Jul 112019
 

How often have you answered the question, “Are you a pantser or a plotter?” with “I’m a bit of both” or “I’m somewhere in the middle”, or something along that line?

In this video, at around the 50:30 mark, you can listen to Carrie Vaughn and Song of Ice and Fire (better known as Game of Thrones) author George RR Martin discussing their approaches to writing and referring to “architects” and “gardeners”, which is an analogy Martin has used before instead of “plotter” and “pantser”. Presuming Martin is referring to landscape architecture (as opposed to building architecture, which would make less sense used as a metaphor alongside gardening) this analogy gives us a spectrum of different writing approaches, rather than the more dualistic argument of pantsing versus plotting.

The Landscape Architect

Like a professional landscape architect who has to produce an extremely detailed blueprint of their proposed design, sometimes down to the actual species and number of plants that are to be planted in each section, the author on this end of the spectrum first plans out their book in great detail. This might particularly apply to a non-fiction author who has to get approval from a publisher, or a traditionally-published fiction author sending in a proposal for several books in a series. Authors of fantasy, science fiction, and historical novels might also be in this group due to the world-building and research aspects of these genres. If you enjoy developing character profiles/biographies, in-world encyclopedias, and what I like to call fictionaries (fictional dictionaries) pertaining to the world of your book(s) then you might fit somewhere in this section.

The Landscape Gardener

A little more hands-on from the beginning, this author creates a relatively quick sketch before digging in to the work itself. This author probably has a lot of experience and now knows where they can take shortcuts. Like a landscape gardener who takes soils samples in order to work with or alter the pH of the soil or the drainage conditions, authors in this column continually analyse their market and know their genre extremely well.

The Sculpture Gardener

Like the artists in charge of beautiful public and private manor gardens which require a great deal of vision and a lot of time pruning and shaping and attention to symmetry and elegance, these authors spend a lot of time on rewriting and editing to create a true work of art.

The Botanical Gardener

These authors pay strict attention to themes and/or accuracy. They might collect notes on, or write about, a bit of everything, but they are well organised and logical in their output.

The Farmer

Working hard to produce a large volume of nourishing work that brings in an income, writers in this field might be producing articles, text books, early reader books, quick chapter book series, or even what was called “pulp” fiction in the past. To be this prolific requires a solid system, professional tools, and commitment to regular high-quality writing that needs as little editing as possible. Farmers cannot operate without the back-up of their families or paid staff since this kind of workload leaves little time for distractions such as holidays, leisure time, or even housework.

The Vegetable Gardener

Perhaps less prolific than the farmer, these are authors who are working to produce books as quickly as possible, but they also have pesky loads of laundry to deal with. Concentrating on getting the words right as much as possible in the first draft can help to cut down on time-consuming rewrites, getting those books out to harvest on a regular cycle.

The Constant Gardener

This is the writer who must write, who cannot breathe without writing. Daily “morning pages” are like fresh air. Getting words on the page is the only goal. But with all this time immersed in the work, this author notices everything that needs attention and the necessary pruning and shaping happens organically. Just as new projects arise out of this gardener’s awareness of how their garden is used and enjoyed by others, so the author using this approach understands what their readers want and need and tries to bring joy and usefulness into being by the way they shape their works.

The Weekend Gardener

Like the average person with a day job who escapes into their garden on the weekend, these authors have other commitments that leave them only a very specific window of time in which to write. These authors would benefit from keeping detailed notes and a solid planning system so that they can easily pick up where they left off and get writing. It also pays to aim for clean copy in the early drafts to avoid spending precious hours on rewriting and editing.

The Cottage Gardener

The cottage gardener doesn’t do much planning, instead choosing plants mostly on a whim or through long experience and trial and error. They may be set in their ways, or willing to plant anything once. They might take cuttings from plants in a friend’s garden. Likewise, the cottage author is attracted to a variety of different genres, doesn’t plan much beyond the initial idea and perhaps the ending, may abandon a work-in-progress in favour of a new idea, and usually prefers to let the characters and story develop organically through the writing process. Some might enjoy writing fan fiction, or building upon classical stories and motifs, or collaborating with a co-author or illustrator.

