Thank you to Lori MacLaughlin for inviting me to join in the writing process blog hop. I was fortunate to discover Lori’s blog while participating in A to Z in April. We share a fondness for Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, castles, the breathtaking views in Scotland and Ireland, and, of course, writing. I must also apologize to Lori. I had every intention of publishing my post on my scheduled day (July 7th), but was plagued by internet issues on the 6th and went on vacation the following day. I thought I’d hook up to a wireless connection at the beach house and publish my post, but it seems the internet issues followed me there as well. So, this post is a week late.
It seems I’m about the last person in the blogosphere to take part in this blog hop. The idea was to invite three other writers to participate, but with the exception of Kate Sparkes, everyone else I’ve asked has either already participated or declined. So thank you to Kate Sparkes for keeping this part of the blog hop alive!
Kate Sparkes was born in Hamilton, Ontario, but now resides in Newfoundland, where she tries not to talk too much about the dragons she sees in the fog. Her debut novel, Bound (YA Fantasy), was released in June 2014 and is available in e-book and paperback. Please visit her blog (link above) to read about the writing process of a published author!
If someone reading this post wants to participate let me know in the comments below.
As the title indicates, the idea of the blog hop is to share your writing process with other writers. Here is mine:
MY WRITING PROCESS
My writing process has evolved over time. When I began writing in 2009, I had a story idea and simply sat at my laptop and wrote. No structure, no outlines, no character profiles, no timelines…nothing, zilch, nada. It was all in my head and I wrote furiously to get it on the page before the words escaped me. As I continued writing, I realized I needed to organize my thoughts so I didn’t contradict myself or commit other blunders in the story. So I prepared character profiles and a timeline. I also filled a three-inch notebook to overflowing with my research.
I edited as I wrote and continually re-read and edited what I’d written. Unfortunately, I edited so much I took my voice right out of it. When I wrote the last chapter in 2013, the novel clocked in at over 120,000 words. By some miracle or sheer dumb luck, it followed proper story structure, but unbeknownst to me then, it was sodden with other rookie mistakes.
After an unsuccessful search for representation, I realized I had much to learn about writing. Even though I’d read several books on the craft, I purchased at least a dozen more and dedicated myself to learning everything I could about it. Here are my top recommendations:
Story Engineering by Larry Brooks
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury
Hook Me: What to Include in Your First Chapter by Rebecca Talley
Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder
Breathing Life into Your Characters by Rachel Ballon
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
My writing process is drastically different today for having read these books. I’m no longer a “pantster.” That’s someone who writes by the seat of their pants for those of you who may not know. Now, I’m more of a plotter.
While I learned a great deal from these books, it occurred to me as I thought about my writing process that there is a model for what we writers do that is older than time itself. It’s written in the book of Genesis. We are, after all, pseudo gods creating imaginary worlds filled with imaginary beings.
The Blank Page
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”
All writers have hovered over the formidable blank page, struggling to find the right words to give shape to their story. As writers, we are natural creators. We have an idea for a story, probably hundreds if you think about it, but at this point, it only exists in our minds. That blank page will remain formless and empty until you choose to act.
“The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible.” ~ Vladimir Nabokov
“And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”
Put simply, a story is a collection of chapters, that are composed of scenes, which are, in turn, composed of sentences, and it all begins with one word. This is the moment when the idea begins to take shape. Some of us believe we must wait for inspiration to strike. I say poppycock, or rather BICHOK. Put your little Butt In the Chair, with your Hands On the Keyboard and write. And follow my addition to this acronym: TAM. Type Away Madly. We have no one to blame but ourselves if the words don’t make it onto the page.
At first, I don’t worry about grammar, or creating a compelling opening line to hook the reader. In fact, I don’t follow any writing rules. I simply summarize my story idea in a few pages. I get a little crazy, but all writers are a little mad, right?
“Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” ~ E.L. Doctorow
The Protagonist and Antagonist
“He separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.”
