Writers Do It Different.

It is a strange and ever-changing world in which writers live. In fact, some of the world is their own creation, a theater of the mind where they go to ferret out odd and imaginary tales that form the soul of the their novels.

None of the writers are the same.

Take ten of them, any ten you find residing on Twitter, give them all the same cast of characters and the same basic plot.

Then turn them loose.

You will have ten entirely different books. The heroes may be different. The themes will no doubt be different. The hooks will always be different. The plot twists will surely be different. The good guy in one novel may well be the bad guy in another. Different characters die. Different villains.  Different lovers. Different endings.

So what makes one writer different from another?

A lot has to do with the thought process and the writing process during the creation of a novel. I asked a couple of authors how they did it, and here is what they told me.

R. S. Guthrie, author of Black Beast and Lost:  “Well, for me, being so early in my writing career, the novels I have written so far have already been inside of me to an extent. The character of Detective Bobby Mac has been rattling around my brain for the better part of ten years. I’ve told others he’s lived in Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, and I suppose finally settled in Denver as that is where I finally got the gumption to write the first in the series.

“The book I am about to finish I consider my magnum opus, which is to say it’s been living and breathing inside me since I was twelve and moved to Wyoming. Some very incredible things happened during the years I lived there, and I got to know the people (their ways, their idiosyncrasies, their manners of speech). I just knew I had to write about the people and the place.

“So I’m sticking with that: first, the novel must grow inside me. For how long I cannot say, but it begins building itself (so to speak) inside my head before a word ever hits the page.

“As far as the writing process, I never know what’s coming next. I mean, I am well aware of point A and more or less know point Z, but in between? I figure if I, the author, don’t know exactly what’s ’round the next bend or how my protagonist is going to get from H to L then it should really end up being a surprise to the reader!

“Hardest part for me is where I am now, with less than ten percent to go in the novel. I’ve painted myself into a few corners and must rescue the story, so I have to whittle my way back out with words, leaving the gist there. It always happens, but it’s by far the toughest part.”

John Crawley, author of Stuff and Beyond a Shadow of Doubt: “I approach a novel as a story I am going to tell a friend. In fact, many times I try the basic story out on people sitting around a table sharing a cup of coffee. If they react like, ‘wow, I’d buy that book.’ I then think, maybe I’ve got something. (truth be told, sometimes I even lie and approach the conversation like “I read this book the other day the plot was…” Again if they act like that would be a book they would get all fussy about, I might be on to something.

“Then I do a mental outline. Nothing formal yet. Story starts here, goes to here and ends up here. I then walk away from the keyboard, lock myself in a quiet room and tell myself the story.  Actually tell myself the novel. Not out loud. I’m not crazy…yet. If it is still working for me, I start making notes and researching. As I do, the plot grows, the characters come to life and the meat is hung on the bone, as they say. (Who are THEY anyway?)

“Soon I have a tight outline. You know the kind with I, II, III and A.B.C .and a.b.c. and i,ii,iii and all that – that’s not what I do. I try and write my outline in chapters. First this, then that, then this again and then some more of this, now meet this character. See his or her character flaw here. Plot twist one goes here. Plot twist number two goes here. Villain shows up here. That’s how I do it. It usually takes one or two handwritten pages in a notebook I keep. I hate telling stories in straight lines. Life rarely unfolds itself that way. Plus, I can make any story more interesting if I have room to dart and weave. My latest novel covers a time span of less than an hour and a half. But it fills in an entire lifetime of the main character. Darting and weaving.

“Once the chapter outline is down, I decide on a story telling structure. This is very mechanical. Voice. Physically the way the story will layout onto the page. (I have a new novel that has chapter openings with famous quotes that paint a picture – a philosophical picture for that chapter… that is the kind of thing “I am talking about at this step.) One book, I decided could not be told from one point of view. It had to have at least three different voices, so I broke the novel up into four books. Each book had a separate personality telling the same story.

“Once the mechanical approach has been settled on, I start to write. I have been known to write the last chapter first.  Sometimes I will spend weeks – maybe as long as a month, writing the first chapter. I approach it as if it were a short story. I have to hook you good and solid in the first chapter. In the first few lines even.  A case in point – I have never made it out of the first chapter of Middlesex…just can’t do it. Sorry. Doesn’t click for me. I know it is this award winning novel, but I ma lost in direction in the book. My mind wanders off. It is not for me.

“In my own work, I try to hook the reader right up front that there is something different going on here. Stay with me. Keep reading. I will peel back the onion soon.

“That’s the way I approach a novel. It, in itself, isn’t a novel approach (pun intended) but it is what works for me. “

Next Week, we’ll hear the writing process that’s made a difference for Christina Carson, author of Dying to Know, and Jack Durish, author of Rebels on the Mountain.

 

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  • Thanks for having me, Caleb. I love your insight and it’s an honor for you to request mine. Write on, my good friend. 🙂

  • Caleb Pirtle

    R.S.: I like to provide guidelines and ideas from real writers who are serious about their craft. The criteria certainly fits you.

  • Pamela Hegarty

    Very interesting and insightful post. I enjoy learning how other writers craft their stories.

  • Caleb Pirtle

    Pamela: The way other writers write is as fascinating as the books they turn out.

  • Christina Carson

    This is going to end up a great series, Caleb. Excellent idea. It’s fun peeking!

  • Caleb Pirtle

    Christina: Everyone’s mind works so differently. And it helps me answer the question about writers: “How do they do it?”

  • John Crawley

    Great series, Caleb…and not because I am in it. It is so fun to see how others approach the craft and solve the problems.

  • Caleb Pirtle

    John: I learn from every writer I know. And I have become a big fan of your work.

  • I admire everything of yours I have read, Caleb, and it is no wonder I also admire the authors you showcase. It is indeed wonderful to see inside the process of their creation. Thanks!

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