Monday, April 28, 2014

The Writing Process Blog Tour

I’m so excited to be taking part in the Writing Process blog tour.  I think all writers have a feeling they are somehow doing things “wrong”, that it must be easier for everyone else, that I must be the only one who stews over a plot point until it comes out my pores.  But reading previous posts (including this one by Gretchen McNeil and Stasia Ward Kehoe’s last week) makes me realize we’re all in the same situation.  We have strengths and weaknesses, victory and despair, elements that just flow and others that have to be pulled kicking and screaming into the limelight.  And I read their books (like THE SOUND OF LETTING GO by Stasia Ward Kehoe) with renewed insight and something akin to awe.

What am I working on?

I am currently working on something completely different—a contemporary novel set in a situation far removed from the English Tudor court or a country manor house.  Though my characters are still bound by social constraints, they have an illusion of freedom that gives the novel a completely different kind of energy.  I’m also brainstorming ideas for future novels ranging in time period from the 17th Century to present day…

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I write historical novels, but do my best to give them a contemporary feel.  It’s my belief that people who lived five hundred years ago aren’t so very different from people today—they had hopes and dreams, fell in love and rebelled against injustice (and social restrictions) just as we do today.  As a result, my writing voice is very contemporary, as well (for instance, I use contractions!), which I hope makes my characters relatable to modern teens, without affecting the believability of their situation.

Why do I write what I do?

I write realistic historical fiction (mostly based on actual people and actual events) because if it wasn’t real, it would seem like fantasy.  Henry VIII is so much like a Bluebeard character, and the conniving and manipulations in his court are so Mean Girls.  I love it.  And I love inventing the fictional character who can fit into those shoes.

But mostly I write what I do because I love the characters.  I can see them in my mind’s eye, hear their voices in my head, follow their actions.  I love building a character from the ground up and living in that fantasy world for as long as it takes to write and revise the novel.

How does my writing process work?

Very messily!  I am definitely more of a pantser than a plotter.  I generally start with just a seed—for BRAZEN, it was: I want to write a book about Mary Howard, who was Henry VIII’s daughter-in-law.  I look at the whys—because she became an independent woman in a world where women were treated as chattel.  I look at the history and put together a thin, basic framework of the historical events.  And then I write.  I put characters into situations.  I create scenes for them to interact.  I build what I imagine to be the pivotal moments in the narrating character’s life.  I eventually get up to about seventy or eighty thousand words.

Then I cut the first fifty pages, rip the rest of the “zero draft” apart into basic components, kill dozens of darlings and start over.  Kind of like tearing apart a LEGO creation and building something new from all those blocks.

Like I said, messy.  And definitely not something I’d suggest you try at home unless you’re a glutton for punishment.  But I love writing, so having to cut 40k out of an 80k manuscript doesn’t make me despair for long.  Because it means I can keep creating.

By the end of the second draft (which is really the first, because the first eight thousand words I write are really not a draft at all), I have a much better handle on the story and structure, and that’s when everything really takes off.  Because my favorite part of the process is the fine-tuning in later drafts—words, sentences, microtension.  So many little inspirations and surprises.

If it sounds like a bit of a hassle, I suppose it is.  But I think that knowing my process has definitely helped me move forward with every book.  For instance, I tried my damnedest to start BRAZEN in the right place, so I wouldn’t have to cut the first fifty pages.  But I got stuck.  Stalled.  For weeks.  And I had to go back and write fifty pages of what happened before the beginning, just so I could cut it and move on.

Yeah.  Definitely a hassle.

I’ve enjoyed reading other writing process posts along the tour, and I hope you do, too.

Want more craft?   Jennifer McGowan, author of MAID OF SECRETS and the upcoming MAID OF DECEPTION, will be telling us all about her writing process on May 5!

Are you a plotter?  A pantser?  An in-betweener?  What part of the process gives you the most joy?  I’d love to hear your process, too!