Tuesday, January 18, 2011

How To Write: Gryph-style...

Well, I was so super late on the uptake on this, only having found out about it on this, the day of, but here is the What's Your Process Blogfest!

Writing process... Hmmm...

It really does vary from project to project. Sometimes I get an idea for a character and want to write their story, other times I get an idea for a story that I need to add characters to. For actual writing, I usually just put some characters on a page and have them do stuff, and sometimes I do little test runs, almost auditions, to work out how the story is going to be told. When it comes to editing, I almost always just completely rewrite the sucker, rather than line-by-line edit or anything. My first draft is like a big long rambling outline, really the only outline I do.

To show some of the differences (however minor they might seem) I'll illustrate two of the most different: my NaNo for '09 Scorpion and Sandman and my current hedgehog project Once Upon a Spine. Buckle up and get ready for a rather long and rambly post! Yay?

Scorpion and Sandman

The idea for this actually has a really crazy long story. When I was like thirteen, I had an idea for a story about a blind kid named Bain. It started because I had just had an idea of a blind boy running through a field as if he could see. I think that idea came from "The Lost Year of Merlin" series by T.A. Barron. It was mostly about him, later evolving to include his estranged father who was a disillusioned warlord, and an elf girl who would eventually become Quina.

It took a long time though. Initially, she was some sort of savior character, downtrodden and being trained for her place in the world by a drunken half-elf. He was initially supposed to be some sort of pseudo-romantic interest. Then Quina was supposed to be captured and imprisoned and I came up with the idea for this human prisoner who would fall in love with her and help her escape at the cost of his own life. To my thirteen year-old self, it was all very grand and epic and I loved it.

That itself eventually changed to a slightly more happy ending, with this new character, Red, and Quina ending up together, though they did have a rather long bout of slavery.

The project eventually sort of died, seeing as how a) it grew huge, with no less than eight different protagonists and b) I was so enamored with outlining and planning it all that I didn't really get to writing it. I got through one entire draft of the first book in a proposed trilogy, but then it just sort of died.

Then I had an idea to take each of the protagonists' stories (combining some of them, seeing as how some were intertwined) and write several books that way. I started with Bain, but he eventually evolved into such an emo-tastic tortured soul that he was no fun to write for anymore. But there were two characters who were always a blast to write: Red and Quina.

They were sort of secondary characters, a married couple living in the slums because he was a former slave, still branded, and she was an elf. I loved them to death and when the new project died too, I was actually heartbroken to have to let them go.

Fast forward a few years to NaNoWriMo 2009. (I'd actually signed up for NaNo in '08 and never done anything as I discovered later, having completely forgotten about signing up at all.) I needed a story, I had two characters whose story I wanted to tell. Lovely!

Now, I say usually that I am a pantser, just sort of writing things, but Scorpion and Sandman had a huge backlog of history (seriously, those few paragraphs up there summarize several years of my life). I had some fairly developed characters already and an idea for how I wanted the story to go. And, this being the first time I had done NaNo, I did some simple outlining.

I could still make an argument for my panster status, since those outlines were never really more than a page long and a few of them were made on the fly in the middle of the month, just so I wouldn't forget the resolution I had projected, but that was actually the beginning of my panster self.

As mentioned before, part of the reason the parent project died was because I was so enamored with outlining that I never actually got to the writing. I'd learned a little since then, but it was really the "omigosh, have no time, no ideas, need to write 2k words nao!!!" attitude of NaNo that really cemented that idea of just sort of going "blah" on paper.

So I did. There was a little bit of outlining and a whole lot of previously acquired knowledge, but I pretty much wrote that novel on the fly. I started with two characters with stories I wanted to write and just wrote them.

This project has been on the back burner, in the queue for editing, since NaNo09's completion, but I've never really dug into it hardcore. Mainly because I'm terrified of messing it up. I love that novel so much. It represents so much; the completion of a childhood obsession, the first accomplishment of NaNoWriMo, etc. etc., that I'm afraid of sullying that memory. I'll get over it eventually, I'm sure, and dig into it (seriously, writing about the parent project is making me want to pick that up again), but there's really been no editing as of yet.

