Thursday, July 17, 2014

An old-fashioned look at writing


A while back I was tagged in a blog tour or whatever and asked to post about my writing process. I don't remember what I wrote except that I am a pantser. I write a one-page idea of notes about where the story is going, and then I try to come up with a zinger of a first sentence--sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. Then I take off and see where my characters lead me. Often as I write I go back and add to that page of notes.
"Listen to your characters" is advice I've heard all my writing life, especially from some of the writers I respect most. I remember the late Elmer Kelton saying that he started out to write a book about a buffalo soldier, but a Comanche chief kept taking hold of he story and running with it. Ultimately, The Wolf and the Buffalo, became a story about two characters--the Buffalo Soldier, a freed slave whose life is on the rise, and the Wolf, a Comanche whose world and way of life is disappearing. They are enemies who respect each other. Another of Elmer's books, The Good Old Boys, was inspired by cowboy stories he heard from his father and other old-timers, and the characters, he said, took hold of the story like a cold-jawed horse with the bit in its mouth.
Writing to me is an art that requires sensitivity and the freedom to follow where your imagination leads you. Good and bad writing should both be the result of inspiration.
Now along comes a computer program called Scrivener, which has been the subject of much discussion on one of the listservs I follow. I not knocking those who use it--God bless them if it helps them write a better novel. Scrivener allows you to save note cards, scenes, chapters, and move them around at will in the book. I think you can also keep notes (perhaps on the note carsd) of what color a characters eyes are and other details that sometimes dance around so frustratingly in mid-story. I've avoided Scrivener and other similar programs, in spite of hearing them praised up one side and down the other, because I simply don't have time for what is apparently a steep learning curve.
But more than that, I'm afraid I'd get so lost in coordinating note cards, scenes, chapters, that the novel would never flow. As I write new scenes, new complications, even new characters come to me--and I prefer to listen to my characters. Somehow such writing-aid programs, to me, turn writing into something mechanical instead of an art.
Now I'll admit two things--plotting is hard for me (probably why I write short) and I am forever going back to search for a detail or a scene or even a character's name so I'll stay consistent. I do keep a lot of characters, and I've considered keeping a log of chapters after they're written. But that's it. Call me old-fashioned--I probably am.

5 comments:

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Judy Penz Sheluk said...

Great post, Judy, and I completely agree. I've blogged about my experience as well.
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Judy Alter said...

Thanks to both Judys. Judy S., you said it so much better than I did and with more research to back up your opinion. You also convinced me I might try Scrivener for a few things. Thanks.

Janet Simpson said...

I write like you, Judy but I write long and I am forever forgetting people's names and plot lines I need to tidy up so I have to go back and search and rewrite. I have a spreadsheet I mean to fill in as I write but I am lazy. I just downloaded a trial version of Scrivener but I have my reservations.

Carolyn J. Rose said...

I plot with file cards and keep a notebook with information on characters and references to pages in books already in print. But that's it. I intend to remain stuck in the past.