I love reading about other people’s creative process. There is usually something I can relate to, something I want to try out, and I am always left inspired and motivated! I connected with today’s guest writer through Multicultural Children’s Book Day. She is the very talented and super nice author of the book I reviewed, ENOUGH OF FRANKIE ALREADY. When she offered to write a guest post on the subject of my choice I jumped at the chance! Welcome Felicia Capers.
When writing any type of work, whether its fiction, narrative, or other, it’s important to set habits, goals, and DON’T FORGET THE CHIPS. I can admit, I have a thing for salty snacks but during a really good writing session, you can usually find a half eaten bag of Ridges and a bag of Chex Mix Sweet and Salty. You call them comfort food. I call them my co-authors.
The life of a writer isn’t always easy. When inspiration hits, you usually have to spring into action just to get the thoughts organized, recalibrate a plot, or write some characteristics of this scandalous character you just concocted in your brain. Next there is promotion. Everywhere you go and everything you do, your presence has to exude your work. You are your best representative! I get annoyed at my friends when they tell me the truth. Yes I said it….when they absolutely positively are being true friends and tell me the truth. They say I am no longer Felicia from the neighborhood; I’m an accomplished author. Can you believe their honesty?
From inspiration to outlining, you are then left with one path….sit your tail down and WRITE. I personally love my laptop. Many people I know like to short hand entire manuscripts on paper and type them later. Honestly, there is no right answer to whether you use a laptop or short hand. It’s all a personal choice. The choice you make doesn’t make you a better writer or not. Don’t let people tell you there’s a difference. It’s all about personal comfort level. One quirky thing I do is that I MUST short hand my outline. If I’m writing a chapter book, for instance, for myself or a client, I have to jot down my original thoughts on the plot via short hand. Of course, no one, not even my mother could read the stuff. I swear with my handwriting, I could have been a doctor. But none of that matters because I can read these notes and it’s important that for some reason, these are handwritten for me. I think I find it easier to grab a pen and paper and brainstorm my original plot and scene ideas. I also make webs and arrows and use crazy highlighter coloring in these original drafts. I then transfer my handwritten plot notes to my laptop making final changes and saving to a flash drive so that there’s always an electronic copy. (I’ve experienced that too- plot out an entire manuscript to later end up losing the hard copy outline; which sucks for me because as I will explain later, you can rarely get back those first thoughts on an awesome book idea, a salacious character flaw, or a story busting plot twist.)
Let’s get back to the outline. Many writers may feel that once you plot out your story (you do outline your plot first, right? It’s your blueprint for god’s sake!) You have pigeonholed yourself into its content. Think of it this way. If you plan to remodel your kitchen and even your best plans lead you to find, once your contractors rip out the sheetrock of that ugly wall, a steal beam you didn’t know was there, oh you better believe the blueprint is changing. Your outline is your guide, but it’s a dynamic document; willing, able and certainly wide open to improvement and change along the way. Think of your manuscript’s outline as the roadmap even though every good writer knows that once you engross yourself into your story’s twists and turns, you may find another road that leads to the end of the race. Don’t be afraid to take that leap into different realms than you originally thought would work for your story. Writing is about being in the moment with an end in mind. To preserve major points and essential scenes, you use an outline, but be free to be imaginative and creative as possible to getting to that end.
That said, let’s talk about these first thoughts you have about your plot, your characters, and the various intricate scenes that move your story along. I am a firm believer that instinctively, every good writer knows how to accurately convey their story’s message. That’s the easy part. For example, if I am commissioned to write a fictional manuscript in the mystery/suspense genre starring a middle aged detective who is going through a divorce and hates his job; well as a writer, my intellect knows the easy stuff. I’ll convey this character’s dissatisfaction with life. I’ll give backstory of how he got to where he is. And since it’s a mystery/suspense, there just has to be a murder, right? These are the easy parts. This is the skeleton of your manuscript. How we get there and if we get there leaving readers at the edge of their seats is where the work comes in. Take it a step further. With a well thought out plot and outline, maybe, just maybe, Kojak over there will stumble across a case that will change his life. He’d discover that his estranged wife is an obvious suspect. Does he disclose this? From her rare perfume to her lipstick stains, Colombo is sure it’s her. Or perhaps he’d meet some shady characters when investigating a murder and he considers placing a hit on his wife. HA! How do you like that for a twist AND a turn? These were simply my thoughts on the meat and potatos of the plot just from the top of my head; my first thoughts. It’s important as writers that you get these plot directions written down and outlined somewhere to think about over a period of time, to contemplate, to fit the pieces together before deciding on a direction and beginning work on the manuscript. Meditate on the storyline always. Research the genre and read the genre if you don’t already. There is no way you can write in a genre if you don’t read it.
I get the biggest kick out of outlining a plot and coming up with all these great ideas; some ideas being revised and with others I’ve stuck to my guns. Then later, even after I’ve mulled over the plot for several weeks or even once I’ve written a few chapters- scenes, plot twists, and characters that were part of my original thoughts in creating the storyline seem to pop into my head again. I tend to go with these ideas because they’ve revisited my consciousness for a reason. Your first thought is usually your best thought. You don’t want to lose that stuff. Write it down. Mull through it later and figure out where these ideas make their best impressions in your story.
Yes, I am the woman with the sticky notes all over her bedroom. I own it. I think of characters, story lines and general book ideas 24/7. Overload! But what else would I be doing if I didn’t write. For my chapter books, I outline the plots chapter by chapter but for my children’s books, like my debut Enough of Frankie Already!, since illustrations tell the story in children’s books just as much or more than the written words, I spend more time building characters for children’s books. I also spend more time ensuring my writing is speaking the language of the target children’s age group. I start with personality descriptions and what would make young readers relate to my characters. Then I envision how my artist would capture each scene I have written. This includes detailed instructions for my illustrator on each scene. Just because illustrations are highly essential in picture books, one cannot neglect the writing. That is a sure fire way to a failed project for sure. NEVER FORGET THE WRITING.
On a final note regarding inspirational settings, if one works for you, in order to get in the groove if you will; find one. I hear some writers tell me they like to type or write on the serene water, while in a paddle boat. (Not gonna happen for me) I have heard some say they go to a hotel room anywhere not near home, and they find their mojo there. I like mountains. I love mountain running. I love the views from mountains. I love the crisp clean air. These are from whence all my bright ideas come. Find your spot. Jot down your thoughts. ALL OF THEM. And then find your story.
Felicia Capers is author of Enough of Frankie Already! an anti-bullying book for young readers. To learn more about Felicia and upcoming projects, visit her on the web at www.frankiethebully.com. Contact Felicia directly for more information on the topics in this article. firstname.lastname@example.org.