Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

On Second Thought

By K D Grace

When I lived in Croatia a hundred years ago, I spent three weeks every summer camping on the

Adriatic near Pula. At the campsite where I stayed, there was a small store and a restaurant that had live music every night. There were several buildings with showers and toilets. That was the extent of the place.

One of the shower blocks not far from where I set up my tent was a narrow concrete pre-fab with a row of cubicles, each containing a shower, each with a door leading right out onto the main path through the camp. One year one of the six cubicles was missing a door. That meant more congestion for the remaining shower units, which were in high demand in August. There was almost always a queue. 

Early one evening on my way back from the grocery store, I noticed two very fit German blokes I’d seen wind surfing earlier in the day queuing for the shower, but they got tired of waiting, so they stripped off their Speedos and waltzed right on in to the cubicle without the door. 

I happened to be with a friend who was a bit more prudish than I, and she averted her eyes and dragged me away in a huff, me nearly breaking my neck for one last glance over my shoulder at naked, wet maleness. The whole incident couldn’t have lasted more than a minute. What I saw was fleeting. But what I imagined – over and over and over again – was most definitely not!

So why do I bring this up? Last month, just back from Scotland, I wrote about the inspiration a writer gets from images and shared a few examples. This month, I’d like to explore the inspiration we get from that glorious, super-high-tech instant replay in our brain. 

My voyeuristic encounter at the showers stands out to me as outrageously erotic, and yet nothing happened. Two blokes got tired of waiting in queue for the shower, probably anxious to get to dinner and a cold beer, so they chose to shower in full view of hundreds of people they didn’t know, hundreds of people who would never see them again. BUT, they were wrong, I’ve seen them countless times in my imagination – sometimes sun bleached and golden in the late afternoon light, sometimes dark, tattooed and dangerous just before dusk, beckoning me to come join them, speaking softly to me in German -- words I don’t understand, though I completely get their meaning. I know exactly what those boys want, as they leer at me and I leer back. 

In some of those instant replays, I meet them on the beach at midnight to share a bottle of wine and a naked swim in the warm moonlit waters. In some of those instant replays, I shoo my prudish friend back to her tent, then strip off shamelessly and join them, letting them soap me and rinse me and protect me with their naked, glistening bodies from the gaping onlookers. In other versions, they come to the shower late at night when everyone else is asleep, and only I’m there to watch them lather and bathe each other, thorough in their efforts to get clean, more thorough in their efforts to relieve the tensions of the day. 

Everyone has an instant replay in their brain that allows them to rewind, slo-mo, enhance, zoom in on any part of any experience or image that catches their fancy, and then enjoy it a second or even a 50th time around. We can take that experience and totally change it if we choose. We do it all the time; in our heads, we rewrite the ending of an interview that didn’t go so well or an argument with a lover so that we can take back what we wish we hadn’t said. Sometimes we imagine what would have happened next if things had been allowed to unfold to the end, if I had been allowed to linger a little longer in front of the showers. In fact, we can be really neurotic about it, playing the same scenes over and over and obsessing on them, for good or for ill. 

Writers are especially adept at using this instant replay to inspire, to arouse, to tease out and focus on details we might otherwise have missed, details that might have totally intrigued us the first time around, even details that weren’t really there. Then we write those details into whole new sexy scenarios, sometimes even whole novels. 

I know, I know! It’s all a part of memory. Anyone can hit the ole instant replay button at any time and
experience the past all over again. We all do that. But there’s nothing ordinary about the ability to relive our experiences and imagine ourselves in a different life – perhaps even as different people who make a different decision; perhaps the decision to strip off and shower with the German wind-surfers. The creative process of a writer depends on the exploitation of that instant replay button. I can’t think of anything I’ve written that isn’t grounded in some way, no matter how miniscule, in my recalling of an experience, my reimagining of a moment, or my reworking of an image that intrigues me. In a very real sense, we are what we write as we wind back the video in the editing room of our brain and hit replay, then hit slo-mo, then zoom in real nice and tight-like so that we can enhance and recreate every detail to tell a brand new story.



