The other day, I started plotting my novel Smoke and Blood, the prequel to my debut novel Blood and Water. If you’ve known me longer than a few months, you know I’ve never been a big fan of plotting. Heck, while writing Blood and Water I even wrote a post detailing why I don’t outline anymore. But that was quite some time ago, and a lot has changed since then.
The biggest change has been that I am now a fan of plotting. A few people have commented that it seems like I wrote the first draft of Reflections faster than they expected, and that’s mostly due to that fact that I had the whole thing outlined. I used to be a die-hard pantser, and this strategy made a significant difference in my writing productivity. After Blood and Water, I was so sick of struggling and slogging through drafts. I needed a change. That’s why I started plotting.
It all started when I read Libbie Hawker’s book, Take Off Your Pants!: Outline Your Books for Better, Faster Writing. This book changed my writing life. In a series of anecdotes and knowledge gleaned from personal experiences, Hawker provides tips for plotting a novel without losing your mind. That book, combined with this post by Rachel Aaron, made me view my process in an entirely different light. Based on what I learned from these wise ladies, here’s how I’m plotting my books going forward:
- Take note of what you know already. Whenever I get plot bunnies for a new book, I make sure to write them down in Evernote. That way, when it comes time to start plotting, I’m not starting from scratch.
- Find your characters. Rachel Aaron recommends, at a minimum, knowing your main characters, antagonists, and power players. Don’t get bogged down in character sheets right off the bat. All you need for now is names and some identifying details that are relevant to the story.
- Figure out the end and the beginning. Try deciding them in that order. Once you’ve discovered the end, it’s a lot easier to get there from the beginning. If you know the end, all you have to do is figure out how you’re going to get there.
- Determine the setting. Where and when will your novel take place? Consider some minor worldbuilding here, but like with the characters, make sure you don’t get too wrapped up in the specifics of this part.
- Fill in the gaps. If you have the beginning and the end of your novel down, all you have left to do is fill in the gaps. of course, this is much easier said than done. Focus on moving from one plot event to another, building a compelling, believable framework. Connect the major twists, scenes, and climaxes until you get to the conclusion. If you get stuck, don’t panic. That’s totally normal!
There you have it! Whether you’re a full-fledged plotter or a pantser looking for a better way to write, consider giving some of these techniques a try. If you’d like more information, I wholeheartedly recommend reading Libbie Hawker’s book. She goes into much more detail than I have in this post.
As the time this post goes live, I’ll hopefully have gotten through some of the plotting process for the Blood and Water prequel, titled Smoke and Blood. I’ve never written a series before–only standalone novels–but I’m optimistic. A lot of my readers have suggested I should make a series, and I do miss the virus-ridden kids in my debut book, so I thought it was a good idea.
Now, I’m a little anxious. I had no clue where to start. So, I sat down at my desk, drank some coffee, and make a plan. I felt better. I’m certain that part of this process will change, but it’s nice to have at least some idea where I’m going. Without further ado, here’s how I’m preparing to write a series.
- Making timelines. I didn’t make one of these bad boys before drafting Blood and Water, and it came back to bite me. When revising, I wanted to tear my hair out because I couldn’t figure out what happened when and who knew what at what time. This time around, I’m making a complete timeline for the prequel and the sequel, as well as an overarching series timeline for all the big events in the trilogy. That way, I don’t have to struggle so much with that nonsense when I go back and edit.
- Rereading Blood and Water. This one is a no-brainer. There’s so much information I dropped in that novel that I can use while drafting this one that it would be stupid not to go back and take some notes. While I am a little nervous (I haven’t read the novel since publishing it), it’s a necessary evil. It’s probably not as awful as I imagine it might be.
- Picking relevant scenes. While not having a timeline made the flashbacks in Blood and Water confusing for me at first, I’m so glad that I wrote them. Not only did they add depth to the world of they story; they also made it easier for me to outline some important scenes in the prequel. For example, I know I’m including the scene with Jay and Melanie at the museum that I mention in B&W.
- Reading The Hot Zone. Chris Mahan, among others, recommended this book to me. It’s about Ebola, which is fantastic, since that kind of hemorrhagic fever is what my virus is based on. I’m excited to dive in. I’m also taking notes, of course.
- Outlining. In addition to making different timelines, I’m also going to make a loose outline for both the prequel and the sequel, so that I can ensure all my loose ends will be tied up in the sequel. Again, I’m doing everything I can now to make things easier on myself come revisions. I used to be terrified of outlines, but I used one while drafting Reflections, and it saved my life.
