Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Mucking Through the Writing Process

You mentioned that the plot of The Department of Lost and Found was easy to write because it was based on something you had experienced in life. a) How did you come up with the plot for what you are working on now? b) Did you run the idea by your agent and ask for her advice before you started writing it? c) What is the process for coming up with a book? Also, when you wrote DEPARTMENT, did you outline it first or just dive right in?

a) The plot of my current WIP also stems from some real life experiences, but only very tangentially. I touched on this in another post, but I really think it helps to have some personal or emotional connection with some aspect of your story idea: it gives your writing heft and believability. The WIP explores female friendships, and the concept of why we're drawn to various people in our lives...and why we stay attached to them long after the relationship has dwindled to an end, which are questions that I've long wondered about. I guess the idea took its roots from several friendships that I've had over the years, and what these relationships gave me: the incredible bonds, but also the complications that some of those bonds have brought.

b) As I've mentioned before, this was actually the first ms I completed, which never sold. I've completely gutted that ms, leaving only traces of what it once was and am rebuilding. So my agent, who had read that ms after she signed me for DEPARTMENT, already had an idea of what I was going to write about. I'm lucky: she trusts me. I think, for her, she loves my writing style and believes in me enough that she'll let me do my thing and only step in if I veer wildly off-course. (If say, I wanted to write a backpacking guide to Nepal, which really wouldn't address my strengths.) That doesn't mean, however, that I fully trust myself. Thus, I bounced the first 10k words off of her and am about to send her the first 40k words. Just to ensure that I'm on track.

c) This ms is much slower-going than DEPARTMENT. With both of them, however, my writing process is much the same. I tend to map out the next three or so chapters from where I am in my writing, and don't plan a big outline from the get-go. The books start with an overall concept or question or character - something or someone whom I can clearly see in my mind and that I know I want to explore - and I spin from there. For DEPARTMENT, I had a very clear vision of my heroine right away. I knew who she was, what drove her and where her faults could be found. I didn't know exactly where she was going to take me (or where the book was going to go), but by starting with a clear understand of her, I let her lead me.

Some authors definitely set up the entire story arc before they begin. But I know that I'd feel too constrained by this. I know that this sounds weird (and I say this b/c I've read similar things from other authors and always think that it sounds a little touchy-feely, but it's true!), but I really let my characters take over and dictate where they want to go. In DEPARTMENT, for example, one of the men who becomes a critical part of my heroine's life was never intended to be more than a bit player! But as soon as I started writing his scenes, it became obvious that he was a great potential match for her. If I'd established all of these preconceived notions about exactly who he was and the role he needed to play, the book would have taken on an entirely different angle. And, needless to say, wouldn't have been as good.

So basically, I keep a piece of paper beside me as I go, and when I'm done with a chapter or a chunk of the writing, I'll jot down the next few entanglements and scenes. It's worked pretty well for me so far. That's it. Nothing fancy at all.

So that's my process. What's yours?


Sara Hantz said...

I can't start writing a ms unless I have a full outline of the plot, and a spreadsheet of all the scenes. I do sometimes change/add things, but I pretty much stick to it.

I never write out of order, I'm much too linear for that. In fact the thought of doing it scares me shitless!

Mike Vecchio said...

I developed my first novel much like Allison did. So we do have similar development styles. I like the idea of having an overall concept and plan then getting my characters going in the direction of that plan. The characters are more free this way to be who they need to be in the process of the story. It's much like the show Whose Line it? They give the improv comedian a general idea of the scene and then they go at it.

In my second novel I started to outline it to get a better picture of where I wanted to go. Then woke up one day and just had to write this scene where an attempt is made on the life of the central character. The funny thing was - and I have a rule in my writing - no violence that seriously injures people. And, here I am writing a scene where they try to kill the heroine. When I write, I don't ask questions - I just do. So I wrote this incredible scene and it fit the story perfectly when I was done developing. At the end of the scene, you could literally see the smoking tires of the hit car wafting from the page. I loved it -)!!!

As I've said before in this comment section - after writing a couple of movie scripts - I would begin with a three act sequence and embellish as necessary to fit a novel format. I have a real respect for character arc. To be safe in terms of character development I'm with Sarah, an outline can be very important. Otherwise, plan on some rewriting and tossing completed pages that don't support a believable character or drive the story cohesively.

For one, I think you need to trust the writing process and know that whatever you do is never wasted, even if you don't wind up using it for that story.

This may sound funny, but I usually pray or meditate before I write. I also ask that what I write will be useful to others, either directly or for entertainment value. This way I have complete trust in what God will ask me to do. That was why I wrote that scene where they tried to kill my central character. The need was so strong, I couldn't not do it. I knew that in the scheme of things it would all work out. And, it did. My first reaction to this was - are you crazy? Then got to sorry, gotta do it.

For me it is important to balance both structure around the writing with enough freedom for your characters to really express who they are.

All I'll say is writing taps all of who you are and then some.