Monday, May 16, 2011

Making the Story Happen

I have memories of my early efforts at writing a novel -- it wasn't that long ago that I really cracked down on myself and seriously began. I mean, I dabbled at writing my whole life, but I was fooling around (though I didn't admit it at the time, of course), never serious, never getting it done. I didn't truly undertake a novel until, hm, six or seven years ago? At the time there were two vying for attention: the faerie novel and the witch novel*. 

I had a light bulb moment that I really had to pick one, and circumstances favored the faerie novel, which became Blackbringer, but that's not really relevant here. What's releveant is that I remember working away on both books in the same shiftless manner, and I remember the vasty empty that yawned before me when I tried to get past the beginnings and make the stories happen.

**Sometimes stories just "happen" and you hear writers talking about "taking dictation" etc as if a muse is speaking it straight into their brains or whatever. Ignore those writers. They will just drive you crazy. The huge majority of the time, we have to make our stories happen.**

Back then, I hadn't figured out how to do it. I was all about language. Sentences. I loved writing sentences, and oh I still do! *kiss kiss* But when you're trying to write a novel, you can't focus on just the sentences. That's like trying to see the whole sky through a telescope. It's too narrow. (One of Clementine's favorite things to say right now is "Too tight!" as applies to shoes, car seat straps, anything she doesn't want on her, and she uses a silly voice too, and makes fish mouth when she claims it. Too tight!)

Sentence-writing is "too tight" a way to go about a novel. At the end of each hard-won, well-polished sentence the wilderness of the unknown yawns anew!

Well. It's not like it's easy now, but I have come such a long way. Over the course of it I have developed tricks that aren't really tricks because they're not tricky, they're super obvious and duh. It's really just a course of action. Anyway, maybe these untricky tricks will help YOU. 

I am put in mind of them because of where I'm at now in my work in progress. I have come upon the Big Things that were on the story horizon -- the things that make me most excited about writing this book (the sequel to Daughter of Smoke and Bone). Big Things. Big Ideas. Big Plot. Back when I was brainstorming it and plotting (in the fall) I had a "OHMYGODTHAT'SSOCOOL!" brainwave that made the whole thing click into place, and now I am upon that thing! Yay!

But also: Oh! Now I have to do it justice. *knuckle chew nail bite*

How do I do that?

Way #1: 

I don't.

Instead, I take a few days off to work on a short story I have due for an anthology. Ahem. *avoid avoid*

Okay, but the story's done now, so it's on to Way #2.

Way #2:

First the nitty gritty. I have started tracking word count and setting daily goals. I didn't do this for the first chunk of the book because I was in the "needing to get the beginning just right as a foundation" stage, and I cut myself big slack there. But I'm past that and needing to get strict. So: word count goals. It's working! I wrote 7000 words in five days, a very excellent pace for me. yayayayayayayayyyyy!!!

As for the actual writing, there are two things I absolutely rely on when it comes to making the story happen on the page.

     Thing 1: Write About the Scene

Informally and in my "working doc," I just sort of phlehhhhhh out everything I know about the scene(s) I need to write next, what all needs to happen, and how I want it to feel, what I want it to accomplish on its various levels (the overt ones, like action, and the more subtle ones, like character growth/interaction, etc.). What revelations, what subplots carried forward, etc. I just think it out, sometimes a bunch of times through, until I feel like I can hold it in my hands. I'm thinking about the characters' motivations and states of mind at this point, and asking myself, "What would they really do here?"

**What would they really do here? Even though these are fictional characters, you're establishing a believable truth, and there is an answer to this question. Within the context you have created, what would they do? Put yourself in the character's skin in the scene (each character in turn) and play it out: this is what has happened to me, and this is what I *want* and *fear* and *hope* etc, what do I do here?**

Inevitably, this writing about the scene gives me a grasp on it that prepares me to dive in. It gives me a few concrete things to shoot for, ideas for dialogue, etc. It gives me an "angle," if that makes sense. 

     Thing 2: Freewrite

Then I dive in. Well, that is not true. I groan and resist because I never love freewriting, no matter that I know it works. But I do it. I take what I know of the scene from writing about it, and set a time and word count, and make myself just write. Mentally, I only think of this as generating raw material, as a possible version of what might happen. Nothing to be attached to! I often don't even read these after. They are a way of making story happen, and once it does, I can resort to what I love, which is crafting the scene lovingly and painstakingly. But it helps to have generated that raw material. And yes, there is a totally different mindset to both steps above than in actual writing-writing, and it opens little brain doors that would otherwise remain firmly closed, like with Do Not Enter signs and dusty brooms leaned against them.

