Tag Archives: plotting vs. pantsing

The Blog Tour Q&A

A hundred thousand welcomes!

This morning, I have the inestimable pleasure of taking part in a blog tour; the ever-wonderful and marvellously talented Susan Lanigan (whose novel, ‘White Feathers’, will be published later this year, book fans), has nominated me to carry on the Q&A torch. So, here I go.

Image: researchvoodoo.com

Image: researchvoodoo.com

Since I have nothing like as cool as an upcoming book to talk about, I’ll have to answer the questions based on my two most active WiPs; technically, I’m working on both of them at the moment. So, it’s not really breaking the rules. Right?

What am I working on?

The first of my current Works-in-Progress, ‘Eldritch’, is a book which I had thought was finished and done with several months ago. However, it would appear not. A very kind and generous agent-person, who shall remain nameless, gave me some wonderfully useful and constructive feedback on the book a while back which – unfortunately, in a way – necessitated the total deconstruction of the story and the story world, and its rebuilding almost from scratch. The characters stayed the same, and the basic plot, but everything else – narrative voice, motivation, stakes (i.e. what’s at risk if the heroes don’t succeed), structure and scope had to be reimagined.

Invigorating work.

Image: superstock.com

Image: superstock.com

‘Eldritch’ is about a boy named Jeff who, on the day he turns thirteen, receives a strange gift from an uncle he’s never heard of before. But the gift is no ordinary one: it is a deeply powerful object, designed (or so Jeff is told) to test whether or not he has inherited the magic that runs in his family – but does his uncle have a larger and more sinister motive? (Spoiler alert: yes.)

My other Work-in-Progress is one that should be familiar to anyone who’s been hanging around here for any length of time. It’s going under the name ‘Emmeline and the Ice-God’, but that’s only a holding title, so so speak. It grew out of my NaNoWriMo project in November 2013 and was completed in January 2014. I have edited, polished and buffed this one several times, and it’s lurking at the corners of my mind, giving me no peace whatsoever. It’s my intention to start submitting it in earnest in (probably) March, if my nerve holds until then.

‘Emmeline’ is the story of an odd little girl who, when her parents are kidnapped, is sent immediately to live with strangers. On the way to her new life she meets an odd little boy with no name, calling himself ‘Thing’, who doesn’t know his own age or anything about his past. They become sort-of friends, despite Emmeline’s misgivings, and he helps her to escape from a dangerous situation. Before they’ve even caught their breaths after this scary encounter, however, Emmeline is abducted by a gang of strange and frightening men. Thing, with the help of a group of people calling themselves ‘The White Flower’, who seem to know a lot about Emmeline and her family, sets off after her… But who has taken her, and why?

And what is the secret of Thing’s past?

*cue dramatic music*

So, yeah. That’s where I’m at. Besides trying to prepare stuff for competitions and magazine submissions, and stuff. Never a dull moment.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

Well – it’s mine. Isn’t that enough? I write children’s books (or, at least, it’s my ambition to write children’s books, ones which are publishable and enjoyable and which will be read and loved), and they all have elements in common – a child protagonist in a world (usually) devoid of parental-figures, for whatever reason; an unsettling challenge or a frightening adventure; things are learned about oneself and the world along the way; friendship is put to the test; monsters are encountered and dealt with – and my books are no different from this tried-and-tested model.

I’d like to think my characters make my work different from other books in their genre, perhaps. I like to write dialogue, and I like to write with humour, and I hope that makes my work memorable. I’m interested in writing about children who are a bit strange, even eccentric, because those are the sort of books I loved to read as a kid.

In fact, I might as well come clean. Those are the sort of books I love to read now, too.

How does my writing process work?

Through panic, mainly. Panic, and my all-consuming fear of failure.

Things that work in my favour: I am good at imposing deadlines on myself, and meeting them, and I am a goal-oriented type. What that means in practice is I can’t let myself shut off of an evening unless I’ve made a particular word-count or hit a particular point in the text, or whatever. Not always a good thing, from a peace of mind point of view, but it’s good for the old self-motivation.

Usually, I plot things out to the nth degree – I didn’t with ‘Emmeline’, and it worked wonderfully, so I will try that again for my next project – and I like to have a sense of the characters before I begin, so I sometimes jot down biographies and motivations and the places in the plot where a certain character’s actions will intersect with another’s, and what effects that’s likely to have, and so on. I like to have an idea of how the book will end before I begin, but I don’t always manage that.

I tend to write careful, self-edited first drafts which are massively overlong. I then make at least two on-screen edits, looking for inconsistencies and errors and repetition (the ‘Find’ function in Word is my best friend), and when I’ve done this I let the work sit for a while. Then, it’s time to print and take the whole book apart with scribbled corrections, which I really enjoy. Then, after another period of percolation, I go over the book on the computer screen again, looking to cut words wherever possible; anything which isn’t utterly necessary is junked. Then it gets left to sit, again, and checked over once more (possibly in print) before the submission process begins.