- Drawing character maps. My writing is and has always been focused on my characters. With a series, one of the biggest challenges I’m facing is character growth. There’s no doubt in my mind that many aspects of these characters will change as the series progresses; I’m just not sure how much, in what ways, or why. That’s why mapping out some major changes in their personalities, goals, and relationships will help me so much moving forward.
- Worldbuilding. Since nearly every part of the characters’ lives is affected by the virus, I need to make sure that I fully understand it. In order to accomplish that, I need to come up with causes, symptoms, incubation periods, and things of that nature. Good thing I’m not squeamish.
Feel free to steal any of these ideas if you think they could help you in your writing process. Also, please let me know if you have any links/resources that could help me with this stuff. I’m slightly intimidated, but I love a good challenge. I’m ready now. Let’s do this.
What do you think? What tips can you give me for planning a series?
What tips do you have for planning a series? Take a look at @brianawrites’ preparation process. (Click to tweet)
In my last video, I mentioned more Blood and Water books. Now, find out whether I’m writing a prequel or a sequel next!
What do you think? Are you excited??
So @brianawrites is writing another BLOOD AND WATER book… (Click to tweet)
In honor of my upcoming birthday, I have an exciting announcement regarding Blood and Water. I also need your help.
What do you think? Which should I write first?
Word on the street? @brianawrites has an exciting BLOOD AND WATER announcement! (Click to tweet)
If you’ve been keeping up with my on Twitter, you know that an audiobook version of Touch: A One-Act Play is currently in production through ACX. I couldn’t be more thrilled. I’m even more excited to share the final product with you guys once it’s all recorded.
With that being said, I’ve also had a lot of people ask me about the audiobook version of Blood and Water. Since it’s my debut novel, it’s near and dear to my heart. When it comes to selecting an audiobook narrator, I’m going to be picky. Still, I want an audiobook version as much as anyone, if not even more so. I’m officially opening auditions for the audiobook production now.
If you’re interested in auditioning, or if you know someone who might be interested, here’s a list of criteria the ideal candidate will meet:
- Voice has a smooth, even tone
- Doesn’t read melodramatically
- Can differentiate character voices
- Can do an Irish accent (Sean and Melanie)
- Can do a French accent (Fleur)
Looking at that list now, it’s not as intimidating as I thought it might be. And it’s definitely attainable! If you want to audition, you should go for it. Remember: if you never try out, there’s no way you’ll get chosen! And I love hearing your auditions, even if you don’t think they’re any good. They warm my heart.
You can follow this link to record an audition. I’d like to make a decision by my birthday, June 17, so please apply as soon as possible!
Also, if I haven’t mentioned it, I adore you all. That’s everything.
Are you excited for an audiobook version of BLOOD AND WATER? Will you be trying out?
Interested in voice acting? @brianawrites is holding auditions for the BLOOD AND WATER audiobook! (Click to tweet)
It’s been almost a month since I released Blood and Water, and I still can’t thank you guys enough for your support, encouragement, and love. I feel like the writing community is just one big group hug lately. And since I’m so thankful for each and every one of you, I’d like to show my appreciation. You’ve asked, and I’ve answered. In honor of Small Business Saturday, and in an effort to put away a little more money for an apartment…
That’s right! A surprising (to me, at least) amount of readers have expressed interest in owning a signed paperback, so I’ll be selling those now, just in time for the holidays! I’ve already ordered some copies to sign as soon as I get some orders in, and I can’t wait to get started!
Now, I’m new to this whole process, but for now, this is how it’s going to work:
- If you’d like a signed copy, the paperbacks themselves cost $9.99, with $5 to cover the shipping, for a total of $14.99.
- If you already bought a paperback and have already received it, let me know on my contact form and say you’d like it signed. From there, I’ll tell you how to send it to me to sign. I’m asking for $5.00 to cover the cost of shipping.
- If you haven’t purchased a copy from me, and you’d like a signed paperback, also let me know that in my contact form or via email. I’ll tell you what details I need and we can go from there.
- If you want to just order a copy from Amazon, go right ahead–just know it won’t be signed and I will only get a small percentage of the royalties.
- AND if you don’t want a paperback, signed or otherwise, but you want to help me out, you can also donate to support me directly (click the button/link on the page).
There are a few kinks we’re going to have to iron out together, such as shipping timelines and whatnot, but just think of the whole thing as an adventure. (I know I am.) Like I said, I am SO EXCITED to offer signed paperbacks as an option for anyone who wants one. I will do my very best to make sure anyone who wants one will get one. You deserve much more than that, but for now, that’s all I can offer.
Once again, THANK YOU to everyone who has supported me in my journey as a writer so far. I can’t wait for you all to see what I’ve got planned going forward!
