by Liz Flaherty
Here are a few pieces of Word Wrangler conversation with no attribution, although you may be able to guess who said what.
...do you remember when we used to do themes? We rotated weeks on picking...
Do we have a theme for next week and I forgot it already?
...we hadn't talked about theme yet ... since the last 2 were kind of 'slice of life'ish, do we want to go to a writer theme for next week?
I can do a blog on my process if I can figure out what it is.
...I go into it knowing at least half of my plot is going to hit the trash before it even gets to the actual manuscript page...
"Hi, welcome to Wal--oh look squirrel!"
So, process—I gleaned that from the conversation. Didn’t you? Hmm...
I get people first. Usually with names. Often with idiosyncrasies or disabilities. I get the opening scene. Then I get setting. Then, word by excruciating word, I get story. I have learned over the years to write a synopsis before I write the book (though not before I write the first three chapters) but it goes against my grain to do so. It hurts the spontaneity of writing for me and I worry about sticking to the synopsis even though I know going in I’m in all likelihood not going to.
But, yes, those people I mentioned. They’re there, fully formed. But sometimes those forms change. Even their names change once in a while (which is way more difficult than it sounds) because I will have six characters whose first names start with “M,” including two named Max. One of whom may or may not be a dog.
I love the opening scene. In my mind, it’s full and rich and will hook a reader so absolutely that she will beunable to stop reading even to go to work or fold the laundry. In quilting, when you sew a seam, you “set” it with the iron so it’s flat and flawless (in theory). My first scene is that to me. It sets the story on my heart so I have to tell it. It acquaints me with the people in the story, with the house’s front porch, with the dog named Ma...with the dog. Usually, by the time the book is done, the opening scene is either gone or rewritten beyond recognition. Doesn’t matter—it set the seam.
I always write either small town or rural (no, they’re not the same), so I usually find mine either walking on the trail near my house or when I’m in a small town. Nan and I went to Michigan last year. I’ll never write a town called South Haven or Saugatuck, but there will be parts of those places in my story.
Then I write the synopsis and ship it off to my editor with the first three chapters or however much I’ve got written. If it doesn’t work out with the publisher, sometimes I have to write the story anyway because it’s already there—the seam’s already set. Sometimes it goes into the “maybe someday” file. If he likes it and buys it, it’s wonderful. I’m so happy. I do some ridiculous dancing around and say “guess what!” over and over to my husband who always says he never had any doubts at all.
And then I go into the infamous “I can’t do it. I know I can’t do it” mode that can get ugly and is another post altogether.
That’s my process, if it can be called that, because it changes from book to book. But I always set the seam. And I always keep on sewing.