March 2, 2011

I just take dictation

Ever try to explain to a non-writer what it’s like to write?

How about how you come up with your story ideas?

If you’re like me, your attempts have been met with a blank stare. Or maybe one or two ‘What you talkin’ about, Willis?’ looks.

Yeah, I’ve been on the receiving end of a few of those. Especially when I tell them that my characters talk to me, or more accurately, they talk to each other and my job is to take dictation.

Honest. That’s what it’s like for me to write. My characters (usually the hero and heroine) start talking and I frantically try to get it all down. If I’m not near a computer, that means scribbling in a notebook. I even have a notebook in my car because you never know when the characters are going to start talking to each other. Nothing is worse than characters having revealing, heart felt conversations and you don’t have a pen and paper. Don’t worry, I pull over. I swear.

Then I go home and the real work begins. Taking multiple conversations and turning it into a story. I mean, it’s not like character conversations take place in chronological order or anything, right? Sometimes it’s the very last scene, where everything comes together and all question and doubt is worked out, that comes first. This is how it was with my work in progress, MIDNIGHT HEAT. The hero and heroine told me the final scene before anything else. I then had to wait until they clued me in as to how and why they were where they were, before I could start putting together what led to that moment.

The really interesting thing—and most confusing to those people who give you ‘the look’—is when a character from a book is not acting right in the follow-up. Are you asking yourself, “What is that supposed to mean?” I’ll tell you…

Picture it, I’m plugging along on my WIP, transferring all the conversations into a word document, when suddenly I stop. Isabeau, the heroine from AFTER MIDNIGHT who is now a secondary character in MIDNIGHT HEAT, is ‘off’. She’s not herself. Why? I ask. What’s going on with you?

At first she is silent, not revealing anything. Then, in a conversation with Dominic, the hero of this tale, the reason is revealed.

Are you serious?

Turns out she was. All of a sudden this story has thrown me a curve, gone off in a direction I never saw coming. Sure, she’s a secondary character so it’s not a HUGE curve, but…I tell, you, I never saw it coming.

And that, for me at least, is what it’s like to write. It’s interesting, fun, not always easy, and sometimes when you least expect it, surprising. I love it. Even if I never published another story, I would write. It’s something I’m driven to do. How else am I going to quiet the voices in my head?

"Writer's block: when your imaginary friends won't talk to you." ~ Anonymous


Jennifer Jakes said...

Hi Sarah,
Good post! Those moments when the story or characters take off in unexpected directions are funny after the fact but not so much when it's happening. I usually end up thunking myself on the head tho' with an 'of course' that's what should happen or 'why didn't I know that from the beginning?'
Guess those moments are what keeps us as surprised as the reader. LOL

Sarah Grimm said...


I agree. They're great once you accept them, but when they're happening can be frustrating.


Melanie said...

Things like that usually hit me while I'm in the shower or grocery shopping or something. Isn't it wild? And it's so cool how things just come together, how the characters work things out on their own and then tell us about it. I love writing.

Linda Morris said...

Great post. I never know what to say when people ask where I get my ideas. I may be slightly butchering the quote, but when people asked Douglas Adams (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) that question, he always answered, "From a small mail order company in Dallas." I feel like saying that sometime because I don't have any better answers!

Sarah Grimm said...

@Linda Morris, Romance writer That's a fabulous answer! I love it.

And, yeah, what else do you say? 'They just come to me.' gets you 'But how?'

With some people it's a viscous cycle. Not that I don't love talking to non-writers about writing, but there are a few out there who can't wrap their mind around it, no matter what your answer. No, I'm not saying they're stupid, far from it, I believe it's just the way they think. Perhaps too literal thinking compared to me? I'm not sure.


Sherry Gloag said...

in my current wip that is exactly what is happening. My characters are giving me the story in out-of sequence events. It's the first time that's happened to me, and I must say it's a bit scary because I don't even know what part of the story we're at!
It's going to be interesting. I hope I have your capacity to 'stitch' it all togehter correctly. :-)
Great blog, thanks for sharing.

Sarah Grimm said...

@Sherry Gloag I used to worry about stitching it all together, but not anymore. Once you have the pieces, it fits one way, and not as well any other ways. *wink*

Seriously, I move stuff around a lot. Sometimes my WIP is littered with notes (all caps) that say things like OR WOULD THIS BE BETTER IN THIRD SCENE or MOVE THIS TO BEGINNING OF CHAPTER SIX.


Shawna Thomas said...

Hi Sarah,

I think you described it perfectly. My favorite part of the story-writing process is when the characters step back and throw you a curve.

They've become alive.

LOL I've actually had to tell my children to hush for a minute because I could only pay attention to one conversation at a time. (the one in my head between my characters)

Great post!

Sarah said...

@Lynne Roberts I love that!

Mine have heard me asking questions out loud. Not that my characters answer. LOL

Joanne Stewart said...

Great post, Sarah. Great way to describe the process. The WIP I just finished happened that way, completely out of sequence like that. It was the first time that's ever happened to me too, so it was really frustrating. It was like being taken on a ride and not knowing where you're going (which I hate. lol). I ended up with three versions of this thing, while trying to piece everything together, and more than a few scenes and snippets that didn't even make it into the book. And they're still talking to me. lol Gotta love it, though. I wouldn't trade that feeling for the world, of getting that aha moment int he middle of the grocery store or while driving. Best high there is. And you're right, only another writer would really understand.

Sarah Grimm said...

@Joanne Stewart That happens to me all of the time. I actually keep the scenes that don't make it in, because when they're still talking to me, I can't seem to let go of those deleted bits. :)

I wouldn't trade it either.


Emma Lai said...

Sarah, I too take dictation. I also can't let go of deleted scenes. They happened for a reason. Maybe they're part of a yet untold story.

Sarah Grimm said...

@Emma Lai I've tried to use the deleted scene in different stories, but for me it never works. Those scenes and bits of dialogue belong to the original characters. I do like to go back and read through them though.

Good to hear I'm not the only one who hears voices. LOL


Mona Risk said...

Sarah, my characters talk to me non-stop. Often time I can't write what they say, so I repeat it at loud voice in order not to forget. They are especially chatty and noisy when I go to bed and desperately try to sleep.

Sarah Grimm said...

@Mona Risk Yes! And people tell you to keep a notebook by the bed, but then would we get any sleep?

Okay, so I have one by the bed. ;) Usually the answer to something I've been struggling with comes when I lay down and relax.


Amy said...

At least I know I'm not alone! King says that a writer is really a story archeologist. The story is already there and the writer extracts it all the while trying to keep it as whole as possible. To me that explains characters taking off on their own. I have a story in which I wanted to name the hero Sloan. I thought it was such a cool, urbane name for a multi-billionaire. His name is Blake. Why you ask? Because that's what the heroine called him. I guess that was really his name after all. Great Post, Sarah!

Sarah Grimm said...

@Amy That's great! My heroine in Not Without Risk is a lefty. I didn't know it until I typed that she reached for something with her left hand. Then once it was there, I was like 'yeah, that makes sense'.

Writer's are a weird lot, aren't we?


Savannah Chase said...

I would write and give it away for free if I never got published. All I want to do is be able to write....

Great blog...