Monday, March 05, 2007

Sharpening the Saw

Genealogist and genealogical educator Ken Aitken often uses the analogy of "sharpening the saw" to get ready to undertake a genealogical project. His point is that it helps to be prepared and to have good tools in order to get the job done.

The same is true of writing books.

Everyone's preparation is different. Some work out all the details ahead of time. Some think things through. Some plunge straight in and learn to get the job done while they're flailing around trying to make a story out of the disparate elements they seem to have assembled.

I do a lot of that myself.

It isn't that my saw isn't sharp, though. And it isn't that I'm not 'prepared.' It's that my preparation is different than someone who is very plot oriented. I am character-driven. My books founder if I don't understand my people. A friend of mine, a mystery writer, who is somewhat character-driven herself was blown away last week when I was telling her the back-story of Flynn and Sara.

"How do you know all that stuff?" she asked me. That was more polite than asking "WHY do you know all that stuff?" At least she was williing to admit that it might be important.

And I said simply that I had to know it. If I didn't I wouldn't have any idea where the book was going. As it happens, a lot of the time I don't anyway. Oh, I know we're heading in a general direction. But I have no real idea what we might see or where we might stop along the way. That's what I discover while I'm writing.

But the back-story is me sharpening my saw. It's essential to the book.

Kate Walker and Michelle Styles have been talking about heroes and what astrological signs they find are most evocative of who their heroes are. I remember trying that once. It was just another way of trying to get a handle on my hero. He was, I recall, a Scorpio. Mercurial. Something of a loner. Yet you wouldn't necessarily know that to meet him. The thing was, there was a whole lot about him people thought they knew that they really didn't know at all.

Using a book of astrological signs was helpful to me when I was trying to get a handle on who he was. Do I do it every time I write a book? No. I think I've only done it once or twice since. There are a lot of tools in my workshop. I use whichever ones I need for the job. And I'm always on the lookout for more.

It's a way of staying fresh, of seeing my people in new ways, of glimpsing things that I would likely miss if I approached every book the same way.

This time I used the collage. And the trip to Ballyvolane. And a close encounter with an Irish wolfhound. Sometimes I plan. Sometimes it's serendipity -- but even then it's usually serendipity the characters -- and I -- are primed for.

I've been doing a lot of reading while I've been writing this -- not just in romance, though I certainly have been doing some of that as well. I like, as I think I mentioned before, filtering my people and their circumstances through other peoples' stories to see if I can get a different view of things.

And then I spend a lot of time just staring at my pile of pictures of James Purefoy, imagining him playing Flynn. BEING Flynn. Hey, whatever works!

If you write, what do you do to sharpen your own saw (or pencil, in this case?) And if you do something else creatively, what do you do to prepare for that? I love to learn about how other people work, so I'd appreciate comments and suggestions!

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