Deadline Diaries

Five Romance writers tell all.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Art of Craft

Posted by Kate

Writers write about writing a lot, have you noticed? I think it’s part of the process of trying to figure out what in the world is going on inside our scary brains.

I’m in “Start-A-New-Book” mode which, strangely enough, doesn’t mean I’ve started writing a new book. It means I’ve started reading about writing a new book. As impatient as I am to get going on the story, I first need to immerse myself in the craft of writing. I need to remind myself that I know how to do this. Maybe, oh God, maybe I’ve simply forgotten how to write! There’s always that fear and it only goes away—sort of—when I start the book. Anyway, I’m currently compelled to spend my time studying the art of craft.

Here’s what I’ve done so far:

- Re-read 250 pages of emails and notes from Susan Mallery’s fabulous Brainstorming class she gave online earlier this year.

- Scanned Donald Maass’s workbook on “Writing the Breakout Novel.”

- Re- read the Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes and Heroines.

- Researched a number of esoteric topics that apply to my story.

- Spent all day Saturday attending Christopher Vogler’s workshop on The Writer’s Journey put on by the Orange County chapter of RWA. The Writer’s Journey is Vogler’s landmark book on craft that he based on the work of Joseph Campbell and The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

- Bought two new books on craft and can’t wait to read them!

Procrastination? Probably. Fun—definitely. I never enjoyed school much but I love this study and research process. And this time around, I’ve got my notes from Susan’s Brainstorming class to work with. The notes remind me that there was some discussion about whether it's better to start a book by working out plot or whether it's better to start with a character. The character people protested that they couldn’t discuss plot points right off the bat without first nailing down the main characters. I mean seriously nailing down the characters, writing out extensive character biographies and applying the whole Myers Briggs treatment.

Myers Briggs. It’s that famous psychological questionnaire that determines whether you’re an ISTJ or an ENFP or fourteen other possible combinations of characteristics such as introverted or extroverted, thinking or feeling, etc. I like Myers Briggs well enough, but I can’t go there until I’ve got a plot worked out in my head. It’s just my way and I can’t seem to change it.

Susan’s class was fascinating—for the students, anyway. Susan probably ran screaming from her computer on a regular basis but that’s a topic for another day! Anyway, luckily for me, my book was one of the ones we brainstormed. And I needed lots of help on the plot, so that’s what we concentrated on, despite the grumblings of the character-comes-first folks. Can't blame them really, because that's their process.

But good news for them! After the class finished my book, we brainstormed Gail Barrett’s new book. And Gail starts a new book by developing her characters first. Sure enough, out came the Myers Briggs lingo along with lots of other great character development tricks. The character people were in their glory and the process was mind blowing and amazing to watch. (By the way, Gail Barrett won the Best Book Award from Orange County RWA chapter’s Booksellers Best Contest this year, so anyone who’s considering the “best” way to start a new book might take that little fact away with them! *g*)

So, given that there’s no “right” way to start a new book, how does the process work for you? Do you sit right down and start typing or do you read and study and research first? Do you make charts? Pray the rosary? Chant? Are you a Plotter or a Pantser? Which one’s better? Don’t answer that. Just figure out what works for you and do it.

Finally, do you have some favorite books on Craft you can recommend? I need all the help I can get!

8 Comments:

At 10:32 AM, Blogger Maureen Child said...

Hi Kate!

Great post....as for me, I'm more of a Pantser than a Plotter. I sort of wing it, which drives Susan insane, but seems to work for me up until about chapter 7 when I generally go into a meltdown, screaming for help!!

As for books, my favorite is one I talked about on my blog maureenchild.blogspot.com I LOVE that one....THE WRITER'S BRAINSTORMING KIT--picked it up at conference one year.

 
At 10:56 AM, Blogger Kate Carlisle said...

Hey Maureen, I'm familiar with the meltdown portion of the process! LOL

And I meant to mention the Brainstorming book and put a link to your blog. Sorry. My mind's been hijacked....

 
At 12:30 PM, Blogger Christine Rimmer said...

OMG The hijacking of Kate's mind...some things are too scary to contemplate!

I love Robert McKee's STORY. Yeah, it's about screenwriting. Still, there's a lot of great stuff in there.

 
At 12:48 PM, Blogger Susan Mallery said...

I tend to develop plot and character together. From one comes the other and vice versa. I used to be a character first kind of writer, but then I discovered plot and now I really like it.

Absolutely the best writing book on the planet is Debra Dixon's Goal Motivation and Conflict. It's fabulous. I made up my own GMC worksheets and I pull them out every time. Then I walk around my office muttered, "What is external goal? What is her internal goal? Why did I ever want to be a writer?"

 
At 1:37 PM, Blogger Christie Ridgway said...

I have to have a lot of the plot worked out before I start a book, but I'll know a lot about the characters by that time too. Then I toss the plot outline away and only look at it if I get stuck. It's like a teddy bear and I need my comfort on the journey into a new story.

I like the books you mentioned, Kate. Also: MAKING A GOOD SCRIPT GREAT by Linda Seger and SCENE AND STRUCTURE by Jack Bickham (love this book, actually). Noticed as I was breezing through Target last week that Janet Evanovich has a writing book out, but I didn't even leaf through it as I was with Son Two and he was in a hurry to get somewhere else.

 
At 6:09 PM, Blogger Kate Carlisle said...

Susan, I agree with you on GMC. I always chart it out for my characters. I also spend time wondering if I can just make something up and let it go at that! You mean, it's gotta show up in the book??

Chris - I've got to order the McKee book. I've been hearing about it for years. Same with Scene and Structure, Christie. Especially if you love it. I must have it!

Thanks for the recommendations. Seriously, I get a little frantic when I'm starting up a new project. Can you tell? LOL

 
At 7:41 PM, Blogger Christie Ridgway said...

Ahhh, but starting a new project is so exciting! All the possibilities! This time you might achieve your true, perfect vision! (At least this is always my mindset.)

I find it quite euphoric. Talk to me at page 200. Then I'm digging out the craft books.

 
At 2:03 PM, Anonymous SunniBrook said...

Where was the Brainstorming class Susan gave? I would love to get some of that information if it's still available. Thanks!

 

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