It’s Not A Rolls Royce

Just got back from an Easter trip to a place called Pauanui, where all the nobs in Auckland go to spend their holidays by the beach. Strangest place. You might get a vast mansion with a helicopter out the back and a huge boat in the garage and then right next to it will be an empty section with only a rusty caravan parked on it and tents with people sitting in deckchairs. Presents possiblities perhaps? 🙂

Anyway, got some great thinking time in. Have come to the conclusion that I need to change my process. Yep, the way I write has been great for twenty years but if I want to write something for publication, I need to do things differently. Not radically so, I hasten to add. I’m still a pantser at heart and probably always will be. But the thing I need to do is concentrate on my characters before I begin to write. Normally I have a scene in mind and I dive right in, only to come up against the ‘what would he/she/it do now?’. And I stop right there because I don’t know my characters well enough to know what they would do. For months I’ve been thinking that it’s the conflict I haven’t sorted but it’s not, it’s the characters. I know who they are in the present – when the story starts – but I don’t know their pasts, what made them the people that they are. And when you’re writing character driven stories, you kind of need to know those details.

The ways you can get to know your characters are many and varied – character sheets and interviews and writing out scenes from their lives – but I’ve tried them before and they’ve never actually worked for me. Thinking does though. When I’m in the shower or folding the washing or just tidying up, I’ve found that thinking about my characters, their childhoods, their relationships with others, the kind of people they are, really works. For example, I’m rewriting a story I wrote two years ago but the conflict never gelled and neither did the characters. But I spent a lot of Easter thinking about the hero and heroine, trying to figure out what their conflict was and whether it fitted with who they were at the beginning of the book. Normally once I’d got one aspect right, I’d quickly whip onto the pc and start writing. But I couldn’t this time round and it’s a good thing, because I thought I had it all sorted and then realised I hadn’t considered another aspect of their backstory which then didn’t fit with the actual premise of the book. Sigh.

I don’t find this easy. I’m a very impatient sort. I want to get to the good stuff, the real, emotionally wrenching stuff. I love the torture and the black moments. The joy and despair. I don’t want to write the set-up and introduce the characters and their conflict. But of course that part is almost the most important part of it because if you don’t do it properly, how are your readers ever going to be invested in these characters? How are they ever going to care about what happens to them and their story if they’re not fully realised people?

Dr Jax has a great saying that he is fond of when he’s building or preparing something:
“It’s not a Rolls Royce.” This basically means not to sweat the details, it doesn’t have to be perfect.

I’ve always really liked this saying – it suits my impatient personality. But I think that if I want my stories to be good ones, I’m going to have to change my thinking around them because when it comes to writing, the details do matter. And when it comes down to it, I want to write Rolls Royces not Daihatsu Miras.

Anyone else ever changed their process? Did it work for you?

14 thoughts on “It’s Not A Rolls Royce”

  1. Jax, I did try to change my process once.. but it backfired..and I kept guessing and guessing and losing interest in the story… esp when the time came to write.

    So here’s a rundown of what I do now..

    Chap 1 : Start with the action (cos I love that ;)) and makes me feel as if I’m all geared up and set to press the accelerator….but as I do, I get to a bend… and do an info dump of the back story… of why is she this time..what’s the hero doing and why is he here.. which sets their background and conflict..

    Then chap 1 – action copy.. open new document – paste 😉 a brand new chap 1.. the old doc is renamed as _reference 😉 and I keep adding pertinent details into it as and when I have revelations.. but my actual draft is pretty much clean and goes smoother..

    It slows me down drastically, since I tend to clean up as I write.. go fix things as I write..but then, why question when it works 🙂 Whether it is good enough to get me pubbed – that is the billion dollar question anyway 😉

    So, hope you have spectacular success with this new process!

  2. My first draft for my wip was definitely not a Rolls. It was not even a Honda. It was a bid to get it all on the page. As far as that it was successful. I stuck to the loose outline that I had.

    There’s still a fair amount of editing to be done.

  3. Ju – I like the sound of your process actually. Gets all the info down doesn’t it? I should give that one a go! I’m not sure mine is working yet – considering the problems I’m having with my story at the moment – but it feels better because I do know my characters.

    Rach – easy to say, hard to do though. I’ve been on chapter one now for a week!

    Julia – I think I’m trying to do this so I don’t have to continually rewrite my stories from scratch each time round. Whether it works or not I’ll find out!

  4. Jackie, great post. I find Laurie Schebley Campbell absolutely fabulous for this – she does a course called plot via motivation with a follow up masterclass which gets you to really think about what motivates the characters. I should know it backwards by now because I’ve taken the thing 3 times, but I’ll take it again and again, because Laurie’s individual feedback is priceless. Both of my published have gone through this course because conflicts and deep inner motivations is my bugbear too. I often get so enthused by the story that I want to start writing, (I’m a pantster too) but having the characters worked out means that you don’t hit a wall quite so easily…
    Her blog is called booklaurie, and she has fab online courses, so do check it out!

  5. p.s. Just had a look at her yahoo group (which you can join from which says what courses she’s running. Plot via motivation is usually in Feb, but she’s putting on a new one next month… Here’s what it says:
    (May 31-June 24)
    When the previously-scheduled June class vanished, someone who’d taken PVM asked if I could repeat it for a private group…turns out they’re also willing to let non-members into the class, which is handy for people who don’t want to wait till next year
    It’s $30, and worth every penny!

  6. Hi, Jackie. Great post. I think we’re on the same writing path, because I go through a lot of ups and downs with you. In fact, I’m currently changing my process.

    I’ve always been proud to be a pantser, but some recent events have me giving the whole plotting thing a try. Change is a struggle. 🙂


  7. Gosh Jackie – what an amazing thought provoking post! Thank you. As someone who isn’t pubbed yet it’s something I think we all need to think long and hard about. Thanks again – Caroline xx

  8. Sally – hey, I did that one last year. It WAS good wasn’t it? I do still think about motivation in terms of what she taught. I didn’t actually do the masterclass though – is it worth it? Anyway, what plotting I do, I always think about the whole motivation thing so it’s been really great from that point of view.

    Elley – Hugs to you if you need ’em. I know I have quite a lot recently. But yes, change is difficult, though once I decide to do something, it’s usually not as hard as I thought. 🙂

    Caroline – Oh, cool you found it helpful! Yes, changing the way you do something isn’t easy but I think, for me, it’s necessary. At least, I’ll let you know if it works. 🙂

  9. LOL, I love this: “I want to write Rolls Royces not Daihatsu Miras.”

    I recently changed my process too, and so far its been an interesting ride.

    Good luck with yours!

  10. Aimee – hehe. So far it’s only been Miras. Surely it’s my turn for a Rolls??? 🙂 And yes, it’s going well. At the moment. Given time I’m sure I’ll stuff it up somewhere along the line.

  11. Jackie, I think the masterclass is deffo worth it. I’ve been really tough about it, and concentrated hard of making sure I work on all the points all the way through, and have come out with a fully ready to write ms every time I’ve done it. I usually start writing it before the second class, and then am going through, making sure each scene progresses the story along and shows the conflicts…

  12. Jackie, I’m kind of liking the sound of that class. I have one of her books too but need more motivation than reading a book. Wannabee class buddies?

  13. Sally – hmmm, might do some investigation then. Definitely the first class was really worth it.

    Scarlet – sure! Might give me a goal too. Haven’t got one at the moment.

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