Friday, January 30, 2009

Guest Author: Emily Bryan

J.K., thanks so much for having me here to share my newest release, VEXING THE VISCOUNT (Feb 24th-Leisure Books). Since you are so generous with other authors, I thought I’d pay it forward a bit with a little writerly advice.

There are as many ways to write a novel as there are people who try it. This isn’t just my opinion. English playwright S. Somerset Maugham says, “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” So you see, no one can tell you the definitive process because everyone’s brain works differently. What helps me be creative may be a serious irritant to you.

However, I have noticed most writers fall into a few loose categories—pantsers, plotters, layerers, or puzzlers.

Pantsers write “by the seat of their pants.” They wake up and wonder where their story is heading, discovering motivations and plotpoints by following their characters around. I started like this because I didn’t know any better and I did manage to write MAIDENSONG (my debut written as Diana Groe, Leisure Books, May 2006) in this way. The down side is that pantsers can get sidetracked, write themselves into corners and wander around in search of an ending far too long.

Then when life intervened and I had to get a 40 hour-a-week day job, I knew I needed a more orderly system. So I became a ... Plotter, of sorts. Serious plotters interview their characters, develop spreadsheets and storyboards, and research like demons. One of the pitfalls of serious plotting is that plotters sometimes get so bogged down with backstory and plot points, it’s hard to actually break away from the planning to write the story.

I’m not a totally committed plotter. I do my research, write brief character sketches outlining my h/h’s goals and a detailed working synopsis. I treat these tools as a map, from which I may deviate if I spot a more interesting side road to wander down. But with a limited amount of pre-planning, I was able to maintain a schedule that allowed me to produce a 400 page manuscript every 6 months even with the day job.

Then life intervened again. Now I’m a full-time writer and able to do a little experimenting with other methods. Like . . .

Layering, sometimes called the “Snow-flake” method. The point of this is to start with a 60 second premise and it needs to be a powder keg of an idea. Here is the premise for a paranormal I’m playing with:

A time-traveling archaeologist must bond with a Light Elf to re-hide the Doomsday dragon chrysalis she’s unearthed.

Once you have the premise, move on to a cover-style blurb, character sketches, working synopsis, detailed synopsis, rough draft, 2nd draft, etc. With each pass, the point is to add layers to your story.

I haven’t been able to make this process work for me because once I have the working synopsis, my linear plotter gene kicks in and I start writing in earnest.

Puzzlers seem almost magical to me. These writers claim the story comes to them in chunks, like magma rising from a super-heated core, out of order and disconnected. Then once they have all the scenes necessary to tell the story, all the puzzler needs to do is put them in order and write the transitions from one scene to the next. Diana Gabaldon writes this way, so no one can argue with the results.

But how on earth do puzzlers develop a character arc? Somehow, the puzzler’s subconscious adds character growth as needed even when the scenes aren’t in chronological order. See why I say a puzzler is magic?

The point to this post is that if you are a writer, only you know the way to tell your story. It may be helpful to try other methods, but in the end, you’ll do what works for you. And don’t let anyone tell you different.

Now I’ve used up all my space without telling you much about VEXING THE VISCOUNT. Here’s my 60 second premise:

Daisy Drake will do anything to help Lucian find the Roman treasure he seeks. Whether he wants her help or not!

If you’d like to read an excerpt, please visit

Thanks again, J.K, for hosting my 50day/50blog tour today! I’d like to give a free copy of VEXING THE VISCOUNT (buy link) to someone who posts a comment or question here. And please check back tomorrow to see if YOU are my daily winner.


lindseye said...

Hi Emily, Love the explanation of the different writing styles and how yours developed. When I know about the book I like to learn more about the development and interesting sidelights which this blog tour has been providing. Having a great time.

J.K. Coi said...

Thanks so much for being here Emily. You're having an awesome blog tour! Whether plotter or pantser (or something in between) did you start writing your story with a theme in mind?

Sara Thacker said...

Hi Emily, how many passes through a book do you normally make and when do you know to say STOP!

Nynke said...

Hi Emily,

taht's a really interesting insight into writing processes! And LOL at the names - especially pantsers :).
The one time I tried to write a romantic story, as a teenager, I started out as a puzzler, and that's where it ended, 'cause I didn't have enough scenes and didn't know how to link them up. To me, all fiction writing is a but of a miracle!

EmilyBryan said...

Lindseye-I'm so glad you've come along on my tour! Hope you've been bookmarking these excellent blogsites!

JK-Thanks again for having me. Theme, hmmm ... never. At least not in my books that have sold.

However, I think authors can't avoid inserting a theme in their stories. Subconsciously, we're working on our own issues in our writing. And in my case, I think maybe letting theme come naturally is the best course. Keeps me from turning "preachy."

