Writing Life #3

As a regular feature, our authors periodically answer an interview question to provide a glimpse into the mysteries of their minds.

What is the usual evolution for your works-in-progress from concept to final draft?

Connie J. Jasperson:

I usually begin with an idea, a sudden leap of the mind from a picture or a causal reference that makes me think “What if….” I doodle a bit, and write down a list of things that might flesh that wicked idea out.

If it really seems like something that I could get my teeth into, my mind really takes off. I will spend hours making a list of plot points to write to, and then write the back history for the characters. I’m a retired bookkeeper, so I use Excel to make flow charts and create calendars to ensure the timeline remains relatively straight for the characters. I design the creatures. I’ll even draw maps, if it’s a fantasy.

Once I have the whole thing cemented in my mind, I sit down and begin by writing the vignettes for each plot point on my list, eventually they get connected in the right order. I do a happy dance, and bask in the glory…. Then I throw the first draft into the trash, along with several curse words and a few handfuls of hair.

Starting over from scratch, I wing it. Somehow, after a year of misery, a miracle happens, and the blessed thing has a beginning, a middle and an end. If I’m really lucky, a good story has somehow worked its way onto the pages!

David P. Cantrell:

This question is a real challenge to me. I haven’t reached the final draft stage on my first novel. I thought I had and published it in July on Kindle. After that, I started on the second and final book in the series and was about eighty percent complete by yearend. In January I “unpublished” book one and stopped writing book two. At present I’m in re-write mode and will have a final draft by 2020. I’m afraid to be more precise—every other self-imposed deadline has been missed. So, I’m going off topic and share some of my mistakes and experiences. I can go off topic without fear—I’m not being graded or paid.

One: Just start writing. You don’t need to spend hours developing plot points, they’ll come to you as you write. This is a mistake smothered in the gravy of truth. Some of us don’t do well outlining our thoughts—we freeze when we try. Writing without ridged plot points is fine, but you need a goal. I’ve made several false starts because my initial idea lacked legs. If I had thought a bit more about the idea, I may have saved a good deal of wasted time. Wasted may be the wrong word because I learned in the process.

Two: You can’t rely on your family and friends to give you useful feedback. Actually you can, but it’s not the feedback you need the most. My wife, a very smart lady with many a book under her belt, was extremely valuable to me. She watched for continuity issues, caught several typos and encouraged me when she liked a character or passage. I definitely needed her. Others caught typos and misused words which was helpful too. However, their feedback was clouded by our relationship. They couldn’t see, or wouldn’t share, the slow or confusing passages. They tolerated long-winded sections that did nothing to move the story along. In short, they were inexperienced. Find independent beta readers. You don’t have to pay them; many will do it for fun. The Goodreads.com community is a place to start.

I have more I could say, but I will not hog this stage. I’m not being graded or paid, but I’d rather not incur the wrath of my fellow staff members.

Lee French: 
Step one: Brilliant idea.
Step two: Apply chocolate and sleep.
Step three: Realize supposedly ‘brilliant idea’ was, in fact, stupid. Tweak idea until actually brilliant.
Step four: Write opening scene.
Step five: Scrap opening scene and rewrite.
Step six: Panic about having no good ideas for a plot.
Step seven: Cease panicking and write outline.
Step eight: Write words. Lots of words.
Step nine: Let someone else read first draft.
Step ten: Re-read first draft, change almost everything.
Step eleven: Pretend this iteration is the final draft and send to small collection of beta readers.
Step twelve: Beg beta readers for feedback more often than is truly necessary.
Step thirteen: Be surprised by lack of negative feedback and re-read, certain something must need to be changed.
Step fourteen: Give up on changes and proofread.


Author: Lee French

Lee French lives in Olympia, WA with two kids, two bicycles, and too much stuff. She is an avid gamer, casual bicyclist, and lackluster gardener. Most of her writing is done in a Beanbag of Comfort +4. Best known for her young adult urban fantasy series, SPIRIT KNIGHTS, Lee is an active member of SFWA, PNWA, and NIWA.

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