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Thursday, March 27, 2008


I waited a very long time before I began writing because I always thought it was much too complicated. I could not imagine juggling plot, characters, setting, dialogue, motivation, foreshadowing - all those things we know go into a good story. I was fortunate to have a friend who "eased" me into writing by getting me to write letters in character. As I wrote I wasn't thinking of these varied elements, only about writing a letter. So I entered the profession by the back door, so to speak, getting hooked on the storytelling and learning the craft along the way. One of the most important things I've learned about novel writing is the importance of layering. I'm not referring to the layers of complexity in a particular story, but to an aspect of drafting it.

Because of the way I create characters, plot, and world, rather than pushing through to a rough draft as quickly as possible, I try to lay down the story as completely and with as much specific detail as I can as I write. Sometimes I obsess a bit too much over getting the right plants or the right name for "that thing they carry as a reminder of their dead family members," when I ought to insert a pair of empty square brackets and go on, [I do that sometimes] but, in general the method serves me well. Yet inevitably I discover I've described two female characters as round-cheeked, or that I've got to give a date, which means I have to finally decide whether this world without Pope, Roman gods, or Zodiac really uses a Gregorian calendar, or I've described Damoselle Maura as "well contained" emotionally, yet I remember several instances of laughter, brilliant smiles to a stranger, and so forth.

Many writers would advise making a note and plunging ahead, but I prefer to take the time to sweep through and layer these things in. Get rid of "fortnight" as this society is using a ten-month year. Go ahead and name the months. Remove the damoselle's bright laugh and replace with a face that "livens with amusement" which appeals greatly to Portier, whose "mother lived in a constant upheaval of emotion." In this way, I can move forward, dropping in dates, faces, emotions, and cheeks that are "the color of milked tea" without fretting that somewhere excess round cheeks yet lurk.

I'll have many more layers to spread, both in drafting and in revision - layers of clues, of motivations ("oh, NOW I know why he did that, so he would never have revealed his fear to a stranger") of world-building. But I will work them into my Sabrian Veil "vocabulary" as I go. Now, on to the harbor, where the exploration ship, Destinne is to sail this morning, rather than its original launch date of the fifteenth day of Cinq.


studiolo2 said...

Your writing process is so interesting! Thanks for sharing. It sounds as if you're revising as you go. How do you keep from getting bogged down as you correct (eg, "round cheeks")?
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carolwriter said...

My daily process usually starts with reading over what I wrote the day before. If I wrote more than a few paragraphs, especially if I got to the end of a scene or chapter, I'll print out the chapter and read it on paper. Yep, I mark it up. That's usually where I discover the multiple round-cheeked ladies. Correcting the problem, ie. doing the hard THINKING that is required to distinguish the two women, is what actually drags me into the story and makes it start working again.

But of course, sometimes I DO get bogged down and find myself spending an entire day on two paragraphs that don't feel right.
In general, when I get bogged down, it is because Something Isn't Right. I've taken a wrong turn or tried to force something to happen when it's not time. I try to approach the work analytically at that point. Go to the running file of "who knows what" and see if I can figure it out. Or go to my running timeline and add in notes for what I've written. Anything to keep engaged with the material.

Mostly I ask questions. Why did he
do that? The villain would never show himorherself at the deadhouse. Moving up the launch of the Destinne yes, but they couldn't be ready in a few hours. They need a day, and that gives our investigators time to do...whatever.

And sure enough something will trigger, and I'll be off again...
Messy but effective.

Jana said...

You're one of my favourite authors, so thank you for this insightful post about your writing process.I write in a similar way, but try to push out as much as possible while including as much complexity at the same time. I end up with much that is overwritten, but cutting away from, and rewriting, is much easier than adding to.

carolwriter said...

jana said:
cutting away from, and rewriting, is much easier than adding to

Yes, for me, too.