Sara--Tomorrow I'm at Killer Fiction where I talk about my internal editor. I can't tell you how many times I revise because I do it constantly as I write.

But once I type "THE END" I lay the manuscript aside for at least week because I'm too close to it. Then I read it aloud, trying to catch word echoes and awkward sentences (if I have to take a breath in the middle of it, the sentence is too long!) My ears will catch things my eyes miss.

If I can tie him down long enough, I usually read it aloud to my DH. He helps me with the male perspective and dialogue.

Then I try to read it in one sitting, looking for holes or repetitious passages. I'm never done tweaking till it's due.

And then when my editor sends her revision requests, I get a chance to do it all over again.

Can we say obsessive?

Nynke--I can't take credit for the names. And I'm sure this isn't an exhaustive list. Just the other day, I glanced at something called the Celtic Knot method. Heavy sigh! There's always another way to do something. The trick is to find what works for you.

Jane L said...

Emily! If I could see you I would give you a huge hug! I have been going around the past year pulling my hair out because I dont think I am a plotter, or panster or whatever. NOW I know I am a Puzzler! I had not heard this description of a writer until your blog this am. OK I am seriously not living under a rock. I read writing tools, participate in seminars and NO BODY has said anything about a Puzzler! I am thrilled! THANK YOU!
P.S. Contrats on your K.I.S.S. nomination

Nynke said...

Never mind you didn't come up with the names, Emily, you're still the one that brought them to me :). The Celtic knot method... sounds dauntingly complicated!
Have a nice day, here on the blog and elsewhere!


Kimber Chin said...

Like Jane, I had never heard of the Puzzler before. Good stuff!

Do you think that plotters can become pantsers? Can you change your method of writing?

EmilyBryan said...

Jane L-I think puzzlers might be the most organic of all types. It's important to study the craft of writing, to understand the elements of story and characterization, but it's also important to be true to your own psyche. My friend, Rowena Cherry describes herself as a puzzler. She's a chess master and wickedly clever. That puts you in good company.

Nynke- Thanks for stopping by! I agree--anything with the word "knot" in the title sounds complicated. The point of discovering what works for you is to make the writing process easier.

Kimber-I think creative people can try anything once. I still "pants" quite a bit, though I "plot" more than when I first started. I have tried the layering method, but lost patience with it. My weakness, not the method.

The closest I've come to puzzling is when I brainstorm. I jot down a possible scene idea on a sticky note and slap it on a full length mirror. Later, I'll rearrange (or discard) the notes in an order that makes the story flow.

Then I use the sticky-note-covered mirror to write my working synopsis. (Since I sell on proposal now, I had to learn to tell the story before I've written it.)

When it comes to the writing process, I have no firm principles. I'm a pragmatist. Whatever works.

Meljprincess said...

Hi Emily,
Excellent post! I'm an aspiring writer and I appreciate your advice immensely. I believe I'm a Pantser. How do you feel about self-publishing? Thanks. Yesterday I visited a blog and we had to say what Feb. books we're looking forward to reading. I listed yours! I can't wait to read VTV!

Mel K.

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed the comments and I like reading Emily's books.

EmilyBryan said...

Mel--Good question. Self-publishing proponents often point to fantasy author, Christopher Paolini, who self-pubbed his first novel, ERAGON. It subsequently came to the attention of Random House and the rest is publishing history.

However, this is an exceptional case. I suspect self-publishing more often leads to a garage full of unsold books.

Writing a book is hard enough. A self-pubbed author also has to don editor, marketer, sales person, and distributor hats. Which leaves precious little time to write the next book. Self-publication is not something I'd undertake.

Thanks very much for recommending VEXING THE VISCOUNT on another blog. Word of mouth is still the most powerful form of advertising. Or in the internet age, should I say "word of mouse?"

Good luck with your writing, Mel!

Joye--Thanks for stopping by!

Shiela said...

Hey Emily! Excellent post, very informative. I think I have a little bit of every writing style which might be why sometimes my brain hurts so much I want to lop my head off. LOL

Enjoy the rest of your blog tour and keep on writing. :)

Anastasia St. James said...

Hi, Emily! I was also a pantser that became a soft plotter for my own piece of mind. :) I love the first steps of the Snow Flake approach, but like you after the first few I'm off and running. I don't want to know too much before I actually get there. :)

I'm looking forward to Vexing the Viscount!!! Great blog.

Tks J.K!

EmilyBryan said...

Shiela- I think we all find our own method eventually, but it never hurts to try a few tricks from someone else's playbook. Like writing exercizes during a critique group. I grumble inwardly when I'm forced to produce in a short time period, but I almost always come away with something usable.

