Down with the Sickness and the Hybrid Approach

This is going to be an interesting week, as I’m transitioning from one medication to another and at the moment I have quite a bit of brain fog, in that I’ll be clear for a little while and then the next thing I know my brain is just shot.

The interesting thing is that I’ve really gotten in a groove when I sit down and write with music – not typically my most productive form of writing. Yesterday I sat down and just pounded out a bunch of words while listening to this band Battles (finally “discovered” them upon learning that I had already had a couple of their songs before). Even though I felt like I was about to keel over, I was able to channel the characters and let them take over.

Right now my side-effects are dizziness; light-headedness; what they call “brain zaps“, which are moments of being completely lost in the fog; and exhaustion. Combine that with the insomniac properties of the new medication and, well, I’m just having a grand old time. But I’m dedicated to keep going. I view my writing as a legit job, and as such I can’t take too many days off, considering that last week I was a little bit short of my word count.

Before I get into today’s topic, I want to carry out an accounting of where I am in my process and what comes next. I’m very, very close to the end of Corridors of the Dead now. If I stick to my usual schedule and don’t have too many hiccups, I expect to have it done by the middle of next week. I follow a process where I write the story in my head and have a few days’ lead time before it gets to the page, and I’ve reached the end in my head.

The next step, as mentioned yesterday, is finding some beta readers, then setting the book aside for a week or two while I dive into the next book, which I haven’t started in my head yet but have a lot of details about. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s going to be a nod to Videodrome and Twin Peaks. These two stories were very influential for me.

Of course, the mockup for the cover is complete, as I said. I see a few changes that I want to make, a little tweaking, but for the most part I think it’s ready to go, which is pretty exciting. I also plan to do some research into the Print on Demand options this week then talk to the guy who’s been doing my graphic design work on what to do for the spine and the back. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it; there’s some time, as I don’t plan to make it available until Thanksgiving.

Already things are starting to come together in my head on how to run my writing and self-publishing as a business. I’m getting ideas about how to set up incentive plans and an overall business plan. Having a finished product will be a really good start. Obviously, there are still some edits to be made, but I think it’s close right now, probably the closest I’ve ever felt upon finishing a first draft. I think that’s a product of internalizing a lot of things that I’ve learned over the last six months.

Now let’s talk about the original goal of today’s entry: how to blend character-driven and plot-driven. All I can really give you is my approach, because while I’m always aware of this, I haven’t studied it closely in other works. Meaning it’s a topic that I’l likely come back to in the future.

My own approach is that I start with the kernel of an idea and slowly add things on to it – like with this next novel, I woke up one morning with the idea of bringing the idea of Videodrome into the 21st Century (which is not entirely what the book will end up being about after all, rather the spark of the concept). As I drove to work, as mentioned before in how my process works, I dictated what I had in mind and new ideas.

Where I’m going is that I take these ideas and generate a loose, three or four paragraph write-up of what I want from the story, how I envision the story from my perspective. Then I get to know the characters, though this can be part of the plotting process. This is the case in this new novel – I already have images of the characters in my head, can hear their voices speaking to me.

While I’m doing this I also do any necessary research.

This is the key, however: having both an idea of the plot you want, even if it’s not going to be the ultimate plot. If I showed you the original plot of Corridors of the Dead from last November to now, well… Then you have to be aware of your characters and in tune with them. Spend time with them. Once you start getting into the writing of it, leave your preconceived notions out and yourself open.

At times your characters will stubbornly refuse to go down the path you want. If you hit a scene where your characters suddenly flatten out into cardboard cutouts and nothing is moving, that is the time to sit down and really think about what the character wants in that scene and how they would react. They will surprise you a lot of the time. As a matter of fact, in my rewrite, they surprised me so much that only three scenes came over from the old book. It’s basically a new story with the same characters.

What I’m trying to say is, in order to achieve that hybrid, you have to do the work of both: of a character-driven story and a plot-driven story. You have to have a solid concept of the plot (so you do the work of plotting) and you have to do the work of getting to know the characters. There’s none of this one-or-the-other business. At least, from my perspective.

I’d be interested in hearing what others have to say about how they plot and what their approaches are.

I’m looking at this week as plot and character week. The next entry is twofold: one is about how to get to better know your character. The second is part one of a two-parter on my top ten influential books, the ones I think of as my personal “pantheon”. This comes from an idea that I first saw from Paul Dail and which he drew from Worlds in Ink. I’m looking forward to it!

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