SciFi and Fantasy Book Club discussion

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GoodReads Authors' Discussion > Art and Magic of Fantasy Writing

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message 1: by Jared (new)

Jared Bernard | 4 comments I tend to start with a bunch of research, which eventually leads me to develop an idea that would explore something I've found. Or I come up with something based on previous research and then I dwell on it for a while.

Before doing anything else, I try to write down what I'm trying o say to the reader. What is my point? Writing is all about communicating ideas. When Franz Kafka wrote The Metamorphosis he wasn't just writing nonsense about a fantasy of a guy turning into a cockroach; he had a point, a critique of the social structure. You should have something important to say to your audience.

Then I think about what setting would be best for that idea. I try to have good justification for my setting, although sometimes a random thought could be developed into something interesting -- like arbitrarily choosing the Ozarks in the mid-1980s.

Sometimes I might try a bit of flash fiction, but generally I start with an outline, a very basic one. This becomes my roadmap, which will prevent my writing from straying down impossibly long-winded tangents. It is good to leave some things up to exploration as I write, but I like to have a general idea of where I'm going. Like molding a giant block of clay, start with a very rough outline, maybe just a statement about your story, like a blurb on a dust jacket. Next, turn that blurb into a slightly more elaborate synopsis.

Try writing a sentence or two — or even incomplete sentences — about the the catalyst, each major transformation in the plot, the climax, and the denouement. Be flexible and leave space under each part so you can sketch in ideas. Do research and add things to each. Fill in parts and flush out characters and their background stories. Add dialogue and do more research for the details.

The outline will eventually become your book as you continue to tinker away, little by little, adding, moving, and deleting parts. In this sense, there is no concrete boundary between the creative process and editing, no first and last keys to strike. This will seamlessly blend into the editorial phase. Your sculpture will imperceptibly take form and become your masterpiece.


message 2: by Tomas (new)

Tomas Grizzly | 444 comments I had the first ideas in my early teens, a mixture of influences from SF and fantasy movies, video games and even my own dreams. It felt fun to patchwork them into hints of story, even though I never really believed I'd put it together.

Fast forward to early 20s, I actually started thinking about those almost forgotten ideas more. I found lots of plot holes and other trouble but started thinking about how to fix them and how the story could come together, still nothing more than empty thinking without any actual intention of writing it... for the next three years, after which I decided to give it a try (with an external nudge).

Since then, in the past three years, I am doing what I can to put it together in written form, even though it's quite far from what it was at the beginning.


message 3: by M.L. (new)

M.L. | 946 comments I just write. Planning does not really work for me. I get the idea and start. That may be because I started with short stories, get the idea and run with it. I mostly use a laptop, writing it out is usually too slow.


message 4: by Trike (new)

Trike Michael wrote: "I'm curious how other fantasy writers approach the craft of writing. Fantasy fiction writing has truly been an adventure for me. I sketch out or outline each new novel in only the most general term..."

M.L. Roberts wrote: "I just write. Planning does not really work for me. I get the idea and start. That may be because I started with short stories, get the idea and run with it. I mostly use a laptop, writing it out i..."

To each their own, but discovery writing always seems so inefficient to me, because you never know what you’ll keep. I cringe thinking of all the work I might throw away once I settle in to the plot, characters and themes.

I’m more like Michael, where my discovery happens while generating ideas. After that I follow a general outline that has varying levels of detail in different areas. Sometimes it’s just a signpost (“Then they enter the Emerald City and see incredible things”) and sometimes it has specific beats and snippets of dialogue.

For Fantasy specifically, I generally start with a vague notion for a magic system or a cool scene and then add to it from there. Once it gets going, more things accumulate like a snowball rolling downhill.


message 5: by Brian (last edited Jun 10, 2018 07:17AM) (new)

Brian Anderson A story is not a concept. A concept can bring you to the point where you have a story. But alone, it's not enough. Whether you are a pantser or a plotter, you need to have some sort of idea where you are going. Plot points can happen organically. And you can absolutely change directions . But only if you are in a direction to being with. A fantasy novel isn't a jazz improvisation. Well, I suppose it can be, but don't expect readers to enjoy it. And if you are publishing, indie or traditional, you are not "writing for yourself". You are writing for others to read. You are hoping to take them on a journey they will enjoy. Otherwise you wouldn't publish.


message 6: by M.L. (new)

M.L. | 946 comments What is nice is everyone has something that works for them so they can do what they want.

