Squawk Radio

Thursday, August 03, 2006

THE SQUAWKERS DISCUSS THEIR WRITING PROCESS

Okay, Kitty Kuttlestone was originally supposed to introduce this blog but to be honest--we can't find her. That's right. She's gone missing and no one has seen her since Atlanta. Now my theory is that she ran off with one of those cute bellhops or took a drunken tumble off the 46th floor balcony, clutching a bottle of tequila in one hand and a foam chicken in the other. But since no odd smells have been reported from the atrium area of the Marriott, we're holding out hope that we'll see her again someday, either on the "other side" or on the side of a milk carton. (Although a carton of Camel unfiltered cigarettes might be more appropriate.)

I'm left to ask the Squawkers this question without the usual Kitty-like flair--So what exactly is your writing process? How do you start a book and how (in the name of all that's holy) do you finish one? And how long does this magical journey usually take?



LISA REVEALS THE SECRET HANDSHAKE
I'm not trying to disclose Kitty's private business, but . . . did anyone else see her with that group of aspiring male cover models after the awards ceremony Saturday night? From what I could tell, she was telling them she had some influence with the art department, and . . . well, I'm not going to repeat everything I heard, but I saw them all getting into the stretch limo with Kitty. I'm just saying I think it's going to be a while before she resurfaces.

Back to business . . . my writing process . . . hmm. Generally, my plots come from the two characters I've put together. So I work a lot on what kind of hero would be an effective balance for my heroine, or vice versa, and what conflicts would arise from their differences. I might as well use "Scandal In Spring" as an example . . .Daisy is a mischievous, romantic daydreamer, Matthew is a worldly, practical-natured businessman. Building from there . . . Daisy would never want to marry a cold work-oriented man like her father, Matthew loves Daisy but can never reveal a secret from his past that is eventually going to destroy him, and he doesn't want to drag her down with him. As extra conflict, I threw in all the questions and objections of a group of secondary characters, who are all very involved with the two characters. Some are on Daisy's side, some are on Matthew's side.

So there you have it . . . the basic character-oriented conflict. Then the more difficult work of plotting begins . . . figuring out what kinds of events will:
A) illustrate and define the conflict
B) undermine the character's goals
C) change their minds and hearts about each other

and often I throw in
D) challenge them as a couple to show their strength together

There is a very silly but fun "goose" scene early on in the book, that shows a lot about both their characters : a big angry Greylag goose has his leg tangled in some fishing wire next to a pond Daisy has been fishing at. Daisy wants to rescue the goose (here we see her compassion) Matthew does not want to help but finally agrees (we see how difficult he finds it to refuse her) and as they work together, we see Matthew's patience and resourcefulness, Daisy's first recognition of her own attraction to him, and the fact that they both share a similar sense of humor.

My actual writing process is simple . . . my work for the day isn't finished until I've written at least 1000 words, and when I have tight deadline, I extend that to 2000 words. I am such an undisciplined person about everything but my writing. And flossing. With teeth like mine, you have to floss.

One other thing : because of my children, I usually get up at four or five in the morning to write in absolute quiet. It is so difficult at first, but it is GREAT because you're usually so tired you don't get in the way of your own writing, if you know what I mean.

TERESA GIBBERS ON HYSTERICALLY ABOUT HER PROCESS

Process? I'm supposed to have a process???!!! After 20 years and 17 books, now's a fine time to tell me! This is what I do. I write a book, celebrate, then panic when I realize I have to write another one. Oh wait, you want specifics, right? Okay--the first thing to come to me is usually the hero and heroine's names. Next up is their personalities. THEN I come up with a plot. And I've always required a BIG PLOT because that's the skeleton I build my story on. I like Backstory, Characters Who Meet As Children, Big Hooks, Masquerade Balls, Amnesia, Evil Twins, Stolen Kisses, Shocking Revelations! Which means I usually start out with about a dozen scenes that I "know". Each scene I "know" usually leads to 3 or more scenes that come as a pleasant surprise to me.

I'm a perfectionist with a very stringent internal editor. (Yes, I edited this blog 6 times.) So it usually takes me 6 months to write the first 200 pages and 6 weeks to write the last 200 pages. There's a reason for that. It's called DESPERATION. Once that deadline clock starts ticking, I'm able to knock that nasty internal editor off of my shoulder and the story starts pouring out of me. And the strangest thing of all is that those are the pages that usually require the least editing! It makes me nervous to talk about process because I'm one of those writers who prefers not to analyze the magic and the mystery of what we do. I can say that I've always ascribed to the Jill Landis theory of writing--"I can write a book in 6 months. It just takes me a year to do it."


WHILE CHRISTINA CALMLY SAYS...

I hate it when Kitty goes missing. She always comes back looking like a tom cat after a night on the prowl. Smelling like one, too. Euw.

What is my writing process?

