There are never enough good things to say about Janice Hardy. She has an awesome fantasy series, The Healing Wars, and she helps tons of writers on her Fiction University blog (formerly “The Other Side of the Story”). I interviewed Janice on Halloween in 2012, and when I found out she had a new book, PLANNING YOUR NOVEL, I immediately contacted her for a follow-up interview.
Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure takes you step-by-step through finding and developing ideas, brainstorming stories, and crafting a solid plan for your novel.
Over 100 different exercises lead you through the novel-planning process, building upon each other to flesh out your idea as much or as little as you need to do to start writing.
Find Exercises On:
– Creating Characters
– Choosing Point of View
– Determining the Conflict
– Finding Your Process
– Developing Your Plot
– And So Much More!
Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is an easy-to-follow guide to planning your novel, as well as a handy tool for revising a first draft, or fixing a novel that isn’t quite working.
Here are Janice’s answers to my follow-up questions:
Since our last interview, your blog, “The Other Side of the Story” changed to “Fiction University: Take Your Writing to the Next Level”. What brought on this shift, and how has the blog developed since?
It had been getting more and more how-to for a while, and one day a friend of mine made a comment about how my blog was like a master’s class in writing. That put the university idea in my head, and I just couldn’t shake it. I’d been wanting to do the writing books for years, but wasn’t sure how to approach them, and the two elements just clicked. I decided to re-focus the site to be more educational, and develop the writing books as self-guided workshops. I wanted the site to become a place where writers could go to improve their craft and get helpful advice at any level–beginner to pro. That naturally morphed into doing more in-person workshops and online classes–which I love doing–and suddenly I saw this whole writing world I could develop to help writers.
The site is still in development and will be the rest of the year, but the long-term plan is to create a community site for writers. I’ll be adding forums where people can share work and get feedback, ask questions, discuss craft and the publishing business. Online classes will be available toward the end of the year. I’m excited about where it’s going.
Me too–it’s a great resource for writers at all stages. I was also excited to learn about your new book, PLANNING YOUR NOVEL. What inspired it, and what do you hope readers will take away when they’re finished?
For years, I’d wanted to turn the massive amount of information on the site into writing books. It was just a natural evolution, but I couldn’t decide on how to structure them. Once the university theme emerged, the idea of “textbooks” took shape. It wasn’t about just offering information, but teaching that information with a goal in mind. I use examples for every single exercise to make it even easier to understand and follow along.
One of the popular elements of Fiction University is how applicable the articles are. A writer can read a post, follow the steps or ask the questions and (hopefully) see improvement in their writing. I wanted the books to do the same thing, so each chapter is a workshop filled with brainstorming questions and exercises designed to guide someone step-by-step through the novel-planning process.
The exercises also build on each other so you use what you learn to move forward to the next step in the process. For example, a workshop might start out with a session on basic character creation, but by the end you’ll have developed your protagonist, antagonist, and a cast of characters, and be ready to dive into creating a plot for those characters (or vice versa if you prefer to plot first and develop characters second).
By the end of the book, you’ll have developed all the pieces needed to craft a summary line, a summary blurb, and a working synopsis–and be ready to write the novel. At the planning stage, these three elements are for the writer’s benefit, but they’re the foundation for writing the pitch line, query letter, and synopsis for a finished novel. The exercises can actually make the submission process easier, because you’ll know what you want to say about your novel.
I love that your book lays out the groundwork for a novel, but also helps build pitches and query letters once the novel is finished.
In our last interview, in the comments section, you mentioned two upcoming projects: a YA fantasy and an MG caper/mystery. Have those projects developed since? Are there any other books you’re working on?
What a blast from the past! The YA fantasy went through multiple drafts, and was one of those books that fought me for every word and I was just never happy with it. I figured a change of focus would help, so I set it aside while I wrote PLANNING YOUR NOVEL, and then I got distracted by a shiny YA idea I wrote for NaNo (a science fiction suspense). It was a story I just HAD to write, and it’s just about ready to go to my agent.
I actually had a revelation recently on how to make the YA fantasy work (it involves changing the book from a dual narrative to a single POV), so I’ll probably go back to that early next year and rework the draft. The first draft for the MG caper has been done for ages, and it’s waiting for me to start revisions.
And of course, I have the next several books in the writing series to write. I really need to clone myself to get everything I want to do done (grin).
I can’t wait to hear more about your YA science fiction suspense novel! What are some of the current main categories in YA and/or MG, and what advice (if any) do you have for writers figuring out where their books fit on the shelves?
The categories are about the same–romance, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, and contemporary are probably the biggies, with all their sub-genres. There’s still a lot of paranormal in all shapes and sizes, though rumors say dystopians are on the way out. I also hear dark stories are popular and will be for a while still. I think the next “big book” that takes off will likely set the trends for the next few years, whatever that will be.
As for fitting on the shelves, look for books similar to yours and see where they’re shelved, or ask what kinds of fans would like the book. You can also identify the most important element of your novel and see where that fits. For example, if your novel is all about two people falling in love and living happily ever after, odds are it’s a romance even if it has other elements in it. If it takes place in space or in a high-tech world, it’s probably science fiction. Set in a made-up world with magic–probably fantasy. Since YA/MG is all shelved together, don’t worry too much about to call your book. Just pick something that will let agents, editors, or readers know the type of book it is. It can be a paranormal romance, or a science fiction thriller, but you don’t need to name every element it has, like a paranormal romance mystery thriller.
Very sound advice–what’s some of the best writing advice you’ve received along the way?
My favorite is something my agent told me: “don’t go wider, go deeper.” It’s easy to add more “stuff” to a story to make it bigger, when most times you serve the story better by digging deeper into what you already have. Don’t over-complicate it with lots of manufactured problems, flesh out the characters so their problems become the most important part of the story. Uncover your own story secrets.
My other favorite–always serve the story. A great story is why a reader picks up a novel, so do whatever will enable you to tell the best story you can.