Writing is a very subjective and personal pursuit. I would guess that there are about 958 mega-bazillion writers in the world and no two writers go about the process in the exact same way. In some of my writers’ forums and in many of the blogs I follow, I hear about writers creating detailed outlines and storyboards, using index cards or software to chart the arc of their story and keep track of the main characters and major plot points. This all sounds very foreign to me.
I’ve always been an organic writer. When I sit down to write a book, I may know four or five major plot points. Or not. I may know the names of the major characters and how the conflict will affect them. Or not. I may know what happens in the book, and how it ends. Or not.
My latest book (Stone’s Ghost, not yet published) is a good case in point. I’ve blogged before about how I originally set out to write a light, fluffy ghost story that suddenly turned dark and moody. The initial inspiration for this came while I was watching an episode of Arizona Highways and they did a story on the London Bridge in Lake Havasu City and the ghosts that supposedly haunt it. I thought at the time that it might be fun to write about a ghost who died in 18th century London but finds herself in the desert southwest of the “colonies.” My initial idea was a fish-out-of-water story where the ghost is disoriented by the drastic change in her surroundings and must adapt, helped by a living human who connects with her and guides her through the transition. Imagine my surprise when the main living character, Matthew Stone, became the focal point, and his story was anything but light and fluffy.
He developed into a very moody guy, and with good reason. His father was an alcoholic and disappeared into a bottle regularly, leaving the young man disillusioned and disappointed. Although Matt has become a successful businessman, has plenty of money and a beautiful girlfriend, maintains a high standard of integrity and believes himself a model citizen, unexpected events bring out the fact that he is not quite as undamaged as he would like to believe.
What I love about this organic “process” is that it seems to come from some other place than my own brain. Don’t ask me where, but it’s not part of my conscious planning. It may arise from the subconscious, or it may just be serendipity. While writing an earlier book, Goddess Rising, I would often sit down and not have a clue what I was going to write, but the words would flow off the pen with surprising abundance. I remember at one point I introduced an idea that seemed like a small sidelight, an unimportant detail that arose naturally out of the situation at the time but seemed to have no great purpose in the story. It was only much later that the same idea returned and suddenly became pivotal, and I had to wonder: was there a part of me that knew I would need it later on? What made me include it in the first place, and what made me write my way into needing it for the story later? I will never know.
The same was true with Stone’s Ghost. What was very surprising was the fact that I didn’t really know what the core idea of the story was until I was about 20 pages from the end. At that point it became clear to me, yet I still had no idea how that core idea was going to be realized. That happened about 10 pages later, buried in a conversation that I thought was fairly innocuous. And it wasn’t until I got to the last page that I realized the story was not going to end the way I thought!
So much for planning.
Is it better to be organized, or let the story evolve organically? I can’t speak for anyone else, but obviously for me, organic works. And I don’t think I’d want it any other way.