Monday, September 27, 2010

By the Seat of My Pants

I belong to several Yahoo! groups devoted to a number of different subjects. In one of the these groups, somebody posed a question to the writers in the group, asking them how they approached a project. Did they work from a detailed outline or did they wing it?

I've tried both, and I have found I prefer flying by the seat of my pants. When working from an outline, I found that my work was forced, the events as they unfolded seemed contrived, and the characters stiff. No matter how real they were in my mind, the rigidity with which I was approaching the project left no room for straying. I had an outline and I didn't budge from it. I was working towards a goal, forcing characters to behave and respond in certain ways in order to reach the intended finale I had in mind. What I ended up with was crap.

When I approach a project now, I have a general idea in my head about what the story is going to be. Before I start writing, I create brief character sketches, complete with physical descriptions and biographies. With that in hand, I begin my project. With the loosely conceived idea, I find I have more freedom to create, events arise more naturally as the story progresses, and the characters speak and react in a more realistic manner. The characters take over and its like they are telling me what needs to happen and where the story needs to go. I find myself quite often straying from the original story line I had conceived, with events arising that I had never originally thought of. This rarely happened when I worked from an outline; I knew what the story was supposed to be and I knew better than the characters. They needed to shut the hell up and let me write. After all, I had created them; I knew what was best for them. How wrong I was. Now I treat my characters life E.F. Hutton. . . You know the commercial. . . "When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen." When my characters try to speak to me, I stop what I'm doing, let them take over, and sit back and enjoy the ride.

If you're a writer reading this, I'd be interested to hear how you approach a project.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Writing Process

I've been following one of the many Yahoo writing groups, and today they were going back and forth about the writing process and which was the best. Many of them admitted to editing as they wrote, while others said they wrote their first draft and then went back to edit.

When I write, I don't work from an outline. I have everything loosely formulated in my head, and quite often I have the ending sketched out before I've even written two pages. Now it's just a matter of getting there. As a result, I tend to write straight through for fear of losing the storyline that I've created in my head. I suppose the easy way around that would be to jot down notes in a notebook. With that said, I have been guilty of editing as I go, but, as a rule, I try not to edit as I write because I find the writing process takes longer than if I knocked out the first draft without editing.

The first manuscript that I completed I wrote in two weeks working 10 to 12 hours a day. The editing seemed like a never-ending process. I often wonder what would have happened if I edited the manuscript while I was working on it. If some of the short stories I've written are any example, which are the projects I find I tend to edit while I write due to the shorter nature of the project, I'd still be working on the first draft.

As with any rule, however, there are exceptions. When I have stepped away from a project for any period of time, I find I have to re-read what I've written in order to get back into the flow of things. As I read, I find myself making notes on the hard copy I've printed out, and before I know it, I'm back into the file and and doing a full-scale edit, making changes, reworking paragraphs, and sometimes deleting blocks of text entirely and recreating them.

How about you? Which way do you prefer to write?

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Bastardization of the Classics

A few days ago, I came across something on Twitter that rubbed me the wrong way. A well-known publisher had asked the following question: Which classic/popular literary work do you want to see overrun by zombie hordes? Add your opinion in the latest zombie survey.

When I first read about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I admit to being intrigued by the idea. I thought it was novel, taking a classic and "zombie-fying" it, and I was interested to see how the author would approach it. Little did I know -- and maybe I had just read the wrong reviews -- that it was going to be Jane Austen's novel word for word with additions and tweakings to include the zombie hordes. For me, while there was an originality of concept, there was zero artistic creativity. This was more about creative editing than it was about writing. So for the life of me I cannot understand why this book is receiving the rave reviews it has. I would have preferred to see the author rewrite Austen's story in his own words and include the new elements while maintaining the tone of the original work. This, to me, would have been worthy of the reviews it has been receiving.

Now, unfortunately, due to the commercial success of
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, we are see a glut of copycats hit the shelves. There's The Undead World of Oz (which I have had the misfortune of reading), The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Zombie Jim, Alice in Zombieland, and War of the Worlds Plus Blood, Guts and Zombies, to name a few. And it hasn't stopped with zombies. There's also Emma and the Werewolves, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, Android Karenina, and these are just the ones I've heard about. I'm sure there are others, and now a publisher is toying with the idea of adding more?! When is it going to end? Enough is enough. I would love to see these authors apply their creative energies to something original. Leave the classics alone and come up with something new.