Writing Advice, or maybe just Shared Confusion

So many of you ask me how to be a published writer, and I’m sort of stumped, because every writer I know well does it differently. We are very individualistic creatures, we writers. There is no magic formula, or at least not just one. It’s more like there’s a different one for different writers.

Some writers outline. Some writers make outlines almost as long as the finished book. I can’t do that, because if I outline too much then that pressure to write the story goes away. I’ve learned that I can outline the major points of a book, but if I flesh out too much it actually hinders me from finishing the book. I never, ever use the outline they teach you in writing classes. It’s artificial and stifling to me and my muse. I’ve only known one writer that ever found it useful. I write, in part, so I can read it. So I can find out either what happens next, or how we get from point A to point G. Some of my strongest scenes, the ones that you’ve loved the most, are total surprises to me until just pages, or even sentences before the scene happens. I’m right there with the reader going, "Holy shit!"

Good example of that is OBSIDIAN BUTTERFLY, where Anita is introduced to Ted Forrester’s fiance, Donna. Ted is a legal bounty hunter, and now a fellow U. S. Marshal, but he’s also Edward an assassin so dangerous he gave up killing normal humans because it was too easy. He specializes in killing monsters: vampires, wereanimals, or other human killers. He’s a predator’s predator, so when he introduces Anita to a fiance to what she considers a fictional person, Ted, she’s totally surprised, and shocked. This was one of those moments when I was with Anita as I wrote it, going, "No way!"  I knew about Donna about two sentences before Anita did.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, Edward is one of my characters that keeps his secrets close to his chest. He rarely talks directly to me. I know he’s off doing other things when he’s not on stage in a book. He comes back to the pages trailing the scent of other adventures, more secrets, like some heady perfume. Strangely, one of the other characters that doesn’t wait for me to write him is Jason. Yeah, I know Jason the boy next door all teasing and sex appeal, who just happens to be a werewolf and a stripper. The two men are very different characters but both very independant. Though both are strangely easy to write once on paper. No idea why.

Jean-Claude, my contribution to the sexy vampire problem, does talk to me directly sometimes, but he also keeps his secrets. He’s both very open and very not. Perfectly him.

Anita is my open book, and the only reason anything surprises me about her is if it surprises her, too. Which happens more often than I’d planned over the years. She’s now a U. S. Marshal with the preternatural branch of that service. She’s still killing vampires and rogue shapeshifters, but she’s also dating the same monsters she’s charged with executing. She’s very much the girl next door who ended up in a very interesting job.

Merry’s men don’t talk to me directly. They don’t do things when I’m not looking. They wait for me to come to them and get it on paper. Merry, faerie princess and private eye, is both open book to me and deeply secret. I guess that goes along with the whole faeries being the hidden people, but it’s still a big difference between the two series and their characters.

On paper Merry writes better and faster with each book, sort of, she’s never as fast a write as Anita, unfortunately. This new Merry book, DIVINE MISDEMEANORS, is writing differently than any other Merry book. I’ll do a page or two, then have to think about it, because I have to make a choice of actions and it changes the rest of the book. I know the overall plot of the book, but the getting there on this one is like picking my way through a minefield. A wrong step and I have to back track to the right path, keep forcing my way down the wrong path and I end up having to cut 55 pages like I did only weeks ago for this book. Ouch, on my deadline, by the way.

All this to say, that every book writes a little differently for me. Every main character writes differently for me. Some of the major/minor characters write differently for me. Major characters are like friends no two the same. How do I tell other people how to write a book when after over twenty of them I’m still learning?

Posted by at 5:07:44 pm on July 29, 2009

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