The Wildflower Gardener

This author does no planning whatsoever. They arrive on the garden of their page and scatter the seeds that come in the moment. The plants of their words are allowed to grow where they will and the author does little more than the equivalent of watering, nourishing, and any obvious weeding (always bearing in mind that what looks like a weed today might be the prize of the garden in a few weeks). The wildflower author is content to soak up the beauty of placing words on the page and enjoy the surprise of what those words become. Many poets find themselves in this column.

Over to you. Have I left any gardeners out? Where do you fit in such a spectrum? Has this given you (ahem) food for thought? Are you using the most beneficial writing approach for the body of work you’re trying to produce and the time and resources you have to work with? Do you need to consider a different approach?

Share
Nov 012016
 

I’m starting a new series of writing-craft articles called “Don’t Do This”, taking an in-depth look at some of the more dubious choices made by published authors and TV/film writers/directors/editors, and the reasons you don’t want to copy them without knowing exactly what these elements will cost your story.

I want to do this without any nastiness towards my fellow authors – so, where the examples in question come from books, I am going to block out identifying details and show only the actual issue I’m discussing. I would ask commenters to please avoid shouting out the book title and/or author if they recognise the material (and I will censor comments that don’t abide by this request).

I will, however, identify commercially-successful Movies and TV shows I use as examples. These have a slew of professionals working on every aspect of production and therefore I think it is fair game to call them on their weaknesses. Secondly, there is greater likelihood that popular shows/movies have already been seen, so spoilers are less of an issue, and there is more chance to learn from specific examples. I will attempt to create a non-spoiler generic summary, though.

First up is Horror. Kristen Lamb wrote a blog post explaining How Horror Fiction Can Make Us Better Writers. I both agree and disagree with Kristen’s theory. Horror handicaps a story, by distancing the reader/audience. So, yes, it can make you a better writer because you have to work harder.  But a writer who doesn’t understand this handicap can get stuck in a cycle of attempting to increase the body count and the gore level, more graphically describing violence, and inventing new and improved ways of shocking their readers.

I explain my reasoning in detail using the TV show Fortitude as an example, here:

The Problem with Horror – a Critique of Fortitude

and here is the spoiler-free summary:

For Drama’s Sake, Don’t Write Horror

Share
May 292015
 
Photo by Terry Madeley, via Flickr

Photo by Terry Madeley, via Flickr

I don’t think I’ve met a writer who doesn’t know what “Morning Pages” are—but just in case, here’s a footnote1.

I haven’t written Morning Pages in years, but reading Kathryn Craft’s new book, The Far End of Happy, reminded me of this practice. Kathryn’s main protagonist, Ronnie, is a freelance writer and an ardent morning-pager (although it’s not referenced as such). Ronnie frequently wakes early in order to “center herself” by journaling.

A long-suffering friend, this journal, taking everything she’d thrown at it. The questions. The tortured answers. The pros. The cons. Moments rich with beauty. The long slow death of a dream… Today, more than any other, in these last precious moments before her sons awoke, Ronnie needed the ink to offer up its ever-flowing possibilities.”
~ Kathryn Craft, The Far End of Happy ~

I have numerous excuses for not continuing with Morning Pages since motherhood ate my schedule (along with the dog’s homework), but I’m considering resuming a mini-version that proved useful when I was delivering two blog posts per week: writing one page longhand on a particular topic. Pre-kids, I would decide on the topic the night before, sleep on it, and then free-write the article when I woke. These days I’m lucky if I get to sleep on anything, let alone an idea, and I’m left with the longhand option because my darlings have appropriated my computer.

This time I’m toying with the idea of writing flash-fiction during my computer-gone time. That is, if I can write to the tune of the Peppa Pig theme song…

What about you? Do you still write Morning Pages? Do you manage three pages every day, or is that a stretch? Do you do them on the computer instead of by hand? Do you choose to write something you can use (a blog post or your wip) instead of stream of consciousness musings?


1 Morning Pages are the brain-child of writer and artist Julia Cameron. They are three pages written longhand of whatever enters the writer’s mind (the pages could even be filled with “I don’t know what to write” or shopping and to-do lists). The idea is to clear the mind of the mundane to prepare it for a session of real creative work. Eventually (Cameron contends a minimum of 90 days) the pages become both a journal of subconscious perspective and a brain-training system for sharpening focus and exercising free-writing.

Share
Apr 292015
 
weakest-link--Hernan-Pinera

Image by Hernán Piñera

No matter how crucial a scene may be to your plot, if it makes you go “ick”, don’t lead with it.

