Thursday, June 18, 2009

Talky Talky ... My Bag of Tricks

I don't know about anyone else, but I've got more writing tricks than ... Carters has pills? (What does that mean anyway? When I was growing up, I thought it meant President Carter was a drug addict. He's not, right?)

By tricks, I mean little writing games and process stuff and ways I actually approach a book. For a while, I was just obscenely into note cards. I used to write plot points on note cards like a deck, then lay them all out on the floor and shuffle stuff around until it clicked. Then came the Monster Outline phase, in which I once wrote a 60-page, single-space outline of a book I never actually got around to writing. And lately, I've discovered a new thing ... I call it talky talky.

Every night this week, after the "writing day" is done and I'm sitting in front of the TV or wherever, I've had a notebook propped open and I'm writing pure dialogue scenes. The game is this: all dialogue, with only the most minor of stage directions. It's actually really fun, and it's the best way I've found yet to get into my characters' heads. I used to write "character sketches," but that never really worked for me. But if I just let them express themselves, and their own histories and ambitions, in the words they would actually use--well, I find that big chunks of that notebook make their way into the book.

Let's see. I also read my book out loud. I edit chapters randomly, just opening the file, clicking somewhere in the middle and starting to edit. And every so often, I'll do the dreaded "book in a day" edit, in which I'll read and edit the whole book in one long day. I do the Post-It thing, the margin thing, the argue-with-my-beta-readers thing.

Jeez. It's actually starting to sound a little crazy.

But I don't really care how the process looks from the outside. My thing is pretty simple: it's all about words on a page at the end of the day. If the final draft ends up right on paper, I don't care if you had to write the first draft in mayonnaise on your naked body by the light of the half-moon to get it that way. And in fact, if that actually works for anybody, let me know. I'm pretty much willing to give anything a shot.

12 comments:

Melanie Avila said...

Sheesh, I don't do any of these things. I consider myself an outliner, but my version of an outline is a couple sentences, maybe a paragraph, describing what happens in each chapter. Just a loose guide.

I did do a short character sketch when I decided to add a subplot (and thus develop a non-character) -- I based it off one of those memes going around facebook at the time (what do you see out your window... etc).

I'm glad this is working for you!

LurkerMonkey said...

I don't know if it's working yet :)

This might not make sense, but I think I'm always looking for ways to focus myself. I'm a tiny bit ADD ...

Mark Terry said...

I do or have done almost all of those things at one time or another. I'm not much of an outliner. The one time I did an outline the novel ended up 100 pages long. But ... although I'm an improviser in writing, I'm not, not really. I almost always have major plot points/twists in my head and some sort of skeletal structure for the story. (For instance, I'm planning on writing a novella about Derek Stillwater, and I know it'll be structured with him first being adrift on a raft of some sort in the Florida Straits, and it'll deal with flashbacks about how he got there. And I know that he'll have to deal with weather, sharks, jelly fish, thirst, and possibly the Cuban Navy. And I know that he's going to probably be hallucinating as well as having flashbacks to important parts of his life. And somehow he's going to be either lucky enough or savvy/clever enough to get his ass home. Once I've got all those components in my head, more or less, the story starts to have its own structure. I have to find it, sure, but I know it's out there.

And I routinely have written conversations with major characters. It sounds schizy, but it works really, really well.

LurkerMonkey said...

"It sounds schizy, but it works really, really well."

That's what I thought, too. That it felt gimmicky as an idea. I mean, I've heard people talk about it for a long time, but never tried it. I was surprised when I did how much I enjoyed it.

That novella sounds pretty cool. I'm a total, total sucker for lost-at-sea and oceangoing stories.

Jude Hardin said...

Mark: That novella reminds me of an episode of Magnum P.I. He's in the ocean treading water for hours and keeps having flashbacks. You might want to check it out.

Jon: Carter's Little Liver Pills. It was sort of a snakeoil product, dating back to the 1800s I think. As in, "He's got more books than Carter has little liver pills." No relation to President Carter. :)

For the idea I'm working on now, I'm trying sort of a stream-of-consciousness synopsis to get the storyline down. Whatever works.

LurkerMonkey said...

Thanks, Jude. So they were liver pills? Like from cod fish liver oil? Maybe they were rich in omega-3s ...

I've always liked stream-of-consciousness more than I've found it actually helpful, if that makes any sense. It's fun to let it flow, but rarely focused enough for me to use. Good luck with it.

Jude Hardin said...

No, they were supposed to revive your sluggish liver, or some such nonsense. I think they were really nothing more than a laxative, LOL.

I'll go back and write a more focused synopsis. I'm just trying to get a fairly intricate plot down on paper quickly before it abandons me.

Melanie Avila said...

I think I'm a tad ADD as well. Or I'm just a "creative" type...

Mark Terry said...

Okay, Jude, here's how much of a Magnum geek I must have been, because I believe Magnum's birthday was on the 4th of July and he went out kayaking by himself (without a life jacket, tsk) every birthday and gets capsized and spends the day treading water. And I remember that off the top of my head. Yikes.

LurkerMonkey said...

Melanie,

Ha ha. That's what I tell myself too!

LurkerMonkey said...

Mark & Jude,

Wow, you guys. The only thing I remember about Magnum is the giant mustache and the car.

Jude Hardin said...

Mark:

Well, it was a pretty good show, LOL.