Before I start, I have in mind a character whom I can see and an incident I see happening. I know the result, although that may change. When I start writing, people show up, things happen, backstory falls into place. I put in chapter breaks as I go. That's what makes it fun, that's how it works for me.


message 7: by Trike (last edited Jun 09, 2018 04:29PM) (new)

Trike Brian wrote: "A fantasy novel isn't a jazz improvisation. Well, I suppose it can be, but don't expect readers to enjoy it. "

That’s a bold and demonstrably incorrect statement. Stephen King is arguably the most successful Fantasy writer of the past 50 years and he is a pure pantser. Erin Morgenstern (The Night Circus) is likewise a pantser. So is Newberry Award-winner Gary Schmidt. So was Robert Frost. And Margaret Atwood. Come on.

Discovery writing isn’t something I like to do, but to claim readers don’t like it is ridiculous when clearly they do.


message 8: by Brian (new)

Brian Anderson Trike wrote: "Brian wrote: "A fantasy novel isn't a jazz improvisation. Well, I suppose it can be, but don't expect readers to enjoy it. "

That’s a bold and demonstrably incorrect statement. Stephen King is arg..."


King understands story structure intimately. And as I said being a pantser doesn't mean flying blind. You start with a direction. A core from which to build. Without it, it's merely an exercise in prose. Not to say that you can't improve your skills that way. But to imagine creating entire novels without any clue as to what you are writing about will find you frustrated and without a cohesive story line.
I'm a pantser, for the most part. But I know what I'm out to do when I begin. I have at least a vague notion of what I want the story to become. Being a pantser doesn't mean you don't have a plan. It means you haven't worked out the details and that the direction is fluid. But it still has direction, even if it is liable to change as the plot unfolds. You need to stick to the basic rules of story telling if you want readers to understand and enjoy where you take them. You can absolutely ignore them. But don't expect good results.


message 9: by Trike (new)

Trike Brian wrote: "But to imagine creating entire novels without any clue as to what you are writing about will find you frustrated and without a cohesive story line."

Atwood and Schmidt claim they do just that. King has said similar things.

I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren't compatible.

A strong enough situation renders the whole question of plot moot. The most interesting situations can usually be expressed as a What-if question:

What if vampires invaded a small New England village? (Salem's Lot).

What if a young mother and her son became trapped in their stalled car by a rabid dog? (Cujo).

These were situations which occurred to me - while showering, while driving, while taking my daily walk - and which I eventually turned into books. In no case were they plotted, not even to the extent of a single note jotted on a single piece of scrap paper.

- Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft


Mark Lawrence doesn’t even revise his first drafts. Harlan Ellison is famous for sitting in bookstore windows and creating a story from a prompt someone handed to him in a sealed envelope. At least one of those stories is a winner of multiple awards.

Having an innate sense of story doesn’t keep someone from discovery writing, nor is having an innate sense of structure the same as plotting.


message 10: by Brian (new)

Brian Anderson Trike wrote: "Brian wrote: "But to imagine creating entire novels without any clue as to what you are writing about will find you frustrated and without a cohesive story line."

Atwood and Schmidt claim they do ..."

It seems to me King though his own words states thast has a foundation. Combined with an understand of story structure, a core concept can be enough. I personally have experienced this. In a failed attempt at flash fiction, I came up with the idea for an entire series that was good enough for one of the Big Five to extend an offer. Initially I had no idea where it would lead. But I had a starting point. Something on which to build.
I have to say that I disagree with King that plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren't compatible. Plotting itself is a creative process. It's tough for a pantser and typically the outline falls apart.
As for Mark, I just asked him if that was true and am awaiting his reply. I'll let you know what he says.


message 11: by Brian (new)

Brian Anderson You're right. He doesn't revise. Though how far ahead he plans I couldn't say.


message 12: by M.L. (new)

M.L. | 946 comments This would be a good question for the author section in GR, similar to the question about writer's block, do you have writer's block. (To which I answered no, I don't have enough time to have writer's block. :) I think it's the only one I answered. :)
So they could add: Do you plan or not?


message 13: by Trike (new)

Trike Brian wrote: "You're right. He doesn't revise. Though how far ahead he plans I couldn't say."

Why would I make something like that up? He said so himself here on this very forum:

Mark wrote: "Looking back over the Red Sister edit I see my editor suggested one four word sentence for deletion, but I disagreed and we kept it."

All I can think of when you say this is Salieri in Amadeus: “These... are originals?”

https://youtu.be/wPdI_-nam3s

Do other authors want to beat you up? Like, all the time? 😝


Trike wrote: "Mark wrote: "Looking back over the Red Sister edit I see my editor suggested one four word sentence for deletion, but I disagreed and we kept it."

All I can think of when you say this is Salieri i..."


I try not to mention it in the company of authors :)


Dude, stop being That Guy. It’s okay to be wrong once in a while. Let it go and move on. Jeez.


message 14: by Brian (last edited Jun 10, 2018 02:02PM) (new)

Brian Anderson Trike wrote: "Brian wrote: "You're right. He doesn't revise. Though how far ahead he plans I couldn't say."

Why would I make something like that up? He said so himself here on this very forum:

Mark wrote: "Loo..."

