Novel Planning

Posted on May 5, 2010. Filed under: My Writing, Style, Uncategorized | Tags: |

Today is a good day to talk about novel planning, don’t you think? I think so.

Because I love writing and am addicted to NaNoWriMo’s forums, I’ve been reading a lot of people talking about saving ideas for the next National Novel Writing Month and working on planning them with vigor for months at a time. So I figured I’d take a poll.

Feel free to answer the following questions in a comment:

1. Have you written a novel? (If no, thanks for taking the poll, and get on that novel writing!)

2. When did you begin planning your novel?

3. How did you plan your novel?

4. Just for fun, how long did it take you to finish writing your novel?

And now I’ll tell you how I planned the novel that is begging to be edited for content and grammar.

I started planning Fire and Ice Bound in October 2009. Now I have to admit I got the idea for it about a year before that and had a few illustrations made by Desteni, who was kind enough to give me one that I tucked away for future use. When I began thinking about NaNo2009, I remembered my random fantasy story idea and dug out those illustrations from among the pile of bank statements, university papers, and other odds and ends.

The illustrations are really what reminded me how interested I was in the story. So I waited until October when I was beginning to gear up for NaNo to work on my planning. And then it came, and I had four glorious weeks of planning.

So what did I do? I spent hours thinking about who my characters were, where they lived, how they acted, and what they did. I devised big plots concerning entire countries and small subplots that would last only half a page but have important consequences. And throughout the planning process, I daily added notes to my master outline.

It’s kind of a lame term, but I call it that because it wasn’t so much an outline as the basis for everything I wrote in my story. Within this one 12-page document, I wrote down every name of every character, mentioned or not, that was important to my story. I grouped them according to where they fell (student, teacher, parent, electorate representative, townsperson, etc.) in my story. Then I wrote a number of pages of what I termed plot points: those things that needed to happen in order to move from Point A to Point B in the story.

What else did I put in my master outline? I put the obvious: the progression from beginning to end. Though I didn’t really have much of an ending when I first began planning. I also put some random things in. I wrote facts and figures about the three main countries. I detailed where the countries were located and what the governments were like. I wrote a page on the three different creation theories plugged by different groups as well as the different religions that had risen out of these theories. And none of the religions come into play in the actual story.

By the end of October, I’d started a character profiles document as well. I put in the names of every character, even the ones that weren’t referenced in the book, as well as their vital statistics. I recorded eye color, hair color, height, weight, age, and some other random information. Most of that wasn’t important in the actual book, but it makes all the difference to me in making my characters come alive. The character profile document was at least 5 pages long, so it was still a pretty hefty document.

I think the best thing I learned about planning my novel, though, came as I was writing it. Like most people participating in NaNo, I began writing at midnight on November 1. I wrote like a madwoman throughout the month, but as I referenced my notes I noticed two important things. First: my planning brought the story together in a way I never expected and allowed me to write freely without worrying too much about what would happen next. Second: planning doesn’t end when the writing begins.

Planning is an integral part of writing a novel for me. Knowing the steps to getting to the end of the novel was a huge part of my writing, but when I finally got around to writing the end of the novel, I realized I hadn’t planned for a few of the things that had managed to worm their way into the novel. So a few chapters out, I was planning once again, trying to figure out how best to end the story.

Personally I can definitely see the advantages of planning a story. What about you? Let me know and feel free to answer my questions as well. I’m kind of curious.

Next up should be a book review. Then I’m not sure what will come after that, but hopefully I’ll find something interesting. 😉 Hope you’re all doing well, and I promise I’ll be getting my rhythm back soon!


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Finishing Chagrin

Posted on February 18, 2010. Filed under: Books, reading, Style | Tags: , , , , |

I never want to finish reading a good book; it’s always such a sad moment when I realize I have less than half the book left to read. It’s always worse when I realize I have only a few chapters, and then only a few pages to keep me entertained.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy reading the ending; it’s just that it always feels so final to finish a book, even if it’s within a series of books. Granted, that sometimes depends on the series. If it’s a fantasy series where the characters will all be gathered together again in some form or fashion, then it’s not always as bad. However, if it’s a series that was designed to focus on a pair or a particular group of characters at a time and then move on to the next set, there’s always a sense of parting from the characters in particular.

I find if it’s a book I’ve enjoyed that I have a tendency to slow down my reading towards the end. Even if it’s only by a small amount. And, of course, I feel silly doing this because at the same time I still want to finish the book. It’s always with a bit of chagrin that I put the book down after reading only a chapter instead of reading several chapters in one sitting.

Like all good things, every book has its end. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons we like them so well? Even a series has a conclusion at some point or another. (The only exception being if an author discontinues a series or dies in the process of writing it.) But the point still stands: there’s an ending.