Monday, September 28, 2015

Pouring Your Soul Onto The Page

Elizabeth Black writes in a wide variety of genres including erotica, erotic romance, and dark fiction. She lives on the Massachusetts coast with her husband, son, and three cats. Visit her web site, her Facebook page, and her Amazon Author Page.


People who know me know I write horror and dark fiction as well as erotica and erotic romance. I'm going to meet writer Jack Ketchum in mid-October at the Stanley Hotel Writers Retreat. That's the hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, where Stephen King stayed that inspired him to write The Shining. While Ketchum is a horror writer, what he had to say about digging down into dark recesses of your soul to get to the meat of your characters applies to any genre. This excerpt is from an essay he wrote for the book Horror 101: The Way Forward:

"Dig into the dark mean night of your soul." Remember Peter Straub's line in Ghost Story? What's the worst thing you've ever done? Well, what its it?

What god-awful things have you fantasized doing but would never do?

What's the worst thing you can imagine actually happening to you? To your loved ones?

What breaks your heart?

Use your damage. Write from the wound. Go as deep as you dare. Stare into your own abyss and report back. No need to reveal everything – children have to learn how to lie a little, or else they grow up without protection, and so do we writer types. But you need ot embrace the damage as a co-conspirator, as uniquely you, as something you can use. Throw it out there into the light, to a place where it can do some good for others and maybe even for yourself.

You need to be honest. Really good fiction is always an attempt at total honesty. Be true to both the good and the downright dangerous inside. See them as clearly as you can, use your empathy, search out your characters in your own heart and write them as though they were you. They are you, you know. Every one of them, if you do it right.

When I dig down into my soul to get to the heart of my characters, I feel exposed and vulnerable. There have been a few stories I've written I decided against publishing because they feel too close. Too personal. Some of the stories I have published make me feel over-exposed. Although a publisher liked the story enough to publish and sell it, I don't necessarily feel comfortable letting people read it because I feel like the reader will get a glimpse of me I'd rather keep private. My short story Longing in Coming Together: Among The Stars and my novel Don't Call Me Baby are excellent examples of my picking at a festering wound in my soul I won't let heal, and I allow everyone on earth to read about it.

Longing is about my fear of growing old and forgetting who I am. Or my husband losing his faculties and losing his memory of me. The story is about a woman whose husband suffers from dementia and he can't remember who she is. I based the husband on my husband and on a friend who suffers from dementia. I watched this friend devolve from a vibrant and genius-level intelligent human being to a shell of his former self. I don't like to think about it anymore, but I needed to express my profound distress at watching what had happened to him. Likewise, I am over 50 and my husband is over 60. Aging is very much in the forefront of my mind, and I am terrified of losing the sense of who I am and who he is. I know it's a normal rite of passage for someone my age, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

Don't Call Me Baby is semi-autobiographical. I deal head-on with two affairs with married men I had when I was in college. What possessed me to do something as self-hating and stupid as that? The book was in part about my fear of losing my identity to another man's wishes and demands. I watched some of my girlfriends turn from independent and interesting women to creatures who lived to please their boyfriends and fianc├ęs. I didn't want to turn into a Stepford wife. I was afraid that to fall in love meant having to turn my will completely over to a man, and I didn't want to do that. So I chose men who were not only unavailable, but who also couldn't complain when I chose to date multiple men at once. I couldn't get too close to them, and they couldn't get too close to me. I'm very much aware of how selfish this all sounds. Catherine Stone, my heroine in the book, is also very selfish as well as a bit pig-headed. She does meet a man who doesn't interfere with her freedom, and how she learns to trust him is an important part of the book. At that time in my life, I had not yet met that man, and I wouldn't meet him for several decades.

I've noticed the common thread between both stories – my fear of losing the sense of myself. Growing old, losing my sense of myself, ending up alone surrounded by my dozens of cats, and becoming homeless are four of my greatest fears. I've looked into them in some of my stories, especially the horror stories.

