Thursday, September 17, 2009

Thoughts on The Process -- c.anne.gardner

James Joyce was a synthesizer, trying to bring in as much as he could. I am an analyzer, trying to leave out as much as I can. -- Samuel Beckett

I can sympathize with Mr. Beckett here. Since I write novellas exclusively, I don't generally overindulge and find the editing process much easier in some respects than do authors who work exclusively with novel length pieces. Maybe that's because I write spare from the start, and so I find it easier to cut later. I like to leave as much subliminal as I can.

Everyone has their own unique creative process: some writers can sit down and crank out pages in a stream of conscious fashion, and some writers, like me, take a more methodical approach.

When I get the "idea" it usually comes along with a main character and some sort sort of philosophical/existential conundrum -- that being the conflict. I always know from the very beginning what the story "means." After that it's a matter of making the story say what it means so that it resonates with the reader on some deep emotional level. How successful I am with that is determined by my ideal reader. We all have one, and we should know what they want and need.

My process starts with the idea, and then the idea transforms itself into a disordered mess of notes, which eventually becomes an outline of sorts. I generally know the beginning and the end of the story, and I tend to have a pretty good sketch in my head of all the various players. I make a lot of character notes with regard to not so much their physical attributes but their attitude and the way they project themselves internally and externally. I don't delve too much into physicalities, just as I don't delve too much into objective scenery. I am more driven towards descriptive content that projects mood and state of mind than geography. After that the major scenes for the story come to me, or rather, the minor conflicts within those scenes come to me, the ones that move the story forward to its greater purpose. Those scenes will eventually become the chapters, and I will rearrange the order as necessary to achieve the proper flow for the story and character arcs. Then I write the scenes out with all the action and dialogue. After the scenes are all written to a greater extent, I go back and start filling the story out. I incorporate the back stories so the character motivations become clear. I adjust the mood lighting, as in the weather, the furniture, and the street signs making sure that nothing is thrown in for the random sake of description, and then I add the segues from one scene to the next, making sure the transitions are logical and forward moving. If I can't get the segues right, then I go back and look at the order of the scenes again.

Once all that's done, which is in general terms: my rough draft, I let it sit for a bit, and then I have some critique partners look at it and give me feedback. After that, I go into full blown editorial mode. This is where I will add, cut, rework the words, and add the poetry if needed. In this stage I am concentrating on whether or not the story is coherent and does everything mirror the original theme directly or indirectly. This is where I find myself adding clarifying phrases if need be, knocking out any rambling descriptive content that isn't important, making sure my characters are three dimensional moving, speaking, thinking emotional beings with opinions and body language and idiosyncrasies. This is where I check all my participle phrases and make sure they make sense and are in the right place at the right time. This is where I take a look at all my adverbs and see if I can replace some with physical action that would carry more impact. And this is also when I cut out all the idle mundane meandering and make sure I have the proper proportions. The balance between narrative, action, dialogue, and description. If it isn't important to the story or it doesn't add tone and texture -- atmosphere appropriate to the theme -- then I cut it. Since I write spare to begin with, cutting isn't such a drastic ordeal for me.

A lot of times, my initial draft will be written in First Person from the main character's POV. In the third major edit, I take a long hard look at my POV character and determine if the distance is appropriate or not. In many cases, I will keep the POV character the same; I might just change the method to a close third instead of an overly intimate first if my character appears whiny or melodramatic. Backing off a bit often brings with it objectivity. Or maybe the story requires the melodramatic character to reinforce the overall theme and so I don't change a thing. It really depends, and I spend a good deal of time looking at perspective.

Then I'll do a couple more passes to check for timing, redundancies, and dramatic flow. I check my paragraphing and white space and add italics sparingly where necessary. After that, it goes back out to the critique partners. Eventually, I wind up with a consensus. I ask the critics what the story meant to them, and if the majority of them have the same overall understanding of the story, then I know structurally, it's finished. Time for the proofreader. Once back from the proofreader, I'll go over it again aloud to catch any areas where a reader might stumble. I might change a word or move a sentence, whatever it takes. Then I fact check one more time: slang phrases, locales, historical tidbits, landmarks, street names etc.

By this time, I have read the story over dozens and dozens of times. I can quote whole passages, and I can hear the characters' voices in my head like they were standing next to me. So now we go to print, which is when I inevitably I find a typo, angst over it till I am blue in the face, and then move on. Move on meaning: I mark the typo with a red flag to flog -- remind -- myself to be more careful even it it doesn't matter how careful I am, and then I run off to fall in love with a new set of characters.

If any of our regular readers would like to share their process, we would love to hear from you. You can email it to: podpeep at gmail dot com with the subject line: Thoughts on The Process. I will give it a quick proofread and post it to the blog. Please include a short bio and a link to your website or blog if you have one. If you have already been reviewed by us, please include the title of your book.

The Alchemist in Search of the Philosopher's Stone -- Joseph Wright of Derby 1771

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