The Way I Discovered

Methods of communication by aljones27
Methods of communication, a photo by aljones27 on Flickr.

This is not so much an general informative post than it is a personal reflective one. I’ll just make a small note here that my family’s going through some health issues, hence, why my lack of updates here. But do not fret, this blog is still a priority of mine and always will be.

I have not made any significant progress in my most recent piece, Parallax (which I’ve just added to my Work in Progress tab on this site), though every time I take a glance at the file, the spirit of it returns to me full throttle. However, I wanted to make a post on how I write. The method I discovered kept me going until I wrote “The End” in The Red Forest, my first and only book so far that I’ve completed. I’ve tried many other methods, read about (almost) every other method, and these other methods never worked for me. Now my method may not work for you, or it may. We all have our own thought processes, our own predispositions and quirks, and our own comfortable way of going about things. But as a writer for the past ten years and more, I feel compelled to proffer my modus operandi.

Perhaps I’ll make this little section into a separate post afterward, but for now, I’d like to briefly describe the different methods I’ve tried — which have not worked for me. They may work for you, but we’ll never know until you’ve tried.

  1. Know your character from birth to the story’s opening. Know everything before you write that very first sentence. I love my characters, and I love spending time with them. Unfortunately, planning every minute detail of their lives, where they were born, their address, their relationship with their second cousin, etc. — unless such specific details are pertinent to your story, then it’s not truly necessary for me as the author to know all that, too. By the time I know my character inside and out, s/he’s exhausted me and I’ve lost track of my story. I know what little I need to know about that character, as if I’ve just me them, and let him/her surprise me as I write. I suppose this method allows the plot to shape the character as well.
  2. Outline your story, know the goal of the story, then write it. Wow. As someone who likes to stick to the guidelines, this method kills me. Unfortunately, a few months ago, I attempted to write a synopsis of a story that I’d been lulling in my mind for years. It finally seemed to be taking shape, and excited by the muse, I thought, let’s try this outlining method, but give it a little twist because outlines are way too restricting for me. But this way, I can place all the little twists and turns where they need to be ahead of time, saving me a massive rewrite. So I wrote an 8 page synopsis. As soon as I typed out the ending, all those years of dreaming of this story vanished. It still makes me sick. I didn’t even feel to go back and rework it when I finished it, and I still don’t. But it was fun while I was plotting it. I’d rather write an entire story and rewrite it properly than do it this way.
  3. Just wing it baby, just wing the whole thing. Your characters will write the story for you. Total. Crap. Any writer who has the musings of a potential story in their head always has a mental image of a character and a sketchy plot/goal/thing you want in the story. That initial excitement of something new slowly and most efficiently ebbs and dies within the first 3-5 chapters. I’ve discovered why (in my cases, anyway), for reasons which I’ll save for another post.

Now let me tell you what writing method worked for me.

A little bit of each. I know other writers use this method, too. And I know other writers who don’t use this method. But us, being of a rather need-to-create breed of people, share a common curiosity of and can appreciate others’ methods. I took a little bit of each method that I’ve utilized in the past, with surprising results: I actually finished a book! Now, the quality of that book is certainly questionable, but I was satisfied with it for the time being.

Here’s how it begins:

A concept forms itself in my mind, whether from a face I see, a story or situation I’ve read, a brilliant picture, it could be anything. We all have our sources of inspiration. Usually, it involves a specific type of character facing a not-so-specific problem or confrontation. Things are vague at this point. Sometimes I won’t even have a name for my character(s), and I don’t worry myself over that because at this point, I’m thinking up a way to start the story, just get it on the paper. Beginnings can always be reworked, and then reworked some more. That’s the whole point of the beginning. It’ll never remain the same past the first edit (in 98% of cases). I do some research of my locale, or in the case of the fantasy or sci-fi genre, I scribble about 1-10 pages of background details of locals, tentative maps, sketches, etc.. It only pumps me up more about starting the story. Get a name for my character(s), an idea of their age and relevant background and role in the story, and I’m good to go. Oh, and usually, I’ll have an actor/actress/person in mind as I create this character. Even if it’s just appearances, it helps me to visualize them.

Now I’ve just winged the entire first chapter. Depending on what’s inspired me first, I’ll be laying down the problem or introducing the character — it would be best if I did both simultaneously, but that’s not always necessary. If I’m not sure about a whole lot yet, I’ll proceed to the next chapter. Still rather clueless at this point, but at least I’m getting it on the paper and things are moving. If things have progressed enough, then I STOP.

I ask myself, where is this story going? Are my characters interesting enough? Is there enough tension? But the main question that must be answered at this point is, where is the story going? And here is what worked for me.

No outlines. Bullets. Sentence fragments. Random jots as I’m driving (not recommended). I write up (with pen and paper, not on the computer) thoughts and goals that need to be expressed in the next chapter. If there is too much info that needs to be addressed, thereby making the chapter much too long, I move them into the next chapter. I never bullet farther than 3 chapters. Depends on how inspired I’m feeling. But that sense of expectation, not allowing myself to jump so far ahead, preserves my mojo. It really does. Sometimes, I’ll get a glimpse far into the future of the story, but that’s okay. I make a note of it on the edge of my paper, and leave it at that. It’s all about getting your ideas down on paper.

And I must always remind myself that those ideas are not set in stone. Countless times, my characters and situations have changed those bullets, and I like it better that way. So in one sense, my character does write the book, but s/he’s held in by my reins, by the message and story I want to get across. It could be one bullet, it could be 6 bullets. As long as I have the general idea of what’s supposed to happen next, my story keeps on flowing. And flowing. And it may take months or years, but that sense of expectation of the unknown gets me to “The End.”And as the novel progresses, my characters progress along with it, and by the end of the book, I feel a great sadness knowing that they have finished their time with me.

I wrote The Red Forest in 4 months (does it show?), because that half not-knowing and knowing kept me pushing forward all the way to the end. If you haven’t tried this method yet, I suggest you do.


About Jessica M

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