Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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January 7, 2015

Writing Process Throwdown: Fae's Way

Okay Orly, you say you're a pantser, and for the first draft, I agree you are. But then you happily flip into complete, committed plotter. All those post-its? Nope, I'd say you're a "hybrid-pantser."

Me, I'm pantser through and through. The idea of an outline, post-it notes on charts, even Laura's famous chapter spreadsheet, all make me want to get in the Athenamobile and drive away. Fast.

So how does my writing process work?

My characters present themselves. There are plenty, riding around in the carousel of my mind. Usually one will step forward and demand her story be told next. I spend some time with her, piecing together backstory, what she really wants–it's never what she tells me up front–and look at the potential for conflicts. Sometimes the hero appears first, or they present themselves together. If they're both interesting in their own right and seem screaming-wrong for each other, I'm interested.

I start running movie scenes through my head, about how they meet, what draws them together, how they see the good, and the bad, in each other, and how they fall in love. If I like the way those scenes come together, I start writing. (Aw, who am I kidding? If by this time I've fallen in love with my hero, I start writing.)

I'm typically a nighttime writer, which works great for my process. When I go to bed, I rerun the pages I just finished and play director, changing little, and big, things to make it better, adding snappier dialogue, modifying staging, bumping up the conflict. Then I just let the movie continue and fall asleep. That preps my brain to work on the plot while I sleep, and usually the next morning I have some revisions and ideas for the next scene or two.

Now, don't get me wrong. When I start writing a new book I know most of the pivotal emotional difficulties–er, blow-ups, arguments, inner conflicts– and the technology malfunctions and battle scenes (I write science fiction, give me a break!)-but not exactly how and where these plot points and pinch points will take place. I'm sorry, but if I knew how everything was going to play out, it would be boring to sit and type it all out. I love a good puzzle and fitting the plot, the emotions, and the conflicts together make writing exciting for me.

As for the actual, fingers-on-keyboard writing, I typically keep writing until the end of a scene or the end of a chapter, but I usually always know how the next scene will begin. I'm going to be digging my characters out of the hook where I stopped.

When I sit down again, I re-read what I wrote during my last session, add details and emotion and "dress the set." This process gets me back into the story so I'm connected when I begin putting new words on the page. After more chapters I start to think about adding a phrase or a scene in previous chapters to foreshadow or provide backstory. I'll write the idea on a post-it and stick it to the edge of my computer. Yes, by the time I'm ready to start the first whole-book-revision there are post-its all around my monitor, sometimes three deep. They've been in my peripheral vision and thought, and I begin layering in those ideas during the first revision. I'm a coward; I always start with the simplest revisions.

Then I usually end up taking some paper and pencil notes about timelines and chapter major events so I can find where to add my ideas. I have to admit that on more than one occasion I've let blue words flow while looking for half-an-hour or more for a specific scene. Those times I swear I should have kept track on Laura's spreadsheet and I vow to use it on the next book.

I used to hate revising, but on the last book I could see the story getting better and better through the revision process. I think that examining my revision process is actually improving my initial draft. I'm aware that I tend to be all about the facts in the first draft, ("But what is she feeling?" is a common comment) so I'm trying to layer in more emotions on those "morning after" re-writes.

Final revisions are all about evaluating and using comments from critiques and judges.

Before I send a manuscript off, I read it out loud. Yes, all four hundred plus pages. I catch weird sounding dialogue that looked great on the page, echoes, and always a cliche or two that made it past several pairs of eyes.

My process works for me, an untrained-creative-writer hard-science nerd who managed to get my college degrees without ever taking a writing class. Of course, once I began writing, I've taken a lot of classes to learn the tricks behind the magic. But everyone's process is different.

How do you create your magic on the page? What is the strangest component of your process?

About Fae

Fae RowenFae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak.  Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes  that she can live anywhere but the present.  As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules.

Punished, oh-no, that’s published as a co-author of a math textbook, she yearns to hear personal stories about finding love from those who read her books, rather than the horrors of algebra lessons gone wrong.  She is grateful for good friends who remind her to do the practical things in life like grocery shop, show up at the airport for a flight and pay bills.

A “hard” scientist who avoided writing classes like the plague, she now enjoys sharing her brain with characters who demand that their stories be told.  Amazing, gifted critique partners keep her on the straight and narrow. Feedback from readers keeps her fingers on the keyboard.

When she’s not hanging out at Writers in the Storm, you can visit Fae at http://faerowen.com  or www.facebook.com/fae.rowen


25 comments on “Writing Process Throwdown: Fae's Way”

  1. Fantastic post--I love to read my work aloud, too, just to hear the cadences of the dialogue. I always end up cutting a lot of words out when I realize how stiff a "written" dialogue can sound."

  2. Love your new photo, Fae! I've always been fascinated by your "Movie plotting". No wonder you don't get the emotion down on the first pass - you're 'seeing' the choreography!

    1. This is one of those, "Yeh, but..." things, Laura. When you watch a movie, you "get" the emotion right away. I still can't juggle all those balls on the first pass. But then, you know because you have to read those dry pages! The picture is from conference. Decided I ought to use it for something!

