A Closer Look at My Own Writing Process

Red Quill LogoSince I’ve been seeking my MFA through Western State University, my posts here have been dwindling. On top of my school work, I’ve been writing a western novel and I’m close to having it completed, but this also has put a strain the limits of my writing time, not to mention several curveballs that life has thrown at me recently. However, I’m learning some really neat things about my own writing process that can be shared here, so perhaps my readers will forgive me for slacking off a bit.
In my Craft & Practice I class, my instructor, Barbara Chepaitis, guided us in analyzing our own writing process and taught us about the different types of writing processes. This is a subject I’d never thought much about before. While some writing processes are very structured, with outlines and plot lines and story arcs, others are more organic, just letting the words flow to the page, and still others are somewhere in between. While I’ve done outlines for my nonfiction writing process, I’ve tended to be more organic in my fiction writing process. I just sit down and start writing and see what comes about.
That’s what I did with the western novel I’ve been diligently working on. Delilah started as a character driven story, when I was assigned to do a western excerpt for my class this summer. I created the character of Delilah for the excerpt and it built itself one scene at a time as the character showed me what happened next. It’s been a fun journey since trouble seems to have a way of finding Delilah, but as I neared the finish line, I needed to make sure that my plot and all of my sub-plots wrapped up neatly. I didn’t want to inadvertently leave any loose ends. So, I found it necessary to plot it out and take a look at my story arcs, one for the plot and one for each sub-plot, to make sure they all had a beginning, a middle and an end, and see how they interrelated with each other.
In doing this, I was surprised to see how many different story arcs my story actually has. After drawing out the main plotline, I drew a story arc in a different color for each of my different sub-plots and ended up with eight different story arcs, including the main arc. Every motivation or relationship that Delilah has, creates a different sub-plot with a story arc of its own. Like a good stew, where each separate ingredient mixes its own flavor into the pot to create that delicious stew taste, each separate story arc adds to the flavor of my story. Below is a picture of what I came out with.

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This enabled me to see where things were missing and envision how it will all come together in the end. It has required me to revise some parts of my story, but I can see the value in doing this. The different colors represent the individual story arcs and the colored circles represent the plot points where each one begins and ends. The main story arc includes every plot point, while the sub-plots start at different plot points, further into the story and some end before the main story ends, while at least five of them are tied in together and conclude at the end, along with the main plot. This is what I think a good story should do, so I am pleased with the results. Now that I have discovered how it all ends, all that’s left to do is to write it.
My instructor, Barb did not try to tell us that one process was better than another and she encouraged us to explore different processes to see what worked for us and what didn’t. I’ve discovered that my process needs to be both structured and organic. I’ve never tried the structured approach to fiction before, so with my next novel, which is an action/adventure story, I’ve started with the plotting. In fact, I already have the main plot line of the major events drawn out. Although this story is based on a character, Betty Lou Dutton, that I created and used for two scenes in Barb’s class, this approach will be a basic reversal of my usual process. As I write, I may find that more story arcs need to be added, although I already know there will be at least four sub-plots, it will be interesting to see how well this turns out. Wish me luck. 

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