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Process, more detailed

Process, again.

It occurs to me that, in all this talk of process, I've spoken about inspiration and about slogging, but in entirely general ways. All of us -- every writer who is toiling in the trenches -- can identify what either inspiration or slogging feels like in our own particular process universe.

In the interests of specificity, then, I wanted to expand a bit on what either word means for me.

The book (any book; I'm writing House Name now, so much of what I'm saying at the moment is influenced by that) exists as a series of emotional arcs and emotional scenes. Because I write multi-volume stories, there will of necessity be arcs that span more than one volume; there will also be arcs that span chapters, and arcs that span the whole of the individual volume I'm working on now. Pacing is defined by the emotional arcs, large and small, because it's the build and reveal of those arcs, and the way those arcs mesh or clash, that are the book, and some things take a sense of passing time.

I often speak of finding a way in to a scene (or, in the case of multiple attempts at the beginning of a novel, the book itself), and what I mean by that is finding my way into the viewpoint of a character in the scene. I need to be in their state of mind when I write. I need to see through their eyes, and respond as they respond; I need that connection. They don't talk to me, per se; I don't sit down and have conversations with them. It's not one of my thought-exercises, although I do know writers who do this. (Part of the reason I wouldn't is that they have no relation to me in the arc of their own story, and what I would say to them to get them to talk, while interesting, wouldn't actually help me tell their story. This is me, though, and my process, and there is no right or wrong in process.)

Because I always think I know who my characters are, it's surprising when they do or say something that is entirely within the emotional viewpoint, but which I had not previously considered. It is often exhilarating; It is also frequently painful and very inconvenient. In either case, the book at that point is alive, to me; it's organic. I recognize the type of book, but even knowing its phylum, I can be astonished at the way it branches. Or blooms. Yes, I realize this is stretching an already stretched analogy, and will stop now. The process of writing a book is learning more about the characters; it's not unlike getting to know people you like better. Or people you don't like.

Inspiration, for me, therefore means that the viewpoint is open, that the emotion, whether it's quiet and attenuated or loud and up front, is not only easily reached, but almost active; it pulls me in, and drags me along, and I write to keep up. On a really good day, all the viewpoints sing, and I can cross easily from one to another, weaving the tapestry. The book is alive, for me; it's been watered, and it's growing organically from everything that's come before.

Slogging, again for me, is the struggle to attain and understand the viewpoint, to ground myself in its worldview. What won't come easily, I can grasp; I can force myself to work with what I already know of the character, and the book. I can look at the causality of reaction on all fronts. I never feel, while I am doing this, that the book is alive; intellect brute forces the words out, and the shape of the scene is what I know it should be, but it is slow, and hard, and I don't feel it.

I have no way of untangling plot from character, and in at least my case, the distinction would be artificial. Plot comes at the intersection of characters and their individual goals, and the way those goals clash. I need to understand all of them; I need to touch down, if only briefly, in their viewpoints, because those viewpoints are the novel.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 2nd, 2008 06:46 pm (UTC)
Hey, thanks for posting this! It's very interesting and helpful to me right now, personally, as I try to figure out what's wrong with the so-called plot in my plotless novella.
Apr. 2nd, 2008 09:21 pm (UTC)
You're welcome, and I'm glad some of it is useful to someone other than me :)

ETA: 'is', because I forgot it the first time.

Edited at 2008-04-02 09:26 pm (UTC)
Apr. 2nd, 2008 08:37 pm (UTC)
I really thank you for writing about this, even though I don't write (much). Some of my husband's complaints make so much more sense, particularly about the slogging bits. :)
Apr. 2nd, 2008 09:25 pm (UTC)
*waves at husband*

There's one more post, probably for tomorrow, about how to interpret writer angst. Sort of. It is so easy for writers to forget that the process of writer angst isn't visible when they're pulling their figurative hair out in public spaces. Because of this, it's easy for readers to somehow assume that their much-read authors are now writing 'crap' both because the authors have gone admitted it in public and because the readers don't really realize that at some points in every single piece of creative fiction, writers will think it's all crap.

Apr. 2nd, 2008 08:39 pm (UTC)
Part of the reason I wouldn't is that they have no relation to me in the arc of their own story, and what I would say to them to get them to talk, while interesting, wouldn't actually help me tell their story. This is me, though, and my process, and there is no right or wrong in process. Exactly.
Apr. 2nd, 2008 10:48 pm (UTC)
I have no way of untangling plot from character

Yes, exactly. I feel the same way. Change the characters and you change the story.
Apr. 5th, 2008 08:58 pm (UTC)
This is really beautifully written. I really like how you put into words that seemingly indescribable feeling of merging with your story and taking on the emotional viewpoint of a character.

Characters being alive and surprising you...I always think that is the best part. When the story cannot fully contain them and they must act out their own plots/motivations...I am always fascinated with the way characters (my own and other people's) evolve and change the action in a story all on their own.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )