PLANNING YOUR NOVEL: IDEAS AND STRUCTURE by Janice Hardy - Guest Post and Giveaway!

I'm one of Janice Hardy's Beta readers and I have to tell you how excited I am about her latest book: Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure. So many of the things people tell you about writing are lovely, but leave you with questions of, "How"? Janice answers that. She is not only an amazingly talented writer (author of the Healing Wars trilogy), but she is a gifted teacher. She breaks down complicated ideas into easy-to-understand concepts you can adapt with your own writing. Now that the book is out - I will be shouting about it to everybody I know and using it in my classrooms. I'm honored Janice dropped by to talk:

What Kind of Writer Are You? Finding Your Writing Process
By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

     If you put ten writers in a room and ask them how they write, odds are you'll get ten different answers. There's bound to be some crossover, but everyone approaches the writing process differently. The creative process takes many forms and there's nothing wrong if your process differs from another writer's.
     But it's sad how often new writers (and some old ones), don't realize this. I’ve met too many writers who felt they had to write in a certain way to be successful, and that style was contrary to their own natural process. So say it with me...
     There is no right way to write.
     Trying to force yourself to write in a way that feels unnatural to you is only going to cause frustration. For example:
• The outliner who tries to wing it with no writing plan and feels lost, writing a book that’s a huge, unfocused mess.
• The pantser who tries to force her creativity into an outline and feels stymied, making her story go where it doesn’t want to go just because a list of events told her to take it there.
• The freestyler who forces himself to write chronologically and feels his creativity drain out of him when the scenes he’s most excited about fade away in his head.
     If a process makes you miserable and hurts your creativity, there’s a good chance it’s not the right process for you. Don’t be afraid to dump it and try something else.
     However, don’t reject a process idea if you’ve never tried it just because you don’t think it suits you. I’ve had techniques I thought would never work be exactly what I needed to take my writing to the next level.
     If you’re just starting your first novel, you might not yet know what your process is, and that’s okay. Most writers try multiple techniques before they find the ones that work best for them. Experiment with different styles (or adopt pieces from many) until you find the one that feels the most natural to you.
     Let’s look at a few process types and see if any fit your style:

The Pantser
      These writers write by the "seat of their pants" and enjoy sitting down at a blank screen with a general idea and letting the words take them. They don’t want to know what happens before it does happen, and seeing how the novel ends is half the fun of writing it. If you have no trouble finding the words when you sit down to write, but stare at the screen with a terrified look on your face when you try to plot or outline, this could be the process for you.

The Outliner
      Writing without a plan leaves these writers with a mess of scenes and no coherent storyline. They find comfort in knowing how a novel will unfold before they type a single word. They like to list how each scene starts, how it ends, and what happens in between.
     If you need to know exactly where your novel is going and how it’s going to get there before you write it, this could be your process.

The Loose Outliner
      These writers like structure, but they don’t want to know every detail before they write. They prefer to build the foundation of the novel, creating a framework in which to write that lets them control the plot without the plot controlling them.
     If you like knowing enough about your novel to guide your writing without losing the mystery of the story, this might be a good process for you to try.

The Character Writer
      Characters come to these writers first, and by the time they’re ready to write they know them inside and out. These writers don’t always know what those characters are going to do, however, and they enjoy letting the characters chase after their dreams and see where they take them.
     If you’re the type who knows what the characters want and need, but aren’t sure of the plot events to get them there, you might enjoy this process.

The Plot Driver
      These writers see the plot unfold long before they see the faces of the characters. They love the mechanics of plotting and figuring out how the pieces all fit together, and once that’s solid, then they figure out who the story is about.
     If structure and plot is what excites you, this could be the process for you.

The Scene Sewer
      Novels come to these writers in bits and pieces in random order. Scene sewers prefer jumping around when the mood strikes and sewing up the plot later. They’d rather see it in their mind, get it on paper, and worry about how the puzzle pieces fit later.
      If you like to let inspiration strike and then write—no matter where that scene might be in the book—you could be this type of writer.
      And if you fit more than one process? Take the parts that work for you and create your own style.

