Writing novels, to me, is basically a kind of manual labor.The whole process - sitting at your desk, focusing your mind like a laser beam, imagining something out of a blank horizon, creating a story, selecting the right words, one by one, keeping the flow of the story on track - requires far more energy, over a long period, than most people ever imagine. You might not be moving your body around, but there's grueling, dynamic labor going on inside you. - Haruki Murakami
Hey, don't get me wrong I'm not complaining. If ever there was a LABOR of love, this is it.
But I sometimes think that people assume that one just sits down at their computer and words flow like magic from their fingers. Not so, my fine friends.
Writing is work, and lots of it. Once a little story line presents itself to you, that is where the trouble begins. You must become a detective, finding out all about your characters, discovering their inner secrets, fears and dreams. This can be a daunting task as some characters are notoriously tight lipped.
You must research their world and know everything about them, even details that will never see the light of day in your story.
You must plot the story line and have an idea of the ebb and flow, the arc, let alone breaking that all down into individual scenes. If there's research to be done, you dig and dig until you are sure you are presenting an accurate picture.
Then you begin the writing, staring at a blank page and willing the story to come to life. I'm always nervous to get started, to get those first words down on the page, to see them, to hear them as I read them aloud.
And then you must be flexible enough to allow the story to breathe......as you're writing it. That is the joy of writing....those are the moments you live for. When something beautiful happens and your fingers are flying over the keys as if possessed by the spirit of the story.
I have likened it to the art of pulling taffy. Pushing, pulling, working it until it becomes something smooth and shiny and in the end hopefully a tasty morsel to savor as the sweetness takes its time.
'Tell the readers a story! Because without a story, you are merely using words to prove you can string them together in logical sentences. -Anne McCaffrey
True Story: Someone asked me while holding my book 'Back to Austen' in their hands and reading the back blurb, "Is this a story about you?."
My somewhat dumbfounded answer was "Well let's see, since it's about a young woman who falls through time and lands in 1815 England.....I'd have to say....NO?"
The first and often best advice a fresh faced writer will receive from other authors or professionals is;
Write About What You Know.
Well that's all well and good, but let us remember that I was writing a story about a young woman who falls through time and lands in 1815 England !!!!!
Although I certainly have no first hand experience with Time Travel, I have a secret weapon at my disposal to find out everything else I needed to know before sitting down to actually write my story. Perhaps not so secret. After all, it's a tool that most writers embrace and is ultimately a writers best friend,.
Yes. Some might say the boring stuff. But not me. Research brings you in touch with your character's world. This is not only important when writing period dramas, but where ever or when ever your story takes place. Now of course if you're writing a fantasy and you are building a world from scratch ......lucky for you. But for the rest of us, the setting must ring true.
So even though I have been steeping away like a little tea bag in the Regency Era Tea for more years than I care to admit; I still had a lot of research to do. And I firmly believe there is nothing like the authentic flavor that flows naturally into your story just from the fact that you did your homework.
For this particular book I wanted the setting to be a real town in England. Streatham, turned out to be the perfect match. So when Kate is transported to Streatham, there is real history, there are real landmarks. There would be world events that would naturally be part of conversations, and customs of the period that would be part of their everyday lives. My goal was to be accurate without the historical details driving the story.
But the last thing you want is to have your character set off on some adventure or talking about something that didn't yet exist in their time.Your beloved reader may just slam the book in your face at that point.
For me, research is the 'getting to know you' period that I enter into with my characters. Although it's easy to sometimes feel as if you're getting bogged down in the minutiae, don't let it overwhelm you.
There is no need to rush the relationship. Getting to know someone takes time. I love the entire process from start to finish.
So now if you'll please excuse me, while I fall through time.........I have some research to do.
I love writing. I love the swing and sway of words as they tangle with human emotions.
-James A. Michener
I hear that the single most often asked question a writer gets is: ' where do you get your ideas?' As if we could say , oh there is this great little secret shop on the corner of Main and 1st Street. Oh if only it were that easy.
But inspiration comes to each individual in it's own way. I've heard authors say that merely hearing a name, or aname of a town, can inspire them........seeing a couple in the park, a fragment of a song....almost anything can SPARK the initial thought for a story. Now........filling it out is another thing. Therein lies the work.
For me........inspiration lives in my bathtub.Seriously. It's like all creativity resides there in its dehydrated form and I just need to add water.Once I sink up to my chin in the steamy hot water, the bubbles work their magic and stories float to the surface for me to capture.
In the case of 'Back to Austen' the entire story from start to finish was waiting in my bathtub. And I just had to transcribe the images I was seeing dance before my eyes, almost as if I was at a drive in movie.
The second novel ( my current work in progress) came to me the same way. But I do know that this is a bit of an anomaly. Most people start with some small nugget of an idea and then let it simmer and brew until a story starts to take shape. My other stories have come to me like ghosts crossing over from the other side. I'm not sure what I'm seeing at first, a glimpse, a hint, a whisper of........something. Then slowly they reveal themselves to me, as they step out of the shadows and begin to tell me about themselves. Each one totally different from the last and they each want to tell their story in their own way, because they are after all , individuals. I love it.
I have said to friends that I'm like Haley Barber's character in the the movie Sixth Sense where he says "I see dead people."
But instead I say "I see stories" HA!
But however the initial thoughts come to pass, it is the fleshing out of the story that takes time and an attentive ear. Yes, one must listen to the characters for they will guide you and tell you where they wish to go. If you are willing they will lead you on a fascinating journey. I remember reading once that Michelangelo said that he never knew what he was going to carve until the stone spoke to him and showed him what beautiful image was waiting to be set free. I feel much the same way about my characters, I give them the freedom to speak for themselves and on several occasions I have been pleasantly surprised.
