Fiction Builder is not only a book I co-wrote with Eva Kattz, it’s also a writing technique we pioneered together.
Both being plotters, we realised that our favourite books about plotting and outlining, always seem to stop at the point where we felt they should have continued to teach us the practical implementation of their theories.
As they didn’t, we came up with our own technique and put it in a book. Paramount for us was that the technique is practical, can be used over and over, and can be adapted by writers to make it their own.
Below is part of the first chapter of Fiction Builder! to give you an idea what it is all about.
1.1 What this book is about (and what it is not)
This book will provide you with the tools and the insight to tackle that pesky outline and create a step-by-step plan that is going to serve as your guide during the actual writing of your novel. It doesn’t require special skills or expensive software and can be repeated over and over again.
Many (if not all) of the other methods out there sooner or later give you the advice to ‘start outlining’. That’s where we pick up the challenge.
Where the book you’re holding differs from others of its kind is that we generally assume you’ve already set foot on the path to becoming a writer and are at least familiar with other story-elements such as world building, creating characters and the concept of story structure. These are all the things you can find in other books in great detail. Although we will address a few of the most common pitfalls associated with outlining, we didn’t want to see the actual plotting delegated to the final chapter again.
Outlining has been made into an afterthought far too often.
It has been our experience that developing a craft (like so many other things) comes in various stages of understanding and certainly not in a linear fashion. Mastering the art of writing doesn’t come with a syllabus you can work through from A–Z. For this reason we believe that you do not have to know every element of novel-writing in detail before you can even begin to think about plotting your own stories. All that is required is a head full of ideas and the willingness to dive in.
We are completely confident that you will be able to work through this book successfully, without first having to obtain a degree in creative writing. However, even if you do feel you lack the confidence to just ‘dive in’, don’t put this book down right away. Simply read on and we’ll provide you with the necessary pointers should you need them.
Picture this: you’ve always wanted to become a writer. The idea of turning all those wonderful ideas in your mind into written words feels exhilarating. Perhaps you’ve been writing for years; first in school and later in the precious free hours between jobs and taking care of a family. But you wanted more, so one day you picked up one of those How-To books online or in the local bookstore. It taught you how to create better characters and loads more about writing excellent dialogue. Perhaps you dabbled in story structure as well; all vital elements of writing good fiction.
You learned that, beside the need to be ultimately creative, there are also some rules to follow – on peril of losing readers and your book becoming a ‘wall banger’. You struggled between remembering and balancing all these rules and at the same time retaining your creativity and the sense of excitement of creating a story. Last but not least, you’ve been told to outline your story. You’ve been given all sorts of choices and are generally advised to ‘do what works best for you’. And now you’ve come to the point where all these lessons have somehow taken root in your mind and you’re ready to pour that knowledge into your pending masterpiece.
BUT… suddenly ‘doing what works best for you’ is not as easy as it sounded.
You begin to wonder, did you do something wrong? After all, you’ve read all the How-To books and you’ve learned SO much. Perhaps you can even critique the work of other writers because you just know where the mistakes are and how to fix them.
BUT… when it comes to bringing together all these elements in your own work, something falters.
You try to create an outline, even though you really have no idea what an outline really entails. You try loads of different systems but you keep tripping over that final hurdle.
At this point you may also have tried your hand at some nifty piece of creative writing software that promised to give you an overview of all the story-elements that you so painstakingly crafted.
But even the software didn’t live up to its promise.
You begin to lose faith in your project and doubts are creeping in. Maybe you’re not a real writer after all. Maybe you’re just not talented enough. If Stephen King can simply sit down and write four novels a year, it has to be doable, right? Right?!
Problem is, there are literally thousands of books out there telling you how to put all your story-elements together, but none of these tell you what to do when you get stuck during outlining.
For some reason this part of the writing process often feels like some Great Test writers have to go through to prove they are worthy of calling themselves an Author. Except, the rules are only for insiders, those who have already triumphantly reached the finish line. And you as a mere amateur will never reach their lofty heights.
