Gardening and Architecture

May 4th, 2011

So I’ve finished my first (extremely rough) draft of the first part of my new book.  Which means, bizarrely, it’s already about one fifth completed.  Strange, since it feels I’ve hardly started it and still have only the vaguest grip on at least one of the two central characters and most of the details of the setting… 

They say that authors can be roughly split into architects and gardeners (or at least arranged upon a continuum between those two poles), that is to say those who plan everything in fine detail and then closely follow the plan, and those who work much more organically, starting with a notion, or a scene, or a character, and then seeing where it leads them. 

I’d always have put myself much more in the former camp.  Careful planning then filling in the blanks.  Indeed the idea of working entirely organically fills me with dread.  With the First Law I had a go at writing the initial scenes, a lot of which had been brewing in my mind for years, but even then had a pretty good idea what ground I wanted to cover and how I wanted to end things.  Quite quickly I realised I needed a more explicit plan and started working that out, then stuck to it pretty closely over the five years or so it took me to write the trilogy. 

But over time I must say I’ve started to drift towards gardening.  With Best Served Cold I felt I had a pretty coherent plan, a solid idea of the histories of the characters, their role in the story.  But when I came to write them I found myself pretty much floundering, and having profound doubts about what I was doing and whether it would work at all.  Writing the first couple of parts of Best Served Cold was probably the most difficult period I’ve had as a writer, in fact.  But, deciding just to push ahead, I started to get a stronger grip on the people, how they needed to think and behave, and as a result how I needed to write from their points of view.  The characters, their roles in the story, and the methods of writing developed together, if you like.  So by the time I’d finished a first draft I was much happier with the whole concept, and was able to go back to the start and quite radically change things around (mostly through a lot of cutting of thoughts and feelings that really didn’t need to be there and letting action and speech do the work).  With The Heroes, therefore, I was more confident in leaving the first parts pretty loose, letting the characters and story shift about into their proper configurations, then revising the whole thing en masse once the first draft was complete.  With this latest book I’m leaving things rougher yet, and trusting to the Fates and experience that by the time I’ve finished, I’ll know exactly how the people should speak, think, and act, and in the editing I’ll whip the whole thing into shape with a minimum of fuss and wasted time.  Honestly, I’m still not sure exactly how I’m going to end this one.  I’ve got a few possibilities, but I think I’ll wait and see what feels right when I get there.

But whatever it is, obviously, it will be great.


Posted in process by Joe Abercrombie on May 4th, 2011.

27 comments so far

  • the Picaroony says:

    Good work fella …. sure what more can we ask for. As long as ye have a fair bit of gardening done by the time Skyrim comes out on 11/11/11. Cheers.

  • Now, I’ve always been a gardener. I hate trying to think through an entire story in advance; I never feel I can know my characters well enough at the outset to predict what they’d do near the end, because what happens to them in the middle part is going to make them change and grow, so they’re not the same person who started out on this journey.

    But there’s no right or wrong way to do this; it’s what works for you and the story at hand. Glad to hear you’re making progress.

  • enjai says:

    I guess as you write more books you probably get a better instinct for the whole thing. Your inner architect is still there but he doesn’t need to be so adamant.

    I’d be interested to know which way you think is quicker (although quick doesn’t eccessarily mean better unless deadlines are important). It sounds as if the re-edits for the gardening approach are more intensive but maybe it’s not so different when you include all the time required at the planning stages.

  • Enjai,
    I guess I’d say for me that the most efficient approach is a happy combination of the two. But no doubt it varies with the author and the project. Probably wouldn’t be possible to write a book like The Heroes, in which there are a lot of threads quite densely woven, without a fair bit of thought put into the geography, timeline and organisation.

  • Dan says:

    I just want to know what’s growing in the garden. Any Caul-iflower? Are there nine red radishes? Lol. Give us a hint Joe!

  • DrGonzo says:

    Jayyy, new stuff. Great news. Would be nice to hear a bit of the developing story in the future.

  • enjai says:

    Yeah I was thinking with the fact that the Heroes is set over a couple of days with several battles then you really would need to at least have your own scrawl of a map and rough outcomes of each battle as a framework. I guess you were allowed more leeway in terms of which characters survived each day and how they came out of it though.

    Dan: Caul-iflower. Brilliant. Is one side eaten away by caterpillers?

  • Erin says:

    In my writing community, we call them Planners and Pantsers (as in “flying by the seat of their pants”). I envy those who can plan everything out and make a real story out of it. I am a Pantser through and through.

  • James says:

    Dan… Nice.. Caul-iflower had me rolling!!!



  • Elfy says:

    You can tell you’ve been talking to George R.R Martin in the not too distant past.

  • enjai says:

    As long as Joe doesn’t learn the art of ever-expanding book length and deadlines, GRRM is a pretty good guy to be influenced by.
    Speaking of which will Sky ever let Joe post the GRRM interview he did? I missed it and haven’t been able to find it anywhere.

  • David says:

    That is good news!

    It’s interesting to hear about your process too. I’m good at beginning things but bad at following them through, full of doubts and motivational shortcomings, so it’s comforting and reassuring to know that even the pros suffer in the same way.

  • mike says:

    I’m a Gardener! Not sure where i’d begin in regards to Architecture, don’t know a damn thing about buildings . . . mmm did i miss this posts point?

  • SwindonNick says:

    I think that confidence moves you from one camp to the other….

  • Tim H says:

    I loved this post. It could apply to anything. I’m an architect and my wife is a gardener. When we take a trip, I do loads of research and planning (mainly about what to eat and where), but she just wants to go. The truth is, after I’ve done my research, I feel very little desire to actually go on the trip. In fact, I’d rather not go. So much more satisfying (for me) to cook a meal I read about in my own kitchen.

  • Joe D says:

    Joe, as an aspiring writer, I find the posts that describe your writing process in detail fascinating! Write more of these please 🙂

  • Frank Bishop says:

    I always thought myself a gardener, just recently realized that I’m an architect. It literally blew my mind. I have also been noticing that the majority of my favored writers are also architects. This can’t be coincidence?

    It is always interesting to hear other writers processes and procrastinations. Right now my big one is COD:BO.

    I agree with Joe D, let us hear more of your process. Let the peephole into your mind expand!

    Just bought BSC on audiobook, going to tear into it Monday. Looking forward to work…… weird.

  • Jeff says:

    write faster I cant wait!!!!

  • Vic Mackey says:

    Joe, how long did it take you write this rough draft?

  • Sedulo says:

    It looks like he wrote it in roughly six to eight weeks.

  • Joe D: I too am an aspiring writer, and at my blog I’m going through the Heroes scene-by-scene and trying to figure out the basics of how Joe A. does what he does so well. No profound findings yet, but you might find it interesting … or you might not!

    Joe A: I don’t believe you when you say you have a rough draft done so soon. You should post some of it — it’d be much more convincing that way … 😉

  • Sedulo says:

    He only has the first part drafted. If it was the entire book I would be kind of freaked out.

  • Sedulo — thanks for pointing that out. Yeah, it did seem a little superhuman at the time.

  • […] reminded of it recently in a post by Joe Abercrombie, one of my favorite fantasy authors. In this post he says “They say that authors can be roughly split into architects and gardeners (or at […]

  • […] Abercrombie wrote for his blog (basically, writing as you like and planning it in great detail):…-architecture/ I wonder whether differences between air-fairyness and ruthless efficiency are eroded to a […]

  • […] on Joe Abercrombie’s site in May last year along similar lines – you can read it here – where he places authors into two categories, architects and gardeners. The architects plan and […]

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