I’m a largely organized person. Everything has its place. Set daily routines help get mundane tasks completed without requiring a substantial amount of brainpower. The piles of paper on my desk may look chaotic, but it’s actually a meticulous filing system… Well, not quite meticulous, but each pile holds a different genre of paper to save or file away, and I know what’s there.
Similarly, in the kitchen. I enjoy cooking and do a great deal of it. My herbs and spices are arranged so that I can put my hands on each one without hunting—a great time- and food-saver when in the throes of creating a recipe, rather than charring it.
My writing routine is just that. After breakfast I sit down and begin, and I don’t stop until I reach at least my minimum word count for the day, which is two thousand words (2K in writer jargon). I usually go beyond that, averaging 3K, and quite often 4K. Then I break for lunch.
Ah, but within that routine lies the glittering, chaotic realm of madness. As I’ve mentioned in other writings, I’m a “pantser” who knows how the story begins, and how it will end, but that I travel along with the characters as they make their discoveries and experience their personal growth (or not) in all the in-between parts.
And that is where the mad chaos lies: letting the characters do what they will do, go where they want to go, and gently guide—rather than force—their actions. Once they’ve sprung to life, fully formed, their personalities and habits and previous life-actions determine what they’ll do in a given situation.
You might ask: If you know how the story ends, but not how you’ll get there, just exactly how do you get there? Sounds messy, Six.
It is messy. And maddening. And altogether wonderful. Just like life. Ever read an Elmore Leonard novel, or one by Carl Hiaasen? If you have, you’ve likely been delighted by the twists and turns the characters in their novels tend to take. I’m in no way comparing myself to those grand gentlemen, only using them as an example of writing that bursts with the audacity of the characters within.
The characters I create come to life for me after I’ve written a few paragraphs of their existence, and after that get themselves into (hopefully for you, the reader) interesting situations that they then must get themselves out of. How do they do that? Their personalities, habits, and previous life-actions determine that—not me.
You might further ask: You crazy, Six? Aren’t you the one doing the writing?
Sure. And yes, it does sound a bit daft. But that’s how it works: set things in motion, then look for the opportunities the characters create to guide them to the next act in their fictional play.
That bears repeating: it’s the actions of the characters that determine what happens next. Our real lives aren’t scripted (much as we might sometimes wish them to be), and I truly try to write the same way—just picking out the interesting bits for your entertainment and edification, of course. I mean, I don’t And then he went to the bathroom, and then he went to the fridge and got a can of Coke, unless perhaps while he was in the bathroom he discovered the gun he’d stashed behind the toilet was missing, and instead got the can of Coke from the fridge to use as a weapon for the intruder he’d just heard stealthily entering his apartment.
The interesting bits, driven by who they are—not who I am. That’s hard, and messy.
And altogether wonderful.
Let me hear from you in the comments below, or by contacting me: What kind of books do you like to read? Do you enjoy stories of the type that Leonard or Hiaasen write? What are your favorite books?
And Happy Holidays to you and yours!