Posts Tagged ‘writing process’

Guest Post: Writing Process with Erin Zarro

Hey, squiders! Happy Tuesday! Let’s take a break from PPWC and hear how Erin Zarro wrote her latest book, Ever Touched. I love hearing about how other authors work, and I hope you do too!

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Writing Ever Touched was interesting because I didn’t use my usual method of pantsing as I did with Fey Touched and most of Grave Touched. Instead, I tried out the “writing from the middle” method by James Scott Bell. In it, you figure out your main “signposts” to write toward: Doorway of No Return, Opening Disturbance, Mirror Moment, Doorway of No Return #2 (Clue/Setback/Discovery), and Transformation.

Ever Touched coverThose seem kind of vague, but really, they are great. You see, I absolutely need some mystery in order to write a book. I’ve been pantsing for years, but that usually led to rewrites after rewrites because I was discovering things as I was going and had to make it all fit together at the end somehow. Grueling work. I’ve also went to the other side of the spectrum, and plotted stuff. And that worked… until I started adding in things because the muse told me to. Sure, overall it made the story richer, but that particular story also ended up in 12 separate pieces. I’m about to embark on a rewrite, and it’s already giving me fits.

So this method works better – and produces a cleaner draft – because I have some of it figured out, and I’ve left the rest as a mystery. And I really enjoyed the process, which is super important when you’re writing 120,000 words on a deadline.

I also added one additional point of view to the usual 3-POV structure of this series. I felt it was important to have a certain character’s viewpoint because she was completely different, with completely different origins as the others. And I wanted her story, too (I may, at some point, write a novella with her as a main character. She intrigues me that much). So I got to see her grow and evolve throughout the book as well.

As for the day-to-day writing, sometimes I didn’t know exactly where to go from where I was. Especially with the climax. I knew there’d be an epic confrontation with the villain and a fight, but the how of it eluded me. It took me several tries to get that right. And I ended up only doing quick written sketches of a few pivotal scenes toward the end because I literally ran out of time. One part was added in final edits because of something my editor said that I agreed with. That was probably the hardest – I wouldn’t have another shot at it before release, so I had to use my judgment as to whether or not it worked. I think it did, and I hope it does for the readers, too.

And then there was the theme song, which refused to show itself until 107,000 words in – that was interesting. It is “The Sound of Silence” as covered by the band Disturbed. It was playing during a very emotional scene between my two main characters and everything kind of clicked. Now, every time I hear that song, I will always think of that scene and those characters.

And finally, Brianna and Cobra’s romance. I knew sometime around Grave Touched that I wanted to put these two enigmatic characters together. They both had very big secrets, and lots to lose. And as I started writing them…they made sense. Every scene built on this beautiful, epic love story I was creating. It worked perfectly. I never had a single doubt about these two. They fit. And they loved each other deeply, and truly, and it was breathtaking to watch unfold.

But it’s tragic, too, due to some things I can’t reveal. Don’t worry, it ends happily. But they have to work hard for it (hell, all my characters have to work for their Happily Ever Afters. I’m a cruel mistress).

I also enjoyed creating the Ascended (no spoilers!) and exploring some of the aspects of who and what they were. That came to me literally in a flash as I was closing up at work. I’m glad I paid attention. It took a bit of writing to figure them out, but once I did…they were awesome. And they came from my brain!

All in all, I am very happy with how Ever Touched came out. It challenged me at times, made me cry at others, and excited me. I really loved writing using the writing from the middle method. My next novel will definitely be written this way, too.

Sometimes you have to break out of the routine, and do something completely different. With Ever Touched, I did that and more.

So I hope you enjoy Ever Touched, Brianna and Cobra, and the Ascended. There are others, but that would be a spoiler. I really loved writing it and think it fits very well within the Fey Touched world.

