Blogs from 2013
Full Interview for Sherry Soule
Are you a plotter or a pantser (a seat-of-your-pants-writer)?
I’m a bit of both. Since I’m doing a little preview of my newest book on my site, I can show you just about exactly how much I plot (please see my original Chapter 1 outline in all its brief glory) and how much I “take dictation” from my characters once they get together (please see the actual Chapter 1, complete with name changes and expanded dialogue, action, and descriptions, all done just as quickly as I could write them.)
Why do you prefer one to the other?
I don’t. I just plot and brainstorm and then when I get a couple of characters talking to each other my brain explodes and story comes flowing out like goo. (Yuk.)
Do you think the pantser can exist without the plotter?
Not in my case. I need to do research, to think hard inside my own head, and—this is really important to me—to talk to friends who are now used to me saying, “Okay, so there’s this story, all right, with this guy who’s from this other world, and he’s in love with this girl, okay, but their love is forbidden for some reason—just help me a little here—I need it to be a reason strong enough that he’s put spells around his heart that contract and bust his heart to pieces if he ever admits his love—but the reason is—the reason could be, um . . . what do you think? No, wait! What if the reason is . . .”
Without gentle, patient friends to nurture me through this process, the difficult bits of my book would never be plotted, and the pantser would never get a chance to go crazy.
Can you describe your outlining process?
Absolutely—in fact, plea*se see it in Exhibit A, my plot outline for the first chapter of Strange Fate.
This is a relatively new outline, since I took out all the heroine’s (Sarah Strange’s) nightmares out when they overwhelmed the first version of the book and simply became a book of their own, now called The Last Lullaby, and sold to Farrar, Strauss and Giroux in the USA, and Hachette in the U.K. and France, as well as Newton Compton in Italy and publishers in Germany and Portugal, to my great delight.
So this is an outline from 2011 for the first chapter of Strange Fate, which is the epic ending to the Night World series, of which there are nine books collected in three omnibus editions. When I removed Sarah’s dreams of a desolate other world, I knew I was substituting chapters in which Ash Redfern, a recurring character in the Night World series, would be helping various soulmated couples who have already appeared in that series, each in their own book.
Thus there was no need to brainstorm Ash’s character or description; I knew it already. And since Ash is so well-known to all who enjoy the series, I decided to start the book with Sarah’s dream about his first encounter with one of the supremely evil creatures who have come to cover the world in blood and darkness.
I also needed a pawn to be cannon-fodder. Who? Some girl with a temper—might as well make her a redhead—and a sophisticated name—Madelyn in the outline; Madison in the book. Some girl who would play straight-woman to Ash’s ingenuous blend of selflessness and self-service. Make her a girl he’s dated and bitten and subsequently dropped. Okay—lights, camera, dialogue!
From the screenplay-like brevity of the outline I can tell that I was really inspired—I was “taking dictation” already, as fast as I could type each character’s lines. Just looking at the “plot” makes me Ouch! Thank God I have an ergonomic keyboard.
What is the benefit of outlining your plot?
So that you can go even faster while you’re flying by the seat of your pants. I absolutely must know my destination and be headed for it at a gallop or else I just stare at a blank page and wonder what new spam is in my email. (And I don’t mean fan letters by that—I mean I wonder about the emails from foreign princes who really, really want to merge their bank accounts with mine.)
If I don’t have an outline, at least in my head, I freeze up entirely, or just chatter inanely, about the way I am now, about spam and stuff.
Can writers be both a plotter and a pantser?
You bet! I’m proof!
Do you consider yourself a Linear or Non-linear writer? And why?
Uh . . . once again I have to say both. I’m non-linear enough that if a chapter isn’t going well, I can skip on and write on a different chapter that I know and like better. I did all of Ash’s Adventures—or at least all in the first half of the book—pretty much one after another and then inserted them into the places where Sarah has her nightmares in SF.
But I’m linear enough that I prefer to do the entire book in order if I can, even if I’m skipping from POV to POV in alternate chapters or sections in chapters. (I do this to build up tension in the middle of Lullaby.
What do you consider a downside of plot outlining?
Well, sometimes I tend to take the first idea I have—the first solution, the first description, and then fly with it. Like my description of Sarah in the outline doesn’t include the dimples that become her trademark in the book—not until I saw the adorable dimples twinkling on the cheeks of Samantha Barks (Eponine in the movie version of Les Miserables and the only part of the movie that was actually better than the play—Bark’s performance, I mean, not just her dimples, although they are quite fetching.)
