I’m currently in the early stages of actually writing my novel Hell has its Demons at the moment. Because of the complexity of writing within a historical background I have been taking a carefully planned approach to writing and employing the techniques of the snowflake method, where you build up the plot structure of the novel gradually, while alternating between planning aspects such as character background. The last two stages of the snowflake process are to go through the whole plot of the book and write a synopsis of each chapter. I have started doing this and also used this as an opportunity to work out at each stage how much actual background material I need. For instance which part of a castle or Abbey do I actually need to describe and plan, which minor characters will be featured, what’s their role and what do I need to know about them. This method has worked fairly well so far.
But I also thought that while I was doing that I would start on the first couple of chapters of the book as well, just to get myself in the mood for working with my characters. And this is when I had a revelation about how I wrote. I found that I started to find out new things about the characters and the situations I was putting them in as actually put the words, sentences and paragraphs on screen that described their thoughts and actions. Mapping a list of what occurred in a chapter or even detailing the character arc in a chapter just wasn’t the same. Only when I came to writing what the characters did and how they talked and felt did I really start to know them.
So where does that leave the process of writing Hell has its Demons?
I think the principles are still the same. I find it useful to work out beforehand what will happen in each chapter and also do some work on researching and creating the settings and minor characters that my characters will interact with, before I actually write the narrative. But I think what I will do from now on is to plan each chapter just before I write it or perhaps be planning few chapters ahead, so that I don’t lose touch with the development of my characters.
I am happy to announce that I am progressing at a reasonably steady pace on Hell has its Demons. I have finished my character dossiers and I am now on the pleasant task of writing chapter summaries. Each of these includes notes on what happens in the chapter, what the main conflicts are, how the character arcs develop, and also notes on any minor characters or settings that I haven’t already detailed. At the moment I am doing about one of these a day, although I suspect this may slow a bit when I get to scenes with more complicated settings, such as the Abbey, and/or those scenes with more minor characters.
I came across an interesting challenge in scene/chapter 4 this week. I posted about it over at sffchronicles. Here’s the problem I was having:
I‘ve got a writing issue that I want to resolve. I want one of my characters to tell another character about his past, but without him just telling the other character – I want to make the back story dramatic if possible, so I guess a flash back might be a way of doing that, but then that doesn’t fit very well with one character telling the other character.
Any ideas? I’m currently a little bit stuck on how to manage this part of my narrative.
I have already had a couple of good suggestions left on the forum, but if any readers of this blog have some good suggestions I would be happy to hear them, and you never know you could get a namecheck in my book if/when it comes out!
One of the hardest things in writing can just be getting started. Whether it’s starting a new piece of work or at the beginning of a writing session to get the first few words out.
Another key factor sometimes is just to keep yourself going. I’ve got to a bit of a mid-narrative doldrums in my story at the moment. I don’t think it’s because of the story itself, but probably because some of my initial enthusiasm has drained a little bit, and energy levels have been a bit lower this week for a number of reasons – probably because it’s so damn cold!
So yesterday and today it has been a bit of a struggle. Today I got through a few paragraphs, and I thought “well maybe that’s enough for today”. But I kept going a bit further and the writing seemed to come a bit easier and picked up. I think once I got over the 20-30 minute mark my writing brain started to spark into life a bit.
I’m not saying the writing was great, but at least I felt a bit more inspired and got further through the narrative than I thought I would.
Don’t give up – an obvious but also very pertinent motto to have!
My short story seems to be going fairly well at the moment. I’m working on it by going through iterations of more and more detailed outlines. Basically I started with a general outline of what the story was about, then went away to think about the characters and setting – giving things names and brief descriptions etc. I then wrote a more detailed outline of what would happen in what order during the story.
Having finished that process, which only took an hour or two I am now going back to fill in details about what POV is used in different sections, where there will be more detailed description of something, or a character’s reflections on something and a brief summary of what those are. I am nearly at the end of that process, which took about another hour and a half. I reckon another hour will finish this detailed outline or synopsis, and then I can actually write the story out properly by fleshing out the the outline, putting meat on the bones.
The great think thing is that I already have a good idea of the mood of the story now having thought through what happens in the story, so I am really just going to be deepening that when I write out the whole story.
So far, fingers crossed, this has been a fairly efficient way to write a short story. The main thing it has prevented is too many tangents and digressions that change the plan and course of the story, and reduce the tightness of theme and narrative you need for a short piece.
As a participant in some online critiquing networks I come across a fair amount of unpublished stories written by authors, like myself, who want to get publish. These networks tend to be genre orientated – so for fantasy and science fiction for instance.
I hope I’m not slagging off other people’s work by saying this, but it is surprising how much work is written as fantasy or science fiction, but could be easily transposed to another genre or non-genre with little difficulty. So for instance the basic ingredients of the story and character can stand-alone of fantastical elements or a science fiction theme.
Science Fiction that’s Science Fiction!
Perhaps the best way of describing what I mean is by briefly mentioning a story that is integrated with it’s genre. The example is Old Man’s War by John Scalzi. In this book the premise is that old people can be rejuvenated and made young again, but only if they enlist into the military and go to fight aliens. You couldn’t have this story without the science fiction element of being able to turn back the ageing clock, therefore it’s definitely on message as far as its genre is concerned.
Any Story Any Genre
What you often find with stories that aren’t really integrated with their genre is that the narrative is basically a detective story, or a rites of passage, or a tale of life on the frontier. Rather than the conflict being with the Injuns, it’s with the aliens, or with the Evil Lord’s minions.
Magic as Heavy Artillery
Is this really what fantasy and science fiction should be about? What defines the fantasy genre? It’s surely not about magic as just a better form of firepower, is it?