Monday, January 21, 2008

Flying Without A Net

Great discussion on promoting ourselves; I really enjoyed it.

But in order to have something to promote, you have to have something ready to be promoted. Charles mentions that the first thing audiences ask is what he’s working on next. I find that everyone wants to know how I write. “Where do you come up with your ideas?” I build a story this way: setting-characters-plot. That is, I decide where to set the book, who’s going to be the main character or characters and then come up with a plot. Now that I’m working on a series, steps one and two are pretty much defined before I even begin. But as for the plot – with book Number 3, I’m doing something very different than the way I’ve always worked before. We’ll have to see if it works for me, or drags me into the depths of literary despair.

For most of my adult life I was a computer programmer and then a systems analyst. I guess I write books like I designed computer systems. I start at the end – I know who did it and why – and then I go to the beginning and create an outline that will, hopefully, route a course to get me to that end. Like designing computer systems: you really should know what you want to achieve (i.e. is this programme going to credit the client’s account or debit it?) before you begin. Although I have met some computer programmes that I don’t think were ever intended to achieve anything, but that’s another matter.

But with book number 3, the opening scene popped into my head over Christmas. What a great idea, thinks I. So I started writing the opening scene and carried on typing frantically away from there. At this point I know who died, but I don’t know who killed him, or why. It’s kind of a funny feeling; I hope I have some inspiration down the line. I have a great (IMHO) group of characters, assembled in Trafalgar for their Christmas ski vacation, who have the potential to have done it. But who did? And why? As this is a police procedural, perhaps I’ll discover the guilty party in the same way the police do – following the trail, reading the clues. It might not work out at all – but I’m interested in trying. I’m writing without an outline – sort of like flying without a net.

To mark the death of George MacDonald Fraser, I’m reading Flashman and the Tiger, one of the later books. And yes, Molly Smith is now speaking somewhat like Brigadier-General Sir Harry Flashman. That, I will definitely have to get under control.

Whenever I speak to writers about writing, I usually ask them about how they approach the writing process. Because I’m really interested in how many different ways there are to achieving the same end product, a good book. Do you outline? What comes first, character, setting or plot? Inquiring minds want to know.


Charles benoit said...

Thanks V, you gave me an idea of what to write about for my blog this Friday!

Rick Blechta said...

I'm going to beat you to it, I hope!
Nyah, nyah, nyah!

Debby (Deborah Turrell) Atkinson said...

So you guys don't outline? Hmmm, interesting.
I outline because my editor wants to see one. But neither she nor I hold to it. It only makes the fog clear to about five feet instead of three. Those pesky characters have a tendency to veer off the path.