[GUEST BLOG] Alex Hughes on Plotting

Tez asked me to talk about my writing/plotting process, or lack thereof. So get comfy; we’ll be here a bit, as I try to explain the process of a pantser trying to write by an outline.

A book starts in concept form. Usually there’s a great deal of “incubation” time, time during which I read widely on unrelated subjects, stand in front of the whiteboard with a marker and ideas, and talk to friends about things that may or may not matter to the final book. At a certain point, my unconscious mind tells me I’m ready to go.

In a perfect world, this would be where I built my handy-dandy outline from scratch, stretched, and got going. But no – my brain is much happier if I make a start with nothing but sheer will and rugged determination. My unconscious brain plays with drama and setting, and begins to introduce the characters in question to the sad, sad obstacles they will face going forward. Normally the characters object to this introduction; if they do so forcefully enough it’s time to get back up and spend more time in front of the whiteboard. Either way, I settle down and get some words on the
page.

About 10,000 words into the novel I begin to feel I may need an outline. Other writers have outlines – perhaps I should do one too. So I stop and build a scene-by-scene outline of what’s going to happen for at least the first half of the book. Sometimes more. And I go and try to execute what I’ve done, following detours if my muse likes it, adding characters and conflicts as we go, and try to stay close enough to the outline that we still recognise the book when we’re done. I set myself a strong and ambitious word count quota for working days, and mostly I succeed. If I do not, and moping fails to fix the issue, I go back to the whiteboard or make a new outline.

Several weeks to months later, after much blood, sweat, and tears, the first draft arrives. I go out and get a massage as a reward for my efforts and take a week off. Then I go back, read it over, and pull out the index cards. It’s time to spend several days to two weeks figuring out what I have and where I want to go with the help of my little index card helpers and a lot of questions. I slowly wrap my entire brain around the current novel – and figure out the gigantic changes it will need to become its best self.

Then I settle into Draft Two.

This cycle repeats – hopefully with smaller and smaller changes with every iteration – until we approach a book my conscious and unconscious minds can agree is ready. Or until I run headfirst into a deadline, whichever happens first. Other writers are consulted, as necessary, and the opinions of beta readers are sought. And, at the end, I stand up exhausted with a novel I love and which I made with my own two hands.

It’s a lurching, crazy, amazing, horrifying, delightful and nonlinear meander to the finish line that is the Next Novel. And it’s oddly my best process to get my best creative work out onto the page.

Alex Hughes
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Alex Hughes
Clean (Mindspace Investigations, Book 1)
Penguin Roc (US: 4th September 2012)
Buy (US) Buy (UK) Buy (CA) Buy (Worldwide)

I used to work for the Telepath’s Guild before they kicked me out for a drug habit that wasn’t entirely my fault. Now I work for the cops, helping Homicide Detective Isabella Cherabino put killers behind bars. My ability to get inside the twisted minds of suspects makes me the best interrogator in the department. But the normals keep me on a short leash. When the Tech Wars ripped the world apart, the Guild stepped up to save it. But they had to get scary to do it – real scary. Now the cops don’t trust the telepaths, the Guild doesn’t trust me, a serial killer is stalking the city – and I’m aching for a fix. But I need to solve this case. Fast. I’ve just had a vision of the future: I’m the next to die.

Alex Hughes
Payoff (Mindspace Investigations, Novella)
Penguin Roc (US: March 2013)

Alex Hughes
Sharp (Mindspace Investigations, Book 2)
Penguin Roc (US: 2nd April 2013)
Buy (US) Buy (UK) Buy (CA) Buy (Worldwide)

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2 responses to “[GUEST BLOG] Alex Hughes on Plotting

  1. Pingback: Plot vs Character Musings | A Writer's Convenient Truth

  2. Pingback: Escapist Newsletter (Vol 6 Issue 10) | Literary Escapism

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