Friday, October 14, 2011

Writers' Groups and the Writing Process

At my writers' group today, we were talking about blogging and possible subjects for a blog. I highly recommend finding a writers' group for anyone serious about writing. Peg and Jim and others who have come and gone have been invaluable to my development as a writer. The Goddess's Choice wouldn't be half the book it is if it weren't for them, and they shall always have my undying gratitude. I owe them more than I can possibly say. It was Peg, after all, who came up with the title. Titles aren't my strong suit, and (I can say this because the idea wasn't mine) I think The Goddess's Choice an excellent title. Writers' groups (at least good ones) provide an unbiased, critical look at your work and can point out problems that you are often too close to see for yourself. Their strengths can complement your weaknesses. They provide motivation when your enthusiasm wans and can help you over dry spots and writers' block. They provide camaraderie in the often lonely life of a writer. My group has been so helpful that I can hardly imagine a writer existing without a writers' group. If you can't find an already existing group to take you in, try finding another writer and starting one of your own. Jim and I started our group, and for awhile, were the only members. Our group has always been small (five people at its largest), and I don't recommend a group much larger than that.

At group, we joked briefly about me writing a treatise on "who" and "whom." Jim and I have a long standing argument over the word "whom." I think it has became archaic and needs to be dropped from the language. I think it often sounds pretentious, and it is of the utmost annoyance when people use "whom" when "who" is correct. Jim is a passionate advocate for its retention and proper usage. He claims I just don't know how to use it. I do. ("Who" is a subjective pronoun; "whom" is objective. You use "who" when the answer would be he or she; you use "whom" when the answer would be her or him.) I just chose not to in my writing. When I teach, I use it because people expect it from an English teacher. Peg stays out of the argument, as is probably wise.

I have been looking at the blogs of writers I admire for some hints of how to successfully do this blog thing. Jim Butcher's blog is all about advice on writing. He had a long entry on doing story arcs and plotting out main plots and subplots with different, complicated arcs with all the parts of the conflict laid out. I can't argue with the results. It obviously works for him. His books are excellent. He is one of my favorite authors. Harry Dresden is an absolutely amazing character.

That said, I could never write that way myself. If I thought I had to plot out a story arc first, I'd never be able to put fingers to keyboard. I have little advice to give on how to write. I'm not sure I know how to write. I just do it. My process is more along these lines. The story starts as a vague idea in my head and develops there in my daydreams for some time. The characters live and breathe inside my mind. I write nothing down at while at the day dreaming stage. Then I begin to put it onto paper (or more accurately computer screen) with only the most basic idea of where I'm going with it. I usually know about where I want to end up, but I don't know how I'm going to get there. I'm often as surprised by the twists and turns of my books as my readers are. The characters seem to take on a life of their own and dictate the story to me. They decide what they are going to do next, and the consequences follow logically from those actions. My characters are as real as people to me.

With my process of writing, my first drafts are extremely, and I mean extremely, rough, just the bare backbones of a story. The fleshing out and the working out of problems comes in the revision process, not the initial drafting, and I revise A LOT. I'm not sure if there is one sentence from my original draft of The Goddess's Choice that remained in the final version.

I don't necessarily advocate this way of writing. It is somewhat chaotic, and I write a lot of material that I will never use. I would guess (although I don't know this) that the initial drafts of Jim Butcher's books need a lot less revision than the initial drafts of mine. I think what is important to know is there is not one right way to write a book. You have to figure out what works for you and go with it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

I just went to an author's workshop and learned that every writer should have a blog. I have considered that I have nothing to blog about--my life not being a terribly exciting one, so I've decided to devote this first post to the origin of my novel. Just where did the idea for The Goddess's Choice come from?

The Goddess's Choice comes from deep within my childhood. My sister Jalane--she is ten years older than me--would tell me and my younger sister stories, fairy tales mostly:  "Midas and His Golden Touch," "The Three Little Men in the Forest," "Hanzel and Gretel." But my favorite was always "The Princess and the Glass Hill" or "The Glass Mountain" as my sister titled it. You can read the original fairy tale at The Princess and the Glass Hill. Jalane took a lot of license in telling her tales, so her version was more exciting than the official one, but the official one is close enough to the story I loved. Wendie and I would have her tell that story over and over again. I was captivated by the bold hero on his magical horses of bronze, silver, and gold.

As I got older, the story faded from my consciousness. For years I hardly thought about it. Then in graduate school it came back to me in an essay I wrote. We were discussing children's literature in a Women's Studies course and had to do a personal essay on our experience with literature as a child. The story of "The Princess and the Glass Hill" figured heavily in that paper. That's when the inherit sexism of the story was brought forcibly home. The princess has no name, no personality, performs almost no actions. She is not even described. She is nothing more than the prize--a trophy--to be handed off to the lucky man who wins her father's contest. How she feels about the matter is not discussed, not even thought of, as I did not think about it when I was a child. I identified with the bold young hero of the tale, not the nearly invisible princess waiting at the top of the mountain with her golden apples.

After graduate school, "The Glass Mountain" made another appearance when I had a child of my own. I loved the story so much as a child, I wanted to pass it on to my son. Jesse loved it every bit as much as I had.

But one day after telling it to him, it came to me that the story could be so much more than the few pages and sparse details devoted to it in either the original or my sister's version. Robbie (in my sister's version, he was merely the youngest brother) was born sleeping in the attic on a straw mattress. Although that detail didn't survive into the final version, it was the gem of the story. I also knew that my princess would be no passive character in the tale of another. The princess would be as strong and full developed as Robbie--a true heroine to match his hero. Samantha came to be, dreading yet another ball. She would far rather be riding her horse.

So this is the beginning of my blog. If anyone's reading it, please let me know.