Writing this article has been like the micro of the macro. I wanted to write something and then suddenly I felt tongue-tied or the equivalent, finger-tied? My brain sorted through the ideas. I lay in bed trying to fit them together, trying to see the way forward while becoming more confused. The organized part of my brain took over and two days ago I jotted down my thoughts, carefully numbered and in order and I felt relief. A few hours later I knew that it wouldn’t work, I had lost the important bit, the thread, the one strand that makes writing worthwhile for me. I had lost the emotion and turned writing into a logical process, the joy was gone. Now I was floundering, knowing I wanted to write something but feeling divorced from my subject, removed.
As always I did what was most comforting, I continued to read. And there it was courtesy of Anne Perry “. . . .more of an adventure in which to participate.” There, in words, exactly how I feel when I am writing – an adventure in which I am participating.
As a child I read avidly. I was often in trouble because I would be tuned out to what was happening in my living room and instead be in the shed with the five find-outers talking about who was responsible for the crime. A good book for me was one that absorbed me, it created another world for me that seemed real. As a reader that is what I wanted and as a writer it is the same. When I write I am creating and experiencing the story, the crime, the adventure.
Writers are often classed as plotters or pantsers. A plotter builds a detailed plan of the story before they begin writing. Pantsing is all about feelings and impulses and following the story wherever it takes you. I like the idea of being a pantser, as Vivien in Pretty Woman so eloquently put it, “. . . I’m more of a fly-by-the-seat-of- my-pants kind of girl, moment to moment.” Definitely of the two that sounds the more exciting and daring.
Jessica Majewski, another reader turned writer, suggests that you can be both and that is probably what I do. I have a central premise, the major arc of the story. I start writing and as the characters interact with each other subplots are generated. In a way that is the part I love the most, the unfolding, the unpredictability. The first time I experienced this was in my novel What Lies Hidden. As Isobel McKenzie, the main character is being shown to a solicitor’s office, the secretary escorting her, asks some questions. I can still remember writing that scene. As I scripted the dialogue the secretary, Patricia, seemed to grow in stature. I could almost feel the character wanting to be a more important part of the story. Her dreams and aspirations were palpable and suddenly the duo of Isobel and Patricia was born. And therein lies the magic of writing, the adventure, anything can happen.
Jessica Majewski identifies another method of writing, the flashlight method. As a torch only shows a small area ahead so too you outline only the part of the story you are about to write. Probably this describes more accurately what I do. I know the central premise and then I start writing. At the end of my day I jot down my ideas for the next scene. If while walking or overnight something occurs to me I add it to my notes so that when I sit down to write again I have all my thoughts and ideas there.
There is one final ingredient that is important. It is the essence that I find the hardest to quantify and yet, I confess, it is at the heart of writing for me. The things I love to read make me feel something, they disturb me. When I am writing it is to capture some emotion, some experience and this is the thread that gives fire to the words. Holding on to the intergrity of that feeling, that impulse, that expression, is central to the power of a story but so ephemeral. I have a quote on my wall, “They won’t remember what you said but they will remember how you made them feel.” I think that is true of writing also. Painters, musicians and writers cause us to feel whatever their medium. That is why we seek them out, to look, to listen and to connect with ourselves, our hearts and with the experience of another. Denise Mina said that all writers are empaths. I had never thought of that but I suspect it is true. Isn’t that what writing is? We draw someone into our world and ask them to care what happens in it?
Ian Rankin said that he never knows who is going to be alive at the end of his book. Maybe that makes him a pantser or a flashlighter. If anything can happen that is certainly exciting. When I write I may have built the world I am writing about but I don’t have control of it. It has been injected with the power of my imagination and it retains some of that spark, that creativity and feeds it back into the story and that is the alchemy of writing, an adventure in which I want to participate.
(c) Fran McDonnell
About What Lies Hidden:
Isobel McKenzie is an experienced and intuitive psychotherapist who is on sabbatical while recovering from illness. Reluctantly she goes to London to help out an old friend, solicitor Peter Wright, who is uneasy about the partisan nature of a proposed divorce settlement. He asks her to meet the couple, Thomas and Anne Banks, to assess the situation. Is Anne, a recovering alcoholic, possibly being coerced into signing an agreement which not only gives Thomas control of all their assets but also sole custody of their son?
Isobel immediately senses that something is awry and, despite herself, finds herself drawn deeper and deeper into the case. She joins forces with Patricia King, a resourceful and imaginative secretary at the law firm. As they talk to family and friends of the couple they discover conflicting tales of alcoholism, coercion and possible abuse.
With the divorce settlement set to be signed in ten days’ time, Isobel and Patricia find themselves plunged into a dark world of lies and subterfuge where they are in a race to uncover and prove the truth.
Order your copy online here.