Finding Your Own Writing Process
1. Which type of writer do you most identify with? How does that fit with your own writing style?
2. What style would you want to try? What about it appeals to you? Why?
3. What style don’t you like? Why not?
4. Is your process working for you, or do you feel like it’s holding you back?
5. If it’s holding you back, why? What about the process do you find frustrating?
6. Can those frustrations be eliminated by trying or incorporating any of the above styles?
     Even if you know your process, it's never a bad idea to dust it off once in a while and re-evaluate what you're doing and why. You might discover you've grown as a writer, and making a few tweaks to your process could make you more productive overall.

What kind of writer are you?
      Looking for advice on planning or revising your novel? Check out my newest book Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a series of self-guided workshops that help you turn your idea into a novel.
     Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure takes you step-by-step through finding and developing ideas, brainstorming stories, and crafting a solid plan for your novel—including a one-sentence pitch, summary hook blurb, and working synopsis. 
     Over 100 different exercises lead you through the novel-planning process, with ten workshops that build upon each other to flesh out your idea as much or as little as you need to do to start writing.
     Find Exercises On:
- Creating Characters

- Choosing Point of View

- Determining the Conflict

- Finding Your Process

- Developing Your Plot

- And So Much More!
     Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is an easy-to-follow guide to planning your novel, as well as a handy tool for revising a first draft, or fixing a novel that isn’t quite working.

     Janice Hardy is the author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, where she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The first book in her Foundations of Fiction series, Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is out now. She lives in Georgia with her husband, one yard zombie, three cats, and a very nervous freshwater eel. Find out more about writing at her site, Fiction University, or find her on Twitter @Janice_Hardy.
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indie Bound

     Janice has kindly agreed to give away one free, signed and dedicated copy of Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure to one of my lucky visitors. Must live in the US or Canada to win. Enter below.


Mel S said...

Pantser- that's me! But on my second book I'm shifting into a loose outliner! So nice to see someone saying it's ok to write in your own style.

Ukio Takeshi said...

Been writing chronologically. Like the idea of writing whatever scene you feel inspired about at the moment.

Margay Leah Justice said...

This sounds like an intriguing book. I used to be a total plotter, but lately I've been flying by the seat of my pants!

Dana said...

I am a huge fan of Janice's blog and I love this post about writing styles. I tend to be a pantser with my first draft and then outline a bit for revision. I think it's important to allow yourself the freedom to try different styles for different projects, because you never know what might work best.

Eva Porter said...

I can identify with three: scene sewer, loose outliner and character writer. Thanks for the post.

Amy Schaefer said...

I am transitioning from being an out-and-out pantser to a loose outliner. While I love the freedom and mystery of pantsing, revising my wip has been a killer. It's time for a change.

Also, Janice's blog is THE BEST.

Anonymous said...

I'm also trasitioning from pantster to loose outliner.

Anonymous said...

As always, I'm not one to live within one box. I am a hybrid of the loose outliner and the character writer. I want enough freedom without losing a bit of structure, and I enjoy creating characters while matching a plot to them. Your book sounds very helpful!

Janice Hardy said...

It's so much fun hearing how everyone works. I've always been fascinated by the writing process, and how different writers approach it.

Mel S, it really is. And what's more, that style might change book to book, so it's okay to shake things up as needed.

Ukio, I tried that a little on my current WIP, and I enjoyed the freedom of skipping a scene that was slowing me down to write the next one instead.

Margay, how are you enjoying it? Do you prefer the freedom or do you think you'll start mixing the two?

Dana, I agree, and I have quite a few pantser friends who save outlining and more formal plotting for revisions. They love it. (And thanks!)

Eva, sounds like you enjoy following the story wherever and whenever it takes you. That's great!

Amy, aw, thanks! I've found I like to outline for plot and pants for characters. I know where I'm going but now how I'll get there. It's a nice mix that allows structure with spontaneity. You might try looking at something similar, where you plot out just enough to keep you on track,

Tracikenworth, ditto what I just told Amy :) Perhaps plot out the things that you typically get stuck on and pants the rest. Maybe all you need is three of four plot signposts as guides.

