Rowyn (rowyn) wrote,


Over pizza a few days ago, I said to Lut, "It's not 'twice is a trend', is it? It's three times. 'Once is a fluke, twice is -- something? -- three times is a trend'."

Lut considered that. "'Once is an accident, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action'," he quoted.

"Yeah. I suppose the non-military version would be something like 'once is a fluke, twice is coincidence, three times is a trend'. Twice isn't necessarily a pattern."

Despite the overweening confidence displayed in my last post about writing, I find that I haven't conquered all my doubts after all.

I've written two books. This led me to the not-unreasonable thought of "All right, that clinches it, I obviously know how to write books.* I can do this again."

But to say "I know how to do this" implies that I know the method involved. Not The Process By Which Books Are Written; I don't think there is One True Way to write a book and I expect the process varies from author to author. But I figured, two books, I ought to know how I write a book. Except that I don't. I know how I wrote the first two, and I'm not sure if either one quite applies to the third.

- Time to completion: Either 13 years or 2.5 years, depending on whether you count from when I first started writing it in 1991 (when I wrote 25,000 words or so over the course of a few months) or from when I re-started work on it in May of 2002. I tend to count from 5/02. The 1991 writing didn't help a lot and I didn't spend a lot of time thinking about it in the 11 years it lay fallow.
- Generation of premise: I had lofty ideals for this story. I wanted it to defy conventions, to be literary and intelligent. The book had a Theme: What does free will mean, and what is it worth?
- Plotting method: In 1991, I started the book from the beginning and wrote almost all of it sequentially from there. I hit a roadblock after 60 pages that I couldn't think my way around, and gave up. In 2002, I scripted a fairly detailed outline to work out all the plot problems, and mostly stuck to that outline through the writing of the book. As I recall, I did change a few planned events, and add in several new ones, and I changed the ending. But the outline pretty much guided the shape of the book.
- Writing method: Once I had the outline written, I jumped all over the place in writing it. Whatever part I felt inspired to write, or least un-inspired to write, at any given time would be the bit I worked on.
- Scope of story: World-spanning. Prophecy is the story of the people who are trying to destroy the world and why they want to, and of the people who are trying to save it. (Oddly, I don't delve too closely into the reasons why the people trying to save it want it saved. I must have thought that was self-evident.)
- Tone of story: Grim.
- Number of viewpoint characters: At least eight.
- Structure of final book: More-or-less sequential but riddled with flashbacks. At least half of the viewpoint characters have multi-page scenes describing key points in their pasts.
- Procedure: From 2002 on, I mostly abided by the Master Plan(tm), which did get tweaked in 2004. I worked on writing it more-or-less daily, with slavish attention to word count (or, later, time spent) and much emphasis on meeting pre-set goals and deadlines. Failure to meet goals was accompanied by much guilt.
- Audience: The only person to read the Prophecy as it was written was jordangreywolf -- who, I would like to note, is the best possible reader an aspiring author could ask for. Eager, enthusiastic, encouraging, and devoted. <3 After I finished it, I sent it to ... um ... maybe ten people total? I think four people finished it. Three people either emailed or gave me verbal feedback on it. My father loved it.
- Reflection upon the overall process: I never want to do that again.
- Reflection upon the final product: Meh. I've read worse books, but if I were to list out my top 100 favorite books, Prophecy wouldn't make the cut. I'm not even sure it'd make the top 500.**

