The Dreaded Plot Question with Rebecca York
One of the questions that comes up over and over in writers’ discussions is, “Do you plot first? Or do you just sit down and write?”
Of course, there’s not one right way to work. Each writer has to figure out what works best for her.
I have trained myself to write fast. My basic fiction method is to come up with an idea. I write a short synopsis (which I use to sell the book to an editor). I then work on fleshing out the synopsis--adding more plot details and more background about the characters. At some point, I usually stop and write two or three chapters. When I write the chapters, I get to know the characters better. Then I go back and work on the synopsis/narrative outline again. When I have the suspense plot and the emotional arc of the story worked out, I start writing the book--and write as fast as I can. When I come up with ideas that were better than the ones in the synopsis, I use them instead of the previous ideas.
With DAY OF THE DRAGON, I had a head start. I’d introduced the hero, dragon-shifter Ramsey Gallagher, in DRAGON MOON. He was a secondary character, but I fell in love with him and wanted to give him his own story. So when I started DAY OF THE DRAGON, I already knew him very well. Even so, those first three chapters were more difficult than usual. Ramsey had been through a terrible experience that had changed him in fundamental ways. My problem was dealing with his new weaknesses and still making him an appealing hero.
I used to take a long time writing a book, then a long time editing and polishing it. I've found that I can shorten the writing process considerably, but I still need to edit extensively.
I found out years ago that not doing a synopsis was a waste of time for me because it meant that I'd have to do a lot of rewriting. It's easier to change a 20-page synopsis than it is to rewrite a 300-page book.
I never have everything nailed down. My synopsis might say--and then they escape from the psychotic killer. When I get to that part of the book, I have to stop and think about how they do it.
In DAY OF THE DRAGON, I knew I wanted Ramsey and archaeologist Madison Dartmoor to go to several interesting locations. Where bad guys would try to kill them while they were falling in love and Ramsey was worrying about how Madison would react when she discovered his terrible secret.
They end up at the site of an ancient tomb in Peru. But I had no idea where that would be until I visited the country. Of course it was tempting to use Machu Picchu because it’s such a breathtaking site. But a lot of tourists go there, which wouldn’t have given Ramsey and Madison much privacy while they were making love and dodging bullets. After touring several locations, I decided to use Colca Canyon because it’s off the beaten path.
Ramsey and Madison have their main adventure in that dry desert where condors with ten-foot wingspans glide on the canyon thermals early in the morning. I didn’t even know a bird could have those giant wings until I visited the area. And I certainly didn’t know that a colca is a hole that ancient Indians dug in the side of a cliff as a burial or storage chamber.
I use both in DAY OF THE DRAGON. Also the nosebleed I got from the high altitude. And the poverty of the little towns we drove through with our guide, the bumpy roads, the colorful Indian costumes and the hotel where we stayed in Arequipa, the second largest city in Peru and the starting point for a trip to Colca Canyon.
With every book, I try to get as much of the plot down as I can before I start. But I always leave myself open for the interesting details that I’ll never know until I start researching.
And I love it when I come up with plot twists that leap out at me when I’m in the middle of the book. Even with an outline, writing for me is like slow reading. I’m getting it onto the screen so I’ll find out what really happened.
When you read, what aspects of the book do you enjoy most? Plot? Character? Setting? Or a combination of all the elements?
Read Chapter One of DAY OF THE DRAGON here.