Wednesday, February 11, 2009

GUEST AUTHOR: Deborah Cooke

JK Coi: I'm so pleased that Deborah and I are sharing guest blogs once again (Come visit me at her blog tomorrow). It's worked out well because we seem to be sharing release dates too, and this February it is the third book from each of our series.

I asked Deborah if she wouldn't mind telling us about her writing process a little bit, especially with respect to this series. What surprises did she have in store for her as her characters changed from just a name on a page to men and women with hopes and dreams, pains and baggage?

There are essentially two kinds of writers in the world (at least for the sake of this post). There are writers who plan out every detail of a book before they write it, and create very intricate outlines in advance. These writers are often called "plotters" because they work out the plot ahead of time. Then there are writers who wing it, who make up the story as they go. The second type of writer is often called a "pantser", as in, creating by the seat of the pants.

Editors, however, expect authors to write synopses before writing books - contracts are typically negotiated on the basis of a synopsis, especially after the author has sold a few books to that editor. And pantsers have a hard time with this part of the business, because their minds just don't naturally work in a plotting kind of a way.

I know, because I've always been a pantser.

Part of the reason for that is the magic. For me, there's magic in a book when the characters come to life. This can happen at any point but usually means that the characters do something unpredictable, or refuse to do what's in the outline, usually because they have a better idea than I do. This sounds weird and it is weird, but essentially the characters that have come out of my imagination become themselves - they leave my control and become entities in themselves. (This explains why so many authors have conversations or even arguments with invisible people.)

I love that moment when my characters find their autonomy. I love when they become like people in my mind, like people I know, even though it usually means that they run off with the plot and change it to suit themselves. This can be annoying, but the fact is that they always have really good ideas about how things should work. Over time, I've come to wait for that moment.

And although I've learned to write the synopses required by my editors, I'm always reluctant to plot too much - an extensive and detailed outline means for me that writing the book is more like filling in a spreadsheet, and it means that my characters are less likely to "flesh out" and become opinionated. Maybe they dislike outlines as much as I do!

So, when J.K. suggested that we talk about whether characters surprise us, I laughed. The whole point for me is my characters surprising me, of them seizing the plot and changing it. When that happens, the book comes alive for me and I know it will also come alive for my readers.

These Pyr in the Dragonfire series, are particularly bad - or good, depending how you look at it - at doing this. They have changed the stories I thought we would tell over and over again. They, typically, leave me in the dark, then cough up the most intriguing details, details that change everything just when I thought I knew where I was going with the book. Erik (KISS OF FATE) does this to me over and over again. I knew right from the beginning, when he walked into Sara's bookstore in KISS OF FIRE, that he knew more than he was telling. He wouldn't confide in me, but boy, did he tell Eileen a lot that I didn't know! I guess he was motivated to win her trust. (I guess he knows he already has mine.) Erik shares a lot of the history of the Pyr with Eileen in KISS OF FATE, as well as big chunks of his personal history. I didn't know what would happen with Sigmund until it did, and I certainly didn't realize what Sophie had planned. Phew! They shocked me over and over again in this book.

This is really exciting to me. To me, it's a sign that the story is vital and that the characters are lifelike - even if it means that I look like I'm arguing with myself all the time. Did they do it again? You bet. I thought in KISS OF FIRE that Delaney was dead - didn't you? Then he turned up in KISS OF FURY, drawn to Donovan's firestorm. Hmm. And he's in KISS OF FATE, too, fighting Magnus's subliminal command to do evil to the other Pyr. He's definitely interesting and definitely facing a lot of internal conflict with those nightmares -- guess who took the starring role in Dragonfire #4, in a development that completely surprised me?

Right. Delaney's book is WINTER KISS, coming in November, and my editor says it's the best Dragonfire title yet. I think it's because the characters stole the script and replaced it with their own.

Do you think you can tell when characters have come to life for an author? What makes a book seem more vivid and real to you as a reader? If you're a writer, are you a plotter or a pantser? And do your stories ever get away from you?

