With the July NaNoWriMo camp coming up, I thought I’d share a little about my writing process with you. None of us really have far to look for inspiration. Fiction is all about conflict, cause and effect. It’s about action and reaction, moving forward and getting knocked back. Life is full of that stuff. We all know people, don’t we? Those complex arrangements of thought, muscle and motivation? What makes one person react to a given situation differently to another person? Their personality traits? Are these traits innate or are they explained by backstory? Who is this person and what makes them tick? What happens to them and how do they fight back? That’s where any writing adventure begins for me. All I have to do then is amplify their story – their goals, the conflict, the stakes. Characters must be tested, they must go through hell and come out fighting. They must grow through their experience.
My process kicks off somewhere between waking up and dragging my arse out of bed. I find that tea is the perfect fuel for thinking and, luckily for me, I have a husband who makes a fine cuppa. I usually start with a character and vague scenario. It can be as vague as teenage boy goes to wizard school and defeats meanest dark wizard with no nose that ever existed. Obviously that one’s taken, but you get the gist. From there I think about character goals, motivations and arcs. Scenes tend to just unfold and other characters emerge as I think about what could stand in the way of my protagonist’s progress. What could complicate things? How could I resolve the complications? How will my character respond? How do I make one event lead to another and keep those dominoes falling? What does my protagonist need to keep his hopes up? A girlfriend? A cheeky side-kick? A mentor? I spend a good few weeks making notes, creating character profiles and sorting out an approximate timeline. I usually find at this stage that some scenes become quite well defined and some sassy dialogue will burst into my head. Other scenes will be more sketchy. Sometimes I actually get out of bed during this process. I may even get dressed. Anything could happen.
I enjoy the planning process. I’m your classic three act structure kind of a girl. Once my scenes and events are in the right order, I start writing. My first draft is very linear, working from front to back whereas the revisions tend to be written scene by scene in any order that suits my mood. I’m quite flexible when I write. If something different suggests itself, I’ll play with it for a while to see if it really works. I like scenes to grow organically once I’m slap bang in the middle of them. And I like to let things stew. What I don’t do is agonise over that perfect phrase. In fact, while writing my first draft I do what pretty much every writing book on the market says I shouldn’t. I tell. I don’t show.
I don’t for one moment think this would work for everyone but I find it liberating to just write what happens in my scenes without any of the showier phrases that mark decent prose. If such a phrase pops into my head as I write, it goes in, simple as that, but I don’t labour over precise language, not during the first draft. I call it a skeleton draft because it really is just the bones on which to hang the flesh. Some of it will be in note form, reminding me to discuss elements of setting, props, feelings, thoughts, discussion topics, weather, etc. If a particular analogy or metaphor suggests itself, I’ll write it as fully as I can without fussing too much over language.
What usually emerges most clearly is dialogue, particularly during the later stages when my characters have really come to life for me. By the time I’m about a third in, I know exactly how they’ll act and react. I know exactly what buttons to push to make their dialogue explosive.
Even when writing in note form, the scenes break themselves down into paragraphs. This makes it much easier to write when it comes to that fuller second draft. I know what needs to go in the paragraph, I just have to find phrases to do my scene justice. Most of the time that’s pretty straight-forward but it can be trickier during emotional scenes when the tone must be perfect. I’m over-simplifying, of course. Nothing is this easy. Writing is hard when you’re trying to get it right. Being able to visualise a scene, or discuss it at length is not quite the same as writing dazzling prose.
I’m old school when it comes to writing. Consequently, my house is full of notebooks and half-dead biros. I’m not very good with spidergrams despite being a very visual person. I am an eternal list-maker. Linear works for me. From character lists, come character profiles, come character thought processes, come character driven scenes and so on. Only when I have something solid to type up do I sit at the laptop. I do all my revisions on paper. And all the writers I know think it’s dead weird that my chapters are determined once all the writing is done. I don’t know if that would be considered quirky or not in the wider world. I like to think the process is different for everyone, even if some elements are very similar.
I’d love to see how you approach your writing, so if you already have a post about your writing process, please post a link in the comments. If you don’t, perhaps now is the time to write one.