Ten Ylva authors talk about their writing process
Hearing about the writing processes of different authors is always fascinating, because each one is as unique as the books they produce. Some write while listening to music; others need complete silence. Some write longhand into beautiful notebooks; others type, and some authors even dictate their novels. When it comes to their planning style, writers can be divided into plotters—writers who plans out the book beforehand—and pantsers—those who write by the seat of their pants and discover the story as they write.
We wanted to know where some of our Ylva authors fall on the spectrum of plotter vs. pantser. Read below to find out their answers.
Caren Werlinger, author of Turning for Home and Cast Me Gently
I’m probably somewhere in between. When I’m getting ready to start a new book, the story percolates in my mind for a while, the characters take shape, and I get a general idea of where the plot will go. I don’t actually outline, though. As the writing proceeds, I have to keep reminding myself where the story was originally supposed to go, and we almost always get there, but sometimes the characters take a roundabout way of getting there. There were a couple of my books that only had a kernel of an idea to kick it off, like a memory of an old house from when I was a kid—and an entire book grew from wondering what kind of stories that house could tell.
I’m writing a fantasy now, and I actually had to outline for the first time. I cut out little bits of paper with plot points on them and shuffled them around until they felt as if they were in the right order and then taped them down. It felt very strange to me to have to do that!
Lois Cloarec Hart, author of Broken Faith and Stone Gardens
When I start a novel, I know the characters, my starting point, and my ending point. I don’t know every scene or plot twist that will be contained within, because half the fun for me is discovering the story as I write. I guess that makes me more of a pantser than a plotter. EL Doctorow once said “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” I often look at my writing the way Michelangelo looked at a block of stone. He believed that the work of art he would create was already contained within, and his job was to carve until he had freed it. I work with words the same way. The story is there, waiting to be told, but I don’t know each scene until I put my fingers to my keyboard. That’s the fascination and fun of it for me.
What I do need to have in place before I can write is the opening line and character names. When the former comes to me, I know I’m ready to go, and I will often agonize over the latter because they have to be just right. That doesn’t necessarily mean my characters will have names that I like, only names that reflect who they are and the era they were born in. I’m very conscious of naming characters appropriately, so I’m not going to give a middle-aged woman a name that only became trendy in the past decade, no matter how much I like that name. When in doubt, I use this website to double-check my selections.
Catherine Lane, author of The Set Piece
Before working on my current novel, Public Domain, I would have said I was a more of a pantser. I always had a general idea of where I wanted things to go, but was often surprised where a scene or a character would end up. With this new manuscript, I wrote up a full synopsis with the first three chapters, and I have to say, it’s very comforting being able to lean against this foundation as I get deeper into the story. That said, Maggie, one of the main characters, definitely has a mind of her own. As it turns out, I can’t stop her from making her own choices, even if I wanted to!
Cindy Rizzo, author of Getting Back
I think of this as a spectrum (like gender!) and think I’m on the pantser side but with some plotter behaviors thrown in. In many cases throughout my three books, the pantser approach worked for me. For example, in Exception to the Rule, there’s a scene where Tracy runs out of the dorm when Robin starts kissing someone else right in front of her. When I wrote that I had no idea where Tracy was going to go and what would happen. So I let the writing take me there and the scene where she walks to the gay bar and meets her eventual “fairy Godmother” Charlie just came to me. I doubt if I had meticulously plotted out the book I would have thought of that. It was a much more right-brain experience (creative) than a left-brain (logical) one. With Getting Back, so much of my main character Elizabeth Morrison’s journey came to me as I was writing.
That said, I tend to get very plotter-ish in the second half of the book when it becomes really clear to me what is going to happen and in what sequence. At that point I scope out each scene in order through to the end so I don’t forget anything. That last one-third of the book is usually the part I write the fastest.
