Monday, July 27, 2015

Figuring Out Your Writing Process

We have a very special guest with us today, Janice Hardy is the founder of Fiction University, and the author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, where she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, (Picked as one of the 10 Books All Young Georgians Should Read, 2014) Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The first book in her Foundations of Fiction series, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is out now.
The_Shifter_72.jpgJanice Hardy RGB 72.jpgPYN_Ideas_and_Structure_Cover small web.jpg

Figuring Out Your Writing Process
By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Blue_Fire_72.jpgEvery novel needs a story, but how you develop that story can happen any number of ways. For example, I'm an outliner who likes to know what happens in every scene before I start the first draft. One of my critique partners is a pantser who prefers to have a general idea of the story and jumps in with little to no preparation. She figures out the plot as she sees what the characters do in the novel. Still another friend writes her novels completely out of order based on what scenes come to her and stitches them together afterward to form a cohesive story.

All of these are perfectly valid ways to write, and they couldn't be more different.

Darkfall_72.jpgUsing a writing method that contradicts or doesn't support your process might cause you to focus on the wrong things or stymie your creativity. You might feel compelled to stick to an outline even when your characters want to take the story in a different direction, or you could find that plotting the story in great detail beforehand makes the novel no longer fun to write (and thus it feels mechanical and boring).              

To help understand how your own process works, grab a pen and paper (or screen and keyboard), and answer the following questions:

1. How many important events do you like to know about your story before you start writing?

This can help you determine where on the outline to pantser scale you fall. If you know you lean more toward one side, you can focus your creative energy in ways that support that.

Do you like to know just the inciting event? Only the ending? Do you know just two or three big moments? Do you like to know every chapter goal? Every scene goal? Or maybe you go in blind and the fun is seeing how the story unfolds. You might even focus more on the individual scenes vs. plot turning points, and you can immediately picture several scenes you're already dying to write. 

Think about the novel you're currently writing. What are the key moments you know you want in the book? What scenes do you know you want to write? When do you reach the point where you think, "now I'm ready to write!"?

2. Do you need to know your character arcs?

If you're a character-driven writer, your stories might come from seeing how your characters grow and change, and you'll crafts plots that allow those changes, or happen organically as you write.

Do you know how your characters change? Do they change? Do you consider their emotional journey or focus more on the external plot events? Do you use the character arc to create conflict in your plot arc?

Think about your characters and where you'd like them to be by the end of the novel. Do you have character arcs in mind for them, or would you rather see how they grow as you write the first draft?

3. Do you plot off your reveals?

If you’re writing a mystery or thriller, the story might hinge more on when information is revealed. If events need to happen in a certain order, they can guide you through your plot.

When do clues need to be found? Secrets revealed? Secrets discovered? Are there any reveals that affect how the story will unfold?

Think about what information you want to reveal to your readers and when that information needs to come out. Does a large percentage of the plot depend on these moments?

4. Do you write towards a theme?

Themes are a great unifying structure for outliners and pantser alike. Major thematic elements can guide a story as easily as character goals. What problems best exemplify your theme?

Are there recurring themes that connect characters or story ideas? Do multiple scenes, conflicts, or goals all focus on the same theme? Do your scenes mostly explore the theme?

Think about how strong theme is in your storytelling drive. Is it something that's determined afterward, or is the entire story an illustration of this theme?

5. What stops you writing?

Now that you have a better idea of what you need to start writing, look for the things that stop you writing. The places you struggle with, the moments that drive you away from the keyboard.

Where do you often stall in a story? Do you find yourself having to go back and research something? Figure out a major plot point in the same basic area every time? (Like middles bog you down, or that next big moment right after the inciting event) Do you need to work on character arcs before you can move forward?

Think about the things that stop you. You might consider spending a little extra time on them at the start and avoid hitting a wall later. Make them part of your process so the writing itself goes smoothly.

Putting it all together

You might be the type of writer who needs just a general idea before diving into a novel, or you might mix and match any of the above--deciding on a few major plot events, the basic character arc turning point, and the big reveals to create a rough outline. You might only know your theme and your protagonist and run with it. Take a little time to think about how you’ve crafted your novels, what worked, what roadblocks you hit and when, and discover the process that works best for you.

For those who aren't sure how much planning they need, try this basic six-point outline for a little structure:

  • What's your opening scene?
  • What's the inciting event?
  • What is the first major event that goes wrong or changes the path of your protagonist?
  • What major surprise can happen in the middle?
  • What is the moment when it all looks hopeless?
  • How does it end?

A writer’s process is a personal thing. A cookie-cutter template might not work for you, but it doesn’t take a lot of work to create a guide that fits your style and guides you onward.

Looking for tips on planning your novel? Check out my book Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a series of self-guided workshops that help you turn your idea into a novel. It's also a great guide for revisions! 

Leave a comment and you might win a copy of Janice's book!


Janice Hardy said...

Thanks so much for having me, Shelia!

Sheila Renfro said...

Janice it was a pleasure having you here. I enjoy Fiction University so much!