One of the frustrating things about “being” a writer is that most people have no clue whatsoever as to what you do. Most people think writers sit down and start typing—like typing a letter—and then they’re done. Well, that was a fine day, now let’s go to the beach.
If only that were true!
While there are certainly as many ways to write as there is to say, change oil, part of the “getting there” is still the same. Writing, like most anything else, is a PROCESS. One of the many reasons I enjoyed teaching Freshman Comp was that I got to teach students to not be afraid of writing, as many of them are. I always believed if I could show them there was a series of steps to take in composing, the rest just works itself out. Granted, the more advanced the writer, the more they can “cheat” on some of the steps…but in general, the steps still must be followed. Of course, I AM talking about academic papers.
Fiction is different…but the same.
By that, I mean there’s still a process to follow.
Because of my extensive background in writing and editing comic books, I tend to be a plot-first kind of writer. By that, I mean I need to know what the story is. The story’s the thing. If you don’t have a story to tell, don’t bother putting the words down on paper. To my recollection, every one of the nearly 100 comic scripts I’ve written was done that way. Some of it is the nature of the medium—24 pages equals one installment. The writer’s task in a comic book is to decide just what is important enough to include, what gets dialogue, what just gets a caption box, and just WHERE to end the story.
Prose is different in that the word count tends to be a little more flexible and you don’t have to work quite as hard to “squeeze” the story into a certain sized box. Television also has this restriction. Oddly enough, thus far the novels I’ve worked on (two finished, three started [and then two of them stopped]) have been different. They’ve started with an idea or a concept, or—just something that I thought was a cool scene (as is the case of the current book I’m writing). From there, I built on it until I had the formation of a story. My problem as a writer, especially after I reach 25,000 words or so, is that I MUST know where I’m going. Which generally means I have to stop mid-point and plot what I’ve written so far…then plot out the rest of the story. The two novels I’ve finished (and that is an important word!) were done that way; I started telling something I thought was cool…reached a point I had to answer “okay, where is this going?”…I plotted out what I had, then plotted or planned out the rest of the story…then went back to finish it.
Again, for me, it all goes back to story.
As an editor, the main question I always asked my writers was “why?” Why does this happen or why does this character do that? Yes, you can call it character and motivation or any number of other things, but boil it down to barebones and it is story.
Now that all that is done, you’ve got a WORKING DRAFT! I’ll get to the rest of the process later…J