The first book series that I loved was Artemis Fowl by Eion Colfer. The initial three books in the series were absolute favorites when I was young. Both the characters and plot have stayed with me to this day, to the point that I could actively talk to my ten year old sister about them without a refresher. I have a horrible memory, anything that leaves that much of an impression is amazing.
After that was the series that influenced almost everyone; Harry Potter. I don't think I need to say more.
Then I found Neil Gaiman. I particularly loved the variety of genres and art forms he wrote for. No matter what he was writing the plot was wonderful and the characters felt so real. It was while reading Neil Gaiman books I realized that I wanted to become a writer.
Most recently I learned about Brandon Sanderson. He wrote a letter for NaNoWriMo writers during my second year as an Municipal Liaison. At the bottom of the heartfelt letter there was a link to his first novel, Elantris. The letter had piqued my interest, so I downloaded a sample onto my Kindle to look at after November. During a break I decided I really needed to completely distract myself from the novel I was writing. "20 minutes of reading should do the trick...." The next day, after no sleep and no writing I finished reading Elantris. I was instantly in love with the characters, the magic system, the writing, and the complex tangle of subplots. The bar was placed higher. I put that book down knowing I wanted, needed, to write something as good as that book.
Since then my writing has grown. I've read all of Neil's blog posts, listened to over half of Writing Excuses, and have started to watch Brandon Sanderson's writing classes on YouTube. All have been a huge influence on my writing journey!
Writers block. That moment when you’re rolling right along, writing your story, and suddenly nothing. Your characters stop talking to you, stop moving. It’s like you’re watching a movie and someone hit the pause button. The problem is, you’ve lost the remote and can’t get it moving again.
So what can we do to get the story going? Well many people suggest skipping to another spot in the story. For some people this can help them figure out what needs to go in the middle. This method is great for a plotter. But for a pantser like me this is simply impossible. I don’t know what is going to happen later in the story so how can I write it?
Instead I usually try to work on something else. I begin another story, or edit a previous one. I try to work with other characters. Often times the block is caused by spending too much time in one world and I need to take a break from it in order to get back on track. Other times a new story has just taken that spot in my brain and needs to get out before I can go back.
Sometimes I take a break from writing altogether. I’ve discovered that, no matter how much I love it, occasionally I just can’t write. So I’ll do some work, read a book, spend time with family and friends. Eventually my head clears enough that I can go back to the story and characters I love.
Everyone who writes, whether for work or for fun or something in between, needs to remember that blocks happen. There is no way to prevent them. The key is to figure out how to find that remote and hit that play button. The last thing you want to do is keep that story paused forever. What method do you use?
Footsteps, silent or echoing, can leave us chilled to the bone. I recently ate lunch at the Eagle and Child, or the Bird and the Babe as the Inklings called it. The deep amber wood, creaky floorboards, and foaming ale brought me to the table where sat Clive Lewis, his brother Warren, and John Tolkien, among many, crowded around those sticky tables in the Rabbit Room. It was smoky and dim, and the men were brash, loud, laughing. I wanted to write it, and then my fish and chips arrived. The table I sat at, near the tables of those great writers of afore, got loud with laughter and banter and I felt it. The knowing that our own great efforts are no less in potential than theirs. They were men, hard working and inspired, yes, but also full of bad jokes, and laughing a little too loudly. They feared failure but stuck out their necks anyway- because they had to.
Visiting the places where writers have worked and grown, from J.K. Rowling to Shakespeare, it becomes clear that the process is very personal, the muse tender and fickle. There is no recipe for process, except to open up and let in the world - the chill of inspiration and the warmth of friendship. And keep learning. Curiosity itself brings inspiration, sparking the muse. Walking in someone else's footsteps is interesting, and fun, but our floodgates open because we feel the call, the silent whisperings no one else can hear, and we give them sound. We shape them into Golem, Snape, Peter Rabbit, The Artful Dodger, Othello. No one else can hear them until we give them a voice. If these newly formed personalities struggle and fail, they have still, in the way of fictional characters, had life. If they thrive, establishing themselves in the lexicon of best loved/hated characters, we rejoice, but we plot and plan. Until we no longer hear the whisperings and echoes from the past, or the future, or from other worlds entirely, we write.
In the last two posts, we discussed how writers craft their stories. Some are pansters, writers that write by the seat of their pants. While others, plot each action and resulting disaster in the story. Me, I do a little of both and then some.
I’ll have a fantastic idea for a story and know exactly where it will take place, who the main character (MC) is, and what the MC has to achieve. The first few chapters are written quickly but then I hit the proverbial brick wall. It’s always at the first pinch mark where the MC leaves the ordinary world and crosses into the meat of the story.
This is where I use the Snowflake (SM) Method. Creating plot points, significant events in a story that spin the action in another direction using the SM works well. Each plot point will have an action with a reaction, either disastrous or benevolent. It pulls the story along sort of like a roller coaster, up and down.
In my opinion, a story should have many plot points. Each chapter should have one, if not in every scene. The ever changing direction of the story will compel the reader to turn the page to find out what will happen next.
But even blending the two writing methods is still not enough for me. Sometimes I wander endlessly in a story and get lost. This is where I find writing backward helps me stay focus. Having the last chapter with the big reveal will show me where I have to end up. Then I write the climax and mid-point of the story creating an arc. Putting it all together is the next step. I paste everything into one document and start from the beginning to make sure it all congeals.
Every writer will use what works best for them, pansting, plotting, writing backward, or a combination of the three. Using various methods gives the writer the tools to create a story that will hold the interest of the reader, and want to come back for more.
I attempted to pants my first couple of books, and they all stopped horribly midway through the writing adventure. After a lot of reading, learning, and writing a couple more novels, I realized that I am not a pantser.
It took me a long time to figure out because many of the outlining techniques I tried didn't help. In fact often after I wrote the outline I would become bored with the story and move onto something else.
Then I found the Snowflake Method, created by Randy Ingermanson. There are a total of ten steps, but I only use the first five in my personal outline method.
Step one is the one sentence summary of the novel. Describe the main character (MC) by their distinguishing traits, not a name, and try to keep the whole sentence to less than 20 words. Randy says that less than 15 is ideal, but I've only been able to do that once!
Step two expands the first sentence into a five sentence paragraph. The first sentence should describe the main character and setting. The second, third, and fourth start with a description of an action that the main character takes, and then the resulting disaster. The last sentence should describe the end of the story. I will often skimp on the last sentence since I don't always know how the story will end. The important part is to know the tone of the ending, so that it can be portrayed throughout the whole novel, so sometimes the last sentence is as simple as, "happy ending", "sad ending", or "everyone dies".
The third step gets easier; one page of character descriptions including all of the main characters. I think the most important part is figuring out what each character wants, why they want it, and how the wants will change the plot. Randy's website specifies a number of other things that one can consider adding to the character profile, but as a writer gains more experience they always seem to make their own.
Step four involves the expansion of the one paragraph summary into a one page summary. This should include the actions of the MC's, the resulting disasters, and the MC's emotional reaction to that. I have major problems knowing when minor characters should be introduced, so I try to figure that out in this step.
Step five is to create one page of description for each major character and a half page for each of the minor characters. I've found that the important part here is to really expand on the minor characters wants, and making sure they are working on those wants throughout the book.
After that I deviate from the method by writing a bullet point outline for the novel. I'll start with the disasters and then work backwards, stating all information that needs to be given to the reader before the ending, and work until I find the beginning of the novel.
Then I start writing!