Tag Archives: plotting

Writing Backwards

Moonday Mania

a blog about writing

As I develop as a romance writer I find that everything changes. When I first started writing paranormal romance I was a dedicated pantser. I wrote the first draft of The Dark Huntsman without much idea of where my story was going. I let my writing meander this way and that—until I had a story. Which, now that I look back, is funny.

For everything else in my world I’m a long term planner. I think in terms of what might be happening in my life years ahead. At any given moment I might be wondering about next month, five years from now, or where we might retire. At the same time I’m working on current stuff about kids, dogs, and writing this year’s steamy romances.

So, if I’m thinking thirty years ahead about my life, why didn’t I do any long term planning with writing my first novel?

I think it’s because it’s difficult to learn what outlining/planning style worked for me. And it seems antithetical to plan something that is so creative. Shouldn’t creativity be instantaneous?

Well, yes and no.

It turns out that The Dark Huntsman wasn’t a stand alone book. I realized while writing it, that it was going to be one of three books about the MacElvy’s and Underhill and the evil queen. Once I realized I was writing a series I had plans for the other books. I had the characters and the fairy tales and a general idea of what was going to go on. But I didn’t outline the entire series. Nor did I outline each individual book until I was sitting down to write it. And that was well after the previous book was finished.

Turns out that that is a difficult way to write a series.

I now plan my writing. It doesn’t mean I’m not creative or don’t create in the moment, or change my plot on a whim. It just means I have a better idea of where I’m going to end up when I’m finished. I now use a combo of the Snowflake Method, created by Randy Ingermanson, and a plotting technique called Story Structure, by Dan Wells. They fit nicely together. The Snowflake method is a short way to give myself a scaffolding to hang my plot on, and Story Structure helps me to create that plot.

Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method has you start with a one sentence overview of your plot and work at enlarging it, piece by piece. It’s a painless way to plot for pantsers. But I found myself trying to create a plot without writing, and sometimes that was difficult for my creative brain. Once I watched Dan Well’s story structure presentation I was able to see where the plot points needed to come from. And he does something unusual. He recommends starting at the end of your story.

That’s right. Decide what you want the ending to be, so that you know where your beginning should be.

In other words, write backwards.

This was a radical idea for me. I’m pretty linear. Sure, when writing, I skip around the parts I have trouble with and come back later to fix, or finish, them, but I’ve always thought you should begin at the beginning and write until you have an ending. Deciding on the ending first was pretty radical.

But beginning at the end works.

Once you know the ending, and you have your beginning, filling in the middle is easy. You are either moving away from one, or toward the other. Now you know what steps you need to fill in those highs and lows in the center of your story.

And it works particularly well for series. I now loosely plot several book together, that way they have more continuity. I’m toying with the idea of even writing all the books in a series before I release them. That way I can go back and forth and connect them even better, just like I do with a single plot book.

I highly recommend you watch all of the videos in Dan Wells YouTube series. And if you have the opportunity to go see either Randy Ingermanson or Dan live, I recommend you do that as well. Randy also has a newsletter he sends out for writers, and it’s full of good stuff on plotting and the state of the industry. You can find all of that at his website, http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/

How do you plot? Do you think it makes a difference to do all your books together? Are you a pantser or a plotter or something in between?

 

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Examining Excel from the a Non-Techie Perspective

Moonday Mania

a blog on the craft of writing

The last two Moonday Mania’s I’ve been discussing the Snowflake method of plotting and how it’s changing my pantsing ways. You can read the first post HERE and the second HERE. And today I’m going to talk about a tiny piece of the Snowflake method that has expanded my non-techie universe just a little more.

Excel.

(cue scary music) DA-NA-NA-NA!

Here is what Randy Ingermanson says about writers and spreadsheets in ‘How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method’:

“For some reason, this is scary to a lot of writers. Oh the horror. Deal with it.You leaned to use a word-processor. Spreadsheets are easier. You need to make a list of scenes, and spreadsheets were invented for making lists. If you need some tutoring, buy a book. there are a thousand out there and one of them will work for you. It  should take you less than a day to learn the itty bit you need. It’ll be the most valuable day you ever spent. Do it.”

I read those words and I thought; ok, Randy says to just do it, I can do it.

Now like a lot of writers I have avoided the Excel side of life. I took a class, many moons ago, and about the only thing I remember is that you plug in rows of complicated formulas into the cells and they work their math magic all by themselves. But writing isn’t math, so how the heck is this going to work? Can I plug my scenes into the cells and my story will automatically write itself?

I wish!

I do have a little more experience withe Excel. I am part of an investment club, The Queens of Green, and we have been blessed with a woman with a masters in accounting. She created amazing spreadsheets for our stock evaluations. Every month I go to the Excel spreadsheet for my stock (until recently, Target) and I open up a two sheet multi-column spreadsheet with detailed instructions from the CPA goddess on how to plug in numbers.

It goes something like this:

I open the spread sheet and read the first instruction. Copy last column and paste. Ok, I do that. Then each color coded square has similar step-by-step instructions on where to find the correct numbers online. What site to go to, which tab to click. Go to this page and plug in that. Very detailed. I stumble through, and at the end I have some idea of what’s been going on with my stock. The color coding tells me if we want to retain it, or dump it.

And each month I have to figure it out again. Why? Because I’m non-techie (read: resistant to change.

But Randy says I need a spreadsheet. So last month, I bravely opened up Excel and did it. I, all by little old lonesome, created a scene spreadsheet for my new novella (working title Snow and the Seventh Wolf). And guess what? It was way easier than I thought it would be!