It seems obvious to me after it was pointed out, but at the time of writing and revising a particular story, it made sense to start at the “beginning”, even though I always found myself thinking and wanting to tell people, “Just wait until you get to Chapter Two. Chapter One’s not really how the story’s going to continue; it’s just establishing the start of the protagonist’s character arc.” Yeah. Lesson learnt.

Start with the first of your good bits (we’ll call this the “Just Wait Until… Point” or JWUP). These days of instant gratification and high-speed everything, an author has much less time than ever before to hook a reader. That doesn’t mean you should start in media res without orienting the reader first. The difference nowadays is that your  orientation (a view of the characters’ “normal” before everything changes) can and should only be a few paragraphs at the most. The inciting incident, which needs to be compelling, must occur in the first page or two, or you risk being put down.

There’s an easy (“easy”) fix way to judge this for yourself: if your Amazon Look Inside sample breaks before it gets to the JWUP, cut your beginning until the break happens immediately after the JWUP.

Share
Jun 082013
 

Madison Lane Cover Sketch - Artwork by Sandra SalsburyMy teen science-fantasy book, Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin, will be out later in the year – at this stage I anticipate September or October. This is a very first sketch for the cover illustration by the talented Sandra Salsbury.

Here is the blurb for the book:

Be careful what you wish for.

When Madison Lane is given a magic wand, she wishes for the thing she wants the most – or so she thinks. As she tries to reverse the consequences of her wish she is pulled into another world and a quest to compensate for using the Wand of Rasputin. It is there that she discovers the real, terrifying cost of making a wish. And how impossible it is to control her own thoughts. One more wish and she loses everyone and everything she loves.

And now someone else is after the wand. Someone who will stop at nothing to get it. Someone with an unfair advantage.

Please join my mailing list here (or by filling in the form to your right) if you would like to receive updates, sneak peeks, and other happy news 🙂

Share
Jan 112013
 

Musee Mecanique Fortune Teller Reading Tarot Cards

Musee Mecanique Fortune Teller Reading Tarot Cards, by Vicki MacLeod

I’m in the revision phase of my middle grade fantasy novel. I love this part. Revision is layering. It’s the search for symbolism and metaphor and meaning. It’s digging into the richness of what I’ve written and discovering that my planning and outlining paid off when I allowed the writing of the first draft to flow organically.

This book stumped me for a while in the search for its theme. Almost unbelievably, it was staring me right in the face. I had to change two characters to find it, but the wealth of additional subtext that opened up was so worth the extra work. It forms part of one of the book’s twists, so I don’t want to reveal too much, but the main theme is “taking responsibility for what you create” – very apt for me right now, on many levels from my writing to raising my children. Last year was a hard one, parenting-wise, and my son and I need to do some revision on our relationship this year, too.
Continue reading »

Share
Dec 122012
 

My daughter is nearly a year old, and has been walking for a month, and, thus, our motherbaby dyad is slowly coming to an end. Because of her reflux and the distress that lying horizontally has caused her, we have spent the year quite literally attached. This is how I managed to get all my editing done this year:

Dyad1     Dyad2

Share
Oct 172012
 

Hustle is a British TV show about a group of likeable con artists and the elaborate confidence tricks they pull. In addition to having criminals as the protagonists, the show also breaks other storytelling rules (like “never cheat your reader”) to great effect. Here are some ideas you could borrow to up the ante in your own stories.


Cast of Hustle – Robert Glenister, Kelly Adams, Adrian Lester, Robert Vaughn, Jaime Murray, Matt Di Angelo

1. The Loveable Rogue Protagonist

The first risk Hustle takes is that of the lawbreaking hero. Continue reading »

Share
Oct 042012
 

Fearful Fascination, photograph by Jake Phlieger

When I was a young child a little girl called Fiona Harvey was kidnapped from the same town where I lived. Parents of that town – my parents, my friends’ parents – clamped down on our freedom out of concern for our safety and taught us about “stranger danger” – as well they should have. I still walked home from school almost every single day, but things had changed.

My fears grew slowly. I travelled to the UK and felt able to take risks I wouldn’t have dared to in the place where I grew up. I lost more innocence, not because I took those risks, but because others felt entitled to abuse my naivety simply because I had it. I took a lot of supposedly far bigger risks that had no negative consequences for me at all. Continue reading »

Share