Just got back from an Easter trip to a place called Pauanui, where all the nobs in Auckland go to spend their holidays by the beach. Strangest place. You might get a vast mansion with a helicopter out the back and a huge boat in the garage and then right next to it will be an empty section with only a rusty caravan parked on it and tents with people sitting in deckchairs. Presents possiblities perhaps? 🙂
Anyway, got some great thinking time in. Have come to the conclusion that I need to change my process. Yep, the way I write has been great for twenty years but if I want to write something for publication, I need to do things differently. Not radically so, I hasten to add. I’m still a pantser at heart and probably always will be. But the thing I need to do is concentrate on my characters before I begin to write. Normally I have a scene in mind and I dive right in, only to come up against the ‘what would he/she/it do now?’. And I stop right there because I don’t know my characters well enough to know what they would do. For months I’ve been thinking that it’s the conflict I haven’t sorted but it’s not, it’s the characters. I know who they are in the present – when the story starts – but I don’t know their pasts, what made them the people that they are. And when you’re writing character driven stories, you kind of need to know those details.
The ways you can get to know your characters are many and varied – character sheets and interviews and writing out scenes from their lives – but I’ve tried them before and they’ve never actually worked for me. Thinking does though. When I’m in the shower or folding the washing or just tidying up, I’ve found that thinking about my characters, their childhoods, their relationships with others, the kind of people they are, really works. For example, I’m rewriting a story I wrote two years ago but the conflict never gelled and neither did the characters. But I spent a lot of Easter thinking about the hero and heroine, trying to figure out what their conflict was and whether it fitted with who they were at the beginning of the book. Normally once I’d got one aspect right, I’d quickly whip onto the pc and start writing. But I couldn’t this time round and it’s a good thing, because I thought I had it all sorted and then realised I hadn’t considered another aspect of their backstory which then didn’t fit with the actual premise of the book. Sigh.
I don’t find this easy. I’m a very impatient sort. I want to get to the good stuff, the real, emotionally wrenching stuff. I love the torture and the black moments. The joy and despair. I don’t want to write the set-up and introduce the characters and their conflict. But of course that part is almost the most important part of it because if you don’t do it properly, how are your readers ever going to be invested in these characters? How are they ever going to care about what happens to them and their story if they’re not fully realised people?
Dr Jax has a great saying that he is fond of when he’s building or preparing something:
“It’s not a Rolls Royce.” This basically means not to sweat the details, it doesn’t have to be perfect.
I’ve always really liked this saying – it suits my impatient personality. But I think that if I want my stories to be good ones, I’m going to have to change my thinking around them because when it comes to writing, the details do matter. And when it comes down to it, I want to write Rolls Royces not Daihatsu Miras.
Anyone else ever changed their process? Did it work for you?