I am so excited to have Marie Lu on the blog today! Do you guys remember how much I loved Legend? It’s my favorite dystopian of the year, by far. So it was great to get a little insight on how Legend was written from Marie.
Legend Was Pantsed
In writing Legend, I learned something about my writing habits that I really should’ve known all along.
This is something I did in all of my old, unpublished manuscripts, but it wasn’t until Legend that I
consciously realized that I …
… suck at following outlines.
In other words, I “pantsed” a lot. (“Pantsed” = I wrote by the seat of my pants for Legend, i.e. I am not
very good at outlining my stories in advance.)
Writers usually fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum of writing obsessively to a detailed outline,
or writing freestyle where you just let every chapter take you wherever the story might go with no
cohesive novel plan. I fall relatively close to the latter, although I still attempt to plan ahead. With
Legend, I started out with a general chapter-by-chapter outline but quickly realized about five chapters
in that it was starting to veer off my planned path. This is because, as I write, my characters develop
in ways that I don’t expect, and their surprising motivations and actions start to change the mold of
where the story’s supposed to go. If I originally planned for everyone to meet in some border town, for
instance, one of the characters will mutiny halfway there and strike out on their own. Or some other
character might deceive another out of jealousy and/or spite without first letting me know. This stuff
all happens out of nowhere, and when they come up, I’m always blindsided by it. Where does it come
from? Did my subconscious know about this? No matter–by the time these detours happen, I can do
nothing but listen to the characters, even though they usually leave my neatly plotted outline in an
Case in point: Halfway through Legend, a major shift in the story happens. I did not know this shift was
going to occur until I wrote the one sentence that triggered it. A character’s fate near the end of Legend
was also something that happened only when I reached that particular chapter. That’s how “pantsed”
the story was.
All this “pantsing” used to freak me out a bit, since it did not help me plan out an accurate schedule for
when I could finish the book. But lately I’ve learned that this is simply my brain’s process, that in the
end all of the pieces will connect (sometimes with duct tape and string), and that the characters will
still arrive at the basic ending I have chosen for them. That’s one thing that hasn’t changed so far–the
beginnings and the ends of my stories. No matter what twists and turns my characters decide to take for
me in the middle of a book, the endings always come out the same.
(It’s like they try to avoid their fates, in vain. HA. Foolish characters.)
Marie Lu Bio:
Before becoming a full-time writer, Marie Lu was the
art director at a video game company. She also owns the
children’s brand Fuzz Academy. She was first inspired to
write Legend while watching Les Miserables one afternoon,
and wondered how the relationship between a famous criminal
vs. a prodigious detective might translate into a more
modern story. She graduated from the University of Southern
California in 2006 and lives in Los Angeles, California.
Visit Marie at www.marielu.org