Stay tuned. There may be more coming. 😉

Revising on a Deadline

I apologize for the lack of posts this week, Squiders. My website (which, you might remember, went down at the beginning of October) has become quite the job between browbeating my host to fix it (like they promised in October), figuring out how to transfer it to a new host, and fixing everything else in between (I’m currently backing it up in case the transfer between hosts takes too long and the site gets eaten in the meantime. I should probably do a backup through wordpress also, argh.).

I have spent so much time fighting people on it that I feel like I’ve gotten nothing else done. Such a pain. The site is currently up, but the theme is broken and I am too tired to try and fix it at the moment.

So, let’s talk about revising. In an ideal world, your revision process probably looks something like this:

  1. Write novel
  2. Fix up major issues if you know of any
  3. Give novel to beta readers/shop through critique group
  4. Get comments from beta readers
  5. Do major revision
  6. Polish
  7. Have someone proofread/copyedit
  8. Do what you will with it (self-publish, submit, etc.)

Look how lovely and organized that looks. And it works well too, especially if you have all the time in the world to get your novel ready.

But then deadlines come in, like the one we had on our co-written novel. The good news is that the editor loves it. The bad news is that our editing/revision process looks something like this:

  1. Write half the novel
  2. Do preliminary edit on first half
  3. Write second half
  4. Flail about in a half-edit
  5. Submit it to publishing editor (step 8 above, for those paying attention)
  6. AT THE SAME TIME, give it to betas and co-writer’s critique group
  7. Hopefully get all comments back at about the same time (Sunday, in this case) (hopefully)
  8. Do major revision
  9. Send to proofreader/copyeditor
  10. Polish
  11. Publish

Also, that major revision has to happen in a month, which should be interesting. I’ve never done one with someone else before. I have done a major revision in a month before, but on a much more polished draft. I don’t supposed anyone else has tips for co-editing?

Anyway, that’s my life at the moment, Squiders. Website woes. Looming edit. How are you? What are you up to? Anyone know if there’s a way to split Amazon revenue on a single product automatically?

Revision vs Editing

To continue along in the writing process, Squiders, today will talk about revising and editing.

Now, you should always revise before you edit. Why? Well, first, let’s discuss what the difference is.

Revising has to do with content. When you revise something, you cut things, add things, move things around. You look at what you have versus what you wanted, and you change important things–character arcs, plot points, story structure.

Editing has to do with appearance. When you edit, you fix typoes, grammar, and punctuation. You make sure Bob has the same hair color on page 5 as he does on page 134. You make sure, if you decided to capitalize something, that you capitalize it throughout, and that you use the same type of dash throughout the whole thing.

You need to revise before you edit, because if your core is no good, who cares how pretty it is? I know this can be hard to do, though. It’s much easier to read through, fixing grammar and occasionally rewriting small points to clarify things. It feels productive. But if your pacing is off, no amount of editing will fix it, no matter how much effort you put into it.

Revising takes a lot of work. You have to look at your whole story and really understand it. You have to know your character motivations, your theme, your tone and style. You have to be able to look at the big picture, and you have to figure out where things have gone wrong and how to fix it.

And THEN you can edit. After all, why waste time on a line by line level if you’re going to end up cutting the whole scene, or rewriting a major portion of it?

What’s your editing/revising process like, Squiders? Do you have issues with one or the other?

Pantsing vs. Plotting

Sometimes, Squiders, it’s good to go back to the basics. I would divide the writing process into the following steps:

  1. Outlining
  2. Writing
  3. Revising
  4. Editing
  5. Submission and/or Publication

Would you agree with that?

The first step of that is (arguably) outlining. It’s said that writers fall into two categories, plotters (people who plan a story before writing) and pantsers (people who write by the seat of their pants without an idea where the story is going).

I would argue that we all plot, at least a little bit. Even a pantser typically doesn’t go into a story without having an idea of length, main character, and premise. I mean, I’m sure people have, but I’m not sure they got very far.

Perhaps that’s a point for discussion another time. Does planning things out make it easier to finish a story? My experience says yes, but that’s only one bullet point.

