Friday, September 13, 2019

First, tell no one.

When you have an idea for a book or story, do you tell people about it? How do you start writing? Do you think about it for a while? Write notes immediately? Think about the character first? Or plot first? Outline?

by Abir

Like Dietrich, I like to keep my plot ideas to myself. I think a story is better when it is burning inside you, and that telling people about it before it’s finished can dissipate some of the story’s urgency and my eagerness to get it all down on the page.

I’ve not always done this though. When I first started writing, I didn’t have much confidence in what I was doing, so I’d run my ideas past my agent, and my editor, and my wife, and my neighbour, and their cat. As you can imagine, this was often a laborious process, so now I just wing it, though I still tell the cat.

Generally, my writing starts with the theme or the message that I want to get across. My books are set in colonial India in the 1920s and they all either draw attention to a piece of history that’s been whitewashed or forgotten, or are allegories for things happening today. For example, my second novel, A Necessary Evil, highlighted the forgotten role of women in the courts of the maharajas, and my fourth, Death in the East, out later this year, discusses the themes of tolerance, immigration and integration.

Once I’ve settled on a theme, I then get into plotting. This starts with long walks, cycling in the gym, and a lot of sitting in the sauna…okay…more of the sauna and less of the first two, but the important thing is, I need peace and quiet to think and dream up a story, and I tend to do that best in a sauna. My wife doesn't believe me but it's true!

Once I have the beginnings of a plot, I buy myself a large A4 pad – always one like this, with thick, creamy paper, and begin to fill it with notes – often the same bits over and over again  - revising the skeleton, adding chapter headings, writing out the draft passages in longhand, just to give me some confidence that I can turn my little idea into a hundred thousand word novel. At the same time I’ll read up on the history of the period and place I’m looking to tackle, adding more notes in my pad.

My scribble pad is an accurate reflection of the inside of my brain.

I’m the sort of writer who needs to have an idea of where the story is going. I’m always in awe of authors who can write by the seat of their pants. I’ve tried pantsing it in the past, but it just doesn’t work for me. Once I know roughly where my plot is going to take me, then, and only then, do I attack my keyboard.

My novels tend to begin in fits and starts. I’ll often have two or three attempts at writing the first few chapters, with different first steps, to see which I like best. The route I choose then, tends to set the direction for the entire novel. I think this is another sign of my lack of confidence. I need to try a few different openings, just so that I feel I know what I’m doing.

Maybe one day I’ll be a bit less neurotic about my writing, and then, I won’t even have to discuss the thing with next door’s cat.


Dietrich Kalteis said...

Interesting point, Abir, about building confidence which allows you to keep ideas to yourself while the story's taking shape.

Susan C Shea said...

Agree with dietrich about why you keep story ideas in your head. I realize that talking about something I'm working on leaks the energy from my own creative process.