The Why and The Way Writers Write
July 12, 2012
The mind of a writer is a fascinating mechanism. They all work differently. Yet, they all spit out word, spin yarns, tell unforgettable stories. And each o the writers, each of the minds, work differently. Jack Durish and Christina Carson explain their own distinct methods for writing their books.
Jack Durish, author of Rebels on the Mountain: I never begin writing until I’ve completed my research and that’s a process that began more than six decades in the past. I have been collecting people, places, and events to be used in my novels all of my life. I have also been collecting skills and knowledge that my characters might employ. Soldier, sailor, artist, computer programmer and computer network architect, as well as countless other skills have been accumulating on my resume.
When I finally chose to write about Cuba and Castro, my research focused on that place and that personality in that time. However, I quickly learned that all extant writings about them were myopic, seen through the lenses of prejudice and propaganda, and I cast my net back into antiquity to learn how the people and their society evolved so that I could critically separate the wheat from the chaff of knowledge.
Fortunately, my training as a navigator, both on land and at sea, taught me to read maps and extrude the topography of a place from two dimensional representations. Google Earth allowed me to wander through neighborhoods and peek into the real lives of people living in the towns and cities. Satellite photos showed me the countryside and coastal areas.
I kept at it until I could not only see the milieu of the island, but also smell its flowers, hear its sounds, and taste its foods. These experiences came from watching Cuban-made movies, listening to music, and learning their dances. The Internet also allowed me to study the flora and fauna of the island. I kept at it until Cuba came alive in my head. It was then that I cast my characters into the conflict and sat back to watch how they reacted, feel what they felt, and hear what they said.
My characters are all cast from real people. I have been blessed with a host of them. Truly interesting people have touched my life and I have given them homes in my heart, mind, and soul. Even the ones I hated, the ones who did me harm, are there. My ex-wife is there, waiting to be cast as Lilith, the mother of all witches.
Interestingly, I chose a story of Korea for my next novel. The protagonist from my first novel of Cuba made that choice for me. As I wrote Rebels on the Mountain, I learned that he was a Korean War veteran and he wanted to tell me that story. Now that I have almost completed my focused research I understand why.
There is a theme that echoes the one I learned in Cuba, that United States foreign policy has long been driven by racism, and Nick wanted you and me to know this. He also wanted me to discover the festering sore of the massacre at No Gun Ri, and to balance that tale against others of American honor and sacrifice that helped save Koreans from death and depredations at the hands of the Communists. Unfortunately, I also learned that much of that could have been avoided had America not encouraged the Communists to launch the war through diplomatic missteps.
Well, the characters are almost all cast and I’m almost ready to throw them into the war. Honestly, I’m almost afraid of what I’m about to see.
Christina Carson, author of Dying to Know and Suffer The Little Children: I write novels primarily because I enjoy exploring topics or issues I want to understand more fully, and a novel is a fascinating way to do that.
Step One: I start with a question, something I can capture in a sentence or two, which delineates what it is I want to know.
Example for Suffer the Little Children: What is it that parents do which results in a child seeing no alternative but to run away?
Example for: Dying to Know: Is there not another view of sickness and disease that could put the power to heal into our own hands?
Step Two: I pick a location I know well or at least have some familiarity with where this story is going to take place, one where I’d like to spend some time.
Step Three: I determine what the protagonist is going to be like, and add one or two of the other initial characters in the same manner. It’s sketchy at first and fills in as the character reveals more and more of him or her.
Step Four: I decide which character is going to be the “truth teller,” meaning, if I need to introduce information or ideas that are not mainstream, this character will be a credible source.
Step Five: I write the first chapter and then sit back and ask myself, “With what happened in chapter one, what would be the next logical sequence of actions these characters would take?” That then becomes chapter two. I keep going chapter to chapter in that manner, recording the natural actions, conversations choices and consequences this set of people would experience in the circumstances in which they find themselves. If you understand people, you will intuit what they’ll do next, and chapter by chapter I move toward the resolution or answer I’m seeking.
If research is required, I do it as needed. As well, I keep extensive notes on anything I might need to revisit or that helps keep an accurate time line. I summarize each chapter after it is written primarily for reference purposes, in case I need to track something down.