Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Don't worry. The title for this will come to me in time...

Blechta at the keyboard.

Welcome to the Flying Wallenda School of Writing, Vicki!

I've always written the way Vicki describes in her blog entry below. I sorta know where the book starts, where it should probably be at the top of its arc, and roughly where it will land -- maybe bouncing around a whole bunch before it stops moving. I often have to chase it down, throwing myself on top to smother its movement.

When I describe my approach to writing like this to readers and the general public, they say, "That's so neat!" Writers roll their eyes knowingly: "Why do you persist in torturing yourself?"

There are many facets to probable answers. (Describing it this way is most accurate since where ideas and characters come from is very much still a mystery to me.) First off, I've always detested doing outlines. For any reason. This goes all the way back to grade school. Next, as a musician, I've always felt more comfortable flying by the seat of my pants. After all, improvising is a big part of playing music. Lastly, doing things in an organic way, sort of letting the concept grow on its own is something that really appeals to me. I feel like I'm sort of there to observe and make sure things don't get out of hand. They often do, but that's because I get so caught up in watching, I don't see the cliff coming.

At times, this approach does make the writing process too exciting by half, but it all works out in the end, although I will admit to doing an awful lot of refining after the first pass at the manuscript.

So the big question is: why do I write this way? I know this seems to be a very silly way to create something that needs to be done precisely and in a well-organized way. Crime novels demand this.

Well, to me, the characters are the thing that are front and centre. If I do a good job creating my imaginary friends and enemies and then let them be true to who they are, they will invariably do the things that make sense for them to do so, respond to things the way you would expect. The plot points will (usually) come together without too much trouble. When they don't, you just have to hop in your car or take a long walk and talk it over with them. Maybe they just don't like the way I'm trying to do things. Occasionally, they have a better way.

Another dodge that helps me understand who it is I'm writing about is to just write about them. What happened when they were 7 that shaped who they are at 37? When did they first fall in love and with whom? Did/do they get along with their family? Why or why not? I just write about those sorts of things. They're never meant to be in the finshed novel, but they help me to define a real person in my mind.

Then I just let them loose and watch what happens. Like I said earlier, sometimes I have to referee. Sometimes I have to sit them all down and yell at them because they're not doing what the story needs and how can we all make this work? I guess it's sort of what a director of a play would do when things fall off the rails.

So far it's worked out pretty well (according to reviewers and readers who've spoken to me). It can be a little frightening at times -- especially when a deadline is looming out on the horizon. I've sometimes wondered if we're ever going to get out alive.

But then, I've always gotten a rush from working without a net. Until I come crashing to earth and can't get up again, I'll continue working this way. So far, my novels have always worked out just the way they need to. All sorts of things happen that I never planned. Characters walk into the book when I least expect it, and go on to become the stars. Others I've invested a lot of time and energy in, just fade away. It's a heady experience.

I think it was Ray Bradbury who said something like, "Writing a novel is like walking through a very thick fog. You know roughly where you're going, but you can't see more than a few feet in front of you."

People have often accused me of being in a fog. Little do they know I'm quite happy to be there.


NL Gassert said...

I write that way, and I think “organic” is a great way to describe this approach.

I thought I should try a different approach and started outlining my second novel. I spent days and weeks on the plot. I ended up with a superbly ploted outline I was very proud of. I also ended up not writing that novel. By the time I was ready to write I was bored with this story and the people. There were no surprises left. Very much doubting myself, I took weeks off, wondering if I had a second book in me. Silly me.

I’m back at work, writing in the organic fashion that carried me through the first book. The story grows on its own terms out of the soil (characters) I have put down. Or to stick to the fog analogy: I know that there are landmarks hidden in the mist; I have a compass, but no map. I’m pretty sure I’ll find my way, but there’s a chance I might have to double back a time or two.

Rick Blechta said...

Yeah, that's very much like what I do.

A number of writers I've spoken to, while they don't actually do an outline before they start (or even as they're going along), certainly know from the very beginning more about what their story is going to be like than I do and they manage to write really good books! ;)

I do it the "organic" way because that's the way I've always done most things. It's just the way I operate best.

As I said, I don't mind doing the high wire act. Sounds like you're hooked, too.

Thanks for stopping by See you up there sometime!