge
We’re Not in Kansas
Toltec Dawn