Friday, May 11, 2018
And So Begins the Process
So now we are writing, hopefully on a regular basis. We know this is something we want to do, something we enjoy, and something that offers us that certain thrill of creation. Sometimes, we even dare to call ourselves “writers.” How can this get better?
“The Process” is how.
Teacher and award-winning author Barbara Gregorich told me her three categories for developing the writing process: Psychological, Organizational, and Mechanical. In case you haven’t figured it out, the Psychological part comes early on when we start exploring our writing and discovering who we are as a writer. The past several posts quietly set the psychological table (though it is far from over). In some ways, the development of the Psychological part of the process never stops.
The focus for this post is about Organizational, and that word may be a little misleading. The important part of this step is knowing what you want to write well enough to accomplish the task, which includes understanding when your idea has changed into something else. It sounds simple, but the application is the tricky part.
Let’s say you want to write a coming-of-age story set in the Midwest. Easy enough, yes? Well, let’s organize this. Let’s ask some questions that will narrow down the idea to something very precise and targeted.
When does the story take place? Not just the year, but is it told as a narrated flashback or as it happened? As a series of short stories at various times? Is it historical?
How is the story told? Is the narrator telling their story or someone else’s story? Is it in first-person or third-person? Is the narrator biased or unreliable? Is the reader supposed to know this? Is it told in past-tense or present-tense (so very important)?
Why is the story being told? As the writer, you know this one already, but what should the reader take away from this? Is there a lesson to be learned? Should the reader be inspired by the main character’s journey, impressed by their sacrifice, horrified by their actions? Stories that have a bunch of events happen but never offer the reader a reason why are referred to as BOSH – Bunch Of “Stuff” Happens (pick any s-word for Stuff). They’re fun to write and interesting to read but they miss a chance to be so much more.
What are the elements for the story? Theme and mood can really liven up a story, and knowing it beforehand can infuse every word. Is there a sense of dread? Urgency? Is our coming-of-age character facing problems they can’t escape or don’t want to face? Does it feel like their world is falling apart? Changing when they need consistency?
Also, what is the voice of the piece? Light-hearted, comical, horrifying, dreadful, aloof, serious, darkly humorous? This also ties together if your writing is for a target audience. Coming-of-age stories that appeal to the young adult crowd might not work with a serious voice, while children’s books usually avoid dark humor (but not always). When the voice of the piece can work with the theme and mood, they harmonize into very effective writing.
Taking our idea of a coming-of-age story in the Midwest and pushing it through these questions is how we apply the Organization part of the process. After running the idea through that mill, I ended up with a twenty-something guy in Chicago in the 1990s, trying to hold together the ideal life as it starts spinning out of control. It’s in the third-person, voiced from our protagonist’s point-of-view, using flashbacks to fill in his backstory. While written with a soft humor and sophomoric mood, the underlying message is about escaping a life of denial and facing up to the world’s harsh realities. And yes, this is now a working manuscript: Easier than the Truth.
That is how this part of our process saves us a lot of rewrites and a bunch of grief. At that point, we are ready to write. More importantly, we are ready to know what we are writing, and we know when it’s changing into something else.