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Posts Tagged ‘Plotting’

Meet Trent Jamieson …

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on December 7, 2010

I first met Trent at a Vision meeting back in 97, when Marianne and I were running the Vision Writers Workshop. He was working in a bookstore and writing short stories. Trent has had over 70  short stories published and his Urban Fantasy Trilogy Death Works is being published by Orbit.

We invited Trent along to the ROR we held in Varuna, because we knew we’d all benefit from his insight and we thought we needed some input from the male point of view.

Trent is one of life’s true romantics. His stories are both wonderfully whimsical and nicely ironic.

Trent has a copy of his latest book ‘Managing Death’ to give away. See the give-away question at the end of this post.


 

 

Q: Your stories have been finalists in the Aurealis Awards many times and have won two Aurealis Awards, yet I had trouble finding a complete list of your stories and where they were available. Are you not writing short stories any more?

I really should do something about putting a bibliography on my website. I guess there’s at least thirty stories I’ve published that I’d rather never see the light of day again, another thirty that I think are suspect and a handful that I’m happy with. Which may explain why I’m not writing any short fiction at the moment.

Short stories are too easy to screw up, and I’ve had a good twenty years of writing them (I started submitting short stories before my eighteenth birthday) so I don’t think there’s a pressing need for me to be writing them. Which doesn’t mean I won’t write any more, but right now I’m happy doing the novels.

Though, you never know when a story might grab you…

Q:Your Death Works trilogy is being published by Orbit. The trilogy is set in Brisbane, based on the premise that Death is a corporate business and your main character starts out as a little cog in a big machine. The Brisbane setting is evident and lovingly defined. Was there any resistance from your UK publisher to an Australian setting like Brisbane?

As far as I know there was no resistance from either my US or UK publisher. And these books are unashamedly set in Brisbane, but, hey, not every Urban Fantasy novel can be set in New York, New Orleans, London or Melbourne.

Q: You seem to be having a lot of fun with the whole Death as a Corporation premise. Where did this idea come from? Have you worked for a faceless corporation?

I just thought it would be an interesting approach to the grim reaper. Not so much a mystical job, but a job. And with the first book I was also writing with Work Choices very much in mind, things were looking for tough for workers and Unions, at the time, and I just reckoned that it would be even tougher for someone who worked for death. Must be the time for it, there’s a bit of a reaper vogue going on at the moment.

Don’t we all work for faceless corporations at one time or another – though they’re never really faceless. It’s the faces that make corporations interesting to write about. They’re states, cults and ideologies all rolled into one. I’ve had some interesting (and eccentric) bosses in my time, and there’s a bit of (some of) them in Mortmax.

Q: It is every writer’s dream to sell a trilogy. Yours wasn’t completed when you sold it. Have you found it challenging writing a book, while editing the previous one?

Yes, I was like the dog that catches the car. What do I with it now? Writing’s always challenging, and you never really know if you can do something until you’ve done it.

With all three books put to bed now, I think I can say that I know I can do this. Though, who knows, the next books I write may not go as smoothly (please ignore this, dear publishers).

It was harder than I expected in some ways – turns out, even with calendars and charts I still have a terrible grasp of time within a story – and easier, Steve’s voice often just dragged me through the narrative.

Q:You were working as editor for RedZine in 2001 How did this come about and what did you learn as a writer and editor while doing this job?

I learnt that editing wasn’t really for me, if I wanted to write. I also learnt that you really need to hook the reader from the beginning or you lose them, which I thought I already knew before this, but editing really drove it home.

Oh, and you should really read a magazine’s submission guidelines – they’re there to help you.

 

Q: Around this time Prime published a collection of your stories called ‘Reserved for Travelling Shows’. What did you learn in the process of compiling this anthology and is it still available?

One, that I had a bit of a death obsession, and two that really it was too early in my career to publish a collection. It’s a journeyman collection, and while there are some good stories in there, like all journeyman collections there’s some (to put it politely) not so good stuff, too.

It’s still available, and if you put the title into Google Books you can read a fair chunk of it.

Q: You’ve taught at Clarion South, and are currently teaching Creative Writing at QUT. You were a member of VISION for many years and you’ve been a member of ROR for the last 7 years so you have plenty of experience at critiquing. What is the most valuable thing you have learnt over the years about the craft of writing?

Be interesting, that is write what interests you, not what you think should be interesting or what you think you SHOULD be writing. The rewards of writing have to come from the writing itself first, and how can it be rewarding if you are writing something that really isn’t you, and that your heart really isn’t into.

Joy, enthusiasm, and peculiarity, these things make good writing for me.

Q: I believe you have handed in book three of the Death Works series. What is your next project?

