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These are my writing posts from my former blog, spanning 2009-2012. To see new writing posts, click on the blog tab above. To see these archived post organized by topic, click "For Writers" above.

Entries in vanilla ice (1)

Monday
Oct312011

Stop, Collaborate, and Listen: Plot Building for the Character Driven Writer by Ashley March

It's guest Monday and today Ashley March is not only going to give you a peek inside her newly revised writing method, she's also going to get Ice, Ice Baby in your head for the rest of the freaking day. You've been warned. :)

 

Characters andPlot: Can’t We All Just Get Along?
by Ashley March
 Iam a character-driven author who recently decided that I needed to learn toplot. Oh, the agony! The despair! I cannot tell you the turmoil this created(or, to put it bluntly, the general suckiness of my writing as a result). OnceI plotted the story, suddenly I couldn’t get into my characters’ heads. I hadan outline of where I wanted the story to go, and the characters had to followalong like the good little puppets that they were. Of course, they refused.Imagine it as a movie set and I’m the director. The actors knew the script, butthey kept trying to improvise their lines, while I lurched out of my chair andcut them off on a continual basis. The movie (or, rather, the book) got made,but in the end it was uneven and lacked substance because the characters andthe plot were at complete odds the entire way through production (which, yes,meant major revisions—also not fun).
This is not an experience I ever wish to repeat again. Honestly, I’d rather have mytwo-year-old throw a tantrum every hour on the hour for a hundred days ratherthan go through something similar with another story. Since I’ve now finishedthat book and turned in edits, it’s time to move on to a new one! And I thoughtyou guys might be interested in seeing the change in my process from the oldstory to the new, as well as what I’ve learned as a result. I’m calling this my“Ice Ice Baby” remix, now more appropriately named: “Write Write Baby”.

 
*waitsfor eyes to stop rolling* :D
Ashley’s “WriteWrite Baby” Process
1)      Find the hook.
Quite simply,every story begins with an idea. I don’t care if your hook is “high concept” ornot. All you need to know at this point is the basic idea—what about this storymakes you get excited and want to write it? For my September release, ROMANCINGTHE COUNTESS, the hook is about a widow and widower who fell in love aftertheir cheating spouses died. For SEDUCING THE DUCHESS, my 2010 debut, the hookis about a duke who kidnaps his wife and tries to get her to fall in love himagain. This doesn’t have to be an agent pitch. It’s not fancy. It’s your idea—your wonderful, unique,I-am-a-Mensa-genius idea, and that’s it.
If you’llnotice, this hook/idea features two very important components, both of whichare equal in significance: the characters and the plot.

 
2)      Then STOP, collaborate, and listen.