Deborah Cooke


Nixy Valentine said...

I'm definitely a pantster! Well.. actually I'm both. I typically plot half a book, and then figure I'll finish plotting once I see where I'm going, and then the characters kind of tell me where to go after that, and I "pants" the second half of the story!

Love the article, btw!

Maggie Robinson said...

Your series sounds great. I am an incorrigible pantser, which is proving particularly difficult right now. None of my characters are helping me out at all. They seem to have taken a vow of silence, LOL.

And forget about a synopsis. I can't even write them when the book is done.*g*

Kimber Chin said...

Wait a minute! I plan major plot points (i.e. heroine will receive a ransom letter) but leave the rest up to the characters. Does that mean I'm a... gasp... pantster? I always thought pantsters had no clue about the plot.

My non-author buddies laugh at me because I tell them I can't wait to see how my own stories end. LOL I'm glad other writers are in the same boat.

Love your writing, Deborah! 'Course I'm a Claire Delacroix cross-over fan from way back. I admire how you can write in different genres.

Carrie said...

This series sounds awesome!! I will be reading these books for sure!

Amy Ruttan said...

I think I fall somewhere in between.

Now I have deadlines I do some plotting, but I still fly a bit by the seat of my pants.

Plotzer seems to work. ;)

Deborah said...

Thanks everyone!

FWIW, I think all pantsers are somewhere in between. The pure pantser, writing with absolutely no clue what's going to happen in the book, is a theoretical construct rarely found in the wilds of writerdom.

Pantsers, IME, do have major plot points or twists in mind - or the ending - but it's all the between-parts that hook those ideas into a cohesive book that are a big squishy. The true plotter, in contrast, leaves nothing to chance. Not a comma. It's all mapped out.

I'd suggest to you, Maggie, that you have taken a wrong turn at Albuquerque. Toss out the hook at the end of the last chapter you wrote and see if that helps. If not, chuck a scene, then chuck a chapter. We often paint ourselves into corners and can't see our way out without taking a step back.


Maureen McGowan said...

Great post! I'm in the middle of fully plotting out a book right now... I'm typically a hybrid type... I know the major plot points, but trust that the characters (and my brain) will take me unexpected places along the way.

I'm quite sure that the book won't go where my outline says... But I'm still hoping it'll be easier to keep it straight through revisions if I do this planning.. Time will tell.

Anastasia St. James said...

LOL, I started as a pantser.:) However, I've come to realize that a little bit of plotting is good for my mental health down the road. So I do plot a bit before getting started, but nothing is written on stone. ;)

Deborah, the series sounds great! I'll have to look it up. Tks, J.K. for the heads up. :)

Lara Lee said...

I like a plot a bit first so I have some idea where I'm going, but it's important to leave some of the shaping to the characters.

Deborah, your series looks like some good reading!

J.K. Coi said...

Hi Deb, thanks again for visiting with me today. I have been thinking about this more and more as my schedule gets busier and busier, and how as much as I think sometimes that I would like to be a plotter because I keep thinking that I’ll save time and beat those phases of writer’s block, I don’t think I ever really could be. I like the idea that my characters keep surprising me, it’s what keeps me interested in moving forward. Those times when I have been blocked, I usually discover that it’s because I’ve been trying to force the story a certain way and it isn’t working for me. When I let it go and try something from way out of left field, I almost always get my groove back.

Deborah said...

And thanks for inviting me, J.K.!

The big trick when your schedule gets full is figuring out where you need to plan, and where you need to leave a little space for flying free. It takes time to get it right, but you'll figure it out.

Hey, everyone, make sure you stop over at my blog tomorrow to read J.K.'s post.


Honoria Ravena said...

I'm a panster. I tried to plot my WIP. It didn't work. The characters rebelled. I had chaos on my hands so I just let them do what they wanted. It seems to be working out well because all my critique partners love the book.

I know the major plot points, and I've discovered that character charts REALLY help me get their voices in my head (and not in the crazy kind of way. Hopefully everyone gets what I mean). But that's all I have when I start.