Anne B. Walsh - Do you believe in magic?

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Anne's Randomness

Kindling for Kindles

Wouldn't that be a fun contest? Bring firewood or some other form of heating to help a family stay warm in the winter, and get an entry to win an e-reader! Though what I'm talking about today, of course, is the process on which I'm currently embarked, that of building a story which I hope will burn as brightly as any fire.
If you check out my Personal Novel Writing Month page for Playing with Fire (story snippet now available!), you'll see that I'm on pace, even a bit ahead. Elizabeth has accused me of "making this look easy". So I think this Thunder Thursday's blog post should be about my writing process, and why it's not quite as simple as it looks.
Every author has a different writing process, as individual as a musician's or an actor's technique. I believe it's fair to liken my process to starting a fire, because like that most ancient of arts, it has several distinct steps, some of which may seem odd, but none of which can be skipped if you want a truly useful outcome.
First, I must gather fuel. For a physical fire, as any Boy or Girl Scouts among you will know, this might include dried grass, newspaper, twigs, bark, sticks, logs, charcoal... basically, whatever you can find that will burn, but you always need a variety of sizes and types, or your fire just won't fly. (So to speak. Actual flying fire is BAD.) 
For writing, my fuel comes in both physical and mental forms. Anyone who reads my "About the Author" blurbs knows that I can get very deeply into my writing at times, and the only way to lure me out is with strong black tea (one Splenda, please) and delicious carbohydrates. Krystal is not called the Author-Feeder for nothing.
Mental fuel is where we start to get more topical with the day of the week again, because getting the right kind of fuel in my brain-tank is especially essential when I'm writing in a particular period and place, such as Georgian-era England and Ireland. One anachronistic turn of phrase can ruin the audience's fictional dream for good.
Once I have my fuel gathered, I have to put it into order. Again, as I would if I were kindling a physical fire, I start with the easy stuff. What are my characters wearing today? Who are they hoping to see? What questions will they ask, and what might come of that asking? Layer by layer, twig by twig, I build my preparations...
Then I have to light it all up and hope for the best. This is the moment when words meet screen, when fingers meet keys, when voice begins to speak into microphone. And, unsurprisingly, now and then my fire fizzles out. Some days the kindling won't catch. Other times it flares up and goes out, or burns in a way I never intended.
But is that a disaster? In the real world, it can be (everybody take a moment and do your best Smokey Bear impression... I'll wait), but in fiction, a fire that's burning fiercely should never be put out. The direction of the fiercest flame indicates the area where your passions lie, whether you realized it until this very moment or not.
For instance, yesterday, a scene I'd intended to be a sweet little moment with a man stepping out of his house to enjoy the morning took a more thoughtful, reminiscent turn. I followed where the fire was leading me, and ended up with a meeting between two of my favorite supporting characters much sooner than I'd originally intended.
Is that a good thing, or a bad one? Some writers, if I understand it right, need to have their process under much stricter control than this. Others would find even the limited outlining I do in my preparation step to be too much rigidity. Who's right? All of us. As long as we produce fiction which is both entertaining and compelling.
As for who decides if we do that? Why, that would be you, oh readers. Hop on over to my PerNoWriMo page to see the scene in question, and let me know how I'm doing so far. (Having read A Widow in Waiting will be helpful, but isn't necessary!)

2 Comments to Kindling for Kindles:

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Scott on Friday, September 06, 2013 6:42 PM
Arg, even your snippets end in cliffies! I'm not terribly surprised, but still, arg! Of course, we do know at least part of the story he's asking about already. Very nicely done, and quite intriguing. In this case, I'd say the fire burned true.
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Frances on Saturday, September 07, 2013 7:48 AM
So when Adam talks to Ellen about the explanation he's been given in Widow in Waiting, this is the prelude to that explanation? Very excited to hear the story from Starsight's point of view! And it was lovely to see a little into Adam's mind. Really enjoyed that snippet and looking forward to more.
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