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Written by CarrieB
(4/5/2004 5:33 p.m.)
in consequence of the missive, Questions for Carrie Bebris, penned by Kim in AK
]I'd also love to hear about your writing process. Does the story just boil up inside you and demand to be told? Do you contemplate the story line at length before committing anything to paper? Do you set daily/weekly goals for yourself in terms of number of pages to be completed? What is the most enjoyable aspect of writing? The most frustrating or difficult?
Some authors write by the seat of their pants – they sit down, type "Chapter One" on a blank screen, and discover their story as they write. Others produce volumes of character sketches, charts, and outlines so detailed that they pretty much just need to add the dialogue and they've got a first draft. I'm in between.
I start by keeping an Idea Folder. Any stray idea that could possibly find its way into a book – a story premise, a plot twist, a type of character, a means of hiding a clue, an interesting setting, an intriguing research item – gets scribbled on the nearest available piece of paper (which includes envelopes, napkins, placemats, receipts . . .) and tucked into the folder. When it's time to start planning a new book, I pull out the folder and read through them. With the Darcy mysteries, I also think about where the Darcys were when readers last left them, and which JA books/characters I feel like working with next.
Then I let everything sort of percolate in my head for a little while. (Often this stage overlaps the completion of the previous book – wrapping up one while thinking ahead to the next.) A general theme or premise forms, and I start researching it. (This means not only nonfiction research, but also rereading Austen and related fiction.) The research leads to more ideas, which lead to further research, and so on. I let everything simmer some more, kind of like tossing raw ingredients into a slow cooker. Eventually, it all blends into something promising. (If I'm lucky!)
Then the harder work begins – taking all of those ideas and organizing them into a coherent story. I write a synopsis (about 12-15 pages) that covers the main conflict, characters, plot points, and resolution. If you compare it to planning a trip, at this stage I know where I'm starting from, what my destination is, and the major cities I'll pass through. But I don't know which roads I'll take – some of those will get built along the way.
The synopsis goes through several drafts as I fill in gaps, develop characters, figure out when and where to plant clues. But eventually, I reach a point where I'm just itching to start writing – even if some of the finer details aren't nailed down yet. And so I begin. No matter how much prewriting one does, the process of writing is always a process of discovery. The more the book takes shape, the more ideas flow. Connections form that I never even thought of during the planning stages. That's the most exciting/joyous/rewarding part of writing – discovering the story, being your own first reader.
I try to write at least 5 days a week. The longer I'm away from a work-in-progress, the harder it is to get back into the action and my characters' heads where I left them. I try to write a certain number of pages each week, which allows some flexibility for highly productive vs. not-so-productive days. I also try to write in the mornings, before too many details of modern life clutter my mind. It's hard enough to think like a Regency character without the telephone ringing off the hook. My favorite thing to write is dialogue. When I'm feeling stuck, or unsure how to get the story from point A to point B (or, more likely, point L to point M), I'll just write straight dialogue and then go back to fill in the rest.
When I get to the end of the story, I go back to the beginning to revise. I also revise along the way, inserting, for example, a clue in Chapter 4 that I didn't think of until I needed it in Chapter 12, or fleshing out characters in early scenes that I've gotten to know better as the book progressed. When the first draft is done, I have a couple friends I trust to give me honest criticism before I send it off to my editor. (They also help me bounce ideas around during the brainstorming and synopsis stages.) While they are reading it, I also read it once more. Then I revise again. And again :)
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