What are you afraid of? What fears drive you throughout your life? How would you answer Jack Ketchum's questions? What god-awful things have you fantasized doing but would never do? What is the worst thing you can imagine happening to you? To your loved ones? Use the raw emotions behind the answers to bring your characters to life. Like Ketchum said, you don't need to reveal everything in your writing. However, you need to know that side of your character to make that person human.

Escapism is a wonderful thing to enjoy, especially in erotica and erotic romance. Every woman who enjoys a good sexy story likes being swept off her feet and taken to a fantasy world. I've written escapist fantasies as well. These stories are driven by some of my fears but they aren't gut-wrenching.  My two erotic fairy tales Trouble In Thigh High Boots (Puss In Boots) and Climbing Her Tower (Rapunzel) as well as my short lesbian erotic romance Like A Breath Of Ocean Blue and my erotic fantasy A Dance Of Ocean Magic fall into this category. The main characters in those stories have their weaknesses and faults, but the stories have an otherworldly and magical quality to them that helps the reader escape her mundane, daily concerns. She can get lost in another fun world for a few hours.

When it comes to raw and uncomfortable emotion, I prefer the realistic approach, even if the story is fantasy or science fiction. If I wonder if the reader will disapprove of me or not like me, I know I'm on the right track. I know the reader may criticize my character's choices, but those choices led my character down the path toward her maturation. Sometimes that maturation is found through trusting a partner in a vulnerable sex act. At few other times are we more vulnerable than when we are spread out, naked and exposed, before someone we care about. How will your partner treat you? Will you be cared for or abused? It's all a matter of trust.

My story Longing appears in Coming Together: Among The Stars.

Don't Call Me Baby

Trouble In Thigh High Boots

Climbing Her Tower

My story Like A Breath of Ocean Blue appears in Best Lesbian Romance Of The Year, Vol. 1, published by Cleis Press.


A Dance Of Ocean Magic will soon appear in the erotic anthology Forbidden Fruit, to be published by Sweetmeats Press.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Passing of a Visionary

by Jean Roberta



Since it’s my turn to post here today, I would just like to note the sad passing of an amazing photographer, Honey Lee Cottrell, on September 21, at the too-young age of 69.

Honey Lee, Tee Corinne (who is already gone) and JEB (Joan Biren), were a kind of Holy Trinity of photographers and visual artists who created the look of lesbian visual representation from the late 1970s through the 1990s. Anyone who has seen a lesbian sex manual or erotic magazine (particularly On Our Backs) from that era has seen their work.

Words can’t convey how these three pioneers managed to bring the previously-unspeakable eroticism of women with women into visual form. Those of us who lived far away from any queer mecca (San Francisco, parts of New York) were given hope by these women’s artwork to believe that nirvana might actually exist somewhere, or that it was coming into being.

In the 1980s, here in a government town on the Canadian prairie, I worked for minimum wage in a collectively-run “alternative” bookstore. (It was founded by a husband and wife who loved science fiction.) I was proud of the small lesbian section that featured books that managed to sneak across the border from Bookpeople (a major distributor in California), despite the efforts of Canada Customs to stop all “obscene” material from entering Canada from elsewhere. Every time I saw the latest issue of On Our Backs, carefully packed at the bottom of a box by someone who knew the score, I was thrilled. Honey Lee Cottrell’s unusual erotic subjects smiled back at me as if to say that eventually, we would all have our place in the sun.

I hope she is now in a place as beautiful as she ever imagined.

Sorting Out

by Jean Roberta

This weekend, I have several big jobs to do, and I’m fairly sure I won’t finish them all. Unfortunately, none of them involves writing fiction.

1) I need to make a dent in my To Be Read list of books for review. The book that is most accessible to me physically is a hardcover anthology of fabulous (in every sense) lesbian sci-fi, just out from Lethe Press. In due course, I’ll post my review somewhere on-line, with a link on Facebook.

2) I really need to finish writing a first draft of my proposal for a book project for the university where I teach, so I can get time off to work on it. This book, which already has a publisher, will be about censorship, broadly speaking, not only the official kind imposed by governments but the mob-rule kind imposed by organizations which supposedly rebel against governments. The publisher wants me to focus on eyewitness events, for which I was present or involved. Egad. I have a mass of material that needs to be summarized in a logical way.

