I often hear writers calling themselves planners or pantsers. I’m somewhere in between. I plot by the seat of my pants, and then I plan the overall novel. Then I begin writing by the seat of pants until the characters become real and the story takes on its own life, and then I organize it into an outline. So, I guess I’m a hybrid. Imagine me as a planster, if you will.
Of Breakable Things, version one, was 800 pages long because I never intended to publish it. Yes, I said 800 pages. Clearly, I’m longwinded. I had a story and some time, and I just wrote and wrote and wrote until the story was finished. 200,000 words later, I reluctantly let someone read it, thinking they’d say, “Oh cool- great job” and move on. Instead, I was urged to publish…with some major edits. It took me a year (longer than the time it took to create the first draft) to cut the book to 90,000 words. Even then, some agents rejected my query because the book was still too long.
But the purpose of this ^^^^ is to say that I cannot write ‘by the seat of my pants.’ The pants are too large. Or the seat is too large. Something like that.
When I wrote the sequel to OBT, I structured it. I’ve used the same process for everything I’ve written since then.
The beginning is organized chaos. My favorite part of this whole mess is brainstorming. I write notes everywhere and on everything (napkins, receipts, post its). I listen to all sorts of music and make playlists. I make Pinterest boards. I pin pictures and notes on the walls like a psycho. And the mess ends up looking like this:
I let the chaos simmer and then try to sort the notes into piles. Characters. Themes. Plot. Etc. Then I create a vague outline:
- New setting
- Side story
- Plot thickens (bad guys)
- Everything falls apart
- Solution/Final fight
I write the event that creates the catalyst, the conflict, the question, or the debate. To stay or not to stay. To join the group or not. To take the trip or maintain status quo. What happens to turn the character’s world upside down? In Alex’s case, she dies and finds herself in her third grade classroom, and she has to choose where to go and what to do.
Once the characters start to develop stronger personalities. I stop and give each major character their own web (that’s the English teacher in me) with their traits, their appearances, their choice phrases or superstitions, and their flaws. I also take this time to try to sketch out each chapter.
Then, I go back to writing.
I like complications and drama, so after the first draft, I make a chart. Along one end, I list the major points/issues I want the reader to pick up on. Along the other end, I list the chapters. This way I know there’s a purpose to each chapter. Looks like this:
I plug in the holes. I go to the chapters that don’t have enough meat and I try to fatten them. This is the most frustrating for me because I’m not working linearly. I end up making a lot of lists and taking a lot of notes that say the same thing.
Then, I read from beginning to end and tear it apart. Does the story make sense? What isn’t necessary? What needs more? What needs less? This is also beta reader time (if anyone is crazy enough to read my first drafts.)
I take advice/input. Fix those issues.
I read from beginning to end again, editing as I go.
I give it to my agent.
I take her advice/input. Fix those issues.
I read from beginning to end, editing as I go.
I turn it in to my agent again. She might send back more edits or she might give it the ‘okay’.
I’m jealous of the writers who can sit down and start at the beginning, who can write in a straight line until they finish. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work for me. Maybe one day.
If you live in the NJ/PA/NY/DE/MD area, and are free on Sunday, August 9th, make sure to come meet Amy (plus 25 other awesome young adult authors) at Bookitcon, a charity book event that I’m organizing! All information can be found on the website: www.UBUbiz.com. Also, if you’re unable to come, you can still help to support the event by making a donation!