Maybe it’s not the happily ever after of fairy tales or the long, extrapolated interpretation of the book’s theme and main message poured into a quick, witty paragraph. But if the main character dies, there’s not much left to look forward to. If the whole town is wiped out by the plague, who do you want to hear about after that? If the evil villain escapes to wreak havoc on another unsuspecting group of heroes, does it matter? Sure, sometimes, it does. But it’s an ending.

And there’s something of a death in finishing a book. Especially a good book. You’ve become great friends, learned a lot about one another in the process. You know you don’t like mysteries, but somehow you’ve been caught up in the mystery of this or that person’s affairs in an almost tangible way. You’ve learned that the characters dialogue in such twisted double entendres that you feel you’ve been lost a hundred times during the reading. And then when it’s over? It’s like a death.

You close the book and set it on the shelf, wishing your time wasn’t up. And perhaps you go back to it again and again for a reminder of the characters you loved.

I love getting to the end of a good book. It’s an opportunity to reflect on how well an author has written and what aspects worked and didn’t work in my mind. It lets me savor the journey to that point, and it gives me a chance to decide whether I’ll be putting it on the shelf for good or taking it back down over and over again.

But still, as I’m coming to the end of this particular book, I’m feeling that finishing chagrin. Only two, possibly three chapters to go, and yet I read slower than ever. In my head, those are, of course, the signs of a good book.

What are your signs? Do you move faster or slower at the end of a good book? Inquiring minds want to know. 😀


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Book Formulas

Posted on February 9, 2010. Filed under: Books, Fantasy, reading, Romance, Style | Tags: , , , |

Today I thought I’d talk a little bit about book formulas. It seems that different genres have these formulaic ways in which authors write their stories. And in most instances, if you’re an avid reader (or even if you aren’t), you’ll pick up right away on the formula.

For example: let’s take a typical romance.

Fairly normal female protagonist + handsome and charming male + male’s seduction and intrigue + sudden betrayal of trust + hot make-up sex = A romance that sells.

Okay, so that might not be the complete formula, but it’s pretty basic. Authors generally add and adapt these formulas to suit their whims and make sure all the bases are covered. In my opinion, it feels a little bit too structured.

However, I can’t deny that these books sell by the thousands. Even the shoddy ones that come from new romance authors who are literally following the template set up by thousands of their predecessors. I also can’t deny that I’ve purchased some in my day.

The same can be said for almost any genre you can think up. Fantasy has what feels like a different formula for each sub-genre of the main. But all the formulas seem to stem directly from the classic “high” or “epic” fantasy.

Pick a genre, any genre, and you’ll see similar themes. These things sell and sell well for publishers. And readers are eager to lap it up in most cases. (I’d say almost especially so for the romances.)

My book, too, uses the basic formula for fantasy. It’s something that’s difficult to get away from. And if you try something different, you’re most likely going to find it difficult to get published because agents and publishers are looking for things that will market well.

So I find it odd that I enjoy and sincerely appreciate some of these formulas (i.e. fantasy) and not others (i.e. romances). What’s strange is that I like both fantasy and romance, but I quickly find the norms in romances becoming tedious. The more I read them, the more predictable they become, and the more difficult it gets not to just flip to the end and decide that, yes, I knew this would happen from the beginning.

Do you find yourself doing something like that with a genre you really love? I’m not sure if it’s just me, but I honestly don’t get as excited with some of my romance fiction as I used to because the genre never changes. I may just be choosing my books without care, I’m not sure. Either way, I’m not as appreciative of it as I used to be.

Thoughts? Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear them. 🙂


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Book Research – How Thorough Should An Author Be?

Posted on February 8, 2010. Filed under: Books, reading, Romance, Style | Tags: , , , , , , |

I’ve been reading a book on my book list lately, and while I already know the ending (end reader thing again), I haven’t finished it. So I’m not going to post a full review or anything resembling that here. However, I am going to talk a little about the book in the context of research.

Authors of almost any genre have to research things for their books under most circumstances. I’m doing it, and I know a lot of other authors who are doing the same things. Unless you’re an absolute expert, there are always things to be researched.

So my question today is this: How thorough should the author be in researching topics for novels?

The reason I ask is because of the book I’m reading. It’s called Everyone Worth Knowing and is written by Lauren Weisberger. If you haven’t heard of her or her book, perhaps you’ll know her from another of her more popular novels: The Devil Wears Prada.

In Everyone Worth Knowing, Weisberger writes about life for Bette Robinson, a small town New Yorker who quits her job as a banker in New York City because it’s become tedious. She ends up working in public relations as an event planner for some of the biggest names out there.

