Thursday, November 22, 2012

Friends and fellow writers ask me how I put my books together.

After stuffing myself with traditional Thanksgiving delights, I took a walk and thought about the way I write.

When I work on a writing project, I allow it to absorb most of me. I’ve tried not to become so involved, but I don’t seem to be able. Books about writing suggest making charts of the characters and listing the plot in individual scenes. I’ve tried, but so far I haven’t mastered those skills.

Instead, I move into the fringes of whatever I’m writing. At the moment I’m working on The Courtship of Miss Loretta Larson, which is a historical romance set in south Mississippi in 1908. Most of the story is Loretta’s, and she’s telling it in first person. I’m not Loretta, but I’m there listening to her and writing down what she thinks or writes in her journal. I’m her scribe.

Making charts confuses me. The characters change from what I originally conceived them to be. The plot changes as the characters deal with situations.

At some stages of the process, I have trouble concentrating on television programs, other writers’ work, or the life around me. In the middle of the night, I think or dream of the story. I awaken in the morning with the novel on my mind. I rush around so I can get to work writing . . . or is it play? Some writers tell me they don’t want to read other people’s writing while they are in certain stages of the process because they don’t want to be influenced. For me the problem is different. When my mind is full of my story, I cannot find room in my brain for anyone else’s book. At such times I read only nonfiction.

Some of my friends who have been published gazillions of times are much more organized. They know exactly what they want to say and how they want to say it. They organize charts of the characters, outline the plot, write a rough draft, and rework it two or three times. VoilĂ  – a book is born.

I can’t work that way. Instead I write it and rewrite it. I take out, and I put back. I change the point of view. I look at the story through the eyes of different characters. In The Courtship of Miss Loretta Larson, as I said earlier, I’m Loretta’s scribe. Some days though I’m spending time with Chad to discover how he sees the events going on. After all, they are major concerns of his.

Once a week I bring two excerpts of the Loretta story to a critique group. While the critters crit my work, I crit theirs. The entire process is for me more play than work. It reminds me of sharing toys with cousins during childhood.

The process of going over my story countless times also reminds me of making furniture. I sanded and sanded and sanded until the wood was smooth. There was always a point at which too much sanding left the furniture rough because the soft sections of the wood became worn down. I have to look for that sweet spot in my writing where the project doesn’t suffer because I’ve rubbed out the smooth details that made it worthwhile.

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