Monday, January 7, 2008

Planning Required?

In honor of the upcoming Melissa Marr interview, we've been keeping these posts mostly on the subject of fantasy.
As I’ve said earlier, I am not a fantasy writer. I write about first love, friendship, and self discovery, which could easily be in fantasy stories, but I place them in the (sometimes fantastical) world of high school.

But maybe that’s what makes me qualified to write about this topic. For the most part, I am a fantasy outsider.

When I was younger, I used to write fantasy stories all the time, but I’d never finish my work. This could be attributed to the inexperience and impatience that sometimes comes with age, but it could also be attributed to writing myself into corners because of lack of outlining or world building.

I eventually changed genres, but I didn’t change my methods. I’ll normally know my beginning, my ending, and a vague middle, but I don’t know in detail how to get from point to point. Luckily, this works for most of my novels.

This did not work for my first NaNoWriMo novel, a YA Urban Fantasy with mind readers, psychics, vampires, witches, and warlocks. For this, I had no idea where I was going, just a concept in mind with no ending in sight. As I started reading through the draft, I decided it needed too much work and trunked it. Maybe it was something else, or maybe it was because when I write fantasy and don’t plan, things can quickly get convoluted. I just know that the NaNo motto "No plot? No problem!" is not too accurate when it comes to me and fantasy; it's more like "No plot? Big problem!"

So…the smart thing for me would be to not write fantasy, right?

Except that, just a while ago, I came up with a fantasy idea that I love. In a day I was able to work out the majority of the plot, but still, I’m hesitant to actually write it. I know how I am with fantasy. An extensive outline, world building, medieval research…it would probably all be required for me to write it and write it well, and even then…

I guess time will tell if I have the guts to go out of my comfort zone and the strength to go through and do something I don’t like doing, planning.

Readers, do you think that the fantasy genre requires more planning than other genres? Why or why not? If you think it does, how do you--or would you, if you don't write fantasy--handle all the planning?


hannah said...

Awesome post, Megster. I think one of the dangers of writing fantasy is definitely that you can get caught up in the premise and sort of lose conflict/characterization...especially if you're inexperienced in the genre or you're used to really elaborative world-building.

Dreamer3702 said...

I have some awesome links that help when you don't know where to start or you get stuck. I'm at work right now (shh, don't tell) so I don't have them with me. I'll try to post them later, though.

Jordan said...

For me fantasy requires more rules--because it's an artificial world, for the most part, knowing and establishing reality for you and the readers becomes essential. So in that aspect, it can be harder. You can't just come out in the twelfth chapter with this new type of pixie dust that will solve everyone's problems. Not only is that deus ex machina, it's unfair to the readers trying to figure out how to solve the problem right along with the characters. How were they supposed to know about this pixie dust?

In more realistic settings, you have more leeway with what you have to establish as "real," because everyone is a lot more familiar with the real world than they are your fantasy world.

That doesn't mean you have to lay it on thick so they understand every nuance...just like in realistic settings you don't talk about the history of the microwave and how it works when your character makes pizza rolls, you don't talk about *every* little nuance of your world...just the important things.

Awesome post Meg

Meggy said...

Jordan, that's it exactly, the rules aspect. In a YA sci-fi chick-lit I tried to write, I couldn't get past the first few chapters because I didn't have a set of rules established.

Sophie W. said...

I don't plan anything. I just make it up as I go along. When I write something that requires me to make a rule, I think, "Okay, so the story has to go this way... so the rule must be this!"

Then I write it down for later use.

Something that probably works to my advantage is that I spend a lot of my time thinking up magic systems, political systems, and economic situations. I take a lot of characteristics from our world (like drugs) and try to incorporate them into my fantasy worlds (this is fairy dust).

I find it adds a layer of realism to an otherwise fake world.

Andrew Carmichael said...

I agree with Jordan. In some ways, writing genre fiction--especially fantasy--is harder because everything must have a reason and explanation without question. In non-genre fiction, most things work because, well, most things happen in the world. No one can argue that something wouldn't happen, because it probably has. In fantasy, things can happen, but they have to flow logically or people get upset. I find this interesting becaue, essentially, it discredits the "literary is harder than genre" idea that many authors may have.

