I was going to post an update about my novel, but found it too depressing, so instead I thought it would be fun to talk about the crime story I’m working on, and how my early writing process, as a whole, unfolds.
The above mentioned crime story is for an anthology. The book will have three stories, each in the 20 – 25K range, and will be written by myself and two other authors. I agreed to take part in the project before having any sort of idea as to what I was going to write about.
With a deadline looming, I got out the trusty note pad and started jotting. This marks the first step in the evolution of a story for me. I have about a hundred blank note books. You know the ones, those 80 page Hilroy’s we all remember from school. Every August I load up on the things when they are 10 cents each leading in the new school year. I like to get a nice mix of colours for the covers, but seem to lean towards red and green. Anyway, I crack one of those bad boys open and let my brain dribble all over the page.
My stories always start out as a simple concept. For example, when I wrote One Way Road in The Space Between Houses collection, I simply envisioned a very old woman driving a hot rod like the devil was on her ass. I didn’t know what she was driving from or towards, or why she was driving at all, just that she was driving.
The crime story started much the same way. Making barely legible notes, I began plotting a Die Hard-esque story about a grocery clerk. I really liked the concept and so started adding flesh to the bones of the story. Which brings me to my next step. Plotting.
In that same note book that I made notes in, I now plot. Basically it’s like this. I work my way through the story as it exists in my head so far, as a series of chronological bullet points. I’ll do this several times adding in new information and events until I have somewhere in the neighborhood of fifty or so points. Sometimes (as with my novel), I’ll even repeat this process a couple dozen times.
Once I think I have the plot worked out, and the pacing seems right, I move on to the next step; detailed plotting.
I go back and look over the most recent bullet pointed plot and on a fresh page, start stretching those points into small paragraphs. I’m still not writing mind you, but rather getting much more detailed with what is going on in the story.
Where a simple line reading something like: Josh watches the guy closely as he unloads the truck.
Becomes: Josh watches the guys closely. The guy, who seems nervous, keeps making eye contact before abruptly breaking it with everybody in the room. When the guy’s boss tells him to get the truck unloaded, he jumps. He quickly gets to work, his body language showing how tense he is. Josh, suddenly feeling a bit nervous himself, moves to a different spot which gives him a better view of the strange fellow.
Much like the previous stage, I’ll go over these expanded points many times until each one is four or five times the size it began as. I’ll also take this time to move stuff around, or add in new characters and events. When I finish with this step of my process, the story reads like some sort of Cliff Notes version of what I’m planning on writing.
It was at this point that my Die Hard grocery store story got shelved. I really like the story, and was looking forward to writing it…but, it just didn’t feel right for a crime anthology. The story played out more like an action thriller, which is all good, but not the tone I was looking for.
So with a sigh, I circled back to step one.
With a new idea all plotted out (this one with a 100% more strippers!), it is time for the final step, writing it. Being that the crime story had a quick turnaround from concept to typed page, it has flowed very smoothly. In the past (I’m looking at you novel) I’ve had some struggles finding the story I had plotted while sitting in front of my computer.
And voila! That’s I a story goes from idea to page. I’ve met other writers who have a completely different approach, which proves that there is no right or wrong way to create a story.
I got my first reading of the year coming up! More on that next week.