Monday, January 21, 2008

The Writing Process, or, I don't know WTF I'm doing

So I was stuck for my topic this week. I can share my latest writing news (that SHOW ME has been sold to Spain; and that I’ve bought an Alphasmart Neo to save my back from lugging my ancient laptop to and from work so I can write during lunch), but as you can see, that didn’t take very long.

Fortunately, one of the readers of my livejournal blog (hi, wilhelmina_d!) came to my rescue.

So I took her suggestion of writing about my writing process, because it is evolving for me, right now, or rather, I think it may be going back to how I originally wrote with a good deal more craft know-how supporting it. This topic is something I’ve written about in response to interviews, especially with the History Hoydens, so I was able to chart a little about how things are changing with my writing

The first book I wrote and finished, was much the same way everybody writes a first book, you just wrote it. Mine was a series of scenes where things were neither resolved nor the conflict deepened with kissy stuff as needed. I did manage to naturally include the “black moment” (when the characters believe all is lost) but it was more of a dark grey, really. A lot of character development and very little actually happening.

Then I got eddicated by RWA. Anyway, this is how my writing process usually works: It begins with a scene. It could be the beginning or the end, but it’s usually a scene very close to the opening of the book. In SHOW ME, the library scene came to me first. In my novella for THE HAREM, it was the hero climbing in through the heroine’s window (although my editor is entirely to blame for quoting the Beatles at me and I took the quote as a serious suggestion instead of more metaphorically. I am still not sure what the metaphor was). The opening of MADE FOR SIN came first.

For the current work-in-progress, I came up with a scene that seems to be a midpoint of the book .... but given my past record, it is probably the beginning of the book. Which makes one wonder about the first three chapters I’ve just finished because that scene isn’t in there, but more on that later.

Once I have the scene, then I have to figure out who these characters are, how this story is going to work within this historical framework (bearing in mind that there are consequences to breaking society’s rules). Some things we might come up with were just not within the ken of the hero and heroine. (Which is, I’m sure, why there are so many tomboy heroines in historicals, we need our heroines to be capable in some way.)

So it’s scene, characters, plot.

And by plot I mean, I’ve figured out how it starts and how it ends. At least, that’s the way it used to work. I flew blind practically all the way through ONE MORE TIME. The only story questions I asked myself with that book were: What’s the worst thing that could happen right now? and How do I fix this?!?!

But before then, I would plot the entire book with the usual “stuff happens” marked a few times in the middle of my synopsis and with a clear end in mind. When I reached that point, I knew the characters so much better so I could ask the first question (What’s the worst thing...?) and make life miserable.

My big flaw that I work hard to overcome, is the sagging middle, the “stuff happens”. I think I am still too nice to my characters sometimes.

So what about the sex scenes? Well, that first scene that comes into my mind for an Aphrodisia book has often been the first sex scene or the prelude to it. I learned off umpteen revisions to that first book that the action starts right away: whether its an accidental tumble, or someone pointing a gun, there’s got to be action of some sort, right? *wink*

Currently, I’m flying blind again. I’m not even sure that what I’m writing now will make it into the book. Only I have to write it because that’s the only way I’m going to get to know these two characters (because otherwise they will not talk to me) and why on earth they would come together when so much is keeping them apart. I mean, their being together is something that should be outside their “ken”. I’m still working through that. The tough part is, I’ve reached the “written three chapters and thus have a proposal” part. [edited to add: that I actually looked at the chapter files and have written a prologue and two chapters and thus have one more chapter to go.]

You see, once you sell, well, you stop writing a novel from beginning to end and start writing proposals. So these days, I get my initial idea, write the first three chapters, and then write a synopsis. I run it by my brainstorming buddies, the Goofy Gals: Judy Laik, Jacquie Rogers and Sherrie Holmes, and they point out all the gigantic plot holes and so it all gets revised and off it goes.

I really miss writing a novel all the way through. So I think the current work-in-process might be an “all the way through” novel. I have vague ideas, thanks to the original scene that came to me that’s supposed to be the middle of the book, but I don’t have anything remotely resembling an ending, because there are two heroes to this one, folks, and I don’t know which one she should end up with.

It is, as they say on the internets, the sucketh. But I will work it out eventually.

So that’s my writing process right now. In other words, I don’t know what the heck I’m doing, except that if it doesn’t increase tension and I don’t learn more about the characters then it’s obviously not making it onto the page, let alone the book.

So authors, has your writing process changed since you started and is it still evolving? Readers, do you even notice? *grin*


Pam Rosenthal said...

Oh geez, I know just what you mean, Celia. I think I had more process when I began and didn't think I knew what I was doing... like, writing a book about pre-revolutionary France meant going to the museum to get a feel for rococo art... I cherish the memory of that eager innocence.

Proposals don't seem to work for me. Knowing that I'll never have the fun of writing another one and hoping against hope that somehow I will seems like a necessary ordeal. Recapturing what the Buddhists call "beginner's mind" is part of it. Novelist Philip Roth put it beautifully when he said that with each book you have to learn how to write that book.

Will write for fun, is what I tell myself these days. As tho I were holding a cup and a ragged cardboard sign on a downtown street corner. As that great art snob Smokey Robinson put it, I'm a choosy beggar.

Celia May Hart said...

My I just realized how epically long my post was. Folks must've fallen asleep part way through it, except for my commiserating Spiced Tea Party gal Pam!

Jacquie said...

Every single time I finish a book, I get a total rush because now I've finally figured out how to do this thing. Then I start on the next book and, well, that book with those characters just doesn't cooperate. So I start all over.

It's a mystery.

Gillian Layne said...

Celia, nothing about this post was remotely boring!

I don't know about noticing an author's evolution, but I think you can tell when the author really loved what they wrote. That positive energy makes the words just sing.

Kate Pearce said...

I wrote a long reply to you Celia and blogger ate it, so here I go again...

The worst thing about being a writer is that with published work you are always looking back on yourself and where you've been, rather than forward. Sometimes I cringe when I read some of my earlier stuff because I know that I've improved a lot in the past 5 years.

I actually write in a more linear fashion these days because it's the only way I can make myself keep going-even when I see that fantastic pivotal scene way ahead of where I am, I still make myself write towards it-it adds to the tension.

Whatever you are doing, you are doing fine, Celia, your books are great...

Anonymous said...

It's been a while since I've had a chance to check in here, but I'm glad that my suggestion helped! I really enjoyed your post. Also, the scene in the library in Show Me was my favorite!