Thursday, April 9, 2009

The How

Yesterday I gave y'all the low down on what all I've written over the years. Today I'll talk a little bit about how I write.

Every novel has hatched from a different egg. there really is now pattern there. The first started with setting. I built the characters and plot around location. The second started with an idea for ending. I created characters and led them to the climax. The third began with the idea of contrasting characters with polar opposite pasts. and Plundered Booty began as a short story.

But regardless of how they all began, there have been some similarities in how I wrote them. I start with the characters. I go back in time to long before my novel starts and write little snippets from their life. For POV characters I write four or five scenes from their earlier life. One from early childhood, another from their school years. Maybe their first taste of love, or a bitter disappointment. I think about their goals not in relation to the novel but their life in general. When all is said and done I end up with 10 to 20 pages of seemingly disconnected scenes for each POV character.

I do the same though on a smaller scale for each secondary character. I may have one page for them or maybe 10 if they play a large role. Sometimes I realize I've chosen the wrong POV in this stage and have to shuffle character around.

Most of what I write in this stage never even make a mention in the novel but they are still things I know about each character and that makes it easier to paint their world later on.

Plot is my greatest weakness as a writer. I try to build and layer things from the start but outlining or structuring the story is difficult for me. I feel pigeon holed if I have to follow rigid plans. I wish I could but the story begins to feel stilted and the pace falls apart for me. I am very much a character driven writer.

Do I let the character write my novel? To an extent and that can be a problem. But if they lead me to a dead end I simple go back, find the place where everything went wrong and start over. I've hit snags that take me two months and half a dozen different routes before I find one that will work for both me and my character.

I keep my timeline straight with the use of a calender. I jot notes from each scene int eh squares. The POV, the major conflict of the scene, the weather, because it bugs me to read a book that either never mentions the weather, or has a blizzard in every chapter. Of course of your story is set in Antarctica that wouldn't be out of the ordinary.

Usually I am three or four chapter ahead in my mind. I do lots of writing in my head. While driving, showering, working, (yeah that may be why your letter to Aunt Rita in Hoboken wound up in Helsinki, but what can I say I'm a writer at heart even though my paychecks say US Postal Service. ) Actually I don't sort the mail at all, I service the machines that do and if my mind wanders too far I could find myself getting a nice electrical shock.

Writing ahead in my mind help me work out the big problems. Of course when the words hit the paper things do not always work out so sometimes I get stuck. Often I can get the story moving again by going back a few chapters and reading myself back into the groove. I never write more than three or four chapters without going back and reading and editing. By the time I'm on chapter 14 or 15 I have read and edited the first few chapters half a dozen times.

I follow this pattern all the way to the end and then I've gotten a complete manuscript I read it once without a pen in hand wait a few weeks and then read it with a red marker at the ready. Two or three complete read through and corrections and then it is query time.

This post is probably boring to most of you, but several have asked how I write, so now you know. Also you may have noticed, but this post bored me so much that I have chosen not to go back and reread it to make corrections. I hope it made sense and wasn't too riddled with typos and shoddy grammar. then again shoddy grammar might be my specialty.


Deborah Elliott-Upton said...

Interesting idea about the background for the characters. I usually interview each one (and see who lies to me and why.):-)

G. B. Miller said...

I don't find it boring at all. It's very interesting to learn how other people write and what their thought process is.

One question I have is: how do you come with a particular idea for a novel, for example, "Plundered Booty".

Melanie Hooyenga said...

This wasn't boring at all! I like reading about how other people do it, especially since your method seems kind of similar to mine (which really isn't a method at all).

I recently did a character exercise for a subplot I had to add and you're right - it makes the actual writing so much easier.

Travis Erwin said...

G - It's a bit hard to pinpoint where any of my ideas comes from. Plundered Booty started as a short story. I went to a workshop out in Arizona and at night all of us writers sat around swapping takes. The editor who put the workshop together noted that when I was telling a story verbally I sued different words, pacing, and tone than I seemed to on the page. He challenged me to go home and write a story in the same manner as i would tell one sitting on a barstool.

I thought about it on the plane ride home and even began jotting a few things down in a notebook. I thought up the character of Hank, who is probably a composite of myself as well as a slew of other so-called "good ol' boys."

To do what the editor suggested I knew I'd have to tell the story in first person. With that thought in mind I began the first line, My story is one that should not be told. Then I began trying to figure out exactly what that story was and over time through trial and error I uncovered a pirate story with a reluctant protagonist and a daring pirate that no one ever would have expected to plunder any booty.

Lynnette Labelle said...

I found this post very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

Lynnette Labelle

Angie Ledbetter said...

Have you tried a very loose outline to see if that helps keep the plot on course? Worth a shot, maybe with a short story, to see if you get good results?

Cloudia said...

Travis: Yes, putting it away for a while is Mandatory!

After a while one's written words start swimming before one's eyes divorced of all meaning...
thanks for sharing.

Charles Gramlich said...

Interesting. I know what you mean about Plot. So hard for me as well. I have to hope that something occurs to me as I go along through the story. I fear sometimes my stuff is far too episodic.

Robin Lemke said...

Not boring at all, I love to read about process. I'm especially interested in the way you build characters. Thanks for sharing!

Lana Gramlich said...

Thanks for the interesting insight into your process! Very cool...

G. B. Miller said...

Very intersting (imagine me saying that in Arte Johnson's German soldier voice).

Thanks for the explanation. I was always curious on how people came up with the idea/concept for a particular novel/story.

Beth said...

I am very impressed with the background work you do with the characters.

Unknown said...

One thing that really amazes me is,

you write in your head??? Travis, if I go from work to home (about a 10 minute drive) and write this GREAT blog post in my head, I can't remember crap by the time I get home.

How do you do that?????

Sarah Laurenson said...

Wow! That is a lot of prep work. I'm impressed. I love to hear about how you write. It gives me ideas for improving my own process.

Bubblewench said...

Even to a 'non' writer, I found this post very interesting! Never thought there was so much work.

A lot of what you said is also applied in acting, like the backstories only the actor would know.

Very interesting!! Thanks for sharing.

Miss Pidgin said...

When will you be ready?