Now that I've got a few manuscripts under my belt, I can begin to analyze the evolution of my own manuscripts and detect patterns about the way I work.
I tend to change the way I do things pretty often, but here, in the most generalized sense, is the evolution of one of my manuscripts.
1. A vague idea in my head (sometimes as little as a color or a picture)
2. A sense of the protagonist (usually only a personality trait)
3. The setting (Usually closely linked to the first step). Here I will begin to imagine the setting in quite a bit of detail
4. Scenes that randomly pop into my head (notice I have no idea of the plot, yet)
5. At this point I usually have an idea of the key elements I want to explore (whether it is a tradition I want to explore, whether it is a theme/genre thing, whether it is a location tied to some kind of story). E.g at this point for one of my manuscripts, I knew I wanted to deal with shamanism. And here is where I begin to research, usually the setting, followed by the key elements, and anything else that comes up.
Note: I research, from this point, almost constantly, right until the end.
6. A goal and an obstacle. Here is where the plot begins to form.
7. I begin to write, usually by hand and in a brand new, pristine notebook. I also sketch, a lot.
8. As I write, ideas form, and I make lots of little "note" sections in my notebook, detailing plot elements, and detailing the flow/order of events. I will generally have a vague idea of where the book will go, and a vague idea of the end (though, not always).
9. I doodle character sketches, setting sketches, write phrases I like, write passages, I construct character bios (name, age, appearance, parents, skills, flaws, role, fears, special attributes, siblings etc, etc, etc).
10. It is at this point that I will begin to transfer the mess in the notebook onto the computer.
11. I will go back and forth between notebook and computer, rearranging, digging, constructing.
12. Halfway through the book (which I will edit, many, many times before I even get to the halfway point), I will begin to do a bit of plotting, using my carpet, bits of colored paper, the wall—whatever is handy, really.
13. I will continue to write, jot, plan, right until the end.
14. All the while editing over and over and over.
15. When the first draft is done, it will already have been edited several times, and much of it will remain the same.
16. Then I take a break, a loooong break, and
17. After a week, two weeks, a month, I put on my mechanic hat, and have another read. I edit as I go. Sometimes I change things, sometimes not.
18. When that is done, I send it to my crit partners, whose opinions I trust. They respond. (We usually exchange a chapter at a time, making the revision process more manageable for all concerned).
19. Slowly, but surely, the manuscript begins to shine.
20. THEN, I send it to my amazing agent. Her feedback is always spot on, and there is usually a round or two or three of revisions, usually not huge revisions, although occasionally they are monumental.
For the longest time I thought I would go into acting. I love to perform. I love the stage. But there was an element in this career path that was missing: pure creation.
Over the years, the more I write, and the more I learn about my own process, the more I have come to realize that my acting plays an important role in my life.
I have spoken before about how my characters are real to me. Once, when I was maybe fifteen/sixteen, I wrote a death scene that sent me into a completely surprising grief-spiral that didn't pass quickly at all. I felt as if a close friend of mine had really, truly died. The experience shocked and alarmed me, so that I was careful with it for the next few years.
But what I'm talking about is a little bit more than that. When you take on a role, you become completely absorbed in the other person. During productions at the theatre where I performed, we would explore the characters in great depth, be asked to create bios for them, to know their deepest fear, biggest secret, secret passion.
Writing is exactly the same. If your main character is facing a difficult choice, you have to step into their shoes and experience it with them, in order to faithfully put that down on the page. If they have lost the will to go on, you have to feel that too. Experience their joys and their heartache.
It's emotionally taxing, and yet it is rewarding.
All of this is just what goes on in your mind, but the mind is where the power of creation lies. Perception is simply signals picked up by your brain, and so what you imagine is also perception. It can become very real.
This, in my opinion, is what makes great writing.
I spoke, recently in a vlog, about how, for the longest time, I kept a diary as one of my characters. I have actually done this twice. The reason for this was partly for me to discover what journey they were going to take, but more importantly, it was about finding their voice, and, to an extent, becoming them.
How far do you step into the shoes of the people you create?
Do you act out the scenes you invent, even if it is only in your head, in order to better understand the emotions, motivations, reactions that occur?
So, first. You need at least 3 players for maximum fun.
There are variations within the game, so I will just detail how my family plays it.
Okay, to start, Professor X deals ALL of the cards to the players, until none are left. The object of the game is to get rid of all your cards. The discard pile is on the table (it starts empty). Play is done clockwise: Professor X goes first. He puts down a card, face down, and simple says, "Two."
Storm has her turn. She places two cards face down and announces:
Beasthas his turn. He places three cards face down and announces:
Mystiquefrowns, glancing down at her own hand of cards. She has two fours . . . which means that Beast couldn't possibly have three! So, with great force, she yells:
Since Mystique can't fly, she is standing on an orange box. This pisses her off.
At this point, Beast gets really angry and throws his cards in the air, screaming, "YOU CALLING ME A LIAR???" to which Mystique yells, "TOO RIGHT, I AM!!!" Beast roars his lungs out, very annoyed that he was caught out in the first round, and even more annoyed that a blue-skinned slip of a girl would dare challenge him. Storm sits back and watches with amusement as Mystique transforms into Beast and proceeds to hop around on one foot, sing-songing, "I am a liar, I am a liar, ha-ha-ha!"
Things get bad when Beast decides it's okay to hit Mystique because she is, technically, a guy right now, and makes to punch her in the nose.
So, Professor X has to freeze time and move Mystique out of the way. Then, unfreezing them, he commands Beast to reveal his cards.
Sheepishly, Beast reveals that he is, in fact, a dirty little liar, and has to pick up all the cards from the discard pile. But it's okay, and Beast smiles, because he was, after all, caught out in the first round, so the discard pile was very small indeed.
Had Beast been an honest little X-Man, then Mystique would have to pick up the cards in the discard pile. But since that didn't happen, Mystique feels justified in her very, very open gloat.
A while ago (I believe it was when the film "The Number 23" came out), my friends and I were interested in numerology and discovering our life path numbers. We went online and played a bunch of numerology-type games, discovered some interesting mathematical tricks, and generally had a laugh.
It was a fun game.
What surprised me was that my life path number came back as being my favorite number ever, the number I had seen throughout my life and been drawn to. The number I had noticed when I was eleven years old and had thought "weird how stuff always happens to me this many times."
I wasn't looking for the number. I certainly had no idea what it meant, as a child. It was just a number that stood out.
And then, some ten or eleven years later, I discovered it was my life path number. Universal beauty!
Numerology has an interesting history, in fact. Pythagorus was very interested in it, and for a while it was considered part of the mathematical field. Now, of course, it is simply esoteric mysticism. There are many different "types" of numerology—Chinese, Indian, and more. There are specific attributes placed on certain numbers. I'm not sure who decided all of this, but it certainly is interesting!
Pretty cool, huh?
To this day I notice things happen to me around this number. Even my husband has conceded that it is weird how often it is the case. There is a certain symmetry and beauty about finding meaning in the things around you.