3) I need to start reading the pile of student essays that were handed in to me on Friday. The essays are on the short stories I’m teaching in a first-semester English class. The student efforts I’ve seen so far are not completely garbled, or incoherent, but they need work. It’s my job to explain how they could be improved, not because I want students to say exactly what I want them to say, but because I want them to express themselves as clearly as possible.

4) Later today, an expert in decluttering (who runs a business doing this) will arrive to help me tackle the basement of my house, which reminds me of a jungle or a war zone full of landmines. Ms. Declutter is a friend of my stepson, and she has been polite about the mess so far. I’m afraid we’ll probably have to take everything out of the basement to make sure we can find and destroy all the black mould. (I killed a large patch of it with bleach last week, and was lectured by my whole family for doing this without a mask or gloves.)

Looking at this intimidating to-do list, I see what all these tasks require: discrimination or judgment. Writing anything, fiction or non-fiction, requires the same skills that enable a person to create order in a house. What’s important needs to be identified and put in an appropriate place. What’s less important needs to be used to support or enhance the important stuff. What is not needed has to be discarded without mercy. No “maybe I can fix it and use it later.” If it’s taking up too much space, it has to go.

Reading an amazing collection of sci-fi stories, most by veteran writers, and then reading the writing of undergraduates in a mandatory English class, is a study in contrasts. Good writers demonstrate by example what works and what doesn’t work.

To show what I mean, here is the opening scene of “Eldritch Brown Houses” by Claire Humphrey in Daughters of Frankenstein (Lethe Press):

“This is Salem at its oldest and spookiest: cold fog off the ocean, daylight dimming early, gables and gombrels looming at odd angles. I’m gazing out from the upstairs window of the Corwin place, from beside a case of age-yellowed cloth dolls. The streets are empty except for the tail-lights of a single car, receding.”

Don’t you want to read the rest of this story? All the details in this paragraph, from the physical atmosphere to the vintage architecture to the aged dolls to the one modern car that is going away, combine to create a unified effect.

By contrast, a typical student essay reads somewhat like this:

“I am going to write about a story called “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman which is in a big book for my English class. This story was written in the 18th century.
[Note: students often confuse the 1800s, or nineteenth century, with the one before. It’s all in the past, and who cares about the difference?]
This story has a first-person viewpoint. It is about a woman who is depressed because she just had a baby. Her husband is a doctor named John. They go to stay in a house in the country for the summer. Some people think the house is haunted, but I don’t think so.”

Do you want to read the rest of this essay? Please, for me? I didn’t think so. Note the scatter-gun effect. What does the viewpoint, the character’s depression or the husband have to do with ghosts, or the illusion of ghosts?

In my comments on the student assignment, I will have to be more articulate than the student. I will have to explain that all the information in the opening paragraph can be used in some way, but it all needs to support the student writer’s thesis, that this story is NOT about ghosts. The widespread perception of contemporary readers (from the time of first publication) that the story IS about ghosts – or even demonic possession -- needs to be debunked.

When dealing with a mass of material, in the form of notes, ideas, or physical objects, I need to apply my own advice to myself. What effect am I aiming for? What could be added, and what needs to be pulled out? If I have good material, how should it be arranged for best results?

It’s easier said than done, but just naming the challenge ahead is a good first step.

Other writing instructors before me have pointed out that half the job of writing is editing. Many writers before me have found this part to be the “work” of writing (as distinct from the “play”), but it can’t be avoided, and it can be as much a journey of discovery as the typing of a first sentence.

To those involved in a parallel process of shaping a work of creative writing, I say: Don’t give up! Be equally ruthless with irrelevant details and with the black mould of writer’s block. You are not alone.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Don't Forget the Love...


There's been a lot of negativity in the erotica/erotic romance writing world just lately. What with discussions on how "that book" has affected the industry and the market, publishers going under, sales dropping, the affect of Kindle Unlimited... the list goes on.

