Let’s talk Craft with Fleur McDonald!

Aussie Author MonthToday’s guest is best selling author, Fleur McDonald, who’s going to sharesome of her writing process with us. Welcome, Fleur, lets talk craft!

Okay, let’s do!

Panster, plotter or scener, or a combination?

Well I tend to be a bit a panster! I often think I’m going to plan – start out on lovely large pieces of butchers paper, use different colour textas as I plot the characters paths, but then I get impatient and start writing!

I always love the first part of writing a new book – everything is so new and exciting, words just seem to flow, but then I hit about chapter five and realize I perhaps should have planned more and I’ve gone off a bit half cocked.

Each book I’ve promised myself I’ll be more organized, I’ll have the book written in my head before I try and start to write… It never happens. I get too caught up in writing to plan. When I do hit a brick wall, then I try and plan chapter by chapter, just to get the words down.

My husband lives by the 6-P’s. Perfect planning prevents piss-poor performance. Perhaps I should take a leaf out of his book!

Oh I do agree with your husband! I preach the Ps to new pilots – proper prior planning etc, etc. Of course, I don’t practice as I preach when I write…

Edit as you write or edit at the end?

When I wrote Red Dust, I edited as I wrote and in the process probably used four cartridges of ink and a whole rainforest worth of paper. I got better at it during Blue Skies. I decided that I would only edit, when I ran out of words to write. I’ve followed this through with Purple Roads.

I use this as a way to get back into the story, once I’ve hit one of my blank walls. I might write fifteen thousand words, stop and wonder what on earth comes next. That’s when I go back and do my editing now.

And I have to say, that I need to print out the MS for me to edit well. I can do small basic things, on the computer screen, but to try and work out re-wording of whole pages, it just needs to be done on paper!

I’m with you – major editing has to be on hard copy.

Narrative vs dialogue. How do you work the balance?

Well, Helene, you ask the hard ones of a girl who knows nothing much about writing!

I have to say, that it’s not something that I think about all that much – maybe I should. If a character needs to talk, then they talk. If we need some descriptions or something that involves narrative, that’s what you get!

My editors are wonderful people and gently point out if I’ve gone over the top with either, in areas. (As you would know, Helene, since we share Ali!)

I have been studying a few books that talk about this sort of thing and I do want to go back and look at it more clearly, after I’ve finished Purple Roads, but I think trying to study something, while actually writing a book, for me, would scare the pants off me!

Lol, clearly you know something about writing, Fleur! (And the wonderful Ali does keep all her writers on the straight and narrow.)

What courses or books have been influential in your writing?

I started a course called The Comprehensive Writing Course, through The Writing School. My parents gave me the course for my leaving school present – they knew that I should be following my writing as a career, even though I didn’t!

I met my tutor, Jeff Toghill, through this and it was him, rather than the course, that was influential. Jeff was the one who believed in me, encouraged me to try harder, dream higher and finally to start submitting.

I never actually finished the course, because Allen and Unwin offered me a contract for Red Dust, before I got around to finishing it! I’ve just been writing ever since.

A mentor is a good thing for any aspiring writer. You sound like you have a wonderful friend and mentor in Jeff.

So, characterisation – how do you build your characters or do they arrive fully formed?

Well, a lot of the time, they are people who I’d like to be friends with, so they’re sort of in my mind, all of the time. I know them because I’m already friends with people like them. Does that make sense?

That’s my main characters, I guess. The others – especially like ‘Gavin’ (here’s a blog I wrote about Gavin http://australianromancereaders.wordpress.com/2011/01/30/guest-blogger-fleur-mcdonald/ )  tend to come to me slowly and quietly. Mostly in the early hours of the morning.

I love it when I’ve been thinking about one part of a characters personality and then a small little buzz starts and then I say: ‘Oh yeah and he can do this, this and this, because he had blah happen to him when he was a child!

Does any of that make sense? I tend to ramble when I get excited!

Ramble??? Never 🙂 Nothing so infectious as passion for writing and stories!

To critique or not to critique – what works for you?

Oh, critiquing for me, is very important. I have a friend, Carolyn, who has been with me all the way, on this journey. Actually she was there before it all started – we’ve been friends for 18 years.

She reads absolutely anything I write, before anyone else ever sees it. I trust her judgment, implicitly. So much so, that when I sent her the ending for Blue Skies, I almost knew what she was going to say. I felt it myself and I was sure Cal would agree with me.

The email I had back from her, said (and this is true!): ‘Fleur, that’s crap. Re-write it.’

So I did.

Friends and critique partners like that, are invaluable and keep you sane.  Are you like that, Helene?

Hmm, the first person to see my finished work is my husband closely followed by my sister – honesty from them is vital! I don’t class them as crit partners though as we seldom toss ideas around.

What advice do you have for those embarking on the writing journey?

Never, ever give up. Red Dust was rejected by Allen and Unwin, when I first submitted it and was picked up on the second time around. Just because your MS isn’t wanted one day, won’t mean it isn’t wanted the next.

Now you asked for a snippet of Purple Roads, Helene! Well, the first two chapters are up on my website, under bibliography. But my two main characters Matt and Anna are married. They start out on a farm, but don’t stay there long. Dave Burrows, from Red Dust makes a re-appearance and there is a Vietnam War influence.

I hope that’s enough to whet your appetite!

Thanks for having me Helene, and I must just tell the whole world, how much I loved Shattered Sky.

Fleur, thanks for sharing you enthusiasm and your wisdom. (Glad you enjoyed Shattered Sky).We’re all waiting on Purple Roads next year.

You’ll find Fleur at www.fleurmcdonald.com and on Face Book and Twitter.

She’s also on Australian Outback Romances and Mysteries, along with Bronwyn Parry, Fiona Palmer and me. Keep an eye out for some new members who write wonderful Aussie stories joining us soon on that website.

Fleur McDonald grew up among the farming communities of Orroroo in SA and now lives east of Esperance, on 8,000 acres. Here, she cares for a husband, two children and a menagerie of dogs, cattle, sheep and a bit of crop, not to mention tractors and other machinery!
Fleur is the best selling author of Red Dust and Blue Skies, both published by Allen and Unwin. When she has five spare minutes, she is writing her third and fourth books, Purple Roads and Silver Gums.
For more information visit www.fleurmcdonald.com or follow her on Twitter @fleurmcdonald or Facebook

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7 thoughts on “Let’s talk Craft with Fleur McDonald!

  1. A great blog Fleur & Helene. I totally love the way it felt like I was eavesdropping on an actual conversation! Not that I’d intentionally eavesdrop of course, lol …

  2. Lol, Sandy, I know what you mean… I used to cringe when people told me I had to plot! I had some ladies in a writing course recently who’d stopped writing because they’d been told they couldn’t write if they didn’t know the ending… After I picked myself up off the floor from laughing too hard I reassured them I have no idea where the end is going to be right up until I finish the manuscript.

    My motto is ‘Rules are for fools and the guidance of wise men’ (and women)!

  3. Hi Fleur and Helene,

    Fleur, I’m encouraged by how you work as it is close to what I do. A little while ago it seemed at one stage that admitting you were a pantster was like owning up to the fact that you came from the wrong side of the tracks. 🙂

    Good luck with Purple Roads and Silver Gums (almost sounds like an Elyne Mitchell book) 🙂

  4. LOL Fleur- I did the same course! A long time ago though.
    Very interesting blog. It’s really nice to find out that other writers are going through the same kind of things.

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