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Writing process

Do we outline before we write

Do we outline?

Not really.

Isn’t it dangerous not to outline?

Yes, but … you could almost say that our first draft is the outline.

Outlining a story almost always cuts down time to write, and cuts down then number of major rewrites. I suspect it’s a little like making the transition from writing by hand to writing direct to the computer. The process is slower to start with, but the more you do it the more comfortable you become with it, and the easier it becomes.

Some professional writers outline, some don’t. Some do a hybrid of both methods.

For the moment we’re happy to write a very rough first draft, use that as the outline, and expand on that. It’s a long, hard way to write a novel, but it seems to work for us.

I suspect that over time we will outline more, particularly if we ever go professional.

Why don’t we outline now?

Because we don’t really know a story until we finish the first draft. We don’t know what’s happening; we don’t know the characters. We talk about the story a lot while we are writing that first draft. Where it’s going, what’s happening with it.

The main problem with not outlining are the holes in the plot that arise as a result of the story evolving.

A plot thread that was important when you started writing becomes inconsequential. Other, originally minor threads assume greater importance and need to be changed accordingly.

Outlining keeps you organised, ordered, and sometimes I think that the way we go at a book is a little like cleaning house by moving all the junk from one room to another, cleaning that room, and moving the junk somewhere else, but never really getting rid of the junk until we have cleaned the house.

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On writing

Killing off your characters

So J. K. Rowling intends to kill off a couple of major characters in her Harry Potter series, according to an interview she did with Britain’s Channel 4. In the widely quoted interview, Rowling says that she

… understood an author’s desire to kill off the main character of a successful series. …

“I can completely understand, however, the mentality of an author who thinks ‘Well, I’m going to kill them off because that means there can be no non-author-written sequels … so it will end with me, and after I’m dead and gone they won’t be able to bring back the character’.”

Two die in final Potter book, Rowling warns, SMH, 27 June 2006

I don’t pretend to know the reasons behind Rowling’s decision to kill off the two characters she plans to, but this is one subject that both we, and our friends who are readers, are very passionate about, and have been for years €”long before Harry Potter arrived on the scene.

Killing off a character in a story is fine, provided it’s a logical and believable part of the story. But killing off characters simply because you are sick of them, or worse, for some belief that in doing so you ensure no-one else can write about them is not only stupidity, it’s breaking a pact with the readers who have supported you by reading your novels.

Arthur Conan Doyle is the most famous author to do this, when he tried to kill off Sherlock Holmes, but he is not the only one.

No author appears to be immune. Even some of our own favourite authors have done so. Ivan Southall, author of the Simon Black series, attempted to kill Simon and Alan off in an unpublished novel Simon Black in Arabia. Peter O’Donnell killed off Modesty Blaise and Willie Garvin in The Cobra Trap. (I confess, I’m like a lot of Modesty fans. I haven’t read the story. I don’t want to.)

O’Donnell, apparently, was one of those people who did not want others writing about his characters after he dies.

Why bother? Why kill off a character just because you are sick of them?

No-one is forcing you to write. Contracts notwithstanding, you can always stop writing about the characters you have grown to hate and start writing about something else. And if you do have a contract…you knew what you were getting into when you signed that contract. If it’s a long one let’s hope you are well paid for your troubles. You signed, you need to deliver. But if you re-sign again afterwards on a series character you know you can’t keep going with, you need to seriously look at your reasons for doing what you are doing.

A reader who has remained faithful to your characters over a number of novels deserves more than an arrogant kick-in-the-teeth decision of, “I’m sick of this character. I think I’ll kill him/her off.”

Respect your readers. Respect your characters.

Who knows. You may even find there’s another story in them. Robin Hobb did with Fitz and the Fool. She says herself that,

“Many readers probably recall that at the end of Assassin’s Quest I was certain that I had finished writing about Fitz and the Fool. Then I found out I was wrong.”

Robin Hobb, Is Fool’s Fate the last book about Fitz and the Fool?

Look what a few years break did for her. We got the Tawny Man, our favourite Robin Hobb series to date.

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Writing process

Online novels

An ongoing link to other on-line novels.