Blythe Rippon, author of Barring Complications and the upcoming Stowe Away
I fall somewhere in between. I start conceiving of a novel through conflict—with my current novel, Stowe Away, I wanted to write about someone who is in some ways her own worst enemy, but who has a wealth of gifts she wants to share with the world. I was also interested how external factors influence someone’s sense of self and place in this world. Once I decide on the main conflicts and themes, I write a very barebones outline that contains the basic trajectory of the story and a few mile markers along the way. Everything else just happens as I write. For example, in Stowe Away, the protagonist Sam took me in some directions I wasn’t expecting, and some of the secondary characters I had in mind became more or less important as I wrote. Incidentally, my process was the same for my first novel, Barring Complications. I wrote it in five parts, and I knew how each part would begin and end before I launched into writing.
RJ Nolan, author of L.A. Metro and In A Heartbeat
I fall somewhere in the middle with a lean toward the “pantsers” side. Before I write a single word of the story I create extensive bios for the main characters which also include any major backstory events that contributes to the story I want to tell. Secondary characters get created at this point as well as their significance to the main characters. Then lastly, I do research on any specialized information I need.
I have a basic outline in my head of where I want the story to go, but that’s the extent of my plotting. Once I start writing sometimes the story takes off in an unexpected direction. And to me that’s always a good thing. I’ve learned to let go and let my muse take over. I’ve had that happen to me several times as I worked on my upcoming novel Wounded Souls and it has resulted in some of the most powerful scenes in the book.
Lee Winter, author of The Red Files
I am a fully committed “plontser.” I plot out all the main story points, know exactly where I’m going at all times and which key points I want to hit in each chapter. However, I don’t work out the minor points of how to get to each of these markers. That gives me a little bit of freedom to amble about, looking at where my characters want to take me, while still keeping focused on the big picture, so I don’t shoot off on a tangent.
This approach means I’m less likely to have to go back later and kill any writing babies—i.e. those adorable, time-wasting pages of scribblings you come up with that you’re madly in love with but that have little to do with advancing your plot. And since I’m firmly against the heartache of literary infanticide, a little bit of disciplined plotting goes a long way later.
Jae, author of Next of Kin and Just Physical
I’m somewhere in between, but a little bit more on the “plotter” side of the spectrum. I usually know the turning points of the story and a few important things in between, but I don’t know every tiny thing that will happen. For example, when I wrote my recently released novel, Just Physical, I knew exactly how I wanted it to end, but many details of that climactic scenes were still a surprise to me. Also, my outline is never set in stone. I always adjust it when the plots starts to head into an unexpected direction that makes sense. But overall, I work best when I know exactly what will happen in a scene I’m about to write and in the handful of scenes ahead. That way, I never suffer from writer’s block.
G Benson, author of All the Little Moments
Oh, I’m the biggest pantser that ever did pants. I get an idea, I start typing, and suddenly I’m 20,000 words into something I didn’t know was even in my mind. Sometimes in one of my writing binges, I’ll be raising my eyebrows at my screen because a character surprised me. When writing All the Little Moments, the conflict towards the end was something I didn’t plan at all. Often at the halfway point, when I can see where a story is going, I’ll write the odd note or idea so I remember. Whether or not I follow that is another thing altogether. I was reading some Post-its I’d written for a story I’m currently writing that simply said, “Meeeeeemoorrrriiiiies.” Memories? Memories of what? An embarrassing incident? Her parents? The time she farted at school and felt embarrassed? I still have no idea.
Fletcher DeLancey, author of The Caphenon and Without a Front: The Warrior’s Challenge
I wrote a blog post on this very topic earlier this year, explaining the differences and revealing one of the most famous planners of modern literature. I do make a general outline of where I want the book to go, but that doesn’t mean I stick to it. To me, books and characters are organic creatures. They grow and change and develop their own preferences, and my job as a writer is to let that process happen—to get out of its way while smoothing its path. Too many authors try to wedge their plots or characters into preconceived ideas (read: a planned outline), and the result is usually very apparent to readers in the form of actions that seem out of character, plot developments that feel contrived, etc.
Pantsing is not easy, because it requires an ability to weave threads into the storyline as one goes along. The end result should be so smooth that the reader has no idea the author didn’t know her character would do X. But plotting isn’t easy either, because it requires the author’s willingness to let go when the story or characters take a left turn off that outline.
My personal preference: pantsing for the win.
To read another interview with these ten Ylva authors, head over to: http://sandragerth.com/fast-drafting-or-writing-slowly/