If you’re an author, there is nothing more exciting, or daunting, than starting a new book. It’s like stepping onto the deck of a ship and heading out to sea for an undetermined amount of time. Months, maybe even years. You step on board, prepared to invest your heart and soul into the characters you will meet, and agree to assume the heavy burden of determining their fates. You make a commitment on that first day, like any good captain, that you will see the voyage through. That you will not dive overboard when writer’s block strikes and leaves you dead in the water. You take an oath you will not give up the ship when all seems lost and there is no publisher in sight. You silently swear you will not abandon these characters you have given life to until you have seen them through their arduous passages to their safe harbor.
That is the writer’s promise.
But what is the best way to go about it? Some authors create an outline, a roadmap to their story before they ever put pen to paper. These wise novelists exhaustively research their story, blocking out every character and plot point chapter by chapter until the complete skeleton of the book is completed.
Oh, how I envy those writers! I wish I had their discipline, but I can’t help myself. Once I get an idea and sprinkle in a few characters, it’s like I have to dive in headfirst and go! I’m in love, and I want to spend every second voraciously discovering the story first hand. Who is this amazing hero with all his or her warts and flaws? What is this enticing world I want to immerse myself in? Tell me, tell me, what is going to happen next??
But those other writers, the ones who have a strong outline, they’re probably far ahead of writers like me. They know where they’re going before they dive in. They can confidently find their way chapter by chapter with steely precision, knowing up front that their story makes sense, and the big moments are there, character arcs complete (Insert envious sigh). For those of us undisciplined writers, we have no roadmap, just a keen sense of story, and a precious kernel to plant and carefully nurture into life. For me, that means I start on page one and write in a linear fashion from the beginning all the way to The End figuring it out as I go along. Of course, I still do my research, and am always thinking about every twisting turn and back road I will take, but I don’t sit down and make a plan. It also means on occasion I have to go back and take out a plot point or two that doesn’t pay off, or weave in a thread that I later discover I need.
So which method is better?
I have no doubt that being organized and investing time up front in developing the character arcs, backstories, and setting is a much better way to do it, especially if you are world building. So why don’t I? It’s not because I lack discipline or structure or knowledge. No. I think it’s because even when I’m writing, I’m also a bit of a reader, not wanting to know the road ahead. I want to discover it as if I were reading it as I am writing it, to keep the mystery and magic of the story intact. I remember writing a scene in Kalifus Rising about a character who I had definitely envisioned dying in a later scene but suddenly, as we were crossing an open field, arrows flew, his body contorted, and he literally died in front of my eyes as my fingers flew over the keyboard. No one was more shocked than I. No! I cried. You die much later. But there it was, his body lay still and cold, riddled with arrows. And there was no way I would change it because it was just…right. And that’s why I love being a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants author. I get to discover the story as I’m writing it.
Still, I have learned that if you are going to create a six-book series, you should really put the time into setting up the major, and I mean, BIG plot points that you want to hit so that the series hangs together and has that overall rising action you need to make the reader follow you through book after book.
But however you do it, above all, keep an iron jaw. Don’t let the critics get to you, or the doubts, or the cynicism. Just. Keep. Writing.
PS Next week look for my book review of Sara J Maas’ Heir of Fire!
Art by Eksafael DeviantArt.com