Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Getting Started the Tate Hallaway Way

I logged into Facebook this morning and discovered a couple of letters from readers in my in-box. One really nice one came from Debbie D. who asked me if I had any advice for an aspiring writer about the process of writing and getting published. I told her it was probably more complicated an a quickie email reply and promised to do a series of blogs about it here... so, here's the first.

I don't know how far along Debbie is in her process. Maybe she's got a book written and doesn't know where to go with it, or perhaps she's just thinking it'd be cool to be a writer someday. My plan is to start at the very beginning and build from there.

So let's say, you're just thinking maybe you'd like to start writing a book and you're not even sure how to begin. First of all, there's no right or wrong way to write a book. Lots of people have different processes and all of them are valid. I'm going to detail my own, since it's what I know. But, if you find yourself doing something differently, don't worry. Probably someone somewhere has done it the same way as you, and really, all that matters when you're getting started is that you get to THE END.

For me (and you might not believe this,) the hardest part is often coming up with an idea. Of course, now that I've established Garnet, Sebastian, William and the rest of the gang, coming up with scenarios wherein their lives get complicated is relatively easy, but when you're first staring at a blank page, it's hard.

Maybe you've got a cool character or two or three, but you find yourself still not getting anywhere because when you write about them nothing really seems to happen.

I have the same tendency. When I first started writing all I did was write really boring soap operas. People would get together and talk. Okay, the talk might be interesting (to me, at least,) but there wasn't a lot going on.

After taking a class in writing (which, btw, is one thing I recommend to every starting writer,) I realized my problem.

I didn't want to hurt anybody.

A writer has to be willing to send their characters to hell and back. That, my friends, is our job. We have to be ruthless. We have to ask ourselves: "What's the worst thing that could happen to my character?" Then we have to do it to her. To have an engaging plot, we have to be willing to yank the rug out, mess up her life, ask her to do the one thing she really, really doesn't want to do.

That's how you get the plot going. The place you start is that moment that everything changes for your character, the moment when everything goes to hell (and, as a bonus in writing urban fantasy, you can do that literally if you want.)

Of course, I'm assuming you have characters to do this to... but, again, I'm going with my own process. Usually I have some idea of WHO I want to play with, just not how to play. I'll cover inventing characters from scratch tomorrow. Today, your assignment is: If you have a character or two in your head, ask yourself this question: What is the worst thing that could happen to them?

Get out a notebook and write down two or three answers. Think about the answers for a while. Are you being honest? Too nice? Think about it again: what would make my characters desperate? What would ask them to CHANGE? How far would they go to make things right again?

You don't have to do anything with it yet, but just start imagining worst case scenarios.

1 comment:

J.E. Seymour said...

I can really remember this stage. Everything felt very new and very strange.

Currently I'm in that "holy crap I've written 3 novels (a complete series) and I don't know what to do with them" position.

I've got 2 friends who read and do editing. Their reading book 3 at the moment. I decided to write all 3 before pursuing the publishing world for the first.