A giant thanks to Josh Bennett, who invited me to take part in such a great blogging project! Josh is not only one of the most creative and inspirational people I know and a splendid writer, but also my cousin and essentially the big brother I never had. He has a fascinating futuristic novel in the works, and I’m absolutely giddy to read it in its finished form. If you’d care to read his addition to the blog tour on writing processes, click here!
What are you working on now?
What am I not working on? I write this blog, and try to write interesting articles for LinkedIn. I’m also currently working on two short stories for grad school, and a fantasy novel, as well as any other little literary doodlings that pop into my head, such as this.
My novel-in-progress, tentatively titled “Namesake,” follows the tale of two humans with opposing purposes in a supernatural battle between Destiny and Freewill. The book follows their thoughts and choices regarding which is the more ethical and humane system, and whether or not they will attempt to defy their own destinies. Destiny gives humans a purpose and direction, even though they’re not aware of it. Their very lives are woven into the fabric of destiny, which their failures or successes will either tear or mend. Freewill, however, gives humans power over their own life paths and choices, with no outside “pull” towards any expectation of the gods. Alternatively, is Destiny nothing more than supernatural slavery and oppression of human nature? Or with no purpose, is Freewill sure to break down into anarchy, with chaos and confusion reigning over the human race? Given the choice, which would you defend? Eh? EH?
How does your work differ from others of the genre?
I often find myself drawn to giant ideas and concepts. I like to explore the massive what-ifs of the world, and create characters really to carry out possible scenarios in entertaining ways, somewhat how Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings series was really just a vessel for his constructed languages. In a recent story I wrote, I took the concept of dissatisfaction with one’s workplace, and created a character to embody that. So many people sit in a 9 to 5 torture every day, and so many believe that they have no way out. I wanted to make a story for those people, so I created a girl who I hoped would relate to those in a depressing work environment on an extraordinary level. One of my short stories that is currently in progress encompasses the idea of childlike imagination, and the other story explores the idea of subconscious mental processing of stress. Having said that, I’m not typically one for metaphors and indulgent abstractions. I like writing in a more grounded fashion — clear, easy to follow stories that are still interesting and very human. None of this, “and then the butterflies in the woods danced a tango, much like the back and forth wrestling of her own thoughts.” Blech.
In the fantasy genre specifically, I find I tend to focus more on relationships between characters than I have normally seen in popular novels. While the relationships are there, the emphasis is generally more on the oddity or mysticism of the constructed world, the purpose of the main character, and whether or not he succeeds in doing the thing he needs to do. While those are all vital elements, I often find myself wondering what the characters really think about each other. If two characters have been perfectly cordial throughout an entire book, regardless of hardships and obstacles, I think, “but does she hate the way he chews?” Barring the common and expected dissension between protagonist and antagonist, I often find relationships between characters to be lukewarm at best, which seems to suck the human experience out of things for the reader, whilst the author just points to the distance and shouts, “but look! There’s a DRAGON! Because it’s a fantasy book! See?!” If I’m not led to be concerned about how the characters consider each other, in addition to the ultimate outcome of the plot, it feels a lot like drinking flat Sprite. Interpersonal carbonation, I say! That’s always something that has been an important focus for me.
Why do you write what you do?
Because I’m not very good at writing other things, I suppose. I believe that writers write in their particular genres and styles because those are the ones that best fit their individual writing voice. I write things that seem natural for me to say, and since I’m an imaginative and emotional person, I tend to come up with fantastical things, and try to create characters that are very “real.” Not in the sense that they’re always honest and genuine, but in that the character could remind you of “that guy” that you work with, or “that kid” that kicked the back of your seat for 6 hours while flying over the Atlantic. But if I tried to write a story about technological advancement, or a courtroom suspense novel, it would be absolutely wretched.
I also just happen to have a lot of thoughts, and an overwhelming desire for other people to hear them. So I suppose I also write what I do because I believe in those thoughts, and it’s likely that I may violently combust if I don’t.
How does your writing process work?
Wait until one week before deadline, then panic.
No, not really (but kind of). I have an Idea Journal that I keep with me at all times, and I record concepts and story ideas whenever they pop into my head. It’s been a really great method for me because I only write down the ideas if I’m terribly, irrationally excited about them. Then when I need new material, I open my journal and can choose from several story ideas that I was already thrilled about. I rarely find myself at a loss for story ideas thanks to this method.
After choosing a story idea, I take a notepad and do a lot of brainstorming/scribbling. For larger story ideas, I might continue to scribble pathways and options for the story for several days, until I have a stock of possible outcomes, characters, ways the characters could affect the story, plot twists, scenes, etc. It often looks a lot like this:
Believe it or not, the information is highly organized in my head. I have tried so many different kinds of outlines, grids, checklists, forms, etc. for molding a story into something coherent, but they just confuse me and I get very frustrated with more formulaic methods of story planning. There is something important about letting my mind wander wherever it would like to for a while, where there are no boxes to fill in and no threat that I will run out of space. That’s very distressing, the fear of running out of space. From this seemingly aimless method, I can construct a general outline and main points that I want to make sure are included in the story. And then I begin to write.
I am a pantser, through and through. My characters create themselves within the story as I’m writing, and I go back and revise if need be, and the same goes for action and events within the story — I need to be sitting at my computer, fingers drumming (but not pressing) on the keyboard, my head tilted upward and slightly to the right. Only then will I devise what happens next, to whom it happens, and what that character’s reaction will be. I do have a giant 4′ x 8′ whiteboard in my living room which I use when I get stuck, as a more expanded version of the above brainstorming method. So I continue writing, and pansting, and drumming, and gazing, and scribbling until there’s a story.
Oh, and there’s usually lots of coffee involved.
Blog Tour’s Next Victim: Paul Elwork
Besides writing fiction, Paul Elwork edits archaeology/historic architecture research reports and teaches creative writing in the Arcadia University MFA program. He’s also a dad and a fair hand at scrambling eggs. His fiction has appeared in various literary journals, including SmokeLong Quarterly, Philadelphia Stories, Short Story America, Word Riot, and Johnny America. His novel The Girl Who Would Speak for the Dead was released in hardcover by Amy Einhorn Books in March 2011 and in paperback by Berkley Books in 2012. He lives in New Jersey, not far from his hometown of Philadelphia.
As he is one of my graduate school professors, I’m very excited to see Paul’s addition to the blog tour, which will be posted on July 14th.
Check out his blog here: http://paulelwork.typepad.com/blog/#tp