I’ve been writing for a while now and every time I sit down to write a story it still amazes me how long it takes. I do have other things going on in my life, so they take up part of my time, but even if I put all those distractions aside, it still takes me a while to write even a short story.
I am pretty good at creating characters and, hopefully fairly good at make them come alive on the page. I am also good at creating concepts, those unique little twists that make a setting or situation interesting. Plot is harder for me and the first place a start to lose hunks of time. I can have the most interesting character in the world, but if they don’t do something, why bother writing about them.
I would love to be one of those writers that just puts words down as they go and lets the characters lead them. Maybe some day I will be, but for now I have to outline my plot ahead of time. If I don’t I will end up with 20 pages about my characters trip to the grocery store and the interesting conversation she had with her friend about the latest pop song on the way. By the time the characters get back from the store they won’t have learned anything, they won’t have accomplished much more than acquiring a carton of ice cream and my reader will be off trying to find the amazing pop song that doesn’t exist on youtube.
Once I finally have a plot, I can start to write. This is the easy part – until I hit X. X can be a location, a name, an object… just about anything. The only thing I can say for certain about X is that it will be something I don’t know about. Most of my work is either science fiction of fantasy, so you would think I could just make something up, but you would be amazed how many times it just doesn’t work like that.
For example, the story I just finished writing was pure fantasy, but it was based it our world. My main character was from the past so modern conveniences, like flush toilets, were new to him, or so I thought. I wanted to take a moment for him to marvel at the differences, so I looked up what plumbing was like in his time. That little scene was deleted. It turns out that plumbing in the far past, at least if you had a bit of money, was almost as good as it is today. The Romans had lead pipes that brought water in to their bathrooms and even hot and cold running water was not unknown in some areas.
Another hour disappeared as I tried to figure out what China would have been called 1000 years ago. By the time he got around to staring out a window, I had to wonder wither or not large sheets of glass were really a new thing. At least in that case it turned that it was. They did have some large sheets of glass, but they were expensive and difficult to make so they were used for mirrors. Windows, if they had glass, used smaller pieces and they usually had small imperfections which caused distortion. What I’m trying to say, is no mater what I end up writing about, it seems like I always end up having to do some type of research. (On the up side, I get to find out all kinds of neat trivia.)
Even the things I choose to make up can take time though. Every world has its rules. We have the laws of physics and in a fictional magical based world, there are laws to magic. If I’m making up a world I need to know what they are. Does my character need to know spells? Do they need components for these spells? Can they just think about something and make it happen, if so are there limits?
The answer to that last question, by the way, is a resounding YES. There has to be limits. If there are no limits and the character is all powerful then no one can stand against them and there is no story. Even if they appear to be all powerful there has to be a limit, a weakness, of some sort.
Most of the research and much of the world building takes place as I write. Sometimes I will have to adjust the plot to take in facts or ideas I hadn’t considered when I started, but eventually I manage to string it along into a story. Once I have it all written out on the page – I’m still not done.
Next comes the re-write. This is where I go over the story and marvel at what I have written, usually because I can’t believe that I thought that sentence made sense. There are times when I have had to re-write almost every word, not just the ones that I misspelled, mistyped or left out completely. The thesaurus and I have become very good friends. I would say that I am my own worst critic, but I have beta readers for that.
Beta readers are my wonder, patient, friends and acquaintances that, once I have the story in a form I consider readable, do just that. They read the story for me and get back to me with critiques. No mater how many times I go over my own work, there are things I will miss. By the time I finish a story, I know it. I know my characters background, I know the world the live in, and I know how the think. These wonderful people are a fresh pair of eyes that can read the story and let me know if it someone who doesn’t have all that background information can still understand it. – Oh, and if I am really lucky, they will also catch any technical mistakes I may have missed.
Once I have incorporated any changes I want to make based on my beta readers feedback, I do one last read through to make sure I haven’t missed anything, the I am finally done. I have a story ready to send off into the world.
This is why it seems to take forever to write a story. I know there are some authors out there that can pound out a book an a couple of months. When I first started, I thought I might be able to do that too. Now I am happy if I get at least one, well written, short story out a month. I can hope that, as I gain more experience, the processes will go faster. Only time will tell.