Are you a “knows-the-beginning, knows-the-end, so-now-let’s-write-the-middle” kinda writer, or are you “let’s-start-with-one-image-in-mind-and-see-where-that-takes-me” kinda writer?
The second one. The first one makes a lot of sense in theory, and it’s what I’d do if it didn’t inevitably lead to me sobbing over a tub of comfort ice-cream. But it does.
I don’t know whether anyone has made the first one work. I know some writers claim to have done it. But I think they must be lying. That would mean you can figure out almost everything you need to about a book before you start it. That’s not my experience. My process is more like this:
Day 1: “That’s a great idea.”
Day 5: “That idea was terrible but this character is interesting.”
Day 20: “I hate everything about this book except these two lines I just wrote.”
Day 40: “What was that original idea again, it wasn’t so bad, was it?”
Day 41: “OH RIGHT, YES, YES IT WAS.”
Day 50: “Ha ha this first chapter is great now that I changed everything I used to like about it.”
Day 150: “The later chapters are so much better than the first. The first one makes me want to vomit with anger.”
And so on. I also like to throw out the entire second half of a draft at some stage. Well, I don’t like to. But it’s what usually happens.
Hey, one of the things my teachers are always telling me I need to improve on in my writing is setting. Even in this simple question, you can note the complete absence of any indications of time and space. Seeing as my teachers are all incompetent, you got any tips that could help me?
Setting is very important. Without setting, your characters would float helplessly in a formless void. I definitely recommend setting your story somewhere, so that they can move about and order coffees.
I’m not a big setting guy. You probably knew that. Probably I am half your problem, since you think my opinion worth writing in for. Maybe you should stop reading books like mine. But if we’re separating stories out into their constituent parts (which kills them, but anyway), setting ranks very low. Here’s a list of some things that might be in a scene or story, from most to least important, according to me:
Someone wants something
One person says something that the other person can’t think of a good reply to
The feeling that something bad is going to happen soon
Guess what, something wasn’t like you thought
The feeling that something good is going to happen soon
Where everybody is
How old they are
What they’re wearing
But setting is important. A good setting makes everything more believable. It’s just something I tend to leave until last, once everything else is working. Because no-one loves a book for its setting, and it’s relatively easily changed. This isn’t a film where you have to rebuild the sets. You can do it with a sentence here and there. Small details, implying larger ones. Like if we’re in a hospital, you don’t want to describe the walls, or the color of the uniforms, or say how many rooms there are. We’ve all seen plenty of hospitals; that stage is prebuilt in our heads. But you can mention an old guy shuffling by in urine-soaked pajama pants, or a woman sitting up doing her lipstick in her bed, or the bucket catching leaks behind the nurses’ desk. Something different and suggestive like that.