Thursday, April 29, 2010
Process and the Writer
Like pretty much anyone who works in just about any kind of paid job, I get a lot of stuff about process, methodology, and of course "best practices". At the same time, the posts here illustrate that for a writer, these concepts just flat don't apply. It's not that hard to understand: writing lives very firmly with the arts, and each piece a writer does is unique. The only place for process, methodology and best practices is with the middlemen who do the job of turning that work of art into a whole lot of identical widgets (i.e. books) by the magic of file copy and possibly the printing press.
Or is it?
Fiction tends to fit one of a very small number of templates (depending on who you ask, anything from three to twenty), so there's a structure. Writers tend to fall into three broad camps - the plotters, the pantsers, and the plantsers. Each camp has similarities in how they work, and there are also similarities across the whole field: the general dictum that you have to plant butt in chair and write, the notion of setting targets for wordage, be they "something" or "five thousand words" or anywhere in between. (Would someone please pick up the fellow in the back? I think he fainted.) Writing routines are popular, too.
So is there a set of writing processes and practices that can help?
Actually, there's probably several per writer - because while they can fit into some broad categories, they're still going to change around a lot with each project. Or maybe not. Take two of mine (Please. I'll say really nice things about you if you give me lots of money for them). Impaler had plot and structure on it imposed by the history I was working with. The piece I'm working on at the moment, Wether Fakawi Blues, is completely different in tone, structure and may be different enough to need a different name on the cover.
Both of them started with minimal outlining: I had about three to four pages for Impaler, and for Fakawi I had a previous piece (unsold) that's getting ripped off and mostly recast, so the basic plot is more or less the same but a lot of the motivations, minor characters and so forth are changing around, and the final sequence is going to be nothing like the original. Both of them got "research on the fly" - which for Impaler was a heck of a lot more intense as I broke off what I was writing to go digging through my biographies of Vlad Draculea, Googling for old maps of eastern Europe and Turkey, and so forth - and both got written in the gaps between the rest of my life when I had a bit of brain to spare.
And both, as I got closer to any given scene, would get talked over with my first readers. I torment them with snippets, email them chapters as they're done (Yes, they get to suffer through my raw, unedited first drafts. You see why I value them?), and discuss the next scene or next chapter with them. And that is my process, such as it is. It works for me. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone else.
What are your writing processes? Is there a common thread to how you work through a book and get your plots sorted out, or does each book impose its own patterns on you?