Monday, August 15, 2005

Writing Process

Someone on one of the lists I’m on asked all the writers what their writing process was. I ended up putting together the following explanation of how I do it. After I posted it there, I thought it might be something good to put up here as well.

I usually start a story when my muse hits me over the head and says, “Hey, here’s an idea. Work with it.” That can be anything from:

1. A personal challenge (example: Firefly’s River character is very complex and speaks/acts far from what would be considered “normal”. I’d been asking myself if I could catch her voice. Then, as I was free-associating poetry for my own pleasure, I realized that something I had written sounded like River. That poem became the nucleus for “Burning Bright”. See previous post in this blog for details.)

2. A setting interests me so much it begs for a story to go with it (example: I became fascinated with the violence and fury of hurricanes and decided I wanted to do a story about surviving one. The next question was to look at my fandoms and figure out who would logically find themselves in the path of such a storm. Thus my favourite Demon Under Glass guys got up close and personal with a hurricane in “Storm Surge”.)

3. A moral, ethical or intellectual issue starts me wondering how would handle it (example: Could a millennia-old vampire have lived that long without having developed some sort of moral compass? I ended up writing “Midnight Sun”.)

4. What happens next? (example: So, after the Delphi debacle in the DUG movie, did Gwen move on to other things or continue to obsess? My supposition of what she ended up doing is the basis for “Leave of Action”, the DUG story I am currently working on for Sybaritic Press.)

5. What if [fill in the blank]? (example: The winner of my What’s-Your-Pleasure? story in the Moonridge auction last year asked me to do an AU /DUG/ story based in Baltimore. In discussing Baltimore, the subject of the Poe Toaster came up, and I decided to use the annual event in my story. In my research, I noticed a passing resemblance between Poe and Joe, plus found an intriguing description of Poe’s death. I ended up asking myself, “What if Simon had known Poe and that Poe’s death was an unsuccessful attempt to turn him into a vampire? How would that affect his subsequent actions and his relationship with Joe?” The result was “Nevermore”, published in Vol. 7 of Horizontal Mosaic.

6. Someone asks me, “Please write [fill in the blank].” (examples: Almost any themed zine I have ever tribbed to.)

So, I guess I’m saying that my inspiration can come from any number of sources.

The next step is to figure out a plot to go along with the inspiration idea. It’s sort of like doing a sketchy outline in my mind. I usually end up with an idea of where I want to start and where I want to end, with a tentative plan on how to get there. In the past, I have tried to work with a detailled outline the way I was taught in school, but I found it too restrictive , and my writing ended up stilted. I also found I was writing myself into corners because the original outline had not allowed for an unexpected question or constraint turning up in my background research. I ended up going back to the sketchy mental outline as working better for me.

After that, I start researching anything impacting the story: geography, historical background, laws, biology/medicine, discussions of moral issues, whatever. I’ll also gather a list of appropriate words and phrases dealing with things I plan to put in the story (example: variations on words dealing with the supernatural, phrases quantifying different qualities of light at night, etc.).

Finally I start writing. I write linearly, although I may frequently go back to earlier parts to tweak them to match what I’ve written since that point. Usually I visualize the action in my mind, then describe what I see. In a manner of speaking, the characters tell their own stories as I try to figure out what the next logical response would be to whatever I have already down.

I suffer from brain fog due to fibromyalgia. Over the past few years I have noticed a definite slowing in my mental processes. Sometimes the story just flows, but more often than not, I have to struggle with it word by word ( the thesaurus is my very best friend). Sometimes it becomes so bad that it can take me up to four hours to write a single paragraph... to find the right words and cadence before I lose the thought entirely. But basically, I set myself a goal of writing a minimum of one paragraph a day.

The next day I review whatever I wrote the day before in order to get myself back into the flow. Almost always I see better ways of expressing myself and end doing considerable re-writing. Then I start on the new text.

When the story is finished, I send it to a minimum of two betas, preferably more, and ask them to look at everything and anything. After I do all the rewrites based on their feedback, I am finally ready to post the story or submit it to a publisher.

And basically, that is my writing process. I know—more information than anyone wanted, but for some reason the words are flowing better than usual tonight.