I’ve three things that I’m working on. One is something that we critiqued in ROR, a duology called Roil and Night’s Engines. Another is a kid’s series called the Players (I’ve book One written, but I’m waiting on some feedback for that one) and, finally, I’m getting some notes and scenes together for book 4 and 5 of the Death Works Series – there’s still things I want to say about that world.

Q: When Marianne and I approached you back in 2003 to see if you’d like to join ROR, you agreed and have been part of the group ever since. ROR is very different from the VISION writing group in that we critique our novels in progress and we’re all published in novel length fiction. Did you find ROR helped you in developing or directing your writing? And if so, in what ways?

The simple answer is that I didn’t have a novel published before I joined ROR and now I do.

ROR to me is part critiquing group, part family. I find every member of ROR (awe)inspiring, and it’s great to have some wonderful writers with very different approaches to writing as friends and confidantes.

Q: At ROR we always do our realistic goals and our dream goals. So what are your realistic goals and what are your dream goals?

Finish my current projects by the end of 2011, I think that’s realistic enough. As for, dream goal, keep writing what I want, but with a few less financial pressures would be nice, but if not, well, I’m kind of living the dream now.


Give-away Question:

If you were charged with organising a meeting of the world’s Deaths, where would you host it and what food would you serve?

The competition will stay open until Monday night 13th December 6pm and the winner will be announced Tuesday morning on the blog.


 

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Posted in Australian Spec Fic Scene, Book Giveaway, Creativity, Editing and Revision, Genre Writing, Nourish the Writer, Publishing Industry | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 16 Comments »

Plotters Vs Pantsers

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on October 8, 2010

Chocolate – the life saver of writers.

I’m doing my Sunday Writing Craft Post early this week because I won’t get a chance over the weekend. It’s been a mad week for me at work and it’s not over yet, as I have commitments at Conquest this weekend. For anyone who is interested, Marianne de Pierres, Trent Jamieson and Kylie Chan will be there.  Here’s the programme, there’s panels and workshops. I’m doing my Pitching Workshop on the Sunday afternoon from 2-4pm.

After last week’s post on plotting Chris brought up an interesting point. He asked if writers of different genres plotted differently, for instance, were writers of hard SF more likely to be planners, than pantsers. (For those of you unfamiliar with this term a pantser is a writer who starts of with a character or a scene or an idea and let’s the story take them. They just grab ahold of that tiger’s tail and hold on).

I’ve chatted with lots of writers over the years about their style of plotting but I didn’t have a definitive answer, so I decided to survey some writing friends. I posted a list of questions asking what the genre/s they wrote,  whether they were pantsers or plotters and what length they wrote (short story or novel), whether this made a difference to their style of plotting and if they changed genre did they change their plotting style.

I surveyed the Vision list and the Darkside Romance list. These authors wrote in a wide variety of genres and across the age range. So we had:  children and young adult (across the genres), traditional paranormal romance (ie stand alone books where the hero and heroine end up together), dark urban fantasy, fantasy, horror, magic realism and science fiction. Some were dedicated to the novel length but most said they wrote both short and long fiction and they ranged from not published, through published in short stories, to published and also New York Times best seller authors. (Love being able to say that). Thanks to everyone who took the time to answer my survey!

I still don’t have a definitive answer to Chris’s question but I do have an insight.

When I asked writers if they were a plotter or a pantser the response was mixed, they could be both, depending on the length.

If they were a pantsers tended to say things like this writer:

‘Generally I have the feel of the story and a good sense of the world and the characters and I know how I want it to end, but exactly what the story is and how it will happen is then discovered as I write.’

I must admit, I did expect hard SF writers to be plotters yet the one writer who identified with this sub-genre of SF said:

‘I’m a plotter – but not a very thorough one. Generally, before I start writing, I’ll know what will happen to each of the main characters as the story unfolds – I tend to chart this with a rough timeline, splitting the novel into perhaps twenty ‘milestones’ with a sentence or two about who is doing what and why at each point, for each character. This is enough to get me started and generally keeps me on course to the end of the book. I also do character sketches and write a couple of pages about the ‘world’ to get me started. If the book is set in the future, I also sketch out a timeline for the various technical and social changes that have led to the ‘world’ of the book.’

So even though he didn’t plot every event, he did a lot of preparation before starting on the book because of the complexity. (Not that writing fantasy isn’t complex). Yet another SF writer said the opposite:

‘I think I’d be more inclined to pants-it on sci-fi because it seems to have more complex plotlines, and I don’t think I could imagine it all through without writing the story. Apart from that, if I was in love with a character I wouldn’t plot. I’d write her (or his) experiences to enjoy the journey and find out what happens together. Plotting first would ruin that.’

You’d think it would be simple enough to answer my questions with a yes or no, but these wonderful authors write across several genres, at different lengths, then they go and do things like experiment by plotting some books, and pansting others.

