Sunday, 7 October 2012

Where do you start...?

credit: The Pen And Ink Blog (link below)
I'll be the first to say that I'm still pretty new to this whole 'writing' thing. I've observed from the outside, watched other people write, beta-read for them, etc etc. But until doing it for myself I didn't entirely appreciate how different everyone's creative process could be.

I expect there are some obvious and well-cataloged cognitive reasons for all our writerly differences, and maybe someday I'll get the time to study them fully. What I'm intrigued by at the moment is our starting points. How do we get that lil' toehold into a story and wrestle it until it tells us all its secrets?

I've read plenty of insightful blog posts and articles on how you need characters to build plot and plot to build character and somewhere in there you chuck a few pinches of setting and a few teaspoons of concept and hey presto you have your cake- I mean...story.

But why do we naturally start from different places? Why do some of us build extensive outlines and construct scale-model worlds out of mental-matchsticks and superglue, while others have whole entire people wandering around inside their skulls waiting to jump out into something...anything...they really don't mind what.

These differences were really made clear to me recently. I'd been beta-reading (okay, blatant sneak-peeking!) for a writer friend, and she finally came back to me and said 'Okay, I have to bite the bullet and get some structure into this thing - there's too much going on.' (Okay, my paraphrase, but that's basically it.) I had to sort of mentally blink at the idea that you could have characters wandering around, encountering each other, creating whole scenes...and not actually know exactly where they were headed in the long-run.

Now this is where I must make it very clear that this thought was not one of criticism. More one of revelation. See, here I'd been plotting my stories out from beginning to end, then dropping my half-formed characters into them and seeing how they reacted to the hoops I made them jump through. Yes, I'm one of the plot-structure-lovers. The logic-adoring, detail-oriented neat-freaks of the writerly universe (go on, I know we irritate you!). It had never even crossed my mind to just create a person, and walk around in their shoes for a few months. 

So I'm just getting to grips with this, when I read an interview with author Susan Spann on Chuck Wendig's blog, Terrible Minds. She says that for her, "...character building flows from world building. It’s much easier to write strong characters when I’m inserting them into a three-dimensional, fully developed environment. Knowing the layout of a character’s bedroom, house, and neighborhood makes it easier to understand what kind of person would inhabit that space."

So you mean you can create a world, right down to the furniture and the wallpaper, and your character comes walking right out of the type of carpet you chose for them?! Mind = blown.

Now, I've encountered some of these sorts of differences in people with regards to how they learn. It's pretty common knowledge that there are different 'learning styles' and that everyone has a slightly different combination of cognitive jigsaw pieces that make up how they process their interactions with the world around them. So buried in there somewhere must be some parallels to how we naturally choose to dive into our story-writing, right? I've now read a few...left brain vs right brain, etc, but the jury is still out.

My next thought is that with learning styles, it's advised to try and cater towards people's natural preferences, but that they should also work on 'exercising' those other underused cognitive 'muscles' so as to have a more well-rounded learning experience. So does this mean I should spend time bulking up on other methods of story-writing? Should I try out a character-driven method or a world-building method as a way to jump-start me into a story? Or maybe I just need to start including a few writing exercises for these areas into my initial story-process.

So where do you start? Do you think you should stick to what comes naturally, or push yourself to do something that doesn't? 

[Picture credit: The Pen And Ink Blog ]

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