I have this weird habit of tracking patterns in my head. When I worked on my Master’s degree in Cultural Geography, I suddenly realized I was a social scientist at heart, watching people do their thing and examining why they did it. How they shape their environment and how their environment shapes them—their habits, their beliefs, their cultural norms, etc. It should have come as no surprise to me that I would follow market trends in publishing as I discussed a couple of months ago (HERE), or that I would examine my writing process (and those of others) so closely. Why people write the way they do, their methods, their tics and preferences, their successes or failures. Could I have luck employing their process, too?
After a lot of thought and plenty of practice, the most profound thing I’ve discovered in all of these examinations about process is that each book requires a new set of “rules”. Process is transient. It’s fluid. It begs to be made relevant after each new start.
For my first couple of novels (historical fiction biographies), I worked with a detailed outline and character maps and filled in the flesh, heart, and soul of the book from there. For the short story I wrote for a WWI anthology, I had three major concepts in mind—a mother’s grief, revenge born of pain, and a character with dual citizenship who grappled with belonging nowhere—and I pantsed the entire plot from this premise.
For my third novel, I worked with a well-known set of characters and the canon associated with their story. I had to create new plot threads, breathe new life into these characters. A retelling, if you will. The character maps didn’t help me one bit here until I had already written a full first draft. I needed to understand why the original author created the characters the way he did in the first place, then deconstruct them, and give them an entirely new dimension through their backstory.
My latest that’s releasing this fall, is in an epistolary format with a framing story. A new style, still!
With each book, there were pieces of my process that didn’t change, regardless of the structure. I had to discover who my characters were by exploring their backstory. I needed to know where the story began—that inciting incident—and how it would resolve itself, as well as the stakes driving my character to change. I needed a pitch, a feel for the themes I would explore, a general idea of how these pieces would fit into a three act structure, at least loosely.
But the process I used to write each of these works changed. I think this is the reason why: