During my most recent writing session with BFF/writing partner Kelly, I noticed that she and I both do a great deal more behind-the-scenes work as we take on bigger and more challenging projects; in fact, much of what we discuss or develop in order to create a whole and engaging story never even makes it to the page. For example, in order for me to be able to write this novel, I need to have a history for my main character stretching back as far as a few hundred years, even though very little of that history will actually weave itself into this book. But just as I cannot write the start of this book without knowing how it will end, so too am I bound to understanding what events took place in history in order to facilitate Fitz being born and raised the way I have written her to be.
Fiction is turning out to be a completely different beast than memoir of course, but both genres have required me to be overwhelmingly focused for fear of getting lost or giving up. When I am living inside my writer-cave, I find that my subconscious is always working, always crafting and creating even when I am away from the keyboard. This most likely becomes really irritating to my friends and family, who grow tired of constantly hearing about the latest complication or development. Thank goodness for writing partners and moms, who have no choice but to share, or at least feign, interest in every obstacle and accomplishment.
When working on a scene for my novel, I wrote a scene where my main character’s father reads a story to his daughter so that it mimics the way my father used to read to me. My dad had this funny habit of reading each book to me cover to cover, beginning with the publication and copyright details as if they were a part of the story itself. For example, he would employ one of his famously silly, high-pitched voices and read “…brought to you by our friends at the Scholastic Book Company.” I don’t know why he and I thought that was so interesting and funny, but we did.
This bit worked its way into the text almost without my realizing it; this is how it is when I work with fiction as I am sure it is for many writers—moments from our own lives sometimes just seem so perfect for a fictional character or scene that we have no choice but to mold them onto the page. If I hadn’t written this blog today, no one aside from my immediate family members would ever make the connection to my own real life childhood. And it doesn’t matter. It’s not an inside joke exactly, but something akin to it.
I’m amazed to learn how much writers need to know in regards to details about the plot—details that don’t necessarily make it in the final pages of a book, but that inform the story through the writer’s subconscious goings-on. This is where the outline process helps so much, because in all my color-coding and list-making I end up visualizing things I wouldn’t ordinarily discover, that may not even be part of the final result but that are part of the process of getting to that final result. Of course I’ve started to wonder now about how much goes into the books I read that I’ll never know about. How much is intentional and how much arises from the creative process? And most importantly, do other writers color code and scribble as much as I do? Hmmm.