Because of this, I decided a positive post was in order. Yes, bad stuff is happening (and yes, some of it has affected me, and continues to do so), but I'm doing my best to stay positive and rise above it. I'm not letting it drag me down. Some people's muses have understandably deserted them, leaving a whole bunch of writers with no output, hopefully temporarily. But it seems to have had the opposite affect on me. I've been driven to write more, write faster, experiment more, research other publishers, put more eggs in my self-publishing basket. Because there's no way I'm giving up. Want to know why?

I love it.

Simple as that. I love it, and have loved it for years. I don't make an awful lot of money from my writing. It's increasing as I get more books out, of course, but it's not my full-time job. Maybe it never will be. But I still won't stop. I have tons of new stories left in me waiting to be told, characters to revisit, and, most importantly, readers that enjoy my books and look forward to reading new ones. That's what keeps me going. That drive to write more, and those frankly awesome people that buy my books. Yes, I wish I could have a million-selling book, hit the USA Today and New York Times bestseller lists, of course I do. But in the meantime I'm going back to basics. Instead of worrying too much about what's going to sell and what isn't - because, let's be honest, it's nigh on impossible to predict, anyway - I'm just writing what I want to write, telling stories I want to tell. I just finished a novella recently, and adored every moment of writing it. It might not sell and may get awful reviews - but I'll take it on the chin. I always do. Equally, it could be a runaway success. Only time will tell.

Either way, I won't forget the love. So please, everyone, remember that. Remember why you write, why you're involved in this genre and industry. Keep creating, keep going, keep loving.

We always need more positivity in this world, after all.

Lucy 

*****

Author Bio:


Lucy Felthouse is a very busy woman! She writes erotica and erotic romance in a variety of subgenres and pairings, and has over 100 publications to her name, with many more in the pipeline. These include several editions of Best Bondage Erotica, Best Women's Erotica 2013 and Best Erotic Romance 2014. Another string to her bow is editing, and she has edited and co-edited a number of anthologies, and also edits for a small publishing house. She owns Erotica For All, is book editor for Cliterati, and is one eighth of The Brit Babes. Find out more at http://www.lucyfelthouse.co.uk. Join her on Facebook and Twitter, and subscribe to her newsletter at: http://eepurl.com/gMQb9

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Right Way to Write a Novel




By Lisabet Sarai

Many erotica authors get their start publishing short stories. Anthologies, webzines and more recently self-publishing offer many opportunities for selling short erotic fictionpossibly more than in any other genre.

I’d argue that it’s far more difficult to craft an exceptional short story than to produce a longer work. With only a few thousand words available, you must choose each one with special care. Short stories leave no room for sloppiness. The stories I love most are jewels, masterpieces of symmetry and clarity that shine with inner light.

For some reason, though, many erotic authors I know believe that writing a novel is somehow a more worthy endeavor than crafting short stories. Again and again on writerslists Ive heard my friends and colleagues lament that they cant seem to spin a story longer than a few thousand words. They feel inadequate, unfulfilled, second rate. Only when you see your name onreal booka novelcan you truly call yourself an Author, or so they seem to think.

Well, pish tush to that. Anyway, if you can write an effective short story, you can create a novel. You just have to go about it the right way.

Before you close your browser in disgust at my arrogance, let me reassure you that the title of this post is intended to be facetious. I do believe that if you want to write a novel, if you have a story deep and complex enough to support 50,000 words or more, you can do it. However, theres no one right way to go about it. Different authors use different techniques. My goal in writing this article is to introduce some of the approaches Ive encountered in my 15 years of publishing, and encourage you to explore them.

You can write a novel. You just need to figure out the method that works for you, personally.

When I went to Amazon, choseBooks, and typedHow to write a novel, I got 2,859 results, with titles likeHow to write a best-selling book in 21 days!,How to write a novel: simple and powerful 4 steps to your first novel,Write good or die,How not to write a novel: 200 classic mistakes, even (egads!)Fiction writing for dummies. It seems that if you really want to make it bigwrite a how-to book about writing novels.

