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A few weeks ago, I started work on the first draft of Barnum’s Revenge (the sequel to Fur-Face). My approach to writing the two novels couldn’t be more different.

Back in 2003, when I began work on Fur-Face, I had no idea what I was doing. Aside from tax returns*, I hadn’t written any fiction since leaving school (with a less than impressive academic record) at age 16. I knew it was going to be about a boy who meets a talking cat that only he can hear, but otherwise I had no ideas for the characters, storyline, locations or overall plot. I just sat down at the computer and started to type.

Since then, I’ve finished enough first drafts to know that I can write novel-length fiction, but if I want to make a career as a writer, I also know I need to figure out an approach which allows me to finish a good quality first draft in a short(ish) period of time.

Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate the time-saving value of a detailed outline, and I’ve learned to set aside (or even give up on) projects when necessary. Personally, I’d rather find out something’s not going to work in the plotting stage than after spending months working on a first draft.

Of course, it’s an outline not a contract, so I’m always open to changes during the actual writing stage, but I won’t start typing the first draft unless and until I have a definite plotline and a full understanding of what I want to happen to the various characters and how the events of the story will change them.

For Barnum’s Revenge I’m trying two approaches I’ve never used before.

I call the first one ‘Let your sub-conscience be your guide.’ When I find myself struggling to come up with a great description, clever simile or piece of dialogue, instead of staring at the screen for ages, trying to think of something there and then, I just type in ‘[INSERT GREAT LINE HERE]’ and move right along. More often than not, the line I’m looking for comes to me later, when I’m not even aware I’m thinking about it. Putting in [CHECK THIS LATER] also helps.

The other new thing I’m trying is to work on a scene out of its linear order if I find myself getting bogged down (I measure progress by scenes completed, rather than word count). So far, it’s proving quite helpful. Just this morning I worked on a scene which takes place near the end of the book (in which I managed to use the line: “I wouldn’t be getting away with it, if it hadn’t been for you meddling kids”).

How about you?

In what ways has your writing method changed since you first started?

*Just kidding about the tax return thing, honest!

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Jul. 20th, 2011 05:55 pm (UTC)
Heh, I do both of those things these days as well. The [Insert exciting escape scene here], and [will this really work? Check this!] appeared in my last chapter, to avoid breaking the flow of what was working. I try to write in order, but only by character - for example, chapter 8 starts off a whole new character's plot line, and I can work on that at work when I don't have the rest of the novel to hand for easy back-referencing.

I also plot these days. Not plotting has given me too many Terminal Editing Cases, and I am sick of doing that!

Writing has also taught me not to worry about word count. By which I mean that if I only get 50 words, or 100 words down in a day, and I can't find any more in my head, that is better than nothing. So I don't stress if I'm not getting 500 words done every day. I just try to get something down. At least it keeps the story fresh in my head!
Jul. 20th, 2011 08:48 pm (UTC)
I soon learned to worship at the altar of outlines, though it's taken me a long time to get good at producing them :)
Jul. 21st, 2011 08:25 am (UTC)
I discovered that not worrying about chapters first was easiest. I start with each of my main characters, and work through their own story arc: what their main events are, what changes them, what their challenges are, and how they develop over the course of the novel. Then I arrange all of these events into one long list - some of them as flashback scenes if they happen before my opening scene, and others as 'live' scenes. Then finally I arrange these into chapters. I found this worked much better than trying to organise all the characters at once - like herding cats!!
Jul. 21st, 2011 09:26 am (UTC)
Fitting everything (and everyone) around the central character sounds so easy...at first :)

Things What I Wrote and Other Stuff

No longer in print but there are still some copies floating around out there

No longer in print but there are still some copies floating around out there



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