I write stuff for kids...and muse on writing, children's books, and the publishing industry in general

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Writing Process: guest post by Brooke Johnson (and a contest!)

Guys, today Brooke Johnson, author of The Clockwork Giant, has come along to give us some insight into her writing process. I hope you all enjoy her comments, and find some useful things that you may be able to apply to your own writing. Make sure you read to the end for a chance to win a copy of The Clockwork Giant (paperback or ebook).

Take it away Brooke :)


Hi people, Brooke Johnson here, debut author of The Clockwork Giant, a young adult steampunk novel. You can find more about me and my writing at my website. As part of this guest post, I’m also giving away a copy of my book—ebook or paperback, whichever is preferred—so be sure to comment!

When I sit down to write a new story, I have the basic idea in mind, a loose sort of mental collage. But before I can start writing, I have to figure out what my characters—what they want, and how far they’re willing to go to get it. That says a lot about a person, more than their eye color or current occupation. It’s also important to know their fatal flaw. In the case of Petra, the main character of The Clockwork Giant, her biggest flaw is the compulsion to prove herself.

Once I have my characters, I have to figure out the theme, or the meaning behind the story. It has to be something that syncs with the characters’ goals and what I have in mind for the plot. For The Clockwork Giant, I wanted to tell a story about a girl who despite her current situation isn’t afraid to follow her dreams, even if she has to fight the entire way.

When I know the theme, I can start plotting. I aim to plot at least two subplots in addition to the main plot, but ideally, the subplots are so integral to the main plot, it all sort of meshes together. At this point, I take that mental collage of images that I associate with my story, and I start jotting scenes down. A scene description could be anywhere from a short sentence to a quarter of a page. I don’t try to plot chronologically. I think of the big scenes first, the ones that are so important that without them, the story wouldn’t exist. Then I brainstorm on the less exciting scenes and the subplots, trying to get about thirty scenes total. Once I’ve done that, I shuffle the scenes around until I find the order I like best.

And when that’s done, I can start writing. I try to get at least 1500 words a day, but sometimes I can write twice that. I research while I write, looking up things as I go along, but if there is a bunch of stuff to research, I’ll put aside a day or a week to get it all straightened out. I also edit as I go, reading over the previous day’s work before putting any new words down. It helps me remember where I left off, and I can fix any typos or awkward phrasing I might find. Oftentimes, I’ll discover within the first chapter or two that my outline isn’t going to work, and I have to adjust. For The Clockwork Giant, I had written three-quarters of the book when I realized that I would have to change the ending. Thankfully, I’m not that stubborn. The ending is better for it.

After I finish the first draft, I send it to my beta-readers. Once they respond, next are the rounds and rounds of revision and editing and proofreading until finally, the book is finished. It’s a long, arduous process, but totally worth it.


Thanks so much to Brooke for taking the time to talk to us today. Here's her bio:
Ever since she was a little girl, Brooke had a love of building long-forgotten, fantastical worlds, and as she grew up, and the worlds became more complex and the characters came to life, she found that she didn't have enough Legos to do them justice. Convinced it was her destiny to create, she delved into writing.

Now married and living in Northwest Arkansas with her husband and dog, she spends her days scrambling around the vast landscape of her imagination, the fantastical worlds of princes and wizards on one side and the towering, brass cities of automatons and engineers on the other.
You can purchase The Clockwork Giant at most online retailers, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, and Lulu. The Book Trailer is here if you want to check it out.

The Clockwork Giant description

It's 1881, the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of Chroniker City, the global hub of technological advancement in the modern world. Based off the British coast, the city is home to the most prestigious polytechnic university worldwide, a center of mechanical ingenuity teaching everything from clockwork mechanics and thermodynamics to electromagnetism and electricity.

Petra Wade, self-taught clockwork engineer, dreams of one day becoming a member of the Guild, an elite group of inventors and innovators who envision a future fueled by technology, but her ambitions will only come to fruition if she can find a way into the illustrious university—an institution reserved for men only. When she meets Emmerich Goss, an accomplished engineer newly recruited into the Guild, Petra discovers that he needs help building a top-secret, government-sanctioned automaton, and she is just the girl to help him.

Together, they craft the clockwork giant, and as the deadline for its completion nears, Petra finds that she can love more than gears and mainsprings.


If you would like the chance to win a copy of The Clockwork Giant (paperback or ebook), please follow both myself and Brooke if you're not already, and leave a comment below. The winner will be drawn by Random.org and will be announced next Monday, so make sure you pop back then. We'll try to contact the winner but if we can't (if their email address is not linked up to their blogging profile for example), we may have to re-draw.

Writers' Platform-Building Campaign

Thanks so much to everyone who voted and gave me their comments on my question last week: one Campaign or two per year. You've all been an awesome help and have made some comments that really touched me. And a huge thank you to everyone who volunteered to assist me - I'll be getting in touch with you soon to discuss. I've nearly got my plans in place for what I'll be doing, and I'll be making the grand announcement next Monday. So stay tuned :)

Hope everyone has a great week!



Kelley Lynn said...

Thanks so much for this interview! Very helpful stuff in here :)

Unknown said...

"It’s a long, arduous process, but totally worth it."
It is, isn't it? And every time you think you've got it polished and perfect, someone sends back a whole lot of new comments about what they think you should change. *sigh* But you're right that it's worth it!

xx Rachel

Leslie S. Rose said...

Brooke, it's fascinating the way you take a mental collage and tame it into a story. Thank you for sharing your process.

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

Great interview. I love a peek into a writer's process. Yours sounds more thought out than mine. I just storyboard and once that's done I write it. I don't have beta readers. I searched for a while but couldn't find any. I found lots of ppl that said they'd beta read but in reality, they just wanted to work on their own writing. I think everyone in the world is writing a book and just wants to have theirs out there. I don't fault them...that's just how it is.

I'll be sure to check back next Monday Rach to see what you've written.

Esther Jones said...

Thank you for the look into your writing process, Brooke. It's always helpful to read about what has worked for others.

Trisha said...

Yay steampunk!!

Congrats Brooke on your book release!

It's always interesting to me how people's processes vary. For me, I generally come up with an idea for a character in a certain situation - often I don't know much about the character, but the situation is what I think about...and I wonder how my character got him/herself into it. :)

Paul Tobin said...

Loved the interview, very insightful into the whole creative process, I also tend to start with scenes and then string them together, like beads on a string, trying to make the string whole can be fun!

Colene Murphy said...

Fantastic interview! That book sounds amazing! And her process is very interesting. I love seeing the different ways people write. Very cool!

Super Happy Jen said...

Sounds like a perfect book to add to my e-reader. I'm going to win this contest for sure.

digillette said...

This book sounds awesome! Great post, Brooke!

Rachael Harrie said...

Thanks for stopping by guys!



Anonymous said...

Great approach to writing... I always struggle with research because it distracts me from writing for too long - might take your idea and put allocated time aside for it. Your book sounds awesome... going to check it out on Amazon now:)

Mark Koopmans said...

Hey Rach:)

Just read your entry to Janet's flash fiction contest...

I'm not a poetry peep, but that was awesome, dark but awesome :)

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

I don't think I'm brave enough to send my first draft off to beta readers, although it does make sense.

Clockwork Giant sounds like a great read. I love the premise.

aisyahputrisetiawan said...

Banned complain !! Complaining only causes life and mind become more severe. Enjoy the rhythm of the problems faced. No matter ga life, not a problem not learn, so enjoy it :)

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