We may believe our story idea has merit, but it will not be compelling until we have a clear vision of both the protagonist and antagonist who have conflicting goals. I get into the mindset of each of these characters. I contrast and conflict; separate the light from the darkness.
“A stage play is basically a form of uber-schizophrenia. You split yourself into two minds – one being the protagonist and the other being the antagonist.” ~ David Mamet
To read more about the antagonist and protagonist visit these posts: Creating a Credible Villain and Late at Night I Toss and Turn and Dream of What I Need.
“Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.”
Once I’ve summarized my story and have a clear vision of the opposing forces (protagonist and antagonist) and the goals they want to meet, I prepare a beat sheet and compare it to proper story structure to see what might be missing.
“It doesn’t matter if you outline your stories or not, or if your words make the angels weep or not, because if what you’re writing isn’t hitting the page in context to solid and accepted—key word there—story structure, it’s doomed until it does.” ~ Larry Brooks
To learn more about story structure and beat sheets read Building Your Story on a Solid Foundation and Just Beat It: Using a Beat Sheet to Plan Your Story.
“Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years.”
When does the story take place? Does it occur in the future, the present, or the past? What period will the story span? A century? A decade? A year? Or maybe only one day? I create a timeline of the events in my story. Seeing a visual snapshot of the timeline helps ensure continuity of the story.
“Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky. Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.”
What kind of world will you create for your characters? Will it be a place of magic inhabited by dragons and unicorns? A subterranean refugee camp for those who survived an apocalyptic event? A dystopian where the earth and its inhabitants are downtrodden by an oppressive government? Or maybe a galaxy far, far away?
Whatever you envision, you should include description typical of your genre to make it believable. I spend a lot of time thinking about the world my characters inhabit. While I compile tons of research to make it as believable as possible, only a small part makes it on the page.
For more about world building read What a Wonderful World.
“Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness.”
As writers, we infuse a bit of ourselves into the characters we create. We draw on our experiences and observations. This is an opportunity to explore the best and worst of ourselves and others. The deeper we go, the more authentic the characters become.
“The characters in my novels are my own unrealized possibilities. That is why I am equally fond of them all and equally horrified by them. Each one has crossed a border that I myself have circumvented.” ~ Milan Kundera
“Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”
A writer must breathe life into their characters. To make them compelling, they must think and act like real living, breathing people. Otherwise, they are as one dimensional as a cardboard cutout. I create basic character profiles for the characters in my story. It helps me to keep track of physical characteristics and other traits so I don’t contradict myself. These profiles become much more detailed for the main characters as I write the story and get to know them better.
“When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.” ~ Ernest Hemingway
For more about creating characters read The Three Dimensions of Character, Writers: Don’t Forget the ICE, The Benefits of Being a Profiler: Creating Character Profiles, and What’s In a Name? Choosing a Name for Your Fictional Character
Feed the Muse
“I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.”
Inspiration is all around us. It can be found in news headlines, novels, short stories, poems, essays, movies, TV shows, the stranger we observe at the grocery store, our own life experiences, and so on. I draw from all these sources to feed the muse.
“A man will turn over half a library to make one book.” ~ Samuel Johnson
“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”
Once I’ve planned my story, I review all that I have made and write a logline (a summary of the story in one or two sentences). If I can do that, then I know I have the main ingredients for a good story.
To learn how to write a logline read Writing a Logline That Hooks the Reader.
“God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.”
When all the planning is complete and I have a compelling logline, I sit at my laptop and… write.
“Look, then, into thine heart, and write!” ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Combating Writer’s Block
• Exercise or perform mindless activities like mowing the lawn or washing the dishes.
• Participate in NaNoWriMo, JuNoWriMo or other writing contests. It helps you develop a routine by having a daily writing goal. It establishes what I refer to as writing muscle memory.
It works for me every time.
I avoid editing until the story is complete. To see why, read the post Editing: The Risk of Overdoing It.
For more helpful tips on editing, read the following:
So there you have it: my writing process. Everyone is different, but this is what works for me.
When it comes to writing your story, think and act like a god. Be the master of all you create.