This month, we Quills are turning introspective. Our topic: What makes us write?
First up is our guest for this month, H.M. Clarke, author of The Way to Freedom Series, The Kalarthri, and Winter's Magic. What say you, Hayley?
"What makes me write?
Oh, that’s easy. The little blue imp with the electric cattle prod makes me. Well, not really, but that is what it feels like sometimes. Especially when you are not in the mood to put pen to paper, but then your conscience digs at you…”
Find out more, here.
Next up is Robin Lythgoe, author of As the Crow Flies. Oh, do tell, Robin!
What makes me write?
There should be an easy answer for that question. Something uncomplicated. "Because I must" is woefully inadequate. It only prompts more questions. I write because… I grew up surrounded by stories, immersed in stories. I dreamed them by night and played them out by day. They penetrated my blood…
Find our more on Robin's site here.
Finally, here are my thoughts:
My reason for writing today differs from what it was when I set out to write my first book, Oathtaker. Although I’d done a fair amount of creative writing back in the day, it had been some time since I’d taken pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, as the case may be), to tell a tale. My “day job” requires that I write on a constant basis, and I’ve been at that for . . . quite some while. But legal writing is altogether different from creative writing now, isn't it? So, what was the impetus at the outset of my journey? Quite simply, I had to see if I could do it.
When I started my first book, I sometimes took long periods away from it. Once, it was about a year. There was a great deal going on in my life, with a death in the family, someone deployed overseas, and so on. When I decided that I should see where it might go, I had to re-read everything I’d previously written to figure out where I was . . . I was startled at some of the things that previously had tripped out from my fingertips. At times, I found myself wondering where the story had come from, or if, in fact, someone else had been telling it. In some respects, it seemed utterly “foreign” to me. But I was . . . intrigued . . . entertained, even—and when I got to the end of what I’d written, I knew I had to continue. The impetus? The same as what drives me to write today: I have to know how the story ends.
Some authors describe themselves as “plotters,” others as “pantsers.” (See the article at https://www.autocrit.com/editing/library/plotter-or-pantser-the-best-of-both-worlds/.) Plotters stick to an outline or script. They plan out their entire stories in advance. I do wonder if they lose some spontaneity with this approach, but I certainly see the advantages of it!
By contrast, a “seat-of-the-pantser” sits down and waits to see what sparks fly.
I found a great story some time back that I wrote about in a blog post. You’ll find it here. You see, I’d read an article about a recently deceased author, Elmore Leonard. Though unfamiliar with his work, I was intrigued by his style—he was a pantser all the way. One day, he told his friend about a story he was writing. He didn’t know what he was going to do. He was up to page 130 or so, "and some minor character had just shot the guy who was supposed to be the hero—or at least the most important figure in the book.” When his friend suggested he rewrite the scene, the author said: “No, you don’t understand . . . It already happened. He’s dead. You can’t bring him back.” I can only wonder where that story eventually ended up . . .
Finally, there are those who do a bit of both.
I wrote my first story pretty much by the seat of my pants. I knew very little about it before I set out. I knew a bit about two groups of people—the Oathtakers, and the Select they protected. I knew what happened when an Oathtaker swore an oath to protect one of the Select. I knew how the eventual traitor would be discovered. And I basically knew the “ending.” But that was it.
I did a bit more planning with my second story, Select (the first sequel to Oathtaker)—but just a bit. I regularly changed the “outline” that I started with, so I guess I wrote it partly as a plotter, and partly as a pantser. If the story took an unexpected turn, I went back to my “outline” (such as it was) and revised it accordingly. Now, bear in mind that when I say “outline,” I’m not talking about many details. Rather, it reads like a list of “scenes.” It might provide, for example, something like this:
1. The O’s battle the interlopers and M is injured.
As you can see, I include almost no detail in the “outline.” That’s where the unexpected come in—including the characters making themselves known to me via their actions or from their dialogue—which often surprises me. With this approach, most of the story “happens” when I least expect it. And therein lies the reason for why I now write—which is, as I said earlier: I write because I must know where the story goes—and sticking with it is the only way I’ll find out.