Beginners sometimes ask me how a novel is written, the answer to which is: Any way at all. One knows only when it is finished, and then if one is serious, he will never do it the same way again.”— Thomas Berger, author of Little Big Man
This quote got me to thinking about how many ways I’ve written books. As a solo author, my writing methods jump around like water droplets on a hot skillet, because I want to know how it fits, want try new things, and do everything at once. Even when I’m writing with the hubby, I’m jumping all over the place while he’s trying to reign me in. He calls my methods circular. He’s very linear. You can guess how that must work out. Thankfully, what’s said in the office stays in the office. Consequently, we are still happily married.
I blame mixing it up on my childhood where we moved every five years, minimum, and Mom changed the furniture placement bi-monthly. Walking around in the house in the dark could be hazardous to one’s shins and toes. When I married, the hubby hated rearranging rooms, so I didn’t. I think my frustrated lack of furniture moving has bled over into my disordered writing habits.
Just because my methods vary doesn’t mean I’m not using some sort of structure to help me write. I have the story idea in my head, usually know the beginning and ending; the black moments; and goal, motivation, and conflict for the characters. So I have a pretty good idea of the story and where it’s headed. I just don’t always know the stuff in between. However, the one thing I always know before starting a book is my blurb. I write the blurb, then I write the book.
I have a total of six completed fiction books under my writing belt, seven if we count that first horrible teenage angst book, and a devotional. My first book was written with an out-of-order, scene-by-scene method. It took me seven years to write. Trust me, I won’t ever use that method again. Getting all those scenes in the right place was a nightmare. Nowadays, I might write down a scene out of order when it comes to me while writing, but not the whole book.
The second book came to me in a dream. I hastily wrote the dream down and embellished it as I went along, letting my characters lead the way. This book was total panster, except for what I’d dreamt. One morning, the heroine awoke and ran to the bathroom vomiting. She’d become pregnant. A surprise to both her and me. But the plot twist worked, so I let her keep the baby and changed the story.
The third completed book, The Nun and the Narc, began as a call to a contest entry. No major plotting on this one, either. But I got myself into lots of trouble because the heroine’s vocation didn’t work, and the book wasn’t long enough. So I turned to The Hero’s Journey to shore it up. Eventually, this book sold.
My devotional was a whole other matter. I stared with the premise that it would be comprised of seasonal, story-based devotions with pictures and gardening hints. I gathered ideas with the lofty goal of a devotion for every day, which soon got pared down. I discovered three-hundred and sixty-five devotions are hard to write without repeating yourself.
When I write with the hubby, we plot heavily, yet allow ourselves the freedom to panster within the plotting. As coauthors this works well, since we have to agree on plot, characterization and such at the beginning, yet allows my free-spirited panstering within reason. He still has to sign off on my changes. After finishing the books, we often check for plot twists, black moments, and other plot techniques using the three-act structure. Amazingly enough, the books usually fit the plotting structure.
Although my methods vary, technically, you’d probably call me a plantster, a mix of panster and plotter, since I know plotting keeps me on track and mostly free of the dreaded sagging middle. Been there, know the drill, had to rescue the book.
Having flown by the seat of my pants, used The Hero’s Journey, and the three act scene structure, I’m feeling the urge to try something new. I recently discovered the Save the Cat beats structure, and I’m considering crafting the next book using that method. After that I might give the snowflake method
a whirl or try one of these methods.
- sticky notes
- character sketches
- chapter summaries
- synopsis first, then write the book
- James Scott Bell’s Writing From the Middle
Aside from the fact that there are many ways to write a book, there’s an additional point to this blog, and I think to the quote. Writing methods are not ironclad structures writers must religiously adhere to in order to make our books wonderful. They are tools in our writing boxes that help us learn structure and plot. Tools that serve us, not the other way around. If we stray from them a bit, and most writers will, we shouldn’t worry about it. After all, surprises have a place in books as well as good structure.
What’s your favorite novel-writing method? Do you do any of those I’ve mentioned or something completely different? I’d love to know.