We say: UTTER NONSENSE.
Okay, now sit up, shift all those notes into a big pile, put them aside and try to forget your doubts for a moment. There is good news.
NO, you’re not a bad writer.
YES, you will be able to finish your project and publish your novel.
Talent is not something that can be defined by the number of How-To books you’ve read or how well you know your grammar rules. Neither is success in writing reserved for the Lucky Few.
There are MANY technical aspects of writing that you can learn, practise and apply, including the crucial final stages of outlining.
1.3 On Writing Software
To kick down the door right away: we are not a fan of creative writing software. Far too often the package promises a lot more than it delivers, or worse, it can become a straitjacket.
After all, it’s the software developers who decide what is important to your writing process, not you, the Actual Author. That’s the part that can be blamed on the software developers. The other part of the problem, unfortunately, lies in our own minds. There exists a huge desire among beginning writers for a plot-machine. With so many wonderful ideas running around in your head it is extremely tempting to accept the offer of an ‘input ideas here, generate novel now’ approach.
The harsh truth is: there is no plot-machine and there never will be.
Despite all the glowing promises of software developers across the globe, writing a novel begins and ends with the writer who puts in a great deal of effort and eventually reaps the rewards of all that hard work. That is the good news: no plot-machine generated novel can ever replace the satisfaction of holding a finished manuscript and knowing that you, and you alone, are to credit for this.
That said, we are not bent on preaching what you should or should not do. If you do happen to be using a piece of writing software that makes your work flow and puts a smile on your face, that is great. Don’t change what already works for you. But, if you are considering buying writing software, do be aware of the pitfalls. Trust in the power of your own creativity, something no computer program can ever replace.
A question often heard among writers is, ‘are you a plotter or a pantser?’ The answer to what you are as an author and what works best seems to divide the writing community. But of course, neither pantsing nor plotting is wrong.
Pantsers simply like to start with a blank page and go from there. They are ‘writing by the seat of their pants’ and want to find out where their story takes them.
Plotters like to know where the story is going in advance, so they use story structure and outlining to first plot their story, before writing it all down.
Two very different approaches to writing, but both with the same outcome: an actual story.
Unfortunately there is a popular assumption that pantsing is the only way to go. Any beginning writer has probably read or heard it somewhere before: ‘That’s how writers should write. Just sit down and start typing!’
We don’t know the exact percentages of how many writers out there are plotters and how many are ‘true’ pantsers. We do happen to know that a vast number of us who start out thinking they are pantsers, are, in fact, plotters.
Often it’s hard to fathom, particularly when perusing writers’ forums, that people who are plotters at heart, keep persisting in the pantser-way.
An approach like that often ends with people getting stuck with their stories and eventually giving up altogether. Those writers might have had a brilliant story in them, but not knowing that there is nothing wrong with plotting, they become disillusioned and lost.
And then of course there is the myth that plotting can’t possibly be as creative as pantsing, as it is too rigid and structural. This fairy tale is particularly tough to put down, because most of us are unable to square the idea of structuring with unbridled creativity.
Plotting a story is just as creative a process as pantsing.
We both experienced our most creative moments while outlining a story. At every turn our imagination is fired up, which can’t be much different from the creative process of pantsing.
Once more, there is absolutely nothing wrong with writing by the seat of your pants. There is evidence that true pantsers often end up with the same universal story structures as plotters, except they use a completely different way to get there. And that is okay.
In our opinion, plotters who use story structure and outlining might in the long run even write faster, as they don’t have to do complete rewrites when the plot of a story doesn’t work out. Writing actual words takes time, and while some writers are (allegedly) able to produce 10,000 words a day, the vast majority of us get nowhere near this level of production.
We suspect that you probably wouldn’t have picked up this book if you didn’t have a niggling suspicion that there is something wrong with the way you outline or write your novels. So, if you started out thinking you have to pants until you drop, sit up and pay attention, because Fiction Builder is for you!