4.22.2011

SEQUELS AND SERIES AND SYNOPSES, OH MY

Molly asked....
So I wanted to ask you a question, because I know you used to be totally a panster. So now, are you still a panster? Is that even possible with a three book deal, bc don't they want synopsii? You always say that you learned something from each book you wrote, and I was just wondering how your processes have changed as you've written your various books, and what you thought was most helpful...?

Barbara asked...
As an aspiring author, I have a question. I'm currently submitting my first book in a series I have planned. Since Shatter Me is part of a series, did you have the entire thing outlined before you submitted your book one? The reason I ask is because there isn't a whole lot out there on series, aside of everyone telling you to move on from it if you don't "sell" your first book. I just want to know how prepared I should be with the rest of them!

Anonymous asked...
do you outline before writing a novel? if not, how did you manage to need only 1 revision before having SHATTER ME ready for querying?

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SO.

i get a lot of questions about writing a series, and these three questions were all so similar that i thought i'd try and answer them together. i hope this helps clarify some things.

i am still absolutely, wholeheartedly a pantser. i do not outline, i have never outlined, and i never write a book knowing exactly where it's going to end up. when i sent out the queries for SHATTER ME, i had only a vague idea of how the story would develop. i intentionally left loose threads in the first book -- few enough to keep it as a standalone novel, but just enough to give it the possibility for evolving into other books -- but i didn't focus my energy on developing intricate plots for the other books in the series. you should never count on your first book to sell, so you should always be working on a second different book, and not the second in a series. that way you'll always have fresh material to work with in case the first book doesn't sell.

that being said, regardless of whether you're a pantser or an outliner, you should always have an idea of where your story has the potential to go. know enough to be able to sketch it out in a couple of paragraphs; that's all you really need to pitch the series. (my synopsis for book 2 was about 2 pages, and my synopsis for book 3 was only 1 page.)

but a brief synopsis -- a general understanding, if you will -- of a story, does not an outline make. i think that, perhaps even more so for pantsers, having a very strong grasp on your characters is critical. you have to be able to trust them to guide you in the right direction -- you have to know their feelings and what's at risk for them. i finished writing book 2 about a month ago, and it took me about a month to write it. i just picked up where i left off with book 1 and, with the [aforementioned] general idea of where i knew things were headed, followed the story through by paying attention to my characters' wishes. no outlines necessary.

and a quick answer to Anon's question: i try very hard to write complete, chronological, cohesive first drafts. i edit as i write — reading and rereading everything i’ve already written every time i sit down to write again — and i’m extremely, extremely meticulous about it. (i hope i'm not making this process sound breezy, because it's not.) when i complete a first draft of a book, it’s usually very clean, but only because i like to start with as strong a first draft as possible. my post-completion revisions have never been incredibly rigorous -- just a lot of adding detail and dimension to things -- because i do most of the legwork in the first draft. this is not to say, however, that my drafts are perfect. i always spend time really trying to enhance the story in my second draft, fleshing it out and adding layers to characters and plot lines. i don't even know if it's successful, truly. i can only do my best.

but please note: these are the processes that work for me. they're not universally applicable processes -- and i don't want anyone to think that there is only one right or wrong way to approach a manuscript. in fact, the beauty of writing is that it's so unique to the author. it's a very personal, very intense, very all-consuming labor of love -- and that gives us each the right to tackle it the way we see fit. 

this is something i had a really hard time coming to terms with, because before i got a book deal, a lot of people were telling me i was doing it wrong. people would tell me it wasn't possible to write a decent draft in such a short period of time, that it wasn't possible to be a pantser and write a cohesive novel not filled with plot holes and glaring errors. in short, i became convinced i was writing incorrectly. but i soon discovered that there is no incorrect way to write a novel. my efforts to change these things about myself didn't work. they weren't organic to me and what i needed to do. they were forced and unnatural. i had to revert back to what was comfortable for me.

so don't worry. don't feel like your process needs to be the same as everyone else's. people are going to try to tell you that you take too long to write or you don't take long enough. one person will tell you the story is boring and another will say it's too complex. in short, you have to be wary, because sometimes the feedback we hear from our fellow writers isn't right for us. sometimes we forget to be readers and instead advise writer-friends to write a book the way that we think it should be, instead of the way it should actually be for the author herself/himself. 

honestly, all you really need to do is focus on writing the best book you possibly can, the best way you know how. that's the only thing that matters.

<3

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if you have any questions you'd like me to answer, please feel free to email me or leave a comment. 

in the interim, you tell me:
are you a pantser or an outliner? and do you have any tips or tricks for writing a series?