So here's to the journey. I've got a bath to take!!!!
When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.
- Ernest Hemingway
Speaking of Ernest Hemingway, have you noticed that most writers seem to have a writing companion of the furry persuasion sitting by their side during the creative process? Hemingway was well known for his cats, the descendants of whom still roam all over his island property. Count me among the majority, as my darling Lizzie is more than happy to keep me company during the long hours spent in front of my computer.Writing is a lonely, solitary endeavor; and the steadfast companionship offered by the truest of friends should never be taken for granted.
Listening attentively to my every word....
My very own Elizabeth Bennett. Could one have a better muse?
Having your dog or cat nearby also gives you a handy excuse when someone walks by and hears your characters having a conversation. What? No you didn't hear anything, I was just talking to the dog. It's important to read your work aloud, to hear the rhythm of the words as they fall from your lips. My ears are often able to pinpoint a problem in the flow of the conversation between my characters that had gone undetected by the eye alone. So I am often found acting out a scene for Lizzie, using my best acting skills to bring my characters to life, and in the case of 'Back to Austen' employing my best British accents.
She is a faithful friend that never questions my madness. Well that's not exactly true.......
Sometimes when I read her a bit from one of my latest scenes, she laughs uncontrollably. The only problem is ....it's not a comedy.
Every good writer I've ever read about began with an insatiable appetite for books, for plundering what is in them, for the nourishment provided by them, that you can't get from any other source.
- Richard Bausch
I recently attended a showing of 'The Wizard of Oz' in IMAX-3D, to celebrate it's 75th year.You better believe those flying monkeys were scary this time.!!! But it got me thinking about what wonderful CHARACTERS this movie, this story gave us. What kind of genius mind could come up with such characters that had lived with us these 75 years and are as real as you and I? Thank you L. Frank Baum. The theater was filled with every generation, the vast majority of whom has seen this movie again and again. As we were exiting the theater, I overheard a conversation between a mother and her daughter who appeared to be about 6 years old. Her mom said " Are you happy we came?" the little girl looked up with wide eyes and said, "Oh yes, I loved it. But I was very worried." This little girl summed up the sentiment of decades of movie goers. So what brings us back time after time? Why are we so willing to suspend disbelief and go skipping down the yellow brick road?
It is the hope of every writer that we will create characters that are so believably lovable or even so believably bad (like the wicked witch), that they will be memorable long after the last page has been turned and the book placed back upon dusty shelves. Of course the key word here is believable. The characters in The Wizard of Oz were believable even in their unbelievable circumstances. This was due to fabulous writing and consummate acting. Those actors were NEVER out of character for one moment, even when the scene was not focusing on them. They were true to their character, and they were so good at it, that we believed them too.
Our job as a writer is to do the same thing for our audience. We must believe in our characters, and write them in such a way that they are always able to be true to themselves. Whatever the story may be, large or small, from the greatest literary character to the smallest ant in a children's book. Of course it might be a little easier to write such larger than life characters, for subtlety is a difficult art. But it is the job of the writer to make every character someone you can root for, fall in love with or root against. I told someone recently, that if the reader doesn't CARE about your character, they are not going to care if she's hanging from the rooftop by her fingertips. Easier said than done, I know.
Who is one of your all time favorite literary characters, and why?
And in the mean time I say,
"Oh please Mr. Wizard, it would be so much easier to write.......if I only had a brain."
'What things there are to write, if one could only write them. My mind is full of gleaming thoughts, gay moods and mysterious moth-like meditations that hover in my imagination, fanning their painted wings. But always, the rarest, those streaked with azure and the deepest crimson, flutter away beyond my reach.'
- Logan Pearsall Smith
And so there you have it in a nutshell. The hope of every writer, as they sit down to face the page; the hope that this day they will capture the thoughts swirling in their mind and heart. That they will ensnare the 'perfect words' once and for all.
But oh, 'those perfect words, ' are elusive creatures.That is why many days I feel as if I'm walking around with a giant butterfly net, in my desperate attempt to sneak up on them and catch a few for my own private collection. But one must be quick, for they are always quicker. I'ts my job to chase them, and their job to elude being pinned down on my pages. So the two of us enter the daily dance.
As I've mentioned to friends before, writing is a lonely pursuit. Shut away for hours on end in your little room you begin to doubt if there's anyone else in the world but you and your characters on the page. So you shout out the window; "Hello, Hello, hello" "Anybody there, anybody, anybody" "I said HELLO, hello, hello."
And the answer returns to me; "Shut up, shut up, shut up."
Well now there's no call for that, that was just rude!! Anyway because of the hours spent in solitary confinement, it was especially nice to attend a writers conference, last Saturday. The conference was put on by ORA (Ozarks Romance Authors) but fiction writers of every genre were free to attend, and happily did so. It was a thrill to spend the entire day surrounded by like-minded people, who spend their days wrestling with the English language. Rubbing elbows with other authors in various stages of the writing world, from those taking their first fledgling steps to those with years of publishing experience under their belts; we all had a seat at the table.At my own lunch table of ten, almost every genre was represented. Proper Romance, Paranormal, Western, Erotica, Historical Romance, Contemporary Romance,Coming of Age Memoir, and one woman who has yet to write her first word......but is ready to think about dipping her toes in the water.
Also at our table was a prolific writer, LEIGH MICHAELS, who has written for Harlequinn and others since 1984. There was a wealth of information and a happy atmosphere of sharing bits of knowledge and support.
All in all a wonderful time. I left at the end of a very long day, with a SWAG bag full of goodies, and my mind overflowing with new ideas and real bits of information I could put to use immediately. Visit ORA's Facebook page: Here And their website: Here
Thanks ORACON 2013. See you next year.
As for me? Well as you can see I've been inspired anew!!!!!