Thursday, June 30, 2011

Plotting Along

How do you plot two books at once?  I'm still discovering the answer to that question.  On the advice of my editor - very good advice - I'm plotting out books two and three simultaneously before moving on to actually writing book two.

When I first started writing WINTER FALLS, it didn't take me long to realize it was a story that I couldn't tell in one book.  So early on, I was already planning a trilogy.  But the current story is quite different from that first (and even second) draft, and so my original direction for the story has changed dramatically.

In the original version, Alessia leaves Twin Willows and goes to Italy to be with the Benandanti Clan there.  I had planned for the second book to be set in Italy.  Ok, so my motivation for this wasn't entirely story-conscious.  If the book was set in Italy, well, I would just have to take a research trip there...

Alas, my agent wanted the entire series to take place in Twin Willows.  So no research trips to Italy for me.  I'm hoping the book will sell in Italy and they'll want me to come over and do a book tour.  I've told my agent to get on that...

Going in this new direction, I changed my vision for the entire trilogy.  If Alessia cannot go to the mountain, the mountain would come to Alessia.  New characters arrive in Twin Willows in both books, so the small-town setting gets expanded.

But how do you look ahead over an entire trilogy, creating an arc for all three books while still keeping each book as its own individual story?

When I plot, I rely heavily on The Hero's Journey.  Every story has a hero's journey inside it, with the exception of some literary fiction.  (Although I recently read THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett - a-mazing! - and there was a clear hero's journey through-line for each of the characters.) 

Although I recommend reading Christopher Vogler's book THE WRITER'S JOURNEY that breaks down each step of the journey and uses examples in film, the journey can be summed up with the classic movie, Star Wars - Episode IV: A New Hope.

Stage One: Ordinary World.  Luke is bored living with his aunt and uncle and wants to get out to see new worlds.
Stage Two: Call to Adventure.  Luke sees the message from Leia in the R2-D2 unit.
Stage Three: Refusal of the Call.  Uncle Owen reminds Luke that his familial responsibilities are more important than chasing after a hologram.
Stage Four: Meeting the Mentor.  Luke finds Obi-Wan and shows him the hologram.  Obi-Wan tells him about the Jedi.
Stage Five: Crossing the First Threshold.  Luke returns home to find his home burned and his aunt and uncle dead. 
Stage Six: Tests, Allies & Enemies.  Luke and Obi-Wan hire Hans Solo and Chewbacca.  They fight in the bar and encounter Imperial Stormtroopers.  The Millenium Falcon is drawn into the Death Star.  They find Leia.
Stage Seven: Approach to the Inmost Cave.  With all the characters in place, they each go after their goals on board the Death Star.
Stage Eight: Ordeal.  The battle between Darth Vader and Obi-Wan; Obi-Wan's death.  
Stage Nine:  Reward.  The remaining characters escape the Death Star and Luke finds solace with the other rebels.
Stage Ten: The Road Back.  Luke rededicates himself to his journey by joining the rebel cause.
Stage Eleven: Resurrection. The destruction of the Death Star; Luke identifies himself as a Jedi.
Stage Twelve: Return with the Elixir.  Luke is awarded for his bravery and deeds.

Each Star Wars movie has this arc, and then there's a greater arc over all three movies (yes, I know there are six movies, but I only count Episodes IV, V and VI).  The same is true of the Harry Potter books, which are another classic example of the Hero's Journey.  Each book has its own journey and then there's a journey arcing over all seven books.  Seven books!  J.K. Rowling is a goddess.

I'm happy to report that I have my hero's journey completed for book two in my trilogy and am working through book three.  Book three is a little more nebulous since I'm sure things will change once I actually write book two.  And so I continue, plodding...plotting...along...

Monday, June 20, 2011

Plotter Vs. Pantster: The Age-Old Dilemma

During the course of your writing career, especially when you're pre-published, you get a lot of writing advice (some of solicited, some not).  And one of the issues that splits many writers is plotting a novel out versus writing it by flying by the seat of your pants.  Aka, Plotter vs. Pantster.

I remember taking a workshop with the best-selling author Terry Brooks several years ago in which he spelled out his meticulous way of plotting out a novel before he ever writes a word.  I also remember thinking, "if I had to write a book that way, I would kill myself."  

I'm a Pantster by nature.  I like taking the journey of the characters and being surprised along the way.  I think plotting it all out takes out some of the fun.

But pantsing can also cause its own set of headaches.

When I wrote my first novel, which was a rather epic historical, I pantsed my way through it.  Of course, I was learning how to write a book, so there was bound to be a lot of revision anyway.  But when I finished the first draft, I had 750 pages that were an utter mess.  It then took me more than a year and a half (and the help of an independent editor) to shape it into something submittable.  

A lot of that time and work could have been avoided if I had given myself a road map to follow before spewing out 750 pages.  But when I started my next novel, another historical, I still hadn't learned this lesson.  That book remains unfinished because I never figured out where exactly it was going.

So when I started writing my next book, I plotted it all out before I had much written.  I had a complete scene list.  I knew exactly what I needed to write.

The problem was, I couldn't write it.

