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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Writing and Publishing: Behind the Scenes, Part 1

Welcome to BTS, part one, the first segment where I'll take you behind the curtain to see what goes into inventing, writing, editing, and publishing a novel. Keep in mind: you haven't read Berinfell Prophecies Book 1: Curse of the Spider King, and this series of blog posts will delve into the creation of Book 2. Therefore, I'll have to leave many details concerning plot elements extremely vague. It's the process we're after, not spoilers, right?

Christopher Hopper is the CoAuthor of this series, and we are quite literally right at the beginning of the book. Today, it was all about inventing. We left several key threads dangling at the end of Spider King, so we began with those. What you see below is an iChat window. We began our session of brainstorming and outlining with iChat, but quickly realized we needed speed.

So, we used iChat's phone feature. That way, we could talk and hear each other while we worked. The window you see below is the speak function of iChat. So what'd we talk about? Chapter one.

Whenever I give advice to young writers and aspiring authors, I tell them to work exhaustively on chapter one. It may be the only chapter an agent or publisher looks at, so make it good. You really have to hook the reader. Action, Drama, Intense Emotion, Mystery, Danger--all good for opening chapters. Dialogue is good if it really gets us into a character or in the midst of a relationship between characters.
What to avoid:
1. Lots of narration
2. Lots of description
3. Dream sequences
4. Alarm clocks
5. Too many characters

Christopher and I left book 1 with several main characters making a important journey. However, as much as we'd like to spend pages describing the cool sights of this amazing fantasy world we're creating--they journeyed here, saw that, journeyed there, saw that--we knew that it's a snoozer of an opening. We ended up deciding on fast-forwarding to a battle scene, and not only that, but an ambush. Nothing says lovin' like a sneak attack! lol

The opening chapter decided on, we decided to "Begin with the end in mind." We had some thoughts of how Book 2 would end, so we brainstormed and fleshed that out a little. And it was here that we came to a bit of a road block. Our publisher has contracted with us for two books in the series, but we feel like it could go to a 3rd book, maybe 4. So the question became: How do we give a satisfying ending that still leaves some threads open for future books? Good question. First, we tackled the satisfying ending part. This means that any promises you made to readers need to be fulfilled. For example: If you hint that the treasure-greedy pirate will be betrayed by his own greed, then you'd better have it happen or readers will be peeved. Christopher and I are big fans of foreshadowing. We've dropped some very interesting breadcrumbs in book one that will become HUGELY important in book 2. So, we had to think of ways for these loose ends to connect to something very fun and interesting. In the end, we decided that we could end the climactic battle with the appearance of a new threat, one whose very nature would render him/her/it more perilous than anything readers have seen.

Now, we had the beginning and the end and lots of questions in between. What you see above is the file menu of Scrivener, our favorite all-powerful writing software. It absolutely rocks. Take a look at the way we set up our files. Under "draft" you see the outline in progress...just working chapter titles for now. Beneath that are our resource files. This is a whole fantasy world we're working on, so we've got Language Files, Bestiary, Geography, even a file for scenes that are so cool they have to be in the book....but uhm, we're not sure where yet. lol

After outlining for several hours, Christopher and I chose scenes. That is, there were several segments we each felt visually attached to. Christopher really wanted to tackle the opening battle scene. I, however, wanted to hit the relationships and a mounting internal conflict that needs to arise a bit later in the story. You might be thinking, but how can you do that? You don't know exactly what the other person is writing! That's somewhat true. I have an idea of what Christopher will put into the segment he's doing. But I don't need to be too concerned. It's kind of like connect the dots. My latter chapters might be a bit far away from Christopher's earlier chapters. But that's okay. The differences between them will suggest where we go on the chapters that fall in between.

That's a good tip for those of you who struggle with Writer's Block. Sometimes you just get stuck somewhere around chapter 8. Now, you've got a killer idea for chapter 17, but you don't go after it because you figure, you've got to go in order. NO. You don't. Write whatever scene is hot in your mind. Sometimes that latter scene will unblock the issue earlier on. And no matter what, the chapter that feels like fun will be better than the chapter that feels like a chore.

More to come in the following weeks. Stay tuned.


Jacob R Parker said...

Ooh, I really like that piece of advice at the end. I've wasted countless hours staring at the computer screen. Who knows how much time I could have saved if I'd just skipped ahead. Thanks!

Shane Deal said...

I love skipping ahead, although I forget sometimes.

I only discovered the trick in the last year. It helps. A lot.

And great advice all around.

Alarm clocks?

Jare said...

Hey, but I like alarm clocks(not in real life mind you though)! JK

This is great advice.
Thanks so much for doing it =)

That chat you had with Mr. Hopper was...well...too funny =P =)


PatShand said...

Great advice, man! Especially the last bit of jumping to whatever is hot in your mind.

ElizabethMarieKauffman said...

Thanks for the advice! :) The last bit especially sounds great!! I've had that happen to me SO many times! But I always told myself that I had to do it in order. Now I know otherwise, and who knows how many little hairlings you have just saved from being pulled a little too hard! Thanks again!!

Assr lei∂r ykkarr or∂.


~Prism~ said...

