When I first started writing, I was writing for me. I didn’t expect the things to go anywhere. I had a story to tell, and I worked on getting it down on paper. I had been writing since my teens in short stories and pseudo-novel length stories. None of them were any good but it proved that I could complete a thread from start to finish with a cohesive arc. That’s an important thing to be able to do when writing. I have to thank my English teachers for some of this. Not necessarily because they taught me how to write a story, because they didn’t, but because they taught me how to frame an argument. They taught me how to structure a paper to bring everything around to a close. So, in writing those early short stories-which are all gone now because this was in the time before cloud storage-the arc was there. it’s the detail where I get lost.
At this point, I’ve published 12 books and written close to 20 in total. Again, some of them are horrible and have been shelved never to see the light of day. Some of them are lost, literally. The pages are actually gone or the floppy disc is no longer readable with advanced technology. Some of them are in pieces, pulled apart and rewritten enough times to make me forget where I started. And others in line for revision when there’s time to get to them with life, work, and other obligations.
I’ve lived in the world of Dahlia Sabin, The Blushing Death, for almost a decade now. When she’s all said and done, Dahlia will have gotten 10 of her own books, 3 spin-off books and countless short stories. It’s been fun. Living and breathing in this world has taught me so much about writing. We all get better with each page we write. Editors, readers, and ultimately each and every review (good and bad) brings something else to the table that you hadn’t considered before. Afterall, each writer is only an individual and we mess up. But there are some things that you only learn from your own mistakes.
Like I said, when I started writing these books-well, the first book anyway-I was writing for me. I actually ended up writing Pool of Crimson from start to finish almost three complete times. This was my pantser style effort with no plan and no guide. This experience is something I also learned from. I learned that I do not like to do things multiple times.
The first draft was sloppy; a grouping of disjointed scenes that I couldn’t see didn’t make any sense until they were all together. The second was me trying to fix the first one which didn’t work. The third time, I threw almost everything out. I sat down and picked out the points of my story that needed to happen and finally figured out how the hell Dahlia was going to get there. This is where I learned to plot. No one sat down and told me how to do it. I didn’t sit in a class or lecture to learn the finer points of plotting. I was simply presented with a piece of crap, realized it, and in a more methodical way figured out a way to fix it. It was almost like a lightbulb going off in my head. I didn’t fly by the seat of my pants after that.
Another lesson happened when I was four or maybe even five books in before I got someone willing to even take a look at Pool of Crimson. She loved it. But, like I said, I was four or five books in already. I knew in book two that I took some drastic steps with my characters and maybe this wasn’t a road she would want to go down. I told my, now current editor, that I wouldn’t sign the contract until she took a look at book two. All of the rest of my work was based on what happened in the previous books, I couldn’t go back. That would mean starting over and my character was where she needed to be. I was willing to not be published to keep Dahlia’s journey intact. Within a week, I had a contract for both books.
It was about this time with my contracts in hand and book five almost finished, that I realized I hadn’t written down some of the pretty important details/descriptions/events/timelines/etc that happened in my earlier books. I was writing for me and my friends, I hadn’t needed a series bible.
LOL! I was horribly mistaken.
My husband once asked me why I couldn’t remember the details. “You’re the one who wrote it!” he’d said.
Yes, I did. I wrote it like 17 times through edits and rewrites. I don’t remember. Sure, I remember the big stuff and the plot points. I even remember in which books I mentioned it which has proven helpful as I leaf throw my own books searching for the paragraph I know exists. But as a general rule, I don’t remember the tiny little conversations that characters have or the throw away descriptions I add. You know, the ones I love reading and memorize in other people’s books.
But it was too late for Dahlia. I couldn’t go back and fix the bible-or in this case create it. I was too far in to go back now. Plus, I was being super lazy about it, if I’m being completely honest.
This was a mistake that I had to learn the hard way. For every book or series after Dahlia, I now make sure there is a bible. This has saved me a crap load time, not only searching for items I may have forgotten but keeping me on track for the outline. I like to use airtable now and my grids can get pretty complicated, but they have saved my life when dealing with looking at the structure, the journey, what a character’s eye color is, and all the little details you (aka me) forget as a writer. As an example, here’s the type of bible I have now for my books. This is a screen shot from one of my airtables:
This means that everything is laid out for me in plot, character, worldbuilding, and really any additional information I need to write the best book I can.
The third and probably most important lesson was adapting to how my brain works. I went to a lot of different conferences and sat in sessions that told me a myriad of way to do things, but they all said theirs was the right way to do it. They weren’t. I had to figure out what worked for me.
I’m a visual learner and it helps me to actually see the path. In addition to the upfront work I do on airtable and the colored post its I use for basic plot structure before I ever write a word, I also have a visual check at the end of the process. I go through and use color coded index cards to lay out the story and see the distribution of chapters/topics. This way I can see if I’ve been in a character’s POV too long or if there needs to be an additional scene added . . . or several.
In this picture, the green cards are Dahlia’s POV. The orange cards are my villain. If you can see, there are wide lengths of the book that are just Dahlia’s POV which led me to notice that the villain’s motive may not have been developed enough. The yellow cards are the additions to fix that problem among others.
Writing a book is hard. Writing a good book is even harder. That doesn’t mean you have to make it hard on yourself. I can’t guarantee that everyone’s process is as involved as mine, especially with all the odd things I do as a writer. I have a notebook and write conversations and chapter outlines out longhand before I sit down at the computer. I don’t know anyone who does that but it helps me as I go. Plus, I always have a notebook to write when it strikes me. I don’t always have a computer.
Right now, I’m starting the last installment of the Blood and Bone legacy. This is my first step. There are alot of colored post-its involved and moving things around so that it makes sense. I didn’t write on my wall, by the way. Its all masking tape.
You have to figure out your process. We each learn and form our stories differently. My suggestion is, to find what works for you and work from there, instead of the other way around. You’ll be happier for it.