Author Kait Nolan has just released her debut novella Forsaken by Shadow and I asked her to write up a post on the writing process so, y’know, I have something to post. Here’s what she wrote, and she has some good ideas you should check out.
The Process of Finding My Process by Kait Nolan
When NL Gervasio asked me to write a post about my writing process, I have to confess that I groaned. It’s another one of those questions I really don’t know how to answer. I don’t have a process! Which mostly just made her laugh. So here I am to talk about that thing I don’t have.
And I’m serious. I really don’t have a process I follow because thus far, every single book I’ve ever written (finished or not) has been done differently. Over eighteen years of writing, I’ve made a rather radical transition from rabid pantser to total plotter. Actually, the transition really happened over the last four years since I started treating writing like a Real Job. Believe me, nobody is more surprised about that than I am.
It all started because I was trying to be more efficient. My writing time is limited (that whole 8 to 5 job thing plus two part time jobs and juggling family thing is a real time suck), so continuing with my original method of writing, rewriting, rewriting, rewriting, oh, and did I mention not finishing more than two books in fourteen years? Yeah, that wasn’t working for me.
I was convinced that if I could plot stuff out to some extent ahead of time, that I’d avoid the Dreaded Valley of the Shadow of the Middle, where all my books inevitably wandered off trail and got lost or died of exposure. I started simply—just trying to do a bulleted list of stuff I knew would happen.
That didn’t do it, so I moved on to Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method. I kind of liked the notion of starting with a one line summary of the story and gradually expanding. Certainly it was easier to expand than to try to summarize a fully formed book after the fact. But still, that didn’t do it for me.
I moved onto trying assorted computer programs in an attempt to better organize myself. Papel. Text Block Writer. PageFour. Storybook. yWriter. yWriter was the one I eventually settled comfortably into. Like all the others, it’s free, and has just enough room to customize some stuff with your preferred notes.
I combined that software with questions I learned about the various aspects of craft I was studying at the time. Scene construction from Dwight Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer.Character stuff based on Debra Dixon’s Goal, Motivation, and Conflict. Those two things ultimately led me to create this Scene Questionnaire (available here on Scribd).
“A scene is a unit of conflict, of struggle lived through by the character and reader.”
- Which of the following does the scene accomplish?
____ (G) Dramatically illustrate a character’s progress toward the goal or provide an experience which changes a character’s goal.
____ (M) Provide a character with an experience that strengthens his motivation or changes his motivation.
____ (C) Bring a character into conflict with opposing forces.
- What are the three reasons for the scene? (one of which must be G, M, or C)
- How does the scene change the character?
- What dimension is added to the character’s personality?
- What is at stake?
- Is it immediate/urgent?
This is something I’ve stuck with. I paste it in to the notes section in yWriter and do my best to answer it for every scene. It’s what keeps me on track and helps me to avoid the tangential trips of useless subplots and jaunts into fluffyverse (fluffyverse: The rushing of characters straight into anti-conflict happily ever after lovey dovey happy situations. These are the antithesis of plot and are indicative of the presence of brain dolls instead of characters).
But the real breakthrough for me in terms of anything resembling a process was when I stumbled across Larry Brooks’ series on story structure. You can read the original blog post series here or buy the ebook (much expanded and well worth it). This was what I was looking for in terms of all the plotting. I didn’t need to plot out every single scene. That does, in fact, sap all the interest for me. What I need is to figure out the STRUCTURE of the story—all the major plot points, the signposts, if you will—like stops on a map. THIS is the stuff I have to figure out before I write and this is probably the most important part of what is becoming my process.
After that it’s just a matter of following the BICHOK Principle: Butt In Chair, Hands on Keyboard—every day.
* * *
Banished from their world with his memory wiped, Cade Shepherd doesn’t remember his life as Gage Dempsey, nor the woman he nearly died for. But when Embry Hollister’s father is kidnapped by military scientists, the only one she can turn to is the love from her past. Will Gage remember the Shadow Walker skills he learned from her father? If they survive, will Embry be able to walk away again?
You can find Kait on several sites, one of which offers some edible goodies:
Kait’s writing blog Shadow and Fang
Kait’s cooking blog Pots and Plots
Kait on Twitter
Kait on Facebook
Kait on Goodreads
Thank you, Kait, for suffering through my request on writing a post about the writing process. I’m just a pantser and can’t plot to save my life.