Kashmirgirl1976, sounds cool! I think I'm the reverse of you. I like to figure out who my characters are as I write the first draft and how they create the plot.

Janice Hardy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Linda Maye Adams said...

It's hard being a pantser in the world of writing. A lot of people really don't get how I can write without any kind of outline. I always cringe when someone says, "I've seen the light! I'm a reformed pantser!" because you don't hear if they found out it didn't work and had to go back to pantsing; meanwhile, the outliners are pointing and saying, "See? She did it. You should, too."

There isn't a lot of writing advice for people like me. Nearly all of it out there is framed from the assumption you're outlining. I didn't realize this until I took an Odyssey class from a pantser, plus some of the Dean Wesley Smith classes (he's a pantser). I'd taken a lot of courses over the years, and it was always the same: I was the one who didn't really get it. I tried it, but I was off the on the side, battling my way through it while lightbulbs lit up over everyone else. But when I took classes from pantsers, everything was techniques I could relate to. Instead of battling my way through, I could settle in for a stay and enjoy the learning parts. In all the outliner-focused classes I took over five years, I didn't grow much as a writer; in the pantser classes, it was each leaps in a short time. Sometimes you need the right tools.

Janice Hardy said...

Linda, you've just summed up one of the harder parts of writing my site. As an outliner myself, it's been incredibly tough to come up with articles that can help pantsers. That's one reason I started bringing in guest authors every week, so other pantsers could share their techniques that I wouldn't cover.

I often say that for pantsers, it might be more helpful to just think about the things I suggest or questions I pose to get them in your head, and then let them simmer as you pants away. Kind of like tucking notes into your subconscious and then seeing how it uses them. Of course, for some pantsers even that is too much structure :)

Here's a question for you (and all pantsers here): what types of advice or tips do you look for as a pantser? What might I do to help you guys more?

Unknown said...

I'm definitely not an outliner. I couldn't properly outline to save my life! But I do start all my projects (there are a lot of them) the same way with a novel blueprint, which is loosely based on the one on Writer's Digest. Mostly it's just stating the genre, pov, tense, word count target, summary, characters, setting, and plot ideas.

As for the actually writing, I always PLAN to write in a linear fashion, but generally end up getting ahead of myself. I guess in that way I'm a Scene Sewer. It can definitely be a pain in the butt sometimes, but once I've gotten all the pieces together it's very satisfying :)

Lori L. Clark Art said...

I'm a mixture. :) I'm part panster, part loose outliner and part character driven. I generally have a thread of an idea, but the characters definitely come to me first.

Lindsay Carlson said...

Awesome post! Will link to our Nano site for all the newbie writers! Thx :)

Linda Maye Adams said...

-- Here's a question for you (and all pantsers here): what types of advice or tips do you look for as a pantser? --

Please, please remember that pantsers are not broken. If an outliner talks pantsers vs. plotters, they always bring this up and probably aren't aware of it. Nearly all the advice that comes at us is with the assumption that our stories are broken and need to be fixed -- not a technique on how to approach something differently.

For example, world building is an outliner's technique. The outliner already knows what will happen in the story, so they know what they need. How does a pantser world build when they don't know what's going to happen in the story? The outliner's suggestion would be to do a beat list or a plot point list and figure out the ending. These look like common sense, but the pantser is still thinking, "But I don't know all that. I haven't written the story." The outliner is now fussing at them at what seems to be such an obvious thing. Someone else jumps in and tells the pantser if it's not working they're not doing it right. The pantser finally gives up and goes off to muddle through on her own, vowing not to ask any more questions. (This was me, a whole lot. I got very tired of snide remarks from people because I was doing it differently).

Janice Hardy said...

Linda, that's what I try to do so hopefully I'm on the right track. I'm a big supporter of the "there's no right way to right" philosophy.

Nikki said...

I'm a 'loose outliner' who would like to try Scene Sewing.