I actually don't think I'm wrong. I think Mark is truly amazing. And I didn't think you were lying. But as I didn't know from where you were hearing it, I wanted to ask. For all I knew someone told you that who heard it from a guy who heard it from a guy... No offence intended.
What I have said regarding a foundation is accurate not to mention advisable. Of course there are writers who possess astonishing abilities. But most of us are not Mark Lawrence. To think that it's a good idea to not have at least a vague notion of what you are doing when writing a novel will usually end as an exercise in frustration.
People often misunderstand "pantser". It's not someone with no plan in mind. My latest series came from the simple idea of a musician turned assassin. Nothing more. 90% of the novel grew as I wrote. I knew through experience that I needed to create tension, develop characters, expand the world, etc. This meant thinking ahead. After 16 novels, I've grown adept at certain aspects of plotting and don't have to give some things much thought. It may appear organic, but in truth it's just a skill with which I've had practice.


message 15: by Tomas (new)

Tomas Grizzly | 444 comments I had something like that happen too. One case is a character that was supposed to be a smaller sidekick to act as a development tool for the MC in the first half of #1 and no plans further yet grew up to stick around him for much longer and getting more involved with the story than planned.

The second case is a character that I planned to have its moment in #2 but as I went through revising #1 I found a chance to give her some spotlight there and thus slightly boost her importance.

Yet, I have even the opposite case where a character actually became less important than I expected - because someone unexpectedly took a part of his role or something.


message 16: by Micah (new)

Micah Sisk (micahrsisk) | 1436 comments Michael wrote: "I wonder how common this experience is to writers, fantasy or otherwise?"

From an NPR article after his death:

Novelist Philip Roth "discovered" his own books as he wrote them. "I don't know anything in the beginning, which makes it great fun to write ..." he told Fresh Air in 2006. "You begin every book as an amateur. ... Gradually, by writing sentence after sentence, the book, as it were, reveals itself to you. ... Each and every sentence is a revelation."


message 17: by Tomas (new)

Tomas Grizzly | 444 comments Michael wrote: "I guess you know you have a solid character when he or she takes on a life of their own."

That's very encouraging. Thanks!


message 18: by M.L. (new)

M.L. | 946 comments Michael wrote: "I wonder how common this experience is to writers, fantasy or otherwise? As writers do you find your characters taking on lives of their own in ways you didn't plan or expect? When I'm writing a ne..."

Yes, that's one of the things that makes it fun, the discovery. And it sets off different actions which generate their own reactions.


message 19: by M.L. (new)

M.L. | 946 comments I need a 'like' button for one of these posts! :) haha


message 20: by Jim (new)

Jim Stein (jimsteinbooks) | 22 comments My worlds would conjure themselves more fully without internet and cell phones...and vacuums -shiny object syndrome


message 21: by Robert (new)

Robert Zwilling | 20 comments Cell phones - never, vacuums are okay. I need some kind of noise because too much quiet becomes too distracting. If I am talking to someone that only works if I am going to use parts of the conversation in what I am writing about otherwise the train is gonna get derailed.


message 22: by Tomas (last edited Jun 11, 2018 11:56PM) (new)

Tomas Grizzly | 444 comments Movie soundtracks work well for me when it comes to intentional background noise.

Except for battle scenes, then I use metal music.


message 23: by Peggy (new)

Peggy (psramsey) | 393 comments I'm a pantser who wishes she was more of a planner, because I do end up with bloated first drafts. Fortunately, I had a great teacher who taught me to be a rather ruthless editor and I am not afraid to "kill my darlings."

The beauty of being a pantser is when the characters come to life and start telling the story. When you can take you hands off the wheel and just ride. I found out about a significant plot development in my second book two pages before my protagonist did. I had another character just show up in a book and take control of a few chapters -- after I had concluded his arc in a previous book.

It doesn't always work, but when it does, it's magic.


message 24: by Tomas (last edited Jun 13, 2018 02:06AM) (new)

Tomas Grizzly | 444 comments I don't think you should try to change what works. If you can do the cuts, then write more and cut later. You can even archive the cut parts and if you have a web or blog, post them there as "deleted scenes" for your readers to enjoy or to see behind the scenes.

While I had some plan (more like direction than actual plan) I was always fond of improvisation and it's when I let my creativity flow when I feel like being most productive (sometimes it turns from flow to flood). If your characters have the potential, let them show what they can do!
------------
Edit-added:
I actually decided to "start a bit of work" on the third book of the future trilogy to have a change of scenery before I get to doing last pre-beta edit on #1. It was supposed to be "explore it a bit to get some ideas". Instead, I have busted out ~54500 words in the last 17 days just by going with the flow, so to say, and I've gained decent idea how I want the story to go probably all the way to the end.
Improvisation for the win?


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