Last week I was talking with a friend who has always been curious about my take on the writing process. Knowing that I don’t use an outline, he expressed confusion as to how it all comes together.
I explained that what works best for me is to start with a basic idea, with one or two main characters. Then it’s a matter of writing a scene and seeing where it goes. From there, one scene may trigger ideas for another. While I’m not plotting out chapters and movement on a white board of a piece of paper, I’m often working out segments in my head while driving or working out.
“But how do you know what to keep?” he asked.
“Hey, it’s all just a rough draft. Once I get rolling, it’s just letting it happen. Then I’ll go back and write sections that will tie everything together. After that it’s a matter of editing.”
He cringed at the idea of editing. I told him of the old quote by William Faulkner “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.”
Nobody can write a perfect story the first time out the gate. This reminded me of a lady in a writer’s group a few years ago who couldn’t get past the first five pages of her story. She’d go back over it every week, changing one word here, another one there, despite the encouragement of myself and the others to forge ahead.
If you’re trying to make every sentence perfect from the beginning, you’ll never get beyond the first page. It’s more important to get the ideas down. You can always go back and clean it up later. That’s when you ‘kill your darlings’, taking out the unnecessary words, making your prose rock, pulling your reader deeper into the story.
Talking about rough drafts and editing brought this recent example to mind. While working on the third or fourth round (or maybe seventh) of edits for “Your Turn to Die” I stumbled upon something that was blatantly wrong. In my youth, I occasionally tended bar in a saloon. Chene has a similar experience. In this scene, he meets someone during the homicide investigation who makes a reference to him using the name for a common cocktail. But I had the name WRONG! Fortunately, it was corrected before we went to print.
Twenty minutes later I rolled to a stop in front of a small two story brick structure on Kercheval Avenue in Grosse Pointe Farms. After hooking my helmet to the bike’s frame I turned and found myself face-to-face with an older, slight woman. She had dark brown hair shot through with blonde highlights. A playful smirk tugged at her lips.
“You’re the cop?”
I showed her my creds. “And you are?”
“Izzy. I’m one of the directors at the Historical Society. You’ve got the luck of the Irish, Sergeant.”
“I look Irish to you?”
The smirk evolved into a full grin. “Sweetheart, everybody’s something. Besides, you never heard of the Black Irish?”
“You got me there.”
She leaned back and sized me up. “You may be black, but you’re not a thoroughbred.” Her eyes danced with merriment. “You’re more like a White Russian. You know, Kahlua, vodka and cream. No offense.”
“So what can I help you with?”
I explained the puzzle of Kyle Morrissey’s money. She stood there, hands on her rounded hips, the smirk returning briefly.
“I don’t know if the money is a factor in his death or not. But the uncertainty is curious. And while identifying the source may not lead directly to the killer, it may give us a direction we’re not exploring yet.”
“You always work Sundays, Sergeant?”
“With a homicide, we work every day.”
Izzy considered that. At length she crooked one finger at me. I followed her inside the corner building, which was the society’s office. Large photographs decorated the walls of different events in the area, dating back to the early twentieth century. A couple of the photos seemed familiar. Large crowds gathered around a group of automobiles.
“I looked up Kyle Morrissey when we heard about his death.” Izzy settled behind an old wooden desk. “He had been an occasional supporter of the society, but not what we would consider generous. Maybe history wasn’t a big deal for him.”
“Morrissey made his money capitalizing on old movie theaters, renovating them and showing Hollywood classics. Sounds like history would be right up his alley.”
She cocked an eyebrow in a quizzical expression. “Or he could have used others love of history and classics to make his fortune.”
“Damn, that’s cynical.”
Izzy flashed that smirk again. “One of my traits. Or maybe a curse.”
Here's a shot of what Chene might look like.
Here are a few links where you can find Your Turn to Die.
Music this week is from Joe Cocker