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Your WordCrazy hostesses, Michelle O'Leary and AJ Caywood, welcome you to their blog about writing and hope you enjoy the mind-bending mania. Feel free to join in with your own brand of insanity...crazy loves company.
Many successful authors of creative fiction recommend outlines of plot and characters before beginning the story. It’s a wonderful idea for keeping a writer on track with the storyline and for fleshing out the details of a story’s cast of characters. For many writers, already knowing the details of their characters, like description, history, associations, and motivations within the story can enrich their writing, giving depth and atmosphere to the story.
Yes, outlining is a great idea. I highly recommend it as a writing tool. Unfortunately, I am just not built that way. For me, the fastest way to kill a story idea is to work out the details of a plot and characters in outline form first. They die a swift and horrible death in the dry, analytical environment of the outline. By the time I get to that first page of writing, there is no magic left, and I have to let it go.
Don’t misunderstand me—I don’t begin totally from scratch, sitting down to a blank page with not a thought in my head on plot or character. I make general sketches, and I find it necessary to keep notes as the story progresses to remind myself of crucial details and keep a logical progression of the story. But for me, the magic in writing is the unexpected evolution of both plot and character. In my writing world, this evolution is driven by the characters.
This might make me sound a little psycho, but I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve begun to write with a story direction in mind and had it go in a completely different, unexpected direction due to the unfolding dialogue and actions of the characters. I’m the creator—I’m supposed to know where this stuff comes from, but that’s why I call it ‘magic,’ because these twists and turns take me as much by surprise as they do my readers.
This is why I love to write so much. It fascinates me to watch the story unfold beneath my fingers, to see the characters grow and change before my eyes. They begin as two dimensional figures and blossom into beings that are so real to me that I can almost believe they are alive. (See Character Talk on my website for proof ;)
Some might argue that this makes my story very two dimensional at the beginning, but here’s the beauty of editing—I can always go back and flesh out the characters and storyline, or hack and slash as necessary. This writing method affords me all the creative joy without the life-sucking, mind-numbing effects of the formal outline.
However, I can’t recommend this method to every writer. My brain works in strange, mysterious ways, and what works for me might drive another author to drink or ruin their writing experience. To each his or her own! Me, I’m into evolution. ***
This is another sci-fi romance, which in case you couldn’t tell is my favorite genre to write. I’ve added a murder mystery to this title, though the focus is on the characters and their interactions. As with all of my work, this story is highly character driven.
Sukeza has spent the last five years away from her Kaskan home and family, a self-imposed exile as she tries to discover her true strength. She thought she’d found her place on an agricultural world as an animal handler, until the death of two children and the capture of Chase Stryker. He’s accused of murdering the children, but Sukeza is certain that he didn’t do it, even though he’s an escaped convict with a long list of violent crimes. Her insistence of his innocence earns her a strange hostility from the townsfolk, and she realizes that she was never an accepted part of her adopted community.
Chase Stryker has been in worse situations than being captured by a bunch of blood-thirsty farmers, but the situation would go straight to hell if the Collectors caught up with him. He would die before he returned to his sentence of mental containment. Unfortunately, his little defender, Sukeza, would be the focus of the townsfolk’s retribution if he busted out. No help for it—he’d have to take her with him. But how the hell did he get her home to Kaska without getting snagged by the Collectors?
Snippet of The Light of Kaska:
He shifted on the hard bench, irritated by her continued silence. What the hell did she want? His movement rattled his restraints—the shackles around his ankles, the chains wrapped around his waist, and his arms spread uncomfortably wide and bolted to the wall. The little room was heating rapidly, the sun burning through the small widow high up on the wall to his left. The night had been cold, but the day was looking to make up for it. Didn’t these people believe in insulation? Heating and cooling units? Friggin’ beds in normal jails instead of this makeshift little room in the town hall? Hadn’t there ever been a crime in this place before the murder of those two kids?
“You’ve hurt yourself,” the woman said suddenly in a low, melodious voice that surprised him. He’d been expecting a higher voice, maybe a girlish squeak. Her dark brows were now pulled together in a light frown, and he had to revise his original opinion of her age. Her slender build, doe-like eyes, and fright had made him think she was barely out of childhood. Late in her third decade, possibly early fourth was his current assessment.
When he didn’t answer, her eyes dropped from his, roaming his chains with a tightening of her features. “I’m Sukeza bet Marish. You’re Chase Stryker. You didn’t kill those boys.”
He went still, absorbing the impact of her words. Matrilineal heritage, a distracted part of his mind reflected as he registered the bet in her name. The rest of his mind was occupied by the fact that she knew who he was, knew he hadn’t killed the kids, and she’d made no move to set him free. The Collectors offered rewards for escaped convicts. Was that the plan, then? Keep him chained until those bastards came to collect him? His muscles tensed with desperate rage, but he controlled his reactions. She hadn’t come sneaking in here just to introduce herself. He wanted to question her, but something in him urged silence, stillness. He would wait. ___________________
The Light of Kaska is still a work in progress, though it’s very close to being finished. This story has been a joy to write—these characters have revealed a surprising amount of depth and dimension. Sukeza is not my usual kick-ass heroine, but she has strengths and facets that strike a very personal cord with me. Her journey home and Stryker’s discovery of her world reminds me of the importance and strength of family. ***
Actually, there are plenty of keys to good writing, but I'm going to focus on one of the most basic--Reading. Yup, that's what I said. Reading. If you don't read often and in a variety of subjects, your writing will suffer. The following are some great reasons why reading is critical for writers.
Reading is a necessity to teach good writing mechanics (as a supplement to what you learned in school, of course ;). The more you read, the more you'll absorb proper grammar, structure, and punctuation. These are the critical tools to building a solid foundation for your writing project, and a good working knowledge of them is important to produce smooth, flowing literature in any genre. Not every book you read will be a sterling example of good mechanics, but this is also a great learning experience.
Another reason highlighting the importance of reading is the creation of style. Every writer has their own literary voice, their own word flow and method of storytelling. Most writers aren't born with a style, though. It must be cultivated and tends to evolve over time. Reading copious amounts exposes writers to a variety of styles, to see what works and what doesn't. For aspiring writers, this provides a great base to create their own style. For veteran writers, it's a way to confirm their style, to keep it fresh, three dimensional, and engaging.
Reading also provides inspiration and a great working knowledge of a writer's chosen genre. If you choose to write fantasy, but don't know much about the lore of typical fantasy creatures, your writing will show it. The creativity and inventiveness of fiction writers is endlessly amazing and useful, giving loads of story and character ideas. Of course, I'm not advocating plagiarism, but concepts are everyone's domain, and even the smallest detail can blossom into a full blown story idea.
For writers who are also concerned with the business side of things, reading literature that is currently popular can give them an idea of what their target audience is looking for in a book. This can influence a writer's choice of genre, subject matter, and even character type and personality. I'm not saying writers should shape their entire writing project based on the books that make the best selling lists, but it can give writers an understanding of their audience.
If you're a writer, make sure you take the time to absorb some literature. The world is a big place, but reading opens up a universe of creativity and provides the backbone to good writing. ***