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Harnessing the Creative Process A Guest Blog by Mike Sledge

This is a GUEST BLOG by author Michael Sledge, author of SOLDIER DEAD: How We Recover, Identify, Bury, & Honor Our Military Fallen. www.mikesledge.com


You’re a fiction writer. You harken to the voice within that demands to be put to pen. Your characters have a will of their own and speak of their lives, past, present, and future. You get up early, work through lunch, and stay awake, your fingers flying to capture their fascinating stories that all of humanity will be thrilled to read on paper or on e-reader screens.

And, finally, it is done. You’ve told their tales.

Or have you?

You reread your work and see where their voices have faltered, at best, or whispered to you full of contradictions, at worst. Their stories stumble and don’t make sense.

So you revise. And as you do, you end up more confused than after the first draft.

At first.

Finally, three or four drafts later, your characters speak sensibly and coherently.

And, the plot flows in a manner that pulls the reader along, achieving that wondrous turn-the-page attraction that keeps the reader curious, engaged, and impatient to get to the end of the story.

You did all this in two, three, or four years. Finally.

In his fabulous “how-to” book, Story Engineering, Larry Brooks fully acknowledges that a good writer will, eventually, get it right. However, he provides a much more efficient process that harnesses the creative process without crimping the creative mind.

While a bit pedantic and, at times, chiding and challenging, Brooks nevertheless gives the writer tools to use that, in the long run, aid the creative process.

Do you want to write and let your characters tell you the plot in their own time? Then use a pen and quill and you’ll have tons of opportunities for them to do so.

What? That’s too 18th Century and you use computers?

I would dare say that the same applies to planning.story-engineering-resized-pic120

I first read Story Engineering when Laurie Harper sent it to me. She said, “I think you’ll get it.”

And boy did I.

My first task was to withhold critical judgment until I read every word he had written. And I do mean “every” because he certainly repeats himself in places. 

My second was then to reread the book. Yes, learning a dance requires mastery over the “basic step” and I was determined to fully understand what he was saying.

Then, I spent the next two-three months preparing a detailed, 45 page outline of a novel I had in my head and for which I’ve accumulated a great deal of notes.

Sitting down day after day to do this work was, yes, excruciating. It would have been so much more fun to just WRITE!

Still, I stuck to it. And, as I did the shovel work, made notes of characters, First Plot Point (don’t worry, Brooks will tell you what that is) and the other action points he speaks of.

Finally, I began to write. And what a difference it made. What at least a decent road map in front of me, I could easily do one thousand to fifteen hundred words in a three hour session, which is about my maximum intense writing period per day.

Were my characters chained together in a coffle, hooked both to the slave in front and behind? Absolutely not. Was my plot cast in iron, fixed and immutable? Nope.

Rather, I found that, with a solid plan I could lay in all the subtleties, foreshadowing, and plot and subplot interlacing with much more ease than before when I was writing and figuring out where to go at the same time.

For any aspiring writer who desires to write well AND commercially successfully, I would highly recommend spending time at Brooks’ feet and giving his approach an honest try. Then, you can determine for yourself how it works.

Mike Sledge




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