So, if I had just stuck to my outline I could never have been flexible enough to rewrite all Sarah’s descriptions. And if a friend hadn’t questioned it, I would never have figured out the reason that Sarah, a human girl, could end up with two soulmates.
Do you do some “pantsing” for certain scenes and “plot” outlines for others?
Yep! Sure do! I never ever plot out love scenes. Either they flow into my brain and out my fingers or those characters should back away from each other fast!
How much time and research do you do while outlining, before you start the actual writing of the novel?
Oh, lots. Like for Strange Fate I read everything I could about the two kinds of animals that are going to be especially important in it—I already had studied about a third for a previous book in the series and still had my notes for it.
But, for example, in the book Daughters of Darkness, in which Ash Redfern is introduced, I studied extensively about the flora and fauna of Oregon, both day and nighttime, the care and feeding of domestic goats, the ghost towns after the silver mines in Oregon, Bigfoot legends, werewolf legends, the care of asthma, and endless, endless astronomy, which Ash’s soulmate, Mary-Lynnette Carter, is enamored of. Fortunately I love astronomy, too, and ended up getting binoculars and attending a lecture about telescopes—as well as reading countless telescope-lover’s magazines. I also did a family tree for Ash . . . which in time became the monster family tree for Redferns and Harmans on my site (www.ljanesmith.net, > Author > Just For Fun)
Nowadays, I have a luxury I didn’t back then (remember, the Night World series was written in the 1990s)—the Internet. I can research in depth by the seat of my pants! Also I have a wonderful assistant who turns out Guides for me, with facts from the Internet that she knows are what I’ll need, and references to bountiful sites I need to see with my own eyes. I even got a 3-D software map of caves that helped me write about the caverns in Lullaby. Ask me if I love my computer! I do! Except every other day when it does something I hate! Go, technology
Do you fill out character Bios/interviews for your main characters before writing their story?
No. That’s elementary brainstorming inside my head and with my friends’ job. I used to do a hair and eye color chart, but now have so many characters that there are bound to be repeats.
Where during the writing process do you find your “voice” for that particular novel's main character(s)?
If I don’t have it while outlining Chapter 1 I don’t do the book yet. I don’t know the character well enough to start a book if I can’t already hear the protagonist’s voice.
While you might start with an issue or theme in mind, themes will also develop or emerge as you write, so how important do you think “theme” is to your writing process?
I’m not sure whether I always have the same theme or never have one. I guess I always have the same ones: strong female role models, unique male role-models (like receptionist in Strange Fate. Unnamed male pawn #8 is a smiling receptionist and has one line); co-operation between many small individuals will lead to victory over impossible odds, such as actually changing the world, and good will always triumph over evil, although it may take the sacrifice of a number of main characters to achieve (sorry, sorry, sorry about Julian and the folks in Strange Fate). And did I mention lots of strong female role models and quite often the end of patriarchy altogether?
Last question: do you think most endings should elucidate any lingering unanswered questions, or can they be left ambiguous without much clarification or resolution?
I think that ideally every loose plot end should be neatly tied. Every i dotted, every t crossed. But I’m not sure I’ve ever seen this, in my work or anyone else’s. I mean, not even in the Bible, right? So I think it’s okay.
Fun Bonus Questions
What book are you currently reading?
Feet of Clay (again) by Terry Pratchett. A MUST-READ!
What’s your favorite movie or TV show?
Favorite movie: Seven Samurai. Um, tied with Avatar. (Go, Neytiri!)
Um, um, aquamarine! (Today.)
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Contradictory writing fool!
Laptop or desktop?
Both! (Don’t you know me by now?)
Who is your fictional character crush? (Movie, TV show, literary)
Samuel Vimes pretending to be John Keel, from Night Watch from the Discworld series by the immortal best writer in the world (Washington Post: “Modern Chaucer”) Terry Pratchett! A MUST-BEFORE-YOU-DIE-AND-YOU-MIGHT-BE-RUN-OVER-BY-AN-18-WHEELER-TOMORROW-READ-IT-RIGHT-NOW-OR-REGRET-IT-FOREVER BOOK!
Where can readers stalk you online?
Official Website: www.ljanesmith.net
Brief writing credentials:
The Night of the Solstice
Heart of Valor
The Vampire Diaries series
The Secret Circle series
The Forbidden Game trilogy
Dark Visions trilogy
Night World series
The Last Lullaby