Since publishing A Shadow in the Flames, I’ve been asked in a few interviews and such what tips I have for aspiring authors. Teaching is not a skill that comes easily to me, and as such, thinking of an answer to that question is often difficult, but as I was writing today, one thing did pop into my head:
Make detailed notes.
This is actually something I’m still trying to teach myself. I’ll be writing with certain things in mind and then I’ll be forced to stop writing and expect I’ll remember certain details later when I come back to it. When I do, I find that I’ve not retained it mentally as well as I thought (or worse, forgot there was a detail I was even trying to remember). It’s like an artist painting in front of a landscape, then going home and doing the rest from memory. This invariably leads to time lost as I either try to recall the details I’d conceived (and failed to remember), or go back and reread earlier chapters just reacquaint myself with something that I could have better kept track of with a written note or two.
That’s not to say I never make notes. I make a LOT of notes (character sketches, what’s going through someone’s mind at a certain time, neat little ideas, chapter outlines, etc.). Heck, I’ve got an entire page outlining how much and when to reveal about a certain character’s background. Even so, there are still occasional things that I think I can remember and consciously decide not to write down, or things it doesn’t occur to me to keep track of until later when I realize I need to know something.
Case in point: I’m working on finishing up the sequel to A Shadow in the Flames, and multiple plot threads have come together as one, resulting in a lot of characters running around. Certain characters know certain things (some know quite a lot, some only a little, and some only THINK they know a lot) and have certain competing agendas that dictate how much they want others to know. I’d been keeping track of who knows what and when in my head, and I suddenly realized today that I was starting to lose my grip as one character started treating another like he knew something he shouldn’t, and worse, downright contradicting something he’d told him a little bit before. Now I’m faced with rereading the previous fifty pages or so and taking notes on my own writing, just to be certain things are still fitting together properly. Not the end of the world, but it’ll eat up time.
I suppose one could argue that by not stopping to take notes as I wrote, I was allowing my creative momentum to continue unabated, but even so, I should have at least paused between chapters to take stock of where everyone was. I was already pausing to look at other things (so there was certainly time), but this one aspect snuck by me. Certainly fixable, but a wee bit of a pain. On the other hand, it’s a learning experience that’ll help to make me a better (and faster) writer, which should be good news for those of you who’ve asked that I hurry up so you can read more.
…And now I have something new to say when asked for advice! (It IS tempting to just tell them, “That gum you like is going to come back in style,” though.)