Monday, June 13, 2011

The Process of Writing

From time to time a renowned author decides to write a book on the process of writing. A number of years ago, Stephen King wrote 'On Writing', a great book for aspiring authors. If you are a published author, people will often ask you questions about the process. Here are some of the most typical questions an author of fiction is asked by readers and prospective authors. 

1.  What is your process for writing, e.g., writing outlines, creating believable characters, writing a particular time of day, writing for a particular audience, finding and sustaining your voice, creating a character that your readers will love.
2.  What happens when you get writer's block?
3.  Do you write every day?
4.  Has writing become a tedious job for you or do you still love it?
5.  How long does it take to write a novel?
6.  How do you get your book published?
7.  Do you need an agent?
8.  In an age where so many books are published, can I ever hope to find an audience for my work?

Since people have been asking me these questions a lot lately, I thought I might try to tackle them in some orderly fashion. Of course, this is purely MY perspective since every author will answer these questions differently. 

Today, I will take on part one of the first question. Does my process include an outline and a process to create a detailed character?

I have written with and without an outline. If the story is simple, I sometimes like to let it take me wherever it goes and worry about adding the bones after I have created the skeleton. 

When I do create an outline, some will be very general in providing a sequence and flow and others will be extremely detailed. The more complex the story and the characters, the more detailed the outline. 

The detailed outlines arise from a need to capture all the ideas I have in my head about the story and how it will evolve. With a summary description in the outline, I can refer to the next piece of the story and remind myself where I am going so I don't get lost in the ebb and flow of the tale. Without that guide, I may forget the great idea I had about a character, a location, a relationship or an event. 

There is one caveat in my outlining process and that is that I NEVER allow the structure of the outline to DICTATE the story or evolution. Writing is, after all, a creative process and sometimes the muse takes you in a different direction. If I get to a certain point in the story and the next thing in my outline doesn't seem to make sense, I may have to follow my gut and be confident in the idea that the story or character has taken on a life of its own. While this might seem a bit hokey, there are times when the story takes the author on a journey and refuses to go in the direction the author has planned. That may be a bit frustrating but it is also exciting and wondrous because the journey is a real one and the work has taken on a flow that is magical. 

If you are going to develop an outline, you may choose to create a character summary as well. Even if you never describe what your character looks like in the book (you may choose to leave that to your reader's imagination), you should have some picture in your own mind to make the character real for you.

Character detail may include a 'back story'. This comes rather naturally to me since I have a background in the theater and I know that, if I am going to create a believable three dimensional character, I must know where the character came from, the life experiences that molded her and her goals and the reasons for her actions. In a fictional novel, this can be of some help (especially if you have never been the shepherd for a character and taken on the very real responsibility of getting the character safely through 200-400 pages of life and evolution). 

You NEVER want the reader to question whether a character's actions or thoughts are believable in a given situation. Be sure that the character's traits and values are consistent throughout the novel. If the character goes through a life-changing event, their behavior might change in some ways, but the reader must see how and why that change took place or they will not stay with the character and embrace them. I will take on the topic of creating a character your readers will love, in a later blog.

In the next blog, I will discuss the logistics of writing, e.g., time of day, place, etc.

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