Today let’s talk about process; specifically, the process of writing. Some of you who have been reading this site for at least a modest amount of time may remember when I began talking about having an idea for a thriller. It was only a few weeks ago, right? It was exciting. I was really into it. I started reading up on conventions of the genre as I plotted the story.
Then I ran into writing reality as the concept revealed itself to be somewhat flawed. I was a little distressed, but not freaking out. I’ve found that this is a normal part of my process. Often the initial idea is good, but it needs a lot of refinement. And by refinement, I don’t mean sitting down up front and thinking through the idea over and over again. It’s kind of something that has to reveal itself, instead. Almost like a lottery scratcher; you scratch the first of those colorful little icons and reveal the basic concept; maybe this is your four-leaf clover or whatever iconography the card is using this time. Then you scratch the second and see how the characters connect to the concept. It may or may not be connected – maybe you get a cherry instead of a clover, but that’s okay, because you only have to match three and you have two more to scratch off.
My point here is that while I had scratched off and revealed a decent idea, the other concepts were other icons. The whole thing was not going to work together until I retooled one or more elements. Back to the drawing board. I’ve talked about that, too, about how I came to understand that the dynamic of the story needed to be inverted from what I had originally envisioned. Again, that’s cool, that happens. At least I figured it up front, rather than what happened with Corridors of the Dead, where I worked out what needed to be changed after writing it, editing it six times, and sending it to agents. Not that I’m bitter!
But that’s exactly what I’m talking about here – how the process of creation changes an original idea. Most people who know me in real life will tell you I’m a huge music buff. I really enjoy finding new bands and new types of music to enjoy. I’m never satisfied with just what I have; there always has to be some new sound or idea that I want to look into. When it comes to bands that I really like, one of my favorite things to do is get ahold of demos (this is easier for some bands than others) or a set of demos. For example, I have a CD of the Beatles that is 20 takes of one song. I’m the only person I know who would sit through that and actually find something compelling and useful here, and it’s the way that the song evolves.
Sometimes you hear how a completely different concept transforms into something else. An aborted song can be tacked onto the end of another song, and eventually become something more than two so-so songs. Since I was once such a huge pumpkin head, here’s an example of a song evolving.
First, we have a raw demo set down in a studio while on tour. Scratch vocals, and some musical elements are different.
Second, we have an acoustic demo recorded at home in the fall of 94, and we can see the vocals evolving.
Finally, the released version (there are at least three more demo versions of this floating around, but I’m trying for an example here, not to bash you over the head).
I think so much of that fascinates me because it’s so similar to the writing process. I mean, it basically is that, rendered as music. I know I constantly take old ideas that might not have worked in some other context and add them to a story that I might be working on at the moment. For example, if someone were to look through my archives, you’d see that the character Jazshael that’s referenced in Corridors of the Dead was actually the protagonist of an abandoned novel from 10 years ago.Some other concepts that came from dreams over the years also got incorporated into Corridors, sometimes unknowingly. Everything has to be fodder.
Of course, sometimes the process just takes you in unexpected directions. Going back to what I was saying about Entanglements, I started off with a concept for what I thought could be a pretty cool thriller, but as I wrote and really got to know the characters, I discovered that while there was some suspense still there (the sense of drive and tension is still very important to the story), there is a paranormal romance buried in there. Needless to say, this was very unexpected. It just…happened. I put two characters together, and their interactions went in a certain direction. They weren’t literally made for each other, and yet they seem to be made for each other all the same.
Now let me preface this by saying that I am the last person to write a paranormal romance. My opinion of Twilight stands: it’s just not good. I’m sure there are great examples of paranormal romance. It’s just not my thing. Which makes me wonder if my own take is going to follow some of the conventions that I observe when reading second-hand reviews. Hell, maybe that’s a good thing. The protagonist isn’t a teenage ~~waifu~~ in her final year of high school who discovers a handsome, older man with a dark secret (and I don’t say this to denigrate the genre, I believe there’s room for every genre and everything under the sun – it’s just my experience). None of that. But you know, put to it? Yeah. This is the definition from Wikipedia:
A type of speculative fiction, paranormal romance focuses on romance and includes elements beyond the range of scientific explanation, blending together themes from the genres of traditional fantasy, science fiction, or horror.
That’s pretty much it. It’s a love story that happens in another world, in an entirely different context. How did I get there? Like I said, it’s that natural transformation that occurs during writing. The guy notices her hair. She notices how he smells. Etc. It just kind of builds from there. Oh, and throw in a good dash of Stockholm Syndrome, too. That’s going to be wrestled with throughout the course of the book.
That’s just the thing. The process sometimes grabs us and takes us where it wants us to go. You hear writers talking about how they don’t write the story, the story is written through them. It’s true. When you get into a groove and really understand your characters, it happens. So many times I just sit there reading what I’m writing, somewhat bemused. But it’s the story that wants to be told. I think otherwise, it’s dry and lifeless and not true to myself. Obviously, it’s coming from some part of me that needs to express it, and I can already see some echoes in this romance of issues that I’ve deal with in the past. Yes, they come from within, they come from our subconscious and are colored by our experiences, but they’re not always within our conscious control.
My whole point is to remind you to stay open to that process. Be open to the strange and unexpected twists and turns that a story can take. It’s what makes something new and unique. I think we need a lot more new and unique stories. Always.
- From the Depths: On Inspiration (jonathandallen.com)
- Review: The Urban Fantasy Anthology Edited by Peter S. Beagle & Joe R. Lansdale (nethspace.blogspot.com)