I havent read any of these books, and Im not likely to. Still, Ive published eight novels and Im halfway through writing my ninth.

I’ve listened to lots of successful novelists discuss their methods, and I’ve introspected on my own. That’s the main source for the observations that follow. I’ll talk about six approaches to novel writing: the Jigsaw method, the TV Serial method, the Character-driven Random Walk, the Dump and Sift method, the Snowflake method and the Dissertation method. In reality, these are abstractions. They’re not monolithic methods, but rather, points in a multidimensional space. What are the dimensions?

- Analysis versus intuition
- Linearity versus non-linearity
- Continuous editing versus staged editing

You may well find a method that works for you in some other region of this space.

Jigsaw Method

People who write novels using this method write scenes as the story inspires them, without worrying about temporal order or connections. When caught up in the fever of an idea, they write furiously, trying to capture the images and events playing out in their imaginations. Often, though maybe not always, jigsaw people tend to visually oriented. They see scenes from their book, as if played out on an internal movie screen, then work to describe those inner films in words.

Creating a novel from these disparate chunks of prose involves fitting them together (like a jigsaw puzzle). Indeed, it can be quite puzzling trying to determine the relationship among the different segments of the book. Unlike a real jigsaw, the author may need to alter the shape of the pieces to make them mesh, or create new pieces to mediate the fit.

The Jigsaw method is located at the extremes of all three dimensions. It is highly intuitive, very non-linear, and requires staged editing to achieve consistency.

My good friend and crit partner C. Sanchez-Garcia mostly writes this way. He calls this theclothesline method, another apt analogy. Theres no way I could use this method, but for him (and for many other authors I know), it works.
 
TV Serial Method

This is the method I’ve used for most of my own novels. The TV Serial method is highly linear and uses continuous editing. It’s mid-way between analytical and intuitive.

This method builds a novel chapter by chapter. Chapters are like episodes in a TV series, each one featuring a minor conflict and resolution, and often, ending with something of a teaser to bring the viewer (reader) back next week. Each chapter gets polished (at least to some extent) before the author moves on to the next.

When I begin a novel I’m writing this way, I have in mind a set of characters, a premise, a setting, and a rough trajectory for the overall book. I will usually have some notion of how the book will end, but I don’t necessarily know how the characters will get there. I’ll also have a scene list (sometimes written, sometimes in my head), high points I want to hit over the course of the book.

I then sit down to write the book, from beginning to end. I try to finish each chapter in one sitting or at most two. I polish and edit as I write. Then, when I start my next writing session, I first reread and do further edits on the previous chapter.

If I finish a chapter with time left, I often will move to some other project rather than starting a new chapter, in order to preserve the structural integrity of the units.

As I write, my imagination fills in the details. I learn more about my characters. Occasionally, I have flashes of inspiration that dramatically change the course of the story. The final result is never exactly what I’d envisioned. It’s almost always better.

I suspect that this is the way Joss Whedon wrote Buffy. He began with a fairly superficial high school girl killing vampires. He ended up with a dark, twisted world where the characters lose as often as they win.

Character-driven Random Walk

When I ask many of my author friends how they approach the process of writing a book, they respond,My characters talk to me. In fact, I cant shut them up.Its an old jokewe writers are crazy, because we have voices in our heads. All humor aside, though, many authorsprocess is completely driven by their characters. They dont have an outline or a scene list. They simply listen their characters, following where they lead.

Of course, to do this, you need a pretty clear vision of who your characters are and what they want. Still, I gather from listening to my colleagues who use this method that characters can be a surprising and ornery lot. One friend had the experience of starting an erotic romance with a hero and heroine, only to discover a quarter of the way through that what she really had was two heroes.

The Character-driven Random Walk is almost totally intuitive, but unlike the Jigsaw method, it is usually linear. Characters act and react, while the author writes everything down. Gradually the story unfolds, from start to finish. The story line corresponds to the characters’ life lines.