So, I would argue that we all fall somewhere on a sliding scale between true pantser (no planning whatsoever) and true plotter (detailed, several thousand-word outlines, character sheets for all major and minor characters, world map, etc.).

People on the pantser side of the scale like to jump into a story with a minimum amount of planning and see where the story gets them. They can add in whatever cool new thing catches their attention because they don’t have to stick to an outline.

People on the plotter side, in general, have an idea where they’re going. This makes it easier to stick with a story and not get stuck. Plotting also helps you remember things, especially if you’re prone to forgetting your latest great plot epiphany or character motivation.

I think people kind of float back and forth along the scale throughout their careers. As for me, I started out close to true pantser, many years ago. My first novel, all I had going into it was a premise and a genre (murder mystery). It stands uncompleted at 29,000 words, and will probably never see the light of day again.

I’ve been drifting more toward plotter ever since. At first, I would pants the first half of a novel and then outline the rest so I could pick up the loose ends. My last few novels I’ve outlined the whole thing before I started using a fairly loose method that identifies key plot points (inciting incident, midpoint, climax, etc.).

Oh my landsquid, this makes it so much easier. It doesn’t kill your creative wiggle room, and taking stories in chunks, knowing where you need to be at a certain point and what you’re working toward overall, makes it easier to get there without wallowing in unproductive middles.

Of course, that’s just my experience. What about you, Squiders? Are you a pantser or a plotter? How have your methods changed throughout your career?

The Changes of the Process, Part 2

Along with the revision/editing post from Tuesday, I found a post about outlining from February of 2011. A little newer than the editing one, but still completely different from my current process.

Again, for those too lazy to go back and read the original post, I shall summarize: at the time, I made a list of characters with plot-specific characteristics, freewrote out my premise and the story that I had thus far, and then usually began writing. At some point I would use phase outlining (where you outline by writing out sentences or phrases in chronological order, usually in bullet point form), usually after I’d written some of the story.

One of the things I’ve noticed as I’ve become more experienced and serious about my writing is that more organization has come into the writing process. There are still some situations where I will pants a story, but they’re increasingly rare. Short stories I always completely outline (admittedly, by phase outlining) before I start. There’s no room in a short for meandering about trying to figure out your direction.

But past!me didn’t do short stories, so that’s a moot point.

For novels, I’ve been experimenting lately by outlining by structure. For my space dinosaur adventure story that I wrote for Nano last year, I noted internal, external, and character-based arcs, and then found the “tentpoles” for all three plot lines (inciting incident, midpoint reversal, and climax). No phase outlining. I did write down my worldbuilding and characters before hand (mostly rank and position, as well as appearance). And it worked–by knowing where I needed to be at a certain point, the story naturally built toward the necessary goals.

I’m working on a co-authored story at the moment, and we’re working in a similar manner, though with more “acts.” (Five, I believe.) But I’ve also mixed my phase outlining back in. I identify where I need to be and how many words I have to get there, and then I make a list of everything that needs to happen between the current point in the story and the next turning point. And then I arrange those points in a chronological order, and tada! Phase outline.

I used to believe that outlining killed the sense of discovery one had when writing, and that identifying what needed to happen when would force you to ruin the flow of your story. And I always used to say that I wrote because I wanted to know how the story went. But I haven’t found any creativity drain by putting in some organization, and I’m much more pleased with my first drafts now than I was back then. In many cases, they just need tweaks instead of a major revision, which is awesome.

Believe in outlining, Squiders? What’s your process? Tried anything new lately that’s really been looking for you?

The Inside of the Writing Mind

Oh, Squiders. How do we writers ever get anything done? We cannot concentrate on any one thing. We certainly try, don’t we? We pick a project and say “I am going to work on this until it is done.” Meanwhile, we continue to work on other things outside of that. Sometimes more. Because we are all insane.