Thanks for the advice!!! Especially the "What To Avoid" part.

I only recently started skipping ahead when I got so stuck that I had to go ahead and write. One day I was writing ahead, and an idea popped in my head that was related to the chapter, and could help flesh it out more.

God Bless,


Cloe said...

Thanks for the great advice! I am writing a book and I have not written anything for more then a month now!

Rachel Kimberly said...

Oooh... I love Scrivener! :)

And I wonder what's in "Cool Homeless Stuff" and "Unused Character Names?" Hmmm...

This is awesome stuff, thanks again for doing this!

The Lion Hearted said...

Very cool!! And who says we didn't come here for spoilers?! ;) I love the random chat... Thanks for the advice! I feel so naive for not knowing I could skip. :D I'll be sure and avoid those alarm clocks.

Brock Eastman said...

Rock on. I love this advice! Thanks WTB for all the help you always provide. J.R. I think we can learn from this and how they go about working together.

Anonymous said...

I am not too big on skipping parts of my story so when I get stuck I writ down whatever I think of in a notebook and when I reach the point I use what I had written. Good tips of what to avoid I will have to read through my first chapters and fix them

Kendall said...

You may already be aware of this, but I wanted to let you know that the last lines of Rise of the Wyrm Lord were among the "Best Last Lines" of books in WORLD magazine's most recent book issue! I totally agree with the choice!

Shelby said...

Wow, thanks so much for the advice. But...what do you mean by avoiding dream sequences? I started one of my books out with that, and didn't The Door Within start with Aiden's dream? I thought that was cool.

I'm one of those people who thinks writing a book is just like reading one--you have to go in order. It's such a relief to know that it works better sometimes if you don't!

WayneThomasBatson said...

Hi, Kendall!

And no, I didn't know about World Magazine's famous Last Lines. But thanks so much for letting me know. Here's the link if anyone's interested in checking it out:

And, Ellie, I was wondering who would be the first to point out that The Door Within did indeed start out with a dream sequence. There's a long story behind that. That opening chapter was actually my 3rd shot at the first chapter. Thomas Nelson's editors kept pushing me to have a more action-packed opening. The original opening to the DW isn't even in the book anywhere now. lol. As it turns out, the editors at TN liked the dream (more a vision really) of the battle scene, and so, it stayed.

That said, I already had a publishing contract with TN and was very deep in the editing process. But for those of you trying to get your first publishing contract, avoid dream sequences like the plague. Writer's Digest occasionally publishes articles on what agents and editors like/don't like. And very consistently, editors say they HATE dream sequences at the beginning. I think it's just such a cliche now that I wouldn't chance it.

Shelby said...

Mr. Batson,
Thanks for the advice & explanation! It's my dream to become a published author, so I can use all the help I can get. Can't wait for the next installment.

ElizabethMarieKauffman said...

Mr. Batson,
I was wondering if skipping scenes in the first chapter was something to avoid also or not. Like if you go from one scene, in one place with certain people, to another place with different people, to another place, but there all based around the same idea, like an event that's happened, or happening. Is that alright in the first chapter? Or should that also be avoided??

Assr lei∂r ykkarr or∂.


–I changed my username, I used to be ElizabethOfMena.

WayneThomasBatson said...

Elizabeth, you need to be careful not to confuse your readers. Too much scene shifting is almost certain to send your readers in "Huh?" Land.

However, some authors have multiple things going on using narration. Tuck Everlasting is a great example of this. She creates a ton of suspense by saying things like: One Summer morning three things happened, and at first there seemed to be no connection to these events. Etc. etc.

You could try that, maybe, but again, you don't want to hit readers with too much narration either.

ElizabethMarieKauffman said...

Thank you! :) I'll go through my first chapter and try to fix it as best I can. Thank you again!


Unknown said...

Awesome! The Berinfell Appendices! Huzzah! Thanks weaving in the writing tips, Mr. Batson! I can hardly wait for Part 2!

Robert Treskillard said...

Thanks Wayne for the peak into your and Chris's writing process.

I found the advice that its O.K. to not write "in order" encouraging, as I had done just that with my second book. I jumped ahead and skipped a whole section in between.

Your "connect the dots" idea is great and really makes sense.

Nathan Petrie said...

Mr. Batson,

I really enjoyed this post, and when I go back around to redo the beginning of my book I'll be sure to read through this. I'm very excited for the remainder of this series, this is the stuff I live for.

I hope to be on your blog a bit more often to read posts like this. I'm always game for advice :D

So yeah...thanks for posting this, liked it a lot!

Anonymous said...

The Door Within books are my favorite books ever! (And I've read a lot of books). Thanks for the advice. I'm trying to wright a book. I think your advice will really help.

Theldír Caldinar said...

Thanks for the advice! I think I really need it. I've been working exhaustively on my story and barely reached over forty-thousand words a few days ago. I've been wanting a new prologue lately, because I felt that mine gave away a little too much. Your advice has given me an idea for the prologue!

Once more, thank you! :)

Anonymous said...

I took a VERY long time on the beggining of my first book of the seiries I'm writing now, and I have to say, I wish I would have read this a LOT eariler! :D Thanks!