a)     STOP.
Now, if we wereplotting this baby out the way I plotted the previous monstrosity mentionedabove, then we’d start at Point A (otherwise known as The Beginning) and workout what happens in general synopsis format until we reach Point B (The End).We’d think about our characters and maybe draw up their backstory so we canfigure out what their emotional investment and motivation is in the plot. We’dwrite about what we foresee happening throughout the story; we’d come up withclever scenes and cool twists and end with a fantastic climax and neat littleresolution tied up in a bow. And after that’s done, voila! We have everything we need to start writing…right? Wrong (at least for me).
This is going tosound a little…well, I suppose insaneis the most appropriate word to use, but since we’re all writers here, I trustthat we’ve each already reached that stage of madness. :)
b)     Collaboratewith your characters to begin the book.
After you findyour hook, you don’t start plotting. No, you find out who your characters are(do whatever you must to find out their backstory, their GMCs, etc.—whateverworks for you; I’m a big fan of opening a blank document and free writing asthe characters tell me who they are). Once this is done, you look at your hook,your idea, and as the author you keep this at the back of your mind. But withthe character whispering in your ear, you let them dictate where to begin thestory. They can’t tell you anything else about the story, because they don’tknow what’s going to happen yet.
Note #1: Withthe book that I had such troubles with, everything I wrote was from an author’sPOV. I decided how the story was going to begin, and I wrote the scene thatway. While I have to be honest and tell you that the scene isn’t terrible atall, it didn’t satisfy me because I dictated what would happen. In contrast, Idid these first steps with my debut, SEDUCING THE DUCHESS (hook, stop,collaborate), and I’ve had multiple readers tell me it’s the best openingchapter they’ve ever read. And when I wrote it, all I knew was that the dukewas going to kidnap his wife. The difference? I wrote that scene from thecharacter’s POV, from the man I knew him to be. The conclusion? This canactually work. (By “author’s POV”, I do not mean it as a literary term, i.e.“omniscient”. I mean that you’re writing as if you’re the dictator pulling thecharacter-puppet’s strings. “Character’s POV”, then, means that you’re so deepin the character that you’re writing it as if the character is truly in charge.) 
Note #2: I knownot everyone writes in a linear fashion as I do, and that’s perfectly fine! ButI stress starting at the beginning at this point because I believe that how youstart the book influences everything else that comes afterward. Mostimportantly right now, it influences the tone and your immersion into thecharacter’s POV.
Note #3: I knowsome people are going to read this and think that it might sound good, but haveabsolutely no idea how to “collaborate with your character”. Let me put in adifferent, applicable way: Answer the following question. What is the firstthing your character sees or knows at the beginning? In SEDUCING THE DUCHESS,the duke saw his wife and knew he intended to kidnap her. In ROMANCING THECOUNTESS, the heroine saw the canopy of her bed overhead as she waited for herunfaithful spouse to return home. In the new story I’m about to write, the heroknows that someone is watching him. In each of these examples, we start thebook off immediately in the character’s head. As a result, the tone of thescene, your character’s voice, and the tone of that book (usually) can also beestablished inside your head.
c)     Listen.
Once you writethat first scene with the knowledge of the idea for the book in the back ofyour head, you can start brainstorming how you want the plot to unfold. Buthere’s the really important part: don’t stop listening and collaborating withyour characters. Don’t plot out the entire book all by yourself after thebeginning. Instead, listen for ideas from your characters for scenes you mightwant to include. If you come up with a great idea for a twist or the ending, beprepared to ditch it if the characters don’t lead you down that route. Thedeeper involved in the story you become through the characters, the deeper intothat world your readers will fall, too.
Conclusion, or What I’ve Learned
Here’sthe truth: I think you can write a terrific book without doing this. If you wereborn a plotter, this is probably advice that you’d be better off ignoring,anyway. But if you’re character-driven like I am and you’ve always longed forthe discipline of plotting, here’s a chance to learn from my experience as apantser and then a plotter, and how I’ve discovered to combine the two.
AsI said before, I’m sure you can write a terrific book without this process. Butfor me, the difference between doing what I suggest above and what I did before(focusing more on the plot than the characters) is the satisfaction with thestory. To me there is nothing to describe the joy I get from writing when I’mdeep in the characters’ heads and am discovering everything from theirperspectives. I become emotionally invested and pour my heart into every word.But when I plot everything out and then tell the characters what to do, I feeldetached. It’s no longer a joy, but just work. I don’t care about the words; Icare about finishing the book. And in my opinion, that’s not what writing issupposed to be at all.
Afterhearing back from several readers who read the book I just finished, they allsaid they loved it, but I know I will never be satisfied with it, no matter howmany edits or revisions I make. It will always be the book I wish I could havescrapped and started completely fresh. Even though I’ve spent several monthswriting and editing/revising, I still don’t feel emotionally connected. This iswhy I knew I had to try something different, and if you’re faltering betweenwanting to focus on your characters and thinking that a “good” writer plots, Ioffer this alternative. It’s already made a world of difference for me, and Ihope it does for you, too.
Have you ever found that a certainprocess takes away your joy in writing? What did you change to get it back?

 
AshleyMarch is a historical romance author who lives in Colorado with her adoring (oris that adorable?) husband, her two young daughters, and their dog. Her latestbook, ROMANCING THE COUNTESS, was released by NAL Penguin in September 2011,and she is currently working on the fabulous beginnings of her next twoprojects: the story of Joanna and Ethan, two secondary characters from herVictorian debut; and the first book in a series set in 1920s Long Island.





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