Personally, I don't really have many problems when switching between fantasy and mainstream. I read a lot, both fiction and non-fiction, and since I don't write high fantasy I've never run into problems where I didn't know something, or know exactly which of my books to look in to find out more. I guess I've been lucky so far. :)

Jordan said...

Sophie, that's a fantastic way of doing it.

I guess it really doesn't matter how you come up with the rules of the world, just so long as in the finished product they're firmly established.

I tend to write things in pieces, sometimes from the beginning, sometimes not, as I feel my way around my world. And every new development affects all the others, so things change all the time.

Just as long as it makes sense in the end, it doesn't really matter *how* you do it. Whatever works for you.

Sophie W. said...

Hee. The only problem with my way is I inevitably have to edit my manuscripts to address the rules I invent.

You're my beta. You know what I mean.

Jordan said...


The only problem with the way I do things is it takes me five hundred years to write the darn thing! Because it doesn't happen in drafts, really. It materializes from the outside edges in, big concepts to concrete details.

Hence my lack of finished and viable manuscripts...

SuzanneYoung said...

To you Meggy, I say focus on your characters first because I think that's your strong suit. After you've established your characters and motivations, then you can figure out the fantasy element. I'm guessing you'd want the point of the story to be the relationships and not the setting. But I could be wrong. Either way, You'll ROCK IT! Good luck.

Meggy said...

Thanks, and you're right.

My fantasy idea is mostly relationship-focused, the fairytale setting and a dragon or two putting it into the fantasy realm, but magic is definitely not a big part of the plot. I think, for the most part, it would appeal to a mainstream audience.

Vanessa Concannon said...

I don't really do a ton of fantasy-world planning...nothing beyond what I absolutely must know. Of course for me it's mainly historical research, but still, I don't do any more than I must. Why overload myself with every detail about every life in the time period of my story when I know it'll never make it to the book?

It prevents me from infodumping. It's similar to Sophie's method, except I do pre-emptive research on things I know I'll need to know, like geography. But fear not, you'll never find a single paragraph of pointless "this island is to the north slightly and this one is 34 miles from the mainland and this mountain..."

Anonymous said...

I think fantasy could be easier to write, but you can probably only get away with a single volume that way. If you just slap it out, you probably write yourself into a corner pretty quickly. It probably helps a great deal to have read widely in the genre, but without some planning I think you can't go on for too long.

Few other genres inspire the kind of second guessing that sci-fi/fantasy does. Stuff like "Well don't they just jury rig the spaceship to fly on autopilot from the engine room like they did three books ago. That would solve this problem. Duh!" Or worse, "They should have done that three books ago! Duh!" I think you have to get things straight in your own head, and explain it well enough. Otherwise your readers have a harder time trusting you and adopting the willing suspension of disbelief.

Sage said...

I have a very relaxed version of world-building. The last few novels have been set in the present and partially or fully on Earth, so in some ways the world-building was already done for me. But the fantasy/sci-fi parts still had to be worked on. For my (non-YA) fantasy world, it was really easy to make the fantasy world up, and I did it much like Sophie did, making the rules as I went and then adhering to them.

I think I'm actually more intimidated by setting things in the real world.

Donna said...

So I'm a little late to the game. Better late than never, right?

I don't plan. Never have with anything I've ever written. It just doesn't suit my writing style. Even when I got into writing fantasy, I just plowed ahead and hoped for the best. I've a very logic-minded person, though, so my fantasy stories tend to follow that. Maybe that makes it a little easier when it comes to rules and non-planning planning.

But I know I'm going to have some major editing ahead of me. I guess I work backwards in that respect. I plow through the story to get it done and then I'll go back and outline and plan and make sure all my I's are crossed and T's are dotted. It works for me. I go through my first novel like that and it's getting me through NaNo now (11 chapters in so far) so I really can't complain.