Today I’d like to welcome guest blogger Melissa Bowersock – with a post on what happens when books take control of their authors!
Books That Write Themselves
Some non-writers seem to think authors have cabinets in our brains with complete books filed away, just waiting to flow down our arms and out onto the keyboard. I wish!
We all have an idea when we start writing but it’s usually not even a fraction of the finished book. Mostly it’s an outline or just bullet points of the pivotal action and we create the rest as we go, fleshing out details on the fly. This is the creative process: stringing together the words that move the story along and develop it in a compelling fashion.
Easy, right? In a word: no.
Writing is hard. Aside from the mechanics of grammar, spelling and punctuation, writers must be aware of cadence, nuances of emotion, and choosing the right word to match the action.
I’m the type who hates to rewrite. I’d rather just sit and agonize until I get the word I want. Putting a less-than-exact word in, for me, is like building a wall and putting in an inferior brick, knowing I’m going to have to go back at some point and replace it. I’d much rather sit at the keyboard – or walk away from it – than put in a word that doesn’t serve the story.
The flip side is when it flows. You may have heard some writers say, “This book just wrote itself.” That’s literally what it feels like. When a book flows, the words just come – not just any words, but the right words.
It’s an author’s dream to write like that. When the book comes alive is when the creative process is almost effortless. I wrote one book like that in three months. Most take anywhere from six months to two years, so three months was like speed-writing.
What’s interesting when books “write themselves” is that they don’t always come out as intended!
I’m currently working on a ghost story. After hearing about the ghosts that haunt the London Bridge – and came over with it to Arizona – I thought that would make a good light comedy, something similar to The Canterville Ghost or The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.
I envisioned a ghost that was comically culture-shocked and helped along in her assimilation by a living human. As I began writing, I established the main living character, a man with a highly developed sense of responsibility, who felt crowded by the demands of his business, his mother and girlfriend.
As such, he was the last person on earth to entertain thoughts of ghosts but of course it’s into this very rational, controlled existence that the female ghost appears. The ghost’s first experience with cars and the man’s efforts to explain them set the stage for the culture shock.
That’s when things started to get surreal. Instead of the light bantering I expected to write, the ghost was genuinely confused and frightened and the man (Mr. Responsibility) very deliberate in his thoughtful, gentle explanations.
Before I knew it, the ghost developed into a sad, downtrodden 19th century girl and the man turned out to be wounded by the abuses of an alcoholic father. Suddenly dark secrets swirled behind both characters as they forged their unlikely friendship.
Separated by centuries of custom and different frames of mind, they struggled to make sense of what life had dealt them – and how they had responded. Certainly not the story I set out to write!
When I talk about this, people ask me, “How can it turn out differently? You’re the one writing it!”
I’m not sure exactly, but let’s go back to the words-as-bricks metaphor. As I lay the second course, I might place them just slightly off, but not enough to notice. The third course goes up and, yup, now there’s a definite lean to the wall.
Trying to write my way back to the original plan would be to change direction again, making the wall wavy and decidedly unsteady. Now my only choices are to continue with the new direction or tear it all down to the foundation and start over.
Usually, I go for option # 2 and delete however many paragraphs or pages comprise the unintended direction change. With this ghost story, though, I found I liked the characters and their dynamic of dark secrets. Unwinding the bandages to reveal the emotional wounds is way more interesting than the light humor I first imagined.
Who knew the book would write its own story?
Melissa Bowersock is an eclectic writer who turns her hand to any kind of story that moves her: contemporary, western, fantasy, romance, action/adventure, spiritual. She thrives in the Sonoran desert of Southern Arizona with her husband and an Airedale terrier. She is also a certified hypnotherapist.