Monday, March 26, 2012

Preparing To Write A Novel

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I want to take a look at the stages of writing a novel. So what better place to begin than before the beginning? The big P! No I don't mean a prologue! I mean preparation. I know some of you Pantsers out there are scoffing and getting ready to skim - but wait just a second! Because I (as most of you know) tend to be a Pantser as well. The thing is, there are some things I have to prepare ahead of time to make the whole process easier later on. Of course each project is different, but for arguments sake, let's take a look at a fictitious book.

Let's say I wake up at 3 AM and decide - this is it! I am going to write a book about a human raised by vampires! After basking in the glow of my brilliance (serious exaggeration), I decide to use my newfound energy and excitement to start planning. 

Step one: Who is my protagonist?

  • I know I've said it before, but I need someone who does NOT belong/thrive in this situation. In this case? How about a boy with hemophilia? A delicate boy, who is very scientifically oriented... Yes, I think that would do nicely. Let's call him Eugene for the purposes of this example.

Step Two:  What is my plot? 

  • So I have a situation, but that's NOT a plot! What is going to be Eugene's problem he'll have to solve? And what will get in his way? Maybe His parents are framed for a crime by another vampire and he has to clear them. But to do that he has to come to terms with his disbelief of the supernatural and face his greatest fear - bloodletting. 
  • At this point I would try to write a one sentence pitch, followed by a summary, and finally the beat sheet from Save the Cat. That's all the outlining I do. And chances are a lot of it will change as I go, but at least I have a guideline to work with.

Step Three: Research!

  • At this point I would research what other books are out there in this genre that might be good comp books. I might find out that *gasp* vampire books aren't selling well right now! In which case I might decide to change the whole vampire thing. But since this is just an example, we'll keep going.
  • I'd also research any other real life issues associated with the book. I'd want to check out hemophilia for example to make sure I depict it accurately and without stereotypes.

Step Four: Other Notes

  • I keep an extra file in Word with random notes I think of as I go. This might contain things like other character comments/ideas or world details. Maybe these vampires can go out during the day because of some of the scenes. 

That's my process! What's yours? Other than more serious outlining, any big steps you'd recommend? 

Monday, March 19, 2012

Which Comes First? Character, World, or Plot?

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Which is more important? Certainly there are high concept books with soaring plot lines, and others that are more character driven. Still others captivate us with their world. But which one is more important? 

Did you guess? It's a trick question. They ALL are. The truth is Character, Plot and World are vital to an excellent book. Sure it can be good with one stronger than another, but we all want more than just "good" right? I look at it like a triangle. All corners have to be strong to maintain the shape. Many times a writer is inherently good at one area and that's wonderful! The others can grow strong during revisions. 

To prove my point, let's take a look at two extremely popular books and see what would happen without one of the corners. 

  1. Harry Potter
    • Plot - where can you find a more complex plot than the boy who lived, Horcruxes, Hallows, and the drive for immortality?
    • Character - Even the supporting characters are unforgettable. Peeves? Fred and George? Luna? 
    • World - An entire society complete with government (Ministry of Magic), school (Hogwarts), and creatures (dragons, goblins, etc.). It was so believable, many secretly hoped for an owl on their eleventh birthday.
    • BUT what if one of these were missing? Would it be the same to visit Hogwarts with a generic student? Or to explore the halls with Harry without the threat of Voldemort or whatever mystery lurked in the shadows? No way!
  2. The Hunger Games
    • Plot - Children pitted to the death in an arena for sport. Need I say more?
    • Character - A survivor built from the conditions the Capitol imposed on her. She protects her sister with her life, and is determined to succeed. The boy who loves her and would do anything to protect her. 
    • World - the arena itself. The Capital. The districts.
    • BUT what if Katniss played the games in an open field. Sure it would be frightening because of the other players, but it's nothing compared to the threat of dehydration, starvation, and fire driving her toward unwanted battle with the others. Or none of the other players being worth saving? We'd root for Katniss. But isn't it better to be torn because we know she, Peeta, and Rue can't all survive?
Do you see my point? The triangle must work in harmony, each piece being held firmly in place. Don't skimp or try to avoid working at one corner you think  you are weakest at! The whole thing could collapse. Instead, use revision to build, build, build until you have something truly unforgettable. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Elephant in the Publishing World

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Okay, now for the "serious" discussion. I've avoided the subject long enough. Self-publishing. I didn't open Pandora's box, just decided to be a curious bystander and peek. When I started writing, Self-publishing was a no-no. It was something only non-serious people did, who couldn't wait for the system to work. Those who didn't value the job of a good editor.

Now? Not so much. There are still those masses out there who use it to publish their un-edited masterpieces - don't get me wrong. But there are also those who are serious writers, who've worked, researched, and sweated out all the details. Those who invest in themselves and their work to get it to the quality needed to really get somewhere.

Are they giving up? No. In many cases, they are making a valid choice between offers of publication and going Indy. I've read self- pubbed books that are scary (like I want to take out the red pen scary) and those that I can't wait for the sequel. SAME AS TRADITIONALLY PUBLISHED BOOKS.

Am I still hoping for that traditional route? Yes. For myself it makes sense at this time to pursue that avenue. Am I opposed to looking into it sometime? Not at all. Maybe that seems non-commital, but I don't think so. It shows that you don't have to be on one side of the issue. I can support both, as long as they are done in a way that takes writing seriously and puts more good books into the hands of readers. Isn't that really what it's all about? 

What do you think? Have you done it? Would you do it again? Would you consider it? 

Monday, March 5, 2012

A Little Humor

There's so much talk about the state of the publishing industry these days, what with all the self-pubbing and e-books and all that new fangled stuff. I thought it might be fun to look at the lighter side for a minute and share these videos with you before I give you my real opinion next week. Please take them with humor, no matter which side of the issue you are on. :D