Where Ladybugs Roar

Confessions and Passions of a Compulsive Writer

Monday, March 7, 2011

The stumbling story- my writing process

So, my mom and I got into a discussion about how I start a story. She is working on a series of MG novels and she wanted to know how my process starts because she is feeling stuck. Honestly... I think my writing process is like stumbling. It's a weirdly accurate metaphor and I'm intimately familiar with stumbling. This is how it starts:

An idea pops into my head out of nowhere... this is the rock, dip, my own foot getting in the way that starts the stumbling. I'll use Secrets of Skin and Stone as an example. In Secrets, it was the way a person with OCD often thinks they've done something terrible even if they have no proof. In the case of Secrets of Skin and Stone, Piper thinks she has killed her dog. This was the rock that started the stumble.

Now picture a good hard stumbling fall toward a face plant.... If you're clumsy, you know the feeling of inevitability that hits you from that first moment. Still, you try to recover. You wave your arms around. You perform acrobatics. Anything! Everything! You might pull muscles trying to recover but it's all instinctual and it seems worth it at the time.

Back to the metaphor:

My story builds with momentum as more scenes drop into my head. With Secrets, I thought up Gris's character and his dialogue when he meets Piper next. I thought of how it would be cool if he was a gargoyle. Dialogue scenes and action scenes are the frantic hand waving that help draw out the stumble. I write them down fast and it flows from scene to scene as I write frantically.

The quick steps I take trying to prevent the face plant are crucial scenes that keep the story up in the air... (the cutting scenes, the mystery, the flying scenes) but... it's all leading to a glorious face plant/ bite of cement.

As the ground rushes up/ the story draws to a close... I generally quit sleeping so I can write more. Usually the last 10K of a story is written in one or two days where I barely do anything besides writing. When I hit "the end" it's quite the rush... and, yes, sometimes it's a little painful and disorienting, but I've hit it hard and with gusto.

It's a solid pantsing style from beginning to end. The few times I tried plotting... I don't face plant with a story. In fact, I usually recover and just walk off. With motivation, I can finish it... as I did with the Odyssey retelling last year, but it's really hard for me. My writing style needs that crazy momentum you get in a dangerous free-fall where I write on instinct.

Anyway, I know this is different from most... sane writers.

Right now, I've got an abnormal amount of WIPs in process because something stopped my stumbling. (I know... I've managed to make stumbling a good thing, but I need the adrenalin rush from the process to keep me going.)

I have three WIPs that I've mentioned before: The Chosen Changeling, My Other Life, and The Sentinel's Run.

The Chosen Changeling I stopped because I suddenly didn't know what came next. This hardly ever happens to me. It was... strange and worried me. Being a pantser and having your inspiration dry up... is terrifying. Luckily, this hardly ever happens... and I know I can work through it, but when writing feels like magic rather than work, it's scary when the magic stops.

My Other Life fell prey to the shiny-new short story phenomenon that I occasionally go through where I get distracted by an easy, quick rush from completing a short story. Short stories are so simple and I get the "woo! I finished!" after just 5 K instead of 50K... it's... seductive. I actually know how this one ends and I have the bare bones of the entire plot in my brain... which is extremely rare for me. I really should finish it.... The other thing is that this ms is my first foray into Literary with Magical Realism. I really didn't know how to query it considering I wasn't planning on writing in that genre again. Luckily, that's become a moot point. (Yay! I have an agent! Yay!)

Sentinel's Run was the most tragic momentum halt because it was literally flying from my brain and the voice in that ms is perfect and rich... (I LOVE this ms... LOVE it) but I received requests from agents, and I was working through getting things lined up for them. *sighs* It's sad when a good thing falls prey to another good thing. I keep wanting to dive back into it and eat and breathe it for a few weeks. Sarah just gave me permission to finish it when I'm done with Secrets revisions. Woooo!

While I was explaining this method to my mom... I also brought up this idea I got for a story right before I left for Disneyland. (I actually got two ideas for stories right before.) Both ideas came in the form of a scene in my head. The one I described was for "Frosted" and it was the first scene in the book. It was almost all action... so I quickly wrote that 1K down before I closed my laptop and finished packing for Disneyland. I described it to my mom... not thinking that my niece was sitting right there. LOL. My niece said, "You've GOT to write that!" after I was done. It made me laugh. Apparently, I pitched perfectly to my nine year old niece. She also wanted candy or Candyland involved, though... so maybe the idea needs work. ; )

The second idea... I actually had already forgotten, but I'd written it down. This idea came from an emotion experienced during a later scene in the ms I'm calling "The Spider Prince." So, the short blurb I wrote on that one to help me remember it... won't make sense to anyone but me really. (If any of you remember my notes from Honor 7... it's horrifying how rambling and odd they are.) I'm less sure how to start "The Spider Prince" but I know the skeleton of the story up until this scene half-way through.

I'll probably pick one of them to write for NaNoWriMo this year. I have no idea how either of them end... which is completely normal for me. Until then, they're just documents waiting for attention... and hopefully they'll play nice and not cause insomnia.

So, that's it. That's how I write. You won't find it in any "How to" books, and I don't necessarily advocate it, but that's how it goes. It's worked for me over two dozen times now, so.... *shrugs* It's inelegant, chaotic, and insane, but whatever works....


  1. so jealous of your stumbling process. Wish I could stumble my way through my books.

  2. You say that, Mary... but stumbling means going without sleep. LOL. It's the only way you can keep that momentum. It ain't pretty.