I’ve got a few things to discuss today, so let’s tackle them one at a time.
First, I’ve gotten some feedback from people saying that they’re interested in my writing based on the excerpts and such that I’ve been sharing. That always feels rather good. While there’s only about 100 people or so who visit this blog every month, my hope is that all of them are people who enjoy my writing and want to see more.
In that vein, I figured the middle of #NaNoWriMo is a good time to pitch my self-published short story, “Radiance.” If you haven’t seen me talking about it on the blog before, “Radiance” is set in the same world as my three novels, “Manifestation” (currently in revisions and planned for release early 2014), “Contamination” (which I just finished writing last week), and “Collapse” (which I just barely started). This is one of many short stories to be released in this series. See, there is a LOT of potential for development in the world I’m building, and a lot of stuff that won’t fit in the main novels. So I’ve written short stories that show different things outside the main story, following different characters. A couple of the stories I’ve written take minor characters from the novels and give them a chance for their own time in the spotlight. Others, like “Radiance,” show characters that haven’t yet appeared in the novels (but might in the future). These characters’ stories show the way the main events of the story impact others throughout the world.
“Radiance” is actually set at the same time as the main climax of “Manifestation.” The climax (which I won’t describe because SPOILERS!) is an event with far-reaching consequences that affects many lives. But, of course, the novel naturally remains focused on the main characters, not the others affected. “Radiance” and the other upcoming short stories let us see the scope of events beyond what we see in the main novel.
My goal is to release multiple short stories alongside the novels until I have a full set, then publish them later as a compilation. In the meantime, this story serves as a preview of what’s to come.
(And it’s only 99 cents on Kindle!)
Okay, enough self-promotion, right? I did promise there were multiple things to discuss today. The second is Writer’s Block.
Now, I don’t usually suffer from writer’s block. I used to, when I was younger, but then I figured out a technique that works quite well for me. It might not work for all kinds of blocks, since sometimes a block can be due to stress or other emotional issues where you feel like you just can’t write anything. One type of writer’s block, however, is just not knowing where the story itself is going next, and that’s where this technique comes in.
I tried to write quite a few novels when I was younger. One made it to 30 pages before I quit. One to around 50. One, my best early effort, made it to about 150 pages before I reached a point where I was like, “Okay . . . what happens next?”
See, I didn’t have a clear goal what I was writing towards. In that story, I started with the (overused) idea of random threats attacking people in a small town, so that the main characters had to track down the source (this is basically the opening plot of Lord of the Rings with the Ringwraiths, Wheel of Time with the Myddraal, and several other big fantasy novels). The problem was that when I first sat down to write, I had NO idea 1) Who sent these enemies, 2) Why they had been sent, or 3) What the characters would do about it.
I was, essentially, doing it backwards. Nowadays, I figure out who the enemy is BEFORE they attack. Think of it like writing a mystery. You don’t sit down and write about a murder and drop clues (a handkerchief, a footprint, and a pipe), and THEN ask yourself “Okay, now what do those clues mean?” Instead, you should figure out whodunnit, where, and with what, and then drop clues that hint at the real culprit.
Likewise, in my current works, I had a LOT of important details figured out before I began. I knew how the main characters’ magic would work, I knew how magic as a whole worked, and I knew what the consequences of magic’s revival would be. There were some specific details that changed as I went along, but all the way through books one and two, I had a specific goal I was working towards. I reached that goal with the climax of book two, and while it happened a little bit different than the original plan, it worked quite well.
Then I started book three, with only a half-formed plan. Without going into spoileriffic details, my basic plan for the plot of book three is “dealing with the consequences of the climax of book two.” I wrote about the first ten thousand words while focused on getting the characters out of the chaos they’d wrought at the end of book two and into a stable position to launch them into book three’s main plot. I may end up trimming some of that in revisions, since a lot of it was me exploring the crazy situation they found themselves in (though a lot of it is good, action-packed stuff involving clowders of demon cats). But then I reached a point where I had to sit back and ask myself, “Now what?”
And that brings me to the anti-writer’s-block-technique I mentioned earlier. I had all the pieces in place. I have plenty of conflict all around the characters’ lives. But I needed the story that would stem from that chaos, and I needed it before I went any further, so that I could write knowing where I was heading and knowing what clues to start dropping about where things were going next. I had some ideas, ideas involving armies of super-soldiers and the consequences thereof, but no clear idea how Gabby Palladino would be a key player as she had been up to this point.
So I did what I’ve learned to always do in this situation: I had the characters sit down and talk.
See, I, as the author, had something in common with my characters. They had no idea what they were going to do next. I mean, think about it: You just got through a crazy situation involving super-powered soldiers, golem-building terrorists, a fallen angel, and a huge conflict you barely escaped from. You got away, but the danger is still out there, much bigger than you, as an eighteen year old girl who didn’t finish high school (due to extenuating circumstances (remember, magic is changing the world)) can possibly do about it. You’d feel lost. You’d be confused. You wouldn’t know WHAT to do next.
So I figured, if I don’t know what Gabby is going to do next, and Gabby doesn’t know what Gabby is going to do next, the best technique is to write out her confusion. I wrote a long scene of her and the other main characters discussing their situation and planning what to do. Their conversation was essentially me, as the author, thinking out loud and figuring out what I wanted to do. By the end of the scene, several important plot points emerged, and I figured out exactly where the entire rest of the book is headed. I now had the big goal, and I know what the basic idea of the climax (100,000 words from now) will be.
So my advice (which has worked for me in several previous writing projects as well), is that if you’re ever stuck and not sure what to do, try just writing your characters in a scene where THEY are stuck and not sure what to do. If you’re writing a romance, have the main character call her best friend/mother/sibling to get advice. If you’re writing a mystery, have the detective talk things out with his partner. If you’re writing an action story, have the cop/army captain/starship commander call a meeting with his top men. Have them discuss the issue and see what ideas emerge.
I may end up cutting part of the resulting scene during revisions, since it rambled on a bit. But that’s fine. Right now, it’s writing time. Getting the ideas flowing is the most important part. Get them out, get them on the page, then decide during revisions how much of it goes and stays. You might end up cutting the entire scene, but so what? If that scene tells YOU what you need to know, it’s served its purpose. It got you moving to the rest of the plot, and that stops you from being paralyzed by the question of “What happens next?”
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I know what happens next in “Collapse,” and I need to get writing.