Tuesday, May 29, 2007

On My Method

Okay so I've had a look at all the lovely suggestions that people gave me for blog entries (thank you so much for them by the way, and keep 'em coming!), and I guess I'll work my way through them as best I can.

I thought that today I would answer Mahak's question on my method. Just because this question really struck me that I hadn't actually answered it before. It feels like something I should have already shared. But then I thought, maybe the reason I hadn't shared it was because everyone's method is unique to them, and as such is of little help really to others. I mean there is no template or anything. Still, I know I find it interesting to read about the methods of others, so gosh, why shouldn't I share!

First off I would say that I wouldn't exactly classify my writing style as a "method", as something I thought through or anything. It just sort of evolved.

To start at the very fundamentals, I guess the first question is how do I come up with a story. Despite being a huge fan of words and playing with them, I have a very visual sensibility as well. To be honest I think it's 'cause I watch a lot of TV and movies. So, often, I'll see an image and be inspired to write from that. Not just a picture or anything, sometimes it's a situation, actually you know what it's like? It's like those dioramas you had to make in school. I LOVE those diorama thingys. Anyway. Whatever the image is, it usually gives me butterflies and I get all excited and I immediately start a little fantasy in my head.

For example, with my play I am directing for Summerworks, I had an image in my head (based on those drawing room comedies) of seven friends lounging in an open space concept living room of a swanky cottage. From that I then had to answer a lot of questions. Who were these people, how did they relate to each other, why are they there . . . and then suddenly the ball just got rolling.

Usually the images I use are pretty stock. But what made Alex and the Ironic Gentleman unique for me was for the first time I just decided to use every single "image" I liked, however stereotyped or typically "Adrienne" (I am pretty easy to pinpoint. If I were a room, for example, I would be a two story library with a large fire place, dark red walls and worn leather arm chairs, but I digress).

So what this meant was that I decided to write an "everything I like" kind of book and just put them all in the same universe. So you have art deco party trains with tall ships, pirates and behind the scenes on a movie set.

The actual writing process. I tend to write chronologically. Start with chapter one, end with the last chapter. But occasionally when I am stuck, or I can tell my brain just wants to go to the next good bit, I jump and then go back to fill in the blanks.

The reason though I typically work from beginning to end, is I don't really outline. I need to have a general knowledge of what will happen, and the points along the way, but I don't really know from the off who my characters will be and how they will interact (I write about lots and lots of characters, so I mean those ones just pop up. My main characters I always know from the start). Therefore one scene informs the next, and without any doubt when I reach the end of the book, somehow everything will work out in a spectacular fashion, more so than I could have even expected. In Alex, I knew exactly how it was going to end and yet as I was writing the ending, a true moment of inspiration hit me, and something that had happened at the very beginning of the story came full circle there at the end. And I was like, woah, I totally did not expect that to happen. But it does. Happened in both of my plays too . . . I don't know how, it's a mystery.

I don't actually tend to do a lot of drafts, but edit as I go. Not to the point where I never get past page one, sometimes I just write on whatever the quality. Now of course I am not including all the editing and everything I did with my agent and editors. I mean, with them, gosh I can't tell you how many drafts I've been through. But in the initial, finishing the book, I've always had sort of a pretty finished product first time round. Then I go back and tweak that.

When it comes to editing, and editorial suggestions, I consider myself pretty open minded. However when it comes to bigger structural edits, I tend not to do the specific suggestion that is offered. Not that it isn't a good one, and not that I ignore the spirit of the suggestion, but because I usually can figure out a way to achieve the same end, while sort of sticking with the original vision of the scene (though sometimes the scene just has to change, and even I see that).

When my agent asked me to cut 10 000 words, a lot of people started offering suggestions of what scenes to cut etc. But I was determined to cut the words within the scenes, and not any of them in and of themselves. And by gum I did it! From the first draft to the final one, one scene has since been cut (understandably so, a nice scene, but it didn't go anywhere), and another one completely changed (different location etc). Three sections have been re-worked over and over to make them quicker, but their arcs and locations etc have not been altered. And the rest of the book has been tightened, words deleted, changed and so on.

