I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about the process of writing. I’m always looking to understand my own process better and learn something new, some way of making this even just the tiniest bit easier.
My friend Isabo Kelly and I have discussed this several times, and I think the analogy we came up with holds true. Writing a book is like finding your way across an unfamiliar room filled with furniture…in the dark. You stumble into things, bark your shins, get stuck in a corner, yell for help, and finally eventually make your way through it. But, unfortunately, because every book is different, once you make it to the other side of the room and turn around to go back again through that darkened room, someone has moved the furniture on you.
Still, there are things I’ve learned about myself and writing:
1) When a proposal (typically three chapters and a synopsis) is due, I need to write the chapters first. If I write the synopsis first, it kills the story dead, right then and there.
2) Before I can start writing, I must do the pre-writing first. Getting to know the people in the story is essential.
3) Everybody who is a main character (e.g. my heroine and her love interest) must have a goal. It’s better if it can be described in concrete action verbs. Like, win a music scholarship, stop parents from getting a divorce, graduate from high school, etc.
4) Characters either have a goal from the beginning of the story and events occur to change it (or try to), or events that occur in the story give them a goal that was not present before. I guess, technically, they always have a goal. It just depends on whether the story is about them keeping that original goal despite the events that occur, or changing to a new goal based on the story events. In the first, it would be like someone who’s determined to be an Olympic ice skater even though her parents lose their jobs, the rink closes down, her coach quits, etc. The other would be someone who’s content to stay at home until something dramatic happens and forces them on an adventure to save the princess, or whatever.
5) I think that good stories involve choices. It can’t just be about things that happen to people. They have to have some skin in the game, so to speak. They have to make choices that cannot be avoided with important consequences hanging in the balance.
6) There should be conflict in every scene. People walk into the moment wanting different things, and nobody wants to lose.
7) That little snippet of dialogue or description that drifts through your brain? Write it down. Immediately. Otherwise, you’ll forget it and drive yourself crazy trying to remember it. Chances are, you’ll remember it as being more erudite than it actually was, but better to know for sure!
I’m sure there are more…but this is what I have so far. One of the things I love about writing is the opportunity to keep learning. To try new things. Find better ways. So, yeah, there are bruised shins and another dark and crowded room to navigate each time, but it’s all about the journey and what you learn along the way. And I’m always interested to discover what I’m going to learn next.