I never found full outlining appealing. Then I found outlining techniques I enjoyed and that cleared up so much of the writing process for me. Still, I felt stymied and couldn't come up with certain twists or catches to just 'fill in the blank' really.

So I think 'loose outliner' fits me perfectly as I can get my structure and eat...err, use it too.

But the scene sewer can help me, I think, with how I jump around in my head and get inspired in non-chronological order. Here's hoping.

A.M. Guynes/Annikka Woods said...

I'm partially a pantser and partially a character driven writer. I'd like to try being a loose outliner because I'm tired of having to rewrite a dozen times or more because something doesn't make sense in the continuity of the story.

Sloane said...

I'm so a character writer. I'm postponing an outline right now. Hahahaha xD

Paul Anthony Shortt said...

I usually think of a few key scenes and characters, and start working out what story happened to bring these elements together. I've become more and more of a planner as I've continued my career, but it's still in my head that I do the most of it. I'm trying to get to grips with Scrivener at the moment, for my latest book, and I'm having trouble re-organizing my brain to use the different tools.

Janice Hardy said...

Megan, that sounds like a loose or rough outline to me. :) I suspect many people think "outline" has to be a big detailed thing, but it really doesn't have to be. (Oh! You just gave me tomorrow's article for my site, so thanks!) Four or five points that summarize the story is an outline. They can be very flexible. I'm amazed by you scene sewers. A good friend of mine is one and it boggles my mind how you keep track of everything. But I totally see why it works for those writers. Hearing her talk about it made me want to try it.

Lori, very cool, a mix of all the good stuff. I'd guess you enjoy the discovery of the story as you write? Those styles seem perfect for that.

Lindsay, aw, thanks! Much appreciated.

Nikki, go for it. A friend of mine is a scene sewer, and she loves being able to write the scenes that excite her to keep the momentum going. I have those moments as well, where I know I want a twist or something to happen at a certain time, but I don't know what it is. So I just write down "big twist involving her secret" or whatever and then I deal with it when I get there or something comes to me. Outlines can be fluid and ever evolving. Mine are always more detailed for the first half and rough for the back half until I get farther into the story. Then I flesh them out.

A.M/Annikka, you might try starting with a very light outline, just a few points to work toward, and see how that feels. I'd suggest the major turning points, like the inciting event, the act one choice, the midpoint, the act two problem, and maybe the climax (but if you pants you might not have any clue what this will be yet). They can be vague if that works better for you, but they might give you just enough of a guide to keep your plot focused but still allow the characters to drive the story.

Sloane, lol. Have you tried doing character arcs instead of a regular outline? That might give you some structure but on your terms.

Paul, I like Scrivener to write in, but I still outline and plan in Word. Just easier for me. I do like the corkboard for moving scenes around though. I think the trick with Scrivener, is to find the tools that make what you do anyway easier, and just use those. Trying to use it all changes your process to fit the software, instead of using the software to streamline your process.

Paul Anthony Shortt said...

Definitely. I love the corkboard for scene planning, but I think I prefer a Word doc for taking character notes. I definitely wouldn't find it practical to separate my scenes in Scrivener. I'm probably best to paste into it as I write each chapter, since I wrote so much away from a pc that I can install it on.

Janice Hardy said...

Away from a PC? Do you write by hand or on a pad?

Paul Anthony Shortt said...

I write on my lunch hour in work, on my office PC, but I can't install software on it.

I also use a Chromebook if I want to get some extra work done in the evening when my wife and I are watching tv, and there's no browser-based app version of Scrivener.

Elizabeth O Dulemba said...

It's been wonderful to read all of your comments!! Janice obviously inspires writerly minds! (No surprise.) Thanks all for visiting! :) e

Rebekah said...

My son is a young author at heart and one day would like to publish his own books. He is always writing stores and sharing them with me. Hoping this book will help he discover his dreams.

Katrina Maxwell said...

I think it's possible to be a combination of the types of writers. Like for me I see the scenes before I know the characters. I'm a visual person so it's easier for me to play out the scenes in my head to know what to write but I also enjoy writing as a pantser. It's fun, stressful, exciting not knowing what's going to happen next.