April 14, 2022 - Writing Styles

Thursday, April 14, 2022

No, I don’t mean the style of language an author uses, although that might be an interesting topic. I do know that my Shipwreck Point Mysteries are written in a style reminiscent of the time period in which they occur (longer sentences, vocabulary choices, etc.), while my mysteries featuring Lilliana are much more casual in language and structure.

What I’m talking about is the style in which each author constructs their writing. Or they way they practice their craft.

Maybe it’s because I began seriously writing novels during National Novel Writing Month, which focuses on getting a specific word count each day, but for years that’s how I wrote my novels. I bought into the outline, write a rough first draft, revise, hand it to beta readers, revise again based on their feedback, edit for grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc., and proofread process, sometimes with multiple revisions before moving on to the next step.

But recently, I’m trying more of Dean Wesley Smith’s method of writing fiction. First of all, no outline in advance. Now, he says no planning, just start typing, but I’m not ready to do that yet. I have my victim, my primary suspect, the killer, other suspects, a motive, method, and setting for the murder before I begin. Otherwise, I haven’t got a clue how to start. But the only actual scene I probably have in my head is the “Aha!” moment when the sleuth figures out who did it. But not always.

And then I start writing the story, doing what Dean calls writing a clean first draft. In method one, where number of words in a time period is what you’re aiming for, if you need a new character, you type in XXX as a placeholder for that character’s name and keep going. It’s in the revision stage that you actually name the character and flesh out the details. In writing a clean first draft, you stop right there and figure out the name, and if you’re me, pick out a picture of what that character looks like, and maybe some basic characteristics. If you need to do some research, say as to whether a word was in use in 1895, rather than scribbling a note to check that later, you stop and look it up immediately. If you stumble over a plot hole, instead of making another note to fix the plot hole in revision, you cycle back, plug the hole, then keep writing forward.

That “cycling” is a big part of writing a clean first draft. You start each day by rereading what you wrote the day before, correcting typos, changing wording, adding some sentences or phrases to make the writing clearer, etc. If you get stuck in the story, you cycle back and find where the story went astray, fix that, add or delete as necessary, then continue where you left off.

I’m finding this method a lot more satisfying than leaving a bunch of Xs and notes and a big mess that has to be torn apart a couple of months later. I’m not getting as many words written on a daily basis as I used to, but I think they’re better words. And the class I took with Dean Wesley Smith where I tracked the time taken to do it both ways proved to me that the first way wasn’t any faster than the second. In fact, it often took longer because I’d forgotten what I’d meant to write the first time and had to figure that out before I could proceed.

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