And now . . . here’s my online friend Shari Cylinder, talking about how to plot–or not to plot–a novel. Enjoy.
Hi, everyone! My name is Shari, and I have a confession to make:
I’m addicted to Candy Crush.
Like so many other people, I’ve been playing for well over a year now. Sometimes I squeeze in a game during my free time, sometimes I open the app while simultaneously listening to an audiobook, and sometimes I use it as a reward – for every paragraph I write in a synopsis, or every five queries I send, or every thousand words I draft, I get to take a quick break and play a round.
Is it mindless? On the surface, yes. But there’s often a strategy to it. Planning ahead, calculating which candies to move and which blocks to break, saving certain bonuses until specific times … there are ways to complete the puzzles faster and more successfully. Taking a step back to analyze the rounds, to figure out how the pieces fit together, always helps me out.
It probably isn’t a surprise, then, that I’m the kind of writer who likes to plan, plan, plan. Outlining isn’t my thing – I don’t like to know all the steps of a book ahead of time, because then I’d miss out on the joy of letting the characters lead me down their own paths – but I do spend several weeks doing research before diving into a new project. I jot down specific ideas for the beginning, middle, and end. I do character sketches. I devote hours to reading about the places I’m setting the story, the history of traditions I’m including, and the professions and passions of my characters. It’s one of my favorite parts of the process.
I have learned the coolest things. Did you know that the idea of wishing wells is rooted in European folklore? Or that the oldest message in a bottle was floating in the ocean for ninety-eight years before it was found? I mean, seriously, how cool is that? No matter what comes of my books, I’ll always be grateful for the fascinating information I’ve stumbled upon because of them.
But that’s only the foundation of the puzzle. The framework. The straight-edged pieces.
Filling in the center, taking the frame and painting the picture that goes inside, is what I adore most.
Sometimes that happens from the outset. With the book I’m currently querying, I truly could not get enough of the drafting phase. I’d wake up with the sun each morning, so eager to sit down at my writing desk and immerse myself in my characters’ worlds. Of all the stories I’ve ever written, that experience was the most joy-filled. It reminded me why I write, why I will always write. The book I’m working on now, though? The drafting process didn’t come as easily, and it wasn’t until the final third of the novel that my fingers were consistently flying across the keys. It was disappointing at first. Discouraging. Now, many months later, as I’m on the verge of finishing up my fourth round of revisions, I understand that it’s actually the opposite. Because this book has taught me to love editing. It’s taught me to be open to making monumental changes, even if they seem overwhelming at first. The story I have now has come so far from those first words on the page. It has evolved, and improved, and grown (even as the actual word count has shrunk!). I am so proud of what it’s become and so excited to share it.
Every book is different. Every writing experience is different. Each is its own puzzle, and what I fully understand now is that it’s okay to snap the pieces together in a unique way. The outline, then the middle. One side, then the other. Smaller chunks, then bigger ones. What works for one project won’t work for another, and do you know what? That’s a good thing. An awesome one. It means we’re always moving forward, learning about ourselves not only as writers, but also as people. Eventually everything will interlock together, and when it does, it’ll make the countless hours of hard work so very, very worth it.
Now if only I could figure out how to fit the pieces together in the round of Candy Crush I’ve been stuck on forever …