Let’s take me, today. It’s about 11 am my time. In theory, I am doing a final line edit of a YA paranormal novel so that I can produce submitting documents (query letter, synopsis, a list of agents, etc.) as my main project, after spending the last month working on short stories. I’ve been up since about eight. Here’s what I’ve done, writing wise, for the day:

  • Checked email for short story rejections. I have five stories out of the moment to various markets. Tuesday I received a very nice personal rejection from a pro market on a reprint story. Yesterday I received notification from another market that a story had made it to the final round of consideration. Today there is nothing, but something could show up at any moment! (One story has been out for almost a year. I should query that one, but I am afraid to because whenever I do, whatever story seems to be immediately rejected. I keep hoping if I wait one more week they’ll just accept it and I won’t have to bother. This is unhealthy and I am aware of it.)
  • Posted the newest sabotage on a writing game contest I’m running on one of my writing communities based off of Cutthroat Kitchen. The game is excellent and I’m a little jealous that I’m running it and not getting to play myself.
  • Wrote a long email to my co-writer on a high fantasy co-written novel that we’re working on. We’re making progress, but not terribly fast, mostly because, while we’re good on our individual characters and plots, we’re wobbly on the intersecting plot. This is the first time either of us have tried co-writing this type of story (the idea is to make a shared world that eventually other authors can also write stories in). Previous co-written stories I’ve done have been much closer on the individual parts, and myself and the other writer have alternated the writing, so we’re always in the same place. I think I prefer that, in retrospect. Won’t work with this story, alas.
  • Wrote out some plot notes for the edit of the first book of my high fantasy trilogy that I have been working on for literally half my life. The good news is that I think that I’ve got everything I need to fix all the problems with the story as is. The bad news is that I think I’m going to rewrite the book from scratch. I’ve already done that once, so I’m not ecstatic. However, seeing how the first draft was the first novel draft I’d ever finished, and that I’ve learned a lot more about editing since the rewrite (five years ago! Yikes!), it will, no doubt, be a million times better. And maybe–just maybe–finally done.

You’ll note that there’s nothing about my YA novel there. Yet. I’m a little concerned about the order of the first two chapters. Maybe I should send the first chapter to a few people and see if they would keep reading based on it. Yeeees. That is what I should do. Volunteers?

That’s just the writing stuff. I have marketing stuff flitting around in there too (like, I should set up my dang email list and figure out how to get it on my webpage) but I will spare you that madness.

Hopefully your brain is less chaotic and more focused than mine, Squiders. How’s your day been? Tips on focusing better? (Admittedly, I’m trying to just write down things for other stories as they occur to me so I don’t get too distracted with them, and sometimes that takes a little longer than planned.)

The Hidden Layers of Stories

As both a reader and a writer, I’m always interested in what doesn’t make it into a story.

The fact is that, in order to give your story depth and realism, you need to know a lot more about your world, characters, and backstory than you could ever stuff in.

I mean, Tolkien made up entire languages for Middle Earth.

And I love when we get little glimpses into that process, because everyone works differently. I love learning what influenced people to write the story they did, what mythology or other media they referenced. I love knowing the evolution of characters and storylines.

And, perhaps logically, I like looking back through my own notes, to see where I started in comparison to where I ended up.

And I’m always surprised by what I’ve forgotten. Take, for example, this short story I have coming out in an anthology in August. I wrote the first draft in April and apparently I’ve already spaced on the whole experience, because I found my notes in a notebook last night.

There was a map, showing the main character’s journey, and I’d marked three spots on said map where the main characters runs into issues. And next to each spot I’d labeled what type of conflict it was–physical, mental, or emotional.

And until I found that map, I’d completely forgotten that I’d made a conscious decision to make sure each problem she encountered challenged something different to help with her character growth, even though this is not a story that I haven’t touched in years (in fact, I’m approving the copy edits on it today, so).

I just find the whole process of story creation utterly fascinating. Don’t you?

Any neat story process tidbits you know, Squiders? Anything interesting from your own stories, if you’re a writer?