Sunday, May 20, 2012

How I write

Argh! My computer is in the shop now--I haven't been able to log onto the thing since Friday, hence the late response to "Ask Me Anything" Friday.

But, thank goodness for my iPad. Why I didn't think to use it earlier, I don't know. Duh. Anyway....

Anna H commented (via Facebook):

When noodling the idea for a new book, how detailed do you get, initially? I mean, do you outline the basic plot and characters and go from there, or do you have a germ of an idea and let it grow, taking you where it will?

I'm what's known as a "pantzer"--I usually go by the seat of my pants, or, as you say, I have a germ of an idea, let it grow, and then I go where it leads me. At the same time, I'm very conscious of a sense of structure underlying whatever it is that comes up. I know a story is ready and will work if I have that sense of structure, and most of the time, I find out it's sort of archetypal in nature, that is, I can usually find a myth or a fairy tale in the middle of it.

I don't mean something like Cinderella, although that did come up once (more like "Cinderfella"), and it didn't hit me until about half-way through the book what it actually was.

It all sounds rather disorganized, but to put a better word on it, it's "organic." :-)

That said, it's often helpful for me by the half-way point in the book to look back at what I've written already and see how well the story is structured. I use a five-point structure to analyze the story. If the story hits the right points in the structure give or take a page or two, then I know the pacing is going to be pretty solid.

Sometimes, I don't analyze the structure until I'm almost done, or even after I'm done. One of the dangers of analyzing too soon is that I lose the flow of the story, or I end up second-guessing myself, and I've come to learn that second-guessing myself is not a good thing. I really do have to trust that the Muse knows what she wants to say and to let her say it, no matter how odd or crazy it may seem. Or scares me silly. Seriously, there have been times I've thought while in the process of writing, "are you NUTS? NOBODY will buy this, it's way too out there." I remember thinking this back in 1995 when I had a vampire hero in a Regency England-set romance. Yeah, kind of a Jane Austen meets Dracula thing (not actually Jane Austen, but just imagine if one of Jane Austen's heroines had an arranged marriage with a vampire. Yeah, like that).

Years later, everyone was doing that kind of thing, so hey, not so crazy.

So these days, if the Muse gives me a crazy, irresistible idea, I try to go with it, because chances are good everyone will be doing it a few years later. :-) This happens a lot to me.

Which is why, when people ask me what trend they should be writing to, I tell them, whatever story grabs you and won't let you go, THAT'S the trend. Because chances are pretty good that if you're writing something that grabs you by the throat and won't let go, your Muse is telling you what will be the next big thing, and that you need to write it before it passes.