Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Amazing Writing Process

Just recently, I found myself stuck on a short story I was writing; I had the idea figured out but I wasn’t sure how to tell the story itself. So I delved into one of the bibles on writing, ‘On Writing Horror’ and read an interesting chapter on characterization by Tina Jens.

Tina suggested finding the character first and then, with one eye on the plot, come up with a fully realized person, someone you know like your best mate--or better. Spend time on a character sheet (where did they grow up? What's their favourite music? What do they do when stressed or angry? What are their political views? Their general philosophy on life? Their eating and drinking habits, their best friend etc. Go the whole hog with 'em, become their stalker until you know everything there is to know about them. You probably won't use all of this in the story but it will help you understand your character in a completely three dimensional way).

And then, as Tina says, listen to them. As you work out the plot, let them sit next to you and explain how they will overcome the obstacles you put in their way (chances are you won't have a choice here). Basically, you'll find them reacting according to their personality, their motivation are desire etc, without any forcing on your behalf.

I've always created character sheets in the past, but only adding in enough detail to get that character through the story, adding in whatever details I need along the way.

Did Tina's way work for me? Yes. Absolutely. Even as I was filling in character details I could see what was wrong with my story. The direction I was trying to take the story was completely wrong. I had the ending right but the path there made no sense, hence why I was getting stuck. My new flesh and blood character pointed out the problems and explained to me how he would really react in that instance, and what he'd do next. None of it was even close to how I was trying to force him to act.

Thanks to my character, he got us to that end point, and the whole thing fitted together seamlessly. The writing part of it turned out to be pretty easy once I'd spent a little bit longer with my character.

Pity I had to mutilate him at the end. He really didn’t deserve that...

And it’s funny how the brain works. In the story I’m writing, I had an important scene in which my character was listening to particular sounds about him. Natural and man-made sounds. I thought to give this scene some depth, I should take time out and go put myself into such a situation and listen to what I could hear—only then I remembered that about 15 years ago I’d done exactly this; I’d sat outside with a notebook and a pencil and for no reason I knew of then, spent a couple of hours writing down what I could hear and how those sounds made me feel.

I filed this notebook away in my filing cabinet filled with other random bits of paper and messed up notebooks and forgot all about it—until yesterday when I suddenly remembered it, and even knew where to find it. Those notes were exactly what I needed for this story.

It's amazing how stuff like that happens.

Pity I can't remember more important things like my wedding anniversary, or to turn off the sprinkler after ten minutes so the vege garden doesn't drown...