John Scalzi’s Agent to the Stars is a comic look at a Hollywood agent who takes on his biggest clients yet. Aliens who want to improve their image. Read this and enjoyed it, although it’s probably not normally my cup of tea. Showing signs of the writer Scalzi will become.

Jennifer L. Armstrong has three on-line novels at Free Online Novels. I haven’t read any of these, have no idea what they’re like.

The Romiley Literary Circle also contains a number of novels.

Douglass Gore’s Faithful is a newer story, with only a few completed so far. I particularly like the way Douglass has used the media (the web) to link outside of the story. Thus you can click on the name of a character while reading the story and find out more about them, and so on.

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Writing process

Our fiction

Throughout this blog we’ll talk a lot about our own fiction, commenting on characters, how we did it in other stories, how we’re doing it in future stories, and so on. Here are the stories we’ll talk about, and some of the characters we may mention.

Not So Simple After All (formerly Potion)

Our first, fully completed novel. 140,000 words, five major drafts, seemingly hundreds of minor ones (at least it felt like it at the time). Not So Simple After All took years to write. It’s a traditional fantasy journey novel, for those who like their fantasy tinged with light-hearted fun. Not counting the fact that this was the first major story we ever completed and were happy with, and that we can still read it a couple of years later and not be embarrassed by it, Not So Simple After All also introduced us to the magic of the character who took on a life of his own outside our control. Calderwas only meant to have a cameo role in the first three chapters, but he came, he stayed, and took us with him to places we never expected. (A friend of ours who has read the book says he gets all the good lines.) So much so that we plan a second book based on Calder’s story.

Shared memories

The working title of our second, fully completed novel, going through another major draft at present. This one is 120,000 words. We sometimes refer to it as Roland, after the name of the point-of-view character. This one’s a science fiction, although it started out as fantasy.

Barrain also known as Caid of Barrain.

You’re reading this blog. By now you probably know all about Caid and Scott. This is one of those trans-world fantasies that start in our world and cross over to another, more medieval one. It was also going to be part detective story, but as you will see that’s changing, draft by draft. We don’t know where we are going with that one yet. We should know by the end of draft three. Because it’s an experiment and we’re putting it online, it gets put aside for other writing.

Rainbow 

Older even than Barrain, but it’s still tucked away, waiting for a major re-write. Another science fiction. We suspect this may be the first novel of ours that ever gets commercially published as it has a strong story.

Satisfaction

Another story waiting in the wings for us to write. We mention this one particularly because it demonstrates how much a story can change from the idea to conception due to the input of the other writing partner. The idea for Satisfaction started out as a slightly risque adult novel. Right now we envisage it as a children’s screenplay.

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Writing process

Writing as a team

We write as a team.

Some writing teams share the work more or less equally. They divide the book into scenes and each partner writes their own scenes. We divide it differently, although we can see that changing over time, particularly as we venture into children’s stories.

At present though, the work is divided roughly along the lines of the following.

The idea

One of us has an idea. It could come from either person, it just has to grab both our imaginations and make us think it has somewhere to go.

We discuss the idea until it clicks with both of us. This can take hours, days or weeks, and some ideas go nowhere because they intrigue one of us but the other can’t get interested at all. Sometimes the one who has the idea persists in writing it anyway, because they can’t let go.

By the time we have something we can both work with the idea has changed completely from the original. The initial idea for Satisfaction, for example, was an adult novel. The story we will end up writing is a children’s cartoon. Even so, the germ of the idea is still there, it’s just not the same story.

First draft

The person who has the idea writes the first draft. Let’s say that’s me, in this case.

At the end of each day I hand what I have done over to Sherylyn to read. She reads it off the screen, highlighting any major problems such as bad characters or bad plot lines.

Next day we discuss where the story goes now, and that night I type in the next day’s wordage.

At the end of the first draft we re-read the whole story. Sherylyn goes through it looking for major plot holes and problem characterisation. I sit nearby with the computer and note any feedback she gives verbally. (The worse the story/characters, the more verbal the feedback.)

After she has finished we discuss what has come out of it and how we might change any problems.

Second draft

I do the typing, making changes based on our notes and discussions.

There are some major changes between drafts one and two. The story gets moved around, characters are chopped, new characters added. We make a lot of changes to cover plot-holes, and that often takes us in different directions, too.