In the spirit of Small Business Saturday, author @brianawrites has an exciting announcement. (Click to tweet)
Maia was the one who came in to wake him. He was surprised to find he’d been sleeping in Fleur’s bed. How had he gotten from the bath to the bed? He didn’t remember anything beyond Fleur pouring freezing water on him.
“Dr. Devereaux wants to increase the dosage,” Maia said as she opened the blinds. Sunlight poured in. Was it the same day as it had been or already the next? “She thinks your body is more responsive, which means I could see side effects soon if we don’t make a change.”
“You mean, you’ll get sick again like I did,” he said.
“We’re both still sick.”
“I know. But you know what I mean.”
Maia chewed the inside of her cheek, the way she did whenever she had something on her mind. It had always been Jay’s way of knowing when something was wrong, and he had learned to pay attention to it.
He sat up against the pillows. “What’s going on?”
“I’m not sure I want to tell you.”
“Maia, that’s not fair. Now you have to tell me.”
A muscle jerked in her jaw. “It’s about Sean.”
“Okay, what about Sean?”
“He doesn’t want Melanie around you anymore.”
Jay felt his stomach drop into his feet. He slumped against the pillows and let his head loll back. So that was it, then—Melanie had finally explained to Sean what was going on. The timing was terrible, but then again, he knew it had to happen sometime. They couldn’t have kept it a secret forever.
“I’m sorry,” Maia said. “I know this must be hard.”
It was so much more than that, but what had he expected? It wasn’t as though they could run off in the middle of the night and elope. There were still people alive who would ask questions and worry if they disappeared.
“I’ll be okay,” Jay said.
To be continued… Look for the completed draft of BLOOD AND WATER coming soon!
“‘I’m sorry,’ Maia said. ‘I know this must be hard.'” Read an excerpt from @brianawrites’ novel BLOOD AND WATER. (Click to tweet)
When Jay woke up, he had no idea what was going on. Everything looked foreign. There was something damp and heavy on his forehead. He reached up and discovered a washcloth. With a single touch, everything came flooding back to him: the Chunnel, Calais, Dr. Devereaux, and treatment. He’d consented to treatment without really knowing what it entailed. Was that wise? Probably not. Did it matter? Not at all.
He couldn’t wait around for death, whether it was his or Maia’s. They needed to find a solution.
When he tried to sit up, someone pressed a hand against his chest. He looked up to see Dr. Devereaux standing over him, frowning in the waning light. How much time had passed? How long had he been asleep? Was it sunset already?
“Where’s Maia?” he asked.
“She’s across the hall,” she said. “We’ve all been waiting for you to wake up.”
Jay took the washcloth off his head and set it on the floor. Dr. Devereaux made no move to pick it up. After looking around, he noticed that they were the only people there.
“Where are my friends?”
“Across the hall,” she repeated, “in the laboratory. If you feel up to it, we’ll go there now.”
A laboratory. That meant chemicals, instruments, science – potentially even a cure. He swung his legs over the side of the couch, planting his feet on the floor. Dr. Devereaux hovered over him. When he started to stand, she grabbed his arm. The contact surprised him. Her hand was cold.
“Careful,” she said. “You’re weak. We’ll go slowly.”
He didn’t feel weak, but he was still groggy. When was the last time he’d had a full night’s sleep? He couldn’t remember. He needed to rest. Maybe if he got a few more hours’ sleep, he’d feel better.
“It’s okay.” He lowered himself down onto the couch. “I think I’ll just sleep for a little bit longer.”
Dr. Devereaux didn’t let go of his arm. “Jay, you’ve slept enough. We need to get you some food and water and check your vitals. You’re malnourished, dehydrated, and very, very ill. Do you understand?”
It took too much effort to answer her. Jay put his feet up and stretched out on the couch. He turned over on his side.
“Jay,” she said, “se il vous plait. Please.”
He let his eyes fall closed. “I’ll get up in a minute.”
Why did everyone want him to use so much energy? Didn’t they know how sick he was? He needed his rest. He felt like he’d walked halfway around the world. He’d had a seizure, for God’s sake. Why couldn’t everyone just leave him alone and let him sleep for a while?
A white-hot pain exploded against his cheek. His eyes snapped open. Dr. Devereaux stood with her hand out, massaging her palm. His fingers probed his skin. It burned.
“You slapped me,” he said.
What do you think will happen next? I’d love to hear your thoughts and predictions below!
