A few people have asked me how I write so well. At first, I couldn’t really articulate it. I’d read a dozen books on writing, but I never could recall any of their discrete rules. So I started to trace my own thought process as I began to write a new piece. What follows is the inner workings of my own process.
The Raw Material. I have noticed that the first thing that I do when writing a piece of fiction is that I start with an inspirational event that happened in my life. I write out the full details of what exactly happened. I write out what people were wearing, what gestures they made, what the setting was like. I tell the story of what exactly happened. I liken this to packing together a lot of snow into one huge block that you will carve into a sculpture.
The Thesis. Once the raw material has been laid down, I try my best to figure out what exactly I’m trying to say with my story. In a recent story I’ve written, I cover from three points of view a young man’s visit to a hair salon in Brighton Beach. A hair salon is rife with possibilities. You could examine beautification, the humorous effects of gossip, or maybe the life of a young immigrant shampoo girl in contrast to an older and more established immigrant hair stylist. The challenge here is trying to discover what you are trying to say. This can often be the most difficult part. Of each chapter or scene, ask yourself, how is this supporting my thesis?
The Emotional Content. No story can be any good to read if there is no emotion in it. There must be emotional weight behind every last bit of your story. I have long since taken to saying that the motion picture has replaced the novel as the best way to visually paint a scene in someone’s mind. Thus, modern literature needn’t go into such painstaking detail for the sake of giving the reader that visual image. Rather, painstaking details should exist as a way to underscore the emotional content of your story. Of each chapter or scene, ask yourself, what emotion am I trying to convey here?
The Search for Symbols. Once I have begun to understand what it is that I wish to say with my story, I begin to whittle away at it. This is the part where you carve away at that big pile of snow you’ve packed. I start the refining process by searching for things that can be used as significant detail. For example, if I see that a woman was wearing a pink hair ribbon, I think about whether or not the color pink or her ponytail can be tied into the story some way. Perhaps it could be a symbol for her innocence. If it does become a symbol for her innocence, then I move on to what I wish to do with it. Do I want to show that innocence is frail? Then perhaps the ribbon will slip off her hair on a motorcycle ride and fall into a puddle of mud. Or maybe I want to show that innocence is a farce. Then perhaps the ribbon will fray and she will see that underneath the brilliant shine of pink satin lies a grimy rotting band of ugly beige elastic. (These are examples that I made up right as we speak, so please excuse me if they seem cliched or trite.) These are the details we want to keep to serve as anchors for our story.
The Principle of Economy. Once I have determined the message that I want to deliver and the symbols I will use to aid, enhance, or underscore the message, I begin to whittle away at the details. It doesn’t matter that I have an extremely detailed world that is populated with extremely detailed and well-defined people. I always ask myself why this detail is included. Why exactly is someone’s shirt a certain color? If I can’t figure it out, then I remove the detail. Of each detail, ask yourself, is it necessary to be here? If so, why?
And so that is the extent to which I broken down my writing process into discrete steps. I’m sure that in time I will have more to say, but I believe that this serves as a very solid foundation for creating a decent piece of fiction. There are more detailed steps to be taken within each of those steps, but that will come in later posts, I’m sure.