How I Do It (revising and expanding on my process)
One of the fringe benefits, I guess, of serializing longer works in shorter chunks, is that I’ve iterated a lot the last couple years. In fact, I’m about to produce my eighth title in the last 24 months. It’s really taught me how I write. Not how TO write. But how I do it.
Some people plot everything out, for example. Some people write by the seat of their pants. Most people are, like me, somewhere in between. In fact, I realized recently that I write as if completing a puzzle or restoring a work of art. To start, I assemble a scaffold: the basic conflict, the beginning, the ending, and what I call the turn. All of that happens before serious composition, although I may develop them by writing snippets of dialogue or unattached descriptions. The ending in particular is important. My beginnings can (and often do) change, but without a destination in mind, I’m not sure how any writer reaches a satisfying conclusion, except wholly by chance.
Then I jump around, literally and figuratively. Pacing helps me think, and I can often be seen wearing a path in the carpet while swinging my arms and making fists — silently, since the action is all in my head. I write whatever pops in. Sometimes all I have is notes for a setting, but more often than not that comes last. What comes first is long conversations with little to no attribution (although I know who’s talking) and no sense of what is going on or even where it’s taking place!
After free-floating dialogue, often what comes next is a key piece of action. Not the whole sequence, mind you. Just the critical turn that makes that scene, that whole chapter even, vital to the story. A rule for me is that each scene has to matter. It doesn’t necessarily have to be critical to the plot, but it must add something such that, if it were removed, pace or clarity would suffer — the discovery of an important clue, for example.
A good example of the opposite, and unfortunately a common one, is a scene where two characters wring their hands about all the terrible things going on. I’ve been guilty of this myself. Writers seem to think visible fretting creates suspense when really it’s just very tedious and anyway should be clear from the character’s reactions to the action. The rule for me is: Make each scene count. And not in some abstract “it helps the story” kind of way. I need to answer the question “What is all of this for?” and it’s that answer that often appears before any of the rest of the chapter, save the aforementioned dialogue.
These different always tidbits appear...