Who knows what kind of adventures I'll have with this other one I am writing now (which was another question: what am I doing now, and I'll answer another time)?

I write quite dramatically. As if I am directing the scene. I place my characters on stage, and move them about, I know where they all are at all times. Sometimes I work inside out, the character's motivations and the conflict they encounter and how that leads to a result. Sometimes outside in, this character needs to be over here so that something else can happen. Um . . . maybe they want to look out the window for some reason . . .?

And it takes effort. A lot of work. Just to get bum in seat and to write several pages, I go through a HUGE emotional roller coaster. Sometimes the parents have to be called. Sometimes the lovely Lesley. There are days when it just flows, and days that each sentence feels like torture, and the weirdest thing, is that on re-reading the work, I honestly can not tell which one of those days I was having at the time. The work, whether inspired or squeezed onto the page, still has quality and merit. So don't ever think that if it isn't inspired, your work won't be any good. It just ain't true.

And yes sometimes I have the TV on in the background. But not a show like Lost or anything. Something mindless that I don't actually listen to. I can't write with music, because music is meant to only be heard, and so is designed to move you through sound. I get very affected by music, and while some authors find it inspirational, I find it distracting. I never really can have one bit of music to inspire a scene as there are usually a lot of different characters who are all in different places and therefore all have their own soundtracks.

But TV was meant to be watched AND heard, so that if I only listen to it, it comes across as white noise. I find it hard to work in utter quiet, so I use it to keep me company. Man I wish I had a dog.

Anyway, that's all I can really think of at the moment. If I have missed some element of writing that you are curious about, please feel free to ask. It's a really interesting question, and one I am not sure I can ever entirely answer.


Erin said...

I really enjoyed reading this post! So excited for 'Alex'.

Therese said...

Art deco party trains and pirates is a killer combo. Just wish I was a little kid again, experiencing your story from a pure perspective. :)

Heidi the Hick said...

Well I found this very encouraging!

I'm on the 3rd edit of Book #4 and it's starting to wear me down, and then I berate myself because I should have done an outline etc etc. I'm kind of relieved when I hear that successful writers don't always do an outline either or follow a set of rules.

The rules are more like guidelines...hang the code!

The hardest thing for me is going back and filling in the gaps that I left, in order to keep writing and not get stalled. At least I've had time to let it sink in and get an idea of what needs to be in those gaps.

Also- glad you got the "full circle ending" inspiration...hope I get it too!

And- I can't write with music on either. I love music too much. I want to listen instead of write! Although I will put on music that a character would listen to in other situations.

Thanks for sharing your "method" with us!!

Anonymous said...

Your method certainly seems to create good work.

I've just read the first few pages of Alex.

It's truly fabulous. I love your 'voice'.

I'm now trying to work out what my favourite doorknob would be...

Don't worry I won't give anything else away! I only wanted to say how impressed I am already. And a tad envious.

Crabby McSlacker said...

Not only did I love your description of your writing process, you even put in a picture of a diorama! (As a kid mine were always really crappy but I always love to see a nice diorama).

And the bit about including every image you liked--what a cool but challenging idea. (Given the bizarre contents of my brain, I don't think any novel I might write this way would be much appreciated by the general public).

Adrienne said...

Thanks guys so much! I'm glad this post wasn't too much (after re-reading it, it's pretty long . . .)

erin - thanks so much!

therese - and thank you too! I agree, a very killer combo. It will be interesting to see the different things that adults vs kids will take away from reading the book. Much looking forward to it.

Heidi - I'm with you, filling in the gaps is hard, which is why you skip the gap in the first place. But like I said, it is totally weird that even if you feel it has been a terrible struggle to write a section, it doesn't necessarily mean it won't read brilliantly! You can do it, my fellow cannuck, you can!

lucky arc reader - or as I will dub thee, Mysterious Masked ARC Reader. I have no words. I mean I know you've only read a bit, but I am seriously flattered. Thank you. Please come back and tell me what you think of the rest, I think you are the first person I don't know who has commented on the book. Wow. Crazy.

crabby - love a good diorama! And come on, I bet a novel filled with your "images" could be truly awesome, out there, and wonderful! And if it is slightly terrifying, well that isn't necessarily a bad thing.