You see, I’ve been getting very cozy with Microsoft Word and Excel is its kissing cousin. Yes, they look very different on the surface, but underneath they are more similar than I thought. The navigation bar at the top looks almost the same, and there are many things you can do that are the same. So I started to play.

Yes play. I think the main thing that keep us non-techie writers from using Excel is fear. Fear I will make a mistake. Fear I will lose all my work. So the secret is to back it up, and back up frequently. Once you start doing that you realize that you can play in the sandbox with the other kiddos without being scared.

I now have a lovely spreadsheet where I can cut and paste my scenes. I can easily add extra scenes by adding a row, or cut them with a ruthless click of my mouse. And how has this changed my pantsing, um, plotting? Well, I’m figuring out my plot before writing. And even after I started writing (when those darn characters changed their motivations on me) I was able to shift scenes and change the plot.

The end result is a detailed list of chapters with an approximate word count, so my plot can stay on target. One line per scene, not too onerous for a pantser like me, still leaves lots of room for flexibility with my writing. And an entire book plotted in just a few days.

Is it life changing? You bet! I’ve never been one for shuffling the notecards, but here is an easy way to do it, without all the pesky hand writing. I know there are programs out there to do this for you, in fact I bet Randy’s Snowflake program comes with something to do it for you, but I’m glad I am doing it this way. Because I am also learning (although in tiny baby steps) how to work Excel. One more step along my road to writing as a career and a personal celebration of overcoming my fears.

One more note. Randy’s program, Snowflake PRO, is one of the most affordable writing/plotting programs out there. It only costs $100. And he is running a special. If you buy his book Writing Fiction for Dummies, he’ll cut the price to $50. Go to his website for details on how to get this amazing special HERE.

Have you used Excel in your writing? Or maybe a writing program that utilizes spreadsheets? What about new skills, have you ever taken on a skill that you were terrified to do? What made you try?

Enter my Little Red Riding Wolf contest HERE. Still lots of opportunities to enter and win! Contest will close at the end of February, so jump on and win some chocolate or the best sticky notes ever! And check out Romance and Beyond for my interview by the fabulous Sherry Isaac!

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Getting Lost Taking the Scenic Route

I have been caught off of the main highway of writing and slowed down by the tempting editing side roads along the way. As I have learned to write I keep hoping the editing will get shorter, but now I’m not sure. I thought the fix was in plotting. You see I am a natural pantser. In fifth grade when Mr. Brown was trying to teach us how to write a paper, he showed us how to research, write note cards and formulate an outline. Then and only then would he give permission for us to begin the writing process.

I, naturally, was resistant to this controlled way of writing. Already enamored with story writing I didn’t love the idea of non-fiction, but was willing to give it a try. Research, that was fun. Can’t remember the subject, but I’ve always loved finding out facts. Note cards, yes I liked those. Short sweet and able to shuffle in any order I pleased. Note cards could even be color-coded, that was even better. But the outline, ah yes, the outline. There I failed.

I tried writing an outline, but I didn’t know how things would go together. How could you write a map of where you were going when you hadn’t been there. I struggled with it. Then I gave up. I ended up writing the paper in secret and drawing the outline from that rough draft then turning in the outline. Mr. Brown approved, I waited a day or two and handed in my rough draft. Sneaky.

Already a closet pantser I stayed that way through college, whipping up decent papers the night before or sometimes, if they were short, the morning they were due. I could have been a better student. I could have written better papers had I taken more time, or known how to really do an outline that worked for me. But once again, I found ways around it. And muddled through.

So now I am an adult. No one is asking for the outline, no one is grading me on it. My desire for good grades is enormous. I want that A. I want that editor or that agent to hand it to me on a silver platter. And now I know writing a novel on the cusp of the due date isn’t going to get me there. No, to do that, I need to hand in my best work. But how is a life-long pantser supposed to change?

My perfectionism forces me to edit. And edit. And edit. I have heard, and I’m sure its true, that plotting saves time in the editing stage. And I badly want this. So I started my new story (working title Blood Were) by Snowflaking. Randy Ingermanson of Advanced Fiction Writing fame is the author of this method and when I heard him speak last October at the Heart of Denver mini-con a light bulb went on. This was structure without structure. This was like the note-card shuffle. At this, I could be successful.

I started out well, but soon petered out. I could write a small character sheet, get my main plot points down, but when it came to filling things out I was stuck. It turns out that I can come up with inciting incidents, major plot points and even black moments, but when it comes to anything in between I need to write.

I need to write to really understand my characters, and I need to write to know why my plot goes the way it does. I like having some structure. I now have a sort of a road map in the Snowflake method. Lets call it verbal directions. “Turn right at that drugstore, you know the one with the blue roof, take your third left and when you see the Dairy Queen you’re almost there.” (I always navigate by food, DQ and donuts are the best.) I truly don’t understand the nuances of my characters or how they will interact until those words start flowing.

So here I am. I was hoping to become a reformed pantser, but instead I am embracing it, with a little dip into the plotting pool. I still like the idea of plotting out the main points. I like to know the general idea of where my road trip will take me, but I’ve found out that what I really like is the journey. Even when it means my newest 1,000 plus words need to be cut and re-written from the heroine’s point of view and not the hero’s. What can I say? I’m a sucker for roadside attractions.

My Name my Blog Days Contest is still wide open, so come up with more ideas and post in the comment section. Prizes are waiting!

Contest closes July 18th with the premiere of the new re-vamped Jessica Aspen Writes, so be sure and leave your ideas before then and check back on the 18th to see my new look and who won!

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