September 7th, 2006

Jin Shei Cover from sgreer

How to write a novel, another iteration

larbalestier said:

* computer
* title
* borrow plot
* type
* spreadsheet
* rewrite
* first readers


jaylake said:

* computer
* title
* borrow plot
* type
* spreadsheet
* rewrite
* first readers


and then matociquala weighed in with method 3:

* something to write on
* characters
* conflict
* worldbuilding
* title
* fallow time
* type
* first readers
* type
* revise
* type
* spreadsheet
* type
* get stuck
* research
* outline
* natter
* self-loathing
* book hate
* type
* revise
* type

And she ends with, "And then I do it again."

Okay. My turn.


*possession
*infection
*fever
*relapse
*immunity

There are other ways of describing these stages, of course, but hey, I'm a writer. I get to call the shots...

But let's recap, for the sake of clarity.

Possession, Otherwise Known As "Who the hell are you and what do you want fro me?"

This is when a character - or characterS, plural, which can be schizophrenic - emerge from air and darkness and the shadow-and-light show constantly swirling in my head, and take me by the throat, and say, "listen, you. I have no mouth and I must scream. I have a story. You have HANDS. We can make a deal." If I'm lucky, I can postpone the possession until a more felicitous time. If not, I start muttering in public, or suddenly snatching dinner napkins in restaurants to scribble down a few random words that look more like a Harry Potter spell than anything that anyone ELSE might recognise as sense. For "Jin Shei" I wrote down ten paragraphs, a paragraph a character, and then those characters got together and MUGGED me. If it wasn't one of them that was howling for attention it was another and it was a couple of months of hard labour, trying to get all these stories down on screen or paper, make sure they made sense in each other's context, figure out when to shut one character up so that I could hear a piece of essential information from another... this is the stage of "you gotta write me", and my name is Alma, and I hear voices. And they are EVERYWHERE. And then, seamlessly, we segue into Stage 2...

Infection, otherwise known as "Food? Sleep? What's that? I don't live in your world any more."

I've learned, through experience, to pace myself - but this is the stage of what my mother once called my "writing virus". The story takes hold. The characters obligingly shut up every so often to let me sit back and scan the scenery, and figure out where we were, where we are, and where I think we're headed. Re. that last, I am wrong more than 80% of the time - the characters have a way of taking over and pulling the whole applecart into places I never planned on going to, and then leaving me to deal with it when we get there. But the story, the STOEY, it's in my blood now. Which leads us to...

Fever, otherwise known as "What day of the week is it again?"

(you think I'm kidding? I HAVE been known to forget entirely what day it is. I've missed appointments. I've lost DAYS from any given week, because I've spent, say, Friday writing like a fury and then I put the garbage out to be collected on Saturday morning instead, a whole day late, but I never noticed that Friday came and went...) I write. I sit there, and I write. I go into my head. I go into my heart. I squabble with my characters. I take away from them the things they most want or need, and make them work to get those things back. I put them through hell. Someday all my characters will get together and lure me into some dark alley somewhere and collectively mug me stupid for all that I've done to them - made them go hungry, broke their hearts multiple times, snatched friends and loved ones away from them, made them lost or had them betrayed, had them wounded, had them die untimely deaths. I"ve also given them moments of unbearable joy, or of epiphany, or of simple contentment - and one does hope that the ledger balances out in the end. However, at this point, mid-novel, mid-story, *I* am the story. I live it, breathe it, dream it, my hands are covered with the dirt and the gold dust of it up past my elbows, my skirts are hitched around my waist and I am ploughing the field of fable for all it's worth, tossing in seeds as I go. It really IS a fever. It's something that becomes part of me and rules me and makes me moody and often frustrated and weepy and snappish and lost in such concentration that I've been known to ignore hearing my name being called, several times. I've been known to simply ignore a ringing phone. Thank god I have someone who feeds me (and the cats) and does the laundry during this period, otherwise the real world would become... interesting rather fast. And on we go to...

Relapse, otherwise known as "Oh my God, what have I done - this is the worst pile of crap anyone's ever produced, who the hell is ever going to buy this?" or, as my husband knows it, "Nobody wants my book!"

Okay, it's done. The story is out. The fever is broken. But now I look at it in the cool clear light of another day, and start Seeing THings. Stuff needs corrected, so to speak. From small coninuity errors to... well... all right, I'll tell you the story. When a friend was reading the MS of "Jin Shei" for the first time (please keep in mind by this stage the beast had been seen and read by me, my husband AND my agent) and suddenly stopped, looked up, and said,

"can I ask you something?"

"Sure," I said.

"Explain," she said, pointing to a passage in the novel. WHere I had written this, verbatim: The deaf servant, summoned by the noise, rushed into the room...

"I'll fix it," I said lamely.

Revise, revise, revise. GO over. Revise again. Assume it's ready to send out. Read it one more time. Find three more things that need fixing before I've gone past page 30. Settle down to read the whole freaking thing again. Revise. Ask other people to read it. ALL of them seem to pick up stuff I missed entirely. Revise.

Finally slap it down because I can't bear to read it One. More. Time.

Put into envelope or box or whatever.

Send out into the world.

And then, as every woman who's ever had a baby will instantly understand...



Immunity, otherwise known as "Oooh, shiny new idea..."

And off we go again, forgetting the pain of childbirth, and the morning sickness, and the fear, and the anxiety, and the anguish, and all the blood and sweat and tears.

Because this is the best life I know how to live. I am a story teller. I am a writer. I tell stories, I write books. That's what I do.

And I start again, at the beginning.
Jin Shei Cover from sgreer

Call of the wild...

I'm off to the land of the gold rush, the last wildernesses on earth, the glaciers, the big mountains, the sea and the sky.

There may or may not be a chance to get online while on this trip. If there is, I may or may not avail myself of it. (The laptop, apropos the previous post, is staying home, I think. I'll just have to muddle through without it.) If I do avail myself of it, it'll probably be to snatch a look at email, and not really spend time browsing LJ. So it's farewell for a bit, until I get back home and to the base computer (but I WILL be doing sort of journals in an old-fashioned notebook by hand, and there WILL be photos, so I will update when I return...)

Good night, all. See you when I get back.