Recently, a reader asked about my writing process, especially the way I prepare to write. That person felt at a loss about plunging in during, say, those first 15 minutes sitting in front of the computer and before typing an opening sentence. I replied I needed more than 15 minutes–much more and feel justified, having absorbed some very good tips about this stage of the game. They suggest steps to take when a story seems like a ‘great’ idea, when characters insist on being represented, or when an Otherworld starts to gel in the imagination—the moment a writer stands on the edge of a whole new adventure and does not know where to direct her feet.
I tried putting a few of those steps into practice when I wrote my novels Malevir: Dragons Return and Where Dragons Follow. At this point in my writer’s life, however, two other strategies work well for me. They have helped me organize the last of the Malevir trilogy on which I am laboring now.
The first strategy organizing me is my sketchbook of doodles and drawings. I like to cartoon and invent grotesque images of creatures that may or may not inhabit our world. The act of drawing my characters helps me visualize them more clearly. I sketch them in different situations and in varying garb (or feathers, scales, whatever works). I go to image sites like Pinterest to see how other artists imagine similar characters, but I avoid outright imitation. My characters are my own invention.
Character profiles provide another, challenging way to flesh out my characters. Once I define them, sort out their powers, backstories, and their relationships to each other as well as to possible settings, I’m able to weave their stories together; they intersect and drive the narrative forward. When I force myself to imagine every interaction and possible outcome, a big surprise bubbles up—the story’s logical ending. I envision the ending at the outset of the process, of course, but by slowly building my characters’ every nuance and discovering their motivation, I can write a logical, magical, totally appropriate ending to the story.
Every writer approaches the process differently. The key is finding a playful approach that makes the prospect of writing an anticipated pleasure, not a dreaded chore.