The Way a Good Writer Writes

The mind of a writer is bogged down with ideas begging for attention long before the words are ever formed, typed on a blank screen, or often written in longhand on scattered pieces of notebook paper. The subconscious continually scans magazines, newspapers, Google alerts, obituaries, sermons, protests, and conversations – soaking up the seeds of every story it happens to stumble across. The ideas gather, settle in, and remain there, waiting until the writer needs them, often waiting for a long time. Ideas are patient. When the time is right and the writer has backed himself or herself into a corner from which there is no escape, the ideas come spilling out, and, by now, the writer has no idea where they had been or why they suddenly showed up to save the day. The mind keeps working, usually overtime,  even when the writer isn’t.

Maryann Miller, author of Open Season and One Small Victory: When Caleb asked me to write about the process I use in writing my novels, I had to laugh. What process? I’ve always just gotten an idea, or a character came to life, and I just started writing. No plan. No plot. Just writing.

However, for a novel, one can only do that so long and then some kind of planning and organization of the story has to happen. Otherwise the characters will take over like willful children and who knows where you will end up. That started to happen in a current project, and I had to put a character into time-out for trying to take over the story.

“But this is my moment to shine.”

“No. This is Leslie’s story and Leslie’s moment to shine.”

“But this was really interesting background information about me. Don’t you want the readers to know the real me?”

“We can make that happen by your actions, trust me. We do not have to go off down this other path for a whole scene.”

When I reach this point of needing to exert some control, I do so by notes that I write in a five-subject notebook. Remember those?

One section is for plotting, another for characters, and another for notes of what I need to research. In one section I track my progress of the book keeping a daily log of how many pages or words I wrote that day. I also keep a record of the timeline of the book, chapter by chapter, so I know in chapter five: Gus remembering cases from twenty-five years ago that were never solved. Leslie gets a call from Mom who pleads Ronald’s case. More is revealed about what happened between Ronald and Leslie B4 she left NY.

Later I can always check in chapter five to make sure that I am not repeating information about the relationship between Leslie and Ronald, as well as the details of the old kidnapping cases.

By the way, Gus was the character I had to rein in.

I refer to this notebook as my story bible. I have made one for every book I have written and I keep them all, which is a good thing for the mystery series that began with Open Season. When it came time to write the second book, I could refer to all those character details to make sure I am consistent throughout the series. There is nothing that will irritate a reader more than a glaring inconsistency.

Stalking Season, the second book in the Seasons Mystery Series will come out in hardback in November.

Emma Calin, author of Knockout, Prime Cut, and The Chosen: If there is one word to describe the way I write it is – slowly. All the gurus who encourage writers to produce books as quickly as possible in order to catch the wave, leave me crashed in the shingle, gasping with admiration.

I write by hand in school type exercise books. I write on one side of the page and leave the facing page blank. The first edit comprises of all manner of arrows, asterisks and potential improvements on the empty page. The effect is like a besieged city of prose suffering a mortar attack by a rabble of mad dyslexic poets. After a long siege, I actually do a typed edition and really start to work on the prose. I like short sentences that balance.

I need to start with the character – at least one. I seem to write more about men, but that’s because my father was one. He was a big talker – if he went to the shop he’d come home and tell you about someone he’d noticed and what they’d bought – like a guy who’d bought a rat trap and some rabbit food. It would worry him how a guy could be so confused about rodents. He was a situation comedy in himself and so many people are. I think I write because I like men.

For much of my writing career I have done short stories for magazines. If one in ten was accepted I felt I was ahead. Recently, I have gone back to this form because I want to explore the wilderness of the audio story market. As a young writer I was a poet and attended all those smoky readings by hairy guys in shabby clothes. I never did public reading and it still terrifies me. My friend and really my mentor, Oscar Sparrow is an old sweat of the poetry reading circuit. He is available to do audio and so recently I wrote a story specifically to be read aloud. I wanted to differentiate character by accent and tone. If you write too much “accent” in prose it is tedious for readers. The audio is the real story – the written text is the script.

I believe that the new media offers writers the chance to break out of the established forms of fiction. The audio story on the radio was a joy to me as a kid and I believe it would still be a joy to the contemporary generation. Fiction is about the story and its roots are in the oral tradition of “Once Upon a Time.”  Inexpensive recording equipment and free software are available to all authors. All we need is the campfire to sit around while we listen. My guess is that some geek is already dreaming up a virtual one – with advertisements bubbling out of the pot.

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