When I sat down to write my first story, I thought I was ready. I had created an interesting world, complex characters, and had a plot. What more could a writer ask for?
Answer: A crap ton more prep work and advice.
Here’s what I’ve learned through the creation process of two series:
- World building is more than location
- Complex characters have more sides than a D&D die
- Plots are not simple lines
- Learning from the advice of other writers is invaluable
- I feel damn lucky I got published in the first place
Yep, you read that right, I count myself extremely lucky to have my writing published, because from where I started to now, is worlds apart. As I work on my new project, I give much thanks and offer many sacrifices of chocolate, coffee, and alcohol on my Alters to Editors and other Writers, for they have ensured my writing skills are sharpened, and that I never again foolishly believe I know what the hell I’m doing. Because I don’t. I can’t.
Writing, like any skill, demands constant growth, and thanks to the lessons I’ve learned through eight books, this latest project is hopefully starting off on a better balanced foot than its predecessors.
When I first begin delving into this project a few months back, I had an idea of the world, a fairly nebulous grasp on the concept, and some sketchy details on my characters. In-between working on the third PSY-IV Team book and life in general, I began to tweak and re-tweak, and re-re-tweak, and re-re-re-tweak (you get the idea) the story.
I’m one of those writers who has to set up my world’s history before I even glance at page one. I have a historical account of how and why the Kyn existed that pre-dates Christianity, and I have a less intensive history for the PSY-IV Teams as they are a more modern creation. For our latest creation, the world building is a result of the history, which means my history is much more complex than my previous adventures. This is information readers may never see, but a writer must know to ensure they story works. Sometimes these writings look like research papers, sometimes they can be mistaken for journal entries, but no matter how they come about they exist. For me, what happened before impacts what happens now and in the future–to my characters and the world they live in.
When I began the Kyn Kronicles, I knew it was a series, but the series arc–the main plot that ties each book together–wasn’t fully formed. For the PSY-IV Teams, it was there, but the details remained a little blurry. This time around, I shocked myself when I realized this series would be a set of seven stories, interrelated, each surrounding a different member of our designated cast, and their histories built upon each other until it was as complex and compelling as anything I’ve undertaken. The entire picture is there, fairly focused, strangely enough, since my characters have a tendency to wander off on their own. Of course, I can say that now, but I won’t take any bets on what the story is in a couple of a months.
Still, it’s the weirdest feeling for a reformed panster to find solid ground in *gasp* plotting. It almost feels like I’m cheating, but I’m not. Just because you do something one way, doesn’t mean it’s always going to work. You may find you need to approach things from a different path than before. Maybe you need stumble over a few rocks, take a couple of falls, skin up those knees, to appreciate what’s on the other side.
So as weird as I feel every time I get up and brush the dirt and grass from my hands and knees, it’s strangely exciting. Even better, through conversations with other writers as they share their ups and downs, I’ve learned this is means I’m on the right path. Instead of freezing in the middle of the road much like my friends the deers, I keep moving forward.
So if you’re starting out on your writing journey or have wandering onto the path of new project, take heed from the lessons others have learned or that you’ve learned the hard way. Every time you think you’ve made a “mistake”, tell that snide little snot to shut the hell up. It’s not a “mistake”, it’s learning, and that is what will make you and your writing rise to the top.