The writing process. Yep. That’s my topic.
Now, let’s see if I can stay on point.
See that graphic above? It’s nice and tidy, isn’t it? Yeah, that’s not really how I roll. Yes, one has to start at the beginning before he can get to the editing, and he’s got to get the editing done before going to print. But my writing process doesn’t come to me that neat and clean. I’m sure I’ll touch on some of the stuff up there in that graphic, though. Touch. Maybe I’ll even prod, but overall, I’ll be weaving my own chaotic pathway for you to follow.
Should be interesting.
My foray into writing (as an adult) came about in 2003, when I was asked to help tweak my church’s annual Easter passion production. I was one of a committee of five individuals tasked with coming up with ideas and then applying them to paper. Since I had one of the least-disciplined mouths, I kept charging right into the discussion with ‘yet another idea.’ Apparently, the ideas I came up with played well, because eventually they voted to have me write an entirely new production. Risky, to say the least, since I’d never written anything of that length before.
The story revolved around a woman and her daughter and a means for getting her around the main Persona of the Bible. As it was to be a stage production, I had to be able to weave a story that would allow the actors to easily get from one of three wrap-around stages to another without losing the tempo of the action (or an actor!). I learned about character development and inserting subplots into a story out of a need to allow the characters to navigate the backstage areas and still have time to show up somewhere else to keep the story moving uninterrupted.
The play, ultimately (and very thankfully), went off without a hitch and received great reviews. It was my first real attempt at writing something of substance, and I didn’t fail. Whew!
In 2006 I decided to take another risk with the safety of my ego. I thought that I’d give a novel a try. I had a somewhat interesting past and thought that if I fictionalized it, it may prove to be an entertaining read. The idea was fine and dandy, so long as I could keep finding interesting Frank Lattimore stuff about which to write. The thing was, it only allowed for about a third of the content needed to qualify as a novel. Discouraging.
So, I basically had part one of a novel complete, and I had a few people who had been reading and trudging along with me. The story kept their interest and it piqued curiosity about where the story would go from there. Well, their curiosity was put on hold for the next four and a half years.
The writing process for me was completely a winding path: of discovery, frustration, satis-faction, more discovery, and so on. Unlike the smooth, put-together process in the graphic above, it more resembled this one.
And you know what? It got the job done.
My first hurdle was convincing myself that I could create and convey a completely fictional story; one that was not based on anyone else’s life, including my own. That’s why I had a four-and-a-half-year gap between the last word of part one of DeliverUs from Darkness and the first letter of part two.
After losing my job in January of 2011 I decided that I would take time off and write. Frankly, I don’t remember how long I stared at that blinking cursor, but I know that I finally got sick of it. So…
The protagonist of part one of my novel was someone that I knew really well. I knew his flaws, his weaknesses, and his strengths. In essence, I knew his character. This was the perfect starting point for part two. I decided to mature him by four or five years and have him already have a new set of friends. (For me, it’s fun developing new personalities.) I also had to have a villain. That, too, was pretty easy, because I wanted to use my male character’s own past against him, so I created a female antagonist that knew how to play on the male mind. And that’s when things took off!
The novel had a life of its own, and little did I know that the second two thirds of the book would make the antagonist the main character of the whole novel. Now that was a twist that I didn’t recognize until the book was done … and published!
Novel number two, When Darkness Comes, was going to be quite complex compared to my first. I had introduced some secondary antagonists in book one and a subplot that went unanswered, though I tried to keep the need for an answer only a vague thought in the backs of the readers’ minds. I wanted to almost have the reader forget about these people by the time they reached the end of the novel. Almost.
With the second book, I had to transition my main characters into mature adults, who were living twenty-four years later. Introducing children—real-life responsibilities that couldn’t be ignored while the story progressed—was a new challenge. I also had to be able to get into the heads and hearts of my female characters. By doing so, I fell in love with each of them.
Though I had to do this in my first novel, I again had to develop internal struggles — intense internal dialogues — for many of the characters. The scariest thing about internal dialogue is not knowing precisely how a woman thinks when she’s not speaking. (I know, there should be some sort of joke here, but I’m imbued with some mature strength at the moment.) The need to think like a woman led me to do a lot of reading. And if I may, I’d like to introduce you to some great books for use in developing male and female characters and their individual struggles: Wild at Heart & For Women Only for the male characters and Captivating & For Men Only for the female characters. Grab these books if you need to learn how to get into the heads and hearts of characters of the opposite sex.
The third novel, Behind the Darkness, was made further complex with the introduction of not only new characters and plots, but three different layers of interwoven story lines. I had two people in the present day (storyline 1) talking about an event in the past (storyline 2) in which a character, whose life and story is developed then and there, is transported into what may be a totally different existence (storyline 3). This took some mapping out.
Okay. Part One of Book One was written completely from memories from my past (fictionalized and with the introduction of other characters) and with no outline.
Part Two of Book One was written based on wanting to focus on the strengths and weaknesses of who I thought was the main character. Very little in the form of outlining was done, though I did have a separate page for typing out new ideas for the story (which became a mainstay for all future writing projects).
Book Two was written with things pretty well plotted out in an outline that defined the main path. I allowed my characters to lead the way, though. I didn’t cage them into my original ideas for the story. As a result a favorite character—Donna McNeil—came into a life of her own. She was going to only have been mentioned once or twice in book one, and maybe once or twice in book two, but this woman took on an important plot point in the book.
Book Three was heavily plotted. I had to make sure that I was getting back to correct points in the story each time I came back to each of the three layers. Again, though, a character—Kyle Russell—who I hadn’t even planned on existing came into his own role and played out a crucial plot point in the story.
For me, I had to allow my characters to breathe. They had to come up with their own ideas for how they wanted their lives to progress (while remaining within the boundaries of the story and always pointing toward the finish).
Another thing that I had to learn to do, especially with books two and three, was to build excitement, and step up the pace, as the story neared the end. I tried to put myself in a position where I could get my pulse to quicken while thinking through a great ending and while writing it. A greater focus was placed on ending chapters with a “need to know” what happens next.
The jump points (moving from one character or situation to another) in the closing chapters were action- and/or panic-heavy and much shorter. I had to quickly go back and forth between the antagonists and protagonists, keeping the pace quick. The final chapter of each book, especially of books two and three, had to have a rush of adrenaline and also a calming effect after the action came to a close. I hope you’ll find that I did these well.
The last two books end with epilogues. It’s within these that I can take the now-contented reader and relax him or her a bit further with some information that will hopefully cause some moments of reflection to finish out the stories.
Once my stories are finished, not only do I read them from beginning to end, I read them out loud, either to myself or to someone else. Reading out loud allows me to bring the characters to life with an added dimension. I get to hear them angry and frustrated. I get to hear them sad. I get to see/feel if the parts of the book that I wrote with great emotion actually play well. It also allows me to feel for speed bumps or hiccups. You know, those places in which you say, “That didn’t make any sense” and then you re-read and find out it made even less sense the second time.
My experiences through the writing of three books (with four and five in process), have shown me that no matter how much I think I know, I can always get better. I read other authors now, not just for their captivating tales, but to also feel how they write. The more that you and I read the works of others, the better an authors we will become.
On my author website, I’ve written 12 Pointers to Writing Your First Book. I hope that if you are reading this blog post as a curious future writer, or even a seasoned veteran, that you’ll find some additional information that can be put into service.
Contact me about your own writing adventures. Share your experiences, both bad and good. You can get an e-mail to me through my website, or you can post a comment below. I’m looking forward to hearing from you!