I’ve been experimenting with this method in my current WIP. I’m not sure how effective it is for me. I seem to be having a great deal of difficulty moving the plot forward. My characters keep stopping the action to have more kinky sex. At some level, that’s what the novel is about, the development of their D/s relationship as they come to know and trust one another. I know that I need conflict, though, something that challenges that trust. While I have some ideas, my hero and heroine are resisting.

This method can be used with both continuous or staged editing. As usual for me, I’m on the continuous side. However, one could also write the whole book, following the characters without editing a word, then go back to revise.

Dump and Sift

The Dump and Sift method is just what it sounds like. You sit down and write whatever comes to mind, freely and uncritically. You stop when you’ve reached a pre-decided word count. Then you go back to select, analyze, polish and rearrange the raw material from the “dump” stage.

Dump and Sift is the model behind NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). It’s an antidote to over-thinking and perfectionism, and can get you past bouts of writer’s block.

Ive occasionally used the Dump and Sift method (sometimes known as Write or Die, supported by a fun application that forces you to do so), but only for short sections of prose. Im too analytical a person to just let the words flow without some selection or editing. The Dump phase of this method requires a level of intuition that comes hard to me. Dump and Sift is usually linear (though it doesnt have to beyou could dump your scenes in any order). And the method is pretty much defined by its staged editing, where stage 1 involves no editing at all.

Snowflake Method

The Snowflake Method was introduced by Randy Ingermanson. I havent read his book. What I know about the method comes from an excellent blog post by Kathleen Bradean, about her attempts to apply this method. (A post, alas, which I now cannot find!)

As I recall her discussion, the method is hierarchical. You begin with a single sentence that summarizes the point of the book. You then expand this to a paragraph, something like a blurb. Next you write brief character profiles, focusing on goals, motivation and resolution. Eventually you get to the level of an outline. You then expand the outline into chapters. And so on. You iterate back to earlier levels as necessary, when your explorations lead you to the conclusion that some change is required.

You can find Ingermansons own description at his web site.

Ingermanson is a scientist by training. He treats the process of writing a novel as a process of systematic design. As a software engineer, I find this process very familiar. However, Im pretty certain I couldnt manage to apply it to my own writing. For me, when it comes to fiction, discovery trumps intention.

However, for some authors, it may be the perfect approach. Indeed, this fairly simple breakdown of steps might be useful to two very different types of authors: authors who already take a highly analytical approach to their work, and authors who crave discipline and structure but don’t know how to get it.

Dissertation Method

The Dissertation Method treats a novel like a doctoral thesis. It involves extensive research, copious notes, pages of character profiles, multiple level outlines and chapter summaries. Authors who favor this method may create timelines of their fictional world history, glossaries of terms, genealogies, maps, and a raft of other documents to support their writing.

For some booksIm thinking of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, or Neal Stephensons Anathem, or Hilary Mantels Wolf Hall trilogy—creating this level of background documentation may be necessary. And I know some authors really enjoy investigating period details and assembling supporting material, almost as much as the writing process itself.

That isnt me. Ill do the research thats required for a particular book, but no more (although I have sometimes spent significant time doing research for books I decided not to write). Ive tried once or twice producing detailed character profiles. I found it an interesting exercise, but once I began the actual story, I pretty much ignored the profiles.

That’s just me, though. You may be the kind of writer who gains confidence and clarity from having a wealth of background material and supporting detail at her fingertips, should she need it.

I do appreciate reading books set in a historical or fictional world so fully imagined that it feels real. Frequently something like the dissertation method will be required to create such books.

Summary

I haven’t covered all the options here, but I hope that I’ve accomplished three things.

First, I hope I have demonstrated that there are a wealth of different alternative techniques for writing a novel.

Second, I want to emphasize that there is no one “right” way to do so. You need to find a method that matches your cognitive and emotional styles and that fits with your available time and writing schedule. If your current method isn’t working, though, perhaps you should experiment with something different.

Finally, I want to encourage you to write that novel you’ve been turning over in your mind, if that’s what you really want to do. If you have a story to tell, don’t be intimidated. Let it expand to fill the pages, in whatever way is most natural for you. Then send it out to the world.