I had plotted it TOO much.  I was bored.  There was no spontaneity, no mystery, no freedom.  This book was the precursor to WINTER FALLS, which I had conceived as an historical novel.  When I realized that it needed to be a contemporary story, I decided not to plot it out, but write a rough draft (what I call, after Anne Lamott, a shitty first draft) in a set amount of time.  I gave myself four months, in which the last month I would do NaNoWriMo and write 50,000 words all in one month.

By the end of those four months, I had 80,000 words that I had written by the seat of my pants.  And writing it was FUN.  Then I put on my Plotter hat and used two different plotting methods to shape it into a submittable draft.  (Tune into Thursday's blog to find out more about those methods.)

Now I'm wearing my Plotter hat again to plot out both books two and three of The Benandanti Trilogy.  I think it's a good approach, but it's in reverse of how I usually work.  What I have to remind myself is that these outlines are written in sand.  That way I can allow for spontaneity and unexpected turns when I'm pantsing my way through the first draft.

I also find it helps me to free-write at least several thousand words before I can plot a book out.  That way, I have a feel for the characters, the story, the setting.  With books two & three of the Trilogy, that's not so much of an issue since I've been living with the characters and the setting for a long time already.

So no offense to Terry Brooks (whose work I adore), but meticulous plotting just doesn't work for me.  And neither does completely pantsing it.  I've found a way that combines both that seems to work.  Every writer is different.  It may take some trial and error (and 750 pages) to figure out what works for you.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Apocalypsie Cover Reveal Friday!

It's Cover Reveal Friday over at the Apocalypsies!

Jennifer Wolf's BREAKING BEAUTIFUL, out in April 2012 from Walker Books.  Here's a blurb about the book:
Allie lost everything the night her boyfriend, Trip, died in a tragic car accident - including her memory of the event.  She doesn't remember driving on the cliff road.  She doesn't recall jumping from the truck just before Trip lost control.  All she has left are the scars and a sneaking suspicion that the crash wasn't an accident after all.
When the police reopen the investigation, it quickly turns on Allie and her best friend, Blake, especially as their budding romance raises eyebrows around their small town.  As the threats begin and the survivor's guilt sets in, Allie's memories collide with a dark secret about Trip she's kept for too long.  Caught somewhere between her past and her future, Allie knows she must tell the truth.  Can she reach deep enough to remember that night so she can finally break free?
Check out her evocative cover - and her husband took the photo!


Sarvenaz Tash's Middle Grade novel THE MAPMAKER AND THE GHOST, also out in April 2012 from Walker Books!  Here's a blurb about the book:
Eleven-year-old Goldenrod is starting her summer vacation grounded. Not only that but her best friend, and usual partner-in-exploration, has moved away and left her to deal with the upcoming ordeal of middle school all by herself. Determined to persevere in the face of such tragic adversity—and become a Legendary Adventurer like her heroes Lewis and Clark—Goldenrod sets out to make the most accurate map her town has ever seen. What she doesn't bargain for is a true blue adventure involving a gang of brilliant troublemakers, a mysterious and very ugly old lady, and an exceedingly unexpected questmaster.  
And here's her fabulous cover:

Big congrats to both Jennifer & Sarvenaz!  I know what I'll be reading next April...
And coming up on Monday on The Apocalypsies blog - my interview with Karyn Henley!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Is YA Too Dark?

The YA world has been up in arms since this article appeared in the Wall Street Journal on Saturday:

The author of this article feels that the YA genre has gotten too dark of late, with a spate of books out about rape, incest, cutting, eating disorders, and abuse.  You know, all those things that older generations just didn't have to deal with.

Actually, they did.  They just weren't talking about it.

Jay Asher is an acquaintance of mine.  His moving and emotional bestseller 13 REASONS WHY is about a young man dealing with the aftermath of a classmate's suicide.  Jay gets countless letters from teens telling him that his book literally saved them from committing suicide.  Likewise, if you read Laurie Halse Anderson's blog, you know that she, too, gets countless letters from girls saying they finally garnered the courage to report being raped after reading her book SPEAK.  (Incidentally, LHA has a terrific post up about this article over at her blog, too.)

These books have changed lives.  Should they be kept off the shelf (and SPEAK is regularly banned from libraries) simply because someone thinks teens shouldn't be reading about "dark" topics like rape and suicide?  Well, then maybe we should keep teens from reading the newspaper.  Or watching the news.  Or walking the halls of their schools where they have to deal with these issues every day.

Authors such as Asher and Halse Anderson have given voice to a generation of teens who previously didn't have one.  That might make some older readers uncomfortable.  I suspect the parents who are uncomfortable with their teens reading these books are the parents who can't bring themselves to talk about these subjects, either.  

But just because it makes us uncomfortable doesn't make it wrong.  Or too dark.  We live in a dark world.  A good writer is influenced by the world they live in, and their stories reflect that.  The very best stories are the ones that change us and become part of who we are forever.  I remember reading GO ASK ALICE as a teen.  That book scared the hell out of me.  I never, ever wanted to do drugs after reading it.

I think that even the dystopian trend in YA is a reflection of the world around us.  We are uncertain of our future.  There are a lot of forces moving in this world, some of them bad, some of them good.  Writers are feeling those shifts, and it's coming out in their stories.  And I bet that if you were to urge teens to put pen to paper, it would come out in their stories, too.

And the bottom line is, if you don't like a book, simply put it down and pick up something else.  We all have that power.  But don't take away someone else's power to make that decision for themselves.