One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Kate Flora: When people ask about a writer’s process, the questions are usually about IMG_2254whether we are plotters (outliners) or pantsers–writing by the seat of our pants. Sometimes the questions are about the number of hours we write, and whether we write everyday. More rarely does the discussion involve how much of our time we spend on the actual writing, and how much is spent on researching questions that arise during the course of the writing.

It is June, and the gardens are gorgeous, and with all of the news about “forest bathing” and how we should spend time outside, I definitely want to be outside, on my hands and knees, weeding and pulling out little volunteers to nurture, and pruning back those plants who have stepped over their bounds and are leaning on other plants. I want to admire the contrasts of foliage and color and texture. But I have a book to write, and I foolishly said that first draft would be done by September. So I am in what we at MCW call “Writer’s Jail.”

What’s this about one step forward, two steps back? Here’s the story. Four or five years IMG_2279ago (time flies when you’re chained to your desk) a character named Rick O’Leary sat down on an imaginary bar stool next to me and began to tell me a story. Despite my loyalty to Thea Kozak and Joe Burgess, I had to listen. O’Leary was dark and damaged and the story he was telling was compelling. “Okay, Rick,” I said, “talk to me.” I had time to spend seven chapter with him before other deadlines nudged him aside, and he went into a drawer, bar stool, bodies, damage and all.

But now, as I search for a way to shake things up, he’s out of the drawer and perched on my desktop. He’s telling a dark story, and I am listening. Unfortunately for me, Rick is telling a story that requires a lot of research. I’ve never walked into a bloody crime scene. I don’t know anything about dismemberment. And as so often happens when I’m writing in an area I need details to imagine well, I am back to the books as often as I am meeting my daily thousand word/five page quota.

Part of the problem is that our characters do stuff that we writers don’t expect. I know it IMG_2281sounds odd, since we are the engineers of the piece, but writing is a conscious and subconscious act, and somewhere in there, the mind has characters doing things we don’t plan. Part of the current plan? The killer has scrawled something on the wall and as the scene progresses, the medical examiner says to Rick, “What’s with the runes on the wall?” Rick and I are off and running, learning about runes.IMG_2280

Two books and many YouTube videos later, I am beginning to understand what is written in the wall. A book about serial killer communications, though, has me wondering whether this is intentional communication or the killer screwing with the police. If so, why? And are these the killers first crimes or will records from other places provide more clues? Are the runes a new touch?

Oh dear. So much to think about. And then there’s the question of that mystery woman on the nearby barstool. Not me, but she definitely has an agenda that involves Rick O’Leary.

Some of the authors I know would never let their characters misbehave like this, leading them in unknown directions and throwing things at them requiring detours and research. For me, though it slows the writing, it is fascinating, and keeps me on my toes.

Happy June. Enjoy your gardens. Forest bathe. And stay off barstools next to dark characters.IMG_2260


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6 Responses to One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

  1. Half the fun of writing is discovering the story.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I had no idea how, in my pre-coffee brain, pantsers became panthers, until I tried typing it again. I get to attribute all errors to autocorrect and the apple keyboard, which keeps duplicating letters.


  3. Ed Hunt says:

    Hi, Kate. Liked your post and can identify with what you are going through. I am a pantser and I am trying to follow Stephen King’s practice of 1000 words a day but ussually failing miserably. For me on the nice days the temptation is kayaking, biking or disc golf. Have my first crime novel being released in February has me feeling I should be further along with my second.

  4. Kate, I wrote a book about runes too… and a weird fortune teller and her Caribbean sidekick. So much fun.

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