Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Evolutionary Process

by Hannah Roveto

The Group met last night, Amy at one end of the table and Lynne at the other, Lisa on the opposite side of the length of the table from me (well, the phone sat on her placemat), all in our usual spots. At the close of each meeting we pick the next date, assuming it will be two weeks from that night unless someone has a commitment. As we discussed who would have pages to share, the issue of where we all are in our various projects came up, and in turn, process.

Lynne mentioned she knows now how she seems to work best on first drafts, starting without an outline and, well, she can tell you herself at some point. Despite plugging away daily on revisions, I do have my second protagonist and her cronies tapping on my shoulder, and Lynne's comments made me realize how I seem to work best, which is of course, nothing like how she works. It also made me appreciate what I've learned from Novel Number One from a craft standpoint.

You see, stories come to me in scene fragments: a character with a problem, those immediately around him or her. I see other moments, not necessarily in order. Maybe tension rising again toward the end, or a battle of wits between two people trying hard not to fall in love. A first line of a chapter a third of the way through. In the past, I didn't know what to do with these bits, how to wrangle them into something workable, effectively, relatively efficiently. I drew out one, then another, tried to envision them in some order, write between them. Trust me, not a good idea. Some sections worked. Some, well, to be polite, did not. My process made me crazy.

By learning about fiction writing through Novel One, how it all needs to hang together, about form and structure and purpose, I can see how to work within my process.

In spare moments, I have begun putting the flashes of Novel Two on paper in one place, rather than on stickies and in small notebooks that scatter the house and my bag. Finishing Novel One is the priority, so I put away the notebook quickly, but when Novel One heads to Agent City, I am ready with questions:

*Who exactly are my characters, major and minor? The characters who seem minor at first may turn out to hold the most important clues, so everyone who shows up on the doorstep has to be recognized. I don't fill out those long questionnaires on each character, but I do start a page in a binder for each one and jot down the details that come to me. Appearance, challenge, personality, age, needs, and this gem from a great teacher: what the character thinks of the others who've shown up, as well.

*What are the plot threads that I can see in those moments, again, major and minor? What does the main character need to do, to learn, to experience? How does that affect the others, and in turn, what are their issues and journeys, respectively?out and I will pull out:

*Setting. Where do these little vignettes take place? Are they in the big city, a seaside village, a small town on the Plains? Why do I see them there, how does the setting influence them?

*Finally, what seems to be the overall premise? Why does this story need to be told and then, point of view, who is the character(s) most suited to tell it?

Even with only a few pages of notes gathered in the next couple of months, I can draw out enough from each vignette to create something more comprehensive. From there, even with an outline of a few rough strokes or even none at all at least at first, I can dive into that new world waiting to be created with confidence.


Larramie said...

Hannah, your scene writing about last night was vivid, particularly Lisa as "the phone." ;)

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

It always sits on her placemat. We don't go so far as to set a teacup before it, but she has her own out in California, anyway!


Shauna Roberts said...

It continues to fascinate me how different each writer's process is and how much of becoming a writer is discovering that process.

Sustenance Scout said...

Hannah, I'm such an outliner and list-maker and I LOVE this approach. Thanks! K.

Anonymous said...

I really liked hearing your process spelled out, because this is basically what I do as well...only now I have a "plan" for it, thanks to you.

I will be keeping this post handy!

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed reading this; as I head into territory for my soon to be new WIP.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Yeah for the WIP! It truly wasn't until Lynne said so confidently, yet offhandedly, that she'd figured out how to make her process work (starting without an outline seems so "not done"), that it made me really focus on how mine ("what the heck do these bits have in common?") could be workable as well. Bottom line, I don't think I have a choice, and I do love how everyone comes at it differently!