Okay, there it is, and if there is any doubt at all as to whether I am writing this blog post right now to avoid doing the above things ... put it to rest. I totally am. Ha ha. But no longer. *rolls up sleeves, takes slug of coffee*

Here I go!

*I still plan to write the witch novel one of these days; there are ideas and characters and surprises in it that still light my mind on fire. Maybe it will be next, after this trilogy. I really don't know.


Kayla Olson said...

I loved this post, Laini! You've put into words my current method of drafting my new WIP, and I totally agree with you that it's effective! I especially loved this part: "They are a way of making story happen, and once it does, I can resort to what I love, which is crafting the scene lovingly and painstakingly. But it helps to have generated that raw material." (To which, all I can add is an "Amen, that totally resonates with me.")

This post was encouraging and inspiring, and I'm excited to dig in to this week's work on my novel. Thanks for the inspiration! :D Good luck on your draft—can't WAIT to read it.

tone almhjell said...

Oh, but the 7000 words, those are in addition to the working doc blehhhh and the freewriting? That's astonishing, to me. I can hardly remember what it's like to just write and write and write. I've been at this weird revision/translation stage for such a long time now.

Sophia said...

I read your notforrobots posts the other day to remind myself of the fun of brainstorming and how to fall back in love with the WIP so I'm loving this post. I definitely agree with writing about the writing when you hit a snag or fall into a giant snake-filled pit aka have no notes for the first 15k of the third act. Thanks as always for the inspiration, Laini!
- Sophia.

Mindy said...

The Witch novel sounds cool! though I do want more from the Dreamdark fairies! When do you think you will finish that series?

Sarah Wedgbrow said...

I adore this...and THANKYOU, it totally helps. xx

Jane said...

Thanks, I needed this too.
I'm always getting stuck at a certain point, and hating everything I come up with, though I love my foundation

Laini Taylor said...

Hi Kayla! I'm so glad to know your wip is progressing, and that I can help in the inspiration department :-)

Tone, YES, in addition!! NOT my usual week, I can tell you, but it was high time to have a week like that! I'm rooting for you getting on another writing and writing spree!

Sophia, Good luck with the snake pit :-)

Mindy, believe me, I want more Dreamdark too! I have my fingers and toes crossed that the stars align. It really isn't up to me. Many things have happened at that publisher (not my current publisher) since the first two books, and I just don't know what the future holds. But I plan to finish it! Three more books!

Sarah, oh good! Thank YOU :-)

Jane, good luck coming up with new stuff to love. That's the hard part I think.

Melanie said...

Laini, I always look forward to your inspirational posts. While I'm still yet to finish a story properly, what you encounter resonates with me too. You leave me something to aspire to! My working doc is currently full of film-script-type scenes. Once I have these completed from start to finish, then I will allow myself to craft my scenes lovingly.
Thanks as always.

Myrna Foster said...

Holy Cow! About half-way through reading this, I just had an epiphany for something I'm writing. I'll be back to finish the rest, but probably not tonight. Thanks, Laini! I don't always comment, but I love your writing posts. Make that pretty much all of your posts.

Laini Taylor said...

Melanie, I like the idea of your film-script way and have often thought it would wonderful to work that way, to get things set plotwise before taking so much time over crafting the prose etc. It makes so much sense! It may be over time that I can continue to tame my goofball brain and find a happy medium :-)

Myrna, yay! Epiphany! I hope it was fabulous!

Mindy said...

My fingers and toes are now crossed too! I can't wait for Daughter of Smoke and Bone!

Anonymous said...

Ooooooooeeeeeee! I'm coming back later to digest this in its entirety. Thank you for this. Really. You're paying forward this happy theme 'cause this post makes me really really happy!

Amber said...

Thank you!


, said...

I had this weird dream the other day you were in. You and Clementine were coming out of the ocean (you were holding her hand) in kind of the way Ariel does at the end of The Little Mermaid in her sparkly dress. Your hair was brown though and Clem had bright pink hair. I don't know why I was dreaming about you but there you go. :)

Alix said...

I loved this post and it was so helpful - thanks! I'm excited now so I think I'll o and make things happen :)

Myrna Foster said...

I'm back. I wasn't even halfway through the post the first time, but I had such a great writing session that night (No, I am not a robot ;)

I do a lot of the things you mentioned, and every time I reach another thousand words, I write it on my calendar. Seeing my progress there, it makes me happy.

Thanks again for this post!

Catherine Denton said...

You must have empowerment dust or something. I always feel like "I can do this" after reading your posts on writing.
Catherine Denton

Unknown said...

It's hard to put into words "how" to write, especially when it seems a jumbled mess in your head half the time, and I think you've done an excellent job here. Good stuff!

As you noted, the hardest part is just deciding to do it and then making yourself follow through!


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