Others were wary of changing their plotting style. One author who favoured plotting felt ‘If I try to pants it, I end up in the most terrible mess.’

What was curious, was that if someone was a pantser for novels, they would often plot a short story. Or if they were a plotter for novels, they would pants a short story.

If they change their writing style from pantser to plotter for short stories it was because: ‘In short stories I tend to plot before I write — I find writing short stories is harder to be a panster, because short stories do not allow that “flexibility” to go off in to tangents.  One has to maintain focus.’

Alternatively, if they were a plotter for novels and they changed for short stories, they said things like this: ‘the shorter it is the less I plot!’

If they changed their plotting style it was because:   ‘The  odd  short  story that  comes  to  me  arrives  in  one package, so I  can  plot  in  advance. With  novels,  I  tend to  start  with  a  character  and a  situation and a general  idea  of  the  end,  so  I  have  to  flimmer  the first  draft,  at  least  until  I  have  an  idea  what the  plot  is!’

Many writers said the genre didn’t influence the way they plotted but others found it did.

‘The focus of the story/the genre does dictate how one plots e.g., a romance has to be closely plotted to the developing relationship with not many tangents, whereas a fantasy50/50 allows more plot other than the “romance”.’

Or their style of plotting changed ‘because some stories need a lot of world-building and/or backstory and/or timelines, so the ‘how’ varies from something that looks like a genealogy chart to something that covers the whole table with pieces of paper and card!’

So there you have it. There is no definitive answer on plotting styles when you look at genre. There isn’t even consistency in plotting style for authors regarding the story length because they switch from pantsing to plotting or vice a versa. Which just goes to show you why trying to organise anything with creative people is like trying to herd cats!

With something as individual as writing it all seems to come down to one thing, if it works, do it.

 

 

 

Posted in Genre Writing, Plotting, Writing Craft | Tagged: , | 22 Comments »

Plotting

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on October 2, 2010

The creative crucible. Writers create narratives built around plot and character from the intangible in their minds. You need a particular type of brain to do this. I came across an article on research in the brains of professional dancers. Turns out dancers brains are genetically different from footballers, who would have thought?

So creative people are different. For a glimpse of how different take a look at this article ‘The Essential Psychopathology of Creativity. The author says:

‘in order to be truly exceptional at something creative in nature, whatever domain it may be, you need to have those extreme traits that get you labeled by the DSM as meeting the criteria for some kind of a personality disorder.  However (and this is the catch), in order to have those extreme, intense traits and not suffer from a disorder, you also need to have some sort of regulatory mechanism that helps to control those traits.’

So we need to be obsessive but also in control.

Here is an article by David Brin, who is both a scientist and a writer. He says:

‘I believe writing was the first truly verifiable and effective form of magic. Think of how it must have impressed people in ancient times! To look at marks, pressed into fired clay, and know that they convey the words of scribes and kings long dead—it must have seemed fantastic. Knowledge, wisdom and art could finally accumulate, and death was cheated one part of its sting.’

And he makes this rather wry observation: ‘Imagine this. If all of the professional actors and entertainers died tomorrow, how many days before they were all replaced? Whether high or low, empathic or vile—art seems to pour from Homo Sapiens, almost as if it were a product of our metabolism, a natural part of ingesting and excreting. No, sorry. Art may be essential and deeply human, but it ain’t rare.’

What makes the difference between someone with a good idea and an author with many books published is persistence and dedication to the craft of writing and a little bit of luck. (Creating your own luck is a topic for another post).

There are people who plan their plots and people who just grow a plot (I’m one of those).  And then there are times when you are revising your manuscript and your vision for the book gets really muddy. We covered revising and editing a couple of weeks ago on the ROR blog.

While cleaning up the first book of my new trilogy (all 3 books due to go to the publisher early next year) I realised that I’d ended book one in the wrong place. This is after spending two months (snatching every moment I had free) to clean the book up and reaching near the end of the 600 page novel, only to come to this revelation.

I was not in a happy place. Well, actually it was a really happy place because I’d been having trouble with the start of book two. And suddenly I woke up (while at World Con) with the realisation that I’d ended book one too late and the last 100 + pages should have been at the beginning of book two. This would give me a much better intro to the characters and set up the story arc for the second book.

Of course as soon as I ended the book earlier, I realised I had the room and time to expand one of the View Point narrative threads and suddenly an extra layer of plot emerged.

That brings me back to plotting. The wonderful Holly Lisle has a page on her website called Plotting Under Pressure. This is a great look at how to pull a plot from almost nothing into something that makes sense, and how to do it in a very short space of time. She talks about your View Point characters, and then the word length and number of scenes.

