Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Discord of My Writing

Getting into a story is sometimes difficult for me because I always have an idea, but sometimes I only have a vague idea of where I’m taking it…and the whole cast of characters and setting is another issue. I also like to have messages other than the obvious one in the action of the plotline. Each story seems to have its own path, but I feel some of my obsessions slow and even stop my writing.

My storylines come at odd moments, but often when I am walking my mile of country road. I’ve heard other authors say their stories come in dreams, but mine tend to be reflections on situations and issues that circulate in my mind and that I contemplate while walking. They often transform into a character’s situation and then into a world that might be somewhere in the present, past, or future. This has led to a list of stories with a title, some lines of information, and the names of one or two characters…a long list. They sit in a file until I can come to terms with what the characters want to say and do. Some ideas
I research and work them into the facets of whatever topic that interests me, and put them in the file.

I currently have three in progress. Unfortunately, life obligations and pleasures slow my headway in writing these stories. While I wrote one book from an inspirational idea to the story’s conclusion in six weeks, that was an oddity. That story just happened, but was based in an already created world and established characters. So my current story's headway varies between animated and complete stasis because of my mind's demand for minute detail.

Some of this minutia borders on obsessive, at least by my definition. I have to know my characters. The names come easily, but after reading an epic fantasy with five characters whose names started with A and threw me into a mental fit, I profile my characters in alphabetical order: one female first name per alphabet letter, one male name using the same order, and preferably only one first name per letter. I know I have some series stories with far more characters than a single alphabet listing allows, so there are multiple names starting with the same letter; still, each of those names is chosen for its different and distinctive sound. The process sounds strange even to me, but it also works for me.

It doesn’t end there, I profile the main characters’ personalities, both primary and secondary, and their motivations and purpose in the story, so I know how they will act and react.

My other obsession is the world my characters live in. I am constantly starting and stopping my writing over historical details, or in the case of future worlds what might be scientifically feasible

For instance, one of my current works in progress is Call to Duty, starting in December 1941. The main character is Trudy. Her husband, after hearing about Pearl Harbor, enlists in the army. Before he enlisted, he was the sheriff of a backwoods Northern Michigan county. Trudy works as a dispatcher in the sheriff's office. She, due mostly to lack of eligible males in the area, will, eventually, become a sheriff in all but name. Do you know how little information there is on the home front during WWII? I also need information on the sheriff's position. I’ve found information but search for more. Just for starters: What appliances and phone service were available? What roads were paved, which weren’t? Which roads existed at the time, which roads didn’t exist yet? How would the state police act toward a female head deputy? What were the prevailing crimes? How did the war change the resident’s behaviors and attitudes? The list goes on. I’ve even requested the community college's librarian to help me find a copy of W. R. Kidd’s Police Interrogation written in 1940, which seems to have changed police procedures.

All this doesn’t even cover the starts and stops caused by thoughts of what happens next, what would be more intriguing, and how the characters will dig themselves out of whatever chasm I dig for them. 

So there are some of my eccentricities in writing. All I can say is writing is hard work.

For more insight into how authors work, and how their stories develop visit these blogs:

Skye Taylor
A.J. Maguire 
Beverley Bateman
Dr. Bob Rich
Rachael Kosinski
Anne Stenhouse 
Connie Vines
Helena Fairfax
Margaret Fieland


  1. Hi Rhobin, I do so agree about the alphabetical thing with characters. Trying to keep them separate is so difficult. I can also understand the discomfort you feel if starting too soon, as it were. I've noticed over the years how my brain occasionally shuts a book off while it resolves something - maybe a plot glitch - and then there comes a moment when it lets me back into the MS. Weird - but it works. Anne Stenhouse

  2. Rhobin, I write sci fi, and I've used name generator programs for Farsi and Persian in generating some of my character names. I've also used in modified versions the names of some of my foreign-born acquaintances {blush}. I also named the dog in one of my stories after a dead friend.

  3. You hit the nail on the head with the naming of characters. I stopped reading books by s EDT selling author, not because the names began with the same letter but because they rhymed with only the first letter different - Arrington, Barington etc. Drove me nuts even when I liked the story I couldn't stand the alliteration.

    I also find myself at a sudden standstill when I realize there's a background or historic detail I need and feel compelled to research right now. I've had people tell me to just leave memo within the manuscript to go back and find it later, which sometimes works, but other times I feel that detail is going to influence the plot do I just HAVE to drop everything and look it up now. And I get so easily sidetracked by other fascinating details. Glad to know I'm not the only one!

  4. Yes, Rhobin, names are important. Sometimes, halfway through the story I have to change somebody's name, and it's so hard! I'm struggling with that at present, and I keep forgetting the new name.
    And research is fun. I am now an expert on the highly useful set of knowledge about life in 700 BC, know something about Aboriginal life in 19th Century Newcastle, NSW, Australia, and a few other things like that. Pity we can't insert the relevant questions into Trivial Pursuit!

  5. Rhobin, I found your focus on naming your characters so true. My main characters have initials in s sequence (is this the correct term?). Otherwise, I can become too creative. Apparently, "Sage Craven" is considered a decidedly odd name for even a YA heroine.

  6. Rhobin, I like the way you describe how your stories filter through to you. And names are so important, too. Now when I name a character I always google the name first, to make sure there is no real person in a similar occupation with the same name - or no fictional TV or film character with the same name. I recently published a romantic suspense novella with a character called Lord Falmire. You have no idea how hard it was to find a suitable aristocratic name that wasn't similar to an existing one. I totally agree - writing is hard work!

  7. Thanks for the great written article. Tina