Insecure Writer’s Support Group: Changing My Spots

Insecure Writer's Support GroupToday is May’s instalment of Insecure Writer’s Support Group, which sees hundreds of writers and bloggers worldwide post about their insecurities, support others with theirs, and offer up advice for overcoming them. If you want to visit the other IWSG member blogs, or sign up yourself, you can do so here.

There are those who say people don’t change, that old habits die hard, that leopards…well, you get the picture. But that doesn’t have to be the case.

I’m sure, as writers, we all know that there’s always something new to learn, or a new viewpoint to consider, that we don’t, never have, and will never know it all. It’s important to be open to change, otherwise we simply keep making the same mistakes over and over. I’m sure we’ve all got the unfinished manuscripts to prove it.

I used to insist that I was a discovery writer, that plotting simply did not work for me. And, you know what? It was true. Plotting didn’t work. But it wasn’t because the concept of it was wrong, just that my method was.

It’s taken a long time, and a lot of unfinished stories (and, actually, a lot of soul-searching too) to discover how I plot, and what systems and strategies are right for me. But that’s what it’s all about, right? Trial and error.

So this is me now, elbow deep in plotting. Lots of pens, lots of index cards, lots of colour. And, not only is it working for me, but I’m loving it too. I’m a convert!

Plotting

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This is Not My Draft

PlotI’ve never been much of a plotter, or forward planner, either with my writing, or in life. I’m a bit of a drifter, always trusting that the answer will make itself apparent sooner or later.

I guess I live on trust. Or hope. Or some naïve notion of universal balance.

But it’s not always sensible to be so flippant about forward planning. My lifetime’s worth of unfinished novels will tell you that.

I’ve always been a staunch discovery writer (or pantser if you prefer. It’s not a phrase I like, but that’s a discussion for another day.) I’d like to say it’s an attitude that’s served me well, but that would be a lie. It’s served me, well, okishly. It certainly works for short stories. I can happily jump into a 7,000 word piece with little more than a vague idea of a possible ending. Longer pieces? Like I already said, I have a lifetime’s worth of unfinished ones, so I guess that’s your answer.

So, I became a plotter. A loose plotter, but a plotter nonetheless. And now? Well, you can grab either Cutting the Bloodline or The Bottle Stopper from Amazon, and my next book is just a few chapters off the end of its first draft. So, I’m guessing it works.

But, still, the first draft is not entirely my own. I start it, that’s for sure: I create the characters, dress them, give them existing relationships, and drop them into their world. I nudge them around the plotline, gently leading them back onto track when they need it. But I give them their freedom. They usually start asking for some leeway at around 15k-20k words. They know their own minds at that point, and aren’t so keen about the constant prodding.

But if there’s one thing I’ve learnt about writing, it’s that my characters are far cleverer than me.

My current work in progress, the 2nd book in The Paper Duchess Series, hit that point a couple of days ago. One of my main characters dropped one heck of a clanger, and changed not only her own mind about something, but also forced a completely new ending to the book, and, in turn, the requirement for a new title. It was kind of earth-shattering. But, you know, this ending is so much better, it’s improved character dynamics, and brought this character up from a passive wimp to a fully engaging, proactive superhero.

So, yeah, I still let my characters wander. And if I have to cross out items on my plot, if I have to go back and add extra foreshadowing, even if I have to spend another few weeks agonising over finding a new title, I’m happy to do that.

The first draft belongs to my characters. The second draft, that’s when I get to wield my power through a big red pen.

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Why a Gamer is My Perfect Alpha Reader

Madmut ReloadedBefore publication, there are two kinds of readers a writer needs.

There are the famous Beta Readers; those that read the full book, picking up on the final edits and polishes needed to create the final published version. Beta Readers are absolutely worth their weight in gold.

Alpha Readers, meanwhile, fulfil an altogether different role. These guys are truly special. They work with the story at the planning stage, often before a single word of it has been written, before it has been fully outlined.

My Alpha Reader is my husband. He helps me plot out stories on long car journeys, quiet Sunday afternoons, while I wash and he dries. Sometimes, on special occasions, we’ll plot stories in coffee shops, over coffee and cake.

He helps me rank up the conflict, and comes up with practical solutions to my plot holes, and when I plot my characters into corners.

My husband’s a gamer. I often refer to myself as an X-Box widow, and joke that I come second in his affections (at least, I hope it’s just a joke!)

But his gaming obsession has taught him skills that I can really make use of: how to think himself out of a tight spot, how to utilise the tools around him, how to use the setting. It’s taught him about rising tension, conflict, story structure, and climaxes. It’s taught him about quests, character growth, and story arcs.

He may not be a huge reader, but he’s the best Alpha Reader I could hope for.

And by the way, if you’d like to watch him gaming, you can at http://twitch.tv/madmut_reloaded

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