Thursday, June 11, 2009

Character, Story, Language

I’m tinkering with my writing process, figuring out what is most effective, motivating, efficient, practical, productive, etc. Last night, my shiny new critique group talked about our writing process. I am still a firm believer in writing draft one without an outline or even an idea.

For this book, I used draft one to discover my character, Sadie, and figure out what she was like, how she talked, where she lived, how she spent her weekends. I found her voice.

In the second draft I’ve worked on the story. I asked myself questions about Sadie. Now that I know her personality, what is it that Sadie wants? Why does she want it? And what’s the obstacle that’s getting in the way of this? What’s at stake if she doesn’t get it? This helped me develop the story I was telling about Sadie, aka the plot.

The questions I answered (which I really forced myself to think about in this novel) are important and, frustratingly connected in different ways. I was happy when I was certain that I knew what Sadie wanted, then defeated when I realized I didn’t know why. I had an obstacle, but wasn’t sure what was at stake that motivates her to keep moving in the face of conflict. I’ll be spending at least one more draft (I wasn’t going to count them, but here I am doing it) working out the story.

And then, once I my character is strong and my story is in the right place, I’ll focus on language. That’s when I’ll tinker for hours over one paragraph. That’s when I’ll search for opportunities to add metaphors and similes. That’s when I’ll decide if someone’s face is beet red or wine red.

This is just one type of process, and it works for me right now. I may evolve into another process. Some people swear by outlines but that approach just doesn’t move me. Although, I’ve never seriously tried it, and someday I should to see if it works for me or if there’s anything I can take from that approach and apply it to my writing process.

I don’t think it matters how you write, just that you keep writing. Whatever tricks you need to do to keep those fingers dancing across the keyboard is just fine.

What's your process like?


  1. Lisa,
    Sometimes I sit down and feel like the words are being poured THROUGH ME onto the page, sometimes I just see it happening as I type, sometimes the characters just run amuck.(then I go to the park)

    No outline sounds good to me. Whatever works.

    Butt in chair, fingers on keys...sounds like a plan.

  2. Interesting. We write very differently. I start with a concept. Usually an image or transformation that is powerful to me, or sometimes just a premise. Then I extrapolate it into a narrative arc (okay...plot) by developing an active character with a past. This is all before I actually write a word of the story/script/novel. THEN I start typing, which lets me focus solely on linguistics, since I've figured the rest out.

    Of course, I always end up ditching my original storyline. That central concept is maintained, but I try to let the character and the setting tell its own story once I'm writing. So all the planning just helps me get started - it's not set in stone!

  3. Karen, I agree with you that the story comes in hits and misses. And when you go to the park, the characters somehow tag along, don't they?

    Hi Adam! I love your idea of a character with a past. That sounds intriguing. I've heard lots of other writers talk about how much they think about a story beforehand. I've never tried it, but I really should give it a whirl someday. I love to experiment with the process!

  4. I, too, am a huge reviser. I think I'm better at revising than I am at actually writing, largely because I love to edit. So if I can just get something, anything, on the page the first time around, I know I'll make it fabulous during revision!

    Thanks for visiting my blog :)