Anastasia--The business end of things does force some structure on pantsers. Editors tend to want to see a viable story in a synopsis ahead of time, even if eventually, we'll stray from the plan in the final version.

darbyscloset said...

I enjoyed your post on writer's, I think I'd like to be the puzzler yet I can be so anal that I'd probably be the plotter. Congrats on working that full time job and writing at the sametime..awesome!!
Thanks so much for your giveaway,
darbyscloset at yahoo dot com

Laria Lee said...

Hi, Emily! This has been an interesting blog tour for you, and I'd love to hear a summary of your experiences when it's done.

I'm a plotter, somewhat. I find I need to have a roadmap or I get lost trying to find my way around. However, if my plotting gets too indepth, I lose the enthusiasm for the story. It's already written and I don't feel like doing it again. Do you ever feel that way? If so, how do you get around it?

Thanks! Looking forward to seeing you at the Roundtable next Friday!

Author Lynda Coker said...

Great explanation of diverse writing styles. Gauging from this, I'm a mix between a pantser and a puzzler. Even to me this sounds dangerous. *smiles*

EmilyBryan said...

Darby--I wish I could a more "anal" plotter than I am, but that would imply organizational skills I seriously lack. :) I plot enough to not wander aimlessly. That'll do.

Laria--Perhaps if I mapped out my scenes on a storyboard or spreadsheet and knew even down to the POV character for each scene what happens at every point, I'd feel that the story was already told, so why bother? But I've never succeeded in that much plotting, so I don't know how I'd feel.

And probably never will. (Heavy sigh!)

See you next Friday at!

Lynda--Dangerous? Of course, it is. There is no safety in writing no matter how you do it. It's like taking your bath in public every time! :)

I will admit that I've had puzzle writers say they'd like to hurt me because I'm a linear plotter (sort of). I think we all believe someone else's method must be easier.

Ishtar said...

A time-traveling archaeologist must bond with a Light Elf to re-hide the Doomsday dragon chrysalis she’s unearthed.

Now this should be interesting.

I found your discussion of the various styles interesting. As a fanwriter (not professional yet, alas, but fanwriting is good training) I have run across problems where character development sometimes interferes with pre-conceived plot notions - all writers know how a character can suddenly cause new ideas to pop up and take the story in a different direction. I see this most often in series books, where you get long-term character development over several volumes. Do you fell it is advisable to follow the character in its new direction, or to somehow make it fit in the pre-determined plot line?

I'd like to be entered in the drawing for the book: my email addy is dmccomb1958 @ yahoo . com

Julie Robinson said...

Hi Emily,
I stayed up late last night to finish Pleasuring the Pirate. Now I'm feeling a bit vexed that I have to wait for Vexing the Viscount, so, meanwhile, I guess I'll have to distract myself with Distracting the Duchess!

P.S. The last line in the blurb to "Vexing" was hilarious. I went to bed with a smile on my face.

EmilyBryan said...

Ishtar--Glad you like the premise of my paranormal. I've got about 200 pages done. Guess I should finish it.

Always follow the character, even if you are departing from your pre-conceived plotline. Otherwise the story won't ring true.

Everyone who comments is entered in my drawing (except the previous winners, of course :))

Julie--Sorry my PIRATE kept you up last night! You don't have long to wait for Vexing the Viscount. It'll be out Feb. 24th!

Babyblue22 said...

Hey Emily,
I love following your blog tour I've learned so much all ready and to think your not even done yet. I for one can't wait to see what else you've got in store for us :-)

Renee said...

Hi, Emily, I've never heard of the the puzzler before. I knew I wasn't a plotter, and I wasn't sure if I was a pantzer. Now the puzzler thing makes a lot of sense to me. It doesn't surprise me since I'm addicted to puzzles.

Good luck with your book.


Julie Robinson said...

I never claimed patience as my forte!

EmilyBryan said...

Afshan--I really appreciate faithful blog "touristas" like you and so many of the others who've dropped by to see me each day.

Renee--Lots of puzzlers express relief when I tell them they aren't the only one who puts together their stories like a patchwork quilt. Everyone's mind works differently.

Take my DH, for example. The man took calculus before he was a declared math major, just FOR FUN! Is that sick or what? :)

Renee--Publishing will teach you patience, whether you will it or no.

EmilyBryan said...

Thanks so much for having me here today, JK! I popped over to your website and your Immortals series looks fascinative.

My DH has made his pick today and JANE L! You are our daily winner! Please send your mailing info through my website.

I'm visiting with the gals over at KillerFiction today. We're talking about killing the editor. Hope to see you there. I could use more partners in crime!