Some writers are deep planners, charting outlines, and writing character biographies. Others are “seat of the pants” writers. They just stare down the cursor on the blank page and see what happens. Their characters guide them through the plot.
I’m somewhere in the middle. I’m a dreamliner. I think up my novels in my head. They aren’t exactly outlines, but I work out the world of the novel in my head. The characters tend to show up, but I also craft them. I daydream scenes complete with dialog when I’m going for walks, puttering in the garden (although allergies have taken the joy out of that), and mulling things over before I go to sleep.
Then, when things gel, I pound out a whole chapter on the computer—although I have been known to do the first draft longhand to better stay in touch with my creativity. Once the novel gets going I do let the characters carry me along. That’s one of the great joys of writing without an outline. Great spaces open up that I doubt I could create consciously. And those scenes often tend to be the ones that are the most popular with readers. In fact, one character in an unpublished ms. just showed up unbidden. He wanted in, so I let him in, and he was the most interesting character in the manuscript. (I’m still unhappy with that ms. so it stays unpublished.)
One of the most dramatic examples of dreamlining was a short story, Wili, that I wrote over three days. Each night before I went to bed I thought my way through this tale. I rarely write in first person, but I heard my character’s voice and she wanted to be heard. So I followed her voice as she discussed her pain, her nervosa anorexia, her dedication to her craft, her hatred of critics, and the critic whom she hated. There was a visit to this critic, a cry from the heart, and then a denouement to the end.
I sat down at the computer after it all came together wrote it in one take and then showed it to some of my writer friends. One person, who had a stepdaughter who had anorexia, was amazed how close it came to describing actual symptoms of the disease. I don’t know how I picked them up. Anyway, I sent the story off, and it was published in a literary journal (Folio).
I’m not much of a short story writer, however. I like the idea of creating a big world of a novel, so my dreamlining is spent concocting scenes and chapters. Then when I’m copyediting on the computer, I have to make sure that everything flows. And I always make a dramatic arc to make sure the story is rising in tension at the correct part. Sometimes I storyboard this process.
One thing that is most important about this style of writing is, the author must know how the story is going to end. The one big complaint of failed writers is “I didn’t know where I was going with it” or “I didn’t know how to end it.” Always, always know where your characters are going and the novel writing process will be less stressful.
As for me, I’ve daydreamed enough, I’m putting words on paper now, and it feels great.
Lynn Voedisch is one of our newer authors. Her latest book is Dateline: Atlantis (out now). You can learn more about her and her books at our website.