Recently a fellow fiction writer, Ms. Chris Kuhn, invited me to a Blog Hop – where writers answer four questions and tag other writer bloggers. Here’s my installment.
What are you writing?
I’m in the editing stages on a corporate thriller novella tentatively titled “Time to Make the Doughnuts.” It’s kind of a Bridget Jones Diary meets The Firm story. Anna, my heroine, is a promising workaholic public relations pro at a global insurance company. She’s closing in on a desperately-sought promotion and just when she thinks she’s got it in the bag… she wakes up in a hospital, where she learns she had an embarrassing mental fit that look place in front of the company’s leaders. The fit came with a host of weird behaviors and sets tongues wagging across her industry, causing everyone to question her sanity, stability and future. True to her nature, Anna claws her way back into the good graces of her boss. But just as she does, she discovers a terrible secret at the center of the company. Trouble is, due to her recent mental collapse, no one believes her and she has to figure out who her real friends are and how to resolve the situation.
How does this differ from your last work?
I think the main difference is I’m becoming a better mountain climber. I wrote my first novel with no idea what would happen from moment to moment and even less clue as to how it would end. It was like hiking Mount Everest with no gear and no guide. You get to the top, exhilarated, kind of shocked and shaken that you actually made it but are still a little embarrassed as to all the carrying on and collateral damage you made on your way up.
Stephen King speaks in On Writing of never using an outline. John Irving said he always knows how a book ends. I’m siding with John. Now I map out the beginning, the ending and most of the major plot points I can see. Personally, I don’t think it limits my creativity because the whole story is my creation anyway. Besides, there are always plenty of spontaneous ideas, surprises and holes that need fixing along the way.
So the outline, plus more time spent building my dialogue and descriptions means my tools have gotten better as well. Oh, and most key, instead of tackling Everest every time, I choose projects that I absolutely believe in, am dying to write and that are more within my skill level. The result is I’m becoming a more confident writer with work that is getting better with every effort – and that’s what I want most right now.
Why do you write?
I write because I have something to say and many stories to tell. Although there are many writers whose artful expression I find truly inspiring, I’m not trying to be one of them. All that matters to me is that you keep listening and I know I have to compete for your attention every step of the way.
What is your process?
So far, the process seems to be that I see the main character and then their pivotal scene that sets the stakes for the story. Then I ask for more scenes and slowly they come. I ask myself how it all ends for my characters and then I fill in more scenes that might help me get there. I try to remind myself the whole way that the story has to move forward really fast and I keep focusing all the time on how to do that.
I was reading again the other day about how plot is a product of character. That’s true, but plot is also a product of the world and circumstances. My characters often get tossed into situations out of their control because I find that makes them more interesting. I would rather know them somewhat, throw them into a situation and get to know them even better as they work their way out of it. Besides, I find handing the whole story over to the characters to be disorienting. I’m the narrator after all and we’ve got places to go and people to see and not a lot of time on our hands.
I believe that in order to become a master storyteller, you have to first master the mechanics – and that’s what I’m trying to do. After you know and understand all the rules, you can break them artfully. Many books talk about this character immersion business like its religion – which is fine – but I think it has even more confusing results for beginners. I mean, at the end of the day, do you really want to read a story that had vivid characters but couldn’t get the fuck moving? I sure don’t and that’ll tell you all you need to know about reading my stuff :)