You mean… on this book? The one I’m writing now? Because my process changes depending on how well the book is progressing, how close the deadline is, what the book is about, how I hold my tongue…

Characters are easy. Dialogue is easy. Plotting is hard. I come up with a great concept and about the first two-thirds of a plot, then want to finish with, “And a miracle happens here and the hero and heroine get together.” But writing a synopsis requires more than that and whether my editor wants to see one or not (I’ve worked with both kinds of editors), I always write a synopsis. It makes me focus, manipulate events to the proper climax, and once I start the book, I know where I’m going and that makes me write faster.

Once I start writing, I don’t write for eight hours. I can screw around for eight hours. My goal is ten pages a day, every day. I don’t always succeed— if I did, I’d write six books a year and my agent would be one happy man. But I do write quickly— as Teresa said, the work done quickly seems smoother than the stuff I sweat over. It’s not fair, but there it is. If I get stuck, and I often do, one thing works for me. I take my laptop or my alphasmart (a light text-input device with no email capacity, a godsend to a dithering author) and I write someplace else. If I’m writing in my office, I move to the library. If I’m writing in the library, I move to the deck. If I’m writing on the deck, I move to my bedroom. Why does this work? I have no idea. But it does. Changing locations seems to jog my brain, and I’m off and running again. And I don’t always write in a linear manner. If a scene that occurs later in the book comes to me fully realized, I write it right then and insert it later. My final comment— writing is hard, but I love my job. It's the thing I do best, and I treasure that.

AND LIZ WOULD RATHER EAT CHEESE PRODUCTS (speaking of smelly Kitty)...

Writing process...writing process...writing process... I feel like I should recognize this term “writing process.” But all I’m coming up with is a box of Velveeta. Oh, wait. That’s a different kind of process, isn’t it? We’re supposed to be talking book production, not food production.

I'm sorry, but I have no idea how to write a book, even thought I just turned in number fifty-three. All I know is that, at some point (generally when I realize how quickly the bank account is shrinking), I get this nebulous idea of two people in some kind of vague situation where hazy stuff is happening. Situation. That’s where I always start. Not a plot. Not characters. A situation that demands to be snowballed into something more. Then, somehow, from somewhere, characters emerge to populate this situation. From there, I gradually get some inkling of what’s going on with them. Or think I do, anyway. Almost always, they steer me into false directions before I finally realize they’re just yanking my chain (usually about three-fourths of the way through the book). Then, and only then, do I know itÂ’s time for drastic measures.

I get into the bathtub and I put a washcloth on my face.

Yes, something about the water and the feel of terry cloth (or maybe just being naked, which, let’s face it, puts us at our most vulnerable) generates the A-ha! moment I need to realize, “Oh. It’s not this thing that my !@#$%ing characters have been leading me to believe for !@#$%ing MONTHS. It’s this OTHER thing that I’ll now have to go back to page one and make revisions for. Those !@#$%ers.” You’d think I’d learn not to listen to my characters. But learning evidently isn’t part of my process. (There’s a lot to be said for Velveeta.)


ELOISA KNOWS WHERE KITTY IS! (DID ALL OF YOU KNOW ABOUT THOSE AMAZING OVER-SEAS FACE LIFTS????)

Anyway...surgery excitement aside, my process is most in my head. I spend a long time thinking about the world in which I'm going to set four books (think one to two years). It seems endless to me: I wake up in the middle of the night with conversations in my head; every book I read with an interesting character I consider a variation thereof; every movie auditions in my head for a setting, a plot twist, a great situation.

Finally I start writing the first book. Then I write very very fast. If at all possible, 20 pages a day. I know it sounds like a lot, but much of it is absolute dreck. But there's something (for me) about going over 10 pages that drives me into exhaustion-related creativity. Almost always large chunks of the first 10 pages have to be cut and the second 10 pages makes it through with relatively little editing -- this may be my version of Terri's writing process.

Then if at all possible, I put the book aside for 2-3 months. Let it brew. Collect comments from people like editors, husbands and research assistants. Then attack it again. Strangely enough, today is the day that I start revision Desperate Duchesses (coming in April). Wish me luck!

CONNIE TAKES THE MYSTERY OUT OF WRITING A BOOK

Something strikes me as funny or absurd or terrible. It can be a situation or a character.

For example in the kinda soon to be released HOTDISH, the genesis for the book began with a butter sculpture at the Minnesota State Fair. It was so rife with possibilities. All I needed to do was figure what that butter head sculpture really meant and not just to one person (the heroine who's face was being sculpted) but to a number of different people, I started dovetailing their stories together to make a bigger story. It took about half a year before I "writing" but every day, sometimes every hours, the story was evolving in my head-- ideas being played with and discarded, new options being considered.

In AS YOU DESIRE, I began with a character, a die-hard romantic who does not see the hero under her very nose. I then tried to think of what a young woman would consider the ultimate romantic image and , of course, the idea of a shiek riding along the desert dunes immediately sprang to mind. So then I fit Eygpt story around that concept, using Eygpt as a backdrop and trying to determine why the hero (Harry-- the most unromantic name I could think of) would want my heroine not to see his "true nature." Again, that part took months. The story grew around a character I found appealing. Who hasn't known someone so smart they're dumb?

So there you go. Easy, yes? ha ha

Ha ha ha ha

HA HA HA HA HA!

Teresa Medeiros, 6:26 PM
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