- Books, Literature, and Writing
A Look Inside the Creative Process
A Note from Yours Truly
So, where is the Mailbag, you ask?
It’s in your minds, I answer!
There wasn’t one single question this week, so no Mailbag. Pretty simple, right?
So, instead of a Mailbag, here is a substitute, something I had sitting around awaiting its chance to see the light of day.
I DON’T KNOW ABOUT YOU
But I’m always interested and yes, fascinated, by the process other writers use as they churn out words and those words become stories. Not that I want to replicate their process, but maybe to learn a tidbit here and there which will help me along my path….how can that be a bad thing, right?
So I thought I’d share my process with you as I begin my latest “Billy the Kid” novella, this one titled “Breathing Fire On A Cold Winter’s Day.” This is the fifth in the series, so I’m way beyond fleshing out the characters. By now my readers know Billy Fix-It very well. They know he’s an enigma, a good man who is also violent, a man who lives by a street code better suited for the times of Hammurabi than current day. Billy will do anything for friends or family, and “anything” can get a bit bloody.
For me it always begins with a vague idea, and that idea usually manifests itself in the form of an introductory chapter. There is no purpose to the chapter when I first start. It is just a writing exercise. The story, or book, will come from that chapter, and it is delivered to me by my muse.
If you are a writer you’ll understand that. If not, well, what can I tell you?
Shall we see how this works?
Prologue to Latest Book
Here, then, is the opening chapter of my new novella.
It’s funny what we remember from our childhoods. I mean we’re bombarded with literally millions of events during those early years but only a handful stick with us, you know? For me, a crazy Mick bastard from the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York, most of those memorable moments have to do with my old man.
He was straight off the boat from Ireland, his visa card simply saying O’Bannon from Galway, no first name, not necessary or important when categorizing Irish poor back then. He fought his way through Galway and he fought his way through the Heights, two fists pounding into flesh, defending an invisible honor, upholding a long-forgotten code, his own worst enemy, he was, and I looked up to him as the Israelites to God himself.
One day, I must have been six or seven, I was riding along with dad while he delivered produce to the local markets. It was a cold-assed day, the wind whipping off the Hudson, invading our topcoats despite the new layer of newspapers just inserted for insulation. So the old man, he shuts down the truck in front of Scouzzi Market, and we both step out into that cold, our breaths pluming gray against a gray sky, and dad opens the back of the truck, grabs the hand-truck and proceeds to wheel crates of lettuce into the store. My job? I’m just holding the door for him, in and out, one load after another until twenty were delivered and it was time to get paid.
So I’m waiting in the truck, freezing my ass off, waiting like my old man told me to do, but finally I can’t feel my damned toes, so I go into the market to see what’s what, and at the counter is Mister Scouzzi and in front of him are two wise-asses with guns asking politely for money. I don’t see my old man. Mister Scouzzi opens the register, comes up with some cash and he’s handing it across the counter when the two goons notice me standing at the door, the wind blowing some street junk inside, and they start to turn towards me, leading with their guns, and one of them tells me to come to him now, and that’s when I hear my old man say “stay where you are, Billy,” and he’s approaching those two idiots and he’s holding a blowtorch, and he’s got the thing on and fired up, and a streak of white hot shoots out of it, but from the angle I’m standing, it looks like my old man is breathing fire on a cold winter’s day.
It’s funny what we remember from our childhoods.
And Then What?
Well, then the fun begins. By the time I finished that prologue the basic outline of the story was in my head. I don’t know how that happens. I wish I could tell you. All I know is that’s how it all works for me.
I’m about halfway through the new adventure and my hero is about to be knee-deep in some serious trouble, and by the end the image of “breathing fire on a cold winter’s day” will become very clear to the reader. By the way, the title comes from watching an episode of “America’s Got Talent.” I was watching a fire-breather, and then the contrast of breathing fire in the cold hit me and a title was then born.
I’ve written four full-length novels and four novellas, and the process has been the same for each. I start with a writing exercise, a random introductory paragraph, and then the story sprouts from there.
AND THEN SOMEONE SAYS…..
But I could never write that way….I need an outline to follow, and I need to write character bios and do this and do that before I write a single word of the actual story, and to that person I say…..
Hooray for You!!!!!
One size does not fit all in the writing game. Use what works for you. Borrow from others if it works….ignore others if it doesn’t work…find your flow and comfort level and ride the wave, baby, ride the wave!
BUT WHERE DOES THE REST OF THE STORY COME FROM?
Well, here’s where it helps when you write a series. For me, this particular novella is a natural extension of the third in the series. In that installment, Billy rescued the sister of a friend from a religious cult, and in the end he killed the leader of that cult with a burning arrow and, well, you can see how my mind works. There just has to be payback for that killing, and installment five is all about payback.
We hear a lot about the muse, and I know that can seem like a rather nebulous concept, but my muse is very real and she usually is the one who deserves the credit when I'm writing a book. After I write the introduction, I just sit back and record what my muse tells me to record.
Are you confused yet?
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- Artistry With Words | Helping writers to spread their wings and fly
Helping writers to spread their wings and fly
I can’t say this enough for you would-be writers considering your first novel: do what feels comfortable to you. If your mind works like mine, and free-form creativity is best, then go for it, and ignore those who tell you to write an outline. If you’re more structured and need an outline, then for God’s sake, do an outline.
And one final word of advice: however you approach this creative process, for the love of the gods, give it your best effort. We have more than enough mediocrity floating around the literary pond. Let’s shoot for some excellence next time we dip our toes in the water.
2016 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”