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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Writing Process

Courtesy of piovasco
One of the things that interests me the most in writing, is how different and individual each writer's process is. Talk to enough people, and similar groupings and patters emerge, but I haven't yet met any writers that write a novel exactly the same way.

Some of the different approaches include:

  • plotting vs pantsing (or free writing or writing from the hip)
  • writing linearly vs writing scenes out of order and patching them together
  • writing by word count vs a certain amount of time
  • using a word processor vs writing software
  • writing on a set schedule vs writing whenever lightning strikes
  • needing music or sound vs needing silence
And a whole host of other things, most of them small, and many unique to that particular writer.

But one of the most fascinating things, to me, is the difference in the "What comes first--the character or the plot?"

While most of my writing process happens in my sub-conscious (meaning I have no idea how things happen--only that they do), I have learned certain things. Immutable laws (for me), if you will.

1) I am not a plotter. I believe there is much good in trying out different ways of writing. One of the greatest benefits to experimenting is discovering something that clicks perfectly with how your brain processes Story. I've tried a lot of things, and it's been very educational--whether or not they work for me--because doing so allows me to peel back another layer to see Story from a slightly different perspective. 

I have learned that I can loosely plot a series, but if I try to plot a novel, my sub-conscious can, and will, lie to me. That's right. I can come up with some pretty awesome stuff that invariably ends up not working with the story or the characters. At all.

2) No character, no story.

It's the second one that I've been thinking a lot about right now. I've found that, for me personally, I can't sit down and write a story without having a character tackle me first. Because, for me, there is no Story without the characters.

Does that mean I write character-driven novels?

Not necessarily.

For me, character and plot aren't completely separate entities. Rather, they are two points on a continuum. Some stories will lean closer to the character side, while others will lean nearer to the plot end.

But they all start out the same way: a character looks at me from the back of my brain. Most of the time I get a sense of what the character looks like, but not always. Some are also a lot more talkative and easier to work with than others.

But they all have a problem. Sometimes that problem is on a bigger scale, driven by outside forces. And sometimes the Story happens *because* of something the character did. Or said. Or stole. And they want me to help them fix it. (Or, at the very least, escape. :p)

So, for me, the plot rises out of the characters every single time.

But I know there are people for whom this works, only in the reverse. They come up with an interesting premise that might have been sparked by a question or an idea. Only after they have the foundation laid out, are they able to people the plot.

Does that mean they write plot-driven novels?

Not necessarily.

In fact, there have been a number times I've been surprised to learn that a character-driven story had not only been plotted out, but that the plot came first.

Which opens up all kinds of delicious things to speculate both about characters and plot and how they ultimately (in the finished product) connect to the Story and each other.

How do they connect for you? Are you a character first type of writer, or can you only find the Story if you have a plot laid out. Or are you somewhere in between?



Danyelle Leafty| @danyelleleafty writes YA and MG fantasy. From March 12th-31st, she will be donating royalties from both paper and digital copies of THE FAIRY GODMOTHER DILEMMA: CATSPELL to purchase Kindle Fires for a pediatric unit in a local hospital. Click here if you'd like to learn more.



11 comments:

Traci Kenworth said...

I need my characters to write. I do in-depth interviews with them before beginning my story. I do make out an outline but sometimes it gets thrown out with a new twist that betters the story.

redcharlie said...

Thanks for the handout.

Attend a writers’ conference, visit a relative who knows, or inform the guy in the checkout line what you do when he asks … the question are automatic. What do you write? How do you write, when, and sometimes where? Now I will print your blog, giving credit of course, and simply hand the questioner a bookmark noting, for me, “all of the above.”

April + Megan said...

For me, I've always developed the plot first. Typically, I have characters in mind, but until the story and where it's going really solidifies itself, the characters don't come to life. Lucky for me, my writing partner is the opposite. She is always imagining her characters first, fleshing them out and then building the story around them. It's really the best of both worlds.

joanleacott said...

You're right, Danyelle. Story writing is a complex and varied process no matter how a writer begins.

For me, it always starts with characters faced with a decisions--like a stone tossed into a pool. I develop in-depth back story that complicates the decisions and then character choice and outcome ripple out to form the plot.

Kaye Draper said...

I combine character sketches and plotting. I dream up an idea (yes, sometimes literally), but it's pretty general at that point. then I sit down and write down all the things I know about a character, inventing on the spot if I need to, such as their physical characteristics, likes, dislikes, favorite food, fatal flaws, etc. Sure sometimes these things change slightly as I write the story, but I by the time I've done this for all of my characters, they are talking to me. I then plot out the main points. I "spin" descriptions of scenes. when I have all of that I actually sit down and write. It starts out linear, but then I go back and fill in the extra details that are needed to make the work more complex.
Then I go back and make sure everything flows. Sometimes I will write scenes as they occur to me, and then fit them in and I want that to be seamless.

One important point- I wonder if your point of view drives how you approach this process? I really love first person POV, so it makes sense (I think) that I would develop my characters first, so I have a strong sense of who they are and how they fit together.

Laura Barnes said...

Great post. It amazes me, too, how different writers are. It also never ceases to surprise me how different I write from book to book.

Britney Gulbrandsen said...

Interesting post.

For me, a basic idea comes to me. Then I move to characters. Then I finish up the plot. I can't know the ending of my book until I know my characters because they are the ones who take the book where it goes. But I can't create characters without a basic idea.

Funny, I never knew that's what I did until I sat down and thought about it.

Laura Marcella said...

Both ways! It depends on the story and which part of the idea came to me first. Sometimes the plot comes to me first and I create characters to go with it. And sometimes the characters come to me first so I then imagine a plot for them.

Danyelle L. said...

Thank you so much for all the comments! I love learning more about how different author's tick. :) I think the most interesting thing--for me--is that there is no one way to find the Story. :)

Emilia Quill said...

I think I'm somewhere in between. With short stories I'll usually have an idea, what if x or y happens and then mayhem ensues.

With novels to be I'll have a character or a group and work from there.

Sometimes I have trouble telling which came first. A lot of stories begin from a dream and some from a scene that plays in my head.

As for plotting, I do it loosely and often the course changes midway and then again near the end. Love it when my character surprise me.

Kathryn Magendie said...

For me, character is everything. It's how I begin and it's how I see the larger picture and it's how I have an interest in writing my books - and in the books I read. If a character doesn't engage me, then I'm done - no matter how cool or wonderful the plot is - I have to want to follow a character or characters wherever they lead me.

I'm a "character-driven panster" kind of writer :-D