Jan. 18th, 2017

swan_tower: (*writing)

My fourth notebook dates to my senior year of high school (because there are calculus notes and Latin translations in it) and my freshman year of college (because there are personal notes in it, which I have no compunctions about tearing out before I send this off to be archived).

It is probably fair to say that my writing process has never been so well-documented as it was in this period, simply because of the circumstances of my life. In high school and early college I didn’t really take notes in class, because I mostly didn’t have to. (When the “lecture” consisted of the teacher going over the information that was already in the book, I didn’t see much point.) I just listened . . . sort of . . . and remembered stuff. But I needed to look like an industrious student, so I wrote stuff in my notebook, and sometimes it had to do with the topic at hand but most of the time it didn’t. The result is things like this:

scan of a notebook page featuring a triquetra knot

Right there, documented for posterity, is the moment I had the idea of using the triquetra knot as the symbol of Starfall’s witches. There are countless little tidbits like that scattered through here: Poltergeist activity in Talman? says one page, a four-word query that led to a major scene in Lies and Prophecy. Another page has Five sections of witches. Name? followed by Ray in a different pen, as I worked out the structure of witch society in Doppelganger. There are worldbuilding tidbits that got abandoned, like the modes of address for the Primes; there are worldbuilding tidbits that got kept, like the top margin that has a few scribbled details on the psi-virus. There are two entire pages of me brainstorming setting details for the Nine Lands, evidence of me pursuing my goal of a world whose countries really were culturally distinct from one another — and given its placement in the notebook, after I had arrived at college, also evidence of how anthropology was feeding my brain.

I don’t know exactly when this habit ended, but I know it didn’t last beyond my days of taking classes, because it only happened when I was sitting around with a notebook in front of me for hours each week. These days my ideas sometimes get scribbled down on scraps of paper, but they’re more likely to stay in my head until they go into a story. There’s no record of the moment when I figured out the end of In the Labyrinth of Drakes, because it happened in conversation with Alyc Helms instead of when I was pretending to listen to a teacher. For years I had a tendency to jot down random names, phrases, cultural snippets, plot twists, and anything else that came into my head; eventually I developed a mark to put in the margin so I’d know which parts of any given page were about writing instead of class. It means I can watch myself think through things from back then in a way that just isn’t true of later work.

It reminds me of where certain ideas came from, too. For example, this notebook contains a lot of game notes: for my Vampire character, for my very short-lived Mage character, for Vampire sequel game I thought up and never ran, for the Highlander game I was running online. That latter had a female PC named Miryoko, and I remember that I knew “three syllables ending in -ko” was a common form of Japanese name (didn’t learn until later that it wasn’t that way in the time period the PC lived in), but I looked up “miryo” to see whether it was a legitimate Japanese word, and found it meant “charm or glamour.” Looking at it now, I’m pretty sure it means in the social sense, but it stuck in my head as the magical one, and yep, that’s how one of the protagonists of Doppelganger got named. The Head/Hand/Heart division of the witches comes from the comic book Elfquest, the three trials Cutter and Rayek go through when their rivalry over Leetah annoys her enough to make them fight it out with each other. Old forms of the stories get preserved: the scenes from Lies and Prophecy in here still feature a professor named Shields, because that was a perfectly innocuous name for Grayson until the plot headed off in directions that had a lot to do with shielding and it became a distraction. (And yet for all of that, startling amounts of text in here went almost verbatim into those first two novels.)

This notebook also features extensive evidence of a writing habit I had to kick before I could really make progress. It used to be that I would get an idea for a scene or even just a brief interaction, and I’d write it — out of context. Both Lies and Prophecy and Doppelganger got started that way, me hopscotching around to do the fun bits and then having to stitch them together into a coherent narrative fabric afterward. I didn’t manage to finish a novel, and I’m not sure I could have managed to finish a novel, until I made myself write more linearly, because that was the only way to make sure the stuff in between the fun bits was also good story rather than the bare minimum of connective tissue, and to make sure the key moments were properly grounded in the preceding text. These days I’ll sometimes let myself skip ahead if I’m really stuck and need to remember why I’m excited about the project — but even then, I usually write it in a separate file, to remind myself that any and all of it is subject to change once I get there properly. Non-linear writing works great for other authors, but not me.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.


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