How I write (or don't)
Greetings readers. Back again after a week or so of procrastinating, you ask? Well... no... but there was another General Election that turned into a fascinating 48 hours - and it's still ongoing as I write. And I thought I didn't know what I was doing.
So, to the business of writing and how I do it.
Thinking. This is a major part of the creative process, for me anyway. And I'm doing it all the time, whether I'm out walking Steed at dawn, cooking up a damned fine cherry pie, singing in the shower, shouting while driving... the creative process is always there, in the back of my mind, whispering, suggesting.
Planning. Now, many writers may start with a blank page and hope for inspiration to burst forth. That's perfectly acceptable, but I need a little (a lot actually) more than that. I may start with a story I've read, a character I've heard about, an historical event I've unearthed... an idea for a story can come in many guises. I build on one key element (a murder, a converstaion, a happening, a disaster) and then, like constructing a house, I start from the foundations up.
For my latest book, which is fantasy fiction based on an historical event, I decided to set the story in a land of my own creation and so reverted to being twelve years old again and drew a map of my world. From there I constructed not only what this world looked lile geographically, but its flora and fauna, its climate, its populous, its religions, its commerce and so on. Then I 'invented' my characters - who they were, what their traits were, their looks etc.
Often writers are asked who they'd cast in a film/TV show of their own work and they shy away from answering. Which is understandable because one a character is cast - Daniel Radcliiffe as Harry Potter, Renée Zelwegger as Bridget Jones, Tom Cruise as the Vampire Lestat, you (the reader) will forever see their face etched onto the character on the page. And every reader has in their own mind's eye what a character looks like before they are cast no matter how described.
Well, I find it so helpful to visualise my characters (in picture form) and, of late, rather than turn to the imdb or my film collection, I've perused pinterest for inspiration. I need a feisty preteen who is training to be a warrior - I type that in and see what comes up. And it's often hundreds of interpretations from fantasy art, classical art, cartoons to paintings, fashion shots, you name it. And, remember, this is for me alone, not for illustrative purposes, but man is it helpful and inspiring. Hell, I come from a visual background (film school etc) so it's not surprising to me that this works. Yes, it may well not be idle for others, but I find it invaluable.
As you can see from the photos here, I use mood boards to aid my creative process - massively important and great for keeping track of where I am or am going.
I separate my story into sections and write the crucial elements of each scene/chapter on index cards. Then I can juggle them about, cut ones, add others etc until I have my story pretty much mapped out.
Of course, these are all just guides - most stories (mine are) are organic - they will take you off in directions that you hadn't even thought of previously.
And as for characters... Well, they usually come to life all on their own and start demanding attention. In my second Kingdom Lock novel, For Kingdom and Country, for example, I had planned to kill off a particularly nasty character only for him to bully himself into a frontline (no pun intended) position. But that's cool - he was really entertaining to write. Besides I can always kill him off at a later date (if there ever is a later date, that is).
In conclusion, I've gone through the above processes, and I'm really happy with what I've planned. It's passed the 'wife litmus test' - that's when a creative shares their latest project, be it film, screenplay, book, landscape drawings whatever, with their nearest and dearest - in my case my wife - and talk through the story telling them what happens from beginning to end and then wait for the constructive criticism, praise or condemnation. But you need someone who is going to be totally honest with you - better to iron out major confusions, mistakes, plagiarisms before you start writing. It's no good asking, say, your mother, who still has that pine cone you spray painted silver at nursery up on her mantle just below the Monet poster. One hundred percent honesty is what you need.
Ok, now I'm concluding. I'm ready, my characters are ready - they're all just waiting to get on with it now, like airline passengers in a departure lounge, all strangers at this moment, all milling about in silence, not interacting, rather like those computer game avatars on pause.
So, the stage is set. Time to begin.