Thursday, June 7, 2007

My swiss cheese method of writing...

I often get email from fellow writers but the bulk of them come from readers. To me, there's no higher compliment than having someone read my work and then take the time to send me a note. I always reply, however, depending what I have on my plate, I'm not always speedy about it. Given this, I decided to answer two reader questions on my blog that
I haven't had time to on email.

Do you find it hard coming up with story ideas?
No, ideas are the easy part. It's the writing that's hard.
(ie., I've had three fully formed novels percolating in the back
of mind for a few years now. I just need time to write them).
So far, I haven't had trouble thinking up story ideas, probably because I have an overactive imagination. (ie., When I pull up
to a red light, I almost can't help it anymore; my mind just takes over as I make up stories about the people in the next vehicle. You know... The bald driver is a hen-pecked alcoholic; his wife, sitting next to him, is having an affair with her boss; and their teenage son slumped in the back seat just secretly robbed a grocery store six hours ago. Then -- BOOM -- the light goes green. That sort of thing).

Do you write sequentially?
Almost never, but I do work from a detailed synopsis that lays the story out in advance. My 'writing method' isn't quite so linear, though. Every writer is different, but here's what's
works best for me:

I can't do anything until the first chapter is written (which means I'm the sort of writer who needs to know exactly where the story begins before I do anything else). Then, after the 1st chapter is written, I write the last chapter, which I always know in advance. Following that, I write the turning point, where the main character makes a choice that sends the story in a new direction or something unexpected happens that forces it in a new direction. Next, I write all of the 'big scenes' including anything I wouldn't show my mother. Then I go back to the beginning and start writing the general flow of the story, including the development of sub-plots, the introduction of secondary and/or walk-on characters who help move the story to its conclusion, as well as any bridging that needs to be done between chapters.

And when I'm done, I've got my first draft, with only 3 or 4 or 5 complete rewrites to go!!


millhousethecat said...

That's fascinating to me --- the idea that someone can write non-linearly.

For me, my characters are like the ones in that car next to you at the stop light. When I finish writing for the day, it's as if my characters are frozen where I left them, waiting (often impatiently) for me to get them to where they need to be.

I write linearly, often don't know how it will end, and don't have an outline.

'Course, you're published and all, so maybe you know something I don't know. :)

wordman17 said...

You write the 1st chapter
and then THE LAST?! Do either
ever change when you do your
later drafts, or do they
remain the same?

Interesting stuff.
What's 'bridging' mean btw?!

Adrienne said...

Very interesting, especially your writing technique, which is just so hugely different from mine! Thanks for the post (also thanks for the pics in the post below, can we say totally awesome!)

Larramie said...

Wow, Holly, that's not only fascinating it sounds brilliant! I appreciate the fact that you write the first and then the last chapter, followed up by throwing curveballs, roadblocks or whatever into the plot.

I've compared writing a novel to putting together a jigsaw puzzle and, indeed, that is what you do.

Good luck in finding those "missing pieces" for today.

kyla-dale said...

I wish I wrote like this.
I never know where to start my stories!!!!

You must take a long time to figure that out before you get going huh? Is that what you mean when you say you have stories 'percolating?' You figure everything out ahead of time before you start writing it?

Holly Kennedy said...

Millhouse -- Being published means nothing. I have nothing over you or anyone else using this process, honestly. It's just I've come to learn works best for me. I wish I could write linearly, which shows how logical you are and how swiss-cheese-like my mind is! :)

Wordman17 -- The beginning and end always stay the same, yes. The only thing that shifts is how rich and/or textured each piece will get as I work and rework it until I'm satsified I've achieved the tone I'm reaching for.

Bridging, to me, means ensuring one chapter ends smoothly (maybe with a line of reflection or foreshadowing) before tagging off into the next chapter, which should logically follow the story's arc.

Adrienne -- Isn't it amazing how different we all are when it comes down to HOW we write?! BEA sounded like it was fun, btw. I so envy that you got to go.

Larramie -- Not brilliant at all, just my crazy way of approaching the canvas *lol*. It really is like a puzzle, though, isn't it. Great analogy.

Kyla-dale -- Pretty much. I am constantly thinking and rethinking and talking the story out before I begin writing. And yet, as I write the bulk of the story, there are always new scenes or fun story elements that crop up and get thrown in too!

Heidi the Hick said...

Holly, having read two of your books, I'm amazed that you write like a jigsaw puzzle, because your stories are so perfect and smooth and well paced!!!!

This does give me hope because My Current Mess is, well, a jigsaw puzzle, and I hope it flows smoothly. My husband/ BS Filter will soon let me know I guess.

Loreen M. said...

Interesting post!

I have wondered how other writers do it (especially those of you who are published). I'm new at this and have not been able to find my own groove or style, if you will. Maybe I'll try yours :-)

Holly Kennedy said...

Heidi -- You're such a doll. Txs for the compliments. That said, though, I might write the book in a non-linear fashion, but the story itself, in the end, should be smooth as all of the wrinkles have been worked out well in advance by writing such a detailed synopsis.... ie., the synopsis for The Silver Compass is 28 pages long!

