During the launch events for Queen of the Owls, I was often asked: “What’s your writing process like?” People wanted to know if I had a routine, method, daily word count, comfort food, or other habit that carried me from story idea to published book. Since I tend to avoid routine, I usually muttered something about ideas coming to me in the shower and the oscillation between frenzy and sloth. In fact, “writing process” wasn’t something I thought about. I thought about what I was writing, not how I was writing it.
Later, though, I got interested in the question and began to realize that I really do have a particular way I go about writing a novel, even though I’d never formulated it—until now.
I’m calling my process Road, Sky, Neighborhood—three nouns that signify the three realms in which I work. Not all at once, and not sequentially, but shifting among them, each shedding new light on the others.
- By Road, I mean the forward-moving path of the story, the chain of events that take the reader from the first scene of the book to the last (even if the story doesn’t follow a strict chronology)
- By Sky, I mean the analytic or thematic level, which exists at a “higher conceptual altitude,” above the path of the story events
- By Neighborhood, I mean all the elements that surround the story—the setting, the details of the characters’ lives, the supplementary information I need to gather (so-called “background research”) that gives the story texture and depth
I’ll give some examples so you can see what I mean, drawing from my own work because that’s what I know best.
When I worked on Queen of the Owls, I had a general vision of the road ahead, right from the start. I knew who was driving the car, where she started, and where she needed to end up—but very little else. I didn’t know all the stops she would need to make along the way, nor the potholes and traffic jams she would encounter. I had the bones of the story, but not the details. In writer-talk, I didn’t know all the plot-points and events.
In fact, I don’t find it especially helpful to know all the details ahead of time—that would be like starting on a road trip, already knowing exactly what you’ll be ordering at every diner along the way! Nor am I someone who simply sets out and hopes for the best.
For me, it’s more like the experience of driving in the fog. You know your eventual destination, as well as the major turns and highways you’ll have to take, and you can see some of what’s around and ahead, but not everything. As you move forward, the next segment of road gradually comes into view, becoming more and more distinct as you approach. You can’t see everything that’s ahead, only as far as the next streetlight—the next part of the story, bit by bit. And then, when you circle back and drive that road again, you see things you missed. That’s the process of revision, when you catch you need to add, delete, enrich, or change.
Neighborhood: [Read more…]