“He couldn’t wait around for death, whether it was his or Maia’s. They needed to find a solution.” (Click to tweet)
In my last blog post, I mentioned that I’d learned a lot about Sean by writing a journal entry. Since a few of you requested to read the entry, I’m happy to oblige. Some of the original entry contains spoilers, so I’ve only included part of it below. Still, you should be able to get a grasp of his character. Small content advisory, on account of language. Enjoy!
Fucking bastard could’ve told me long ago that he was dying. We could’ve gotten him some fucking help—I don’t know where, but we could’ve done. Bloody selfish git.
I can’t fucking believe it—first my parents, then my sister, now Jay and maybe Maia. Everything I love is falling apart. The only good thing I’ve got going is Melanie—the girl that I fancy beyond conscious thought. She keeps my world spinning. She and Jay have always kept me grounded.
If I lose him and Maia, I’ll lose some of the only people who remember me.
And I know Melanie will take it harder—though I hate to admit it, she’s closer to him. At one point, I know they fancied each other. Part of me wonders if I should let him have her. I love her, but I would do whatever it took to make him happy. If he knows how much he means to me, maybe he’ll be keener to look for a cure.
I’m a total arsehole, but I can’t fucking help it.
My best friend is dying, and I’m so scared of being all alone.
As you can see, it doesn’t take much writing to make progress. Before this exercise, I saw Sean as selfish. I didn’t see why he lashes out at everyone around him. Now, I understand. He’s using anger to mask his fear, to keep his friends from seeing how terrified he is.
I understand Sean now. I can see why he acts the way he does. In turn, that helps me portray him more accurately; more authentically.
As writers, authenticity is something we should strive for.
What do you think of this exercise? How do you get to know your characters?
Learn how one journal entry changed @brianawrites’ perception of one of her characters. (Click to tweet)
When this blog post goes live, I’ll be close to halfway finished with my novel BLOOD AND WATER. Right now, I’m expecting the novel to be around 50K, which is a respectable length. Lately, I’ve been doing lot of thinking about who would play my characters in a film version of the novel (ambitious, I know). Since a few of you know some things about the book, I thought it would be fun to share my choices for everyone. Keep reading to learn how I envision these beautiful, doomed teens inside my head.
Jay Harris (Michael B. Jordan)
I stumbled upon this one by accident. My friend Whitney was visiting me, sitting beside me, and scrolling through Tumblr. I happened to look over right as she landed on a picture of Michael B. Jordan. It was love at first scroll. Granted, at 28, he’s a little old for Jay, but Hollywood is always casting grown men as adolescents. Besides, I like the way he looks.
If you think this actor looks familiar, you might’ve seen him in Fruitvale Station, Parenthood, or Friday Night Lights.
Maia Harris (Gabrielle Union)
It was difficult for me to find a black actress between the ages of 20 and 30. I settled on the beautiful Gabrielle Union, even though she’s definitely out of my target range (I hope I look as good as she does at her age). SHE LOOKS AMAZING.
Anyway, Gabrielle Union has taken on all kinds of acting projects, including Being Mary Jane, 10 Things I Hate About You, and Bring It On.
Melanie McCartney (Sarah Bolger)
For Melanie, I wanted an actress who was actually Irish. The lovely Sarah Bolger is perfect for the part. I haven’t seen her in much, but she is absolutely gorgeous. I can’t get over her eyes. I get the feeling she’d do a great job of embodying Melanie’s sweetness and sass.
You can watch Sarah Bolger in The Tudors and Once Upon a Time.
Sean Wu (Darren Criss)
I’ve been a fan of Darren Criss since A Very Potter Musical (Look it up on YouTube). I’ve never stopped loving him, even when he joined Glee. How’s that for dedication? Criss is my first choice to play Sean, mostly because he’s Eurasian – there’s even some Chinese and Northern Irish in there.
Like I mentioned before, you can watch Criss in A Very Potter Musical, Glee, and Girl Most Likely.
Fleur Devereaux (Nathalie Emmanuel)
From the moment I first laid eyes on Nathalie Emmanuel, I knew she was perfect for Dr. Devereaux. Beautiful, smart, and capable of holding her own, I have no doubt that Emmanuel would do the French doctor justice. I don’t want to say much more about the character, since a lot of you don’t know her yet. All you need to know is that Emmanuel is flawless. AND LOOK AT HER HAIR.
Nathalie Emmanuel has landed roles in Game of Thrones, Hollyoaks, and Furious Seven.
If you’ve read part of BLOOD AND WATER, what do you think about these choices? Who else could you picture acting these roles? Don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter so you can stay updated on my writing progress!
How do you envision the characters in your novels? @brianawrites shares her ideas for her novel BLOOD AND WATER. (Click to tweet)