Blog hop: My writing process

Today I’m participating in a blog hop about my writing process. I was tagged by the inspirational Liv Rancourt, who writes paranormal and romance, often at the same time. Her novel Forever and Ever, Amen is published by Crimson Romance and she has several other novels in the pipeline. (Read about Liv’s writing process here.)

The blog hop involves answering four questions, so here goes…

1. What am I working on?

A big fat fantasy novel. In fact, it’s much bigger and fatter than originally intended. I  completed the first draft in December and now, after a couple of months’ break, I’m about to commence the revision. Unlike many authors, my process is relentlessly linear — meaning I only work on one thing at a time. So for now my whole attention is focused on this one novel. (I talked a bit about the story previously here.)

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Well, I like to think I’ve created a world that’s not too derivative of the pseudo medieval worlds that are so familiar in fantasy. It’s important to me that my world is essentially another character in the novel, so I hope I’ve succeeded in this (or am on the way, at least). My work might also be said to differ from much fantasy that’s around at the moment because it’s not young adult, or excessively grim and violent, or epic on a grand scale with armies and battles, or set in a very cold and icy world… I’m interested in the personal stories of people who refuse to conform, who refuse to be oppressed, and who find themselves accidentally fighting for reform because of their indomitable spirit and idealism.

3. Why do I write what I do?

I wrote a whole post on this once — Why I write fantasy. Here’s an edited excerpt (in case you can’t be bothered clicking through to read the whole post):

Put simply, I love reading it. Immersing myself in a richly realised world is delicious, like being an armchair tourist. And creating my own world is thrilling and challenging. I read and write fantasy because it adds another layer to the journey of discovery. In addition to a conspiracy/mystery/family secret/relationship to be uncovered, there’s a whole world waiting to be revealed as well.

Even more significantly, in addition to adding texture and wonder, the fantastic world provides a canvass for the exploration of grand themes. Ultimately the imaginary world becomes the stomping ground of a cast of characters who are tested by love, betrayal, prejudice, greed, violence, guilt, hatred, rage along with everything else. Fantasy allows us to strip everything back to the bones and invent the perfect crucible into which we toss our characters to see what they’ll do.

4. How does my writing process work?

To be honest I think I’m still figuring this out. When I was a fledgling writer, I knew nothing about anything and I just started writing and making up stuff as I went along (i.e. ‘pantsing’). But… I’ve since decided this haphazard approach didn’t work so well. These days, I prefer to have an idea of where the story is going, the major story arc — but I don’t want to know everything or I get bored. At the moment, my preferred approach for the first draft is:

  • Identify the major turning points, so the story has overall shape before I start. I like to have an idea of the end, or at least options for the end. But I don’t necessarily know how I’m going to get there.
  • Brainstorm in my writing journal some ideas for, say, the next three or four scenes. This gives me a path to follow — it’s like I can see about 20 feet ahead on a forest path…
  • Write those scenes, using the brainstormed ideas as a guide only. I think it’s important to allow my subconscious some freedom when writing the first draft. I don’t want to plan too far ahead, or too rigidly…
  • Brainstorm ideas for the next few scenes… write them… and so on. As long as I am still heading along the major arc (more or less), all is well. But I still have the thrill of discovering the story details as I write. (I am not a writer who can hold the whole story in my head and just let it pour forth. And I certainly can’t allow my subconscious free rein and trust to instinct. Maybe it’s the engineer in me, but I like to make sure I’m in control, and if I don’t roughly plan, I can lose control rather quickly. I think this makes me half and half plotter/pantser.)

Now of course I’m hitting the revision phase, so all that goes out the window… I’m starting with a read-through of the first draft, and then I’ll tackle any structural adjustments, before layering in world detail, character nuances and all the texture I forced myself to ignore during the first draft phase.

I much prefer revision, though. The first draft is a necessary evil, but it’s agony. The revision process is when I can shape the story to achieve my vision and try to make it sing.

***

Now to tag three other authors for the blog hop. These guys will hopefully respond to these same questions on their blogs a week or so from now:

Deborah Kalin — Australian fantasy author of Shadow Queen and Shadow Bound (The Binding), plus numerous acclaimed short stories, Deb is also one of my cafe writing buddies and a good friend.

Mike Schulenberg — According to his blog bio, “Mike Schulenberg writes speculative fiction exploring friendship and strength in a universe on the verge of devouring itself. He is a creator and destroyer of worlds.” (Hm, sounds scary!)

Siri Paulson — Living in Toronto, Canada, Siri writes all over the fantasy and science fiction spectrum. She also edits for Turtleduck Press, a co-op press for indie writers of science fiction, fantasy, and poetry.

***

So, there you go. A brief insight into my brain. Any questions? Comments? Thoughts?

8 comments

  1. Thanks for the shout-out, Ellen! It sounds like your work might come closer to Ursula LeGuin than, say, Tolkein or GRR Martin. I can’t wait to get a look at it!!

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  2. Ha, Ellen, once again we are blog sisters. Your first-draft process sounds a LOT like mine! Your novel sounds like it would be right up my alley as a reader, too. Thanks for the tag — I’ll do my post next week. 🙂

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    1. Looking forward to your post, Siri! Yes, I think we definitely have similar interests in both reading and writing. I’m looking forward to hearing about your novel, and ultimately reading it.

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  3. Thanks for the tag, Ellen 🙂 Your book sounds pretty interesting and I’m looking forward to reading it one day.

    Like you, I’m still figuring my writing process out, although there are some things I currently do that I feel work for me. I like seeing how other people do things because it gives me ideas for new things to try.

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    1. Yeah, I think my writing process is still evolving. I guess the more books you write, the more you get a chance to figure out what works. I’ve got a way to go yet. 🙂

      I look forward to reading your answers to these questions!

      Like

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