Loreen -- Go for it, but I think you'll find (as most writers do, given time) that adopting someone else's method doesn't always work. However, trial and error is a good way to find out what does and doesn't work for you. Good luck with your WIP :)

Leslie said...

You know those books you have rolling around your mind? Do you have the beginnings and endings worked out for them yet?

Also do you work on
more than 1 project at a time or is that too hard to do?

Anonymous said...

You and your detailed synopsis! That just about kills me everytime I read it.

I have been considering writing the last chapter lately. If for no reason than to put 'the end' on the damn thing.

Therese said...

Holly, I'm exactly like you with my obsession to get the start right before I can move on (see today's post, for example!)

But from there, even though I know much of what's coming, I have to write in a straight line much as Sherry (millhousethecat) describes.

Many roads to the same destination, eh? :)

Michael said...

I hate having to write a synopsis. That and query letters which is a a whole separate topic. I know how essential they are if you want to be published, but they're HARD. Breaking your story down to little pieces in a synopsis kills all my creativity. I suck at it. My God, how long does it take you to write a freaking 28 pager?!??

Holly Kennedy said...

Seeley -- *smile* There really is great satisfaction in typing THE END. It's one of my favorite things to do, but something I've only done after both of my novels were D&A'd (delivered and accepted by my editor prior to sending it off to the copy editing dept).
No cheating, girl!

Therese -- Yup, there sure are a lot of different paths one can take on this road to publication. I'll slip over to your blog in a few minutes to read your post from today. :)

Michael -- Thanks for stopping by. Writing that 28 page synopsis took six tries and two weeks worth of mind-numbing word.

Yes, it is hard. Very hard. But I now know I'll do it again with my next book because it's saved me a ton of missteps in the writing process. No more 10 steps forward, six back and three sideways. It's more like 10 forward, two back and 10 more forward.

Holly Kennedy said...

Sorry, Leslie, I almost missed answering your questions!

Yes, now I do have the beginning and end of each book figured out, although it has taken a lot of head space and time figuring each of them out. I prefer this, though, than writing 100 pages, tossing them aside and starting all over again.

No, I'm only able to work on one project at a time. I can, however, be copy editing one while writing another. That I can juggle.

Melissa Marsh said...

I've never thought of writing the first chapter and then the last chapter. I don't know if I could do that. I always like to savor writing the ending because that is the resolution of everything I've worked so hard to write. It's kinda like a reward for me.

I love to see how we all write. It's such a different process for each of us.

LadyBronco said...

I write exactly the same way, Holly.

I know what will start the story off with a bang, and where that bang will eventually end - but it's the middle part that's up for grabs.

And man, it can be one helluva ride at times.

Anissa said...

This is so interesting. Like you, I know the beginning and end, I just hold off writing the end. Like Melissa, it's a sort of reward. Though I do make pretty detailed notes on how I imagine the scene to go. Other than that I'm linear. I may have pivotal scenes in mind, but refuse to allow myself to write them until it's their turn. I'm afraid if I wrote all the fun stuff first, I'd never want to write the rest! Like eating all the cake before the vegetables. Gotta have something to look forward to! ;)

Great post!

Holly Kennedy said...

Melissa -- what you're saying makes perfect sense. It's just that I have such a short attention span, even when I know the entire story, that approaching the book in chunks vs. the linear approach is less overwhelming for me.

Ladybronco -- That's so true, isn't it? How you'll be writing the main part of the book and something just ... crops up that you have to build into the book (ie., great dialogue pieces, fun walk-on characters, etc.)

Anissa -- 'Eating the cake before the veggies'. That's a great way to look at it. And if I'm fair about it, I have to admit that your analogy perfectly reflects my personality -- no patience, gotta get to the good stuff first before I loose all these good ideas, no time for the veggies. :)

Anonymous said...

Reading your post
and then all these comments
makes me realize how difficult
it really is to write a book
which is what i have always
wanted to do. Dont' know
if I could stand all this
pre-thinking and organizing
though. Is it the same for
someone writign a memoir
I wonder?

Anissa said...

So this morning, as I wandered through the bookstore (alone, for once), I thought of your brother. Then I noticed a lovely spot on the "Favorite Paperbacks" table up front. Then somehow (hey, don't look at me--la la la...) four copies of The Penny Tree ended up on that table. I have to say, they looked mighty nice. :)

Have a great weekend!

Holly Kennedy said...

Ooooh, Anissa, you're such a doll!

Coincidentally, I was writing about YOU today. WEll, not YOU exactly, but the young 14 yr old girl I've given your name in The Silver Compass. She's quite the character. Hope she'll make yah smile when you eventually read her little walk-on parts. *smile*

Thanks for moving the books, you little criminal! :)

Anissa said...

I can hardly wait! :)

spyscribbler said...

I can't do a thing until my first chapter is set, either! I've always wished that I could write the ending towards the beginning of the process, though. They're my weakest skill, so it'd be great to do it while the story is fresh and exciting.

After the first chapter, I write and polish linearly, but I always have scattered bits of scenes 'ahead.' It's a mess!

Do you know, I've never typed the End. It never occurred to me, LOL!