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How I Write

Which I did, just last night.  Write, that is.  Managed to give Gypsy more of an ending and, in the process, added two pages of dialog and a whole new character, who might come in handy down the road.

Much as I am sure that I learned something of English in high school, I did not really learn to write there, nor in my various college courses over the years.  My real writing teachers were Air Force captains and majors.  The process was simple: write a technical document, have it typed (this was just before the PC revolution), send it around to every section in the office, marvel at how much red ink a piece of paper could hold, rewrite the document, have it retyped, and send it around again.  Once the captains were through with it, it got sent to the majors (or civilian equivalent) who had their own ideas and their own red pens, and so it went again.

Do this a few times a month and you get pretty good at it.  These guys were not English majors (if you will forgive the phrase), they were computer people or operations management types, armed only with their college educations and – present on every Air Force officer’s desk – a copy of Tongue & Quill.  By my third year in that office, I could often get a document through the cycle without one drop of blood on it.

Many years later, after I had already written some stories and gotten, I thought, pretty damn good, I got involved in local politics.  This increased the speed at which I wrote, mostly writing letters to the editor and press releases.  Not only was I faster, but I became more disciplined.

A letter or a release took me one hour, tops.  Normally, I had a good idea of what I wanted to say before I sat down, so the first half hour was spent typing it, occasionally stopping to think of a phrase, until it was done.  But if the first half hour was putting words in the machine, then the second half hour was taking them out.  I would reread the document, top to bottom, again and again, looking for anything awkward or redundant and remove it.  In most cases, a quarter of what I had just written would be taken back out again.  What I was left with was, most cases, crisp, clean, and easy to read.  Concise.

That is sort of the way I write fiction, but with longer stories and all, I can only go through it so many times.  So, my fiction is a little more unwieldy than my non-fiction.  I occasionally move things around a little, but rarely; most everything stays where I first put them.

I rarely outline a short story.  I have a pretty good idea of what the story will be before I sit down, having thought it through the previous few days.  If I get an idea for later in the story when I am typing, I simply add a note to the bottom of the document to have the hero do such and such and separate it from the rest of the story with a few carriage returns.

Longer stories get outlined, but only very cursory.  I write a sentence, all caps, of what happens in a scene.

HERO MEETS VILLAIN.  HERO LIKES VILLAIN.

Only more substantial, then follow it with the next point of the plot.

HERO DISCOVERS VILLAIN MIGHT BE A VILLAIN, IS SHOCKED!

Once I have the whole plot done in lines like that, I start on any subplots I have come up with, writing the lines as a separate section for each subplot.

Once all done and I am happy with where everything is going, I work on convergence, taking each line from each subplot and weaving it into the logical place in the main plot where that would occur.  Sometimes it is necessary to add a new line in order to bridge the two.

With everything now merged and with a couple of copies of the outline saved off, I start writing, in regular case, between the lines, actually writing the story, action, dialog, exposition, everything.  If I get held up on anything, I put in a string of asterisks and come back to it later.  When done, days, weeks or months later, I start pulling out the uppercase lines and let the text stand on its own.  Then, just like with the press releases, I read and reread and edit.

Really.  As easy as that.  Which is probably why I did not write as much as I should have.

By the way, for blogging, I write it, make one pass, then publish.  Don’t want to spend a lot of time on this.

 

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