Tag Archives: Writing process

Developing the Story

I have written a lot over the past few months about the difficulties of writing, the research involved, and the endless dedication required in order to complete a long (and often complicated) piece of writing.  In light of this, I also find it equally important to talk about the more fun side of writing.  There are many enjoyable aspects of the writing process, however for me, I must say that one of my favourites, is discovering the plot of the story which often develops in unforeseen ways.

The first real attempt at writing creatively that I can recall was a short story written in the ninth grade.  Set in the same world which would later evolve to become the foundation for my first novel, The Indoctrination, the story was written for class and then placed in a state-wide writing competition.  Since that time, there has rarely been a point in my life where I have not had a pen in my pocket and a notebook nearby.  Writing for me is a mix of many elements.  It is a conductive way to channel my thoughts, emotions, and dreams onto the page.  My characters often take me on journeys that I never imagined, showing me worlds and places that I could never have explored on my own.

There are many different methods to writing.  Some authors, for example, George R.R. Martin, will plot their work from beginning to end long before actually writing a single paragraph.  They will often create character bios, draw maps and charts, or outline the course of the work before they begin.   Others take a more developmental route, beginning a tale with limited knowledge of its evolution or eventual end.

My personal style of writing favours the second method.  Stories often evolve organically, and sometimes even those who work so hard to pre-plan their stories find the plot going in a different direction than was originally planned.  Stories take twists and turns as characters reveal their thoughts a piece at a time.  They make unexpected choices, change their minds half-way through a tale, and on occasion, even come across new characters which I never intended to create.

The surprises that I find along the paths my characters walk are one of my favourite aspects of writing.  To write a scene with baited breath, unsure of how it will end, is, at least for me, one of the most magical and thrilling aspects of being a writer.

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To Harm or not to Harm the Protagonist – Part II

One of the questions I am frequently asked is how I can stand to harm the characters that I so lovingly created.  This answer is: not without difficulty.

Harming a character can, and often is, as emotionally draining upon the author as it is physically upon the character.  Harming characters forces me to take these creations which I have poured my time, work and soul into creating and consciously choose to put them through a form of hell.  These characters in question are my friends, my confidants – the ones who have shared with me their deepest secrets, as I have shared my own.

Now don’t misunderstand me.  I do harm my characters.  The dark nature of the worlds I create requires it.  From parasitic aliens slowly removing the very essence of humanity from those they conquer, to the ancient torture chambers of my upcoming fantasy novel, Black Rose, characters are pushed to their physical, emotional, and mental limits.  Yet within these aspects often lie the heart of the story.  The character’s struggle to overcome the obstacles which are laid before them and the suffering they endure throughout their journeys make them more real, human and relatable to the reader.  It also becomes a point of suspense, helping to place readers on the edge of their seats as they wonder which of their characters will survive – and which ones will not.

“Do not be afraid to harm your characters” was one of the first and most fundamental elements that I was ever taught by my long-time mentor.  It is also one of the elements of writing that I am still, almost a decade later, struggling to learn.  In order to write dark, tragic scenes well, it forces the author to tear apart the same characters which they have spent so much time bringing to life.  In my personal experience, these scenes have left me sad, upset, and angry.  They can also leave me exhausted and emotionally drained, as though I had been forced to physically accompany the characters on their journey.

Now, I am not stating that this experience is typical of every author.  In fact, there is a wide variance of methods, experiences, and tricks to writing such scenes. To help demonstrate just how varied these methods are, I will include a link to a list of ‘rules of writing’ recently published by The Guardian.  Some of which I agree with, some of which I do not.

The list can be found here:
http://www.theguardian.com/books/2010/feb/20/ten-rules-for-writing-fiction-part-one

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To Harm or not to Harm…the Protagonist

One of the most difficult lessons for any author to learn is to not be afraid to harm their characters.  Whether it takes weeks, months, or even years to create the stories which eager readers often finish in a matter of days, characters often have the ability to come to life upon the page.  For an author who has journeyed with characters through their creation, development, triumphs and failures, the thought of harming the characters is never easy.

I once listened to an author state that she had made a deal with her characters that she would stop harming any sub-character who the protagonist loved.  The problem, of course, was that a few novels in the series later, her protagonist had decided to love just about everyone.  The books, which were once a blend between a mystery and horror of a noir flavour, suddenly transformed into a safe novel, where the readers know for a fact that every major character will survive.  The novels lost their edge, that uncertainty that is created when one knows that no one is safe, not even the leading protagonist.

