Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Inspiration Vs Perspiration

A thought occurred to me as I was writing late the other night, working on my new WIP. How much of what we write is inspired and how much is damn hard work? 

It took me a while, but I eventually got my answer. For me, anyway; every writer is different. Like zebras. I decided that whilst writing my first draft for anything, I pretty much rely on inspiration. 

When I first started taking my writing seriously I became greedy, and sought out writers everywhere. In blogs, on Twitter, Facebook, Verla Kay's...the list is endless. I was fascinated by how others work and I was amazed at all the different techniques writers have. Of course, in seeking out fellow writers, I got the crap scared out of me.  All I saw was people agonizing over detailed chapter outlines and blow by blow movements of every scene before they even put pen to paper. (Or, more likely, finger to keyboard!) 

I freaked out because I don't do anything like that - ever. Usually when I get an idea or I wake from a crazy dream and know my subconscious has served me up something delicious to write about, I let it stay in my head for awhile. That way, the story solidifies itself and I get a great feel for it. Then maybe I'll do a list of characters and that will be the start of my character bible for that project. But as for planning...the only planning I really do is maybe a paragraph or two of what the general gist of the story is.

Usually while writing the first draft, I'll note down a brief description of what goes on in each chapter on index cards after I've actually wrote it. See? No planning. Just a reminder. This is useful to me later on in a variety of ways: it helps with a time line; it can be saved later to help with a synopsis; it can even help me decide if I want to shuffle the course of events around, maybe have one event take place before another. It also keeps me straight and not stray around all over the place. 

I'm a firm believer of letting the story take control of you, not the other way around. I still remember the first time I was shocked by something my MC said or did, wondering how in the hell, as the creator, I could be shocked. So for the first draft at least, I just go with it, and have confidence my inspiration will get me to the end in one piece. 

The same goes for research. Depending on how much I need to do, I tend to do it as I go. One of my completed works features heavily around Greek mythology. But, I already knew a ton as it is a passion of mine, so it was only the odd thing I needed to research. For another, it was based during WW2 and my protag's love interest enlisted after the attack at Pearl Harbour, being sent to the Pacific. That took a lot of research. I wrote maybe two hundred pages before I stopped so I could seriously research the heck out of it. 

Having said all of this, and probably branding myself a lazy writer to anyone who may read this, when I get to the second draft and however many after that, I get down to business. I go through every chapter and think about what could be done to make it better. In some cases taking the whole thing out is the only option. 

The good thing about relying on inspiration for the first draft, is it leaves the road more open later on. More often than not, my final draft rarely resembles the first. If anything, the first draft is a skeleton for me to add muscle and tendons and eventually a smooth and clear skin to polish it all off. 

Without the inspiration of the first draft, there would be very little for me to work with later on. And without the hard work that goes into the later drafts, the finished product would resemble a cake half baked. You know it's supposed to be a cake, but you wouldn't really fancy having a taste. I rely on inspiration and perspiration in equal measures. You can't deny the glow you get from inspiration and knowing that when you write something great, it came from a part of you that you have no idea where it came from or how to explain it. And when you work hard on something, and there is nothing harder to work on than a manuscript, that satisfied breath at the finish line is so worth it because you know you worked your butt off and the end result is amazing. 

But this is all just me. What about you guys? How much is inspiration, and how much is perspiration? 

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Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Putting the 'I' in Writing

Any writer will draw on emotion to help fuel a particular scene. Whether it be a happy memory or a sad one, we take what we can get. A writer needs to be able to connect with a reader, and to do that the reader needs to care about the characters. They need to feel real. So how do we do that? How do we make figments of our imagination into living, breathing people? 

I don't think there is any wrong answer to that question. Every writer has a different process - a different way to bring their characters to life. For me...a lot of it is guesswork. Don't get me wrong, I don't just take a stab in the dark and hope I get it right. Instead, I think about it. A lot.

Usually I write from first POV and this makes the whole thing a lot easier. You only have one person to worry about; how they feel, how they react and how they perceive others. But when something happens to my MC (as, being a book, it inevitably does), I have to do a lot of thinking. In one of my books, my MC loses her father to cancer. I've never lost anyone close to me, save my Papa when I was a kidlet, but I was too young to either understand or properly process the emotion that goes hand in hand with death. 

So I imagined how it would feel if it happened to me. And there we had it. I've had a few people shocked when they learned that I've never experienced real, life altering loss. They said the feelings I wrote about rang true. I couldn't decide whether or not to be happy about this. In a lot of ways I was over the moon I got the emotion so true to life, but at the same time I felt like a hack. I felt disrespectful and a fraud. But then again, if I only wrote about what I knew or have been through, there would barely be enough to fill a novella, let alone numerous books.

Last weekend I got some really bad news. I felt the cuts, the stinging realisation that pretty soon things are going to change and my family will be challenged in the way you naively think will happen in the future, not right now. Instead of letting myself wallow, I put the pain to productive use. I was writing a particularly emotional scene, and I like to think all my feelings helped bring the scene more to life. But, as I was pouring my pain onto the page, I couldn't help but wonder if this method-writing is healthy.  

In my current WIP, there's a scene coming up that I'm dreading. My MC is going to go through an ordeal that I have personally gone through, and I'm not sure how I'm going to be able to handle it. Sure, a lot of people would say "don't do it then, it's your book, you make the rules". And that's true...to a certain point at least. But any writer worth their salt will tell you how amazing it is when a story takes on a life of their own, and plot point progress with very little effort involved. My story is headed in a dangerous direction, and if I quit or chicken out, then I couldn't call myself a writer.

The scene will bring back a lot of hurt, but I'm hoping it will be therapeutic. At the time, I didn't talk about what happened and chose to bury it deep inside  me. The result is the consequences haunt me still, and have affected every relationship I have ever been in.   

So maybe there is no sure fire way to bring your imaginary friends to life. Maybe its all trial and error. But the ever constant is this: no matter what you are writing, somewhere in there, at the very heart of it, is you. A little piece of your soul. Perhaps that is what brings them to life.

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