Once Upon a Spine
This was inspired by (mm-hmm, here it comes) Princess Tutu, right in the middle of NaNoWriMo this past year.

Actually, I'd wanted to write a fairy-tale princess story for a while. This was an example of just having an idea for a type of story I wanted to tell and sort of sticking things into it. The original idea was for it to be a delightfully quirky story, completely not-full of my apparently trademark angst that I keep finding in all my works. (Hahahahaha, hold on while I finish laughing at my own naivety... To think I thought I could keep angst out of this story.)

It was just the idea of a hedgehog wanting to become a princess that was practically blatantly stolen from Princess Tutu. I wanted to explore what would happen if a character went through drastic changes for a single motivation, only to discover that those changes gave them other motivations as well.

This, I didn't quite jump into immediately. Instead, there was a sort of "waiting" period between NaNo and a new project. It wasn't as bad as it was last year (when I literally didn't write for months after NaNo in some sort of horrible burnout) since this year I did actually do a crapload of blogging and some scribbles of fiction and nonfiction alike in my own portfolio. And, mixed in there, were some little scenes and snippets of ideas for my hedgehog story.

They were sort of previews, sort of teaser scenes that I wanted to include, or that sort of captured the mood I wanted. I don't know if any of them will actually make it into the story itself, but they were fun to test the waters. Got a few ideas for character motivations, and came up with an idea for a potential ending for somewhere down the line.

But then, on January 4th, I actually started writing. Didn't think too hard about it, just sort of picked a narration style, and just started writing. Panster style all the way. There was no history to this project, no built-up knowledge of my characters. Just them, not even named (not even joking) standing there, wanting to know what they were supposed to do. So I made them do stuff. Two of the three main characters have names (Rat and Gareth), but that's it.

It's been like that since then. I write down notes to myself whenever I think of a revelation that I want to remember (like, further character motivations), but mostly it's just been hashing it out and seeing where it goes. It's pretty much a long, extended outline. I can tell you for almost absolute certain that the section I'm writing right now will not be in there, or at least not in the place or form it's in.

Unlike Scorpion and Sandman though, I'm actually looking forward to editing this one. Of course, it might be way too early to tell on this sucker, seeing as how I've only been legitimately working on it for a grand total of two weeks now, but I have a good feeling about it. I sort of know where I want this story to go and even though I know that what I'm writing right now isn't fitting into that most tentative of tentative mental plans, I know that I need to write it. It's the raw "blahsome" for my future "awesome".

Whew... Long and rambly that.


  1. Interesting: your ideas grow organically - a little thinking and considering the characters and it rains words! You have a flexible process but it sounds like it works great for you! Thanks for sharing. :)

  2. You make it sound so easy, rather than the agonizingly insecure process it is sometimes. But I like that idea of them growing organically. I hadn't really thought of it like that before.

  3. My first draft is sort of an outline, too, though I've started outlining more in recent books. Thanks for sharing your process!

  4. I like that your process is flexible, it seems more organic to the story. Thanks for sharing your process, I enjoyed reading about it.

  5. I still haven't edited my Nano 09 novel either (also my first completed novel MS). I started too, realized how crappy it was, got discouraged, and put it away. I still love the characters, and I'm going to rewrite them a better story...some day. Thanks for sharing your process, and good luck!


  6. I usually do rewriting instead of line by line editing in revision, too. I need to get faster at 1st drafts.

  7. Hehe I only discovered the term 'panster' this blogfest ;) Funny the things you miss and then learn way after everyone already knows 'em, huh? :P

    I love that you came back to that first story for NaNo '09. Guess it was meant to be :)

  8. Believe it or not, I'd only heard the term "panster" this past NaNo. I'd heard the term "seat of the pants writer" before, but not the specific name "panster". I didn't like it at first, since it brings to mind elementary school pranks, but hey, whatcha gonna do?