One writer who has successfully mastered this idea, without a doubt, is the author of the A Song of Fire and Ice series, George R.R. Martin.  Better known by its HBO title, Game of Thrones.  This series is full of competing protagonists in a world which seems contain only one unbreakable rule: No one is safe.  Martin seamlessly introduces and eliminates characters with each turn of the page.  This creates an emotional story-line and an air of uncertainty as readers remain uncertain as to who will be alive from chapter to chapter.

This tension helps to create a successful novel and prevents a given story from becoming predictable, repetitive, safe, and ultimately boring.  However, my personal experience shows that it can be extremely difficult act.  When I write, I embark on a deep and personal journey with my characters.  They become friends, confidants…even family.  Feelings of love, hate, frustration and friendship all exist within the various relationships created between myself and my characters.  The idea of harming, or even killing, the characters I have come to love as they have allowed me to journey with them is as hard if not harder for me as it is for any reader.  Breaking their hearts, their bodies, or taking their lives is an act which never gets easier.

Harming characters creates suspense, conflict and excitement within a story.  It creates the most emotional of moments, bringing intensity, uncertainty, and heartache into a given story.  Because of this, no matter how hard the act of harming characters becomes, it is still a necessarily part of the writing process for successful progression of a novel.  One of the keys to a good story is having characters, whether in a realistic or fantastical setting, seem as realistic as possible to both writer and reader.

In real life, bad things happen even to good people.  Ensuring the characters do not always leave a story unscathed is a way to reflect this realism which authors attempt to instill within their fictional worlds upon their characters.  The fact that a fictional character endures the same emotional and physical harms that people often find within their own lives, makes that character more real to readers by making it easier to share in their pain, as well as their joys.  It is because of this, that writers must so often work to overcome their inhibitions and be willing to harm the same characters that they worked so hard and lovingly to create.

Here’s another article with further thoughts on this topic:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-pryor/main-characters_b_5575533.html?utm_hp_ref=books

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Writing Process:

Writing is not easy.  It takes years to learn the craft, and even longer to learn the complex process of editing, revision and the difficulties of entering the world where one gets to call themselves a ‘published’ author.

This process begins with the most simplistic rule that writing has to offer: In order to be a writer…one must write!  As fundamental as this sounds, it can also be one of the most difficult writing tasks to perform.  To be a dedicated writer, a person must write consistently, every day with regularity.  This does not mean that you must write for a long period of time, or reach a certain word-count.  There are days where a writer may find themselves writing nothing more “I don’t know what to write” over and over again.  What you write, especially at the beginning of the writing process, is not nearly as important as the fact that you, as a writer, sit down every day for a set period of time, whether it be ten minutes or ten hours, and force yourself to write.

The second most important part of writing is to finish what you begin.  This is a feat which 90% of people who begin a writing project, will never achieve.  At this stage, the quality of the first draft does not matter.  It is what some writers actually refer to as a zero draft, one that no other than yourself (and in my case, my cat) will ever see.  It does not matter if there draft is full of errors or gaps within the plot, as long as you have a beginning, middle and end, then you have achieved what the majority never will.

Next is the editing process.  For this, many find either a first reader or a small group of fellow writers to assist in the editing process.  The person or people entrusted with this should be above all, honest.  I can assure you from experience that if there are problems with your story, it is far better to hear it at this point, from your trusted readers, than to learn of them later from an agent or audience.  Self-editing is not enough, as you are the person who is least likely to see the issues with your work.  This is because, among other reasons, that you know the answer to the gaps in the plot of your story, where a different reader will not.

Only after all of this can you call what you have a “first draft,” and you then have the privilege of repeating the revision process several more times, before you reach a final draft.  Then comes the process of attempting to transition into the publishing process.

Traditional publishing is a tough, competitive world.  In this day and age, even those with true skill, talent, or even connections can have difficulty breaking into this world.  The majority of major publishing houses will not consider manuscripts without an agent.  The number of manuscripts sent to agents are far more than can ever be accepted, and sometimes even the best of works can be rejected based on an agent’s time, client load, and personal taste.  This is where the advice comes in, ““Pick a wall in your house. Cover it with rejection letters. When the wall is completely full, then, and only then, will you get published.”

The other option, which has risen in popularity over the past few years, is self-publishing.  This option has gained more ground in the new day and age.  On this topic, I am going to add a link to an article posted today featuring an interview of three writers who decides to take the “self-publishing” route.

http://www.examiner.com/article/writers-rejoice-independent-publishing-is-getting-the-job-done

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