I’ve been pondering this post for a while now because I wanted it to be great. Why? Because C.B. Wentworth invited me to join in a Love/Hate Challenge, and I wanted to be sure to choose just the right topic. The rules for the challenge are easy:
- Make a list of 10 things you love
- Make a list of 10 things you hate
- Nominate 10 bloggers to do the same
Since she used the theme of favorite books, I wanted to choose a theme too. It took a while, but I settled on one that I can write freely on and that doesn’t require much research. However, I’ve been inspired, so don’t be surprised to see some more lists in the near future.
This list is a little different in that there’s a love and hate side to each of the points, but with this topic — the experience of being a writer — it’s only natural.
Love/Hate Challenge: Writing
1. Creating Settings Where Stories Take Place
There’s something exhilarating about embarking on a new adventure. Regardless of where a story takes place — in our world; a galaxy far, far away; or a medieval land — every story’s setting is unique. There are rules, norms, cultures, histories, and a plethora of other factors that contribute to making each place full and well-developed. When I first start developing the setting for a new story (whether it’s in the land of Carrick or a completely different location), it’s a thrilling opportunity to throw several different real cultures in a metaphorical blender and see what comes out.
However, it also comes with some daunting challenges. Every time I think I have a world completely ironed out, I think of something else I haven’t developed yet: the religion, the food, whether or not they have some outward sign that shows their marital status. It’s a seemingly never ending process… even after about 17 years of working on the same world.
2. Inspiration Is Everywhere
There is always so much to watch, imagine, and observe. When I keep my eyes open, it’s hard not to find an overwhelming supply of inspiration everywhere. Even sitting alone at home, I imagine what’s going through the cat’s head and the garbage man’s life story.
Sometimes, though, it can be overwhelming. No matter how hard I try to focus on one story, something else catches my imagination and starts dragging it in a different direction. Next thing I know, I’m writing some long paragraph about the two brothers sitting across the aisle on the plane instead of focusing on the story I’ve been working on.
3. The First Sentence
Usually a story has brewed in my mind for months before I finally open up a new document on my computer and write its first sentence. The problem I have is that I have to write stories sequentially the first time through. Until that first sentence is right, I can’t move on. Sometimes, this means writing, deleting, and rewriting the same sentence for an hour or more straight before getting it right. Other times, though, sometime the right sentence comes to mind during the brewing stage, so there’s no belaboring over the first sentence. I write what I’ve already decided in my notes and the rest of the story begins springing to life almost effortlessly.
4. Being a Pantser
Several years ago, I read an article on NaNoWriMo’s website describing the two main writing styles: planning and pantsing. Planners do exactly what it sounds like they do: they plan the story out before beginning the first draft. Pantsers, on the other hand, just fly by the seat of their pants (hence the name) and wait to see where the story will take them.
I tend to fall solidly in the pantser group. I do some planning so I know where the story is headed, but before I start the first draft, I can’t even begin to describe the different plot points. Sometimes I don’t even know what the climax will be. Or the resolution. I just know the set of characters, have a few ideas of what should happen, and then start writing to see where it all ends up.
I love it because the story feels like it grows organically. I haven’t come in with preconceived notions, so I let the characters plot out the course and make their own decisions. And sometimes they come up with ideas that I never thought of.
I hate it because the first draft is usually a mess.
However, that mess always lays a great foundation for the next draft, showing me what worked, what didn’t, and where I want to go as I open up a new blank document and prepare to start again.
Looking back, I see that I wrote some confessions of a pantser last year, here. Still all true.
This ties in with the last point. Characters are what make the stories grow organically. I have some thoughts on where I want them to go, especially in early drafts, but they tend to make their own decisions and influence the plot as they develop.
Sometimes the decisions they make are great, adding complexity I never thought of before or coming up with clever solutions to problems that weren’t apparent before.
Other times, they are stubborn, strong-willed pests. The most notable example of this is with my first novel in The Carrick Letters (the novel I’ve been working on for about 17 years). About five years ago, I was just working on a draft and minding my own business. Then, all of a sudden, the protagonist (Prince Kelvin) found a way to weasel out of the plot we’d solidified years ago and put himself into a terrible situation. Not only could I think of no way to rescue him, but there was no way to go back and change the story so he couldn’t get stuck. We were at a terrible impasse. Thanks a lot, Kelvin.
At the time, I was mad at him. The prince had been a jerk, and part of me was ready to turn the story into a tragedy and let him rot in a prison cell. But then the narrator princess reminded me why I should care, and we set upon a daring plan to save him and the rest of the story. Fortunately, it worked and actually ended up making for a more exciting climax. Thanks a lot, Kelvin.
Since this is so long already, it’s definitely time to split this list. I’ll plan to conclude next week.
In the meantime, what are some of the things you love/hate about writing?