Tag Archives: novels

Impromptu vs. Outlining

What kind of writer are you? Do you write going from scene to scene, making it up as you go and not really knowing what happens next? Or are you the type of writer who plans everything out?

I like to call my style of writing “impromptu”. I don’t know how legit of a name that is, but it is what I like to use. Basically, I dive into all my stories knowing very little about where they are going. Yes, I have images and scenes in my head I want to implement into the story, but oftentimes they are the epic scenes of the climax, near the end of the story.

For example, most people are familiar with the story The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien. If you know the storyline, imagine sitting down to begin those books with only a few things decided. You have developed the idea of The One Ring, the Dark Lord, and your world in general. You have hobbits, dwarves, elves, orcs, men, and have even cooked up some of Middles Earth’s history in your mind. Knowing you want to start the book in the Shire with one of your main characters, Frodo, you sit down and begin writing. You might have epic mental images of a fight underground with a massive beast of fire (The Mines of Moria, The Balrog), and of a vast swamp full of dead people (The Dead Marshes), but you really have no guidelines or plan. It’s all just scenes with no names. You have no idea how you are going to get there.

As you write, you create new and unexpected characters and throw them into the fray. Your imagination is the limit as you invent your story. It goes where it wills and in retrospect you realize you unconciously took one road out of hundreds. The story, as you write it, could go this way or that way, and ultimately you choose a path and dozens more paths open up. The story grows and grows. Slowly, everything starts falling into place and the skeleton begins to fill out, forming a solid body of work. Before your eyes lays an evolution of literature that had no plan, no sense of direction until it finally evolved to encompass all those grand images you began with.

I start my stories with just a few images and scenes to inspire me. The hard part is creating the scenes in-between that connect the dots and to do it in a way that makes sense. However, impromptu writing is a sure recipe for breeding writer’s block. When you make up everything as you go you will find that some days you just don’t know how to direct your story. Your characters begin to scream back at you “this is stupid! Turn us around and start over!”

What do you think? How do you approach stories? Which style do you think is best? Personally, I love the evolution of impromptu writing but know an outlined story is worth the time it takes to make one. Maybe someday I will actually outline a story before I write it. For now, the story I am editing continues to evolve, just as it has since the first day.

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Edit, Edit, and… Edit

Want to fine tune that manuscript you’ve had sitting around? Think three steps.

Step 1: Edit

Step 2: Edit

Step 3: and… Edit again

Seriously, I am finding out that getting a novel ready for publishing requires almost just as much editing as writing. I think I heard somewhere that a novel is 10% planning, 50% writing, and 40% editing. It took me two years from start to finish to complete the first draft of my book. Will it take almost two years to edit it? Probably not, though it seems like it. I was balancing high school and college work over those two years I was writing. Today, I am able to spend much more time editing so it won’t actually take me too long to edit. However, I’m about two months into the process and there is still a lot to do. I have at least a few more weeks worth of editing.

I should clarify that any plan you have for editing shouldn’t be as simple as I stated above, obviously. I was simply ranting about the enormous task of editing a manuscript without hiring a professional. And yes, I hope to do most of the editing myself. It is way too expensive to higher a professional. I sent in my first chapter to a professional editing company to received a sample edit. The sample edit came back and they wanted me to give them the go ahead to finish editing chapter one… for 80 dollars. With 27 chapters in my manuscript, it would be over two thousand dollars for a professional edit at that rate. Sure, they probably have a quantity discount, but still. They even claimed to have some of the lowest rates. Scary.

As I am discovering, editing should entail some steps. You should have order; a plan of action. Basically you should begin with general content editing. Plot holes, additional or deleted scenes, character voice… etc. That should come before grammatical edits. I was doing both (content and grammatical editing) at the same time and ended up throwing out three chapters, adding four, and rewriting another. I then had to go back and edit those new chapters. Lesson learned? Save grammatical editing for the final stages. If you are looking at your manuscript with a truly critical eye there should be plenty of content editing to keep you busy.

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City Profile: Khan-Kedhron

Khan-Kedhron
Role: Capital of The Dradikhan Empire
Population: 50,000,000
Ruler: Emperor Ghadal
Age: 2,000 years old
Status: Old Age (advanced) Metropolis

Khan-Kedhron is the largest city in my world. It lays near the center of the world. It is the only technologically advanced city still standing after The Fall, an apocalyptic event that occurred nearly a thousand years ago. Its massive size dwarfs all other cities. Renewable sources of energy (i.e. solar, wind) have allowed it to continue to thrive in the centuries since The Fall. It has never been taken by an enemy force in its long history.

Combine the skyline of New York City with the futuristic skyscrapers of Dubai and then put them both on steroids. Now, add an even more grandiose backdrop of towering mountains than those that grace Denver, CO, or Salt Lake City, UT. Can you see it? Can you envision the vast, futuristic city basin surrounded on three sides by towering mountains? Can you grasp for a second the jaw-dropping magnitude of this majestic metropolis? Say hello to Khan-Kedhron, the city that will play the largest role in my books.

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Names and Images Copyright 2009-2011 by Seth Olive. All Rights Reserved.

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Originality: is it Possible?

After thousands of years, hundreds of generations, and millions of books, is it possible to be original at all? This is something I have been thinking about lately. I want my book to be entirely unique; a one-of-a-kind story like no other. But in the end, don’t we draw all our “new” ideas from old ones? Past experiences, previously learned information, and age old archetypes influence us all. Below is an interesting quote on originality and authenticity. My verdict and thoughts on it will follow.

“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees , clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic.

Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent.

And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate if it you feel like it. In any case remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.”

Jim Jarmusch

I agree, to a degree, with Jarmusch here. As I said above, so much has been written that it is nearly possible to come up with something so new it has never been considered by the human race. But as Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.” In all honestly, not many of the individual parts and ideas of your stories will be original. However, I believe a story in its entirety can be authentic and something new. Yes, you may have a king, or an Empire, or a terrible betrayal. Those have all been written about in various forms a thousand times over. But your king, or your Empire, or your terrible betrayal can be like none other. Stories will always have similarities to others, but you can take your story where no other has gone before.

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Anyone Could Write a Novel

I believe nearly any literate, well-educated person has the ability to write a novel. From a purely grammatical point of view, most people can put together sentences in a way that makes sense. The sentences grow into paragraphs, paragraphs into pages, pages into chapters, and chapters into books. The real catch is not writing. It’s a great plot and solid characters.

Most people feel like they don’t have the creative power or patience to write a book. Indeed, many people have stories they wish they could get down but simply don’t have the time or inclination. When I tell people I am writing  a novel oftentimes they are impressed. I will admit it does take a tremendous amount of effort, so some surprise is expected. But as a word of encouragement to those considering starting a story, if you have the time and inclination, do not think you’re not good enough. I have been writing since I was young and have only become better. The more you write, the better you will get.

So keep writing. Keep your pen sharp. Stimulate your imagination. To write a novel, all you need is you, and some pen and paper (aka. word processor).

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