Process, Structure, And Magic

Despite all those How-To-Write-A-Novel books, web pages, webinars, and workshops, everyone has their own process. This process can be improved but not altered in fundamentals. In other words, if you are a writer who sits down without a plan or a plot or an outline and merrily starts writing to see where it goes, forcing yourself to outline in detail, do character histories, or decide whether the section is a scene or a summary is going to derail the process. It might kill the story entirely.

My process falls somewhere between Outline-The-Hell-Out-Of-It and Let-It-Roll. I do need some overall idea of what the world looks like, what the rules are, and I certainly need to know the characters, but I find a detailed outline impossible to stick with. In the new manuscript, I know the primary character has to travel to certain places and meet other characters in a sequence. But how the characters meet and what they say to each other isn’t defined until I sit down and write the scene. Odd things happen. Sometimes a character changes from good to bad, or a new character appears and becomes very important.

Last night I was pushing myself to do a stint on the manuscript. I didn’t feel like writing and I certainly didn’t feel creative. I had two characters traveling together for a brief time. They had to speak to each other. I had no idea what they were going to say, aside from things already mentioned. Suddenly, one of the characters revealed an important detail absolutely essential to the plot. Now, that is his job in the story. But—and this is where the eerie music plays—I swear I didn’t know that detail until the character mentioned it. I discovered it as a reader, not as an author.

This happened to me once when I was writing Matcher Rules, and once or twice during The Bone Road. It cannot be forced. It cannot be speeded up, no matter how much I want to be one of those writers who churns out a novel every three months. The plot development of the novel takes place in the back part of my brain(which I hesitate to call my subconscious, because it isn’t). Sometimes bits and pieces float from the back to the front and I write them down. I can depend on it, but I cannot force it. The best I can do is write a bit every day, write the sections I know, link them together, smooth out the rough spots, remove the text that clanks, and repeat. That’s when stuff happens. It’s the most endlessly fascinating process I know. And every so often: Magic.