The author answers (6)

Satima Flavell
didn’t really ask a question, but she did say something that I thought was worth a separate blog page.

She mentioned outlining a book before writing it, having a plan, otherwise there is a danger of ending up with a plot that wanders all over the place.

Everyone is different and different writers do it differently. Some beginner writers often want to plunge straight in without thinking it through and get themselves into trouble because they don’t know where they are going. Other beginners do the opposite – they spend all their time planning their book that they never seen to get around to plunging in!

I must admit I am not much of a planner. When I do have a detailed plan, I never seem to stick to it because something better comes along. Ideas tend to come thick and fast when I am writing a first draft, and some of them inevitably change the direction of the journey. I have in fact been known to decide to change an ending while in mid-stream.

Does that mean I too don’t know where I am going ?

No. In fact, I am adamant about that. I MUST know where I am going. The ending has to be clear in my mind when I begin, at least in outline, even if later I may change it because I have a better idea. And note, I am never without an ending in mind.

A writer – and I have forgotten who, which is a shame as I would like to acknowledge him – put it something like this:

Writing is a journey. The author starts on a hilltop, gazing across a valley at a distant hilltop. He knows all the details of the place he is standing on. That distant hill is where he is going, the end of his journey. He can see it clearly and knows what it looks like. But when he looks down in the valley, it is full of mist or thick fog. A few high points stick up about the fog, and they, too, are absolutely clear. They are the key high points of the story – the crucial, pivotal moments in the tale.

His journey is going to take him down into that fog, but he knows where he is heading – towards that first high point. And then to the second and the third, and so on to the distant hilltop.

And that is the way I write. I know where I begin, I know what it is going to be like at the end, and I know where and what happens at those crucial moments in between. I may not know all the players, or who I will meet along the way, some of the scenery may be misted over as I begin, but I have enough to keep me on track.

I think it is a foolish writer who starts a book without that much.

I mentioned having a detailed plan…well, yes, as a rule I do end up having one. Why? Because a publisher wants it before they will sign you up on a book you haven’t yet written. Just to make sure you are going to write something that sounds doable.

And shhh, don’t tell anyone, but every time I have done this for a publisher, I have promptly forgotten most of the details and just write my way to that next high point. I find that is what works best for me. It allows me wriggle room.

Those characters of mine keep on going off and doing things differently anyway, the wretches…


I have just had my first feedback on Song of the Shiver Barrens. Over on the Voyager board, Tsana says (and I hope she doesn’t mind me pinching her words):

I loved it. It kept me guessing right up until the end. For once, I had absolutely no idea how it was going to end and that was great. There were also so many moments where I thought “No! That can’t happen!” ….. It was heart-wrenchingly brilliant. I am definitely going to be recommending this series to all my friends.

Right about now, I wipe the sweat from my brow… Whew. Someone likes it. Sheesh, we writers are so damned insecure it’s not funny.


The author answers (6) — 9 Comments

  1. Thanks for those useful thoughts, Glenda. I don’t have trouble planning beginnings and endings: it what come in between that I find a problem:-) For my current WIP I ended up writing all the ideas I had down in what I thought was more or less the right order and had my Face2Face group look them over and help me turn them into a plot. After about 27 goes I wound up with an outline that had what one template calls “three disasters plus an ending” together with a “precipitating incident”. So far I’m sticking to it fairly well, and there is enough wiggle room to let the characters have their heads sometimes. But never again will I let the so and sos lead me off the path of righteouness into a maelstrom of extra characters and dead end situations. I’m very pleased to say that so far, they haven’t even tried.

    Of course, I’m only 40,000ww into the first draft, so anything might happen before I get to the end. While I’m asleep they could be planning a take-over…

  2. Have just finished SSB myself; I was terrible and read through the day at work on the sly.

    The book was wonderful. Thank you for a day of joy and sorrow, hope and heartache.

  3. Oops, am I responsible for a reduction in productivity at your work place then, Forge? Lol…I feel quite wickedly subversive. [Thanks for letting me know.]

  4. Interestingly enough I write much the same way as you and have written the whole thing, around 260K words – but I am now in the process of writing out a whole new plot for the book – beginning and end are the same but the middle is getting a whole new lease of life. Once that’s done I can concentrate on the rewrite, knowing what I want to have happen in each chapter.


  5. 260K is enormous, Barb – were you thinking of dividing it into 2, or cutting down? That’s enough for 2 books.

  6. I love the expression ‘wriggle room’!

    Yes, I can’t plan in great detail more than a chapter or two ahead (if that!). I have a beginning and end and ‘high points’ sketched out along the way (often as visual images in my mind’s eye). The rest evolves as I go along … and yes, characters have a way of coming to life and shifting the storyline as they make decisions for themselves (or try to).

    I guess the trick with the publisher’s synopsis is to detail the main ‘high points’ and leave yourself enough wriggle room to manoeuvre.

  7. Well, once I’ve done the rewrite after I finish the outline I have *no* idea how many words it will be – probably a heck of a lot less.

    It was originally planned as a duology and I had a perfect point where I could split it, but now…. I shall just have to wait and see how it turns out word-number-wise.


  8. I must admit, Barb – I also have trouble estimating how many words it is going to take for me to tell the story I want.

    One of the hardest things to do, I think, especially for a writer like me who doesn’t plan meticulously, chapter by chapter.

    And editors do have preferences. 160,000 to 180,000 is considered a good length for a BFF (big fat fantasy); anything over that is really only for the BNFW (big name fantasy writer) who can sell whatever has their name on the cover.

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