Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Way We Write - Helen Bianchin

I wrote by hand (substitute scribbled) stories in an exercise book as a child in a variety of places ... perched on my bed, at the table, sitting in the fork of an apple tree in our yard ... fanciful stories about childish adventures, then a pretend protective older brother, eventually teenage yearnings, followed by nurse and doctor stories, which soon led to romance novels. Other genres also held my interest, but romance won out!

When I eventually came to write one, I was convinced it couldn't be too difficult ... after all, I had the story, in detail, in my head.This was back in the dark ages when the instrument of choice was a typewriter (OK, so I'm showing my age here!).

How many of you are with me ... roll the paper into the platen, even it up, and begin. I even had a title. Then came page 2, chapter 1 ... and a long pause while I searched for the perfect opening sentence.

My first effort involved going for it. I just typed anything and everything that came into my head ... dialogue without tags (I could fix that later); I mostly forgot to clothe my characters; the hero started out with dark grey eyes which somehow became dark brown; the heroine began as a petite blue-eyed blonde who grew legs up to here further along in the story. I missed transitions between locations, and when the story was complete ... I really thought there couldn't be much to revise. All it needed was a little fixing ...

Sure it did. What was I thinking? Yes, well, I think we've all been there! The words didn't match the image in my head. Quite frankly, it was all over the page, off the page ... and hopeless.

Going for it wasn't going to work for me. I obviously had to devise a plan and implement structure. (Please remember the time-frame ... the '70's, very few writing craft books available, even fewer writing organizations, snail-mail and no published author contact). Maybe a character bibliography would be good, so I did that. Detail, location, theme ... ditto. Pages, I accumulated lots of pages, and figured I was ready to begin.

Better, much better. Until I came to a dead stop at the end of chapter 3. I had a riveting scene in mind, except it wasn't going to happen next. I needed to get to that point first ... Yet the scene was so vivid, so there, I decided to write it, anyway. More riveting (well, I thought so!) scenes occurred to taunt me ... so I wrote each one. The enthusiasm level was high, I was making progress, and difficult didn't appear quite so difficult. All that remained for me to do was link all these scenes together.

Well, you know what they say about pride before fall ... the scenes read OK, they each had something. But the emotional journey of the characters just didn't cut it. Back to the plan ... I needed to structure the emotion, ensure it became a continuing thread and built in heat and tempo.

Eventually that first book was ready to send out ... after two rewrites it was accepted and published.

For the record, I progressed from portable to manual typewriter, electric typewriter to computer. I belong to numerous writing groups, participate in several writing e-mail loops, maintain regular contact with many writing friends. I have an entire bookcase filled with writing craft books in the belief I'll read something that will hit me like a lightning bolt strike and provide an easier method of writing.

To date, thirty-odd years and 55 books later, I still put in the pages of prep work ... inevitably rewrite the dreaded first chapter so many times I lose count; stop around chapter 3 and write scenes out of sequence, editing each day's work as I go.

As it's said ... whatever works!

I'd love to hear how others work ...



Jennie Lucas said...

Helen, you sold your very first book?! I am in awe!

I wrote 8 books before I sold to Presents, I've written 4 since then, but I'm still figuring out my process. It inevitably involves many chapters thrown away as I realize at about chapter 3 (what IS it about that chapter?) that I have to change the whole plotline!

Thanks for the backstory, Helen. I admire you very much and it was great to read how your books are created!


Helen Bianchin said...

Jennie, lovely to hear from you, and thank you for your kind words.

I tend to plot everything out before I get started, an overview that's fairly detailed. Then around chapter 3 my hero and heroine sort of stand back and say "you want me to do 'what'?" That's when my fairly detailed overview begins heading in a different direction!

All the best

Diana Holquist said...

What a great story, Helen. 55 books. Holy cow. I'm in awe. Whatever you're must be working!


Lois said...

However you guys write it, I'll be glad to read it! :) Me, if I were a writer, I dare say I wouldn't plot all that much, even if I should. . . LOL :)


Maureen said...

My kids think it is so funny that I typed my papers in college on an electric typewriter.

Nathalie said...

Congrats on the 55 big ones!

Lily said...

Congrats on all those books!