Hi, Greg, hope all is going well. I've been diving into your novels, starting with Keeper and literally just finished with A Fistful of Rain. I've read you talk about Atticus' return, but I was wondering if you intend to put out some more Mim Bracca novels. I know she was in Stumptown's second arc, but I'd like to see more stories with her.— Anonymous
I’ve had a plan for a second Mim novel since I finished the first. It’s a question of time more than anything else, but yes, I’d like to get back to her and her story. She’s got at least one more to share.
I have written a whole bunch of novels. Glad you’re enjoying ALPHA.
BRAVO arrives in July!
Hey Greg. I was wondering how you plan scenes out? for instance, I usually know the opening scene in my story but possibly not the second or third, but I know what I want to try achieve (introduce characters, plot etc). So usually I write brief 1-2 sentences about what I want to happen in scenes, with no idea for dialogue (maybe I'll have one or two sentences the odd time), then I make it all work. How do you approach them?— jamesmulholland
Interesting that these questions came back-to-back. I don’t think my process is that dissimilar to what you’re describing. When I do breakdowns for my stories, I tend to note the purpose of each scene, just to keep the scene focused.
For me, that first scene is the murderous one, honestly; getting that right will — for me — reveal the necessity of the one to follow, and the one after that, and ever onward towards the conclusion. Sometimes I’ll have a scene I want in mind, a resolution, say the end of the story, or something as simple as an action and characters in a place, and I’ll be writing towards that. But scenes follow out of necessity, even if they may not appear immediately necessary to the audience. Otherwise, it’s just fat and it’s got to go.
Mind, this is what works for me. YMMV, as they say.
I've got a question about your novel writing process: How do you approach individual scenes? Do you know where it is going to end up before you put pen to paper? Do you use the Mamet formula of Character wants X, makes efforts to get X and is thwarted? Or do you just throw characters together and watch what happens?— Anonymous
That Mamet approach you describe is the root of all structured storytelling. Much as I admire the man’s writing (if not the man himself), he didn’t invent it. Drama requires conflict — emotional, mental, physical, any of these things work, and the best dramas are those where all those elements are working at once. A variant: one of the best writers I’ve ever known was a woman I went to grad school with, and she was fond of quoting one of her mentors who would say that every line should be doing, at minimum, one of three things — forwarding theme, forwarding plot, or forwarding character, and ideally, it’s doing all three things at once.
Which is all well and good and possibly quite true, but can also be pretentious bullshit if you stare at it too long.
When I’m working long form — and I consider novels to be long form, obviously, as opposed to say a short story or a single issue story — I have learned, through trial and error, that I need to have some sort of outline. I call it an outline, but it’s really not — it’s probably far closer to what would be called a ‘treatment’ in Hollywood. It’s essentially a document that I use to tell myself a version of the story (eg, This happens, so this happens, so this happens, so this happens, so this happens, but this happens, then this happens…unto the end, and you can see right there that any difference between Character wants X, makes efforts to get X and is thwarted are purely cosmetic).
These can be very in-depth and detailed documents for my purposes. I once wrote one that was 30K words for a 90K word novel; essentially, I just had to go back in an add the missing dialogue.
Now, the REASON I do this is because if I don’t I get horribly, horribly lost. There are some brilliant writers out there who can just throw characters together and watch what happens, as you put it, and create magic. I’m not one of them. I do that, I end up with 30K words that I end up having to scrap and start again. I get lost.
BUT — and this is a crucial, vital, I cannot emphasize this enough but — I rarely follow my outline. Speaking only for myself, I’ve found that the outline gives me the freedom to diverge where and when it suits me — when I see something I missed, or a new take or a new idea. Knowing where I wanted to go keeps me from getting lost, but it allows me to detour.
CRITICAL SPACE was pretty tightly outlined. And half-way through the book — when two of the characters were “thrown together” — it blew up in my face. It felt like the book went on strike; seriously, it’s like all of the characters got together, had a vote, and just put down their tools and walked out in protest of where I was taking them. It forced me to rethink the back-half of the book, and honestly, I ended up with a much, much better novel as a result. My map had brought me to this place where the characters showed me the real story, if that makes sense.
Now, all this longwinded response aside, specific to your question about scenes: know what the scene must accomplish. Preferably, know what several things the scene must accomplish. Enter late, leave early, as they say — get in and get out. The purpose of the scene needn’t be clear to the reader at that point, but it MUST be clear to you; otherwise you end up with saggy, boring, meandering scenes.
Hope this makes some sort of sense.