HAPPY FRIDAY, EVERYONE!

i hope your weekend is full of wonder and delight.

26 comments:

Jordyn said...

I have many PANTS!

With my current WIP I felt like I needed to make an outline after the first draft because, since it's split-POV, there are actually two stories happening and I wanted them to line up. So I spent a couple of days making what was actually a very short outline (just the 9 most important scenes) and being very PROPER AND OUTLINEY AND DOING EVERYTHING RIGHT!!

And then the outline sort of fell apart when I started writing again because outlines really and truly do not work for me. They just end up being wasted paper.

I generally have an idea of where the story's going to end up and have a few key scenes in mind, but outlining more than I organically know just messes up both me and the story. So I am definitely a pantser.

Em-Musing said...

Oh, I'm a panster. I like writing by the seat of mine. Editing though, is where I have to get serious.

Lindsay said...

I'm a total pantser, but I do tend to have an idea of where a story will go (and ideas for if there is a potential series). But I like to leave room for further stories to evolve as I write them.

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad that I've found this blog and read this post. Lately, I've been feeling that I write incorrectly because I do exactly the same thing; I go back and revise and edit as I'm writing. And everything else I read tells me that this is wrong and that I must fix it to become a better writer. So I tried the so-called correct methods. And it felt very, very weird to me. It's good to be reminded that there is no incorrect way to write.

I am a pantser. Planning is against my nature.

Barbara Kloss said...

Thanks, Tahereh! This was just what I needed to hear - especially how every author has a different path. Thank you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful post on this topic!

And I can't wait to read SHATTER ME!

Rick said...

I am a pants-liner.

Basically, I do a little bit of both. The novel I'm working on now is longer and more complex than anything I've ever finished before, so I've outlined about 10-15k ahead of where I am in the story at any given point, but I've left a lot of wiggle room and have adjusted my outline pretty much every time I sit down to write.

I used to be a die-hard outliner, but the first draft of a novel I ever finished is one I wrote in a month with no starting point, no outline, and no clue what I was doing - it was the fastest I'd ever written, it came pretty naturally, and the draft was a lot more cohesive than I would have imagined possible.

So I try to "hit the high notes" in an outline just so I don't forget certain things - which I am totally liable to do! - but from then on out I take the pants off and just run with it.

& said...
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Emy Shin said...

Yay, thanks so much for this blog post and for sharing your process with us. I was the Anonymouse who asked the third question.

It's brilliant that you write a clean first draft as you go, and still write so quickly. I'm more than amazed and awed. :)

I'm a bit of both -- plotter and pantser. I wouldn't know every detail about the story before writing, but I'd normally have some main plot points and perhaps the ending fleshed out. Otherwise, I'd be meandering off the main road endlessly.

Angie said...

Thank you so much for this post. I'm writing a book that I'd like to become a sequel, but I had no idea how to handle it because I'm sort of a pantser/outliner too. I try to outline a few chapters, but then as I get into it things change and I end up never following my outline. I do always have a general idea of where I want the story to end up though. This was very insightful!!

Kristina said...

I have two books right now. One the rough draft is finished, will start editing soon (taking a break from it), and it's part of a series. I outlined the whole series, the second and third books more loosely, the first a little more detailed. But I haven't been tied down by my outline. As I write and get to know the characters better, I often veer away from my outline to whatever feels truest. I like the outline because it helps give me direction, but it isn't a hindrance. With my other book that I'm about half way through, I tried to strike out on my own, sans outline. It's been a lot harder for me. Things change all the time, sometimes I lose the plot for a little while and have to make big corrections. It's definitely been a learning experience. I'm not ready to say yet that I hate this process entirely, and I'll withhold judgement until the book is done (rough draft, at least). I think it's a good idea to try both ways out. You may start using one method when actually the other one works better for you, and you'll never know that unless you try it. Or it might be that the original method really is the best for you, but at least you gained affirmation in that!
Okay, long comment. :D

T.D. McFrost said...

We, my dear, have the same way of writing. I, too, try to make my first drafts as polished as possible. And my second look through is merely to make what I have stronger.

I really can't write a novel sloppy the first time and come back to make it better - that's not me!

I am, without a doubt, an outliner. I like knowing where my story will go, but I never follow it to a "T". Along the way I always come up with something better and that is truly a splendid surprise!

Have a great weekend everyone! :D

Kaitlin Kay said...

