The more I write novels the more I learn there’s no right or wrong way on how to conduct the preparatory work and then actually write the scenes.
There’s a prodigious amount of how-to books on writing available online, in bookstores and in libraries. Since joining a writers’ group in Henderson, Nevada, I’ve been reading some of those books. We get a once-a-month reading assignment and then discuss the book over drinks and dinner at a Las Vegas Tavern near The Strip.
This month we discussed a book on POV, and it was heartening to discover I didn’t make a mistake using third-person single POV in all three of my Larenia’s Shadow Trilogy novels. What I did find interesting is that authors can choose third-person multiple POV; that’s shifting POV from one character to another in a scene. I thought that was taboo. See what I know. Nowadays writers have the freedom to experiment, although too much experimenting can come back to haunt them. For example, using third-person multiple POV can result in what’s called head hopping, jumping from one character to another to another, and that can be disorienting for a reader. In other words, certain POVs should be chosen very carefully.
For the first two books of the trilogy, The Emperor’s Mistress and Thief’s Coin, I learned I approached each scene correctly … starting in omniscient POV to establish the setting and then sliding into the POV character. Nowadays third-person POV requires allowing the POV character to explore his world and options with internal thinking; readers want to get into the head of the POV character. I’m a head guy myself, so I do let my characters think long and hard on the implications of decisions. In fact, I sometimes worry that too much thinking can bog down an action scene. It’s a fine balance, I think.
The POV book’s author recommends interviewing your prime characters. I didn’t quite do that, but I did do biographies of each of my main characters. For the first book, back in 1990 I did write-ups describing their physical appearances and overviewed their lives, reviewing their strengths and weaknesses. Back in 1990, I printed out the character sketches, a rudimentary outline, a map and short history of the world and placed them in folders. I also backed them up on floppy disks and a really primitive external drive. In 1995, when I was writing the first draft of The Emperor’s Mistress, I discovered if I had my back-up disk in the external drive, it would short-circuit the startup of my ancient tower computer. I’d get an error message. Those were the days.
When I began researching and writing The Emperor’s Mistress back in 1989, I did the writing on a Mac Plus. During some of that time I worked for a training company and traveled a lot. When staying in a hotel I’d do my writing the old-fashioned way … pen and a notebook and then back at home typing it up on my Mac Plus. By the late ‘90s, I used a Packard Bell tower computer at home and a primitive company laptop when traveling. Needless to say, I had to transfer novel scenes between the laptop and the Packard Bell and even later a Gateway and then a Dell. Just a month ago I purchased a HP computer and transferred my WIP, Assassins’ Lair, from the Dell to the HP. The Dell’s operating system gave me a passel of problems. Even now when I look at the manuscript on my HP’s Word, some glitches from the Dell are cropping up. Don’t we love the computer age?
Two-thirds of the way through a rewrite of The Emperor’s Mistress in about 2007, I took a look at the last third of the book for the first time in a couple of years and discovered a nightmare. The last ten chapters were gibberish. Somewhere in the copying and transfer of the novel from computer to computer something went horribly wrong. So I had to undertake a total rewrite of those chapters, not an edit. Ultimately, I thought the conclusion of the novel ended up a better read after the rewrite. Better quality writing.
I do detailed-plot outlines. I’ve seen on Facebook that some writers don’t do outlines at all, but use the stream-of-consciousness approach. I can’t write that way. I need a roadmap, and not just showing the interstates; I need the state highways and the county roads. Back in early 2011 as I finished up Thief’s Coin, I did an overview sketch of the third book’s plot, and a more detailed outline of the first ten chapters.
Later in 2011, I began the third book, writing the first five chapters. But then my newspaper reporter’s job became too demanding, and I had little time to devote to the novel. When I did write, they were short stories I posted on my Facebook author’s page, my way of keeping my skills honed. I retired in January and moved to Henderson, Nevada, where I decided to finish book three and send it off to the publisher of my first two novels.
I had to read the already finished first five chapters to remind me of the plot and how my chief characters – a boy prince, a girl thief, a young sorceress and a wrinkly old mage – were persevering in their world of the Setor Empire. Then I started writing the new chapters, following the original outline. It didn’t take me long to divert from the outline, and by chapter eight the original outline of the first ten chapters was worthless.
By the time I finished chapter ten, I realized I needed to carry out a detailed outline of chapter eleven and onward until the end of the book. But I held up and took a chance. I wrote the next several chapters with just the broad conception in my head … it didn’t work. For four days in April, I wrote a detailed outline all the way to the end of the book, chapter by chapter, scene by scene with a POV assigned to each scene. It’s working well, I think. I’m just starting chapter twenty-one and I have eleven chapters to go. I recently looked back at my broad outline written in 2010, focusing on the book’s ending, and I can say that the current ending is vastly different except for the location. Who knows? My propensity to take detours may lead to even more changes in the ending. But that’s OK; it just means that my WIP, Assassins’ Lair, is a living, breathing document.
Book 1 in my trilogy is The Emperor’s Mistress; book 2, Thief’s Coin. The first two links are Amazon; the next two links, Barnes and Noble; the final link, my publisher, Wings ePress.