  3. Sounds almost exactly like my process. And yes, much as I dread hearing my voice, that final read-aloud is vital. I learned it when I had my books made into audio and heard my narrator reading my 'clunkers'. I've also found a 'tracking board' helpful with my mystery plots, but I do those AFTER I've written the chapter to make sure I know where my clues, red herrings, and major plot points are.

  4. Thanks Fae! Happy New Year! I have interviewed many authors and they all tell me that they read their works aloud. I've always done this, even when writing a paper back in school (perhaps harkening back to my childhood when I used to read articles from magazines and newspapers out loud, pretending I was a newscaster LOL). I catch so many errors this way. I've been published in newspapers and magazines for years, and most times have to self-edit; reading aloud has been a most helpful tool in shaping the final piece.

  5. I'm am honestly going to try filling out Laura's spreadsheet after each chapter this time, Terry. The last book revision really did have me cursing trying to find particular scenes to revise.

  6. Fae, I'm new to your blog site and I'll be back to read more. Glad I found you. I'm a new writer and love to read published author's writing for ideas on the process. Already I read a loud every thing that I write and catch a lot of glitches in story flow. I do a sketchy outline and seem to revise it as I go along. But at least I have something to start with. Christine

    1. I'm so glad you found us, too, Christine. When I started my third book, I made a list of twenty-six scenes for the book. More got added as I wrote, but that list did speed things up, probably like your sketchy outline.

  7. Hate to break it to you, darling, but your process isn't THAT different from mine. Except for the colored index cards/sticky notes. And the fact that you actually edit as you go. If I've been away from the manuscript for a couple of days, I'll reread the last page or so but otherwise, I'm making notes on things I know need to change. Full speed ahead! 🙂

    1. I love it when the "Throwdown Wars begin..." Y'all are gonna run away screaming when you see my process. Just think ADHD Writer and you'll be getting close.

  8. That exception is HUGE, though. I can see the value in tracking all those threads very carefully, but I'd never finish with the cards and notes. The editing as I go is more about forgetting the small things if I don't do them when I see them. A toast to your process, partner!

  9. Love reading about your process. So interesting and a bit different than mine. My characters won't come to me until I'm actually putting pen on paper (or fingers on keyboard, I do both). They don't come in my head, but only as I give them the space on the page. Then they show me who they are, what they'll do, even tell me their back story, as long as I'm writing it down, as if they're transcribing to me.
    Does that make me a pantster? And yes, I ALWAYS read my work out loud!

    1. It's kind of like you're channeling your stories, roughwighting. Don't you love it when your fingers are flying and you're reading the words that appear on the screen and gasp, "Oh, no! She didn't!"?

  10. Thanks for the rundown on the life of a true pantser - our processes sound almost identical, all the way to your prime writing time and reading your work aloud. I generally wake up being harassed by a character, the character's problem presents itself, and it's off to the movies we go. Yes, the story unfolds just like scenes in a movie. Sometimes I can barely type fast enough. I'll know the beginning, the end, and a few key scenes in between. How they come about is always a pleasant surprise. The best is when something unexpected happens as I'm writing - my first reaction is to look over my shoulder and mutter, "Really? Where the heck did that come from?"

    Great post. Best of luck to you.

    1. Exactly, Rob! That's what makes being a pantser so much fun--so many surprises while we write our stories.

  11. I'm not in favor of detailed outlines either, but I think they work for some writers. My process is, I guess, more organic. I just list my characters before I start, write descriptions of their personalities and backgrounds, and let them go. Sometimes I'm writing the story; sometimes they are. Your post reassured me that I've got lots of company as what's called a "pantser!" I've never had a writing class either, although I've read writing books like Stephen King's and they've been a big help. But your post is probably the first I've read that sounded so much like my own process and it really gave me a lift! Thanks!

  12. Thank you, Claire! When I was writing this post, I thought, "Oh, no. Now everyone will know I'm certifiable."

  13. I love a good Throwdown! And this is juicy stuff on WITS! Fae, I have to say that I relate to your system. Although both you and Laura freak me out with all those post it notes. What is with the Post its! All those tiny multi-color papers flashing at you. It's too much. I can't take it. Give me a nice, calm note pad. That's all I'm asking. The rest has to be pantsed. 🙂

  14. My post-its aren't color-coded, they are just a handy way to affix my brain to the computer until I have time, or the inclination, to add that thought to my WIP. I have been known to lose bits of paper--large and small--and spend hours looking for a corner of an envelope for that perfect snippet of dialogue. Post-its are a great improvement over that old system.

  15. After reading this, I realize I am more of a pantser than I knew. 🙂 I start out with a pretty good idea of what needs to happen in the book, at least for the main character, but the secondary characters? They just do whatever the heck they want. A characer who was supposed to just be a drunk at a bar turned into a secret agent from the future. Things like that. Plotting really went out the window when I decided to do NaNo at the last minute last year! Those characters went crazy.

  16. There's nothing wrong with a little spontaneous magic, Laura, as long as everything fits together in your story!

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