The article below originally appeared on this blog in February 2010. I have altered it somewhat to refresh it, but I decided to keep the original twelve comments, since they add some additional insight into writing. I hope you enjoy it, and I hope you'll share your writing techniques by leaving a new comment.
I read a post on Cordelia Dinsmore's blog this morning that got me to thinking about how we write. It brought a question to mind, and I figured this would be a good venue to ask it.
The question is simply this: How do you write?
Do you start with a well-developed idea, pencil in a plot line, create character models, outlines, scene-by-scene synopses? Or do you begin with the barest hint of an idea and let the story and the characters develop as you hit the keys? What do you do?
I’ll be the guinea pig on this one. Even if you’re eccentric and quirky, when you read my method, your process won’t seem nearly so weird, I’m sure. At least I don't think it will seem so weird. I guess we'll have to see about that after you make your comment.
When an idea floats into my head from wherever those things originate, I think about it for a couple of days. Sometimes a couple of months. In the case of Lost in the Bayou, it turned out to be over fifty years before I actually got started. But that's an exception, for sure.
During that incubation period, I jot notes while sitting in the McDonald’s drive through, or waking up in the middle of the night. You never know when an idea might sprout in your dark subconscious and push its way into the light of awareness. I figure out what the protagonist wants, and what is preventing her/him from getting it. I come up with a setting that works for the situation my characters are about to find themselves in. I figure out who the rest of the characters are—most of them anyway. And how they're related to my protagonist, or antagonist, and what their individual agendas might be.
After I have a general idea of the plot, I consider which point of view would make the most sense for the writing and provide the reader with the most enjoyment. I sometimes write a few pages in first person and then alter it to third to see how it sounds or what advantage a change in POV might create. I play with the idea for a couple weeks, making notes, figuring things out (somewhat) and then start writing Chapter 1.
Before I write very much, and after I've gotten a better concept of my characters, I switch hats and become a casting director. I figure out the perfect actors for each of the roles I’m creating for the movie that’s going to play out in my head as I write the story. I surf the web for photos of the actors I’m imagining in those roles. I print them out and tape them to the wall beside my computer, with their character names on them, so they can be there ever second of the day as an inspiration. I try to imagine the characters saying the dialogue I’ve written (until I get to the point in the story where they start speaking for themselves and I have to type as fast as possible to keep up with their words. It's surprising sometimes how much they know.)
Sometimes things change—and sometimes it's for the worse. Maybe that brilliant idea for a sub-plot suddenly fizzles when I realize there is no way in the world my protagonist would get into such a ridiculous situation. Or the villain is way too smart to fall into that lame trap. So I have to rethink it. If I’m lucky, an even better solution emerges. If I have written a lot of material when I discover the faux pas, a few, or several, changes may be required. So I head back to Chapter 1, page 1. I typically edit as I write. It is an obsession I am trying to change. It's resisting. As my mentor, Stephen King says (over and over) in 11/22/63, "The past is obdurate."
Eventually, the first draft is completed. I email it to Kinko’s and have a copy printed. Then, I sit on my front porch in the sunshine, drinking my morning coffee from my mug with all the Australian creatures on it (yes, I do know what a bandicoot looks like! Thank you, Trish.) and I start reading while my purple pen scribbles marks all over the pages. Edit mode. I sometimes wonder what I was thinking when I constructed a particular sentence and used specific words that could have been so much stronger and exceedingly more visual. I remove all of the unnecessary dialogue tags. It's amazing how many you can do without. And on it goes, until I have an even better version than the original “masterpiece” I thought I had created.
Now, it’s your turn. I want to know how you write. How do you start? What’s do you do? Give us any unique aspects of your writing efforts. Do you listen to music? Do you have a special coffee mug, or a hat you wear when writing? Our readers' mind’s are hungry to know.