By the end of draft two we generally have a story. Rough, but pretty much in place.

These are major drafts, I might add. There are plenty of minor drafts in between, and lots of revisions ongoing.

Draft 3

By the third draft we’re looking at characterisation. Fleshing out the characters to make them more rounded, changing their behaviour to make them behave more in character. Would Scott behave this way? How would Blade react to that? and so on. By this time we have a pretty good idea of what makes these people tick, and we can use that to give depth to the story.

I’m very light on some of the emotions, so Sherylyn often comes in here and starts adding ’emotive’ passages.

Along the way we fill in minor plot holes.

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Writing process

Ideas

The idea …

Often sparked by Sherylyn, occasionally by me.

It’s usually always an event, in association with a character. POTION, for example, came about as an idea Sherylyn had for one of our series characters*. The idea took a life of its own, and before we knew it, we were halfway through the adventures of Alun, Blade and Tegan.

SATISFACTION started as a dream I had one night. An adult tale, slightly risque. I took it to Sherylyn, and by the time she had added her ideas and we had a story we could both run with, it had turned into a children’s cartoon. We’ll write this one as a movie script.

The idea for this on-line novel BARRAIN is so far in the past neither or us can remember what triggered it.

Ideas are everywhere, but the idea has to take on a life before you can spend entire novel on it. On its own, it is nothing.

In writing courses you often get exercises to write about. Look at this picture and write a story around it. What type of car does this woman drive? Take this character and this situation and write a story around it. These are good in that they make you write, particularly if you have to hand something in, (who was it who said that nothing concentrates the mind so well as a deadline?), but they’re not enough to sustain a full novel.

The idea has to obsess you.

When we started this blog I looked around to see if we could use the title ‘A novel idea’. I came across a blog by John Ravenscroft. He had decided to write a novel. In Ideas in the Mist he planned out the characters and his story in what seemed to me a very clinical fashion. I have tried to do this myself and for me it just doesn’t work. I get three chapters into the story and it peters away. Neither of us have ever, yet, been able to run with a story without an idea and a character that grabs us. Good luck to to the man, I thought, because he’s doing it hard.

I kept reading his blog. A couple of months later, he talks about how his novel has slowed to a crawl. One of the reasons he gives is:

“The thing is … I’ve had an idea for another novel. An altogether different kind of novel. And … I’ve been spending great chunks of time that I should have been using to think about (my original novel), doing something else entirely. I’ve been thinking about, dreaming about, wondering about the characters and the situations that could form the basis of this new novel —and getting quite enthusiastic about it.”

John Ravenscroft – A Tortoise Amongst Hares

That’s the novel he needs to write. When you start obsessing about a story, thinking about it all the time, letting it intrude onto other things, then you’re part of the way to being able to live with a story for the length of time it takes to write a novel.

*Series characters. We have some series characters about whom we have any number of stories. The problem with these characters is that they have been around in our lives for so long that they’ve nowhere left to grow, and a story needs to grow and change

Categories
On writing

On writing

We’re at that stage in our writing where we don’t look at the ‘how to write’ sites any more. We like the sites where writers write about writing. How they work, what they do and the struggles they have with their story.

We don’t quite know how this idea took root. Maybe it’s because Sherylyn was already writing two blogs. Maybe it’s just because as writers, we write. We spend a lot of time thinking about the writing process (I more so than Sherylyn, perhaps), particularly how it relates to two people collaborating on a story and how the two inputs change the story that comes out.

The idea took off from there. Why don’t we write a novel on-line, first draft to finished story, and show the whole process?

Writing a novel takes a long time. Months, often years, of living and dreaming the story, working with the characters, rehashing the plot. It takes effort, determination, dedication. You have to love that story or by the end you can’t stand it.

Over those long months or years the story changes. The story that starts out in our first drafts, at least, is little like the story that finishes up five or more major drafts later. In fact, sometimes the first drafts are so amateur they’re embarrassing to re-read.

We like to know how other people write. Maybe you would too. Maybe, when you’re in the depths of your own novel you can look at our early drafts and take comfort from the fact that out of something so bad may come something good. Maybe, as we struggle with this on-line novel, it will help you as you struggle with yours.

Enjoy.