A while ago the ROR blog covered Beware the Sagging Middle. And also Book Structure 101 . All of which brings me back to the book I’m currently working on.I’m itching to get back to it and pull the last 50 pages together, but before I can do this I need a couple of clear days so I can read it from beginning to end and ensure all the new scenes are integrated with the original chapters of the book.

So are you a planner or do your plots grow organicaly? Do you wake up with the solution to a plotting problem clear in your mind?

Posted in Characterisation, Creativity, Editing and Revision, Nourish the Writer, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , | 14 Comments »

Kylie Chan talks about Sustaining Plots

Posted by Rowena Cory Daniells on July 26, 2010

Kylie has kindly offered a Giveaway of her latest book ‘Hell to Heaven’ for one lucky reader of this blog.(See the question at the bottom of this post).

When I originally started the Dark Heavens series I had a basic plot line for three books – the main character, Xuan Wu’s departure, return, and then a big final confrontation.

When the first book, ‘White Tiger’, had already hit three hundred thousand words and he wasn’t even close to departing, I realized that it would take me slightly longer to produce the story than I expected.  I think it’s basically because I talk too much, and the story ran away with me.

So the original single novel of a departure turned into three: ‘White Tiger, Red Phoenix, Blue Dragon’, and the single novel of a return became three as well: ‘Earth to Hell, Hell to Heaven, Heaven to Wudang’.  I’m currently working on the third book of the second series, ‘Heaven to Wudang’, which in my head is book six of nine and I refer to as ‘Book Six’ most of the time anyway.

Each novel follows the standard writing format of buildup – climax – resolution, with a similar energy happening across all three of the novels as well.  So the end of book three, ‘Blue Dragon’, has an absolutely massive climax and conflict, and a resolution that is satisfying but still leaves a few questions unanswered – and a couple of main characters gone.  Then I’ve started with book four – Earth to Hell – and built the tension up again.

I keep the world building consistent by writing myself copious notes and reminders in a little folder.  Each list of ‘remember this, include this, tie this thread up’ is about a page, and I delete them as I deal with them, then add to them as I go back through my own writing.  I continually re-read the stuff that’s gone before, keep my timelines very straight in my head (that’s a three-page excel spreadsheet, month-by-month starting November 2001 which is when the story begins) and make sure that I never leave a plot thread hanging.

I also keep a list of the chapters and an overview of the plot running in my notes, and mark the action/characterization/slow/fast sections so that I can keep the balance.  For ‘Hell to Heaven’ I actually added a list of ‘who’s dead when’ so I didn’t have dead people popping up before they were supposed to!  I was asked about this in a seminar recently – ‘Leo’s dead, how can he be back?’ and I was delighted to be able to use a Joss Whedon quote – ‘he got better’.

‘Earth to Hell’, book four, starts eight years after the end of ‘Blue Dragon’.  This is me skipping the boring bits, and being held to my own plotting.  In ‘White Tiger’, the first book, I state that the minimum time it will take for Xuan Wu to return is ten years.  I don’t want to write eight years of ‘they waited for him to come back’ so I skip to the interesting part, just before he’s due to return.  This of course means that a main character who is six years old at the end of ‘Blue Dragon’ is now fifteen – a major leap in her characterization – but fortunately the readers haven’t complained at all.

I do have an over-reaching arc for the whole series, from the original three novels I plotted way back when the first was being written.  Despite the description I’ve given above of copious notes, however, I don’t do much in the way of plotting – it’s generally wind the characters up, let them go, and write down what happens to them.  I’m a seat-of-the-pants writer with a very general idea of where things are going – but I’m very definite about where the end is.  I know exactly where this story is headed and have written the end of book nine, which doesn’t have a name yet.

I did an unusually large amount of plotting for ‘Hell to Heaven’ – it was six lines of text.  And in the end I didn’t follow it exactly.  So most of the plot is in my head, I only have trouble keeping up with it once it’s on the paper!

I have made changes to the premise of the series as I’ve gone along.  The basic points, however, of what people ‘really are’ (fans plaintively ask me ‘what is Emma?’ and I refuse to answer) are exactly the way they are since I first started – very badly – writing the beginning of ‘White Tiger’.  I think this is what makes the series so popular; I know exactly where I’m going and the readers are happy to go along for the ride, confident that I’ll tie up all the threads and reveal everything they want to know when we reach the end of the ride.  And when we get there, I have no idea what I’ll do next!

The Giveaway question is: Who is your favourite Dark Heavens Character?

Leave your answer in the comments. This competition will be over until Sunday 31st July, when we will announce the winner.

Posted in Australian Spec Fic Scene, Book Giveaway, Creativity, Genre Writing, Visiting Writer, World Buildng, Writing Craft | Tagged: , , , , , , | 12 Comments »