So I am a secret addict to your blog - it is empowering to writers everywhere! I just have one question for you. I now know that I could never be as happy doing anything but writing, but my family is not so keen on the happiness train. They like the idea of me in a courtroom, making the big bucks and impressing the heck out of their friends. How do I 'come out of the writing closet' so to speak? How can I tell them that I'm no powerful lawyer, that I'm a nerd through and through and that I would much rather write about courtrooms than work in one?

Thank you so much for all of your inspiration! You make me want to pursue my dreams!

Theresa Milstein said...

This post really resonates with me. I'm a panster. I used to write quick drafts, and then spend a lot of time fixing them. For the manuscript I'm completing, I've stopped, gone back to edit, and continued. I think it's cleaner and better than any other first draft I've done. I also have read the naysayers. But there is NO ONE WAY to write a book.

As far as critiquers, my last group led me astray. I didn't trust my instincts, and wound up going the wrong way.

Girl Friday said...

Oh this post is really interesting to me, because I write in a similar way to you (editing as I go, trying to make the first draft as 'done' as I can, then going back and fleshing out) - and I've seen very few others say they write like that.

Most writers seem to do zillions of revisions, but I think I'd tear my hair out if I had to do that. It's nice to know I'm not alone :)

(Although I'm still super-impressed it only took you a month to write Book 2, I'm not that fast!)

Krispy said...

Liked this post because I'm always curious about how authors write series. It was even better to find out your writing process basically sounds like mine. I have a hard time doing the get-it-all-out-fast-no-editing first draft because I've always naturally edited as I went. I'm still trying out different approaches, but that's what I'm most comfortable with still. I'm also a pantser. :)

Brittany said...

Pantser. Mostly.

I find that I come up with things as I go, which is nice, but not when I am so TEMPTED to write the ending just after the beginning pages and then I do it and then the stuff that I come up with in the middle doesn't fit because the spontaneous genius didn't like the ending. So I find that outlining a little, mainly just plot points, helps a lot.

Of course, the times that I actually outlined, I got stuck. Maybe that's telling me something.

June G said...

It was so good to hear this. I hear so much about the benefits of being an outliner, but for the life of me, I just can't do it. It feels like a waste of time and I can't decide a whole story ahead of time.

I don't even know what the characters are going to do until I sit down and start typing. The story has to unfold as I go. I may have a general sense of some aspects, but how those components come together is totally organic.

Thanks for the helpful posts.

Bethany Robison said...

I'm a plotter. I actually do a few "project planning" documents (I've been corporate too long).

* I do an outline (by scene, not by chapter - trying to picture it in my head like a movie, so I can choreograph the movements/actions and then translate them into words on a page).
* I do character profiles, about a page dedicated to each character (major/minor - not cameos/extras), highlighting what they look like and their defining personality/behavior traits
* I do a "justification", or I guess a "mission statement" - trying to nail down what I want to accomplish, what's the point, what do I want the reader to take away at the end. This helps me find my "hook" for querying and synopsying later.

So I probably over-plan. But for me the planning is half the fun :).

Helen Ginger said...

I totally like that you said there's no set way to write the first draft. Everyone's different.

Walker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ishta Mercurio said...

Rick: "pants-liner." LOL! I love that.

Hm. I think I'm a plotter, but not necessarily an outliner. Every time I try to get a detailed outline down, I end up deviating (usually radically) from it. So I'm better off writing out how it's going to begin, and how it's going to end, and a few key bullet points in the middle, and then figuring out how it's all going to fit together. And I always end up after the first draft thinking, "Man, there's this huge chunk missing that I need to work in somehow..." But that's okay, because I can go back and do it. I like revising; that's when the magic happens.

Leslie Rose said...

What a wonderful, freeing, post. Thanks for celebrating individuality. Writing is a unique art form in that most of us have been educated in it's skill sets. It's the art that flourishes in the writer.

TKAstle said...

I'm definitely a hybrid. In some areas of my life I have tendencies toward compulsive order, which suits an outliner very well. In other areas I crave the totally 'free spirit' mentality of the panster. In writing I seem to find a lovely balance between the two.

Maybe that's why writing is such bliss for me.

Theresa Milstein said...

I just linked this post to mine:

http://theresamilstein.blogspot.com/2011/04/instincts.html

Charity Girl said...

I find detailed outlining kills the fun for me - I like writing as a voyage of discovery with a general guide as to where I'm going. Glad I'm not the only one to edit as I go either. Having said that, I still have to edit after!

Kat said...

I'm trying to write my first novel. I have a great idea, but I'm struggling with the characters- they're very two-dimensional in my mind. Three of them are going to be my chief narrators, so I have to really know how to get into their heads. Do you have any suggestions on how, before we start our first drafts, we can get to know our characters better so the writing comes easier?

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