So, that’s me.

I figure passing on the baton is part of this whole process, so – if she’s willing – I’d like to tag the fabulous E. R. Murray to answer these questions, too.

And finally – thank you, Susan, for considering me worthy of the Blog Tour Torch!

Image: friday-ad.co.uk

Image: friday-ad.co.uk




Walking into the Wilderness

Wow. So, yesterday’s blog post seems to have touched a chord with a lot of readers. I’m glad to have written something which so many people identified with, but also sad that it had to be written – if that makes sense. I wrote yesterday’s post filled with a potent mixture of anger, sorrow and confusion, and I was glad to have the escape of ‘Emmeline’ to take my mind off it. Nothing helps me to refocus better than throwing myself into whatever I’m working on, and getting out of my own head for a while.

Image: helenafrithpowell.com

Image: helenafrithpowell.com

Thanks to everyone who took the time to read yesterday’s post about crime rates in Ireland and the parlous state of our small nation; I really hope that, very soon, I’ll be able to write a blog post about how wonderfully we’ve progressed and how Ireland is well on its way to becoming a Utopian dream.

But I’m not going to hold my breath in the meantime.

Anyway, today’s post is back to ‘business as usual’: it’s time to talk about ‘Emmeline’.

Image: cuppacafe.com

Image: cuppacafe.com

Writing continued apace yesterday. In fact, it was a little too apace. I had an upper word limit for this project, which – as of yesterday – was smashed, and I sailed right on through like I hadn’t a care in the world. That upper word limit, for the curious, was 80,000 words. Anything above this – as I’ve learned through bitter, bitter experience – is straying into the realm of No Longer Suitable For Children, apparently (even though I often read longer books than this as a kid, but no matter.) I am not finished with the story yet, though I am almost there; I’d hope that within 5,000 words, I should have it nailed. That means – if the Great Spirit is with me – I’ll have draft 1 done this week.

This week.

It also means I’ll have a heckuvalot of edits to do.

Image: gracebooks.org

Image: gracebooks.org

But that’s fine. All in good time, and all that.

Something strange occurred to me yesterday: I realised that I have basically pantsed this whole novel. By ‘pantsing’, of course I mean ‘written it without a pre-arranged plot’; I’ve just sat down and copied out whatever the voices in my head told me to, pretty much. Most of it has been made up on the spur of the moment. I haven’t done my usual thing of laboriously working out family trees for each character, and setting out plans getting to the heart of their ‘motivation’; this, I suppose, is a consequence of it being a NaNoWriMo project, in essence. I began it in a burst of inspiration, and it has continued that way. All things considered, I think I’ve done well in getting it to over 80,000 words, with an end in sight. It’s been exhilarating, if a little exhausting and nerve-wracking, particularly in the last few weeks; certainly, it’s exciting to be at the helm of a writing project which feels like it’s steering itself instead of one which feels so hemmed-in by plotting that the life gets pinched out of the story.

Where it may pose a problem, however, is in knocking the whole thing into shape. I’m sure, much like my knitting, that when I look back over the entirety of the project all I’ll see will be loose threads and gaping holes everywhere crying out to be fixed. However, I do feel, as first drafts go, that ‘Emmeline’ is fairly strong; I’ve been lucky, insofar as I’ve been blessed with rounded characters and clear voices, and they help to carry the structure of the book. That doesn’t mean that my work in editing the story will be any less – in fact, I feel the need to do a good job even more keenly, because I love these characters and I’m committed to this book, and I want to do them justice.

As the story stands at the moment, I have eight main characters, all vying for their own ends. Several of them are looking for the same thing; several others are looking to save their own skin. Yet more are determined to save the life of someone they love, whatever the consequences. At stake are Great Things like the fate of the world. The drama in which they are enmeshed is taking place in a frozen wasteland, sprung entirely from my imagination, in which the characters encounter strange creatures and nefarious goings-on and mythical horrors.

Sounds like I have a handle on it, right? Well.

I have a vague, overall idea of what I want to happen, but what I don’t have is a cast-iron plan of ‘Event A will happen, and Event B will happen as a consequence of that, and then either Event C or Event D will take place, depending on my mood’; I’m pretty much just writing, and seeing what happens. It’s like being snowblind in the wilderness, or – in my case – walking about without my glasses on. Things exist in a general sense, but the finer details are invisible until I’m right on top of them.

I can’t say I entirely recommend writing a novel this way, but I feel like it has done me some good to learn how to loosen up a little and trust myself. I’m not entirely there yet; I still find it hard to open up the file of a morning and cast my eye over the twisty mess I made yesterday in order to sort it out today, but one thing’s for certain: it’s never boring.

Off I go! Image: arthistory327.wordpress.com

Off I go!
Image: arthistory327.wordpress.com

Wherever you’re wandering today, may your path be smooth and may wonders be around every corner.

Write on!