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Reflections of a working writer and reader

 

 

Creating a Text – L. Lee Lowe

What phases are involved in the creation of a text?

Far too much mystique surrounds the Writer, as if she (in my case) were some sort of demigod who, with the proper offerings, can be induced to hand down a Sacred Text. In fact, it’s all very simple, a process that anyone with an IQ of 90, a mother tongue, and access to one of the fine how-to books on writing can manage with a little effort. Personally I favour John Scribbleman’s Twelve Steps to the Pulitzer Prize: How to Write a Novel in Six Months or Less. I always pick one of the basic plots he describes and print its pithy label in capital letters on the whiteboard mounted on my study wall. To avoid boredom, it’s best to vary your choice from novel to novel, though if you’re prolific there will eventually be repeats. Not to worry, there’s an entire chapter devoted to this very problem. Now I add a succinct statement of the theme in twenty words or less, but preferably under ten. Remember the golden rule of writing: less is more. I also like to set down the key event and no more than two or three other major scenes (a chase and a seduction are always serviceable). These notes will remain in full view till the novel is finished. Writers need to be reminded of what their work is about, since they have a decided habit of digressing. Too much imagination is harmful; counter-productive.

Next I make a list of characters, choosing one as the protagonist. It doesn’t actually matter which one, but it’s a good idea to be clear from the start whether he will lose his job, his wife, his children, and his silver Merc S 600 at the end of the novel, or she will murder her best friend. If I have any difficulty deciding, I write down each name on a separate index card – check out those terrific fluorescent-coloured ones – shuffle briskly, and select a card (eyes closed, no cheating now). Then I sketch out appearance, personality, and backstory, each bio on a different sheet of paper. Gel pens are great for colour-coding, and I like red and orange for nasty character traits – dishonesty, explosive temper, a secret indulgence in child porn, nose-picking, that sort of thing – and blue tones for family history, but you can work out your own system.

Since everyone wants plot-driven novels, the next stage involves writing a detailed outline of everything that is going to happen, the more action the better: reader interest! film options! I always have a large stack of poster paper available for this purpose, which is cheaper if bought in quantity. Mapping in colour is such fun, not to mention very impressive to the eye when you give an interview in your study or film one of those book trailers. (Also be sure to display large stacks of books and closely scribbled sheets of paper, some crumbled up on the floor, a few fetish objects like a desiccated finger – but claim it’s Poe’s, no one will believe you if you say Shakespeare – or stones from Chesil Beach, and enough general disorder to remind critics and potential readers of your Diligence and Creativity.) However, some authors prefer those perky little post-its, because you can move them around easily. In fact, when in doubt you can remove them all, put them in a sack, and shake – voilà, an instant second draft.

Now I’m ready to write. I don my granddad’s paisley waistcoat for luck, make a pot of unsweetened green tea for concentration, and turn on my computer. Chapter One, I type.

I wait for that sweet rush of words.

And wait.

Three weeks later I erase the bilge on the whiteboard, tear up all the sheets of paper, and begin again, one sentence at a time. No idea where I’m headed, and only the faintest where I’ve been. Once I’ve finished, this first draft becomes my outline. I lay the MS away for 3-6 months, take a break from writing by learning something completely new and different – this time round it’ll be algebraic topology or crewel embroidery – and only then am I ready to tackle my first major rewrite.

Not very efficient, but it’s the only way I can do it. However, I haven’t given up hope that one day it will get easier.

L. Lee Lowe is a writer who blogs at Lowebrow. Her YA fantasy novel Mortal Ghost can be read online.

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