Let’s Talk about Write, Baby
I’m winging it here. I’m coming off vacation, not feeling very writerly, while there’s a thousand and one things on my to-do list, including three other topics that might be more interesting. My phone is ringing off the hook, despite having a rare childless day before school starts. So, today I’ll tell you how I write. Remember, this is how it works for me, so I don’t expect it to be the gospel on writing, but I do hope that you’ll take away something from it.
I’m a pantser.
A pantser? Yes, indeed. I write everything from in my head straight to the keyboard. I’ve tried outlining, though it rarely really does anything for me. My stories talk to me as I go, and like most everything else in my life, anything planned rarely happens the way it should.
For example: I started the Elven Games a couple of years ago from a Master Class prompt. It received such praise that I continued working on it without any kind of outline. It all went well, with minor blocks here and there when another character from another story (okay, I admit it. I have too many stories and characters I need crazy pills to sort through it all!)…yeah. The downside of pantsing is the easily-distracted-blame-it-on-writers-ADHD-look-squirrel syndrome.
Ahem. That’s not what I meant to say…
Once I finished writing the second (of three) games, a new character shows up, stealing away one of the MCs. A MAJOR MC to the story, in fact. Off I go, following his new direction, which incidentally has nothing to do with the original plot, which was to get rid of the nasty elves next door stealing all the customers. The awakening of the dragon queen and the new journey Edgar goes on is irrelevant at this point, though in the end, it will all tie together.
I kept writing it anyway, adding an extra 10,000 words to the story that did not belong. Ouch.
While pantsing is effective for getting words on the page, it’s not always effective for completing the story without misdirection. Even so, I still can’t do anything with an outline (or maybe I’m just lazy?)[bctt tweet=”Pantsing is effective for getting words on the page. #amwriting #writing #advice @theauthorSAM #ourwriteside” username=”OurWriteSide”]
I edit as I go.
I know you’re not supposed to, but—
I don’t do full edits. I always go back and read the previous paragraph or two to get back into the feel of the story. I’ll catch little things like missing words, typos, and sometimes, while I’m writing, those evil red lines. I just can’t leave them unless it’s because the character’s name is unusual or made up, then I can sometimes overlook it.
I also hate editing my own work, even with a great tool like ProWritingAid, because it also makes me catch the side roads and back alleys that somehow worked their unnecessary way into the story. Since I tend to write in Google Docs, sometimes I’ll highlight the section and drop a note to myself and leave it alone. After all, as a pantser, I never know when something may end up being important to a story.
I wouldn’t call myself a grammar police by any means, but I do cringe with certain errors. As I get older and the more I write, the easier I find it becomes to use the wrong “there, their, they’re” or “your, you’re” and other simple things like that. I must correct them before I can move on.
I see movies in my head.
When I’m writing, everything is very visual in my head. Every flower, every tree, every roof, sidewalk, bedroom, etc. This enables me to put readers in the moment. Sometimes I have to work at it. This is when I close my eyes and open my senses. I smell, taste, listen, and study the scene in my head. I still overdo it sometimes, but it’s something I’m working on, and I’ve learned how to see it in others writing.
Just how much description do I want to put in a scene? I’ll let Stephen King answer that.
“Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.”
― Stephen King,
To me, this means that I want to leave just enough to set the scene and take the reader there, while leaving something to their imagination. If you’ve read Tolkien’s Lord of the Ring series, you’ll remember that he never goes into Legolas’ description. Readers assume what he looks like based on his parentage, and each reader decided on their own what he looked like (for me he will always be Orlando Bloom!)
Let’s go back to Lucy. From what I’ve written above, you know she’s in a cavern. Most people have an idea what a cavern looks like, but every cavern has a unique shape and structure. What would make Lucy’s cavern unique and set the reader right there with her? I could…
- have Lucy brush her hand against the wall and recoil from the slimy wetness left on her palm.
- have Lucy pushed against stalagmites or fight in a room filled with them making the fighting more difficult.
- add a reflective lake
Any of these would enhance the setting and leave room for imagination. This is what I strive for each time I write.
I set myself up.[bctt tweet=”Leave yourself a few lines into the next scene. #writing #advice #amwriting @theauthorSAM” username=”OurWriteSide”]
This is not a bad thing, but rather a good thing. Whether you are a pantser or not, leaving yourself a few lines into the next scene is useful for 3 reasons:
- It eliminates writers block
- It helps you remember where you were going next
- It offers an opportunity to take a break
All of these are valid reasons for leaving yourself a trail, usually when you start feeling the burn of writing after a long session. Let’s say you just wrote the exciting scene that brings the whole beginning of the story together, a pivotal moment. What is your character planning to do next?
The voices scattered around Lucy hurled through her mind. The realization of what had just happened to her dawned on her. Tears stained her cheeks. “Oh God. Now I know why all this has happened to me.” The voices echoed her words, mocking her misery.
End of scene. You could walk away, but I don’t.
Lucy shut her eyes tight and concentrated. The cavern filtered to memory. Light teased her mind. Ah ha! She found it. She brushed the sand from her legs and wobbled upright.
There I’ve set myself up for the rest of the scene. She’s heading for the exit despite whatever dangers lurk ahead of her. I know where I’m going with this and can go about the rest of my day without worry.
How do you write? Is your process similar to mine? Let’s talk about it!