It’s obvious to me that Weisberger’s done a lot of research for her story. She drops names left and right: Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Lauer, Katie Couric, and Hugh Heffner to name a few. She knows her designers and labels, and she mixes it up with the clubs, restaurants, and companies of only the best areas of NYC.

I’m a fan of people who take the time to research things well, but I noticed something in Weisberger’s novel that irks me just a bit. I’ll admit it’s nothing big and probably not something most people would notice. In fact, there’s a possibility it’s done for effect more than anything else.

Despite all that, I read it and was a little disappointed. I’ll quote it here for you.

“I’m getting a coffee, and then we can figure out the event details. Can I get you something?”

I shook my head and pointed to my coffee cup.

“No grande sugar-free vanilla extra-hot no-whip skim latte?”

This is from page 153 of my copy of the book, and I read it again last night. In fact, I read it twice.

The scene takes place inside your favorite and mine: Starbucks. And our heroine, Bette, is talking with bouncer Sammy. Aside from the fact that I feel his little comment deserves a few extra commas, I have to give Weisberger some credit.

I used to work as a Starbucks barista, and one of the things you learn rather early on is how to call an order. If you’ve ever sat down and looked at the boxes on the sides of the cups, you’ll notice there’s a certain order to them. The trick to properly reading them is starting from the top and working your way down. So, for example, when I order one of my favorites, I ask for a “grande three-pump-vanilla, breve, extra caramel, caramel macchiato.”

Weisberger gets props in my book for knowing the lingo and structure of an order. However, she does something that bugs me just a bit. I won’t harp on it for long, so bear with me.

It’s the “no-whip” part of this quote that gets me. I’m a perfectionist, and this might be a stylistic thing, but lattes do not get whipped cream. Period. Sure, you can order them with whipped cream, but they are not normally made that way. The trick to making a latte is to steam the milk and create a bit of foam at the top. When you’ve finished pouring the milk into the cup, you scoop a bit of whip out of the pitcher with your spoon and place a dollop on top.

That’s a latte.

Ordering it with no-whip is redundant.

Ah well, I’m not here to really argue the point. I’m really just curious how much everyone else thinks an author should research for a book. And let me point out that I’m not claiming Weisberger didn’t research enough. Just, in general, I would be interested in how much authors put into their research and how much their readers think the authors should know.

Thoughts? Comments? Snide remarks? Let me know!


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How do you read books?

Posted on February 3, 2010. Filed under: Books, reading, Style | Tags: , , , , |

Instead of talking about Twilight and all the ways ‘Twihards’ are making me angry, I thought I’d try a new tack. So today let’s talk books. Specifically let’s talk how we read.

It sounds simple, doesn’t it? Most people pick books up, start at the beginning and read through to the end.

I don’t.

Let’s just say that I’m an end-reader. It’s not on purpose, either. As a matter of course, I know some people will pick books out in the bookstores or libraries, read the back cover, and then flip through to the end to see what the ending is. My great-granny was one of those, and I blame her for my peculiarities.

See, my problem isn’t that I want to know the ending before I read the rest of the book. It’s just that I have relatively little self-discipline when it comes to books. I’m afraid I’m way past the days when I could stay up all night reading without feeling ashamed of the lapse the next morning, but at the same time, I get so excited about reading that I just have to know what comes next!

So what do I do? Many times I’ll tell myself I’m stopping at the end of this one chapter and headed to bed or off to work or whatever task awaits me. When I get to the end of said chapter, I find myself torn, unable to resist the pull to see what’s coming up next. I flip just a few pages, ignoring the beginnings of the next chapter, and look ahead to the next scenes.

The next thing I know two hours have passed and I now know how the book ends because I’ve managed to read all the way (sparingly–meaning without reading every word) to the end.

Some people (my mother included) find this practice abhorrent. But, ironically, it doesn’t leave me wanting to stop reading. In fact, it makes it a little bit easier to go back and really read the book. I pick up on little details I normally wouldn’t have and find myself just as enthralled as if I never read the ending in the first place.

And apparently this little quirk of mine is no respecter of genres because I do it to all books. (This is why, unfortunately, I know the endings to a number of books on my current to-read list, actually. Shh! Don’t tell anyone!)

Is anyone else plagued in this way? I can’t imagine I’m the only one out there who does this. I’d honestly like to quit, but it’s become almost a habit. I can read a good book for a couple of days and not flip ahead, but eventually it becomes too much to bear, and my hands start moving before I really realize what I’m doing.

So with that said, does anyone have any tips and tricks on quitting? I’d love to hear them! And while we’re at it, how do you read books? Any quirks like mine out there? Feel free to comment and let me know!


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