continuing the conversation

A thread about writing popped up in the Comments yesterday. Since some people don’t read the Comments, I figured it would be more useful if I responded here.

The first question was: Because of the crushing deadlines you (and many other authors) encounter, have you ever thought of an additional scene that you might have wanted to add to any of your stories after the book was finalized and sent to the printer?

No, I never think of additional scenes after the book comes out. Despite the deadline pressure, the book doesn’t go out until it is ready. I’ve never had to ask a publisher to move a publication date, but if it came to that, I would. The integrity of the book is the most important thing.

But I have thought about putting some of the “cutting room floor” scenes on my website, after the books have been out for a while, so that fans could read them. I’m sure they would lead to interesting discussions.

The only problem is that my webmaster is already overwhelmed with work and I’m afraid if I ask for anything extra at this point, he’ll move to a desert island.

Follow up question! Do you always write chapter by chapter when you draft? Or do you ever end up with gaps in the initial draft that you have to go back and fill?

I start at the beginning and stumble forward, though I usually have several later scenes in mind before I ever set down the first word. In early drafts, there are chapters that are fully fleshed out with narrative, dialog, action, and story momentum. But there are also chapters that contain only a few lines that say something like “Main Character does something profoundly stupid that sets up the consequences in Chapter 30. Also, the sub-plot with the mermaid needs to be brought up. Add imagery of seashells?”

As I move through draft after draft, I figure out if, in fact, I need the chapter in question. If I do, the scenes that carry the proper load of the storytelling kind of show up in my brain. That’s the magic part. I cannot explain how that happens. It just does.

Other questions?

2008 Resolution Tracker
Week 8 – Miles Run: 24.25, YTD: 171
Week 8 – Days Written: 7, YTD: 56

44 weeks left this year.

10 Replies to “continuing the conversation”

  1. Thanks for answering!

    I am curious about two other semi-related things:

    Do you ever have to adjust the overall pacing of the story, and if so how do you approach that?

    How do you think through making a character change over the course of a novel?

    I find the change in Kate Malone in Catalyst fascinating in that it is strongly influenced by events (the fire as the initial trigger, her MIT letter), but it comes through as very gradual and natural.

  2. First off all thank you so much for sharing your wisdom along the way. The last time I had spoken to you about the writing process I was mired in too many details to be able to get a draft down. Listening to you talk about drafting and the process of placing the bones of a story down, gave me the “permission” I needed as a new writer to vomit my thoughts all over the page. I am proud to announce that I am about 80 pages into my almost completed rough draft. I may not have gotten there without being able to understand that judgment isn’t allowed into the room with anyone who is writing a first draft.

    Now as I look ahead in excitement to the revision process, I find myself developing new questions. One of the most appealing things to me about a great book is the layering and weaving of “threads” throughout the story. In my mind I picture the rough draft with page after page of transparencies placed upon it, each one adding another layer of intricacy to the work. I was just wondering what you see or look at when the bones of the story have been laid out and how you accomplish that fine detailing that leaves the reader in awe?


  3. Laurie, do you ever feel a little schizo as you try to tie up the threads in your story? Also, have you ever found a loose thread after the book is published, making you go “D’oh!”?

  4. In your post you talk about chapters, but I don’t find that your books are written in the conventional “chapter” way. With Prom and Twisted there were numbered sections, usually quite short. With Catalyst there was part 1, 2 and 3 which were then subdivided. And with Speak it was divided into four marking periods which were also subdivided. I guess what I’m trying to ask is this: in your first couple of drafts did you write the stories in chapters and then break them up?

  5. I love when you answer all the writing questions. It’s always interesting to read how every author does their process and overall helps me work my own one out.

    One thing that seems so tiny but I just can’t stop thinking about it is the format you wrote in for Speak compared to your other books. It seems silly to ask, but is there a reason you did not indent your paragraphs in Speak but now you do for every other book? Are others allowed to do it that way too (not indent I mean)?

    And I was also wondering:

    How do you come up with filler material? I can always think of a main plot and struggle but when it comes to the little everyday events you have to describe to fill up the pages, it can get difficult. How do you normally come up with different things your character will go through the don’t ultimately affect the outcome of the novel?

  6. In early drafts, there are chapters that are fully fleshed out with narrative, dialog, action, and story momentum. But there are also chapters that contain only a few lines that say something like “Main Character does something profoundly stupid that sets up the consequences in Chapter 30. Also, the sub-plot with the mermaid needs to be brought up. Add imagery of seashells?”

    I am so glad to hear that. I have a tendency to think of leaving gaps behind as cheating. So you can imagine how I was feeling about my very gappy WIP…

  7. I have a question, if you don’t mind.

    Do you ever realize that your characters are making your book go in directions you don’t want it to go? What do you do when that happens?

    I’m only seventeen, but I’ve got a novel in progress that I’m really loving. The problem is, my characters rushed ahead of themselves and did something rash. Now I’m having to come up with dialogue that I’m not prepared for and scenarios I’ve got no experience of. As a professional writer, would you suggest deleting everything that seems to take off in the wrong direction? Working the characters back where they belong? Or doing more research and approaching the taboo topic anyway?

    Also, if you don’t mind multiple questions…

    Do you plan for symbolism, heavy imagery, figurative language, and other rhetorical devices to show up in your books? Or does it just…happen?

    For me, it just happens sometimes. And every time I find that I did something clever, such as a recurring theme that snuck itself into the ending or a good symbol embedded in a lighthearted scene, I get all wiggly and warm on the inside. ^_^ Like, “Yay! Now, how did that happen?” What I’d like to know, though, is whether or not true writers put those things in deliberately?


  8. This is mousesnovel, with her new lj account 🙂

    I just wanted to say I understand about the characters “rushing ahead and doing something rash”…is it interesting when characters take control?!!!


    Interesting questions. I will wait, because I agree your draft is the most important thing right now, but I am looking forward to the answer to this question. ^_^ I wonder about that, too. I mean, usually I put something in and then I realize it could be symbolic, but I was wondering.

    I also have a question about how one “knows a story is ready”, but I’ll wait to ask it. 😉

  9. These are great questions. I look forward to hearing your answers! I have a couple to add, if you don’t mind.

    1. This is connected with some of the previous questions, but could you talk a little about your revision process? I imagine it might vary a bit from book to book, but after you have that first draft how do you go about tackling the changes and improvements you think a story needs?

    2. I know you do a lot of research with your historical books, but what about the contemporary stories? Do you find yourself doing research for those as well? Here’s a scenario: Your character’s father, who never or rarely appears in the book, is a truck driver but you don’t know the first thing about truck driving. How much do you research the lifestyle of a truck driver?

    Thank you for taking time to answer some of our questions. I love your books, and your blog is motivating and inspiring to me.


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