Silver Scales
- Time to completion: 3.5 years. The first two years overlapped with the writing of Prophecy.
- Generation of premise: The overriding question for Silver Scales was "What would I, personally, most enjoy reading in a novel?" I had no qualms about drawing on cliches as long as they were cliches I particularly liked. I wasn't trying to write the Great American Novel or even The Definitive Fantasy Novel. I was trying to write a novel that gathered as many of my favorite elements together into one story as I could manage.
- Plotting method: I started the story the same way I had started almost every story since I was 13: I wrote the first scene with no idea where I was going with it. After that, I spent a couple of weeks thinking about it without writing anything else. I did all the plotting in my head. I have one file where I took some notes that are more like "the Making of Silver Scales" than anything else -- it wasn't so much "This is what I plan to do" as "This is the day that I decided to do [this event] in the story". The bare bones of the story -- central conflicts, ultimate resolution -- had been framed in my mind by the time I'd finished the first three or four thousand words of it. Much of the middle was left to be made up as I went along. I never did an outline for it.
- Writing method: Written sequentially, in the same order I intended events to appear in the final novel. A couple of times, I started one scene and then realized I wanted another scene to go before it, but that was the closest I got to writing out of order. I'd played out many scenes or parts of scenes in my mind dozens of times before I finally got to the point where I was writing them. They never came out quite the same when I wrote them.
- Scope of story: Small-scale and personal; it's primarily the story of one man's quest for salvation.
- Tone of story: Light-hearted. There are a few dark scenes but in most cases even those are leavened with bits of humor.
- Number of viewpoint characters: Three. (With a few camera-eye scenes).
- Structure of final book: Chronological. A few brief flashbacks. In most cases where a story from the past arises, it's told by one character to another. This doesn't happen very often, either.
- Procedure: I worked on this story whenever I felt like it. In general, when I didn't feel like it I didn't work on it. I did push myself through some parts, and I did feel mildly guilty some times if I wasn't making progress on it.
- Audience: I posted the bits of the story as I wrote them, for a small audience of volunteers. They collectively supplied me with volumes of encouragment, praise, support, and general good vibes. Special thanks to brennabat, jordangreywolf, kagetsume, koogrr, level_head, minor_architect, telnar and tuftears for repeatedly convincing me I wasn't the only one who liked this story. Y'all rock. ♥
- Reflection upon the overall process: Wheee! Can we get do that one again? Pleeeeeeease?
- Reflection upon the final product: I'm embarrassed to say how much I like this book. That second bullet point up there? Totally worked.

There are, I'm sure, similiarities between the process of creating the two books (and similiarities between the books, too) that aren't occuring to me. But from this distance everything about them seems so different. Moreover, it's hard for me to say what changes were important and which ones were incidental.

At first I didn't think it mattered. But as I started work on the sequel to Silver Scales, Birthright, I realize that Birthright has some things in common with Prophecy. The scope of the sequel is much larger than the original, with a scale that involves the governments of multiple nations. I started the book with a flashback. I want to have more viewpoint characters in it.

I want to do an outline.

I was anal about not doing an outline for Scales. My reluctance to do an outline is verging on phobic. "I wrote an outline for Prophecy and look what happened with that." I worry that if I write an outline, it will suck all the joy from the project. No more surprises. No more interest in writing it. I'll never finish it, just like all those other stories I've never finished.

That last concern is especially silly, because I've only written one complete plot outline for a book -- and I finished writing that one.

Whereas I worked on Silver Scales the same way I worked on almost every other novel I've ever attempted: without a map. The only difference is that -- unlike the vast horde of unfinished stories I've begun this way -- I finish Scales. But that completion makes Scales the exception, not the rule. My completion rate when trying to write a novel without an outline is something like, I dunno, 5%? My completion rate when trying to write a novel with an outline is 100%. Clearly, if I think the book would be easier to write with an outline, I shouldn't worry that doing one is somehow going to kill the project. "Kill the fun" may be a remote possibility, but killing it entirely has no precedent.

But I find myself edgy about that, that this book won't be as much fun. That being broad in scope will make it impossible for me to complete to my satisfaction.

That two is just coincidence.

As I write this out, I find myself much less convinced by my fears. Perhaps that's why I wanted to write it out in the first place -- to seek my own reaffirmation in writing. To tell myself, "Yeah, it'll be great. You can do it. Trust yourself."

Yeah. I can do it.

* Whether I know how to write a good book, or a publishable book, or one that will sell in bookstores, remains open to debate. On the other hand, I must have some standards because I'm not counting the @40,000 word novella I finished when I was 17 or 18.

**Now I am bizarrely tempted to see how many books I could list off that I like better than Prophecy. I'm not sure how many books I've read in my lifetime. Three thousand, maybe? Of which I've forgotten at least fifteen hundred in their entirety. Getting a list of 100 books I like better than Prophecy would be easy -- "Anything by Lois McMasters Bujold, anything by Diana Wynne Jones, anything by Terry Pratchett" -- that's at least 70 right off the bat. Well, almost anything by Pratchett. I never did like the Rincewind books, so maybe that's only sixty.
Tags: writing about writing
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