On Writing

Some thoughts on writing from Doug

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The Writing Process

January 27, 2013

I've been writing scientific reviews and papers for years. The challenge of switching to fiction and writing stories for children involves entering a new and fresh world. No longer the careful research and accumulation of carefully assessed facts, of high-flown academic opinions, or of serious issues which rightfully concern people, such as dangerous diseases. All that needs is planning and sketching out a detailed plan. No characters, no plot – just lots of facts.

But my fiction is the other side of the world. The characters assemble, and then off they go. I have little or no idea of exactly how they are going to make out, or who they will meet, whether they will like or dislike them – and who they will fight. All I know is that there will be a fight – a battle, a struggle – because that is what life has taught me – without struggle there is no growth. I try and put a tight framework around my stories, I really do, but I'm always defeated. I want a major character to fall for a girl. But he likes someone else and totally ignores me. Turncoat!

Creatures real and imaginary populate many of the children's tales. They interact with troubling adversarial styles or warm humanity. Anything goes. The characters drive it all. Once a draft is completed I read and think. Where are the weaknesses? What might be better? Is the dialogue real or dopey? Are the scary bits scary enough? Do the scenes drag too much? Might a reader become bored if the pace slows? Well, if it slows for me, it will for the child, so one of the first lessons I had to learn was how and when to tighten things up.

Then the editors. I am dyslexic and the arrival of spell check opened my eyes to how often my spelling is right off the wall. Red marks abound in every draft. And sometimes even spell check stumps me – but then at least it gives my editors a laugh. Editors are essential, as first and fresh readers... and tough critics. Of course, I'm responsible as the scribe of the tales, but that's all...as the action and dialogue isn't mine. That comes from the characters themselves. You often read authors who thank their editors and close by saying that as writers, all the flaws and errors are theirs alone. Well, any errors or flaws aren't mine. Oh no. In my case blame the characters, not me.

I find the best editors add hugely to the pace of the tales, and appreciate their perspective, and detection of obvious plot silliness and inconsistencies. I learn hugely. It is rewarding when the editor becomes emotionally engaged in the stories. Then we collectively know this has legs and a role for the audience. 

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